27 December 2020

India’s New Maritime Theater Command: A Quantum Leap

By Shishir Upadhyaya

The latest announcement about the creation of India’s first Maritime Theater Command by 2021 is a seminal development and part of the long overdue transformation of India’s armed forces. Reportedly, the commander-in-chief of the new maritime theater command, who will be based at Karwar on the west coast of India, will exercise full operational control over extant western and eastern naval fleets, maritime strike fighter jets and transport aircraft from both the air force and the navy, and two amphibious infantry brigades and other assets under the Andaman and Nicobar Joint Command.

The maritime theater command will be the first new “geographical” theater command to be created, as part of the biggest-ever military restructuring plan since India’s independence in 1947 when the Indian army, navy and air force were initially structured under separate operational commands. This arrangement impacted overall operational planning and efficiency, particularly in matters related to new acquisition, compatibility of equipment, drills/ procedures, training and logistics, leading to huge wastages.

Following the appointment of General Bipin Rawat as the country’s first chief of defense staff, a slew of transformational changes — to be implemented on a war footing — have been announced. The country will now have a few and but geographically large theater commands, such as the maritime theater command, and joint functional commands such as the air defense command, and a joint logistics command.

Pakistan and Saudi Arabia: BFF No More

By Umair Jamal

Last week, Pakistan returned $1 billion to Saudi Arabia as a second installment of a $3 billion loan that Riyadh offered the country in 2018 to help stave off a current account crisis. Reportedly, Islamabad has to repay the remaining $1 billion to Riyadh next month.

Considering the long history of cordial ties between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, the return of such a major loan in the midst of a pandemic and major economic crisis in Pakistan only points to a serious crisis in the relationship.

A newly emerging alliance in the Muslim world explains why Saudi Arabia may have asked for the repayment of loan from Pakistan. And a silent compliance from Pakistan in this regard shows that Islamabad may not be ready to beg for more time by offering concessions that could harm it’s new foreign policy.

For some time now, Islamabad has been making efforts to align itself with the Turkey- Malaysia-Iran alliance in the Muslim world which Saudi Arabia sees as a challenge to its own claim of being the leader of the Islamic world. One of the key reasons Pakistan may have finally decided to take that difficult route is due to Riyadh’s longstanding position to ignore Islamabad’s core national security interests at forums that represent Saudi Arabia “dominated” Muslim world.

Suspicious Death of Baloch Activist in Toronto Raises Uncomfortable Questions for Pakistan

By Abhijnan Rej

Well-known Baloch activist Karima Mehrab (also known as Karima Baloch) was found dead by the police in Toronto on December 21. According to media reports, Mehrab, a former chairperson of Baloch Students Organization-Azad (BSO), a separatist group proscribed in Pakistan, was found dead a day after she was reported missing. At the time of filing this report, no further details around the circumstances of her death – including the result of the autopsy – is known. However, as many media outlets have already noted, the case’s similarity with that of Sajid Hussain Baloch’s – another activist who was found dead in a river outside Uppsala, Sweden in April this year – raises the distinct possibility of foul play.

Baloch activists such as the 37-year-old Mehrab have long been at the loggerheads with Pakistan’s powerful army and intelligence service, as they have demanded justice for human rights violations in Balochistan and the right to self-determination towards an independent “Azad” Balochistan. Pakistan, for its part, accuses them of being terrorists engaged in anti-state activities, and of working at the behest of archrival India and its security services. Most key Baloch activists are in exile.

Resource-rich Balochistan, the largest of the five provinces of Pakistan, has acquired additional salience for Pakistan in the recent years after China’s investments there toward the construction of the Gwadar port as well as other projects under the banner of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Pakistan has also maintained that India seeks to destabilize CPEC through the deployment of Baloch separatists.

Bangladesh’s Dangerous Islamist Appeasement – And What It Portends

By Manas Nag

In early 2017, a tussle around a statue of a woman personifying justice became a proxy for the longstanding tensions between Islamist and secular groups in Bangladesh. The sculpture, erected in front of the Supreme Court Complex in capital Dhaka, triggered a series of protests spearheaded by Hefazat-e-Islam, a hardline Islamist group based in Chittagong. Islamist groups deem such statues to be anti-Islamic, often associating them with idol worship – a strictly forbidden practice in Islam.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina subsequently signaled support for the statue’s removal from the Supreme Court premises. Despite the outcry from secular groups, the authorities quietly relocated the statue to the annex building of the Supreme Court, away from the public eye. The ruling Awami League – an in-principle secular political party – is not new to the religious groups’ threats of escalating protests. In hindsight, this may look like a minor political compromise for a government in a Muslim-majority state. However, three years on, agitations over another sculpture has turned out to be Awami League’s deja vu moment. For Hasina, the ball this time has rather hit too close to home.

The government had sanctioned several projects to erect sculptures of the country’s founder Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in 2018. For Hasina, the daughter of Rahman, the emotional value of such projects far surpassed the necessity of having a statue in the Supreme Court premises. Despite the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the regime was busy celebrating “Mujib Year” – the centenary of the founder’s birth. Disregarding the risks related to the spread of the virus, fireworks and other celebratory gatherings continued in Dhaka.

China’s Drive to Make Semiconductor Chips Is Failing


Shenzhen, a city of some 12 million people in southeastern China’s Guangdong province, is the consumer electronics capital of the world. Immediately abutting Hong Kong, it now towers over its restive regional rival in terms of population, skyscrapers, and by some counts even gross domestic product. It is also home to Huawei, the Chinese telecommunications company that dominates global 5G wireless infrastructure and sits at the center of the U.S.-China tech war.

Long a hub for mobile phone assembly, the city of Shenzhen is about to get into the business of making phones itself. In November, a consortium led by the Shenzhen municipal government struck an unusual deal to pay Huawei $15 billion and take over the company’s Honor budget smartphone brand. Huawei is fighting for its very survival since it was added to both the U.S. Commerce Department’s export licensing Entity List and the U.S. Defense Department’s foreign investment blacklist.

The strange spectacle of a city government funneling money into a global tech giant and ending up with a budget phone maker is emblematic of China’s problems in developing its own technologies. China has the ambition, and it can do things at scale. It can also raise the money, even (when necessary) from unlikely sources. But it lacks the broad ecosystem of commercial cooperation, intellectual property protection, and intelligent venture capital that makes deep technology collaboration possible. China’s command economy is a cookie-cutter economy, but high technology is a networking game.

How China Shaped the World in 2020


It’s been the biggest year in U.S.-China relations since 1989, and none of the news is good. To be honest, neither is the news about relations between Beijing and anyone else. From
Australia to India and Mongolia to the European Union, Xi Jinping’s China has alienated potential allies and turned rivals into enemies.

Internationally, China is more unpopular than ever. But it’s also a superpower that is shaken by the coronavirus pandemic but recovering faster than most of the world—and increasingly willing to put domestic demands ahead of its global reputation. Here are five stories about China that dominated this year, with global consequences.

The Wuhan Outbreak

The virus that would change the world incubated in Wuhan, one of China’s great metropolises. We still don’t know exactly how the coronavirus started, not least because China won’t cooperate with an outside investigation. But we are reasonably sure it didn’t start with bat soup (a dish unknown in the city) or in a secret laboratory. It probably didn’t even start in Wuhan itself but in the nearby countryside, where interactions between humans and animals are common.

Water Wars: Flirting in the Taiwan Strait

By Sam Cohen 

This month saw some notable military activity in the South China Sea and Taiwan Strait, continued diplomatic efforts by the United States and its partners to push back against China, and a renewed emphasis by the U.S. Navy on countering China’s growing naval power. Much of the analysis regarding the Indo-Asia Pacific in the past month focused on what the incoming Biden administration would mean for the region. 

Military Activity

Taiwan Tensions Continue

On Dec. 19, USS Mustin (DDG 89) conducted a transit through the Taiwan Strait, the 12th such transit by the U.S. Navy this year after USS Barry’s (DDG 52) similar transit on Nov. 21. In response, China’s Eastern Theater Command said it had “tailed and monitored” Mustin throughout its transit and accused the United States of “deliberately rais[ing] the temperature of the Taiwan issue, as they fear calm in the Taiwan Strait, and send flirtatious glances to Taiwan independence forces, seriously jeopardising peace and stability in the strait.”

These Taiwan Strait transits came as Chinese military aircraft continued to violate Taiwan’s southwest Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ). As of Dec. 15, 19 People’s Liberation Army (PLA) aircraft had violated Taiwan’s ADIZ in December over the course of 11 days. With these heightened tensions between Taipei and Beijing in the background, Taiwan conducted a live-fire drill in the Pratas Islands (Mandarin: Dōngshā Qúndǎo) on Dec. 20, and it plans to conduct another on Dec. 27. While the Pratas Islands—which consist of only one island, two coral reefs and two banks—are located approximately 277 miles from Taiwan and 186 miles from mainland China, they are governed by Taiwan and claimed by China. The strategic location of Pratas Island—near the “gateway to the South China Sea” for the U.S. Navy and the Philippine Sea for the PLA Navy, as well as a waypoint for oil tankers and Chinese vessels en route to the Pacific Ocean—makes it a tempting target for the Chinese. Indeed, tensions around Pratas Island, in particular, have been especially high since late summer, and China reportedly conducted a simulated invasion of Pratas Island during exercises on Hainan Island in late August.

China's rise as a global security actor: implications for NATO

NATO's relationship with China is changing. This IISS–MERICS report assesses the various strategic challenges a rising China poses to the NATO Alliance, and offers recommendations on how NATO could most effectively address them.

In December 2019, for the first time, NATO leaders recognised China as a new strategic point of focus for the Alliance. This reflects growing concern among NATO members surrounding China’s geopolitical rise and its growing power-projection capabilities, as well as the impact that these may have on the global balance of power. Today, China is not only taking a central role in Indo-Pacific security affairs but is also becoming an increasingly visible security actor in Europe’s periphery. As such, the question of how to deal with an increasingly global China has been an important part of Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg’s NATO 2030 reflection process. 

China poses a wide range of challenges to NATO. Beijing sees the Alliance as a United States-centric outfit that may be used by Washington to contain China, and has therefore tried to influence individual NATO members’ decisions in order to weaken the Alliance’s unity. Close ties between China and Russia, especially in the security and military spheres, have also been a source of concern for NATO allies. Besides the Chinese and Russian navies’ joint exercises in the Baltic and Mediterranean seas, there is also the potential for the two sides to further coordinate – or at least align their behaviour – on issues of relevance to the Alliance, including hybrid warfare and cyber espionage, arms-control issues, and their approach to Arctic governance, among others. 

A ‘People’s War’ Could Be China’s Key to Winning the South China Sea

by James Holmes

Here's What You Need to Remember: In short, China could win even if it remains weaker than America in the aggregate. The PLA could narrow or reverse the balance of forces in the theater—overpowering the U.S. contingent at the place and time that truly matter. It could dishearten Washington. U.S. leaders might despair of sustaining the undertaking indefinitely. Or, China could outlast America—inflicting numerous tactical losses over a long time, and thus driving the price tag of preserving freedom of the seas higher than U.S. leaders are willing to pay.

Last year China’s defense minister, General Chang Wanquan, implored the nation to ready itself for a “people’s war at sea.” The purpose of such a campaign? To “safeguard sovereignty” after an adverse ruling from the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea. The tribunal upheld the plain meaning of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), ruling that Beijing’s claims to “indisputable sovereignty” spanning some 80-90 percent of the South China Sea are bunk.

A strong coastal state, in other words, cannot simply wrest away the high seas or waters allocated to weaker neighbors and make them its own.

Or, at any rate, it can’t do so lawfully. It could conceivably do so through conquest, enforced afterward by a constant military presence. Defenders of freedom of the sea, consequently, must heed General Chang’s entreaty. Southeast Asians and their external allies must take such statements seriously—devoting ample forethought to the prospect of marine combat in the South China Sea.

That’s the first point about a people’s war at sea. A clash of arms is possible. Statesmen and commanders in places like Manila, Hanoi, and Washington must not discount Chang’s words as mere bluster.

Risky Rise: How the CCP and China Has Evolved Under Xi Jinping

by Jude Blanchette

Nearly eight years into his tenure as General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), Xi Jinping continues to defy easy categorisation. Often likened to the unpredictable and volatile Mao Zedong, Xi sees iron-clad domestic stability and political discipline as paramount. Viewed as an unrepentant nationalist, Xi has also adopted a decidedly internationalist outlook, seeking to expand China’s engagement with — and construction of — multilateral institutions, as well as promoting Chinese investment and financing to all corners of the globe via his Belt and Road Initiative.

Xi is following in the footsteps of previous Chinese leaders — particularly Deng Xiaoping — who defied cleanly demarcated intellectual categories, instead preferring the Marxist dialectical approach of finding synthesis from seemingly opposing concepts or ideas.

And so, on a slew of critical ‘either/or’ questions about China’s evolving political system and the country’s growing influence in the world, the answer to ‘what does Xi Jinping believe?’ isn’t one or the other, but rather, ‘yes’. Does he believe in centralised state planning or decentralised markets? Yes, both. Does he want to ‘make China great again’ through an aggressive nationalist domestic agenda, or is he seeking to expand the country’s influence within multilateral institutions? The answer, again, is yes, both.

Russia, China, and the Risks of War: My Conversation with General Milley

by Michael O'Hanlon 

On December 2, Brookings hosted U.S. Army General Mark Milley, the twentieth chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff—the nation’s highest-ranking military officer. What he said about how to view America’s troubled relationships with Russia and China was important, and a useful corrective to those in and out of uniform who believed we are headed for violent confrontation someday with one or both of those unfriendly powers. 

First, some context. Milley’s predecessor, Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, told Congress during his 2015 confirmation hearings that Russia had become the top threat to American national security. A year after Russia seized Crimea, attacked eastern Ukraine with covert operatives, and prepared to disrupt America’s own elections, this assessment startled some, but it rang true. The post–Cold War honeymoon with Moscow was over, especially with Vladimir Putin again ensconced in the Kremlin—where he may now remain until 2035. For a quarter-century, since the Cold War had ended, American defense policy had focused on rogue states like Iraq under Saddam Hussein and North Korea. No more. Latter Obama administration defense policy under Secretary of Defense Ash Carter shifted to a “Third Offset” concept to strengthen conventional military deterrence of other great powers. 

In the Trump administration, the National Security Strategy and National Defense Strategy focused on both Russia and China. By the end of his four-year tenure, Dunford was warning that China would soon be our top threat. Milley himself called China our “pacing threat” in his interview with me.

China's Military Has One Plan: Dominate Asia

by Kris Osborn

China is fast-building destroyers, amphibious ships, carriers, nuclear-armed submarines and fast-attack boats along with many other naval platforms as part of a visible effort to dominate the regional and international seas and, according to a recently released U.S. strategy, “displace the United States as the preferred partner in countries around the world.”

The Navy, Marine Corps and U.S. Coast Guard have a new strategy document, called “Advantage at Sea,” which takes a hard line on Chinese expansionism and details a number of what it describes as aggressive Chinese ambitions intended to “corrode international maritime governance, deny access to traditional logistical hubs, inhibit freedom of the seas, control use of key chokepoints and deter U.S. engagement in regional disputes.” 

“It continues to militarize disputed features in the South China Sea and assert maritime claims inconsistent with international law. Its state-subsidized distant water fishing fleet steals vital resources from nations unable to defend their own exclusive economic zones,” the study writes.

The sheer numbers of ships, and perhaps most notably the pace at which they are being added, is considered alarming to many Pentagon weapons planners who consistently call for a five-hundred-ship fleet U.S. Navy. China’s Navy is well known to already be larger than the United States, and the country is leveraging its large domestic industrial capacity and shipbuilding ability. 

How Will China Manage the Post-Pandemic Economic Recovery?

By Chutian Zhou

China’s annual Central Economic Work Conference (CEWC), where the economic priorities and policy frameworks for the coming year are laid out, concluded on December 18. The CEWC is widely acknowledged as the country’s highest-level meeting on the domestic economy and its financial and banking sectors. It is essential to digest the statement released by the party to examine the achievements made so far and to predict the country’s economic trajectory in 2021, particularly given that 2020 was an unprecedentedly tumultuous year.

This year’s CEWC set the theme and proposed eight tasks for 2021. This article concentrates on three core points.

First, the economic outlook is uncertain and the central government will scale down stimulus policies. Early this year, the COVID-19 pandemic triggered a severe political trust crisis both domestically and internationally, but China managed to contain the disease effectively, earning itself a propaganda victory as well as more time to wrestle with the sharp economic downturn. Later, at this year’s National People’s Congress, Premier Li Keqiang put forward a stream of expansionary economic policies, which eventually turned out to be fruitful. According to Reuters, China has outpaced other major economies in terms of GDP growth this year.

As Challenges Mount, Can Europe Correct Its Course?

The liberal European order that emerged after World War II and spread after the collapse of the Soviet Union is now under attack from both within and without. The European Union—the ultimate expression of the European project—has become a convenient punching bag for opportunistic politicians in many of its member countries, as anti-EU sentiment has become part of the broader populist platform of protectionism and opposition to immigration.

The EU still managed to withstand its latest challenge in July, when it agreed to a historic deal that included a collective debt mechanism to help finance pandemic relief funds. Nevertheless, there is no way of knowing whether the populist wave that once seemed like an existential threat to the union has crested. Illiberal governments hold power in Hungary and Poland, and far-right parties were briefly part of coalition governments in Austria and Italy. Centrist leaders seem unable to come up with a response to immigration that doesn’t alienate more voters than it unites. And the coronavirus pandemic further highlighted the EU’s difficulties in providing effective collective responses to a crisis that, at least initially, saw each member state looking out for itself.

Even as leaders like French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel try to fend off challenges from right-wing opposition parties at home, they are also seeking to salvage major international initiatives, including the Paris climate agreement, and to position Europe as an independent pole in an increasingly multipolar world. To achieve that goal, the EU will have to overcome its internal divisions and bat down external threats to articulate a coherent collective foreign and security policy backed by a credible military deterrent.

America’s History of Luck Is Running Out


The United States is the luckiest country in modern history. It began as a set of marginal European outposts, separated from the settlers’ home countries by a difficult sea voyage. When the colonies gained independence, they were weak, poor, and fractious. But in less than a century and a half, those 13 original colonies had expanded across North America, survived a civil war, driven other great powers from the Western Hemisphere, and created the world’s largest and most dynamic economy. That ascent didn’t stop until the end of the 20th century, when victory in the Cold War left the United States alone at the pinnacle of power. For a little while.

Americans like to attribute this remarkable story to their ancestors’ virtues, the enlightened wisdom of the Founding Fathers, and the intrinsic merits of America’s peculiar blend of liberal democratic capitalism. But in addition to the considerable cruelty displayed toward the native population and the slaves imported from Africa, good fortune played a major role as well.

Americans were fortunate that North America was rich with natural resources and fertile land, traversed by navigable rivers, and had a mostly temperate climate. And from the very beginning, the United States benefited from rivalries among the existing great powers. France backed the American Revolution in order to weaken its British rival, and the new nation doubled its territory when Napoleon needed money to wage war in Europe and was willing to sell the Louisiana Purchase at a bargain price. War in Europe also helped the United States survive its foolish decision to invade Canada in the War of 1812; Britain was too busy defeating Napoleon to turn its full strength against its obnoxious former colonists. The United States gradually attracted more attention as it expanded across the continent and took Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California from Mexico, but the European powers spent most of the time competing with each other and for the most part left the United States alone. By 1900, British concerns about a rising Germany led them to abandon their territorial claims in the Pacific Northwest and South America and appease the United States. And at that moment, the Monroe Doctrine of 1823 became a reality.

The New Geopolitics of Energy


A year that began with a climate-change-denying U.S. president doing everything in his power to aggravate the climate crisis, eventually opening up an Arctic wildlife refuge to unwanted and unneeded oil drilling, ended with a president-elect who has committed to putting a green revolution at the heart of his domestic and foreign policy.

In between, an oil-price collapse fueled by the coronavirus pandemic threatened new alliances and old certainties, shaking the foundations not just of a 60-year-old oil cartel but the very underpinnings of the modern economy. In the midst of it all, China, the world’s worst polluter, made the biggest and perhaps most far-reaching promise of all on climate change, while India, long a laggard in cleaning up its energy sector, emerged as a surprising green champion.

It has been, to say the least, a revolutionary year when it comes to energy and climate change.

This spring, the world’s oil producers tried, and failed, to come to grips with the scale and scope of the pandemic that was just emerging. Russia and Saudi Arabia, which had forged an unlikely partnership to rule the world’s energy markets, suddenly found themselves at loggerheads. Their disagreement didn’t just tank oil prices, but also tanked Russia’s chances of rebuilding its Cold War-era influence in the region.

Why the World Should Root for the EU in Brexit Talks


In words now coming back to haunt him, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson once said that negotiations with the European Union on the terms of Britain’s departure from the bloc would let
Britain have its cake and eat it too. The United Kingdom, he insisted, would walk away with a trade deal that preserved unfettered access to the continent’s market of 450 million consumers, while freeing the U.K. from pesky European rules, regulations, and standards. The only problem is that EU negotiators don’t seem to want to give away their half of the cake. As talks remain deadlocked and a hard deadline of Jan. 1, 2021, is fast approaching for Britain to crash out of the EU, the rest of the world should be rooting for Europe to hold on to its share.

It is easy to dismiss the too long-running Brexit show as an internal European affair—of deep interest to companies doing business there, of slightly less interest to European citizens, and of little consequence to anyone else. That would be a mistake. For one, there will be short-term economic costs—and if Britain has a hard exit with no new trade rules in place, it could send shock waves around the globe. The British economy is expected to shrink by 4 percent over the next decade, and there will likely be massive short-term disruptions in trucking and air freight, possibly leading to widespread shortages.

But there is also a larger stake for the world. If Brussels folds in the negotiations, it will mark of the end of the last, best hope for restraining the race to the bottom in global trade.

The Future of the State


We are all statists now. Since the coronavirus pandemic struck and the global economy unraveled, we have looked to governments to mobilize medical resources, implement containment measures, and spend previously unimaginable sums to support workers and businesses. Out of these emergency policies could arise new institutions and ways of solving problems that will benefit us long after the pandemic.

There is a dark side, too. Governments have assumed new powers to trace, track, and control. Some of them have already abused these powers, and it is entirely conceivable that they may never give them back.

To help us understand how the pandemic will permanently expand government powers—for good or for bad—Foreign Policy asked 10 leading thinkers from around the world to weigh in.
In the Post-Pandemic World, Big Brother Will Be Watching

By Stephen M. Walt, Robert and Renée Belfer professor of international relations at Harvard University

Russian Troops in Nagorno-Karabakh ‘Clearly a Win for Moscow’


STEPANAKERT, Nagorno-Karabakh—The Russian soldiers were in no mood to talk. At the bottom of a winding mountain road, where less than a week earlier Armenian and Azerbaijani forces had been locked in fierce combat, the squad had arrived earlier that morning to set up a new checkpoint on the outskirts of Nagorno-Karabakh’s regional capital, Stepanakert. Any attempt at conversation was met with impassive shrugs; attempts to take photos, with a sharp rebuke.

In the previous day or two, only brief flashes had emerged of this unprecedented peacekeeping force, deployed under a Russian-brokered cease-fire to halt six weeks of fighting in this breakaway enclave. One phone clip had shown the rear of a Russian armored personnel carrier crawling through the Lachin corridor, a mountain pass that connects the disputed territory with Armenia proper. Another photo captured a tank rolling through rugged terrain, the Russian tricolor fluttering above its gun turret.

In this southern corner of the former Soviet Union—caught between Russia to the north, Turkey to the west, and Iran to the south—Russian boots on the ground deliver a major coup for the Kremlin, granting Moscow an upper hand as great powers jostle. However, for civilians and conscripts in the firing line, the dramatic deployment promises little resolution to this decades-old crisis. Immense challenges remain in a battleground quieted by an uneasy truce, yet still bereft of a sustainable peace.

Building a Better U.S. Approach to TikTok and Beyond

By Justin Sherman 

One of the defining technology decisions of the Trump administration was its August 2020 “ban” on TikTok—an executive order to which legal challenges are still playing out in the courts. The incoming Biden-Harris administration, however, has indicated its intention to pivot away from Trump’s approach on several key technology policies, from the expected appointment of a national cyber director to the reinvigoration of U.S. diplomacy to build tech coalitions abroad. President Biden will need to make policy decisions about software made by companies incorporated in foreign countries, and to what extent that might pose national security risks. There may be a future “TikTok policy,” in other words, that isn’t at all about—or at least isn’t just about—TikTok.

In April 2020, Republican Rep. Jim Banks introduced legislation in the House of the Representatives that sought to require developers of foreign software to provide warnings before consumers downloaded the products in question. It’s highly likely that similar such proposals will enter Congress in the next few years. On the executive branch side, the Biden administration has many decisions ahead on mobile app supply chain security, including whether to keep in place Trump’s executive order on TikTok. These questions are also linked to foreign policy: President Biden will need to decide how to handle India’s bans of Chinese software applications, as India will be a key bilateral tech relationship for the United States. And the U.S. government will also have to make choices about cloud-based artificial intelligence (AI) applications served from other countries—that is, where an organization’s AI tools are run on third-party cloud servers—in the near future.

In this context, what might a better U.S.policy on the security risks of foreign-made software look like? The Trump administration’s TikTok executive order was more of a tactical move against a single tech firm than a fully developed policy. The new administration will now have the opportunity to set out a more fully realized, comprehensive vision for how to tackle this issue.

France's future aircraft carrier: nuclear power, conventional approach?

France’s proposed new-generation nuclear-powered aircraft carrier should be a significant advance on the vessel it will replace and indicates Paris's determination to remain a global maritime-air power. However, as Hugo Decis and Nick Childs explain, this new project still faces many hurdles.

Signalling France’s long-term ambition to remain a global maritime-air power, Paris is aiming to introduce into service in 2038 a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier (CVN) weighing up to 75,000 tonnes. President Emmanuel Macron confirmed on 8 December that this far larger replacement for the navy’s 43,000-tonne Charles de Gaulle, provisionally known as the porte-avions de nouvelle génération (PANG) or ‘new-generation aircraft carrier’, will use nuclear rather than conventional propulsion. The new carrier will be able to accommodate an air wing of at least 30 multi-role fighter aircraft, as well as airborne early-warning and control aircraft, helicopters and uninhabited aerial vehicles (UAVs).
How big a step forward?

Paris’s decision to opt for a ‘classic’ nuclear-powered design – essentially a linear development of its current capability on a larger scale – at a time when the challenges to operating such platforms are only growing will inevitably stimulate further debate over the utility and vulnerability of the traditional aircraft carrier. Further suggesting that France has opted for a conventional solution to its future carrier needs, the indications are that the navy’s future will likely be based on its current operating model of a fleet centred around one catapult-equipped CVN. Given that the PANG will be expected to remain in service at least until 2080, this raises the issue of ensuring flexibility in the design to accommodate future changes in technology, threats and doctrine.

Try as It Might, America Cannot Stop Foreign Cyber Snooping

by David V. Gioe

Americans concerned about cybersecurity and foreign influence operations may have been tempted to collectively exhale a sigh of relief in the immediate aftermath of the recent presidential election. Years of investment in election security seemed to have paid off. Over a month after the 2020 election, there have been no confirmed cases of foreign entities penetrating America’s electoral infrastructure to change vote tallies. Before he was abruptly fired, Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) Director Christopher Krebs claimed his agency had no evidence that the election was tampered with by foreign adversaries.

Any hopeful feelings that the United States may have turned a corner in cybersecurity or that Russian intelligence officers were either deterred from targeting the United States or simply snoozing at their keyboards were dashed this week when the Trump administration acknowledged a massive cybersecurity breach that may have enabled Russian intelligence to steal enormous amounts of information from across key federal agencies and departments, including the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security, Treasury, Commerce, and parts of the Pentagon.

While the impact of the recent hack will not be known for some time, two things should be immediately deduced from recent events. The first is that election security is only one piece of a still lacking comprehensive national cybersecurity strategy. Second, history reminds us that foreign intelligence activity—in elections and beyond—remains an enduring national security threat that will never be completely put to rest.

Three Challenges Biden Must Confront

by Yoichi Funabashi

THE BIDEN administration has the potential to become an administration of utmost historic significance by reviving the United States’ position as the global leader in maintaining and expanding the liberal international order.

In order to rise to this challenge, it must deal with three issues vital to the United States as well as the world order: COVID-19, foreign policy with a focus on China, and international trade.

Tackling COVID-19: The Path Towards Domestic Stability

The words of John F. Kennedy perhaps best express the challenge facing the United States’ standing in the world today: “A nation can be no stronger abroad than she is at home.” The failure to properly address the COVID-19 crisis has created domestic turmoil while the United States’ lack of control over the virus’ spread has played out in front of the eyes of the world. According to the current statistics from the World Health Organization, nearly 20 percent of all the reported Covid deaths and cases came from the United States, while the country only occupies 4 percent of the world’s population.

Before even looking at its foreign policy, this situation makes it inevitable that the new administration will have to give high priority to domestic policy issues in setting its agenda. In order to stabilize U.S. domestic politics, Joe Biden must first fight and win against COVID-19.

Japanese Companies Fall Victim To Unprecedented Wave of Cyber Attacks

By Thisanka Siripala

As the world struggles to fight the spread of the coronavirus, companies as well as governments are waking up to the growing threat of cyber viruses which targeted over 1,000 companies worldwide between January and October. 

Since the start of 2020, companies in Japan have faced an unprecedented spike in ransomware attacks, which have suspended business operations and crippled computer and email systems just as Japanese companies shifted to teleworking as a countermeasure against COVID-19. 

Traditional ransomware infiltrates encrypted data on a victim’s computer or internal system and demands a ransom. There are instances in which confidential data is stolen first, followed by the encryption of a system until the ransom is paid, typically through bitcoins, or threats are made and then information is stolen and leaked if no action is taken. 

According to international security firm CrowdStrike, a survey of 2,200 security departments at major companies in 13 countries found that just over half of 200 Japanese companies, ranging from the automotive, aviation, and finance sectors, reported ransomware cyber attacks in which 33 companies paid an average sum of 123 million yen ($1.17 million) to criminal networks in order to prevent the leak of password-protected data.

The Lesson of 2020? Security Doesn’t Mean What You Think It Does

By Jacob Parakilas

2020 — now entering, mercifully, its final days — presented a whole spectrum of disasters: Apocalyptic wildfires in Australia and California; protests and violence from the U.S. to Hong Kong to Thailand to Nigeria; a conventional war in the Caucuses; a likely Russian hack of American government departments so massive its implications are still far from clear; and hovering over all of it, the COVID-19 pandemic which shut the world down starting in February and has since sickened and killed millions worldwide.

And underneath it all there is a through line: governments failing to protect their citizens. From enacting insufficient, delayed, or incoherent measures to contain the spread of a deadly virus — a failure made apparent in comparison with the countries which did manage to get things mostly right — to failing to adequately regulate tech firms entrusted with priceless government networks and the enormous quantity of aggregate data of citizens, to failing to manage the increasingly sharp consequences of runaway climate change, the story of 2020 is largely one of societal resilience and individual heroism leavened by official incompetence or worse.

So how, in a word, can we do better in 2021?

One approach is to broaden the definition of “security threat” to include more than just conventional attack or terrorism. The appeal of this solution is that it might in the short term allow the reprogramming of some of the enormous sums spent on conventional security to address the issues that are actually manifestly damaging the lives and livelihoods of people now, rather than hedging against future threat.