4 January 2021

Xi Jinping’s strategic overreach in the Himalayas


NEW DELHI – The year 2020 will be remembered not only for the COVID-19 shock and the end of Donald Trump’s presidency in the United States, but also as a moment of reckoning for China. With its international reputation battered by the pandemic, and with pushback against its territorial overreach intensifying, China’s ability to pursue its geopolitical ambitions is diminishing rapidly. Nowhere is this more apparent than in its relations with India.

The shift began in May. As the brutal Himalayan winter receded, a shocked India found that Chinese forces had occupied hundreds of square kilometers of borderlands in its northernmost Ladakh region. The encroaching forces, backed by thousands of troops in the rear, had seized mountaintops and other strategic vantage points, and the People’s Liberation Army had established forward bases, blocking India’s access to areas along the disputed frontier that had been under its exclusive jurisdiction.

It was a cynical attempt to exploit not only the chaos and hardship caused by China’s most infamous global export, COVID-19, but also Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s long-standing appeasement policy. In the previous six years, Modi had met with Chinese President Xi Jinping 18 times, in the hope of fostering friendlier relations (and weakening the China-Pakistan axis).

Russia Is No Longer A Strategic Asset For India’s Foreign Policy – Analysis

By Dr Subhash Kapila

Perceptionaly, in 2020, analysing by contemporary trends of Russia positioned in a virtual military alliance with China, it loses its worth to Indian foreign policy as a ‘Strategic Asset’. Russia ceases to be even an existential counterweight for India against China’s contemporary military adventurism.

Russia’s value as a ‘Strategic Asset’ for Indian foreign policy in 2020 stands clearly ‘frayed’. Russia-India relations today are marked by more strategic divergences than strategic convergences of yesteryears

Strategic denouement between Russia and India in 2020 would be perceivable to any discernible policy analyst in the wake of the above.

In the case of India, the strategic denouement with Russia becomes painful when India and Indians-at-large see the spectacle of Russia in a strategic and military embrace of China and wooing Pakistan —-two nations engaged in bitter military confrontation with India for decades now.

Conversely, Russia could argue that India moving into an intense security relationship with the United States is equally painful for Russia. But then Russia cannot draw the same equivalence because Russia and the United States are more in a Great Power Game and not in intense military confrontation and military clashes fighting over disputed borders.

India-Russia Relations Face More Trouble

By Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan

India’s Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar, left, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi, pose for a photo on the sidelines of a meeting of Foreign Ministers of Shanghai Cooperation Organization, Commonwealth of Independent States and Collective Security Treaty Organization Member States in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, September 10. 2020.Credit: Russian Foreign Ministry Press Service via AP

India and Russia have gone through several ups and downs in their decades-old bilateral relationship. The two appear at present to be going through a tricky phase. The two-decade old India-Russia annual summit was cancelled for the first time. A news report in India suggested that the postponement was the result of “severe reservations on New Delhi joining the Indo-Pacific initiative and Quad.” India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) spokesperson responded by saying, “The India-Russia Annual Summit did not take place in 2020 because of the COVID pandemic. This was a mutually agreed decision between the two Governments. Any imputation otherwise is false and misleading. Spreading false stories on important relationships is particularly irresponsible.” The Russian side also responded with a statement saying that it is in “close touch” with its counterparts in India to finalize new dates for the summit, “postponed due to epidemiological reasons.” 

But such denials are unlikely to entirely remove speculation about the state of bilateral relations, especially considering that India has taken part in a large number of bilateral and multilateral talks virtually, even if the pandemic has prevented physical meetings. 

Indonesia’s Nonalignment Problem

By Nithin Coca

Indonesia is the world’s fourth most populous country and its seventh-largest economy. Yet the Southeast Asian country has historically played an undersized role in global affairs. Its traditional policy of neutrality in international relations has made it a bit player in Asia and rendered it mostly invisible in international forums such as the United Nations. But China’s ascent, and its escalating incursions into waters that Indonesia claims, has inflamed anti-China sentiment in the archipelago and called into question the wisdom of nonalignment. Now, after decades of punching below its weight, Jakarta may be about to assert itself on the international stage.

In recent years, Indonesian leaders have sought to chart a middle path toward China, at once pandering to popular distrust of China while seeking Chinese investment. But that balancing act has done little to dissuade Beijing from harassing Indonesia as it does its other Southeast Asian and Pacific neighbors. President Joko Widodo, also known as Jokowi, largely eschews opportunities to speak on the international stage. His ambiguous messaging on China is becoming increasingly unsustainable as the regional security landscape changes.

Other regional powers have already begun to mobilize as a counterweight to Beijing. Australia, India, and Japan—all large democracies—have tightened their cooperation with the United States in the Indo-Pacific under the rubric of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or Quad. The Quad aims to check China’s growing assertiveness in the South China Sea and, more broadly, to prevent China from attaining a hegemonic position in the region. To date, Indonesia has remained a bystander in this competition, strengthening China’s position. To begin to counter Chinese encroachment on its borders—and act its size—Indonesia should consider cooperating more closely with the Quad.


Indonesia’s Nuclear Dream, Revived?

By Sung-Mi Kim

Is Indonesia looking to go nuclear under the Joko Widodo government? In February 2020, Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, the coordinating minister of maritime affairs and former chief of staff to President Widodo, publicly complained that powerful countries like the United States do not consider Indonesia a serious international player because of its lack of nuclear weapons, seizing some local news headlines. The political heavyweight, a retired four-star army general, is behind a recent bout of interest in cutting-edge nuclear reactor technologies to capitalize on the country’s abundant mineral resources. 

In June 2020, Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto held meetings with the governor of the Banka Belitung Islands and it is known that they discussed setting up a ministerial regional office there. Just off the east coast of Sumatra, the islands are estimated to hold 95 percent of Indonesia’s thorium. Thorium itself cannot be used in traditional thermal neutron reactors but upon absorbing a neutron will transmute to uranium-233, an excellent fissile fuel material especially for (advanced) molten salt reactors. In July 2020, a meeting between Luhut and Prabowo was reported for their discussions on the use of tin and rare earth elements. 

New Year Resolutions for Asia’s Biggest Economies

By Anthony Fensom

Asia’s Year of the Rat was plagued by the COVID-19 pandemic, a new “Cold War” between the United States and China and global recession. In hope of better times ahead, Pacific Money takes a look at some New Year resolutions for the region’s biggest economies for 2021, Asia’s Year of the Ox.

China: Keep the Champagne on Ice

China’s ruling Communist Party celebrates its 100th anniversary in July 2021, having grown from a group of around 50 revolutionaries to more than 90 million members. Yet will it be bouquets or brickbats for Chinese President Xi Jinping at this milestone event?

Economically, Xi can boast of a swift recovery from the coronavirus pandemic that first emerged a year ago in Wuhan. While China has not been immune – it is set for its slowest growth since the Mao era – it has been one of the only major economies to expand in 2020.

As a result, its share of global gross domestic product (GDP) has jumped to its highest on record at around 18 percent, according to Capital Economics. Yet the consultancy cautions against extrapolating this strength too far into the future, given China’s structural weaknesses including demographics, rising debt, and diminishing returns on investment, which are being “papered over” with stimulus.

“China’s rebound during the global financial crisis obscured an underlying decline in trend growth that only became apparent a few years later. We think the same will be true this time,” the London-based economists predict.

Balochistan & CPEC: China's Achilles' Heel

Dipanjan Roy Chaudhury

The progress on CPEC has reportedly slowed down due to the economic downturn, restrictions by the IMF’s bail-out programme on fresh borrowings, outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. Beijing also appears hesitant to take up new projects due to bureaucratic inertia and security concerns.
AgenciesAs many as 92% of Balochistan districts are classified as high deprived. Even the gas-rich Dera Bugti district has the lowest HDI in Pak. Balochistan has the lowest literacy rate (43%), including the least net enrolment rate for primary schools.

Situation in Balochistan, Pakistan’s biggest province, could emerge as Achilles' Heel for China’s mega BRI and its jewel in the crown CPEC.

The progress on CPEC has reportedly slowed down due to the economic downturn, restrictions by the IMF’s bail-out programme on fresh borrowings, outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. Beijing also appears hesitant to take up new projects due to bureaucratic inertia and security concerns.

Chinese authorities remain concerned over increasing Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) activities and possible revival of the Sindh Revolution Army. Besides risk of Covid-19 infection among security personnel deployed for CPEC security and slow pace of progress on Gwadar Safe City project are the other challenges. There is lack of progress on cross regional cooperation mechanism between Xinjiang and Gilgit-Baltistan following Pak’s failure to nominate its representative despite China appointing its representative in 2018.

Ant Group’s Year of Reckoning?

By Eleanor Albert

Chinese business magnate, founder and executive chairman of the e-commerce Alibaba Group, Jack Ma applauds as he attends an entrepreneurship discussion in Nairobi, Kenya Thursday, July 20, 2017.

The close of 2020 has not been the blockbuster that Jack Ma’s Ant Group had hoped it would be. In November, the fintech company’s highly anticipated initial public offering for Hong Kong and Shanghai markets was suspended at the last minute. And in the past few weeks, Chinese regulators have escalated their concerns, launching an antitrust investigation into retail giant Alibaba for monopolistic practices. Regulators also intend to set up a “rectification” plan for Ant Group, calling on the conglomerate to return to its roots of online payments and boost transparency of its transactions.

Ant Group has grown into a financial powerhouse in China, with operations ranging from online payments via Alipay, asset management, insurance, and lending. The regulatory issues raised by Chinese authorities include Alibaba’s practice of forcing merchants to exclusively sell and distribute products on their platform over competitors such as JD.com or Pinduoduo. As for Ant Group, regulators have levied concerns over originating consumer loans and their subsequent sale to banks without the firm carrying any of their own risk. China’s central bank also accused the firm’s corporate governance of being “not sound,” of “having little legal knowledge and turning a blind eye to compliance requirements.”

The Roar of the Wolf Warriors: China’s Increasingly Aggressive Diplomacy

Eyal Propper

The strategic message that was the legacy of former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping to keep a low profile, move forward quietly, and be patient, changed under Xi Jinping's leadership, and especially during the four years of the Trump administration. Deng’s policy was succeeded by the "wolf warrior diplomacy," reflected in China’s greater extremism in statements against other countries, aggressive reactions to criticism, and punishment of countries that it believes harm its interests. It is an open question whether in the coming years, and especially with a new American administration, China will continue this diplomatic style and perhaps even intensify it, including in the context of potential military force. Israel must study Chinese policy carefully and maintain bilateral trade ties while strengthening its strategic ties with the United States. Against the background of the struggle between the powers, Israel would do well to follow the messages bequeathed by Deng: be patient, maintain a low profile, and progress toward long-term goals – without loud or provocative rhetoric.

On June 4, 1989, Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping ordered the army to enter Tiananmen Square by force and, at the bloody cost of thousands, crush the student demonstrations, in order to maintain the stable rule of the Communist Party of China. After this serious crisis, Deng decided to relinquish his last official position as chairman of the Central Military Commission, appear in public at few events to emphasize the need for further economic reforms, and remain closeted at home until his death in 1997. Before retiring, however, he conveyed to the Communist Party leadership a message on the continuation of the diplomatic path vis-à-vis the world. The central section of his remarks, labeled "24 Character Strategy," instructed: "Hide your strength, bide your time" (tao guang, yang hui). Accordingly, China must "be sober, weigh events in a cold and considered fashion, adhere to political principles, preserve strength, be patient, and not rush to display leadership." According to this view, China does not need to be a leader in the international arena; it does not have the capacity and means to do so, and it must act modestly and carefully, talk little, and in parallel try to earn something. After the breakup of the Soviet Union, Deng said that some developing countries expect China to be their leader, but it is clear that China cannot do that: this is not part of its basic national interests, and moreover, China is not strong enough to do so. Indeed, over the years China has acted in a measured and controlled manner, especially vis-à-vis the United States, and its diplomats have maintained a low profile in the international arena.

Editors’ picks for 2020: ‘How to deal with the increasing risk of doing business with China’

Michael Shoebridge

Can Australia stop the Chinese government’s economic coercion against our government and businesses? Yes.

All it would take is for Australian political leaders and parliaments to align our national policies, laws and directions with those of the Chinese government. Shutting up when we have differences and making decisions aligned with Beijing’s acts, wishes and decisions would be the most business-friendly China policy for Australia and every other country to adopt.

That’s pretty much what a set of interests and voices in Australia is calling for when it talks of ‘resetting the relationship’.

But it’s also very difficult. Unavoidable differences in national interests are becoming more stark as China’s national power grows and as the Chinese Communist Party uses that power more coercively domestically and internationally.

China’s aggressive expansion of its boundaries through forcible seizure of South China Sea landforms and the coercive patrolling of the maritime area within its large ‘nine-dash line’ claim is one example.

In Australia, Chinese foreign interference has led to new laws and seen cyber hacking of our parliament and political parties. And now, the Chinese ambassador’s threats of economic coercion have been followed by actual coercion disguised as arcane technical difficulties around our barley and beef exports.

Beijing’s Hong Kong Fables Have Unhappy Endings


Hong Kong’s freedoms and international stature have taken a dramatic hit this year. In the last two decades, Beijing and the global financial community have tried to construct particular narratives about Hong Kong. None of those have held up—but a new story may emerge.

Around the turn of the millennium, Beijing had a story to tell about Hong Kong’s past, present, and future that connected the local, the national, and the global in an appealing way. It was, moreover, a narrative that was comforting to the Davos set and easy for Hong Kong’s government spokespeople to present to international audiences. It went something like this:

Until the handover of July 1, 1997, Hong Kong was an impressive place but was prevented from being all that it could be by colonial structures that kept the local population from determining their own fate and having a satisfying connection to the land from which most of them came. When the handover made Hong Kong a Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China, a glorious new chapter in its history began. Gone was the taint of being under the thumb of a distant capital. Before the government had been headed by a governor appointed in London but now a local chief executive was in charge.

Gone was the sense of Hong Kong being disconnected from China, and this liberation of the city would not come at the cost of its global appeal and cosmopolitan characteristics, thanks to the protections afforded to it by the “One Country, Two Systems” framework. Deng Xiaoping famously reassured people that the horses would still race and dancers would still dance after 1997.

Why There’s No Easy Solution to the U.S.-Turkey Dispute Over the S-400

Henri J. Barkey 

In response to strong bipartisan pressure from Congress, the U.S. State Department imposed sanctions on Turkey earlier this month to punish it for purchasing a sophisticated anti-aircraft missile system from Russia in 2019. The narrowly targeted sanctions include a ban on export licenses for Turkey’s main military procurement agency, as well as asset freezes and visa restrictions on senior officials at the organization. Not surprisingly, Turkey, a major NATO ally, called the move a “grave mistake” and threatened to retaliate.

The yearslong fracas over Turkey’s purchase of the S-400 missile defense system, reportedly for around $2.5 billion, will go down in the annals of diplomacy as one of the most unnecessary, avoidable and bizarre episodes in modern history. Yet, as perplexing as the case may be, there appears to be no off-ramp to a dispute that is doing untold damage to Turkey’s relations with the U.S. and other NATO allies, as well as to the Turkish leadership’s pride and to the Turkish military. The only winner is Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is not just laughing all the way to the bank, but is also enjoying the sight of Ankara and Washington falling out over yet another item on a long list of disagreements. .

Turkey will lead NATO's high-readiness force in 2021

By Ed Adamczyk

Dec. 30 (UPI) -- NATO's Very High Readiness Joint Task Force, its quick-deployment unit of 6,400 personnel, will be led in 2021 by Turkey, the military bloc said on Wednesday.

Turkey will take over the responsibility from Poland on Jan. 1, a NATO statement said.

Leadership of the VJTF, which places soldiers on standby status and ready to deploy, rotates annually among NATO members, with the majority of the force's personnel comprised of units from the lead country.

The approximately 4,200 troops of Turkey's 66th Mechanized Infantry Brigade Command, and about 2,200 more from Albania, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, Britain and the United States, will serve in the unit.

NATO formed the VJTF in 2014 in response to crises at the time in the Middle East and the Russian military incursion in Crimea.

The NATO statement called the Turkish brigade "amongst the most mobile in NATO, particularly in its logistics and ammunition requirements planning."

The alliance also noted in the statement that "the latest models of Turkish armed vehicles, anti-tank missiles and howitzers have been allocated to the force."

Turkey, a NATO member since 1952, was sanctioned by the United States earlier in December for its 2017 purchase of a Russian missile defense system.

US’ will to fight boils down to its interests

By Chang Kuo-tsai 

Whenever a new resident takes over the White House — or the majority party in the US Congress changes or the China hawks in the US overshadow the doves or the China doves take over the roost — concerned Taiwanese media start asking the question: “If China one day takes military action against Taiwan, would the US fight for Taiwan?”

The US has long adopted a position of strategic ambiguity on the matter, refusing to give a definitive “yes” or “no.”

This strategic ambiguity in the background coupled with China’s obvious military ambitions and four years of US President Donald Trump directly confronting Beijing translates into a rapidly evolving situation. As a result, there are increasing calls for the US to face the issue head-on — to stop avoiding it.

Retired US general Stanley McChrystal, a former commander of US and NATO Coalition Forces in Afghanistan and now an adviser to US president-elect Joe Biden, said in an interview with US Web site Axios this month that “China’s military capacity has risen much faster than people appreciate,” and that the US is running out of time to counterbalance China in Asia and prevent a scenario such as it seizing Taiwan.

He then popped the same question to the US that is being asked by the Taiwanese media: “Are you really prepared to fight for Taiwan?”

10 key details in the UK-EU trade deal


The agreement will make trade between the U.K. and the EU more complicated than it has been while Britain was a member of the bloc | narvikk via iStock

Now comes the scramble to work out what it means for individuals and businesses — and, inevitably, lawyers — across 28 countries. The deal itself is 1,246 pages long, but there are summaries, side agreements and additional political declarations on a range of sensitive issues to consider, too. 

Shorthand comparisons are of little use. It’s not that helpful, experts say, to compare to deals struck between the European Union and Canada, for example, because the EU-U.K. agreement is unlike any other trade deal the bloc has struck with another country.

The U.K., meanwhile, has only so far agreed to two trade deals that it has said materially differ from those it was a party to as a member of the EU: the economic agreement with Japan, and this one. 

Overall, however, as expected, it is a deal that cleaves one market into two. The agreement will make trade between the U.K. and the EU more complicated than it has been while Britain was a member of the bloc, as explained in this at-a-glance view of the agreement, but it does go some way to smoothing the cliff-edge that would have been inevitable if no trade deal had been struck at all. The agreement on paper will also likely evolve during its implementation, making the consequences harder to judge for some areas than for others.

Scoop: Trump administration declassifies unconfirmed intel on Chinese bounties

Jonathan Swan, Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian

The Trump administration is declassifying as-yet uncorroborated intelligence, recently briefed to President Trump, that indicates China offered to pay non-state actors in Afghanistan to attack American soldiers, two senior administration officials tell Axios.

The big picture: The disclosure of this unconfirmed intelligence comes 21 days before the end of Trump's presidency, after he has vowed to ratchet up pressure on China, and months after news reports indicated that the Russians had secretly offered bounties for Taliban militants to kill U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
The Chinese embassy in D.C. did not respond to a request for comment. Trump is not believed to have discussed the matter with President Xi Jinping.
It was not immediately clear whether any members of Congress or President-elect Joe Biden have been briefed, though Biden now has access to the President's Daily Brief (PDB).

Behind the scenes: The intelligence was included in the president's briefing on Dec. 17, and Trump was verbally briefed on the matter by national security adviser Robert O'Brien, officials said.
Administration officials across multiple agencies are currently working to corroborate the initial intelligence reports.
Axios was not able to visually inspect any reports detailing the intelligence. A summary was described by phone by the officials.


By Carl Forsling 

Days before President Donald Trump signed into law a $900 billion bill that provides financial aid to millions of struggling Americans, he decried the legislation on Twitter, citing several line items he objected to in the omnibus Consolidated Appropriations Act (CAA), including foreign aid appropriations and funding for other departments in the federal government that did not seem to have a direct connection to the pandemic.

Attaching controversial legislation to important bills that make it difficult for members of Congress to vote against them is a common practice in the halls of Congress, and Trump’s intent was to try and force legislators to increase direct stimulus checks of $600 per person for COVID relief to $2,000 per person — an initiative that representatives in the House passed Monday in follow-up legislation that seems unlikely to advance in the Senate. 

As a result, foreign aid became a hot political topic on social media. You may have seen graphics and memes like the following in your social media feeds: 

Russia and China Is Why America is So Focused on Nuclear Weapons

by Kris Osborn

It would appear clear that the Pentagon has no plans to abandon its nuclear weapons arsenal but rather likely expand it considerably along with its massive ongoing modernization campaign to deliver new intercontinental ballistic missiles, stealth bombers, low-yield weapons, nuclear hypersonic missiles and new air-dropped nuclear-bomb variants. 

A vigorous nuclear weapons program has been underway in recent years, including rapid progress with the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent new ICBM program and continued upgrades to the old Minuteman III missiles. In addition, the military is engineering new low-yield nuclear warheads for the submarine-launched Trident II D5 nuclear missile, constructing a Long-Range Stand-Off weapon nuclear-armed cruise missiles and a new integrated B-61 air-dropped bomb. 

All of these programs have reached milestones and gained considerable traction in the last several years, a dynamic setting the stage for a more resilient, reliable and capable weapons arsenal as the Pentagon moves into future years. Many lawmakers from both parties, as well as senior Pentagon leaders and other weapons developers, have long maintained that the U.S. nuclear arsenal needed to be massively overhauled and expanded. 

Low-Yield Nuclear Missiles Are Here: But Is That a Good Thing?

by Kris Osborn

The Pentagon and Department of Energy have completed production and development of a new low-yield nuclear warhead for the Trident II D5 nuclear armed ballistic missile to give commanders a tactical nuclear-weapons option to add to the overall strategic deterrence posture. 

“W76-2 warheads were delivered to the Navy. A modification of the W76-1, the W76-2 supports the low-yield, sea-launched ballistic missile capability called for in the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review,” The Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration’s 2021 Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan - Biennial Plan Summary, writes. 

The low-yield variant, in development for several years now, is intended to match and further deter Russian and Chinese initiatives to engineer and deploy low-yield, tactical nuclear weapons. The 2018 NPR also calls for a nuclear-armed Sub-Launched Cruise Missile to add to the U.S. arsenal as well. 

The intent, as articulated by the NPR, is to widen the aperture of U.S. nuclear weapons possibilities and introduce a certain kind of layered deterrence, ensuring potential rivals that a tactically oriented or limited nuclear weapons attack would be guaranteed response. Such is the paradox of strategic deterrence thinking, to build and threaten massively destructive weapons to prevent them from being used at all. In effect, create peace through the promise of a catastrophic alternative

10 Conflicts to Watch in 2021

Robert Malley

If there were a contest for the 2020 event with the most far-reaching implications for global peace and security, the field would be crowded.

From the coronavirus pandemic to climate change’s growing impact, the Trump administration’s scorched-earth policies after Joe Biden’s election, the Azerbaijani-Armenian war over Nagorno-Karabakh, and a deadly conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, it has been an eventful year. In 2021, the world will be dealing with the aftermath and sifting through the debris.

Start with COVID-19 and its long tail. When the pandemic first broke out, many – myself included – feared that it would have immediate, potentially devastating consequences in developing countries, especially those facing deadly conflict. Although several low-income countries were hit badly, many were not; diplomatic activity, international mediation, peacekeeping missions, and financial support to vulnerable populations suffered, but it’s questionable whether COVID-19 dramatically affected the trajectory of major wars, be they in Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Yemen, or elsewhere.

Longer-term ramifications are a different matter. The pandemic has precipitated a global economic crisis without precedent since World War II, with an additional 150 million people being driven below the extreme poverty line. Although income levels do not directly correlate with conflict, violence is more likely during periods of economic volatility.


10 Conflicts to Watch in 2021


If there were a contest for the 2020 event with the most far-reaching implications for global peace and security, the field would be crowded.

From the coronavirus pandemic to climate change’s growing impact, the Trump administration’s scorched-earth policies after Joe Biden’s election, the Azerbaijani-Armenian war over Nagorno-Karabakh, and a deadly conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, it has been an eventful year. In 2021, the world will be dealing with the aftermath and sifting through the debris.

Start with COVID-19 and its long tail. When the pandemic first broke out, many—myself included—feared that it would have immediate, potentially devastating consequences in developing countries, especially those facing deadly conflict. Although several low-income countries were hit badly, many were not; diplomatic activity, international mediation, peacekeeping missions, and financial support to vulnerable populations suffered, but it’s questionable whether COVID-19 dramatically affected the trajectory of major wars, be they in Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Yemen, or elsewhere.

Longer-term ramifications are a different matter. The pandemic has precipitated a global economic crisis without precedent since World War II, with an additional 150 million people being driven below the extreme poverty line. Although income levels do not directly correlate with conflict, violence is more likely during periods of economic volatility.

DARPA’s contribution to JADC2: ‘Mosaic’ warfare

By Jared Serbu 

Joint All-Domain Command and Control — the Pentagon’s vision to stitch together its weapons platforms and communications systems into a seamless “internet of military things” — is likely to begin delivering some of its first capabilities by next year. And at least in the early going, the architecture that underpins that interconnectedness will need to be stitched together by hand.

But the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has a far different vision for how JADC2 could be operating as soon as five years from now. Under a concept called Mosaic Warfare, aided by artificial intelligence and a new cadre of technical experts, new systems of systems could be brought together on demand, depending on what a particular mission requirement called for.

And although DoD is already thinking about JADC2 as a system of systems, the Mosaic concept is radically different from the contemporary approach, which Timothy Grayson, the director of DARPA’s strategic technology office, describes as more like a jigsaw puzzle.

“What we’re doing with Mosaic is trying to bust up monolithic architectures and make them into fluid dynamic types of warfighting constructs,” Grayson told a recent conference hosted by the National Defense Industrial Association. “We like to contrast that architecture with a jigsaw puzzle where all the different systems are carefully architected with well-defined interfaces that have to go together one particular way. The mosaic metaphor says I’ve got a collection of tiles, and they might be all different kinds of colors and shapes, but I can select the tiles that I want in a much more flexible way — not a predefined structure — to build that mosaic artwork.”

4 Predictions for Defense, Strategy, and Technology in 2021

By Jacob Parakilas

If I had made predictions for the coming year in December 2019, I suspect most of them would have been wrong: 2020 confounded expectations and frustrated plans from the personal to the grand strategic. 2021 is likely to be a very different kind of year, and doubtless has more than a few surprises in store. Nevertheless, I think it’s worthwhile putting down a few brief markers for what I expect in the defense and strategic space over the coming 12 months.

1. Armed Robots Will Spread To Different Domains

2020 might reasonably be described as the year the armed drone went global, as a widespread weapon of war rather than a specialist tool operated only by the wealthiest states. But the overall robotization of warfare is an uneven process. If armed aerial drones have become commonplace, the same cannot be said for armed ground or naval robots. There are sound technical reasons for this – safe, autonomous navigation on land is much more difficult than in the air, and aerial platforms have obvious military applications in surveillance and strike.

But there are missions that aerial vehicles are poorly suited to or incapable of, and there has been steady but low-profile progress on ground and undersea robots. Given the lack of a legal framework to prohibit arming such units, and the proliferation of low-cost, high-precision compact weapons, their operational debut might well occur in some capacity in the next 12 months.

2. More Hacks, Less Attention

Tech key to military modernization, says general


The Chinese military is poised to adopt more intelligent technologies in its modernization drive, a senior military official said.

The goal of the modernization efforts of the People's Liberation Army and the People's Armed Police Force in the coming years will be characterized by better hardware, stronger information capabilities and the wide use of intelligent technologies, General Xu Qiliang, a vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission, the nation's top military authority, wrote in a recently published article.

"The goal of our military modernization evolves with the times. As our nation has entered a new era, President Xi Jinping has urged the armed forces to develop and use intelligent technologies as the pillar of their future combat capabilities, and at the same time they should continue upgrading their weapons, equipment and information capabilities," Xu wrote, pointing out that intelligent technologies have become a defining factor in modern warfare.

Intelligent technologies are reshaping military systems around the world and China must keep pace with this trend to further its military modernization, he said.

Military researchers said that China's armed forces have basically become mechanized and are rapidly developing their technological capabilities. The PLA's endeavor to boost intelligent technologies will facilitate its development of hardware and its information capabilities, they said.


George Fust

Study your Clausewitz, you’re told. Study your Jomini, too. Study B.H. Liddell Hart, Sun Tzu, and John Boyd. History has provided us no shortage of military theorists for members of the profession of arms to draw insights from. Some are more influential than others, and all have value. But they must be read in the context they were written. Today’s military professional must be aware of influences on the authors they are leveraging for insight. A more complete understanding of the source’s background and evolution of their theory can help prevent misapplication. Observing the source’s conclusion in the context of its origin allows for a more refined evolution of the theory. History offers insight but never a complete solution.

Each of us is a product of our experiences. Life events form the basis of perspective and approach to understanding. Carl von Clausewitz and Antoine-Henri Jomini provide an especially instructive case in point. Both analyzed the same history yet arrived at different conclusions. Despite their similarities as military officers at the end of the eighteenth and into the nineteenth centuries, their overarching theory and conclusions about war differ. The differences between Jomini and Clausewitz are derived from personal insights because of unique life experiences. Those experiences determined the lens each would employ to develop his theory, which, coupled with the differing motivations behind their writing, explains why Jomini and Clausewitz developed different ideas about war. The implications of this finding for current military professionals are significant. Those who rely on these and other military theorists in their professional development must seek to interpret the influences on the authors to prevent misuse and to better understand their own biases. Experience drives perspective. An analysis of the experience, philosophical framework, and motivations of Jomini and Clausewitz provides insight into the development of their timeless theories and provides a model for current professionals.