13 January 2021

Is Terrorism Declining in India?

By Soumya Chaturvedi

The verdict of the Global Terrorism Index 2020 (GTI) is in. While India has retained its rank as the eighth most highly impacted country from terrorism globally, it has improved significantly on several metrics. Between 2018-19, it was among the 10 countries that witnessed the largest decrease in deaths from terrorism. There has also been a 16 percent decrease in the overall economic impact of terrorism on India over the same period. According to the GTI Report, in 2019, the country saw a 20 percent reduction in deaths from terrorism and attacks in India. As compared to the other nine countries in the top 10, which had an average of 2.9 average deaths per attack in 2019, India’s average was 0.5.

Unlike other countries, the forms of terrorism in India are varied and complex. The government has identified and banned 42 terrorist organizations, Islamist, separatist, and communist in their doctrinal beliefs. The different agenda and function of these terrorist groups present an unprecedented challenge to India’s national security. According to the last report of the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs, there was a significant improvement in the security situation in the country due to the containment of separatist and communist terrorist organizations. Thus, exclusively in terms of terrorism, the biggest threat to the country’s internal security comes from Islamist terrorist groups.

What If the Afghan Peace Process Fails?

By Marvin G. Weinbaum and Shanthie Mariet D’Souza

In this Monday, September 14, 2020 file photo, families gather at the graves of their relatives, adorned with their pictures, on the outskirts of Kabul, Afghanistan.Credit: AP Photo/Rahmat Gul, File

Prospects for a lasting, comprehensive agreement to end the Afghan conflict, never very bright, seem increasingly dim. Only after many months of wrangling over preliminary issues are the opposing delegations in Doha now at the point of addressing the multitude of tough decisions required to shape a new political order.

It augurs badly for negotiations that the Taliban, whether out of confidence in its strong bargaining position or from core convictions, have thus far shown no inclination to compromise on any issues of real substance. Against a background of mounting violence, in refusing to entertain a ceasefire the Taliban have also shown themselves to be in no hurry to end the nation’s bloodletting. 

Most disconcerting, the talks have confirmed the wide gap between the opposing sides in their visions of a future Afghan state and society. The Taliban’s participation in peace talks in Doha seems not so much intended to chart Afghanistan’s future as aimed at keeping the U.S. in the February 2020 agreement that committed it to removing all troops from Afghanistan by the end of this April. With American as well as allied foreign forces gone, the Taliban could well be on a path to political ascendance, if not by bullying at a negotiating table then on the battlefield.

The Articulation of Discourse in Populism: Understanding 21st Century Pakistan

Prashant Rastogi

The Islamic Republic of Pakistan had historically consisted of multifaceted junctures under the rubric of populism which had found existence in religion and civil-military relations, influencing the political discourse in the country. The architect of an independent Pakistan, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, popularly revered to as ‘Quaid-i-Azam’ played a critical role in inaugurating the social contract recognised in the ‘Two-Nation theory’ as a differential principle between the Hindu and Muslim civilizations, hostile to each other, with a lack of common co-existence values to be shared under the aegis of a unified nation. The two-nation theory made the Islamic ideology central to the existence of Pakistan, making the Quranic teachings and Sunnah important for the ruling dispensation to be legitimised (Majid, 2014). Though himself a non-sectarian practicing Muslim with a staunch belief in justice for all sects of Islam and religions (Awan, 2020), Md. Ali Jinnah’s promotion of the two-nation theory led to the division of India into two separate countries, ultimately leading to the first interval in populism as an antagonistic principle in an independent Pakistan.

Interpreting Mainstream and Alternative Media Accounts of Hong Kong’s 2019 Protests

Oliver Clark

On the morning of November 12th 2019, Hong Kong awoke a city divided. Division was hardly new in a region that, since June of that year, had been the site of large-scale civil unrest. This unrest could, in the simplest terms, be described as a clash between pan-democratic and pro-establishment interests. What had begun as peaceful protests against an extradition bill proposed by the HK Government, quickly became a movement against police brutality. Ultimately, the movement morphed into one which sought to protect the autonomy of the HK region and define (and in many ways, redefine) its relationship with Mainland China. It was on November 12th, as reports of the previous day’s events circulated, that these divisions reached a climax. That previous morning in Sai Wan Ho, a 21-year old student was shot by a policeman. The image of the of the shooting went viral. That same morning, in Ma On Shan, a construction worker was doused in petrol and set alight during a verbal confrontation with a group of protesters. In the media, two entirely different representations of the events of this day emerged, each portraying a different group as the antagonist. As this essay will explore, much of the polarised nature of this reporting can be attributed to the differences between mainstream and alternative media. This essay will investigate these two types of media in HK, drawing attention to the systems of power that work to influence their reporting. Then, recognising the polarised nature of reporting during the 2019 protests, this essay will argue that a rejection of the binary opposition logic employed by media organisations will allow observers to more responsibly interpret and consume these evidently contradictory narratives.

Virus Rules Tightened in Province Near Beijing

In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency, Yang Hongke checks on test samples at a testing lab of KingMed Diagnostics Group Co., Ltd. in Shijiazhuang in northern China’s Hebei Province on January 9, 2021.Credit: Mu Yu/Xinhua via AP

Chinese health authorities say scores more people have tested positive for the coronavirus in Hebei province bordering on the capital Beijing.

The outbreak focused on the Hebei cities of Shijiazhuang and Xingtai is one of China’s most serious in recent months and comes amid measures to curb further spread during next month’s Lunar New Year holiday. Authorities have called on citizens not to travel, ordered schools closed a week early and conducted testing on a massive scale.

The National Health Commission said Monday that another 82 people had tested positive in Hebei and were showing symptoms. Around the country, another 36 people had tested positive without displaying symptoms, although it wasn’t immediately clear how many of those were in Hebei.

What Does the EU-China Investment Deal Mean for US-EU Relations?

By Mercy A. Kuo

Diplomat author Mercy Kuo regularly engages subject-matter experts, policy practitioners and strategic thinkers across the globe for their diverse insights into U.S. Asia policy. This conversation with Dr. Alexander Vuving – professor at the College of Security Studies at the Daniel K. Inouye Asia Pacific Center for Security Studies and editor of “Hindsight, Insight and Foresight: Thinking about Security in the Indo-Pacific “(APCSS 2020) – is the 254th in “The Trans-Pacific View Insight Series.”

Explain the key outcomes of the EU-China investment deal.

On the penultimate day of 2020, to fulfill a pledge they made in 2019, the top leaders of China and the European Union struck the deal, which is officially called the “Comprehensive Agreement on Investment” (CAI). It was seven years in the making with 35 rounds of negotiations, and will replace the 25 bilateral investment treaties that individual EU members signed with China before 2009. These 25 pacts secured some market access and reduced some legal uncertainty for European investors in China, but they largely accommodated China’s restrictive and highly discriminatory investment regime. Now the CAI makes a step further to broaden the access and tighten the legal framework for European investors in the Chinese market, but it falls far short of achieving a “genuine level playing field” for European businesses and workers and ensuring reciprocity in market access, a major objective set out by the European Parliament in its 2018 resolution. The CAI goes beyond market access and investment protection to include provisions on environment and labor rights protection, but with regard to forced labor and labor rights, what it has secured is just China’s promises.

Why the United States should compete with China on global clean energy finance

Chuyu Liu and Johannes Urpelainen

Today, China is the behemoth of global energy finance, with its overseas energy investments still largely concentrated on fossil fuels. Much of the demand for Chinese investments in coal, oil, and gas come from emerging countries with growing energy needs. These countries use affordable Chinese loans to meet the energy needs of households, industry, transportation, and commerce. Facing the rapid global expansion of China’s energy finance, the United States should compete with China by offering affordable finance for global clean energy development (instead of fossil fuels). For fiscal year 2020, the United States will spend approximately $2 billion on climate finance to support low-carbon development in developing countries.[1] By financing more clean energy projects, the United States would contribute to meeting the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement on Climate Change and also provide a counterweight to China’s energy investments around the globe.

Our review of China’s overseas energy finance below shows that the demand for fossil fuels mostly reflects host country demand. To respond to this demand-driven increase of China’s outward fossil-fuel investments, the United States should (i) offer low-interest loans to clean energy projects in emerging countries with growing energy needs and (ii) provide technical and financial assistance to these countries’ governments and regulators to improve their environmental regulatory capacity. The low-interest loans would make clean energy more attractive for host countries and thus reduce host country demand for Chinese fossil-fuel projects, while the technical and financial assistance would increase the cost of fossil fuels relative to clean energy by taking into account negative environmental externalities of non-renewable-energy projects. This dual strategy may also encourage Chinese project developers to invest more in clean energy, as host country demand for fossil fuels would decrease, and the reputational risks of fossil-fuel investment to banks and developers would grow.


China’s Double Standard for Diplomatic Speech Online Sparks a Global Backlash

Nithin Coca

In early December, amid rising tensions between Australia and China, Prime Minister Scott Morrison posted a statement on the Chinese social media platform WeChat to voice his outrage at an incendiary tweet from a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson. Within a day, WeChat, which routinely polices sensitive content on its platform, had blocked Morrison’s post, ostensibly for violating the company’s policies.

It was not the only instance of a foreign official being censored on a Chinese social media platform. The most prominent offenders are WeChat—the largest social media site in China, with over 1 billion active users—and Weibo, a microblogging platform that is similar to Twitter. Sites like these are the only way for foreign governments and their diplomats to reach Chinese audiences online, as the so-called Great Firewall blocks access to nearly all foreign social media platforms, including Twitter and Facebook.

Censorship of overseas content in China is nothing new, of course, but the scale and frequency of the practice has accelerated in recent years. A 2018 report from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute highlighted numerous examples, most notably in May 2018, when the U.S. Embassy in China issued a riposte on Weibo to Beijing’s request that foreign airlines identify Taiwan, Macau and Hong Kong as “Chinese territories.” The embassy’s post, which criticized China’s “Orwellian nonsense,” remained viewable on Weibo but only to users with a direct link. The sharing function was turned off and responses were carefully tailored to include only those that reflected the government’s position.

Viewpoint: What the Capitol riot means for US foreign policy

By Jonathan Marcus

Many foreign leaders - and especially Washington's allies - will have watched the events this week on Capitol Hill with amazement and alarm.

Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg was one of the first to respond, tweeting "shocking scenes in Washington DC. The outcome of this democratic election must be respected".

Who could ever have imagined such a comment, coming from the alliance's top official addressed to its leading member state? It is the sort of thing you would expect Mr Stoltenberg to be sending to a Belarus or a Venezuela.

The episode says much about Washington's standing in the world after four years of the Donald Trump presidency.

The US has haemorrhaged both influence and soft power.

China’s New Rules Could Hit U.S. Firms and Send a Message to Biden

By Amy Qin

China fired back at the Trump administration on Saturday with new rules that would punish global companies for complying with Washington’s tightening restrictions on doing business with Chinese companies.

China’s Ministry of Commerce said that the rules, which went into effect immediately, were intended to counter foreign laws that “unjustly prohibit or restrict” people or companies in China from doing normal business. It said its measures were necessary to safeguard China’s national sovereignty and security and to protect the rights of Chinese citizens and entities.

Although Chinese officials did not mention any specific country, the new rules could potentially put global companies in the middle of the economic battles being waged between Washington and Beijing. They could also send a signal to the incoming administration of President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr., who must ultimately decide whether to preserve Trump-era restrictions against Chinese businesses, relax them or rethink them entirely.

Iran Toughens Rhetoric as Biden Looks to Salvage Nuclear Talks

By Abhijnan Rej

(L to R) British Foreign Secretary William Hague, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, on early November 24, 2013 in Geneva after the conclusion of the Iran nuclear deal.

In the run up to what will certainly be renegotiation around its nuclear ambitions and sanctions with a new U.S. administration come January 20, Iran continues to play hardball. Reuters reported on January 9 that according to Ahmad Amirabadi Farahani, an Iranian member of parliament, the country will expel International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors if sanctions against it are not lifted by February 21, in accordance with a law passed by Iran’s parliament in December.

The Trump administration, whose decision to walk out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in 2018 has led to a reignition of Iran’s nuclear ambitions and rise in Iran-U.S. tensions, reacted to this development according to predictable lines. A statement by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on January 9 noted: “Iran’s threat goes much further than violating the JCPOA. Iran has a legal treaty obligation to allow IAEA inspector access pursuant to Iran’s NPT-required safeguards agreement. Violating those obligations would thus go beyond Iran’s past actions inconsistent with its JCPOA nuclear commitments.”

Superspreader Down: How Trump’s Exile from Social Media Alters the Future of Politics, Security, and Public Health


By the numbers, no person in human history has shared more conspiracy theories with a greater number of people than Donald J. Trump. Among all the momentous events of the last week, the silencing of his social-media megaphones is a “yuge” moment not just for American politics but a host of issues from public health to national security. 

In researching LikeWar, Emerson Brooking’s and my book on the weaponization of social media, I actually went back and read every single @realdonaldtrump tweet, going back to his very first: a May 4, 2009, announcement of his upcoming appearance on the Letterman show. As you sift through the more than 57,000 tweets that follow, the sheer scale of the lies and insults becomes mind-numbing. (I joke about my “information warfare PTSD.”) Yet what is also notable is how many conspiracy theories Trump both started or massively elevated long before becoming president. They ranged from well-known lies like birtherism to other ones that are even more despicable in retrospect, like fueling anti-vaccine myths. 

Most importantly, we found that Trump was spectacularly effective in persuading others to spread his conspiracy theories. Our research showed that, just like in public health, superspreaders are the key to virality. The path to making the internet less toxic is placing limits on these superspreaders, be they ISIS propagandists or right-wing extremists. Instead of trying to police everyone, we must focus on key nodes that affect everyone. 

US Secretary of State Pompeo Lifts Restrictions on Exchanges With Taiwan

By Shannon Tiezzi

On January 9, just 11 days out from the transition to the Biden administration, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo dropped a bombshell for U.S.-Taiwan relations, declaring in a statement that all restrictions on official contacts with Taiwan were “null and void.”

“Taiwan is a vibrant democracy and reliable partner of the United States, and yet for several decades the State Department has created complex internal restrictions to regulate our diplomats, servicemembers, and other officials’ interactions with their Taiwanese counterparts,” Pompeo said. “The United States government took these actions unilaterally, in an attempt to appease the Communist regime in Beijing. No more.”

Declaring “I am lifting all of these self-imposed restrictions,” Pompeo said all previous “‘contact guidelines’ regarding relations with Taiwan previously issued by the Department of State” no longer in effect.

The move paves the way for increased contacts between U.S. officials and their Taiwanese counterparts. However, the practical impact may be limited; the Trump administration has just over a week left in office, and is currently embroiled in a domestic crisis stemming from a pro-Trump mob’s violent takeover of the Capitol on January 6. There’s likely little energy for substantial outreach to Taiwan at the moment – and frankly, such contacts at a time when President Donald Trump is facing the real prospect of a second impeachment could reflect poorly on Taipei.

Does Japan Need to Develop a New Fighter Aircraft?

By Arnaud Sobrero

The Japanese archipelago lies in a volatile region rife with historical tensions and territorial disputes. China’s defense spending has increased at a double-digit rate annually for much of the past three decades. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has drastically modernized its air capabilities with development of the J-20 fighter and the upcoming FC-31, and has demonstrated consistently assertive behavior, including airspace violations and military buildups in the South China Sea.

North Korea, a nuclear power since 2006, has also shown belligerence by firing ballistic missiles into the Sea of Japan, while Russia has violated Japanese airspace on several occasions prompting Japan to scramble its F-15J fleet.

Those geopolitical challenges are clearly stated in Japan’s Mid Term Defense Plan and National Defense Plan Guidelines, which define Japan’s long-term procurement strategy. To effectively address those security challenges, these documents claim, the Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) needs to modernize its existing fleet and significantly upgrade its capabilities.

Kim Jong Un Declares North Korea Will Advance Nuclear Capabilities

By Mitch Shin

In this photo provided by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un speaks at the ruling party congress in Pyongyang, North Korean, Sunday, Jan. 10, 2021.Credit: Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP, File

North Korea’s state media reported on January 9 that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un vowed to advance the country’s nuclear capabilities by making its nuclear missiles smaller and pursuing a more advanced type of intercontinental ballistic missiles. Kim made the comments on January 8, during the Eighth Congress of the ruling Workers’ Party.

“We must develop tactical nuclear weapons that can be applied in different means in the modern war depending on the purpose of operational missions and targets, and continue to push ahead with the production of super-large nuclear warheads,” Kim said.

Kim’s main goals for strengthening his country’s defense power are to develop nuclear-powered submarines and increase the hit rate of an intercontinental ballistic missile with a range of 15,000 kilometers. The miniaturization of nuclear weapons, creation of tactical nuclear weapons, and the production of super-large nuclear warheads were also included as goals.

Biden Taps Career Diplomat William Burns as CIA Director


President-elect Joe Biden has selected William Burns as his nominee to lead the CIA. If confirmed, Burns would become the first career diplomat to lead the country’s premier intelligence agency. 

Facing pressure from the progressive flank of the Democratic Party not to choose a nominee associated with the agency’s controversial drone and torture programs, Biden’s choice signals an appetite to break with darker aspects of the CIA’s recent history. 

“Bill Burns is an exemplary diplomat with decades of experience on the world stage keeping our people and our country safe and secure. He shares my profound belief that intelligence must be apolitical and that the dedicated intelligence professionals serving our nation deserve our gratitude and respect,” Biden said in a statement accompanying the announcement. 

Burns spent 33 years in the U.S. foreign service, retiring in 2014 as deputy secretary of state, having become the second career diplomat in history to hold the position. (On retiring in 2014, Burns offered 10 pieces of advice for his fellow diplomats in an article published by Foreign Policy.) Fluent in Arabic, Russian, and French, Burns previously served as U.S. ambassador to Moscow, as well as assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs during George W. Bush’s first term in office. He is currently the president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. 

‘We’re in a Worse Place Today Than We Were Before He Came In’


President Donald Trump is on the way out of office—perhaps even earlier than the Jan. 20 inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden. But the legacy he leaves behind—not just in terms of increasingly polarized domestic politics but also in terms of foreign policy—will greatly shape the next administration right out of the gate.

The Trump administration spent years ramping up the confrontation with China, with little to show for it. The “maximum pressure” campaign on Iran only redoubled Tehran’s development of nuclear materials. Russian efforts to undermine NATO have continued undeterred. And U.S. relations with traditional allies have grown more frayed.

Just before a Trump-inspired mob stormed the U.S. Capitol this week, Foreign Policy spoke with Rex Tillerson, Trump’s first secretary of state, about his former boss, the state of the world, and the challenges facing the Biden administration. This conversation has been edited for length and clarity. 

Foreign Policy: You served at the pleasure of the president but at the same time were charged with advancing U.S. national interests. Did you ever find those two things at odds with each other?

Imagining Germany without Angela Merkel has got harder

Constanze Stelzenmüller

Is Germany ready for life after chancellor Angela Merkel, who has ruled out a fifth term after national elections this year?

Until recently, Germany was Europe’s rock of stability, and Germans looked towards 2021 with confidence. Ms Merkel was enjoying sky-high approval ratings for her steady management of the pandemic. Her leadership of the six-month EU council presidency — which included throwing German economic power behind a debt-financed EU rescue package and preventing a no-deal Brexit — got (mostly) good marks.

National polls have for months shown a majority for Merkel’s centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the Green party coalition. Based on current numbers, this potential pairing is the only two-party alternative to the now exhausted grand coalition of the CDU and centre-left Social Democrats (SPD). Tested at state level but not yet in Berlin, it enjoys some national popularity. And its prospect is seen with even greater optimism in western capitals, notably among the US’s incoming Biden administration which hopes for a firmer, more forward-leaning German security policy.

But with the pandemic now skyrocketing, Ms Merkel has had to extend Germany’s lockdown. Her coalition is fighting over slow vaccination rates and inadequate supplies. The national mood has shifted from self-congratulatory to glum, and the political landscape ahead of September’s election looks more fragmented and volatile.

Superspreader Down: How Trump’s Exile from Social Media Alters the Future of Politics, Security, and Public Health


By the numbers, no person in human history has shared more conspiracy theories with a greater number of people than Donald J. Trump. Among all the momentous events of the last week, the silencing of his social-media megaphones is a “yuge” moment not just for American politics but a host of issues from public health to national security. 

In researching LikeWar, Emerson Brooking’s and my book on the weaponization of social media, I actually went back and read every single @realdonaldtrump tweet, going back to his very first: a May 4, 2009, announcement of his upcoming appearance on the Letterman show. As you sift through the more than 57,000 tweets that follow, the sheer scale of the lies and insults becomes mind-numbing. (I joke about my “information warfare PTSD.”) Yet what is also notable is how many conspiracy theories Trump both started or massively elevated long before becoming president. They ranged from well-known lies like birtherism to other ones that are even more despicable in retrospect, like fueling anti-vaccine myths. 

Most importantly, we found that Trump was spectacularly effective in persuading others to spread his conspiracy theories. Our research showed that, just like in public health, superspreaders are the key to virality. The path to making the internet less toxic is placing limits on these superspreaders, be they ISIS propagandists or right-wing extremists. Instead of trying to police everyone, we must focus on key nodes that affect everyone. 

What’s Wrong with the Way We Work

By Jill Lepore

Maria Fernandes died at the age of thirty-two while sleeping in her car in a Wawa parking lot in New Jersey. It was the summer of 2014, and she worked low-wage jobs at three different Dunkin’ Donuts, and slept in her Kia in between shifts, with the engine running and a container of gasoline in the back, in case she ran out. In the locked car, still wearing her white-and-brown Dunkin’ Donuts uniform, she died from gasoline and exhaust fumes. A Rutgers professor called her “the real face of the recession.” Fernandes had been trying to sleep between shifts, but all kinds of workers were spending hours in their cars, waiting for shifts. Within a year of Fernandes’s death, Elizabeth Warren and other Senate and House Democrats reintroduced a bill called the Schedules That Work Act; it would have required food service, retail, and warehouse companies to let employees know about changes to their schedules at least two weeks in advance and barred them from firing employees for asking for regular hours. “A single mom should know if her hours have been cancelled before she arranges for day care and drives halfway across town,” Warren said, of the bill. “Someone who wants to go to school to try to get an education should be able to request more predictable hours without getting fired, just for asking. And a worker who is told to wait around on call for hours, with no guarantee of actual work, should get something for his time.” The bill never had any chance of passing. It was reintroduced again in 2017 and in 2019. It has never even come up for a vote.

Americans work more hours than their counterparts in peer nations, including France and Germany, and many work more than fifty hours a week. Real wages declined for the rank and file in the nineteen-seventies, as did the percentage of Americans who belong to unions, which may be a related development. One can argue that these post-industrial developments mark a return to a pre-industrial order. The gig economy is a form of vassalage. And even workers who don’t work for gig companies like Uber or TaskRabbit now work like gig workers. Most jobs created between 2005 and 2015 were temporary jobs. Four in five hourly retail workers in the United States have no reliable schedule from one week to another. Instead, their schedules are often set by algorithms that aim to maximize profits for investors by reducing breaks and pauses in service—the labor equivalent of the just-in-time manufacturing system that was developed in the nineteen-seventies in Japan, a country that coined a word for “death by overwork” but whose average employee today works fewer hours than his American counterpart. As the sociologist Jamie K. McCallum reports in “Worked Over: How Round-the-Clock Work Is Killing the American Dream” (Basic), Americans have fewer paid holidays than workers in other countries, and the United States is all but alone in having no guaranteed maternity leave and no legal right to sick leave or vacation time. Meanwhile, we’re told to love work, and to find meaning in it, as if work were a family, or a religion, or a body of knowledge.

How the Coronavirus Pandemic Upended Life as We Know It

The coronavirus pandemic has upended life as we know it with its devastating effects not only on health, but on domestic economies and multilateral trade, cooperation and aid. It has reframed domestic politics by crowding out other issues, with political performances measured against how successfully leaders have navigated their countries through the pandemic. Failure to do so has already toppled seemingly entrenched rulers, like longtime Surinamese President Desi Bouterse. Afraid of facing similar consequences, some governments have used the pandemic as a pretext for restricting free speech and stripping away the rule of law.

The pandemic has stalled economies and wiped out millions of jobs, with the World Bank having predicted a 5.2 percent contraction in global GDP in 2020. Governments everywhere are struggling to map out possible paths to recovery. There have already been calls for debt relief across the Global South. Saudi Arabia has been forced to implement harsh new austerity measures. And Spain, one of Europe’s hardest-hit countries, is experimenting with a minimum guaranteed income for its citizens. Now the second wave of the pandemic is threatening further economic damage, requiring sustained government interventions to head off catastrophe.

Exclusive: Longtime US Diplomat Weighs America’s Legacy in Syria


When the explosions started, Ambassador Bill Roebuck recalls, it wasn’t at all clear who was causing them. It was Oct. 15, 2019, and Turkish-backed militias were advancing on a makeshift military base in Syria, a former cement factory about 40 miles from Kobani. President Donald Trump had effectively cleared the path for the invasion into territory previously controlled by the United States and its Kurdish partners. 

“There was shooting going on, and our guys weren’t quite sure what was going on,” Roebuck recalled. “At first, we thought we were under attack.” 

It turned out that the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces were setting fire to their armory and destroying other equipment to prevent Turkish-backed forces from seizing any of it if the base were to be overrun. But the detonations ended up setting large parts of the compound on fire, and that night, Roebuck — the last diplomat remaining — was evacuated alongside the remaining U.S. special forces and contractors still on base. 

The abandonment of the Lafarge cement factory quickly became a synecdoche for the abrupt and chaotic American withdrawal from huge swaths of northeastern Syria. The next day, two U.S. Air Force F-15 jets destroyed a storage bunker at Lafarge to prevent munitions and other equipment from falling into the hands of armed groups. Critics say the withdrawal permanently damaged the United States’ ability to work with foreign partners and unnecessarily ceded influence in a strategically important corner of the globe. 

Why The Latest Cyberattack Was Different


All during 2020, as the coronavirus pandemic swept around the world, another novel virus with devastating long-term effects spread unnoticed worldwide. Sometime in late 2019 or early 2020, at least one group of advanced hackers inserted malware into network software supplied by SolarWinds, a maker of information technology infrastructure software based in Austin, Texas. The decision to target SolarWinds looks strategic given the company’s vast U.S. and global clientele in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors. Publicly exposed in December 2020, the infectious malware—dubbed Sunburst by the cybersecurity firm FireEye and Solorigate by Microsoft—may turn out to be the most audacious cyberespionage campaign in history. For months, attackers stealthily infiltrated governments and businesses via a Trojan horse-style update to SolarWinds’ Orion cybersecurity management software. Like the coronavirus, Sunburst and another recently discovered piece of malware reveal the downside of global connectivity and the failure of global cooperation to deal with contagion.

What sets the SolarWinds attack apart from previous incidents is its sheer scale. The company has over 300,000 customers worldwide, according to filings made to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Throughout 2020, SolarWinds sent out software updates to roughly 18,000 of them. To date, at least 250 networks have reportedly been affected by the booby-trapped file. Shortly after being downloaded, the virus executes commands that create a backdoor in the network to transfer files, disable services, and reboot machines. Targeted institutions include the U.S. departments of Defense, Homeland Security, State, Energy, and the Treasury; all five branches of the U.S. military; the National Nuclear Security Administration, and 425 of the Fortune 500 companies, including Cisco, Equifax, MasterCard, and Microsoft. There have been other major cyberattacks in the past, but none has achieved this kind of penetration. By compromising powerful governments and businesses, including some of the most successful technology companies, the SolarWinds exploit shatters the illusion of information security. The hack has also spooked the financial services sector.

Defence chief warns attacks online could lead to real war

Fiona Hamilton

Covert warfare by Russia and China, including cyberhacking and disinformation, risks an “uncontrollable state of all-out war”, the head of the armed forces has warned.

General Sir Nick Carter, chief of the defence staff, said clandestine activity by hostile states did not reach the threshold for war but could quickly “light a fuse” if it were misunderstood or escalated.

“And, of course, if you look back over history, it’s those moments of miscalculation which often precipitate what ends up being an uncontrollable state of war. And that’s the bit that we really, really have to watch.”

U.S. Military Bases: Could a Drone Swarm Attack Mean Doom?

by Kris Osborn

Massive numbers of small drones around the world are presenting an entirely new threat landscape for the Pentagon which must now confront networks of AI-enabled, coordinated attack drones sharing information, passing along targeting details and in some cases even exploding themselves upon high-value target areas.

U.S. military installations, command and control centers and even air, ground and sea war platforms could themselves quickly fall victim to drone swarm strikes. A newly released U.S. Department of Defense Counter-Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems Strategy explains that the current threat circumstances call for new countermeasures, offensive weapons, allied cooperation, doctrine and weapons requirements specifications.

“Commercial manufacturers and nation-states are improving performance, reliability, and survivability of sUAS. Low-cost systems are increasingly available around the world,” the strategy writes.