18 January 2021

Nature and Nurture: How the Biden Administration Can Advance Ties With India

Issue Paper

As the United States is set to embark on the administration of Joseph R. Biden Jr., the U.S.-India relationship is facing new tests. Biden, who deemed India a “natural partner” on the campaign trail, will have the task of upgrading a mature relationship at a time of new global dynamics and challenges.

A growing convergence between the views of New Delhi and Washington regarding Beijing will continue to facilitate a stronger security partnership. At the same time, the coronavirus pandemic has damaged both economies and strengthened support for economic nationalism, which may impede stronger commercial cooperation and the two nations’ ability to take on China. Moreover, a further weakening of democratic norms in India could raise difficult questions for the new U.S. administration.

This Asia Society Policy Institute (ASPI) issue paper, “Nature and Nurture: How the Biden Administration Can Advance Ties with India,” outlines the competing pressures currently shaping U.S.-India ties. In the paper, ASPI Associate Director Anubhav Gupta provides a blueprint for how the incoming U.S. administration can advance bilateral ties to the next level, nurturing what Biden considers “natural.” Presenting a series of ten recommendations to strengthen the U.S.-India partnership, the paper suggests that a Biden administration 

Why China fears US withdrawal from Afghanistan


PESHAWAR – America’s troop withdrawal from Afghanistan and the Taliban’s possible resumption of at least partial power in Kabul will have far-reaching implications for China and Pakistan, both of which aim to play key roles in the country’s post-war future.

China has publicly endorsed America’s plan, which will see 2,500 of 4,500 troops withdrawn by mid-January and all soldiers by mid-year, but has cautioned that an unorganized US departure could open the way for militants to re-establish Afghanistan as a regional hotbed of Islamic terror.

Last November, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian urged the US to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan in an “orderly and responsible” manner.

That official comment spoke to Chinese concerns that Afghanistan, which shares a land border with China’s restive Xinjiang province, could in particular become a breeding ground for Uighur Muslim militants.

China often points to the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), also known as the Turkistan Islamic Movement, to justify its harsh crackdown on Uighurs in Xinjiang. ETIM is an Islamic extremist group founded by Uighur jihadists in Western China that seeks to create an independent East Turkestan state to replace China’s Xinjiang.

In December, Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security wound up a Chinese spy ring and detained at least 10 Chinese nationals on espionage charges, according to news reports citing the directorate’ chief Ahmad Zia Saraj.

Pakistan: Persecuted Hazara Demand Justice

By Kamran Chaudhry

When Tahir Khan visited a Quetta highway blocked with the bodies of 11 slain coal miners, he was greeted by women wearing white blindfolds.

“All of them were family members of the victims enduring a freezing temperature of minus nine. They denied being blackmailers and even tied their hands to prove they are harmless. They only appealed for a visit by Prime Minister Imran Khan to share their pain and ensure the future safety of our community,” the leader of Hazara political workers told UCA News.

“Many still carry the Quran on their heads cursing the killers and planners of the tragedy. Our graveyards are full. The visit of the premier is of no significance. We have met many ministers in the past.”

He referred to a Jan. 8 statement by the prime minister, who accused Shia Hazara protesters of blackmailing him as they refused for a sixth day to bury the bodies of miners killed in a brutal attack claimed by the Islamic State. The killings in Balochistan province on Jan. 3 were filmed and later posted online.

“No prime minister should be blackmailed like this, otherwise everyone will start blackmailing the prime minister,” said Imran Khan, adding that he would only visit Quetta once the funerals had taken place.

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.

Seizing on Weakness: Allied Strategy for Competing With China’s Globalizing Military

Toshi Yoshihara, Jack Bianchi

China’s military is going global. In the coming decade, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) could be well-positioned to influence events and conduct a wide range of missions, including limited warfighting, beyond the Western Pacific. The United States and its close allies, who have enjoyed largely unobstructed access to the world’s oceans for the last three decades, will need to adjust to new military realities as the PLA makes its presence felt in faraway theaters.

In this study, Senior Fellow Toshi Yoshihara and Research Fellow Jack Bianchi argue that a deep study of China’s weaknesses as they relate to its worldwide ambitions is required to formulate an effective allied response. These weaknesses offer insights into the costs that Beijing will have to pay to go global. Importantly, the United States and its close allies enjoy agency over certain Chinese weaknesses, furnishing them leverage that, if exercised, could yield strategic dividends. The report concludes with a range of allied options that exploit China’s weaknesses to constrain and complicate the PLA’s global expansion. 

The Biden Transition and U.S. Competition with China and Russia: The Crisis-Driven Need to Change U.S. Strategy

By Anthony H. Cordesman with the assistance of Grace Hwang

The U.S. needs to fundamentally reassess its approach to competing and cooperating with China and Russia. Its present path has tilted more and more towards a poorly structured approach to confrontation focused more on worst case wars than on the broader forms of military and civil competition the U.S. needs to address. It has failed to integrate civil and military competition, to address grey area operations, to look at the global nature of this competition, and to focus on the fact that most forms will either not involve direct combat or will do so at low levels of combat. It has not given the proper priority to address America’s strategic partnerships or to develop net assessments of the longer-term patterns in this competition.

This analysis addresses the failures in the current U.S. efforts to implement the new National Security Strategy and National Defense Strategy issued in 2017 and 2018, respectively. More broadly, it addresses the nuclear balance and the shortfalls in the U.S. approach to modernizing its strategic nuclear forces. It highlights the fact that the U.S. also cannot focus on major conventional combat with Russia and China or on combat at the theater level, and that most actual military competition will probably take place at the gray area, hybrid warfare, or irregular level.

It stresses the fact that the U.S. must compete on a global level as China and Russia will often compete indirectly and target U.S. strategic partners, other states, and non-state actors. This will require that the U.S. continues to deploy strong forces at major command levels in every region of the world, and especially in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. The strategic partnerships between these U.S. commands and key allied states will determine both the overall patterns of U.S. success, and they will be critical to deterring and defending against escalation to major conflicts and nuclear war.

Huawei in Central and Eastern Europe: Trends and Forecast

CHOICE’s latest exclusive report from a team of regional experts across Czechia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Slovakia summarizes the ongoing debates on Huawei’s involvement in each of their respective nations, thus formulating a mosaic of the region at-large.

Primarily, the paper serves to provide an up-to-date overview of the ongoing debates about Huawei’s role in 5G rollouts while addressing the major underlying issues of security of these networks in selected Central and Eastern European countries. The paper not only assesses the role of the existing presence of the Chinese telecoms company and an increasingly active US diplomacy in the region that often draws press coverage, but further examines the intra-EU debates that color the complicated position of CEE nations in particular.

Crucially, the research determines trends to watch in the seven CEE countries, weighs the probability of future shifts in the local debates on Huawei, and assesses whether the debates are primarily driven by the governments and their agencies, by external actors, or by domestic telecom firms.

Time for Collective Pushback against China’s Economic Coercion

This commentary is part of CSIS's Global Forecast 2021 essay series.

Coping with the multitude of challenges that China poses will require building coalitions. President-elect Joe Biden knows this. “As we compete with China and hold China’s government accountable for its abuses on trade, technology, human rights and other fronts, our position will be much stronger when we build coalitions of like-minded partners and allies to make common cause with us in defense of our shared interests and values,” Biden said at the end of 2020. As the European Union’s apparent decision to sign an investment treaty with China demonstrates, building a unified bloc to push back against all of China’s objectionable policies is unlikely to succeed. Instead, coalitions of the willing will need to form around shared interests on specific issues.

One pressing issue that is ripe for collective action is China’s economic coercion. To date, Beijing has used the threat and imposition of trade-restrictive measures to punish over a dozen countries for pursuing policies deemed harmful to Chinese interests. The first episode occurred in 2010 when China blocked salmon imports from Norway after the Nobel Committee awarded the Peace Prize to Chinese human-rights activist Liu Xiaobo. That same year, Chinese customs officials obstructed exports of rare earths to Japan in an effort to compel Tokyo to release the captain of a Chinese fishing trawler who was detained after his vessel collided with Japanese coast guard vessels in waters near the disputed Senkaku Islands. In 2012, after engaging in a confrontation with China at Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea, the Philippines discovered that its tropical fruit exports to China were quarantined due to alleged infestation.

Winter Coal Shortages Reveal Chinese Energy Vulnerabilities

By: Elizabeth Chen


Amid the coldest winter recorded since 1966, provinces across the People’s Republic of China (PRC) struggled with the worst electrical blackouts seen in nearly a decade (OilPrice, January 8). More than a dozen cities across Zhejiang, Hunan, Jiangxi, Shaanxi, Inner Mongolia, and Guangdong provinces imposed limits on off-peak electricity usage in early December, affecting city infrastructure and factory production. Analysts expect power shortages to persist through at least mid-February (SCMP, December 23, 2020). Officials have repeatedly assured the public that residential heating would not be affected and that China’s electrical supply remained “stable” and “sufficient,” even as energy spot prices continued to rise into the new year.

In one concerning sign, coal power plants outside of Beijing restarted production at the end of the year to supply the city’s increased winter heating demands after being put into reserve in 2017. China’s capital had previously been “coal-free” for three years (Twitter, December 29, 2020). During an executive meeting of the State Council on January 8, Chinese Vice Premier Li Keqiang signaled the central government’s prioritization of energy security, declaring, “we must give priority to ensuring the people’s safety and warmth through the winter, and intensify efforts to ensure energy security and stability” (State Council, January 9).

The proximate causes for China’s electricity shortages differed across provinces. Overall, coal production stoppages and reduced imports combined with higher-than-usual industrial production and seasonal heating needs contributed to restrict the domestic coal supply and send prices skyrocketing (Caixin, December 28, 2020). Coal usually fuels more than half of China’s electricity production; this winter, China’s coal shortages have put increased pressure on its oil and natural gas supplies as well (OilPrice, January 7). A lack of adequate national gas storage facilities has failed to keep up with demand even as an increasing number of users are planned to transfer their heating needs from coal to gas in order to meet decarbonization goals set under the 13th Five Year Plan (2016-2020) (Yicai, December 24, 2020). In summary, a combination of factors have contributed to stretch China’s energy supply this winter, resulting in historic power shortages causing widespread concern. This has come just as the country has tried to establish itself as a “self-reliant” global powerhouse and undermined its narrative of successfully recovering from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Trouble Finding Partners: Barriers to China’s Overseas Basing

By: Toshi Yoshihara


As the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) goes global, it will increasingly need reliable access to overseas bases and dual-use facilities to sustain operations in faraway theaters. Recent U.S. defense and intelligence reports indicate that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is prospecting for locations where the PLA could obtain access and logistical support. According to the Department of Defense, Beijing has “likely considered” a dozen candidate countries that could play host to “military logistics facilities.”[1]

As Beijing explores its options, Chinese analysts have begun to pay attention to potential host nations and their suitability for PLA access and use (China Brief: October 19, 2020; March 22, 2019). This article samples a budding literature on the requirements for China’s overseas military presence. It finds that Chinese observers are realistic about the challenges and costs of obtaining bases and facilities abroad. The literature further demonstrates a keen awareness that capable host nations and adroit Chinese statecraft are both essential to the PLA’s plans to go global.

Importance of Quality Host Nations

Chinese strategists recognize that the expected performance of foreign logistics support depends in large measure on the host nation’s political stability, economic health, and bilateral ties with China. Their assessment of the PLA’s first overseas base in Djibouti, established in 2017, is telling. One study acknowledges that Djibouti is among the least developed countries in the world. It lacks natural resources and a well-educated workforce, and its agricultural and industrial foundations are weak.[2] Unable to acquire materials locally, the PLA support base has been compelled to import basic goods, some of which were reportedly 20 times more expensive than equivalent items sourced in mainland China.[3]

Xi Jinping Boosts the Party’s Control and His Own Authority

By: Willy Wo-Lap Lam


Under Xi Jinping, the leadership of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has initiated multi-pronged measures to ensure the success of celebrations marking the centenary of the establishment of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in July this year and planning for the 20th CCP Congress, scheduled for the second half of 2022. The accent is on preserving political stability and further consolidating the apparently unassailable authority of President Xi, who is also CCP General Secretary and Chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC).

“Be wary of dangers in the midst of stability” was the key theme of a Politburo Standing Committee meeting called on January 7. Xinhua noted that with this year being the centenary of the party’s establishment in 1921, cadres and party members must raise their levels of “political judgment, political awareness and [the efficacy of] political execution.” “[We must] in terms of ideology, politics and action maintain a high degree of unison with the party center (党中央, dangzhongyang) with Xi Jinping as the core,” Xinhua cited the Politburo communique as saying. It also quoted Xi urging CCP members to “use superior results to celebrate the party’s centenary” particularly in the areas of “administering the party with severity, ceaselessly building clean governance …and maintaining a good spiritual and work attitude” (People’s Daily, January 8; Xinhua, January 8).

Censorship of Party Members and the Media

Saudi Arabia vs. the Muslim Brotherhood

By Lt. Col. (res.) Dr. Mordechai Kedar

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: A dispute over the role of religion in government constitutes the main rift in the world of Sunni Islam. This controversy also defines the two main camps in that world with regard to Western countries in general and Israel in particular.

The Muslim Brotherhood was established in Egypt in 1928 to engage in three pursuits: to fight the British occupation of Egypt, to struggle against the influence of Western culture on Islamic societies (especially regarding the status of women), and to work for the implementation of sharia law in Islamic countries.

Hassan Banna, the founder of the movement, spread his ideas in the Islamic countries through conferences he arranged at which the Mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Amin Husseini, was a regular speaker. Wherever the organization’s ideas were adopted, its members began to fight the foreign occupiers. Later, its propagandists began to refer to Muslim leaders themselves as members of a “foreign occupation” if they did not keep the commandments of Islam or apply sharia law. Muslim Brotherhood doctrine says it is permissible, even obligatory, to wage jihad against such leaders even if they are Muslims by birth. Believers are urged to rebel against governments and their officials if they do not uphold the precepts of Islam.

In 1932, four years after the Muslim Brotherhood’s founding, the Saudi kingdom was established in the Arabian Peninsula by its first monarch, Abdul Aziz ibn Saud. From the outset, this kingdom was based on an alliance between the royal family and several families of religious scholars who maintained on Islamic grounds that because rulers rule by God’s grace, it is forbidden for citizens to oppose them. As the Saudi religious scholars claim they are continuing the path of al-salaf al-salih (“the righteous founding fathers of Islam”), their religious outlook is known as salafiyah.

Are we seeing more realistic geopolitics in the Middle East?

During the 1950s and 1960s, the Arab world was dominated by what became known as the “politics of axes,” in which regional dynamics were driven by the rivalries among different alignments of states. As “pax americana” in the Middle East has come to a halting end, the region is returning to a somewhat similar situation, in which the ultimate outcome may possibly bode well for the Arab states.

Generally speaking, there are three broad alignments, which range from formal military pacts to looser collaborative relationships, in which Arab states find themselves today. There is the Saudi-Emirati-Egyptian alignment, which took on an important new dimension when several Gulf states reached an agreement with Israel through the Abraham Accords.

There is the Iran-led alignment of states or organisations that includes Iran, Syria, to an extent Iraq, Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Houthis in Yemen and, more ambiguously, Hamas in the Palestinian territories. And there is a third alignment, that of Turkey and Qatar, the status of which appears to be in transition today following the reconciliation last week between the GCC states and Doha.

Dendias: Turkey not the same as in 2000 or 2016


Αthens will join a dialogue with Ankara sincerely, constructively, but also fully aware that Turkey is no longer the same country as it was in 2000, with the aspiration to join the European Union, and not even as in 2016, when exploratory talks were launched, Greece’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Nikos Dendias notes in an interview with Kathimerini.

Referring to Athens’ diplomatic overtures, Dendias explains that Greece is expanding its strategic horizon while strengthening its traditional alliances. To that end, he is looking forward to the meeting with his new US counterpart, Antony Blinken, and to the conclusion of negotiations for a long-term Mutual Defense Cooperation Agreement with the USA. This agreement, he says, will not be about setting up new military bases on the basis of a Cold War logic, but rather will be adapted to today’s realities.

Dendias also believes that the arbitration agreement between Athens and Tirana probably be ready after the Albanian election on April 25. As to the extension of Greece’s territorial waters beyond the Ionian Sea, the foreign minister says it will happen at an appropriate time.

2020 was a difficult time, but, as far as foreign policy is concerned, there were significant agreements. Do you believe there will be some landmark developments and, if so, what will they be? 

I agree with your remark. At the beginning of last year, no one could have imagined the disruptions of the pandemic. Despite the adverse conditions, we achieved a lot. We solved issues that had been pending for decades. We signed three very significant agreements – two concerning maritime zones with Italy and Egypt and a third on an innovative cooperation in foreign policy and defense with the United Arab Emirates.

How disinformation evolved in 2020

Josh A. Goldstein and Shelby Grossman

In 2019, and again in 2020, Facebook removed covert social media influence operations that targeted Libya and were linked to the Russian businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin. The campaigns—the first exposed in October 2019, the second in December 2020—shared several tactics: Both created Facebook pages masquerading as independent media outlets and posted political cartoons. But by December 2020, the operatives linked to Prigozhin had updated their toolkit: This time, one media outlet involved in the operation had an on-the-ground presence, with branded merchandise and a daily podcast.

Between 2018 and 2020, Facebook and Twitter announced that they had taken down 147 influence operations in total, according to our examination of their public announcements of disinformation takedowns during that time period. Facebook describes such operations as “coordinated inauthentic behavior,” and Twitter dubs them “state-backed information operations.” Our investigation of these takedowns revealed that in 2020 disinformation actors stuck with some tried and true strategies, but also evolved in important ways, often in response to social media platform detection strategies. Political actors are increasingly outsourcing their disinformation work to third-party PR and marketing firms and using AI-generated profile pictures. Platforms have changed too, more frequently attributing takedowns to specific actors.

Climate Change Will Reshape Russia

When U.S. policymakers ponder Russia’s trajectory, they tend to focus on the leadership and longevity of President Vladimir Putin and the nature of his regime, on the Kremlin’s growing authoritarian tendencies at home and the poisoning of opposition figures, on Russia’s nuclear arsenal and cyber capabilities, or on Russia’s projection of power abroad, from election interference to military interventions in Ukraine and Syria. Rarely does climate change make the shortlist. Yet it is climate change, as much as any one politician or set of policies, that will exert the strongest force on Russia’s strategic future, reshaping its politics, economy, and society for decades to come.

Russia is warming 2.5 times faster than the rest of the world. In 2020, regions across Russia have experienced the hottest temperatures on record, contributing to forest fires that burned through acreage the size of Greece and emitted one-third more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than in 2019 (Russian forests account for one-fifth of the world’s total). Flash floods in Siberia destroyed entire villages and displaced thousands of residents. Snow coverage was at a record low in 2020, and Arctic sea ice coverage shrank to its second-lowest extent in over 40 years. 

Permafrost, which covers nearly two-thirds of Russian territory, is rapidly thawing. More dramatic freeze-thaw cycles in the subsoil are eroding urban infrastructure in Russia’s Arctic cities, home to over 2 million people, and pose a mounting risk to Russia’s 200,000 kilometers of oil and gas pipelines, not to mention thousands of miles of roads and rail lines bridging some of Russia’s widest rivers. Permafrost thaw recently toppled a diesel storage tank near the Arctic city of Norilsk, spilling 21,000 tons of diesel into the Ambarnaya river and surrounding subsoil. It has been linked to outbreaks of anthrax and the discovery of vast methane craters. At its current rate of thaw—about 1 degree Celsius per decade—Russia’s permafrost layer will stop freezing completely in three decades. This could result in a potentially catastrophic, one-off release of carbon into the atmosphere which will no longer be Russia’s problem alone. According to one study, a 30 to 99 percent reduction in near-surface permafrost would release an additional 10 to 240 billion tons of carbon and methane into the atmosphere and potentially put the globe “over the brink” by 2100. Russia is already the fourth-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, accounting for 4.6 percent of all global emissions. Its per capita emissions are among the highest in the world—53 percent higher than China, and 79 percent higher than the European Union.

Drivers of Recovery: Elevating the Youth, Peace, and Security Agenda

Half of the world’s 2 billion youth (ages 15–24) live in low- and lower-middle-income countries. Youth in conflict-affected areas with high poverty rates face significant social, economic, and security challenges, which have been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

When given increased access to vocational education and economic opportunities, youth can create jobs, have positive social impact, and reduce rates of violence and recruitment by extremist and criminal groups, leading to positive development and increased stability.

President-elect Joe Biden has an opportunity to reinvigorate U.S. leadership on the youth, peace, and security agenda. An inclusive economic recovery from Covid-19 will require a combination of short- and long-term solutions to address youth-specific challenges.

Young people in developing countries have the potential to be drivers of economic growth, increased prosperity, and political and social change. As the youth population continues to increase globally (particularly those between the ages of 15 and 24 in developing countries), ensuring opportunities for a productive future is increasingly important. Securing young people’s greater access to healthcare, education, financial services, economic prospects, decisionmaking processes, and leadership and civic engagement opportunities is essential for countries to develop a productive labor force, maintain effective development efforts, and continue economic growth.

In an increasingly digital world, youth bring fresh perspectives and innovative solutions to long-standing and current problems, often deploying technological tools to disrupt yesterday’s stagnant strategies. Young people are leading Covid-19 response efforts in many communities and will be critical to both recovery efforts and future resilience.

Maintaining the Intelligence Edge: Reimagining and Reinventing Intelligence through Innovation

The U.S. Intelligence Community (IC) stands at the dawn of a new era of technological innovation and transformation unprecedented in its history. In this final report, the CSIS Technology and Intelligence Task Force set out to understand the emerging technology landscape, identify the opportunities and challenges to applying technology to intelligence missions, and generate recommendations that will enable the IC to adapt, integrate technology, and maintain an advantage over sophisticated rivals.DOWNLOAD THE FULL REPORT

What to Watch in Sub-Saharan Africa in 2021

2021 will be a turbulent year for sub-Saharan Africa. Reeling from the Covid-19 pandemic’s negative health and economic effects, the region will struggle to address conflicts in Ethiopia, Mozambique, and the Sahel, while a series of elections portend further democratic retrenchment. Civil society and protest movements, including in Nigeria and Tanzania, will struggle to persevere under the weight of new government crackdowns. The China-Africa relationship will be defined by health diplomacy—particularly vaccine distribution—and limited debt forgiveness. A bright spot will be the potential for African leadership at the UN Security Council and the incoming Biden administration’s vision to repair relations and revive partnerships on climate change, anticorruption, and global health.

To preview some of the top stories in 2021, the CSIS Africa Program presents its annual list of key countries and issues to watch this year. (Read last year’s forecasts.)
1. African Economies Struggle to Rebuild after Covid-19 Fallout (Laird Treiber)

African governments will face an uphill task to navigate economic recovery in 2021, hindered by systemic challenges in the continent’s largest economies. Although African countries handled the initial impacts of Covid-19 better than many observers expected, they suffered their first recession in 25 years, with the continent-wide economy shrinking an estimated 3 percent, driving per capita incomes down to 2007 levels and pushing as many as 40 million people back into poverty. While forecasts expect African leaders to prioritize rapid economic recovery, there are significant challenges to achieving that. Africa’s largest economies—Angola, Egypt, Nigeria, and South Africa—are hobbled by low commodities prices, uncompetitive regulatory and labor regimes, and indebted parastatals. Continued disruptions to the international economy will also limit prospects for sectors that have traditionally helped African countries recover, including tourism, raw material exports, and remittances. The picture is far from bleak, however. The advent of trading under the first phase of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) on January 1, 2021, will foster greater regional trade, boosting job creation and economic growth and making it easier for countries to join global supply chains. African countries are also likely to reach some creative agreements with creditors to facilitate servicing official debt as part of a broader effort to make government finances more sustainable. There will be plenty of space for U.S. companies and the Biden administration to build on Prosper Africa to deepen commercial partnerships between U.S. and African firms and reinforce African governments’ efforts in sectors like energy, trade, and information and communications technology to make their economies more competitive. 

DoD Drone Strategy Focuses On Low-End Threats – Not Nation-States


WASHINGTON: Got lasers? Jammers? Wireless hacking tools? Then check out the competition the Pentagon will formally kick off Friday, with an open invitation to industry to bring their “low collateral damage effectors” to Yuma Proving Ground this April. The objective: pick the best system or systems for all the armed services to buy to defeat small drones when physically shooting them out of the sky is too dangerous to civilians or friendly troops.

“Bring all your low-collateral effectors to the range first week of April, and we’ll select the best ones and move forward with that as the joint solution,” Maj. Gen. Sean Gainey said in a CSIS webcast Friday.

Gainey, an Army two-star, helms the all-service Joint Counter-UAS (Unmanned Air Systems) Office (JCO), which last week formally rolled out the Defense Department’s strategy to stop small drones.

But that strategy, Gainey’s remarks, and the low-collateral-damage effort itself all seem to emphasize the kinds of threats encountered in the Middle East, where terrorists have used relatively small numbers of small drones as both spies and improvised bombers.

That’s only half the problem, however. Nation-states like Russia, Iran, and even Azerbaijan are looking at how to deploy large swarms in large wars – a very different scale of threat that might require different kinds of countermeasures.

Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine expected to provide immunity for at least 1 year

Shawna Chen

Moderna's coronavirus vaccine will provide immunity from the disease for at least one year, the biotech company said Monday per Reuters.

Why it matters: Moderna's vaccine is one of two now authorized for emergency use in the U.S., as coronavirus cases surge past 22.5 million nationally and 90.8 million globally.

The big picture: Moderna expects to deliver around 600 million to 1 billion doses in 2021.
The U.S. has purchased a total of 200 million doses from Moderna.
The company has signed agreements with several other countries including Japan, Canada and Israel, boosting hope as the number of global cases nears 91 million.
The United Kingdom and the EU's European Medicines Agency approved the vaccine this week.

Yes, but: The World Health Organization cautioned on Monday that herd immunity is unlikely this year despite the vaccine rollout in countries around the world.

America, Get your S**t Together

Dunno if you’re like me, but I was raised on stories of America, the survivor. America, the scrappy. America, the fighter. The country that came from behind, stood for truth and justice, took some punches, and then came out the other side – stronger than ever. The Sons of Liberty. The Underground Railroad. Rosie the Riveter. Symbols of American strength in adversity.

As I grew older, more educated, I realized that America had a darker side. The side that fought against extending the promise of the Declaration of Independence to all. The Know-Nothings. The Confederacy. The Klan. Jim Crow. And yet, even in the darkest hours, Americans still stood. Still fought against injustice. Bled at Gettysburg. Fought against the Klan. Marched at Selma. That’s the American legacy, right? We overcome, for a brighter tomorrow.

Well, America, if we want this current situation to end up in the history books as the same type of story, we’re going to need to get our s**t together. Really? White supremacists? Marching in DC? Attacking the Capitol building? Killing police officers? During a massive pandemic? Which millions of Americans don’t believe in? Are you kidding me with this nonsense?

Wear a damn mask. Social distance. Stop listening to garbage conspiracy theories like Q Anon and its ilk. Stop humoring the rabble rousers screaming about voter fraud without any evidence. Stop abetting white supremacists. Stop complaining about your individual rights being threatened when your local and state governments do the very thing that we formed a government for: look out for the common good.

I mean, have you seen yourself lately, America? I love you so damn much but you’re a g*****n mess! Get it the hell together. Nathan Hale regretted that he had but one life to give for this country. How about you act like you’re worthy of that. Ike warned us that a nation that valued its privileges over its principles would lose both. The rampant selfishness and privilege of those who don’t believe that COVID is real is just that type of attitude.

The double irony of the new UK-EU trade relationship


On 1 January 2021, the United Kingdom left both the European customs union and the single market. Its trade relationship with the European Union is now governed by a Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA), which establishes a free-trade area in goods and services broadly comparable to recent trade deals between the EU and major, advanced non-European countries such as Canada and Japan.

To appreciate fully the significance of this new chapter in the EU-UK trade relationship – and the ironies it brings with it – it is useful to examine how that relationship has evolved over the past 60-plus years. The UK is now outside structures it helped create and that, indeed, were fundamental to UK efforts over six decades to avoid being economically disadvantaged in Europe. It should be noted that what follows focuses solely on trade, which is the core of the TCA. This article does not delve into areas such as monetary integration or the EU budget, which were important when the UK belonged to the EU, but are marginal for the TCA.

During the 1950s, most European countries traded with one another (and with many countries outside Europe) on purely GATT (the General Agreements for Tariffs and Trade, created in 1947) terms, applying the same non-discriminatory MFN (most-favoured nation) tariff to imports from all sources. This meant, for instance, that the United Kingdom applied the same tariff on imports from France, Sweden and any other GATT country, and that Germany applied the same tariff on imports from France, the UK or any other GATT member.

AI and the Future of Cyber Competition

Wyatt Hoffman

As states turn to AI to gain an edge in cyber competition, it will change the cat-and-mouse game between cyber attackers and defenders. Embracing machine learning systems for cyber defense could drive more aggressive and destabilizing engagements between states. Wyatt Hoffman writes that cyber competition already has the ingredients needed for escalation to real-world violence, even if these ingredients have yet to come together in the right conditions.Download Full Report

As artificial intelligence begins to transform cybersecurity, the pressure to adapt may put competing states on a collision course. Recent advances in machine learning techniques could enable groundbreaking capabilities in the future, including defenses that automatically interdict attackers and reshape networks to mitigate offensive operations. Yet even the most robust machine learning cyber defenses could have potentially fatal flaws that attackers can exploit. Rather than end the cat-and-mouse game between cyber attackers and defenders, machine learning may usher in a dangerous new chapter.

Could embracing machine learning systems for cyber defense actually exacerbate the challenges and risks of cyber competition? This study aims to demonstrate the possibility that machine learning could shape cyber operations in ways that drive more aggressive and destabilizing engagements between states. While this forecast is necessarily speculative, its purpose is practical: to anticipate how adversaries might adapt their tactics and strategies, and to determine what challenges might emerge for defenders. It derives from existing research demonstrating the challenges machine learning faces in dynamic environments with adaptive adversaries.

Pentagon’s $2 Billion Cybersecurity Project Slowed by Flaws

By Anthony Capaccio

The Defense Department has halted deployment on its classified networks of a $2 billion cybersecurity project intended to detect intrusions and prevent attacks because of poor test results, according to the Pentagon’s testing office.

The effort to consolidate hundreds of U.S.-based and global systems continues to be fielded to non-classified networks even though test assessments since 2016 have continually shown it’s “unable to help network defenders protect DoD component networks against operationally realistic cyber attacks,” testing chief Robert Behler wrote in his latest criticism of the project known as the Joint Regional Security Stack.

Behler’s report, obtained by Bloomberg News in advance of its release, was written before the Defense Department acknowledged that it was among government agencies hit by a massive intrusion attributed to Russian hackers. Although the Pentagon said there’s no evidence that data or systems were compromised, the attack raised new questions about protecting defense systems.

The cybersecurity project is already more than a year late. In 2015, the Pentagon directed that the system of network routers, firewalls and switches be fully implemented by 2019 across the military’s information technology infrastructure. It’s intended to provide continuous network security capabilities, including intrusion detection, attack prevention and a reduction to the number of access points to the military’s information network.