20 January 2021

Connectivity Gaining Greater Currency in India-Bangladesh Relations

By Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan

Bangladesh has expressed interest in joining the India-Myanmar-Thailand trilateral highway project. Bangladesh made the overture at the recent virtual India-Bangladesh summit between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in December 2020. For both trade and strategic reasons, creating connectivity can be beneficial to both India and Bangladesh, but it’s yet to be seen how the post-COVID-19 economy will affect the implementation of such investments. 

Regional connectivity was one of the key themes discussed at the bilateral summit. The two leaders reviewed a number of connectivity projects, including a trial run of trans-shipment of Indian goods from Kolkata to Agartala via Chattogram and operationalization of the Sonamura-Daudkandi Protocol route under the Protocol on Inland Water Transit and Trade (PIWTT). The two leaders also decided to expedite the operationalization of transporting Indian goods through Chattogram and Mongla ports in Bangladesh. Also at the meeting, India sought connectivity between the border districts of Hilli in the Indian state of West Bengal and Mahendraganj in the Indian state of Meghalaya through transit over Bangladeshi territory. 

Biden’s Cabinet Picks Will Hold India-US Relations in Steady Course

By Saba Sattar

Since President-elect Joe Biden won a contentious election in which the incumbent Donald Trump refused to concede until after the Capitol Hill riots last week that left 5 dead, his top cabinet appointees have signaled a unifying approach to partnerships and alliances in lieu of Trump’s “America First” rhetoric. Within a week of the election, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted about Biden’s “spectacular victory,” and pledged to work “closely together once again to take India-U.S. relations to greater heights.”

From appointing the first female and half-Indian and African American vice president to nominating a secretary of defense who maintains a regional expertise on the Middle East and a secretary of state and national security advisor who favor alliances, the incoming administration will have significant implications for India- U.S. security relations.

Since Trump was sworn into office in 2017, the political trajectory of expanding security relations between both countries has accelerated. Both Modi and Trump have added their populist flare and personal vigor to to the task of checking Chinese revisionism, particularly in the Indo-Pacific, though New Delhi remains cautious about directly upsetting Beijing. Trump’s 2017 National Security Strategy articulates “India’s emergence as a leading global power and stronger strategic and defense partner.”

India Develops Indigenous 9 MM Machine Pistol

By Abhijnan Rej

The Indian Ministry of Defense (MoD) announced that the Indian Army and the Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) have jointly developed India’s first indigenous 9 mm machine pistol. An MoD statement released on January 14 noted, “Infantry School, Mhow and DRDO’s Armament Research & Development Establishment (ARDE), Pune have designed and developed this weapon using their respective expertise in the complementary areas.”

Describing the development of “Asmi” – as the new personal defense weapon has been christened – the MoD said: “The weapon has been developed in a record time of four months. The Machine Pistol fires the in-service 9mm ammunition and sports an upper receiver made from aircraft grade Aluminium and lower receiver from carbon fibre.”

A “3D Printing process has been used in designing and prototyping of various parts including trigger components made by metal 3D printing,” it added.

Taiwan Needs Allies, Not Partisans


On Jan. 9, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo abruptly announced that the United States would eliminate the decades-long self-imposed contact guidelines set forth by the State Department on how U.S. officials and service members engage with counterparts in Taiwan. The order, broadly speaking, allows for fewer restrictions across the executive branch and greater reciprocal access to certain facilities, as well as changes around the terminology permitted to describe Taiwan and its representatives.

This announcement came three days after Pompeo made public that U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft would soon be visiting Taiwan. He highlighted the trip in what was essentially a footnote to a press release condemning China for arrests in Hong Kong. That confirmed the suspicion of many Taiwan analysts that this administration views the island primarily as a card to play against the People’s Republic of China and as a convenient foil to it—or the “free China” per Pompeo’s press release.

China COVID-19 Cases Spike as WHO Researchers Visit

China is seeing a new surge in coronavirus cases in its frozen northeast as a World Health Organization team arrived to investigate the origins of the pandemic. On January 14 the country reported its first new death attributed to COVID-19 in months, raising the toll to 4,635 among 87,844 cases.

Officials said on January 14 that Heilongjiang province in the region traditionally known as Manchuria recorded 43 new virus cases, most of them centered on the city of Suihua outside the provincial capital of Harbin. The northern province of Hebei just outside Beijing has seen China’s most serious recent outbreak and reported 81 more cases. The Hebei outbreak is of particular concern because of the province’s close proximity to Beijing.

Hebei’s provincial capital, Shijiazhuang, has accounted for the vast majority of recent cases. Travel to and from three cities, Shijiazhuang, Xingtai and Langfang, has been suspended and residents of some communities have been told to stay home for the next week.

All of Shijiazhuang’s roughly 10 million people have been ordered to undergo a second round of testing as authorities seek to isolate the sources of the outbreak. Some of the infections have been tentatively linked to wedding gatherings.

China’s Goals for Wang Yi’s Southeast Asian Tour

By Nian Peng

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi initiated his Southeast Asian tour at the beginning of this week, after he closed a six-day tour of Africa the previous week. Analysts believed that COVID-19 vaccine cooperation would be a top priority of the trip, Wang’s second to Southeast Asia since the beginning of the pandemic. But vaccines are only part of his mission; implementation of the Belt and Road Initiative and regional stability are also major items on his agenda.

So far, Myanmar, the Philippines, and Indonesia are the three Southeast Asian countries with the most cases of COVID-19. According to the WHO, the cumulative case counts are 858,043 for Indonesia, 492,700 for the Philippines, and 132,260 for Myanmar as of January 14. Vaccines are the key for them to prevent the virus from spreading in the coming months. Indonesia has so far received 3 million vaccine doses from China’s Sinovac Biotech. Myanmar and the Philippines have negotiated to purchase Chinese vaccines. During the first stop of his five-day tour, Wang promised Myanmar 300,000 doses of a Chinese vaccine against COVID-19. It can be expected that China will make a similar announcement during his visit to the Philippines from January 15-16.

With Iran, Biden Can’t Let Perfect Be the Enemy of Good


Last week, Iran announced
that it had started enriching uranium to 20 percent at its underground Fordow facility. This step is a serious escalation in a long-running crisis—but, even more ominously, it is also a threat. Iran is apparently signaling that if the 2015 nuclear deal—formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action —is not salvaged in the weeks after U.S. President-elect Joe Biden takes office, it will further ramp up its nuclear program to strengthen its hand ahead of any future negotiations. Under these circumstances, any new agreement would likely be worse than resuscitating the current deal.

In spite of the Trump administration’s best efforts, the Iran deal has not collapsed completely. In 2018, the administration ceased providing Iran with promised sanctions relief. In response, Iran gradually ramped up its nuclear program, breaching the deal’s limits on uranium enrichment. Nonetheless, Iran hoped that President Donald Trump would lose the 2020 U.S. presidential election and a new Democratic administration would want to reenter the deal. Accordingly, Tehran did not withdraw or restart its plutonium program. It has continued to accept exceptionally intrusive monitoring of its ongoing nuclear activities. And it could reverse its ongoing noncompliance quickly and easily. If Biden can provide Iran with the sanctions relief it was promised, he can likely reassemble the deal (to which all the other signatories are still committed).

What Oman’s Constitutional Change Means for Omanis


On January 11, 2021, Omani Sultan Haitham bin Tariq issued a new constitutional decree creating the position of crown prince and laying down mechanisms to ensure stable transfers of power. Sultan Haitham’s decree came one year after he himself took power—following the death of longtime former sultan Qaboos bin Said—in what was then an informal process among the royal family.

Omanis’ reactions to this move have varied. Some think that having a crown prince would consolidate Oman’s position in the Gulf region, where other monarchies have a crown prince, by presenting Oman’s royal family as an old, strong, stable ruling family. Others think that Oman has moved away from its particular Muslim tradition—known as Ibadi Islam—whose proponents have spent much of the tradition’s history fighting against institutionalizing such hereditary systems.

By establishing the crown prince position, Sultan Haitham is minimizing speculation and doubt around power transfers in Oman. But for the country to see any real change, the sultan would need to also grant powers to the country’s two-chamber legislature, the Council of Oman.

Operation Desert Storm—30 Years Later: My View from the Joint Staff

By Admiral James A. Winnefeld, U.S. Navy (Retired)

It was 1 August 1990. Saddam Hussein had been rattling his sword for six months, threatening to burn Israel and take over Kuwait. But the Soviet Union was falling, consuming the attention of Washington, a town that is really only able to focus on one crisis at a time. The intelligence community was particularly focused on the failing communist empire due to opacity of the Soviet system and the enormous potential consequences of a miscalculation during the transition. 

But it suddenly looked like Saddam was serious, and when Iraq began to move forces toward the Kuwaiti border, General Colin Powell, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, held a meeting of the Joint Chiefs and other senior officers at the round table in his office. They were in a tough spot, considering the few options available if the worst occurred. 

In January 1990, I transferred from my department head tour at Fighter Squadron-1, based at Naval Air Station Miramar, to the Joint Staff at the Pentagon. Although friends had urged me to stay in the cockpit to enhance my chances of screening for command, the writing on the wall of the Goldwater-Nichols Act’s mandate for joint duty for officers was clear, and I felt the need for some intellectual diversity.

Trump's four-year information war

Zach Dorfman

Last week's riot at the Capitol was many things, but perhaps chiefly it was the culmination of four years of information warfare waged against the country from within the Oval Office.

Why it matters: A sprawling disinformation campaign led by President Trump — and buttressed by his allies in the media, online and in Congress — has severely destabilized the U.S. and makes further acts of violence and would-be insurrection a near certainty.

The big picture: Transnational conflict and power plays increasingly take place online, in the form of hacking, digital spying and influence operations.
Disinformation is a central tool in this arena, allowing nation-states and their online proxies to undermine the civic health of a rival power by spreading lies and preying on societal fissures.
Many of the U.S.' cyber defenders devote their lives to beat back these threats from abroad, but that work has been persistently dwarfed by the president's own commitment to sowing destabilizing disinformation within the country.

A Chastened America Will Be Better at Preaching Abroad

By Edward P. Joseph

It’s known as Bloody Thursday. As with last week’s assault on the U.S. Capitol, it was sparked by a last-ditch attempt to subvert an election, this time in North Macedonia. Fearing prosecution should he lose power, an unscrupulous autocrat, Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, urged his supporters to stop parliamentarians from “stealing their country.” As demonstrators grew in number and anger, Gruevski’s elected loyalists impeded the opposition leader, Zoran Zaev, from forming a government. When Zaev finally surmounted the last obstacles to ousting Gruevski, a mob of self-described patriots stormed Parliament, brandishing flags, wreaking havoc, and attacking Zaev and other so-called traitors. Blood spilled from Zaev’s face as he was repeatedly struck. Belatedly riot police expelled the mob.

The comparison between the April 27, 2017 assault on the Macedonian Parliament and last week’s assault on the U.S. Capitol is as fair as it is humbling. One of the oldest and definitely the most powerful republic now shares the ignominy of a violent, failed putsch with a small Balkans country. But there is one important difference between the two incidents. No Macedonian officials will come to Washington (as American officials successfully did in Skopje) to advise them on how to pick up the pieces and move forward with their democracy.

National Security in an Age of Insurrection


Last week’s insurrection at the U.S. Capitol was the greatest national security crisis our country has faced in many decades. This may surprise Americans who have long been taught that “national security” means combating foreign threats and projecting U.S. influence abroad. No foreign power has attacked, and relatively few Americans died. Yet the American nation itself—its democratic core—was left destabilized and profoundly insecure. It should now be obvious that domestic dysfunction, not foreign hostility, is the real existential danger. This fact requires a wholesale rethinking of U.S. military, intelligence, and diplomatic priorities. National security experts must finally reconsider what “the nation” really is and what “securing” it really means.

Since 1945, U.S. national security strategy has undergone several distinct shifts: from the Cold War to the unipolar moment; from the war on terror to “great power competition.” I had a front row seat to the most recent shift as a former special assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joseph Dunford. Yet despite their differences, all these strategies reflected the same basic bargain between U.S. citizens and their government. Americans agreed to spend extraordinary amounts of money, human capital, and political attention on managing the world beyond their borders. In return, they hoped to expand and preserve their own prosperity and freedom.

After the End of the 'Pink Tide,' What’s Next for South America?

It may not be a return of the “Pink Tide” of leftist governments that swept into power across South America in the early 2000s—and were largely swept out again amid a conservative backlash in the mid-2010s. But the region’s left has been showing signs of revival.

In Argentina’s October 2019 presidential election, the moderate-left Peronist candidate, Alberto Fernandez, ousted the market-friendly incumbent, Mauricio Macri, whose austerity measures and heavy borrowing triggered an economic crisis that cost him the presidency. Also in 2019, violent protests erupted in Colombia in September against mounting police brutality under law-and-order President Ivan Duque. And both Ecuador and Chile saw massive demonstrations that forced Ecuador’s government to backtrack on austerity measures and challenged Chile’s longstanding neoliberal economic model. More recently, in October 2020, Bolivia returned the Movement Toward Socialism to power in the first presidential election since Evo Morales was ousted.

The conservative wave that followed the Pink Tide is far from ebbing, though. The 2018 election of Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil was a particular blow to the region’s progressives, and he has justified their fears. His administration has curbed the fight against corruption and downplayed the severity of the coronavirus pandemic, even as he has continued to denigrate the country’s Indigenous communities. And in Uruguay, conservatives took control of the government last December from the leftist Broad Front coalition that had been in power for a decade and a half.

World shouldn’t laugh at U.S. too soon


In much of the world, the sight of a mob storming the United States Capitol to keep their leader in office was met not just with horror but with, let’s face it, schadenfreude. Finally! The U.S., which has for decades lectured other democracies about their imperfections and failures, had an anti-democratic moment of its own.

Some here in India responded in keeping with the honored traditions of this country — i.e., WhatsApp jokes (“Owing to COVID-19 travel restrictions, this year’s U.S.-backed coup will take place at home”). The Times of India’s banner headline was “Coup Klux Klan.”

Others’ humor was a little drier. The Russian foreign ministry, which has perfected the art of straddling provocation, irony and fact, noted mournfully that “the electoral system in the United States is archaic; it does not meet modern democratic standards,” which is particularly infuriating because of its exact truth. The Turkish press release sounded like officials had gleefully cut-and-pasted past advisories from the U.S. State Department, down to the advice that “Turkish citizens in the U.S. avoid crowded areas.”

Global Britain, Global Broker

Dr Robin Niblett CMG

In this paper, Chatham House Director Robin Niblett sets out a proposed blueprint for Britain’s future foreign policy. Rather than reincarnate itself as a miniature great power, he argues that the country has the chance to remain internationally influential if it serves as the broker of solutions to global challenges.

The paper lays out six international goals for the UK that offer the best points of connection between its interests, resources and credibility. These are: protecting liberal democracy; promoting international peace and security; tackling climate change; enabling greater global health resilience; championing global tax transparency and equitable economic growth; and defending cyberspace.

In pursuit of these goals, the UK will need to invest in and leverage its unique combination of diplomatic reach, diverse security capabilities and prominence in international development. It should use these assets to link together liberal democracies and, where possible, engage alongside them with other countries that are willing to address shared international challenges constructively.

We’re starting to see a new foreign policy for Brexit Britain

James Forsyth

What will Brexit Britain do differently? This is going to be the most important question in our politics for the next decade. If the answer is that nothing much will change, it would be hard to argue that the disruption of the past four and a half years has been worth it. But if Brexit means the country becomes quicker at adapting to changing circumstances, then the electorate’s decision in 2016 will have been vindicated.

The quick decision to remove VAT from tampons and sanitary towels is a small, early sign of how Brexit enables parliament to respond more directly to public pressure. The decision not to join the EU’s vaccine procurement programme let us move faster with immunisation: the UK has currently vaccinated more people than France, Italy and Germany put together. If this saves lives and allows us to exit lockdown more quickly, there will be a substantial benefit.

Perhaps the biggest question is what kind of role this country will now play in the world. Since the referendum result, Boris Johnson has enthusiastically talked up the rather nebulous idea of ‘global Britain’, to try to show that Brexit does not mean retreat. He wants to use the UK’s 2021 presidency of the G7 and this year’s COP26 UN climate change summit in Glasgow to demonstrate what this soundbite actually means. He hopes to launch the D10, an alliance of democracies that share an interest in countering China. Australia, South Korea and India have been invited to the G7 meeting to this end; Downing Street hopes that this will demonstrate the UK’s convening power.

'An Epidemic of Misinformation.' New Report Finds Trust in Social Institutions Diminished Further in 2020


After an unprecedented year of global pain, loss and uncertainty, a new report finds that 2020 marked “an epidemic of misinformation and widespread mistrust of societal institutions and leaders around the world.”

The 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer, a study published annually by global communications firm Edelman, unveiled its findings on Wednesday after conducting more than 33,000 online surveys in 28 countries between October and November 2020. The firm found that public trust had eroded even further in social institutions—which Edelman defines as government, business, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and media—from 2019 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, global outcry against racial injustice and growing mistrust of what political leaders say and journalists report.

According to Edelman, the results revealed “a new era of information bankruptcy and a trust ecosystem unable to confront it.” It further showed that most people now rely mostly on their employers for accurate information, and trust businesses over government and media. In the U.S., trust in journalists further split among party lines in 2020.

The real-world ramifications of decreasing trust in these institutions mean that only 1 in 3 people are “ready to take the [COVID-19] vaccine as soon as possible,” and in the U.S., 57% of Americans believe the country is in the midst of a cold civil war, according to the study.

‘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. 

What the Rally in Gas Prices Tells us about Gas Markets and Energy Security

The rally in natural gas prices, which was already unprecedented, has now become historic, as prices for liquefied natural gas (LNG) in Asia have broken every record. The story, by now, is familiar: cold weather in Asia and Europe interacted with bottlenecks—not enough production, not enough ships, not enough passage through the Panama Canal, not enough storage capacity, not enough liquidity in the market, and so on. It is, to use the cliché, a “perfect storm,” with power systems struggling in places like China, Japan, the United Kingdom, and others.

As with any price spike, the aftereffects are easy to predict. Suppliers might invest more in their ability to supply—in production capacity and ships. Consumers might think anew about their reliance on the spot market and their aversion to long-term contracts. Countries betting on gas to aid them in the energy transition might reassess how much they want to use a commodity whose price can swing so unpredictably. Regulators might look to make sure there was no foul play, in gas markets but also in electricity, to which gas is connected. Governments will announce some “measures” to enhance energy security.

But this crisis also helps us revisit some assumptions about the gas market—some entrenched myths, if you will. The first myth is that of the “global gas market.” We have never had a global market, of course, not if you define “global” as a market in which shocks affect everyone equally (more or less). We have seen, over the past few years, excess gas output lead to a convergence in prices—in that sense, the surplus of one region, North America, has become a global surplus that lowered prices in Europe and Asia. Coupled with uncertainty about the long-term prospects for gas, this surplus created an unusual glut in gas markets.

Microsoft's Brad Smith says health companies should be off-limits from cyberwarfare

Ian Sherr

Microsoft wants us to work together better to fight cyberattacks. The tech giant's outspoken president, Brad Smith, said companies need to work together more to help protect vital infrastructure, particularly health care. 

As the coronavirus pandemic has raged around the world, hackers have attacked hospitals, researchers and health organizations at a time they're needed most, Smith said Wednesday during a livestreamed keynote speech at the digital CES. Hospitals and health organizations should be considered off-limits, he added.

Smith also said there are lessons we can pull from real-world attacks over the years. He noted that one of the worst attacks on American soil, 9/11, exposed the need for government agencies to communicate more, and do it more often. Now he believes we need to take the same approach with cyberattacks.

CES 2021: Microsoft's Brad Smith slams SolarWinds 'indiscriminate assault'

Microsoft's president has called the SolarWinds hack an "mass indiscriminate global assault" that should be a wake-up call to cyber-defenders.

Brad Smith was making a keynote speech at the CES technology trade show.

Earlier, it emerged President-elect Joe Biden had created a new post for a former National Security Agency official to help determine the US response to the attack.

Anne Neuberger had specialised in operations against Russia.

Pre-emptive strike

Plans to appoint her to the role of deputy national security adviser for cyber-security within the National Security Council were first reported by Politico and have now been confirmed by the New York Times.

Hackers have leaked the COVID-19 vaccine data they stole in a cyberattack

By Danny Palmer 

Hackers have leaked the information they stole about the COVID-19 vaccines as part of a cyberattack targeting the European Union's medical agency, the organisation has admitted.

The attack against the European Medicines Agency (EMA) was first disclosed last month and now it has been determined that those behind the hack gained access to information about coronavirus medicines.

"The ongoing investigation of the cyberattack on EMA revealed that some of the unlawfully accessed documents related to COVID-19 medicines and vaccines belonging to third parties have been leaked on the internet. Necessary action is being taken by the law enforcement authorities," the EMA said in a statement.

"The agency continues to fully support the criminal investigation into the data breach and to notify any additional entities and individuals whose documents and personal data may have been subject to unauthorised access," the EMA added.

America must bolster cybersecurity


Cybersecurity experts are still assessing the Solar Winds hack and recent penetrations into government and corporate information systems around the world. Already, seven lessons for leaders stand out.

First, this issue is mostly about Russia. While the United States has played up the China espionage threat in recent years, the sobering reality is that Russia has conducted the gravest cyberattacks against the United States. These have included espionage, criminal actions, and political subversion, in addition to signaling capacity to infiltrate and inflict harm for deterrent purposes. China certainly raises serious concerns, but Russia is far more aggressive in what it dares do against the United States.

Second, American cybersecurity vulnerability is permanent, as no matter how much the United States has tried, the level of its digital dependence, pace of technology innovation, number of networked players, and human frailties, combined with a business culture that rewards greater efficiency, virtually ensures that it will never haec total robustness. Natural disasters, human errors, technical failures, criminal actions, and hostile operations will continue to buffet the American digital infrastructure.

Trusting machines versus humans. We must understand the difference

César A. Hidalgo

Humans historically take a long time to trust the latest wave of machine technology.

In scenarios involving physical harm, people tend to see machines as more harmful than humans performing the same actions.

It's important we combine our interest in how machines should behave with an understanding and of how we judge them.

Recently, voting machines have been on the receiving end of controversy. And yet people’s aversion of machines is nothing new.

Some 500 years ago, printing was being demonised as a satanic device. Today's equivalent — artificial intelligence — is routinely criticised as a source of unemployment and bias.

But is every bit of anger justified?

Physical activity is good for your concentration – here's why

Simon Cooper

Whether it’s during the post-lunch slump or just one of those days, we all struggle to concentrate on what we’re doing sometimes, whether that’s at work, school, or home. Being able to concentrate on what we’re doing would inevitably make us more productive, but that’s often easier said than done. For people looking to improve their concentration, exercise is often recommended as the antidote – and for good reason, as research shows that physical activity can improve concentration in people of all ages.

I’ll define “concentration” as our ability to focus on a task and ignore distractions. So in order to have good concentration, we need to have two important aspects of cognitive function working at their best. The first is sustained attention, in which we’re able to focus on certain pieces of information for prolonged periods of time. The second is executive function, which is our ability to think and make decisions at a complex level.

But how does exercise help us improve these skills? Most research into the effects of exercise on concentration have studied the links in young people in schools. This is likely because of the clear effect concentration has on academic achievement, with a key priority of schools being to improve academic achievement and exam results.