24 January 2021

India and the US: Ideological Convergence No More?

By Mohamed Zeeshan

Ships from the Royal Australian Navy, Indian Navy, Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force, and U.S. Navy sail in formation during Malabar 2020.Credit: Flickr/U.S. Pacific Fleet

Amid the dizzying news that shook up President Donald Trump’s last days in office, the White House declassified a relatively unspectacular new document: its Strategic Framework for the Indo-Pacific.

It was unclear why the White House chose to do that in the middle of a chaotic transition. The framework contained many well-worn cliches of Trump’s foreign policy in the Indo-Pacific: that countering China’s expanding influence is the headline priority; that North Korea should be defanged; and that the U.S. should establish “fair and reciprocal” trade. Some analysts, such as Nitin Pai at the Takshashila Institution, wondered if this was the Washington foreign policy establishment’s way of preempting a softer China policy from President-elect Joe Biden.

Regardless of the White House’s strategic rationale, the framework was still an interesting revelation of how the Trump administration saw the Indo-Pacific’s major powers – and India, in particular. The document asserted India’s role as a key U.S. security partner, including Washington’s aspiration that it will become New Delhi’s “preferred partner” on security issues. It also talked about ensuring that India remains preeminent in South Asia and expressed hopes that it would take the leading role in maintaining Indian Ocean security and increase its engagement in Southeast Asia. It further reaffirmed many of India’s other aspirations, including its Act East policy and New Delhi’s “aspiration to be a leading global power.”

Writing Off Afghanistan: Does Biden Have a Choice?

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

The United States has now spent nearly a year reducing its military, diplomatic, and aid presence in Afghanistan. It has never made the full scale of these reductions public, but it has talked about reducing its military presence to 2,500 military personnel by January 2021 and about closing many military facilities. UN and other reporting have also reflected a steady decline in aid activity.

The full scale of the cuts in diplomatic presence, U.S. aid workers, and various types of U.S. funded contractors—many of whom perform roles that belonged to the military in previous wars—has never been made clear. The same is true of the cuts in military and civil intelligence personnel as well as in military personnel who are not officially assigned full time to Afghanistan but who have been critical in supporting Afghan combat operations. There also have been no details about the cuts in the U.S. military train and assist personnel assigned to key frontline Afghan army and police units.

As for the level of conflict, the World Bank reports that,

Conflict is ongoing, and 2019 was the sixth year in a row when civilian causalities in Afghanistan exceeded 10,000. The displacement crisis persists, driven by intensified government and Taliban operations in the context of political negotiations. The number of conflict-induced IDPs increased from 369,700 in 2018 to 462,803 in 2019. An additional 505,000 refugees returned to Afghanistan, mainly from Iran, during 2019.

The Trump administration will leave office having stated that it has reduced the number of U.S. military in the country to 2,500—although the credibility of such numbers is dubious at best. Media reporting on Afghan manpower levels has quoted Department of Defense (DoD) and State Department briefs without questioning the real-world numbers. The current round of reductions has been almost universally defined as a cut from 4,500 to 2,500 military, ignoring the fact that these numbers do not include some military personnel in intelligence and special combat roles.

A Complex Inheritance: Transitioning to a New Approach on China

The incoming Biden administration will inherit four major crises—the pandemic, climate change, racial injustice, and a fracturing political system. It will also face a U.S.-China relationship that is very different from the one President Obama and President-elect Biden bequeathed to the Trump administration four years ago. Figuring out how to manage this inheritance will be the chief foreign policy challenge of the new administration.

Since 2017, America’s China policy has shifted sharply away from patient multilateralism and integration toward impatient unilateralism and decoupling. Some believe that the incoming Biden administration will have little room for maneuver. This is in part because of Beijing’s intransigence and the many signals China has sent that it intends to double down on domestic repression, state capitalism, and external assertiveness. And it is in part a consequence of the flurry of restrictions and penalties enacted in the waning months of the Trump administration meant to make it politically impossible or technically difficult for the incoming administration to roll back. Given that strategic rivalry increasingly appears to be locked in, the only question by those who hold this perspective is whether the Biden team can more efficiently and effectively pursue the same agenda.

A return to an era when profound disagreements, such as over Taiwan or human rights, did not get in the way of extensive cooperation is not possible or advisable for the foreseeable future. A China that is ideologically radicalized under Xi Jinping, more powerful, and aiming to dominate the commanding heights of the global economy means a decline in overlapping interests between Washington and Beijing. However, the Biden administration has a greater opportunity for policy innovation on China than many appreciate. There are two steps to escaping the confines of a Trumpian approach. The first is a willingness to fully evaluate the existing approach’s assumptions, tools, and outcomes and, on that basis, define a new approach; the second is a systematic plan of how to get from Point A to Point B, which will require deciding which existing policy measures to keep, which to reform, and which to discard entirely.

Why Change Is Necessary

Transatlantic Awakening: Why Europe and China are Creating a Comprehensive Agreement on Investment

by Valbona Zeneli Joseph Vann

The agreement is about market access for European companies to the Chinese market. The key goals and objectives focused on the liberalization of investment, elimination of quantitative restrictions, rules against the forced transfer of technology, new obligations about the behavior of Chinese State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs), better transparency rules for subsidies, and other commitments related to sustainable development. In principle, if everything goes as planned, then what is there not to like? 

In Europe, the CAI deal would appear as a pragmatic step forward in regulating the shifting paradigm in investment relations with China and promoting reciprocity when it comes to market access. This reciprocity is critical for Europe. In less than a decade, Chinese foreign direct investment (FDI) in the EU increased approximately fifty times (from less than USD $840 million in 2008 to USD $42 billion in 2016). This increase in investments has been significant and has strong implications when it comes to China’s economic and geopolitical influence in Europe. According to data from MERICS, the stock of cumulative Chinese FDI in Europe is USD $195 billion (including the UK). But, if contracts implemented from Chinese companies in Europe are added, the numbers are definitely higher: reaching USD 298 billion, based on data of the American Enterprise Institute. According to the EU Commission, EU cumulative investment in China amounts to USD $170 billion.

Taiwan Continues to Cloud the U.S.-China Relationship

by Sebastien Roblin

Here's What You Need to Know: The United States remains legally committed to the defense of Taiwan, even though it no longer recognizes it as the government of China. Despite a recent spike in tensions, China-Taiwan relations are still massively improved, exchanging university students and business investments rather than artillery shells and aerial bombs.

In 1955, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army embarked on a bloody amphibious landing to capture a fortified Nationalist island, only about twice the size of a typical golf course. Not only did the battle exhibit China’s growing naval capabilities, it was a pivotal moment in a chain of events that led Eisenhower to threaten a nuclear attack on China—and led Congress to pledge itself to the defense of Taiwan.

In 1949, Mao’s People’s Liberation Army succeeded in sweeping the Nationalist Kuomintang (KMT) government out of mainland China. However, the Nationalist navy allowed the KMT to maintain its hold on large islands such as Hainan and Formosa, as well as smaller islands only miles away from major mainland cities such as Kinmen and Matsu. These soon were heavily fortified with Nationalist troops and guns, and engaged in protracted artillery duels with PLA guns on the mainland.

In 1950, the PLA launched a series of amphibious operations, most notably resulting in the capture of Hainan island in the South China Sea. However, a landing in Kinmen was bloodily repulsed by Nationalist tanks in the Battle of Guningtou, barring the way for a final assault on Taiwan itself. Then events intervened, as the outbreak of the Korean War caused President Truman to deploy the U.S. Seventh Fleet to defend Taiwan. However, the naval blockade cut both ways—Truman did not allow Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek to launch attacks on mainland China.

China’s Debt Grip on Africa


LONDON – The pandemic is confronting highly indebted poor countries with a fateful dilemma. As Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, lamented last April, leaders have been forced to choose whether to “continue to pay toward debt or redirect resources to save lives and livelihoods.” And when they choose the latter, it is often China – Africa’s biggest bilateral lender – to which they have to answer.

Throughout America’s history, the bigotry that fueled Donald Trump’s rise to power has never been far from the surface. Trump’s departure is an opportunity for a new beginning, not only in the deeply-wounded United States, but in multiethnic societies everywhere. 

According to Ahmed, a moratorium on debt payments was essential to enable Ethiopia to respond to COVID-19. Such a moratorium would save Ethiopia – one of the world’s poorest countries – $1.7 billion between April 2020 and the end of the year, and $3.5 billion if extended to the end of 2022. An effective COVID-19 response, he noted, would cost $3 billion.

A debt moratorium did save Angola, at least for now. Along with Chad, the Republic of the Congo, Mauritania, and Sudan, Angola was under severe financial pressure, owing to the collapse in commodity prices triggered by the COVID-19 crisis. But, in September, Angola secured an agreement with three of its major creditors – including the China Development Bank (the CDB, to which Angola owes $14.5 billion) and the Export-Import Bank of China (EximBank, owed $5 billion) – to receive $6.2 billion in debt relief over the next three years.

Can China Become the AI Superpower?

Professor Jinghan Zeng

At what point did China decide that it wanted to invest heavily in AI development, and what has been driving this process within China?

Jinghan Zeng: Since the 1980s the Chinese government has maintained a keen interest in e-government as a way of improving its governance capacity. Since then it has sought to use cutting-edge digital technology to better equip the civil service and has expended a lot of effort to learn from the technological innovations of the West. Over time China has adapted these innovations to its mode of governance, from the development of the ‘Great Firewall’ to incorporating the power of big data into bureaucratic processes. And now, more recently, we are seeing attention turn to the potential of artificial intelligence. 

2017 is the pivotal year in China’s ambition to become the AI global superpower. Before this there were efforts to invest in AI at the provincial government level or in discrete industrial sectors, but they were minimal. In 2017 the Chinese government published its own ‘New Generation AI Development Plan’ which set out a three-step strategy to meet its aspirations for this technology. The first step was to achieve the same level of competency as leading countries, such as the United States, and to develop an industry worth at least RMB 150 billion by 2020. The second step is to become the country which regularly makes the major breakthroughs in AI, and develop an industry worth at least RMB 400 billion by 2025. For the final step, to be achieved by 2030, China aims to become the leading AI power with an industry worth at least RMB 1000 billion. The announcement gained a lot of traction and provided impetus to capital markets within China to invest in these technologies.

China’s economy is growing faster now than before the coronavirus pandemic

Gerry Shih

TAIPEI, Taiwan — A year ago, the coronavirus began spreading rapidly in China. Today, China's economy is bouncing back hard, and expanding even faster than it did before the pandemic.

Economic data published Monday showed that China logged 2.3 percent growth for 2020, becoming the only major economy that grew during a year when the virus exacted a devastating global toll. As other major nations and geopolitical competitors, from the United States to Europe to India to Japan, struggle to beat back a winter wave, China’s containment success has buoyed its economy and the ruling Communist Party’s claims to global leadership in the post-pandemic world.

In a sign of how quickly China has managed a turnaround, the National Statistics Bureau said that its gross domestic product rose 6.5 percent during the fourth quarter of 2020, exceeding the 6 percent pace at the end of 2019, before the coronavirus took hold. China’s GDP surpassed a milestone in 2020, topping 100 trillion yuan, or about $15 trillion.

“In an extraordinary year, China’s economy was able to record an extraordinary accomplishment,” Ning Jizhe, head of the statistics bureau, told reporters. “It’s a performance that is satisfactory to the people, watched by the world, and can be recorded in the annals of history.”

China’s new GDP milestone, Ning added, reflected how “our country’s economic strength, science and technology strength, and overall national strength have jumped to a new level.”

Russia, Iran and China exploit Capitol Hill riot to push information operations, US intel concludes

by Sean Lyngaas

As America reels from the deadly Capitol Hill insurrection, Russia, Iran and China are using their state media mouthpieces to exploit U.S. divisions and further their interests ahead of Joe Biden’s inauguration, according to a new U.S. intelligence analysis obtained by CyberScoop.

The Jan. 14 intelligence memo produced by the FBI and Department of Homeland Security shows how U.S. adversaries wasted no time in amplifying scenes from the pro-Trump mob’s siege of the Capitol building.

Russian state media has harped on the Jan. 6 riot’s “violent and chaotic nature,” while focusing on the second impeachment of President Donald Trump, according to the memo. One Russian “proxy” suggested that “Antifa,” a loose collection of left-wing activists, was responsible for the storming of the Capitol, the intelligence memo said. Some Republican lawmakers also have mentioned that baseless conspiracy theory.

Iranian state media has zeroed in on calls for Trump’s removal from office and claims that Trump incited the riot, the analysis said. Chinese media, meanwhile, has used the Capitol Hill siege to “denigrate U.S. democratic governance,” portray the U.S. as a power in decline and justify China’s crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in Hong Kong, according to the “joint threat assessment,” as the document is titled.

The memo offers the latest examples of a dynamic that became clear in Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. election: Foreign actors will exploit America’s political and societal divisions to boost their own narratives. The run-up to the 2020 U.S. election saw a steady drumbeat of influence operations from Russia, China and Iran, but also some activity from Cuba and Saudi Arabia, according to intelligence officials.
No credible cyberthreats to inauguration, officials say

Chinese Survey Ship Caught ‘Running Dark’ Give Clues to Underwater Drone Operations

By: H I Sutton

A Chinese government survey ship was intercepted “running dark” without broadcasting its position via AIS (Automated Information System by Indonesian officials. The incident is latest twist in an ongoing maritime saga which has also seen Chinese uncrewed underwater vehicles (UUVs) found in Indonesia’s territorial waters.

The survey ship, Xiang Yang Hong 03, left its base at Sanya on Hainan Island, China, on the morning of Jan. 6. It was intercepted by the Indonesian Coast Guard near the Sunda Strait during the week of January 11. All ships transiting the strategically important strait are required to be on AIS and when confronted the crew Xiang Yang Hong 03claimed that its AIS was damaged, according to press reports.

Israel’s Air Force attacks warehouses used to ‘store and stage Iranian weapons’ in Syria


Israel’s Air Force attacked several military sites belonging to Iranian-backed groups in eastern Syria near the Iraq border Wednesday morning. The strikes took place after recent warnings by the Israeli military that it would act against Iranian entrenchment in Syria and the smuggling of precision guided munitions from Iran.

Syria’s state-run news agency (SANA) confirmed the attack but did not divulge details about the strikes.

“Military source: At 1:10 am today, the Israeli enemy carried out an air aggression against the city of Deir al-Zour and the al-Bukamal area. The results of the aggression are currently being verified,” a SANA report stated.

Citing a senior U.S. intelligence official with knowledge of the attack the Associated Press reported the “airstrikes were carried out with intelligence provided by the United States” and the “strikes targeted a series of warehouses in Syria that were being used in a pipeline to store and stage Iranian weapons.”

According to Omar Abu Layla, CEO of Deir al-Zour 24, a German-based monitoring group, the airstrikes targeted the “Aiyash warehouses” which “are some of the largest warehouses of Iranian militias in Syria, as they contain tunnels and underground depots.”

Trump is handing Biden a more dangerous world. There's only so much the new president can undo

By Angela Dewan and James Griffiths

London and Hong Kong (CNN)The recent attack on the US Capitol served as a sobering wake-up call: Not only have the Trump years left America deeply divided, they've also transformed it into a theater of political violence.

President Donald Trump's impact on the world at large has been much the same. As he hands power to Joe Biden on Wednesday -- however reluctantly -- he also hands his successor a far more dangerous world than it was four years ago.

At the start of 2020, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists behind the symbolic Doomsday Clock moved the time to 100 seconds to midnight, indicating that the world was closer to annihilation than it had been at any time since World War II.

In their assessment, they considered the threat of nuclear confrontation, climate change and disruptive technologies. Of course, not every threat they point to is the result of a Trump policy. But those that are have been enormously consequential.

A more nuclearized world

One of the most significant of these policies was Trump's withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal in 2018. The pact -- brokered by the Obama administration and five other nations -- was widely welcomed as a breakthrough in a decades-long security challenge.

South Africa is the Only Nation to Give Up its Own Nuclear Weapons

by Robert Farley 

Here's What You Need to Remember: The region and the world are undoubtedly safer because of the decisions made in the 1990s to relinquish South Africa’s nuclear program. Moreover, the dismantling of the relatively small program provided a template for how other nuclear powers could think about eliminating their own programs.

Why did South Africa decide to build nukes, how did it build them and why did it decide to give them up? The answers are largely idiosyncratic, although they may hold some lessons for the future of nuclear weapons development on the Korean Peninsula and elsewhere.

Origins of Program

South Africa sought nuclear weapons for familiar reasons. Although it enjoyed presumptive conventional dominance over any likely regional opponent, Pretoria worried that the advantage might erode over time. The South African government also appreciated that widespread disdain for its apartheid system might prevent Western countries (including the United States) from coming to its aid in any serious confrontation against the Soviet Union or its allies. Nuclear weapons would provide not only a direct way of confronting a military attack against South Africa, but also a means of leveraging Western diplomatic and military support during a crisis.

The Year of Europe

While many people are saying that 2021 will be the year of China, just as the past four years have been, I think we may well see our relationship with Europe occupying much of the debate space this year. There are compelling reasons for improving it, just as there are compelling obstacles to doing so.

First, the relationship is in serious disrepair. President Trump spent the past four years undermining NATO, bullying European leaders individually and at G7 meetings, and both threatening and imposing a variety of tariffs. Steel and aluminum tariffs are in place, as are retaliatory tariffs growing out of the Boeing-Airbus case. Threatened were tariffs on automobiles and on a variety of other French goods because of its digital services tax. The collective sigh of relief across the Atlantic after the U.S. election was audible here, and European leaders have been clear they are interested in moving the relationship in a more constructive direction.

Second, the relationship matters. The European Union’s proposal for a reset has had a positive reception here. The president-elect knows Europe—and many of its current leaders—well and recognizes the importance of a good relationship, both for its own sake and also to help him build the coalition he has talked about for meeting the China challenge. We can expect considerable column space to be devoted to the coalition idea over the next few months—who, how, and why are the obvious questions. There can be multiple answers to those, but they all rest on advancing the principles of rule of law and democracy, which, in turn, means it will be hard to build a coalition without Europe.

The Joint Chiefs on the January 6, 2021 Riot in Washington

Far too much of the commentary following the attacks on the Capitol building has been partisan or too focused on the event as part of a broader threat to American democracy. It is important to note that the Joint Chiefs of Staff issued a statement to the U.S. armed forces that avoided any element of partisanship or panic, but it provided a powerful and decisive statement on their role in defending the Constitution.

This statement got only marginal attention in the media that instead focused of the ongoing crisis. Some other coverage took the message out of context to support partisan or policy positions that the statement did not take.

A copy is attached. In a time of far too many extreme views, this statement provides clear evidence that the U.S. military is performing its role in defending and upholding a keystone of democracy. It has a lasting meaning that goes far beyond the headlines of the crisis, and it is well worth reading in full.

Obama, Trump and Biden: Consistency in Foreign Policy

By George Friedman

U.S. foreign policy comes in phases. From the end of World War II to 1972, its goal was to confront the Soviet Union and affiliated communist governments. Things changed a little in the early 1970s, when the U.S., weakened by the Vietnam War, began to work with China against the Soviet Union to eventually reach a detente. This lasted until 1991 and the collapse of the Soviet Union. From the early 1990s to 2001, Washington fixated on leading a global, peaceful world order. That, too, changed on 9/11, after which policy revolved around the global war on terror. The wars were costly and minimally effective.

The current phase of U.S. foreign policy was put into place by Barack Obama. It consisted of reducing military forces in the Middle East and creating a new relationship with the Muslim world; adopting a more adversarial stance on Russia, including Moscow’s forays in its near abroad; and confronting China on trade relations and, specifically, Beijing’s manipulation of its currency.

Donald Trump’s foreign policy naturally followed. He also sought to withdraw troops from the Middle East and to create a new relationship in the region. He was instrumental in formalizing a coalition structure consisting of certain Arab nations and Israel against Iran, and made some unexpected troop withdrawals. He brought economic pressure on China, the effects of which remain to be seen. And finally, he continued to confront Russia, maintaining U.S. forces in Poland, Romania and the Black Sea.

Outdated Carbon Policies Threaten Climate Change Efforts

by Mark Maslin Simon Lewis

French global energy giant Total recently announced it had delivered its first shipment of “carbon neutral liquid natural gas”. Natural gas is, of course, a fossil fuel and so can’t itself be carbon neutral. Instead, emissions from transporting the cargo were partly “offset” by investing in a wind farm in China.

But here’s the problem: that wind farm has been operating since 2011 and has already issued more than 2 million tonnes of these so-called “carbon credits”. A project like this clearly happened nine years ago without the additional funding from selling credits to Total, so it is highly unlikely that the recent purchases resulted in additional removal of carbon from the atmosphere.

These kinds of projects are why many scientists and environmentalists remain sceptical of companies buying credits to reduce emissions elsewhere in the world instead of reducing emissions themselves. This is why Mark Carney, the former governor of the Bank of England, has set up a private sector taskforce to establish a “credible” carbon offsetting market in 2021 so buyers can have confidence that their investments really will remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.

We teamed up with climate data analysts at Trove Research to feed into Carney’s taskforce. Our new report shows that the market already contains hundreds of millions of tonnes of poor quality credits. If changes are not made the market could be flooded with them, resulting companies paying money, but failing to meaningfully reduce carbon dioxide emissions. New rules are needed to exclude older credits from the market.
Adriano Vinca 

With a rapidly growing population of 250 million, the Indus river basin in South Asia is one of the most intensively cultivated regions on Earth, highly water stressed and lacking energy security. Yet, most studies advising sustainable development policy have lacked multi-sectoral and cross-country perspectives. Here we show how the countries in the Indus basin could lower costs for development and reduce soil pollution and water stress by cooperating on water resources and electricity and food production. According to this analysis, Indus basin countries need to increase investments to US$10 billion per yr to mitigate water scarcity issues and ensure improved access to resources by 2050. These costs could shrink to US$2 billion per yr, with economic gains for all, if countries pursued more collaborative policies. Downstream regions would benefit most, with reduced food and energy costs and improved water access, while upstream regions would benefit from new energy investments. Using integrated water–energy–land analysis, this study quantifies the potential benefits of novel avenues to sustainable development arising from greater international cooperation.

Rotten to the Core?

By Francis Fukuyama

Writing in Foreign Affairs in 2014, I lamented the political decay that had taken root in the United States, where governing institutions had become increasingly dysfunctional. “A combination of intellectual rigidity and the power of entrenched political actors is preventing those institutions from being reformed,” I wrote. “And there is no guarantee that the situation will change much without a major shock to the political order.”

In the years that immediately followed, it seemed possible that the rise of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump might present a shock of that sort. Revisiting the question of political decay in these pages during the presidential campaign of 2016, I was encouraged to see that “voters on both sides of the spectrum have risen up against what they see as a corrupt, self-dealing Establishment, turning to radical outsiders in the hopes of a purifying cleanse.” I also warned, however, that “the nostrums being hawked by

Online Event: A New Strategy for Countering Small Unmanned Aerial Systems

Tom Karako: All right. Well, hello and welcome, everyone. I’m Tom Karako. I’m a senior fellow with CSIS and moderator for today. We’re very excited to serve as the forum for the release of the Defense Department’s new report describing its strategy for countering small unmanned aerial systems. At one time the missile defense conversation was focused on ballistic missile threats. And to be sure, ballistic missiles remain a profound piece of the problem. Yesterday, for instance, was the one-year anniversary of Iran’s missile attack on U.S. forces at the Al Asad Air Base in Iraq. But while that threat is still there, and increasing, it’s definitely not just about rogue state ballistic missiles anymore.

So we here at the CSIS Missile Defense Project focused really on the challenges across the spectrum of air and missile threats. Essentially, every that arrives in or through the atmosphere that flies somewhere between mud and space. Now, at the outset, we want to briefly acknowledge that this has been a challenging week for the country, meaning of course the events of the Capitol on Wednesday. But the work of the Department of Defense and its professionals must go on, and we have two of those professionals with us this morning, the report’s lead authors Major General Sean Gainey and MS. Nicole Thomas.

First up, who I feel like I’ve been on a half-dozen panels with you, sir, Major General Gainey is director of the Joint Counter Small UAS Office and the director of fires, G-357. Prior to that he served as deputy director for force protection, J-8 Joint Staff. Part of that was being the head of the Joint Integrated Air and Missile Defense Organization, or JIAMDO, which is especially important for our topic today, how C-UAS fits together with everything else. He’s also served as the commander of the 108th Air Defense Artillery Brigade from the 94th Army air, and a number of other air defense roles. So great to see you, sir. You’re a repeat offender at CSIS, welcome back.

Biden Faces More Aggressive Rivals and a Fraying World Order

By Robin Wright

In a recent conversation, Sir John Scarlett, the elegant former spymaster of Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, or M.I.6, pondered the foreign-policy challenges facing Joe Biden when he enters the White House—and the jarring differences since he left it four years ago. The bottom line, Scarlett told me, is that America’s adversaries are now “more assertive, aggressive, and self-confident.” Many of the threats were building in 2017, but they have escalated exponentially. As Biden returns to power, the variety and depth of hazards facing the United States—from nations and non-state militias, jihadi terrorists, drug lords, criminal syndicates, and hackers—are greater than at any time since the U.S. became a superpower after the Second World War.

Biden has one advantage. He’s widely viewed as an internationalist, having travelled extensively to crisis and war zones and conferred with more than a hundred foreign leaders during his decades in the Senate and White House. But, on the eve of his own Inauguration, spymasters and generals long experienced with global crises are anxious about America’s ability to lead a world in disarray and deathly ill. They also wonder whether other nations will be as eager to collaborate with the United States as they were when Biden was last in office. “We will reclaim our credibility to lead the free world,” Biden told reporters last month. “And we will, once again, lead not just by the example of our power, but by the power of our example.” A lot has changed, however, because of the erratic and egocentric policies of Biden’s predecessor. Adversaries have also found more imaginative ways to exploit America’s internal turmoil and withdrawal from the international stage. Both allies and adversaries feel fewer constraints. The rules and institutions of the international order have weakened.

One Year, 400,000 Coronavirus Deaths: How the U.S. Guaranteed Its Own Failure

By Sarah Mervosh, Mike Baker, Patricia Mazzei and Mark Walker

After the White House declined to pursue a unified national strategy, governors faced off against lobbyists, health experts and a restless public consumed by misinformation.

People walk to the bus stop last month in Denver as two cases of a new coronavirus variant were discovered in the state.Credit...Daniel Brenner for The New York Times

The path to beating the coronavirus was clear, but Kelley Vollmar had never felt so helpless.

As the top health official in Missouri’s Jefferson County, Ms. Vollmar knew a mandate requiring people to wear masks could help save lives. She pressed the governor’s office to issue a statewide order, and hospital leaders were making a similar push. Even the White House, at a time when President Trump was sometimes mocking people who wore masks, was privately urging the Republican governor to impose a mandate.

Still, Gov. Mike Parson resisted, and in the suburbs of St. Louis, Ms. Vollmar found herself under attack. A member of the county health board called her a liar. The sheriff announced that he would not enforce a local mandate. After anti-mask activists posted her address online, Ms. Vollmar installed a security system at her home.

“This past year, everything that we’ve done has been questioned,” said Ms. Vollmar, whose own mother, 77, died from complications of the coronavirus in December. “It feels like the Lorax from the old Dr. Seuss story: I’m here to save the trees, and nobody is listening.”

The U.S. Capitol Riot Was Years in the Making. Here's Why America Is So Divided


Bremmer is a foreign affairs columnist and editor-at-large at TIME. He is the president of Eurasia Group, a political-risk consultancy, and GZERO Media, a company dedicated to providing intelligent and engaging coverage of international affairs. He teaches applied geopolitics at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs and his most recent book is Us vs. Them: The Failure of Globalism. 

There is no advanced industrial democracy in the world more politically divided, or politically dysfunctional, than the United States today. How did the world’s most powerful country get to this point? To paraphrase a great American writer—slowly, then suddenly. The Capitol riot was not just years in the making, but decades. That’s because of three distinct features of American society that have been ignored by U.S. politicians for far too long: the enduring legacy of race, the changing nature of capitalism, and the fracturing of our collective media landscape.

Begin with race; the U.S. is far from unique in having a troubled history with race relations. But it has been particularly slow to address the structural legacy of that racism—it took nearly a century following the end of the Civil War for the 1964 Civil Rights Act to get passed, to cite just one example. Steps have been taken in recent decades to begin addressing this legacy in earnest, from anti-discrimination laws to affirmative action efforts. It has worked to bring Black Americans toward a more even footing, even paving the way for the U.S. to elect its first Black president. But as the Black Lives Matter protests this past summer made all too clear there is still much work left unfinished.

How to Leverage Technology Against America’s Coronavirus Crisis

by Maria Barsallo Lynch Lauren Zabierek

Ten months into the coronavirus pandemic’s grip on the United States, public health experts are sounding the alarm over mounting infections and deaths signaling the country’s most serious phase of the pandemic to date. Recent statistics estimate the loss of one life every thirty seconds; indeed, Jan. 7 set the record for the deadliest day in our fight against the virus, topping four thousand deaths for the first time.

Even as the first vaccines are distributed across the country the pandemic will continue to rage in the coming months, which officials warn could mean a total of 450,000 deaths before February. Meanwhile, the U.S. healthcare system is under unprecedented stress and the capacity of states to respond to and restrain the spread of the coronavirus is at a critical point in the country’s fight against this pandemic. A newly-discovered extra contagious variant of the virus recently appeared in the United States and has the potential to change most aspects of a U.S. response. In the coming weeks and months, as a new administration prepares to marshal resources and works to become fully operational in combating this virus, every day counts and technology may help to save lives in the lead up to Inauguration Day. In an all-hands-on-deck moment, it’s time to revisit the wildcard issue of digital contact tracing.

The Hacker Who Archived Parler Explains How She Did It (and What Comes Next)

By Leland Nally

With Twitter's permanent ban of Donald Trump and tens of thousands of QAnon-linked accounts following the Capitol takeover on Wednesday, many of Trump’s followers planned to make a new home on Parler, the “free speech” alternative that has become known for hosting far-right content.

Those plans hit a snag when Amazon Web Services, Google, and Apple deplatformed Parler, effectively erasing it off the internet, at least temporarily. Parler was an organizing and rallying point for the far-right, including many of the Capitol Hill insurrectionists, and so its erasure from the internet threatened to destroy months of posts that could be used to better understand the attack on the Capitol. 

But the quick thinking of a self-described hacker by the name of donk_enby and a host of amateur data hoarders preserved more than 56.7 terabytes of data from Parler that donk_enby and open source investigators believe could be useful in piecing together what happened last Wednesday and in the weeks and months leading up to it. donk_enby was able to scrape and capture and archive nearly the entire content of the website after it became clear that hundreds of Trump supporters had uploaded potentially incriminating photos and videos of themselves to the platform, many filming from inside the Capitol itself.

When news of donk_enby's archival efforts broke, several viral tweets, Reddit posts, and Facebook posts claimed that she had captured private information, scans of drivers licenses and IDs, and other highly sensitive information. She said those posts are “not at all” accurate.

Competition and Cooperation in the Maritime Domain

Competition over the world’s maritime resources and territorial disputes over maritime borders are becoming increasingly prominent in international affairs. At the same time, depleted fish stocks and polluted waters make the question of how countries can collectively manage maritime resources a central one, particularly in discussions over climate change.

Against the backdrop of heightened competition in the maritime domain, China has been rapidly modernizing and expanding its naval capabilities thanks to an unprecedented shipbuilding effort. By contrast, the U.S. Navy is struggling to meet its ambitious goals toward expanding its fleet while nevertheless maintaining a demanding operational tempo.

Meanwhile, the resources that lie beneath the ocean’s surface are increasingly at risk of overexploitation. Illegal fishing is devastating already diminished global stocks and may soon present a severe crisis to countries whose populations depend on seafood for their diets. In the South China Sea, competition over fishing rights as well as offshore oil and gas reserves has been a major driver of tensions and conflict.