25 January 2021

Is There a Solution to the India-China Border Standoff?

by Simi Mehta

June 2020 brought a rude shock to India, when the Chinese and Indian soldiers confronted each other in the disputed area on the Galwan River Valley. It was an aberration from decades of mutual understanding between the two countries that they would not use firearms or kill the personnel of the other side. Both sides suffered casualties.

China’s Perspectives

The fundamental reason that the border continues to be a disputed matter between India and China is an asymmetry in the thinking that prevails on both sides. While India seeks to verify the Line of Actual Control (LAC) first and then engage in discussing veritable solutions, China’s thinking is top-down. It wishes to reach to arrive at a mutual understanding first and then build a mutual political consensus to demarcate the LAC. Beijing fears that if China agrees on the Indian line of thinking, then China would lose a large part of the territory.

In China’s strategic calculations, despite India being a rising power, it is the United States, and not India, which is a strategic competitor for China. Further, Beijing’s aims are to maintain peaceful ties with India, because its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) network has to pass through India on land and in the Indian Ocean.

The official position of the Chinese leadership is that it was the Indian side triggered the confrontation at Galwan valley. When it was provoked, it would react to protect what it believes is its sovereign territory—however small it is. This line of thinking seems to be driven by the Greek historian Thucydides’ idea that honour, interest and fear guides foreign policy.

According to Chinese analysts, China does not want an American involvement in the dispute, which if it happens would be a humiliation for India and its abilities. The closeness in Indo-U.S. ties through 2+2 Dialogues and foundational defense agreements are viewed by China as being “superficial.” A renewed vigor in the QUAD ties arising out of concerns of Chinese aggression has also been dismissed by Beijing, as each of the four countries—India, Australia, Japan and the United States—would not compromise their bilateral relations with China.

Joe Biden Will Have to Address the War in Afghanistan—Again

By Steve Coll

When Joe Biden
became Vice-President, in 2009, tens of thousands of American troops were fighting a spreading Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan, and the war loomed as one of the most pressing problems in U.S. foreign policy. American soldiers had been suffering casualties in Afghanistan since just a couple of months after the 9/11 attacks, and the numbers were rising; Al Qaeda was plotting large-scale offensives against U.S. targets along the Afghan-Pakistan border; and the Pentagon was clamoring for more troops. That February, I attended a dinner at Biden’s Washington residence, along with half a dozen Afghanistan specialists. Biden was adamant about one thing: the public would not long sustain its support for the war. “This is not the beginning,” he noted, and he talked about the pressure that
Obama faced from generals who sought an escalation of U.S. involvement—which Biden opposed. He described Obama as determined to think things through for himself.

This time around, for President-elect Biden, the Afghan war is nowhere near as consequential for the United States, yet American troops remain there as it grinds on. When Biden takes office, he will confront early decisions that will define the contours of the war’s next chapter and determine the legacy of the American-led invasion, an enterprise that, based on official data, has cost the nation more than eight hundred billion dollars so far, and for which more than twenty-four hundred Americans have given their lives.

There are just twenty-five hundred American troops left in Afghanistan, and they largely eschew combat these days, under an agreement struck last February in Doha, Qatar, between the Trump Administration and the Taliban. The agreement’s goals are to withdraw all U.S. troops; promote a ceasefire and a political settlement between the Taliban and the Afghan government, led by President Ashraf Ghani; and prevent Al Qaeda or the Islamic State from threatening the United States. Those goals are not far from ones that Biden has previously stated. Last spring, in Foreign Affairs, he wrote that the U.S. should withdraw the “vast majority” of its troops from Afghanistan and “narrowly define” its interests around counterterrorism.

Oli’s Power Grab Endangers Nepal’s Fragile Democratic Transition

Ashish Pradhan

The aftershocks of Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli’s decision
last month to dissolve the lower house of Nepal’s Parliament and call for early elections are still being felt throughout the country. Oli’s controversial move, designed to thwart growing demands for him to leave office, has been widely criticized—including within his own Nepal Communist Party, or NCP—for contravening Nepal’s 2015 constitution. His insistence on maintaining power marks a potentially dangerous juncture along Oli’s drift toward authoritarianism, and could reverse democratic gains Nepal has made since its 10-year civil war ended in 2006.

The latest episode in Nepal’s roiling politics was entirely predictable. Oli took power in 2018, after campaigning in the previous year’s elections on a staunchly nationalist platform. The NCP and its fellow leftists in the Maoist party were able to capitalize on a wave of anti-Indian sentiment owing to a blockade that New Delhi imposed in 2015, and they together secured a nearly two-thirds majority in Parliament. Oli then sealed a “gentleman’s agreement” with Pushpa Kamal Dahal, the leader of the Maoists, to merge their parties and to take turns holding the top job during the government’s five-year term

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

Pompeo Declares China’s Crackdown on Uighurs ‘Genocide’


With less than 24 hours left in office, the Trump administration on Tuesday declared that China’s violent repression against its Uighur population constituted a genocide, following widespread condemnation of the Chinese government’s campaign of mass internment, forced labor, forced sterilization, and other human rights violations against more than 1 million Muslim minorities.

The move follows four years of growing tensions between the United States and China, as outgoing Trump administration officials describe Beijing as the biggest threat to U.S. national security in the coming century. It also represents a significant last-minute escalation in the standoff between the two rival superpowers just a day before President-elect Joe Biden takes office. 

“I believe this genocide is ongoing, and that we are witnessing the systematic attempt to destroy Uyghurs by the Chinese party-state,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement announcing the declaration on Tuesday. “We will not remain silent. If the Chinese Communist Party is allowed to commit genocide and crimes against humanity against its own people, imagine what it will be emboldened to do to the free world, in the not-so-distant future.”

The United States is the first country to make the declaration, which could increase pressure for a new wave of economic sanctions on Chinese officials and prompt other countries, including U.S. allies in Europe, to follow suit. The British Parliament is set to vote Tuesday on a proposal that would prevent Britain from securing trade deals with countries that commit genocide, with an eye on a U.K.-China trade pact. 

“Does the use of this particular word set in motion particular administrative or legal processes? Not necessarily. But as a political and diplomatic matter, it certainly escalates the issue,” said Sophie Richardson, the China director at Human Rights Watch. 

‘Made In USA’ Won’t Secure Supply Chain Vs. China: Solarium


Australian government map of rare earth deposits.

WASHINGTON: The US needs to work with allies and partners to compete with China in high tech, not go it alone, leaders of a bipartisan commission said Thursday.

“I went with the chairman of the seapower committee on HASC, Joe Courtney, the chairman of the Friends of Australia Caucus, to Australia,” recalled Rep. Mike Gallagher, the Republican co-chair of the congressionally chartered Cyberspace Solarium Commission. In particular, they visited western Australia, a major source of rare earth minerals essential to many high-tech products – minerals that, today, the US mostly gets from China.

“Our biggest takeaway,” he told a CNAS webcast Thursday, “was the need to … really enhance our partnership, particularly with our Five Eyes allies” – Australia, Britain, Canada, New Zealand, and the US – “and Japan” – which made major investments in its rare earths supply after China put it under embargo.

Is a China-ASEAN Comprehensive Strategic Partnership Likely in 2021?

By Huynh Tam Sang

On its face, the Chinese government’s proposal that China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) should update their strategic partnership to a comprehensive strategic partnership, made at the 26th ASEAN-China Senior Officials’ Consultation in July last year, seems both timely and appealing.

First, 2021 marks the 30th anniversary of the establishment of ASEAN-China Dialogue Relations and thus offers a good opportunity to raise ASEAN-China ties to the next level. Second, ASEAN has been – and remains – of great strategic importance to China. ASEAN was China’s largest trading partner in 2020, and both sides were among the signatories of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership trade pact that was formalized in November. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s four-nation Southeast Asian tour earlier this month, coming after a similar regional tour in October, suggests that ASEAN will be a special focus of China’s 2021 diplomacy.

However, China’s quest to add the important word “comprehensive” to its strategic relationship with ASEAN is not as promising as it seems. China and the South China Sea claimant states – Vietnam, the Philippines, and Malaysia – continue to lock horns over China’s militarization of artificial land features in the disputed seaway.

Erdogan positions powerful Turkish military as backbone of regional strategy

By: James M. Dorsey

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan ushered in the new year, pledging to employ his country’s military to secure Turkey’s place in a rebalanced new world order.

Mr. Erdogan spelled out his vision when he inserted himself on December 30 into an address by his defense minister, Hulusi Akar, to several hundred masked Turkish and Azeri military officers in the Azerbaijani capital of Baku.

Speaking on the loudspeaker of Mr. Akar’s handphone that the defense minister held up to the microphone, Mr. Erdogan compared Turkish military interventions, foreign bases and/or participation in United Nations peacekeeping missions in lands of the former Soviet Union, Kosovo, Syria, Libya, Somalia, and Qatar to the creation during World War One of the Islamic Army of the Caucasus by Enver Pasha, the Ottoman war minister.

The Islamic Army captured Baku in the last days of World War One but failed to cement a basis for military support in the century since for pan-Turkist or Turanist ideologies that seek to unite peoples of Turkic origin.

Critics, nonetheless, assert that Turkish support for last year’s Caucasus war in which Azerbaijan defeated Armenia constituted a step in that direction.

Mr. Erdogan, however, appears to define Turkey’s place in a new world order as Turkish leadership of a broader Muslim world of which lands populated by Turkic ethnicities are part.

“The Turkish military, with a past full of glory and honor, will continue to fulfill…the task assigned to them in our country and all over the world… I wish our soldiers success, who fight to preserve peace, calm and stability in many places from Syria to Libya, from Somalia to Kosovo, from Afghanistan to Qatar,” Mr. Erdogan said.

Mr. Erdogan’s broader focus has not stopped his defense minister from stepping up meetings with representatives of Turkic minorities, until recently the preserve of a separate government department.

COVID-19: Implications for businessJanuary 20, 2021 | Executive Briefing

Our latest perspectives on the coronavirus outbreak, the twin threats to lives and livelihoods, and how organizations can prepare for the next normal.

Asia is at an inflection point. New research looks at developments in industrial technology, renewables, travel, ASEAN’s vast human capital, and China’s education system.

In 2020, the largest health and economic crisis in recent history forced companies across sectors into extraordinary measures to protect their people and maintain operations. Did the technologies of the ongoing Fourth Industrial Revolution (or Industry 4.0) help? Our new survey of industrial companies (two-thirds in Asia) suggests three outcomes, starting with a huge win for companies that had already scaled digital technologies (exhibit). Those that were still scaling faced a reality check, and 2020 was a wake-up call for those that hadn’t yet started on their Industry 4.0 journeys.

Why Boris Johnson Won’t Clash With Joe Biden


Commentators and politicians around the world have frequently compared the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson with U.S. President Donald Trump, noting their shared casual relationships with the truth as well as populist and nativist proclivities. The perceived similarities between the two leaders even proved a rare point of consensus between the candidates in the recent U.S. presidential election: President-elect Joe Biden reportedly referred to Johnson as Trump’s “physical and emotional clone,” while Trump publicly called Johnson “Britain Trump.”

The U.S. election—according to this school of thought and (quickly denied) media reports of “panic” inside Downing Street—was a disaster for Johnson, who, the idea goes, is about to lose a key ally and kindred ideological spirit on the world stage. It’s certainly true that Johnson and Trump share some common traits and interests. Trump enthusiastically backed Brexit, of which Johnson was a key architect, and they sought to project a warm interpersonal relationship.

My research on Johnson’s career as a journalist and politician, however, suggests that he isn’t a natural Trump ally. Before Trump became president, Johnson attacked him as unfit to hold the office, and Johnson condemned him again recently for encouraging the insurrection at the Capitol. And, in his past newspaper columns and public statements, Johnson—who was himself born in the United States and held an American passport until 2016 when he relinquished it, possibly for tax reasons—has repeatedly praised, and sought to align himself with, liberal presidents who positioned the United States as a reliable, involved pillar of the global democratic order: Presidents, in other words, who are far more similar to Biden than to Trump.Before Trump became president, Johnson attacked him as unfit to hold the office.

Does Healthier Mean Wealthier? Measuring Countries' Economic Performance During the Pandemic

by Thomas J. Bollyky and Sawyer Crosby and Joseph L. Dieleman and Samantha Kiernan

Has healthier meant wealthier throughout the COVID-19 pandemic? At first glance, the evidence is not as a strong as one would expect. Countries with fewer cumulative deaths have generally suffered less severe economic consequences as measured by real GDP growth, but the relationship is loose and there are many exceptions. In some countries that have struggled mightily to contain the spread of the coronavirus —including the United States, Brazil, and Sweden—the economy has been stronger than in places such as New Zealand, Germany, Singapore, and Japan that are celebrated for containing the pandemic. 

GDP Growth and Age-Standardized COVID-19 Death Rates

The picture changes when considering the effect of economic stimulus. Many nations have pumped billions of dollars (and in some cases, trillions of dollars) into their economies and incurred significant debt in doing so. When those stimulus payments are accounted for, the economic performances of nations that have struggled to control the spread of the coronavirus, such as the United States and Brazil, no longer look so favorable. The same is also true for public health success stories, in particular New Zealand. In general, the connection between economic growth and pandemic performance is weaker once one accounts for the contribution of stimulus.

GDP Growth Net Stimulus and Age-Standardized COVID-19 Death

Transition 2021: What Can Biden Get Done?

by James M. Lindsay

“America is back.” That has been President-Elect Joe Biden’s message in his conversations with foreign leaders. Most, but not all, of America’s friends, partners, and allies hope he is right. They want a more traditional U.S. foreign policy that considers their interests rather than runs roughshod over them, works to build coalitions rather than undermine them, and offers predictability and reliability rather than impulse and disruption.

That goal, however, is easier stated than accomplished. Yes, Biden comes to office with five decades of foreign policy experience. He has stacked his foreign policy team with smart, veteran policy hands who know the issues and how to make government work. And numerous foreign leaders are willing to help him where they can and to give him a pass where they can’t.

But Biden also faces plenty of obstacles. Some are temporary. He will take office with few, if any, of his cabinet nominees having been confirmed. It will take months to confirm the full array of undersecretaries, deputy secretaries, and assistant secretaries who make the government run. Donald Trump’s impeachment trial will slow things further. And the Trump administration is taking numerous steps as it goes out the door to make it harder for Biden, at least initially, to enact his planned agenda.

The Water's Edge

How to Contain Putin’s Russia

By Michael McFaul

After President-elect Joe Biden is inaugurated on January 20, some elements of U.S. policy toward Russia will change immediately. No longer will the president of the United States seek to befriend Russian President Vladimir Putin, as President Donald Trump did throughout his tenure. Biden will not hesitate to criticize Putin’s belligerent actions, especially those directed at the United States. The Biden administration will also incorporate liberal norms and democratic values back into the United States’ Russia policy, so Putin can expect more criticism of Russian autocracy and more support for human rights. And the White House’s rhetoric about the United States’ transatlantic allies will shift markedly; the era of berating NATO will end this week. 

That’s the easy and expected stuff. The harder task will be to develop a new, comprehensive Russia strategy that strikes the right balance between containing Moscow and engaging it in narrow areas

Thousands of Vaccine Appointments Canceled as Supply Lags

Doctors in Peru are staging a hunger strike to protest a lack of pandemic equipment. As Biden and Harris were sworn at the Capitol, masks were the order of the day. Crowds weren’t.
Here’s what you need to know:

A vaccination in Atlanta.Credit...Nicole Craine for The New York Times

That Covid-19 vaccine appointment may not just be hard to get — it may not even be all that secure.

Thousands of people across the country learned that their appointments had been abruptly canceled in the last few days, after vaccine shipments to local health departments and other distributors fell short of what was expected.

The health department in Erie County, N.Y., which includes Buffalo, canceled seven days of appointments this week, affecting 8,010 people, saying the state had sent far fewer doses than the county ordered. All future appointments should be considered “tentative, and are subject to vaccine availability,” the department said in a statement on Wednesday.

“We made appointments based on our hope and expectation that we would be able to fill those,” said Kara Kane, a department spokeswoman. “There’s a lot of confusion, a lot of questions, a lot of concern.”

Dianne Bennett, 78, lost a first-dose appointment at the Erie County Medical Center because of the cancellations, as did her husband. They were told to try again later, but Ms. Bennett said they had no idea when another appointment would be available.

“It’s such a lottery,” she said. “I just think it’s outrageous.”

More, Less, or Different?

By Jake Sullivan

Since November 2016, the U.S. foreign policy community has embarked on an extended voyage of soul-searching, filling the pages of publications like this one with essays on the past, present, and future of the liberal international order and the related question of where U.S. grand strategy goes from here. The prevailing sentiment is not for just more of the same. Big questions are up for debate in ways they have not been for many years. What is the purpose of U.S. foreign policy? Are there fundamental changes in the world that demand a corresponding change in approach?

Into this earnest and reflective conversation enter Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, each with a new book, each making his long-standing argument about the failures of U.S. foreign policy with renewed ferocity. Walt’s is called The Hell of Good Intentions: America’s Foreign Policy Elite and the Decline of U.S. Primacy; Mearsheimer’s is The Great Delusion: Liberal Dreams and International Realities. The titles give clear hints of the cases they lay out: against democracy promotion, humanitarian intervention, nation building, and NATO expansion; for restraint and offshore balancing.

Each of the two books does add something new. Walt’s contains an extended attack on the foreign policy community, painting a dark picture, across multiple chapters, of a priesthood gripped by various pathologies, leading the country astray. Mearsheimer, meanwhile, turns to political theory to explore the relationship among liberalism, nationalism, and realism. Liberalism, he says, cannot alter or abolish nationalism and realism, and where the three meet, the latter two will prevail over the former. (Although he takes pains to stress that he is talking about liberalism in the classical sense, not as it is understood in American politics, his repeated assaults on “social engineering” reveal that he may mean it both ways.) For Mearsheimer, analysis of the three isms ultimately provides an alternative route to arrive at the conclusion that a strategy of liberal hegemony is bound to fail—and has, in fact, failed for the United States.

Biden’s Task

President Joe Biden has inherited not just a pandemic but a broken American political culture, John Dickerson writes for The Atlantic—and his task will be to transition the US back to reality, or at least back to forging consensus based on it.

In fact, if Biden succeeds, his presidency will be downright boring, Dickerson argues, quoting former White House Chief of Staff, Defense Secretary, and CIA Director Leon Panetta as saying that a “rational, experienced president” will be just that. Dickerson continues: “Such a presidency would return the executive branch to its role of informing the public,” a departure from former President Donald Trump’s scattered, disinformative Covid-19 press conferences. “Briefings, charts, and a parade of forgettable public officials can explain to the citizens of the country … what is being done in their name. America showed a distinct preference for this approach during the pandemic. … No presidency will be free of political interest or confirmation bias, but a presidency that puts persuasion over assertion, facts over piffle, has a chance to achieve real successes.”

It’s not that Biden won’t have anything to do, Dickerson writes—it’s that his to-do list is so long that “boring” is the only way.

As for specific actions, Biden got to work quickly: He has already signed a series of executive actions to undo much of Trump’s legacy, from lifting his travel ban on a handful of Muslim-majority countries to canceling construction of Trump’s US–Mexico border wall, as CNN’s Eric Bradner, Betsy Klein, and Christopher Hickey report.

Why Biden Needs Global Consensus

Will Biden’s $1.9 Trillion Stimulus Plan Work?

President-elect Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus plan
announced last Thursday is both big and comprehensive, but direct payments could be better targeted to those in need, according to experts at Wharton.

Taken together with the $900 billion stimulus program that President Trump signed on December 27, the combined outlay is “a significant amount,” said Richard Prisinzano, director of policy analysis at the Penn Wharton Budget Model (PWBM), a nonpartisan, research-based think tank focused on analyzing the fiscal impact of public policy. The specific components of the Biden bill “are all good measures to get things moving again,” he added. Prisinzano shared his views on the Biden bill on the Wharton Business Daily radio show that airs on SiriusXM. (Listen to the podcast at the top of this page.)

Debate Over Direct Transfers

The most controversial feature of the latest bill relates to the direct cash transfer of $1,400 to each taxpayer. “[Direct transfers] are the most important because that’s the quickest dollars to people,” said Prisinzano. That will be on top of $600 the Treasury department began sending out in December, and $1,200 approved last March. Biden’s bill also increases weekly unemployment benefits from the $300 approved in December to $400 a week until September 2021. That would replace about 86% of lost wages for the average worker, according to a CNBC analysis of labor department data.

However, Wharton emeritus finance professor Richard Marston questions the targeting of direct transfers. “The $1,200 checks in the CARES Act made no sense last spring because they were not targeted towards those in need,” he said. “The December 2020 bill and the Biden proposal just perpetuate this bad public policy. Help the families who have lost employment or need child care or are otherwise adversely affected by the pandemic. Why send checks to those who are still getting their regular paychecks?”

What to Expect in Biden’s First 100 Days in Foreign Policy


During his first 100 days in office, U.S. President Donald Trump issued sweeping executive orders aimed at reversing and dismantling key elements of former President Barack Obama’s legacy and pushing an “America First” platform that upset decades of bipartisan consensus on foreign policy. 

Now, the reversal of Trump’s reversals is coming, as President-elect Joe Biden has vowed to unwind major Trump-era policies to contend with a massive array of new national security threats, from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic to a surge in U.S.-China tensions to an Iran nearing the cusp of producing a nuclear weapon.

All the while, Biden will have to grapple with political upheaval in the wake of the violence that swept the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 and led to Trump’s second impeachment with just days left in office—which could lead to an another impeachment trial in the Senate that could set back Biden’s legislative agenda that the president-elect’s advisors had hoped to boldly attack on Day One. “The strategy is: go fast, be bold,” incoming National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told the New Yorker staff writer Evan Osnos for his 2020 book on Biden. “He’s not thinking on a two-year time frame, he’s thinking on a first-few-months time frame.”

The combination of national security threats and bitterly divided partisan politics at home poses a daunting challenge for the incoming administration, former senior U.S. officials and experts said. 

“I think you first have to understand and appreciate that we are living in unprecedented times. We’ve never been in this situation before, domestically and internationally,” said Chuck Hagel, who was a U.S. defense secretary during the Obama administration and also a colleague of Biden in the Senate for 12 years. “What he has to do goes well beyond the first hundred days. He is going to have to move immediately to rebuilding, restoring our alliances, reassuring them that America is back in the game to lead.”

America Must Reclaim the Global Lead on Climate Change


Sometimes seismic change has an unlikely beginning. Back in 2007, American diplomats stationed at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing were worried about the air they were breathing. It was no secret that Beijing had truly abysmal air quality, but few trusted the Chinese government’s publicly available pollution reports. So the embassy staff did something that seemed innocuous at the time: They installed a pollution monitor on the roof of the embassy to measure the local air quality and started tweeting the results. All the Twitter account was meant to do was help U.S. citizens based in Beijing figure out when it was safe for their children to be outdoors. It ended up pushing a superpower to the table to collaborate with the United States on climate policy.

Chinese citizens quickly noticed that the measurements tweeted by the U.S. Embassy didn’t match the rosier figures published by the Chinese government. Pollution was off the charts in Beijing, caused mainly by the power plants and heavy industry driving the Chinese economy. At first, Chinese officials complained about the account and blocked access to Twitter throughout China, but the embassy continued to publish the air-quality measurements. Many Chinese now had public proof that the air they were breathing was deeply unsafe.

“You Have to Begin by Imagining the Worst”


Issues editor William Kearney interviews Janet Napolitano about the pandemic and how threats to the homeland have evolved in the 20 years since 9/11.

Janet Napolitano has held many distinguished leadership positions, most recently as the president of the University of California and before that as secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and as two-term governor of Arizona. In a conversation just days before reports of a massive cyberattack on the Pentagon, intelligence agencies, national nuclear laboratories, and Fortune 500 companies, Issues in Science and Technology editor William Kearney asked Napolitano about the pandemic and how threats to the homeland have evolved in the 20 years since 9/11.Illustration by Shonagh Rae

You were probably better prepared than most university presidents to manage a crisis on the scale of a pandemic given your experience leading DHS, but can you describe the shock to the system at the University of California when COVID-19 hit?

Napolitano: It really affected us in two major ways. First, we are a large health care provider as well as health care research enterprise, so we had to transform our hospitals to be basically COVID hospitals, not knowing how many patients we would be getting. We postponed a number of procedures in order to do that, and like all health care providers in the country, we were in a scramble for masks and PPE [personal protective equipment] and other things necessary to safely care for COVID patients. Our research laboratories also all basically converted to being COVID labs. We took quite a financial hit to our hospitals, and it’s going to take a while to catch up.

In Upcoming Israeli Elections, Netanyahu Faces a New and Potent Threat

Michael Koplow

Following a one-year respite, Israeli voters will head back to the polls on March 23 for their fourth election in two years. While trying to break Israel’s political gridlock is by now well-trodden ground, the upcoming contest will differ in one key way from the three that took place between April 2019 and March 2020.

In those elections, the main alternative to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-wing Likud party was the newly formed Blue and White, a party led by former military chief Benny Gantz that did not have a clear ideological agenda or makeup. This time, however, Netanyahu’s primary threat is likely to be a popular fellow conservative who shares his ideology and worldview. This presents a different sort of challenge that will crystallize even further the new, fundamental divide in Israeli politics—one that centers around Netanyahu himself.

Israel’s string of three “Groundhog Day” elections—in which neither the Netanyahu-led right-wing bloc nor the Gantz-led centrist bloc emerged with enough seats to form a government—were temporarily halted last March, when Netanyahu and Gantz agreed to form a unity coalition based on an unprecedented power-sharing arrangement. It involved not only a prime ministerial rotation from Netanyahu to Gantz after 18 months, but the creation of the new post of alternate prime minister for Gantz in the interim and an equal split in Cabinet ministries, where the ministers in question could be replaced only by their own bloc leader, not by the prime minister. This arrangement allowed Netanyahu to remain in the top job even while facing trial on three charges of fraud, bribery and breach of trust. It also allowed Gantz, who had previously pledged not to serve alongside Netanyahu, to take credit for putting the country’s interests first and trying to tackle the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, even while theoretically preserving the possibility of replacing Netanyahu.

The Promise and Perils of Technology in International Affairs

Technology has the potential to dramatically improve the quality of life for the world’s populations, but there are no guarantees it will. Concerns remain about everything from how the growing digital divide risks leaving large swathes of society—and the world—behind, to questions about the security of data and its potential weaponization. And, of course, there is the ongoing debate around how technology and information platforms can be used to undermine democratic processes, including elections.

To address these concerns, a panel of experts assembled by the United Nations in 2019 called for a “multistakeholder” approach that would convene governments, members of civil society, academics, technology experts and the private sector in an attempt to develop norms and standards around these technologies. Even they could not agree on what this structure might actually look like, though, underscoring how difficult it will be to ensure that technology is harnessed for everyone’s benefit.

2021 Is the Year the Internet Gets Rewritten


Big Tech’s post-insurrection backlash against U.S. President Donald Trump and the right-wing online incitement machine were unprecedented. Within days, Facebook and Twitter locked Trump’s accounts. Then Shopify, Twitch, Snapchat, and others followed suit. Stripe and PayPal cut off payment processing for Trump material. Google Play and Apple’s App Store removed the app Parler for its refusal to moderate its increasingly violent content. Amazon Web Services followed by kicking Parler off its data storage. The cascade eviscerated a big chunk of the far-right pro-Trump internet.

There are three conclusions to draw about this whiplash reaction. First, Big Tech’s raw power to redirect online discourse. Second, the opacity, capriciousness and inconstancy with which they wield that power. Third, that Big Tech companies—some of the world’s most astute political actors—are nervous that the rules governing internet capitalism are about to drastically change.

That perception is justified. In response to events in Washington, European Commissioner Thierry Breton called the Capitol siege “The 9/11 of social media,” and the European Union has already outlined its first response. 2021 could be the year that Europe rewrites the internet. Long in the making, the European Commission has begun rolling out a once-in-a-generation series of proposals—on data governance, content monitoring, artificial intelligence, transparency, disinformation, and market power—aimed to transform the way major platforms do business in Europe and globally. At its core is a legislative double helix—the Digital Services Act (DSA) and Digital Markets Act (DMA)—which aim to fundamentally restructure platform governance that has dominated since the techno-libertarianism of the late 1990s.

2021 Cybersecurity Predictions


2020 has made cybersecurity among the priorities of most organizations. The challenging times brought by the COVID pandemic showed that no corporation is immune to cyber attacks. Even the largest and seemingly secure companies suffered vulnerabilities and security lapses as they tried to adopt various communication and collaboration solutions to stay connected during the early months of remote work.

Since returning to full-time physical office operations seems unlikely, most organizations have decided to transition to hybrid and work-from-home working models permanently. That said, companies looking to navigate the new working landscape should consider the following major cybersecurity trends and predictions.

Cyber Breach Costs Will Surpass the Global Economy

The pandemic significantly brought down the economy, with the U.S going into recession in February. However, based on current analytics, the global economy’s growth will drop to single-digit growth, with countries minimizing activities to minimize the spread of the second wave of the virus. On the other hand, remote work and insecure working practices will increase as more organizations adopt remote working.

Pentagon’s weapon tester pushes for better assessments of offensive cyber tools

Mark Pomerleau

WASHINGTON — The Department of Defense weapon tester wants to improve the way the Pentagon assesses tools and capabilities for offensive cyber operations that disrupt or destroy enemy data systems.

Such operations are growing more important, and testing that involves simulating realistic operations is not routine or rigorous enough to give commanders confidence the capabilities will work as designed, according to the annual report on weapons systems from the Director of Operational Test and Evaluation office.

When DoD builds a new weapon, it conducts tests to ensure it works as intended, in part so commanders know how successful it might be. For example, a commander must take the approximate blast radius of a missile into account when planning an operation to minimize unintended damage around the target.

In cyberspace, testing offensive weapons presents difficulties because artificial network ranges are necessary to avoid damaging real-world systems. These offensive capabilities are often designed to work against hardware or software flaws that adversaries could patch at any moment, meaning for some targets and exploits, time is always fleeting. This differs from the physical world, in which ordinance, for example, can be dropped on an open test range.

“Weapons like JDAMs [Joint Direct Attack Munitions] are an important armament for air operations. How long are those JDAMs good for? Perhaps five, 10 or 15 years, sometimes longer given the adversary,” Gen. Paul Nakasone, commander of Cyber Command, told Joint Force Quarterly in a 2019 interview. “When we buy a capability or tool for cyberspace ... we rarely get a prolonged use we can measure in years. Our capabilities rarely last six months, let alone six years.”