3 February 2021

Ancient Treasure and a Modern Budget Battle in Afghanistan

By Catherine Putz

Amid Afghanistan’s budget setting struggles, Acting Minister of Information and Culture Mohammad Tahir Zuhair on Thursday urged politicians to avoid politicizing Afghanistan’s historical treasures.

Earlier in the week, the speaker of the Wolesi Jirga, the lower chamber of Afghanistan’s parliament, Mir Rahman Rahmani, warned that the famed Bactrian gold treasure was not safe from corruption. “The Bactrian gold treasure — or Afghanistan’s support for the national currency — must be sent to a reliable country for safekeeping because Afghanistan’s Central Bank lacks credibility,” he said. Rahmani highlighted rampant corruption in Afghanistan, arguing that the gold was in danger of being plundered.

A recent report from the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) highlighted that despite efforts to stop cash smuggling, huge amounts continue to pass through Afghanistan’s Hamid Karzai International Airport unaccounted for. Almost a decade after installing cash counting machines to track cash leaving the country, SIGAR found they had not been connected to the internet and were not regularly used by customs officials. And it’s not just cash that flows through the airport undetected. Screening for non-VIP passengers had improved, SIGAR found, but VIPs are not subject to the same level of scrutiny — while their bags are scanned, no signs in the VIP terminal announce cash export limits, there are no cash counting machines, and there are no declaration forms provided. VVIPs, or very very important persons, aren’t screened at all.

Myanmar’s Coup: The Aftershocks

by Joshua Kurlantzick

On Monday morning Myanmar time, the Myanmar military staged a coup, its first coup since 1988, but hardly unique in Myanmar’s modern history. This coup bore all the hallmarks of previous military takeovers, even in an era in which telecommunications technology is far different from 1988, and information about Myanmar cannot be hermetically sealed off from the world. The armed forces detained most senior civilian politicians, and went beyond just detaining political figures to detain a wide range of critics of the armed forces. The army also instituted many roadblocks, throttled internet traffic, cut phone lines and other types of communication, closed banks, and took control of regional governments and the central government, with power now clearly residing with the army’s top commander, Min Aung Hlaing.

Although the army has declared a state of emergency for a year, past history in Myanmar with such declarations could easily suggest that the state of emergency could go on for many years. After all, the Myanmar military still see themselves as the protectors of the country, despite several years of shaky democracy, and they wrote the current constitution, which has a clause that essentially allows for a coup and still gave the military significant powers.

Myanmar’s Military Seizes Power

Gregory B. Poling, Simon Tran Hudes
Source Link

In an early morning raid on February 1, the military of Burma/Myanmar1 detained State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, President Win Myint, and other prominent figures in the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD). The leaders of several ethnic minority political parties and activists were also rounded up. The coup took place just hours before the country’s new parliament was to convene following November elections. Troops fanned out across Yangon and Naypyidaw, the capital, establishing a visible presence. Mobile phone services and data connections were disrupted, ATMs ceased to function, and troops seized control of state-run television. Several hours later, a broadcast informed citizens that the country was under a one-year state of emergency due to “election fraud.” Myanmar’s fragile, decade-long transition to democracy has suffered a devastating setback.

Q1: How did this happen?

A1: The NLD under Aung San Suu Kyi’s leadership won the November general elections in a landslide. The party picked up 396 out of 476 available seats in the parliament—83 percent of the total. This result was even better than the 70 percent it took in the 2015 elections, which vaulted Suu Kyi into power as state counselor and de facto head of government. The military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), by contrast, won just 33 seats in the recent elections. The polls were an embarrassing rebuke for the army, and particularly Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, which seems to have been convinced that the NLD would lose some ground with the public after five years of mixed performance in government.

Myanmar’s military reverts to its old strong-arm behaviour — and the country takes a major step backwards

Just before the newly elected members of Myanmar’s parliament were due to be sworn in today, the military detained the country’s de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi; the president, Win Myint; and other key figures from the elected ruling party, the National League for Democracy.

The military later announced it had taken control of the country for 12 months and declared a state of emergency. This is a coup d'etat, whether the military calls it that or not.

A disputed election and claims of fraud

In November, the NLD and Suu Kyi won a landslide victory in national elections, with the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) faring poorly in its key strongholds.

Humiliated by the result, the USDP alleged the election was subject to widespread fraud. However, international observers, including the Carter Center, the Asian Network for Free Elections and the European Union’s Election Observation Mission, all declared the elections a success. The EU’s preliminary statement noted that 95% of observers had rated the process “good” or “very good”.

Myanmar’s Coup Was a Chronicle Foretold

By Sebastian Strangio

On February 1, Myanmar’s newly elected parliament was slated to be sworn in for its coming five-year term. But in the predawn hours before the ceremony, the country’s military seized power in a coup d’état. The army swiftly detained State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, the nation’s top leader, and the president, Win Myint, along with an unknown number of lawmakers from the ruling National League for Democracy party and other critics of the military. The army also rounded up NLD officials and activists across the country and temporarily severed cellphone and Internet connections.

Into this communication vacuum the military broadcast an announcement that it had imposed a year-long state of emergency and installed former General Myint Swe, the vice president and former head of the Yangon military command, as acting president. The army also announced that Myint Swe had transferred legislative, executive, and judicial power to the army’s commander in chief, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, for the duration of the emergency.

The putsch, the first in Myanmar since 1988, came after days of swirling rumors and reports of an impending military action. And like previous coups in the country, it was justified in the name of democracy: Myanmar’s constitution allows the army to take power in order to prevent any situation that “may disintegrate the Union or disintegrate national solidarity or that may cause the loss of sovereignty.” In this case, the army claimed that it needed to investigate allegations of fraud in the country’s November 8 election, in which Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD won a sweeping victory over the military’s electoral proxy, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP).

F-35s and Drones Can and Will Be Networked Together

by Kris Osborn

What if Korean, Japanese, Australian, and U.S. F-35s, fighter jets, drones along with Navy surface ships could all track Chinese activities throughout the Pacific, all while sharing information in near real-time?

Chinese war preparation drills near Taiwan, carrier excursions into the South China Sea, bomber patrols, or flight intercepts off the Japanese coast might all be found, seen, and analyzed far and wide in previously impossible ways. Just how far along are the United States and its network of Pacific theater allies in bringing this kind of tactical vision to life?

The first of the Royal Australian Air Force’s F-35s are now operational, a development that adds substantial strength and reach to a fast-growing allied fleet of F-35s in the Pacific theater, including Japan and South Korea.

Disaster Shadows Chinese Mining Ventures in Southeast Asia

By Tongam Panggabean and Dustin Roasa

Two years ago this week, the global mining industry felt the ground crumble beneath its feet. At the decommissioned Córrego do Feijão iron ore mine in Brazil, a tailings dam suddenly collapsed, unleashing a wall of toxic sludge that roared through the serene valleys around the city of Brumadinho.

Security cameras captured the disaster in stomach-churning detail, including the horrifying moment when the earthen dam burst. An estimated 270 people died, many buried alive by the sludge. The area’s rivers and ecosystems are likely to be polluted for generations. The former CEO of Vale, which owns the mine, faces homicide charges in a Brazilian court.

The risks of tailings ponds – where toxic waste from mines is stored behind large dams – had been laid bare.

The psychological shockwaves of the Córrego do Feijão collapse reached China, home to approximately 8,000 tailings facilities, the most in the world. In March of last year, the Chinese government announced new safety guidelines meant to stave off a similar disaster. They establish buffer zones with residential areas and major rivers and cap the height and number of dams permissible.

China’s New Machine Can Create Controlled Nuclear Explosions

by Michael Peck

Here's What You Need to Remember: Even if China’s machine is bigger than America’s, as with so much of the nuclear arms race, it is not clear how much advantage Beijing would derive. The U.S. has almost 7,000 nuclear warheads to destroy China and Russia as functioning societies: Russia has a similar number to return the favor to America.

Welcome to the newest U.S.-China arms race: giant machines that test nuclear weapons.China is building a device that’s equivalent to America’s Z Machine, a device that reproduces the conditions of a nuclear bomb – but in the controlled safety of the laboratory. Except that China says that it’s machine will be bigger than America’s.

The Z Pulsed Power Facility “is the world's most powerful and efficient laboratory radiation source,” according to the Sandia National Laboratory in Albuquerque, New Mexico. “It uses high magnetic fields associated with high electrical currents to produce high temperatures, high pressures, and powerful X-rays for research in high energy density science.”

“The Z machine creates conditions found nowhere else on Earth,” Sandia claims.

Could Pigeons and Helicopters Let the Pentagon Beat Chinese Radio Jamming?

by Michael Peck

Here's What You Need to Remember: It’s a sensible idea, as long as the Navy remembers that radio was invented because it’s a much quicker way to communicate than physically sending a messenger. Radio also functions when the weather is too bad for helicopters to fly.

The U.S. Navy has a way to beat Russian and Chinese radio jamming.

Carrier pigeons.

Well, not exactly a pigeon. The Navy is experimenting with using helicopters to physically drop messages to other ships.

In a recent test in the Persian Gulf, an MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopter dropped a message, contained in a bean bag, on the deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer.

The idea isn’t exactly new: as far back as World War I, aviators dropped messages to ground troops to alert them to the enemy’s location. But the concept has taken new urgency in light of extensive Russian efforts to develop communications jamming technology, as well as the need for warships to maintain radio silence to avoid giving away their position.

Lasers Could Make Short Work of Chinese Drone Swarms

by Sebastien Roblin

Here's What You Need To Remember: The HEL-IFPC laser system will be mounted on a truck, rather than an armored vehicle. Thus, if it enters service, it would likely primarily be deployed behind the frontlines defending headquarters, ammunition and fuel dumps, fixed radars, and key bases or facilities. Those all happen to be attractive targets for expensive land-attack cruise missiles.

After decades of being confined to experimental prototypes and Star Wars movies, laser weapons today are on the verge of entering wide-scale service, whether in the hands of infantry, mounted on trucks, armored vehicles, warships and even Air Force fighters.

Lasers focus beams of light to produce intense heat. They have virtually inexhaustible “ammunition” and are very cheap per shot compared to a missile or even a cannon shell. They are also extremely quick and precise, though they tend to lose coherence over distance. The more powerful the laser, the further it can go and the quicker it burns through its target—but the larger its power supply and cooling system have to be.

Realigning the Transatlantic Relationship on China


With a new administration in the White House, there is renewed hope for transatlantic cooperation on China policy despite the sometimes-erratic nature of this relationship. For one, in stark contrast to his predecessor, U.S. President Joe Biden believes that the United States is strongest when it works with its allies.1 Brussels, for its part, is drafting new proposals to meet the “strategic challenge” posed by China.2 There is a sense that a revived emphasis on multilateralism presents opportunities for the European Union (EU) and the United States to manage their differences and work with China to resolve fundamental issues in the trilateral relationship.

While Washington and Brussels share concerns over Beijing’s increasingly assertive and illiberal international agenda, the EU and the United States have been largely unable to cooperate in recent years. The most recent strategic frameworks put forth by Washington and Brussels call attention to China’s unfair trade practices, abrogation of human rights, and growing military ambitions.3 However, former U.S. president Donald Trump’s withdrawal from important international agreements and his characterization of Europe as a “foe” coupled to undermine any potential for EU-U.S. coordination.4 In the absence of transatlantic leadership, China has forged ahead with its own global initiatives and gained influence in traditional multilateral forums.5

Lizza Bomassi is the deputy director of Carnegie Europe, where she is responsible for harmonizing Carnegie Europe’s strategic and operational priorities and managing relations with Carnegie’s global centers and programs as well as partner organizations in Europe.

Getting the China challenge right

David Dollar and Ryan Hass

The Trump administration had an incoherent and inconsistent policy toward China that failed to deliver on its promises. An alternative response to the China challenge would require taking four critical steps. First, the United States must strengthen its own economy through reforms and investments that are beyond the scope of this paper but are detailed elsewhere in Brookings’s Blueprints for American Renewal & Prosperity. Second, the U.S. should work with allies in Asia and Europe to push China to continue opening its economy and developing 21st century rules for new aspects of trade. Chinese trade is more important to our allies than it is to the American economy. So while it will be tempting to try to decouple from China, decoupling is a losing strategy down the road since America’s partners would not follow suit, and the U.S. would end up isolated. Third, the U.S. needs to counter China’s assertiveness with its neighbors through a strong military presence and call out China for its undermining and violations of international rules and norms. Fourth, the U.S. needs to work with China on issues where there is common interest, especially on climate change, global public health, support to poor countries, and nuclear nonproliferation. What makes the relationship especially complicated is the need to work closely with China on some issues while countering it in other domains. For the United States, China is a partner, competitor, and challenger all at the same time.

America’s relationship with China will be the most complex and important aspect of foreign policy for the next generation. China is the largest trading nation, the second largest economy, and with a population four times larger than that of the United States, it only has to grow moderately to surpass U.S. GDP by 2035 or 2040. Much of the Chinese economy is open and competitive, providing trading and investment opportunities for American firms as well as for partners in Asia and Europe. But of the major global economies, it is also the most statist, with a large state-enterprise sector and extensive government intervention in the form of protections and subsidies. Together with economic prowess, China has developed a military that, though still not as advanced as the U.S. military, is clearly second in the world, and increasingly capable of concentrating forces in ways that would strain America’s ability to respond directly to contingencies along its periphery. With that rising military might has come growing Chinese assertiveness in disputes with neighbors (Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, and India).

Antony Blinken Says U.S. Will Defend the Philippines From Attacks in South China Sea


The United States will defend the Philippines against attacks in the South China Sea, Secretary of State Antony Blinken has told his counterpart in Manila.

Blinken stressed the importance of the U.S.-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty and "its clear application to armed attacks against the Philippine armed forces, public vessels, or aircraft in the Pacific, which includes the South China Sea," according to a State Department read-out of a phone call between the two released on Wednesday.

He told Philippine foreign secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. that the U.S. rejects China's claims in the contested South China Sea "to the extent they exceed the maritime zones that China is permitted to claim under international law," the State Department said.

The read-out—the secretary's first to make explicit mention of China's vast territorial claims—said Blinken would "stand with Southeast Asian claimants" in the face of pressure from Beijing.

The call came a day after Locsin's Department of Foreign Affairs confirmed that it had lodged a diplomatic protest over China's new coastguard law, which gives Chinese maritime authorities permission to fire on foreign vessels.

Will 2021 be the year of living dangerously?

Jonathan Walter

As the third decade of the 21st century gets under way, we will look back on 2021 as a year when the future of our life on earth balanced on a fulcrum. But which way will we lean? Will we grind out a post-COVID-19 recovery along the lines of the recovery from the last great global financial crisis in 2009 towards a more dangerous future of higher consumption and emissions? Or will policy-makers, politicians, business leaders and civil society summon their collective imaginations, cooperative spirit and willpower to craft stimulus packages and investments that lead to a more sustainable, nature-friendly future?

2020 was another record-breaking year for year for natural disasters with flooding affecting 63m people in China alone.

Last year broke yet more of the wrong kinds of environmental records. A peak temperature of 38°C inside the Arctic Circle. Wildfires in the Amazon that spread to the Pantanal, the world’s largest tropical wetland, driving a drought that cost Brazil’s agriculture sector $3 billion. Historic levels of flooding along the Yangtze, affecting 63 million people. More Californian fires to add to the $148 billion of losses from 2018’s fires. A record number of Atlantic hurricanes making landfall.

The Fragility of Turkish Democracy

Begum Burak

After the failed coup attempt in 2016, Turkish political sphere has been dominated by a series of emergency laws. It can be said that Turkey has been moving away from democratic discourses and practices in the last few years. This break from democracy has been stimulated by the dominant political and bureaucratic actors under the pioneering role of AK Party. This article is an attempt to provide a descriptive analysis of the problem of authoritarian slide under AK Party rule since the transition to presidential regime in 2018. This slide can be analyzed within the framework of Samuel Huntington’s conceptualization of “political decay”.

The AK Party was founded under the leadership of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in 2001. Due to the insecure environment created by the 2001 economic crisis and the weak profile drawn by the current political actors AK Party got 34.28% of the votes in the 2002 elections and came out as the first political party. Since 2002, the AK Party has managed to stay in power alone, but it is known that AK Party faced a serious electoral challenge in the local elections in 2019. The Party lost the capital city Ankara Municipality and also failed to prevent main opposition party candidate Ekrem İmamoğlu’s election victory in Istanbul despite making the elections being held twice.

Why Turkey is Shooting Ballistic Missiles at Northern Iraq

by Michael Peck

Here's What You Need to Remember: Turkey took advantage of the Syrian Civil War to occupy parts of northern Syria. Turkish troops and Turkish-supported Syrian rebels have created a buffer zone to keep Turkey’s implacable enemy – the Kurdish rebels – at bay. This has resulted in clashes with Syrian government forces.

As if the Near and Middle East needed more ballistic missiles, now Turkey has fired one in combat.

Turkey fired a Bora – a ballistic missile based on a Chinese design – at Kurdish militants in northern Iraq.

“Turkey’s domestically-produced tactical ballistic missile BORA successfully struck its target after it was used for the first time in actual combat within the scope of Operation Claw in northern Iraq,” according to Turkey’s Yeni Safak news site. “Bora was developed by Turkish defense giant ROKETSAN; its export version is called Khan.”

Yeni Safak displayed a video of a Bora being fired. The target was reportedly in the Hakurk region of northern Iraq, which Turkish ground and air forces hit in an operation against bases belonging to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), an independence movement that fought against Turkey for decades. There was no word on whether the missile inflicted any damage on its target.

Biden should look beyond leverage to rejoin the Iran deal

(CNN)President Joe Biden took office at a moment of global crisis, and tensions with Iran are among his most pressing foreign-policy challenges. After four years of nonstop hostility between Washington and Tehran, the first weeks of his presidency could determine the level of danger moving forward.

President Donald Trump famously yanked the US out of the 2015 nuclear deal despite the fact that Iran was abiding by its terms, and European allies fiercely opposed the move. He ordered the killing of a top Iranian general and sustained a "maximum pressure" campaign of unparalleled financial sanctions against Iran. Soon after his election loss to Biden, Trump reportedly asked advisers for options to strike Iran militarily. That Trump's presidency concluded without open US-Iran conflict may be lucky for everyone.

Biden has stated an intent to rejoin the nuclear deal, while also signaling he hopes a more expansive agreement can be reached soon after. If he is serious about a diplomatic course correction on Iran that contains its nuclear activities, his administration needs to move fast in doing so.

As part of its response to mounting pressure from the Trump administration, Iran recently announced it will enrich uranium at more than five times the rate permitted under the nuclear deal. It also has threatened to restrict access to international inspectors if economic sanctions rallied by the Trump administration are not eased.

Arab spring, European winter


H.A. Hellyer, a Cambridge University fellow, is a senior associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute and at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He tweets at @hahellyer.

Ten years after the beginning of the revolutionary uprisings of the “Arab Spring,” many in the region are wondering if things haven’t simply come full circle. Egypt, where protests erupted on January 25, 2011, saw its democratic experiment fall less than two years later. And while Tunisia, where the uprisings first started, may have inched toward democracy, next door Libya has tumbled into civil war — as have Syria and Yemen.

Some might be tempted to dismiss this as “typical of the Middle East.” But there’s another way of looking at what happened — one that’s inextricably linked to Europe, its colonial history and its foreign policy today.

As an insider-outsider to the uprisings — someone who is both a European on his father’s side for many generations, and an Arab on his mother’s for even longer — the fight for democracy struck close to both of my ancestral homes. Specifically, the Arab uprisings were the inevitable consequence of the basic failure by the region’s post-colonial elites to dismantle the state structures that the Europeans left behind after their colonial enterprise.

The state structures of the colonial nation state were explicitly made to serve the interests of European elites to govern over disempowered populations. When the colonists departed, however, the systems were not dismantled — nor reshaped to serve the newly liberated people. As a result, the state structures, the ways in which they govern, many of the laws and systems of control, remain as they were designed to be during colonial times: to ensure control, not empowerment.

Preventing pandemics through biodiversity conservation and smart wildlife trade regulation

Vanda Felbab-Brown

The global public health and economic devastation caused by the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak dramatically reinforces the urgent imperative to minimize the chances of another zoonotic pandemic. Reducing the likelihood of another viral spillover sweeping the world requires a fundamental change in how we interact with nature. It requires minimizing human interface with wild animals and wild spaces; eliminating transmission points where the likelihood of viral spillover to humans is high, such as unhygienic commercial markets in wild animal meat and live animals; better monitoring of the legal trade in wildlife; diligently suppressing illegal and unsustainable trade in wildlife; and conserving natural habitats. Conserving natural habitats in turn requires profound changes in human food production and human encroachment on remaining natural habitats. Decisionmaking about pandemic prevention and nature conservation must be elevated to the highest levels of governments on a permanent basis. Such changes will not be easy or cheap, but they are necessary.

Reducing the likelihood of another viral spillover sweeping the world requires a fundamental change in how we interact with nature.

However, the necessary measures to prevent another pandemic should not entail banning all trade in wildlife. Such a policy would be deeply counterproductive since it would eliminate economic incentives for preserving critical natural ecosystems. Nor should the measures involve eliminating livelihoods of the hundreds of millions of people dependent on hunting for basic food security and subsistence.

In order to preserve habitats and wildlife and keep them wild and away from humans to minimize zoogenic viral spillover, global demand for some wildlife products, not just wild meat, but also aspects of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), also needs to be reduced.

American Renewal for a Post-COVID World

Candace Rondeaux 

Americans don’t agree on much these days. But polls reveal that a majority of them agree on one thing: There are lessons for humanity to be drawn from the COVID-19 pandemic. For the United States, the biggest lesson may not be a spiritual or religious one, but rather that it urgently needs to rethink its approach to foreign policy and reinvent national security for the next generation.

By the time many American children born in 2020 are old enough to run for Congress, the world will be marking the 100th anniversary of the end of World War II. But it is highly unlikely that, come 2045, there will be simultaneous celebrations of a U.S.-led international liberal order. Instead, the America that established the United Nations, the World Bank and the World Health Organization will be long gone, and so, too, will today’s assumptions about what constitutes America’s vital national interests.

Over the next 25 years—just one generation—today’s leading military superpower and preeminent economy will be more urban, more diverse and its population a whole lot older. Over the next 40 years, the number of Americans who are 65 or older will double, and the number over 85 will likely quadruple, according to the Urban Institute. Despite serious COVID-induced setbacks, America’s growing urban and suburban core is also likely to continue to increase in size, income and educational levels. Moreover, all these domestic shifts will converge around the same time that America becomes a “majority-minority” nation.

Are COVID vaccination programmes working? Scientists seek first clues

Smriti Mallapaty

As countries worldwide roll out COVID-19 vaccines, researchers are eagerly watching for early signs that they are having an impact on the pandemic. Last week, researchers in Israel reported preliminary figures suggesting that people vaccinated there were about one-third less likely to test positive for SARS-CoV-2 than people who had not received a shot. But scientists say that population-wide effects of immunization will take time to become clear.

Many factors will determine how soon scientists can detect the impact of vaccines on the pandemic. Among them are the extent of vaccine coverage, the effectiveness of shots at preventing disease and infection, and the rate of viral transmission.

Israel and the United Arab Emirates are leading the world in vaccine coverage. The two nations have vaccinated roughly one-quarter of their populations — more than two million people each. Other nations, such as the United Kingdom and Norway, have targeted their vaccination programmes at high-risk groups. Britain has vaccinated more than 4 million people, mostly health-care workers and older people, including those living in care homes; Norway has immunized all residents living in nursing homes, some 40,000 people.
First signs

The results from Israel are among the first to report the impact of vaccines administered to people outside clinical trials. They provide an early indication that the two-dose RNA-based vaccine developed by Pfizer–BioNTech can prevent infection or limit its duration in some vaccinated people.

Is America Stuck With Its Dysfunctional Party System?

by Paul R. Pillar

The past four years have repeatedly seen normalization of the abnormal. Outrages from Donald Trump have slipped from public attention when they have been eclipsed by something Trump says or does that seems even more outrageous. The most troubling example of this has come in the closing weeks of Trump’s term. The nation has been badly shaken, and rightly so, by what happened at the Capitol on Jan. 6. But that mob action was a violent symptom, not the underlying disease.

Conservative columnist Jonah Goldberg has it right when he observes that even if the crowd on the Mall had been peaceful and “simply went on a nice little march around the Capitol and did nothing else, it still would have been outrageous because what Donald Trump was trying to do was put pressure on Mike Pence and the Senate Republicans to, in effect, steal an election illegitimately and unconstitutionally.”

Respecting the results of free and fair elections, with acceptance of defeats and support for smooth transfers of power, is at least as fundamental as any other principle of representative democracy. Thus the biggest of all Donald Trump’s outrages has been his rejection of this principle and attempt to cling to power by any available means, however illegal and illegitimate. He has based this attempt on a big lie—which he still has not given up—that widespread election fraud denied him victory.

North Korea Reportedly Close to Mass Manufacturing of Drones

by Stephen Silver

At the recent Eighth Party Congress, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is said to have called for the development of a fleet of reconnaissance drones.

Now, a new report says development of such drones are underway.

According to a report by Daily NK, North Korea is “pushing the mass production of miniature drones to closely reconnoiter major South Korean military facilities.” The publication’s source said that North Korea “completed research and development of a miniature drone that transmits data wirelessly late last year.”

The drones, however, cannot be used to launch attacks with weapons.

Once testing is done, the country plans to begin “mass production” soon, the source said. The Daily NK story also said that the North Korean regime is seeking to use drones that are “capable of conducting minute reconnaissance and ‘penetrating the front up to 500 kilometers.’”

An analysis published by The National Interest in January, by Robert E. Kelley, looked at how countries like North Korea are making use of drones.

Can U.S. Military Kill a Drone Swarm in Battle?

by Kris Osborn

The threat of drone swarms presents a serious problem for the U.S. military. The Pentagon will need to enterprise new methods of destroying them to protect forward operating bases, ground forces on the move or even air assets such as larger drones, fixed wing aircraft or helicopters.

The Army and its industry partners have been focusing closely on counter drone operations, in large measure because drone swarms present defenders with a host of complexities, including simple redundancy. Should an entire swarm of interconnected mini-drone explosives be approaching, how might hundreds of them be stopped, destroyed or rendered inoperable? Should several small drones be disabled by defenses, what about the remaining ones? How can large numbers of them be taken out at one time, all while an attack is underway and commanders have little time with which to respond.

This predicament raises an interesting and increasingly debated tactical military concept regarding autonomy, artificial intelligence (AI) and the need for a “human in the loop.” The technology wherein a sensor can find, track and then shoot and destroy a target without human intervention, is basically here, yet its application is understandably governed by prevailing Pentagon doctrine which specifies that human beings, not computers, must always make any decision regarding the use of “lethal force.” But what about automated or computer-enabled defensive force that is highly effective, fast yet also non-lethal?

Biden Makes Sweeping Changes to Oil and Gas Policy

President Joe Biden has followed through on a campaign pledge by introducing a moratorium on new oil and gas leasing on federal lands and waters. With nearly 25 percent of U.S. oil and gas production coming from federal lands, the policy shift may have significant implications for future investment and production. The backlash from oil and gas producing states will be fierce and lawsuits have already begun, but the Biden administration views this policy as a key part of its climate agenda and is unlikely to change course.

Q1: What changes has Biden made?

A1: In a January 27 executive order that introduced a sweeping, government-wide approach to climate policy, Biden announced several new oil and gas policies. The Biden administration is halting new oil and gas leasing on federal onshore lands and offshore waters “to the extent consistent with applicable law.” This pause will not affect existing operations or permits for existing leases, and private lands will not be affected. The Department of the Interior states that Native American tribal lands will be exempted. Biden has also directed the secretary of the interior to consider whether to adjust coal, oil, and gas royalties in order to account for corresponding climate costs, suggesting the possibility of a royalty increase. Biden ordered the Department of the Interior to take steps toward conserving 30 percent of public lands and waters by 2030 and toward doubling offshore wind production in the same timeframe. These moves follow executive orders that halted implementation of a leasing program in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and effectively suspended new leases, contracts, or drilling permits for at least 60 days. Biden’s January 20 executive order also withdrew the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline and directed agencies to consider new rules to curb methane emissions from oil and gas. Last, Biden has directed government agencies to work toward eliminating fossil fuel subsidies by fiscal year 2022.

Q2: How will this affect U.S. oil and gas production?

Buy American, Again

On January 25, the first Monday following his inauguration, President Joe Biden signed an executive order (EO) to strengthen Buy American provisions. This step, as part of Biden’s Build Back Better economic recovery agenda, aims to ensure the federal government invests its taxpayer dollars in domestic businesses to boost employment rates, increase wages, and support U.S. workers. The order requires tightening the implementation of the Buy American Act of 1933, which requires federal agencies to purchase domestic end products and construction materials.

President Donald Trump also focused on Buy American requirements early in his term, but the impact of his efforts was ultimately muted. He first announced the commitment to “buy American and hire American” 10 minutes into his 2017 inaugural address. In Rust Belt states, where manufacturing jobs have declined, Trump’s populist economic message resonated with communities facing job loss and economic pain. Trump vowed to use federal procurements and assistance to stimulate economic growth, and in August 2020, as a response to the Covid-19 pandemic, he invoked the Defense Production Act, compelled U.S. manufacturers to produce medical supplies, and initiated a process to limit foreign firms’ ability to supply the U.S. government with medical supplies. But despite repeated promises to unveil new initiatives and address economic concerns, not much changed over the past four years.

Biden’s EO pledges to close loopholes left unaddressed by the previous administration. The executive action outlines five commitments to “fit the current realities of the American economy,” including a new “director of made in America” at the Office of Management and Budget and a cross-agency review of domestic preferences. By increasing oversight and defining stricter enforcement measures, the Biden-Harris administration hopes to create a durable approach that will strengthen national security, sustainability, job growth, and global leadership.

Europe’s delays in covid-19 vaccine delivery are causing tempers to flare

The start of 2021 in Europe was meant to be about jabs aimed at arms. Instead, it is fingers that are being pointed, and threats brandished. Delays to covid-19 vaccine deliveries in eu countries threaten to slow the group’s already-lethargic inoculation plans. News of production snafus has sent tempers flaring as politicians, Eurocrats and drug firms try to apportion the blame. Calls for vaccine protectionism to fix the problem—for Europe—could stop other countries securing shots.

The eu’s vaccination campaign is already among the most sluggish in the rich world: only two doses have been administered for every 100 Europeans, compared with seven in America and eleven in Britain. Things seemed to be improving, albeit slowly, as national governments stepped up efforts to distribute and administer jabs (see article). Then AstraZeneca on January 22nd discreetly advised the European Commission in Brussels that its factories in Europe were facing difficulties in producing sufficient quantities of the jab it had developed alongside the University of Oxford. That came on top of Pfizer-BioNTech, another vaccine-maker, also pushing back promised deliveries by a few weeks.

Putin Has Learned From Belarus in Handling the Navalny Protests


It’s hard not to be impressed by the energy and scale of Saturday’s angry protests all across Russia against the imprisonment of opposition politician Alexei Navalny. But it would be rather short-sighted to forget that the regime of Russian President Vladimir Putin long ago mastered the art of dealing with manifestations of popular discontent. The Kremlin has barely started to tap its vast toolkit for violence and intimidation.

Of course, the Navalny team’s success at mobilizing an estimated 40,000 supporters in downtown Moscow and smaller numbers in more than120 cities elsewhere in Russia was no small feat. The geographic spread was wider than that of any other protest wave during Putin’s 20 years in power. Some cities saw their first demonstrations in several years. Yet this accomplishment may turn out to be more ephemeral than it appears. And if the recent history of street protests in Russia is anything to go by, even initial gains might ultimately be turned to the regime’s advantage.

While the Kremlin looks a bit silly when it portrays the protests as having been instigated by Western governments, its narrative that Russia is under threat of a “color revolution”—such as those in neighboring Georgia and Ukraine—is designed to serve a purpose: empowering the darkest and most conservative elements of Putin’s regime. These figures will almost certainly seek to put Russia’s domestic and foreign policy on a new, more confrontational trajectory.

Dr. Anthony Fauci Says Double-Masking Likely 'More Effective,' U.K. COVID Strain in 20 States


Dr. Anthony Fauci, America's leading infectious diseases expert, says wearing a double layer of masks "likely does" help protect against new COVID-19 strains.

Fauci's words come as the B.1.1.7 variant—a more transmissible strain first detected in the U.K. toward the end of last year—is confirmed in more than 20 states, according to the latest report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Speaking to NBC's Today show, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said: "This [a mask] is a physical covering to prevent droplets and virus" from entering the body.

"You put another layer on it just makes common sense that it likely would be more effective. And that's the reason why you see people either double-masking or doing a version of an N95," said the chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden.

The country's seven-day average of daily new cases has declined since earlier this month, after reaching a record 254,862 on January 11, according to data from Worldometer.

Fauci warned: "We don't want to get complacent and think, 'Oh, things are going in the right direction, we could pull back a bit.'

2021: the year the real economy must start building a net-zero, nature-positive partnership

Climate action failure, extreme weather and biodiversity loss are among the top global risks for the next decade, according to the Global Risks Report 2021.

We have just a decade to get things on track for a net-zero and nature-positive economy.

Industry, finance and government must work together to scale impacts quickly.

Buried beneath the dour daily headlines on COVID-19 infections, lockdowns and travel bans, the latest science about our planet released during 2020 makes for tough reading. Despite the reductions in air travel and the global economic slowdown caused by the pandemic, climate change sadly has not slowed down this past year.

We have only until 2030 to get things on track for a net-zero and nature-positive economy – this should sharpen our minds for action. Unfortunately, as the economic effects of COVID-19 cause government debts to rise sharply, there is now much less public money available for activities like climate protection or ecosystem restoration – this should sharpen our appetite for innovation.

How then to make the shift to a net-zero, nature-positive economy within the decade?

The West needs to respond to China’s bid for technology dominance: New report

Western countries urgently need to develop a coordinated response to China’s growing dominance in the development of new technology. This is one of the key findings from a new report from LSE IDEAS, a foreign policy think tank based at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).

In the new report, ‘Protect, Constrain, Contest’, published this week, academics and China watchers set out the important policies needed to put Western relationships with China on a firmer and more manageable footing.

The report details concerns about China’s selective adherence to international trade rules, the use of investment in foreign companies to gain access to and control of advanced technologies and its abuse of economic power through unilateral and punitive tariffs. It provides recommendations as to how allies can present a coordinated front against such practices.

The authors also argue more needs to be done to protect and control access to Western technologies and reduce dependency on certain Chinese innovations (such as Huawei’s 5G), as well as ensuring such dependency does not recur in the future, for example with advancements in Artificial Intelligence.

The report notes the West still outperforms China in most areas of advanced technology. However, it needs to build upon institutions (eg: legal and trade organisations) that underly and contribute to technological success; prioritise technological innovation in the long-term; strengthen labour forces; and learn from China’s industrial policy, for example in long-term finance and planning.

In cyber espionage, U.S. is both hunted and hunter

Zach Dorfman 

American outrage over foreign cyber espionage, like Russia's SolarWinds hack, obscures the uncomfortable reality that the U.S. secretly does just the same thing to other countries.

Why it matters: Secrecy is often necessary in cyber spying to protect sources and methods, preserve strategic edges that may stem from purloined information, and prevent diplomatic incidents.
But when the U.S. is only portrayed as a victim of nation-state cyber activity and not as a perpetrator in its own right, it creates a false impression of the state of play and invites calls for vengeance that could prove misguided or self-defeating.

The big picture: The U.S. is stronger in cyberspace than any other country, with world-spanning digital snooping capabilities, buttressed by American technological ingenuity and some of the planet’s most talented hackers and daring overseas operators.
Yet hacking performed by the U.S. — or our Five Eyes allies — is artificially hidden from view. Not only do U.S. officials not disclose it, neither do most private threat intelligence firms (insofar as they have insight), for reasons of patriotism, pedigree and profit.

Generally, only foreign-owned private cyber firms like the Russia-based Kaspersky, the object of deep distrust by U.S. intelligence officials, have treated U.S. threat actors like others: by naming them, describing their targets, and detailing their tactics, techniques and procedures.

Military Eyes AI, Cloud Computing in Space in a Decade


Machine learning in space may one day revolutionize how the U.S. military tracks enemy forces and moves data around the world. But physics makes training an AI far harder in orbit than on Earth, so that dream is likely a decade away, the director of the Pentagon’s lead satellite agency said Wednesday.

Computers get smaller and more powerful every year, but there are physical limits to what you can do in a small, airtight box, said Derek Tournear, who leads the Space Development Agency.

“On the ground, I can tie myself to a hydroelectric dam and a river to cool my processing center. But in space, you’re always going to be limited by how much heat you can dump and power you can collect,” Tournear said Wednesday during a Defense One webinar.

In order to assemble enough computing power to do machine learning in space, you need to put a lot of small computers in low Earth orbit and then link them up. Over the next two years, a DARPA program called Blackjack will attempt to prove out concepts that could be used to build a self-organizing orbital mesh network.

In four years, Tournear said, he wants to build “masterfully designed” target-recognition algorithms, train them on the ground, and port them to this nascent orbiting network. “So we’re not going to be doing the AI and machine learning in space,” he said. “It’s really got to be done on the ground first and then ported to space where you’re power- and thermal- constrained.”

The British military’s dark vision of the future

Dominic M. Lawson

Modern militaries are perhaps some of the most reliable people from which to understand how the world will change in the next century. While politicians or media pundits can afford to speculate, there are few things which require a more hard-nosed realism than military planning.

As such, armies and military organisations have entire units devoted to trying to understand the key trends which will define the coming years. Oftentimes, creating strategy reports for the eyes of military elites and policy-makers.

I previously covered one such report from the Pentagon which clarified the effects that climate change would have upon the United States.

The British Ministry Of Defence has also devoted significant resources to this question. The Global Strategic Trends: The Future Starts Today report, which aims to create a full picture of what we can expect the future to look like up to the year 2050, is the end result of this project.

The results of their study are insightful and will be of use to anyone curious about what the future holds for the world, but they also make grim reading.

The writers foresee intense changes in demographics, economic structures and how we govern global society but some of the other aspects of the report, gender inequality, religious extremism and corporate power, will appear familiar to everyone.