4 February 2021

Burma’s Coup: What to Watch For


Myanmar’s military staged a coup on Monday, taking power in the capital of Naypyidaw, declaring a state of emergency, and detaining Aung San Suu Kyi, the country’s de facto leader. Since the landmark 2015 election in Burma that ended over half a century of military rule starting in 1962, and brought Suu Kyi to power, much of the world has assumed that democracy in the nation of 54 million people was fully established in the country. The reality has been far different. The military has never fully been brought under civilian control. Nor has it been excluded from sharing in governing in Parliament, where it controls a quarter of the seats, or controlling crucial ministries. Even worse, Suu Kyi herself became increasingly controversial for anti-democratic policies, not least of which was the continuing oppression of the Rohingya minority. The International Court of Justice is investigating whether the Nobel Peace Prize winner and her government have taken part in a genocide against the Rohingya.

Much like in neighboring Thailand, where the military took power (for the twelfth time) in a 2014 coup, and only partially democratized in early 2019, Burmese politicians have not been able to create a stable coexistence with the Burmese military, which gave up some of its power in 2011 and later agreed to the 2015 open election but continues to see itself as the only legitimate power center. The military, known as the Tatmadaw, was spurred to move today after months of contention resulting from last November’s parliamentary election, where the party it backs lost heavily to Suu Kyi’s governing National League for Democracy. The military claimed fraud and demanded a new vote. Now, with the civilian government under detention, and a state of emergency that could be extended indefinitely, Myanmar joins the list of nations where democracy is on the backfoot, a particularly ill omen in Asia. Roughly five years of semi-democracy, since the 2015 elections, is not a particularly long period of time for democratic values to take root, so it’s unclear what type of social reaction will result in response to the coup.

Myanmar’s Coup Shouldn’t Surprise Anyone


Since last week, events in Myanmar have unfolded like a chronicle of a coup foretold. The army warned about it, hinting that a coup might happen. The army chief demurred and foreign embassies duly protested. The United Nations, too, cautioned against a coup. Then, early on Monday as the new parliament was about to meet, troops were seen at strategic locations in the capital, Naypyidaw, and the country’s largest city, Yangon; military vehicles plied major avenues; and one by one, leading parliamentarians including state counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, President Win Myint, and dozens of others were detained. Among those arrested are regional chief ministers, writers, a singer, and former student leaders of what is known as Generation ’88—the young people who rose against the army that year. Finally, in an official statement released earlier today, the military declared a one-year, nationwide state of emergency and confirmed that power had been handed to the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing.

Already last week, the international community was alarmed by signs of the impending coup, as Western diplomats in Yangon expressed concern. The Tatmadaw, as the Burmese military is known, issued a self-righteous rebuttal reeking with injured innocence, reprimanding the foreign diplomats for speaking without sufficient knowledge. But the diplomats’ fears turned out to be justified.

By late last week, as the date for the newly elected parliament’s first session neared, military supporters had become more assertive. Eyewitnesses reported seeing military supporters marching in the streets and beating up civilians. The military urged everyone to adhere to the constitution. Photographs showed some of the activists with conspicuous earpieces, suggesting they were part of the armed forces. A pro-military politician was also seen directing protesters on the streets.

Cross-Border Data Access for Law Enforcement: What Are India’s Strategic Options?


Access to cross-border data for the state’s law-and-order-related functions is an integral piece of the law enforcement puzzle. State agencies’ ability to access data for such purposes is, however, shaped not only by domestic laws and practices but also by the laws of other countries and the state’s international commitments. In the case of India, the use of international cooperation mechanisms to balance efficient data access with protections for citizens’ privacy remains a relatively underexplored facet of its digital strategy. With its growing digital market, economic relevance for large global businesses, and strategic relationships with countries like the United States and those in the European Union (EU), India is well placed to not merely participate in but rather to lead the discussions on international data agreements on behalf of the developing world.

This paper evaluates India’s present mechanisms for data access by law enforcement authorities and existing arrangements for cross-border data access. It also analyzes the emerging global movement toward direct data access arrangements. Such arrangements authorize agencies in one jurisdiction to make direct data requests to service providers based in another jurisdiction. The Clarifying Lawful Overseas Use of Data (CLOUD) Act in the United States is an example of a legislative instrument that allows the United States to enter into executive agreements of this nature. Similar discussions are also underway in Europe under the European Commission’s e-evidence proposal involving its twenty-seven member countries and among the sixty-five states that are party to the Budapest Convention on Cyber Crimes. To date, India has not taken any concrete steps to evaluate the pros and cons of such arrangements. Neither has it paid serious regard to the critical and interconnected issue of reforming its domestic framework on lawful data access to ensure adherence with the fundamental right to privacy.

Taliban Visit Moscow, Voice Hope US Will Honor Peace Deal

By Vladimir Isachenkov

After a round of talks in Moscow, the Taliban said Friday they expect the United States to fulfill its pledge to withdraw all its troops from Afghanistan by May.

Sher Mohammed Abbas Stanikzai, who led the Taliban delegation that met with senior Russian diplomats during two days of talks, insisted that the movement has honored its end of the deal signed last year on Qatar, where the Taliban maintain a political office.

White House and U.S. State Department officials have said that Biden’s administration plans to take a new look at the peace agreement signed last February with Donald Trump’s White House.

The Pentagon said on Thursday that the Taliban’s refusal to meet commitments to reduce violence in Afghanistan is raising questions about whether all U.S. troops will be able to leave by May as required under the peace deal.

In remarks carried by Russian news agencies, Stanikzai insisted that the Taliban have been abiding by the deal — despite relentless attacks and continued high levels of Taliban violence against Afghan forces.

Imran Khan’s Silence on Uighurs Undercuts His Defense of Muslims Worldwide


In recent months, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has positioned himself as a fierce defender of Muslims worldwide. He criticized French President Emmanuel Macron for “encourag[ing] Islamophobia,” published an open letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg asking that the platform ban Islamophobic content, and wrote another public missive calling on Muslim leaders to counter Islamophobia in non-Muslim countries. Khan has also insisted that he will never recognize the state of Israel until Palestinians receive a just settlement—despite the recent decisions made by four Muslim-majority nations to normalize relations with the Israelis, and despite international pressure to follow suit.

These are not surprising moves for Khan, who has emerged as a strong advocate for the global Muslim community. During his more than two decades as a political leader, and especially since becoming premier in 2018, he has repeatedly railed against Islamophobia and called for the establishment of a global coalition to combat it. He has also decried the abuses suffered by Muslim communities in Chechnya, Yemen, the Palestinian territories, and Kashmir. Additionally, Khan emphasizes the importance of Islam more broadly. He encourages Pakistanis to learn more about Islamic history, and in 2019 he joined forces with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and then-Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad to plan the launch of a new English-language TV channel focused on Islam. He also hopes to transform Pakistan into an Islamic welfare state modeled on the holy state of Medina. Clearly, Khan views himself as a spokesperson for Muslim causes.

But Khan’s work in championing the world’s Muslims is undercut by his deafening silence on the oppression of the Uighur community in China.

Why Biden’s Pressure on China Is Good News for Vietnam

by Stratfor Worldview 

Vietnam is well-positioned to reap the economic and political rewards of continued U.S. pressure on China over the next year, as the world gradually emerges from the COVID-19 crisis. The administration of U.S. President Joe Biden’s continued hardline stance toward China will present Vietnam with new opportunities to counterbalance Beijing — and with fewer pitfalls, as Biden will ease his predecessor’s trade pressure on Hanoi. Supported by this strengthening U.S. relationship and its own domestic political stability, Vietnam will provide an attractive alternative to China for manufacturing supply chains. The Biden administration’s more measured and less overtly confrontational stance toward China will also enable the Vietnamese government to increase outreach to the United States without it being seen as taking an aggressive anti-China stance.

The past 15 years have seen deepening U.S.-Vietnam ties under the administrations of both Barack Obama and Donald Trump, which will continue under the Biden administration.

Obama visited Vietnam in May 2016, where he met with top leadership and announced the full lifting of a 1984 embargo on lethal arms sales to Vietnam, although it remains subject to human rights provisions. The Obama administration had partly eased the embargo in 2014.

The Trump administration also engaged in frequent outreach to Vietnam as part of its strategy to counter Chinese influence. Trump visited Vietnam twice — once for the 2017 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference and again for the 2019 Hanoi summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un — meeting with Vietnamese top leaders both times.

To Counter China’s Rise, the U.S. Should Focus on Xi

In 1946, the American diplomat George Kennan wrote a lengthy cable to Washington—since dubbed the “Long Telegram”—laying out the basis for the next several decades of U.S. policy toward the Soviet Union. He published his work as an article under the simple pseudonym “X.” In that spirit, a former senior government official with deep expertise and experience dealing with China has published with the Atlantic Council a bold and ambitious new U.S. strategy toward its next great global rival. It is similarly delivered anonymously, which the author requested, and POLITICO granted. Here the author describes the broad outlines of the strategy. The full memo is available here.

The single most important challenge facing the United States in the twenty-first century is the rise of an increasingly authoritarian China under President and General Secretary Xi Jinping. As Joe Biden assumes the presidency, it might be easy to see China as an obsession of Donald Trump that he’d do well to move past. If anything, the opposite is true: The American approach to China needs more and more focused, attention, than any White House has yet given it.

This might seem like overstatement, given the scope of challenges this country faces, but it’s not: Because of the scale of China’s economy and its military, the speed of its technological advancement and its radically different worldview from that of the United States, China’s rise now profoundly impacts every major U.S. national interest. This is a structural challenge that, to some extent, has been gradually emerging over the last two decades. The rise to power of Xi has greatly accentuated this challenge and accelerated its timetable.

Can China Defend its South China Sea Bases? The Answer Is No.

by Robert Farley 

Here's What You Need To Remember: The islands of the SCS have some military relevance, but are more important as a political claim to waterways and undersea resources. Militarily, they represent a thin crust on China’s A2/AD system. Under certain conditions this crust could disrupt U.S. freedom of action, but it won’t be hard for the United States’ Air Force and Navy to punch through.

China has built some islands in the South China Sea. Can it protect them?

During World War II Japan found that control of islands offered some strategic advantages, but not enough to force the United States to reduce each island individually. Moreover, over time the islands became a strategic liability, as Japan struggled to keep them supplied with food, fuel and equipment. The islands of the SCS are conveniently located for China, but do they really represent an asset to China’s military? The answer is yes, but in an actual conflict the value would dwindle quickly.

The Installations

China Consolidates Its Commercial Foothold in Djibouti

By Mordechai Chaziza

China’s President Xi Jinping, waits for the arrival of Djibouti’s President Ismail Omar Guelleh for a meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing Sunday, April 28, 2019.Credit: Madoka Ikegami/Pool Photo via AP

Djibouti, located at the far end of the Horn of Africa, is the country with the smallest acreage on the African continent. But its proximity to the Middle East, its location on the energy transit roads, and its position on the Bab al-Mandab Strait all make this country of great importance for global powers.

In recent years, China-Djibouti relations have developed and achieved fruitful results in various fields. In 2017, China established a naval base in Djibouti, representing the first time it has sought a permanent military presence beyond its borders. The two countries also agreed to establish a strategic partnership to strengthen all-round cooperation in the same year, ushering in a new era in China-Djibouti relations. Djibouti also actively participates in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

Toward a new American China strategy

Key points

The single most important challenge facing the United States and the democratic world in the twenty-first century is the rise of an increasingly authoritarian and aggressive China under Xi Jinping. China has long had an integrated, operational strategy for dealing with the United States. The United States has so far had no such strategy with regard to China. This is a dereliction of national responsibility.

US strategy and policy toward China must be laser-focused on the fault lines among Xi and his inner circle–aimed at changing their objectives and behavior and thus their strategic course. Communist Party elites are much more divided about Xi’s leadership and vast ambitions than is widely appreciated.

The foremost goal of US strategy should be to cause China’s ruling elites to conclude that it is in China’s best interests to continue operating within the US-led liberal international order rather than building a rival order, and that it is in the Chinese Communist Party’s best interests to not attempt to expand China’s borders or export its political model beyond China’s shores.

Xi Tells the World What He Really Wants


On Jan. 25, Chinese president Xi Jinping gave a speech to the online version of the World Economic Forum’s Davos conference, with the lofty title “Let the Torch of Multilateralism Light Up Humanity’s Way Forward.” It was important not because it offered new revelations about Xi’s thinking or China’s ambitions, but because it provided a handy summary of how China wants to be seen by others.

Although much of Xi’s speech may have been completely honest and sincere, the public nature of the performance and some obvious inconsistencies suggest that it needs to be read with a careful and critical eye. How should it be interpreted, and what is the best way for other states to respond?

All great powers try to attract support and minimize opposition by presenting themselves in a positive light. China under Xi is no exception, and he went to considerable lengths to portray China as a rising but benevolent great power that only has humanity’s best interests at heart. He called for macroeconomic coordination to “jointly promote strong, sustainable, balanced and inclusive growth of the world economy.” He repeated China’s familiar plea that states “abandon ideological prejudice and jointly follow a path of peaceful coexistence, mutual benefit, and win-win cooperation.” Saying “no two leaves in the world are identical,” he emphasized that “each country is unique” and “none is superior to the other.” Instead of judging social systems according to some set of universal values, therefore, “the best criteria are whether a country’s history, culture, and social system fit its particular situation … [and] serve to deliver political stability, social progress, and better lives.”

“Difference in itself is no cause for alarm,” he suggested, warning further that “what does ring the alarm is arrogance, prejudice, and hatred” and trying “to force one’s own history, culture, and social system upon others.” These sentiments are wholly consistent with China’s long-standing defense of the norm of noninterference in domestic affairs, and its explicit rejection of a world order based on universal liberal principles.

How will China’s privacy law apply to the Chinese state?

Jamie P. Horsley

China’s government is drafting its first Personal Information Protection Law (the “Draft”) to regulate the collection, storage, use, processing, transmittal, provision, and disclosure (collectively, “handling”) of personal information by “organizations and individuals.” Most attention so far has surrounded the Draft’s application to companies. But it also specifically imposes personal information handling requirements on “state organs.” These include China’s legislatures, courts, procuratorates, supervision commissions, and military commissions, in addition to administrative departments under the central government—the State Council—and all levels of government throughout the country. The Draft’s inclusion of state authorities is notable, given the Chinese government’s national security orientation and broad information access powers as regulator and enforcer. As discussed below, actual enforcement of the Draft’s obligations against the state will be challenging. Nonetheless, China’s privacy law will be supported, in principle, by an evolving and ostensibly privacy-protective regulatory framework that purports to constrain, as well as empower, public authorities.

The Chinese government, like all governments, collects and creates massive amounts of information in connection with diverse regulatory, security, law enforcement, and social welfare tasks. It also regulates data flows and is responsible for the security of data created or acquired by government departments throughout the country, which is to be governed by a proposed Data Security Law that also covers state organs. Many Chinese citizens have seemed rather untroubled by governmental, as opposed to commercial, collection and use of personal information. But they are raising concerns about hacking, illegal sale, and leaks of personal data, whether held by private entities or the government, and about practices like publicizing blacklists of court judgment defaulters. Citizens are contesting, including through lawsuits, over-collection and abuse of personal data through facial recognition and other forms of surveillance technology during the COVID-19 epidemic and more generally within public spaces, prompting some municipal bans. Chinese regulators acknowledge that, in the information age China has embraced, personal information protection is among the most direct concerns of the people. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and State Council even cited personal information infringement as an issue that could impact social stability during the upcoming Spring Festival holiday.

The U.K.’s Incoherent China Strategy

David Green

Earlier this month, the United Kingdom’s foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, delivered a speech in Parliament setting out measures to ensure that British businesses do not profit from what he called the “industrial scale” forced labor of minority Uighur Muslims in China’s Xinjiang region. However, Raab’s remarks made no mention of imposing widely expected sanctions on Chinese Communist Party officials allegedly involved in human rights abuses.

The omission generated confusion among journalists and some lawmakers, as the government’s prior press guidance had indicated the speech would include an announcement of sanctions under a law modeled on the Global Magnitsky Act in the U.S. During a later Q&A session with MPs, Raab said the government would keep the possibility of those sanctions “in reserve.” Iain Duncan Smith, a former leader of the ruling Conservative Party who supports the Magnitsky sanctions, asked in Parliament who in government might be blocking Raab from following through with the planned measures.

Whoever was responsible, the reversal was indicative of the absence of direction or guiding principles at the heart of the British government’s China strategy. Its last white paper on China was published in 2009—a lifetime ago considering the aggressively authoritarian turn the Chinese Communist Party has taken under Xi Jinping since he assumed power in 2012.

Beijing’s Warning Shot to Biden


Last Wednesday, as President Joe Biden was delivering his inaugural address on the steps of the U.S. Capitol, the Chinese government delivered a parting shot to the Trump administration: sanctions against 10 of its former senior officials, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien.

Dubbing these officials “anti-China politicians” with “no regard for the Chinese and American people,” Beijing barred them and their families from visiting China, and prohibited companies and organizations associated with them from doing business in China. This is not the first time the Chinese government has imposed sanctions against U.S. officials. But these measures stand out for their ambition, targeting the most senior U.S. national security officials and handing U.S. companies a stark choice: break ties with the sanctioned Americans or jeopardize access to the Chinese market.

The move was not just a parting shot but a warning shot to the incoming Biden administration. The message: Aggressive policies toward China will be met with repercussions.

The Biden administration should take this move seriously. Gone are the days when the U.S. government could levy sanctions indiscriminately and expect no meaningful blowback. This should not deter the Biden team from pursuing a hard-nosed policy toward Beijing. Rather the lessons are that sanctions should be used judiciously and seldom, if ever, unilaterally; and that Washington must harden its defenses against sanctions levied by China and other countries.

Xi Tells the World What He Really Wants


On Jan. 25, Chinese president Xi Jinping gave a speech to the online version of the World Economic Forum’s Davos conference, with the lofty title “
Let the Torch of Multilateralism Light Up Humanity’s Way Forward.” It was important not because it offered new revelations about Xi’s thinking or China’s ambitions, but because it provided a handy summary of how China wants to be seen by others.

Although much of Xi’s speech may have been completely honest and sincere, the public nature of the performance and some obvious inconsistencies suggest that it needs to be read with a careful and critical eye. How should it be interpreted, and what is the best way for other states to respond?

All great powers try to attract support and minimize opposition by presenting themselves in a positive light. China under Xi is no exception, and he went to considerable lengths to portray China as a rising but benevolent great power that only has humanity’s best interests at heart. He called for macroeconomic coordination to “jointly promote strong, sustainable, balanced and inclusive growth of the world economy.” He repeated China’s familiar plea that states “abandon ideological prejudice and jointly follow a path of peaceful coexistence, mutual benefit, and win-win cooperation.” Saying “no two leaves in the world are identical,” he emphasized that “each country is unique” and “none is superior to the other.” Instead of judging social systems according to some set of universal values, therefore, “the best criteria are whether a country’s history, culture, and social system fit its particular situation … [and] serve to deliver political stability, social progress, and better lives.”

Why Did Donald Trump’s Trade War on China Fail?

by Simon Lester

Whatever you thought of Donald Trump’s trade policy, it is fair to say that he had an aggressive trade strategy: imposing tariffs, renegotiating trade agreements, and generally accusing other countries of taking advantage of the United States. While he pointed fingers at many people, without a doubt his main target on trade was China. To be sure, he had harsh words for the Europeans, Canadians and others. But his words and actions were most often focused on China. And yet after four years of the Trump administration, China’s trade practices remain largely the same. That leaves us with two big trade policy questions to ponder now: Why did Trump’s trade strategy fail? And what should the Biden administration do instead?

The Trump administration’s efforts to address Chinese trade practices started with an investigation, turned to tariffs (and retaliatory tariffs by China, and then more tariffs by the Trump administration), and concluded with a “Phase One” trade deal (bigger issues were left for a “Phase Two” deal, but there are no signs that it is coming any time soon). However, it’s not clear how much was achieved. Most of the extra tariffs and retaliatory tariffs are still in place. Exports to China have not met expectations. And except for a couple of sectors, China’s market has not been opened much.

The pandemic gets a bit of the blame for this, of course, as economies around the world have stalled and trade has slowed. But the failure was evident before that. The question then arises, with so much emphasis placed on China, why did the Trump administration achieve so little with its efforts?

Explained: Inside Israel’s Plans to Fight the Next Major War

by Seth J. Frantzman

Hezbollah has dug in north of Israel’s borders, with bunkers and hidden weapons depots, festooned among the civilian population. If Israel has to fight another war in southern Lebanon, as it did in 2006, it will need to avoid civilian casualties while also seeking to minimize casualties among its own soldiers. These are some of the challenges facing the Israel Defense Forces, one of the most technologically advanced militaries in the world.

The Threat

In a discussion with IDF officials about the future of warfare and how Israel prepares its forces, particularly its ground forces, for the next conflict, key insights about the challenges and opportunities are revealed. In the last several years there have been increasing tensions in the Middle East, between the US and Iran, and also between Israel and Iran. This involves the latest technology as Iran has been practicing with new drones and ballistic missiles and Israel has tested its multi-layered air defense systems. Israel’s Chief of Staff recently slammed Iran’s threats and Iran responded with warnings against Israel for any act of aggression. Reports in Syria say Israel has carried out airstrikes in January 2021.

Israel views its current multi-year plan, dubbed Momentum, as combining the best technologies on the battlefield to provide frontline soldiers with the best intelligence about the threats they face. However, Israel’s army also faces the complexities that all democratic countries face. That means concerns on the home front about casualties and also needing to respond to international concerns about any war that. might take place. How to overcome those international concerns, while facing a complex enemy like Hezbollah, which puts missiles inside civilian homes in Lebanon?

What will a Biden White House mean for Turkey–Israel relations?

Dan Arbell

Having managed to avoid harsh sanction by the Trump administration, Turkey fears that a Biden White House will immediately adopt a tougher approach towards Ankara, explains Dan Arbell. Could this be an opportune moment for a rapprochement with Israel?

As Joe Biden enters the Oval Office, Middle East regional actors are scrambling to recalibrate their policies with the hope of maintaining close ties or improving relations with the US. One such actor is Turkey, which is concerned that a Biden administration will adopt a tougher approach towards Ankara from the start.

In late December 2020, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan surprised many when he made conciliatory statements expressing hope for improved relations with the US and the EU, and also stated publicly that Turkey would have liked to bring relations with Israel to ‘a better place’, and that people-to-people relations between Turkey and Israel would not be problematic if Israeli politicians were to recognise Turkey’s red lines when it comes to Israel’s policy on the Palestinians. Erdogan stopped short of calling for the strengthening of bilateral relations right away, but his comments came just days after Turkish media reported his intention to appoint one of his advisers, Ufuk Ulutas, as Turkey's ambassador to Israel, after two years without one. Erdogan also publicly acknowledged the fact that there are contacts between the Turkish and Israeli intelligence communities, and that his expectation is that they will continue in the future.

Joe Biden’s Saudi Arabian Arms Sale Freeze is Not Enough for Yemen

by Alexander Langlois

The Biden administration’s January 26 announcement of a temporary freeze of arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) marks a major step towards peace in Yemen. At the same time, it only constitutes the beginning of a process to successfully disengage the United States and other regional actors militarily from the conflict. As a next step, Biden’s team should extend the freeze and extract meaningful shifts in behavior from both Saudi Arabia and the UAE to achieve foreign policy goals that save lives and ultimately end the conflict in Yemen.

Such an approach is no small task given the geopolitical underpinnings in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) today. Yemen’s conflict began in 2014 as a civil war involving traditional rival factions between Yemen’s north and south, including the Houthi Movement (Ansar Allah), another Islamist group known as Islah, pro-government forces, and a southern-independent group known as the Southern Transitional Council (STC). It quickly evolved into a multidimensional regional proxy conflict involving Saudi Arabia and the UAE, in support of the pro-government and STC forces on the one hand, and Iran in support of the Houthis on the other.

Are Russia and Turkey Likely to Clash Over Syria?

by Michael Peck

Here's What You Need to Remember: Moscow and Damascus have been allies since the 1960s, and Moscow's only naval base outside Russia is the Syrian port of Tartus. Determined to stop Syrian rebels who came close to overthrowing the government, Moscow committed Russian planes that – along with troops from Iran and Iran’s Lebanese proxy Hezbollah – were instrumental in enabling the battered Syrian army to recapture most of the country.

Turkey and Russia are hardly equal in size or military capability.

But should Turkish and Russian forces actually engage in combat in Syria, Turkey would have the edge, according to one American analyst.

“The correlation of forces is decidedly against Russia in Syria,” says Michael Kofman, a researcher at the Center for Naval Analyses thinktank, and an expert on the Russian military.

How could this be? Russia is a former superpower that still retains a large military and the world’s biggest arsenal of nuclear warheads. Turkey, though one of the strongest members of NATO, is a middleweight power that lacks nuclear weapons.

Moscow Adopting East India Company Strategy to Develop Russian Far East

By: Paul Goble

When analysts consider Vladimir Putin’s strategy for running the regions of the Russian Federation, they generally focus on his supra-regional “innovations.” Those have included the federal districts he created at the start of his presidency (Ura.ru, April 24, 2014), the amalgamation of federal subjects he has pursued off and on since (Gorod 812, July 21, 2020; see EDM, June 16, 2020), or, most recently, his attacks on local institutions that, in his view, duplicate those that already exist in Moscow and limit the center’s ability to run the country as a single whole (Kommersant, November 18, 2020). And last year, Putin notably pushed through a Constitutional amendment that allows for the formation of federal territories Moscow can control directly (Kommersant, Regnum, November 9, 2020; see EDM, January 5, 2021).

But now the Kremlin leader is promoting an arrangement in the Russian Far East that could transform his country more than any of the above initiatives—though possibly at the cost of generating more resistance to himself. He is creating a single corporation to develop the Far East. That entity will overpower regional and republic governments as well as other lesser businesses and corporations; thus, in many ways, the Russian plan somewhat resembles the United Kingdom’s historical use of the East India Company at the start of its colonial rule over the South Asian subcontinent. If such an arrangement succeeds in accelerating growth in the Russian Far East, slows population outflows from the region, as well as manages the tense relations with Chinese investors there (see EDM, October 6, 2020), it is entirely possible that Moscow will try to apply this same scheme to other parts of the country as well.

Grave New World


The author’s essay in the Winter 1970-71 inaugural issue of Foreign Policy.

When Samuel P. Huntington and Warren Demian Manshel, the founders of Foreign Policy, asked me to write for their inaugural issue in 1970, university campuses were riven by students who feared being drafted to fight and possibly die in a misbegotten war in Vietnam. The central claim in my essay was that “No More Vietnams!” would become a new foreign-policy mantra. While some 2 million Americans had been sent to fight in Korea in the 1950s and more than 300,000 U.S. troops were still bogged down in Vietnam when I wrote, I offered my bet that the next decade would see no equivalents. What I did not imagine, however, was how dramatic the decline in combat deaths would be. An estimated 33,000 Americans died fighting in Korea and 47,000 in Vietnam. But since the fall of Saigon in 1975, the total number of U.S. battle deaths stands at fewer than 7,500.

My 1970 essay brims with youthful overconfidence in identifying trends and forecasts for the decades ahead. Fifty years on, I’ve come to recognize that my crystal ball is cloudier than I imagined then. As Americans today look past an annus horribilis that included not only a pandemic but a global economic recession and the most divisive presidential campaign in living memory, anyone pretending to have confidence in their predictions should be suspect.

Inflicting Surprise: Gaining Competitive Advantage in Great Power Conflicts

Great power competition has returned after a generation of absence, and the U.S. military edge over prospective opponents is eroding. Whereas the United States previously could overwhelm adversaries with sheer force, if necessary, it now needs every advantage it can get. This study analyzes how the United States might inflict surprise on its adversaries to gain a strategic advantage. Surprise is one aspect of a broader discussion in the national security literature on innovative operational concepts, which may serve as force multipliers to enable the United States to get more out of existing capabilities. A follow up to CSIS’s highly successful 2018 study Coping with Surprise in Great Power Conflicts, this report highlights several components of a successful surprise, including exploiting adversary vulnerabilities, using intelligence and technology, employing secrecy and deception, and doing the unexpected. The report also contains over a dozen vignettes illustrating potential future surprises.DOWNLOAD THE REPORT

Europe’s Exposure to Turkey’s Problems

By Ekaterina Zolotova

For well over a year, Turkey has been projecting an image of itself that is out of sync with the reality at home. It invaded northern Syria, again, in October 2019; deployed troops to intervene in Libya’s civil war in January 2020; threw its weight decisively behind Azerbaijan in that country’s brief war with Armenia in fall 2020; and had naval standoffs in the Mediterranean with both France (June 2020) and Greece (multiple times, including in August 2020 and January 2021). But behind the curtain is an economy that was grappling with double-digit inflation and a falling currency even before the coronavirus pandemic started wreaking havoc. The Turkish economy is one of the region’s largest, and a default or severe crisis could spread to other major economies, particularly in Europe. Though the exposure of EU economies is manageable, the risk is one more thing for Brussels and EU capitals to worry about at a time when they cannot afford more adversity.

Turkey’s Value – and Its Debt

Ankara’s recent aggressive foreign policy has frequently had it butting heads with EU members Greece and Cyprus, but in general Turkey remains an important strategic partner for the European Union in the Middle East. It lies at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, with significant influence over both trade and migration flows. Due to its proximity to Europe and low cost of labor, it is also a major recipient of European investment. In 2019, the EU was Turkey’s top import and export partner – and its leading source of investment – by a wide margin. This is why so many EU member states have been reluctant to take a firm stand against Turkey, despite its expanding presence and even occasional provocations.

C.I.A. Warns Former Officers About Working for Foreign Governments

By Julian E. Barnes and Maggie Haberman

WASHINGTON — The C.I.A.’s counterintelligence chief sent a note to retired officers this week warning against working for foreign governments either directly or indirectly.

The note, which was initially drafted some months ago but only sent out on Monday, also urges retired officers to take care in speaking publicly on television, podcasts, panels or social media.

The letter said the agency was seeing a “detrimental trend” of “foreign governments, either directly or indirectly, hiring former intelligence officials to build up their spying capabilities.”

“I can’t mince words — former C.I.A. officers who pursue this type of employment are engaging in activity that may undermine the agency’s mission to the benefit of U.S. competitors and foreign adversaries,” wrote Sheetal T. Patel, the C.I.A.’s assistant director for counterintelligence.

Former officials and C.I.A. historians said they could not remember such a broad warning being sent previously to the agency’s retirees in the form of an email.

The novel means of communication (at least for the spy agency) is at least partially a function of the pandemic. In more normal times, former officials are brought back to the C.I.A.’s Langley, Va., headquarters for ceremonies, briefings or social gatherings, all of which offer senior officials a chance to remind them of the adage that “loose lips sink ships.” In her note, Ms. Patel suggests that she plans to issue annual updates.

Dr. Fauci Says Pandemic Could Get Worse As Threat of New Variants Looms


President Joe Biden's chief medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci has said the COVID pandemic could get worse, with cases in the U.S. remaining high and variants of the virus posing a new threat.

Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), appeared on MSNBC Thursday morning, where co-host Joe Scarborough asked whether he expected the pandemic to get worse.

"I think it potentially could get worse," Fauci said. He said it was good news that cases appeared to be plateauing, a pattern that should be followed by fewer hospitalizations and deaths.

"Superimposed upon the good news is the sobering news that we still have a lot of cases and we still have a very serious issue here. And the thing that's troublesome now that we really need to keep our eye on is these variants."

According to COVID Tracking Project data released on Thursday, the seven-day average of COVID cases in the U.S. was at its lowest since November 30 and has dropped by more than 30 percent since a peak on January 12. Experts recently told Newsweek the decline followed a spike in infections during the holiday season, when people went against CDC advice by gathering and traveling.

Who Will Intervene in the World’s Hot Spots?

As conflicts and crises persist around the world, there is growing uncertainty about how—or if—they will be resolved. The international order is fraying, generating uncertainty about who will intervene and how these interventions might be funded.

There are interminable conflicts, like the situations in Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan, which have produced years of violence, countless thousands of deaths and even more refugees. Then there are the emerging hot spots, including northern Mozambique and the China-India frontier, and any number of potential flashpoints, like the Eastern Mediterranean. Even in situations where there is some tenuous hope of reconciliation, there is also uncertainty—such as Sudan, where a key rebel group declined to sign on to a peace deal the transitional government struck last year with other armed groups from the Darfur region.

At the same time, the nature of terrorism is also changing. After a period of recalibration following the loss of its caliphate in western Iraq and Syria and, more recently, the death of its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the Islamic State has once again become more active in the two countries, even as it shifts its attention to new theaters of operation, like the Sahel, Afghanistan and Southeast Asia. In so doing, the group and its affiliates are taking advantage of dwindling international interest in mounting the kinds of counterinsurgency campaigns needed to meet these new challenges. And a recent spate of seemingly lone-wolf attacks in Europe show that the threat terrorism poses there has faded, but not disappeared.

Why a Digital Geneva Convention on Cyberwarfare Won’t Materialise

Pieter-jan Dockx

In December 2020, it was reported that the digital systems of US government agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security had been infiltrated by alleged Kremlin-backed hackers. While the full extent of the damage is yet to be determined, the attack prompted renewed calls for international rules aimed at constraining cyberwarfare. These calls for an international treaty on cyberwarfare, often referred to as the ‘Digital Geneva Convention’, are not new. In 2018, Robert Hannigan, the former head of the UK’s signals intelligence service, GCHQ ,also voiced the need for internationally-agreed boundaries on hacking by nation-states. Yet, despite these calls, the prospect of such an agreement actualising are slim. Issues related to the attribution of cyberattacks, the lack of critical cyber incidents, as well as a global shift away from multilateral action, all act as major impediments.

The Attribution Problem

An issue that has persistently hampered international cooperation on cyberwarfare, and will continue to do so in the future, is the ‘attribution problem’. The term captures the inherent difficulty that exists within the cyber domain on pinning down the source of an attack. Yet, for any form of international agreement to be effective, it is essential that those breaching its terms can be identified. Without it, agreed-upon rules would be unenforceable.

The methods for anonymity and stealth available in cyberspace make attribution more complex than in physical warfare. Even if an attack is traced back to a geographical location, it still does not disclose the extent of state involvement, if any at all. This plausible deniability has allowed governments accused of cyberattacks to shift the blame to non-state actors operating on their territory, such as cybercriminals or hacktivists.

The World Needs a Cyber-WHO to Counter Viruses in Cyberspace


As details about the SolarWinds hack come to light, it appears to be one of the most consequential and intrusive cyberattacks against the U.S. government to date. By accessing SolarWinds software used by thousands of large organizations to manage their computer networks, intruders were able to create a backdoor to enter computer networks at several U.S.
federal agencies and private companies, including Microsoft.

While former U.S. President Donald Trump refused to acknowledge the attack’s provenance, the U.S. intelligence community’s unanimous opinion is that Russia and its SVR intelligence agency launched it.

Determining who carried out a cyberattack, also called attribution, is critical to punishing the attackers and deterring further action or future operations by others. The United States, with world-leading cybersecurity and technical capabilities, can determine attribution relatively easily, as could maybe a dozen other countries.

But what about the 183 nations that cannot?

Imagine if only a dozen or so nations were able to diagnose COVID-19, understand how it spread, the damage it could cause, and how to prevent and treat it. In addition, these privileged nations kept that information to themselves. This is, effectively, the situation we have with cybersecurity. Virtually all countries are at a higher risk of attack because of their inability to identify their attackers, to say nothing of defending themselves and remediating the damage.

The Next Steps For the Pentagon's AI Hub


As the two-year-old Joint Artificial Intelligence Center shifts from a projects-and-products shop to the Pentagon’s hub for AI services and support, its leaders are working on priorities for “JAIC 2.0.” We suggest the center focus on six main efforts.

First, accelerate efforts to develop and deploy AI for back-office applications in task management, automated reporting and correspondence, HR, legal, security, budgeting, finance, contracts, and logistics. Automating grunt work in these fields would free up staff and support personnel for debate, analysis, and critical thinking. It will also save time, increase accuracy, and allow deeper analysis. For instance, an entirely digital POM build would enable more rigorous and quick excursions, and streamline “what if” drills and responses to the White House and Congress. As these efforts are deployed, the JAIC should build a repository of lessons and limitations and serve as a clearing house and strategic advisor for the services branches and DoD, whose back-office leadership and staff are currently not well-versed in AI.

Second, train program managers and acquisition program offices to be AI-literate — that is, smarter and more effective procurers of AI products and services. The JAIC should create a guidebook telling what to do, what to avoid, and what AI approaches are best suited to which applications. This would help acquisition program offices establish technical and contracting best practices and standards, and reduce the time and money spent on underdeveloped, unnecessary, or duplicative AI programs.

Third, lead the understanding and monitoring of, and connection to, AI talent hubs — within the U.S. (not just Silicon Valley) and in key ally and partner countries. The JAIC should also help service labs maximize the use of the Engineer/Science Exchange Personnel program, which sends U.S. talent to foreign military labs and vice versa.

ANALYSIS - Re-thinking open-source intelligence in the information age and digital change

Dr. Can Kasapoglu 

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us …”

Charles Dickens’ abovementioned opening lines in his classic “A Tale of Two Cities” masterfully depicts the zeitgeist in the heart of Europe at the time, with London and Paris, avalanching en route to the coming French Revolution. Indeed, periods of great changes in the long-established informational, political, and economic status quo are tantamount to the best and worst of times. That is definitely the case for two reasons. The first is the change itself, which threatens the winners and gives hope to the losers of the current strategic environment. Second, it does so by not favoring one side over the other, but by altering the main parameters and even the rules of the power play. Natural selection, based on adaptability, favors new settings and new winners.

At present, the craft of intelligence faces both the best and the worst of times in the face of the information age.

Enter the “Brave New World” of intelligence

The Heroism of Vision: Photographers on the Battlefield

by Warfare History Network 

Here's What You Need to Know: Author Phillip Knightley best summed up the contributions of combat photographers and their role as vicarious witnesses for the rest of the world when he wrote, “Without the presence of the camera, the event would have meant nothing.”

On the morning of February 23, 1945, on the tiny Pacific island of Iwo Jima, a 40-man patrol gathered at the 5th Marine Division headquarters for their final briefing with battalion commander Lt. Col. Chandler Johnson. The Marines had been given a dangerous assignment: Climb 554-foot high Mt. Suribachi, secure the summit, and hoist an American flag when the mission was successfully completed. For the past four days, the Leathernecks had fought a fanatical Japanese Army to seize the all-important mountain. From its peak one could view the entire island. It was imperative that the strategic location be captured quickly to prevent the enemy from shooting down at the advancing infantry heading north to seize the remainder of Iwo Jima.

Among the group that day was Staff Sgt. Louis R. Lowery, a photographer with Leatherneck Magazine. As the men began their ascent, Lowery snapped pictures to document the climb. Upon reaching the top, the Marines dispersed and quickly secured the area. Lowery took a picture of the flag raising and decided to go back down the mountain. As he was walking down, he met Joe Rosenthal, an Associated Press photographer. Lowery joked that he had already taken a picture of the flag raising. Rosenthal almost turned around and went back down the mountain, but decided against it. There would be great shots of the island from the top of Suribachi, he thought. He continued his climb.