5 February 2021

Who Lost Myanmar?


Clinton, then the U.S. secretary of state, was in Yangon, Myanmar, to sit down with the woman she called her “inspiration” as part of a broader, if undeclared, U.S. strategy to drive a wedge between nations on China’s perimeter and Beijing, including long-isolated Myanmar, under the aegis of the Obama administration’s “pivot” to Asia. And during a tenure at the State Department in which Clinton hadn’t accomplished much beyond hard-toned speeches and “soft” diplomacy, her opening to Myanmar was a rare diplomatic victory. A year later, Barack Obama became the first sitting U.S. president to visit the country, ostensibly to promote democracy, but also to nudge Myanmar closer to Washington’s sphere of influence.

A decade later, that strategy lies in ruins. Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Prize-winning democracy activist who hosted Clinton and later ran the country, is back in detention after the military launched yet another coup on Monday. Nor is there much diplomacy afoot: Such is her estrangement from Washington today that in the week before Aung San Suu Kyi’s arrest, the Biden administration, fearing just this outcome, had tried and failed to get in contact with her.

But if the U.S. strategy is in ruins, so is Aung San Suu Kyi’s reputation. While many in the West have in recent days called for her release, she is no longer the heroine and human-rights icon she once was. Her cold-blooded assent to the army’s slaughter of the Muslim Rohingya minority has soured her image around the world, to the point where some democracy activists have petitioned Oslo to revoke her Nobel. Once a magnet for human rights pressure on Myanmar from abroad, today she remains largely isolated internationally.

The coup that seems to have hurled Myanmar back three decades is another grim 21st-century lesson in the difficulties of democracy and the staying power of authoritarianism—and the limitations of diplomacy in building a bridge between the two.

Coup and Conundrum: Myanmar and the Quad

By Abhijnan Rej

The coup in Myanmar on February 1 will not only present itself as the Biden administration’s first foreign policy challenge, but is also likely to serve as a litmus test for the Australia-India-Japan-U.S. Quad and its ability to coordinate common (or, at the very least, congruent) policy positions on many pressing regional challenges. In many ways, the Tatmadaw’s power grab will also serve as a spotlight on the extent to which (if at all) shared values – in terms of a common commitment to democratic practices, and a concomitant shared position on penalizing those who don’t adhere to them – act as a glue for the Quad.

If the grouping is, as Secretary of State Antony Blinken recently described it, an important part of the Biden administration’s Indo-Pacific policy toolkit, and if the development in Myanmar is indeed considered a key regional contingency by Biden and his team, the extent to which future U.S. policy about Myanmar’s military regime is reflected in the positions of the other members of the Quad will serve as a first real test of the grouping’s efficacy since its resurrection in 2017.

As my colleague Sebastian Strangio wrote earlier today, for a considerable period of time the United States assumed that its foreign policy could, simultaneously, balance American interests and values. How the Biden administration would handle the Myanmar coup would reveal which side of the equation it would tilt toward going forward: harsh sanctions will draw the Tatmadaw closer toward China to devastating strategic effect; playing it mild would expose the administration’s pro-democracy and pro-human rights rhetoric as hollow. Biden’s calculations are likely to be further influenced by the fact that the latter course of action will have purchase among Republicans, but might anger the progressive wing of his own party.

What’s Next for Myanmar


YANGON, Myanmar—In the week leading up to the coup executed in the early hours of Monday, Myanmar’s military issued a series of vague threats undermining the credibility of the Nov. 8 national elections. Brig. Gen. Zaw Min Tun, the armed forces’ spokesperson, refused to rule out whether the military would seize power, in response to a journalist’s questions. Military chief Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing floated the idea of abolishing the 2008 constitution, which was drafted by the military itself.

On Sunday, hours before the newly elected parliament was set to convene for the first time, the military sent shockwaves through the country with a more aggressive statement once again rejecting the election results. Shortly afterward, the military detained state counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, at least 42 other members of the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) party, and 16 activists.

The brazen coup comes after a monthslong campaign to discredit the elections based on unsubstantiated allegations of voter fraud. The NLD’s second consecutive electoral victory made it clear that the military, known as the Tatmadaw, had no path back to power through the polls. Its refusal to recognize the results had already sparked a political crisis. Military allies had filed complaints with Myanmar’s Supreme Court against civilian government leaders, threatened to boycott parliament, and demanded a new vote. The Tatmadaw leadership has now declared a one-year state of emergency, vowing to reshape the national election commission and oversee a new “free and fair” multiparty election.

The military so carefully crafted the country’s current political landscape that some observers initially dismissed the possibility of a coup. While the 2008 constitution allows for democratic elections, it also gives the Tatmadaw an inordinate amount of power. Under the constitution, it remains outside civilian control, receives a guaranteed 25 percent of parliamentary seats, and retains control over key institutions such as the police. The status quo maintains the military’s political power and protects its economic interests—all while shielding it from international scrutiny and domestic accountability.

In the Shadow of Sanctions? US–India Relations and the S-400 Purchase

Aniruddha Saha

In October 2018, and in spite of warnings from the US of the imposition of sanctions, India made a USD 5 billion deal with Moscow to purchase 5 units of the Russian-made indigenous Triumph S-400 air defence system. Russia confirmed that India had made the first tranche of payment of USD 800 million in November 2019 with the aim of delivering the first batch of S-400 air defence systems by the end of 2021. Following the June 2020 clashes between the Chinese and Indian forces on the Line of Actual Control, India had requested Russia to expedite the delivery of the first batch of S-400 defence systems. With the US announcing sanctions on Turkey in December 2020 over the latter’s identical defence purchase, this brought into question whether the US would place similar sanctions on India. This looming decision of putting India under sanctions against the buying of Triumph S-400 Russian missile defence systems re-instates the history of U.S. nuclear sanctioning against India, and underlines their bi-lateral relationship being forged in perpetual ambivalence.

Under the India-US bilateral Agreement on Civil Uses of Atomic Energy in 1963, the US had agreed to help build India’s first power reactor in Tarapur and supply low enriched uranium fuel for the Tarapur power reactor till 1993. Post the 1974 Indian nuclear test, the US suspected that the supply of uranium was being diverted for the weaponisation of India’s nuclear programme, rather than harnessing nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.

Biological Risks in India: Perspectives and Analysis


Infectious diseases such as COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus; severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS); Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS); and the diseases caused by the Ebola, Nipah, and Zika viruses have exposed countries’ susceptibility to naturally occurring biological threats. Even though scientists from multiple countries concluded that the virus responsible for the coronavirus pandemic shifted naturally from an animal source to a human host,1 the international community should not ignore the possibility of pathogens escaping accidentally from research labs and threats of deliberate manipulation to create more dangerous bioweapons.

India is especially vulnerable to such infections because of its geographical position, large population, low healthcare spending, minimal expenditure on research that benefits public health, weak coordination between central and state health authorities, limited involvement of private actors, poor awareness of biosecurity, and the rickety state of public health infrastructure. Most recently, COVID-19 has revealed the deep fault lines in India’s public health infrastructure, including a shortage of healthcare workers, lack of trained epidemiologists, scarcity of medical equipment, poor access to healthcare facilities in rural areas, and inefficient disease reporting and surveillance in most states. The pandemic should therefore be a wake-up call for India to assess gaps in its public health infrastructure and divert its resources toward the healthcare sector to prepare itself for both natural and man-made biological emergencies.

The Jihadists’ War in Pakistan after the U.S. Withdrawal from Afghanistan: Lessons from Al-Qaeda’s Assassination of Benazir Bhutto

By: Abdul Sayed

The changing narratives and operations of al-Qaeda and its Pakistani ally, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), in recent years indicate that the anti-state jihadist war in Pakistan will not end with a U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021 or thereafter (The News, March 1). Recent speeches by the TTP emir, Mufti Noor Wali Mehsud, to a coalition of senior TTP commanders on the future goals of the war in Pakistan is not the only piece of evidence signifying that this war will continue (Umar Media, August 18, 2020; Umar Media, December 15, 2020). Rather, history also shows this war still has a long way to go.

Pakistani Islamists are widely believed to have originally supported al-Qaeda’s war against the Pakistani state due to post-9/11 changes in Pakistan’s foreign policy, which supported the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan that expelled the Taliban regime from Kabul. However, the anti-state jihadist war in Pakistan is deeply rooted in the pre-9/11 complexities of Pakistani politics, which culminated in Islamists enabling al-Qaeda operations within Pakistan immediately after 9/11. The war against the Pakistani government is so deeply entrenched that it will remain a challenge for the country even if the widely accepted jihad against the U.S. “infidel occupier” in Afghanistan and its allies, including Pakistan, is no longer a factor.

An overlooked illustration of the deep roots of the Islamist war in Pakistan comes from the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, whose thirteenth anniversary was last month. Bhutto’s assassination provides indications about how jihadist violence will continue to be a feature in Pakistan even when the country’s support to the U.S. in Afghanistan no longer motivates al-Qaeda and TTP militancy. Benazir was the leader of the social-democratic party, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), when she was assassinated on December 27, 2007 in Rawalpindi, which neighbors the Pakistani capital, Islamabad. She had only returned to Pakistan in October 2007 from self-imposed exile in Britain and Dubai in the hope of becoming Pakistan’s prime minister for the third time. A leading figure of Pakistani politics’ secular and liberal camp, she was the first major al-Qaeda and TTP target in Pakistan, but hardly the last. [1]

Hefazat-e-Islam Bangladesh’s Rivalry with Awami League: The Growing Islamist-Secular Divide

By: Sudha Ramachandran

Bangladesh is witnessing a surge in Islamist activism and violence. For example, in October and November 2020, the hardline Islamist Hefazat-e-Islam Bangladesh (HIB) led massive demonstrations to protest French President Emmanuel Macron’s defense of free speech laws that allow cartoon depictions of the Prophet Mohammed (Dhaka Tribune, November 2, 2020). Weeks later, HIB activists were on the streets again demanding the removal of political statues, which HIB’s new leader Junaid Babunagari said were “against the Sharia” (Bdnews24.com, November 28, 2020). Then, on December 5, an under-construction statue of Bangladesh’s founding father and first President, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, was vandalized by madrassa students in Kushtia, western Bangladesh (Bdnews24.com, December 6, 2020). A statue of anti-colonial fighter Bagha Jatin was damaged soon after (New Age Bangladesh, December 18, 2020).

HIB’s heightened activism is partly the outcome of a more hardline Islamist faction wresting control of the group following the death of 104-year-old HIB founder-leader Ahmed Shafi in September 2020. Additionally, Babunagari, who is known to be strongly opposed to Bangladesh’s ruling party, the Awami League (AL), has taken over the reins of HIB and is asserting his leadership (Benar News, November 19, 2020). The AL is a secular-in-principle party, which Sheikh Mujibur Rahman founded in 1949 and was at the forefront of Bangladesh’s liberation movement. It has been in power in Bangladesh since 2009 and managed to moderate HIB somewhat in recent years.

With Babunagari heading the HIB, a surge in violence can now be expected in Bangladesh. The country is marking the 50th anniversary of independence from Pakistan in 2021 and the AL government will celebrate the event as a triumph of secular over religious forces. This, however, aggravates Islamist hardliners in HIB.

Securing Semiconductor Supply Chains

Saif M. Khan

The countries with the greatest capacity to develop, produce and acquire state-of-the-art semiconductor chips hold key advantages in the development of emerging technologies. At present, the United States and its allies possess significant leverage over core segments of the supply chain used to produce these chips. This policy brief outlines actions the United States and its allies can take to secure that advantage in the long term and use it to promote the beneficial use of emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence.Download Full Report

The United States and a small number of democratic allies dominate supply chains producing advanced computer chips, but this advantage could erode without new, targeted policies. Advanced computer chips underpin virtually all important technology today. China is investing heavily in becoming a new center of gravity in chip production and could succeed in developing state-of-the-art capabilities.

The United States and its allies should undercut China’s efforts with “protect” and “promote” policies aimed at improving supply chain security and maintaining China’s dependence on the United States and its allies for imports of advanced chips—especially state-of-the-art logic chips, which perform calculations that power advanced applications like artificial intelligence. By controlling the production of advanced chips, the United States and allied democracies can ensure that these technologies are developed and deployed safely and ethically to broadly benefit the world.

To protect, they should limit China’s access to key supply chain inputs with export and investment controls and challenge China’s market-distorting state subsidies. To promote, they should fund research and development, create financial incentives, develop and retain top talent, and reduce unnecessary trade barriers.

Continuity and Change: China’s Assertiveness in the South China Sea

Andrew Chubb

Why has China alarmed its neighbours and risked military conflict in pursuit of its vast disputed claims in the South China Sea? I argue the answer lies in long-term patterns of continuity and change in China’s policy. Conventional wisdom says it’s just about China’s expanding power. Yet both the expansion of the PRC’s sweeping claims there, and many of its boldest moves – including the use of military force against Vietnam in 1974 and 1988 – happened decades back, when China was much weaker than today. There’s no shortage of alternative arguments: insecurity, resources, rising domestic nationalism, zealous frontline agencies, elite political struggles, the ascendance of Xi Jinping, and so on. The problem is that there is no agreement on what exactly has changed in the PRC’s policy, let alone when.

Some date the South China Sea push back to the Global Financial Crisis of 2008–2009; others point to Xi Jinping’s ascent to the Chinese Communist Party’s top leadership post in 2012, or various other dates in between. Without clarity about exactly what has changed and when, it’s hard to assess the why, because it turns out the PRC’s behaviour has been changing there almost every year since the 1970s. In ‘PRC Assertiveness in the South China Sea: Measuring Continuity and Change, 1970–2015’ (2021 International Security) I do this by distinguishing between four kinds of assertive acts, meaning those that unilaterally advance the state’s position in the dispute: declarative, demonstrative, coercive and use of force, illustrated in Table 1.

Retooling America’s alliances to manage the China challenge

Lindsey W. Ford and James Goldgeier

America’s alliance network has been one of the most enduring and successful elements of U.S. foreign policy since World War II. U.S. alliances have continually adapted and evolved in the post-Cold War era, but they now face a new, more formidable challenge: collectively responding to China’s growing economic, military, and technological influence. This task is the central geostrategic challenge facing the United States and its allies, but U.S. alliances are not currently postured, either strategically or operationally, to manage it. U.S. allies in both Europe and the Indo-Pacific have begun to more seriously consider the challenges posed by Beijing, but China is leveraging its economic prowess to exploit both domestic and international fissures within the alliance network. Looking ahead, the United States and its allies must begin to confront the task of deterring Chinese coercion — both military and economic — as a multilateral task. This paper argues the United States should focus on: establishing new multilateral forums and linkages between European and Indo-Pacific allies; refocusing U.S. allies on domestic resilience and collective defense of their own regions; establishing deeper interoperability not only in the military domain, but also in non-kinetic arenas; and pooling allied innovation advantages to counter China’s growing technological influence.

The U.S. alliance network has been one of the most successful and enduring aspects of American foreign policy over the past 70 years. These alliances, originally designed to contain possible Soviet expansion, have adapted and evolved in the post-Cold War era. Together, the United States and its democratic allies possess an overwhelming economic and military advantage over any possible competitors. The top ten largest economies measured by nominal GDP include the United States (1), Japan (3), Germany (4), the United Kingdom (6), France (7), Italy (8), and Canada (10). While China’s estimated military spending increased by 85% over the past decade, U.S. allies (NATO plus Australia, Japan, and South Korea) still comprise approximately 60% of global military spending.

Will China Trigger The Monroe Doctrine?

By James Holmes

Last week’s missive forecast rough continuity in U.S. foreign policy following this month’s changeover of presidencies. After reading it a correspondent wants to know whether Communist China’s “involvement” in the Western Hemisphere might prompt political leaders in Washington DC to invoke the Monroe Doctrine to curtail such involvement. Such a move is not impossible; it is doubtful. The doctrine was a unilateral foreign-policy statement used to justify repeated armed intervention in the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico a century ago. These episodes are seared into Latin American historical memory. If it’s wise the new U.S. administration will fashion a doctrine of its own to cope with the China challenge.

Washington should try to manage that challenge free of baggage from bygone times.

That there’s a problem in the making verges on incontestable. Chinese inroads in the region are real and growing. To list one example among many, the Asian titan is Pacific power Chile’s largest trading partner. The exigencies of national development mean that Santiago cannot neglect the China factor when mulling foreign policy. Nor is Chile alone in this. Indeed, China has expanded its trade with Latin America as a whole by eighteenfold since the turn of the century. Chinese firms now own or operate such critical infrastructure as seaports, oilfields, telecommunications, and electrical grids. It’s the pattern typical of China’s “Belt and Road” economic diplomacy toward Eurasian countries, transplanted to the Americas: hook foreign governments and societies on Chinese largesse and you can demand concessions in a variety of areas.

Why the U.S. Navy Isn't Sweating China's Carrier-Killer Missiles

by Caleb Larson

China’s spending on anti-ship ballistic missiles may be misplaced, and not quite what is needed should a conflict between the United States and China break out, according to American Vice Adm. Jeffrey Trussler.

USNI News quoted comments Trussler made during a virtual event, where the Vice Admiral stated, “I’m not going to get [into] much more detail of what we know and don’t know about it. But they’re pouring a lot of money in the ability to basically rim their coast in the South China Sea with anti-ship missile capability. It’s a destabilizing effort in the South China Sea, in the East China Sea, all those areas. When their claims of some of these contested islands – they’re militarizing those areas.”

Trussler referenced several of China’s ballistic missiles, several of which have made headlines as “carrier-killers,” essentially large, long-range anti-ship missiles that could in theory strike—and sink—large targets like American aircraft carriers.

The U.S. Navy has kept a close eye in recent years on two of the Chinese missiles in particular, the Dong Feng-21, a medium range, road-mobile ballistic missile that is nuclear capable and has a 2,000+ kilometer range, as well as the Dong Feng-26, essentially a longer range variant of the DF-21. Development of the DF-26 has been especially worrying, as it very likely has the necessary range to strike most American assets in the eastern Pacific Ocean, including far-flung places like the new Marine Corps base on Guam.

How a 2015 War Game Showed the Chinese Air Force’s Flaws

by David Axe

A 2015 war game in Thailand underscored the enduring flaws in Chinese aerial-warfare tactics. Despite flying a modern fighter type, Chinese fighter pilots in Thailand were vulnerable to long-range attacks and slow to react to aggressive tactics.

Exercise Falcon Strike 2015, which ran at Korat Royal Thai Air Force Base for two weeks in mid-November 2015, was the first-ever joint exercise between the Chinese and Thai air forces.

This first appeared earlier and is being reposted due to reader interest.

The Chinese brought J-11 fighters to the war game. The Thai air force operates F-16s from Korat, but the for the war game the Thai air arm sent Gripen fighters from Surat Thani Air Force Base.

The Thai air force operates 12 JAS-39C/D Gripens.

For seven days straight the J-11s tangled with the Gripens. The J-11, which is a Chinese variant of the Russian Su-27, proved to be the superior dogfighter, a Chinese participant in the exercise explained in a presentation at China’s Northwestern Polytechnical University on Dec. 9, 2019. But in Thai hands the Gripen was a better long-range shooter.

During the first day of mock combat, the J-11s and Gripens fought visual-range battles. The result was a lopsided victory for the Chinese air force. The powerful, twin-engine J-11s with their internal cannons and infrared-guided short-range missiles -- possibly PL-8s -- “shot down” 16 Gripens for zero losses.

The EU–China deal: geostrategic naivety or calculated opportunism?

Sarah Raine

The first step on the long road towards ratification and implementation of the EU–China Comprehensive Agreement on Investments was taken not out of budding mutual trust, but naked and contradictory mutual opportunism, argues Sarah Raine.

In her first address to the European Parliament as president-elect of the EU Commission just over a year ago, Ursula von der Leyen told members she would lead an explicitly ‘geopolitical Commission’. She wanted the EU to develop its international relevance and be ‘the shaper of a better global order’.

‘A stronger Europe in the world’ was duly declared a key political priority of the von der Leyen Commission. She undertook to ensure that each weekly meeting of her College of Commissioners would also make time to discuss ‘external actions’ and never simply what was going on within the Union. For the first subsequent meeting, the agenda included discussions on NATO, Albania and the UN Climate Change conference.

Developments over the past year have not made the EU’s long-standing ambitions to look outwards and act more strategically any easier to fulfil. A pandemic, tortured multi-year EU budget negotiations, ongoing internal challenges to the rule of law, and the search for an EU–UK free-trade agreement as the clock ticked down on transition, have all constrained the time available for considering the EU’s ‘external’ activities.

Nevertheless, on 30 December 2020, the EU and China finally concluded a Comprehensive Agreement on Investments (CAI), under negotiation since 2014. This is a significant ‘external action’ by the EU, even as its popular reception has been mixed.

How Saudi Arabia Gets Away With Murder


On Wednesday, the Saudis opened their annual confab in Riyadh, officially called the Future Investment Initiative but widely referred to as “Davos in the Desert.” That nickname had always
annoyed the people who run the World Economic Forum and its signature event in Davos, Switzerland, because they—like most of the rest of the world that is concerned about protecting their brand—haven’t wanted much to do with Saudi Arabia and its crown prince in recent years.

That trend may be coming to an end, however. Increasingly, things are back to business as usual in Riyadh. A veritable A-list of Wall Street and private equity titans flew in for the event this week. Gone are the days when the leaders of the financial services industry stayed away, fearing the reputational costs of becoming associated with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman after the murder of Jamal Khashoggi in 2018. The remains of the journalist and onetime courtier to Saudi power centers have yet to be found. But investors have now decided there are deals to be done.

They are making a bet that the stated commitment by human rights organizations, journalists, and a relatively bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers to hold Saudi Arabia accountable doesn’t amount to much—and they may be right.

Turkey Enters Tunisia’s Weapons Market With Combat-Proven Arms: A Technical and Strategic Assessment

By: Can Kasapoglu

In late 2020, Turkey finally secured a lucrative arms sale package to Tunisia after a long period of negotiations. The $150 million portfolio, which attracted key players of the Turkish defense technological and industrial base, such as Turkish Aerospace Industries (TUSAS) and British Motor Corporation (BMC), will mean more than only defense revenues for Turkey (TRT Haber, December 24, 2020). It will additionally mark Turkish weaponry’s entrance into the Tunisian market against the backdrop of Ankara’s geopolitical quests in North Africa, which has become a geopolitical flashpoint encompassing various forms of militancy, transnational terrorism, and proxy warfare.

Turkish Arms Sales to Tunisia: Drones First

From a military standpoint, Turkey offers robust and combat-proven solutions to the Tunisian military, which has long been facing significant hybrid threats both in the homeland and emanating from neighboring countries (see Terrorism Monitor, March 1, 2019). As expected, these sales provide a pronounced drone warfare dimension for Tunisia, since drones have recently become Turkey’s best-sellers. The Tunisian military will, for example, soon be operating TUSAS-manufactured ANKA-S medium altitude/long endurance (MALE) unmanned aerial systems. ANKA-S, the satellite communications variant of the drone line, comes with extended control range and more resiliency against electronic warfare threats and jammed environments due to the satellite communications (SATCOM) capability.

Can the Minsk Group on the Armenia-Azerbaijan Conflict Reinvent Itself? (Part One)

By: Vladimir Socor

The 44-day Second Karabakh War between Armenia and Azerbaijan, its Russian-mediated outcome, the launch of Russia’s own peacekeeping operation, and Turkey’s rise as a regional power have all exposed the Minsk Group’s irrelevance. Mandated by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) back in 1992 to mediate a political solution to the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict and oversee a multinational peacekeeping operation, the Minsk Group forfeited its chance after 2009, vegetated for another decade, and found itself sidelined by the aforementioned events, which it neither anticipated nor managed to affect. The Minsk Group’s own obscurity in the last ten years served to conceal its failings from public view; but the recent war and its aftermath have made it impossible for the Minsk Group to survive with its pre-existing mandate, structure and ideology.

The Group’s three co-chairing countries—Russia, the United States and France—have each contributed to wrecking the Minsk Group in their own ways and to various degrees: Russia by commission, the other two co-chairs mainly by omission. Russia appropriated the driver’s seat in the ostensibly collective Group from 2010 onward, distorted the previously agreed Basic Principles for a political settlement through Russian amendments, and ultimately bypassed the Minsk Group unceremoniously in 2020, shaping the war’s outcome by unilateral Russian action. Washington’s disengagement from 2009 onward facilitated Russia’s manipulation and circumvention of the Minsk Group. During the 44-day war, Washington and Paris (both stunned by the unanticipated events) abandoned the mediators’ impartiality by favoring Armenia—vocally so in Paris. Both Washington and Paris decided to view this war through the prism of their own strained relations with Turkey, therefore acting to Azerbaijan’s detriment and compromising the mediators’ impartiality (see EDM, November 25, December 1, 3, 7, 2020).

Across Russia, Pro-Navalny Demonstrations Continue to Build Momentum

By Masha Gessen

Irina Bogantseva, who is sixty-eight, teaches social studies at a prestigious private school, which she started in 1992 and ran until a couple of years ago. Before she founded the school, Bogantseva was an activist and, briefly, a member of the Moscow city council. In August, 1991, she drafted the resolution that removed the monument to Felix Dzerzhinsky, the founder of the Soviet secret police, from Moscow’s Lubyanka Square. In 2011 and 2012, like hundreds of thousands of other Muscovites, she took part in mass protests against rigged elections. In 2014, when Russia occupied Crimea, Bogantseva decided to return to the classroom. “Being able to speak out, at least there, saved me from just crashing,” she told me, over Zoom, from Moscow.

On January 23rd of this year, Bogantseva joined tens of thousands of other protesters in Moscow in marching for the release of Alexey Navalny. This week, she taught a class on protests and showed her ninth-graders a cartoon called “Instructions for the Ideal Detainee,” which details best practices for protesters dealing with police. On Sunday, January 31st, Bogantseva went to another demonstration, demanding the release of Navalny and other political prisoners. Protesters had planned to gather in front of the secret-police headquarters, in the square where the Dzerzhinsky monument used to stand, but the authorities had sealed off the center of town, closing streets and shutting down Metro stations. Organizers called on people to gather in several different spots instead, for a more dispersed demonstration.

Proportionate Deterrence: A Model Nuclear Posture Review


Ever since the election of Bill Clinton in 1992, every U.S. presidential administration has published a Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) that explains the rationales behind its nuclear strategy, doctrine, and requested forces. These reviews have helped inform U.S. government personnel, citizens, allies, and adversaries of the country’s intentions and planned capabilities for conducting nuclear deterrence and, if necessary, war. The administration that takes office in January 2021 may or may not conduct a new NPR, but it will assess and update nuclear policies as part of its overall recalibration of national security strategy and policies.

Nongovernmental analysts can contribute to sound policymaking by being less constrained than officials often are in exploring the difficulties of achieving nuclear deterrence with prudently tolerable risks. Accordingly, the review envisioned and summarized here explicitly elucidates the dilemmas, uncertainties, and tradeoffs that come with current and possible alternative nuclear policies and forces. In the body of this review, we analyze extant declaratory policy, unclassified employment policy, and plans for offensive and defensive force postures, and then propose changes to several of them. We also will emphasize the need for innovative approaches to arms control.


Stopping Climate Change Is Not Enough

Joel Clement

Last summer, one of us was locked inside their home in the Seattle area, not because of the pandemic, but because the air was full of smoke from fires raging hundreds of miles away in California. The other was peering through an orange afternoon haze for the same reason—thousands of miles away in Maine.

And sadly this was not the first year that a long, heartbreaking wildfire season has had hemispheric consequences, or that the impacts of human-caused climate change have cost lives and livelihoods in America. It was one of the worst, however. Climate impacts in the US cost our economy nearly $100 billion in 2020—almost double the previous year's costs.

Over the past four years our country has been battered by the advancing impacts of climate change—fires, smoke, floods, droughts, storms, heat. These costly impacts are affecting our health, our homes, our jobs, our communities, and our natural heritage. At a time when climate change impacts have outstripped some of the most dire predictions, the Trump White House relaxed rules meant to slow warming and failed to act in any way to improve our ability to prepare. The inaction of the federal government at that critical time set our nation back in terms of readiness, resources, and resilience...

Re-reading the Notion of Ontological Change in War: The Problem of Knowledge

Giulia Tempo

This content was originally written for an undergraduate or Master's program. It is published as part of our mission to showcase peer-leading papers written by students during their studies. This work can be used for background reading and research, but should not be cited as an expert source or used in place of scholarly articles/books.

Over the centuries, war has revolutionarily changed and evolved. Yet, is this a revolution in the “ontology” of war – i.e. the nature of its being – or rather in its “gnoseology”, meaning the way in which war is epistemologically conceptualised by a cognitive subject? Ontologies and epistemologies of war, in fact, are not necessarily motioned together – and through the seminal text Empire of Chance (2015) war can be investigated as a “problem of knowledge” (Engberg-Pedersen, 2015, p. 3). In this Essay I argue that, while war is subject to a continual, eventful, ontological change, the post-1800 revolution of the notion of contingency in war is gnoseological – the transition from ontology to gnoseology being premised upon the centrality of the cognitive subject. To expound how the underlying ontological change opens up to a revolution in cognition, the subject of gnosis must thus be awarded centrality. The change in war described by Engberg-Pedersen affects the subject’s knowledge of herself in the first place: she comes to conceptualise herself as material and contingent. Such shift is then mirrored in the subject’s cognition of war, thereby opening up to the revolution.

The initial goal is that of understanding Engberg-Pedersen’s ontology – exploring new historical and poetic potentialities and bringing him into conversation with metaphysics. I initially retrace his theoretical moves and the revolution he is describing – to requalify it as gnoseological. This assessment lays the foundation upon which to create the intellectual space for a conversation between Engberg-Pedersen and Lisle (2016). Through Lisle, in fact, the figure of the tourist can be harnessed to overcome the subject’s alienation from contingency – an alienation that hinders the conceptualisation of a gnoseological revolution proceeding from an ontological change. Were the process to stop at the ontological level, war would undergo a change in ousia – the Greek word for “substance”, sharing the same root with ontology – and, following from this, the subject would be passively affected. However, my goal is that of assessing the complexity and multifaceted connotation of that which signifies as a process of mutual impact: war changes, thus re-constituting the subject, and the subject punctually, revolutionarily re-constitutes her gnosis of war.

An Open Letter to President Biden About Guantánamo

Mansoor Adayfi, Moazzam Begg, Lakhdar Boumediane, Sami Al Hajj, Ahmed Errachidi

A shackled detainee being transported inside Guantánamo Bay prison, December 6, 2006

We write to you as former prisoners of the United States held without charge or trial at the military detention facility at Guantánamo Bay who have written books about our experiences.

First, we welcome your presidential orders to reverse many unjust and problematic decisions made by your predecessor. We appreciate your repeal of the “Muslim ban,” which will now allow nationals from the Muslim-majority countries previously targeted into the United States, therefore bringing relief to families torn apart by this order.

Despite some positive developments, including the repeal of the Muslim ban, there is another deeply flawed and unjust process that has continued through five US presidential administrations spanning two decades: Guantánamo Bay prison. Guantánamo Bay has existed for over nineteen years and was built to house an exclusively Muslim male population.

We understand that your faith is important to you and helps to guide your vision of social justice. During our incarceration, we often reflected on the story of the Prophet Joseph (Yusuf) in the Quran and his years of wrongful imprisonment. It’s the same story in the Bible and one that reminds us that justice is not only divine, but timeless. That is why we are writing to you.

Back to school: A framework for remote and hybrid learning amid COVID-19

By Emma Dorn, Frédéric Panier, Nina Probst, and Jimmy Sarakatsannis

In much of the Northern Hemisphere, it’s back-to-school season. But this year’s preparations are fraught with added anxiety as educators, public-health officials, and parents try to balance the need to reduce the spread of the coronavirus with the desire to get students into more productive learning environments.

The first priority of every school system must be to reduce virus-transmission rates and protect the health and safety of students and staff. System leaders at the national and local levels must adapt their strategies to reflect the level of transmission in their communities. In a fast-moving pandemic, that’s no easy task. Circumstances change weekly, and even countries with low case counts today should be vigilant and ready to change course in the event of a resurgence.

At the moment, there is no common template for determining whether to educate students remotely, bring them back into the classroom, or create a hybrid model that combines both. In the United States, for example, more than three-quarters of the 50 largest school districts have decided to start the school year remotely as a result of continued infections. Kenya recently announced that its schools will stay closed until 2021, while officials in the Philippines have vowed to keep schools closed until a vaccine becomes available. In the Netherlands and other parts of Europe, by contrast, many schools plan to resume teaching all students full time in the classroom.

No common template exists to determine whether to educate students remotely, bring them back into the classroom, or create a hybrid model that combines both.

Winds of Change: Israel Joins the US Central Command Area

On the eve of a new administration in Washington, the Pentagon announced the transfer of Israel from the US European Command (EUCOM) to the Central Command (CENTCOM). Like the Abraham Accords, this decision brought to the surface deep, discreet, and longstanding relations between the parties, in this case the IDF and CENTCOM. It reflects a substantive change in the region, and will facilitate greater cooperation between Israel, the US, and other states in the Command. What significance is there to this development, and what are its implications?

On January 15, 2021 it was reported that the Trump administration decided to transfer Israel from the US European Command (EUCOM) area to the Central Command (CENTCOM). The decision, published on the eve of the change in administration in the United States, seeks to promote regional security arrangements, particularly in face of threats from Iran. Like the Abraham Accords, this decision brought to the surface deep, discreet, and longstanding relations between the parties, while narrowing gaps between policy and organization and the emerging strategic environment. Israel's move to CENTCOM has potential benefits for the United States, Israel, militaries in the region, and the partnerships between them, alongside challenges requiring more work.

Putin May Cripple the US’s Strongest Voice in Russia

By: Thomas Kent

After two decades of restrictions and harassment, President Vladimir Putin’s government is on the verge of forcing Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) to shut down its operations in Russia. The prospect sets up an immediate test for the new administration in the United States: can President Joseph Biden save one of the biggest news sources in Russia that is not under Kremlin control?

It is somewhat remarkable that RFE/RL, a private company financed by the US Congress and based in Prague, has survived at all in Putin’s Russia. Its Moscow bureau employs about 50 people, almost all of them Russian citizens. Some 250 freelancers report from across the country. When Russians demonstrated Saturday (January 23) for the release of Alexei Navalny, the bureau streamed live video coverage to Russian audiences (Svoboda.org, January 23, 2021). RFE/RL runs local news sites in several Russian regions and is active on social networks (see EDM, June 24, 2020; see Commentaries, June 26, 2013). Its current news coverage includes COVID-19 in Russia, environmental issues and corruption.

Putin has been stepping up pressure for years on the bureau, which his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, allowed to open in 1991. Under Putin’s rule, the government has revoked RFE/RL’s radio frequencies in Russian cities, harassed its reporters and accused the company of being a subversive organization. In 2017, the State Duma (lower chamber of the Russian parliament) began passing a series of “foreign agent mass media” laws that have been applied almost exclusively to RFE/RL and the Voice of America. (VOA has a Russian service, but minimal staff inside Russia.)

Chief of General Staff Gerasimov Takes Over Russia’s Academy of Military Sciences: What to Expect From Russian Planning for Future Warfare?

By: Roger McDermott

Army General Valery Gerasimov, the chief of Russia’s General Staff (CGS) and first deputy defense minister, has been chosen as the new president of the Academy of Military Sciences (Akademii Voyennykh Nauk—AVN). This does not mean Gerasimov has left his current position as CGS; he will hold the presidency of the AVN in tandem and likely beyond his military retirement. Gerasimov, 65, was appointed CGS in November 2012 and is the longest-serving occupant of the post since the collapse of the Soviet Union. But Gerasimov’s new role as simultaneous head of the AVN marks an important step in the consolidation and further development of the modernization of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation (Krasnaya Zvezda, January 22, 2021).

The AVN was formed in 1994 and received state recognition the following year, serving as a means to bring military scientists together as well as to promote research and discussion among defense and security specialists. It reportedly numbers 3,300 members. Until his death in December 2019, the last AVN president was the highly esteemed Russian military theorist Army General Makhmut Gareev. On December 25, 2020, the membership of the AVN elected Gerasimov as their new president (Krasnaya Zvezda, January 22, 2021). This is a remarkable step, though it appears to have been motivated by Gerasimov’s years-long track record of heavily promoting the AVN as a vehicle to further Russian military capabilities as well as to revive interest in military science and military art. Indeed, the sitting CGS has repeatedly used the venue of the Academy’s annual general assembly to deliver important keynote addresses that discussed the future of warfare as well as appealed to Russian specialists in military affairs to innovate (see EDM, April 3, 2018, March 6, 2019, February 26, 2020).

Tracing Russia’s Path to Network-Centric Military Capability

By: Roger McDermott

Executive Summary

Since 2008, Russia has consistently sought to adopt and introduce command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) capabilities to the Armed Forces as part of its conventional military modernization plans. At their core, those efforts are rooted in developing a Russian variant of network-centric warfare, reflecting changes in the international strategic environment as well as accompanying transformation in the means and methods of conducting warfare.

The origins of network-centric approaches to modern and future warfare are rooted in the Revolution in Military Affairs, championed by Marshal Nikolai Ogarkov in the 1980s. As he predicted, modern and future inter-state warfare will be short and sharp, no longer envisaging a period of mobilization or “follow-on” forces. Russia’s contemporary General Staff understands that the key to securing political-military objectives in such a scenario depends on gaining the advantage in the information space and utilizing speed of decision-making through improved automated command and control. As such, Russian military strategists and policymakers have consciously sought to move away from the country’s traditional reliance upon mass mobilization to forming leaner and more capable forces. While this may not result in Russia becoming a global military power, it will have significant implications for its conventional war-fighting capabilities closer to its borders.

After many years of analysis, discussion and planning, the Russian military is now well on the path toward the fuller formation of a network-centric capability that will present challenges for any potential adversary. Thus, Russia’s Armed Forces, together with their numerous technological advances, are confidently entering the high-tech battlespace.

Implementing Restraint Changes in U.S. Regional Security Policies to Operationalize a Realist Grand Strategy of Restraint

by Miranda Priebe

Research Questions

What broad and specific changes to U.S. security policies toward key regions have advocates of restraint already recommended?

Where do key policy prescriptions still need to be developed?

What type of analysis would help fill these gaps?

The United States is facing several national security challenges at the same time that the federal budget is under pressure because of public health and infrastructure crises. In response to these challenges, there has been growing public interest in rethinking the U.S. role in the world. Under one option, a realist grand strategy of restraint, the United States would adopt a more cooperative approach toward other powers, reduce the size of its military and forward military presence, and end or renegotiate some of its security commitments. To help U.S. policymakers and the public understand this option, the authors of this report explain how U.S. security policies toward key regions would change under a grand strategy of restraint, identify key unanswered questions, and propose next steps for developing the policy implications of this option.

The authors find that regional policy under a grand strategy of restraint varies depending on the level of U.S. interests and the risk that a single powerful state could dominate the region. Because of China's significant military capabilities, advocates of restraint call for a greater U.S. military role in East Asia than in other regions. The authors recommend that advocates of a grand strategy of restraint should continue to develop their policy recommendations. In particular, they should identify what changes in great-power capabilities and behavior would imperil U.S. vital interests, maritime areas where the United States should retain superiority, priorities for peacetime military activities, and war scenarios that should guide U.S. Department of Defense planning.

Maintaining America’s Technological Edge: Build on Our Strengths

by Steve Blank Joseph H. Felter Raj M. Shah

We stand at a crossroads of history. The decisions this new administration makes about how to engage, incite, and rally the full force of American capitalism will determine whether we stand in the backwash of China’s exhaust or we continue to lead.

In the twenty-first century our country’s military and economic power will rely on the rapid development and deployment of new technologies—5G, microelectronics, cyber, AI, autonomy, robotics, access to space, drones, biotech, quantum computing, energy storage, and others yet to be invented.

The technologies we employed to prevail in the Cold War and the War on Terror were largely developed by big defense primes and U.S. government labs, but today most of the advances come from commercial vendors—many of them Chinese. For the first time in the history of modern civilization most of the technologies needed for the military are driven by consumer demand and the potential for profit—not government directives.

China is executing a plan to win with new technologies through its strategy of Military-Civil Fusion—they’ve torn down the barriers between Chinese companies and academia and its military. Its purpose is to improve China’s military technology by integrating Chinese industry and academia so it can develop the Peoples Liberation Army into a world-class military equal or superior to the U.S. Meanwhile, its Orwellian National Intelligence Law mandates that citizens and companies must cooperate with state defense and intelligence work. (Yes you, Apple and DJI.) Simultaneously, the Chinese Communist Party is integrating party leadership in both state-owned companies and private businesses (which account for 60 percent of the country’s output).

America's North Korea Strategy Has Failed. What Will Biden Do?

by Hazel Smith

Every post-Cold War United States administration has failed to achieve the core goal of the denuclearisation of North Korea. This is an urgent foreign policy problem that requires careful analysis of the context, constraints, and complexity of North Korean security behavior. Yet too often “analysis” is reduced to the reiteration of buzzwords such as “provocations” (the older catch-all word was “brinkmanship”). These tired old tropes explain nothing. Instead, they signal an embarrassing knowledge and analytical gap at the heart of international policymaking on North Korea. Good analysis doesn’t always lead to good policies and good outcomes, but poor analysis is not helpful. For the incoming Biden administration, the deal should be to up analytical expectations, demand the same sort of fact-based analysis it would expect of any other country (and yes, that is possible), and get the job of North Korean denuclearisation done.

One thing that gets lost in mystic prognostications about an allegedly unfathomable North Korea is the simple fact that the political elites who run the country are entirely pragmatic. They remain focused on the practical problem of the physical and political survival of the small number of families that constitute the elite. International interlocutors should be aware that there is no ideological battle to be won or lost with North Korea. The regime has no transnational loyalties to any religion or political movement. Its international relations with friends and foes are strictly transactional. Neither are they suicidal nor stupid. There is no possibility of an intentional first strike on the United States using nuclear or any other weapons.

The strategic context in which both North Korea and its interlocutors make foreign policy decisions is not the same as that which prevailed during the Obama administration. This means that US policy options are also different from those available four years ago. Importantly, the big domestic change since the Obama administration is that Donald Trump’s North Korea initiatives makes it a lot harder for Republicans to criticize a Biden administration for doing deals with the North Koreans.

Future of War Will Be ‘Hyperactive Battlefields’: U.S. Army General

by Kris Osborn

The Commanding General of Army Futures Command says warfare in 2035 will bring a “hyperactive battlefield,” dominated by a lightning-fast blitz of weapons, sensors, electronics, and explosives … all greatly empowered by AI.

When discussing AI, Gen. John Murray said that, in the short term at least, it will likely function primarily as a “decision aid” in a way that can pave the way forward into the kinds of high-speed warfare engagements he describes.

Fundamentally, what Murray seems to suggest, is that among many things, AI brings speed. New levels of pure speed when it comes to information gathering, data processing, analytics and informed decisions. AI will increasingly provide processed information at a pace beyond what can be imagined now.

“I think decisions will have to be made at such a pace that it's going to be incredibly difficult for a human decision-maker to keep up with it,” Murray said.

When it comes to procedural functions such as automated machine operations, calculating an otherwise disconnected set of variables or data specifics, computers can massively outpace human decision making, a phenomenon which may have inspired Murray to cite “automated target recognition” as an example of how AI continues to quickly change combat.

AI-enabled computers can gather new information and then bounce it off limitless volumes of catalogued data to draw comparisons, perform analytics, organize variables and make determinations... all in a matter of milliseconds.

Explained: How the U.S. Army's Plans to Deploy Laser Weapons

by Kris Osborn

The Army is arming up to four large and small prototype combat vehicles with laser weapons engineered to incinerate enemy targets at the speed of light, bringing new tactical dimensions to counter-drone strike, air defenses and precision-guided, scalable offensive land attacks.

Gen. John Murray, Commanding General of Army Futures Command, said the Army is doing experimentation with the laser weapons, with a specific mind to addressing and resolving some of the pressing challenges associated with integrating them into small, mobile or expeditionary platforms.

The Army has for many years now been making progress when it comes to fixed laser weapon applications such as those deployed to protect or fire from a forward operating base or another static location, as they can be powered up and sustained without having to be on-the-move. Vehicle-fired lasers, however, present a new series of complexities.

Murray delineated three major challenges when it comes to building mobile, high-powered laser weapons into combat vehicles, the most pressing of which pertains to a single word … power. Lasers have very high power requirements, which can create challenges when it comes to building a form factor small enough to transport the requisite amount of power needed to fire the weapon effectively.

“You never get 100 percent in, 100 percent out. It is always something less than that. We’ve got some science and technology efforts working now,” Murray explained.

Stop Calling Everyone a Tech Bro

What do all these disparate characters have in common? They are all routinely, casually labeled “tech bros.” A term that once mocked a particular Bay Area cultural phenomenon has become an all-purpose epithet. In the process, it has lost whatever analytic value and rhetorical punch it once had. If tech bros are everywhere, then they are nowhere.

The tech bro is, of course, a species within the broader bro genus. Generic bro-ishness is properly understood as a form of performative male camaraderie, typically involving an ostentatious commitment to partying and a mildly ironic preppy aesthetic. Bros are the opposite of hipsters: aggressively conformist, intentionally unfashionable, proudly loyal to institutions (whether it’s Penn State or Deutsche Bank). With its roots in fraternity life, bro culture can include a darker undertone of misogyny, although the textbook bro is more buffoonish than menacing.

“Tech bro” was a logical adaptation of the concept, as a generation of overwhelmingly male college grads who before might have sought their fortunes on Wall Street flocked to high-paying jobs in San Francisco. To many Bay Area residents, the term conjures a specific image: a twentysomething guy, usually white, in all likelihood wearing a quarter-zip Patagonia fleece vest branded with the logo of his Silicon Valley workplace. (These vests are also popular with his cousin, the finance bro.) This quintessential tech bro appears to have few interests outside his high-paying job, Bitcoin, and perhaps biking. Callow and callous, he is an irresistible target of mockery, blamed for driving up the cost of living in San Francisco while deadening its spirit with his acquisitive lifestyle and cultural cluelessness. While not necessarily sexist himself, he is an emblem of the boys’ club culture that permeates the tech industry.