6 February 2021

What the Myanmar Coup Means for China

By Shannon Tiezzi

On February 1, a coup in Myanmar saw the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) ousted and NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi, among other leaders, detained, whereabouts unknown. With that, Myanmar returned to military rule after 10 years of gradual, albeit limited, political opening.

The change in Myanmar will be closely watched in Beijing. And despite a long history of cozy relations with the Tatmadaw during Mynamar’s previous stint of military rule starting in the late 1980s, China will not be celebrating.

“A coup in no way is in Beijing’s interests. Beijing was working very well with the NLD,” said Yun Sun, a co-director of the East Asia Program and director of the China Program at the Stimson Center in Washington, D.C.

“If Beijing has a choice, I think they would prefer the NLD over the military. But they don’t have a choice… so they have to deal with whatever comes along.”

The first official reaction, from Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin, was decidedly bare-bones: “We have noted what happened in Myanmar, and we are learning more information on the situation.”

The New Military Government in Myanmar Could Well Be Short-Lived

By Brian Wong

Having continually disputed the results of the November elections over the past few months, the armed forces in Myanmar took to overthrowing the National League for Democracy (NLD)-led government earlier this week, thereby putting an end to an era of tenuous civilian rule and limited democratization. Activists and political leaders have been arrested, including State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, internet access was temporarily cut off, and the result of November’s election abrogated. Myanmar, in short, had retreated into the darkness of gun barrel politics.

The past decade of civilian government have not been all that detrimental for the army. With the 2008 Constitution granting it 25 percent of seats in the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, the army held an effective veto over constitutional changes, which require the support of three-quarter of MPs. Army-endorsed entrepreneurs and technocrats have continued to sit at the upper echelons of the economy, as well as staffing key departments and bureaus – including ones pertaining to national and domestic security. Indeed, under the civilian-led government, the army’s popularity had only increased, as it was perceived to be both more democratically legitimate (on the surface) and responsive to the ethnocentric nationalism that underpinned the continual state-driven persecution of the Rohingya population.

So why did the coup happen? The superficial answer, of course, was the landslide victory for the NLD in the elections on November 8, when it won 396 out of 476 seats – six more than at the previous election in 2015. The military-affiliated Union Solidarity and Development Party, on the other hand, secured just 33 seats. According to this line of argument, the military launched the coup because it was wary and paranoid over its loosening control over the country’s legislative decision-making powers.

Don’t Isolate Myanmar


NEW DELHI – Directly or indirectly, the military has always called the shots in Myanmar. And now that it has removed the decade-old façade of gradual democratization by detaining civilian leaders and seizing power, Western calls to punish the country with sanctions and international isolation are growing louder. Heeding them would be a mistake.

The retreat of the “Myanmar spring” means all the countries of continental Southeast Asia – Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Myanmar – are under authoritarian rule, like their giant northern neighbor, China. More fundamentally, the reversal of democratization in Myanmar is a reminder that democracy is unlikely to take root where authoritarian leaders and institutions remain deeply entrenched.

Given this, a punitive approach would merely express democratic countries’ disappointment, at the cost of stymying Myanmar’s economic liberalization, impeding the development of its civil society, and reversing its shift toward closer engagement with democratic powers. And, as in the past, the brunt of sanctions would be borne by ordinary citizens, not the generals.

This is a realistic scenario. US President Joe Biden has warned that the military’s action “will necessitate an immediate review of our sanctions laws,” followed by “appropriate action.” But Biden would do well to consider how US-led sanctions in the past pushed Myanmar into China’s strategic lap, exacerbating regional-security challenges.

Sanctions are a blunt instrument. Thailand’s army chief, with the support of an increasingly unpopular king, has remained ensconced in power in civilian garb since staging a coup in 2014. If the United States can do business with Thailand, where a crackdown on pro-democracy protesters has extended to the use of a feared lèse-majesté law to imprison those who insult the royal family, why hold neighboring Myanmar to a higher standard?

India Opposes Lanka Bid To Renege On East Container Terminal Agreement – Analysis

By P. K. Balachandran

Indian High Commission says all parties are bound by the May 2019 the trilateral Agreement

Colombo, February 1: Reacting to signals from the Sri Lankan government that it is opting out of the May 2019 trilateral Memorandum of Cooperation (MOC) between Sri Lanka, India and Japan to build and run the East Container Terminal (ECT) at the Colombo Port, the Indian High Commission said on Monday that it expects all parties to adhere to the MOC.

“I would like to reiterate the expectation of the Government of India for the expeditious implementation of the trilateral Memorandum of Cooperation (MOC) signed in May 2019 among the Governments of India, Japan and Sri Lanka for the development of ECT with participation from these three countries,” a statement issued by the spokesman of the High Commission said.

“The commitment of Government of Sri Lanka in this regard has been conveyed several times in the recent past, including at the leadership level. The Sri Lankan cabinet also took a decision three months ago to implement the project with foreign investors. All sides should continue to abide by the existing understandings and commitment,” the spokesman added.

India and the Strategic Salience of The Vanilla Islands

Raj Mittal

The islands of the south-western Indian Ocean – Comoros, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mayotte, Réunion and Seychelles – sit astride important chokepoints and Sea Lines of Communication and are gaining prominence in India’s strategic calculus. Enhanced statecraft, a forward presence of the Indian Navy and closer relations with France, including via a “Quad Plus” security dialogue, are ways for India to step up its engagement in the region while also contributing to the continuation of the rules-based order in the waters around the Vanilla Islands.

Key Points

To better mould the region’s strategic environment in its favour and as a resident power in the Indian Ocean region, India needs to engage with the island states of the south-western Indian Ocean: Comoros, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mayotte, Réunion and Seychelles.

Known as the Vanilla Islands, the group abuts maritime chokepoints and busy Sea Lines of Communication (SLOCs), giving it enhanced strategic importance.

For China, the importance of Brazil, South Africa and the rest of Africa as sources of commodities and oil is rising and vessels travelling to China transit the chokepoints and SLOCs around the Vanilla Islands. Consequently, those chokepoints and SLOCs gain prominence in India’s strategic calculus.

India’s formal entry in the south-western Indian Ocean region has been facilitated by France. With France’s support, India joined the francophone Indian Ocean Commission (IOC) in March 2020.

In a setback to India, however, the newly-elected President of the Seychelles, Rev. Wavel Ramkalawan, indicated that the Seychelles-India agreement to develop a naval base on Assumption Island would not go ahead. India urgently needs to engage with the new government of Seychelles.

The Taliban says they won the war in Afghanistan. They are not wrong


Whatever U.S. government officials may claim about the war in Afghanistan, the Taliban know that they have won.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani reportedly said on Friday that the Taliban are pushing the narrative that the United States has been “defeated,” Fox News reporter Lucas Tomilson tweeted. (The Taliban later denied making such claims after this story was initially published.)

If the Taliban are declaring victory, it would be hard to argue with their assessment given the United States has so little to show for nearly 20 years of war and the deaths of more than 2,400 U.S. troops.

A Pentagon spokesman declined to respond to Ghani’s comments, but he noted that peace negotiations in Afghanistan are ongoing, no terrorist attacks have been launched from Afghanistan against the United States since Sept. 11, 2001, and it has been nearly a year since service members have been killed in combat in Afghanistan. Still, six troops died in non-combat incidents in 2020.

“There is no military solution to conflict in Afghanistan,” said Pentagon spokesman Army Maj. Rob Lodewick. “After more than 19 years of war, the path to a lasting peace for the people of Afghanistan is paved by an Afghan-owned, Afghan-led process to achieve a political settlement and a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire. This is happening and the U.S. will continue to support the Afghan peace process.”

Antony Blinken, Congress Respond to Myanmar Coup, Aung San Suu Kyi Arrest


President Joe Biden's administration and congressional lawmakers have expressed serious concern at reports emerging from Myanmar—also known as Burma—where the military has launched a coup against the country's civilian leadership.

Troops launched raids against prominent politicians in the early hours of Monday, detaining de-facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi, President Win Myint and others. Tensions had been growing between the military and the civilian government, particularly since elections in November saw Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy win a landslide victory.

The military made its move ahead of the first session of parliament since the election, due to be held this week. Lawmakers had been due to approve the next government. But now the military says it has taken control for one year, headed by commander-in-chief General Min Aung Hlaing, accusing the civilian leadership of election fraud.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken was among those who quickly condemned the coup and arrest of civilian leaders. A statement released late on Sunday expressed "grave concern and alarm" at reports of the coup.

Takeaways From Military Coup In Myanmar – Analysis

By P. K. Balachandran

Besides being a huge setback to democracy, the coup will put off the return of two million Rohingya refugees and embitter relations with Bangladesh. But it will strengthen ties with China.

Myanmar is seeing its fourth military coup since independence from the British in 1948. On February 1, the Myanmar military called the “Tatmadaw” was in the process of taking over the country from State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and President U Win Myint.

Early in the day, the military arrested Suu Kyi, Win Myint and some of the ruling National League for Democracy’s Central Executive Committee members, MPs and regional cabinet members. The state-run television service was cut off. Only the military-owned Myawaddy channel was accessible. Mobile phone services were off in the capital, Naypyitaw

The previous three military coups had lasted 51 years in all. Two periods were under General Ne Win (from 1958 to 1960 and from 1962 to 1988).The others were under Generals Saw Maung, Than Shwe and Khin Nyunt, which totally extended from 1988 to 2011.

According to Dr. Myo Nyunt, spokesman of the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD), the army was planning to force the President to call an urgent National Security Council meeting for an official handover of power to it. As per the 2008 Constitution, only the President can declare a state of emergency and hand over power to the military.

Significantly, the coup occurred just hours before the scheduled start of the first session of the new NLD-dominated Parliament on Monday morning. The session was to elect a President and Speaker.

The arrests followed last week’s sharp escalation in tensions between the civilian government and the military after the latter made what was perceived as a threat to stage a coup if the government failed to act on its claims of “mass fraud” in the November 2020 general elections. The NLD had won a landslide victory.

Sri Lanka in 2021: Foreign Policy Prognosis

Chulanee Attanayake

Sri Lanka began its interaction with the world in 2021 by welcoming India’s Foreign Minister S Jaishankar from 5 to 7 January 2021. Around that time, Tamil diaspora organisations based in the United Kingdom demanded that the British government sponsor a resolution against Sri Lanka at the upcoming United Nations Human Rights Commission session. These two developments are indicative of the challenges that lay ahead for Colombo’s foreign relations in 2021.

In Retrospect

The year 2020 saw a continuation of the newly-elected government’s foreign policy agenda based on neutrality and of prioritising its economic and security interests. Following a concentric circle-based hierarchical approach, Colombo strengthened friendly relations amidst the challenges of a global pandemic. Significantly, there were attempts to reinvigorate ties with India and China.

Two significant aspects highlighted foreign relations in the year 2020: reinvigorating the economy and focusing on security and sovereignty. Hence, the ministerial portfolios of both the foreign minister and state minister of foreign affairs were given explicit responsibilities. The foreign minister has a unique responsibility of reassessing existing bilateral agreements and investigating any clauses or articles detrimental to the country’s local economy. In the past, Sri Lanka refused to implement bilateral agreements after committing to them, citing provisions and articles to be disadvantageous to it. Domestically, this led to uncertainties resulting in the public becoming suspicious and resisting bilateral agreements. Globally, the vacillation of incumbent Sri Lankan governments damaged Colombo’s legitimacy as a trustworthy partner. The state minister of foreign affairs has now been given a special portfolio to enhance regional cooperation – strengthen partnership with the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation and Bay of Bengal Initiative Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC). Never in the past was such a ministerial portfolio created for regional cooperation in Sri Lanka. Moreover, Sri Lanka’s High Commissioners have also been encouraged to act as agents of economic and business promotion.

Biden’s Nightmare May Be China

By Nicholas Kristof

The first thing to say is that a war with China probably won’t happen.

Yet if it does, it might begin in an obscure place few have heard of, like Pratas or Kinmen Islands. Both are controlled by Taiwan but are closer to China, and some Chinese and Americans alike worry that Chinese President Xi Jinping might invade one island or the other to pressure Taiwan.

Or Xi might send a submarine to snip undersea cables that carry the internet to Taiwan, or he could impede oil deliveries to Taiwan, or he might order a cyberattack to bring down Taiwan’s banking system.

Most experts don’t believe that such an assault is likely (an all-out invasion of Taiwan is even less probable), but it is a considerably greater risk than it had been for decades. And what began on Pratas or Kinmen wouldn’t end there: The United States would most likely be drawn into perhaps the most dangerous confrontation with another nuclear power since the Cuban missile crisis.

So while we try to calm partisan “warfare” in Washington, let’s work harder to prevent an actual international shooting war in Asia. The coming years represent the greatest risks since I began covering U.S.-China relations in the 1980s, partly because Xi is an overconfident, risk-taking bully who believes that the United States is in decline.

Why Are There No Biographies of Xi Jinping?


“Living in China is confusing now,” the novelist Yan Lianke said, “because it can feel like being in North Korea and the United States at the same time.” I recall smiling and nodding when he made the remark, during a roundtable discussion at Duke University’s campus outside Shanghai three years ago. In one brief sentence, he captured just how special and strange China can seem—a country that has both gulags and Gap stores.

Yan’s statement highlighted the challenge of categorizing China, but over time I’ve been struck by how it does the same for Chinese President Xi Jinping. In some ways, Xi—who became head of the Communist Party in 2012 and China’s leader the following year—seems to be taking the country backward, while in others he presents as an outward-looking free trader, one able to impress the Davos crowd by touting globalization and signing Beijing up for free-trade deals.

Part of this is due to misunderstanding Xi’s plans and priorities, leading to a belief among some outside observers that he would be a reformer in the mold of the former Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev. Instead, his decisions—clamping down on dissent, removing the term limits that constricted his predecessors, building a personality cult—have been more like Russian President Vladimir Putin or even North Korea’s Kim Jong Un. In the process, he has centralized more power in his grip than any Chinese leader since Mao Zedong, while making other moves, such as mixing nods to Confucius with donning martial attire and taking on an ever-growing string of titles, that bring to mind the Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek.

The comparisons are imperfect—Xi clearly is not just like any prior Chinese leader, nor just like anyone now in power elsewhere. Yet in thinking about his similarities with other strongmen and autocrats, I’ve become obsessed lately with one specific way in which he stands apart: the lack of an English-language biography that takes an extended and careful look at his life.

How the rest of the world responds to the US-China split

by Hung Tran

This paper is a sequel to the Issue Brief One World, Two Systems Take Shape During the Pandemic (September 8, 2020)—but can be read on its own

The election of Joe Biden as the forty-sixth US president is not expected to change the list of substantive issues dividing the United States and China, such as trade, investment, technology, geopolitical competition, national security, and human rights—except that the priority among them may change, with human rights concerns moving more to the forefront.

However, the tone and modality of the unfolding of the US-China competition will change from Donald Trump’s unilateralism to Biden’s efforts to build alliances with “likeminded” countries in Europe, Asia, and elsewhere to deal with the challenges China has posed. In a way, Biden’s alliance-building approach may intensify pressure on the rest of the world to take sides. How countries respond to this challenge, unwelcome by most, depends on whether they see themselves as competitors to China, or as “price takers” in the international economic system.

Who Is Winning the AI Race: China, the EU, or the United States? — 2021 Update

Daniel Castro Michael McLaughlin 

The United States still holds a substantial overall lead in AI, but China has continued to reduce the gap in some important areas and the EU continues to fall behind.

The nations that lead in the development and use of artificial intelligence (AI) will shape the future of the technology and significantly improve their economic competitiveness, while those that fall behind risk losing competitiveness in key industries. As a result, more than 30 nations have created national AI strategies to improve their prospects. To date, the United States has emerged as the early frontrunner in AI, but China is challenging its lead.

This report examines the progress China, the European Union, and the United States have made in AI relative to each other in recent years and provides an update on a report released on their comparative rankings from 2019. It finds that the United States still holds a substantial overall lead, but that China has continued to reduce the gap in some important areas. In addition, the EU continues to fall behind. Absent significant policy changes in both the EU and United States—particularly the EU changing its regulatory system to be more innovation-friendly, and the United States developing and funding a more proactive national AI strategy—it is likely that the EU will remain behind both the United States and China, and that China will eventually close the gap with the United States.

China's Ambitions in Space: The Sky's the Limit


From the dawn of China’s space program in the mid-1950s to the ability to build, launch and operate satellites in low Earth and geosynchronous orbits from the 1980s, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is in 2021 a complete space power with autonomous access to outer space and to deep-space exploration.

Today, China is on the verge of building its own space lab in low Earth orbit (LEO), possibly the only orbiting lab in a few years from now. During summer 2020, it launched an ambitious mission to Mars, which could help it catch up with other powers in the exploration of the Red Planet. It is also making rapid progress in its Moon explorations. In January 2019, Beijing achieved its “first world first” by landing a rover on the far side of the Moon, and in December 2020, it succeeded a most delicate mission in recovering lunar samples and returning them to Earth. Its plans are now to establish a lunar base by 2030. Closer to Earth, in the LEO, there are several Chinese projects of space-based internet constellations, albeit at a relatively early stage. Hence, the PRC is no longer an outsider, but an actual challenger to the great powers in space, including the US, although it still lags behind in terms of technology and means, both quantitatively and qualitatively.

China’s space doctrine is based on three pillars: national development, military empowerment, and great-power competition. The former two drove China’s development in space from the beginning of the program, while the latter is a characteristic that has been particularly intensified in the last few decades. Under President Xi Jinping, outer space is fully integrated in the “China dream of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation”, whereby outer space must contribute to make the PRC the number one “technological great power” by 2049.

What to do about China?

Mikkel Runge Olesen

The Biden administration is likely to adopt a less chaotic US approach to the NATO alliance concerning China. European members should utilize this calmer time to develop viable strategies on how to tackle non-conventional threats from China within the Alliance in concert with the US.

■ Continue to develop their own strategies and procedures against non-conventional Chinese threats in the domains of cyber, influence activities, and trade and investments.

■ Resist the temptation to fall into inertia in determining how NATO should deal with China after the fear of a US withdrawal from NATO has subsided.

■ Work with the Biden administration to develop NATO’s role in relation to China further on grounds that are acceptable on both sides of the Atlantic.

At the December 2019 NATO summit, the Alliance announced for the first time that it now considered China’s rise a potential challenge to NATO. While the proclamation attempted to show balance by also mentioning China as an opportunity, the fact that NATO now recognizes China as a potential challenge, one that is worth mentioning in the alliance’s official communiqué from the leaders’ summit, represents a major shift: it signals that the days when Europe could hope to sit out US-Chinese great-power rivalries may now be coming to an end.

In fact, the change has been long underway, starting within the US itself. In 2001, the Bush administration had only just begun to consider the security implications of the rise of China when September 11 suddenly shifted its focus to the War on Terror for the rest of the decade. In a similar fashion, the Obama administration’s pivot to Asia in 2011 was abruptly upset by the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014.

Biden Goes Big


NEW YORK – US President Joe Biden has proposed a $1.9 trillion rescue plan to help the American economy recover from the pandemic. Many Republicans oppose it, suddenly consumed with the fiscal religion they unceremoniously abandon whenever their party controls the White House. The massive tax cuts the GOP bestowed on billionaires and corporations in 2017 resulted in the highest US fiscal deficits on record, outside of a deep recession or war. But the promised investment and growth never materialized.

By contrast, Biden’s proposed spending plan is urgently needed. Recently released data show a slowdown in America’s recovery both in terms of GDP and employment. There is overwhelming evidence that the recovery package will provide enormous stimulus to the economy, and that economic growth will generate substantial tax revenues, not just for the federal government but also for the states and municipalities that are now starved of the funds they need to provide essential services.

Opponents of the Biden plan also disingenuously warn against inflation – that lurking bogeyman that is more fantasy than real threat nowadays. Indeed, some data suggest that wages may be falling in parts of the economy. But if inflation does emerge, the US has ample monetary and fiscal tools at the ready.

The economy would, of course, be better off without zero interest rates. It would also be better if policymakers raised taxes by imposing levies on pollution and restoring greater progressivity to the tax system. There is no valid reason why the richest Americans should pay lower taxes as a percentage of their income than those who are far less well off. Given that wealthy Americans have been the least affected, medically or economically, by the coronavirus pandemic, America’s regressive tax system has never looked uglier.

The Empires Strike Back at Europe


BERLIN – Donald Trump’s presidency is now history, which puts renewing the transatlantic relationship back on the European agenda. But there can be no return to the old, cozy dependencies of the Cold War era and the period thereafter, when America – the great protector – decided all important security matters, and Europe followed as a matter of course. To renew transatlanticism, Europe will need to make its own contribution to joint security, especially within its own geopolitical environment.

In its immediate neighborhood, the European Union faces three former global powers that are obsessed with their past imperial glory: Russia, Turkey, and now the United Kingdom. Each has a unique relationship with Europe, currently as well as historically, and all share some commonalities.

Under President Vladimir Putin, Russia clings longingly to memories of its superpower status, when the Soviet Union was the global equal of the United States. Under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey dreams of reprising the Ottoman Empire’s geopolitical and cultural expansion from the Balkans and the western edges of Central Asia to the eastern Mediterranean and the North African coast (Libya), all the way down to the Persian Gulf. And, finally, post-Brexit Britain is searching its soul in self-imposed (and not so splendid) isolation, even as it remains close to continental Europeans through NATO and strong cultural and historical ties.

For better or worse, the EU shares the European continent with these three difficult neighbors, and thus must work with each of them to achieve peaceful coexistence. Russia, a nuclear power, is too large and militarily powerful for Europe to manage on its own. Here, the EU will remain dependent on US protection, especially in the face of Russian threats to Eastern Europe and the Baltic States, which were made manifest with the 2014 annexation of Crimea and the war in eastern Ukraine.

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).

Trying to Box in Biden on Arms Control


On Joe Biden’s first full day in the Oval Office, the White House announced its readiness to extend the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or New START, for five years. Former Trump administration officials wasted no time attacking the decision, asserting—falsely—that their work had provided a basis for achieving something more substantial with the Russians.

These former officials are criticizing the Biden team for failing to aim for what they could not get during four years in office. They seek to set their failed negotiating aspirations as a bar against which to judge and disparage their successors’ work.

New START, which entered into force in 2010, reduced U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear forces to levels not seen since the 1960s. The treaty is set to expire on Feb. 5, though its provisions allow it to be extended for up to five years. The Biden administration thus had to move quickly to preserve the treaty’s security benefits for the United States and its allies.

Trump administration officials ignored the extension question for more than three years. When they finally engaged with their Russian counterparts on New START’s fate, they put forward a series of demands, apparently believing that Moscow’s desire to extend the treaty gave them negotiating leverage.

Events proved them wrong.

The Global Energy Agenda

by Randolph Bell, Jennifer T. Gordon, Paul Kielstra, and Andrew Marshall (Editors)

This stylized image of the Abu Dhabi skyline was created for use by the Atlantic Council for its Global Energy Forum.

The Global Energy Agenda can also be read as a PDF. Download the full paper using the button below.

The 2021 Energy Agenda: The Atlantic Council surveyed hundreds of leaders in the energy field, and this report summarizes their responses. The energy agenda for 2021 should be to realize the opportunities created by COVID-19 to build a more sustainable energy system. The energy transition is not inevitable, and the private sector can only do so much; governments, therefore, have a critical role to play in ensuring a sustainable future.

Key Points

• A majority of respondents believe COVID-19 has accelerated the energy transition and peak oil demand is coming soon.

•There are three clusters of energy experts, each with an internally consistent view of the world and best identified by their projections about the timing of peak oil demand.

• Political will is seen as the biggest impediment to climate action.

•Energy and environmental justice is regarded as crucial and survey respondents and essay authors were adamant that the energy transition must bring benefits globally, to all countries and at all socioeconomic levels.

To Disclose or Deceive? Sharing Secret Information between Aligned States

Keren Yarhi-Milo

When aligned states consider disclosing secret information about military plans to use force, the state initiating these plans may choose among four information-sharing strategies: collusion, compartmentalization, concealment, and lying. Three main considerations shape its decision: potential costs of deception, the partner’s intentions, and the partner’s capabilities. Case studies of Israel, Britain, and France's decision to use force against Egypt during the Suez Crisis; Israel's 2007 bombing of Syria's al Kibar reactor; and Israel's deliberations whether to attack Iran's nuclear reactor illustrate how states choose among information-sharing strategies.


Desert Storm: 30 Years Later

ARLINGTON, VA (January 17, 2021) — The AFA's Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies is pleased to release a special report on the 30th anniversary of the start of Desert Storm, Desert Storm: 30 Years Later. According to the U.S. Government Accounting Office, the Persian Gulf War of 1991 “was perhaps the most successful war fought in the 20th Century,” and its success was based on the most successful air campaign the world has ever known. The strategy executed in Desert Storm stands in stark contrast to the wars of attrition and occupation that followed the initial successes of Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom in the nearly 20 years subsequent to the attacks on our homeland in 2001.

The commander of Desert Storm–Army General Norman Schwarzkopf–used airpower as the centerpiece of his strategy in a truly joint approach applying the right forces at the right places at the right times. The effects-based approach used for planning air operations proved pivotal in what became one of the most successful military engagements in history. We must remember these key points if today and tomorrow’s generations of military leaders are to benefit from the lessons of this seminal conflict.

In aid of that objective, the Mitchell Institute has assembled this 30-year retrospective, including a summary of the conflict and the perspectives of key leaders who were instrumental in its design and execution. For media inquiries, email our publications team at publications.mitchellaerospacepower@afa.org

A U.S. Grand Strategy for the Global Digital Economy

Robert D. Atkinson

For America to remain the global leader in IT, the U.S. government must formulate a grand strategy grounded in a new doctrine of “digital realpolitik.” The first priority should be advancing U.S. interests by spreading the U.S. digital innovation policy system and constraining digital adversaries, especially China. This will entail working with allies when possible—and pressuring them when necessary.


U.S. IT and digital policy needs to be guided by a grand, overall strategy, focused first and foremost on maintaining U.S. global tech leadership.

The United States faces a risk where much of the world, including the EU, could align against U.S. IT and digital interests, leading to a many-against-one environment, with detrimental consequences.

In efforts to reestablish closer relations with the EU, the United States should not “give away the store” by allowing the EU to go forward with its increasingly aggressive technology mercantilism.

The United States must enlist likeminded nations in a variety of ways to support U.S. interests—and it should not be reluctant to exert pressure to encourage these nations to come along.
The overarching goal of U.S. strategy should be to limit China’s global dominance and manipulation of markets in the IT and digital space.


Russia’s Unsustainable Business Model: Going All In on Oil and GasJ

Russia’s dependence on revenues from oil and gas production is now higher than that of the Soviet Union in the 1980’s. The prospects for fossil fuels however, have deteriorated in recent years.

US shale oil gives a downward pressure on oil prices and the ever-increasing determination to actively combat climate change is expected to result in decreased oil demand. In addition, it is becoming increasingly challenging to maintain Russia’s oil production at its current level. Although Russia’s gas reserves are plentiful, making money from them is getting more and more difficult, partially because LNG has become the dominant way for long distance gas transport.

How does the Russian oil and gas industry, and the Putin regime in general, deal with these challenges and what are its prospects?

Download the Factsheet here.

Actions Needed to Enhance Friendly Force Tracking Capabilities and Fully Evaluate Training

"Close air support"—airborne attacks on enemies located near friendly forces on the ground—requires detailed planning, seamless communications, and effective training. Mistakes can be dangerous to U.S. and allied forces.

The DOD has faced challenges with the technology initiatives and training efforts it relies on to mitigate risk. For example, it has identified changes to improve its digital communications systems but gaps in existing guidance and management oversight have stalled implementation.

We recommended the DOD further implement and assess close air support technology initiatives and evaluate its training programs, among other things.

Atlas of the human planet 202

The 2020 edition of the Atlas of the Human Planet presents policy-relevant examples provided by users of Global Human Settlement Layer (GHSL) products. Following a call for contribution, 37 showcases cover the domains of disaster risk reduction and crisis management, environment, urbanisation, and sustainable development. They were provided by members of the GEO Human Planet Initiative, the European Commission, international organisations including the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, the International Organisation for Migration, the World Bank, and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, academia as well as the private sector. Each of the showcases demonstrates the added value of open and free geoinformation and provides policy recommendations for its domain. The Atlas discusses also challenges and limitations of current global data sets and provides an outlook on the upcoming GHSL data release 2020 as well as the plan for a future production of the GHSL data under the umbrella of the Copernicus services.


Key concepts and common nomenclature for thinking about space, an overview of international space law, and key questions confronting the United States and other countries today are discussed in this second edition of the space policy primer. It also provides a brief sketch of how the U.S. government is organized to address these difficult space policy questions and touches on the rationales for investing in space activities. While this primer by no means has touched on every important concept, rationale, actor, or issue, it hopefully makes a small contribution to the discussion on how the United States, and the world, moves ahead in space. DOWNLOAD PAPER

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.

Disruptive by Design: Transcending Cyber

By Maj. Brian Kerg, USMC

The Defense Department has an information warfare (IW) problem. While the information environment continues to grow exponentially in importance and ubiquity, rapidly transforming the character of competition and war, there is no organization within the department that directs, synchronizes and coordinates IW planning and operations.

U.S. Cyber Command serves this very purpose for cyber operations, as do its service components. But this necessarily anchors the focus of American IW on a single information related capability (IRC), at the expense of the many other IRCs and their ability to generate military advantage.

This lack of IW cohesion has bled down into the service cyber components, resulting in stratified approaches to organizing themselves for IW. The Air Force previously had separate numbered Air Forces for cyber and intelligence functions but consolidated them in 2019 under the 16th Air Force/Air Forces Cyber. While remaining cyber-centric, the 16th Air Force incorporates other IRCs, including electronic warfare, information operations, and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

Army Cyber Command is eponymously focused on offensive and defensive cyber operations, but it is broadening itself to reinvigorate the Army’s electronic warfare capabilities. By late 2021, it will focus on IW more broadly and aims to integrate cyber, information operations and electronic warfare by 2028.

A Roadmap to Strengthen US Cyber Enforcement: Where Do We Go From Here?

Allison Peters

The following report is the result of a multiyear effort to define concrete steps to improve the US government’s ability to tackle the scourge of cybercrime by better identifying perpetrators and imposing meaningful consequences on them and those behind their actions. A more complete PDF version of this report, including further information about those involved in its development, can be found here.

Part 1: The Case

The United States faces an unrelenting cybercrime wave that affects nearly every sector of the American economy and threatens US security. As more Americans rely on the Internet and the COVID-19 pandemic causes computer use patterns to change, opportunities grow for cybercrime perpetrators.1Much of America’s debate about cybersecurity policy focuses on defending the country from cyberattacks. However, an existing and growing enforcement gap permits perpetrators of cybercrime targeting American people, companies, and governments to face little to no consequences for their actions. Public opinion research makes clear that American people want more aggressive action from US policymakers to combat cybercrime and punish the culprits. This will require a robust approach that strengthens tools for law enforcement and international diplomacy responses.

The start of a new presidential term in 2021 is an opportunity for the US government to take stock of the myriad challenges that have stymied progress in the global enforcement of cybercrime and to design a strategy to finally address them. In partnership with a bipartisan group of former high-level government officials, experts, and private sector representatives, Third Way launched a project to assess these challenges and propose a cyber enforcement roadmap for the presidential administration in 2021. Our goal is to help the next presidential administration develop a comprehensive cyber enforcement strategy to reduce cybercrime and minimize its impact on the American people by identifying the perpetrators and imposing meaningful consequences on them.

Modernizing Officer Career Management

by Albert A. Robbert

Among the statutory, policy, cultural, and fiscal considerations across the 11 officer management issues, cultural considerations were the most prominent.

Addressing each issue would require specific statutory or policy changes, and some issues were of little to no interest to the services.

The services were open to experimentation with available flexibilities for only four issues.

An incremental approach that largely preserves the existing system but allows for smaller changes over time appears to be the most realistic way to modernize officer management.

The 2018 and 2019 National Defense Authorization Acts (NDAAs) required the Department of Defense (DoD) to provide three reports that addressed an extensive list of potential statutory and policy changes in military officer career management. (Some of these potential changes were put into effect through the 2019 NDAA.) RAND's National Defense Research Institute (NDRI) was asked to help obtain perspectives from the military departments and services about the issues covered in the three reports.

While deliberating the issues in the NDRI report, Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) officials identified 11 additional issues related to modernizing officer career management; they asked NDRI to examine these 11 issues in a subsequent study. Specifically, NDRI was to determine whether there were any statutory, policy, cultural, or fiscal constraints on officer management flexibilities; gather service perspectives on these constraints; and offer potential mitigation strategies.

Artificial divide: How Europe and America could clash over AI

Ulrike Esther Franke

Artificial intelligence is a rapidly advancing field that policymakers everywhere are struggling to keep up with.

Calls for international, and particularly transatlantic, cooperation are growing.

In Europe, interest in strengthening “ethical” AI policy is particularly strong – including as a way of making Europe more attractive than other jurisdictions around the world.

Close cooperation between Europe and the US is not a given: Europe sees the US as its main competitor in AI; the US wants to join forces against China on AI, but European interest in such a front is weak.

The non-combat military realm may be a good area for transatlantic AI cooperation.


Surveillance, Situational Awareness, and Warning at the Conventional-Strategic Interface

Rebecca Hersman, Reja Younis

For much of the nuclear age, the concepts and tools of strategic warfare—including command, control, and communications and detection, warning, and situational awareness capabilities—were distinct and highly compartmentalized from those designed to support conventional warfighting. Moreover, the systems that provided strategic nuclear warning operated at long range, from outside adversary territories, and generally in ways that were not visible or particularly concerning to an adversary because they offered little in terms of first-strike advantage. Countries had limited incentives to target strategic warning and situational awareness systems in a conventional conflict, as doing so would not limit an adversary’s ability to conduct conventional operations and would unambiguously signal the advent of a nuclear attack.

These physical and structural separations created a perceived firebreak—a barrier along the escalation ladder designed to slow or prevent accidental or automatic escalation to nuclear conflict in a conventional crisis. This notion of “firebreaking” has been integral to the theoretical underpinning of deterrence and escalation theory—including the concepts of strategic stability, secure second strike, and even the “stability-instability” paradox used to explain the coexistence of nuclear restraint and conventional aggression. Today, however, the expansion of dual-capable delivery systems and the diversification of strategic forms of warfare to include cyber, space, and advanced high precision conventional strike capabilities have sharply eroded these structural firebreaks. Just as significant, but perhaps less appreciated, are the dramatic changes in intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) and the full range of systems that support strategic warning, tracking, and targeting that are increasingly combined into a single, highly capable situational awareness ecosystem that is both precise and persistent. Fueled by advances in robotics, artificial intelligence/machine learning, advanced sensor technologies, and massive growth in computing power, these highly networked, dual-capable capabilities contribute to a situational awareness picture that is far more capable but also murkier and more complex in terms of understanding and managing escalation risks along the conventional/nuclear threshold. Better understanding the ways in which this new situational awareness ecosystem intersects with the nuclear mission and the benefits and risks of these emerging capabilities will be important for managing escalation under a nuclear shadow.