20 February 2021

A Game Winning Piece? The Dalai Lama and Geopolitics of Tibet

Andrew Schwartz: Welcome to the Asia Chessboard, the podcast that examines geopolitical dynamics in Asia and takes an inside look at the making of grand strategy. I'm Andrew Schwartz at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Hannah Fodale: This week, Mike is joined by Asia and human rights expert, Ellen Bork, to discuss the geopolitics of Tibet and what it means for the Asia chessboard. The two begin by discussing Tibet’s strategic significance in the region, including the influence of Tibetan Buddhism and China's strategic approach to its core interest. Bork also dives deeper into Tibet's relationships with its neighbors like India, and the transnational impact of the next reincarnation of the Dalai Lama.

Mike Green: Welcome back to the Asia Chessboard. I'm Mike Green. We have a guest today who's going to help us understand the geopolitics of the Tibet issue. A lot of people look at His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, the repression of the Tibetan people and think this is an issue of religious freedom, human rights, spirituality, all of which are true, but it's also a profoundly geopolitical issue on the Asia chessboard. It goes to the heart of the legitimacy of the Chinese Communist Party, the influence of His Holiness on Tibetan followers well beyond the Tibet autonomous region, as far as Mongolia, Siberia, Korea, the geography of the Tibetan plateau, water, military positioning. I first met His Holiness when I was working as the senior director for Asia in the White House and the meeting with the president Bush and--His Holiness has met every president since George Herbert Walker Bush-- was usually run in the residence of the White House so as not to look political, but was managed by the NSC.

President Biden’s Afghanistan Challenge

By Daud Khattak

President Joe Biden is the fourth American president to oversee the modern Afghan conflict. While his presidency has a long list of internal and external challenges and priorities, Biden’s Afghanistan challenge seems to be one of the most complex tasks given the fatigue surrounding the “endless” war, the treacherous nature of the insurgency, the divided and ineffective Afghan government, and the clash of interests with the United States’ allies in the region, Afghanistan’s neighbors.

Under the February 2020 U.S.-Taliban deal, the U.S. forces should withdraw from Afghanistan by May 2021, while the Taliban have to provide security guarantees, cease support of al-Qaida, and deny safe haven to foreign terrorists. The deal also aimed to pave the way for a permanent ceasefire and direct talks between the Taliban and the Afghan leadership.

The fate of the so-called peace deal, however, hangs in balance given the increasing number of attacks in and around the Afghan capital over the past year; doubts about the Taliban’s intentions and the peace deal among the Afghan leadership; and disturbing reports about the Taliban’s failure to sever ties with al-Qaida and other foreign terrorist groups.

Analysis: NATO faces conundrum as it mulls Afghan pullout


ISLAMABAD (AP) — After 20 years of military engagement and billions of dollars spent, NATO and the United States still grapple with the same, seemingly intractable conundrum — how to withdraw troops from Afghanistan without abandoning the country to even more mayhem.

An accelerated U.S. drawdown over the past few months, led by the previous U.S. administration, has signaled what may be in store for long-suffering Afghans.

Violence is spiking and the culprits are, well, everyone: the Taliban, the Islamic State group, warlords, criminal gangs and corrupt government officials.

Taliban Insists on US Pullout in Open Letter to American People

By Anisa Shaheed

In an open letter to the American public, the Taliban’s leader Mullah Abdullah Abdul Ghani Baradar urged the United States to abide by its commitments to withdraw US forces from Afghanistan in accordance with the US-Taliban peace deal signed between the two sides in Doha last February.

The Taliban senior leader has also said that the group is committed to act upon the US-Taliban peace agreement, stating that he is confident that the Afghans will finally agree on an Islamic system and sustainable peace and security through a political settlement.

“We are fully confident that the Afghans themselves can achieve the establishment of an Islamic government and enduring peace and security through intra-Afghan dialogue,” an excerpt from the letter says.

“The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan is sincerely committed to finding a political solution to the ongoing conflict and therefore, took the initiative by opening a political office in the nation of Qatar towards this end,” the letter reads.

Meanwhile, Mateen Bek, a member of the peace negotiating team representing the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan in the talks with the Taliban, has said that the Taliban--after travelling to Islamabad--are making unnecessary excuses to attend the peace negotiation table.

Can America Restore Its Credibility in Asia?

By Michael Green and Evan Medeiros

President Joe Biden entered the White House determined to restore the world’s confidence in the United States. That task is particularly important in the Indo-Pacific, a region that has become as central to geopolitics as Europe was during the Cold War. The United States’ presence, influence, and credibility in the region are flagging, and restoring them will require Biden to climb out of a deep hole. North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs have continued to grow despite President Donald Trump’s reality-show summitry. Southeast Asia is looking past Washington to forge new trade agreements within Asia and with Europe. And China is pushing the boundaries on myriad fronts: crackdowns in Hong Kong, Tibet, and Xinjiang; a targeted economic embargo on Australia; and military efforts to advance its territorial claims on water and land. The United States’ domestic difficulties, including the Trump administration’s bungling of the pandemic response

Speculating on China and Cuba

By George Friedman

From a military standpoint, China is in a difficult position. It is a trading power and needs access to the global oceans. Its significant ports are on its east coast. Its fundamental fear is that the United States or another capable power will blockade those ports, rendering imports and exports impossible and severely damaging its economy. The United States has the naval and air power to interdict the ports, and it is backed by a vast coalition: Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, Indonesia, Singapore and Australia. Now, there is not a single organization, as there was with NATO and the Soviets, and each member of the coalition has economic relations with China and the United States, so how they would behave in a crisis is unpredictable.

Still, maritime access is fundamental for China, and the possibility of disruption alone is the country’s central problem. On matters of fundamental national interest, nothing is more frightening than uncertainty, even with the possibility of such solutions as the Belt and Road initiative. China needs certainty and has projected a self-confidence it can’t possibly have facing a world in which the U.S. is a potential adversary. Add to this the fact that while China’s gross domestic product equals almost $15 trillion, the nations it confronts have a total GDP of about $33 trillion. Note also that China has hardly any formal allies, and none in this de facto archipelago of containment. The U.S. has close relations with most and reasonable relations with all.

Anatomy of a flop: Why Trump's US-China phase one trade deal fell short

Chad P. Bown

The Biden administration plans to review the phase one trade agreement President Donald Trump forged with China in late 2019. Good. Much of the deal was a failure. Its centerpiece was China’s pledge to buy $200 billion more of US goods and services split over 2020 and 2021.

According to evidence from the deal’s first year, China was never on pace to meet that commitment, with the economic devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic only partly to blame. Attempting to manage trade—to meet Trump’s objective of reducing the bilateral trade deficit—was self-defeating from the start. It did not help that neither China nor the United States was willing to deescalate their debilitating tariff war.

The phase one deal should not be ripped up, however. Several elements are worth keeping and building upon—such as China’s commitment to reduce nontariff barriers related to food safety and open up to foreign investment. China’s agreeing to crack down on intellectual property violations and the forced, insufficiently compensated, transfer of American technology will also prove beneficial if enforced.

But the dubious policy objective of reducing the bilateral trade deficit—the heart of Trump’s phase one deal—should be scrapped. The purchase commitments only sowed distrust in the very same like-minded countries with which the new US administration must work to tackle their mutual concerns involving China.


China Steps Up Online Controls With New Rule for Bloggers

By Huizhong Wu and Fu Ting

Ma Xiaolin frequently wrote about current affairs on one of China’s leading microblogging sites, where he has 2 million followers. But recently, he said in a post, the Weibo site called and asked him not to post original content on topics ranging from politics to economic and military issues.

“As an international affairs researcher and a columnist, it looks like I can only go the route of entertainment, food and beverage now,” the international relations professor wrote on January 31.

Ma, who often posted on developments in the Middle East, is one of many popular influencers working within the constraints of China’s heavily censored web who is finding that their space to speak is shrinking even further with the latest policy changes and a clean-up campaign run by the country’s powerful censors. He declined an interview request.

Beginning next week, the Cyberspace Administration of China will require bloggers and influencers to have a government-approved credential before they can publish on a wide range of subjects. Some fear that only state media and official propaganda accounts will get permission. While permits have been needed since at least 2017 to write about topics such as political and military affairs, enforcement has not been widespread. The new rules expand that requirement to health, economics, education, and judicial matters.

Water Wars: Chinese Military Takes Aim While Biden’s China Strategy Takes Shape

By Sean Quirk 

The U.S. and Chinese militaries have continued to confront one another near Taiwan and in the South China Sea in the early weeks of the Biden administration. Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) aircraft conducted a simulated strike against a U.S. aircraft carrier in January 2021, while Taiwan has experienced near-daily incursions into its airspace by Chinese aircraft. The U.S. Navy’s persistent operations in the South China Sea and diplomatic pronouncements from senior U.S. officials indicate that the Biden administration is largely staying the course in confronting Chinese intimidation in the region. Yet, unlike the Trump administration, Biden and his team appear keen to bring U.S. allies alongside to form a “united front” on military, economic and diplomatic dimensions of the U.S.-China relationship.

Tension Near Taiwan

On Jan. 23, Chinese military aircraft simulated an attack on the USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) Carrier Strike Group as it entered the South China Sea through the Bashi Channel, south of Taiwan. Thirteen Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) and People’s Liberation Army Air Force Navy (PLAN) aircraft flew into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ) when the simulated attack occurred. Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense reported the Chinese aircraft consisted of eight H-6K bombers, four J-16 fighter jets and one Y-8 anti-submarine aircraft. The PLA aircraft remained more than 250 nautical miles away from the Theodore Roosevelt but were heard confirming orders for the simulated release of anti-ship missiles against the carrier. The U.S. Indo-Pacific Command stated that the carrier strike group was conducting routine maritime security operations in the South China Sea and the Chinese aircraft “at no time” posed a threat.

In Biotech, the Industry of the Future, the U.S. Is Way Ahead of China

By Scott Moore

It was supposed to be China’s moment of technological triumph—one that would show the world Beijing had not only conquered the coronavirus but also emerged as a biotechnology superpower. But when clinical data on China’s flagship CoronaVac vaccine finally flowed in, they showed it was barely more than 50 percent effective—just clearing the minimum standard set by the World Health Organization. In contrast, not one but two vaccines developed by U.S. firms have been found to be upward of 95 percent effective, a standard no other country’s vaccines have yet met in rigorous clinical trials. The United States’s overall track record in responding to the pandemic has been awful. Yet the success of its vaccine development efforts shows that when it comes to biotechnology, the industry of the future, the U.S. is way ahead of China and most of its other rivals.

A continuing refrain from Washington in recent years has been that the United States is falling behind China in the development of critical emerging technologies. In some fields, this may be true. But not in biotechnology. To be sure, China’s biotech sector is growing at a torrid pace, and some of its firms are becoming leaders in certain areas, such as cancer treatment. Yet the U.S. retains a dominant position in research, development and commercialization, accounting for almost half of all biotech patents filed from 1999 to 2013. The triumph of its biotechnology industry during the coronavirus pandemic, producing two highly effective vaccines using an entirely new approach based on messenger RNA, and in record time, shows that the U.S.’s competitive edge in biotechnology remains largely intact. And that has important implications as Washington gears up for a sustained period of geopolitical competition with Beijing.

Around the halls: Experts analyze the Libya conflict, 10 years on

Jeffrey Feltman, Federica Saini Fasanotti, Pavel Baev, Courtney Freer, and Ranj Alaaldin

February 17 marks the 10-year anniversary of the uprising in Libya that ousted long-time leader Moammar Gadhafi. In the years since, the country has descended into civil war. The conflict is characterized in key ways by warring nonstate armed actors, many of which are backed by foreign governments.

Below, Brookings experts on Libya briefly reflect on the key dynamics they see as critical at this juncture.

Jeffrey Feltman, Visiting Fellow in the Center for Security, Strategy, and Technology: One year ago — with Tripoli besieged — few would have envisioned that, by the 10th anniversary of the uprising against Moammar Gadhafi on February 17, a three-track, United Nations-facilitated process would create the most promising moment in Libya in years. The next five weeks are critical, as I write with former Acting Special Representative of the U.N. Secretary-General Stephanie Williams in another piece. If deadlines are met and spoilers sidelined, Libyans will have a unified executive authority for the first time since 2014 and national elections on December 24, 2021, the 70th anniversary of Libya’s independence.

Astonishingly, 71% of Libyans polled express satisfaction with the February 5 selection by the 74-member Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF) of an interim executive authority. Over 1.7 million Libyans (a quarter of the population) participated virtually, as 45 candidates answered questions submitted by the public. This novel transparency doomed some high-profile candidates: House of Representatives Speaker Agila Saleh was asked for a response to western Libyans about his support for the assault on Tripoli, and he shrugged that “everyone makes mistakes.” Abdul Hamid Mohammed Dbeibah, the prime minister-designate from the winning slate, has 21 days to propose a cabinet, and the House of Representatives an additional 21 days for confirmation.

Hezbollah Is Vulnerable. Lokman Slim’s Assassination Proves It.


The assassination of the Lebanese activist and writer Lokman Slim—who was openly critical of Hezbollah—was in the making for years. His killer pulled the trigger earlier this month because the timing at home and abroad was convenient for his assassins, who wanted to send a message.

It has always been a matter of time. Hezbollah’s critics—including myself—always felt the shadows following. You have to go about your daily life constantly looking over your shoulder, checking under your car for a bomb every time you leave your house, and feeling your heart sink deeper each time your children’s school bus is late. We always knew we were being followed and monitored. Slim refused to live his life in these shadows, but he was not careless.

When I decided to leave Lebanon for good in 2016, after receiving similar threats, Slim encouraged me to do so. He refused to leave but did not expect me to do the same because he also knew that not everyone could afford to make the same sacrifices. His motto—“Zero Fear”—which has taken over Lebanon’s social media scene recently, is not a requirement; it’s a choice and a very calculated one.

Slim was threatened directly and repeatedly by Hezbollah, and he himself wrote a statement last year holding the party responsible for any action that would harm him or his family. He was assassinated in the south of Lebanon—a Hezbollah stronghold—a mile away from a U.N. compound. Most importantly, he was killed in a way that would send a clear message to other activists and to the international community. If Hezbollah’s leaders only wanted to get rid of Slim, they could have easily made it look like a car accident or a robbery, and thereby avoid the blame, but they wanted to send a message to others while testing the limits of the international community.

A new administration is taking shape in Washington, but it is not finalized; key Middle East posts that will deal with Lebanon and Hezbollah remain unfilled. In addition, there have been signs that the Middle East is not at the top of the Biden administration’s foreign-policy agenda and that the Lebanon dossier could be allocated to French President Emmanuel Macron.

Hezbollah and its Iranian sponsors have established a pattern of testing any new U.S. administration. Four years ago, they tested the Trump administration in Syria when the Assad regime used chemical weapons against civilians at Khan Sheikhoun in 2017 and then the pro-Iran militias used armed drones against the U.S.-British garrison near the border town of Tanf. These tests were met with force, and Iran and its proxies got the message.

Rise of a “Drone Superpower?” Turkish Drones Upending Russia’s Near Abroad

By Nicholas Velazquez

Though 2020 will be defined in the history books by the COVID-19 pandemic, a story that ought to not go unnoticed is the ascendance of Turkey as a ‘drone superpower.’ This rise was by no means peaceful and comes as a result of various confrontations between Russian and Turkish proxies in the Near East. Initially, the Turkish Bayraktar TB2 unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) struck at Russian-backed forces in the Libyan and Syrian civil wars. However, the successful usage of the Bayraktar TB2 UAV by Azeri forces in the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War demonstrates a paradigm shift for the Russians whereby Turkey is competing with them in what is called the ‘near abroad.’ According to Russian foreign policy thinkers, the ‘near abroad’ is comprised of all the post-Soviet states and is Russia’s ‘sphere of influence.’ Turkey’s ability to influence the affairs of Armenia and Azerbaijan, both post-Soviet states, brings into question Russia’s influence in the post-Soviet space.

The Turkish Bayraktar TB2 UAV was developed by Turkish defense firm Baykar. It can fly at 22,500 feet and can remain aloft for over 24 hours. From this height, it can conduct reconnaissance as well as laser-guided missile strikes. The sophisticated system can mean the difference when fighting against adversaries lacking robust indigenous anti-air capabilities, such as the Russian-backed Libyan National Army (LNA). Unfortunately for the Russians, in both the Libyan and Syrian civil war, its most touted air defense system, the Pantsir S-1, proved unable to counter in the Turkish UAVs. The Pantsir S-1 system was supposed to be a trump card to shoot down the Turkish UAVs. However, the opposite happened, and an estimated 23 Pantsir systems were lost in the Syrian and Libyan civil wars to the very Turkish drones they were supposed to defend against. The inability of the Pantsir S-1 systems to counter Turkey’s UAVs have forced the Russians to patch the Pantsir systems in a bid to restore the system’s tarnished reputation.

Sputnik V Vaccine Gives Russia a Whopping Soft-Power Boost

By Konstantin Sonin

Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine against Covid-19 has become world famous. Dozens of states are considering using it while such major countries as India, Brazil, Mexico, Argentina and Uzbekistan have pre-ordered many millions of doses.

Leading international medical journals have published studies on the vaccine’s efficacy that, after being administered to more than two million Russians, seems to be on a par with the initial results from Western vaccines.

Although scientists will repeatedly reevaluate Sputnik’s efficacy as data accumulates, the vaccine has already boosted Russians’ immunity at home as well as the country’s image abroad. This despite the Kremlin’s PR efforts that have been more harmful than helpful.
Building on Russia’s great scientific past

Although the official approval process for Sputnik V was opaque by modern world standards and the politicized PR surrounding it only caused further concerns, the Sputnik V vaccine is finally recognized as a solid vaccine.

This is partly because it fit well into the decades-old stereotype that Russia is especially adept at coming up with inexpensive quick fixes to problems vexing other world powers.

The future of work after COVID-19

By Susan Lund, Anu Madgavkar, James Manyika, Sven Smit, Kweilin Ellingrud, Mary Meaney, and Olivia Robinson

The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted labor markets globally during 2020. The short-term consequences were sudden and often severe: Millions of people were furloughed or lost jobs, and others rapidly adjusted to working from home as offices closed. Many other workers were deemed essential and continued to work in hospitals and grocery stores, on garbage trucks and in warehouses, yet under new protocols to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus.

VideoThe future of work after COVID-19

This report on the future of work after COVID-19 is the first of three MGI reports that examine aspects of the postpandemic economy. The others look at the pandemic’s long-term influence on consumption and the potential for a broad recovery led by enhanced productivity and innovation. Here, we assess the lasting impact of the pandemic on labor demand, the mix of occupations, and the workforce skills required in eight countries with diverse economic and labor market models: China, France, Germany, India, Japan, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Together, these eight countries account for almost half the global population and 62 percent of GDP.

Jobs with the highest physical proximity are likely to be most disrupted

Brief: Blackouts Highlight Mexico’s Energy Dilemma

By Geopolitical Futures

Background: The Mexican economy’s high dependency on the U.S. economy is a double-edged sword. On one hand, having close ties to the biggest economy in the world – made all the more accessible because of their proximity and trade agreements – is an advantage for many industries. On the other hand, Mexico’s reliance on an external market means that many of the factors that determine the health of its economy are out of Mexico’s control. It thus has a strategic interest in reducing this dependency but faces a multitude of factors that limit its ability to do so.

What Happened: Mexico’s Federal Electricity Commission said Monday that a winter storm in Texas reduced natural gas exports from the U.S. by around 25 percent, causing blackouts in parts of northern Mexico. The shortage affected Sinaloa, Sonora, Durango, Chihuahua, Coahuila and Nuevo Leon states and disrupted production at electricity generation stations. President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador used the occasion to point out Mexico’s high dependence on the U.S. for natural gas. Mexico’s energy secretary estimated last month that 70 percent of the country’s gas supplies came from the U.S., while the remaining 30 percent was produced domestically.

The blackouts come amid the government’s recent efforts to reform Mexico’s electricity industry by increasing the role of the government-owned utility in the domestic market. The Federal Economic Competition Commission warned on Monday that the proposed changes could damage competition and hurt investor confidence. Mexican, U.S. and Canadian businesses have all expressed concerns over the proposed reforms.

In Central Europe, Biden Can Build on Trump’s Record

David Hutt 

Today, the United States’ relations with Central Europe are at an inflection point. Much of the recent media coverage in the region has focused on how Washington’s influence might wane if President Joe Biden picks a fight with the governments of Hungary and Poland, whose leaders had cultivated close ties with Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump. On the campaign trail, Biden bemoaned the recent trajectory of democratic decline and the erosion of checks and balances on executive power in those countries. Meanwhile, illiberal leaders like Hungary’s Viktor Orban and Poland’s Jaroslaw Kaczynski are suspicious of Biden’s pledges to make human rights and the rule of law key pillars of U.S. foreign policy, viewing such efforts as affronts to their sovereignty.

As the Atlantic Council’s Petr Tuma noted in December, some observers in Central and Eastern Europe also fear that after a period of “intensified cooperation” under Trump, America could revert back to the era of President Barack Obama, “when many believed Washington (initially) sacrificed the region’s interests in the name of a reset with Moscow.” In reality, though, Biden has given no sign of any such attempt at a reset, signaling he will take a tough approach toward Russia. And even as Biden seeks to reorient U.S. foreign policy away from his predecessor’s approach, the Trump administration has actually left a solid foundation of trust and cooperation for Biden to build upon in Central Europe.

Photos Reveal Damage from Deadly Rocket Attack at US Base in Iraq


ERBIL, Iraq — The rockets that struck U.S. forces at a base in Erbil on Monday night destroyed a contractor living facility, killing one — U.S.-employed but not a citizen — and wounding four others, some American.

"You can see the mangle of bunks inside. Contractors here are shook up and sad," said Katie Bo Williams, posting on Twitter several photos of the damaged facilities.

Fourteen rockets fell on the capital of the Kurdish Regional Government in northern Iraq, in a rare attack on the usually tranquil city claimed by an Iranian-supported militia group called Saraya Awliya al-Dam. Williams' photos of the U.S. base, located on the far end of the city's international airport, show tented structures completely burned to their metal skeletons, revealing blackened tables and bunks amid signs of a normal life shattered.

The power of example: America’s presence in Diego Garcia


In remarks delivered at the US State Department in early February, President Joe Biden championed the rule of law as part of “America’s abiding advantage” and spelled out his vision for a nation leading “not just by the example of our power but by the power of our example”. In its swing toward competition with Beijing, the US has made every effort to draw attention to China’s disregard for international law, while conveniently ignoring that law’s application to the US military presence on Diego Garcia and the US presentation of itself as a champion of the rules-based order.

Diego Garcia is the largest of 55 islands split off by the United Kingdom from its Seychelles and Mauritius colonies to create the British Indian Ocean Territory in 1965. Devised exclusively for military use, the BIOT has been the key US strategic outpost in the Indian Ocean since 1966. Shuttering civilian industry and removing Diego Garcia’s original inhabitants paved the way for initial construction of British-US military facilities in 1967. These facilities were used to great effect in tracking the Soviet navy throughout the Cold War, although it was India’s request for American support against China in the 1962 Sino-Indian War that drove Amercia’s initial request for access to the archipelago. The Chagossian population was given the option to resettle in Mauritius or Seychelles. Some were able to relocate to the UK. This unceremonious exile went largely unremarked at the time – to most, it was a small subplot in the high drama of the Cold War. But not to Mauritius, nor to the Chagossians.

Bloat and Warfare

By Jacob Parakilas

Canada is replacing the core of its navy. A new class of 15 frigates, based on the British Type 26 design, are in the pipeline and expected to begin operations at the beginning of the next decade. What is notable about these ships is their size: at 9,400 tons, they are twice the size of the Halifax-class ships they will replace and 10 times that of the Royal Canadian Navy’s WWII-era frigates.

The process by which weapons systems become bigger, heavier, and costlier seems only to travel in one direction: military capabilities tend to either be retired without direct replacement or replaced with fewer, larger systems rather than more numerous, simpler ones.

Nor is this dynamic limited to one domain. Modern tanks and infantry fighting vehicles are so heavy they strain the carrying capacity of cargo aircraft and even roads and bridges. The advent of jet propulsion ballooned combat aircraft sizes, and decades later, modern warplanes show no signs of shrinking. Infantry weapons might be the exception to the rule, thanks to advances in plastics and high-strength metals, but the total load carried by an individual soldier is substantially heavier now than before.

There are, of course, some sound reasons for this endlessly ratcheting growth. Modern ships and aircraft have capabilities far exceeding their predecessors in terms of speed, range, weapons carriage, and electronic sophistication. Ground vehicles and infantry both are laden with armor because it increases survivability, meaning that soldiers can survive attacks that would have been fatal to their equivalents in decades past.

France Still Struggles With the Shadow of the ‘War Without a Name’


Sixty years on, the ghosts of the Algerian War still loom large over French politics, the country’s debate over immigration, and its relationship with Algiers. Emmanuel Macron, the first French president born after the end of the brutal colonial conflict, seems more inclined than any of his predecessors to “look history in the eyes” and has sought to heal the “wounds of the past.” But if the ghosts of the Algerian war continue to shape the conversation about France’s identity, it’s largely because the political class has decided to bestow upon the conflict—and its legacy—an outsized role.

The war, from 1954 to 1962, is back in the center of the French political conversation this year thanks to the release last month of a highly-anticipated, government-commissioned report meant to figure out how to bridge the rifts still existing within France and across the Mediterranean. The author, acclaimed historian Benjamin Stora, suggested plenty of symbolic measures, such as returning to Algiers the sword of a 19th-century resistance hero. Other recommendations included a better understanding and education of the war and French occupation in Algeria, which dates back to 1830.

The Élysée said it would take “concrete actions” based on the report, beginning with the establishment of a “memory and truth commission.” But, in line with Stora’s conclusions, it ruled out any official apology for France’s colonial past. Despite that pledge, which parroted a conservative battle cry, Macron and Stora immediately came under fire from the far right, with members of Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National (RN) party denouncing “yet another sign of weakness” and an attempt to declare a “memory war” on the French.

Present at the Re-creation?

By Jessica T. Mathews

For years, Joe Biden has portrayed the presidency of Donald Trump as an aberration from which the United States can quickly recover. Throughout the 2020 U.S. presidential campaign, Biden asserted that under his leadership, the United States would be “back at the head of the table.” But a return to the pre-Trump status quo is not possible. The world—and the United States—have changed far too much. And although hailing the return of American hegemony might seem comforting to Americans, it reveals a degree of tone-deafness to how it sounds to the rest of the world. When people elsewhere look at Washington’s track record over the past two decades, they don’t see confident leadership. What they see, instead, are a series of disasters authored by Washington, chief among them the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the subsequent destabilization of much of the Middle East and the 2008 global financial crisis. During those decades, Washington also pursued an ineffectual war in Afghanistan, an incoherent policy in Syria, and ill-judged humanitarian interventions, most notably in Libya.

The failures have also been domestic. To date, the United States has handled the COVID-19 pandemic worse than any other major country. Americans make up only four percent of the world’s population but account for a staggering 25 percent of global COVID-19 cases and 19 percent of deaths from the disease. The failure has come at all levels: a stunning lack of national leadership, an alienated population unwilling to make modest sacrifices in the common interest, and a health-care system that is deeply inequitable and administratively fractured.

France identifies Russia-linked hackers in large cyberattack


France's cybersecurity agency ANSSI on Monday said "several French entities" had been breached, and linked the attacks to a Russian hacker group thought to be behind some of the most devastating cyberattacks in past years.

The agency said it had identified "an intrusion campaign" in which hackers, linked to Russian military intelligence agency GRU, compromised the French software firm Centreon in order to install two pieces of malware into its clients' networks. The "supply chain attack" is similar to the recently discovered compromise of U.S. business software SolarWinds that breached several U.S. government agencies and many others.

The intrusion campaign started in late 2017 and lasted until 2020, ANSSI said, adding it "mostly affected information technology providers, especially web hosting providers."

Centreon said in a statement it "has taken note of the information," adding it is "not proven at this stage that the identified vulnerability concerns a commercial version provided by Centreon over the period in question."

The company lists Airbus, Air France, Thales, ArcelorMittal, Électricité de France (EDF) and telecoms firm Orange among its clients, as well as the French Ministry of Justice. It's unclear how many or which organizations were breached via the software hack.

The United States would be more secure without new intercontinental ballistic missiles

By Frank N. von Hippel

The United States has 400 Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) suspended in reinforced concrete underground missile silos, plus an additional 50 empty silos, spaced about 10 kilometers apart near Air Force bases in Montana, North Dakota, and Wyoming (Figure 1). The missiles were originally deployed during the 1970s.

During the Obama administration, the Defense Department launched the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent program to replace these ICBMs with an equal number of new missiles, plus spare and test missiles, for a total of 642. In September 2020, the Air Force awarded a $13.3 billion sole-source contract to Northrup Grumman for the weapon system design. The Air Force estimates the project’s capital cost will run to over $100 billion, while the Congressional Budget Office estimates that the total cost, including 30 years of operations, will be $150 billion. Northrup Grumman has spread the work over many states and congressional districts. Its press release states that the work will be carried out in Utah, Alabama, Colorado, Nebraska, California, Arizona, Maryand, and “at our nationwide team locations across the country.” The “team” of subcontractors includes:

Germany’s bridges to Russia split open Europe

Tony Barber

No western country’s relationship with Russia is more burdened with history than Germany’s. In June will fall the 80th anniversary of the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union, prelude to titanic battles and wartime atrocities that still affect Germany’s self-image and weigh heavily on official attitudes to Russia.

None of this serves as an excuse, however, for some ill-judged remarks that Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Germany’s president, made last week on German-Russian relations. In a newspaper interview, he defended the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project, intended to deliver Russian gas to Germany across the Baltic Sea, as one of the few bridges between Russia and Europe in an otherwise deteriorating diplomatic and security climate.

Steinmeier went on to say that “for us Germans, there is another dimension” — the more than 20m Soviet people killed in the second world war. “That doesn’t justify any wrongdoing in Russian policy today, but we must not lose sight of the bigger picture,” he said.

How Artificial Intelligence Is Changing Tank Warfare

by Kris Osborn

Here's What You Need to Remember: Comparing unknown data against a seemingly limitless database of known information and variables to arrive at new conclusions represents the heart of Machine Learning, as it can enable an AI system to accommodate, organize and integrate new, previously unknown information.

What happens if Russia or China builds a new secret tank or heavy armored vehicle that even the most advanced U.S. databases are not able to recognize? What if a weapon attacks U.S. forces that is simply not in any known threat library? Does the U.S. military have any recourse with which to make a fast, informed, combat-sensitive decision? What kind of munition should be used to counterattack? What kind of ammunition does the new threat fire? What is its range and scope? Are there AI-enabled computer programs now equipped to confront some of these challenges likely to present problems for U.S. commanders operating long-range sensors?

The answer is: maybe. If not now, not too far away, according to Army drone and robotics requirements writers now tracking threats and technical trends in autonomy and Artificial Intelligence (AI).

“Using AI, a small unit UAS (drone) identifies an enemy tank, asks other sensors to confirm and then reports back to a platoon leader, giving him various courses of action with which he can make a decision,” Col. Sam Edwards, Director of Robotics Requirements, Capability Development Integration Directorate, Ft. Benning, Ga., told The National Interest in an interview.

How online platform transparency can improve content moderation and algorithmic performance

Mark MacCarthy

During one of the 2019 sessions on platform transparency at the Transatlantic Working Group on Content Moderation and Free Expression, one of the participants said in exasperation, “Well what are we trying to accomplish here? What harms are we trying to prevent by imposing all these disclosure obligations on platforms?”

The questions deserve a thoughtful answer. Transparency’s goodness often seems self-evident to those who advocate for it. But sometimes it can be deeply complicated. In the case of social media companies, however, it is an essential and timely part of an overall regulatory system.


To see why transparency can be problematic, consider Jeremy Bentham’s panopticon. In his proposed prison reform, each prisoner would be assigned to a transparent cell visible from a central observation tower in the middle of a circular ring of cells. Disclosure to the unobserved guards in the central tower would be permanent and complete.

This example is often used in privacy courses to illustrate how surveillance exerts quasi-coercive pressure on those surveilled to conform to external values and expectations.

Transparency in Bentham’s panopticon is a privacy violation. But sometimes we want transparency: If companies have to reveal substantial information about their operations to regulators and to the public, they are more likely to conform to public values and expectations. It is a way to increase public trust. As is often said, sunlight is the best disinfectant.

The Intelligence Community and Open-Source Information in the Digital Age

On January 22, 2021, the New York Times reported that the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) was acquiring commercially available databases from vendors containing U.S. person location data generated by smartphone applications, and the DIA was periodically using that data to track U.S. person device locations (specifically, the Times reported, “Defense Intelligence Agency analysts have searched for the movements of Americans within a commercial database in five investigations over the past two and a half years”). The Times article included a link to a DIA memorandum prepared in response to inquiries about the practice received from the office of Senator Ron Wyden. Senator Wyden subsequently raised the issue during the confirmation hearing of Avril Haines for the position of Director of National Intelligence (DNI) asking Haines about “abuses” of commercially available location data. In a statement released by Wyden’s legislative office in connection with Haines’ confirmation process, he describes the DIA practice discussed in the Times article as “unacceptable” and as an intrusion on constitutional privacy rights, saying, “The Fourth Amendment is not for sale.”

Other elements of the Intelligence Community also acquire databases from commercial vendors that contain anonymized mobile location information generated by smartphone applications. In February 2020, the Wall Street Journal reported that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was purchasing commercially available databases containing such location information for use in immigration enforcement. The WSJ described the location data as “drawn from ordinary cellphone apps, including those for games, weather and e-commerce, for which the user had granted permission to log the phone’s location.” In contrast to the comments by Senator Wyden, the WSJ reported that DHS’s use of such commercially available data in this manner “appears to be on firm legal footing because the government buys access to it from a commercial vendor, just as a private company could, though its use hasn’t been tested in court.”

Deceive the Enemy with Emerging Technologies

By Scott Savitz

Oceans of ink have been spilled describing two of the great technological trends of this generation and their impact on warfare. The first is the relentless and rapid improvement in information technology (IT), across fields as diverse as big data analytics, artificial intelligence, and augmented reality. One of its key applications in warfare is to enable inputs from distributed, networked sensors to be integrated and analyzed rapidly, generating timely, actionable information in forms that humans and machines can readily interpret.

The second trend is related but distinct: the increasing capabilities of unmanned systems to perform valuable missions. These capabilities are growing not only because of advanced IT enabling more autonomous operations, but also because of improvements in materials science, energy storage, design, and other areas. A third trend, much less remarked on, is the improvement in sensors, which are becoming smaller, cheaper, and more perceptive, with lower power demands and greater durability in various environments.

Venezuela’s Opposition Is Clinging to a Failed Strategy

Phil Gunson

The emergence of a dynamic young leader galvanized the Venezuelan opposition two years ago. Juan Guaido united disparate opposition parties and won recognition as the country’s legitimate president from Donald Trump’s administration and dozens of other governments. His colleagues and the U.S. officials who backed him insisted that a campaign of “maximum pressure”—entailing biting sanctions, international isolation and even veiled threats of military action—would force an end to President Nicolas Maduro’s “usurpation” of power and restore democracy to Venezuela.

That was a miscalculation. Maduro, who cleaned up in elections last December that the opposition called a sham, looks more entrenched than ever. The opposition’s unrealistic appraisal of its own strength led it over a cliff. “Maximum pressure” failed, and Guaido’s strategy is on the rocks. Support for his “interim presidency” was already ebbing last year. Now, the parliamentary majority that was the basis for Guaido’s claim to power as the president of the National Assembly has expired, with 90 percent of seats controlled by Maduro allies after the opposition boycotted December’s polls. Still, opposition legislators, amid some internal dissent, insist that Guaido remains Venezuela’s legitimate president. They have endorsed a rump parliament, known as the Delegate Commission, and invented a “Political Council”—yet to be set up—that would, in theory, rejuvenate the wilting unity and fading promise of the opposition forces. ...

Space Force begins adding cyber warriors

Mark Pomerleau

WASHINGTON — The Space Force is getting its first cyber warriors, transferring cyber personnel from the Air Force into its ranks to protect sensitive systems and missions.

“Why it’s so important for us to have those cyber professionals on the Space Force team — organic to our team — is that they will be part of our crew force. They will understand the cyber terrain of space, and it will help us protect this critical domain from that threat,” Chief of Space Operations Gen. Jay Raymond said during a Feb. 3 media call.

These forces will defend installations, such as ground terminals, and space assets, including satellites.

The emerging cadre of cyber warriors for military’s newest service began shifting over from the Air Force at the beginning of February.

These guardians are aligning with the Air Force’s cyber squadron initiative to build the Space Force’s version of mission defense teams, a Space Force spokesperson said. Air Force mission defense teams are specialized cyber teams that protect critical Air Force missions and installations. This has been possible due to the Air Force’s enterprise-IT-as-a-service model in which it has outsourced some of the more mundane and day-to-day IT work to contractors, freeing service personnel to perform cyber defense. Space Force will similarly rely on contractors, enabling its cyber workforce to defend its terrain.