24 February 2021

How Britain stole $45 trillion from India

Jason Hickel

There is a story that is commonly told in Britain that the colonisation of India – as horrible as it may have been – was not of any major economic benefit to Britain itself. If anything, the administration of India was a cost to Britain. So the fact that the empire was sustained for so long – the story goes – was a gesture of Britain’s benevolence.

New research by the renowned economist Utsa Patnaik – just published by Columbia University Press – deals a crushing blow to this narrative. Drawing on nearly two centuries of detailed data on tax and trade, Patnaik calculated that Britain drained a total of nearly $45 trillion from India during the period 1765 to 1938.

It’s a staggering sum. For perspective, $45 trillion is 17 times more than the total annual gross domestic product of the United Kingdom today.

How did this come about?

It happened through the trade system. Prior to the colonial period, Britain bought goods like textiles and rice from Indian producers and paid for them in the normal way – mostly with silver – as they did with any other country. But something changed in 1765, shortly after the East India Company took control of the subcontinent and established a monopoly over Indian trade.

Here’s how it worked. The East India Company began collecting taxes in India, and then cleverly used a portion of those revenues (about a third) to fund the purchase of Indian goods for British use. In other words, instead of paying for Indian goods out of their own pocket, British traders acquired them for free, “buying” from peasants and weavers using money that had just been taken from them.

Pakistan's Military Is Getting Stronger (Thanks To China)

by Charlie Gao

As Pakistan’s relationship has soured with the United States in the past two decades, Pakistan’s armed forces have largely looked towards Chinese suppliers for equipment. While China has long supplied Pakistan’s armed forces, the relationship has deepened in recent years, with Pakistan making major purchases of top-of-the-line Chinese export equipment.

Here are some of the most powerful weapons China has sold or licensed to Pakistan.

1. Nuclear Weapons Program

The acquisition of nuclear weapons in the 1990s is considered to be one of the largest failings of the nuclear nonproliferation regime. But, it is widely said that China provided significant assistance to the Pakistani nuclear weapons program (in addition to the A.Q. Khan’s espionage). China is alleged to have provided missile components, warhead designs, and even highly-enriched uranium. The political motive behind this is clear, Pakistan acts as an effective foil against growing Indian regional ambitions. But it is clear that nuclear assistance is the most deadly example of Chinese/Pakistani defense cooperation.

2. JF-17 Fighter

Did China Build a Spy Network in Kabul?

By Ezzatullah Mehrdad

China Premier Li Keqiang, right, talks with Afghanistan Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah at a signing ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, May 16, 2016.Credit: Kim Kyung-Hoon, Pool Photo via AP

Shoaib* knew Xu* as a Chinese language teacher at a local private school. Xu taught Chinese language at his rented apartment in Kart-e-Char, a middle-class neighborhood of Kabul. Shoaib, an Afghan who wanted to learn Chinese language, met Xu on Facebook. Xu had built a network of local friends, including Chinese language teachers and Chinese language students.

Salim*, then a first-year student at a university in China in early 2019, met Xu on a WeChat group, a messaging app similar to WhatsApp. Salim and Xu developed a friendship. Xu took Salim on vacations in China, and Salim invited Xu to his house in Kabul.

Shoaib and Salim were stunned when Xu and nine other Chinese nationals in Kabul were arrested in December of last year.


By LCDR Robert “Jake” Bebber, USN, and Dr. John Hemmings

The most significant foreign policy debate in Washington at the moment is how to frame the emerging strategic competition with People’s Republic China (PRC), with foreign policy elites arguing whether we are in a “cold war” with China or something entirely different. The stakes of the debate are considerable because it will decide how the United States develops policies for competing with the PRC and how it frames that competition with allies and partners.

On the “against” side (those who disagree with framing the competition as a “cold war”), there are two basic approaches. The first is to argue that the United States should not engage in a cold war with the PRC – a prescriptive argument – based on the argument that the U.S. and PRC are too deeply intertwined to have a cold war and must cooperate across a range of international issues, including climate change, non-proliferation, North Korea, and COVID-19.

The second argument is that although the U.S. and PRC are engaged in a strategic competition, it should not be framed as a “cold war.” This is a “historical fallacy” argument based on differences between the current state of competition and that which existed between the U.S. and Soviet Union. Most recently, Richard Fontaine and Ely Ratner made this argument in the Washington Post, writing that the essential features that made the Cold War what it was – two coherent blocs arrayed against each other, with little or no economic integration – are missing.

China’s Potemkin Aviation Can’t Survive Without Washington’s Help


Amid the chaos of the Trump administration’s final weeks, the U.S. Commerce Department made a little-noticed announcement that has the potential to derail China’s aviation industry. On Dec. 21, 2020, the department published a new Military End User (MEU)
export list, which essentially prohibits technology exports to entities that “represent an unacceptable risk of use in or diversion to a ‘military end use’” in China and other countries. If left as is, the list will hinder U.S. trade with more than 100 Chinese and Russian companies and entities. And the list implies that China’s aviation industry in particular will need to restart its commercial aircraft development plans from scratch.

Suddenly, the elaborate technology transfers and international sourcing arrangements that China needs to make its own aircraft have become impossible—or at least extremely difficult. Currently, China’s aviation industry only works if foreign companies sell it the equipment needed to get its planes off the ground. Right now, when it comes to domestic manufacturers, it’s presenting Potemkin jets, a homegrown facade concealing an imported core.

The aggressive move, which occurred surprisingly late in then-U.S. President Donald Trump’s term, continued his administration’s efforts to disregard the international status quo and trade norms with China. The list has its pros and cons, but it creates a high-priority problem for the Biden administration, which needs to quickly decide whether to precipitate a crisis in U.S.-China aviation relations or to go back to business as normal. Although it’s unlikely that President Joe Biden would have made such a drastic move himself, his campaign promise to be “tough on China” may make revoking the new list difficult, so there’s a good chance it’s here to stay.

What Makes China's Crack Snipers So Good?

by Charlie Gao

While the U.S. Army is concerned about next-generation Russian precision rifles and tactics, China has also been making significant advances in the field.

In the 1980s, the Chinese used practically the same equipment as the Soviet Union. Nowadays, they use fairly different sets of equipment, including some rifles chambered in NATO calibers. The diverging development of Chinese precision rifles from the same base is an interesting parable of small-arms development driven by doctrine.

In the 1980s, the People’s Republic of China and the Soviet Union used the same “sniper” rifles, although these rifles would be more accurately described as designated marksman rifles in the west. The Soviet Union used the SVD, a gas-operated short stroke 7.62x54R rifle that fed from a ten-round-box magazine and had an effective range of around eight hundred meters. With proper Russian sniper ammunition, the SVD could achieve accuracy from 1-2 MOA. China made its own clone of the SVD after capturing a sample during the Sino-Vietnamese war called the Type 79, later refined into the Type 85. These were produced alongside copies of the Soviet PSO-1 4x optical sight. Apparently China has problems copying the SVD as its gunsmithing industries were not quite mature. The cloned PSO-1 was not able to handle the recoil of the 7.62x54R cartridge in early versions, and issues were found with the metallurgy of the firing pin, which broke easily in the Type 79. According to sources in the CPAF, this was fixed by the Type 85.

The primary problem with the Type 79 and Type 85 was the lack of proper ammunition for it. Russia issued special 7.62x54R ammunition along with the SVD, the 7N1 and later 7N14 cartridges. China did not develop a version of this and simply issued machine gun ammunition with the Type 79 and Type 85. This resulted in the subpar accuracy. Why China didn’t produce a sniper round is uncertain, but perhaps the limited usage of 7.62x54R in the Chinese military, combined with the PLA’s drive for a new intermediate cartridge in the 1980s made developing an additional sniper round an unnecessary burden. The lack of integration of marksman and precision rifles also delayed the need for such a round, Type 79 and Type 85 rifles were not issued widely among regular troops, only finding use with special operations troops, police units, and border guards.

New Capabilities are Closing China’s Aircraft Carrier Gap With America

by Sebastien Roblin

Here's What You Need To Remember: The new Chinese AEW plane may not be quite the wonder weapon it’s made out to be, but it’s a useful capability which will allow Chinese carriers to extend radar coverage and coordinate operations further away from their littoral waters. Its another piece of evidence that Beijing is meticulously building up elements of its naval power with an eye on long-term higher-end capabilities.

Traditionally a land power, Beijing has been compelled by events in the last two centuries to see the Pacific Ocean as its vulnerable flank. Now China has made no secret of its quest to rapidly develop a carrier aviation capabilities similar to those of the United States.

However, the fleet carriers and their air wings entail a host of supporting technologies that have had to be developed independently and then integrated into a cohesive whole. That process included (A) acquiring through unconventional means a mothballed ex-Soviet carrier from Ukraine in 2001 (B) spending a decade refitting it (C) acquiring a Soviet carrier-based fighter prototype and reverse engineering it, and (D) domestically building an improved version of that first acquired carrier from scratch.

One of the more specialized elements China has until recently had to go without is the E-2 Hawkeye, a twin-engine turboprop airplane mounting a huge twenty-four-foot diameter “pizza dish” radar dome rotating on top that was introduced in 1964. Airborne Early Warning & Control planes (also known as AWACS) are increasingly common in air forces across the globe, but most are jet-powered types derived from airliners or cargo planes that couldn’t possibly land on a carrier deck. The E-2, however, has a landing gear attachment for catapult-assisted takeoff and a tail hook for an arrested landing.

US says it is willing to sit down for talks with Iran and other nations on nuclear deal

By Jennifer Hansler, Nicole Gaouette and Kylie Atwood

Washington (CNN)In a significant move to jumpstart diplomacy, the Biden administration said Thursday that the US is willing to sit down for talks with Tehran and other signatories to the Iran nuclear deal, before either side has taken any tangible action to salvage or return to compliance with the agreement.

"The United States would accept an invitation from the European Union High Representative to attend a meeting of the P5+1 and Iran to discuss a diplomatic way forward on Iran's nuclear program," State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a statement Thursday. The P5+1 refers to the permanent members of the UN Security Council -- China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States -- and Germany.

It is a move to the lay the groundwork for diplomacy that could eventually break the ongoing impasse between Washington and Tehran, both of whom have insisted the other must act first. The US officials were careful to stress that their willingness to sit down with partners and Iran wasn't a concession or even the beginning of nuclear talks, but instead, was simply the first diplomatic step to figure out how to begin discussing issues of substance.

"Until we sit down and talk, nothing's going to happen. It doesn't mean that when we sit down and talk we're going to succeed, but we do know that if we don't take that step, the situation is just going to go from bad to worse," the first senior State Department official said. "It's a meaningful step, but we recognize it's just one of many that will have to be taken from all sides."

US military must develop radically new ideas to win the next big war


As we remember the euphoria of Operation Desert Storm 30 years ago, it’s easy to forget how broken the U.S. military was just 15 years before Desert Storm, at the end of the Vietnam War.

Although many fought with courage and valor in Vietnam, they suffered from disastrous shortcomings: a strategy-tactics mismatch, insufficient training, unsuitable equipment, leadership failures and poor morale. Additionally, the American people were deeply divided over the war and the military’s role.

It’s often been said that people, and institutions, learn more from defeat than victory. That was certainly the case after America left Southeast Asia. It was the starting point for a 20-year effort to rebuild the U.S. military, led by many young officers who had personally experienced failure. Vietnam provided urgency for a diverse team — including military leaders, scientists, business leaders, and especially Congress — to think differently about future wars.

Many of us share a similar sense of urgency today. To be sure, our situation is not as dire as it was in the mid-1970s, but the stark reality is that change is badly needed or we will experience a crisis that similarly exposes our shortcomings. In the past two decades, we have seen the rise of formidable rivals and the erosion of the technology advantage that emerged in Desert Storm. It’s not hard to foresee scenarios where we might lose, or worse, become irrelevant. Just as we did after Vietnam, it’s time to bring together a diverse team to re-think and rebuild national defense.

The Russia Strategy Europe Needs


BERLIN – Decades after the Cold War, Russia remains the perfect enemy, with an unmatched ability to agitate Europe’s political class. But the intensity of European debates and emotions regarding Russia masks a growing unity that should underpin a new approach toward President Vladimir Putin’s regime.

In the mid-2000s, Europeans were deeply divided regarding relations with Russia. Germany, led by then-Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, wanted to engage with it, while Central and East Europeans sought containment. On the surface, today’s debates about Nord Stream 2, a controversial pipeline that will deliver Russian gas directly to Germany, and the Kremlin’s persecution of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny appear to be reinforcing that old divide. But the reality is quite different.

Europe no longer has any illusions that Russia is on a trajectory toward liberal democracy that could be accelerated through engagement. Also out is the idea that states in the Kremlin’s firing line are in trouble only because of their own provocative behavior.

Europeans are now mostly united on the need to deter Russia from further foreign adventurism. They have maintained three tough sanctions programs without interruption following Russia’s 2014 invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea. Moreover, many European Union member states have been increasing their military spending, and have agreed to NATO measures to push back against Russian aggression.

America’s Middle East Policy Is Outdated and Dangerous

By Chris Murphy

In his 1980 State of the Union address, which came in the wake of the oil shocks of 1973 and 1979, U.S. President Jimmy Carter described in grave terms the risks of losing access to Middle Eastern oil. “An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America,” he said. “Such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.” That pledge became known as the Carter Doctrine, and it has remained a defining feature of U.S. Middle East policy ever since.

At the time of Carter’s pronouncement, the United States relied heavily on oil imports to power its economy, and 29 percent of that oil came from the Persian Gulf. Even two decades later, little had changed: in 2001, the United States still imported 29 percent of its oil from the Gulf. But it’s not 1980 or 2001 anymore. Today, the United States produces as much oil as it gets from abroad, and only 13 percent comes from Gulf countries. The United States now imports more oil from Mexico than it does from Saudi Arabia.

Yet even as the driving rationale for the so-called Carter Doctrine has become obsolete, it continues to shape the United States’ approach to the Gulf—emblematic of a broader failure of U.S. policy to catch up with the broader changes to U.S. interests in the region since the 1980s. President Joe Biden should acknowledge new realities and reset the United States’ relationships in the Gulf in a way that promotes American values, keeps Washington out of unnecessary foreign entanglements, and prioritizes regional peace and stability.

Biden says he will listen to experts. Here is what scholars of the Middle East think.

Marc Lynch and Shibley Telhami

Is the Israeli-Palestinian two-state solution dead? Would a Biden administration decision to return to the JCPOA — the 2015 Iran nuclear deal — reduce the risk of Iran obtaining a nuclear bomb? How important were the Arab uprisings a decade ago, and are they coming back?

The Middle East never lacks for commentary and opinions. Several high-quality surveys regularly ask political scientists and foreign policy experts their views on U.S. policy in the region. But what do scholarly experts on the Middle East think?

Last week, we fielded a unique survey of scholars with expertise in the Middle East, the first of our new Middle East Scholar Barometer. Drawing on the membership of the Middle East Studies Association, the American Political Science Association’s MENA Politics Section and the Project on Middle East Political Science at George Washington University, we identified 1,293 such scholars. The vast majority speak regional languages, have spent significant time in the Middle East, and have dedicated their professional lives to the rigorous study of the region and its politics. Within three days, 521 scholars had consented and responded (a 40% response rate), divided almost equally between political scientists and nonpolitical scientists.

We asked these experts descriptive questions, not what they thought should happen — or would probably happen — in the Middle East. The survey asks for their assessment of the region as it currently exists and might exist a decade hence. It did not ask about their preferences on outcomes or policies.

The results of the survey paint a fascinating picture of the Middle East, and valuable insights that the Biden administration — which has said it aims to take the views of experts seriously — might consider as it crafts U.S. foreign policy for the region.


Germany’s Empty Pipeline Logic


HAMBURG – Nord Stream 2, the almost-finished pipeline running directly from Russia to Germany, is not really about securing cheap natural gas. It is about personal gain and these two countries’ national interest.

The pipeline across the Baltic has pitted the United States and the European Union against Germany, and a swelling chorus of domestic critics against Chancellor Angela Merkel. If it were just a matter of gas molecules, the project might never have seen the light of day. So, why did it?

Go back to 2005, when Gerhard Schröder and Russian President Vladimir Putin sealed the deal just before Schröder stepped down as chancellor. Shortly after handing power over to Merkel, the Russian energy giant Gazprom, essentially a Kremlin affiliate, named Schröder chairman of Nord Stream AG’s shareholders committee. In 2016, Schröder rose to the top of Nord Stream 2, with Gazprom the only shareholder.

Ever since, Schröder has been Putin’s tireless point man. Schöder never tires of repeating that he did it for the good of Germany, because it locked in energy security at decent prices.

In fact, Germany and Western Europe do not need Nord Stream 2. The oil price has more than halved since its 2008 peak. And with ever more new gas fields coming onstream, especially in the Mediterranean, not to mention North America, the price of gas has dropped by almost four-fifths over this period. Nor is the gas glut likely to be temporary, given ever more renewables surging into the market.

The climate wolf at the door: Why and how climate resilience should be central to building back better

Robert E. Litan and John Fleming

The Biden administration’s economic recovery strategy, widely known as “Build Back Better,” is expected to vastly improve our national response to climate change. So far, virtually all attention on this subject has focused on mitigation—slowing the pace of climate change by reducing carbon dioxide emissions and taking existing carbon dioxide out of the air through “carbon capture” technologies. To the credit of the president and the vice president, their campaign platform’s plan for climate change included measures to make our economy and society more resilient to the impacts of climate change.

Our purpose here is to make the case that whatever recovery plan emerges from Congress must give high priority to climate resilience because the “climate wolf at the door” is already here. There is clear linkage between climate change and more intense and thus more damaging hurricanes, wildfires, and intense heat. Of the nearly $2 trillion in weather related costs the U.S. economy has suffered since 1980, 47 percent have been incurred in just the past ten years.[1] Man-made climate change is a major reason behind the increased impact of severe weather events. Consider these extreme events experienced in the past year alone identified by the World Meteorological Organization:

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.

When Syria Erupted Into War, Russia’s Military Saw an Opportunity

by Sebastien Roblin

Here's What You Need to Remember: Russian aviation demonstrated improved technical and operational sophistication by 2018, including increasing adoption of some elements of Western-style network-centric warfare. However, high-altitude unguided bombing methods leaning on the SVP-24 system would be of limited applicability in a conflict against a foe with serious air defenses and satellite-spoofing capability.

In 2008, military observers within and outside of Russia noted the poor performance of the Russian Air Force (VVS) in the five-day Russo Georgian War. In the aftermath of the conflict, Moscow instituted a vigorous new round of military modernization and reforms.

These reforms were put to the test when in September 2015 Putin committed the newly reorganized Aerospace Force (VKS) to its first expeditionary war, a bid to prop up the faltering regime of Bashar-al Assad in Syria. After initially mixed results and multiple so-called “withdrawals”, it became clear by 2017 that the VKS’s intervention had decisively tilted the balance of power in favor of the battered dictatorship.

Much as the Spanish Civil War served as a testing ground for Stukas and mechanized warfare tactics, the Syrian conflict was also exploited as a live-fire testing range for a new generation of Russian weaponry and operational methods. This was made all the clearer by systematic efforts to deploy every type of combat aircraft in the Russian inventory, including strategic bombers that had never before dropped a weapon in anger over sixty years and non-weapons-capable stealth fighter prototypes.

How Does Israel Consistently Win Wars? Custom U.S. Weapons.

by Charlie Gao

Here's What You Need To Remember: The IDF has a unique mission. American equipment isn't totally suited for the desert, but with a few modifications it has secured Israel victory after victory.

The Israel Defense Forces field a wide variety of American military equipment, due to significant amounts of American military aid to Israel. However, American equipment has not always been the best suited to the tough desert and urban conditions encountered by the IDF. As a result, American equipment in Israeli service is often extensively modified to fit the IDF’s unique mission. Here are some unique derivatives of American equipment that the IDF fields.

1. MAPATS Antitank Missile

The IDF has had a long relationship with the antitank guided missile. In the long desert approaches that surround Israel, antitank missiles can direct the flow of combat and are very effective weapons. While the first ATGMs fielded by Israel were the French SS.10 and SS.11, it was replaced in the late 1970s by the American TOW (Orev in IDF service) missile. However, due to its wire-guided nature, the TOW has range limitations and cannot be used in all circumstances. Bodies of water, trees and power lines can disrupt the TOW’s guidance or endanger the TOW’s operator. As a result, the Israelis developed a version of the TOW that used laser guidance to avoid these issues. A new engine and improved warhead also gave it superior penetration and speed to the original TOW. The MAPATS has seen export success, although it is being replaced by other, newer Israeli ATGMs of wholly indigenous design.

2. Israeli M16 and CAR-15 Variants

Russia's S-300 Provided Capable Air Defense, but the S-400 System is World-Class

by Charlie Gao

Here's What You Need to Remember: While the capabilities of the S-400 may appear to be a significant leap, they got there through the slow evolution of earlier S-300 missiles.

The S-400 is one of the most controversial missiles in the world currently. The United States has imposed economic sanctions on countries simply for buying the system, but many of the world’s powers are interested in it, with India signing deals in September 2018 and China in April 2018. But what exactly makes the S-400 such a hot ticket item in the world today? How did it evolve from the earlier S-300?

The S-300 began development in the 1960s as a follow-up to a multitude of prior surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems. The primary missile it planned to replace is the S-75 (SA-2) missile system, which was famously used against the U-2 spy plane and deployed in Cuba and Vietnam. The missile underwent testing in the 1970s and entered service in 1978.

The primary improvement of the S-300 compared to earlier systems would be the ability to be multichannel—to utilize multiple guidance beams to guide missiles to different targets simultaneously. The earlier S-25 system was also multichannel, but it was extremely heavy and only deployed in stationary mounts. The American SAM-D (which would become the MIM-104 Patriot) was the first American land-based SAM with multichannel technology; it entered service three years later in 1981.

In A First, Europe’s Militaries Hone Their Cyber Warfare Skills With ‘Live-Fire’ Drills

According to cybersecurity portal C4ISRNET, the drills were organized by the European Defense Agency. It is said ‘this is the opening salvo’ in a campaign that will stretch through the summer and include training sessions and conferences.

The event was called ‘live fire’ as three teams acted as opposing forces attacking the servers in real-time on cloud-based cyber ranges with actual targets. The attacking teams included experts from five member states while the defenders were tasked with protecting the assets from these unforeseen and unspecified attacks.

The European Defense Agency, which is affiliated with the European Union, hired an Estonian company, CybExer Technologies, to provide a cyber range for the participants to log in remotely, while also contributing two of the ‘red’ teams. The scenario also included the defenders to determine the location from which the attacks originated and determining the culprits behind it.

Mario Beccia, EDA project officer for cyber defense, said the drill’s aim was to help teams work together across nations rather than employing the latest technology. “It is our attempt to create a structure where military personnel can focus on cooperation,” he said in a Feb. 17 virtual news conference.

He added that it was imperative to find a third-party-based cloud cyber range because servers in most of the member nations required physical access. This could’ve made it a bit predictable for the participants, which they needed to avoid, maintaining the element of surprise, which is always present in the secretive world of cyber warfare.

The Limitations and Consequences of Remote Warfare in Syria

Sinan Hatahet

Remote warfare aims to reduce the risks and costs of traditional military intervention and externalise the burdens of warfare to local partners and non-state actors. However, in reality, this practice comes with high risks. Non-state actors often pursue their own agenda and sometimes act against the wishes and advice of their backers. Delegating the strategic, operational and tactical burden of a foreign policy to local partners often comes at the expense of control and could easily escalate to new levels of violence. In the past nine years, Syria has been transformed into a theatre of complex remote warfare, waged by regional actors against neighbouring rivals, international powers against both rogue states and armed groups, and transnational terrorist organisations against incumbent states and local populations. These conflictual and unreconcilable foreign agendas have not only fuelled the ongoing war between Assad regime and the rebels, but they have also further destabilised the region, creating more animosity and mistrust among the different involved actors.

The chapter begins by providing a background to the conflict. The chapter then recounts the primary states engaged in remote warfare in Syria, their objectives and models of intervention. After this, it delves into the different types of interactions these states had with their respective Syrian partners or proxies. Following this overview, the chapter investigates how Syrian armed groups exercised their agencies, established their governance structures, and how these choices impacted the support they received from their backers and vice-versa. Finally, the chapter concludes with a sketch of the possible outcomes of the Syrian conflict on the armed groups’ roles in Syria and beyond with the eventual withdrawal of their backers.

Background to the conflict in Syria

Want To Shed Older Weapons? You Need a Solid Plan

Thomas Spoehr

Thomas W. Spoehr conducts and supervises research on national defense matters.Soldiers conduct sling-load operations with an Army CH-47 Chinook helicopter during a training exercise in Monte Romano, Italy, Jan. 20, 2021.U.S. Army photo by Elena Baladelli

Divestment can be unexpectedly difficult. Often the best-laid plans fail in the face of Congressional opposition linked to loss of jobs.

The military should consider how it can mitigate the impact of its divestment decision.

Without an equivalent or better capability in place, legacy equipment can’t be replaced without introducing yet more risk to an already stressed force.

How can the Pentagon keep pace with Chinese defense modernization amid expected flat budgets? One answer being floated is: “Divest legacy equipment to fund innovative solutions." Public proponents of this approach include two Joint Chiefs, Congress, and the new administration.

But divestment can be unexpectedly difficult. Often the best-laid plans fail in the face of Congressional opposition linked to loss of jobs.

Outsourcing Death, Sacrifice and Remembrance: The Socio-Political Effects of Remote Warfare

Malte Riemann and Norma Rossi

Late modern warfare is increasingly characterised by ‘the technical ability and ethical imperative to threaten and, if necessary, actualise violence from a distance – with no or minimal casualties’ (Der Derian 2009, xxi). The term remote warfare has been coined to capture this process where states and societies of the Global North are progressively distancing the effects of war. New technologies, such as drones, and actors, such as private military and security companies (PMSCs) and special forces, are a fundamental feature in enabling such types of warfare, and their importance has attracted increasing attention (Chamayou 2015). In this chapter, we focus on what Der Derian has referred to as the ‘ethical imperative.’ This imperative, we argue, underpins the commitment towards forms of remote warfare and actively shapes the direction and focus of the techniques it employs. In order to think about remote warfare, it is necessary to recognise the normative commitment that underpins this way of war. This is a commitment which emerges clearly from the definition of remote warfare as a series of methods and approaches, such as the use of proxies, special operations forces, PMSCs and drones, to ‘counter threats at a distance’ (Watts and Biegon 2017). The chapter focuses on the ethical imperative sustaining the process of distancing by looking at the normative commitment embedded within forms of remote warfare. We do so by exploring remote warfare’s socio-political effects on intervening states, which so far has generated only limited attention from scholars.

Recent literature on remote warfare, or variously termed ‘liquid warfare’ (Demmers and Gould 2018), ‘surrogate warfare’ (Krieg and Rickli 2018) and ‘vicarious warfare’ (Waldman 2018), has mainly focused on the very spaces and times in which remote forms of warfare are enacted. In this, the literature has moved its focus away from an analysis of remote warfare’s legal and technical aspects (see Rae 2014; Boyle 2015), and towards the socio-political effects this form of warfare has on the everyday social realities of people living within the areas where remote warfare takes place.

The terrifying development of AI warfare

The Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc Cave in France contains some of the earliest known Palaeolithic cave paintings, including those of lions, bears, and hyenas. Thought to be the earliest expressions of human fear, it is hard for us to compute today how frightened man once was to live alongside creatures who viewed us as prey.

This primal fear is buried deep within us. It explains our fascination with rare stories of humans being eaten by sharks, crocodiles and big cats. The fear isn’t just about our mortality, but the very thought of us as prey to an unfeeling predator, who doesn’t recognise us as individual thinking humans.

In science fiction, this deep-rooted fear has been widely expressed through the portrayal of artificial intelligence (AI). Whether it’s AI concluding we are no longer required and launching nuclear Armageddon, as in the case of Skynet in the Terminator films, or killer robots driven by a rogue algorithm hunting us down like the cave lions of our past, as seen in I Robot, we have a fascination and fear of being outwitted and hunted by technology.

But, despite this unease, we continue to use this technology – the latest case being in the field of autonomous weapon systems (AWS). These include micro-drones that attack in swarms, drones the size of small planes carrying hellfire missiles, unmanned armour vehicles and submarines, and even software capable of launching a cyber counter-attack, all of which can identify a target, decide to engage it and then potentially destroy it, without a human needing to intervene at any stage. The US National Security Commission on AI (NSCAI) concluded at the end of last month that they disagreed with a proposed global ban on the use or development of AWS. This poses serious issues, for it is unlikely that machines will ever be able to understand the professional codes, legal precepts, and religious and philosophical principles that allow soldiers to navigate decision making on the battlefield.

Artificial Intelligence, Weapons Systems and Human Control

Ingvild Bode and Hendrik Huelss

The use of force exercised by the militarily most advanced states in the last two decades has been dominated by ‘remote warfare’, which, at its simplest, is a ‘strategy of countering threats at a distance, without the deployment of large military forces’ (Oxford Research Group cited in Biegon and Watts 2019, 1). Although remote warfare comprises very different practices, academic research and the broader public pays much attention to drone warfare as a very visible form of this ‘new’ interventionism. In this regard, research has produced important insights into the various effects of drone warfare in ethical, legal, political, but also social and economic contexts (Cavallaro, Sonnenberg and Knuckey 2012; Sauer and Schörnig 2012; Casey-Maslen 2012; Gregory 2015; Hall and Coyne 2013; Schwarz 2016; Warren and Bode 2015; Gusterson 2016; Restrepo 2019; Walsh and Schulzke 2018). But current technological developments suggest an increasing, game-changing role of artificial intelligence (AI) in weapons systems, represented by the debate on emerging autonomous weapons systems (AWS). This development poses a new set of important questions for international relations, which pertain to the impact that increasingly autonomous features in weapons systems can have on human decision-making in warfare – leading to highly problematic ethical and legal consequences.

In contrast to remote-controlled platforms such as drones, this development refers to weapons systems that are AI-driven in their critical functions. That is weapons that process data from on-board sensors and algorithms to ‘select (i.e., search for or detect, identify, track, select) and attack (i.e., use force against, neutralise, damage or destroy) targets without human intervention’ (ICRC 2016). AI-driven features in weapons systems can take many different forms but clearly depart from what might be conventionally understood as ‘killer robots’ (Sparrow 2007). We argue that including AI in weapons systems is important not because we seek to highlight the looming emergence of fully autonomous machines making life and death decisions without any human intervention, but because human control is increasingly becoming compromised in human-machine interactions.

Death by Data: Drones, Kill Lists and Algorithms

Jennifer Gibson

In 2018 Google employees made headlines when they openly protested the company’s involvement in Project Maven – a controversial US programme aimed at integrating artificial intelligence into military operations. Google argued it was simply helping automate analysis of drone footage. Employees signed an open letter to CEO Sundar Pichai arguing Google ‘should not be in the business of war’ (BBC 2018). For many communities in places like Pakistan and Yemen, computers are already making life and death decisions. Massive amounts of signals intelligence are being run through algorithms that make decisions as to who is ‘suspicious’ and who ‘isn’t.’ For populations with a drone flying overhead, those decisions can be deadly. Nobody knows the damage America’s covert drone war can wreak better than Faisal bin ali Jaber. Faisal’s brother-in-law, Salem, was killed by a drone just days after he preached against al-Qaeda in 2012 (Jaber 2016). The strike was likely a ‘signature’ strike, one taken based on a suspicious ‘pattern of behaviour.’ This chapter will examine the case of Faisal bin ali Jaber and address just some of the troubling questions that arise as big data and remote warfare converge. Can targeting based on metadata ever be compliant with international humanitarian law (IHL) and its principle of ‘distinction’ and just what are the ‘feasible’ precautions the US must take to ensure it is?

America’s Drone Wars: the Case of Faisal bin Ali Jaber

DARPA's new LongShot Armed Attack Drone Looks a Bit Stealthy

By Kris Osborn, Warrior Maven

(Washington, D.C.) Hiding above advanced enemy air defenses to launch secret attacks, identifying enemy ground and air targets while remaining undetected, transmitting and using AI-generated dogfighting skills to engage and destroy enemy fighter jets with a new generation of air-to-air missiles are all missions the Air Force may likely perform with its newly emerging LongShot air-attack drone.

Early conceptual renderings of DARPA’s new LongShot attack drone show what looks like a stealthy platform, an apparent intent that introduces an entirely new sphere of warzone targeting, surveillance, and attack possibilities. This is particularly true due to its “long-range” technology, as it changes the tactical equation regarding where air-to-air and air-to-ground strikes can strike.

While details regarding the actual technical configuration of the drone are not yet available, as an actual prototype may not exist as of yet, however, both DARPA and Northrop Grumman have released early conceptual renderings of what looks like a stealthy drone. The DARPA effort, which naturally aims to bring ground-breaking attack possibilities to the Air Force, has awarded developmental deals to Lockheed Martin, General Atomics, and Northrop Grumman. Early design work is already underway.