26 February 2021

Why Does the Pandemic Seem to Be Hitting Some Countries Harder Than Others?

By Siddhartha Mukherjee

On December 2nd, Mukul Ganguly, an eighty-three-year-old retired civil engineer in Kolkata, India, went to the Salt Lake Market to buy fish. The pandemic was surging around much of the world, and he wasn’t oblivious of the risks of spending time at a wet market. His wife, a former forensic analyst, protested vehemently. But Mr. Ganguly wouldn’t be deterred. He picked up his fabric shopping bag, tucked a doubled-up handkerchief in his pocket, and stepped out.

Mr. Ganguly lives in a modest, two-story, book-filled house a few blocks from the market. He tied his folded handkerchief into a makeshift mask, and spent about two hours buying groceries, choosing vegetables and sweets, and bargaining with the venders. (Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to haggle with a fishmonger and you’ll feed him for a lifetime.) Two days later, he came down with a fever and a dry, incessant cough; he was barely able to walk to the bathroom. His daughter-in-law, in New Jersey—a cousin of mine—called me in a panic: he had tested positive for covid-19.

We worked up a plan. He was to be isolated in a room with a pulse oximeter. His vitals were monitored twice daily. We arranged for a supplemental oxygen tank to be brought home in case his O2 levels dipped too low. I called my doctor friends in Kolkata and asked them to stand by. For two days, Mr. Ganguly had a fever—100 degrees, 101 degrees—and then it subsided. By Christmas, he was pretty much back to normal. When I spoke to him in late December, he told me, in Bengali, that his experience had been typical. Various friends, all in their seventies and eighties, had contracted covid-19. All had bounced back.

Parag Khanna: "Globalization is a Force Greater Than All of Us"

Afshin Molavi

I recently spoke with my friend and colleague Parag Khanna. We go back a ways to our days as fellows at the New America Foundation in its old Dupont Circle offices in Washington DC in the mid 2000s. I remember walking by Parag’s small, shared office, watching him pore through books piled high on his desk ahead of his wide-ranging travels for his first major work, The Second World, a remarkable book that explored the rise of emerging powers in a new era of global competition. He was spot-on at the time, I thought, and he has written several books since then, including the recent best-seller, The Future is Asian, and has established himself as one of the world’s most foremost thinkers on globalization, geopolitics, the future of Asia, diplomacy, and the global economy.

Based in Singapore with his wife, Ayesha Khanna, and two kids, I caught up with him on Zoom recently for a wide-ranging conversation on the state of the world.

We talked globalization (he says news of its demise is greatly exaggerated), Southeast Asia (he is bullish), China (ditch the linear or Western-centric lenses, he says), India (infrastructure investment is the key story), tea (his new obsession), favorite airports and airlines (Singapore Changi, Dubai, Singapore Airlines and Emirates) and the benefits of barefoot running (“shoes are cheating”), among other things, including his Netflix and book picks, top frontier markets and his aversion to the term “emerging markets.”

Some of his thoughts below (with a few comments that caught my eye in bold):

As America Courts India, New Delhi Still Buys Most of Weapons From Russia

by Sebastien Roblin

Here's What You Need to Know: India’s armed forces must prepare for potential mountain warfare with Pakistan on its north-western border and China on its eastern flank. In such regions, helicopters are highly useful for bypassing torturous mountain terrain—but also struggle to operate due to performance limitations at high altitude.

Since the 1960s, India has procured the larger part of its armaments from Moscow, and weapons systems such as the Mi-4 helicopter, T-55 tank, and SS-2 Styx anti-ship missile have played a decisive role in India’s military conflicts.

As alliances shifted in the post-Cold War era, Washington has heavily courted New Delhi as part of an effort to counter-balance China’s rise as superpower. This has led India to purchase U.S. military systems such as P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol planes and Apache attack helicopters.

Moreover, India withdrew from an ambitious program to jointly develop an India-specific variant of Russia’s Su-57 stealth fighter in 2018. Moscow has also indicated a new willingness to export arms to India’s rival, Pakistan. And in the wake of Moscow’s seizure of the Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, Washington has passed the CAATSA act which threatens sanctions on countries that make major military purchases from Russia.

But despite these negative factors, and the Modi administration’s insistence that foreign imports come with a domestic manufacturing component on Indian soil, in reality Russia by far remains India’s dominant arms supplier going into the 2020s, accounting for 62 percent of Indian arms imports in the previous five years according to SIPRI.

Support the Resistance in Myanmar

By The Editorial Board

There is no need to pretend that Myanmar’s short-lived democracy was perfect or full before the rapacious military snuffed it out. But for all its serious shortcomings and limitations, the civilian government was the choice of a majority of the country’s people and offered the only hope for the future. The people who have courageously taken to the streets to get the generals off their backs deserve the world’s wholehearted support.

Why the military chose to take back full power on Feb. 1, after ceding some of it to civilian authorities for a decade, is not hard to deduce. In elections on Nov. 8, the National League for Democracy, led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, won by a landslide. Though that did not threaten the military’s reserved seats in the Parliament or the key ministries it controls, it was more than the generals could stomach — especially as the senior general, Min Aung Hlaing, was due to retire soon and would have needed the assent of the civilian leaders to stay on.

So before the new Parliament was to hold its first session, the military declared that it “finds the process of the 2020 election unacceptable” — an unintentionally honest explanation — and staged a pre-dawn coup. Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, the de facto leader of the civilian government who previously spent almost 15 years under house arrest, along with other leaders of the N.L.D. were arrested, and a State Administration Council headed by Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing declared itself in charge.

Underscoring the cynicism of the coup, the generals charged Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi under an obscure import law for buying foreign walkie-talkies. The state president, Win Myint, was charged with violating pandemic rules against large gatherings.

Chinese hackers cloned attack tool belonging to NSA’s Equation Group

By Charlie Osborne 

Chinese threat actors "cloned" and used a Windows zero-day exploit stolen from the NSA's Equation Group for years before the privilege escalation flaw was patched, researchers say.

On Monday, Check Point Research (CPR) said the tool was a "clone" of software developed by the US National Security Agency (NSA)'s Equation Group, identified by Kaspersky in 2015 and described as "one of the most sophisticated cyberattack groups in the world."

Thought to be active since at least 2001, Equation Group has since been linked to the US intelligence agency's Tailored Access Operations (TAO) unit.

The Shadow Brokers hacking group released tools and files belonging to Equation Group in 2017, some of which were used to exploit previously-unknown bugs in popular systems including Microsoft Windows -- forcing vendors to issue a flurry of emergency patches and fixes to render the exploit tools useless.

In the same year, Microsoft released a patch for CVE-2017-0005, a zero-day vulnerability in Windows XP to Windows 8 operating systems that could be used for privilege escalation and full system compromise.

How Not to Leave Afghanistan


Joe Biden is the fourth U.S. president to face the question of what to do about a deteriorating situation in Afghanistan. After sending more troops there in 2017, the Trump administration eventually
agreed to remove all U.S. forces by May 1, as part of a broader process intended to end the civil war there. Biden has to decide if he’s going to honor that commitment, back away from it entirely, or kick the can down the road a little further.

To guide his thinking, he could rely on a recent report from the congressionally mandated Afghanistan Study Group, co-directed by former Sen. Kelly Ayotte, former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Joseph Dunford, and Nancy Lindborg, the former president of the U.S. Institute of Peace. The bipartisan group’s 15 members are all familiar figures from the foreign-policy elite, including Michèle Flournoy, James Dobbins, Stephen Hadley, and former British Foreign Minister David Miliband. (Full disclosure: Dunford and Meghan O’Sullivan, another member of the study group, are colleagues of mine at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.) The study group also relied on insights from 26 senior advisors and the work of a staff of professional assistants.

What do they recommend? They advise Biden to extend the May 1 deadline (ideally with the Taliban’s concurrence but even if that is not forthcoming) and maintain a U.S. military presence and economic support package until U.S. objectives are met. All told, this mission currently costs more than $50 billion per year. To achieve its goals, they say, the United States must clarify its commitment to Kabul, get the Afghan government to shape up, and develop a broad diplomatic strategy that encourages “stakeholders to play a neutral or constructive role” and lays the foundation for the “long-term integration of Afghanistan into the region.” The report briefly considers three alternative pathways—a “recommittal to the state,” a “calculated military withdrawal,” or a “washing of hands”—and concludes that none “would allow the United States to meet its interests as defined by the Group.”

NATO Needs to Deal With China Head-On


When the leaders of the 30 NATO countries meet this spring in Brussels, it will be no ordinary summit. The alliance’s secretary-general, Jens Stoltenberg, has put NATO’s future on the agenda. It will also be the first major international summit for U.S. President Joe Biden, who has said that strengthening alliances will be a priority of his foreign policy. The decisions reached at this meeting will determine NATO’s plans and priorities for a long time to come.

It is therefore vital that the summit directly address the one topic with the biggest geopolitical implications for the coming decade by far: China. Encouraged by Washington and other allied capitals, Stoltenberg has already been nudging the alliance to deal more comprehensively with this challenge. The trouble is that some allies do not see China as NATO’s business while others are afraid that putting it on the alliance’s agenda will antagonize a powerful trade partner.

Both concerns are misplaced. Just because China is an Asian power doesn’t mean that its activities lie outside the scope of the Western alliance. It’s true that NATO’s Article 5 guarantee of mutual assistance in the event of military attack only applies to the Euro-Atlantic area north of the Tropic of Cancer. But China is already active in exactly this geographic area in ways that profoundly affect the allies’ security. China’s control of a growing portion of critical European infrastructure—from telecommunications networks to port facilities—directly affects NATO readiness, interoperability, and secure communications.

The United States and China Are Fighting Over the Dalai Lama’s Reincarnation Plans


For Westerners, the Dalai Lama is a Nobel Peace Prize winner. For Tibetans, he’s a spiritual leader. But for the Chinese government, he’s a “wolf in monk’s robes” and a “splittist.” Those insults have sped up since this past December, when it was reported that the contentious omnibus U.S. spending bill included a peculiar provision: the Tibetan Policy and Support Act of 2020 (TPSA).

Introduced to their respective legislative bodies by Democratic Rep. James McGovern and Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, the TPSA supplants the similarly bipartisan Tibetan Policy Act of 2002. The new act is an overdue update. It covers a range of issues, including emphasizing environmental protection of the fragile Tibetan plateau, which is often referred to as the Third Pole because of its massive ice fields; encouraging the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights for American businesses engaged in Tibet; conditioning the establishment of new Chinese consulates in the United States on an establishment of a U.S. consulate in Lhasa; and acknowledging the role of the Central Tibetan Administration.

But the most politically significant provision is the assertion that the Dalai Lama’s reincarnation process should be left solely to the Dalai Lama’s and Tibetan Buddhist community’s wishes, and that Chinese officials who interfere in the process will face Magnitsky sanctions.

How China’s Digital Silk Road Is Leading Countries Away from the United States


Even if Washington succeeds in keeping allies and partners from importing Huawei telecom gear, that's just one of the many ways China is working to burrow into these countries' economies and infrastructure, creating dependencies that may ultimately weaken these partners' U.S. ties, a new report finds. And many of these countries may not even know all of the different ways Beijing is building influence, much less have a plan to confront it.

The February report from the International Institute for Strategic Studies, or IISS, looked at China’s “Digital Silk Road” strategy, which includes technology investments, bilateral agreements to conduct research together, funding for students to learn about Chinese tech, the provision of security tech to autocratic regimes, and more. They looked specifically at Indonesia, South Korea, the United Arab Emirates, Israel, and Poland but the issue touches nearly every country.

They found that at least 16 countries had signed memorandums of understanding with with China on projects related to the Digital Silk Road, meaning that that the two countries had reached some sort of formal understanding about, say, allowing Chinese tech in the marketplace, China hosting an education program, or launching a research program together. But the scope of Chinese tech infiltration goes well beyond those formal agreements. IISS’s research showed that China had carried out projects related to the DSR, be it gaining market foothold, education, etc. in 137 countries worldwide.

US Industry Struggles To Strip Chinese Tech From Networks


WASHINGTON: More than two years after Congress passed two laws to strip Chinese hardware and software from US defense and telecommunications supply chains, industry is struggling to figure out how.

“No one really has the answers on some of this stuff,” Nick Jones, director of regulatory policy at the National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA), said in an interview.

One key problem, Jones explained, is that neither DoD nor the FCC have issued lists of what equipment is banned by the laws.

“Good national security intentions, but poor execution thus far,” one telecoms expert summed up.

The 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) included section 889 which prohibits the federal government, contractors, and federal grant/loan recipients from buying or even using “covered telecommunication equipment or services” from Huawei, ZTE, Hytera, Hikvision and Dahua and their subsidiaries as a “substantial or essential component of any system, or as critical technology as part of any system.” It also allows the Defense Secretary, the Director of National Intelligence and/or the FBI Director to “add to the list at anytime.”

Return to the Nuclear Agreement with Iran: Will China Facilitate United States Measures?

Eyal Propper

Since Biden’s victory, China has worked to help Washington return to the nuclear agreement with Iran, from a proposal to convene an international conference to contacts with senior figures in the administration. Why is China choosing to take an active part on this issue, and how do Israel’s interests come into play – if at all?

China has renewed its proposal to convene an international meeting of all parties to the nuclear deal with Iran (JCPOA), including the United States, with the goal of discussing the US return to the agreement. On the eve of the first telephone conversation between the US and Chinese Presidents (February 11, 2021), the special US Envoy for Iran issue and the Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister considered ways to coordinate moves on the JCPOA. Active mediation on the Iranian nuclear issue may be part of a broader Chinese policy aimed at promoting cooperation with the Biden administration on essential issues to the United States in exchange for preservation of China's core interests, and as part of its position as a permanent member of the Security Council. China presumes that Israel will continue to oppose an agreement with Iran and will not support Beijing's moves. Israel, for its part, should closely monitor China's moves, coordinate its policies with the United States and the Gulf states, and seek to promote dialogue at the level of the Chinese leadership, while strengthening direct contact with senior diplomats dealing with the Iranian issue.

What Would War Between America and China Look Like in 2030?

by Robert Farley

Here's What You Need to Know: With luck and skill, Washington and Beijing will avoid war, even in 2030. But it behooves planners in both countries to take seriously the possibility that conflict might ensue.

The People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the United States appear ready to plunge off the precipice of a trade war. This war could have far-ranging effects on the economies of both countries, as well as the future of the global economic order. But as of yet, it does not seem likely to involve the flight of actual bombs and missiles. While the U.S. and China have a variety of minor conflicts, none rise to the level of a casus belli.

But things could change over the next decade. Conflicts that now seem remote can take on urgency over time. As China’s relative power increases, the United States may find that small disputes can have big consequences. China, on the other hand, may see windows of opportunity in America’s procurement and modernization cycle that leave the United States vulnerable.

By 2030, the balance of power (and the strategic landscape) may look very different. What would the War of 2030 between China and the United States look like?

How Would War Begin?

America’s Iran Strategy

By George Friedman

President Barack Obama’s administration had a primary goal in the Middle East: It did not want Iran to become a nuclear power. It did not want Israel to be forced to launch a preemptive strike against a nuclear Iran, triggered by the public declaration of Iran’s intentions against Israel. American allies in the region – Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, among others – were frightened that a nuclear Iran might compel them into a subordinate position. And the Obama administration, dedicated to military disengagement from the region, was afraid that to calm regional fears, the U.S. would have to take military action against Iran’s emerging power, with dangerous consequences.

Obama’s administration engineered an agreement with Iran under which Iran would agree to stop its nuclear weapons program and permit international technical monitoring of the program. Implicit in the agreement was that if Iran complied with the terms of the deal, broader agreements would emerge, allowing Iran to normalize its relationship with the outside world and increase its economic well-being.

The agreement was criticized at the time for three reasons. First, Iran was capable of both permitting inspections and evading them, by shifting the location of the nuclear program. Iran has many caves and tunnels where nuclear activities could be concealed. Inspections are focused on known facilities because of the dearth of inspectors and the breadth of the country. In other words, inspections appear to be a reliable guarantee, but their reliability is inherently uncertain. Second, the agreement did not address Iran’s relations with other countries in the region, against which Iran has carried out covert and overt operations. So it did not do anything against Iran in Syria, Lebanon or Yemen, nor did it do anything about Iranian destabilization of and strikes against other countries, such as its attack on a Saudi refinery. Finally, it did not address Iran’s missile program, which seems to involve missiles of multiple ranges and payloads. If Iran were building a nuclear-capable medium-range missile, as some claimed, then there was a mystery. If Iran were abandoning its nuclear program, why spend scarce resources on these kinds of missiles?

The Biden Administration Is Taking Steps to Stay in Iraq Forever


The new administration’s goals for the war in Iraq, at least as briefly outlined last Tuesday to the United Nations Security Council, are likely to prolong U.S. involvement indefinitely.

“Among its top priorities, the United States will seek to help Iraq assert its sovereignty in the face of enemies, at home and abroad, by preventing an ISIS resurgence and working toward Iraq’s stability,” Deputy U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Richard Mills told his fellow diplomats. That means facilitating free and fair elections, Mills continued, plus fighting Iran-linked militias and terrorist groups like the Islamic State, as well as funneling money toward economic development, humanitarian improvements, and the elimination of corruption. “The United States will remain a steady, reliable partner for Iraq, and for the Iraqi people,” he concluded, “today and in the future.”

That’s an understatement. With goals as expansive and flexible as these, the United States will have a military presence and roster of associated nation-building projects in Iraq not only through the end of the Biden administration but for decades to come.

Biden campaigned on a promise to “end the forever wars in Afghanistan and the Middle East, which have cost us untold blood and treasure.” “Staying entrenched in unwinnable conflicts,” he rightly reasoned, “only drains our capacity to lead on other issues that require our attention, and it prevents us from rebuilding the other instruments of American power.” And Biden had a record as a voice of comparative restraint in the Obama administration to give that pledge some credence, as campaign pledges go. In those years as vice president, he opposed the surge in Afghanistan. He was also against U.S. regime change in Libya, and he was willing to accept a federalized Iraq to reduce violent internal rivalries with less U.S. involvement.

America Needs a Supercharged Space Program


President Joe Biden has declared that “America is back” on the global stage, and his first actions on this front look bold so far. He has rejoined the Paris Agreement, prioritized traditional U.S. allies, and returned to a more liberal approach to immigration.

But if Biden truly wants to re-establish U.S. global leadership while uniting a fractured country behind a greater common purpose, he must be bolder and go where no president has gone before: He must prioritize a dedicated and multilateral U.S. government approach to outer space. Indeed, the solutions to many of the United States’ terrestrial challenges—from rebuilding the economy to solving climate change—may be found in the cosmos.

So far, the Biden administration has ignored the Trump administration’s establishment of a new Space Force as an additional branch of the U.S. military. Arguably, Biden’s team has done so with good reason: Space needs to be managed and commercialized, not militarized. But it absolutely cannot be ignored.

One reason space cannot be ignored is potential competition for space-based natural resources. The moon, for example, offers vast quantities of rare earth minerals needed for making batteries, electronic gadgets, and sophisticated military equipment. Since China has a near-monopoly on the production of these resources—and plans to extract them elsewhere on Earth are moving slowly—there is geopolitical interest to source them from the moon.

At the same time, scientists say that asteroids contain vast stores of precious and industrial metals such as platinum, gold, nickel, and cobalt. The 140-mile-diameter asteroid between Mars and Jupiter called 16 Psyche contains valuable metals that some estimate could be worth quadrillions of dollars. Given the possibility to convert lunar ice into hydrogen and oxygen to create rocket fuel, which would allow space missions to refuel there without having to carry all their propellant from Earth, competition for control of the moon will only increase.

Don’t Let Drug Companies Create a System of Vaccine Apartheid


It has been over one year since the World Health Organization issued a Public Health Emergency of International Concern declaration for COVID-19. Yet despite pledges of solidarity and mutual cooperation from world leaders and diagnostic and therapeutic manufacturers in 2020, everyone’s worst fears about the absence of genuine solidarity in this health crisis have materialized.

Globally, some 100 million people have become ill with COVID-19, and over 2 million have died. Due to multiple political factors, including the hoarding of supplies and knowledge, the world now faces the very real possibility of not achieving global population immunity anytime soon—at a time when new variants and strains are emerging, effectively disrupting health systems, lives, and livelihoods everywhere.

And yet, while the United States and many rich countries are beginning to attempt to bring their epidemics under control through the deployment of highly effective vaccines, Africa currently has little actual access to COVID-19 vaccines. This is eerily similar to the HIV/AIDS epidemic and crisis of access in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when the diagnostic and therapeutic tools to save millions of lives were there, but the will to share them was not—until activists all over the world stepped in.

Today’s situation is eerily similar to the HIV/AIDS epidemic and crisis of access in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when the diagnostic and therapeutic tools to save millions of lives were there, but the will to share them was not.

Ukraine accuses Russian networks of new massive cyber attacks

KYIV (Reuters) - Ukraine on Monday accused unnamed Russian internet networks of massive attacks on Ukrainian security and defence websites, but gave no details of any damage done or say who it believed was behind the assault.

Kyiv has previously accused Moscow of orchestrating large cyber attacks as part of a “hybrid war” against Ukraine, which Russia denies.

However, a statement from Ukraine’s National Security and Defence Council did not disclose who it believed organised the attacks or give any details about the effect the intrusions may have had on Ukrainian cyber security.

The attacks started on Feb. 18 and were directed against websites belonging to Ukraine’s Security Service, the council itself and some other state institutions and strategic enterprises, it said in a statement.

“It was revealed that addresses belonging to certain Russian traffic networks were the source of these coordinated attacks,” the Council said.

The council added the attacks attempted to infect vulnerable government web servers with a virus that covertly made them part of a botnet used for so-called distributed-denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks on other resources.

Why America would not survive a real first strike cyberattack today


If a full on “turn the lights off” cyber war were to happen today, we would lose. Think about that. We would lose a cyber war. With a few clicks of the mouse, and in just a few seconds, hackers in Beijing or Moscow could turn off our electricity, millions would lose heat, groceries would spoil, banking machines would not work, and people could not get gasoline. It would be what we have seen down in Texas, but on national scale and with no end in sight. That we have escaped a digital catastrophe thus far is not due to skill. It is due to blind luck and restraint from our adversaries.

Just a few weeks ago, hackers attacked a water treatment plant in Florida, trying to increase the amount of lye in the water to toxic levels. A worker was able to prevent the contamination. Luck was all that stood between hackers and a potentially deadly cyber incident. If that were not enough, we are still uncovering the full scale of the Solar Winds hack nearly three months on from its first disclosure. At least nine federal departments or agencies and over 100 companies were compromised and, as the probe continues, it remains likely that more targets are identified.

Think about how significant this breach was. Hackers likely from Russian intelligence penetrated the software supply chain and used the software update feature to spread malicious code to more than 18,000 users. Their aim was to steal as much data and credentials as possible for their Russian interests and to undermine our own security. This almost certainly will be one of the broadest espionage efforts in history, like the Chinese theft of over 22 million background investigation records in 2015.

The Russian attack was launched from within the United States using our servers. This was an incredibly clever way to mask the origin and ensure that our intelligence agencies would not see a foreign attack, as they are barred by law from running inside our country. Once inside government networks, the hackers monitored the way we identify and intercept their systems penetration efforts and designed an attack that made it difficult to identify. These foreign hackers know about our weak spots.

Brief: Competition Over Russia’s Far East

By Geopolitical Futures

Background: The Russian Far East is the largest federal district in Russia and the farthest from Moscow. And because of its energy resources and access to the Pacific Ocean, it is quickly becoming more strategically important to Russia – and thus to the region.

What Happened: Several meetings are worth noting. On Feb. 20, the head of Russia’s Corporation for the Development of the Far East and the Arctic met with India’s ambassador to Russia to discuss regional development. They pledged to continue negotiations over a plan for India to supply the area with coal. A few days earlier, after meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, India’s deputy foreign minister visited the Russian Diplomatic Academy, where he made clear that one of the goals of his trip was to enhance economic cooperation with the Far East. This is in addition to discussions Russia held with India (and Japan) some two weeks ago over economic, investment, scientific and technical cooperation in the region.

Bottom Line: Financial constraints have kept Moscow from developing the Far East as much as it would like. Instead, China is the district’s most important investor and trade partner. China is also, however, a regional competitor of India, which is clearly trying to compete with and undermine the influence of China in the region. To that end, it is finally implementing the “Act Far East” policy Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced in Vladivostok in 2019 – a policy meant in no small part to counterbalance Beijing. As for Russia, developing the Far East, even with foreign partners, generally serves Moscow’s purposes. China is much less happy with the competition.

The High Tech Way the U.S. Military Wants to Talk to Satellites

by Kris Osborn

The U.S. military excels at acquiring intelligence, but central command and boots on the ground engaged in combat operations often run into technical bottlenecks when trying to share that mission-critical data over single beam terminals, such as parabolic antennas and other outdated infrastructure.

The U.S. Army, Air Force and Navy are conducting a series of ongoing key trials of cutting-edge satellites and terminals in a concerted effort to break through communications hurdles in an increasingly adversarial world. High-powered connectivity delivers a real competitive edge in battle.

During a recent live fire mission as part of the Army’s Project Convergence exercise in Yuma, Arizona, troops leveraged new low-earth-orbit (LEO) satellites to gain access to real-time targeting data. And while new satellite constellations will be launching new communications capabilities into LEO, medium-earth-orbit (MEO), and high-earth-orbit (HEO) over the next few years, the defense sector is equally focused on the ground.

Why Facebook was right to block Australian news content


This week, Facebook blocked news articles on its apps for all Australian users, and is blocking Australian news articles for users worldwide. This is a drastic step, but it is probably the least bad option the company has left. The Australian government has forced it into this position, with an attempted shake-down of Big Tech that leaves Australians worse off.

Last year, the government proposed a mandatory bargaining code to address alleged “power imbalances” between Australian media groups and tech companies. The government’s position was that simply by allowing users to link to news articles, Facebook and Google (the only tech companies singled out so far) were exploiting their market power and freeloading from news websites’ content. To fix this, both sides would be required to reach an agreement about payment, and send it to binding arbitration likely to favour the news publishers if they could not. The rules would also require companies to give advance notice of any changes to their algorithms.

There is little rationale for the proposed measures from a consumer perspective. The argument for the algorithm notice was that changes can be disruptive and unfair for publishers that get less traffic as a result. But algorithmic changes are made to improve results for users, and if one publisher suffers, another benefits.

In the Middle East, War Is Going Digital


Given this year’s news cycle, you might already have forgotten that, this past December, news broke that Russia had conducted a major hack of U.S. intelligence agencies. Around the same time, a smaller story about government-led hacking in the Middle East came out. Saudi Arabia, it was alleged, was spying on journalists from Al Jazeera, the state-funded media network of its rival Qatar, using Israeli spyware. Both stories involved cyber-infiltration and data theft. But the stories had a more important commonality: No one seemed especially shocked by them.

The Gulf is rapidly becoming a laboratory for the ethics and practices of hybrid warfare. A new report (which one of us directed) from the Middle East and North Africa Forum at the University of Cambridge explores the drivers, and the direction, of the Gulf’s evolving strategy. With conflicting religious agendas and rival international backers, Saudi Arabia and Iran have spent almost 30 years locked in geopolitical struggle. Both have sought to build leverage over one another using methods short of war—backing regional proxies, amplifying the voices of the other’s political opposition groups, and, increasingly, using targeted cyberattacks. For both, cyberwarfare offers an ethical out—it kills less people than conventional war—but can cause great havoc and disruption.

Lord Evans warns of rising nation-state cyber-threat to private sector

Darktrace recently hosted its first ever Cyber AI Forum, a virtual event which brought together global experts to discuss the evolution of cyber-threats and the role of AI in tackling these risks.

Among the expert speakers was Lord Jonathan Evans, former Director General of MI5.

Evans provided a breakdown of the recent attack on SolarWinds, commenting: “You can detect, from the decisions that the attackers have been making, what their real concerns are, because there are thousands of companies infected by it, but only a handful have actually been subject to a full extraction of data.”

This attack, explained Evans, signifies a new frontier in cyber warfare in which thousands of businesses are now “caught in the crosshairs” of state campaigns, and vulnerable to exploitation. He continued: “You may be wide open to this attack, even if it hasn’t happened to you yet.”

On a later panel, experts discussed the role of AI in combatting this new era of sophisticated cyber-threats and the UK’s national stance. Former Home Secretary Amber Rudd said: “Government is never going to be ahead of the private sector. [It must] create the right policy structure so that the private sector can thrive and create solutions [to be] used by the private sector and government.”

Facebook Provokes Fury Down Under

Emilu Taylor

Perhaps we’ll never know if Facebook’s surprise decision to cut Australians off from all news sources on its platform was a carefully planned strategic move, or the result of a tantrum in Menlo Park. Either way, Australia woke up to a unilaterally imposed news blackout on Facebook last week that raises important policy questions about democracy, corporate power and access to information. There had been no prior warning from Facebook, no tests—just an algorithmic change.

Not only were News Corp., ABC and other mainstream Australian media shuttered on Facebook’s News Feed, so were services that might not consider themselves to be news: the national meteorological service, the Hobart women’s shelter, Queensland’s public health service (during a pandemic, no less), numerous academic blogs, and even The Betoota Advocate, an Australian satirical website. After an immediate uproar, Facebook has since restored many of them to its platform.

The backdrop to this extraordinary action is a proposed law in Australia, the News Media Bargaining Code, that seeks to force Big Tech platforms to pay publishers for news content.

The Moment Britain’s Army Knew It Was Lost

by Simon Akam

this is a story about the nadir, the end of days. Monday, March 24, 2008, marked five years to the month after the British army arrived in Iraq, preaching to the Americans their apparent expertise in counterinsurgency operations and understanding of the manifold ways of, in the historical British upper-class vernacular, “the Arab.” This is the story of how that complacency—the claimed legacy of imperial policing and Belfast; of Greece-to-your-Rome and barely disguised Anglo-American contempt—became apparent.

The British army committed that bafflingly common 21st-century failing: It exuded superiority toward an exterior entity, then felt genuine surprise when that mean-spiritedness did not generate admiration and fellow feeling in return.

And as the British army in Basra, southern Iraq, experienced what some observers would later describe as the greatest British military disaster since Suez in 1956, or the fall of Singapore in 1942—though others dispute the drama of those comparisons—the institution itself would, on a wider level, start to engage in a wholesale (and needed) program of reform.

In 2008, for the British army, the paths of failure and improvement crossed.