27 February 2021

Chinese Intransigence in Ladakh: An Overview

Major General PK Mallick, VSM (Retd)

China and India are heirs to the two oldest civilisations of the world. Both emerged in their present form after World War II. India became independent in 1947 and the People’s Republic of China was founded in 1949. They share one of the world’s longest borders, about 3488 kms, across the Himalayas. Both are nuclear weapon states. China’s missiles can reach anywhere in the world. India’s latest Agni series missiles can reach Beijing comfortably. On border issues there have been instances where the security forces were facing each other in contested areas and were increasingly indulging in fistfight, pushing and shoving etc in very difficult terrains. On Jun 15 this year in a brutal, savage skirmish when, fists, rocks, rods, baton, spikes, knuckle-dusters and nail-studded clubs and wooden clubs wrapped in barbed wire were used in a post at Galwan on Indian side of Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh sector at an altitude of 4,250 meters. This type of battle used to be fought in medieval times. Armies fight with bayonets and close quarter battles in extreme situations when all other means of fighting ends.

How Did India Manage to Build an Advanced Fighter Jet Like the Tejas?


India’s biennial military aircraft show, Aero India, went off without a hitch in early February in the southern Indian tech capital of Bengaluru. Despite the travails of pandemic-era traveling, the United States sent a deputy undersecretary, a Navy admiral, and three Air Force generals. It also sent a nuclear-capable B-1B bomber. But the real star of the show was what escorted the U.S. aircraft in the sky: an Indian-built Tejas fighter jet. With a name that means “radiant” in the ancient Sanskrit language, the Tejas is the first supersonic multirole fighter aircraft designed and built entirely in India.

How has a relatively poor country like India that is more famous for call centers than for precision manufacturing managed such a dramatic technological leap? In a word: cooperation. India is keen to build defense-industry partnerships with more advanced countries, and—even more importantly—advanced countries are keen to partner with India. Not only does it have one of the world’s largest military procurement budgets and a large pool of talented engineers, but India also has a strong tradition of rule of law that protects intellectual property and ensures the enforceability of contracts—in stark contrast to China, which is fast losing access to many advanced Western technologies. That makes India a better partner for international technology companies that it, for now, still depends on.

With the Tejas, India joins an elite group of countries that have demonstrated the capacity to develop and manufacture so-called fourth-generation fighters: combat aircraft characterized by electronic fly-by-wire control systems, onboard situation awareness displays, and over-the-horizon strike capabilities. The United States led the way in the late 1970s with the dual-engine F-15 and single-engine F-16, while China began producing similar fourth-generation fighters only in the early 2000s. With the F-22 and F-35, the United States has since begun to produce fifth-generation fighters—adding stealth capacity among other advances—while other countries, including India, are eager to catch up.

Did nuclear spy devices in the Himalayas trigger India floods?

Soutik Biswas

In a village in the Indian Himalayas, generations of residents have believed that nuclear devices lie buried under the snow and rocks in the towering mountains above.

So when Raini got hit by a huge flood earlier in February, villagers panicked and rumours flew that the devices had "exploded" and triggered the deluge. In reality, scientists believe, a piece of broken glacier was responsible for the flooding in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand, in which more than 50 people have died.

But tell that to the people of Raini - the farming mountain village with 250 households - and many don't quite believe you. "We think that the devices could have played a role. How can a glacier simply break off in winter? We think the government should investigate and find the devices," Sangram Singh Rawat, the headman of Raini, told me.

At the heart of their fears is an intriguing tale of high-altitude espionage, involving some of the world's top climbers, radioactive material to run electronic spy systems, and spooks.

It is a story about how the US collaborated with India in the 1960s to place nuclear-powered monitoring devices across the Himalayas to spy on Chinese nuclear tests and missile firings. China had detonated its first nuclear device in 1964.

"Cold War paranoia was at its height. No plan was too outlandish, no investment too great and no means unjustified," notes Pete Takeda, a contributing editor at US's Rock and Ice Magazine, who has written extensively on the subject.

The Emerging India-China Competition in Afghanistan

Aryaman Bhatnagar 

For much of the past couple of decades, Afghanistan has been a rare exception to the strategic competition between India and China in South Asia. New Delhi never believed it could be the preeminent power in Afghanistan, unlike in other nearby countries like Sri Lanka and Nepal. Following the United States’ invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, India was happy to engage with Kabul under Washington’s security umbrella, while taking solace in China’s initial unwillingness to get more involved. A joint desire for a peaceful and stable Afghanistan even seemed to raise the possibility of cooperation between the two rivals.

But with India now recalibrating its China policy due to the recent military standoff along the two countries’ disputed border in the Himalayas, prospects for the two countries’ cooperation in Afghanistan are unlikely to materialize anytime soon. And with the U.S. withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan while regional powers jostle for greater influence there, India will be more concerned about China’s role in Afghanistan than at any point in the past.

‘This is the Darkest Moment’: Afghans Flee a Crumbling Country


KABUL—The dusty city below and its snow-capped mountains whizzed by in a blur. Clutching his light blue passport, Jawad Jalali’s eyes filled with tears as the roaring engines lifted the plane higher into the sky. Leaving Afghanistan wasn’t easy for the 30-year-old photojournalist.

“War is so ugly,” he said. “It takes everything from you. Your job, your security, your hopes, and your dreams.”

After 20 years of war in Afghanistan, the United States is on the verge of packing up and leaving—and it isn’t the only one. The past year, and especially recent months, have seen unprecedented violence across the country and particularly in Kabul. Since September 2020, Afghanistan has seen around 200 assassinations, an Afghan security official said. Journalists have been singled out, with 132 violent incidents in the last year, according to the Afghan Journalists’ Safety Committee, with seven Afghani journalists killed and another 18 injured. Nationwide, terror attacks on civilians and Afghan security forces are as bad as they’ve been since the 2001 U.S. invasion.

Last year alone, more than 3,000 civilians were killed, according to the United Nations. Civilian casualties have surged since the start of peace negotiations between the Taliban and Afghan government.

Residents in Kabul are now accustomed to waking to the sounds of yet another explosion, often magnetic sticky bombs attached to cars and then detonated. They try to suss out the patterns of attacks, avoid rush hours, or simply stay home.

Afghanistan: Will Biden Cave to the Forever War Party?

by Cheryl Benard

As is customary when a new administration takes the reins in Washington, policies of the previous administration are now under review, among them the Afghan Peace Talks. All such reviews must examine whether a policy makes sense for the U.S. national interest; whether it is in accord with the values of the party just elected; if no, what better alternatives exist; and if yes, whether the current implementation approach is solid.

As the future of the Afghan peace talks hangs in the balance, many experts and would-be experts from think tanks, media, and academia are seeking to influence the decision. However, their recommendations reveal two major and astonishing blind spots. First, they seem to be dismissing the lessons of the last twenty years. And second, they listen to and interact with only one of the sides in this conflict, the Afghan government side.

In accord with our agreement on the cessation of conflict, reached with the Taliban in early 2020, we are on a path to bring home almost all of our troops by May 1. But many “experts” are now suggesting that we should void that agreement to instead maintain or even increase our military presence. Do they know what they are saying? If we don’t honor our agreement with the Taliban, there is only one outcome: the war resumes and, since they will somewhat justifiably feel tricked, it is likely to intensify. How is that a good idea? Where have these people been for the past twenty years? It can hardly be said that we haven’t tried a military solution, and in every possible variant. We had not one, but two military surges. We disarmed the local militias. That didn’t help, so we rebuilt and re-armed them. We focused on areas where things were going comparatively better, on the theory that success could spread out from there. When that failed, we focused instead on the most difficult areas, on the theory that if we could handle those the rest would follow. We studied the lessons of other counterinsurgencies. We sent out teams of soldiers who had medical or farming skills, to combine community engagement with military presence. Under General David Petraeus, we dispatched the so-called human terrain experts, until some of them were tortured and killed.

Exclusive: Taliban Warns Biden Going Back on Afghanistan Deal 'Causes Problems'


The Taliban has warned that President Joe Biden should live up to peace deal commitments made by the United States under his predecessor, or risk complicating the already precarious situation in Afghanistan.

As the May 1 deadline approaches that was set in that agreement struck a year ago this month by President Donald Trump with the organization officially known as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan for a total U.S. troop withdrawal, Taliban spokesperson Mohammad Naeem urged the U.S. to stick to its word.

"There is no doubt that adherence to the agreement and its provisions will contribute greatly to ending the war and solving problems, because it was the result of tremendous efforts," Naeem said in a statement sent to Newsweek.

He said Washington risks a setback for the burgeoning intra-Afghan peace process if it doesn't follow through on the agreement.

"Just as commitment will help in solving problems, so lack of commitment not only does not help in solving problems, but also causes problems and increases them," Naeem said. "Therefore, it is necessary for all parties concerned to abide by the agreement."

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.

China and Russia: Vaccine Competitors or Partners?

By Elizabeth Wishnick

The most valuable resource to the average person today is a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. For China, which has rolled out two vaccines so far (Sinopharm and Sinovac), with another on the way (CanSino Biologics), providing vaccines to other countries is a key component of its efforts to reshape the narrative about the pandemic. Chinese officials want their country to be remembered for Silk Road health diplomacy and successful vaccine development, not China’s role in the pandemic’s origin and spread. In a June 2020 White Paper on COVID-19 the Chinese government outlined its aim to develop a “global public health system that will benefit all of humanity,” a goal patterned on the “community of common destiny” long espoused by Xi Jinping as China’s overall global governance objective.

Russia has a similar agenda for vaccine diplomacy. Calling their vaccine Sputnik V – harkening back to the October 1957 satellite launch that changed global perceptions of Soviet military and space power – Kremlin officials see Sputnik V enhancing its soft power overseas and raising the profile of Russian science. Sputnik V made headlines as the first COVID-19 vaccine to be released to the public, but also for cutting corners in the interest of speed. Russian authorities approved the vaccine for domestic distribution on August 11, 2020, prior to the conclusion of Phase III trials, which typically test the effectiveness and safety of a vaccine in large sample groups.

How to Cooperate with China


HONG KONG – China is a tough country to comprehend – even for most Chinese. But much of what makes China enigmatic – its long history, vast and varied territory, huge and diverse population, complex politics, and massive, dynamic economy – also makes understanding the country important. For better or worse, what happens in China affects everyone.

Western observers tend to struggle the most in deciphering China. As Dutch sinologist Hans Kuijper put it, “There is something fundamentally amiss in Western Sinology: ‘China experts’ either pretend to be knowledgeable about everything related to China, in which case they cannot be taken seriously, or – eventually – admit not to be scientific all-rounders with respect to the country, in which case they cannot be called ‘China experts.’”

There are obvious reasons why Westerners have such a hard time understanding China. For starters, China has a very long history as a continental agricultural civilization, with a strong central government and unified political, social, and economic systems.1

This differs sharply from the geographic fragmentation and political competition historically seen in the West – the birthplace of the modern nation-state and market capitalism. This historical divergence helps to explain why today’s China achieves some objectives, such as large-scale infrastructure construction, much more efficiently than the West, but is far slower in achieving others, such as building democracy.

Rockets over Erbil: How to Respond to an Iraqi Militia Outrage

by Michael Knights

Iran-backed militias took the unprecedented step of rocketing a major city and U.S. base in Iraqi Kurdistan, and the Biden administration must quickly find its own formula for restoring deterrence.

On February 15, the city of Erbil (the capital of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, or KRI) was struck with a heavy rocket attack that killed one contractor working for the U.S.-led coalition at Erbil’s airport, wounded five more coalition personnel (including one U.S. soldier), and injured at least three local civilians. As many as twenty-eight rocket launches may have been attempted, with more than a dozen rockets landing in the densely populated city, an unprecedentedly reckless strafing of a civilian population center.

Despite efforts to muddy the waters by using “facade” groups to claim responsibility for the attack, Iran-backed militias are likely responsible, given their patterns of publicizing previous attacks. The Biden administration now has the difficult task of crafting a response that is measured but resolute, and must make some key decisions about how to attribute and deter such attacks on U.S. persons and U.S. partners in the future.
The Erbil Rocket Attack

At 21.15 hours (Erbil time), a barrage of 107 mm rockets was fired from a disguised launch vehicle outside an agricultural market five miles southwest of Erbil. The vehicle appears to have entered the KRI from farmland in federal Iraq, either from the Nineveh Plains to the west or from the Sargaran area to the south. The disguise was ingenious: many farm trucks enter the KRI from federal Iraq to bring foodstuffs to Erbil, and this truck had a hidden set of “pop-up” launch tubes under its cargo bed. The attack was the second recent strike on Erbil, the first being the September 30, 2020, long-range rocket attack near the Erbil airport, which was launched from outside the KRI in militia-controlled Bartella, east of Mosul.

Did Biden Wait Too Long to Engage Iran?


Following Tehran’s partial curtailment of nuclear inspections this week, the Biden administration finds itself in a desperate race to salvage the 2015 pact that the new president has pledged to rejoin. But some critics say internal debates within U.S. President Joe Biden’s team may led it to wait too long to offer Iran confidence-building and humanitarian relief measures that might have brought Tehran back to the table sooner.

Despite increasingly hard-line statements from Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Tehran’s moderates have been waiting for signs from Washington of some measure of relief for its sanctions-strangled economy since former President Donald Trump pulled out of the pact in 2018—especially when it comes to humanitarian aid.

But none has been in the offing. Some officials and nuclear experts say that, due to factional infighting within the administration and fears of opposition from hard-liners on Capitol Hill, the Biden team has hesitated to offer such measures—even though some of its own leaders, such as National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, were central to negotiating the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in the first place.

“I think the Biden administration missed an opportunity in the first week of its term to send a stronger, more concrete signal of its good faith intentions to return to JCPOA,” said Kelsey Davenport, director for nonproliferation policy at the Arms Control Association. “During the time it took for the Biden team to begin to be more proactive, positions hardened in Iran. I’m not surprised at the delay at this point. I think Iran expected swifter action. After all, because of Trump’s withdrawal, it’s the U.S. that is responsible for the crisis around the JCPOA.”

The Real Regional Problem With the Iran Deal

By Trita Parsi

As U.S. President Joe Biden explores returning to the Iran nuclear deal, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE)—two of only three countries in the world that opposed the agreement—insist that they must be included in future negotiations over its fate. Their inclusion, representatives of the two countries argue, would rectify the agreement’s supposed flaw: its failure to rein in Tehran’s regional policies.

But in truth, Riyadh and Abu Dhabi have less interest in strengthening the nuclear deal than in sustaining the enmity between the United States and Iran. When the original deal was negotiated in 2015, these states acted as spoilers, seeking not to defuse tensions but to perpetuate them, to the extent that doing so would ensure that the United States remained actively engaged in protecting their interests in the region. Biden needs to change the preferences of these states if he is to make them useful partners in negotiations with Iran.


Today, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Israel argue that the 2015 Iran nuclear deal should have encompassed regional concerns. But back when the deal was being negotiated, Saudi Arabia and the UAE insisted that U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration refrain from bringing regional conflicts into discussions with Iran in their absence. Israel, too, opposed expanding the negotiating agenda beyond the nuclear file for fear that doing so would lead Washington to compromise on the nuclear front in exchange for regional concessions. Now, these three opponents of the nuclear deal claim that the agreement’s main flaw is its exclusive nuclear focus.

Rich countries should tithe their vaccines

Gavin Yamey

As I write this, 191 million vaccination shots against COVID-19 have been administered; more than three quarters were given in just 10 nations that account for 60% of the global gross domestic product. In some 130 nations with 2.5 billion people, not a single shot has been administered. High-income countries represent only 16% of the world’s population, but they have purchased more than half of all COVID-19 vaccine doses.

The US$4 billion that the White House pledged towards equitable vaccine distribution this month is a huge help in paying for doses for poorer nations. Reframing how vaccine deals are structured — and explained to the public in rich countries — could make this pledge even more powerful.

I live in the United States, so even though I am at low risk, I will be able to get vaccinated well ahead of many health workers and high-risk people in poorer nations.

This is unfair, and will prolong the pandemic. When SARS-CoV-2 transmission is wildly uncontrolled, the virus has more scope to evolve into dangerous variants. A COVID-19 outbreak anywhere could become an outbreak everywhere.

To help, rich countries should tithe their vaccine supply to poorer places and negotiate direct purchasing deals with vaccine manufacturers to increase supplies.

The Singapore Declaration And The Biden Administration’s Policy Review

by Scott A. Snyder

The Biden administration is in the midst of a North Korea policy review that will shape prospects for diplomacy and the relative priority of North Korea on Biden’s to-do list. Perhaps the earliest and most significant issue the Biden administration faces as part of that review is whether to use the Singapore Declaration as a foundation for future diplomacy toward North Korea or as another lesson learned on a three-decade long road strewn with North Korea policy failures.

The one-page Singapore Declaration signed by former U.S. President Donald J. Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is admittedly a thin reed upon which to build. It identifies four aspirational objectives: 1) a new U.S.-North Korean relationship, 2) peace on the Korean Peninsula, 3) work toward “complete denuclearization,” and 4) a return of the remains of American MIAs from the Korean War from North Korea. At the time of the declaration’s signing, North Korea specialist Andrei Lankov assessed that “we expected it to be a flop, but it’s floppier than anything we expected. The declaration is pretty much meaningless.” But the inevitable temptation among the Biden team to toss a document signed by Trump may be tempered by the other signature on the document: that of Kim Jong-un.

On the Horizon Vol. 3: A Collection of Papers from the Next Generation

The Nuclear Scholars Initiative is a signature program run by the Project on Nuclear Issues (PONI)—to engage emerging nuclear experts in thoughtful and informed debate over how to best address the nuclear community’s most pressing problems. The papers included in this volume comprise research from participants in the 2020 Nuclear Scholars Initiative. These papers explore a variety of topics such as the future of arms-control treaties, the role of artificial intelligence and cyber resilience in nuclear security, and the role of regional dynamics in nuclear security.DOWNLOAD THE REPORT

This publication was made possible with support by the National Nuclear Security Administration. This material is based upon work supported by the Department of Energy National Nuclear Security Administration under Award Number DE-NA0003970.

Nuclear Warfare or Cyber Warfare: Which Is the Bigger Threat?

By John Powers

A strategist provides the decision-maker with at least three options: the most likely option, the least likely option and the most dangerous option. This methodology applies to all strategists, regardless of their discipline—national security, diplomacy, economics, health care, home affairs. The essence of their tradecraft is to analyse, assess and advise so leaders can make informed decisions—and then act.

For those who grew up during the Cold War and its dogma of mutually assured destruction (MAD) between the Soviets and the US, nuclear weapons were the world’s most destructive threat. Without question, for most strategists, they were the most dangerous option and, on several occasions, also the most likely option.

Still today, there’s no denying the catastrophic effect of a nuclear weapon. However, to a nation such as Australia, is the detonation of a nuclear device our most likely threat? Our most dangerous threat?

We live in an age of cybernetics and the ‘internet of everything’. All things seem to be connected and dependent on digital technologies, and those dependencies disrupt all aspects of truth and veracity. Smartphones, messaging apps and social media shape our public, political and national security environments, to the point that we must ask ourselves as a nation: What’s the most likely and what’s the most dangerous threat to our sovereignty? Is it a nuclear detonation, a physical invasion, or something else?

Serious COVID Vaccine Side Effects Still Rare As 65 Million Shots Given: 'Fantastic'


Tens of millions of people have been given COVID vaccines in the U.S., and data shows the shots continue to be safe.

The benefits of being vaccinated against COVID outweigh any risk of serious side-effects, scientists have told Newsweek, as the number of people safely inoculated continues to rise with few reports of serious adverse effects such as severe allergic reactions.

As of Tuesday, over 65 million people across the U.S. had been given a Pfizer or Moderna COVID vaccine.

Potential side effects are among the reasons some members of the public have been hesitant about getting vaccinated. One Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll released this month found roughly a third of the 1,055 Americans surveyed would either definitely not or probably not get a vaccine, and 65 percent of those who did not want to get vaccinated cited side effects.

Common side-effects of the COVID vaccines available in the U.S. include pain and swelling on the injection arm, and fever, chills, tiredness and headache. They are "signs that your body is building protection," according to the CDC, and should go away in a few days.

However, it was feared more serious side effects could possibly emerge as the vaccines were administered to large populations.

Cybersecurity and your water: Hacker attempted to poison Florida city's water supply


An unknown hacker remotely accessed the chemical controls of a water treatment plant in the City of Oldsmar, near Tampa, Fla., earlier this month. This breach is a reminder that the country’s water infrastructure is poorly secured in cyberspace — and that vulnerabilities in this critical system pose real world consequences.

Upon gaining access to the system, the hacker increased the amount of sodium hydroxide in the water to dangerous levels. Sodium hydroxide is lye and the main ingredient in drain cleaner. At high levels, it would have poisoned the city’s drinking water. The hacker breached the network through TeamViewer software, a commonly used program for remote system maintenance. Industrial control systems cyber experts speculate that the hacker used stolen credentials.

As Samantha F. Ravich, our colleague at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, observed last June, remote access applications and other types of programs and technology may “reduce costs, enhance efficiencies, and improve quality,” but because water utilities are “not implementing security systems and processes” in parallel, these programs also introduce vulnerabilities.

Fortunately, the Florida hacker accessed the system during normal business hours (the hack occurred at 8 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. local time) when an operator was sitting at the monitor. That operator’s observations and subsequent actions prevented disaster. A stealthier hacker would not have been so sloppy.

Our Lack of Digital Defenses Is an Emergency

By Bonnie Kristian

A recent story from Florida should direct policymakers’ attention to a glaring strategic problem in American defense. In the city of Oldsmar, a small community in the Tampa metro area, an unknown hacker gained access to the chemical controls of the municipal water treatment system. Fortunately, an operator at the facility observed the breach in real time, watching as the intruder set the level of sodium hydroxide, commonly known as lye, to 100 times its normal level. The operator was able to immediately undo the change, so no one was harmed.

But what if that instant detection hadn’t happened? As of this writing, nothing is known about the source of the attack. And it wasn’t “just 'Oh, we're putting a little bit of chlorine or a little bit of fluoride, or a little bit of something,'” said Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri.

“We're basically talking about lye that you are taking from 100 parts per million to 11,100."

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio says he’s calling in the FBI for assistance in investigating the incident, which he believes “should be treated as a matter of national security.” Rubio is not wrong, but the federal government’s cybersecurity efforts are a strategic wreck. Protecting basic utilities from this sort of remote attack should be central to U.S. cybersecurity plans. Instead, our government spends nearly all its cybersecurity resources on offense. Rather than keeping key American infrastructure safe, Washington is off playing the digital highwayman.

The Myth of the Cyber Offense: The Case for Restraint

By Brandon Valeriano and Benjamin Jensen

Great‐​power competition in the 21st century increasingly involves the use of cyber operations between rival states. But do cyber operations achieve their stated objectives? What are the escalation risks? Under what conditions could increasingly frequent and sophisticated cyber operations result in inadvertent escalation and the use of military force? The answers to these questions should inform U.S. cyber­security policy and strategy.

In the context of recent shifts in cybersecurity policy in the United States, this paper examines the character of cyber conflict through time. Data on cyber actions from 2000 to 2016 demonstrate evidence of a restrained domain with few aggressive attacks that seek a dramatic, decisive impact. Attacks do not beget attacks, nor do they deter them. But if few operations are effective in compelling the enemy and fewer still lead to responses in the domain, why would a policy of offensive operations to deter rival states be useful in cyberspace?

We demonstrate that, while cyber operations to date have not been escalatory or particularly effective in achieving decisive outcomes, recent policy changes and strategy pronouncements by the Trump administration increase the risk of escalation while doing nothing to make cyber operations more effective. These changes revolve around a dangerous myth: offense is an effective and easy way to stop rival states from hacking America. New policies for authorizing preemptive offensive cyber strategies risk crossing a threshold and changing the rules of the game.

Cyberspace to date has been a domain of political warfare and coercive diplomacy. An offensively postured cyber policy is dangerous, counterproductive, and undermines norms in cyberspace. Many have promoted the idea of a coming “Cyber Pearl Harbor,” but instead the domain is littered with covert operations meant to manage escalation and deter future attacks. Cyber strategy and policy must start from an accurate understanding of the domain, not imagined realities.

Securing Industrial Control Systems by Closing the Air Gap Security Loophole

Lavi Lazarovitz

Air-gapping is one of the most common ways ICS are protected, however, organizations’ interpretation of how to isolate networks often varies.

Cyberattacks on the U.S. continue to captivate and grab headlines. The recent Department of Justice (DOJ) indictment of 12 Russians alleged to have led the attacks on the DNC and the U.S. election infrastructure shook the nation, there’s a bigger worry—the continued assault on the country’s industrial control systems (ICS), which control critical infrastructure and have the potential to cause chaos and disrupt the everyday lives of Americans.

As reported this summer by The Wall Street Journal, attackers were able to successfully break into the secure networks of American energy utility companies. Most shocking about the revelations were the methods used to penetrate these supposed isolated—or “air-gapped”—networks. The nation-state attackers used standard hacking approaches to get access to the control rooms of U.S. utility companies.

As we’ve seen, the potential for devastation in ICS attacks is high. During two different attacks on Ukraine in December 2015 and 2016, attackers were able to access—and shut down—the country’s power grid for extended periods of time in the midst of winter. Due to their sensitivity and the impact on business and everyday life, the interruption and compromise of these utility infrastructure networks has an immediate effect—both in cost and physical implication.

What stands out in these recent ICS attacks is the ease with which the critical networks were compromised. ICS are supposed to have security controls and safeguards at critical locations to prevent the specific types of attacks that occurred from ever happening.

Roles & Missions Scrub Needed For All Domain Ops: CSAF Brown


WASHINGTON: The Air Force Chief of Staff is calling on the Pentagon leadership to launch a targeted roles and missions review of the key functional areas of future All Domain Operations detailed in the impending Joint Warfighting Concept.

“I wouldn’t actually go through a complete roles and missions [review],” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. CQ Brown told the Defense Writers Group. “But I do think, as we as we go into the Joint Warfighting Concept and we look at gaps and seams and overlaps in capability, this is what the discussion has to occur on with [respect to] roles and missions.”

Specifically, Brown said yesterday, there needs to be better delineation of responsibility for joint long-range fires, joint command and control and logistics protection missions.

The Joint Warfighting Concept is the strategy for the new American way of war, using enormous amounts of fast computer analysis across the land, air, sea, space and cyberspace domains to maintain US dominance. Officially launched in 2019 by then-Defense Secretary Mark Esper, a draft of the new concept — including detailed articulation of its four functional sub-concepts — was originally slated for completion by the end of 2020, but has been delayed due to complications from the pandemic until sometime this spring.

As Breaking D readers know, JCS Chair Gen. Mark Milley tasked the services to define three of the four sub-concepts: the Navy to flesh out the approach to joint fires; the Air Force, joint command and control; and the Army, contested logistics. Vice Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. John Hyten said back in September the Joint Staff itself is working to conceptualize “information advantage” because no service volunteered.

The Front Lines of the Cyber War

Sean Stalzer

The electric energy sector is the backbone of the United States and the engine that drives all other critical infrastructure sectors. Every aspect of life is completely dependent on reliable delivery of electricity. The United States ceases to function without electricity. The cornerstone of reliable, electric service are the ICS’ (Industrial Control Systems) that operate the generators and the substations that produce and transmit that power to where it is needed.

Hostile nation states are actively attempting to break into the electric grid and to develop weapons to disrupt or disable those systems. At least one large Asian country has a national goal to develop just such a weapon for both the electric and gas sectors. The war in cyberspace for access to, and the defense of, the grid is underway and has been for many years.

While there are many passionate and hardworking personnel in the U.S. government seeking to protect us, the actual front lines of the ongoing cyber war are the utilities themselves. The cybersecurity, IT and ICS engineering teams are, in effect, the protectors of the way of life we have all grown accustomed to. They are the ones with the data, the tools and the ability defend the U.S. from hostile adversaries. It is in those ICS systems that robust and ever-evolving cyber defense must be a priority.

The Threat Is Real … The cyber war is underway. While each of the hostile nations has its own way of prosecuting the war, “shots” are fired at the speed of light and on an almost continual basis. They are aimed directly at utilities. Most utilities, especially those in geographically important areas of the country, are attacked billions of times every month; receive hundreds of thousands of phishing attempts and tens of thousands of targeted, methodical attempts to exploit vulnerabilities.

CEOs, Senators discuss mandating cyber-attack disclosures

By Stephanie Condon 

Testifying at the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing, Microsoft President Brad Smith said it's time to impose a "notification obligation on entities in the private sector."

It's "not a typical step when somebody comes and says, 'Place a new law on me,'" he told lawmakers. "I think it's the only way we are going to protect the country."

Both Committee Chairman Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Vice Chairman Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) agreed that Congress should consider mandating certain types of reporting, potentially with some limited liability protection.

"We must improve the information sharing," Rubio said. One important question that "everyone has struggled with," he said, is "who can see the whole field here on this."

Warner floated the idea of establishing an investigative agency analogous to the National Transportation Safety Board, which could "immediately examine major breaches to see if we have a systemic problem."

The lawmakers commended cybersecurity firm FireEye for first disclosing in December that they were the victims of a sophisticated, state-sponsored cyber attack. Democrats and Republicans on the committee also expressed their displeasure that Amazon Web Services declined to attend Tuesday's hearing.

The SolarWinds attack relied in part on AWS infrastructure, Rubio said, but "apparently they were too busy to discuss that with us today."

Shots in arms: How to get more military servicemembers vaccinated

Michael Sinclair

Over a year into the global COVID-19 pandemic, there are small glimmers of hope that we may be seeing the beginning of the end of the crisis in the United States. Hospitalizations are down after a winter holiday surge; vaccinations are progressing, despite initial distribution challenges; and it appears more and more likely that a new federal aid package is on the way, although many of the details still need to be ironed out. The running death toll is still cause for concern, and the long-term effects of the virus on American society on important factors like our health, education, and economy, remain a bit murky. But after a truly horrifying several months, there’s reason to at least begin feeling somewhat optimistic.

Yet, the U.S. military — the United States institution that enjoys a very high public confidence rating and whose forces (and specifically its National Guard forces) have been deeply, if not somewhat silently, involved in the COVID-19 response since the get-go — is doing a disproportionately bad job with COVID-19 vaccination. Recent reporting indicates that as many as one-third of U.S. servicemembers, despite being eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, have refused to receive it. This boggles the mind, given the important role members of the armed forces have in keeping the United States safe — not just from the threat of the pandemic, but from most threats to our safety and security.