1 March 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.

Agenda for India’s Green Recovery

We are in the midst of a climate emergency. Furthermore, thanks to the pandemic-induced economic crisis, economists are predicting a “lost decade of development” for most developing nations. For a country like India, the path to economic recovery will be precarious with limited time to act. The country’s economic recovery will be impacted by limited capital expenditure, the need to create economic opportunity at an accelerated pace (for social stability), and the need to do so before the climate crisis hampers the country’s labor and agriculture productivity beyond repair, as recent analysis from McKinsey projects. While India’s recently released Budget 2021 and last year’s stimulus measures aren’t classified as entirely “green,” elements of India’s fiscal policies coupled with cooperation of states can be leveraged to ensure India’s continued economic growth also supports its ecological security.

Rural Revival

In the wake of the pandemic, the ensuing action plan enacted by the Indian central government followed the guiding principle of “Aatmanirbhar” (self-sufficiency) and relied on India’s demographics, which can drive considerable demand and aid in a speedy economic recovery. A large portion of this demand and growth can come from a renewed emphasis on India’s rural areas. While infrastructure projects are the most obvious ways to improve rural livelihoods, how they’re structured can ensure that impact on the rural environment is minimized. India’s latest budget includes a new Agriculture Infrastructure Development Cess (AIDC), a tax on various items, including imported coal, used to generate funds specifically for rural development. Here’s how it might be used:

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.

Opening Up the Order A More Inclusive International System

By Anne-Marie Slaughter and Gordon LaForge

When the world looks back on the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, one lesson it will draw is the value of competent national governments—the kind that imposed social-distancing restrictions, delivered clear public health messaging, and implemented testing and contact tracing. It will also, however, recall the importance of the CEOs, philanthropists, epidemiologists, doctors, investors, civic leaders, mayors, and governors who stepped in when national leaders failed.

Early in the pandemic, as the U.S. and Chinese governments cast research into the new coronavirus as a jingoistic imperative, the world’s scientists were sharing viral genome sequences and launching hundreds of clinical trials—what The New York Times called a “global collaboration unlike any in history.” The vaccine race involved transnational networks of researchers, foundations, and businesses, all motivated by different incentives yet working together for a common cause.

Still, with the rise of China, the fraying of the postwar liberal international order, and the drawbridge-up mentality accelerated by the pandemic, realpolitik is back in vogue, leading some to propose recentering international relations on a small group of powerful states. Although it is easy to caricature proposals for a world run by a handful of great powers as the national security establishment pining for a long-gone world of cozy backroom dealing, the idea is not entirely unreasonable. Network science has demonstrated the essential value of both strong and weak ties: small groups to get things done and large ones to maximize the flow of information, innovation, and participation.

Democracy on the Defense Turning Back the Authoritarian Tide

By Yascha Mounk

After the Cold War ended, it looked like democracy was on the march. But that confident optimism was misplaced. With the benefit of hindsight, it is clear that it was naive to expect democracy to spread to all corners of the world. The authoritarian turn of recent years reflects the flaws and failings of democratic systems.

Most analyses of the precarious state of contemporary democracy begin with a similar depiction. They are not altogether incorrect. But they omit an important part of the picture. The story of the last two decades is not just one of democratic weakness; it is also one of authoritarian strength.

Since the 1990s, autocratic regimes have advanced in terms of economic performance and military might. Dictators have learned to use digital tools to oppress opposition movements in sophisticated ways. They have beaten back democratic campaigns that once looked promising, taken hold of countries that seemed to be on the way to becoming more democratic, and vastly increased their international influence. What the world has seen is less a democratic retreat than an authoritarian resurgence. Autocrats, long focused on bare survival, are now on the offensive. The coming decades will feature a long and drawn-out contest between democracy and dictatorship.

China’s Nationality Law Is a Cage for Hong Kongers


On Jan. 29, China declared that it would stop recognizing the British National Overseas (BNO) passport—a travel document held by more than 350,000 people in Hong Kong.

The colonial-era passport, once thought to be a relic of the 1997 Hong Kong handover, is the latest battleground between China and the United Kingdom. After Beijing imposed a controversial national security law in Hong Kong last year, the U.K. established a visa scheme that would allow the city’s BNO passport holders to become British citizens. Around 5.4 million of 7.5 million Hong Kong residents are eligible to apply.

Before 2020, most Hong Kongers did not find the BNO to be especially useful: It allowed them to enter the U.K. but not settle there. But once the visa scheme was announced, and in light of the troubling political developments in Hong Kong, the passport turned into a precious lifeboat. Emigration to the U.K. became a realistic choice for high-profile activists and ordinary people alike.

Beijing’s declaration on Jan. 29—just two days before the visa scheme was due to start accepting applications—was therefore a clear sign of retaliation. China does not take kindly to the prospect of Hong Kongers gaining British citizenship and argues that such a policy violates the historical agreement on Hong Kong’s handover signed by the U.K.

How the WTO Changed China

By Yeling Tan

When China joined the World Trade Organization in 2001, the event was hailed as a pivotal development for the global economic system and a bold marker of the country’s commitment to reform. It took 15 long years of negotiation to reach the deal, a reflection of the challenge of reconciling China’s communist command economy with global trading rules and of the international community’s insistence that China sign on to ambitious commitments and conditions. U.S. officials had high hopes that those terms of entry would fix China on the path of market liberalization and integrate the country into the global economic order. U.S. President Bill Clinton called Beijing’s accession to the WTO “the most significant opportunity that we have had to create positive change in China since the 1970s” and argued that it would “commit China to play by the rules of the international trading system.”

Chinese President Jiang Zemin and Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji evinced similar resolve in securing WTO membership. In their view, joining the organization was not only appropriate for a country of China’s size and economic potential; it would also force China to move forward on necessary domestic reforms. Chinese state media noted at the time that entry into the WTO would “expedite the process of China’s reform and opening up”; spur the “cleaning up of laws, regulations, and policies”; facilitate the establishment of an “impartial, efficient judicial system”; and bring much-needed external competition to the country’s inefficient state-owned enterprises (SOEs). China accepted far more stringent terms than any other new member before or since. These commitments included not just large cuts to tariffs on imports into China but also a sweeping overhaul of domestic institutions and policies to allow market forces freer rein within the economy. Beijing pledged to improve the rule of law by strengthening courts and increasing protections of intellectual property rights, to allow firms greater autonomy and limit the government’s interference in their affairs, and to revamp regulation to make governance more transparent.

The road to electric is filled with tiny cars


In Beijing’s southwestern outskirts, past a four-lane overpass with sidewalks as wide as the streets themselves, is Zhengyang Road. It has the usual banks, small convenience stores, and noodle houses of many areas in the capital, but it is set apart by a row of about a dozen shops all selling the same thing — tiny electric cars. The cars look, variously, like small Range Rovers, golf carts, trolley cars, or rickshaws with sheet-iron sides, and they are slow. Their fundamental attraction is their price — between $600 and $2,500 — and that drivers can charge them the same way they would a cell phone. They also come with the perks of being loosely regulated. These low-speed electric cars, nicknamed “elderly transport vehicles,” have an enormous market, made up mostly of people who earn very little. And in China, there are a lot of them — more than 40% of the population, or some 600 million people, make around $150 per month.

On a Sunday afternoon in October, Zhengyang Road is filled with potential customers chatting with store owners. Outside a shop with a worn sign, a young couple with a child are in the midst of a heated conversation. They came on an electric scooter and are debating whether to leave with a tiny car.

China Wants Your Data — And May Already Have It


Visitors walk past the giant word "Data" during the Guiyang International Big Data Expo 2016 in southwestern China. China says it's determined to be a leader in using artificial intelligence to sort through big data. U.S. officials say the Chinese efforts include the collection of hundreds of millions of records on U.S. citizens. The photo was released by China's Xinhua News Agency.AP

As COVID cases began to rise a year ago, a Chinese company contacted several U.S. states and offered to set up testing labs. As a byproduct, the Chinese firm, Beijing Genomics Institute, would likely gain access to the DNA of those tested.

The offer was tempting for states struggling to set up their own testing facilities for a new virus on short notice. But U.S. national security officials urged the states to reject the offer, citing concerns about how China might use personal data collected on Americans.

"We certainly reached out to our partners and the community to make sure people were aware that the Chinese were pushing out these tests, informing them of what the risks were and really asking them not to take these tests," said Mike Orlando, the head of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, which is part of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

"As far as I know, they all turned them down," Orlando added.

Is International Pressure Coalescing on China’s Xinjiang Policy?

By Eleanor Albert

Harrowing reports of the treatment of Uyghurs held in China’s internment camps in Xinjiang continue to surface. As more information has emerged over the past several years, states, particularly in the West, have publicly condemned Beijing’s actions, with some kickstarting a panoply of initiatives intended to hold Chinese authorities accountable.

Most recently, Canada’s House of Commons overwhelmingly voted to declare China’s treatment of the Muslim minority – including forced detention in camps and forced sterilizations – as genocide. The motion passed 266 to 0 with the support of all opposition parties. While Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the majority of his cabinet members abstained, the vote was symbolically significant. It makes Canada the second country after the United States to label China’s actions as genocide.

Unsurprisingly, the move triggered a sharp response from Beijing with Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Wang Wenbin calling the vote a “deliberate smear.” He added, “Some people in Canada should abandon their anti-China bias, step outside from the dark room into the sunlight, look at China in an objective and fair way, rather than indulge in the obsolete mentality of ideological confrontation.”

The Canadian vote came as U.S. President Joe Biden hosted a virtual meeting with Trudeau, his first bilateral summit with a foreign leader since taking office. In their joint press statement, Biden communicated that the two leaders would coordinate their “approaches to better compete with China and to counter threats” to shared interests and values. Biden also voiced support for working together to secure the release of Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, two Canadians detained in China, saying, “Human beings are not bartering chips.

Building an Enduring Peace in Yemen

by Daniel Egel, Trevor Johnston, Ashley L. Rhoades, Eric Robinson

What are the challenges facing efforts to achieve an enduring peace in Yemen?

How can the international community work constructively to overcome these challenges?

Yemen's civil war, in its sixth year as of 2021, has killed more than 250,000 people and created one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world today. It has become a proxy war between the Iranian-supported Houthis, United Arab Emirates–supported southern separatists, and the Saudi-supported internationally recognized government of Yemen. Despite years of United Nations–brokered negotiations, the antagonists have become increasingly entrenched and their positions seemingly irreconcilable. Time and again, negotiated cease-fires have proved unsustainable and once-promising confidence-building measures have failed to change the status quo, let alone achieve an enduring peace.

In this report, the authors trace the origins of the conflict, diagnose its costs, identify the underlying drivers of local conflict and mediation mechanisms, and describe how political influence, economic interests, and military ties have shaped the roles of key actors in the peace process. This analysis draws on five years of RAND Corporation research, including an expansive data collection effort in Yemen that assessed national conflict dynamics, regional influence networks, and local drivers of conflict and sources of resiliency, as well as 200 interviews with key military, government, community, and tribal actors across Yemen.

The Axis of Resistance to Israel Is Breaking Up


Yarmouk, once described as the capital of the Palestinian diaspora, was among the most ferociously bombed neighborhoods in the Syrian conflict. Home to 160,000 Palestinian Syrians before the civil war, the Damascus refugee camp-turned-suburb now lies in ruins and is nearly empty. The destruction of the camp, seen as a symbol of Palestinian resistance to Israel outside the occupied territories, has deprived Palestinians of their homes—and hope.

Yarmouk’s devastation, however, also tells the tale of Iran’s broken axis of resistance to Israel. It once comprised Hezbollah, Hamas, and Bashar al-Assad’s regime. As Hamas, an Islamist Palestinian movement and militia, ignored Assad’s calls for support and instead backed the rebels in the Syrian conflict, the resistance broke apart. This weakened Tehran’s position in the region, as well as limiting its leverage in possible future talks with the United States.

Since 1979, Shiite-majority Iran has presented itself as a champion of the Palestinian cause with the aim of brandishing its credentials as a nonsectarian Islamic power worthy of leading a Sunni-dominated Muslim world. Its alliance with a Sunni militia, Hamas, continues to be important to its narrative. It started to rebuild its axis in 2017 as a change in Hamas’s leadership opened the door to reconciliation talks. To reunite Hamas and the Syrian regime, Iran deployed Hezbollah, the Lebanese arm of the resistance, which has held a series of meetings to facilitate the restoration of ties between the former allies. Palestinian activists in Syria, however, doubt that an unforgiving Assad will agree to reconcile with Hamas. Some instead point to possible Russian mediation between Syria and Israel as a sign of some sort of recalibration of that supposedly hostile relationship instead.

U.S.-Iran Talks Will Falter Unless Abdolnaser Hemmati Is at the Table


The United States and Iran may soon be sitting at the negotiating table once again. In just the last week, the Biden administration has offered to restart negotiations, and Iran has struck a deal with the International Atomic Energy Agency to slow moves to limit inspections of its nuclear program. A window of opportunity has emerged for the two sides to talk, likely in a format facilitated by the European Union. If and when the United States and Iran sit across from one another again, there is a key figure who ought to be present—Abdolnaser Hemmati, the governor of Iran’s central bank.

In many respects, Iran’s central bank was the primary target of former U.S. President Donald Trump’s economic war on Iran. Much of the economic hardship that Iran has experienced due to the reimposition of secondary sanctions can be attributed to the Trump administration’s success in limiting the central bank’s access to its foreign exchange reserves.

According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Iran retains access to just $8.8 billion of readily available foreign currency, roughly one-tenth of its total reserves. Without access to its reserves held in countries like Iraq, South Korea, Japan, and Germany, the central bank has struggled to forestall the weakening of Iran’s currency, which is today worth less than one-fifth of its value prior to Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). This deep depreciation made imported goods more expensive, contributing to annual inflation rates of nearly 50 percent.

Reimagining U.S. Strategy in the Middle East

by Dalia Dassa Kaye, Linda Robinson, Jeffrey Martini, Nathan Vest, Ashley L. Rhoades

What are the advantages and trade-offs of an alternative Middle East strategy where strategic goals link to a broader understanding of stability that prioritizes reduced conflict, better governance, and greater growth and development?

What might a U.S. strategy in the Middle East look like if the approach shifted from an emphasis on threats to a positive vision of a region supported by increased diplomatic and economic investments?

How would instruments of U.S. policy need to adjust to more effectively addresses current regional challenges in ways that are mindful of limited resources at home?

U.S. policy toward the Middle East has relied heavily on military instruments of power and has focused on regional threats—particularly the Iranian threat—with the goal of keeping partners on "our side." These long-standing policies have largely fallen short of meeting core U.S. interests and adapting to new regional realities and strategic imperatives.

RAND researchers offer an alternative framework, suggesting that the U.S. strategic priority must center on reducing regional conflict and the drivers of conflict. This revised strategic approach puts a greater focus on addressing conflict and socioeconomic challenges that are creating unsustainable pressures on the region's states and immense suffering among its people. Researchers analyze how the tools of U.S. policy—political, security, economic, diplomatic, and informational instruments—would need to adjust to more effectively address such challenges in ways that are mindful of limited resources at home. Researchers also examine how the United States deals with both partners and adversaries in and outside the region and consider how to better leverage policies to the benefit of U.S. interests and the region.

Nuclear Notebook: United States nuclear weapons, 2021

By Hans M. Kristensen, Matt Korda

At the beginning of 2021, the US Defense Department maintained an estimated stockpile of 3,800 nuclear warheads for delivery by 800 ballistic missiles and aircraft. Most of the warheads in the stockpile are not deployed, but rather stored for potential upload onto missiles and aircraft as necessary. Many are destined for retirement. We estimate that approximately 1,800 warheads are currently deployed, of which roughly 1,400 strategic warheads are deployed on ballistic missiles and another 300 at strategic bomber bases in the United States. An additional 100 tactical bombs are deployed at air bases in Europe. The remaining warheads—approximately 2,000—are in storage as a so-called hedge against technical or geopolitical surprises. Several hundred of those warheads are scheduled to be retired before 2030. (See Table 1.)

Biden Must Base Arms Sales on U.S. Interests—Not U.S. Jobs


In the first major foreign-policy address of his administration, U.S. President Joe Biden stated the U.S. government will end all “relevant arms sales” that support offensive operations in the war in Yemen. This decision reflects an ongoing State Department review of weapons sales to Gulf Arab states that had been approved late in the Trump administration. Then-President Donald Trump justified these sales in part as a job creator, and legislators may understandably worry about the consequences of this review for their constituents who work in the defense industry.

But jobs are a bad rationale for arms transfers on both economic and policy grounds. These weapons sales actually do not create many jobs, and even if they did, that shouldn’t be a consideration when it comes to whether these sales are approved. An extra job doesn’t make a sale more or less strategically or ethically compelling. After all, the bombs in these transfers are the same types causing undue civilian casualties in places like Yemen.

Trump advisor Peter Navarro went to bat for a sale of Raytheon munitions to Saudi Arabia, a transfer now held up by the Biden administration with a memo titled “Trump Mideast arms sales deal in extreme jeopardy, job losses imminent.”

These new deals will create few U.S. manufacturing jobs. The Biden administration and Congress can therefore focus on the strategic consequences of these weapons instead of pandering to domestic constituencies.

These are the countries where cryptocurrency use is most common

Katharina Buchholz

Cryptocurrency use is on the rise, with 33% of Nigerians either using or owning cryptocurrency, according to a recent survey.

Cryptocurrency has become popular as a cheaper solution to sending money across borders.
According to bitcoin.com, the Philippines' Central Bank has approved several crypto exchanges to operate as "remittance and transfer companies" in the country.

Reliance on remittances and the prevalence of peer-to-peer phone payments have led to a steep rise of cryptocurrency use in Africa's largest economy. Out of 74 countries in the Statista Global Consumer Survey, Nigerians were the most likely to say they used or owned cryptocurrency.

Almost a third of Nigerians said this applied to them. The high cost of sending money across borders the conventional way has caused many to turn to local cryptocurrency exchanges catering to overseas workers and their families, according to Bitcoin.com. Nigerians also often use their phones to send money to each other or to pay in shops. Recently, businesses in the country have been adding crypto plugins to their phone payment options, adding another way in which Nigerians can use cryptocurrency in their everyday lives.

Vaccine Geopolitics Could Derail Africa’s Post-Pandemic Recovery


If 2020 was the year of the coronavirus pandemic, then 2021 is shaping up to be the year of the vaccine. Yet rightful optimism about the arrival of coronavirus vaccines belies significant barriers to vaccine availability and access in large parts of the world. Familiar patterns of global inequities are resurfacing as the global vaccination drive gathers momentum. Moreover, intensifying geopolitical competition, especially between China and the United States, is impeding multilateral cooperation on critical issues including public health.

Poorer and less influential countries, especially those in Africa, are caught in the middle—facing obstacles to accessing vaccines, with likely negative effects on their prospects for a smooth post-pandemic recovery.


African countries need access to large-scale vaccinations to move to a post-pandemic normal. As in other regions, the pandemic has severely disrupted economic activity across Africa (see figure 1 below). For oil exporters like Angola, Gabon, Nigeria, and South Africa, the pandemic’s economic impacts exacerbated a crisis that began with the collapse of commodity prices in 2015. Not only did Africa’s largest economies, Nigeria and South Africa, slip back into recession in 2020, hopes of a rebound will languish well into 2022. Countries with relatively more diversified economies such as Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, and Rwanda—which had some of the world’s fastest pre-pandemic growth rates—have seen a slowdown but not a reversal of their strong economic trajectories. Dampened demand in advanced economies has reduced exports. Travel restrictions have disrupted tourism and hospitality industries in the small island nations of Cabo Verde, Mauritius, São Tomé and Príncipe, and Seychelles. And strict lockdowns since early on in the pandemic have affected small businesses. Migrant remittances for African countries, which are now larger than flows of aid and foreign direct investment, fell by 9 percent—a significant drop, though not as steep as earlier forecasts suggested.

Lords of War


The new U.S. administration’s policy to end the war in Yemen represents an important milestone in the six-year conflict. President Joe Biden has announced the end of U.S. support for the military operations of the Saudi-led coalition and a more active U.S. role in efforts to end the country’s war. In light of this, he has appointed Timothy Lenderking, a former deputy assistant secretary of state, as his special envoy to Yemen.

However, it remains unclear how the United States will be able to push the Iranian-backed Ansar Allah, better known as the Houthis, to enter into a peace deal. This is also a key challenge facing the United Nations special envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths, and it will continue to hinder peace efforts. The Houthis’ priority today is to make more gains, not to engage in power-sharing deals. The group’s purported willingness to make peace appears to be only a tactical step.

The Houthis have benefited from the U.S. policy changes in three ways. First, these represent a victory for the Houthis by undermining the interests of its leading adversaries. The Saudi-led coalition entered the war in 2015 with ten countries. Today, Saudi Arabia finds itself alone. Second, the Houthis will benefit from the accompanying diplomacy of the United States. This coincides with the reversal of the U.S. designation of the Houthis as a foreign terrorist organization, as this would have impeded the mission of the U.S. special envoy.

And third, the Houthis will likely accelerate the pace of the war to take advantage of the fact that the Saudis will probably decrease their military operations because of the suspension of U.S. air support. This will create an incentive for the Houthis to expand in the Yemeni interior, into areas bordering where the group is now deployed. This includes Yemen’s west coast, Ma’rib, Jawf, and Shabwa, among other areas. It’s notable that following the U.S. decisions, the Houthis resumed their attacks on Ma’rib, a governorate that hosts more than 2 million internally displaced persons and where the human rights situation is deteriorating. Many areas will probably face similar Houthi attacks in the coming weeks.

The Dam That Broke Open an Ethiopia-Egypt Dispute



In a phone conversation that took place in October 2020, then U.S. president Donald Trump warned Sudan’s Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok that Egypt might end up “blowing up” the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), the construction of which is progressing apace despite the lack of an Ethiopian-Egyptian agreement regarding the extent of its operations and the rules by which Ethiopia must abide. Work on the dam, which began in 2011, reached a milestone in July 2020 when Ethiopia began filling its reservoir. Barring technical mishaps, the GERD could commence operations before the end of 2022. With this in mind, Egypt, which fears for its water security and accuses Ethiopia of intransigence in refusing to submit to impact studies and international monitoring, has hardened its stance. In June 2020, a few months before Hamdok’s phone conversation with Trump, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry announced that, due to Ethiopia’s obstinacy in reaching a negotiated settlement, Egypt was now considering “other options” for resolving the dispute.

Yet any Egyptian airstrike on the facility—of the sort Trump speculated about—would lead to a military conflict between Egypt and Ethiopia. In fact, before such a conflict got underway, the airstrike itself would most likely wreak havoc in the immediate vicinity of the GERD, which is located in Ethiopia’s western Benishangul-Gumuz regional state, on a site that stands only 15 kilometers from the border with Sudan. Were Egypt to destroy the facility in whole or even just in part, flooding is a probable outcome. This would have a disastrous effect on communities in the Ethiopian-Sudanese borderlands. Indeed, it is no coincidence that Trump attempted to enlist Hamdok’s cooperation in averting an Egyptian attack on the GERD. The Sudanese government realizes that, if the Egyptian-Ethiopian dispute over the GERD takes a military turn, ordinary Sudanese in the borderlands will pay a greater price than their Ethiopian counterparts because of the direction of the flooding. As such, Sudan has a vested interest in bringing the dispute to a peaceful resolution and should choose to play a more active role in mediation efforts.


Why the Europeans Don’t Have a Russia Policy


EU foreign ministers agreed on February 22 to impose new sanctions on Russia. The move followed the sentencing of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny to a three-year prison term. Josep Borrell, the EU’s top diplomat, said there was “a shared assessment . . . that Russia is drifting towards an authoritarian state and driving away from Europe.”

Borrell was desperately trying to regain some of his authority after he was publicly humiliated by his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, during a visit to Moscow in early February. Borrell had been warned against the visit because it was badly timed—Navalny had been arrested. Borrell did not have the support of all EU member states. And he had no clear idea of what he wanted to achieve from meeting Lavrov.

Speaking after the sanctions had been agreed on, Borrell said, “The [EU foreign] ministers unanimously interpreted Russia’s recent actions and responses as a clear signal of not being interested in cooperation with the European Union, quite the contrary, [Russia] looks interested in confrontation and disengagement from the European Union.”

The EU would now, he added, adopt a three-pronged approach. That will consist of pushing back when Russia infringes international law and human rights, containing Russia when it seeks to increase its pressure on Europe, including through disinformation and cyber attacks, and engaging when the EU has an interest in doing so. It’s as if the EU has only just recognized the tactics that the Kremlin has been pursuing for years.

How Britain decarbonised faster than any other rich country

Over the summer of 2020, as coronavirus cases fell and life in Britain felt briefly normal, something very abnormal was happening to the country’s electricity supply. No coal was burned to generate any portion of it for a period of more than two months, something that had not happened since 1882. Britain’s four remaining coal-burning power plants are zombies, all but dead. Within a couple of years they will be closed and Britain will probably never burn coal for electricity again.

The elimination of power stations that burn coal has helped Britain cut its carbon emissions faster than any other rich country since 1990 (see charts). They are down by 44%, according to data collected by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (beis) during a period when the economy grew by two-thirds. Germany’s emissions, in contrast, are down by 29%; coal is still burned to generate some 24% of its electricity. Britain has made cuts to its emissions 1.8 times larger than the eu average since 1990. In America, emissions over the same period are up slightly.

After SolarWinds, US needs to toughen cyber defenses, says Microsoft president

Joe Gould

WASHINGTON ― In the wake of a sweeping hack that may have revealed government and corporate secrets to Moscow, the U.S. must strengthen its cyber defenses and prepare a “robust menu” of responses to attacks, Microsoft Corp. President Brad Smith said Tuesday.

The breach, which hijacked widely used software from Texas-based SolarWinds Inc., has exposed the profound vulnerability of civilian government networks and the limitations of efforts to detect threats.

The U.S. must draw a lesson about danger cyberattacks pose to American civilians from the recent severe weather power grid collapse in Texas and a hacker’s botched attempt to poison the water supply of a small Florida city, Smith told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

“Think about the danger to American civilians if there is a disruption of the water supply, and then think about a future where a nation need not send missiles or planes but can simply send code to do its fighting for it,” Smith said.

“We need to strengthen the nation’s digital infrastructure and digital defenses, and that touches every part of the public sector, and every part of the private sector as well.”

Social Media and Online Speech: How Should Countries Regulate Tech Giants?

By Anshu Siripurapu and William Merrow

Social media has been blamed for spreading disinformation and contributing to violence around the world. What are companies and governments doing about it?

The role of social media and online speech in civil society has come under heightened scrutiny. The deadly riot at the U.S. Capitol on January 6 is just one example of violence which national security experts say was fomented in large part on social media platforms. Elsewhere in the world, social media has contributed to religious and ethnic violence, including against Muslims in India and Rohingya in Myanmar. Harmful misinformation, including about the COVID-19 pandemic, has also spread with ease and speed.

Platforms such as Facebook and Twitter have become the de facto public squares in many countries, and governments are adopting varying approaches to regulating them.
How do the major platforms regulate content?

The most popular platforms, most of which are run by U.S. companies, have similar content moderation policies. They bar posts that glorify or encourage violence; posts that are sexually explicit; and posts that contain hate speech, which they define as attacking a person for their race, gender, or sexual orientation, among other characteristics. The major platforms have also taken steps to limit disinformation, including by fact-checking posts, labeling the accounts of state-run media, and banning political ads.

‘Great Power Competition’ Is a Dangerously Simple Frame


The force posture review recently announced by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is meant, at least in part, to determine whether to continue the Trump administration’s withdrawals from Europe, South Korea, Afghanistan, and the Middle East. But it makes sense to review what the U.S. military is doing, where, and why. Whatever the current United States’ force posture is supposed to accomplish, it is not clear that it is working.

The primary purpose of a force posture, of course, is to deter adversaries from committing acts of aggression against one or one’s allies or partners. If that deterrence fails, a good force posture should enable an effective, if not rapid, response to reverse any adversary gains. To be sure, there have been no armed attacks on the territories of the United States or allies with whom it has a defense agreement. However, there have been such attacks against various partners, including Georgia, Ukraine, and Saudi Arabia. And adversaries have aggressively conducted operations below the threshold of war that have limited how the United States can pursue certain interests. China continues its aggressive territorial claims, predatory trade practices, expansive cyber operations, and suppression of human rights, even outside its borders. Russia has challenged U.S. interests in Ukraine and Syria, employed cyber and other non-attributable means to undermine U.S. alliances and internal cohesion. Meanwhile, Iran has used proxies to attack allies and challenge the U.S. presence in the Middle East.