2 March 2021

Even as Peace Talks Resume, Killing Soars in Afghanistan

By Ezzatullah Mehrdad

In a luxury hotel in Doha, Qatar, negotiators representing the Afghan government and the Taliban resumed peace talks this week after a long pause. During the month-long pause in peace talks, killings surged in Afghanistan even as a new administration in the United States shaped its policies toward the long-running conflict.

The Afghan peace talks went to a break in late December last year. The Taliban met the Afghan government negotiators once in early January 2021, then the talks stalled. The Afghan peace talks were scheduled to resume in early January 2021, but Taliban negotiators were absent until late February.

Meanwhile, in the United States President Joe Biden took over on January 20. Now as the peace talks resume, some of the Biden administration’s policies are emerging. The administration has signaled a tougher approach toward the Taliban and friendlier ties with the Afghan government.

Mohammad Naim, a Taliban negotiator, said that the talks on the night of February 22 were held in a “good atmosphere.” He added that both sides “emphasized a resumption of peace talks.”

Why China Favors Democracy Over Dictatorship in Myanmar


The military coup in Myanmar earlier this month overthrew the civilian government under National League for Democracy (NLD) leaders Aung San Suu Kyi and Win Myint, arrested and expelled most senior members of the cabinet, and put an end to a fragile democratic experiment that had lasted a little over a decade. Large-scale protests have broken out across the country with cascades of escalating strikes and civil disobedience.

Some analysts have since associated the military’s swift actions with China, alleging that Beijing played a role in tacitly condoning the coup, enabling military censorship, and even covertly supplying arms to the junta.

But the Chinese ambassador to Myanmar, Chen Hai, recently said the current political state was “absolutely not what China wants to see,” with the Chinese United Nations delegation agreeing to a Security Council statement demanding the immediate release of detained political leaders and activists. A recent editorial of the state-owned Global Times even called for the international community “to stabilize Myanmar.”

Can a Dam Deal Buy Beijing’s Support for Myanmar’s Junta?


As part of the ongoing military coup in Myanmar, junta leader Min Aung Hlaing recently announced the resumption of unnamed currently stalled hydropower projects. His announcement immediately prompted concern that this might include the massive, and massively unpopular, Chinese-funded Myitsone Dam, construction of which has been suspended since 2011.

Many assumed the worst: that Min Aung Hlaing planned to use Myitsone as leverage to ensure China’s support for his illegitimate regime. This view was understandable, not least since China referred to the coup as a “major cabinet reshuffle” and worked to weaken a United Nations Security Council statement and a Human Rights Council resolution. That’s drawn the ire of protesters, who launched daily demonstrations in front of the Chinese Embassy in the commercial capital of Yangon, openly borrowing tactics from and building virtual solidarity with their anti-authoritarian counterparts in Hong Kong, blaming China for supplying the junta with crowd-control gear, and accusing China of helping the junta to disable the internet.

In dangling Myitsone as a quid pro quo in front of the Chinese, Min Aung Hlaing potentially scrambled a delicate strategic calculus that Beijing has been managing since the project was suspended in 2011. China’s response to this gambit not only potentially impacts Myanmar’s internal affairs and its own relations with Myanmar, but it also can give the world important insights into the Chinese party-state’s strategic thinking in the age of Xi Jinping.

China’s Waning Rare Earths Advantage

By Phillip Orchard

In 1992, during a visit to Inner Mongolia, Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping quipped: “The Middle East has oil, China has rare earths,” referring to 17 elements on the southern end of the periodic table that are essential to the manufacturing of everything from light bulbs to smartphones to fighter jets. China indeed has rare earth metals, oxides and permanent magnets in spades, as well as a preponderance of the world’s rare earth refining operations. As recently as 2010, an estimated 97 percent of rare earths came from China. And Deng, who made rare earths a central part of his plans to turn China into a high-tech powerhouse beginning in the mid-1980s, saw this as “of extremely important strategic significance,” calling explicitly for China to fully exploit this advantage.

Subsequent Chinese governments in Beijing have never seemed quite sure of how to do so. But last week, the Financial Times reported that Chinese officials were investigating whether a ban on exports of certain rare earths could cripple U.S. production of F-35s and other weapons systems. A few days later, Bloomberg reported that Beijing was considering a ban on rare-earth refining technology. China’s hawkish state-owned Global Times then saidsomething to the effect of, “We’re not threatening export controls, except maybe we are.” Curiously, on Friday, China announced a 27 percent increase in rare earths production quotas.

China has periodically threatened to weaponize its dominance over the rare earths industry by banning exports in such a manner. It’s rarely followed through, though, and its export controls have often backfired. But Beijing may be facing a “use it or lose it” moment since, one way or another, China’s stranglehold on the industry is coming to an end.

China’s Dominance

Why the US Should Pursue Cooperation with China


NEW YORK – American foreign policy since World War II has been based on a simple idea, perhaps best expressed by President George W. Bush after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks: Either you are with us or against us. America should lead, allies should follow, and woe be to countries that oppose its primacy.

For too long, international institutions have failed to address one of the most toxic aspects of globalization: tax avoidance and evasion by multinational corporations. Fair taxation of multinationals must be a central part of any tax system aimed at driving economic growth and creating high living standards for all. 0Add to Bookmarks

The idea was both simple and simplistic. And now it is antiquated: The United States faces no implacable foes, no longer leads an overpowering alliance, and has far more to gain from cooperation with China and other countries than from confrontation.

Former President Donald Trump was a grotesque caricature of US leadership. He hurled insults, threats, unilateral tariffs, and financial sanctions to try to force other countries to submit to his policies. He ripped up the multilateral rulebook. Yet Trump’s foreign policy faced remarkably little pushback inside the US. There was more consensus than opposition to Trump’s anti-China policies, and little resistance to his sanctions on Iran and Venezuela, despite their catastrophic humanitarian consequences.

President Joe Biden’s foreign policy is a godsend in comparison. Already, the US has rejoined the Paris climate agreement and the World Health Organization, is seeking to return to the United Nations Human Rights Council, and promises to rejoin the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. These are hugely positive and admirable steps. Yet Biden’s early foreign policy pronouncements vis-à-vis China and US leadership are problematic.

How Developed Is China’s Arms Industry?

Possessing a highly developed defense industrial base is a prerequisite to becoming a leading military power. While China is already the world’s second largest arms producer, the ability of its arms industry to domestically develop certain advanced weapon systems is still growing. If China can successfully strengthen its defense industry, it can reduce its reliance on foreign technologies and establish itself as a global leader in cutting-edge military capabilities.
China’s Arms Industry Giants

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has named modernizing the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) among its top priorities. At the 19th Party Congress of the CCP in October 2017, Chinese President Xi Jinping outlined the goal to “complete national defense and military modernization by 2035” and to transform the PLA into a “world-class military by mid-century.”

Upgrading equipment and technologies is a central focus of China’s military modernization campaign. From 2010 to 2017, China’s annual spending on military equipment rose from $26.2 billion to $63.5 billion. While attributable to growth in China’s overall military spending, this is also the result of higher prioritization. In 2010, 33.3 percent of total military spending went toward equipment. By 2017, that figure stood at 41.1 percent.

Chinese Technology Platforms Operating In The United States

by Gary P. Corn, Jennifer Daskal, Jack Goldsmith, John C. "Chris" Inglis, Paul Rosenzweig, Samm Sacks, Bruce Schneier, Alex Stamos, Vincent Stewart

The Trump administration took various steps to effectively ban TikTok, WeChat, and other Chinese-owned apps from operating in the United States, at least in their current forms. The primary justification for doing so was national security. Yet the presence of these apps and related internet platforms presents a range of risks not traditionally associated with national security, including data privacy, freedom of speech, and economic competitiveness, and potential responses raise multiple considerations. This report offers a framework for both assessing and responding to the challenges of Chinese-owned platforms operating in the United States.CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD .PDF

Who Is Hot and Who Is Not in the Middle East


This week, Politico ran a story
revealing the Biden administration is deprioritizing the Middle East. It was an interesting read. Yet even without the reporting from Natasha Bertrand and Lara Seligman—two of the best journalists anywhere covering national security and foreign policy—the signs were clear that team Biden was going to try to do what it could not to get wrapped around the axles of Arabs, Israelis, Turks, Kurds, and Iranians. It took four weeks for U.S. President Joe Biden to call Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then another week or so for him to phone the Iraqi prime minister and the Saudi king. The White House likewise does not seem in a hurry to make calls to the Egyptians, Turks, Emiratis, Qataris, and others.

The National Security Council has adjusted accordingly, downsizing the Near East directorate, and U.S. executive agencies are not hiring as many Middle East hands as in previous administrations. These changes are happening against the backdrop of nonstop, foreign-policy discussions about “great-power competition” and China. If 2001 to 2020 was the golden age of the Middle East analyst, it is clear that Washington is now entering the era of the China expert (and public health specialist). This is a good thing. The Middle East has sucked up a lot—too much—time, attention, and resources of decision-makers who were often chasing unrealistic goals and pursuing poorly thought-out policies. This came at a cost, deflecting attention from other important issues like the implications of China’s ambitions, Russia’s return to the world stage, Europe’s stability, and the impacts of climate change.

The Syrian Civil War’s Never-Ending Endgame

The Syrian civil war that has decimated the country for 10 years now, provoking a regional humanitarian crisis and drawing in actors ranging from the United States to Russia, appears to be drawing inexorably to a conclusion. President Bashar al-Assad, with the backing of Iran and Russia, seems to have emerged militarily victorious from the conflict, which began after his government violently repressed civilian protests in 2011. The armed insurgency that followed soon morphed into a regional and global proxy war that, at the height of the fighting, saw radical Islamist groups seize control over vast swathes of the country, only to lose it in the face of sustained counteroffensives by pro-government forces as well as a U.S.-led coalition of Western militaries.

The fighting is not yet fully over, though, with the northwestern Idlib region remaining outside of government control. In early 2020, the Syrian army’s Russian-backed campaign to retake Idlib from the last remaining armed opposition groups concentrated there resulted in clashes with Turkish forces deployed to protect Ankara’s client militias. The skirmishes were a reminder that the conflict, though seemingly in its final stages, could still escalate into a regional conflagration. The situation in the northeast also remains volatile following the removal of U.S. forces from the border with Turkey, with Turkish, Syrian and Russian forces all now deployed in the region, alongside proxies and Syrian Kurdish militias.

Why Has France’s Islamist Separatism Bill Caused Such Controversy?


On Feb. 16, France’s National Assembly passed a controversial bill meant to protect the country against the dangers of what the government deems “Islamist separatism,” the latest French effort to reinforce the country’s traditional embrace of a secular identity. The bill passed handily, by a vote of 347 to 151, though the left abstained and the far-right felt it didn’t go far enough. Next month, the bill will head to the Senate, dominated by conservatives, where the bill’s passage is pretty much guaranteed.

Despite plenty of centrist support, including from President Emmanuel Macron, the bill has proved controversial, especially with French Muslims, who feel the legislation—which doesn’t name Islam or Muslims—unfairly targets them. An official in the French president’s office said the bill “is not against Islam. It is against people who in the name of a wrong or reconstructed vision of a religion behave in a way contrary to the republic.”

The French effort is part of a broader push in other European countries. In Switzerland, a right-wing political party is pushing a proposal to ban facial coverings such as niqabs or burqas; a referendum is set for March 7. France was the first country in Europe to ban full-face coverings in public in 2011; however, other countries in Europe still have partial or total burqa bans, including Norway, Bulgaria, Denmark, Austria, Latvia, and Belgium.
What does the French bill do?

Moscow Expanding Ties With Iran to Counter Growing Turkish Influence Around Caspian

By: Paul Goble

Moscow is alarmed by the expansion of Turkish influence in the Caspian region, most immediately by Turkey’s enthusiasm for trans-Caspian natural gas pipelines, something that could undercut Russia’s ability to dominate that market. In response, Russia has expanded its own naval activities in the Caspian to signal that it remains a force to be reckoned with there because it could interrupt such flows by force (TRT Russian, February 23; KavkazGeoClub, February 16).

These Russian actions have, in turn, been concerning to Azerbaijan, the chief beneficiary of the expansion of Turkish influence in the Caspian region and a proponent of further trans-Caspian transit links with Central Asian countries. In response, Baku has directed its own naval force to prepare to defend pipelines and other energy infrastructure in the Caspian Sea from attack either by other countries or by non-state terrorists. Such preparations do not mean that any attacks are imminent, but they have their own dynamic, especially given that the Azerbaijani government has chosen to discuss them so publicly (Report.az, February 11; Kaspiyskiy Vestnik, February 18).

But Moscow has not limited its actions in the Caspian to its own forces. In recent weeks, it has held two exercises with Iranian ships in the central and southern portions of that sea, where most of the hydrocarbon fields and energy infrastructure between Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan exist. It has been able to do so because Tehran is at least as worried about the implications of growing Turkish influence in the region as Moscow is (Caucasus Post, February 24; see EDM, February 18).

Russia’s Iskander Missiles Fail in Karabakh but Cause Crisis in Armenia

By: Pavel Felgenhauer

The Second Karabakh War, between Armenia and Azerbaijan, began on September 27, 2020, and ended on November 9, 2020, with a Russian-brokered and guaranteed agreement. The conflict claimed the lives of thousands of Armenian and Azerbaijani soldiers. But after 44 days of fierce fighting, it concluded with Yerevan soundly defeated: Armenia lost territory occupied during the First Karabakh War in 1992–1994 as well as over 30 percent of prewar Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast—a region of Soviet Azerbaijan majority populated by ethnic Armenians. Today, the rump self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR or “Artsakh”)—still controlled by Armenians and not recognized by anyone—is fully surrounded by Azerbaijani troops and territory. The rump Karabakh “republic’s” perimeter is guarded by some 2,000 Russian “peacekeepers” who also control the so-called Lachin corridor, the only highway left open from Armenia proper to Karabakh through the city of Lachin. The future of the rump NKR and its Armenian population is unclear. Baku refuses to discuss any special administrative status for the territory, insisting Armenians born in the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast or their descendants must disarm and apply for Azerbaijani citizenships to stay as a minority inside Azerbaijan. In turn, the NKR leadership has declared Russian an official language alongside Armenian to avoid use of Azerbaijani Turkish (Izvestia, February 17). Officials in Stepanakert (Khankendi in Azerbaijani) apparently hope this may tempt Moscow to keep its peacekeepers in Karabakh permanently and maybe eventually agree to annex the NKR outright.

After the 44-day war, Armenia has been in turmoil, with military and political leaders blaming each other for the disaster. Former Armenian president Serge Sarkissian—who was ousted from power in 2018 through mass street protests by the present Armenian prime minister, Nikol Pashinian—bitterly and publicly criticized the way the conflict was conducted. In particular, he accused Pashinian of failing to make good use of the Russian Iskander mobile theater ballistic missiles Armenia acquired in 2016, when Sarkissian was in charge. The embattled Pashinian replied that, in fact, the Iskanders were fired at Azerbaijani targets but turned out to be useless—“a weapon of the 1980s”—ether not exploding upon impact or “only with some 10 percent effect” (Interfax, February 23). This statement and its aftermath transformed the tense situation in Yerevan into a full-blown crisis. The deputy chief of the Armenian General Staff, Lieutenant General Tiran Khachatrian, told journalists, in between laughter, that Pashinian’s statement about the Iskander’s “10 percent effectiveness” was nonsense. In turn, the prime minister demanded that Armenia’s President Armen Sarkissian (now a largely ceremonial role) fire Khachatrian, which he did on February 24.

Labour’s Dangerous Drift to the Right

If you heard a political leader talking up family values, you’d probably assume the person speaking was a conservative. Especially in the United States and United Kingdom, the term has long been associated with right-wing promotion of a traditional family structure. It was understandable, then, that when British opposition leader Keir Starmer promised Labour would become “the party of the family” in his column for a prominent conservative-leaning newspaper, it raised the eyebrows of many supporters.

Wes Streeting, a member of Starmer’s shadow cabinet, did go on to clarify that Labour’s definition of family “absolutely includes the LGBT+ community,” but this isn’t the first time new Labour Party leadership has adopted messaging familiar to the right. Soon after Starmer took over Labour’s reins in 2020, he faced accusations of unilaterally changing the party’s stance on Kashmir, drawing the ire of many activists and supporters, including Seema Chandwani, vice chair of the Labour Party’s London arm, who tweeted against it and urged Labour members of Parliament to speak out.

At issue was an apparent reversal on a 2019 resolution, in which Labour had described Kashmir as a disputed territory and advocated for the people of Kashmir to be given the right of self-determination in accordance with United Nations resolutions. The party had also condemned the “enforced disappearance of civilians, the state-endorsed sexual violence of women by armed forces and the overall prevalence of human rights violations in the region.”

Ukraine, EU Locked in Clash of Cultures and Values

By: Oleg Varfolomeyev

The Ukrainian government concluded a series of agreements and held important discussions with European Union officials during Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal’s February 9–11 visit to Brussels, where he co-chaired the seventh meeting of the Ukraine-EU Association Council (UNIAN, February 13). Less progress was reached this time compared to the sixth meeting, around the same time last year, attended by Shmyhal’s predecessor, Oleksiy Honcharuk. This downgraded outcome stemmed partly from the fact that the coronavirus crisis had since overshadowed other developments and shifted priorities on both sides. More importantly, not much has changed in Kyiv’s attitude after the signing of the EU Association Agreement, including a Deep and Comprehensive Trade Area, in June 2014.

Brussels has done little to penalize Kyiv’s failures to meet its earlier commitments, though it continues to insist that Ukraine should accept European values and speed up rule-of-law and justice reforms in order to attain more from the EU. Kyiv, however, is seeking primarily economic benefits and political support in its confrontation with Russia, while largely ignoring those requirements from Brussels that are difficult to grasp, let alone implement, for an immature but practical ruling elite in a country suffering from decades of kleptocracy and weakened by the “hybrid” war waged by Moscow. As a result, neither Kyiv nor Brussels remain fully satisfied.

Biden to Order a Review of US Supply Chains for Vital Goods

By Josh Boak and Tom Krisher

President Joe Biden is preparing to sign an executive order to review U.S. supply chains for large-capacity batteries, pharmaceuticals, critical minerals, and semiconductors that power cars, phones, military equipment, and other goods.

The United States has become increasingly reliant on imports of these goods — a potential national security and economic risk that the Biden administration hopes to address with the planned 100-day review and the possibility of increased domestic production, according to administration officials who insisted on anonymity to discuss the order. However, Biden will also look to work with international partners to ensure a stable and reliable supply chain.

The order being signed Wednesday will include sectoral reviews to be completed within one year for defense, public health and biological preparedness, information communications technology, energy, transportation, and food production.

Over the past year, the fragility of vital supply chains has been revealed repeatedly. The coronavirus outbreak led to an initial shortage of masks, gloves, and other protective medical equipment. Automakers in the United States and Europe are now dealing with a shortage of computer chips.

America's Aircraft Carriers Are Headed For Disaster

by Robert Farley 

As long as they serve usefully in that role, nations will seek means to neutralize them. The aircraft-carrier form has proven remarkably flexibly, serving in one way or another for nearly a hundred years. From the USS Forrestal on, the U.S. Navy supercarrier has existed in basically the same form since the 1950s, and is expected to continue operating into the latter half of the twenty-first century. At some point, the game will be up; carriers will no longer pack the offensive punch necessary to justify their vulnerability. It’s not obvious when that day will come, however; we may only find out after the destruction of one of the Navy’s prize possessions.

We know how to kill aircraft carriers—or at least we know how best to try to kill aircraft carriers. Submarine-launched torpedoes, cruise missiles fired from a variety of platforms and ballistic missiles can all give an aircraft carrier a very bad day. Of course, modern carriers have ways of defending themselves from all of these avenues of attack, and we don’t yet have any good evidence of the real balance between offensive and defensive systems.

But what of the future? How will we plan to kill carriers thirty years from now? Here are several of the problems that the next generation of aircraft-carrier architects will need to worry about.

Undersea Unmanned Vehicles

Lithium, Not Oil: The Clean Energy Revolution Will Reshape Global Geopolitics

by Connor Sutherland

After supporting former U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to relax Obama-era auto emissions standards, automaker General Motors (GM) shocked industry observers last month after announcing it would seek to sell only zero-emission cars in fewer than fifteen years.

The statement came the day after President Joe Biden signed a flurry of executive orders made to electrify the federal government’s vehicle armada, pause oil leases on federal lands, and more. Combined with the company’s withdrawal from a Trump-era lawsuit against California’s fuel economy standards, one could be forgiven for believing this latest high-profile move is a shrewd attempt by GM chief Mary Barra to curry favor with the new White House occupant, who has placed climate initiatives at the center of his policy agenda.

But believing that the automaker’s new strategy is merely a bold public relations move is to ignore recent global developments in the electric vehicle and emissions space, namely those underway in China.

Last fall, China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology released a report laying out how the world’s most populous nation would transition its auto market—the largest in the world, accounting for a third of all global sales—to be “eco-friendly” by 2035. In practice, this means that half of all auto sales that year will be “new-energy” vehicles, defined as either electric (EVs), hybrid (PHEV), or hydrogen fuel cell-powered. Of these new vehicles, ninety-five percent will be EVs.

Hot Take: Nuclear Weapons Are Totally Overrated

by Robert Farley 

Overrated” is a challenging concept. In sports, a player can be “great” and “overrated” at the same time. Future Major League Baseball Hall of Famer Derek Jeter, for example, is quite clearly a “great” player, well deserving of the first ballot invitation he will likely receive. However, as virtually all statistically minded aficionados of the game have noted, he is highly overrated (especially on defense) by the baseball press. Similarly, no one doubts that Kobe Bryant is an outstanding basketball player. However, many doubt that he is quite as good as his fans (or the NBA commentariat) seem to believe.

The five weapons of war listed below are “overrated” in the sense that they occupy a larger space in the defense-security conversation than they really deserve. Some of them are fantastic, effective systems, while others are not. All of them take up more ink than they should, and (often) distract from more important issues of warfighting and defense contracting.

Nuclear Weapons:

Nuclear weapons have, in an important sense, dominated international diplomacy for the last six decades. What they haven’t dominated is warfare, where they appear to be nearly useless in all configurations.

Offshore Balancing Strategy Can Correct America’s Middle East Approach

by Robert A. Manning Peter A. Wilson

AGROWING chorus of critics, Right and Left, are calling for a greatly diminished role in the Middle East and its place in U.S. global strategy. Perhaps the most compelling was a confessional last year in the Wall Street Journal by Martin Indyk, a veteran Middle East hand and former ambassador to Israel, explaining why as the headline read, “The Middle East Isn’t Worth it Anymore.” Nearly twenty years after 9/11, the United States has spent $6.4 trillion on wars in the process, destabilizing the region. The Iraq invasion set off a cascade of turmoil and conflict in the region amid a still damaged Arab Muslim civilization, with few tangible benefits. The legacy of failure and substantially changed circumstances with regard to two longstanding core concerns—oil flows and Israel’s security—add up to greatly reduced and reconfigured U.S. interests both in the region and in U.S. global strategy.

But American national security policy seems impervious to its own failures and the big geostrategic and geo-economic changes underway. It’s running on bureaucratic inertia. The United States has up to sixty thousand combat personnel in the Greater Middle East (GME) depending on the ebb and flow of the situation and rings the region with air and naval bases. Yet by all appearances, the ongoing U.S. military presence has had almost zero impact on the deepening multilayered civil and internationalized conflicts in the region: Syria, Libya, Yemen, festering instability in Iraq, on-going tensions with Iran, nineteen years and counting in Afghanistan, state failure in Lebanon, and jihadism has hardly been extinguished. There is little acknowledgment of the limits of U.S. power, though the lack of Americans’ appetite for more conflict is obvious to key regional actors who are filling the vacuum as Donald Trump withdrew troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, and is a significant factor shaping strategic realignments. It is an auspicious moment for President Joe Biden, with ambitious and urgent domestic priorities, to recalibrate U.S. interests in the region.

Ukraine’s Sanctions Against Pro-Russian Oligarch Medvedchuk—All About Oil and Coal

By: Alla Hurska

On February 19, the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine (NSDC) imposed sanctions on Ukrainian tycoon and politician Viktor Medvedchuk and his wife, Oksana Marchenko (Pravda.com.ua, February 19). Medvedchuk is a leader and people’s deputy of the pro-Russian party Opposition Platform–For Life, the largest opposition faction in the Ukrainian parliament. Moreover, he is a close acquaintance of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The NSDC sanctions list also includes five Russian nationals and Ukrainian national Nataliya Lavreniuk. The latter is Marchenko’s friend and the common-law spouse of Taras Kozak (already under sanctions), a people’s deputy from the same political party and Medvedchuk’s business partner. Apart from targeting those eight individuals, sanctions were imposed on nineteen associated businesses, including firms that own aircraft and operate direct flights from Kyiv to Moscow as well as a number of joint stock companies registered in Russia, Moldova and Portugal (Pravda.com.ua, February 20). These measures came two weeks after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy ordered the shutdown of several television channels—ZIK, NewsOne and 112—connected to Kozak. The move was described by Zelenskyy as a necessary step to fight Russian propaganda. But according to the Security Service of Ukraine (SSU) and the NSDC, these actions were motivated by more complex issues. Specifically, the three aforementioned TV channels were being financed by limited liability company trading house Don Coal (Rostov, Russia), which receives revenue from smuggling coal out of the Luhansk and Donetsk “people’s republics” (LPR/DPR) (Pravda.com.ua, February 4).

According to NSDC Secretary Oleksiy Danilov, the decision to sanction Medvedchuk and his wife was also based on documents provided by the SSU relating to a criminal case the Ukrainian special services opened against the couple: namely, they are suspected of sponsoring terrorism in LPR/DPR (Interfax, February 19). SSU Chairperson Ivan Bakanov confirmed that the SSU is investigating a scheme to smuggle coal supply from LPR/DPR to Russia and Ukraine; moreover, he admitted that this investigation related to companies associated with Medvedchuk and Kozak (Ssu.gov.ua, February 19).

US Army to test new microwave weapon for defeating drones

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The U.S. Army will conduct field-testing of a new microwave weapon designed to protect military bases from incoming drones as early as 2024, following an on-site demonstration at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico, officials said.

THOR, which stands for Tactical High Power Operational Responder, was built at Kirtland AFB and provides protection against multiple targets that simultaneously threaten military installations, the Albuquerque Journal reported.

Army Lt. Gen. L. Neil Thurgood said he watched the weapon’s system on the base earlier this month and that the service’s investment in microwave and laser weapons addresses a growing problem that requires new tools to defend troops and infrastructure.

“The Army’s directed-energy capabilities will need to provide a layered defense with multiple ways to defeat incoming threats,” Thurgood said. “High-energy lasers kill one target at a time, and high-powered microwaves can kill groups or swarms, which is why we are pursuing a combination of both technologies.”

Kelly Hammett, head of the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Directed Energy Directorate that built THOR, said the Army plans to invest as a partner starting in October and begin field testing by 2024. It’s unlikely the military will deploy the system before 2026.

“They intend to procure enough systems for a platoon unit in 2024 to do experimentation with a mix of weapons,” Hammett told the Albuquerque Journal. “They will put microwave and lasers together in a single unit to assess how to deploy it all.”

America Has a GPS Problem

By Kate Murphy

Time was when nobody knew, or even cared, exactly what time it was. The movement of the sun, phases of the moon and changing seasons were sufficient indicators. But since the Industrial Revolution, we’ve become increasingly dependent on knowing the time, and with increasing accuracy. Not only does the time tell us when to sleep, wake, eat, work and play; it tells automated systems when to execute financial transactions, bounce data between cellular towers and throttle power on the electrical grid.

Coordinated Universal Time, or U.T.C., the global reference for timekeeping, is beamed down to us from extremely precise atomic clocks aboard Global Positioning System (GPS) satellites. The time it takes for GPS signals to reach receivers is also used to calculate location for air, land and sea navigation.

Owned and operated by the U.S. government, GPS is likely the least recognized, and least appreciated, part of our critical infrastructure. Indeed, most of our critical infrastructure would cease to function without it.

The problem is that GPS signals are incredibly weak, due to the distance they have to travel from space, making them subject to interference and vulnerable to jamming and what is known as spoofing, in which another signal is passed off as the original. And the satellites themselves could easily be taken out by hurtling space junk or the sun coughing up a fireball. As intentional and unintentional GPS disruptions are on the rise, experts warn that our overreliance on the technology is courting disaster, but they are divided on what to do about it.

America’s Middle East Policy Is Outdated and Dangerous

By Chris Murphy

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

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

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

Defense Against the Dark Arts in Space: Protecting Space Systems from Counterspace Weapons

The proliferation of counterspace weapons across the globe often calls into question what can be done to best protect satellites from attack. This analysis from the CSIS Aerospace Security Project addresses different methods and technologies that can be used by the United States government, and others, to deter adversaries from attack. A wide range of active and passive defenses are available to protect space systems and the ground infrastructure they depend upon from different types of threats. This report captures a range of active and passive defenses that are theoretically possible and discusses the advantages and limitations of each. A group of technical space and national security experts supported the analysis by working through several plausible scenarios that explore a range of defenses that may be needed, concepts for employing different types of defenses, and how defensive actions in space may be perceived by others. These scenarios and the findings that resulted from subsequent conversations with experts are reported in the penultimate chapter of the report. Finally, the CSIS Aerospace Security Project team offers conclusions drawn from the analysis, actionable recommendations for policymakers, and additional research topics to be explored in future work.

This study was made possible by the generous support of the Smith Richardson Foundation and general support to CSIS.DOWNLOAD THE REPORT

Why Mercenary Armies Are Running Amok

Candace Rondeaux 

It may take years to unravel the tangled web surrounding “Project Opus,” the bungled 2019 mercenary operation to prop up Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar, which allegedly included efforts to deploy a special hit squad to Libya. Few observers tracking the burgeoning global market for privatized armies, however, were likely surprised by reports last week that U.N. investigators suspect the involvement of former Blackwater CEO Erik Prince.

The recently leaked U.N. report makes only glancing mention of Prince’s alleged ties to the operation, but it marks the second time since the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings that Prince’s company, Hong Kong-based Frontier Services Group, or FSG, has been linked to allegations of trying to sell military services in Libya. In fact, the U.N. report references a detailed PowerPoint presentation elaborating on FSG’s alleged plan to deploy a fleet of drones and helicopters to protect coastal areas of Libya, which appears to bear the hallmarks of a similar plan that Prince hawked to potential buyers back in 2013, according to reporting by The Intercept. ...