16 March 2021

South Asia deftly navigates China–India tensions

Rohan Mukherjee

China–India relations took a turn for the worse in 2020. Intrusions by the People’s Liberation Army along the contested border led to a military standoff and skirmishes, the likes of which had not been seen for decades between the two countries. Only recently have they begun the process of disengagement.

India’s neighbourhood has increasingly become a space in which the two major powers jostle for influence. Over the last decade, China has become one of the top exporters to South Asia. Chinese investments have poured into infrastructure projects such as railways, ports, highways and economic corridors spanning thousands of kilometres across the region. Except for India and Bhutan, all South Asian countries are members of China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

South Asian states have been quietly watching the sparks flying on the Himalayan frontier. Even Pakistan — perhaps China’s closest partner globally and with the most to gain from India being distracted on its eastern flank — has done little out of the ordinary to change the status quo. On 25 February 2021, New Delhi and Islamabad unexpectedly recommitted to a ceasefire along their disputed border.

Nepal is an exception, taking the crisis as an opportunity to officially release and constitutionally legitimate a new map claiming three small territories historically disputed with India. India has claimed and controlled these territories for decades, with little official protestation from Nepal. Kathmandu’s unprecedented action during the China–India standoff therefore suggested a desire to poke India in the eye while acknowledging Nepal’s burgeoning ties with China. This type of signalling was a level up from the China–India military standoff at Doklam in 2017, when Nepali elites blamed India for the crisis but still acknowledged that it would be best for Kathmandu to stay uninvolved.


OTTAWA, ON (March 3, 2021): Alongside regimes in Russia, China and Iran, Pakistan deserves recognition as amongst the world’s greatest disruptors for its proxy war in Afghanistan. Many Canadians have lost their lives in pursuit of Afghanistan’s freedom and prosperity. Though the price was steep, Canada was a major contributor toward bringing greater stability to the country, strengthening a democratic government, empowering women and girls, and much more.

However, despite substantial efforts from the international community, Afghanistan remains mired in a worsening conflict – and these gains are increasingly under siege. In a new MLI paper titled “Ending Pakistan’s Proxy Way in Afghanistan,” former Ambassador and Cabinet Minister Chris Alexander reveals the integral role of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) as the principal and underlying cause of persistent war against Afghans and those who seek to help them.

Alexander argues that, instead of working to achieve stability under democratic institutions chosen by Afghans, Pakistan’s post-9/11 military leaders have “sheltered Osama Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda while working to scale up military and terrorist campaigns prosecuted by the Taliban’s Quetta Shura, the Haqqani Network, and other groups.”

Alexander reveals that the Taliban and their allies have received unstinting support from Pakistan’s military for decades. This state terror as statecraft has systematically resulted in the Taliban’s capacity to continue engaging in terrorist activities. As a result, “ISI’s covert proxy war has killed a total of about 124,000 people to date – more than half of them Taliban fighters and nearly one third Afghan civilians,” notes Alexander.

Afghanistan: Another Peace to End All Peace?

It is too soon to say that the Biden Administration has taken on “mission impossible” in proposing the new peace plan that Secretary Blinken has sent to the Afghan central government and the Taliban, which is attached at the end of this commentary. It is not too soon to say that it has been saddled with an almost impossible legacy.

The Trump administration’s peace agreement in February 2020 was followed by massive real cuts in U.S. personnel and military support, but it was never followed by any public peace plan – and it certainly never produced serious progress. The result is that the Biden administration has now taken office with very real facts on the ground in terms of the limits to U.S. capability, but with no real facts in terms of some form of agreed interim government or agreement to any aspect of what kind of Afghanistan could emerge out of a “peace” between the Afghan central government and the Taliban.

It is now mid-March, and there is still a deadline for the end of May that would require the U.S. to remove all troops as well as U.S. defense contractors and civilian personnel. In practice, this has meant that the Biden Administration has been compelled to propose a peace settlement that President Ghani has already virtually rejected and one that the Taliban will probably only accept if it feels that it can impose its own rule once the U.S. leaves.

The problems the Biden Administration faces in having to propose a real plan – nearly a year too late for it to succeed – has become all too clear the moment one actually reads the full peace settlement attached to this commentary, and when one looks at the portions that are highlighted. A real peace between real enemies is a massive, complex effort. The text that Secretary Blinken has proposed highlights issue after issue that should have been resolved long before now – issues that should have been considered long before the U.S. unilaterally announced a peace “agreement” without any real definition of a “peace” or without any real agreement.

Elements of change and continuity in the future of the Indo-Pacific

When discussing the newer elements and concepts in the future of the Indo-Pacific in 2021, elements of both change and continuity need to be taken into account. The end of the Cold War opened new facets of security, expanding it in ways that pushed frameworks beyond state and military security. The beginning of the 1990s marked a systemic shift in the study and analyses of security and world order to crucially encompass non-traditional approaches in the traditional security framework.

The changing focus towards non-traditional security

The 2020-2021 Covid crisis has demonstrated the profound impact of a non-traditional security issue to human survival and the well-being of peoples and states. The pandemic has resulted in 2.3 million deaths globally, as per latest figures. It has destabilized globalized economies, with poverty and hunger reaching unprecedentedly disturbing levels, thereby highlighting its devastating socio-economic impact.

In this light, 2021 sees, perhaps, for the first time, a non-traditional security issue racing past the traditional facets of security in terms of policy approaches and of the need for global solutions. In 2021, we are likely to see the issues of climate change and human epidemics take center stage. The past year has underscored that the referent of security is no longer just the State (in terms of state sovereignty or territorial integrity), but also the People (and their survival, well-being and dignity) both at the individual and societal levels. A non-traditional security issue has challenged the very survival of peoples and states, being transnational in nature and scope, defying unilateral remedies and requiring comprehensive political, economic, social responses.

Could Ukrainian Firm Solve China’s Jet-Engine Problem?


Chendgu J-20 fighter prototypes, , considered suspiciously similar to the American F-35 Joint Strike Fighter — but at least initially powered by a Russian-made, 1980s-vintage engine.

KIEV: Washington and Kiev are trying to block the Chinese takeover of a jet-engine maker little known outside Ukraine, Motor Sich. If the sale goes through, it will let China obtain a key defence technology that has eluded them for decades, in one of the few remaining disciplines where the US and its allies retain a competitive advantage.

For decades, the Achilles’ Heel of Chinese airpower has been Beijing’s perennial inability to design and build reliable military jet aeroengines. For most of the years that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has been engaged in its current modernisation drive, they have had to rely on aeroengine technology – as well as the off-the-shelf engines themselves – imported from Russia.

Lately, however, PLA have been trying to break this cycle of dependence by taking over an aeroengine firm here in Ukraine, the Motor Sich engine production association.

Based in Zaparozhiye, Ukraine, Motor Sich is one of the largest aeroengine enterprises left over from the former USSR, and today they are probably the only one that could design and build a new engine front-to-back on their own. The other major aeroengine firms – all of which are in Russia – have lost so many personnel over the years that every new Russian engine programme ends up being a cooperative effort between three or more design bureaux.

That effort has been blocked by both the US and Ukrainian governments – the US in an effort to keep Beijing from solving its aeroengine technology deficiency and Ukraine acting in order to not lose a strategically important enterprise.

Trigger warning. The CCP’s coordinated information effort to discredit the BBC

By Jacob Wallis and Albert Zhang

Chinese Communist Party (CCP) diplomatic accounts, Chinese state media, pro-CCP influencers and patriotic trolls are targeting the UK public broadcaster, the BBC, in a coordinated information operation. Recent BBC reports, including the allegations of systematic sexual assault in Xinjiang’s internment camps, were among a number of triggers provoking the CCP’s propaganda apparatus to discredit the BBC, distract international attention and recapture control of the narrative.

In ASPI ICPC’s new report, Albert Zhang and Dr Jacob Wallis provide a snapshot of the CCP’s ongoing coordinated response targeting the BBC, which leveraged YouTube, Twitter and Facebook and was broadly framed around three prominent narratives:
That the BBC spreads disinformation and is biased against China
That the BBC’s domestic audiences think that it’s biased and not to be trusted
That the BBC’s reporting on China is instigated by foreign actors and intelligence agencies.

In addition, the report analyses some of the secondary effects of this propaganda effort by exploring the mobilisation of a pro-CCP Twitter network that has previously amplified the Covid-19 disinformation content being pushed by China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and whose negative online engagement with the BBC peaks on the same days as that of the party-state’s diplomats and state media.

To contest and blunt criticism of the CCP’s systematic surveillance and control of minority ethnic groups, the party will continue to aggressively deploy its propaganda and disinformation apparatus. Domestic control remains fundamental to its political power and legitimacy, and internationally narrative control is fundamental to the pursuit of its foreign policy interests.

At a Crossroads: The Next Chapter for FinTech in China

As China’s FinTech industry enters a critical third development stage, we see a complex interplay of collaboration and competition among technology companies, traditional financial institutions and regulatory agencies. The strategies and positions adopted by these three players will continue to shape the role of FinTech in China’s financial system, set the pace of the industry’s development and determine the eventual make-up of the broader financial environment. This report presents the initial findings from a workshop hosted in Shanghai, discussions at the Forum’s China Business Roundtable and expert interviews. It explores the evolution of the Chinese financial services system, with the expectation that future innovations will benefit not only domestic users and businesses but also societies around the world.

The Insidious Threat of China’s Confucius Institutes


Our nation has endured revolution, civil war, world war, and cold war. We have survived every kind of hardship and won. Today, we are in a new kind of war: a war of information.

The Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) rise to illegitimate prosperity is one of the greatest threats to the American way of life, and it’s been fueled by the theft and abuse of information at every turn, from intellectual-property theft to unfair trade practices to the spread of propaganda that obscures the CCP’s intentions and covers its tracks.

This is not an abstract phenomenon playing out in the remote realm of geo-politics; it is happening in blatant view of all of us. Right here in our own state of South Carolina, home to some of the nation’s greatest schools and universities, the CCP is exerting — and growing — its influence.

Under the direction of top officials in the CCP’s Office of Overseas Propaganda, China has established a network of 50 so-called Confucius Institutes at American educational institutions. In 2009, Li Changchun, then head of agitprop for the CCP, called these outposts “an important part of China’s overseas propaganda set-up.” Their M.O. is simple: China gives American host institutions cash, and CCP operatives get to teach a distorted, regime-friendly history of the Chinese state to American students. Meanwhile, those same operatives get to live in close proximity to all the resources of our modern research universities, and to important inside information about the sensitive, and often taxpayer-funded, activities of our brightest minds.

Vaccine Diplomacy Is Paying Off for China

By Yanzhong Huang

Vaccines have had a place in diplomacy since the Cold War era. The country that can manufacture and distribute lifesaving injections to others less fortunate sees a return on its investment in the form of soft power: prestige, goodwill, perhaps a degree of indebtedness, even awe. Today the country moving fastest toward consolidating these gains may be China, under President Xi Jinping, who proclaimed last May that Chinese-made vaccines against COVID-19 would become a “global public good.” Since that time, top officials have promised many developing countries priority access to Chinese vaccines, and the Chinese Foreign Ministry has announced that the country is providing free vaccines to 69 countries and commercially exporting them to 28 more.

China’s competitors worry that where Beijing’s inoculations go, its influence will follow. But the field of COVID-19 vaccination is still a largely uncharted one and scattered with barriers, whether logistical, scientific, psychological, or geopolitical. China’s path through this labyrinth is neither obvious nor assured. The country faces stiffening competition from Russia and India. Now the United States, too, has entered the global stakes for equitable distribution of safe and effective vaccines. China has yet to prove that it can fulfill the role it has taken on or win the trust of those it has offered to aid.


The Eastern Mediterranean conflict: From Turkey-Greece confrontation to regional power struggles

Is a concise text that gives the reader a briefing on a topical issue. It is aimed at broad audiences.

At the core of the Eastern Mediterranean conflict is the increasing competition between Greece and the Republic of Cyprus on one side and Turkey on the other, in relation to the ability to determine exclusive economic zones (EEZs).

Turkey’s foreign policy has become much more assertive and even aggressive in recent years, evolving from determined diplomatic efforts to safeguard key national interests to power projection and the use of military force.

The current Eastern Mediterranean conflict has become part of a much wider regional power struggle extending from EU member states to Turkey and several Middle Eastern states, especially Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.

Turkey’s most recent diplomatic openings and softening of rhetoric seem more like short-term tactics in preparation for the March 2021 EU Council meeting and the expected change in Turkey-US relations due to the new Biden administration.

The Biden administration and the EU are poised to start filling the alleged power vacuum in the Eastern Mediterranean. For the current Turkish leadership, this new situation is unwelcome, and the country remains determined to push its own agenda.DOWNLOAD PDF

Reforming DoD: Steps to Avoid Failure and Make Lasting Change

Raina Davis

Washington D.C. enjoys an abundance of several things: monuments, overpriced bars pretending to be dives, and people who believe they know how to fix the Department of Defense. Unfortunately, despite the abundance of both potential reformers and enthusiasm for change, most ideas and initiatives fail. They fail because effectively reforming an organization as complex and with a mission as challenging as the Department of Defense requires far more than just good ideas.

Four Tasks for Reformers

Reformers must perform four tasks to create positive change. First, they must understand the problem they are trying to solve and how it came about. It’s very difficult to understand where you need to go and how to get there if you don’t understand where you are. This involves examining law, organizational structures, culture, and why these all came about. This step, while widely practiced by academics, is often underappreciated by reformers firmly convinced they know the solution to DoD’s problems, even if they don’t quite understand the problem. They are sometimes surprised to learn that their proposed solution has been attempted before, or that the current situation was created to fix the problems from the last time their proposed solution was implemented.


Onderzoekers Danny Pronk en Jack Thompson van Instituut Clingendael en het Den Haag Centrum voor Strategische Studies (HCSS) overhandigden vandaag de Strategische Monitor “Geopolitical Genesis: Dutch Foreign and Security Policy in a Post-COVID World” aan de minister van Defensie, Ank Bijleveld.

Met hun jaarlijkse rapport geven de beide denktanks inzicht in de trends en ontwikkelingen in de wereldpolitiek. Het belangrijkste thema van dit rapport is dat dit hét moment is voor de Europese Unie om zijn status als ontluikende wereldmacht te verstevigen en dat Nederland hierbij een actieve rol moet vervullen.

Er komt geen “return to normal” van de trans-Atlantische betrekkingen, ook niet onder President Biden, zo stellen de onderzoekers. Europa zal meer verantwoordelijkheid moeten nemen voor haar eigen defensie en een onafhankelijk buitenlands beleid moeten voeren. Nederland kan hier een overbruggende rol spelen, maar dat vraagt om meer Europese samenwerking. Dit is nodig om de invloed van een relatief klein land als Nederland te kunnen vergroten, maar ook om één vuist te kunnen vormen tegen de verdeel- en heerstactieken van China. Terwijl China een belangrijke economische partner blijft, is het nodig om met een verenigd Europees antwoord te komen op de steeds agressievere houding van zowel China als Rusland.DOWNLOAD PUBLICATION (PDF)

The Rise of Russia’s Military Robots: Theory, Practice and Implications

Sten Allik, Sean F Fahey

Russia’s military exercises, operations and defence industry exhibitions are showcasing an increasing number of unmanned aerial, land and maritime platforms. Some examples are dismissed by Western observers as evident failures and signs of unrealistic ambitions, even as a sort of “Potemkin village” display. However, there is no denying the fact that Russia’s defence leadership, military theorists and military practitioners are showing keen interest in robotic military applications featuring varying degrees of autonomy in performing their tasks.

Moscow’s military campaigns against Ukraine and in Syria have become the testbeds of such applications as well as of their integration into the Russian order of battle in conditions of real warfare. Compared to just ten years ago, the Russian Armed Forces have made considerable progress in adopting and expanding the use of these new technologies in their capability development. This process is bound to continue, with some important implications for countries such as Estonia that border Russia and feel threatened by its offensive military capabilities and hostile political intent as well as for the entire NATO alliance, which seeks to deter Russia’s military aggression.

Are U.S. Special Forces Quietly Using Armed Robots?

David Hambling

There is a taboo about putting weapons on robots. When Dallas police killed a sniper using an improvised bomb on a robot in 2016, there was a national outcry, and the tactic has not been repeated. The same caution has long applied in the U.S. military, and any suggestion that robots will get weapons still draws a strong reaction. But Special Forces may have quietly broken this longstanding taboo.

Drone strikes against terrorist and insurgent leadership have become routine, although the policy of arming drones seems to have resulted from considerable pressure by the CIA in the face of Air Force resistance. When it comes to putting weapons on unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs), the Pentagon has been more cautious.

Back in the 1980s the experimental Teleoperated Mobile Anti-Armor Platform was a 600-pound remote-controlled vehicle. The operator could maneuver it into position and launch missiles at massed Soviet tanks from a safe distance. TMAP worked well in demonstrations up to 1987 but Congress was not impressed – it was deemed too small and underpowered — and TMAP never made it into service.

Many other projects spiraled down the same route. In 2007 the Army finally seemed ready when it deployed three Talon/SWORDS to Iraq. SWORDS was an armed version of a bomb-disposal robot, and had a similar task of being sent in where it was too dangerous for a human. The robots were never used in action though, apparently for political rather than operational reasons, and were withdrawn. There were concerns over how the media would react to ‘killer robots’ and fears what would happen if anything went wrong.

Foreign Policy for Pragmatists

By Gideon Rose

Bismarck once said that the statesman’s task was to hear God’s footsteps marching through history and try to catch his coattails as he went past. U.S. President George W. Bush agreed. In his second inaugural address, Bush argued that “history has an ebb and flow of justice, but history also has a visible direction, set by liberty and the Author of Liberty.” President Donald Trump had a different take. His National Security Strategy claimed: “A central continuity in history is the contest for power. The present time period is no different.” The Bush team saw history moving forward along a sunlit path; the Trump team saw it as a gloomy eternal return. Those beliefs led them to care about different issues, expect different things of the world, and pursue different foreign policies.

Theories of history, fundamental beliefs about how the world works, are usually assumed rather than argued and rarely get subjected to serious scrutiny. Yet these general ideas set the parameters for all the specific policy choices an administration makes. Know an administration’s theory of history, and much of the rest is easy to fill in.

There are a lot of possible theories of history, but they tend to fall, like Bush’s and Trump’s, into two main camps: optimistic and pessimistic. Thus, the Clinton administration followed its own version of happy directionality—think of it as Bush with less muscular Christianity. And there have been earlier believers in Trump’s dark and stormy night, as well.

Why Biden Can't Turn Back the Clock on the Iran Nuclear Deal

by Raphael S. Cohen

As a presidential candidate, Joe Biden promised to “rejoin the [Iran nuclear] agreement and use our renewed commitment to diplomacy to work with our allies to strengthen and extend it.” As president, Biden has taken the first steps to fulfilling this promise, but he may find that this pledge is not easy to keep. Not only do all of the original flaws of the agreement remain, but, more importantly, the agreement was predicated on a geopolitical context that no longer exists.

Formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the deal avoided another unpopular Middle Eastern war by defusing a potentially explosive foreign policy issue—Iranian nuclear proliferation. Until President Trump's decision to withdraw from the agreement in 2018, the agreement remained relatively popular with the American public. The deal—a meticulously negotiated, multilateral diplomatic feat—also provided a neat foil to the Trump administration's “America first” foreign policy. While rejoining the JCPOA may make for good politics, it may not make for good policy.

The JCPOA was never a long-term, or comprehensive, fix to the Iran challenge. The deal aimed to restrict, rather than end, Iran's path to nuclear weapons for 10 to 15 years after it was enacted in 2016. Time, however, is no longer on the United States's side.

America Without God

Shadi Hamid

The united states had long been a holdout among Western democracies, uniquely and perhaps even suspiciously devout. From 1937 to 1998, church membership remained relatively constant, hovering at about 70 percent. Then something happened. Over the past two decades, that number has dropped to less than 50 percent, the sharpest recorded decline in American history. Meanwhile, the “nones”—atheists, agnostics, and those claiming no religion—have grown rapidly and today represent a quarter of the population.

But if secularists hoped that declining religiosity would make for more rational politics, drained of faith’s inflaming passions, they are likely disappointed. As Christianity’s hold, in particular, has weakened, ideological intensity and fragmentation have risen. American faith, it turns out, is as fervent as ever; it’s just that what was once religious belief has now been channeled into political belief. Political debates over what America is supposed to mean have taken on the character of theological disputations. This is what religion without religion looks like.

Not so long ago, I could comfort American audiences with a contrast: Whereas in the Middle East, politics is war by other means—and sometimes is literal war—politics in America was less existentially fraught. During the Arab Spring, in countries like Egypt and Tunisia, debates weren’t about health care or taxes—they were, with sometimes frightening intensity, about foundational questions: What does it mean to be a nation? What is the purpose of the state? What is the role of religion in public life? American politics in the Obama years had its moments of ferment—the Tea Party and tan suits—but was still relatively boring.

The Geopolitics of Critical Minerals Supply Chains

As clean energy technology becomes the latest frontier for geoeconomic rivalry, the security of supply chains for rare earths and critical minerals—essential materials for clean energy—has become a global strategic issue.

The fragility of global supply chains revealed by Covid-19 and rising competition from China have only heightened the importance of supply chain security for critical minerals.

This report compares strategies and actions taken by the United States, European Union, and Japan, illuminating key economic, security, and geopolitical factors behind these evolving approaches to enhance the security of critical minerals supply chains.

This report was made possible by the generous support of the Japan External Trade Organization.DOWNLOAD THE REPORT

The Brewing Storm in Jordan’s Oasis of Calm

It is commonly held that the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is an oasis of calm in the Middle East. This characterization stems in part from Jordan’s stable monarchy and strong military and economic cooperation with the United States. Jordan has not experienced a civil war since Black September in the 1970s, nor has it been involved in a major conflict since the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Even under acute moments of regional pressure, such as the 2011 Arab Spring, the kingdom experienced relatively manageable protests compared to its neighbors. With so much attention on surrounding conflicts and humanitarian crises, Jordan’s stability is often taken for granted by the United States.

However, Jordan now faces a threefold challenge—Covid-19, rising unemployment, and a deteriorating situation for refugees—that threatens the country’s stability. Even before the pandemic, increased pressure for political reform and rising unemployment rates, particularly for Jordan’s youth, posed a threat to this historic peace. The aftereffects of the Covid-19 pandemic threaten to further destabilize civil society.

Additionally, Jordan hosts about 750,000 refugees from Syria, Palestine, and Iraq, representing the second-largest refugee community in the world per capita. As a result of the Syrian Civil War, many Syrians fled to neighboring Jordan for safety and better economic opportunities. While 90 percent of Syrian refugees in Jordan live outside of refugee camps, they face disproportionate food and income insecurities compared to the larger Jordanian population. Many of the refugees in Jordan lack the higher education, skills accreditation, and the necessary work permits for more technical and high-income employment. Over 50 percent of Syrian refugees are women, many of whom work in the informal sector with little job security or face social and economic barriers to employment, making them particularly vulnerable to the dual economic and health shocks of Covid-19.

The Fukushima Disaster Didn’t Scare the World Off Nuclear Power

By Lindsay Maizland

Ten years ago, three nuclear reactors melted down at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant in Japan, producing the worst nuclear accident since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster. Hundreds of thousands of residents within eighteen miles of the power plant were forced to evacuate. Most haven’t returned, even though the government has said most areas are safe.

The disaster, caused by an earthquake-triggered tsunami, pushed Japan and a few other countries to rethink their use of nuclear energy. But elsewhere, it didn’t spur major changes. Instead, experts say, climate change could force a major reckoning with how the world uses nuclear power.

Before the Fukushima meltdown, officials saw nuclear energy as a way for Japan, a country with limited fossil fuels, to achieve some degree of energy independence. Thirty percent of Japan’s energy came from nuclear power plants, which were supposed to provide half of the country’s energy supply by 2030.

That changed after the March 2011 disaster. Public support for nuclear energy plummeted, and, a year later, all of Japan’s fifty-four reactors had been taken offline. The government also created a new regulatory agency to improve oversight of the nuclear industry.

Ten years after Fukushima: The experts examine lessons learned and forgotten

By Ali Ahmad, Aditi Verma, Francesca Giovannini

A decade later, the footage of the dramatic hydrogen explosions in the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, broadcast live on television—and the subsequent disruptions to livelihoods, ecosystems, and economic activities—still reverberate.

In the wake of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986, several new nuclear safety institutions such as the World Association of Nuclear Operators and the Convention on Nuclear Safety were created. Nevertheless, the West-based nuclear industry used an “us and them” pretext to mask some of the intrinsic and global flaws in nuclear safety practices, asserting that an accident like Chernobyl, caused by flawed technology and operational practices, could never happen within their own national borders. Then came Fukushima, a catastrophe that flipped such a narrative on its head and exposed the nuclear industry’s limitations in understanding the risks of the so-called “beyond design basis accidents”.

Amid a looming climate crisis and a desperate need to curb emissions, analyzing the costs, risks and benefits of nuclear energy cannot be more timely and relevant. If the global expansion of nuclear energy to address climate change is inevitable, how can we prevent, or at least mitigate, the effects of the next nuclear accident or disaster? If nuclear accidents are no longer unimaginable, can we accept the inevitability of future nuclear accidents and focus our efforts just as much on mitigation as accident prevention?



The technology of today, while impressive, is developing the tactics and techniques of future terrorist attacks. The most prescient current technology that will enable future terrorist attacks is the drone. Drones have the ability of providing standoff, which can enable terrorists to conduct multiple attacks nearly simultaneously, rapidly magnifying their overall effect. A terrorist attack is meant to create an atmosphere of fear to influence a target audience—a civilian population or government—to force or impose political change. The massive increase in the number of form factors, capabilities, ease of access and ease of operation of drones at low cost will make them the weapon of choice for future terrorists.

The majority of past terrorist attacks have relied on weapons and materials that were readily available. In the United States, the perpetrators of the most significant attacks in the past 30 years, the Oklahoma City bombing1 and the 9/11 attacks,2 purchased the majority of their required materials legally. In addition to acquiring materials, terrorist groups need individuals to carry out their attacks. Many groups typically conduct attacks with the expectation that their members will sacrifice themselves during the attack, either by being caught or killed. The use of drones, however, can allow an individual or a small group to conduct multiple attacks without self-sacrifice.


Dawn Zoldi on “Autonomous Drones and National Security”


Yesterday Duke’s Center on Law, Ethics and National Security (LENS) completed its 26th Annual LENS National Security Law Conference. Conducted virtually, the conference garnered–by far–our largest number of registrants ever. That’s no surprise due to the conference’s fabulous lineup of spectacular speakers.

Our guest post today is by Dawn Zoldi, a retired USAF JAG Colonel, about the conference discussion she had with Duke University’s Dr. Missy Cummings whose background made her perfect for the conference. Here’s just a glimpse of her bio from the university’s site:

A naval officer and military pilot from 1988-1999, she was one of the Navy’s first female fighter pilots. Cummings is currently a Professor in the Duke University Pratt School of Engineering, the Duke Institute of Brain Sciences, and is the director of the Humans and Autonomy Laboratory and Duke Robotics.

Her research interests include human-unmanned vehicle interaction, human-autonomous system collaboration, human-systems engineering, public policy implications of unmanned vehicles, and the ethical and social impact of technology.

I’ve known Missy for many years, and I’d underline her background as a fighter pilot. Why? Beyond her obvious technical brilliance, she gives you her views in a refreshingly unambiguous and straightforward manner–as is the way of the fighter-pilot community.

Embracing a Zero Trust Security Model

As cybersecurity professionals defend increasingly dispersed and complex enterprise networks from sophisticated cyber threats, embracing a Zero Trust security model and the mindset necessary to deploy and operate a system engineered according to Zero Trust principles can better position them to secure sensitive data, systems, and services. Zero Trust is a security model, a set of system design principles, and a coordinated cybersecurity and system management strategy based on an acknowledgement that threats exist both inside and outside traditional network boundaries. The Zero Trust security model eliminates implicit trust in any one element, node, or service and instead requires continuous verification of the operational picture via real-time information fed from multiple sources to determine access and other system responses. The Zero Trust security model assumes that a breach is inevitable or has likely already occurred, so it constantly limits access to only what is needed and looks for anomalous or malicious activity. 

Zero Trust embeds comprehensive security monitoring; granular risk-based access controls; and system security automation in a coordinated manner throughout all aspects of the infrastructure in order to focus on protecting critical assets (data) in real-time within a dynamic threat environment. This data-centric security model allows the concept of least-privileged access to be applied for every access decision, allowing or denying access to resources based on the combination of several contextual factors. Systems that are designed using Zero Trust principals should be better positioned to address existing threats, but transitioning to such a system requires careful planning to avoid weakening the security posture along the way. NSA continues to monitor the technologies that can contribute to a Zero Trust solution and will provide additional guidance as warranted.

Preventing Violent Extremism: A Review of the Literature

William Stephens, Stijn Sieckelinck&Hans Boutellier

The rapid growth in research directed toward preventing violent extremism has resulted in a rich but fragmented body of literature spanning multiple disciplines. This review finds a number of themes that cut across a range of disciplinary approaches and suggests that the concept of resilience could provide the basis for a common framework for prevention. However, thus far the notion of resilience to extremism has often focused on the individual, and insufficient attention has been given to the role of contextual structures and institutions. We suggest that a social–ecological perspective on resilience could re-orientate the discourse on resilience to extremism.

Combating terrorism through addressing radicalization and violent extremism has become a ubiquitous feature of national strategies, resulting in the emergence of many policies and practices directed toward countering and preventing violent extremism. These soft-power approaches aim at intervention before violence occurs,1 and have given rise to a new vocabulary: “preventing violent extremism,” “countering violent extremism,” and “preventing radicalization to violent extremism.” A recent development has been to bring together the notions of Preventing Violent Extremism (PVE) and Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) under the single banner of Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism (P/CVE).2 In many ways this seems a logical development given that the terms are often used interchangeably, making it difficult to discern any conceptual distinction in their application. However, although these terms are often used interchangeably, there is an important subset of literature on addressing violent extremism that focuses on upstream preventative approaches that position themselves explicitly outside of a security-driven framework. These approaches have largely emerged in response to the extensive criticism of approaches to CVE that extend the security-agenda into the realms of care, social work, and education.3 Particular criticism has been directed toward the impact these approaches have had in stigmatizing Muslim communities and rendering them both a source of risk, and as a “vulnerable group” at risk of “radicalization.”4 It is in this context that a discourse on PVE through approaches outside of a security framework, has found particular traction. This has involved interventions such as improving citizenship education and addressing issues such marginalization and discrimination that are suggested to be drivers of violent extremism.5