20 March 2021

Why Britain is tilting to the Indo-Pacific region

by Patrick Wintour 

Some will call it a tilt, others a rebalancing and yet others a pivot but, either way, the new big idea due to emerge from the government’s foreign and defence policy review on Tuesday will be the importance of the Indo-Pacific region – a British return east of Suez more than 50 years after the then defence secretary Denis Healey announced the UK’s cash-strapped retreat in 1968.

Boris Johnson and his admirals are billing the focus on a zone stretching through some of the world’s most vital seaways east from India to Japan and south from China to Australia as Britain stepping out in the world after 47 years locked in the EU’s protectionist cupboard. Others warn Johnson is indulging a hubristic and militarily dangerous imperial fantasy.

Either way, the British public are startlingly ill-prepared for what is to come. When the British Foreign Policy Group asked Brits whether they supported the UK’s greater involvement in the region, more than 50% said they did not know, or opposed the shift. This big idea is coming out of the blue.

At one level, the ignorance is natural. The UK – not on the Pacific Rim – has limited assets in the region. Diego Garcia is British owned but rented out to the Americans, a jungle training centre in Brunei exists, and there are some touchpoints such as Sembawang wharf in Singapore. Duqm port in Oman is being fashioned with UK money to receive aircraft carriers. It hardly amounts to a magnetic force.

There’s No Shortcut to Peace in Afghanistan

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If there is one thing the United States should have learned after two decades in Afghanistan, it’s that there are no quick fixes. That has proved true for the war, and it’s true for any possibility of a negotiated peace. But faced with the decision whether to comply with a May 1 deadline for pulling out all troops under a deal the U.S. government signed with the Taliban in February 2020, Washington is now searching for a shortcut to an Afghan political settlement. There isn’t one.

U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has delivered to the Afghan government and Taliban a draft Afghanistan Peace Agreement—the central idea of which is replacing the elected Afghan government with a so-called transitional one that would include the Taliban and then negotiate among its members the future permanent system of government. Crucial blank spaces in the draft include the exact share of power for each of the warring sides and which side would control security institutions.

At the same time, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken wrote to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, in a letter that soon leaked, saying it was “urgent” to “accelerate peace talks” and move “quickly toward a settlement.” The letter states that the United States has asked Turkey to host a high-level meeting between the Afghan sides “in the coming weeks to finalize a peace agreement.” The letter also references a U.S.-proposed 90-day reduction in violence (a concept short of a cease-fire) while diplomacy continues—which suggests that Washington knows an agreement within weeks is unlikely.

U.S. Has 1,000 More Troops in Afghanistan Than It Disclosed

By Thomas Gibbons-Neff, Helene Cooper and Eric Schmitt

KABUL, Afghanistan — Facing a high-stakes choice and running out of time to make it, the Biden administration is wrestling with whether to follow through with a full withdrawal in the next seven weeks of the 2,500 American troops still in Afghanistan — except, as it turns out, that number is actually around 3,500.

The United States has about 1,000 more troops in Afghanistan than it has disclosed, according to U.S., European and Afghan officials. That adds another layer of complexity to the swirling debate at the White House over whether to stick with a deal, struck by the Trump administration and the Taliban, that calls for removing the remaining American forces by May 1.

A thousand troops may seem like a small number compared to the roughly 100,000 who were there at the height of the war. But the scope of the U.S. presence has become a contentious issue in Afghanistan — where the Taliban want the Americans gone, while the government’s beleaguered security forces rely on U.S. air support — and also in Washington.

Members of Congress have repeatedly called for an increase in troops if the United States decides to stay past the withdrawal date outlined in the agreement, which was reached just over a year ago.

The cloudy accounting around the troop numbers results from some Special Operations forces having been put “off the books,” according to a senior U.S. official, as well as the presence of some temporary and transitioning units. These troops, according to a second U.S. official, include Joint Special Operations Command units, some of them elite Army Rangers, who work under both the Pentagon and the CIA while deployed to Afghanistan.

Hypersonic and directed-energy weapons: Who has them, and who’s winning the race in the Asia-Pacific?

By: Mike Yeo, Nigel Pittaway, Usman Ansari, Vivek Raghuvanshi and Chris Martin

MELBOURNE, Australia, ISLAMABAD, NEW DELHI, and WASHINGTON — A number of countries in the Asia-Pacific region are caught up in the global hypersonic and directed-energy weapons race, with these regional powers having either developed or publicly stated intentions to develop such technology.

Defense News has contacted regional government and military officials, businesses, and analysts to find out who is keeping pace in the worldwide contest.

Chinese military vehicles carry DF-17 ballistic missiles during a parade in Beijing on Oct. 1, 2019. (Mark Schiefelbein/AP)

Unsurprisingly, China is one of those countries that is focused on both fields. It is widely acknowledged to be the leader in the field of hypersonic systems, having already fielded such weapons in the form of the DF-17 hypersonic glide vehicle.

The DF-17 HGV made its first public appearance at a military parade held in China’s capital Beijing in late 2019. The weapon appears to use a standard ballistic missile booster in its first stage for the initial boost of a glide vehicle, which is used to attack a target following reentry.

The DF-17s at the parade were mounted on a wheeled, five-axle transporter-erector-launcher. This makes the system road-mobile like much of the ballistic missile arsenal of China’s People’s Liberation Army. This could potentially complicate any attempt by an adversary to strike the systems prior to launch.

For Bangladesh, Life Begins at 50

By Subir Bhaumik

As a teenager, Prasenjit Pal saw trucks loaded with food drive into Bangladesh every night from the roof of his home in Agartala, capital of India’s northeastern state of Tripura.

“The smugglers would carry almost everything Bangladeshis needed,” said Pal.

The trucks still move but in the other direction now — driving into Agartala loaded with garments, electronic goods, and food like fish from the border. “My town totally depends on supplies from Bangladesh and when border guards get tough, we suffer,” says Pal, now 50.

The Bangladesh Pal knew when in school was Henry Kissinger’s “basket case.” Fifty years after its birth, Bangladesh is now called “South Asia’s economic bull case,” with some even comparing its export-driven growth to South Korea or Vietnam.

Its hard-fought independence from Pakistan in 1971 cost 3 million lives and devastated its infrastructure, leaving it at the bottom of the list of poor nations in the 1970s.

But now, Bangladesh’s estimated 2020 GDP per capita of $1,888 places the country far above many of the desperately poor African countries it was once compared with. Real economic growth exceeded 8 percent in 2019, and although the coronavirus crisis has slowed the pace, growth is expected to continue at a more modest pace. That puts Bangladesh exactly one spot above neighbor India in the latest International Monetary Fund (IMF) per capita GDP table.

Climate Offers a Glimmer of Hope for U.S.-China Cooperation


As Chinese strategists pored over foreign-policy papers this week to prepare for a key Sino-U.S. meeting in Anchorage, Alaska on Thursday, outside their windows, a howling sandstorm enveloped Beijing. The sandstorm revived Chinese anxieties about creeping desertification—but it also offered up a small measure of hope for what has been until now a serious worsening of U.S.-China relations.

The eerie orange cloud of Gobi Desert sand—Beijing’s worst sandstorm in a decade—was a wordless reminder that both sides face a common challenge they say they are determined to confront: global climate change.

In recent weeks, the Sino-U.S. relationship has been dominated by strident disagreements over trade, human rights, and Pacific security, as evidenced by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s visit this week to two key U.S. allies: Japan and South Korea. But in both Washington and Beijing, the climate portfolio is edging back into the limelight after a four-year-long hibernation. In Beijing, hints of something positive peeking through the distrust and disputes began last month when Beijing announced that Xie Zhenhua would come out of semi-retirement to be China’s new climate change guru.

Xie will be the counterpart to John Kerry, President Joe Biden’s special presidential envoy for climate. And in the past, the two senior diplomats have enjoyed a close working relationship: Xie is known for helping broker the 2015 Paris climate accords, from which former U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew in 2017.

Will Taiwan’s Dongsha Islands Be the Next Crimea?

Shahn Savino, Charles Dunst 

Russia’s 2014 annexation of the Crimean Peninsula in Ukraine prompted much international outrage but little meaningful action. President Vladimir Putin was able to forcefully redraw his country’s borders, shrugging off the international sanctions that the United States and European Union imposed in response. Putin’s success augmented “the belief among some that bigger nations can bully smaller ones to get their way,” as U.S. President Barack Obama put it at the time. Given Crimea’s location in a small country—and the complex, often ethnically tinged territorial dispute between Ukraine and Russia—the world was not willing to fight for it.

History may not repeat itself, but it often rhymes; today, a Crimea-like scenario could easily unfold in the South China Sea. In this case, China would be the aggressor, while Taiwan’s Dongsha Islands, which Beijing also claims, are the potential targets. Also known as the Pratas Islands, they have no permanent inhabitants, but they host a detachment of some 500 Taiwanese marines, and are also visited by fishers and researchers. Although the Dongsha are located about 275 miles from Kaohsiung, the municipality in southern Taiwan that administers them, they lie just 170 miles from Hong Kong and are within the city’s airspace, putting them in easy reach of the People’s Liberation Army.

When it comes to China’s nuclear weapons, numbers aren’t everything

By: Pranay Vaddi and Ankit Panda  

Threat inflation tends to lead to poor policy outcomes. When it comes to China’s nuclear arsenal, it’s important for American leaders to accurately understand the nature of the problem. Nuclear risks between the United States and China manifest differently than those of the past U.S.-Soviet nuclear competition, or that of the United States and Russia today.

Concerns regarding nuclear use in the U.S.-China context stem from, among other things, mutual mistrust and the manipulation of risk below the nuclear threshold, largely from qualitative force posture and strategy choices each country has made. Quantitative factors — most importantly the size of China’s nuclear arsenal — are less pressing.

Despite this reality, a recent exchange between Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., and Adm. Philip Davidson, commander of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, reveals how the nature of nuclear risk with China continues to be mischaracterized in Washington. Cotton expressed concern during a Senate hearing that China may attain “nuclear overmatch” against the United States if it were to triple or quadruple its nuclear stockpile. Adm. Davidson agreed.

But Cotton misstated the degree to which China may expand its nuclear warhead stockpile relative to the United States. In doing so, he suggests the United States should focus more on quantitative nuclear arms racing, stating that “it is much better to win an arms race than to lose a war.”


Mark Grzegorzewski and Christopher Marsh 

Editor’s note: This article is the first in a series, “Full-Spectrum: Capabilities and Authorities in Cyber and the Information Environment.” The series endeavors to present expert commentary on diverse issues surrounding US competition with peer and near-peer competitors in the cyber and information spaces. Special thanks to series editors Capt. Maggie Smith, PhD of the Army Cyber Institute and MWI fellow Dr. Barnett S. Koven.

When it comes to America’s focus on great power competition, China and Russia loom large, making the analysis of these two competitors and their strategies a booming business for analysts and practitioners alike. But while Russia’s “Gerasimov doctrine” (which is not really a doctrine) and China’s “three warfares” are the focus of many articles, how these two states and their militaries act in cyberspace is less often discussed and less well understood. Information operations play a central role to both the Russian and the Chinese ways of war, and cyber applications are a central mode by which information is applied as a tool of warfare. China conceives of “informationized warfare,” with the space and cyber domains described as becoming the “commanding heights of strategic competition.” Make no mistake: despite claims to the contrary, both China and Russia see themselves currently engaged in information warfare against the United States. This war is playing out principally in the cyber realm. The military application of information as an instrument of war—in isolation and in conjunction with other tools—is a central component of these states’ modern approaches to warfare. As Chief of the Russian General Staff General Valery Gerasimov himself observed, special operations forces leveraging information operations could be effectively employed to “defend and advance [Russia’s] national interests beyond” its borders. China, for its part, has developed and deployed dedicated information operations units skilled in cyberespionage and cyber-enabled information operations. This article serves to highlight some of the differences between how the United States, China, and Russia view cyberspace, and the ways Russia and China are using cyberspace operations to engage the United States asymmetrically.

ISIS Affiliate In Mozambique Riding a ‘Wave of Momentum’


A violent Islamic extremist group is “riding a wave of momentum” in sub-Saharan Africa, cementing ties with ISIS and posing a greater challenge to governments there, say analysts and U.S. officials.

On March 1, the U.S. State Department designated Al Sunnah wa Jama’ah — Al-Sunna for short — as a terrorist organization and formally linked them to ISIS. That followed months of increased activity in Mozambique and its environs, according to a Jan. 21 report from Babel Street. In August, the group attacked the city of Mocímboa da Praia. In early January, its operations in the Afungi peninsula forced the evacuation of liquid natural gas facilities of a company called Total.

“Insurgent activity has continued throughout the region, with Al Sunnah wa Jama’ah,” the report said, “increasingly targeting lines of communication and overrunning government outposts.”

Last June, Babel Street noted that Al-Sunna was working hard to get ISIS’s attention in a bid to access the larger group’s resources and communication channels. Since then, ISIS’ “involvement in the current conflict has become clearer,” Babel Street says. “Both the local insurgents and the Islamic State appear to be attempting to make connections with each other. Media statements in Amaq [ISIS Communication channels] plus insurgents’ use of the Islamic State flag, among other indications, point to a stronger connection—at least in terms of ideology and goals if not in logistical and operational support.”

“It was a little ambiguous” months ago, said McDaniel Wicker, Babel Street's vice president of strategy. “It became clear that there is a tie with the Islamic state in particular,” as opposed to other groups, like Al Qaeda, which was also taking credit for al-Sunna’s activities. Wicker said it remains unclear whether ISIS is providing much by way of material support, adding that a better understanding of illicit cash and money exchanges could reveal those connections.

Covid-style virus 'could be used as a terror weapon to bring new pandemic', expert warns

By William Walker

A chemical weapons expert has warned that a Covid-type virus could be used as a weapon by terrorists, sparking a deadly pandemic, it has been reported.

Colonel Hamish de Bretton-Gordon is said to have called on the government to prioritise biosecurity in its soon-to-be-published defence review.

The Integrated Review of security, defence, development and foreign policy is set to be published on Tuesday.

Ministers say it will 'make the case for a UK international policy that rests on strong domestic foundations in particular our security, resilience and a robust economy at home.'

In the wake of the Covid pandemic Colonel de Bretton-Gordon was reported to have said he was ‘concerned’ about the threat of a man-made pandemic deliberately being imported into the UK.

While North Korean Missiles Sit in Storage, Their Hackers Go Rampant


They’ve stolen billions of dollars, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. They’ve paralyzed the United Kingdom’s National Health Service, according to the U.K. Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office. And they’ve apparently hacked India’s newest nuclear power plant to steal its designs.

North Korean hackers have gone from spying on and disrupting their South Korean adversaries to stealing large sums of money, robbing cutting-edge technology, and causing havoc. While senior U.S. and Japanese officials are meeting this week to discuss regional security—especially with a focus on North Korea’s missiles—many experts say Pyongyang’s hackers are potentially a bigger threat than the massive rockets North Korean leader Kim Jong Un parades around every year.

“When comparing hackers to missiles, I definitely think that these guys are a bigger threat,” Simon Choi told Foreign Policy. He founded and runs IssueMakersLab, a nonprofit that specializes in infiltrating and tracking North Korean hacker groups. “They’re ready to use [missiles], but they haven’t done it yet. But hacking, we see it happen every day, all around us,” he added.

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.

Russian Mercenaries in Great-Power Competition: Strategic Supermen or Weak Link?

by Molly Dunigan and Ben Connable

Along with China, Iran, and North Korea, Russia is one of a handful of strategic competitors posing a substantial threat to U.S. strategic interests.

Russia has now interfered to some extent in at least three democratic elections in the United States. Russian hackers are probably responsible for the recent SolarWinds attack on U.S. government agency networks. Russia has been aggressively undermining U.S. interests in proxy wars in Syria, Libya, and across the African continent, and it is backing the Taliban against the United States in Afghanistan.

Russia has been taking every opportunity to undermine U.S. interests and security, while the United States has strictly limited its responses. As of early 2021, Russia appears to have the upper hand. In the wake of the Trump administration's diplomatic rapprochement, U.S.-Russian relations may be ripe for rebalancing.

On February 4, 2021, President Biden stated that “the days of the United States rolling over in the face of Russia's aggressive actions—interfering with our elections, cyberattacks, poisoning its citizens—are over.” In defense of U.S. national interests, Biden said he would “not hesitate to raise the cost on Russia and defend our vital interests and our people.” Given this new (or perhaps return-to-status-quo) approach, how should the Biden administration think strategically about countering Russia in global competition?

Japanese Public Needs to Know SDF to Appreciate It

by Jeffrey W. Hornung

China's increased military activity against Taiwan and recent passage of a law that allows the Chinese coast guard to use weapons against foreign ships that Beijing sees as illegally entering its waters is a reminder that Japan's security environment is not getting any safer. While it may be unthinkable, it is possible that someday China will use force against Japan. If so, the Self-Defense Forces will be called upon to defend the country. In this situation, does the Japanese public fully appreciate what the SDF would be expected to do?

According to surveys conducted by the Cabinet Office, a large majority of the Japanese public maintain a positive opinion of the SDF, but a majority also believe the current defense capabilities of the SDF are sufficient and do not need to be strengthened. And when given multiple options for what they think the role of the SDF is, the largest response is disaster relief operations, not defending the country from external threats.

Although Japan does not call the SDF a military, externally, it is viewed as such. This is for good reason. It is widely respected as a modern armed force fielding advanced defense capabilities. This respect is particularly strong from its U.S. ally. Yet, the Japanese public tends to receive a largely sanitized view of the SDF and the alliance. Instead of seeing the sacrifices SDF families are forced to make or of SDF training to defend Japan against Chinese aggression, the main image of the SDF is one of nonmilitary disaster relief. Even with the alliance, instead of images of U.S. and Japanese armed forces closely cooperating, the public view of the alliance tends to be that of frequent visits between political leaders or ministers. The alliance's core role of warfighting is rarely, if ever, seen in full public view.

White House Weighs New Cybersecurity Approach After Failure to Detect Hacks

By David E. Sanger, Julian E. Barnes and Nicole Perlroth

WASHINGTON — The sophisticated hacks pulled off by Russia and China against a broad array of government and industrial targets in the United States — and the failure of the intelligence agencies to detect them — are driving the Biden administration and Congress to rethink how the nation should protect itself from growing cyberthreats.

Both hacks exploited the same gaping vulnerability in the existing system: They were launched from inside the United States — on servers run by Amazon, GoDaddy and smaller domestic providers — putting them out of reach of the early warning system run by the National Security Agency.

The agency, like the C.I.A. and other American intelligence agencies, is prohibited by law from conducting surveillance inside the United States, to protect the privacy of American citizens.

But the F.B.I. and Department of Homeland Security — the two agencies that can legally operate inside the United States — were also blind to what happened, raising additional concerns about the nation’s capacity to defend itself from both rival governments and nonstate attackers like criminal and terrorist groups.

In the end, the hacks were detected long after they had begun not by any government agency but by private computer security firms.

German Voters Just Dealt Merkel’s Party a Body Blow


This Sunday, voters in Germany’s Baden-Württemberg and neighboring Rhineland-Palatinate went to the polls for state elections. In Baden-Württemberg, they dealt Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), a serious blow. The results are seen as a bellwether for Germany’s federal elections, which are coming up in September and which, for the first time in a decade and a half, will not feature Merkel at the top of the CDU ticket.

Baden-Württemberg is home to such industry giants as Daimler and SAP. It is also home to Germany’s only Green-led government, which has now strengthened its power following a first-place result in this weekend’s vote. Going forward, it will have a renewed mandate to design a coalition government for the next five years. And in September, the Greens are likely to continue their surge. Although some may even speculate about the potential for a Green chancellor, the party may be more likely to serve as kingmaker to a bigger party.

Yet, realistically, all bets are off in an election year with a raging pandemic. Just a few months ago, CDU-Greens coalition government seemed predestined to follow Merkel’s third coalition with the Social Democratic Party (SPD). But Berlin’s botched coronavirus vaccination rollout and scandals involving the procurement of masks left the CDU with a historic loss at the polls in Baden-Württemberg.

The downward slide could continue—especially with two cabinet ministers in Berlin under fire for mismanagement of the pandemic and several corruption scandals dogging the CDU. If the party loses further support, it would be hard-pressed to shape its desired coalition. It may even be excluded from governing on the federal level. In Baden-Württemberg, the Greens could discontinue their coalition with the CDU and opt to join with the SPD and Free Democratic Party (FDP), Germany’s liberal party, to form a government

Beyond the headline-grabbing victories and losses, Baden-Württemberg also offers trends to watch for Germany’s smaller parties. For example, this will be a make-or-break year for Germany’s newest party, the right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD). Five years ago, the AfD received 15 percent of the vote in Baden-Württemberg to become the largest opposition party in the state legislature. In 2017, it had a repeat performance by capturing nearly 13 percent of the national electorate to claim the same title in the German parliament.

Boris Johnson Delivered Brexit, but Britain’s Future Remains Just as Uncertain

In July 2019, three years after British voters narrowly voted to leave the European Union in a 2016 referendum, Boris Johnson assumed the office of prime minister amid a political environment characterized by anger, turmoil and confusion. But despite initial stumbles that led some observers to predict he would suffer the same dismal fate as his predecessor, Theresa May, Johnson managed to deliver on his promise to renegotiate the U.K.’s transitional withdrawal agreement with the European Union. His subsequent decisive victory in December 2019 parliamentary elections, built in part on successfully wooing traditional Labour party voters, gave Johnson the ample majority he needed to see his deal through.

Before Johnson’s triumph, Brexit had been a disaster for both of the country’s two main political parties. The referendum outcome immediately brought down the Conservative government of former Prime Minister David Cameron, who had called for the vote in the first place. His successor, May, was felled by her inability to get the transitional withdrawal agreement she negotiated with Brussels through Parliament, mainly due to opposition by extremist Brexiteers within her own Tory ranks. For his part, Johnson achieved what May couldn’t, arriving at a transitional Brexit deal that a majority of Parliament could agree on—and then building on that majority in December 2019.

The promises and perils of Africa’s digital revolution

Nathaniel Allen

Across the African continent, the relentless spread of networks, sensors, artificial intelligence, and automation is driving a revolution to an unknown destination. Emerging technologies such as CCTV cameras with facial recognition systems, drones, robots, and “smart cities” are proliferating. Digitization is improving government revenue collection and curbing corruption. Cameras and facial recognition technologies are helping authorities respond to terrorist attacks. Drones are delivering life-saving medical supplies. Yet with each advance there is a cost. Sophisticated malware enables novel forms of criminality, surveillance technology powers new tactics of repression, drones unleash the prospect of an autonomous weapons arms race.

Emerging technology is having a powerful impact on the security and stability of African states. Yet the digital revolution’s ultimate legacy will be determined not by technology, but by how it is used. African countries that take advantage of the opportunities and limit the risks inherent in emerging technology may achieve greater peace and prosperity. Yet many countries could be left behind. As the continent recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, its leaders face a choice between harnessing emerging technology to improve government effectiveness, increase transparency and foster inclusion, or as a tool of repression, division, and conflict.

Internet penetration

Why some countries have suspended the AstraZeneca vaccine and what it means for Australia – explainer

Melissa Davey

Several European countries, including Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands and Ireland, have temporarily suspended the rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine following concerns about deep vein thrombosis, pulmonary embolism and blood clotting. Meanwhile, Italy, Austria, Estonia, Latvia, Luxembourg and Lithuania have stopped inoculations from one particular batch of 1m doses that was sent to 17 countries.

Vaccination programs with the AstraZeneca vaccine are continuing in other countries, including the United Kingdom and France. The UK is encouraging people to continue to be vaccinated.

According to AstraZeneca, there have been 15 instances of deep vein thrombosis and 22 events of pulmonary embolism reported among more than 17m people vaccinated in the European Union and UK.

In Australia, the prime minister and health minister have said there are no plans to halt the rollout. So should Australians be worried?
What are deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism?

Sometimes blood clots can develop in a blood vessel, often in the leg due to the reduced circulation that can be an issue in the lower limbs. When these clots develop, whether in the lower leg, thigh, pelvis or arm, the condition is known as deep vein thrombosis.

Will Argentina’s Fernandez Punt on a Deal With the IMF?

Bruno Binetti

In a vitriolic address to Argentina’s Congress on March 1, President Alberto Fernandez put to rest any illusions that he would be a moderating influence on his vice president and political mentor, former President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner. (The two are unrelated.) During his speech, the president attacked Cristina Fernandez’s traditional enemies, including the press, the judiciary and the political opposition. More surprisingly, he also criticized the International Monetary Fund, despite being in the middle of discussions to renegotiate Argentina’s $44 billion debt.

In fact, the president claimed to be “in no rush” to reach an agreement with the IMF, although just weeks earlier, his finance minister, Martin Guzman, had promised a deal by May. Further, Fernandez accused the IMF of having granted the loan in 2018 to bolster the reelection chances of his pro-business predecessor, Mauricio Macri. Shocking many of the lawmakers in attendance, Fernandez announced a lawsuit against Macri and other former officials for what he deemed “reckless” borrowing. Rejecting these allegations, Macri claims the loan was needed to cover the deficit he inherited from Cristina Fernandez. In any event, the IMF’s support did not stabilize the economy and Macri lost the 2019 election to the Fernandez-Fernandez ticket. ...

Commission: AI Dominance Requires Bold Action

By Yasmin Tadjdeh

The United States must pump billions of dollars into artificial intelligence research if the nation wants to be “AI-ready” by 2025 and successfully compete with great power competitors China and Russia, according to new findings from a congressionally chartered panel.

The National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence — which was established under the fiscal year 2019 National Defense Authorization Act to examine ways to advance the development of AI for national security and defense purposes — recently released its final report to Congress in March after two years of work.

“To win in AI, we need more money, more talent [and] stronger leadership,” said Chairman Eric Schmidt, the former head of Google’s parent company Alphabet.

The 700-plus page report includes recommendations to the Biden administration and Congress that will require sweeping changes to better posture the nation for competition with other AI-enabled nations, such as China and Russia.

The technology will impact the United States profoundly in the coming years, but despite some “exciting experimentation” and a few small programs, “the U.S. government is a long way from being ‘AI-ready,’” according to the report. The Defense Department and intelligence community must be AI-ready by 2025 to avoid falling behind, the commissioners said.

Reaching that goal will require the government to create a Technology Competitiveness Council akin to the National Security Council, said former Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work.

DARPA Seeks Chips that Can Crunch Data Without Decrypting It


The Defense Advanced Research Agency awarded four research teams multimillion-dollar contracts to figure out how to perform computations on encrypted data faster and with less power.

The four performers for DARPA’s Data Protection in Virtual Environments program aim to build silicon chips capable of supporting Fully Homomorphic Encryption, which enables users to compute and analyze data without exposing it to compromise by decrypting it. FHE still requires far too much compute overhead to be considered a practical option, so DPRIVE performers will create brand new chips specialized for FHE.

Galois, Duality Technologies, SRI International and Intel—which will partner with Microsoft, a press release said—were awarded contracts in January to participate in the three-phase project. Tom Rondeau, DARPA program manager, told Nextgov in an interview that kickoff meetings for the program this week included stakeholders from the military services, the Federal Communications Commission, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Rondeau explained FHE technology is relatively recent; it first emerged in 2009 from a Stanford graduate student’s dissertation. After the paper was published, DARPA initiated its Programming Computation on Encrypted Data, or PROCEED, program, which Rondeau said used software and algorithm development to make FHE easier.

“That still left us with this massive compute overhead,” Rondeau said.

The Military Could Soon Face a Flag Officer Talent Crisis


Military service members received a heralded 3% pay increase under the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act, but this increase camouflaged the continued stagnation in general and flag officer pay stemming from provisions in the 2015 NDAA six years prior. That law limits the pay of generals and admirals (officers in pay grades O7 and above) to the Executive Level II salary level for civilians.

This pay cap limits current and retirement pay of senior executives to $199,300. While that may sound like an impressive amount of money, these are executive leaders responsible for organizations larger than any of the companies whose chief executives earn, on average, $21.3 million. As a result of the cap, officers stop receiving pay raises at the two star rank. It’s a limit that discourages continued service and makes it harder to keep talent at the highest levels of the military.

As of February, chief operating officer annual salaries in the United States averaged $447,971. That’s more than twice as much as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff earns. If the U.S. Army were a corporation, with its over 1 million active duty and reserve soldiers and 300,000 civilian employees, it would rank just behind Walmart in the size of its workforce. The compensation package for the chief operating officer of Walmart is almost $10 million, whereas, the Army Chief of Staff earns $199,300. For the three- and four-star officers who remain in the Army for 40 years, the cap creates a cumulative pay reduction of more than $1 million in earnings when compared to pay without the limitation.

A novel of the next world war


The new geopolitical thriller “2034: A Novel of the Next World War” tells a fictional yet very plausible story of how the United States could find itself in a third world war. It takes place in the over a decade from now, and the global conflict described is the result of a series of strategic mistakes and a lack of foresight by the United States plus tensions with our adversaries reaching a breaking point. The novel is written by former military officers Elliot Ackerman and James Stavridis. It tells an unnerving and fascinating tale of a future all Americans should fear, which is the scenario where the United States finds itself as a weakened power and is engaged in a world war against our most dangerous and undemocratic adversaries.

The book serves as a cautionary tale to our leaders and national security officials, while also speaking to a modern truth about arrogance and our lack of strategic foresight. It makes a vital criticism on the United States that our most devastating national security crises during modern history, namely the 9/11 attacks and the coronavirus pandemic, could have been mitigated by better prior consideration of the threats we faced.

A Chinese admiral in the book claims Americans have a “moral certitude” and “blithe optimism” that undermined them as “they struggled to find a solution to a problem they did not understand.” The United States in the story is in a world war against the Chinese state aligned with Russia and Iran, whose cyber tactics and artificial intelligence far outpace those for the United States today. The Belt Road Initiative, a current infrastructure development strategy for China to invest in more than 70 countries and international groups, has turned into a robust global initiative which has bolstered the alliance with an aggressive and emboldened Iran.

Further, the United States has a politically independent president whose administration fails to see around corners and makes a series of tactical mistakes. This results in a few maritime conflicts that lead to a full blown world war. From the view of the Chinese defense officials, leaders of the United States allowed this downfall to occur. “The deregulation that had resulted in so much innovation and economic strength has become one weakness,” says one of these Chinese defense officials. “The Americans have proven incapable of organizing a centralized cyber defense.”