25 March 2021

Armenian-Azerbaijani Conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh: Geopolitical Implications

Maj Gen P K Mallick, VSM (Retd), Consultant, VIF

The geostrategic sensitive region of region of Nagorno-Karabakh lies at an intersection of political, ethnic and religious borders of Iran, Turkey, Russia and Georgia. On September 27, 2020 the war broke out with Azerbaijan launching an offensive retake Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding previously Azerbaijani-populated regions. The war was won by Azerbaijan.

Russia brokered a peace deal with Armenia and Azerbaijan agreeing to a Russian-mediated settlement to end the six-week war. The cease-fire is seen as a victory in Azerbaijan and as a capitulation in Armenia. Russia’s leading role in stopping the fighting also shows that Moscow continues to be the most influential player in the southern Caucasus.

This monograph provides the background of the conflict, its geopolitical dimensions, details of the cease fire deal and the role of different stakeholders in this conflict.  

UAE Brokered India-Pakistan Ceasefire: Report

By Abhijnan Rej

A new media report substantiated a recent claim that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) had midwifed the February 25 India-Pakistan ceasefire. On March 22, Bloomberg noted “the India-Pakistan cease-fire marked a milestone in secret talks brokered by the UAE that began months earlier, according to officials aware of the situation who asked not to be identified.”

“The cease-fire, one said, is only the beginning of a larger roadmap to forge a lasting peace between the neighbors […],” the outlet also claimed. Writing for Foreign Policy on March 4, Indian journalist Sushant Singh had also noted officials from both sides had conformed that the UAE “played an important role in bringing the two countries together once discussions started in October 2020.”

While India and Pakistan have previously (on at least three recent occasions, in 2013, 2015, and 2018) recommitted themselves to the informal 2003 ceasefire along the Line of Control and a segment of the India-Pakistan international border that Pakistan considers a “Working Boundary,” it is increasingly clear that the February 25 announcement is qualitatively different – and provides grounds for cautious optimism.

Americans are not unanimously war-weary on Afghanistan

Madiha Afzal and Israa Saber

In debates on the future of the war in Afghanistan, policymakers and analysts have come to invoke it as a given that Americans want the troops to come home quickly. But does this conventional wisdom hold true? Not necessarily, based on our analysis of a number of polls on Americans’ views on Afghanistan conducted in the last few years.

Ordinary Americans display a significant degree of ambivalence on the question of withdrawing troops from Afghanistan. Veterans are also divided on this question but are more likely to show strong opinions on both sides of the spectrum. The data suggest that vocal, concerted grassroots campaigns currently conducted by veterans groups represent just one subset of veterans. More specifically, veterans who served after the 9/11 attacks are more likely to feel strongly about ending our involvement in Afghanistan.

A look at the data reveals that a significant number of Americans surveyed don’t respond to questions about withdrawing troops, possibly reflecting a lack of strong opinions. In a recent poll conducted in the fall of 2020 by the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) for researchers Peter Feaver and Jim Golby, only 59% of survey respondents answered the question about withdrawing troops from Afghanistan. In previous polls, one conducted by the University of Maryland in October 2019 and the other by YouGov in 2018, approximately one-fifth of respondents opted not to answer questions about troop levels in Afghanistan. Underlying this is the fact that American voters do not rank foreign policy highly in their list of priorities — a survey of registered voters in 2020 found that they ranked it sixth out of a list of 12 priorities — and Afghanistan is but one of several pressing foreign policy issues facing the United States.

PRC Assertiveness in the South China Sea: Measuring Continuity and Change, 1970–2015

Andrew Chubb

Why has the People's Republic of China (PRC) courted international opprobrium, alarmed its neighbors, and risked military conflict in pursuit of its claims over vast areas of the South China Sea? Answering this question depends on recognizing long-term patterns of continuity and change in the PRC's policy. A new typology of “assertive” state behaviors in maritime and territorial disputes, and original time-series events data covering the period from 1970 to 2015, shows that the key policy change—China's rapid administrative buildup and introduction of regular coercive behaviors—occurred in 2007, between two and five years earlier than most analysis has supposed. This finding disconfirms three common explanations for Beijing's assertive turn in maritime Asia: the Global Financial Crisis, domestic legitimacy issues, and the ascendancy of Xi Jinping. Focused qualitative case studies of four breakpoints identified in the data indicate that PRC policy shifts in 1973, 1987, and 1992 were largely opportunistic responses to favorable geopolitical circumstances. In contrast, the policy change observed from 2007 was a lagged effect of decisions taken in the 1990s to build specific capabilities designed to realize strategic objectives that emerged in the 1970s.


Why has the People's Republic of China (PRC) courted international opprobrium, alarmed its neighbors, and risked military conflict in pursuit of its claims covering vast areas of the South China Sea? Despite its central importance to understanding the security of the world's most economically vibrant region in the twenty-first century, the question has remained unresolved. Many realist observers find China's regional expansion unsurprising in light of its growing relative material power, but others identify the maritime policy change instead with unfavorable developments for Beijing.1 Area specialists focusing on domestic political factors are similarly divided, with some pointing to bottom-up challenges to the legitimacy of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) from rising popular nationalism, and others arguing that elite vested interests or overzealous frontline agencies lie behind the maritime expansion.2 Proponents of individual-level explanations diverge on which Chinese leader is supposed to be responsible for the push through the maritime periphery—a weak Hu Jintao unable to restrain confrontational conduct or a strong, hawkish Xi Jinping driving it.3

Myanmar’s Junta Stumbles as It Tries to Follow Thailand’s Playbook

Joshua Kurlantzick 

Since seizing power in a coup in early February, Myanmar’s military, known as the Tatmadaw, has increasingly cracked down on civil society and the political opposition. In recent weeks, it has shuttered most independent media outlets; arrested many members of the former ruling party, the National League for Democracy, or NLD; declared martial law in parts of the country; and unleashed security forces on pro-democracy demonstrators. By one estimate, at least 200 people have been killed since protests began against the coup last month, and thousands of people have been detained. The real number of deaths is probably much higher, and the bloody repression seems to be escalating.

But apparently, Myanmar’s military rulers seek more than to wield brutal force—or at least, they had hoped to when the coup was launched. They have tried to legitimize their rule by gaining recognition from regional powers and international organizations, and by putting in motion a process that will supposedly lead to fresh elections in the future. As a number of other Southeast Asia scholars have argued, the junta is clearly looking to neighboring Thailand as an example of how to build such a democratic facade. Indeed, shortly after the coup, the Tatmadaw’s commander-in-chief, Min Aung Hlaing, contacted Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, a former army chief who led his own coup in 2014, to ask for his assistance in instituting “democracy” in Myanmar. The Thai and Myanmar militaries have longstanding links, although they have also had to manage a history of tensions along disputed portions of their countries’ border. As Oren Samet recently noted in an article for The Diplomat, Min Aung Hlaing has received several royal decorations from Thailand, and has enjoyed close ties with a series of Thai army chiefs. ...

War between China and the United States isn't inevitable, but it's likely: An excerpt from Graham Allison's Destined for War

In the run-up to the awarding of the Lionel Gelber Prize, the National Post presents excerpts from all five nominated books. The winner will be announced on March 13 and give a free public lecture on April 17, 2018 at the Munk School of Global Affairs. Today: Graham Allison on the historical signs that war between the United States and China is likely in the years to come.

Two centuries ago, Napoleon warned, “Let China sleep; when she wakes, she will shake the world.” Today China has awakened, and the world is beginning to shake.

Yet many Americans are still in denial about what China’s transformation from agrarian backwater to “the biggest player in the history of the world” means for the United States. What is this book’s Big Idea? In a phrase, Thucydides’s Trap. When a rising power threatens to displace a ruling power, alarm bells should sound: danger ahead. China and the United States are currently on a collision course for war — unless both parties take difficult and painful actions to avert it.

What Do We Know About China’s Newest Missiles?


As “great power competition” becomes the lingua franca of American strategy, U.S. policymakers and analysts must build a greater familiarity with the Chinese strategic systems that increasingly worry combatant commanders and which would play an essential role in any Indo-Pacific crisis.

The situation is analogous to the Cold War, when knowledge of Soviet ICBMs was not limited to Sovietologists. Yet unlike in the last century, an extensive amount of information about these systems lies in the open to be analyzed. Instead of awaiting Moscow May Day parades, we can glean a great deal about the systems and their deployments through everything from official announcements to social-media tracking to unit commanders’ bios.

Since 2017, the People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force, the service responsible for China’s conventional and nuclear missiles, has added 10 brigades — more than a one-third increase — and deployed an array of formidable new weapons. These new systems include the intermediate-range DF-26 ballistic missile, DF-31AG and DF-41 intercontinental ballistic missiles, CJ-100 cruise missile, and DF-17 hypersonic glide vehicle. A new nuclear-armed DF-21 variant, speculatively referred to as the DF-21E, may have also been deployed but has not yet been officially unveiled.

We know the most about the DF-26, which is thought to be able to strike ground and naval targets out to about 4,000 kilometers. Publicly revealed in 2015, this IRBM has quickly become one of the PLARF’s most widely deployed systems, equipping at least five brigades so far. These brigades are widely geographically dispersed, with one each in northwest, northeast, and central China, and two more in the southeast, indicating the centrality of the DF-26 to a wide variety of theaters and missions. The DoD has reported both that the PLARF already possesses around 200 DF-26 launchers – a shockingly high figure – and that China continues to manufacture new ones. Hence, it is likely that the number of DF-26 brigades is set to grow still further.

China’s Damaging Influence and Exploitation of U.S. Colleges and Universities

by Chad Wolf James Jay Carafano

Americans are increasingly wary of Chinese Communist Party influence on U.S. universities—and rightly so. Despite the Ivory Tower’s leftward slant, universities remain a wellspring of American scientific, technical, and engineering research and innovation.

China’s desire to tap that well is no secret. Its campus-based Confucius Institutes have received much attention of late, but that is just the ice cube on the tip of the iceberg. Several other Chinese programs also have the potential to influence and exploit American colleges and universities. Their activities—like those of the Confucius Institutes—are not fully known. But here is a snapshot of what we do know and why they are a problem.

Thousand Talents Programs. Beijing’s Foreign Thousand Talents Program aims to attract “high-end foreign scientists, engineers, and managers from foreign countries.” Invitations and advertisements to participate come directly from Chinese research institutions that manage individual programs. But those institutions report to and are overseen by the government and the party, which provides financial compensation for participation.

A 2020 State Department warning about Chinese Communist Party activities at U.S. universities noted that recruits to the Thousand Talents Program must sign “legally binding contracts that often compel recipients to conceal their PRC relationships and funding, facilitate the illicit movement of intellectual capital to duplicate ‘shadow labs’ in China, recruit other talent, publish in China-based science journals, engage in activities abroad that would violate export control regulations, and influence U.S. organizations.”

Can the Quad Transform Into an Alliance to Contain China?

by James Holmes

Whither the “Quad”? Is the Quad, or Quadrilateral Security Dialogue—a loose grouping of likeminded Indo-Pacific nations—a military coalition in the making?

Maybe—but how tight that fellowship becomes is largely up to Communist China, the provocateur that brought disparate partners together in the first place.

The Quad is made up of India, Australia, Japan, and the United States. The United States acts as the hub of this consortium. It shares close and longstanding bilateral alliances with two of the members, Japan and Australia, providing a durable basis for tripartite cooperation in East and South Asia. The other spoke is flimsier. How India will relate to the Quad is the real question.

This is not a country eager for alliance entanglements. Just the reverse.

Current events may yield insight into the Quad’s future. At present Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin is visiting India on his first foreign trip. Austin traveled to Tokyo and Seoul in company with Secretary of State Anthony Blinken before tarrying in New Delhi. Quad members convened for a virtual summit on March 12. And on the bilateral level, New Delhi and Washington have concluded four “foundational defense pacts” since 2002, putting in place measures for bilateral military cooperation of various types. These agreements lay the groundwork for enterprises serving mutual interests should the partners choose to undertake them. That’s heartening news.

Teen terrorism inspired by social media is on the rise. Here's what we need to do.

By Farah Pandith

The would-be terrorist's plans were chilling, written out in detail alongside neo-Nazi tropes in his manifesto. The list of targets included post offices, pubs, schools and banks (for "obvious reasons," he wrote), and they were accompanied by a list of at least 19 firearms he dreamed of acquiring.

Recent years have revealed a scary, dangerous new era in which children have been taught to hate, are recruiting others and are plotting terrorist attacks.

The plot, while frightening, is not necessarily surprising for analysts of far-right terrorism. Many of the ideological themes, justifications and targets were familiar. But the case is still shocking: The plotter was just 13 when he began radicalizing and 16 when he was convicted, in November 2019, of planning six terrorist attacks. According to reports, at the time of his arrest he was the youngest person convicted of plotting a terrorist attack in the U.K.

This is not a one-off. Recent years have revealed a scary, dangerous new era in which children have been taught to hate, are recruiting others and are plotting terrorist attacks. While several schemes conceived by young far-right extremists were thwarted, the future may be bleaker. We have missed emerging trends in the past; counterterrorism professionals must urgently renew their vigilance — and implement new countermeasures — over the radicalization of young people in the West and beyond.

Humanity’s Historic Test


STOCKHOLM – With “vaccine nationalism” intensifying by the day, the global effort to end the COVID-19 pandemic is at risk of faltering. As of mid-March, the coronavirus has infected approximately 120 million people globally, causing around 2.6 million deaths. Though these are huge figures, they represent merely a fraction of the global population, which means that the pandemic still has a very long way to go.

The good news is the historically unprecedented effort to tackle the crisis. Although bringing a new vaccine through the stages of development and approval normally takes up to a decade, pharmaceutical companies have completed the process in under a year. The World Health Organization has already approved four COVID-19 vaccines for emergency use, and others are likely to follow soon. Moreover, ambitious new global mechanisms have been created in short order to facilitate the rapid and equitable distribution of vaccines around the world.

For example, since April 2020, the WHO’s Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, which includes all aspects of fighting the pandemic, has aided the fight against the virus by facilitating one of the fastest coordinated global public-health efforts in history. And now, the COVAX facility has started deliveries of vaccines to at least 50 low- and medium-income countries around the world (though initial supplies have been limited in the early stages of vaccine production).

For Energy Security, Power Is The New Oil

The deep freeze that afflicted the center of the US last week caused massive power outages in Texas and surrounding states. The plight of millions without power and heat captured the headlines and attracted world-wide attention.

In the meantime, other energy-related disruptions triggered by the same weather events remained largely unnoticed, despite the fact that any of one of them would be on the list of biggest US energy disruptions ever:

• As much as 4 million barrels per day (Mb/d) of US oil production was shut-in, nearly 40% of domestic crude supply, with the Permian basin especially impacted;
• Nearly 6 Mb/d US Gulf Coast refining capacity was shut-in (roughly 30% of the national total);
• Up to 20 billion cubic feet per day of US natural gas production was shut-in (20% of total production);

What little discussion there was of shortages at gasoline stations and of natural gas outages, was in the context of the power outages. (The gas stations couldn’t pump fuel due to power outages, and natural gas is the leading fuel for generating electricity nationwide, including in Texas.)

The headlines clearly show that power outages are what gets peoples’ and media attention.

Northern Sea Route: hopes and challenges


Media reports and commentaries are hailing the Russian LNG (liquefied natural gas) carrier Christophe de Margerie’s latest voyage along the Northern Sea Route as a watershed. The voyage has brought Moscow’s dream of year-around access to the NSR into the limelight again, and speculation is rife about whether the prospect is closer to reality than previously thought.

However, a few less-reported aspects can shed more light on the NSR’s feasibility as a transshipment route.
Sister ship didn’t emerge unscathed

The Nikolay Yevgenov, another LNG carrier and sister ship of the Christophe de Margerie, departed a day later on the same route but suffered damage to its propulsion system. The ship took a detour through the Suez Canal and is in dry dock in France for repairs. The incident has diminished the sensational claims that the Arctic is now open for year-around safe voyages without heavy icebreakers clearing the way.
Russia’s strategy for the NSR

The Kremlin views the development of Russia’s Far East region and the economic feasibility of shipping along the NSR as the main fulcrums of its geo-strategy.

Traditionally Russia has focused more on the Arctic than the rest of the world has because it is the closest geographically – which is why today the Kremlin commands the largest nuclear icebreaker fleet.

Infographic Of The Day: Guide To Heart Disease

The heart is one of the major organs, responsible for pumping blood throughout your body via a network of arteries and veins. It goes without saying that giving your heart proper care is essential for keeping your body healthy. Otherwise, you may end up putting yourself at risk for heart disease or cardiovascular disease.

The South Korea-US 2+2 Talks: Who Came Out Ahead?

By Sukjoon Yoon

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin (far left) and Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken (second from left) participate in a 2+2 meeting with South Korean Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong (second from right) and South Korea Defense Minister Suh Wook (far right) in Seoul, South Korea, on March 18, 2021.Credit: U.S. State Department photo

Last week in Seoul, after a five-year interlude, South Korea and the United States held “2+2” talks between their foreign and defense ministers. The stakes are high at this important juncture. South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s administration has only one year left to implement its nuanced strategy toward the United States and North Korea, following the contentious DPRK-U.S. summits of the Trump era. And new U.S. President Joe Biden is in a hurry to clear up Trump’s mess by reestablishing U.S. global security alliances around the globe, sending the message that “America is back.”

Ahead of the 2+2 talks, it was anticipated that the United States would urge South Korea to sign up to a new foreign and diplomatic initiative, as yet undeclared and perhaps unformulated, intended to manage relations with China and North Korea. Some commentators have speculated that if South Korea does not play ball, then the United States would likely wait for a more cooperative administration, holding only ceremonial meetings for the time being.

America’s Asian Allies Top the List of Geopolitical Priorities

by Wallace C. Gregson

Spare a moment to consider the frustration of Chinese officials handicapping U.S. election results and policies. Like much of the rest of the 2016 world, China expected another Clinton administration after the relatively accommodative Obama administration. They were not alone. Washington lore held that Japan was the only nation with any preparation at all for a Trump victory. Japan became a “first mover” with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visiting New York bearing a gold golf club gift. Many think Japan, and particularly Abe, enjoyed something like a special relationship as a result.

President-elect Donald Trump’s acceptance of a call from Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen and the intramural struggles of new, inexperienced advisors jostling for faced time showed that, far from keeping relations stable, havoc and disruption would reign. Just as promised during the campaign. Free-traders and trade hawks joined in battle.

The 2020 election flummoxed handicappers again. Many U.S. observers assumed an incoming administration with many Obama administration veterans would result in a return to the policies of the past two decades. Perhaps the declared positions of these veterans in many journals were dismissed as pure ivory tower nattering. Competition Without Catastrophe, by Kurt Campbell and Jake Sullivan, two experts destined for key cabinet positions, was especially indicative for those paying attention.

The U.S. Military Is Getting Ready to Fight A New Kind of War

by Kris Osborn

Enemy radar relies upon an electronic signal, guidance systems directing incoming enemy missiles need electronics to impact targets, and many forms of enemy communications such as radio and RF-based datalinks also require electromagnetic transmissions. These seemingly obvious or self-evident realities speak to an increasingly vital, yet under-recognized element of modern war: electronic warfare.

For many years, there has been a growing chorus of senior military leaders and weapons developers saying that the military force which dominates the electromagnetic spectrum is the one who will prevail in future conflict.

The U.S. Navy is taking new steps to defend against an entirely new generation of advanced anti-ship missiles, drone attacks, and other kinds of incoming enemy fire by fast-tracking new EW applications able to merge intelligence information with electronic attack.

The Navy is working with Northrop Grumman to prepare for a new series of ground tests for the newest EW variant, engineered to combine offensive and defensive attacks as well as integrate with Information Operations to a much greater extent.

It’s called the Surface Electronic Warfare Improvement Program Block 3, a new EW system being prepared to deploy over the next few years on Navy DDG-51 Destroyers and possibly the services’ new Frigate warships as well.

The Real Reasons the U.S. Can’t Win Wars Anymore


In his National Review article “Three Wars, No Victory — Why?” (February 18, 2021), Bing West, my former colleague at the Pentagon and the Naval War College, lays out a compelling case for why the U.S. — which he argues is the most powerful country in the history of the world — has lost the three major wars it has fought over the past 50 years: Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Bing divides blame for each of these losses among three hubs — namely, the military, the policy-makers, and the popular mood among the people of the country. He argues correctly that the policy hub, or the policy-makers, were primarily responsible for the failures.

While I have some experience in each of these conflicts, having served in Vietnam and having visited Iraq three times and Afghanistan once, it does not match that of Bing, who is one of the bravest people I have ever known. However, I still believe that he presents a sometimes incomplete and misleading picture of why we lost these three wars.

For example, in analyzing the Vietnam disaster, he ignores the fact that the war was fought under false pretenses. President Johnson received congressional authorization in 1964 to begin the massive escalation in Vietnam in response to an alleged attack by the North Vietnamese on an American ship in the Gulf of Tonkin. But, even before the congressional investigation, it was clear to any experienced naval officer that what the administration claimed had happened was bogus. I remember my commanding officer in VP-1, who had flown combat missions in World War II and Korea, telling us that the attacks did not happen the way it was claimed. This was something that Vice Admiral James Stockdale, who was Bing’s and my boss at the War College and who received a medal of honor for his courage as a POW in Vietnam and who was in the area at the time, also affirmed. As did a naval officer who convinced Senator Wayne Morse (D., Ore.) to become one of the two senators who voted against the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. (Both lost their next election.). When this came to light, it also increased opposition to the war among the American people.

Biden must punish Putin’s cyber-attacks. But building more nukes only makes things worse

Simon Tisdall

It had to happen sooner or later. Repeated Russian cyber-attacks, hacks, data thefts and disinformation operations aimed at influencing American elections have finally proved too much for Joe Biden, the US president to bear. Intolerable, too, are what Washington sees as the Kremlin’s malign power-plays in sensitive conflict zones, from Syria and Afghanistan to Ukraine and the Balkans.

Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, also stands accused by western countries of waging war on his own people: witness the recent crackdown on opposition activist Alexei Navalny’s pro-democracy supporters. Putin’s regime is widely viewed as irredeemably corrupt. Britain last week dubbed Russia a “hostile state”. The US agrees. The question is, what will Biden do about it?

The answer may become clearer in the next few days. While Biden says he still hopes to maintain cooperation in areas of mutual benefit, the two governments are now on a collision course following last week’s sudden eruption of diplomatic warfare. First came the huge Solar Winds cyber-attack, blamed on Moscow. Now, US intelligence chiefs are publicly accusing Putin in person of conspiring to tip the 2020 election in Donald Trump’s favour.

Biden is said to be particularly incensed by a finding that Putin green-lighted efforts by Russia-linked figures in Ukraine to smear his son, Hunter Biden, and by implication himself. Fabricated corruption allegations were exploited by Trump, who suppressed his own spy agencies’ doubts.

Weaponizing the Web

by Nicole Perlroth

A few weeks before the publication in early February of This Is How They Tell Me the World Ends, Nicole Perlroth’s disquieting account of the global trade in cyberweapons, multiple US government agencies and major corporations learned that they had been hit with one of the biggest cyberattacks in history. By all accounts, the operation—discovered in early December by the security firm FireEye, whose own closely guarded hacking tools were stolen—had been going on for at least nine months. Hackers believed to be agents of the Russian foreign intelligence service, SVR, appear to have embedded malware into a routine software upgrade from SolarWinds, a Texas-based IT company. When hundreds of the 18,000 users of the firm’s Orion network management system downloaded the upgrade, the malware opened those systems to the hackers. Further analysis revealed that about a third of the victims had not been SolarWinds clients, and thus the hackers must have been using other tactics in addition to the “trojanized” Orion software. Another point of entry may have been a backdoor in software developed by a Czech company called JetBrains, run by Russian nationals, that supplies its software testing product, TeamCity, to 300,000 businesses around the world, one of which is SolarWinds.

In fact, as reported by The New York Times, the hackers used multiple strategies to compromise the networks of an estimated 250 companies and federal agencies, including the Commerce Department, the Pentagon, the State Department, and the Department of Justice. According to the Associated Press, they “probably gained access to the vast trove of confidential information hidden in sealed documents, including trade secrets, espionage targets, whistleblower reports and arrest warrants.” Microsoft’s network was also hacked, and the source code to three of its products, including its cloud computing service, Azure, was stolen.

In Syria, US Commanders Hold the Line — and Wait for Biden


NEAR DERIK, SYRIA — On a bright blue afternoon in February, troops from the Louisiana National Guard load into up-armored vehicles in America’s true forgotten war. The trucks rumble out of a bare-bones base in the seeming middle of nowhere, heading to a small village named Hemzebeg on what the military refers to as a “presence patrol.”

Several weeks earlier, an apocryphal meme claiming President Joe Biden had “invaded” Syria proliferated across right-wing social media channels. In reality, U.S. forces here are carrying out a mission inherited across three administrations that, at least for now, seems poised to continue in perpetuity. But the popularity of the online conspiracy made clear that for some Americans, the roughly 900 troops former President Donald Trump bequeathed Biden are lost in the backlands of a frozen conflict, out of sight and out of mind.

American special operations forces here are prosecuting the fight against what’s left of ISIS. But they are supported by conventional troops like those in Louisiana’s 256th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, whose patrols are keeping the roads safe and clear.

The vehicles pass lonely pump jacks and herds of poorly-looking sheep. Children run out of small, low-slung concrete buildings in tiny hamlets, and the gunner throws down handfuls of Jolly Ranchers. Sometimes, men with inscrutable faces stand and watch them pass, expressionless. The patrol passes a pickup truck with a sheeted machine gun mounted in the bed, a so-called technical that has become the staple of irregular warfare across the globe. “That gun is bigger than mine,” the gunner remarks mildly, peering over the barrel of his .50-caliber machine gun. “Just hope he stays friendly.” No way to know who it belongs to. There doesn’t appear to be anyone nearby, just a long-haired collie dog that is probably white underneath all the dirt.

Biodiversity: The next frontier in sustainable fashion

By Anna Granskog, Franck Laizet, Miriam Lobis, and Corinne Sawers

It’s time for the apparel industry to radically reduce the industry’s contribution to biodiversity loss. Here are four interventions that can make the biggest impact.

Even amid the COVID-19 pandemic, sustainability remains top of mind for consumers, investors, and regulators—in fact, engagement in sustainability has deepened during the crisis. For example, two-thirds of apparel shoppers say that limiting impact on climate change is now more important to them since before COVID-19.1

But while much has been written about the fashion industry’s impact on climate change, less well known and well covered is the industry’s heavy footprint on biodiversity. Broadly defined as the variety of all life forms on earth, biodiversity matters. We rely on it for food and energy, and we depend on its irreplaceable role in sustaining air quality, providing fresh water and soil, and regulating climate. And yet biodiversity is declining at a faster rate than ever before in human history.2 One million species, between 12 percent and 20 percent of estimated total species, marine and terrestrial alike, are under threat of extinction.

The apparel industry is a significant contributor to biodiversity loss. Apparel supply chains are directly linked to soil degradation, conversion of natural ecosystems, and waterway pollution.

This article examines the apparel industry’s largest contributors to biodiversity loss, how companies can strategically mitigate that loss, and what brands can do to boldly lead the industry’s biodiversity efforts.

Apparel’s contribution to biodiversity loss

The Vaccine Supply Chain Is Now the Most Valuable Cyber Target in the World


In July, the U.S. and U.K. accused Russia of trying to steal vaccine research. Russia and North Korea have targeted vaccine production facilities, attempting to steal information. This was the first in a number of publicly disclosed cyber-enabled attacks—some carried out by nation states, some not—on vaccine research, production, and distribution facilities. In October, cyber criminals reportedly caused a shutdown of global manufacturing systems of a laboratory that had just received permission to manufacture Russia’s Sputnik vaccine. The Solarwinds attack targeted the U.S. National Institutes of Health, while Russian criminal groups continue to launch attacks on U.S. hospitals. The recent Hafnium Windows server exploit also targeted the U.K.’s National Health Services.

Vaccine information is a poorly guarded treasure for malicious interference and foreign espionage, and the attacks we see on the news are the ones we know about. The true number of malicious attacks will be significantly higher. It might seem that stealing vaccine research isn’t a big deal: After all, we want everyone to get vaccinated, so why not share the information? But once someone has access to steal the vaccine, they have the access to do anything they want. It is not as if cyber criminals are going to steal all vaccine production research and spin up functional vaccine facilities elsewhere—and if they did, we’re not sure we’d even care. More vaccine is better. These criminals are trying to disrupt production, not counterfeit it. That leads to less vaccine and more deaths. The vulnerable vaccine supply chain is in desperate need of better security.

The COVID-19 vaccine supply chain consists of the global research, production, storage, and distribution operations around the world. Most of the companies involved in the vaccine supply chain use a narrow range of software and information technology solutions from global providers like Google, Microsoft, and Amazon. That means a cyber exploit that works on one company is extremely likely to be applicable in another. As the recent Microsoft Exchange Server attack illustrates, when everyone uses the same tools, we are all vulnerable to the same series of exploits.

Drones Could One Day Make Up 40% of a Carrier Air Wing, Navy Says


One day, drones may make up nearly half of a carrier air wing — but don’t expect that overnight, the Navy’s warfighting requirements chief told lawmakers this week.

“We think we could get upwards of 40 percent of the aircraft in an air wing that are unmanned and then transition beyond that. So I think the logical step would be trying to follow a logical crawl, walk, run,” Vice Adm. James Kilby told lawmakers gathered for a Thursday hearing.

Kilby, the deputy chief of naval operations for warfighting requirements and capabilities, was on Capitol Hill to discuss the Navy Department’s new Unmanned Campaign Framework, which covers uncrewed ground, maritime, and airborne weapons. Lawmakers have been skeptical of the Navy’s unmanned plans for some time. Kilby said the new report had led Navy leaders to conclude that “we were focused on platforms too narrowly and not looking at the enabling technologies that will bring those all to bear.”

The Framework outlines a plan to move toward smaller tactical networks, more distributed data storage and the use of artificial intelligence, thus decreasing the importance of any single platform that’s part of a swarm or group.

What Did I Just Read? A Conversation With the Authors of 2034

Elliot Ackerman and Admiral James Stavridis 

ADMIRAL JAMES STAVRIDIS: From another novel that I read many years ago, in the 1980s, called The Third World War, by Sir John Hackett. It is a superb novel that imagines a global war between the United States and the Soviet Union.

Over the past few years, the conversation about China and the United States heading toward a cold war began to gain real currency. You heard Henry Kissinger, for example, say that “we're not in a cold war, but we're in the foothills of a cold war.”

I started to think: How can we avoid a war with China? And I think part of the reason we avoided a war with the Soviet Union was that we could imagine how terrible it would be. And part of imagining that is books like The Third World War, which kind of walks you through it.

MS: You two are clearly drawing from a deep knowledge base. How much of this story is real—how much of this is based on your own experience?

JS: The character who's the closest to me, career-wise, is Sarah Hunt. Well, there are a lot of differences—you know, like Sarah is much taller than I am and she has really great hair. [Laughter.] But our paths are very similar. She's a commodore and I've been a commodore, in command of a group of destroyers operating in the South China Sea. I've lived that opening scene, up to and including rescuing Chinese fishermen. I've been through these kinds of episodes—they just turned out better for me than that one does for Sarah.

I was also lucky enough to be a carrier strike group commander, just like Sarah. So I know that terrain well. And she has all the appropriate insecurities that people in command should have.