1 April 2021

The Shia Fatemiyoun Brigade: Iran’s Prospective Proxy Militia in Afghanistan

By: Sudha Ramachandran

In December 2020, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif offered the Afghan government use of the Iranian-backed Shia militia, Fatemiyoun Brigade, to fight Islamic State Khorasan Province (IS-K) in Afghanistan. In an interview with the Afghan English daily, Tolo News, Zarif described the Fatemiyoun fighters as “the best forces” to fight Islamic State and said that Iran is “prepared to help the Afghan government regroup these forces under the leadership of the Afghan National Army in the fight against terrorism.” Zarif added that Iran was “supporting” the Fatemiyoun in Syria, but it was Syrian President Bashar al-Assad who “was making [operational] decisions and implementing them.” Likewise, in Afghanistan, Iran is “prepared to support” the Fatemiyoun “under the leadership of the Afghan government,” Zarif said (Tolo News, December 21, 2020).

Iran’s Fatemiyoun Foot Soldiers

According to noted Afghan journalist Sami Yousafzai, Fatemiyoun is “already very active in Afghanistan and its influence is expanding in Shiite areas.” [1] This has serious implications for the conflict in Afghanistan as it will generate a new sectarian dimension. That could become a major threat not just to Afghanistan’s security but also to the region, and could deepen the involvement of regional Sunni and Shia countries and militias.

Recruited, armed, and trained by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Fatemiyoun Brigade has been deployed to Syria since 2013 and has fought alongside al-Assad’s forces, first against U.S.-backed Syrian opposition militias and subsequently Islamic State. Fatemiyoun fighters are mainly Afghan Shia Hazaras. While some of them came from Afghanistan to fight in Syria, the majority were recruited from the large Afghan migrant and refugee population in Iran. At the peak of the Syrian civil war, Fatemiyoun fighters comprised around 20,000 individuals. The group is said to have fielded an estimated 50,000 fighters in its ranks over the roughly decade-long Syrian conflict (Tolo News, February 7).

Pakistan’s Dual Counter-Terrorism Challenges: Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan’s Merger and Cross-Border Campaign from Afghanistan

By: Syed Fazl-e Haider

On February 26, Nooristan, known as Hasan Baba, was killed by Pakistani security forces. He was a commander of the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), who had been involved in the murder of more than 50 security forces personnel since 2007. His death represented one of Pakistan’s landmark achievements in its war on terrorism.

An improvised explosives device (IED) expert and trainer, Hasan Baba joined the TTP’s Baitullah Mehsud faction in 2007 and carried out several terrorist attacks in tribal areas bordering Afghanistan. These included the rocket attack on Shakai military camp that killed seven soldiers in 2009; an ambush on a military convoy that killed six soldiers in 2010; and another ambush on the Pakistani Frontier Corp (FC) convoy using an IED that killed three in 2011 in the Khaisura area of North Waziristan (Dawn, February 26).

The TTP itself has carried out hundreds of terrorist attacks across Pakistan and had killed over 80,000 Pakistani civilians and soldiers since the beginning of the insurgency to 2014. The operation Zarb-e-Azb launched by Pakistan’s armed forces in 2014, however, successfully reduced the footprint of the TPP and allied terrorist groups from the country’s northwestern tribal areas bordering Afghanistan (Pakistan Today, June 17, 2020). Despite this, Pakistan has increasingly shown concern about the growing TTP presence in neighboring Afghanistan, where the TTP took refuge to escape counter-terrorism actions by the Pakistani security forces under the Zarb-e-Azb operation (Dawn, July 29, 2020).

TTP Merger Increases Threat to Pakistan

China and the Myanmar Junta: A Marriage of Convenience

By: Sudha Ramachandran


On February 1, the Myanmar military (also known as the Tatmadaw) staged a coup to overthrow the democratically elected National League for Democracy (NLD) government and subsequently imposed a year-long state of emergency. NLD leaders, including State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint, have been detained along with thousands of pro-democracy activists (Mizzima, February 1). Several countries like the United States condemned the coup and expressed “deep concern” about the situation (Scroll, February 1). In comparison, China’s response has been rather muted. The state-run Xinhua news agency referred to the coup as “a major cabinet reshuffle” and neither condemned nor expressed concern about the unfolding events (Xinhua, February 2). The Chinese Foreign Ministry merely said that all parties should “properly handle their differences” and “maintain political and social stability” (PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs, February 3). China blocked a United Nations (UN) Security Council statement condemning the coup and refused to criticize the human rights situation at the UN Human Rights Council, saying, “What happens in Myanmar is essentially Myanmar’s internal affairs” (India Today, February 3; The Irrawaddy, February 13).

China is Myanmar’s top trade partner and second-largest investor. It is widely expected to maintain normal bilateral relations with the junta, as it did during the 1988-2010 period of military rule. However, the road ahead for Beijing is not without challenges. The Tatmadaw’s relationship with China has never been simple, and its suspicions of China’s intentions remain strong. An examination of the relationship between the two during previous periods of military rule provides insights into what may lie ahead.

Suspicion of Chinese Intentions

China’s 2027 Goal Marks the PLA’s Centennial, Not an Expedited Military Modernization

By: Brian Hart, Bonnie S. Glaser, Matthew P. Funaiole


China has added a new short-term milestone to its existing slate of military modernization goals. While noteworthy in its own right, the new benchmark is not a sign that China is sprinting to basically complete the modernization of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) ahead of the 2035 target set by President Xi Jinping (习近平).

At the recently concluded annual meeting of the National People’s Congress (NPC), China codified a new military modernization goal into its national development blueprint. Buried in Part 16 of the lengthy “14th Five-Year Plan [FYP] for National Economic and Social Development and Long-Range Objectives for 2035” is a call for China to “ensure the achievement of the 2027 centennial military building goal” (确保2027年实现建军百年奋斗目标, quebao 2027 nian shixian jianjun bainian fendou mubiao) (Xinhua, March 13). This new milestone, (hereinafter referred to as the “2027 goal”) marks the 100th anniversary of the founding of the PLA on August 1, 1927.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) first unveiled the 2027 goal in October 2020 during the 5th Plenum of the 19th Central Committee. It was included in the Central Committee’s proposal on drawing up the 14th FYP, and the language of the proposal was incorporated directly into the FYP (Xinhua, November 3, 2020). The 2027 goal joins a string of existing military modernization goals—namely that China will “basically complete national defense and military modernization by 2035” and possess a “world-class military by mid-century” (Xinhua, October 18, 2017).

The new 2027 goal sparked a flurry of claims that China had moved forward its goal of achieving military modernization from 2035 to 2027. In India, the Hindustan Times reported that the CCP had “finali[z]ed plans to build a fully modern military on par with the United States by 2027” (Hindustan Times, November 1, 2020). United States media reports claimed that China has “accelerated its timeline” for modernizing the PLA (Politico, March 15). Even former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, a widely respected China hand, stated categorically that “Beijing now intends to complete its military modernization program by 2027” (Foreign Affairs, March/April).

Endless U.S.-China Contest Risks 'Catastrophic' Conflict, Henry Kissinger Warns


Veteran diplomat Henry Kissinger has warned that the U.S. and China must come to an understanding on international affairs or risk "catastrophic" conflict that will benefit neither nation.

Speaking with former British Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt in a Chatham House webinar on Thursday, Kissinger said that "endless" competition between the world's two largest economies risks unforeseen escalation and subsequent conflict, a situation made more dangerous by artificial intelligence and futuristic weaponry.

Kissinger, now aged 97, served as both secretary of state and national security advisor under Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. Kissinger was one of the most influential Cold War figures and is credited with thawing relations with both the Soviet Union and communist China.

He has also been vilified for his role in the disastrous Vietnam War and American interventions in South American nations to topple democratically elected leaders in favor of far-right dictatorships.

Few people are as well connected or have more diplomatic experience than Kissinger, particularly when it comes to America's bilateral ties with China. Beijing is not "determined to achieve a world domination," Kissinger said Thursday, but rather "they're trying to develop the maximum capability of which their society is able."

Beijing Speaks on the Proposed Group of Seven Expansion

By: Jagannath P. Panda


Leaders of the Group of Seven (G7)—an informal bloc of industrialized nations which includes Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States—met virtually on February 19 in preparation for an upcoming June summit. The meeting focused on intensifying health cooperation; expanding vaccine development and deployment; “build[ing] back better” global economies in response to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and foregrounded sustainable development and climate change cooperation (G7 UK 2021, February 19). Although containing China did not feature directly in the official readout from the virtual meeting, the White House had previously stated that U.S. President Joseph Biden would raise the need to “strengthen our collective competitiveness and the importance of updating global rules to tackle economic challenges such as those posed by China” (White House, February 18). After the event, media reports heralded the event as a beginning in U.S. President Joseph Biden’s efforts to create an alliance of democratic allies to compete with China (Axios, February 19, Reuters, February 19).

Further demonstrating the G7’s significance as a site for conflict between China and the West, Beijing hit back against the G7 meeting before it even took place. Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying (华春莹) warned, “We oppose the imposition of rules made by several countries on the international community under the pretext of multilateralism. We also oppose the practice of ideologizing multilateralism to form values-based allies targeting specific countries” (PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs, February 19). The state tabloid Global Times was blunter, criticizing the G7 as old-fashioned “clique politics” based on “ideological divides,” and quoted a researcher from the state-affiliated China Institute of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR) who explained, “when [the G7] talks about tackling challenges posed by China, it actually means besieging China” (Global Times, February 18).

Potential Military Implications of Pingtan Island’s New Transportation Infrastructure

By: Kristian McGuire


Within the last decade, Pingtan Island (平潭岛, Pingtan Dao), which is the nearest territory to the Republic of China (ROC or Taiwan) controlled by the People’s Republic of China (PRC or China), has transformed from a relative backwater into a significant transportation hub. The opening of the Pingtan Strait Road-Rail Bridge (平潭海峡公铁大桥, Pingtan Haixia Gong-Tie Daqiao)—first to automobile traffic in October 2020 and then to high-speed rail traffic in December 2020—marked the island’s connection to the PRC’s integrated transportation system (综合交通运输体系, Zonghe Jiaotong Yunshu Tixi) (People’s Daily, October 9, 2020; CGTN, December 27, 2020). Beijing sees developing Pingtan’s transportation infrastructure as facilitating deeper engagement between the PRC and Taiwan. It intends for this increased engagement to promote the integration and eventual unification of ROC-controlled territories with mainland China (Fjbt.gov.cn, January 31, 2019)

Consistent with the PRC’s past use of psychological and media or “public opinion” warfare (part of the Chinese military’s long-standing “Three Warfares” formulation for political warfare), state media and the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) have both highlighted the potential dual-use applications of civilian transportation infrastructure on and around Pingtan (81.cn, May 26, 2014).[1] One retired military commander has even suggested that the PLA should access the territory via one of its newly constructed bridges and conduct artillery exercises to improve combat readiness for a Taiwan contingency (Global Times, October 21, 2016). At the same time, exploiting Pingtan’s new infrastructure to exert military pressure on Taiwan contradicts Beijing’s rebranding of Pingtan (the site of historic military exercises during the Third Taiwan Strait Crisis) as an important space for the “peaceful development of cross-Strait relations” (Taihainet.com, December 13, 2013; Xinhua, November 3, 2014).


Semiconductor Scandal A Concerning Backdrop to Xi’s Pursuit of “Core Technologies”

By: Elizabeth Chen


China’s leadership has signaled the country’s dedication towards pursuing self-sufficiency in “core technologies“ including integrated circuits. During the Fifth Plenum last fall, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) reinforced its belief in innovation being the core driver of China’s continuing development and pursuing a high-tech transformation of the manufacturing sector. The impetus for this structural transformation of the economy was first established in the 2006 Medium and Long Term Plan for Science and Technology and emphasized in the 13th Five Year Plan (2016-2020). The 14th Five Year Plan (FYP) (2021-2025), unveiled on March 5 during the annual legislative Two Sessions meetings, described technology innovation as a matter of national security, not just economic development, for the first time. This represents the increasing perception that technology is a battleground for competition with the West, following U.S. actions against Chinese companies such as ZTE, Huawei and Bytedance, which began in 2018 and escalated last year.

During his presentation of the annual Government Work Report to the National People’s Congress, Premier Li Keqiang (李克强) targeted integrated circuits as one of seven technology areas that will require “major breakthroughs in core technologies” (Gov.cn, March 5). And although the 14th FYP did not include an explicit benchmark for annual GDP growth, Li committed to growing China’s spending on research and development (R&D) at 7 percent per year during the 14th FYP, with basic research expenditures at the central level to increase by 10.6 percent (China Money Network, March 9).[1] China’s three previous FYPs targeted R&D spending at 2 percent, 2.2 percent, and 2.5 percent of GDP during the 11th, 12th, and 13th FYPs respectively, although it consistently fell short of reaching these goals.[2]

Is China About to Deploy Private Military Companies in Central Asia?

By: Paul Goble

Over the past decade, Moscow has made regular use of private military and security companies to project power in areas where it wants to maintain at least limited deniability while taking advantage of the weaknesses of local governments (see EDM, March 16, 2017, March 22, 2017, March 27, 2018). It has employed such independent formations—or at least their simulacra—in Ukraine, Syria and especially in African states with relatively vulnerable or ineffective central governments (see EDM, January 21, 2020, April 29, 2020, January 20, 2021).

Other countries, including the United States, have themselves relied on private military companies, although they mostly acknowledge them as support elements for a formal military presence. China has done so as well in some African countries but only in a restricted way. Now, however, there appears to be a growing risk that Beijing may feel it can utilize such structures to defend its existing interests or project new power into at least one republic in Central Asia: politically unstable Kyrgyzstan (see EDM, March 3). Beijing already has significant investments there and has had serious problems with the government and local population in the past (see EDM, June 24, 2016 and March 3, 2021; see China Brief, August 12, 2020).

Chinese “private military companies” have not yet appeared in Kyrgyzstan, but some Russian experts are worried that they may show up soon and create problems for Moscow, for two reasons. First, there is Russia’s own security involvement in Kyrgyzstan—it has one military base in that country and has been talking about the possibility of establishing a second (see EDM, May 24, 2018 and February 22, 2019). Additionally, any such Chinese involvement might not only further destabilize that Central Asian republic but lead to clashes between the Russian Federation and China, something Moscow wants to avoid, especially at a time of growing tensions with the West. Stanislav Pritchin, a senior researcher at the Moscow Center for Post-Soviet Research in the Russian Academy of Sciences, has noted that the Russian government hopes China will not send private military companies into Kyrgyzstan, but it increasingly fears that anti-Chinese rhetoric by Kyrgyzstani politicians could unintentionally lead to that possibility in the future. At a minimum, he said, this is already “a risk” no one can afford to ignore (IA-Centr, March 15).

China's growing firepower casts doubt on whether U.S. could defend Taiwan

By Dan De Luce and Ken Dilanian

WASHINGTON — China's massive arms buildup has raised doubts about America's ability to defend Taiwan if a war broke out, reflecting a shifting balance of power in the Pacific where American forces once dominated, U.S. officials and experts say.

In simulated combat in which China attempts to invade Taiwan, the results are sobering and the United States often loses, said David Ochmanek, a former senior Defense Department official who helps run war games for the Pentagon at the RAND Corp. think tank.

In tabletop exercises with America as the "blue team" facing off against a "red team" resembling China, Taiwan's air force is wiped out within minutes, U.S. air bases across the Pacific come under attack, and American warships and aircraft are held at bay by the long reach of China's vast missile arsenal, he said.

"Even when the blue teams in our simulations and war games intervened in a determined way, they don't always succeed in defeating the invasion," Ochmanek said.

A war over Taiwan remains a worst-case scenario that officials say is not imminent. But China's growing military prowess, coupled with its aggressive rhetoric, is turning Taiwan into a potential flashpoint between Beijing and Washington — and a test case for how the U.S. will confront China's superpower ambitions.

David vs Goliath: How Space-Based Assets Can Give Taiwan an Edge

By Jason Wang and Mark Matossian

Governments in Asia and beyond are increasingly on alert as China’s power projection increases in the air, sea, and cyber realms, but much less attention is paid to the biggest realm of them all – space. China has space-based intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance assets second only to the United States. The use of U.S. space-based assets in the Iraq and Afghan wars did not go unnoticed by China. China similarly wants to build space-based assets as an asymmetric means to deter a technologically advanced West.

With a distracted United States turned inward, how do Indo-Pacific states with considerably smaller GDPs begin to address a Goliath that seemingly already dominates space?

China’s Arsenal

As China’s launch cadence increases, so do its ballistic missile capabilities. China’s launch cadence already exceeds the United States’, even when taking SpaceX into account. China’s anti-satellite capabilities have improved beyond missiles. China has been refining its co-orbital and multi-arm satellite capturing capabilities. With respect to intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities, China’s YaoGan constellation of military reconnaissance satellites supports a range of geospatial intelligence capabilities: optical, synthetic aperture radar (SAR), and electronic intelligence (ELINT). Most notably, unlike visible light optical imagery, China’s SAR capabilities allow the Chinese military to see through clouds and at night. Earlier this month, China delivered into orbit another trio of satellites designed to locate and track warships necessary for maritime domain awareness and intelligence operations.

Structurally, since the 1990s, China has taken great pains to reorganize its ministries to drive a national space startup strategy. Today, China’s New Space startups are more agile than their state-owned counterparts; they drive innovation and raise private capital. All the while, these “private” companies are intimately tied to the government through civil-military fusion policies. As China’s lunar lander and rover operations complete their second year and a new China-Russian moon base has just been announced, the West’s lead in space continues to narrow even faster.

Classified US military war game set to take place as concerns about threats posed by China and Russia increase

By Barbara Starr

CNN — The "enemies" will have fictional names, but when hundreds of US military personnel around the globe log on to their computers later this summer for a highly classified war game, it will be clear what a major focus of the scenarios will be -- how the US should respond to aggressive action and unexpected moves by China and Russia.

Several defense officials tell CNN that the war game is a top priority for the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mark Milley, who will lead the exercise. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will be briefed as it plays out.

The war game is designed to equip the US military's top leaders to deal with a fictional global crisis erupting on multiple fronts and players will have to deal with constantly changing scenarios and compete for military assets like aircraft carriers and bombers.

They will take place at a crucial time for the Pentagon just months into Joe Biden's presidency.

The military budget is being set and major decisions on troop levels and priorities are being made so it's hoped the war game will help prepare the military to face the challenges of the next few years.

War games are always sensitive and outcomes are closely guarded because they can reveal shortfalls in US military plans and operations. One former defense official confirmed that in a recent exercise gaming out a conflict against major adversaries like Russia and China, "we found the Blue Team, the US and allies, kept losing."

Yemen’s Emerging Political Coalitions: A First Step Toward De-escalation?

By: Michael Horton

Politics in Yemen are best described as kaleidoscopic. Loyalties, alliances, and linkages within and between factions and parties shift with every rotation of the cell. Most of Yemen’s ever-increasing number of factions and armed groups defy easy categorization. As with all political and armed groups, cost-benefit calculations are ongoing.

Yemen’s interlocking wars have, in many respects, fundamentally altered the country’s political landscape. Yet some aspects of politics in Yemen are consistent. Yemen’s tribes, the north-south division, and networks of patronage remain drivers of both instability and stability—often at the same time. These wars have also spawned new and emergent elites while sidelining many members of the ancien regime. Yet, just as there is a constancy with drivers of instability and stability, many of those elites who have long been a part of Yemen’s political scene remain active and potentially important for de-escalation efforts.

In what may be a hopeful sign, some indications show that Yemen’s established and emergent elites are more willing than they have been for years to set aside old grievances. Old enemies are talking with renewed seriousness about coming together to help stabilize the country—or at least parts of it. The driving force behind these moves to reinvigorate political processes is the recognition that the Houthis (a.k.a. Ansar Allah) are not going to be defeated militarily. Thus, the Houthis’ influence and grip on northwest Yemen must be dealt with politically, if it is to be dealt with at all.

The Return of Yemeni Politics

Almost Overnight, New Ships Make U.S. Coast Guard A Big Geopolitical Player

Craig Hooper

Earlier this month, the Coast Guard’s first Legend class national security cutter, the USCGC Bertholf (WMSL 750), stopped in San Diego for a quick visit before returning home to Alameda, California on March 15. The crew, with the end of a three-month deployment in sight, offloaded seven tons of illicit drugs, lined up for COVID vaccinations and related their latest adventures. The sense of accomplishment was palpable, reflecting the progress the Coast Guard has made in bringing the majority of their eleven capable Legend class patrol ships into service.

It hasn’t been easy, but, some thirteen years after a stormy and controversial procurement process, the national security cutter fleet has “arrived” at just the right time. The Coast Guard’s thankless work in replacing their old fleet of twelve vintage Hamilton class cutters has paid off, and rest of the American government is suddenly realizing that the new capabilities in America’s recapitalizing cutter fleet are perfectly suited to address many of today’s pressing maritime law enforcement challenges.

This abrupt alignment of materiel to mission will fundamentally change the Coast Guard, making America’s dowdy old life-saving and drug-interdicting service a far more dynamic participant in Washington’s big geopolitical debates than many of the usual players expect.

Hypersonic Weapons Really Matter to U.S. Deterrence of Russia

By Dan Gouré

Hypersonic weapons could dramatically change the balance of conventional military power between the United States and its major competitors, Russia and China. Russia is investing heavily in hypersonic systems and is on the verge of deploying a variety of strategic and theater systems. The U.S. started behind its great power competitors but is racing to catch up. Deploying its own set of hypersonic weapons may be the second most important military modernization effort the Department of Defense (DoD) undertakes over the next two decades, coming just behind the modernization of the strategic nuclear deterrent.

Hypersonic weapons fly at least five times the speed of sound but retain the capability to maneuver in the atmosphere. There are two basic varieties of hypersonic weapons. The first, a hypersonic glide vehicle (HGV), is launched aboard a ballistic missile into the upper atmosphere. The HGV then uses the ballistic missile's speed to skip along the upper layers of the atmosphere with much greater maneuverability than traditional warheads. The second, a hypersonic cruise missile, maintains continuous thrust using either rocket power and/or air-breathing engines to reach the desired speed. What distinguishes hypersonic weapons from current types of ballistic and cruise missiles is their combination of speed, maneuverability, and the portion of the atmosphere in which they operate (between 80,000 and 200,000 feet).

Going forward, hypersonic weapons are likely to play a major role in Moscow’s military modernization efforts. They are a counter to current and prospective deployments of advanced air and missile defenses by the U.S. and its allies. Hypersonic weapons allow the Russian military to hold at risk critical U.S. and allied targets from the outset of a future theater conflict, possibly winning the war in the initial salvo.

US Response to SolarWinds Cyber Penetrations: A Good Defense Is the Best Offense

Paul Kolbe

According to U.S. officials, Russia is the likely perpetrator of the SolarWinds cyber compromise of federal agencies, private sector firms, NGOs and academic institutions. The scale and impact brought accusations of a reckless and indiscriminate operation. Some politicians labeled this an act of war, while other commentators dismissed the SolarWinds compromise as espionage. Calls for retribution were widespread.

We know few details about the breadth, depth and impact of the SolarWinds cyber operation, though the scale was clearly massive with over 18,000 SolarWinds customers uploading malware-laden tools. But we do not know which companies and agencies have been affected, what information was compromised or whether damage occurred to any information systems. This lack of public disclosure likely represents caution in revealing what is known and not known, but also signals the difficulty of assessing just how bad we’ve been had.

So how should the U.S. respond?

A natural inclination will be to strike back in order to modify future Russian behavior and to introduce stronger cyber deterrence for other potential actors. Responses might include declaring Russian intelligence personnel persona non grata, indictment of perpetrators, targeted sanctions and execution of similar operations against select Russian systems. The aim would not just be punishment, but to change the risk-gain calculation for Russia, and others, when considering new cyber operations.

How Did EU-Russian Relations Collapse and What Comes Next?

by Mark Episkopos

As relations between Russia and the European Union (EU) teeter on the brink of total collapse, the Kremlin is doubling down on its strategy of cultivating alternate ties with individual EU member states and its Chinese partner.

Weeks into the international scandal stemming from Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny’s detainment, Russia’s foreign minister Sergey Lavrov suggested that Russia could respond to further European sanctions by severing formal ties with the EU. “We don’t want to isolate ourselves from world affairs, but we have to be prepared for that... If you want peace, prepare for war,” he added. Several weeks following Lavrov’s statement, Brussels and Washington imposed a coordinated sanctions package against a slew of senior Russian officials. Reiterating Russia’s emergent zero-tolerance policy concerning sanctions, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that the restrictions “represent meddling in Russia’s internal affairs” and are “absolutely unacceptable, inflicting significant damage to the already poor ties.” Citing the “the principle of reciprocity in relations between states,” Peskov warned that Russia will choose a “response that would best serve our own interests.”

Earlier this week, the EU sanctioned two Russian officials accused of facilitating the persecution of LGBT individuals in the Russian constituent republic of Chechnya. During a joint press conference with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi, Lavrov all but pronounced Russia-EU relations as dead. “There are no relations with the European Union as an organization. The entire infrastructure of these relations has been destroyed by unilateral decisions made by Brussels,” he said.

Israel: The Not-So-Secret Nuclear Weapon Superpower?

by Kyle Mizokami

In a private email leaked to the public in September of 2016, former secretary of state and retired U.S. Army general Colin Powell alluded to Israel having an arsenal of “200 nuclear weapons.” While this number appears to be an exaggeration, there is no doubt that Israel does have a small but powerful nuclear stockpile, spread out among its armed forces. Israeli nuclear weapons guard against everything from defeat in conventional warfare to serving to deter hostile states from launching nuclear, chemical, and biological warfare attacks against the tiny country. Regardless, the goal is the same: to prevent the destruction of the Jewish state.

Israel set off to join the nuclear club in the 1950s. David Ben-Gurion was reportedly obsessed with developing the bomb as insurance against Israel’s enemies. Although an ambitious goal for such a small, initially impoverished country, Israel did not have any security guarantees with larger, more powerful states—particularly the United States. The country was on its own, even buying conventional weapons off the black market to arm the new Israeli Defense Forces. Nuclear weapons would be the ultimate form of insurance for a people that had suffered persecution but now had the means to control their own destiny.

War is Changing. So Should the Pentagon’s Budget


The Biden administration’s first defense budget request, for fiscal year 2022 and plans for beyond, should reflect critical political and economic realities in Washington and the country. It is strategically unwise and infeasible to increase the top line, which will remain around $740 billion. Instead, Pentagon planners would be wise to reallocate the dollars they have to host of new military and technological realities.

As our leadership conducts their strategic review of the spending imperatives to protect the American way of life, they will do well to note additions to the character of war. Warfare is no longer solely about aircraft carriers, missiles, or riflemen. That is, war reflects the context of the societies in conflict. Data, digital platforms, networks, and disinformation are intrinsic parts of our society and our competitors. Now, they are targets and tools of warfare. China and Russia’s investment in and use of artificial intelligence, electronic and information warfare, and cyberattacks against the United States and India — states armed with nuclear weapons — is blatant manifestation that the use of violence for political objectives is as much about software as hardware.

In the past, Congress and the military, when faced with a constrained budget, have prioritized protecting existing “legacy” weapons platforms. This has been rational behavior. Such weapons systems have proven themselves in previous combat operations, and established “programs of record” have concrete relationships to political constituencies. But Pentagon’s planners today need to invest in the modern tools of digital warfare. Biden’s first defense budget request should offer no room for both. If there is a place to trim, it is in hardware, especially older systems that can and should be cut.

As Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. C.Q. Brown and the Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger recently wrote, “Our current readiness model strongly biases spending on legacy capabilities for yesterday’s missions, at the expense of building readiness in the arena of great-power competition and investing in modern capabilities for the missions of both today and tomorrow.”

We All Live in Germany’s World


Why do the Germans do what they do? Since the global financial crisis, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government in the European Union has seemed to alternate between bad cop and compulsive hoarder. Berlin forced Greek governments to accept punitive austerity measures, blocked the issuance of Eurobonds, and most recently balked at the need to spend heavily at the European level in response to the coronavirus, until it was almost too late. With near-zero interest rates and crumbling infrastructure at home, Germany still refuses to spend even as the new Biden administration passes a stimulus bill of “
planetary scale.”

Is this neoliberal seppuku? An opposition to the expansionary state so complete that it would rather perish than run a deficit?

There is no shortage of fodder for explanations based on the ideological and the irrational. The CDU all but copped to accusations of “sado-monetarism” in late 2019 when they tweeted a meme of the “black zero”—the German symbol for a balanced budget— in a leather dominatrix hat with the winking tagline: “We admit, we have a little fetish.”

Anglophone audiences have been especially hospitable to the idea that there is something peculiar, even pathological, about the behavior of the Germans when it comes to matters of money. When Michael Lewis turned to scatology and the history of Weimar hyperinflation to explain the German “preternatural love of rules” in a Vanity Fair article in 2011, he foreshadowed a decade of takes to follow.

DARPA Hopes to Improve Computer Vision in ‘Third Wave’ of AI Research


The military’s primary advanced research shop wants to be a leader in the “third wave” of artificial intelligence and is looking at new methods of visually tracking objects using significantly less power while producing results that are 10-times more accurate.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, has been instrumental in many of the most important breakthroughs in modern technology—from the first computer networks to early AI research.

“DARPA-funded R&D enabled some of the first successes in AI, such as expert systems and search, and more recently has advanced machine learning algorithms and hardware,” according to a notice for an upcoming opportunity.

The special notice cites the agency’s past efforts in AI research, including the “first wave”—rule-based AI—and “second wave”—statistical learning-based.

“DARPA is now interested in researching and developing ‘third wave’ AI theory and applications that address the limitations of first and second wave technologies,” the notice states.

To facilitate its AI research, DARPA created the Artificial Intelligence Exploration, or AIE, program in 2018 to house various efforts on “very high-risk, high-reward topics … with the goal of determining feasibility and clarifying whether the area is ready for increased investment.”

Breaking the Move-Countermove Cycle: Using Net Assessment to Guide Technology

By Bryan Clark & Dan Patt , Timothy A. Walton

National Security Strategies are intended to describe U.S. security objectives and challenges, how the government plans to apply elements of U.S. national power toward its goals, and where its tools fall short.[1] One of the most challenging aspects of today’s security environment is the disruptive impact of new technologies such as cyber and electronic warfare, hypersonic missiles, space-based weapons, and autonomous vehicles. Because fiscal constraints will likely prevent the U.S. government from addressing all the threats and opportunities posed by new scientific and engineering advancements, a key question for policymakers is how to choose which specific technologies and applications should be prioritized in the next National Security Strategy.[2]


The U.S. government’s predominant planning approaches, such as the Department of Defense’s Joint Capabilities Integration and Development System (JCIDS), are arguably ill-suited to set priorities in a fiscally-constrained and technologically dynamic environment like that facing U.S. leaders today. These methods typically predict capability gaps based on highly-specified assumptions regarding future operational scenarios and the type and disposition of friendly and adversary forces. In addition to incurring the substantial risk of incorrect predictions, these methods can fail to identify new opportunities or determine which gaps to risk-manage when funding falls short.[3] Overall, the bottom-up nature of the Pentagon’s current planning processes highlight needs rather than providing a mechanism for establishing priorities, which are the heart of strategy development.

All Eyes on Digital Payments


CHICAGO – Digital payments are attracting growing interest, and eye-popping numbers abound, as demonstrated by the US payment processor Stripe’s recent $95 billion valuation. Why all the excitement, and why now?

Bold, specific, and usually alarming predictions about automation and coming job losses obscure a basic fact: the future remains uncertain. Whether technology is used to liberate or enslave us is always ultimately the responsibility of the humans in charge.

At one level, the reason is straightforward: digital payments allow buyers to pay sellers without physical currency changing hands. Though the technology has been around for a long time, it is finally becoming much easier to use for small-value retail payments. Moreover, the pandemic has accelerated the switch to digital payments, as people have shifted to e-commerce and taken steps to avoid handling currency in ordinary purchases.

Digital payments also generate real-time data on sellers’ businesses, the timing of cash flows, and buyers’ purchasing habits, allowing payment providers to offer credit, savings, wealth management, collections, insurance, and other financial services. Where credit was once the way to draw in customers and offer a panoply of financial services, payments may be a safer channel for such upselling.

But a provider who handles only a fraction of a customer’s payments has only a partial picture of that customer. Payment providers therefore are eager to control all means of payment: bank accounts, e-wallets, credit cards, cryptocurrencies, and so on. And e-commerce and social-media platforms want to go a step further by combining their powerful data-collection engines with payments.


Kevin Bilms

Earlier this month, the White House released its Interim National Security Strategic Guidance, the foreign policy blueprint that will inform the Biden administration’s national security strategy. Most analysis of the guidance has focused on how it represents a departure in tone and tenor from the previous administration’s National Security Strategy. Much less attention has been paid to the guidance’s treatment of competition in the gray zone between peace and outright war.

This oversight is unfortunate, however, because implicit in the guidance are several useful themes for understanding how to oppose state adversaries at their own game. Gray-zone competition has become rogue and revisionist regimes’ preferred approach for seeking political advantages against the United States and its allies, and after years of watching gray-zone activities unfold, more observers appear to be getting the message. A close reading of the guidance shows that although the phrase “great power competition” appears nowhere within it, the Biden administration correctly keeps gray-zone competition in its sights. Departments and agencies should consider these six themes as they develop strategies and prioritize investments to contest authoritarian regimes in the gray zone.

1. Defend Forward with Persistent Engagement

Building the Future Force

By Col. Mark Gunzinger, USAF (Ret.) and Lukas Autenreid

The Department of Defense (DOD) develops a new National Defense Strategy (NDS) every four years to align the U.S. military’s force structure, operational concepts, programs, and budgets with the president’s national security priorities. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin plans a comprehensive review of the present NDS, published in January 2018, and has indicated that while the strategy’s focus on great power competition and conflict remains sound, updates may be warranted. Austin suggested during his confirmation hearings the next NDS must address “the continued erosion of U.S. military advantage vis-à-vis China and Russia, in key strategic areas” due to trends such as China’s accelerating military modernization, its increasingly belligerent activities in the Indo-Pacific, and its growing ability to project power against the U.S. homeland.

Three issues threaten to further erode the U.S. military’s advantages in the future, increasing the risk of failure in the event of great power conflict. Two of these stem from the 2018 National Defense Strategy, which directed how the services should size and shape their forces, while the third results from DOD’s inadequate means for calculating the relative benefits of investment trade-offs. Left unaddressed, these issues threaten to increase gaps in U.S. forces and capabilities and to reduce the nation’s ability to defeat peer aggression, deter nuclear attacks, and defend the U.S. homeland.