4 April 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.

Defining China’s Intelligentized Warfare and Role of Artificial Intelligence

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

China feels that U.S. is its main adversary ... China is trying to match U.S. technological capabilities with its own strength in AI as a leap frog technology and a new concept of war ... But there will be lot of problems in implementing this concept of Intelligentization Warfare to reality. However, President Xi Jinping has thrown the gauntlet, and it is up to the U.S. the other adversaries and the rest of the world to follow this concept keenly.

Secret India-Pakistan Peace Roadmap Brokered by Top UAE Royals

Sudhi Ranjan Sen

The official UAE readout of the Feb. 26 meeting gave few clues of what Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed spoke about with Indian counterpart Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, noting they “discussed all regional and international issues of common interest and exchanged views on them.”

Yet behind closed doors, 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, both of which have nuclear weapons and spar regularly over a decades-old territory dispute.

The next step in the process, the official said, involves both sides reinstating envoys in New Delhi and Islamabad, who were pulled in 2019 after Pakistan protested India’s move to revoke seven decades of autonomy for the disputed Muslim-majority state of Jammu and Kashmir. Then comes the hard part: Talks on resuming trade and a lasting resolution on Kashmir, the subject of three wars since India and Pakistan became independent from Britain in 1947.

An Indian Army soldier stands guard near the Line of Control with Pakistan in Kashmir in 2020.

Over the years, India and Pakistan have routinely made peace overtures only to have them quickly fall through, particularly as both sides frequently use the issue to stir up emotions around election time. Officials said expectations were low that the current detente would achieve much beyond the return of envoys and a resumption of trade through their Punjab land border.

But this process appears to be the most concerted effort in years, and comes as the Biden administration is seeking wider peace talks on Afghanistan -- a place both countries for years have battled for influence. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi wants to shore up growth and focus military resources on the border with China, while Pakistan’s leaders are also facing economic woes and looking to make a good impression with the U.S. and other powers.

How France Has Surpassed The US As India’s Most Dependable Ally To Counter China?

By Prakash Nanda

How France Has Surpassed The US As India’s Most Dependable Ally To Counter China?
Five recent happenings prove once again that it is still France, not the US, which is India’s foremost ally in the West.

Seen in isolation, each of these happenings may not appear that important, but when viewed collectively, the unmistakable pattern that emerges is that France was, is, and will remain India’s all-weather ally.

On March 31 evening, the fourth batch of three Rafale jets from France (refueled midair by friendly United Arab Emirates Air Force) arrived in India to join the Golden Arrows Squadron at Ambala Air Force station.

With their arrival, the number of Rafale aircraft in India stands at 14. The rest 22, as per the government-to-government deal by the two countries, will be delivered well in time.

On March 20, the chairman of Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) K. Sivan informed that India and France have been working on their third joint satellite mission, after undertaking ‘Megha Tropiques’ which was launched in the year 2011 and ‘Saral-Altika’ launched in 2013.

This will be an earth observation satellite mission with the thermal infrared imager TRISHNA- Thermal InfraRed Imaging Satellite for High-Resolution Natural Resource Assessment. There are also discussions on establishing ‘NavIC’ (an independent regional navigation satellite system that is developed and maintained by ISRO) reference station in France.

For Pakistani army chief, it’s the economy, stupid

By C. Raja Mohan

Whether or not the foreign ministers of India and Pakistan meet on the margins of an international conference on Afghanistan in Dushanbe this week, speculation on the next steps in the re-engagement between Delhi and Islamabad has been growing. With the ceasefire holding on the Line of Control in the last few weeks, there is growing optimism about the prospects for a dialogue between India and Pakistan.

The medium-term prospects of this incipient peace process, however, depend on the evolution of Pakistan’s very interesting debate on geoeconomics triggered by Pakistan Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa’s speech a couple of weeks ago.

Bajwa’s call for “burying the past” with India and moving on is premised on the conviction that the time has come for Pakistan to relook at the weakening economic foundation of its national security. As an institution that sees itself as the guardian of Pakistan’s ideology and interests, it is not surprising that the Army has taken the lead in reframing the debate on relations with India. But persuading Pakistan to follow through might not be easy.

Women Cut Out of the Afghan Peace Process

Afghanistan’s tortuous peace process has entered a desperate endgame that threatens to force women back to the margins of society and undermine gains they’ve made over the last two decades if the Taliban end up with a place in government.

Despite plenty of evidence that women’s involvement is critical to securing an enduring end to conflicts, Afghan women fear they’re being sidelined; even the drafted U.S. peace plan downgrades the role of women in post-war Afghanistan. While United Nations Resolution 1325, which seeks to entrench women’s participation in peace processes, stresses women’s “equal participation and full involvement,” the United States’ plan refers simply to the “meaningful” participation of women.

The big concern for Afghan women is all the rights they’ve won since the downfall of the Taliban regime in 2001—especially constitutionally guaranteed equality—will be sacrificed in favor of a quick peace with extremists.

For the past six months, Habiba Sarabi has been one of four women, on a team of 21, representing the majority of Afghanistan’s population at talks in Doha between the Afghan government and the insurgent Taliban. Earlier this month, Sarabi was the lone woman present at peace talks held in Moscow.

Exclusive: The Secret Global Data Cell Infiltrating Jihadists

Elise Vincent and Christophe Ayad

Hidden from view in the quiet heat of Jordan, a vast data war is being waged. Ground zero is an American military base in the heart of the Hashemite kingdom, where for the past five years, a silent tracking system has been developed based on meticulous archives. The goal of this painstaking project? Identifying and consolidating the traces of every kind of jihadist fighter to pursue them in any way possible — including in the courts.

This extraordinary project was long run by the Pentagon and kept completely under wraps. While it remains a confidential operation to this day, it's been mentioned briefly by official sources across the Atlantic and by a few intelligence unit insiders in European media. Yet the undertaking was never disclosed to the public in detail. Today, Le Monde can reveal the origins and the modus operandi of what is known under the code name "Operation Gallant Phoenix" (OGP).

A few years ago, this Big Brother-esque program would have been impossible to put into place. In counterterrorism, intelligence agencies have always favored bilateral, over-the-counter exchanges. Gallant Phoenix is the exact opposite: Since 2016, the countries that decided to join as partners in the project have been able to help themselves to whatever information they need or want. Inversely, they can also deposit any intel or evidence gleaned from their side.

Cell phones, cameras, computers, USB sticks.

Myanmar’s military coup has riven the Buddhist monkhood

One would never guess, reading the Global New Light of Myanmar, a state newspaper, that more than 500 people have been killed by the army amid protests against a military coup on February 1st. Its pages are filled with pictures of generals shaking hands with foreign dignitaries, attending meetings and making obeisance to Buddhist monks. Whereas monks were prominent in the previous bout of protests against military rule, in 2007, their role has been much more ambiguous this time.

Almost 90% of Burmese are Buddhist. Judging by the New Light’s coverage, none is more devout than Min Aung Hlaing, the commander-in-chief. After inspecting the troops on the morning of March 27th, a public holiday celebrating the army, the general hastened to the pagoda next door. He was photographed kneeling on the floor while monks, seated on chairs, were elevated above him. This act of apparent submission was in fact another expression of authority, one as symbolically important as the military parade earlier in the day.

The Suez Grounding Was an Accident. The Next Blocked Chokepoint Might Not Be.


The recent spectacle of the hulking container ship wedged into the Suez Canal is a reminder of how vulnerable maritime transportation is to blocked chokepoints. While the Ever Giving appears to have gotten stuck by accident, military planners must remember that such blockages can be inflicted on purpose.

This tactic—called “blockships”—has a long history. British forces used it in both world wars, as did Union forces during the American Civil War. Earlier uses have been documented going back 1,000 years. But this ancient naval maneuver remains highly relevant in the twenty-first century: In 2014, Russian forces used it to trap most of the Ukrainian Navy in a Crimean port. By sinking two obsolete ships to obstruct the harbor exit, they prevented Ukrainian ships from escaping to sea, enabling their capture from the landward side.

In many ports around the globe, ships transit confined waterways that are no wider than the length of a large container ship. An attacker could bribe a crew to deliberately sink one, run it aground, or crash it at a narrow point in the approaches to a port. Alternatively, electronic or cyberattacks against a ship’s control system could cause a channel-blocking accident. Clearing a blockship can take days or weeks, enough time for the other side to make military gains that are difficult to reverse. The trapped ships and submarines are also vulnerable to missile attack, having become a set of fixed targets.

The Blocked Suez Canal Isn't the Only Waterway the World Should Be Worried About


I’ve sailed through the Suez Canal many times—as a junior officer, a captain of a destroyer, a commodore in command of a group of destroyers, and as a strike group commander on the nuclear aircraft carrier Enterprise. It is a fascinating trip, and dangerous in a variety of ways. At various times, the terrorist threat was very high and we went through with crew-served weapons manned fore and aft, and helicopters over head. Exhaustion for the senior leaders tends to be a factor as it is a long passage. As a ship’s captain, I almost went aground in the Great Bitter Lake, as the Suez is called, after a couple of bad navigational decisions on my part, but, fortunately, my navigator saved my career with some good advice.

But as we’ve all seen over the past few days, it can be dangerous from the perspective of seemingly simple and routine marine operations. The grounding and wedging athwart the canal of the Ever Given is beyond unusual, and hopefully there will eventually be a full accounting of the factors that led this accident—weather, poor advice from canal pilots, bad ship handling all seem to have played a part. Fortunately, the canal was cleared after heroic efforts by Egypt and a consortium of nations.

There is another fundamental lesson to be relearned here, and it about more than just the Suez Canal. It is the criticality of a handful of so-called “choke points” around the world upon which the global navigational grid depends. These are spots where traffic patterns collide, and the tens of thousands of ships underway on the world’s oceans at any given moment come together in tightly managed traffic schemes. I spent a significant chunk of my life at sea passing through them.

The Suez Canal blockage is a reminder that geography does matter in trade


The Suez Canal, the trade artery in Egypt which allows ships travelling between Europe and the Middle East, India and Asia to avoid sailing around the entire African continent, has been blocked for almost a week after a giant container ship, called Ever Given, owned by the Taiwanese company Evergreen Marine, ran aground on the bank of the canal after apparently being blown off course by high winds on 23 March.

The ship, which had been blocking the canal through which around 13 per cent of global trade is estimated to travel, had been partially refloated by Monday morning, raising hopes that the waterway may soon be cleared.

The blockage is thought to be holding up $9.6bn of goods every day. Some shipping which would ordinarily go through Egypt is having to take a 3,500-mile detour via the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa, extending voyages by up to 12 days – not catastrophic, but adding not-inconsiderable additional time and expense to already complex global supply chains.

The container capacity of the largest ships, such as the Ever Given, has almost doubled in the past decade, but much of the infrastructure they rely on, such as canals, has largely stayed the same. The Financial Times have explained the specific hydrodynamic challenges ships such as the Ever Given face.

This is not the first time the Suez Canal has been blocked since its completion more than 150 years ago. Following the 1967 Six-Day War between Israel and several Arab countries, Israel occupied Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, up to the eastern bank of the canal. The waterway was blocked for eight years, trapping 15 ships until the route was reopened in 1975. (Their crews founded a yachting club and watched films on a Bulgarian vessel. The Swedes had a pool.)

China Is Not Ten Feet Tall

By Ryan Hass

China, the story goes, is inexorably rising and on the verge of overtaking a faltering United States. China has become the largest engine of global economic growth, the largest trading nation, and the largest destination for foreign investment. It has locked in major trade and investment deals in Asia and Europe and is using the Belt and Road Initiative—the largest development project of the twenty-first century—to win greater influence in every corner of the world. It is exporting surveillance tools, embedding technology in 5G communications networks, and using cyber-capabilities to both steal sensitive information and shape political discourse overseas. It is converting economic and political weight into military might, using civil-military fusion to develop cutting-edge capabilities and bullying its neighbors, including U.S. allies and partners such as Australia, India, and Taiwan. And at home, it is ruthlessly cracking down everywhere from Hong Kong to Xinjiang, with little concern about criticism from the United States and other democratic governments.

Among the most eager purveyors of this story line are China’s government-affiliated media outlets. Projecting self-assurance, they have also gone out of their way to contrast their own achievements with plentiful examples of American dysfunction. They point to images of insurrectionists storming the U.S. Capitol and of American citizens standing in line for water during power outages in Texas as evidence of the decay of “Western democracy.” They celebrate China’s success in “defeating” COVID-19 and reopening the country, while the United States and other Western countries still struggle to stop the spread of the virus. “Time and momentum are on our side,” Chinese President Xi Jinping declared in a speech at the Communist Party’s Fifth Plenum last fall. In January, Chen Yixin, a top security official, told a Chinese Communist Party study session, “The rise of the East and decline of the West has become a trend.”

What’s Next for U.S.-China Military Relations?

By Robert D. Williams

Thursday's high-level meeting between American and Chinese diplomats in Alaska confirmed that for the foreseeable future, “competition” will be the defining paradigm in U.S.-China relations. But the meeting also highlighted that the two sides are seeking to identify areas where cooperation can proceed alongside competition. One area that Washington and Beijing might look to is updating bilateral risk reduction and crisis management mechanisms. It’s a particularly ripe sphere for modest, practical steps the two governments can pursue to promote safety and prevent miscalculation in waters where their forces are increasingly operating in proximity. Closing the loopholes that currently leave some of the most important players out of existing safety protocols would be a useful first step.

Maritime Crisis Management and China’s “White Hulls” and “Blue Hulls”

Amid an increase in the frequency and intensity of Chinese and American military operations in maritime East Asia, an array of commentators have argued that there is an urgent need for the United States and China to work together to improve bilateral crisis avoidance and communication mechanisms. Nowhere is this need more evident than in the contested waters of the South China Sea and East China Sea. The recent history of U.S.-China military dialogues offers little cause for optimism about the potential for a near-term breakthrough.

How China Won The Middle East Without Firing A Single Bullet

by Ramzy Baroud

A much anticipated American foreign policy move under the Biden Administration on how to counter China’s unhindered economic growth and political ambitions came in the form of a virtual summit on March 12, linking, aside from the United States, India, Australia and Japan.

Although the so-called ‘Quad’ revealed nothing new in their joint statement, the leaders of these four countries spoke about the ‘historic’ meeting, described by ‘The Diplomat’ website as “a significant milestone in the evolution of the grouping".

Actually, the joint statement has little substance and certainly nothing new by way of a blueprint on how to reverse - or even slow down - Beijing’s geopolitical successes, growing military confidence and increasing presence in or around strategic global waterways.

For years, the ‘Quad’ has been busy formulating a unified China strategy but it has failed to devise anything of practical significance. ‘Historic’ meetings aside, China is the world’s only major economy that is predicted to yield significant economic growth this year - and imminently. International Monetary Fund’s projections show that the Chinese economy is expected to expand by 8.1 percent in 2021 while, on the other hand, according to data from the US Bureau of Economic Analysis, the US’ GDP has declined by around 3.5 percent in 2020.

Book Review: History 2.0

by Derryl Hermanutz

Anybody who is not locked inside the myopically Western-centric perceptual bubble knows China is rising and the US is declining, not just relative to each other but in absolute terms. Life for the Chinese people and economic partners - Eurasia - is getting better. Life for the US people and economic partners - the West - is getting worse. Why is this happening?

In "History 2.0" Frank Li identifies good Chinese government vs bad US government as the immediate reason; and identifies deep-seated historical, cultural and ideological differences as the core reason. China's Confucian government "works". US "democracy" doesn't work. As a Chinese-American Li celebrates the success of his native country, and bemoans the failings of his adopted country, and advocates measures to reverse the decline of the US.

Li identifies the immediate cause of China's recent successes as its adoption of capitalism by Deng Xiaoping's administration after 1978. Capitalism - allowing people to personally benefit from their productive efforts - is the only system that works, according to Li. But whereas the US has private capitalism that serves the interests of the hyper-rich capitalist class at the expense of everybody else, China has state capitalism that serves the interests of China's people, economy, and nation as a whole. In the US capitalists rule the government. In China the government rules the capitalists.

Taiwan Tripwire: A New Role For The U.S. Army In Deterring Chinese Aggression

Loren Thompson

The island of Taiwan, home to the Republic of China, occupies a pivotal position in Washington’s Sino-centric defense strategy.

Geographically, Taiwan is the anchor of the so-called First Island Chain, which U.S. planners have identified as the most promising location from which to oppose Chinese naval moves.

Economically, Taiwan is an electronics powerhouse that hosts the world’s leading maker of advanced semiconductors and is the headquarters of the company that assembles all iPhones.

Politically, Taiwan is one of Asia’s most progressive democracies, with exceptional levels of achievement in education, civil liberty and healthcare (as reflected in its deft containment of the coronavirus threat last year).

U.S. Abrams tanks would likely play a key role in repulsing a Chinese amphibious landing. DVIDS

But what most concerns U.S. military commanders in the Pacific is that Taiwan has been considered a renegade province by Beijing since the revolution that brought Communists to power in 1949.

There’s Less to the China-Iran Deal Than Meets the Eye

Bobby Ghosh

By happy coincidence, my weekend shopping list included a new jar of salt: I needed rather more than a pinch to season the news of the 25-year “comprehensive strategic partnership” between Iran and China. The deal, announced with triumph in Tehran, was received with alarm in some quarters West, where it was interpreted variously as an act of Iranian defiance of U.S. sanctions and a sign that China is supplanting American influence in the Middle East.

In reality, it’s none of the above. For all the Iranian hype, the deal is not so much a “partnership” as a promissory note espousing better economic, political and trade relations between the two countries over the next quarter-century.

The optics of the announcement were in themselves a tell. China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi signed the formal papers on the Tehran leg of his six-nation tour of the Middle East. That suggests the deal carries less weight in Beijing than agreements with, say, Bangladesh: When President Xi Jinping wants to signal his interest in deepening Chinese influence somewhere, he puts his own signature on the paperwork.

Then, there’s the agreement itself, which is long on possibilities but short on specifics. China will invest in Iran, and in turn Iran will supply China with cheap oil. Neither side has released any information that carries dollar signs; an Iranian draft of the deal leaked last summer was so vague it led to speculation that Beijing was committing to investing anywhere from $400 billion to $800 billion, in sectors ranging from banking and infrastructure to health care and information technology.

In Washington setback, Iran and China sign strategic deal

Amir Handjani

The recent economic and security cooperation agreement signed by Iran and China will have far reaching consequences for geopolitics in the Middle East. For certain, U.S.-led effort to contain Iran regionally and strangle it financially surely pushed both countries in this direction.

The deal gives Tehran a vital, if fickle, partner to help withstand economic sanctions imposed since the Trump administration exited the nuclear deal in 2018. Iran’s economy has steadily contracted since then. Foreign direct investment has plummeted with Tehran having fewer takers of its oil —save for China, which has steadily increased its imports over the last year.

For Beijing, the deal marks an important hedge in its relationship with oil-producing Persian Gulf states, which are long-standing U.S. security partners. While the terms of the deal have yet to be released, it purports to provide a steady and stable flow of Iranian oil to China in return for much needed investments in Iran’s critical infrastructure — from ports to high-speed rail, to energy and petrochemicals. If geopolitical tensions between Beijing and Washington reach a boiling point whereby Arab states are pressured by the United States to choose sides, China can rest assured that Tehran will be a reliable partner.

From Iran’s perspective, the deal positions Tehran’s financial and strategic interests firmly in Asia. It has long been Iran’s wish to join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization — the Eurasian economic and security alliance led by China and Russia. Tehran’s SCO dream could soon become reality, as Iran features prominently in China’s ambitious Belt and Road initiative. Currently, Iran holds observer status. Conversely, the JCPOA’s failure to provide Tehran with the much-needed foreign investment and economic development that it was promised has now hobbled moderate and reformist Iranian officials who sought improved ties with the West to avoid geopolitical overreliance on China and Russia.

The EU Is Unprepared for a Taiwan Crisis

European officials are still reeling after Beijing had to gall to impose sanctions on several EU parliamentarians, officials, and entities this week, in response to what were relatively paltry sanctions the EU itself had imposed on a handful of Chinese functionaries involved in the persecution and mass internment of Uighurs in Xinjiang province.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas even appeared a little discombobulated by the whole experience, unable to reason what exactly had just happened. “We sanction people who violate human rights, not parliamentarians, as has now been done by the Chinese side. This is neither comprehensible nor acceptable for us,” he said on Monday.

Perhaps Maas had skipped over his morning newspapers for the past 12 months, but China’s response is very compatible with its new way of foreign policy: punishing anyone who dares critique the Chinese Communist Party’s methods. All you need to know can be found in a short statement issued this week by foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying after China sanctioned British officials, too. “For a lengthy period of time, the United States, the United Kingdom and others have felt free to say whatever they like without allowing others to do the same,” Hua said. Those days are over and the West will “have to gradually get used to it.”
Beijing’s Number 1 Obsession

How Europe has mishandled the pandemic

Look around the world at the devastation wrought by the covid-19 pandemic and something odd stands out. The European Union is rich, scientifically advanced and endowed with excellent health-care and welfare systems and a political consensus tilted strongly towards looking after its citizens. Yet during the pandemic it has stumbled.

In the brutal and blunt league table of fatalities, the eu as a whole has done less badly than Britain or America, with 138 recorded deaths per 100,000, compared with 187 and 166 respectively—though Hungary, the Czech Republic and Belgium have all fared worse than either. However, it is in the grip of a vicious surge fuelled by a deadly variant. That underlines the peril of Europe’s low rate of vaccination. According to our tracker, 58% of British adults have had a jab, compared with 38% of Americans and just 14% of eu citizens. European countries are also behind on the other criterion of a covid-19 scorecard, the economy. In the last quarter of 2020 America was growing at an annualised rate of 4.1%. In China, which suppressed the virus with totalitarian rigour, growth was 6.5%. In the euro area the economy was still shrinking. A year ago Pedro Sánchez, Spain’s prime minister, called covid-19 the worst crisis to afflict the eu since the second world war. How has its response gone so wrong?

Focus on Influence, Not Power, in the Middle East

Among the most enduring of Joe Nye’s contributions to strategy is one he popularized 30 years ago: his concept of “soft power.” Power was about countries’ ability to “do things and control others,” Nye wrote, and so called “hard power” instruments such as military strength were of diminishing importance. The role of “soft power” instruments such as technological, economic, and educational strength were rising.

The U.S. experience in the Middle East for the last two decades presents a checkered record for hard and soft power alike, and part of the problem is focusing too narrowly on the issue of “power” itself.

People speak about U.S. power and influence in the Middle East as if they’re the same thing, but in fact, they’re not. Because the U.S. government has seen them as synonymous, two decades of U.S. government efforts to project power in order to build influence has diminished both. The United States still retains tremendous influence in the Middle East, and a greater focus on building influence rather than preserving power would do more than merely bolster U.S. interests there. It would also benefit the United States in a world of rising great power tensions.

Artificial intelligence in the Russian army


Pavel Luzin on the challenges and idiosyncrasies of the development of advanced military command-and-control systems in Russia

The use of artificial intelligence (AI) is expanding in commercial, scientific and military fields. AI technologies cover the analysis of large volumes of varied visual and speech data, machine learning and the autonomous operation of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs), among other things. AI is indispensable because of the complexity of modern arms systems, the exponentially expanding amount of information on troop status (in peacetime and on the battlefield) and enemy actions, and, in general, due to the advancement of the network-centric concept of warfare. The latter involves the integration of information on all combat forces and assets, enabling them to operate as a single system that exchanges real-time data.

Frankly speaking, both excessive optimism and pessimism should be avoided when it comes to the prospects of the development of these technologies; AI is neither a panacea nor a magic wand. AI solutions are simply technologies. When used properly, they assist weapons system operators, commanders as well as military and political leadership with the complex and time-consuming calculation of all available quantitative information in the decision-making process. However, they cannot improve military and state governance, nor can they devise political aspects of military campaigns, nor can they substitute the thinking and actions of officers and soldiers on the battlefield.

Lithium battery costs have fallen by 98% in three decades

BATTERIES HAVE come a long way in 30 years. In the early 1990s the storage capacity needed to power a house for a day would have cost about $75,000. The cells themselves would have weighed 113kg (250lbs) and taken up as much space as a beer keg. Today the same amount of power can be delivered at a cost of less than $2,000, from a 40kg package roughly the size of a small backpack.

Such technological progress is crucial for decarbonising the global economy. One of the shortcomings of renewable energy sources is their inconsistency: the sun does not always shine and the wind does not always blow. Batteries can help solve this problem by storing up surplus power when supply is high, for use when it is low. A steadier supply of electricity could eliminate the need for “peakers”—generation plants powered by fossil fuels that utilities bring online only when demand rises sharply, for example on hot days when air-conditioners are cranked up. Such carbon-belching facilities, which run only for a few hours each year, are expensive to build and run, raising costs for consumers.

Infographic Of The Day: The Worlds Key Maritime Choke Points

Today's infographic looks at the world's most vulnerable maritime bottlenecks - also known as choke points - as identified by GIS.

Digital supply chain can have a sting in the tail

Jonathan Porter

A company can have the best cyber security money can buy, but there is still one insidious danger lurking in the digital landscape that many business owners and CTOs can overlook – the threat from the electronic supply chain.

The danger, says Kieran Deale, senior strategic consultant for cyber security firm Mandiant, is that all companies have a digital supply chain these days, whether they know it or not. This means attackers can develop other ways of compromising a company, without directly attacking it.

A number of high-profile attacks have targeted third-party vendors to hurt companies. Getty.

“Really, it’s exploiting trust between people and companies,” says Deale, whose career has spanned professional services, law enforcement, critical infrastructure security advisory and security operations.

“A lot of companies do blindly trust their vendors without having assurance layers. That’s where the damage comes from.”

Protecting Australian firms’ long digital logistics chain is complex, says Deale, and relies on boosting threat awareness, helping the client manage their cyber defence programs and improving technology.

“No two companies are the same,” he says. “What we do is to make them realise that it’s not just one solution, it’s not just a piece of technology that can suddenly be deployed inside a company to fix the problem.

Is Cyberwar War?

By Steven Cherry

At a conference of chief technology officers in 2016, General Michael Hayden, former head of, at different times, both the NSA and the CIA, told the audience, “Cyberwar isn’t exactly war, but it’s not not-war, either.”

Cyberattacks, at the nation-state level, were already almost a decade old at that point. In 2007, over the course of 22 days a Russian attack on Estonia took out commercial and government servers with distributed denial of service attacks; not just public websites but also what one report called “more vital targets, such as online banking and the Domain Name System,” without which people can’t find or look up websites and online servers.

The attack carried into the cyber realm an already heated political conflict between the two nations, and Estonia’s economy was as much under attack as its information infrastructure.

In 2009, China stole plans for an advanced U.S. fighter jet, and Chinese hackers have subsequently attacked Google, Intel, Adobe, Morgan Stanley, the Wall Street Journal, and the Army Corps of Engineers.

In 2010, we learned of the U.S.–Israeli attack on Iran and its uranium centrifuges, known as Stuxnet.

In 2015, a concerted attack, believed to have been Russian, on the power grid of another east European nation, Ukraine, left more than 200,000 people without electricity for at least several hours. It was the first attack on a grid, and perhaps the first large-scale SCADA attack—that is, on the control systems of critical infrastructure. Follow-up attacks struck the railway, television, and mining sectors.

In 2016, right around the time General Hayden was warning American audiences of the dangers of cyberwar, Russia, in conjunction with a private firm, Cambridge Analytica, and elements of the U.S. Republican party, crafted a disinformation campaign to influence the presidential election that year. Russia and Cambridge Analytica also undermined the Brexit referendum in the U.K. earlier that year.

Since then, we’ve seen entire families of malware appear, such as Trickbot. Arguably even worse was the recent SolarWinds hack, which in effect was an attack on what we might call the software supply chain. As many as 18 000 different organizations using SolarWinds may have been affected. Worse, the effects of the hack may have been reached out into other networks and therefore been exponential. For example, both Microsoft and security firm FireEye were affected, and they each have many enterprise customers.

The Entrepreneurs Chalking Up A Winning Score In The War Against Cyber Crime

Alison Coleman

Companies spend millions fighting cyberattacks, yet many of them still fall victim. The reason? They are not continuously monitoring their systems to spot vulnerabilities, but relying instead on point-in-time snapshots that become outdated very quickly in the digital age. It was this situation that led Aleksandr Yampolskiy and Sam Kassoumeh to launch SecurityScorecard, a company that takes an external view of security threats and provides daily security ratings similar to a credit score.

The pair met while working at e-commerce firm Gilt Groupe, where they realized they shared a vision for a better approach to cybersecurity. They also recognized that in their corporate roles, the negligence of others could cost them their jobs.

“We had various tools at our disposal to help us do our jobs, however, our marketing team would sign contracts with vendors that we didn’t think we had enough visibility around,” says Yampolskiy. “How could we understand how working with them would put our data at risk if there was no way to really measure or even understand how secure they were?”

They started looking for a way of computing a security score and having a holistic understanding of cyber risk, similar to how credit scores help financial institutions understand the risk of individuals.