6 April 2021

Can India's Navy Counter China in the Indian Ocean?

by Sebastien Roblin

Here's What You Need to Know: India could probably gain a lot through deepened cooperation even while stopping short of needlessly provoking China.

For decades, the Indian Navy has been the dominant regional power in the Indian Ocean, and has even boasted a carrier aviation capability that was nearly unique in Asia.

But as outlined in a report by the Center for New American Security (CNAS), the growth of Chinese military power in the last two decades has dramatically eclipsed India’s own attempts to modernize and expand its forces—particularly in the maritime domain. This is problematic due to New Delhi’s tense relations with Beijing since a 1962 border war.

While the vast majority of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) is naturally concentrated on the Pacific Ocean, in recent decades it has struck agreements giving it access to bases and ports in Bangladesh, Myanmar, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. It has also established a military base in. Together, these form a ‘String of Pearls’ designed to envelope India geographically. The PLA Navy has also increasingly dispatched ships on patrols of the Indian Ocean, including a nuclear-powered attack submarine that could be used to hunt India’s new ballistic missile submarines.

While India still retains numerical superiority in the Indian Ocean today, China is laying the groundwork to rapidly expand its presence in the region if desired.

India, Russia, and the Quad: Russia’s Place in the Indo-Pacific

Ashley J. Tellis

Ahead of the first virtual summit of the Quad countries (the United States, Japan, Australia, and India), Ashley J. Tellis, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, looked at the relationship between Russia and India, the role of the Quad, and why Delhi is keen to include Moscow in Indo-Pacific affairs.

In Russia, some experts see intensifying cooperation within the Quad format—U.S. President Joe Biden hosting its first virtual summit, and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin visiting India—as a sign of its institutionalization. A few have even gone as far as to suggest that this will lead to the creation of an “Asian NATO.” What is the reality? How will India’s involvement in the Quad and the promotion of the Indo-Pacific strategy impact on Indo-Russian ties?

President Biden hosted the first virtual summit of the Quad on March 12. The fact that the meeting took place suggests that the Quad is slowly institutionalizing, and that it is likely to develop further as a key institution bringing together America’s democratic friends and allies in the Indo-Pacific to deal with a whole range of issues pertaining to the region. But I don’t believe that this development presages a military alliance. Each of the countries in the Quad has a very complex relationship with China, and they will attempt to manage those relationships on their own terms. They recognize the importance of collaboration among themselves to maintain a rules-based order, but I don’t believe they are ready just yet to sign up to any military alliance-like collaboration. The United States has bilateral alliances with Japan and Australia already, but transforming the Quad into a multilateral alliance is a very, very long way away.

India’s involvement in the Quad is interesting because India is in any case one of the critical pillars on which the U.S. Indo-Pacific strategy is based. It’s not surprising, therefore, that India would feature very prominently in our Indo-Pacific discussions going forward. But for India too, the Quad is fundamentally a forum for diplomatic cooperation, for orchestrating coordination in the production of global public goods, and to create a collective entity that could strengthen the larger rules-based order. For India, perhaps more than for any other Quad country, the idea of treating the Quad as a military alliance is entirely anathema. So India will continue to support its other partners in maintaining an Indo-Pacific region that is free in particular of Chinese hegemony, but it will not use the Quad mechanism as an instrument for the military confrontation of China.

Team Biden Should Start With an Asia Pivot 2.0


The recent meeting of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue in Tokyo revealed many of the dilemmas the United States faces in its attempt to contain China—no matter who wins the race for the White House. On one level, it was remarkable that the meeting of foreign ministers from Australia, India, Japan, and the United States happened at all, given India’s traditional reluctance to antagonize China. But the meeting itself produced scant evidence of new cooperation between the four countries, underlining how hard it is for Washington to coordinate actions even with allies and partners who share its concerns about China’s rising sway in Asia.

Getting more out of this fledgling partnership would be an important challenge for Democratic nominee Joe Biden, if he wins, given his emphasis on a more traditional, multilateral foreign policy. At the same time, he has also promised a tougher approach to China, whose president, Xi Jinping, has adopted a more assertive international posture in recent months—all this means that U.S. policy in the region will require more continuity with U.S. President Donald Trump’s approach than many Democrats would like to admit. But there is no denying that much of Washington’s Asia policy is in a mess. A broader rethink is needed, similar in many respects to the much-derided “pivot” strategy unveiled by then-President Barack Obama back in 2011.

China wants to make its Christians more Chinese

In 1867 an English missionary, James Hudson Taylor, wrote a letter home defending his policy of encouraging fellow preachers in China to wear Chinese robes and the Manchu-style pigtail. By dressing in Western garb, he argued, they risked giving the impression that becoming a Christian meant becoming a foreigner. Taylor’s concern was justified. Such was the scorn for those who embraced the faith that, long before the Communist Party seized power in 1949, people used to say, “One more Christian, one fewer Chinese.” Officials in China still mutter this phrase today.

In the 1950s the party began cutting Chinese Christianity’s links with foreign churches and requiring believers to worship only in government-authorised venues. Eventually all religious activity was banned and brutally crushed. A few years after the death of Mao Zedong in 1976, restrictions were partially relaxed. This led to an explosion of Christian worship, much of it in small “house churches” with no official links. Protestantism grew especially fast, as did its foreign connections. Foreign missionaries, often working as teachers, poured back in. Now, in an effort to reassert control, China is trying once again to “sinify” Christianity. It will prove tougher than in Mao’s day.

Fears of an Imminent Chinese Invasion of Taiwan Are Overblown

Elliot Waldman 

The top U.S. military commander for the Asia-Pacific region, Adm. Philip Davidson, raised eyebrows at a recent Senate hearing when he suggested China could invade Taiwan within the next six years. The nominee to replace Davidson at the head of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, Adm. John Aquilino, then went a step further, telling the same committee last week that in his view, “This problem is much closer to us than most think and we have to take this on.”

At first glance, such concerns might seem justified. The Chinese Communist Party has always viewed the annexation of Taiwan as a key strategic goal, but its posture toward the democratic, self-ruling island has grown markedly more belligerent in recent years. Chinese leaders have publicly reiterated their willingness to use force to “unify” Taiwan with the mainland, while ramping up the pace of military activities in and around the Taiwan Strait. Meanwhile, President Xi Jinping has presided over the rapid growth and modernization of the People’s Liberation Army—particularly its navy, air force and missile arsenal. Where Taipei once enjoyed certain advantages in the event of a military conflict, including technological superiority and the benefits of island defense, many military analysts now conclude that China could take Taiwan by force, and that the United States would be hard-pressed to stop it. ...

The Fragility of Europe’s China Strategy

Adam Tooze

In its dealings with Beijing, the United States has turned to classic grand strategy with the aim of safeguarding its primacy. In contrast, the EU has been pursuing a less consistent, but much more suitable multi-track approach. China’s latest actions may push the Europeans to full alignments with the US—which would be both momentous and dangerous.

In the spring of 2021, the triangle of EU-US-China relations has taken on a kaleidoscopic dynamic.

Think back to the way the world looked as recently as December 2020. China was emerging strengthened from the virus shock. The United States was embroiled in unprecedented post-election chaos. The Trump administration had let the epidemic run out of control. The European Union, by contrast, was concerting itself around the NextGenerationEU (NGEU) recovery package. As her last hurrah as the de facto leader of Europe, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, backed by her allies in the European Commission, pushed through the EU-China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment.

The configuration seemed clear. America was adrift. The EU and China were forging an axis of pragmatic cooperation on trade, investment, and climate policy. Now, only a few months later, the kaleidoscope has shifted abruptly.
An Abrupt Shift

The Biden administration has moved swiftly to contain the epidemic in the United States and launch an unprecedented third phase of stimulus. It has drawn the line under the nightmare of the transition, but it has not backed away from the confrontational stance toward China adopted by the Trump administration.

The Takeaway: China moves to elevate its role in Middle East, but faces odds

Andrew Parasiliti, Elizabeth Hagedorn

China has long had a two-track approach to the Middle East and North Africa: racking up public-relations points with "Belt and Road" business and infrastructure deals, but staying out of security and political issues.

Wang’s three deliverables. This past week, however, was different. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s regional tour — which included stops in Saudi Arabia, Turkey (see below), Iran, and the United Arab Emirates — revealed a more assertive posture:
In Abu Dhabi, he announced a partnership with the UAE to produce up to 200 million doses of the Sinopharm vaccine to fight COVID-19.

In Riyadh, he enunciated a five-point regional security proposal that addressed both the Israeli-Palestinian issue and the Iran nuclear deal.

In Tehran, he signed a 25-year cooperation agreement under which Iran will sell oil to China in return for the promise of hundreds of millions of dollars in Chinese investment.

The New China Shock


BERLIN – Some months ago, the Chinese authorities approached some of the biggest foreign companies in the country and asked them to tap a representative to participate in a small closed-door gathering on China’s new economic strategy. The meeting was to be with a senior official at an undisclosed time and location, and, according to two people with direct knowledge of the matter who insisted on anonymity to discuss it, companies were asked to send only ethnic Chinese representatives. In both content and form, the episode captured China’s eagerness to make its economy more recognizably Chinese, developing its own technologies and energy sources while relying on domestic consumption rather than on foreign demand.

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s new strategy centers on the concept of “dual circulation.” Behind the technical-sounding phrase lies an idea that could change the global economic order. Instead of operating as a single economy that is linked to the world through trade and investment, China is fashioning itself into a bifurcated economy. One realm (“external circulation”) will remain in contact with the rest of the world, but it will gradually be overshadowed by another one (“internal circulation”) that will cultivate domestic demand, capital, and ideas.

The purpose of dual circulation is to make China more self-reliant. After previously basing China’s development on export-led growth, policymakers are trying to diversify the country’s supply chains so that it can access technology and know-how without being bullied by the United States. In doing so, China will also seek to make other countries more dependent on it, thereby converting its external economic links into global political power.

America Is Four Years Away From Being Outmatched By China

by Stavros Atlamazoglou

Although the US military and its allies still have the preponderance of equipment, the future doesn’t look quite as good.

Indeed by 2025, China, according to the US Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM), is expected to militarily outmatch US forces in the region. Some of the numbers that they provided in the House Armed Services Committee hearing are alarming.

For example, by 2025, China is expected to have approximately 100 modern multi-warfare combatant vessels, such as the Type 055 destroyer. Further, by 2025, the Chinese Navy is estimated to have over 60 submarines, 12 amphibious assault ships, and three aircraft carriers.

In comparison, US Navy forces in the region will be able to field only 12 destroyers or cruisers, ten submarines, four amphibious assault ships, and one aircraft carrier.

Russia and China Are Exploiting Europe’s Vaccine Shortfalls


As the coronavirus surges again, governments across the European Union are struggling to secure vaccine supplies. Few if any member states will likely meet the target set by Brussels to vaccinate 70 percent of their adult populations by the end of the summer. Keen to exploit this struggle to procure shots to sow disunity within the EU, Russia and China have stepped in with their own vaccine diplomacy. Nowhere is this strategy working better than in Central and Eastern Europe.

Some countries in the region, including the Czech Republic and Slovakia, have battled some of the worst COVID-19 infection rates in the world this year. With vaccination programs all but stalled due to issues with the EU’s common procurement system, some desperate leaders have jumped at the opportunity to import Russia’s Sputnik V and China’s Sinopharm vaccines, which haven’t been approved by the EU’s European Medicines Agency (EMA).

Russia’s initial delay in seeking EMA approval has already wreaked havoc on regional governments. This week, Slovakian Prime Minister Igor Matovic became the first world leader to resign over their handling of the pandemic. He arranged a secret delivery of Sputnik V doses in early March, running afoul of the rules in place for EU countries, and going against objections from members of his own government. (At the time, then-Foreign Minister Ivan Korcok labeled the Russian vaccine a “tool of hybrid war.”) The clandestine deal sparked a monthlong political crisis that claimed seven ministers, including Matovic, who formally stepped down on Tuesday.

Moscow and Beijing Seek to Counter Growing Turkish Influence in Central Asia

By: Paul Goble

Geopolitical competition over Central Asia is intensifying, with the two most prominent longstanding rivals, Russia and China, now confronted by the rising power of a third, Turkey. Thus, Moscow and Beijing have worked to limit Ankara’s influence in this landlocked region; but each has sought to do so without undermining its respective position across the region or derailing hopes for using Turkey for its own purposes, such as cultivating an anti-Western alliance. That combination means, first of all, that this competition is far from a zero-sum game for any of the participants, and so the common temptation to declare one or another the “winner” should be resisted. Instead, in this latest version of the “great game,” each of the players wants to gain as much as possible via soft power and economic advance without having to absorb the losses a more forward regional position would almost certainly entail. Therefore, each of the countries in Central Asia is now in a position to play one of these outside powers against the other and, thereby, solidify its own independence.

The complexities of this game have been attracting ever-greater attention in recent years (see EDM, January 30, 2018, March 21, 2019, April 4, 2019, June 18, 2020, March 25, 2021; see China Brief, February 4, 2021). However, the expansion of Turkish influence in the region—especially in the aftermath of its ally Azerbaijan’s victory in Karabakh (see EDM, February 18)—has raised both the seriousness and intricacy of this regional competition for all participants. Those regional dynamics were thrown into sharp relief in recent days by two high-level diplomatic meetings, one in Moscow and a second, earlier one, in Ankara.

Don’t Divide the World Between Democracies and Autocracies


Throughout history, the United States has exhibited a predisposition to bifurcate an extraordinarily multi-faceted and complicated world in order to make sense of it. During the Cold War, the core purpose of U.S. grand strategy revolved around containing the Soviet Union and combatting communism in every region of the world. Post-9/11, Washington became a town hell-bent on waging war against transnational terrorism. President George W. Bush’s Freedom Agenda, enacted in 2005, was powered by the theory that spreading democracy globally was the chief antidote to tyranny in our world. Today, China has replaced terrorism as the one global threat lawmakers and policymakers can rally against.

President Joe Biden is continuing this tradition. Much like his predecessors, Biden not only cherishes democratic governance at home, but is firmly convinced that it’s the answer to competing against Washington’s two largest autocratic foes: China and Russia. During the campaign, Biden promised to organize a Summit For Democracy to “renew the spirit and shared purpose of the nations of the free world.” In his news conference last week, Biden raised concern about the decline of democracy worldwide and how it was in the U.S. interest to prove to the world that democracy in fact works. “I predict to you your children or grandchildren are going to be doing their doctoral thesis on the issue of who succeeded, autocracy or democracy,” Biden said, “because that is what is at stake.”

Yet amid the consensus against China, Russia, Iran, Venezuela, and every other power the United States has gripes with, the most important questions are being shoved to the side. Is dividing the world between democracies and autocracies really the best bet for U.S. foreign policy? Is forming an anti-authoritarian bloc the most efficient and least costly strategy to meet what are in reality quite limited U.S. foreign policy objectives? What are the consequences, intended and unintended, of such a strategy?

U.S. Special Operations Command Paid $500,000 to Secretive Location Data Firm

By Joseph Cox

A section of U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM), a part of the military tasked with counterterrorism, counterinsurgency, and special reconnaissance, paid half a million dollars to a company that sells access to location data harvested from ordinary apps installed on peoples' phones, Motherboard has learned. Specifically, SOCOM paid Anomaly 6, a secretive contractor run by ex-military and location industry veterans.

The news shows that military interest in app-based location data may be wider than previously known. Motherboard previously found that both SOCOM and a division of the Iowa Air National Guard that carries out drone strikes bought access to a similar product called Locate X. The new Anomaly 6 purchase unearthed by Motherboard is the first reported contract Anomaly 6 has with the U.S. government.

"The purpose of the contract was to evaluate the technical feasibility of using Anomaly 6 telemetry services in an overseas operating environment," Tim Hawkins, a SOCOM spokesperson, told Motherboard in an email. "The evaluation period has ended, and we are not currently executing the contract."

Are you a government user of location data? Or do you work at a location data company? We'd love to hear from you. Using a non-work phone or computer, you can contact Joseph Cox securely on Signal on +44 20 8133 5190, Wickr on josephcox, OTR chat on jfcox@jabber.ccc.de, or email joseph.cox@vice.com.

Indo-Pacific strategies, perceptions and partnerships

Cleo Paskal

As the Indo-Pacific's strategic importance increases, countries around the world are developing new policies to strengthen their reach in the region. While there is a long history of international partnerships in the Indo-Pacific, many recent forays in the region are in response to China’s economic, political and military expansion there.

This paper is based on field research, roundtables and face-to-face interviews in seven countries (including China) chosen to provide a variety of perspectives and insights on the Indo-Pacific, particularly regarding policy strategies and objectives.

The research uncovered shared internal divisions within the sample countries in how they perceive and engage with China. In a sense, against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, some of these divisions have since been resolved with countries generally more cautious towards China. Regardless of intentions, a broad understanding of the different actors in the region is crucial for countries seeking to form strong partnerships and to establish a successful Indo-Pacific strategy.

China’s economic, political and military expansion into the Indo-Pacific is meeting growing resistance from a range of countries including the US, India, Japan and Australia. The region is now a significant geopolitical strategic focal point.

Is the Asian Century Really Here?


SEOUL – The COVID-19 pandemic has not been the West’s finest hour. Most Western governments failed to contain the deadly outbreak and the resulting economic damage effectively. And by pursuing inward-looking and protectionist policies, they have contributed relatively little to an effective international response to the coronavirus.

Although the modern world was built with oil, the time has finally come for humanity to shift to newer, cleaner sources of energy. But, as three recent books show, the process will be neither simple nor easy.

Against this background, some regard the current crisis as a tipping point that will accelerate Asia’s global resurgence. They point out that Asian countries managed the pandemic better than the West did, and argue that the region’s robust and resilient economic performance over the past half-century demonstrates the superiority of its governance systems.

In fact, the twenty-first century will belong to Asia only if the region can develop unified, collective leadership. Asia is already a major global power, accounting for 60% of the world’s population and about 40% of global GDP in purchasing-power-parity terms. And with eight of the world’s 15 most populous countries (China, India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Japan, the Philippines, and Vietnam), Asia is more than just China.

Moreover, India and Japan – the world’s third and fourth largest economies, respectively, in PPP terms – also are economic superpowers. Over the last 50 years, the per capita incomes of Japan, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan have risen fast and caught up with Western levels. China, India, Indonesia, and Vietnam are now following the same path. And Asia is expected to continue growing strongly in the coming decades: McKinsey & Company forecasts that by 2040, the region will account for more than half of world GDP and 40% of global consumption.

The End of the Oil Age


MILAN – Pessimism has pervaded the oil industry ever since its inception in 1859, when the small town of Titusville, Pennsylvania, became the site of the first oil rush. To many observers at the time, the “black gold” was a gift from Mother Nature that would surely be exhausted once discovered by others. In 1885, Pennsylvania’s official state geologist warned that, “The amazing exhibition of oil” would be merely a “temporary and vanishing phenomenon – one which young men will live to see come to its natural end.”

Since then, there has been perennial speculation about an imminent shortage. In the 1950s, the American geologist Marion King Hubbert built a sophisticated mathematical model to estimate the size of oil fields and natural-gas reserves, popularizing the idea of “peak oil”: the moment after which production would begin a structural decline. In his view, the rate of oil extraction would resemble a bell curve, with a steep rise to a peak in the 1970s, followed by terminal weakening.

Needless to say, such fears have not been borne out. Hubbert and countless others issuing these wrong-headed predictions underestimated both the true scale of the planet’s oil reserves as well as humanity’s ability to overcome the physical limits to further extraction. New fields are discovered regularly, and existing wells have not been exhausted as quickly as the pessimists thought. Instead of peaking, it turns out that an oil well’s productivity actually tends to plateau. And Hubbert, forecasting during a period of technological stagnation in the industry, could not have anticipated that hydraulic fracking and horizontal drilling would usher in the shale-energy revolution 60 years later, reshaping the entire industry.

Biden’s Foreign Policy Crises Are Multiplying Fast


The surprise of President Biden’s first press conference on Thursday was that he presented himself as, quite possibly, the right person for the job at this time—principled but pragmatic, calm but impassioned, attentive to big pictures and fine details, and, above all, humane in his approach to a problem. Some have made this point about his remarks on domestic issues, but it also fits his comments on foreign policy.

Just 65 days into his term, this may, of course, be wishful thinking. Biden faces serious challenges on every continent. America may be “back,” as he’s proclaimed, but its interests and values have rarely been so imperiled.

China, Iran, North Korea, and Afghanistan form the top stratum of his national-security agenda. On the first three, it’s hard to say which way Biden will be going; on the fourth, his direction is clear, but how he gets there is problematic. Interagency “policy reviews” are underway on all four and much more; but, meanwhile, on the most pressing cases—potential crises that could reach turning points in a matter of weeks—Biden’s team has faltered in its first steps.

Why South Korea is balking at the Quad

Author: Kuyoun Chung

As great power competition intensifies, South Korea is coming under pressure to choose between the United States and China. At the same time, recognising its waning dominance in the region, Washington is probing the willingness of allies and partners to join a like-minded democratic coalition in confrontation with China.

The anti-access environment — layered by Chinese anti-ship cruise and ballistic missiles, armed combat aircraft and submarines — is weakening the US capacity to maintain stability in the region.

China is realigning the US-led economic architecture to solidify its supply chains and increase the economic interdependence of other countries in the region. Hoping to become an indispensable player in East Asia, Beijing is also using its economic clout to weaken the cohesion of the US-led alliance system and bring US allies and partners closer to its orbit.

There is now a sense of urgency for the United States to forge and strengthen a more extensive web of like-minded ‘Indo-Pacific’ democracies. Such a coalition would be instrumental in slowing down the pace of geopolitical flux and reinforcing the hard power behind the liberal order that the Biden administration intends to restore.

The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) — comprising the United States, India, Japan and Australia — and Quad-plus, intend to multilateralise the US-led hub-and-spoke bilateral alliance system and encourage spoke-to-spoke cooperation. This is what the United States envisions as part of a networked security architecture.

The Marine Corps’ Shifting Focus: What to Know

Walker M. Field

The U.S. Marine Corps is conducting a historic, top-to-bottom review of its mission and structure in recognition of the evolving threats posed by China and Russia. Here’s what to know about the military’s rationale for the shift and some of the major changes the force has underway.

How does the U.S. military view the global security environment?

The post–Cold War international order in which the United States was the preeminent power is giving way to one where there are multiple rival powers, particularly an aggressive Russia and an ascendant China. The United States is now struggling to compete with China and Russia in sophisticated, multi-domain, gray zone competition [PDF].

U.S. President Joe Biden recently released his interim national security guidance [PDF], which acknowledges that global dynamics are at a critical inflection point, calls for a renewed focus on diplomacy, and orders a shift in priorities at the Defense Department.
Does it see China as its top competitor?

The World This Week

Vaccine ‘Fiasco’ Damages Europe’s Credibility

By Steven Erlanger

BRUSSELS — Alain Walravens, 63, is waiting to be invited for a first coronavirus vaccination. So are Marion Pochet, 71, a retired translator, and her husband, Jean-Marc. At least, Ms. Pochet said, they both have had Covid-19, “so we have some immunity, at least for the moment.”

All three are sharply critical of the European Union, which took control of vaccine procurement and distribution and is widely considered to have done worse than its main partners, the United States and Britain, let alone Israel, which have all gotten vaccines into a much larger percentage of their populations than Europe.

So far, only about 11 percent of the bloc’s population has received at least one vaccine shot, compared with 46 percent in Britain and 29 percent in the United States.

As European countries lock down again in a third wave of the virus, the reputation and credibility of the European Union and its executive arm, the European Commission, are much in play.

“This is the fault of the European Union,” said Mr. Walravens, an events organizer.

“In other countries where the vaccination is going faster, there are real results,” he added. “The number of cases is going down. Here in Belgium, the hospitals are getting saturated.”

For decades, the European Union has sold itself not just as the best antidote to another European war, but as “the Europe that protects,” arguing that by its collective size and shared sovereignty, it will deliver a better, longer and more prosperous life to all. That promise now looks hollow, and risks undermining the bloc’s credibility when it comes to major challenges like climate change, migration and a rising China.

Russia’s Weak Strongman

By Timothy Frye

For 21 years, Vladimir Putin has reigned supreme over Russian politics. A skillful manipulator of public opinion, he wields the blunt force of repression against opponents at home and the sharp power of cyber-operations and espionage campaigns against enemies abroad. Increasingly, Western analysts and officials portray him as all-powerful, a ruthless former KGB man who imposes his will on Russia from behind dark sunglasses. This narrative, which the Kremlin goes out of its way to reinforce, is tempting to believe. Putin has jailed the closest thing he has to a political rival—the opposition leader Alexei Navalny—and crushed a wave of protests by Navalny’s supporters. Putin’s intelligence agencies brazenly hacked the U.S. government, and his troops are gradually eroding U.S. influence everywhere from Libya to Syria to Ukraine.

But if Putin is unrivaled at home, he is not omnipotent. Like all autocrats, he faces the dual threats of a coup from elites around him and a popular revolt from below. And because of the compromises he has had to make to consolidate his personal control over the state, Putin’s tools for balancing the competing goals of rewarding elites who might otherwise conspire against him and appeasing the public are becoming less and less effective. He has weakened institutions such as courts, bureaucracies, elections, parties, and legislatures so that they cannot constrain him, meaning that he cannot rely on them to generate economic growth, resolve social conflicts, or even facilitate his peaceful exit from office. This leaves Putin dependent on the fleeting commodity of personal popularity and the hazardous methods of repression and propaganda.

What's Stopping Russia From Becoming an Aircraft Carrier Powerhouse?

by Kyle Mizokami

Here's What You Need to Remember: The Soviet Union was one of the largest, most industrial proficient countries the world has ever seen. Yet for all of its engineering talent and manufacturing capacity, during the seventy-four years the USSR existed it never fielded a true real aircraft carrier.

The Soviet Union was one of the largest, most industrial proficient countries the world has ever seen. Yet for all of its engineering talent and manufacturing capacity, during the seventy-four years the USSR existed it never fielded a true real aircraft carrier. The country had several plans to build them, however, and and was working on a true carrier, the Ulyanovsk, at the end of the Cold War.

(This first appeared last year.)

After the Communists’ victory in 1917, science and engineering were pushed to the forefront in an attempt to modernize Russia and the other Soviet republics. The military was no exception, and poured resources into then-advanced technologies such as tanks, airborne forces, and ground and aerial rockets. Soviet leader Joseph Stalin was linked to several carrier projects, including the first effort, Izmail.

The not-so-secret value of sharing commercial geospatial and open-source information

Mir Sadat and Michael Sinclair

Commercial geospacial intelligence will play an increasingly integral role in the near future, write Mir Sadat and Michael Sinclair, as space launch services become more cost effective and as artificial intelligence/machine learning-based imagery and processing technology advance. This piece originally appeared in The Hill.

Two years ago, reports surfaced that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was detaining hundreds of thousands of China’s Muslim Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in so-called “re-education” camps. Chinese authorities initially denied the existence of these camps until human rights organizations and media sources provided indisputable evidence that they do exist.

Discovering human rights abuses such as this would be nearly impossible without access to commercial geospatial intelligence (GEOINT) provided by satellite imagery that established visual evidence of the camps. Beyond the discovery of the camps, GEOINT also provided the ability to track developments at the camps by comparing images taken over time.

Commercial GEOINT is unclassified and exists in the public domain. The information is accessible to commercial customers, the public and nongovernmental organizations. It is available to the federal government for purchase.

Ayn Rand-Inspired 'Myth Of The Founder' Puts Tremendous Power In Hands Of Big Tech CEOs Like Zuckerberg, Posing Real Risks To Democracy

by Jerry Davis

The best-known U.S. cryptocurrency exchange is doing this by creating two classes of shares. One class will be available to the public. The other is reserved for the founders, insiders and early investors, and will wield 20 times the voting power of regular shares. That will ensure that after all is said and done, the insiders will control 53.5% of the votes.

Coinbase will join dozens of other publicly traded tech companies - many with household names such as Google, Facebook, Doordash, Airbnb and Slack - that have issued two types of shares in an effort to retain control for founders and insiders. The reason this is becoming increasingly popular has a lot to do with Ayn Rand, one of Silicon Valley’s favorite authors, and the “myth of the founder" her writings have helped inspire.

Engaged investors and governance experts like me generally loathe dual-class shares because they undermine executive accountability by making it harder to rein in a wayward CEO. I first stumbled upon this method executives use to limit the influence of pesky outsiders while working on my doctoral dissertation on hostile takeovers in the late 1980s.

Let’s Get Real About US Military ‘Dominance’


“We want to be the GOAT.” So said Lt. Gen. John Shaw, deputy commander of U.S. Space Command, in a meme that drew some derision on social media early last month. Most of the jeers appeared to concern the goat emoji used in place of the acronym for Greatest Of All Time. But what of the three-star’s broader message? While the sentiment is admirable, is being the "greatest of all time" a realistic goal for a service in its infancy, itself part of a military with a stagnant budget and evaporating technological advantages?

In recent years, several U.S. military services have set similarly aspirational but questionable goals in their strategies for the future. For example, the U.S. Air Force’s “vision for 2030 and beyond” called for “an Air Force that dominates time, space, and complexity in future conflict across all operating domains.” Meanwhile, other futures assessments have doubted the rise of the main U.S. competitor. “[F]or China to achieve superpower status, it will likely have to overcome a wide range of current domestic challenges to sustainable economic growth and power projection,” asserted the U.S. Army Futures Command. While China undoubtedly faces challenges, its path toward superpower status appears more assured than this Army assessment would suggest. It is true that demographic and other challenges that China faces are likely to undermine its great power status—but only long after it has achieved such status and surpassed the United States.

It’s time for more realistic futures analyses in the U.S. armed forces. While the U.S. military may remain the dominant force across all domains in any location on any day of the week during any time of day, recent long-term trends dictate that that should no longer be the operating assumption of American military strategists in their futures analysis.

Relative rise and decline

The RQ-180 Drone Will Emerge From The Shadows As The Centerpiece Of A Air Combat Revolution


When it comes to phantom aircraft that are the product of 'bleeding-edge' technologies and supposedly exist only in the shadows, the so-called RQ-180 is unrivaled in our time. The existence of this high-altitude, long-endurance (HALE) stealth drone has all but been officially disclosed. Specters of its existence and growing maturity seem to materialize around every turn, and as of November 2020, the public may have gotten its first glimpse of this aircraft that has existed behind a veil of secrecy and innuendo for over a decade. This is the first in a three-part series—the product of a ghost hunt of sorts that has lasted well over two years—that tells the story—as best as we can piece it together—of what is likely the most important military aircraft of a generation.

What is an "RQ-180?"

First off, we have no idea what the exotic flying machine in question's actual designation is. The name comes from Aviation Week's original reporting on an aircraft that some of us had speculated existed for some time. The RQ-180 designation is simply a notional expansion of the designation of Lockheed Martin's Skunk Works' RQ-170 Sentinel. The two platforms are in some way complementary to one another, but the RQ-170 is definitely the older, lower-tier, lower-flying, more tactically-oriented, and less advanced of the two concepts. Both are flying wing designs. They are or certainly will be capable of integrating together, at least to some degree, but beyond that, they are not directly related.

With that said, we need to start at the basics—what is this aircraft supposed to do and why does it exist?

This is an impossible question for us to answer definitively at this time, and details are bound to change, in some cases significantly, but drawing on a large number of clues, open-source information, historical precedent, capability gaps, emerging technologies, ongoing procurement and development initiatives, the picture, at least as we see it, becomes somewhat clear.