7 April 2021

China’s Unrestricted War on India

By Brahma Chellaney

On October 12, 2020, the electricity went out in India’s biggest city. Mumbai faced its worst power cut in decades, with businesses crippled, the stock market shut down, thousands of commuters stranded, and hospitals scrambling to ensure backup supply for their COVID-19 patients. Major outages are not altogether uncommon in India, but Mumbai had prided itself on its recent record of reliable electricity for its residents. The disruption left authorities in the western state of Maharashtra, of which Mumbai is the capital, searching for answers.

Indian officials revealed in March that they might have found the cause of the power cut: a foreign cyberattack that targeted the servers of state power companies. They did not name a particular culprit, but the implication was clear. Chinese hackers, officials suggested, had trained their sights on bringing down Mumbai’s electric grid—and they had succeeded.

Nuclear escalation between India and China unlikely, unthinkable: SIPRI report

New Delhi: Nuclear escalation between India and China was not only unlikely but also unthinkable, a Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) report on 'South Asia's Nuclear Challenges', released on Thursday, said.

"Among Chinese and Indian experts, there was a prevailing view that they shared the same stance on no first use, and that nuclear escalation between the two countries was not only unlikely but also unthinkable," the Swedish think tank's report said.

Some experts, the SIPRI report said, cited nuances in India's approach towards no first use and an evolving discussion in the country on its future, while others pointed to some of the past debate in China on no first use. They, however, largely disregarded these caveats when it came to escalation.

In most cases, there was a steadfast view that both countries were on the same page when it came to nuclear posture, with no first use as just one example.

"While stabilising in the context of recent tensions at the China-India border, the assumption that both parties are operating from the same starting point merits greater attention - in relation not just to no first use but also a range of nuclear postures from de-mating to targeting," the report stated.

Assumptions of "postural parity" may bring stability in the short term, when altercations are largely limited to skirmishes at the border, but in the longer term -- as both China and India extend the ranges of their systems and deployments -- such assumptions may lead to misunderstandings and mis-signalling.

Is the U.S. Military Prepared to Leave Afghanistan?

by Matthew Reisener

In the summer of 2011, President Barack Obama delivered a speech to the American public announcing his plan to bring home ten thousand American troops stationed in Afghanistan, the first step of his plan to withdraw over thirty thousand troops from the war-torn country within a year. Obama used this speech to make a case against the nation-building campaigns initiated by his predecessor in both Afghanistan and Iraq, arguing that “it is time to focus on nation-building here at home,” instead of doing so abroad down the barrel of a gun. Noting that America’s strength abroad has historically “been anchored in opportunity for our citizens here at home,” Obama articulated the need to “invest in America’s greatest resource—our people,” and “recapture the common purpose that we shared at the beginning of this time of war.”

Nearly a decade later, the promise of a sustained campaign of “nation-building at home” remains largely unfulfilled. While President Obama deftly avoided committing America to nation-building projects in places like Syria and Yemen which might have tempted his predecessor, the United States is now in year twenty of its war in Afghanistan and remains mired in a nation-building process seemingly no closer to achieving success than it was when he departed office. The immense cost of the war in Afghanistan (roughly $2 trillion in total as of 2019) has been diverted towards a conflict of diminishing strategic importance to the United States and away from several domestic challenges which may come to define American politics in the decades to come.

In Afghanistan, the Choice Isn’t Withdraw or Endless War

On March 26, the New York Times published an article that carefully dissected a classified CIA analysis of potential scenarios for the United States’ departure from Afghanistan. The CIA predicted that a hasty American withdrawal could lead to the collapse of the current Afghan government and Taliban takeover. Worse still, al Qaeda or even the Islamic State’s local affiliate, the Islamic State-Khorasan, could witness a resurgence.

But rather than sign on for an indefinite and costly full-scale presence, the United States should look to a middle strategy for securing its interests: a continued but limited U.S. counterterrorism commitment coupled with a greater role for India in assisting Afghan forces to ensure that al Qaeda does not regroup and that the Islamic State does not spread its wings.

It is true that the Taliban’s rhetoric has grown more assertive in recent weeks in its rejection of any U.S. presence beyond the May 1 deadline the sides agreed to last year, but there are still enticements the United States could offer to extend the deadline for the U.S. withdrawal, such as long-sought sanctions relief or prisoner releases. Meanwhile, the United States could quietly start a process of withdrawal without much fanfare—unlike the very hasty withdrawal that former President Donald Trump had in mind—while bolstering the Afghan security forces.

No matter how it is timed, a drawdown will of course result in the Afghan security forces losing important assistance from the United States. In addition to continuing aid, then, Washington needs partners to fill the void. To that end, it could consider eliciting the assistance of the dominant regional power, India, to help train Afghan security forces. This is necessary even after 20 years, because the Afghan security forces are still incapable of standing on their own, perhaps because they have become inordinately reliant on American firepower.

That’s why handing training over to India may have considerable merit. India is eager to play a wider role in the stabilization of Afghanistan, it has the capacity to train Afghan forces, and Indo-U.S. security ties have deepened in the last few years.

An expanded Indian security footprint would no doubt irk Pakistan. However, given the need to cooperate with India on other, broader security questions in Asia, especially to balance an increasingly assertive China, Pakistan cannot be allowed to exercise a veto on U.S. policy choices in the region.

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).

Securing the Information and Communications Technology and Services Supply Chain

This commentary is a lightly edited version of a comment submitted to the U.S. Department of Commerce.

We have entered the age of digital distrust. The United States is now in a conflict with China because of decisions by Xi Jinping’s government. It is not primarily a competition in weapons building or arms races but for ascendancy and control in the economic and technological spheres. It is also a political contest between two very different systems, and this is China’s greatest weakness given that its one-party state depends on a blend of Chinese nationalism and Leninist political techniques that make it unattractive. Espionage and intelligence collection are a major part of this conflict, crucial for China’s plans for achieving technological supremacy, and a major national security threat to the United States.

A 2020 survey by CSIS found 152 publicly reported instances of Chinese espionage directed at the United States since 2000. This did not include espionage against U.S. firms or persons located in China, nor an additional 50 cases involving attempts to smuggle munitions or controlled technologies from the United States to China. The survey does not include more than 1,200 intellectual property theft cases brought by U.S. companies against Chinese entities. Senior U.S. officials have repeatedly stated that China’s espionage efforts exceed in scope and scale what was seen in the Cold War. This is because global digital networks and technologies provide immense new opportunities for espionage that China has taken advantage of for two decades.

The questions posed by the information and communications technology and services (ICTS) rule are whether there are transactions in digital technologies or services that could expand risk in this contest, and whether they should be allowed or prohibited.

Are U.S. and Chinese Interests Really Opposed in Iran and Myanmar?


Matthew Kroenig: Hi, Emma. That’s too bad for the meme-makers on Twitter, but it’s good news for the global economy. What is your take on this episode?

EA: In all honesty, I was rather absurdly excited about the whole thing. I’m currently finishing up a book on oil and foreign policy. Chokepoints like the Suez Canal, the Strait of Malacca, and the Strait of Hormuz play a huge role in how we understand global energy security. And this incident provided more evidence for a central hypothesis of the energy security literature: Global markets are remarkably robust, and big shocks are as likely to arise from natural disasters or pure chance as military action. Within a day or so of the blockage, ships had rerouted themselves away from Suez, keeping the world economy humming.

Opposing viewpoints on U.S. foreign policy in a post-Trump Washington, weekly.

How to Win the Cold War With Iran

Karim Sadjadpour

Before he became president, Joe Biden spent decades seeking reconciliation in the Middle East. By his second term as vice president, his frustration with feuding nations and factions was palpable. “Notwithstanding all of the hundreds of hours I and others spent with each of their leaders, they didn’t resolve a core problem of how the hell they’re gonna live together,” he told The New Yorker in 2014. “We can’t want unity and coherence … more than they want it.”

Today Biden’s presidential mandate is rebuilding unity and coherence in America, but Middle East crises will invariably beckon him. Foremost among these potential entanglements is an Iranian regime—eager for sanctions relief, but committed to maintaining its cold war with the United States—that has played an outsize role in every presidential administration since Jimmy Carter’s.

“At times during my administration we gamed out the scenarios for what a conflict with Iran would look like,” Barack Obama writes in his memoir A Promised Land. “I left those conversations weighed down by the knowledge that if war became necessary, nearly everything else I was trying to achieve would likely be upended.” Obama’s strategy was to negotiate a 2015 multinational agreement that successfully curtailed Iran’s nuclear program. Obama believed, his CIA director John Brennan wrote in his 2020 memoir, Undaunted, that the nuclear deal was “essential not only for regional stability but also to strengthen the influence of Iranian moderates, especially Iranian president Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif.”

Under President Donald Trump, the U.S. tried the opposite tack, exiting the nuclear deal and instead trying to coerce Tehran into capitulation or collapse. “Iran will be forced to make a choice,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in 2018. “Either fight to keep its economy off life support at home or keep squandering precious wealth on fights abroad. It will not have the resources to do both.” Yet Iran’s domestic brutality and regional ambitions continued, and its nuclear program expanded.

What Is the Iran Nuclear Deal?

Kali Robinson

Signed in 2015 by Iran and several world powers, including the United States, the JCPOA placed significant restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.

President Trump withdrew the United States from the deal in 2018, claiming it failed to curtail Iran’s missile program and regional influence. Iran began ignoring limitations on its nuclear program a year later.

President Biden has said the United States will return to the JCPOA if Iran resumes compliance, stressing that diplomacy is the best way to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.


The Iran nuclear agreement, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), is a landmark accord reached between Iran and several world powers, including the United States, in July 2015. Under its terms, Iran agreed to dismantle much of its nuclear program and open its facilities to more extensive international inspections in exchange for billions of dollars’ worth of sanctions relief.

National Defense University Press

Joint Force Quarterly (JFQ), 101 (2nd Quarter, April 2021)

Deter in Competition, Deescalate in Crisis, and Defeat in Conflict

Design Thinking

Buy Now, Get Paid with Diversity Later: Insights into Career Progression of Female Servicemembers

Gray Is the New Black: A Framework to Counter Gray Zone Conflicts

Educating Our Leaders in the Art and Science of Stakeholder Management

Conquering the Ethical Temptations of Command: Lessons from the Field Grades

Flawed Jointness in the War Against the So-Called Islamic State: How a Different Planning Approach Might Have Worked Better

The Future Joint Medical Force Through the Lens of Operational Art: A Case for Clinical Interchangeability

Sustaining Relevance: Repositioning Strategic Logistics Innovation in the Military

Embracing Asymmetry: Assessing Iranian National Security Strategy, 1983–1987

Accelerating Adaptation on the Western Front and Today

U.S. Joint Doctrine Development and Influence on NATO

DoD to Spend a Quarter-Billion Dollars Reorganizing Its Data for AI


The Joint Artificial Intelligence Center is out with a $241 million contract vehicle to help the Defense Department become ready for AI development by preparing data for the emerging technology.

The Data Readiness for Artificial Intelligence Development services solicitation covers a five-year performance period and will result in multiple basic ordering agreements, according to the solicitation documents published Wednesday to beta.sam.gov.

“The purpose of this Performance Work Statement (PWS) is to help the DoD and Government users prepare data for use in AI applications by providing an easily accessible path to access the cutting-edge commercial services needed to meet the complex technical challenges involved in preparing data for AI,” the documents read. “Through access to AI data preparation tools, capabilities, and services, the DoD will be positioned to effectively prepare AI data to support the full range of AI activities across the DoD.”

The PWS indicates the services the Defense Department is looking for under this contract include curating, preparing, securing, and encrypting data for AI, securing, packaging and delivering AI tools, and making sure those tools can be integrated into cloud platforms.

The Illiberal Tide Why the International Order Is Tilting Toward Autocracy

By Alexander Cooley and Daniel H. Nexon

The “liberal international order” is under severe strain. Although its supporters welcomed the defeat of former U.S. President Donald Trump, the order still faces major challenges from both within and without. Populist politicians across the globe call for major changes in the norms and values of world politics. They attack liberal order as a so-called globalist project that serves the interests of sinister elites while trampling national sovereignty, traditional values, and local culture. Some with this view currently lead countries that belong to pillars of liberal order, such as NATO and the European Union. Others, including in the United States, are only an election away from taking the reins of foreign policy. Meanwhile, emboldened illiberal powers seek to make the world safe for authoritarianism, in the process undermining key elements of liberal order. China and Russia, in particular, have exercised diplomatic, economic, and even military power to put forward alternative visions.

But if the current liberal international order is in trouble, what kind of illiberal order might emerge in its wake? Does an illiberal order necessarily mean competition for naked power among increasingly nationalist great powers, rampant protectionism, and a world hostile to democratic governance?

Current trends suggest less a complete collapse of liberal order than important changes in the mix of illiberal and liberal elements that characterize world politics. Multilateral cooperation and global governance remain strong, but they display increasingly autocratic and illiberal characteristics. The growing strength of reactionary populism and assertiveness of autocratic powers are eroding the international order’s ability to support human, political, and civil rights. Similar developments point toward a future where liberal economic arrangements are used for oligarchic and kleptocratic purposes.

There Will Not Be a New Cold War

By Thomas J. Christensen

For the past few decades, Chinese scholars, pundits, and diplomats have often falsely accused the United States of adopting a “cold war mentality” toward China. They usually level these accusations when Washington enhances the U.S. military’s position in Asia or bolsters the military capabilities of its allies and partners in East Asia.

It is true that in the post–Cold War era, the United States and its allies and partners in the Asia-Pacific have been engaged in a strategic competition in the military sphere with China, which has been modernizing its forces and increasing their power projection capabilities. Thus far, the United States has successfully deterred mainland China from settling its many sovereignty disputes in the East China Sea, in the South China Sea, and across the Taiwan Strait through the use of force. It is also true that the United States and its closest allies have banned the sale of weapons and have tried to limit the transfer of certain military technologies to China.

Until very recently, that is as far as a cold war analogy could fly. The United States’ Cold War containment of the Soviet Union and its allies in the 1950s and 1960s was a full-spectrum effort that went beyond the military realm. That effort was designed to limit economic contact with those countries and cripple their economies at home while frustrating their diplomacy abroad. In stark contrast, since the beginning of China’s reform era in 1978, no actor other than the Chinese people themselves has done more to assist China’s broad economic development than the United States. Open U.S. markets for Chinese exports, large-scale U.S. investment in Chinese industry, and hundreds of thousands of Chinese students in American universities were all essential to China’s fast-paced growth and technological modernization. Moreover, the United States has asked China to play a more active role in international diplomacy, or, as former Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick put it, to pull its weight as a “responsible stakeholder” on the international stage. China has answered the invitation only in fits and starts, but Zoellick’s entreaty belies the notion that Washington has been trying to prevent Beijing from gaining greater international influence for decades.

Biden’s infrastructure plan includes billions to develop emerging tech the military needs

Andrew Eversden

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden’s infrastructure plan released Wednesday calls for $180 billion in new research and development spending on emerging technologies expected to define the coming decades and drive military innovation.

The American Jobs Plan, which would total $2 trillion in new spending over a decade through corporate tax increases, addresses concerns that a lack of federal investment in research and development risks the U.S. seceding the position of the world’s top technological innovator to China. Leading the world in technology is “critical to both our future economic competitiveness and our national security,” Biden’s plan stated.

If Congress accepts the proposal, the government would try to counter China by pushing billions into emerging technologies — including quantum computing, artificial intelligence and microelectronics — that underpin weapon systems and will help the Pentagon compete in increasingly digital battlefields.

“Investing $180 billion in R&D across the federal government and civilian agencies would be a significant down payment on the future of innovation at a time when federal R&D is its lowest in decades as a percentage of GDP,” Tony Samp, senior policy adviser on artificial intelligence and defense for law firm DLA Piper, told C4ISRNET. “And when game-changing technologies touch so many sectors of the economy, there are certainly ancillary benefits to this kind of civilian investment to national security and the Department of Defense.”

Report: Big banks still pouring trillions into fossil fuel

By Damian Carrington 

Editor’s note: This story was originally published by The Guardian. It appears here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

The world’s biggest 60 banks have provided $3.8 trillion of financing for fossil fuel companies since the Paris climate deal in 2015, according to a report by a coalition of non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

Despite the Covid-19 pandemic cutting energy use, overall funding remains on an upward trend and the finance provided in 2020 was higher than in 2016 or 2017, a fact the report’s authors and others described as “shocking.”

Oil, gas and coal will need to be burned for some years to come. But it has been known since at least 2015 that a significant proportion of existing reserves must remain in the ground if global heating is to remain below 2 degrees Celsius, the main Paris target. Financing for new reserves is therefore the “exact opposite” of what is required to tackle the climate crisis, the report’s authors said.

US and Canadian banks make up only 13 of the 60 banks analyzed, but account for almost half of global fossil fuel financing over the last five years, the report found. JPMorgan Chase provided more finance than any other bank. UK bank Barclays provided the most fossil fuel financing among all European banks, and French bank BNP Paribas was the biggest in the EU.

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.

History Lessons: Five Myths about America's Rise

by Gregory Mitrovich

Chinese officials are increasingly invoking examples from American history to justify their efforts to dominate the South China Sea and establish a broader sphere of influence throughout the Indo-Pacific theater. Beijing, they contend, is merely following America’s model as it rose to power in the nineteenth century. There is little difference, Chinese leaders argue, between China’s assertion of the nine-dash line and the President James Monroe's proclamation of his eponymous doctrine which in 1823 warned Europe not to interfere in the Western Hemisphere, with some American scholars in agreement, warning that the rejection of a similar Chinese sphere of influence by the United States could be considered hypocritical.

These assertions, shared by both Chinese and Americans are based, however, on a series of historical myths that have long misrepresented the impact of the Monroe Doctrine on the creation of an independent Latin America, the nature of American power and influence in the Western Hemisphere, the ambitions of its national objectives throughout the nineteenth century, and most important of all, its relationship with Great Britain. Their acceptance has allowed China to ignore the truly salient lessons it should take from America’s experience facing Great Britain, namely that rising powers must walk a dangerous tightrope as they ascend in a world already dominated by a great power.

Myth No.1: The United States Was the Rising Power in the Nineteenth Century

The Challenge of a Nuclear North Korea

Though North Korea’s nuclearization efforts have faded from the headlines, the country has continued to improve its capabilities. North Korea can now plausibly reach any location in the continental United States with a nuclear weapon, even as Pyongyang has diversified its delivery systems for launching long-range missiles, making its arsenals more likely to survive attack. In the absence of a deal to curb its nuclear and missile programs, North Korea’s arsenal will only grow more lethal.

Striking that deal was at the forefront of former President Donald Trump’s early foreign policy agenda. But despite a period of improved relations between North and South Korea and two unprecedented face-to-face meetings between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jung Un, no clear progress was made toward denuclearizing North Korea. Instead of scoring his own foreign policy win, Trump handed Kim a monumental victory. In engaging with Trump, the North Korean leader not only avoided a military confrontation, but also won concessions—including the suspension of some joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises—and international legitimacy.

Trump’s approach also dug a hole for his successor, President Joe Biden. His insistence on meeting with Kim in made-for-TV summits undermined the work of American diplomats, while signaling to Kim the benefits of brinksmanship. And Trump’s trade war with China did little to help matters, as it created tensions with Chinese President Xi Jinping, one of the few leaders with any leverage over Kim due to North Korea’s economic dependence on China. North Korea has already issued an early warning shot at Biden ahead of U.S. joint military exercises with South Korea, cautioning the new administration that “if it wants to sleep in peace for the coming four years, it had better refrain from causing a stink at its first step.”

How the U.S. Should Respond to Russia’s New Escalation in Ukraine

Candace Rondeaux 

For the better part of six years since Russia and Ukraine signed the Minsk II cease-fire accord for the disputed eastern Ukrainian region of Donbass, one question has loomed: How will the U.S. and NATO respond if Russian troops again cross back over the so-called Line of Contact, dividing Ukrainian forces from Russian-backed separatists? With reports now trickling in of a buildup of Russian military forces along the border and in Crimea, Washington and Brussels may need quick answers soon.

In response to those reports, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke this week with his Ukrainian counterpart, Dmytro Kuleba, while the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, called top Russian and Ukrainian military officials. The State Department said Blinken reaffirmed U.S. support for Ukraine “in the face of Russia’s ongoing aggression” and “expressed concern about the security situation in eastern Ukraine.” The commander in chief of Ukraine’s armed forces, Ruslan Khomchak, and his Russian counterpart, Valery Gerasimov, traded accusations about the escalation of clashes in the Donetsk area of Donbass that has led to a number of deaths. Social media posts on Twitter showing Russian tanks being transported by train across Crimean territory and near the Russian city of Krasnodar have not yet been verified. Nonetheless, Gen. Tod D. Wolters, the head of the U.S. European Command, told The New York Times that it has placed American troops on heightened alert.

Syrian uprising 10-year anniversary: A political economy perspective

Steven Heydemann and Jihad Yazigi

This interview is part of a series conducted by the Syrian Observer on the 10th anniversary of the Syrian uprising. It first appeared here.

Bashar al-Assad’s first decade in power saw some positive economic developments and a level of corruption that was high but not necessarily worse than in many other developing countries. Would it be unfair to describe Bashar’s policies during that period as bad from an economic standpoint?

In many respects, Syria during the 2000s was a story of two economies. In one, if we look at macroeconomic indicators, the country was doing well despite years in which the political landscape experienced some severe shocks. As you note, Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth was reasonably high, inflation rates were moderate, foreign exchange reserves were healthy at about $18 billion, and government debt had dropped dramatically in 2003 after Russia forgave some outstanding loans.

In the other economy, however, the picture was much more troubling. Positive macro-indicators obscured signs that many Syrians were losing ground. In 2007, for instance, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) published a study of inequality in Syria that found that “at the national level, growth was not pro-poor.” The limited data we have confirms that the 2000s were a decade of growing inequality. Unequal growth had lots of negative effects beyond increased inequality, driving a real estate boom that pushed housing costs out of reach for many people. And despite positive GDP growth, unemployment remained high, especially among youth, at around 20% or more for most of the decade. We also must recall that the onset of a severe drought in 2006 brought a sharp increase in rural poverty in eastern Syria and drove hundreds of thousands of people off the land and into poorly-served, informal housing around large cities, including Damascus. And as for corruption, Global Corruption Reports put out by Transparency International for the 2000s rank Syria just above the bottom. A few countries performed worse, but not many. So, I would not give Bashar’s regime too much credit for its integrity.

The US military must plan for encounters with private military companies

Rodrick H. McHaty and Joe Moye

Russia has increasingly used private military companies (PMCs) such as the Wagner Group and others over the past decade to advance its strategic interests in places where official Russian government intervention is perceived to be too costly. PMC “proxy” forces allow the Russian government and affiliated Russian oligarchs to expand their influence and financial gain in developing countries while avoiding attribution through continuous use of disinformation, deception, and propaganda. In other words, PMCs allow the Russian government to operate in places where it could not openly do so — at least not without drawing international retribution or sanctions.

The Department of Defense (DoD) and U.S. military leaders must plan for this increased PMC presence. What measures must be taken to protect American forces and safeguard U.S. interests? And what procedures could the U.S. military implement to effectively counter PMC operations in certain countries around the world?


PMCs are private companies (we’ll focus on Russian ones here) that provide a variety of services to the countries where they are deployed: protective security, military tactical support, capacity building, information operations, and advising to senior leaders. They became prominent in 2014 in Ukraine, and have become increasingly prevalent in the Middle East, Africa, and even in Latin America. Wagner, one of the most well-known Russian PMCs, is led by the oligarch Yevgeniy Prigozhin, who was implicated by the Mueller investigation for his suspected role in influencing the 2016 U.S. presidential elections. Prigozhin’s deep connections to Russian President Vladimir Putin empower him to interlace his company’s financial investments with those of the Russian state.

It Is Western Europe’s Turn for a Brain Drain

European nations may be focusing on how to address the immediate economic trauma caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, but beneath the surface, even larger changes are reshaping the distribution of knowledge jobs in Europe.

In collaboration with Nordic Capital, a leading Nordic private equity firm, where one of us is the chief operating officer, the European Centre for Entrepreneurship and Policy Reform (ECEPR), where one of us is the director, has recently mapped the locations of knowledge-intensive jobs in Europe. The index examines jobs in four knowledge-intensive industries: the tech sector, information and communications technology, advanced services, and creative professions. In measuring what percentage of the working population in 31 European countries and 283 regions work in these “brain business jobs,” the study finds significant shifts in the geographical distribution of Europe’s knowledge industries.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, knowledge-intensive jobs were growing steadily in Europe. As we pointed out in the Nordic Capital-ECEPR report, on average, between 2013 and 2019, 509,000 brain business jobs were added each year to the economies of European Union-member states plus the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Norway, and Iceland. In 2020, however, the total number of brain business jobs fell for the first time since the study began five years ago, by nearly 167,000. The exception was the Nordic region, which added 8,600 brain business jobs during 2020 despite the pandemic. A possible explanation is that Nordic firms have continued to have good access to growth capital.

Biden Needs to End His Staff Travel Ban Now


In 1604, the British envoy Sir Henry Wotton famously quipped that “an ambassador is an honest gentleman sent to lie abroad for the good of his country.” Today, while U.S. ambassadors and foreign service officers remain at their posts around the world, U.S.-based senior diplomats—with very few exceptions—are not traveling overseas to advance the country’s interests. Indeed, a senior administration official told me that in response to the pandemic, the Biden administration has limited official travel to matters of “war and peace.” Accordingly, since the inauguration on Jan. 20, only three senior State Department officials—Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his special envoys for Yemen and Afghanistan—have traveled abroad.

The prohibition, which is expected to continue at least through May, relegates most of Washington’s highest-level diplomatic discussions to Zoom, Webex, and WhatsApp. For senior officials who already know their counterparts, these discussions can be productive. But for the dozens of acting officials and newly minted political appointees filling the State Department’s top slots, the absence of rapport with their foreign equivalents complicates already challenging diplomatic engagements.

COVID-19, not surprisingly, has taken a toll on the State Department and its people, especially on U.S. embassies and consulates operating in countries with inadequate and overburdened health care systems. Recognizing the danger to U.S. personnel abroad, when the pandemic took hold last March, Foggy Bottom allowed diplomats the discretion to return to the United States. The State Department also worked to cut the number of personnel at high-risk, densely packed posts—for example, Baghdad and Beirut—to reduce the risk of virus transmission.

Space Regime in Deep Distress: Experts

By Abhijnan Rej

After a relative lull following the end of the Cold War, space is back with a vengeance, along with geopolitical rivalry and accelerated defense modernization plans. What is new and an additional complicating factor, this time around, is the realization that space exploration and presence may be intimately tied not only with national prestige and military gains (its principal drivers during the Cold War) but also with an economic edge for those invested in it. However, technical advances that have contributed to civilian, military and commercial space capabilities in, and aspirations of, key Asia-Pacific powers have not been matched with commensurate shared understanding on how these capabilities are to be put in to play in a way acceptable to all.

In a new Diplomat Risk Intelligence, five prominent experts on space issues examined — among many other key issues related to Asia-Pacific’s outer space engagement — how the space security regime, and capabilities and intent, have not tracked each other, with geopolitics and national economic aspirations introducing further complications.

Australian Strategic Policy Institute scholar Malcolm Davis writes:

The 1967 Outer Space Treaty (OST) bans the deployment or use of nuclear weapons in space. It doesn’t ban the development, testing and deployment of non-nuclear ASATs [anti-satellite weapons]. Efforts since the OST to prohibit ASATs, such as the Russian and Chinese proposals for a Prohibition on the Placement of Weapons (PPWT) in space, and the Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space agreement, as well as an EU Code of Conduct for Outer Space activities, have failed in part due to challenges in defining what constitutes a space weapon and challenges associated with verification and monitoring. The Russian and Chinese efforts with PPWT sought to ban co-orbital ASATs, but did nothing to constrain either direct-ascent ASATs or ground-based counterspace capabilities. Defining what constitutes a co-orbital ASAT is becoming increasingly difficult as a “grey zone in orbit” emerges due to the blurring between commercial space capability and potentially hazardous or malign rendezvous and proximity operations.

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.