12 April 2021

Why Does the Pandemic Seem to Be Hitting Some Countries Harder Than Others?

By Siddhartha Mukherjee

On December 2nd, Mukul Ganguly, an eighty-three-year-old retired civil engineer in Kolkata, India, went to the Salt Lake Market to buy fish. The pandemic was surging around much of the world, and he wasn’t oblivious of the risks of spending time at a wet market. His wife, a former forensic analyst, protested vehemently. But Mr. Ganguly wouldn’t be deterred. He picked up his fabric shopping bag, tucked a doubled-up handkerchief in his pocket, and stepped out.

Mr. Ganguly lives in a modest, two-story, book-filled house a few blocks from the market. He tied his folded handkerchief into a makeshift mask, and spent about two hours buying groceries, choosing vegetables and sweets, and bargaining with the venders. (Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to haggle with a fishmonger and you’ll feed him for a lifetime.) Two days later, he came down with a fever and a dry, incessant cough; he was barely able to walk to the bathroom. His daughter-in-law, in New Jersey—a cousin of mine—called me in a panic: he had tested positive for covid-19.

We worked up a plan. He was to be isolated in a room with a pulse oximeter. His vitals were monitored twice daily. We arranged for a supplemental oxygen tank to be brought home in case his O2 levels dipped too low. I called my doctor friends in Kolkata and asked them to stand by. For two days, Mr. Ganguly had a fever—100 degrees, 101 degrees—and then it subsided. By Christmas, he was pretty much back to normal. When I spoke to him in late December, he told me, in Bengali, that his experience had been typical. Various friends, all in their seventies and eighties, had contracted covid-19. All had bounced back.

Analysis: Al Qaeda continues to operate throughout Afghanistan


Al Qaeda and its regional branch, Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, continue to operate across Afghanistan despite repeated Taliban claims that the group has no presence in the country.

Al Qaeda’s enduring presence in Afghanistan is visible both through press reporting on Coalition operations against the terror group, and Thabat, Al Qaeda’s own media arm that has noted the groups operations in 18 provinces. Afghan security forces have targeted Al Qaeda operatives in two additional provinces. In all, Al Qaeda is operating in at least 21 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces.

Thabat, a weekly Al Qaeda newsletter that covers its operations across the globe and is analogous to the Islamic State’s Al Naba news service, has noted multiple reports of Al Qaeda’s activities in Afghanistan. Thabat is described by the United Nations Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team as “one of the group’s [Al Qaeda’s] media arms.”

While the Taliban, on its official website Voice of Jihad, reports on dozens of attacks daily against Afghan security forces and government targets, Thabat only reports on attacks in which Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, as well as allied groups such as the Islamic Jihad Union, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Katibat Imam Bukhari, Jamaat Ansarullah, and others are directly involved.

An analysis of 16 issues of Thabat (issues 3 through 18) shows that Al Qaeda and its constellation of allies in Afghanistan have been involved in dozens of attacks from Nov. 2020 to to the present in 18 of Afghanistan’s provinces. The provinces where Thabat reported on operations are Badakhshan, Balkh, Farah, Faryab, Ghazni, Helmand, Jawzjan, Kapisa, Kabul, Kandahar, Kunar, Kunduz, Khost, Logar, Nangarhar, Takhar, Uruzgan, and Zabul.

Myanmar Is on the Precipice of Civil War


Since the Feb. 1 military coup, Myanmar has rapidly destabilized into widespread protests and indiscriminate violence. According to the monitoring group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, at least 614 protesters have been killed and 2,857 detained as of April 8. The Tatmadaw, as Myanmar’s military is called, appears unwilling to back down despite growing international pressure.

Beyond the protests in the cities, however, the role that Myanmar’s ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) choose to adopt could become key to the country’s long-term stability. As the U.N. special envoy for Myanmar warned, the situation could descend into an outright civil war, with profound implications not only for the people of Myanmar but also for regional stability.

Since independence, Myanmar has been troubled by ongoing violence between Myanmar’s ethnic minorities and the majority Buddhist Bamar. The country’s various ethnic minority groups—together representing about a third of the population—have been sidelined, resulting in roughly 20 EAOs that have waged sporadic insurgencies. In Myanmar, the EAOs are a variety of rebel groups that range in size from small forces numbering in the hundreds to larger organizations marshaling several thousand well-armed fighters. Most EAOs purport to represent specific ethnic groups from which they draw recruits, but reports of forced conscription and the deployment of child soldiers are common. Largely located in Myanmar’s rugged, ethnic minority-dominated frontier states, some rule over de facto autonomous zones without central government interference and are predominantly funded by drug trafficking. The Tatmadaw has struggled to achieve decisive victories over the EAOs as a result of the difficult terrain and the persistent underdevelopment and grievances fueling the insurgencies.

China’s rulers want more control of big tech

China’s tech tycoons have not been themselves lately. In early March, at the annual session of China’s rubber-stamp parliament, Pony Ma called for stricter regulation of Tencent, the $700bn online empire he founded. Days later a rising star, Simon Hu, left his post as chief executive of Ant Group, a huge financial-technology firm affiliated with Alibaba, an e-commerce titan. Shortly after that Colin Huang stepped down as chairman of Pinduoduo, rattling investors still celebrating his upstart e-emporium’s recent announcement that it had overtaken Alibaba measured by the number of shoppers. Jack Ma, Alibaba’s outspoken co-founder and China’s most recognisable entrepreneur, has not been seen in public for months, with the exception of a video where he discusses the country’s education system.

JUST IN: Studies Shed Light on Chinese Directed Energy Efforts

By Mandy Mayfield

China is making progress with its ground-based directed energy weapons that could potentially be used to take down satellites, according to analysts.

The Secure World Foundation recently released a study, "Global Counterspace Capabilities: An Open Source Assessment," which looked at Beijing's efforts.

In the study, “we added a lot more details about what China has been doing with their ground-based direct energy weapons program,” said Brian Weeden, director of program planning at the Secure World Foundation. “There's now pretty good open-source evidence of four or five main sites” that house the technology.

All of the sites have distinctive large buildings with roofs that slide back, Weeden noted April 8 during a virtual panel hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, which recently released its own study on counter-space weapons. There are smaller buildings next to the large ones that can be used for gas storage to power the lasers. In some cases, the buildings have additional smaller domes that support adaptive optics for targeting objects, Weeden said.

Two of the facilities identified are co-located with universities where the Chinese appear to be conducting research for atmospheric optics or engineering physics, he said.

CSIS released its new "Space Threat Assessment" report on April 1, which outlines recent developments in anti-satellite weapons by China, Russia and other countries.

Does the Chinese Communist Party ever learn from history?

Alex Lo

To cut a long story short, though, you would probably be disappointed with my answer. At crucial junctures, the party learned the wrong lesson or ignored the right one that was staring at it, leading to complete disaster for the country.

At crucial junctures, the Chinese Communist Party learned the wrong lesson or ignored the right one, leading to complete disaster for the country. Photo: AP

But in other instances, it took the right lesson or at least drew the right conclusion, thereby not only avoiding disasters but also leading to growth and national renewal. So, the records are mixed, as they tend to be.

Strictly speaking, then, what Hegel supposedly claimed actually isn’t true; there is at least one government having learned correctly from history in at least one instance. Actually, there are many incidents of governments and peoples learning the right lessons, throughout history; though admittedly, the rate of failure far outnumbers success.

Still, I have never understood why so many people take this supposed remark of Hegel so seriously when it’s actually not true, not completely anyway; and when there are many other things that Hegel wrote about history and government which should be taken absolutely seriously and yet are rarely discussed.

But at least his remark was more accurate than that other saying of George Santayana, about repeating history, which I won’t bother to repeat here.

China as a ‘cyber great power’: Beijing’s two voices in telecommunications

Rush Doshi, Emily de La Bruyère, Nathan Picarsic, and John Ferguson

External Chinese government and commercial messaging on information technology (IT) speaks in one voice. Domestically, one hears a different, second voice. The former stresses free markets, openness, collaboration, and interdependence, themes that suggest Huawei and other Chinese companies ought to be treated like other global private sector actors and welcomed into foreign networks. Meanwhile, domestic Chinese government, commercial, and academic discourse emphasizes the limits of free markets and the dangers of reliance on foreign technologies — and, accordingly, the need for industrial policy and government control to protect technologies, companies, and networks. Domestic Chinese discourse also indicates that commercial communication networks, including telecommunications systems, might be used to project power and influence offensively; that international technical standards offer a means with which to cement such power and influence; and — above all — that IT architectures are a domain of zero-sum competition.

That external Chinese government and corporate messaging might be disingenuous is by no means a novel conclusion. However, the core differences between that messaging and Chinese internal discussion on IT remain largely undocumented — despite China’s increasing development of and influence over international IT infrastructures, technologies, and norms. This report seeks to fill that gap, documenting the tension between external and internal Chinese discussions on telecommunications, as well as IT more broadly. The report also parses internal discourse for insight into Beijing’s intent, ambitions, and strategy. This report should raise questions about China’s government and commercial messaging, as well as what that messaging may obscure.

Opinion: Don't Help China By Hyping Risk Of War Over Taiwan


A soldier holds a Taiwanese flag during a military exercise in Hsinchu County, northern Taiwan, in January. Taiwanese troops using tanks, mortars and small arms staged a drill aimed at repelling an attack from China.Chiang Ying-ying/AP

Richard Bush (@RichardBushIII) retired from the Brookings Institution in 2020, after 18 years as a senior fellow and serving as director of its Center for East Asia Policy Studies. Bonnie Glaser (@BonnieGlaser) is director of the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Ryan Hass (@ryanl_hass), a former foreign service officer, served on the National Security Council in the Obama administration and is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

A growing chorus of officials and experts in the United States has been raising alarm about the risk of a Chinese attack against Taiwan. Adm. Philip S. Davidson, the United States Indo-Pacific commander, recently handicapped the threat of a Chinese assault on Taiwan as "manifest during this decade, in fact, in the next six years." China is preparing to invade and unify Taiwan by force, the thinking goes, as soon as it gains the capabilities to do so. Such doomsday predictions deserve interrogation.

It’s time for a new policy on Confucius institutes

Jamie P. Horsley

In an era of tight funding for and decline of interest in Chinese language and culture programs, and a clear need for cultivating Mandarin speakers and China expertise across multiple disciplines, the modest financial contribution and native Mandarin language professionals provided through an appropriately managed Confucius Institute network should be welcomed, not castigated. This piece originally appeared in Lawfare.

On March 5, the U.S. Senate voted to deny Department of Education funding to universities that host Confucius Institutes (CIs)—the controversial Chinese language and culture centers partially financed by the People’s Republic of China (PRC)—unless they meet oversight requirements. A federal campaign against their alleged “malign influence,” pressure from politicians and Department of Defense funding restrictions have prompted and accelerated closure of more than half the CIs in the United States. Faculty concerns over preserving academic freedom and university budget constraints concerning operating funds have all contributed to the trend. But so has a decline of American student interest in China studies and learning Mandarin Chinese. These closings and the attendant inflammatory rhetoric exacerbate a national foreign language deficit at a time when training Mandarin speakers familiar with an ever more consequential China should be a national priority.

China-U.S. Cyber-Nuclear C3 Stability


This paper was produced through a three-year dialogue led by Carnegie and the Shanghai Institute for International Studies, with inputs and review provided by American and Chinese technical and military experts.

The impact of cyber on nuclear stability is one of the most forward-looking and strategic topics in the current international security field. The Shanghai Institutes for International Studies (SIIS) and Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (CEIP) have conducted a joint study around this topic, aiming to provide a reference for the establishment of cyber and nuclear stability mechanisms among nuclear states.

Cyber attacks on nuclear command, control, and communications (NC3) systems have become a potential source of conflict escalation among nuclear powers. Yet major powers have not established effective risk-reduction mechanisms in this regard. While information technology strengthens nuclear strategic forces in many ways, including the modernization of NC3, it also poses an increasingly serious cyber threat to nuclear command and control systems. Cyber operations against the strategic command and control systems of nuclear states—including those probing major vulnerabilities in the command and control systems and satellite communications systems, cyber threats from third parties, and the lack of strategic trust in cyberspace—have exacerbated the impact of cybersecurity on nuclear stability.

Because of the unique nature of nuclear weapons, any cyber incidents concerning nuclear weapons would cause state alarm, anxiety, confusion, and erode state confidence in the reliability and integrity of nuclear deterrent. Cyber attacks against a nuclear command and control system would expose the attacked state to significant pressure to escalate conflict and even use nuclear weapons before its nuclear capabilities are compromised. At the same time, compared to the mature experience and full-fledged mechanisms in nuclear deterrence, crisis management, and conflict escalation/de-escalation among the traditional nuclear powers, states not only lack a comprehensive and accurate perception of the threat posed by cyber operations but also lack consensus on crisis management and conflict de-escalation initiatives.

China’s Improvised Mask Diplomacy in Chile


China has become a global power, but there is too little debate about how this has happened and what it means. Many argue that China exports its developmental model and imposes it on other countries. But Chinese players also extend their influence by working through local actors and institutions while adapting and assimilating local and traditional forms, norms, and practices.

With a generous multiyear grant from the Ford Foundation, Carnegie has launched an innovative body of research on Chinese engagement strategies in seven regions of the world—Africa, Central Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and North Africa, the Pacific, South Asia, and Southeast Asia. Through a mix of research and strategic convening, this project explores these complex dynamics, including the ways Chinese firms are adapting to local labor laws in Latin America, Chinese banks and funds are exploring traditional Islamic financial and credit products in Southeast Asia and the Middle East, and Chinese actors are helping local workers upgrade their skills in Central Asia. These adaptive Chinese strategies that accommodate and work within local realities are mostly ignored by Western policymakers in particular.

Ultimately, the project aims to significantly broaden understanding and debate about China’s role in the world and to generate innovative policy ideas. These could enable local players to better channel Chinese energies to support their societies and economies; provide lessons for Western engagement around the world, especially in developing countries; help China’s own policy community learn from the diversity of Chinese experience; and potentially reduce frictions.

Evan A. Feigenbaum

Vice President for Studies, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Biden Backs Taiwan, but Some Call for a Clearer Warning to China

By Michael Crowley

WASHINGTON — If anything can tip the global power struggle between China and the United States into an actual military conflict, many experts and administration officials say, it is the fate of Taiwan.

Beijing has increased its military harassment of what it considers a rogue territory, including menacing flights by 15 Chinese warplanes near its shores over recent days. In response, Biden administration officials are trying to calibrate a policy that protects the democratic, technology-rich island without inciting an armed conflict that would be disastrous for all.

Under a longstanding — and famously convoluted — policy derived from America’s “one China” stance that supports Taiwan without recognizing it as independent, the United States provides political and military support for Taiwan, but does not explicitly promise to defend it from a Chinese attack.

As China’s power and ambition grow, however, and Beijing assesses Washington to be weakened and distracted, a debate is underway whether the United States should make a clearer commitment to the island’s defense, in part to reduce the risk of a miscalculation by China that could lead to unwanted war.

The debate reflects a core foreign policy challenge seizing the Biden administration as it devises its wider Asia strategy. At the White House, the State Department and the Pentagon, which is reviewing its military posture in Asia, officials are re-evaluating core tenets of American strategy for a new and more dangerous phase of competition with China.

What is blockchain and what can it do?

Sean Fleming

Blockchain is a distributed ledger that allows for more transparent and verifiable record keeping.

Although associated mostly with money and finance, it can be used widely.

There are still many barriers to its widespread adoption, including confidence and regulation.

Every time you make an electronic payment, whether from your mobile, online, or with a card, that transaction passes through multiple systems. Each of them plays a role in processing that payment and forms part of the sequence of checks and balances that exist between payer and payee.

It can be a long, complex and costly chain of connections, with each taking a small fee from every transaction. Typically, it involves a series of banks or other large payment processing businesses who keep track of the money on its journey from A to B. Identities are verified, creditworthiness is established and sums of money are accurately reconciled between accounts.

Without such processes, how could trusted payments take place? Enter blockchain, which has the potential to disrupt that process completely. And not just for payments, but other forms of transaction including the flow of goods and information around the world.

Blockchain can seem complicated and a little impenetrable, which is ironic as one of the core tenets of this technology is its openness and transparency.

How does blockchain work?

Why Is The U.S. Still In Iraq After 18 Years?

By Bonnie Kristian

An F-16 Fighting Falcon pilot assigned to the 134th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron performs preflight checks at the 407th Air Expeditionary Group, Dec. 29, 2016. The 134th EFS is flying combat missions for Operation Inherent Resolve to support and enable Iraqi Security Forces’ efforts with the unique capabilities provided by the fighter squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Benjamin Wilson/Released)

The 18th anniversary of the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq came and went last month with little fanfare.

Perhaps it’s unsurprising: One does not particularly care to celebrate the launch of our country’s second-longest war, which has spilled so much blood and treasure and accomplished so little good.

Unfortunately, the decency of eschewing untoward celebration does not yet extend to ending this untoward war altogether. But the Biden administration now has an opportunity for exactly that: Strategic dialogues between Washington and Baghdad took place on Wednesday, and while the White House framed the talks as a broad “opportunity to discuss our mutual interests across a range of fields from security to culture, trade, and climate,” Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi advocated a more straightforward goal: Ending U.S. military action in his country.

Europe Is Late but Crucial in U.S.-Iran Nuclear Talks


Vienna, here we come—again. Six years after world powers concluded their negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program in the Austrian capital, diplomats are talking again in the stucco-clad ballrooms of otherwise mostly deserted five-star hotels. Yet despite the genteel setting, the talks will be no waltz in the park.


The EU is trying to broker an agreement between the United States and Iran on each side’s return to the deal. Yet just like in July 2015, success is far from guaranteed. In fact, the Europeans look much weaker today than then, and that’s not just because of their dismal record in the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. If anything, the past three years since the United States left the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, have shown Europe’s inability to keep the deal alive beyond its vital functions.

Adebahr is a nonresident fellow at Carnegie Europe. His research focuses on foreign and security policy, in particular regarding Iran and the Persian Gulf, on European and transatlantic affairs, and on citizens’ engagement.

It’s true that France, Germany, and the UK—the three European co-signatories of the deal (the E3)—have fought hard to prevent the agreement from unravelling, including by torpedoing America’s unilateral efforts to reinstate all United Nations sanctions on Iran in September 2020. However, they could not maintain the economic opening that Tehran was promised in return for strict supervision of its nuclear program. Even after the pandemic had hit the Islamic Republic especially hard, European governments failed to find a way to increase humanitarian trade, or indeed grant multilateral aid to Iran, in the face of continuing U.S. sanctions.


After the End of the 'Pink Tide,' What’s Next for South America?

It may not be a return of the “Pink Tide” of leftist governments that swept into power across South America in the early 2000s—and were largely swept out again amid a conservative backlash in the mid-2010s. But the region’s left has been showing signs of revival.

In Argentina’s October 2019 presidential election, the moderate-left Peronist candidate, Alberto Fernandez, ousted the market-friendly incumbent, Mauricio Macri, whose austerity measures and heavy borrowing triggered an economic crisis that cost him the presidency. Also in 2019, violent protests erupted in Colombia in September against mounting police brutality under law-and-order President Ivan Duque. And both Ecuador and Chile saw massive demonstrations that forced Ecuador’s government to backtrack on austerity measures and challenged Chile’s longstanding neoliberal economic model. More recently, in October 2020, Bolivia returned the Movement Toward Socialism to power in the first presidential election since Evo Morales was ousted.

The conservative wave that followed the Pink Tide is far from ebbing, though. The 2018 election of Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil was a particular blow to the region’s progressives, and he has justified their fears. His administration has curbed the fight against corruption and downplayed the severity of the coronavirus pandemic, even as he has continued to denigrate the country’s Indigenous communities. And in Uruguay, conservatives took control of the government last December from the leftist Broad Front coalition that had been in power for a decade and a half.

Why It’s So Hard for America to End Its War

By Robin Wright

In March, General Kenneth (Frank) McKenzie, Jr., an Alabama-born marine who commands U.S. forces in the Middle East and South Asia, took a whirlwind tour of Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and Lebanon—America’s most volatile theatre of operations. Some legs of the trip were made on a C-17, a cavernous aircraft that can hold a hundred and thirty-two caskets, arranged in three rows and stacked on pallets four atop one another, the crew told me.
Seven thousand American troops have been killed, and another fifty-four thousand have been injured, in the post-9/11 wars. When President Joe Biden took office, the U.S. troop presence in the four countries was down to just two per cent of peak deployments, and, technically, these troops are no longer fighting. Their missions are largely limited to helping equip local allies, map strategy, share (or get) intelligence, occasionally provide airpower, and support local peace processes. Yet this last phase of America’s military engagements may be the most confounding. As things now stand, the U.S. can’t “win” in any country. Its allies are still weak militarily. Its adversaries have adapted or even gained strength. And the political morass in each place is as bad—and often worse—as when the U.S. first got involved.

For millennia, politicians, from Cicero to Winston Churchill and Richard Nixon, have opined about “peace with honor” to end military engagements; writers, from Shakespeare and Edmund Burke to A. A. Milne, have waxed eloquent on the challenges. Biden is the fourth President to try to achieve it in the Middle East and South Asia in the twenty-first century. There’s a lot of debate in Washington about what he should do—and whether the U.S. should simply pack up and pull out of the region, which is what it did in Vietnam, in 1973, and in Lebanon, in 1984, under pressure from ragtag militias with vintage weaponry who were better strategists and willing to sacrifice more lives. With the pivot to Asia—a.k.a. China—and American energy independence, why stay longer? From a distance, it’s appealing; from the ground, it’s a more challenging call.

US intelligence report warns of increased offensive cyber, disinformation around the world

by Shannon Vavra

Over the course of the next 20 years, nation-states will see a rise in targeted offensive cyber-operations and disinformation in an increasingly “volatile and confrontational” global security landscape, according to a new U.S. intelligence assessment.

The U.S. intelligence community’s Global Trends report, issued on Thursday, notes many of theses offensive cyber-operations will likely target civilian and military infrastructure. Nation-states will likely increasingly favor tools that allow them to operate below the level of armed conflict in order to avoid the geopolitical and resource costs that come with violence and traditional warfare, the report adds. Countries also will leverage proxies such as hackers or military contractors to disrupt their adversaries, according to the assessment, which is issued by the National Intelligence Council, which reports to the Director of National Intelligence.

“Proxies and private companies can reduce the cost of training, equipping, and retaining specialized units and provide manpower for countries with declining populations,” the document states. “Some groups can more quickly achieve objectives with smaller footprints and asymmetric techniques.”

The assessment, issued every four years, touches on a variety of challenges the global security community expects to face over the next two decades, ranging from the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic to the effects of climate change.

Few of the cyber-related assessments will come as a surprise to either intelligence personnel or the cybersecurity community.

No U.S. President Has Ever Visited Central Asia. Biden Can Change That

Wilder Alejandro Sanchez 

As President Joe Biden’s foreign policy takes shape, one issue that still needs clarification is the role of Central Asia. Discussions in Washington about the region usually occur not on its own terms, but in the context of broader issues about Russian and Chinese influence, or security concerns around terrorism and the war in Afghanistan. However, Central Asia is important to the U.S. in its own right. For one thing, it is composed of frontier markets that can be attractive to U.S. companies, apart from the energy firms that already operate there. And some governments share the Biden administration’s interest in environmental protection. Moreover, some Central Asian countries, like Kazakhstan, have a strong interest in taking bilateral ties with the United States to a new level. The Biden administration should capitalize on this with a high-level trip to a region that has never been visited by a sitting American president.

Even visits by senior U.S. officials have generally been rare. In 2015, then-Secretary of State John Kerry memorably toured all five Central Asian states. It took another five years for another secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, to visit Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, where he used the setting to criticize China’s persecution of the predominantly Muslim Uyghur minority in Xinjiang province, in western China, which Washington has labeled a genocide. Pompeo’s trip highlighted the tragic fact that in addition to around 1 million Uyghurs, tens of thousands of ethnic Kazakhs and other minorities in China have been forcibly incarcerated in what Beijing calls “re-education camps.” While Pompeo did meet with senior policymakers in both Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, and even participated in a meeting with all five of his counterparts from the region, the visit was overshadowed by his criticism of China.

Punishing Germany for Nord Stream 2 does nothing to stop Putin

By: Eugene Rumer  

Speaking after his meeting with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas in Brussels last month, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken repeated his earlier warning that the Biden administration was poised to impose sanctions on companies involved in the construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline from Russia to Germany.

The controversial pipeline that the German government supports — and many in Washington, especially in Congress, vehemently oppose — has emerged as a major obstacle to better relations between the United States and its key European ally Germany. The Biden administration may want to sanction only Russian companies, but congressional opponents of the pipeline will for sure demand that it extract a pound of flesh from Germany as well.

It is but the latest example of U.S. reliance on sanctions as a substitute for policy toward Russia and the illogic of U.S. repeated attempts to force it to change its destructive course with little or no effect, while expecting different results.

The Nord Stream 2 sanctions represent one of those rare issues in Washington on which both political parties agree, and which have few, if any, constituents in home districts whose interests would be damaged by hitting Russian President Vladimir Putin hard.

Such faux bipartisanship is an invitation to proceed with little regard for the sanctions’ immediate effect or their likely longer-term consequences.

It is very encouraging to see that more and more countries in Europe are waking up to the problem, but it is high time Germany took the wake-up call seriously.

Overlooking the Policy Connections: Fragility, Democracy, and Geopolitical Competition

by Frances Z. Brown

For the U.S. foreign policy community focused on violent conflict and state fragility around the world, the current moment presents both an urgent challenge and an opportunity to address it. The challenge: even before the coronavirus pandemic, such conflicts were swelling in number, and they were increasingly protracted and complex. Covid-19 has exacerbated the situation in many places, compounding economic, health, and conflict-related weaknesses, and straining many institutions to the breaking point.

As for the opportunity, it rests in the potential for a strong U.S. response. As part of its larger reinvigoration of U.S. engagement globally, the Biden administration is moving to implement the 2019 Global Fragility Act (GFA), in which Congress committed to investing significant resources in conflict prevention and stabilization and pledged support for data-driven and innovative approaches to mitigating state fragility. Yet this opportunity risks slipping away if old silos within the U.S. policy universe remain in place.

For too long, the U.S. foreign policy community has approached the challenge of fragile or conflict-affected states as a parallel effort distinct from other aspects of the U.S. foreign policy agenda. For the “conflict hands” within the U.S. government and beyond, the eye-popping human toll of global conflict provides its own self-standing rationale for U.S. investment. The GFA is, in some ways, the ultimate manifestation of this approach: it calls for the U.S. “to seek to stabilize conflict-affected areas and prevent violence and fragility globally” as a concentrated, yet discrete, line of effort, focused on strengthening state-society relations within specific places – a set of five test locations for starters.

How to tell reality from a deepfake?

John Letzing

The number of deepfake videos online has been increasing at an estimated annual rate of about 900%.

Technology advances have made it increasingly easy to produce them, which has raised questions about how best to prevent malicious misuse.

It’s been suggested that the best way to inoculate people against the danger of deepfakes is through exposure and raising awareness.

When Donald Trump belatedly acknowledged defeat two months after last year’s US presidential election, some news reports zeroed in on a fundamental question: whether his speech had actually happened at all.

The dramatic proliferation of deepfakes – online imagery that can make anybody appear to do or say anything within the limits of one’s imagination, cruelty, or cunning – has begun to undermine faith in our ability to discern reality.

Recent advances in the technology have shocked even seasoned technology observers, and made anyone with a phone and access to an app like Avatarify capable of an adequate version.

According to one startup’s estimate, the number of deepfake videos online jumped from 14,678 in 2019 to 145,277 by June of the following year. Last month, the FBI warned that “malicious actors” will likely deploy deepfakes in the US for foreign influence operations and criminal activity in the near future. Around the world, there are concerns the technology will increasingly become a source of disinformation, division, fraud and extortion.

Should countries ever respond to cyberattacks with physical force?

In conventional warfare, it’s accepted that if a state finds itself under attack, it’s entitled to respond – either with defensive force, or with a counterattack. But it’s less clear how countries should respond to cyberattacks: state-backed hacks which often have dangerous real-world implications.

The 2020 SolarWinds hack, attributed to state-backed Russian hackers, breached security at around 100 private companies. But it also infiltrated nine US federal agencies – including the US Energy Department, which oversees the country’s nuclear weapons stockpile.

Such attacks are expected to become more common. Recently, the UK’s 2021 Strategic Defence Review confirmed the creation of a “National Cyber Force” tasked with developing effective offensive responses to such cyberattacks, which could even include responding to them with nuclear weapons.

Philosophers like myself would urge caution and restraint here. As cyberattacks are new and ambiguous forms of threat, careful ethical consideration should take place before we decide upon appropriate responses.
‘Just war’ theory

We already have a millennia-old framework designed to regulate the use of physical force in wars. It’s called “just war theory”, and its rules determine whether or not it’s morally justified to launch military operations against a target. Given how cyber systems can be weaponized, it seems natural for ethicists to build “cyberwar” into existing just war theory.

Army Revives ’10x Platoon’ Experiment In Robotics, AI


An 82nd Airborne soldier trains with a Black Hornet mini-drone before deploying to Afghanistan.

WASHINGTON: How do you make a platoon of foot soldiers ten times more effective? If your company has a new technology that might help, Army Futures Command wants to know by May 5th.

That’s the deadline to submit ideas in AI, networking, and robotics for the Army’s “10x platoon” experiment, which is trying out tech to upgrade the future infantry force. The near-term goal is a series of field demonstrations next year at Fort Benning’s annual Maneuver Warfighter Conference and as part of Futures Command’s Project Convergence 2022 wargames. The ultimate goal, around 2028-2035? An infantry platoon that can see further, shoot further, and make better decisions 10 times faster than before, thanks to unmanned sensors, robots, networks, and AI systems that help share intelligence and advise commanders.

The original plan had been to do a demonstration last year, but that had to be cancelled amidst concerns over COVID and unspecified “funding issues,” said Ted Maciuba, deputy director of Futures Command’s Robotics Requirements Division, during Fort Benning’s online industry day on Wednesday.

Submissions are limited to members of the National Advanced Mobility Consortium (NAMC), which issued the formal Request for Prototype Proposals (RPP) on Tuesday. Going through public-private consortia this way is an increasingly common expedient for military projects that want bypass the traditional acquisition bureaucracy and tap non-government innovation quickly.

What kind of technologies does the 10x experiment want? “This is… open-ended,” Maciuba said. “Propose any technologies that you have that you feel are mature enough [and] will move us towards a 10x increase in effectiveness.”