13 April 2021

China's plans for Himalayan super dam stoke fears in India

The river, known as the Yarlung Tsangpo in Tibetan, is also home to two other projects far upstream, while six others are in the pipeline or under construction.

The structure will span the Brahmaputra River before the waterway leaves the Himalayas and flows into India, straddling the world's longest and deepest canyon at an altitude of more than 1,500 metres (4,900 feet).

China is planning a mega dam in Tibet able to produce triple the electricity generated by the Three Gorges -- the world's largest power station -- stoking fears among environmentalists and in neighbouring India.

The structure will span the Brahmaputra River before the waterway leaves the Himalayas and flows into India, straddling the world's longest and deepest canyon at an altitude of more than 1,500 metres (4,900 feet).

The project in Tibet's Medog County is expected to dwarf the record-breaking Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River in central China, and is billed as able to produce 300 billion kilowatts of electricity each year.

It is mentioned in China's strategic 14th Five-Year Plan, unveiled in March at an annual rubber-stamp congress of the country's top lawmakers.

China sets hopes on blockchain to close cyber security gaps

With an already large and growing digital economy and increasing use of the Internet of Things (IoT), China is in dire need of strong data security standards, data privacy protection and an efficient digital infrastructure. Kai von Carnap looks at how China is deploying blockchain technology to meet these challenges and analyzes both its rate of success and the implications China’s approach has for other parts of the world, including Europe. His analysis is accompanied by a slidedeck that provides context for and deeper insights on China’s attempts to develop and control this strategic technology.

Every three months China’s population with access to the Internet increases by the size of a medium-sized EU country. By February 2021, it had already reached a staggering one billion people. At the same time, its cyber security issues are growing too. In January 2020, for example, 200 million phone numbers were lost by China Telecom (中国电信), one of China’s three telecom SOEs. A month later, 538 million leaked accounts on Weibo, a microblogging platform often compared to Twitter, were found on the dark web - a worrying number, given that only 500 million users are active on the platform every month. Reporting on these security breaches and on a 4.4-fold increase in malware-hosting websites, CCID, a Chinese ministry-led think tank that specializes in the development of information industries, said recently that it was “not optimistic” about the state of China’s overall cybersecurity.

In recognition of its growing cyber vulnerabilities, the CCP is giving increasing support to the development of blockchain technology. Widely known as the technology behind cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, China hopes that this emerging technology – also known as Decentralized Ledger Technology, or DLT – will enable it to ramp up the resilience of its digital infrastructure and make full use of the efficiency potential of its digital economy (Slide 2).

China’s 14th Five-Year Plan – strengthening the domestic base to become a superpower

Formally adopted on March 11, China’s 14th Five-Year Plan marks a shift away from the quantitative growth-focus of Beijing’s previous plans. Instead, it aims to usher in a more inward-looking “new developmental stage” that targets “quality development.”

The Chinese leadership's plan for China’s development from 2021 to 2025 prioritizes what it calls the “internal cycle,” by which it aims to strengthen the domestic economy and consolidate social development. The goal is to cut as quickly as possible the reliance on foreign technology and dependence on imported resources, and to double down on existing plans for industrial modernization and technological innovation.

The long-term goal of this repointed development strategy – away from economic growth targets and towards systemic resilience – is not only self-sufficiency in essential resources and key technologies. Its stated aim is to become a “manufacturing superpower” and a global leader in strategically important emerging industries. In stating its “long-term objective” of “basically completing socialist modernization” by 2035, the CCP even suggests a timeframe in which it plans to fulfill this ambitious goal.

Unlike its predecessors, the 14th Five-Year Plan contains no concrete targets for growth of gross domestic product (GDP) and only a modest sprinkling of other economic targets. Given rising international tensions and what the document calls “challenges unseen in a century,” omitting targets could be wise. But even for a strategic policy outline, the plan is vague about implementation of and possible mechanisms to achieve its goals.

Making China even greater

China’s wolf warriors refuse to back down

Tom Mitchell 

Late last month the EU, acting in concert with the US, UK and Canada, imposed sanctions on four obscure Chinese officials for alleged human rights violations in Xinjiang, where hundreds of thousands of Muslims have been systematically detained over recent years.

China retaliated immediately, imposing counter-sanctions on 10 European individuals, including five EU parliamentarians from five different political parties.

In doing so President Xi Jinping’s administration threatened a contentious trade deal provisionally agreed on last year between the EU and China, despite US opposition. The sanctioned parliamentarians’ parties are now reluctant to start reviewing the deal unless Xi’s counter-sanctions are lifted.

Before Beijing imposed sanctions on the EU MPs, it was expected that the European parliament would eventually ratify Xi’s geopolitical coup, which had strong backing from France’s Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel, the German chancellor.

But when Merkel and Xi spoke on Wednesday, China’s official account of the call did not mention the trade deal or Xinjiang.

China Leads US In 3 Of 6 AI Areas: Bob Work


WASHINGTON: The US has a narrow lead on China in artificial intelligence, but the Chinese are catching up fast. In fact, they’re already at least narrowly ahead in three of six critical areas, the vice-chair of the National Security Commission on AI said today.

The “AI Stack.” SOURCE: Final Report of the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence

We do not believe China is ahead right now in AI” overall, Robert Work said, speaking at a Pentagon press conference alongside Lt. Gen. Mike Groen, the director of the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center. But, Work went on, “look, AI is not a single technology, it is a bundle of technologies” – what professionals in the field call the “AI stack.”

As Work and the commission’s final report explain it, the AI stack has six interdependent layers. The foundational layer is not technology but people who know what to do with it. The second most fundamental layer is data, the raw material machine learning must ingest en masse to evolve. Then there’s hardware, on which everything else runs; algorithms, the complex and ever-evolving equations that drive machine learning; applications, which apply algorithms to specific functions; and integration, which ties different applications together.

“We looked at each of the six and said, ‘where does the US have an advantage and where does China have an advantage?’” Work explained. “We judged that we’re ahead — slightly ahead or ahead – in three of the six, and China is ahead or slightly ahead in three to six”:
“We believe the US has an advantage in talent right now,” he said. “We definitely are the global magnet for best talent. There’s a lot of things changing in that, and unless we’re smart about our immigration policies, etc. we can lose that, but right now we judge that we have better talent.”

The Dangers of Groupthink on China

Judah Grunstein 

There is perhaps nothing so difficult or so important as thinking independently in the face of a gathering consensus. Very few people have the courage displayed by Rep. Barbara Lee, who just three days after the attacks of 9/11 cast the sole vote in Congress opposing the Authorization for Use of Military Force, which gave the Bush administration broad discretionary powers to wage war against terrorists.

Lee’s opposition was not based on naïveté or ideological purity, both of which can be the source of what otherwise resembles iconoclastic thinking. Rather, she had the prescience and lucidity to see the dangers of granting such broad war powers to the executive. Almost 20 years later, very few now argue that she was wrong to be alarmed. Three presidential administrations have already used that congressional authorization to engage the U.S. military in wars and conflicts far afield from Afghanistan and against adversaries that, though unsavory, have no link to al-Qaida. There is no reason to believe the Biden administration won’t be the fourth. .

Documentary Of The Week: What Happens When China Becomes Number One?

by John Lounsbury

On 08 April 2015 Kishore Mahbubani, Dean and Professor in the Practice of Public Policy , Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore gave the 2015 Albert H. Gordon Lecture at the Kennedy Business School at Harvard University. His topic was the current and future relationships between the US and China.

In his 27-minute prepared presentation, Professor Mahbubani portrayed an essentially celebratory attitude about the very harmonious realtionship between the two countries. He was especially deferential to the role the US had played in helping China advance economically over the previous 15-20 years.

The remarks on this date, approximately 21 months before the inauguration of Donald Trump, stand in stark contrast to the changed US policy toward China just two years later. I could not keep from dwelling on this contrast as I listened to the lecture.

China First Major Economy To Issue Digital Currency

by Katharina Buchholz

The Chinese government has begun to issue blockchain-powered digital currency to its citizens. The Wall Street Journal reports that 750,000 recipients have been determined by a lottery system and can already spend their digital Yuan in stores and online using a special app.

App-based payments are already very common in Chinese brick-and-mortar businesses, so merchants were quick to adapt to the government’s new offer. Starbucks and McDonald’s are reportedly among those already accepting the digital Yuan, as is the Chinese Communist Party.

Ubiquitous digital payments and tight government surveillance have led to a plethora of payment data already available to Chinese administrators. This knowledge on how people spend money will only grow with the implementation of the digital Yuan, even though the country’s Central Bank has said it will limit traceability and create what it calls “controllable anonymity." With the launch of the digital currency, every Yuan in circulation will either exist as physical or as digital currency. Analysts expect the Chinese government to raise the amount of digital currency in the future, thereby lowering the amount of physical currency available in the market. Some even think China plans to make all Yuan digital at one point.

China’s Techno-Authoritarianism Has Gone Global

By Maya Wang

Nearly every week, the international news media reports on the Chinese government’s troubling use of technology to spy on its own citizens and those of other countries. China’s tech giants, Foreign Policy reported late last year, work hand in glove with the country’s spy agencies. The Guardian suggested in December that a Chinese state-owned phone operator spies on American users.

Surveillance is a fact of life for Chinese citizens and, increasingly, for those who live in countries that have adopted Chinese surveillance technology, from Ecuador to Kyrgyzstan. Even more worrisome, this ecosystem of Chinese-based technologies carries with it a set of values that undergirds the Chinese state—a form of twenty-first-century authoritarianism that marries social control and efficiency.

The United States has kneecapped Chinese technology giants in the name of national security and human rights. But the United States and its tech companies also have a checkered history with the very ideals they claim to uphold. To prevent China’s techno-authoritarianism from gaining traction, the United States must reverse course and start leading by example: it must reform its own surveillance practices, protect citizens’ privacy and security, and work with allies to set rights-respecting global standards for tech firms to follow.

China’s domestic police agencies collect an extraordinary amount of data about people in order to monitor their activities and identify troublemakers. The state’s surveillance is particularly suffocating in Xinjiang, where the authorities use mobile apps, biometric collection, artificial intelligence, and big data, among other means, to control 13 million Turkic Muslims.

The Hidden Motive of China’s Zero Emissions Pledge: Energy Security

By Chan Kung and He Jun

Judging from moves made by countries throughout the world in the past two years, the global economy (including the automobile industry and energy industry, among others) has picked up amazing momentum in the transition and shift toward new sources of energy. In the past, such measures were either taken halfheartedly or merely discussions that did not result in any action, but they are now being rapidly implemented at all costs. Environmental protection and ecology are, of course, an all-too-common universal reason, but in our opinion, this reason is still secondary. The real motives are in fact, all based on geopolitical considerations. Every country is hoping to avoid major energy risks in the future – by undergoing an energy transition, they want to prevent energy insecurity.

Based on the same reasoning, we have vigorously advocated for China to build a “hydrogen energy society” in recent years. Pursuing new energy vehicles is not an end in itself, but a means to avoid energy risks and prevent national policies from being hijacked by energy issues. In that sense, geopolitical considerations will build one of the foundations for China’s development of hydrogen energy. Hydrogen energy is significantly different from conventional energy sources and will provide structural support for China’s energy security. It appears that other countries are now also starting to attach great importance to new energy as a mean of pursuing energy security – just look at Germany’s extremely generous $1.2 billion in subsidies to Tesla for the production of power-cell batteries.

As the world’s largest energy consumer, China faces the world’s most severe energy security threat. Chinese President Xi Jinping’s pledge to the world that China will achieve an emissions peak by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2060 serves not only to demonstrate the country’s contribution to climate change mitigation and its responsibility as a major country, but also provides a solution to the issue of energy security that China faces.

China’s current energy consumption is facing severe threats both in terms of scale and composition. Its economic growth in 2019 was 6 percent, and the total energy consumption in the same period was 4.86 billion tons of standard coal equivalent (TCE), an increase of 3.3 percent over the previous year. Also in 2019, coal accounted for 57.7 percent of China’s total energy consumption (a decrease of 1.5 percentage points from the previous year), oil accounted for about 19.3 percent, natural gas 8.3 percent, and primary power as well as other non-fossil fuel energy sources (including hydropower, nuclear power, wind power, and other clean energy) 14.9 percent.

What the Whitsun Reef incident tells us about China’s future operations at sea

An innocent fleet of fishing boats or a bold demonstration of China’s willingness to deploy its growing maritime militia? Samir Puri and Greg Austin explore what an incident at Whitsun Reef in the South China Sea tells us about China’s ability to engage in future maritime hybrid warfare.

China has sparked fresh controversy in the Spratly Islands with the appearance of some 200 fishing boats at Whitsun Reef for several weeks in March. The vessels were clearly inside the limits of the Philippines’ Exclusive Economic Zone and very close to a Vietnam-occupied reef. Media coverage of the incident outside China has focused on the relationship between the fleet and the country’s maritime militia, while China denies that the fleet ‘belongs’ to the militia and says that these are fishing vessels seeking shelter from the weather. Less attention has been paid to what the incident conveys about the potential of the militia for involvement in hybrid warfare in the future.

Unprecedented in scale and scope

The Philippines called attention to the presence of boats at Whitsun Reef on 7 March 2021. This led to a terse exchange of statements involving the Philippines, China and the United States. On 21 March, Philippines Secretary of National Defense Delfin Lorenzana expressed ‘grave concern’ and called for the Chinese to ‘stop this incursion’. The Chinese embassy in the Philippines responded by claiming that ‘due to rough sea conditions … it has been normal practice for Chinese fishing vessels to take shelter’ in the Chinese-claimed reef and that ‘there is no Chinese Maritime Militia as alleged’. On 4 April, Lorenzana added that the ‘continued presence of Chinese maritime militias in the area reveals their intent to further occupy features in the West Philippine Sea’. The White House expressed support for Manila by criticising the ‘massing of People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia vessels at Whitsun Reef’.

Air University Press

 Air & Space Power Journal, Spring 2021, v. 35, no. 1

o Black Space versus Blue Space: A Proposed Dichotomy of Future Space Operations

o Infrastructure Truths for Air, Space, and Cyberspace

o Media Interaction Warfare Theory: A Novel Analytic Process Supporting Space Warfare Planning Operations

o An Information Warfare Framework for the Department of Defense

o Is It Time to Forget about Cyber Deterrence?

o Reframing Air Force Suicide Prevention: A Human Capital Strategy to Normalize Help-Seeking Behaviors

Beware the Allure of Counter-Models

By Kristofer Seibt

Can American military, diplomatic, and other government practitioners afford to remain aloof to the operating logics and superstructural assumptions permeating national policy and state interaction within the international system? This is perhaps a moral question without a clear answer. In a Western world where geopolitical realism is coming into vogue, do values have a place in policy or in strategy when expediency or success encounter normative barriers? Policymakers in the West have grown comfortable over the last century in creating counter-models. The United States and its allies learned to operationalize counter-modeling after successfully waging two World Wars and the Cold War. Many today seem eager to orient in that familiar direction by framing China as the counter-model by which the West will compete in an era of renewed great power rivalry.

Counter-modeling is woven into the very fabric of Western policymakers’ and military professionals’ approach to geopolitics. The institutionalization of international relations theory, security studies, and political science cast a near-scientific hue—objectivity, to some—on subjective assessments of imperatives and imperfect perceptions of intent. Such narratives risk leaving policymakers blind to structural hypocrisies, vulnerabilities in the world system’s operating logics, and generate assumptions that may take aspects of the strategic environment for granted. The development of sound strategy requires an awareness of such blind-spots and assumptions.

Crisis of Command America’s Broken Civil-Military Relationship Imperils National Security

By Risa Brooks, Jim Golby, and Heidi Urben

When U.S. President Donald Trump left office on January 20, many of those concerned about the state of civil-military relations in the United States breathed a deep sigh of relief. They shouldn’t have. Yes, Trump used the military as a political prop, referred to some of its leaders as “my generals,” and faced a Pentagon that slow-rolled his attempts to withdraw troops from battlefields around the world. But problems in the relationship between military officers and elected officials did not begin with Trump, and they did not end when Joe Biden took office.

Civilian control over the military is deeply embedded in the U.S. Constitution; the armed forces answer to the president and legislature. Starting in 1947, Congress built robust institutions designed to maintain this relationship. But over the past three decades, civilian control has quietly but steadily degraded. Senior military officers may still follow orders and avoid overt insubordination, but their influence has grown, while oversight and accountability mechanisms have faltered. Today, presidents worry about military opposition to their policies and must reckon with an institution that selectively implements executive guidance. Too often, unelected military leaders limit or engineer civilians’ options so that generals can run wars as they see fit.

Civilian control is therefore about more than whether military leaders openly defy orders or want to overthrow the government. It’s about the extent to which political leaders can realize the goals the American people elected them to accomplish. Here, civilian control is not binary; it is measured in degrees. Because the military filters information that civilians need and implements the orders that civilians give, it can wield great influence over civilian decision-making. Even if elected officials still get the final say, they may have little practical control if generals dictate all the options or slow their implementation—as they often do now.

What’s Behind Jordan’s Palace Intrigue?


WINCHESTER – “I am not the person responsible for the breakdown in governance, the corruption and for the incompetence that has been prevalent in our governing structure for the last 15 to 20 years and has been getting worse.” So said Jordan’s Prince Hamzah bin Hussein, apparently from house (or rather palace) arrest, in a video message shared by the BBC on April 4.

Was the 41-year-old son of the late King Hussein planning a coup against his 59-year-old half-brother, King Abdullah? If so, that would be a rude awakening for outsiders who saluted Jordan’s 1994 peace treaty with Israel, and who have since assumed the Hashemite Kingdom to be an oasis of stability in a turbulent region.

That assumption seemed sound. Jordan was barely scarred by the upheavals of the Arab Spring a decade ago. But if that stability turns out to be illusory, one must worry about Jordan following Syria and Iraq into a state of turmoil that could also drag in Israel and Saudi Arabia, as well as providing new terrain for extremist groups like the Islamic State and al-Qaeda. Given the stakes, the United States and Jordan’s other Western allies might yet find themselves involved in another Middle East conflict.

Of course, this scenario is not inevitable. Hamzah denies any role in machinations against the governing order, declaring in a signed statement on April 5: “In light of the developments of the past two days, I put myself at the disposal of His Majesty the King.” Since King Abdullah had dismissed Hamzah as crown prince in 2004, replacing him with his own son, that declaration of loyalty (grudging or not) is valuable.

The Geography of Pandemic Effects


OTTAWA – The COVID-19 pandemic is transforming virtually every aspect of our lives. While causing tremendous loss of life and unspeakable pain and suffering, it is also accelerating a host of climatic, digital, and socioeconomic transformations. Maps can help visualize these changes, from the impact of lockdowns on greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions and international air travel to trends in internet access, social protest, and the vaccination rollout.

Since the first case of a highly contagious novel coronavirus was reported in China in December 2019, SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19, has spread to more than 200 countries. There have been more than 133 million confirmed infections and 2.9 million deaths, and this is likely an undercount. The number of “excess deaths” – mortality above the “natural” baseline – is even higher. The worst-affected countries – Brazil, India, Italy, Mexico, the United Kingdom, and the United States – account for over 50% of all fatalities.

Biden Must Fix the Future, Not the Past


CAMBRIDGE – President Joe Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure plan is likely to be a watershed moment for the American economy, clearly signaling that the neoliberal era, with its belief that markets work best and are best left alone, is behind us. But while neoliberalism may be dead, it is less clear what will replace it.

The challenges that the United States and other advanced economies face today are fundamentally different from those they faced in the early decades of the twentieth century. Those earlier challenges gave rise to the New Deal and the welfare state. Today’s problems – climate change, the disruption of labor markets due to new technologies, and hyper-globalization – require new solutions. We need a new economic vision, not nostalgia for a mythicized age of widely shared prosperity at home and global supremacy abroad.

On climate change, Biden’s plan falls short of the Green New Deal advocated by progressive Democrats such as Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. But it contains significant investments in a green economy, such as supporting markets for electric vehicles and other programs to cut carbon dioxide emissions, making it the largest federal effort ever to curb greenhouse-gases. On jobs, the plan aims to expand employment offering good pay and benefits, focusing, in addition to infrastructure, on manufacturing and the growing and essential care economy.

New ways of thinking about the role of government are as important as new priorities. Many commentators have framed Biden’s infrastructure plan as a return to big government. But the package is spread over eight years, will raise public spending by only one percentage point of GDP, and is projected to pay for itself eventually. A boost in public investment in infrastructure, the green transition, and job creation is long overdue. Even if the plan were nothing more than a big public investment push financed by taxes on large corporations, it would do a lot of good for the US economy.

Nuclear arms control in the 2020s Key issues for the US and Russia

Steven Pifer

As the United States, Russia and others figure out how to maintain and enhance strategic stability in a multi-player, multi-domain world, Washington and Moscow will continue to have a central role, writes Steven Pifer. This article was first published by the Valdai Discussion Club.

The Biden administration sees arms control as a tool that can advance security and stability. It will seek to engage Russia on further nuclear arms reductions and other measures. Arms control in the 2020s will reflect continuity with earlier efforts—nuclear arms reductions will remain a bilateral matter between Washington and Moscow—but also contain new elements. That reflects the fact that strategic stability has become a more complex concept.


Donald Trump was the first American president in 50 years to reach no agreement in the area of nuclear weapons. President Biden sees arms control as an important policy tool. On his first full day in office, he agreed to extend the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) for five years. His administration plans to do more. On February 3, Secretary of State Blinken said Washington would “pursue with the Russian Federation, in consultation with Congress and US allies and partners, arms control that addresses all of its nuclear weapons.”

Is Russia Preparing to Go to War in Ukraine?


Russia’s military buildup near the border of Ukraine continued this week, deepening global concern about Moscow’s ultimate intentions as senior Russian officials and state media dial up their incendiary rhetoric.

What seemed like a show of force to the new Biden administration has become, perhaps, something bigger. Videos posted on social media appear to show convoys of military vehicles arriving in the region from as far away as Siberia, according to an analysis by the open-source investigative group the Conflict Intelligence Team. Troops are massing just south of the Russian city of Voronezh, some 155 miles away from the border with Ukraine—far enough away that an immediate invasion seems unlikely, but close enough to set nerves on edge.

The movement of troops from western and southern military districts far exceeds what would normally be expected for a standard exercise of the sort Russia has been carrying out of late. What is both puzzling and troubling about the buildup in Voronezh is its apparent offensive posture, said Kirill Mikhailov, a researcher with the Conflict Intelligence Team. The region borders government-controlled Ukraine, not the breakaway regions in Donetsk and Luhansk, where local proxies are dependent on Russian support.

The military buildup has been accompanied by increased saber-rattling by Russian officials. On Thursday, senior Kremlin official Dmitry Kozak warned a major escalation in the conflict would mark the “beginning of the end of Ukraine.” At the same time, Russia, which has sought to paint Ukraine as an aggressor with warnings that Kyiv is preparing to ethnically cleanse the Donbass of Russians, has flagged intervention. On Friday, Russian press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, warned Russia could be forced to intervene in the event that a “human catastrophe similar to Srebrenica” arises, referring to the genocidal slaughter of more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslims by Serbian forces in July 1995.

A Chance to Stop Syria and Russia From Using Chemical Weapons


The battle for the future of nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction is underway within an obscure but important international organization based in The Hague. The looming showdown at the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) will determine whether the world returns to the norm of zero chemical weapons use or if countries follow Russia’s example of poisoning dissidents and Syria’s of gassing its own citizens.

So far, Moscow and its client regime in Damascus have successfully delayed the work of the OPCW, and they are determined to stop any effort to impose consequences for their misconduct.

In February, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken noted: “We must preserve international law against the use of chemical weapons—or we risk normalizing their use,” adding that Russia and Syria must have “no impunity.” The OPCW is a sluggish organization, however, and unless the United States builds a coalition against impunity for Moscow and Damascus, this is likely to remain the norm.

As we know by now, Russia uses chemical weapons as part of an assassination program targeting enemies of the state. In 2018, Moscow’s operatives used a Novichok nerve agent, a group of toxins developed by the Soviet chemical weapons program, against Sergei Skripal, a Russian intelligence officer who had worked for Britain and defected there. While Skripal survived, an innocent mother of three died later from the poison.

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.

The Challenge of Big Tech Finance


BERKELEY – In 2009, in the midst of the global financial crisis, Paul Volcker, the former Federal Reserve chair, famously observed that the only socially productive financial innovation of the preceding 20 years was the automated teller machine. One wonders what Volcker would make of the tsunami of digitally enabled financial innovations today, from mobile payment platforms to internet banking and peer-to-peer lending.

Volcker might be reassured: like the humble ATM, many of these innovations have tangible benefits in terms of lowering transactions costs. But as a critic of big financial firms, Volcker presumably also would worry about the entry of some very large technology companies into the sector. Their names are as familiar as their services are ubiquitous: e-commerce behemoth Amazon in the United States, messaging company Kakao in Korea, on-line auction and commerce platform Mercado Libre in Latin America, and the Chinese technology giants Alibaba and Tencent.

These entities now do virtually everything related to finance. Amazon extends loans to small and medium-size businesses. Kakao offers the full range of banking services. Alibaba’s Ant Financial and Tencent’s WeChat provide a cornucopia of financial products, having expanded so rapidly that they recently became targets of a Chinese government crackdown.

The challenges for regulators are obvious. Where a single company channels payments for the majority of a country’s population, as does M-Pesa in Kenya, for example, its failure could crash the entire economy. Regulators must therefore pay close attention to operational risks. They must worry about the protection of customer data – not just financial data but also other personal data to which Big Tech companies are privy.

Army Still Too Focused On COIN: Fort Benning CO


A Michigan National Guard soldier patrols in Afghanistan alongside an Afghan soldier and a Latvian ally. Now the Army is struggling to refocus on defending allies like Latvia against great-power threats such as Russia.

WASHINGTON: The Army is still struggling to reorient itself on great power threats, said the commander of the infantry and armor training center at Fort Benning.

After two decades of counterinsurgency in Afghanistan and Iraq, “we’ve got to get east of the Vistula and north of the Han,” said Maj. Gen. Patrick Donahoe, referring to rivers in eastern Poland and central Korea respectively. “We have to get onto the map sheets where our near-peer competitors may operate against us – and, therefore, we’ve got to take our own trainers out of what they’re comfortable with, [i.e.] the Middle East map sheet of your choice.

“As we as we make that transition in our training, we really have to have a cognitive disconnect with our own experience” of the past two decades, Donahoe told a Fort Benning industry day on Wednesday.

In other words, the Army has some unlearning to do.

“When you walk around Fort Benning, as I have in the past eight months or so, oftentimes you’ll find that what we are training, and the scenario we’re using, is the cordon and search,” he said. That’s a standard technique in counterinsurgency, especially in urban areas, and after a generation of COIN, he said “it’s the default setting of our sergeants first class and our senior captains, junior majors.”

Army’s New Aim Is ‘Decision Dominance’


WASHINGTON: The Army aims to outmaneuver and outthink its adversaries so thoroughly it achieves “decision dominance,” its generals said in unison this week. Will the new term became the latest bureaucratic buzzword or shed real light on how the future force should fight?

The Army must move faster, McConville, declared, both as an institution developing new weapons – not in decades, but in a few years – and as a battlefield force destroying enemies – firing artillery, not minutes after spotting a target, but seconds.

“Today, we’re getting from [a list of desired] characteristics to fielded capabilities in as short a time as three years,” McConville said. “This allows us to think and innovate faster. And as a result we operate faster: For example, at last year’s Project Convergence exercise, we engaged targets in tens of seconds instead of tens of minutes.

“Speed, range, and convergence give us the decision dominance, and decision dominance gives us the overmatch we need,” he said.

But the chief of staff didn’t explain further. Instead, he left it to the service’s modernization czar, Army Futures Command chief Gen. John “Mike” Murray, the following day.

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


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.