20 April 2021

CO21060 | India’s China Policy: Strategic Shift or a Drift?

P. S. Suryanarayana

RSIS Commentary is a platform to provide timely and, where appropriate, policy-relevant commentary and analysis of topical and contemporary issues. The authors’ views are their own and do not represent the official position of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, NTU. These commentaries may be reproduced with prior permission from RSIS and due recognition to the author(s) and RSIS. Please email to Mr Yang Razali Kassim, Editor RSIS Commentary at RSISPublications@ntu.edu.sg.


Successful disengagement by the confronting Chinese and Indian soldiers at a key site along their disputed frontier in February 2021 is optimistically seen as a pause for peace. It is time for India to choose to remain an autonomous player or become a frontline-state in a US-led coalition focused on China.

CHINESE PRESIDENT Xi Jinping has portrayed his globalised foreign policy in the glowing terms of an epigram from his country’s ancient statecraft. “Men of insight see the trend; men of wisdom ride it”, he said at a video-linked international conference hosted by Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow last year. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was among the leaders participating in that conference.

Withdrawing troops from Afghanistan: Biden’s unforced error puts America at risk

Madiha Afzal and Michael E. O’Hanlon

Writing in USA Today, Madiha Afzal and Michael O'Hanlon argue that "the most likely outcome of any quick troop exit this year is very ugly, including ethnic cleansing, mass slaughter, and the ultimate dismemberment of the country. No one can see the future, of course, but this type of outcome seems much more likely than any smooth transition to a new government run by a kinder, gentler, more moderate Taliban."

President Biden’s decision to bring home all U.S. troops from Afghanistan by the 20-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks is a major mistake. U.S. troops have already been cut more than 95% since their peak levels, troop casualties in recent years have been reduced even more than that, and costs to the taxpayer have dropped by 90% over the last 10 years. There is no endless cycle of buildups, but in fact a gradual ongoing drawdown — and therefore no need to rush completely for the exits before giving the fledgling peace process a real chance.

An unconditional U.S. troop withdrawal goes beyond what the Trump administration negotiated with the Taliban in the first phase of that peace process, on February 29 of last year in Doha, Qatar. There, the United States promised a withdrawal — once several conditions were met. But they have not been. The Taliban, according to the U.N. and U.S. government, has not cut ties to al Qaeda, has not engaged seriously in the intra-Afghan peace process, and has not reduced violence against Afghan forces.  (Nor has it moderated its misogynistic and intolerant views.) It has not held up its end of the bargain; we should feel no obligation to do so, either.

Under Biden, Pakistan and the US face a dilemma about the breadth of their relationship

Madiha Afzal

After the unpredictability of the Trump years, Pakistan approached Joe Biden’s win and the new administration with both expectation and apprehension. It hoped that the administration would buy its pitch for a reset and for broadening relations beyond Afghanistan, but it worried about “baggage” that the Biden team could bring from its experience during the Obama years — the second half of which was a relative low point in the U.S.-Pakistan relationship. Nearly 100 days into the new administration, it appears that redefining U.S.-Pakistan relations isn’t going to be quite as easy as Islamabad had hoped, even as Pakistan concertedly pushes a new geo-economic vision.

President Biden has not yet spoken to Prime Minister Imran Khan. Nor did Biden invite Pakistan to a planned leaders summit on climate change later this month, though the leaders of India and Bangladesh will be there, and Pakistan was the only country among the world’s 10 most populous to not receive an invitation. Its absence is all the more pointed given Pakistan’s efforts to mitigate climate change, including its commitment to plant a billion trees. Khan claims he’s not bothered. Biden’s Special Envoy for Climate Change John Kerry, meanwhile, is currently in the region — visiting India and Bangladesh, but not Pakistan. Separately, Pakistan continues to play a key role in the Afghan peace process.

Trump took a transactional approach to Pakistan, which worked well in some ways. What Pakistan wants now is a relationship with the U.S. that is broader in scope, and includes trade and investment. Will Biden deliver?


Leaving Afghanistan, and the Lessons of America’s Longest War

By Steve Coll

Early in 2010, Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union, offered advice to President Barack Obama about the Afghan war. After the Soviets had invaded Afghanistan, in 1979, and found themselves mired in an unwinnable conflict against Islamist mujahideen rebels aided by the United States and others, Gorbachev overruled hawks in his Politburo and ordered a military retreat, which was completed in 1989. He warned Obama that America risked a similar “major strategic failure,” and he recommended “a political solution and troop withdrawal.” This “two track” approach—a managed troop pullout and talks with the Taliban and other Afghan factions in the war—should seek to foster “national reconciliation” in the country, Gorbachev advised.

Obama authorized secret peace talks with the Taliban later that year, and, ever since, the United States has essentially followed Gorbachev’s approach, albeit slowly, through policies laced with contradictions, and at a very high cost in expenditure and lives—more than twenty-two hundred American troops. The American presence in Afghanistan peaked at about a hundred thousand troops, in August, 2010, and fell to a little less than ten thousand by the end of Obama’s Presidency. The Obama Administration’s talks with the Taliban failed, but when Donald Trump became President he revived the negotiations. In early 2020, Zalmay Khalilzad, Trump’s envoy, struck a deal with the Taliban that included a pledge to remove all U.S. troops by May 1st, 2021. Trump also ordered a reduction in U.S. forces to twenty-five hundred by the time he left office. (About seven thousand nato troops also remained.)

Biden’s 9/11 Withdrawal From Afghanistan: What to Know

By Max Boot

President Joe Biden will announce that all U.S. troops in Afghanistan will be withdrawn by September 11, 2021, after more than twenty years of U.S. involvement in the country’s war. But the withdrawal comes with major risks: the Taliban could expand its control over Afghanistan, and the ongoing peace process between the group and the Afghan government could collapse.

The most important aspect is that it is not conditions-based. Previous U.S. presidents have generally said they would make redeployment decisions in Afghanistan and Iraq based on the threat posed by local enemies and the capabilities of local allies. Even the Donald Trump administration, which set a May 1 deadline for withdrawal in last year’s negotiations with the Taliban, insisted that the Taliban denounce al-Qaeda (which it has never done) and refrain from attacks on U.S. troops (which it has generally done).

The Taliban is currently on the offensive, and peace talks between the group and the Afghan government are stalled. But Biden announced a withdrawal anyway. By ditching any conditions for withdrawal, Biden has made it possible to pull out the remaining 3,500 U.S. troops—but at considerable risk. The U.S. intelligence community has assessed that the Taliban could take over much of Afghanistan within two to three years of a U.S. withdrawal.
Could U.S. or other foreign forces remain in Afghanistan beyond September 11?

This seems very unlikely. Biden has said he is pulling all the U.S. forces out, with no exception for Special Operations Forces, and the roughly seven thousand other international troops will likely follow them out the door because they rely on U.S. enablers. The question now is whether the United States will even be able to keep its embassy open.
Will the Taliban expand its control?

Pakistan’s Celebration Of America’s Afghanistan Defeat Will Be Short-Lived

By Michael Rubin

U.S. Army paratroopers assigned to the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division move to an assembly area Feb. 1, 2019 at Normandy Drop Zone, Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The paratroopers conducted a combat equipment static line airborne operation onto the drop zone to maintain their proficiency and rehearse their roles during follow-on missions. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Taylor Hoganson).

President Joe Biden announced yesterday that he would withdraw all remaining U.S. forces from Afghanistan to end the “forever war.”

Bizarrely, he made the final withdrawal date to be the 20th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terror attacks in New York and Washington.

Perhaps some among his top aides thought this cute or clever but it is not: it compounds a disaster by allowing Al Qaeda and their Taliban allies to transform the anniversary and augment its meaning as symbolic of victory against the United States.

Within Washington, Americans will debate whether Biden’s move is wise. Biden’s team will try to spin the withdrawal as something other than a defeat.
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DC spin, however, seldom sticks outside an administration’s most partisan supporters. Others will question the cost on Afghans and especially Afghan women.

How Long US Will Fund Afghan Military An ‘Open Question’


WASHINGTON: Several Democratic members of the House Armed Services Committee said today they expect Congress to support funding the Afghan army and air force for years to come, even after US and European troops pull out this summer.

The roughly 3,500 American, and 7,000 NATO troops on the ground in Afghanistan will likely start leaving by the end of April, taking with them the surveillance and air support that are crucial to the overstretched Afghan forces as they struggle to blunt the Taliban’s momentum.

As the withdrawal kicks into high gear and Washington increasingly turns its attention to Chinese moves in the Pacific and Rusian provocations in Europe and the Arctic, it’s not at all clear how willing the US will be to spend billions a year on the flailing Afghan military.

“I think there should still be an appetite for a support package, because pulling out the combat troops is one thing, but reducing our financial support is another challenge,” said Rep. Jason Crow, a member of the House Armed Services Committee who served in Afghanistan as an Army Ranger. “Reducing that money I think would be a major detriment to not just Afghanistan, but also our efforts to counter China,” he said during a call with reporters today.

The bill won’t be small.

The US decision to withdraw from Afghanistan is the right one

Vanda Felbab-Brown

The Biden administration’s decision to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan by September 11, 2021 is a wise strategic choice that took significant political courage. The administration correctly assessed that perpetuating U.S. military engagement in Afghanistan has become a strategic liability and a futile investment that lost the capacity to alter the basic political and military dynamics in Afghanistan. That does not mean that desirable political and security developments will follow in Afghanistan after the U.S. military withdrawal. Unfortunately, the possibility of an intensified and potentially highly fragmented and bloody civil war is real, and at minimum, the Taliban’s ascendance to formal power will bring painful changes to the country’s political dispensation.

The basic wisdom of the administration’s decision is the realization that perpetuating U.S. military engagement would not reverse these dynamics and that U.S. military, financial, diplomatic, and leadership resources would be better spent on other issues. Even so, the administration made some serious tactical mistakes in its announcement.


The U.S. primary objective in Afghanistan since 2001 has been to degrade the threat of terrorism against the United States and its allies. That basic goal was accomplished a decade ago: Al-Qaida’s capabilities are a fraction of what they used to be. The Islamic State in Khorasan (ISK) continues to operate in Afghanistan, but the Taliban has been fighting ISK assiduously. However, perpetually bad governance in Afghanistan has undermined stability and allowed the Taliban to entrench itself. While the Taliban too is implicated in many illicit economies, it is often seen as less predatory and capricious, even if brutal and restrictive, than powerbrokers associated with the Afghan government.

The ‘Forever War’ Is Over. Let the Reckoning Begin

Candace Rondeaux 

After two decades of a war that started out with what he called clear objectives and a just cause, President Joe Biden announced Wednesday that he would withdraw the last remaining American troops from Afghanistan. In a 15-minute speech from the White House Treaty Room, where then-President George W. Bush informed the nation in October 2001 of the first U.S. airstrikes against al-Qaida training camps, Biden declared, “I’m now the fourth United States President to preside over American troop presence in Afghanistan: two Republicans, two Democrats. I will not pass this responsibility on to a fifth.”

How he inherited the burden of pulling U.S. troops from the country, and why he determined he would not leave it to his successor, is what makes the war in Afghanistan so tragic. As vice president, Biden and his presidential predecessor and former boss Barack Obama began to debate the possibility of a substantial drawdown of American troops from Afghanistan in 2014. By then, the phrase “fragile but reversible” had already become a tired refrain of Pentagon briefings and Congressional hearings. Year after year, military officials, diplomats and humanitarian aid experts had trooped up to the podium to tell an anxious American public that any U.S. withdrawal must be “conditions-based” to avoid undoing whatever gains had supposedly been made. The implicit subtext each time was that the year ahead would not only be different, but would make the difference between a responsible and irresponsible American exit from Afghanistan.

Supply Chain Risk in Leading-Edge Integrated Circuits

Laura A. Odell, Project Leader Cameron D. DiLorenzo Chandler A. Dawson Matthew D. Kowalyk

The long-term strategic impact from future supply chain disruptions, including the potential inability of the U.S. to produce leading-edge1 integrated circuits (ICs) domestically, is a critical risk. This, coupled with the fact that demand for production is outpacing current manufacturing capacity, will have long-term consequences for the Department of Defense (DoD), Department of Energy, Department of Homeland Security, and the National Intelligence communities when ensuring national security objectives are achievable. Integrated circuits (ICs) are a fundamental, foundational element of electronics in components and systems. For the U.S. Army specifically, ICs are critical in weapon systems, core business systems, key communications systems, and artificial intelligence (AI) computational systems. Once a global leader, the United States finds itself in a position of decreasing control and influence in the leading-edge IC markets, a critical segment for enabling U.S. dominance. The lack of technical advancement from trusted foundry participants, strategic and production defects by U.S. companies, prohibitive capital expenditure required to join the market, and foreign state-subsidized competitors have all contributed to limiting trusted supply options for the U.S. Army and other U.S. government entities. This quick look report details the impacts facing the Army strategically in this competitive market.

How Green is China's Belt and Road Initiative?

Alice Politi*

China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has been described as the largest infrastructure project in history, affecting around 60 per cent of the global population.[1] Whilst promoting a narrative of connectivity, growth and “win-win partnerships”, the project has received opposing assessments regarding its wider impact, particularly in the environmental domain.

The implications are indeed colossal. Assessments posit that BRI-related infrastructure projects will necessarily pass through and compromise eco-fragile regions and key biodiversity areas worldwide, leading some to describe the initiative as the “riskiest environmental project in history”.[2] Such is its global reach that the BRI is recognised as instrumental in meeting global CO2 emission targets, meaning that even if all non-BRI countries met their targets, a failure to comply with environmental standards for BRI-related projects would still cause a 2.7C increase in global temperatures.[3]

In 2016, President Xi Jinping committed to create a green and sustainable BRI. This followed the implementation of the concept of “ecological civilisation”, introduced in the Constitution of the Communist Party in 2012.[4] Endorsing this concept in 2013, Xi promised to pursue climate change cooperation and oversee China’s renewable energy transformation.[5] In the framework of “greening the BRI”, Chinese banks involved in funding BRI projects (such as NDB, AIIB, Silk Road Fund) have tried to include this concept in their investments, creating their own environmental guidelines.[6]

Faced with a domestic economic slowdown over recent years, Beijing has launched green financing initiatives to encourage both Chinese and international banks to finance the BRI. As a result, in April 2019, the Singapore branch of the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China issued the first green Belt & Road Interbank bond, worth 2.2 billion US dollars.[7] More recently, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused considerable financial distress for BRI participant countries, many of which are relatively small economies with fewer possibilities to take on new debt financing.[8] Yet, the overall slowdown caused by COVID is on the whole expected to be manageable for banks and Chinese companies involved in the BRI.[9]

Technological Competition: Can the EU Compete with China?

Francesca Ghiretti

The debate on technological development and the unfolding fourth technological revolution tends to neglect the role of the EU, relegating it to follower status. The leadership positions are occupied by the US and China, who compete with one another for technological supremacy. Yet, despite lagging behind in some areas, the EU is better placed than is often assumed and still stands a chance of guaranteeing the delivery of a technological revolution that is not only environmentally but also socially sustainable. This is critical in proposing a model of technological development alternative to that of China, in particular, and especially in such sectors as artificial intelligence, supercomputing and digital skills.

Study produced as part of the project “La geopolitica del digitale”, March 2021. IAI Papers

Northern expedition: China’s Arctic activities and ambitions

Rush Doshi, Alexis Dale-Huang, and Gaoqi Zhang

This report explores China’s internal discourse on the Arctic as well as its activities and ambitions across the region. It finds that China sometimes speaks with two voices on the Arctic: an external one aimed at foreign audiences and a more cynical internal one emphasizing competition and Beijing’s Arctic ambitions. In examining China’s political, military, scientific, and economic activity — as well as its coercion of Arctic states — the report also demonstrates the seriousness of China’s aspirations to become a “polar great power.”[1] China has sent high-level figures to the region 33 times in the past two decades, engaged or joined most major Arctic institutions, sought a half dozen scientific facilities in Arctic states, pursued a range of plausibly dual-use economic projects, expanded its icebreaker fleet, and even sent its naval vessels into the region. The eight Arctic sovereign states — Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, and the United States — exercise great influence over the Arctic and its strategically valuable geography. China aspires to be among them.

The report advances several primary findings:

China seeks to become a “polar great power” but downplays this goal publicly. Speeches by President Xi Jinping and senior Chinese officials with responsibility for Arctic policy are clear that building China into a “polar great power” by 2030 is China’s top polar goal. Despite the prominence of this goal in these texts, China’s externally facing documents — including its white papers — rarely if ever mention it, suggesting a desire to calibrate external perceptions about its Arctic ambitions, particularly as its Arctic activities become the focus of greater international attention.

China describes the Arctic as one of the world’s “new strategic frontiers,” ripe for rivalry and extraction.[2] China sees the Arctic — along with the Antarctic, the seabed, and space — as ungoverned or undergoverned spaces. While some of its external discourse emphasizes the need to constrain competition in these domains, several others take a more cynical view, emphasizing the need to prepare for competition within them and over their resources. A head of the Polar Research Institute for China, for example, called these kinds of public spaces the “most competitive resource treasures,” China’s National Security Law creates the legal capability to protect China’s rights across them, and top Chinese Communist Party (CCP) officials have suggested China’s share of these resources should be equal to its share of the global population.[3]

The US has very little to gain by overdemonizing China

Michael E. O’Hanlon

Writing in the Washington Post, Michael O'Hanlon argues that "while the Biden administration suggests that we compete against Beijing in some realms, cooperate with it in others, and confront the Chinese where we must, Washington seems all too willing to overemphasize this last leg of the policy triad."

The recent bipartisan push in the United States to be tough on China seems to be confirming the adage: If it’s worth doing, it’s worth overdoing. While the Biden administration suggests that we compete against Beijing in some realms, cooperate with it in others and confront the Chinese where we must, Washington seems all too willing to overemphasize this last leg of the policy triad.

An important aspect of this is the decision to designate China as a perpetrator of genocide for its treatment of the Uyghur population in Xinjiang. “Genocide” is a big and loaded term. Its use here seems historically and legally inappropriate, and purposefully incendiary within the U.S.-China relationship. But the genocide designation is simply emblematic of a broader tendency toward the demonization of China in American foreign policy that is trending toward dangerous groupthink.

The Promise and Perils of Big Tech

Technology has the potential to dramatically improve the quality of life for the world’s populations, but there are no guarantees it will. Concerns remain about everything from how the growing digital divide risks leaving large swathes of society—and the world—behind, to questions about the security of data and its potential weaponization. And, of course, there is the ongoing debate around how technology and information platforms can be used to undermine democratic processes, including elections.

To address these concerns, a panel of experts assembled by the United Nations in 2019 called for a “multistakeholder” approach that would convene governments, members of civil society, academics, technology experts and the private sector in an attempt to develop norms and standards around these technologies. Even they could not agree on what this structure might actually look like, though, underscoring how difficult it will be to ensure that technology is harnessed for everyone’s benefit.

The risks are particularly acute under authoritarian regimes, which are more interested in utilizing new technologies to strengthen their grip on power—and stifling dissent—than in having their hands tied by whatever multistakeholder vision ultimately emerges. There are also the questions raised by technological advances in weaponry—particularly the ethical questions and legal concerns surrounding autonomous weapons that remove humans from the decision-making chain.

Did China Simulate An Attack On A U.S. Navy Aircraft Carrier?

By Stephen Silver

The move coincided with the U.S. and the Philippines planning military exercises, which are to last two weeks and are known as “Balikatan” (Shoulder-to-Shoulder).

One Chinese aircraft carrier, in turn, has also reportedly entered the area.

Now, there’s a report that China has “simulated an attack” on the U.S. aircraft carrier that’s in the area, one which triggered Taiwan’s air defense radars.

The report from Newsweek cited defense analysts, including Su Tzu-yun, described by Newsweek as a senior fellow at Taiwan’s defense ministry-backed Institute for National Defense and Security Research.

According to Newsweek, the Chinese fleet “likely simulated an attack on a U.S. aircraft carrier group [with] a record 25 fighter jets and nuclear-capable bombers.”

The attack came after the arrival of the Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group, and also the recent comments by U.S. Secretary of State Tony Blinken, who warned China not to threaten Taiwan.

Home advantage: How China’s protected market threatens Europe’s economic power

Agatha Kratz, Janka Oertel

China’s vast yet protected home market has allowed some of its firms to acquire a scale that provides them with significant advantages when they compete in other markets.

These firms are able to undercut European companies both in the EU and around the world, including in sectors key to Europe’s future economy and security, from energy to telecommunications.

The EU urgently needs to incorporate the concept and reality of this ‘protected home market advantage’ into its thinking on China.

Europe can defend its own industries by adopting an integrated policy approach, working with like-minded partners around the world, and even prising open closed parts of China’s domestic market.

The EU should also look to enhance its single market – both as a defensive measure and a way to improve its strategic sovereignty.


Oman: First Arab leader to Washington in 1938, and due for another visit

Bruce Riedel

The first Arab head of state to make an official visit to Washington was the sultan of Oman, Said bin Taimur bin Faisal al Bustan, who met with President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in early March 1938 as the world was heading into World War II. Oman had recognized the United States as early as 1832, when Andrew Jackson was president. It has become an important ally since 1970, when Sultan Qaboos seized power in a British-supported coup and began to modernize the country. Qaboos died last year, and President Joe Biden should invite the new sultan for an early visit because Oman is an important voice for moderation and stability in the polarized region.

Sultan Said’s was one of only three foreign visits to the White House in 1938. The world was still in the midst of the Great Depression. Japan had invaded China, Nazi Germany was annexing Austria and Czechoslovakia, and most Americans wanted no role in the world. But FDR was not an isolationist: He was also aware that the Persian Gulf was the repository of the world’s oil reserves, and that Oman was a stable country in that soon to be critical region.

The trip’s origins lay in a letter the sultan sent Roosevelt in March 1937 telling the president of his intention to travel to America. Roosevelt promptly wrote back with a formal invitation to the White House. Sultan Said left Muscat for India, then the jewel in the crown of the British Empire. Oman was also a de facto British protectorate, with very close ties to South Asia.

Next Steps for Ensuring America’s Advanced Technology Preeminence

David Adler

By a number of metrics—including its dropping position in international innovation ranking systems, its growing trade imbalance in high-tech industries, its decline in real manufacturing value-added output, and in the weaknesses of its defense industrial base—the United States has clearly seen its technological leadership in both innovation and production erode.

It is critical that the United States maintain its preeminence in technological innovation and production, particularly against a surging and adversarial China, because it enables national power (both soft and hard), as well as a thriving economy and good middle-class jobs.

In order to compete in a world in which Chinese economic and technology advancements threaten to displace U.S. leadership, the federal government must put in place and fully fund a national advanced technology strategy. Without such a strategy, the United States will in all likelihood continue to lose market share in a host of advanced industries—including aerospace, computing and communications, Internet services, life sciences, materials, semiconductors, and vehicles—with negative implications for innovation, national security, and living standards.

This requires updating antiquated economic thinking, especially thinking that holds that laissez-fare markets (which China does not embrace) are enough. This “black box” view of technology and its applications might have worked 50 years ago, when innovation industries represented a smaller part of the U.S. economy—and when the Chinese economy was backward. But today, holding on to the market-only view makes it more difficult to advance the kinds of policies needed to effectively help American innovators and producers outcompete economic systems in which “innovation mercantilism” on the one hand and strong and legitimate industrial strategies on the other make it harder for companies in America to compete.

A Decade After the Global Recession

This year marks the tenth anniversary of the 2009 global recession. Most emerging market and developing economies weathered the global recession relatively well, in part by using the sizeable fiscal and monetary policy ammunition accumulated during the prior years of strong growth. However, their growth prospects weakened since then, and many have less policy space.

A Decade After the Global Recession provides the first comprehensive stock-taking of the decade since the global recession from the perspective of emerging market and developing economies. Many of these economies have now become more vulnerable to economic shocks. The study discusses lessons from the global recession and policy options for these economies to strengthen growth and be prepared should another global downturn occur.


"This excellent book extracts a comprehensive and compelling set of lessons from the experiences of emerging market and developing economies over an eventful decade. The book is ambitious in scope, rich in analytical content, and lucid in its content and structure. It seamlessly weaves together a vast amount of rigorously researched analytical material and valuable policy insights. It will serve as a very useful reference for academics, policymakers, and investors alike."

-- Eswar Prasad, Nandlal P. Tolani Senior Professor of Trade Policy and Professor of Economics, Cornell University

Building the Future Force

The Department of Defense (DOD) develops a new National Defense Strategy (NDS) every four years to align the U.S. military’s force structure, operational concepts, programs, and budgets with the president’s national security priorities. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin plans a comprehensive review of the present NDS, published in January 2018, and has indicated that while the strategy’s focus on great power competition and conflict remains sound, updates may be warranted. Austin suggested during his confirmation hearings the next NDS must address “the continued erosion of U.S. military advantage vis-à-vis China and Russia, in key strategic areas” due to trends such as China’s accelerating military modernization, its increasingly belligerent activities in the Indo-Pacific, and its growing ability to project power against the U.S. homeland.

Three issues threaten to further erode the U.S. military’s advantages in the future, increasing the risk of failure in the event of great power conflict. Two of these stem from the 2018 National Defense Strategy, which directed how the services should size and shape their forces, while the third results from DOD’s inadequate means for calculating the relative benefits of investment trade-offs. Left unaddressed, these issues threaten to increase gaps in U.S. forces and capabilities and to reduce the nation’s ability to defeat peer aggression, deter nuclear attacks, and defend the U.S. homeland.

Biden Finally Got to Say No to the Generals

By Susan B. Glasser

On Wednesday, Joe Biden announced the close of the two-decade-long American war in Afghanistan, giving the U.S. military a deadline of the upcoming twentieth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks to withdraw all remaining troops. “It’s time to end the Forever War,” he said, in a speech that was both deeply personal and politically emphatic. Speaking from the White House Treaty Room, where George W. Bush had declared the start of the fight, to root out Al Qaeda and its Taliban enablers, Biden declared that there would be no more extensions of the American military presence, rebuffing pleas of the teetering, pro-Western Afghan government and his own generals. It’s finally, really, for-better-or-worse over. I guess this is how eras end: not with a culminating battle or some movie-thriller crescendo but with a Tuesday-morning leak to the Washington Post and, a day later, a fifteen-minute Presidential speech confirming the historic decision.

Biden pulled the plug in an unsentimental, sober address, with the only passionate notes reserved for the U.S. military personnel who have served in Afghanistan and Iraq over the two decades, including his late son Beau. “War in Afghanistan was never meant to be a multigenerational undertaking,” he said. The President seemed genuinely sick and tired of the endless pleas for just a little more time. “So when will it be the right moment to leave?” he said, pointedly summarizing the arguments that he had dismissed. “One more year? Two more years? Ten more years?” he asked.


The Sharp Power and Democratic Resilience series aims to contextualize the nature of sharp power, inventory key authoritarian efforts and domains, and illuminate ideas for nongovernmental action that are essential to strengthening democratic resilience.

Dr. Samantha Hoffman is a senior analyst with the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s International Cyber Policy Centre. Her research explores the domestic and global implications of the Chinese Communist Party’s approach to state security and offers new ways of thinking about how to understand and respond to China’s technology-enhanced political and social control efforts.

In the final thematic report of the Sharp Power and Democratic Resilience series, Dr. Samantha Hoffman describes how the People’s Republic of China (PRC) leverages emerging technologies to undercut democracies’ stability and legitimacy while expanding its own influence. The PRC’s development and global export of “smart cities” technology, for example, showcases the character of tech-enhanced sharp power and authoritarianism. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) does not distinguish basic public goods, like traffic safety or the prevention of violent crime, from the authoritarian suppression of pluralism and dissent. Instead, it blends the two together. The PRC prioritizes regime security over essential rights, and uses these technologies to monitor its populace and control society. Beijing’s active role in international standards-setting enables the PRC to exploit emerging technologies to enhance its sharp power capabilities. If PRC-originated technical standards are adopted internationally, PRC-made systems will enjoy greater interoperability and market access around the world in ways that erode democratic integrity.

Forget Bitcoin or Tesla, Invest in Quantum Computing While It’s Still Early

Cody Collins

In 2016–2017 it was pot stocks. In 2020–2021 it’s EV stocks. And in a few years, it will be quantum computing stocks.

As is often the case, there are industries that offer innovation and potential returns years before profits are made. A few years ago marijuana companies saw their share prices skyrocket as legalization crept across states. Recreational marijuana is still not legalized on the federal level. These companies have seen their share prices fall as they haven’t been able to produce revenue and profit numbers that meet analysts’ expectations.

Tesla has been on a remarkable ride the last few years. They are one of the best known electric vehicle companies. Recently, many other companies in the same space have seen astronomical growth. Examples include Workhorse Group, Nio, and Nikola. While all these companies offer great ideas, it will be years before they are able to create sustainable, high-level profits.

…the potential is so great, and the technological advances are coming so rapidly, that every business leader should have a basic understanding of how the technology works, the kinds of problems it can help solve, and how she or he should prepare to harness its potential.

Investors are often looking for the next big thing. They want to get in early to make good money. Sometimes they will get into industries before they are developed or profitable. The next big industry this may occur in is quantum computing.

What is Quantum Computing

Smaller armies and better defenses in a new world


Concern has been raised that the United Kingdom is once again reducing the size of its armed forces. A chorus of complaints has come from retired generals, from defense experts and from politicians, all bemoaning the planned reduction in military manpower and in tanks and other equipment, as well as in warships.

Voices have also joined in from the United States expressing doubts about the U.K. continuing as a military power. What these critics all find it hard to grasp is that a fundamental change is taking place in defense requirements, in the whole gamut of security concerns and in the very nature of warfare itself.

Indeed, as one military authority put it “wars are no longer declared,” meaning not that threats of conflict and invasion are over but that, on the contrary, they were becoming continuous conditions of enmity between states and extending into areas such as space and cyberspace. They are also moving into the vital arteries and inner nerve systems of societies, on a scale and in a manner never before experienced.

Two huge new building blocks have been heaved into place in the founding structure of modern and future defense thinking.

The first is that the whole of society is under attack and must therefore be defended in all its dimensions, be they economic, infrastructural, social, political, diplomatic, scientific, educational, health-related or almost anything else. This means that areas far outside military organization have to be involved both in heading off constant threats and dangers, and in mounting counter offensives.