25 April 2021

Remembering al-Qaida

George Friedman, April 20, 2021

The United States invaded Afghanistan 20 years ago, soon after the attack on Sept. 11, 2001. By 2008, then-President Barack Obama made it a point to disengage from what has become known as the Forever Wars. He failed. His successor, President Donald Trump, pledged likewise but failed all the same. President Joe Biden, too, has said the U.S. would withdraw, this time by the anniversary of the 9/11 attack.

The war in Afghanistan can’t be discussed without discussing al-Qaida, the Islamist group led by Osama bin Laden, the son of an extremely wealthy Yemeni who had moved his family to Saudi Arabia. His goal was to recreate an Islamic caliphate. As I wrote in “America’s Secret War,” his strategy was to unite the Islamic world against its common enemy, the United States. To that end, he would conduct an attack against the United States that generated massive causalities and electrified the world. If the U.S. could be attacked, it would prove the U.S. to be vulnerable. If the United States declined to respond, it would prove Washington to be weak or cowardly, or so the thinking went. Both cases would, bin Laden thought, achieve the same end: Islamic unity.

The attack against the United States was both simple and brilliant. Hijacked aircraft would strike American icons – the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and Congress (the latter of which failed). The Islamic world would know these buildings well and would see al-Qaida’s power. What was remarkable was the detailed planning, the deployment of operatives and the movement of money, none of which was fully detected by U.S. intelligence. (There are always those who claim that they predicted such events. I have no idea what they said to whom before the attack, only what they claimed to have said after.) The fear that struck the United States was palpable.

Part of the fear was that Washington did not know what al-Qaida was planning next and what resources it had. The idea that 9/11 was the sum total of its capability was plausible, but there was no evidence for it, and the American public was thinking of all the worst-case scenarios. There was intelligence, necessarily uncertain in nature, that al-Qaida had acquired a single small nuclear device. All reasonable people scoff at such thoughts now, but in the days after the attack, nothing was being dismissed. Lenin said that the purpose of terror is to terrify. The country was terrified, because none of us knew what was next.

The Challenge of a Two-Front War: India’s China-Pakistan Dilemma

BY Sushant Singh

Concerns over a two-front military threat from China and Pakistan in the early 2000s led India to develop a strategy based on deterrence and dissuasion to prevent any loss of territory. The military was never resourced accordingly, however, leaving open serious vulnerabilities. Despite recent improvements in India-China and India-Pakistan relations, the two-front military threat remains a formidable challenge with no easy answers. India does not have the economic wherewithal to resource its military to fight a two-front war. The alternative—seeking partnerships with other powers to externally rebalance—will also prove difficult, given that the Quad initiative is still in its early stages and cannot provide reliable protection as of now. The smartest choice for New Delhi, therefore, is to neither fight nor prepare to fight a two-front war. Instead, India should seek durable and enduring peace with one of its adversaries. Since China remains a long-term strategic competitor and permanent peace with Pakistan is at odds with the dominant political ideology in New Delhi, however, the Indian military is likely to remain in an unviable position: resource-constrained, overstretched, and vulnerable.

Stimson’s South Asia program is pleased to publish a series of Research Notes, featuring discussion and analysis of South Asian security issues from a range of regional and international authors. These pieces are intended to provide diverse views on emerging topics and tensions that will impact regional stability and geopolitics for years to come.


After Afghanistan, China and Russia will test Biden

The US administration may have to handle crises over Taiwan and Ukraine at the same time GIDEON RACHMAN Add to myFT © James Ferguson Share on Twitter (opens new window) Share on Facebook (opens new window) Share on LinkedIn (opens new window) Save Gideon Rachman APRIL 19 2021 226 Print this page “America is back” proclaimed Joe Biden, a few weeks ago. But in Afghanistan, America is out. The US president has just announced the withdrawal of all remaining American troops from the country. A 20-year war will end on the symbolic date of 9/11, 2021. The watching world will wonder if a gap is emerging between White House rhetoric about re-engagement with the world, and a reality of continuing retreat. Biden insists that this is not the case. 

He argues that America has achieved its counter-terrorism aims in Afghanistan and now intends to “fight the battles for the next 20 years, not the last 20”. But perception matters. The danger is that the pullout from Afghanistan will be seen outside America as a Vietnam-like failure that could eventually lead to the fall of Kabul to the Taliban, a replay of the fall of Saigon to North Vietnam in 1975. Rival powers, in particular Russia and China, could now be emboldened to test the Biden administration’s resolve a little further. The obvious flashpoints are Ukraine and Taiwan. In recent weeks, the Kremlin has assembled more troops on its border with Ukraine than at any time since 2014 when Russia grabbed Crimea. Last week, China sent a record number of military jets into Taiwan’s air defence identification zone. 

‘Showgirls of Pakistan’ Doesn’t Need Your Victim Narrative

When Saad Khan decided to make a documentary about Pakistan’s mujra, or theater, dancers, he didn’t expect the near-decade journey that would ensue. For him, making Showgirls of Pakistan started out with a couple of impromptu days of filming. Over seven years later, the project emerged as a feature-length documentary released globally this past January. To get the film out, he had to take on both the world’s predominantly white-run documentary industry and Pakistan’s mechanisms of social control at the same time.

Khan’s film follows the lives of three mujra dancers, who practice an art form dating back to the Mughal Empire. For centuries, mujra dancers entertained pre-colonial Indian courts and their royals with evocative dance performances. Mujra was a respected art form, and the dancers were considered an important part of the cultural and social fabric of the Mughal Empire—not just because of their proximity to royalty, but because of their value as cultural assets. But after the British colonized India, things changed. The British colonists’ efforts to impose their attitudes toward sex and sexuality on the local populations grew into a larger wave of conservatism. Mujra was eventually restricted and then outlawed.

“Mujra dancers were high taxpayers to the Mughal Empire, they had wealth and land,” Khan, 31, said from his apartment in Brooklyn, New York, in March. “It made sense for a colonizing force to dismantle that support through laws, by force and propaganda. It was a means to seize their power.” Eventually, Khan continued, “mujra was conflated with sex work and dancers with prostitutes, a supremely generalized narrative that exists and affects the lives of women in the business till now.”

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.

Why growing Chinese-Russian common cause poses Biden’s nightmare

by Frederick Kempe

Russia's President Vladimir Putin and China's Xi Jinping walk down the stairs as they arrive for a BRICS summit in Brasilia, Brazil November 14, 2019. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino/File Photo

President Joe Biden faces a nightmare scenario of global consequence: increasing Sino-Russian strategic cooperation aimed at undermining US influence and at upending Biden’s efforts to rally democratic allies.

It is the most significant and underrecognized test of Biden’s leadership yet: It could be the defining challenge of his presidency.

This past week, Russia and China simultaneously escalated their separate military activities and threats to the sovereignty of Ukraine and Taiwan respectively—countries whose vibrant independence is an affront to Moscow and Beijing but lies at the heart of US and allies’ interests in their regions.

Even if Moscow’s and Beijing’s actions do not result in a military invasion of either country, and most experts still believe that is unlikely, the scale and intensity of the military moves demand immediate attention. US and allied officials dare not dismiss the certainty that Russia and China are sharing intelligence or the growing likelihood that they increasingly are coordinating actions and strategies.

China's Huawei Is Winning the 5G Race. Here's What the United States Should Do To Respond

by David Sacks

In 2015, China added the Digital Silk Road (DSR) to its massive Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). While Beijing uses DSR to offer a suite of technologies to BRI countries, Huawei’s effort to provide next-generation communication networks to countries has drawn the most scrutiny in the United States.

U.S. officials have frequently claimed that Huawei is effectively an extension of the Chinese Communist Party. Under China’s 2017 National Intelligence Law, Huawei, like all Chinese companies and entities, appears legally required to conduct intelligence work on behalf of the Chinese government. According to this analysis, the Chinese government has the ability to use Huawei-built fifth-generation (5G) networks to collect intelligence, monitor critics, and steal intellectual property. There are also worries that the company might bow to government demands and disable networks to exert coercive pressure on a country.

The United States also has commercial concerns. Once Huawei builds a country’s 5G network, that country is likely to choose Huawei to upgrade those systems when newer technologies become available, thus excluding U.S. companies for potentially decades. Huawei has already finalized more 5G contracts than any other telecom company, half of which are for 5G networks in Europe.

In Africa, Huawei has built 70 percent of the continent’s 4G networks and has signed the only formal agreement on 5G, with South African wireless carrier Rain. The export of Huawei telecom equipment along the DSR has enabled the company’s share of global telecom equipment to increase by 40 percent in the years since BRI was rolled out.

China's Quest for Self-Reliance in the Fourteenth Five-Year Plan

Lauren Dudley

Innovation is one of the main components of the plan. Over the next five years, China aims to increase research and development (R&D) investment by seven percent each year, with a focus on basic research. This increased R&D investment, paired with continued reform of China's innovation system, will play an important role in China's development of advanced technologies listed in the plan, including artificial intelligence, biotechnology, blockchain, neuroscience, quantum computing, and robotics. China is betting that by "tackling problems at the frontier of science and technology," expanding digital connectivity, and increasing data and computing power through the construction of new infrastructure, it will have successfully planted the “soil” to spur the growth of new technology applications, products, and business models.

In many ways, China's quest to innovate and develop emerging technologies is not new. In the early 1980s, Jiang Zemin, the future president and then-Minister of the Electronics Ministry, stressed the need for China to catch up with its more advanced counterparts in information technology, which he deemed the strategic high ground in international competition. Major policies since then, such as the National Medium- and Long-Term Program for Science and Technology Development and China's Twelfth and Thirteenth Five-Year Plans have responded to this need to enhance China's technological capabilities. Calls in these plans for promoting "indigenous innovation," "leapfrogging" in priority fields, and developing “strategic emerging industries," among other tasks, reflect some of the main goals outlined in the draft Fourteenth Five-Year Plan.

The U.S. Military Needs Citizen-Soldiers, Not Warriors


The brave women and men of the U.S. armed forces need no longer dine in the soft confines of a cafeteria. Instead, a recent effort attempted to renamed U.S. Army dining facilities as “warrior restaurants.” The renaming was eminently risible but highlights the U.S. Army’s recent love affair with the term. Recruits are asked “what’s your warrior?” in recruitment ads, the Army has a “warrior ethos” (complete with a stylish wall poster), and there is even a “Best Warrior Competition.”

There are only two small problems: U.S. military personnel are not warriors, and more importantly, they should never become warriors. Indeed, the very nature of a warrior is inimical to a free people under a constitutional government. The United States needs citizen-soldiers and has no use for warriors on the battlefield or at home. To understand why, it is worth probing what these words mean and their wider implications.

Most native English speakers recognize there is a meaningful difference between the words “soldier” and “warrior” and the ideas they represent. The phrase “Civil War warriors” feels wrong, just as referring to a Homeric hero or a Mongol horseman as a soldier does. Achilles moping in his tent was a warrior, not a soldier.

America’s Come-From-Behind Pandemic Victory


All protracted crises have multiple phases, which means real-time assessments of who is winning or losing can change dramatically based on when one takes a look. An analysis of how the Allies were doing in World War II, written in February 1942, would not have been very generous. And the trajectory of the Cold War looked very different in 1949 or 1969 than in 1989.

The same is true of the coronavirus pandemic. In late January 2020, the conventional wisdom was that COVID-19 was mostly a problem for China: a “Chernobyl moment” for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). By mid-March 2020, the conventional wisdom was COVID-19 was a disaster for the United States: a “Suez moment” for a declining superpower. In mid-2020, Europe looked like a relative winner in the crisis; today it looks like a loser.

COVID-19 has indeed inflicted a deadly, horrific toll on the United States—upward of 564,000 deaths and counting. But a little more than a year after COVID-19 fully erupted around most of the world, it is time to update—indeed, significantly revise—the conventional understanding of who is “winning” and who is “losing” the pandemic. We are now mostly through the part of the crisis that painfully illustrated U.S. weaknesses and (reputed) Chinese strengths. The world’s understanding of the pandemic’s impacts is likely to only become more favorable to the United States over time—and its fallout may ultimately prove disastrous for China’s global ambitions.

Satellite Images Show Russia’s Expanding Ukraine Buildup

By Michael R. Gordon in Washington and Georgi Kantchev 

Russia has moved warplanes to Crimea and bases near Ukraine to an extent greater than has previously been disclosed, adding to its capability for political intimidation or military intervention, according to commercial satellite photos of areas being used for the military buildup.

The photos, which were reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, show Su-30 fighters lined up on a runway at an air base in Crimea. The aircraft, which are shown in a satellite photo from April 16, hadn’t been there in late March.

Other Russian military units on the Crimean peninsula include airborne troops, motorized rifle and armored units, attack helicopters, smoke generators, reconnaissance drones, jamming equipment and a military hospital, the photos indicate.

Those forces and the stationing of Su-34, Su-30, Su-27, Su-25 and Su-24 aircraft elsewhere in the region, which are also depicted in the photos, have strengthened Moscow’s political leverage to coerce Ukraine, current and former officials say.

“They have appropriately deployed the various elements of airpower that would be needed to establish air superiority over the battlefield and directly support the ground troops,” said Philip Breedlove, a retired U.S. Air Force general who served as the top NATO military commander when Russian forces seized Crimea and intervened in eastern Ukraine in 2014.

White House 'standing down' emergency response groups to SolarWinds, Microsoft hacks


The Biden administration is “standing down” coordinated efforts by several key agencies to respond to recent major cybersecurity incidents including the SolarWinds hack, a senior administration official announced Monday.

Anne Neuberger, President Biden’s deputy national security advisor for cyber and emerging technology, said the two unified coordination groups (UCGs) that were convened to respond to both the SolarWinds hack and recently discovered vulnerabilities in Microsoft’s Exchange Server would be scaled back.

“Due to the vastly increased patching and reduction in victims, we are standing down the current UCG surge efforts and will be handling further responses through standard incident management procedures,” Neuberger said in a statement.

The UCGs for both incidents are made up of the FBI, the National Security Agency, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA).

The SolarWinds group was convened under the Trump administration after the breach, which was carried out by Russian hackers, was discovered in December. The group responding to the Microsoft vulnerabilities, which at least one Chinese state-sponsored hacking group exploited, was convened in March.

America's Place in Cyberspace: The Biden Administration’s Cyber Strategy Takes Shape

by David P. Fidler

In cyber policy, the SolarWinds and Microsoft hacks have dominated the first weeks of President Joseph Biden’s administration. Even so, the administration has outlined its cyber strategy in speeches by President Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken and in the president's Interim Strategic National Security Guidance [PDF]. The speeches and guidance never use "internet freedom," a departure from the prominence this idea long had in U.S. cyber policy. Instead, the strategy is anchored in the ideological, geopolitical, technological, and diplomatic pillars of President Biden's overarching vision for U.S. foreign policy and national security.

A striking feature of President Biden’s thinking is the need to renew democracy. In statements unthinkable less than a decade ago, the interim guidance asserted that democracies are “under siege” and “authoritarianism is on the global march,” and Secretary Blinken warned of the erosion and fragility of democracy. Cyber threats to democracy include election interference, disinformation, cyberattacks, and digital authoritarianism. The litany of anti-democratic cyber activities indicates that the United States should rethink democracy’s relationship with cyberspace as part of the democracy renewal project.

In the past, expanding global access to an open internet characterized how the United States connected democracy and cyberspace. With American democracy under threat, the United States needs to counter anti-democratic exploitation of cyber technologies by domestic and foreign actors. The United States faces the challenge of rolling back the spread of digital authoritarianism. Neither President Biden nor Secretary Blinken provided specific plans on how to achieve these objectives. But the president will hold a Summit of Democracy to address, among other issues, cyberspace challenges that democracies confront.

Christina Ayiotis Should Get a Blue Check Mark. So Should Everyone Else

by Robert K. Knake

Two weeks ago, I got a direct message on Twitter from a fake account pretending to be my colleague Christina Ayiotis. It used @christinaayiot1 as the handle and had cut and paste her profile photo. The account had 0 followers, was only following six people, and the message was a simple “hey.” I flagged it on the app, tweeted it to the real Christina Ayiotas (@christinayiotas) and her more than 3,500 followers, and called it a day.

Christina also tweeted it at @twittersupport and asked for a blue check mark for her account to show that it was verified and legitimate. While Twitter removed the fake account, Christina is still without her blue check mark. She, and everyone else, should get one.

Twitter announced recently that after hitting pause on accepting applications for the coveted blue check marks a few years back, it would be restarting the process this quarter with a more equitable system. Previously, becoming verified on Twitter required extensive connections within the company. What is needed now is not a fairer program to determine the worthiness of accounts but an open and transparent process that would let most account holders that tweet under their real name become verified.

In a world in which social media creates its own celebrities overnight, the idea of choosing who is and is not a celebrity is ludicrous. As we saw in the 2016 election, a fake account pretending to be a private citizen can have enormous influence. Whoever created Christina’s fake account certainly had some intended scam they were going to use it for. In the grey area are fake accounts created for product promotion that are all too good at connecting potential consumers to fad diets and financial advice. Twitter users deserve to know whether an account—any account—is authentic.

Biden’s Sanctions Targeting Russian Cyber Behavior Could Backfire

Emily Taylor 

Last week, the Biden administration took the bold step of imposing economic sanctions in response to an act of cyber espionage, namely the SolarWinds attack. It seems that the new U.S. administration is finally getting serious about standing up to Russian aggression in cyberspace. But from the perspective of international law, the move is controversial and could potentially come back to bite the U.S. in the future, given its own cyber capabilities.

The release of the Executive Order announcing the sanctions, which also respond to Russian meddling in the 2020 U.S. presidential elections and other actions, coincided with a call between President Joe Biden and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, in which the two leaders discussed the possibility of a summit on arms control. In this context, the sanctions can be understood as a symbolic show of strength amid parallel moves to deescalate tensions and rebuild trust and respect in the wider bilateral relationship. .

Why Putin Threatens Ukraine


KYIV: Ukrainian citizens are studying maps to local bomb shelters as Russia builds up its forces at land and sea, while the US imposes sanctions and issues stern statements. But the question remains: what are Russian President Vladimir Putin’s objectives in this crisis. What, people are asking, does the former KGB lieutenant colonel hope to gain by threatening a full-scale invasion of his neighbor and former vassal state?

Whether or not war between Ukraine and Russia breaks out or not, the fact remains that Putin has a deep-seated desire “to make Russia great again” — if need be by invading its neighbors and destabilizing the entire region. Understanding that overriding imperative of Putin’s rule may be the singular element in formulating policy vis-à-vis Moscow.

Russia had been widely expected to invade Ukraine within a matter of days. This speculation followed weeks of escalating tensions between the two nations, an increase in the number of air space violations by Moscow’s military and an overall sense in the capital that armed conflict could break out at any time. The buildup of Moscow’s forces on the border is the largest since the 2014 Russian seizure of Crimea.

Speaking to Deutsche Welle, the Ukrainian Ambassador to the UK and former Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko described the degree to which the level of fear in Ukraine has increased in recent days.

Naval Academy Champs Talk NSA’s NCX


The Naval Academy Center for Cyber Security Studies, Hopper Hall

The Naval Academy won this year’s competition for the prestigious National Security Agency Cyber Exercise (NCX) trophy. Breaking Defense interviewed two members of the Naval Academy’s team, MIDN 1/C Byron Gallagher and MIDN 1/C Anthony Perry. Below is an excerpt of an email interview, edited for clarity, length, and style.

BD: Was this the first time you participated in NCX?

Gallagher: This was not the first year I’ve participated in NCX. I participated in the competition in 2019, held at the United States Air Force Academy. It was interesting to conduct the competition in the virtual environment this time around, but I am incredibly impressed with the teams’ and the organizers’ flexibility around the challenges of the virtual environment. We had been conducting virtual training and team operations for a great deal of the year, so I think my team was well prepared on what to expect. Also, having students who had done NCX in the past gave us an edge on framing expectations for the scope of the competition.

Perry: I’ve competed in NCX twice before for USNA’s Cyber Security Team. Those events have been hosted at various service academies in the past and have allowed for intermingling amongst teams. This year was vastly different, as the competition was hosted virtually. I personally liked the virtual set-up to best leverage our new team spaces. The team meets in what we call the “War Room,” which is within the newly completed Hopper Hall, named after Rear Admiral Grace Hopper, on the Naval Academy campus. The Naval Academy has been a great proponent of cyber education for several years now, as every midshipman takes two mandatory cyber classes here in Hopper Hall, regardless of major, and I really enjoyed being able to compete in our very own designated spaces this year.

More work needed to integrate cyber and information ops, former official says

Mark Pomerleau

The DoD faces a challenge with managing cyberspace and the information warfare sphere. Pictured here, a Marine cyberspace intelligence analyst interprets network data. (Cpl. Seth Rosenberg/Marine Corps)

WASHINGTON — The Department of Defense needs to do more to align cyberspace and emerging operations within the larger information environment, according to a former top cyber official.

“If cyber as a domain is in its adolescence, then information is surely in its infancy,” Thomas Wingfield, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for cyber policy in the Trump administration, said March 4 during U.S. Cyber Command’s legal conference.

When he took over in November 2019, he said his third policy priority for the job was to help integrate cyber and information as doctrines and domains, however, this is “so far from resolution.”

Wingfield noted that adversaries see information and cyber as a coherent whole and are moving forward with speed and confidence.

While information warfare has been around for decades, the scale and scope has been amplified by the global nature of cyberspace, affording adversaries not only a global reach, but a much more tailored approach.

Cyber Command task force focuses on emerging threats

Mark Pomerleau

WASHINGTON — A task force with the Pentagon’s elite Cyber National Mission Force focuses on defending critical military infrastructure.

U.S. Cyber Command established the Emerging Threats Task Force in a 2018 reorganization of the CNMF, and a spokesperson recently shared information about the task force’s focus in response to a C4ISRNET inquiry.

The CNMF is responsible for tracking and disrupting specific nation-state actors in foreign cyberspace in defense of the nation. These teams are separate from those that support specific combatant commands. It is the only cyber force within Cyber Command that essentially conducts offensive and defensive operations, though Cyber Command describes both as defensive operations — one focused on internal networks and the other on preemptive activity in foreign cyberspace against a potential threat. This allows the teams to pivot faster when a threat or vulnerability is discovered, officials have said.

“The proactive posture of U.S. Cyber Command means we focus on foreign malicious activity, even prior to attribution of malicious cyber activity to a nation-state or region,” a Cyber Command spokesperson said.

Officials noted that when the Cyber National Mission Force was first created with four regionally aligned task forces, that delayed allocating missions until activities could be attributed to nation-states.

Unexpectedly, All UN Countries Agreed on a Cybersecurity Report. So What?

Josh Gold

The third and final substantive session of the UN cybersecurity Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) was held last week in a hybrid virtual and in-person format. Since its inception in 2019, the OEWG has involved the participation of some 150 countries and observers, producing nearly 200 written submissions and over 110 hours’ worth of on-record statements. Last week’s session was expressly reserved for negotiating compromise on the contents of the final draft report.

Despite skepticism and ongoing geopolitical tension, UN member states reached consensus last Friday to endorse a report containing recommendations for advancing peace and security in cyberspace. The report is not legally binding nor groundbreaking in its content but marks the first time that a process open to all countries has led to agreement on international cybersecurity.

Net Politics

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The report [PDF] broadly reflects points of consensus and also makes recommendations for further progress in the areas of emerging threats, voluntary behavioral norms, international law, capacity building, confidence-building measures, and potential formats for regular UN dialogue on these topics.

The New Overmatch: All Domain Operations


Photo: US Army. The Integrated Air and Missile Defense Battle Command System utilizes multiple sensors and effectors to extend the battlespace, engage threats with 360° protection, and increase survivability by enabling early detection and continuous tracking

As the U.S. military shifts from a focus on asymmetric threats to challenges from peer and near-peer military adversaries, pathfinder technologies and digital transformation are critical to success. They are key elements of the military’s doctrine for all-domain operations, which requires quick creation and deployment of a new, open, and integrated communications architecture with advanced processing capabilities. These technologies are essential to pulling together disparate data from across the DoD and sharing it on-demand with warfighters that need it across all warfighting domains and out to tactical units at the edge.

In this Q&A with Kenn Todorov, Sector Vice President and General Manager, Combat Systems and Mission Readiness, Northrop Grumman Defense System Sector, we discuss the enabling technologies for all-domain operations, how they connect with technologies of the 4th Industrial Revolution, and suggestions for the new Biden Administration and secretary of defense.

Breaking Defense: What are the technological challenges associated with a transition from anti-terror activities to a peer/near-peer competition in the Great Power competition?

Kenn Todorov, Sector Vice President and General Manager, Combat Systems and Mission Readiness, Northrop Grumman Defense System Sector.


By Dr. Peter Layton

Artificial intelligence (AI) technology is suddenly important to military forces. Not yet an arms race, today’s competition is more in terms of an experimentation race with many AI systems being tested and new research centers established. There may be a considerable first-mover advantage to the country that first understands AI adequately enough to change its existing human-centered force structures and embrace AI warfighting.

In a new Joint Studies Paper, I explore sea, land and air operational concepts appropriate to fighting near-to-medium term future AI-enabled wars. With much of the underlying narrow AI technology already developed in the commercial sector, this is less of a speculative exercise than might be assumed. Moreover, the contemporary AI’s general-purpose nature means its initial employment will be within existing operational level constructs, not wholly new ones.

Here, the focus is the sea domain. The operational concepts mooted are simply meant to stimulate thought about the future and how to prepare for it. In being so aimed, the concepts are deliberately constrained; crucially they are not joint or combined. In all this, it is important to remember that AI enlivens other technologies. AI is not a stand-alone actor, rather it works in the combination with numerous other digital technologies. It provides a form of cognition to these.

AI Overview