2 May 2021

Himalayan Geopolitics: Contemporary Analysis of Sino-Nepali Relations

Bibek Chand

Nepal and China share a land border of 1,414 kilometers along the Himalayan frontier. They established formal diplomatic ties on 1 August 1955. Ever since the establishment of official ties, the two states have maintained increasingly close relations. However, Nepal’s geopolitical and geoeconomic focus has been with its southern neighbor, India. Cultural, religious, linguistic and historical affinities coupled with Nepali reliance on India for trade have also played important roles in Indo-Nepali relations. On an official level, the bedrock of contemporary Indo-Nepali relations is the 1950 Treaty of Peace and Friendship which allows freedom of movement between the two countries. Despite these close cultural and social ties, China’s rise has certainly impacted Indo-Nepali relations. Overall, this article assesses contemporary Sino-Nepali relations by highlighting the specific interests of Nepal and China in forging closer ties. First, Nepal’s interests in having closer ties with China is assessed through the lens of Nepal being a small state and second, China’s interests in Nepal are highlighted. The final concludes the paper and briefly highlights the implications of closer Sino-Nepali ties for India’s security.

Nepal was founded in 1768 as a unified state by King Prithvi Narayan Shah who referred to his nascent empire as a ‘yam between two boulders’. The realization early on was that it was surrounded by two big powers – the Qing Empire in the north and the British East India Company in the south. Nepal’s status as a small state squeezed between two much larger powers continued with India’s independence from the United Kingdom in 1947 and the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. As a small state, Nepal’s structural constraints remained. Nevertheless, Nepal’s foreign policy has somewhat showcased an effort to internationalize its diplomatic ties. Despite the fact that small states are constrained by their relatively weak material and ideational position, an increasing literature on such states is emerging that highlights their agency.

We Got Afghanistan Wrong, but There’s Still Time to Learn Something


Jason Dempsey, PhD, is a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, an adjunct Senior Fellow at the Center for a New American Security, and the author of Our Army: Soldiers, Politics and American Civil-Military Relations.

President Biden was right to reject the recommendations of the Afghan Study Group and to order the withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan. It was clearly not an easy decision, as it involved going against the recommendations of many current and former military leaders who were heavily invested in the conflict. With this difficult decision should come some introspection about the limits of military power and the danger of simplistic narratives of American capabilities, but initial responses suggest that this will not be the case.

We have already heard a lot about "conditions-based" approaches and all that Afghanistan might lose with our withdrawal. Notably missing from those arguments is any acknowledgment of how inefficient and ineffective our nearly 20-year-long military-led endeavor has been, how our efforts thus far have fed into Afghanistan’s dysfunction, and why we should not expect "more of the same" to lead to better outcomes now.

I spent a total of nearly two years in Afghanistan during my U.S. Army career, first serving in conventional infantry units and later as an advisor to the Afghan military, interacting with members of the Afghan army and police across six provinces — during which I've seen up-close how the U.S. military's approach can blind us to what really matters on the ground. Right now, we have less than five months before the announced pullout date, so the question of what we got wrong isn't just self-criticism: It's a necessary, and urgent, step to insuring we best use the remaining leverage we have now and after we withdraw troops from Afghanistan. And maybe, even at this late date, help to accomplish the goal of a country able to resist Taliban domination.

The Myanmar Conundrum: What Matters, and What Matters Less

Alfredo Zeli

The Republic of the Union of Myanmar, also known as Burma, is a multiethnic country in Southeast Asia that is mostly known today by the international public because of little – if anything – more than two infamous events occurring therein: (1) the Muslim Rohingya crisis; and (2) the military coup d’état staged by the national armed forces (called Tatmadaw, as each and every writing on Myanmar needs to remind) two months ago, precisely in the morning of February 1, 2021, bundled with the declaration of the year-long state of emergency and the brutal repression of the civil unrest ensued in response and still underway.

These have sparked outrage and indignation worldwide due to their blatant disregard of human rights, democratic governance, and accountability to the international community. Few would disagree on that the despotic oppression of the people(s) of Burma must end; tyrants must be removed from power and their foreign undemocratic supporters (supposedly, the People’s Republic of China) must be rebuked harshly; accordingly, action must be taken by the international community as soon as possible and with all available means to that end.

Nevertheless, upon more rigorous pondering, things unfortunately seem not to be as clear-cut as we might wish or believe. There is an even bigger problem in the country that still needs to be addressed. It is assumed in this article that the greatest overarching issue in Myanmar is the ethnic-based armed insurgency that has been ravaging the country for more than seven decades so far. Therefore, it is maintained that no invocation for a humanitarian intervention down there can be advanced soundly as long as the nature and character of the internal conflict in Myanmar is not properly considered.

Interests, Not Values, Should Guide America’s China Strategy

by Elbridge Colby

In Europe, this interest-based approach would be less ambitious than a global, ideological one, but be more likely to pay dividends. The United States should recognize that Europe is unlikely to be willing or able to contribute much to the hard power balance in Asia. Any soft power gains through a Summit of Democracies or the like, meanwhile, are likely to be ephemeral and derivative. The United States should accordingly focus its policy toward Europe on where European interests are most directly implicated vis-à-vis China, and otherwise encourage the Europeans to handle the bulk of their own defense and consume less American diplomatic capital that can then be allocated to Asia.

In the military sphere, the overall U.S. goal should be, while preserving the fundamental U.S. commitment and readiness to contribute to NATO’s defense, to have Europeans shoulder more of the burden of defending the alliance. The reality is that, given the stakes and consequences, the United States must prioritize Asia. The United States must therefore economize in its second theater, Europe. Since the United States will not have a military large enough to mount two major simultaneous wars with China and Russia, this means that it must prioritize Asia, even if war breaks out in Europe. Indeed, even if a war broke out only in Europe, the United States could not take too much risk in Asia and thereby open the way for Chinese opportunistic aggression there. NATO will therefore need to prepare for defense of its European members with an expectation of a more limited contribution from the United States.

New Concept Weapons: China Explores New Mechanisms to Win War

By: Marcus Clay


The idea of “New Concept Weapons” (NCW, 新概念武器, xin gainian wuqi) is not new. In the parlance of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), NCW was once almost a synonym for directed energy weapons (DEW) programs, with roots dating back to the 1960s.[1] In recent years, NCW has been increasingly associated with the PLA’s discourse on “new mechanism (新机理, xin jili) weapon systems.” (81.cn January 20, 2017; PLA Daily, September 28, 2017) It is often discussed in the context of broader military applications of disruptive technologies to create enduring asymmetric advantages. The majority of NCW operate in the information domain and overlap with the mission of the PLA Strategic Support Force (PLASSF). Because of this, NCW thinking may provide useful insights into the “new technology testing” (新技术试验, xin jishu shiyan) responsibilities of the PLASSF (Xinhua, October 1, 2019).

While this article does not delve into significant details of China’s NCW development, it provides an overview of the field and seeks to understand what factors shape Chinese views on NCW. It first summarizes the evolution of the PLA thinking on NCW over the past two decades. It then categorizes the main focus areas and analyzes the PLA’s key considerations for NCW development. Finally, it calls for better understanding China’s NCW programs as an integral component of the PLA’s deterrence strategy.

Something Old, Something New

Four Ways a China-U.S. War at Sea Could Play Out

James Stavridis

James Stavridis is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist. He is a retired U.S. Navy admiral and former supreme allied commander of NATO, and dean emeritus of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He is also an operating executive consultant at the Carlyle Group and chairs the board of counselors at McLarty Associates. His latest book is "2034: A Novel of the Next World War."

In the mid-1970s, I set sail as a young ensign, my first deployment after graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy. We sailed west from San Diego on a brand-new Spruance-class destroyer. As a Cold War sailor, I was deeply disappointed that the ship was not headed into northern Atlantic waters to challenge the vaunted Soviet fleet. Instead, our six-month cruise was focused on the waters of the western Pacific, those around northern Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

The furthest thing from our minds was a serious threat from Communist China (as we called it then). It had a somewhat capable coastal navy in those days, but the ships and aircraft of the oddly named People’s Liberation Army Navy simply were not a significant competitor.

Things have changed remarkably. Over the course of my naval career, I watched China slowly, meticulously and cleverly improve every aspect of its naval capabilities. That trend has accelerated significantly over the past decade, as China has expanded the number of its sophisticated warships, deployed them aggressively throughout the region, and built artificial islands to be used as military bases in the South China Sea. It is now a peer competitor of the U.S. in those waters, and this has real risks.

China to US: Back Off and Calm Down


China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi sent a warning to U.S. leaders on Friday, telling them in a virtual address that their increasingly anti-Chinese words and policies “will cause chaos in the world.”

Let's hope they were listening. The new Red Scare that American politicians have latched on to has, so far, failed to persuade Chinese leaders to Beijing to abandon their global ambitions. By the sound of it, it hasn’t even made them flinch.

For four years, Trump’s team — led bombastically by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — worked to sell Americans and the world on China as the new immediate threat. They slammed the Chinese Communist Party leadership in what Pompeo portrayed as a battle for the soul of the world. Now, with Biden and “the blob” of foreign policy moderates firmly back in charge and striking a more hopeful and less confrontational tone, China’s top diplomat is seeking to establish a new narrative about the way ahead.

Speaking at a Council on Foreign Relations virtual event on Friday, Wang delivered an unflinching take on geopolitics that was broad-ranging, if also blatantly divorced from reality and laced with pro-Beijing propaganda.

“We do not act in a coercive way and we oppose any country doing so,” the foreign minister said. "China is committed to a path of peaceful development, one with peaceful coexistence."

It’s hard to believe that the diplomat thought it would be well received, much less taken seriously. But to his credit, Wang gave back as good as Washington has given on issue after issue, including the latest boogeyman issue being tossed about in national security speeches and pages: Taiwan.

Why the Russia-China Alignment Is So Worrisome

Thomas Joscelyn
Source Link

Earlier this month, the National Intelligence Council (NIC) published a report intended to provide policymakers with an overview of “the key trends and uncertainties that will shape the strategic environment for the United States during the next two decades.” The NIC’s officers, drawn from across the U.S. government, academia, and the private sector, support the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI)—that is, the body that oversees the sprawling U.S. intelligence community.

No one has a crystal ball, but the NIC has written a similar assessment every four years since 1979, hoping to “to help policymakers and citizens anticipate and prepare for a range of possible futures.”

There is much one can say about the report, which is 156 pages long. Titled “Global Trends 2040: A More Contested World,” the assessment envisions a world in which America continues to face formidable challenges, including from other nations.

Below are some observations that are relevant for the issues I focus on at Vital Interests.
China and Russia are “likely to remain strongly aligned.”

The partnership between Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin is potentially the most worrisome relationship on the world stage.

Open-source analysis of Iran’s missile and UAV capabilities and proliferation

Iran’s ballistic missile systems, supplemented by cruise missiles and UAVs, are intended not only for deterrence, but for battle, including by Iran’s regional partners. In a new report, the IISS provides a detailed assessment of Iran’s missiles, and the manner and purposes for which it has been proliferating them.

Nuclear issues are the exclusive focus of the negotiations on the restoration of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which have taken place in Vienna. The Western powers are keen, however, to engage in follow-on talks to address Iran’s missiles and activities in the region. To inform the public policy debate on the latter matters, the IISS has produced a fact-rich technical assessment of Iran’s current missile and uninhabited aerial vehicle (UAV) capabilities and its proliferation of these technologies to Iran’s regional partners.
Robust arsenal

Drawing exclusively from open sources, including Persian-language material, the IISS report details Iran’s roughly 20 different ballistic missiles (the exact number depends on how variants are counted), as well as cruise missiles and UAVs. For now, all of Iran’s ballistic missiles apparently adhere to a self-imposed range limit of 2,000 kilometres. Iran’s priority is to improve precision, notable in several missile systems: ­

State Social Media and National Security Strategy: Israel’s Operation Protective Edge

Marisa Tramontano

Direct communication with social media followers is a relatively new tool for the state to narrate and characterize each use of force. For the purposes of international relations scholarship, the posts provide rich data to uncover the symbolic “mechanics” of how a state sold a violent national security strategy in general and how Israel sold Operation Protective Edge (OPE) to its Anglophone followers in particular. To accomplish this constructivist IR research agenda, in this article, I rely on sociological methods of interpretation. In particular, I analyze English-language social media discourse produced and shared by Israel Defense Forces, the Office of the Prime Minister of Israel, and the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs just before and during the 2014 operation.

On July 23, 2014, fifteen days into Operation Protective Edge – air strikes and an Israeli ground invasion of Gaza – Lt. Col. (Ret) Avital Leibovich, creator of the Israel Defense Forces’ (IDF) social media unit and director of the American Jewish Committee in Israel at the time of writing, stated during an interview with CNBC that:

Social media is a warzone for us here in Israel. It’s a way to communicate with a large variety of audiences, worldwide, without an editor interfering. Here we can have our own campaigns, we can decide the size of the headline, what that headline will be, exactly which pictures and footage to upload. So it really enables us to reach millions and millions of people who use social media as their sole source of information.

How to Make Sure Peace Endures Once the Fighting Ends

The need for peacebuilding in post-conflict societies grew out of the realization that signing agreements to bring fighting to an end is a necessary but insufficient step toward true and enduring peace. Peacebuilding is now conceived of as a multistage process to strengthen the peace accord and begin unifying communities through approaches ranging from governmental capacity-building and economic development to reforms of the legal and security sectors. Each initiative is intended to be a step toward improving human security, and the process often includes a transitional justice mechanism to foster societal healing and reconciliation.

Peacebuilding is often a laborious and expensive process—and one that can easily be undone. Witness Brexit’s triggering of the long-dormant fault lines between unionists and nationalists in Northern Ireland. Moreover, as peacebuilding has evolved, there is still no consensus on who should lead these efforts. In the wake of Sept. 11, the United Nations introduced a Peacebuilding Commission, intended to push for the adoption of post-conflict interventions and then aid and track their implementation. But it lacks enforcement capacity, and key member states can block its activities. Regional bodies, including the European Union and especially the African Union, have shown an interest in prioritizing post-conflict peacebuilding, but their track records are mixed.

Kennan’s Containment Strategy: A Consensus on What Not to Do

by Robert D. Kaplan

THE MOST famous modern instance of the United States consciously adopting a grand strategy was the concept of “containment” against the Soviet Union, devised by the diplomat and Russian area specialist George Kennan in the immediate aftermath of World War II. Yet a look at how Kennan’s idea evolved, how it was adopted, and how it played out over time, indicates that it was no cut-and-dry affair; that it was adopted mainly in a negative sense; that it provided relatively little guidance during the long Cold War decades; and that it appeared prescient—romantic even—particularly in retrospect once the Cold War had ended.

American foreign policy elites have adopted a partial myth about containment in order to worship at the altar of grand strategy before declaring that such a sweeping approach is no longer possible. Both propositions are false and are driven partially by nostalgia—for a simpler era that was not so simple at all. In truth, Kennan’s theory codified the conventional wisdom of his colleagues who agreed only about what not to do. Moreover, achieving such a negative consensus is certainly possible today—if not in the larger foreign policy community scattered along the East Coast with all its divisions and “global” rather than “American” outlook, then at least within the community of defense experts centered around the Pentagon. By refusing to mythologize the past, the defense community can, on its own, better construct a framework about preparing for the middle decades of the twenty-first century.

War in All but Name

Derek Bernsen

The U.S. is already at war, and Great Power Competition is that war.[1] The information war that has raged in various forms since the 1920s has evolved into cyber operations, such as Moonlight Maze, and disinformation campaigns, as seen in the 2016 U.S. Presidential election.[2] The U.S. National Security Strategy has recently tried to prioritize cyber and information warfare—a necessary step in our modern world. Yet, these steps do not go far enough to counter adversaries in these domains. Information warfare, combined with political and economic acts of aggression, comprises the majority of actions between the United States and Russia, and the United States and China.[3] These actions are at levels of hostility not seen since the Cold War era, as evidenced by U.S. Cyber Command’s (USCYBERCOM) persistent engagement strategy and the Chinese strategy of Unrestricted Warfare.[4]


Ultimately, Russia and China plan on winning the Great Power Competition by undermining the U.S., sowing discord, and continuing a secret war until the positions in the world order are reversed.[5] Implementing and prioritizing new cyber and information warfare initiatives as a part of the National Security Strategy will be crucial to America’s success in modern Great Power Competition. Specifically, the U.S. must more effectively leverage its cyber capabilities, as well as improve its understanding of adversary information warfare tactics, to keep the balance in its favor. To compete in this raging war, the authors of the National Security Strategy must answer the question: how can the U.S. leverage strengths and overcome weaknesses in cyber and information warfare to regain domain superiority?

Bitcoin Is a Threat to National Security

by Ramon Marks David Harvilicz

Bitcoin is flying high, the glamour child of market speculators. Even Wall Street’s conservative wealth management firms have begun providing Bitcoin services to clients. Bitcoin was first launched in 2009 for an initial asset value of exactly $0. In October 2010, Bitcoin was trading for around 10 cents a coin. A hundred dollars would have bought about 1,000 Bitcoins. If an investor had held on to those digital “coins,” they would be worth over $62 million today.

Satoshi Nakamoto, a brilliant Japanese software engineer, invented Bitcoin back in 2008, using a blockchain algorithm. It was designed to be the world’s first decentralized digital currency, controlled by no central governmental authority or any middleman. Not surprisingly, Nakamoto has done well, possibly enjoying a personal fortune exceeding $30 billion.

Bitcoin is the anarchist’s dream, offering a currency falling outside the control of any central banking or government authority, and beyond the intermediary moderation levers of the Bretton-Woods global banking system. It was designed to serve as the perfect, anonymous digital medium for the direct purchase of any kind of good or service. Bitcoin is rapidly heading in that direction, gaining mainstream respectability as a “crypto,” electronic currency for the purchase of anything and everything. It is becoming the currency of the Internet, seen by millions as the cool future of a new global currency system, unfettered by government controls and bank clearing systems.

U.S. military’s appetite for information fueling demand for space technology

by Sandra Erwin 

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army last week announced plans to explore new uses of satellites and other space technology in support of soldiers on the ground.

This is a clear sign that the demand for space-based capabilities is growing across the U.S. military, said Gen. David Thompson, vice chief of space operations of the U.S. Space Force.

All the military services are looking at ways to use space to their advantage, Thompson said in an interview with SpaceNews.

“Part of this is a recognition of how critical space capabilities and information from space is going to be to the fight,” he said of the Army’s announcement that it plans to invest in space systems.

Russia’s Bear Economy


WASHINGTON, DC – Just a few years ago, investment bankers were bullish on emerging markets, which they saw as undervalued and bound to rise. And yet, after experiencing a minor recovery, growth rates in Latin America, the former Soviet Union, the Middle East, and Africa are settling back into a state of near-stagnation. In this regard, Russia is a pioneer, having registered no real growth since 2014.

According to an old Soviet saying, agriculture suffers from four problems: spring, summer, fall, and winter. Following the same logic, Russian President Vladimir Putin blames “outside forces” – not least global oil prices – for his country’s doldrums, even though unsound economic policies and Western sanctions are no one’s fault but his own.

It is no accident that there has been an economic divergence in Central and Eastern Europe. Those countries that have joined the European Union have improved their economic governance, and GDP has begun to converge with Western Europe. Between 2014 and 2019, Hungary, Poland, and Romania grew at an annual average rate of 3.9%, 4.1%, and 4.7%, respectively.

Review – Whiskey & International Relations Theory

By Patrick Thaddeus Jackson and Daniel Nexon

‘Welcome to Whiskey & International Relations, where two middle-aged academics drink whiskey and talk about IR theory; it really is just what the title says’. This is how episode 9 of the podcast Whiskey & International Relations Theory starts. The podcast is produced by Patrick Thaddeus Jackson and Daniel H. Nexon, two of the most prolific scholars in North American International Relations (IR) theory. They established the podcast in early 2020 to complement more practice-driven IR podcasts, such as Un-diplomatic, with a theory-oriented alternative. However, the start of the podcast turned out to be very timely for a well-known reason: While Whiskey & International Relations Theory was launched pre-pandemic, episode 3 was already recorded under lockdown. Since then, most of our teaching, research and life has turned (largely) online. Blogs, video calls, online seminars and podcasts have become second skin, and have turned into core resources for the move to remote education, collaboration and communication. For sure, attempts to establish online platforms for IR scholars, students and practitioners are far from new – and both Jackson and Nexon have been among the pioneers in the field. Nexon, for example, is the founder of The Duck of Minerva, which has become one of the most successful IR blogs.

Opinion – Brexit and the Continued Troubles in Northern Ireland

Alexander Brotman

Of the many pernicious and long-lasting side effects of Brexit, perhaps none is as tragic and devastating as that of Northern Ireland. Long the tinderbox of the United Kingdom, the streets of Belfast have erupted in violence once again that is both uniquely new and deeply interwoven into the psyche of generations. The Irish border, and Belfast’s relations with the rest of the United Kingdom, has been one of the most contentious issues in Brexit negotiations with Brussels. Adherence to The Good Friday Agreement, a seminal document that has largely kept the peace since 1998, has been at risk throughout the long withdrawal period.

Since the vote in 2016, the UK was always in a position to survive economically and politically post-Brexit given its many opt-outs from an ever-closer union that made for a difficult relationship with Brussels to begin with. However, the disintegration of the UK’s constituent nations, and the hard, vitriolic approach to Brexit has been a self-inflicted, and unnecessary casualty. As Belfast and other areas continue to simmer, Brexit’s costs will have to be measured not just in economics, but in the blood and angst of disunion. A new generation of dissident republicans, and unionists have been brewing, buoyed by Brexit, and the apparent carelessness of public figures to uphold the peace.

Artificial intelligence and war without humans


It’s a simple fact, says General John “Mike” Murray, we’re going to have to learn to trust artificial intelligence in the battlefield.

And that means, the rules governing human control over artificial intelligence might need to be relaxed.

Speaking from Austin, Texas, at The Future Character of War and the Law of Armed Conflict online event, Murray provided a future battle scenario involving the rapid advance of artificial intelligence in the US military and the ethical challenges it presents.

“If you think about things like a swarm of, let’s say a hundred semi-autonomous or autonomous drones, some lethal, some sensing, some jamming, some in command and control — think back to the closing ceremony of the Seoul Olympics.

“Is it within a human’s ability to pick out which ones have to be engaged and then make 100 individual engagement decisions against a drone swarm?” said Murray, Commander, Army Future Command (AFC).

“And is it even necessary to have it a human in the loop, if you’re talking about affects against an unmanned platform or against a machine.

“Once you acquire a drone swarm, and they are three kilometers out, you’re not going to have 30 seconds to stand around a mapboard and make those decisions.”

"War Month": A Test of the IDF’s Operational Concept and a Dress Rehearsal for the Next War

The IDF plans to conduct a month-long exercise, the first of its kind in Israel, which will simulate war in multiple arenas and multiple levels, and include elements of powerful offense and strong defense. The exercise will test, for the first time, Chief of Staff Kochavi’s ambitious operational concept for victory. What are the criteria for the exercise’s success?

The IDF announced recently that it would hold a "war month" in the first half of 2022 lasting four weeks – the first General Staff exercise of its kind. The exercise, which will include regular army and reserve forces on an especially large scale, is designed to evaluate the army's forces during the course of a long, consecutive, challenging, and life-like exercise in order to enhance readiness and fitness for war. The "war month" name is taken from the concluding stage in training IDF infantry troops. This phase includes a "war week" in which the training companies simulate a combat operation in order to test their fitness in an array of missions for which they were trained. In addition to a difficult and demanding drill involving many forces, the exercise will facilitate a thorough assessment of the operational concept for victory formulated by IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi.