12 May 2021

China’s Nuclear and Missile Capabilities: An Overview

Maj Gen PK Mallick, VSM (Retd)

Since China first conducted a nuclear weapon test in 1964, its nuclear doctrine has remained unchanged and is underpinned by two principles: a minimum deterrent doctrine and a No First Use (NFU) policy. China’s 2019 defence white paper states, “China is always committed to a nuclear policy of NFU of nuclear weapons at any time and under any circumstances, and not using or threatening to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states or nuclear-weapon-free zones unconditionally.”

However, a recent U.S. Department of Defence (DoD) report claims that the scope of China’s nuclear modernisation and its lack of transparency “raise concern that China is not only shifting its requirements for what constitutes a minimal deterrence but that it could shift away from its longstanding minimalist force posture.” The data available show that China is modernising and expanding virtually every element of its nuclear forces, including each aspect of its nuclear weapons and missile, sea, and air delivery systems. What is not clear are China’s current and planned holdings of nuclear weapons, China’s future plans for deploying additional delivery systems, its commitment to some form of NFU, first preemption, or launch on warning, and the extent to which it will accept what might be called a form of ‘minimum assured destruction.

Afghanistan could face 'bad possible outcomes' as US withdraws, says top US general, but negotiated peace still possible

By Oren Liebermann

(CNN)As the US began turning over military bases to the Afghan security forces Saturday, the top US general warned of the potential for "bad possible outcomes" in Afghanistan, while adding that "the intent of many of the parties is still to have a negotiated settlement."

Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley pointed to an Afghan military that numbers more than 300,000 and "has been leading the fight for quite a few years now" as a crucial element in determining the future of the country as the final US withdrawal officially commences.

"On the one hand you get some really dramatic, bad possible outcomes, and on the other hand you get a military that stays together and a government that stays together," Milley said. "Which one of these options becomes reality at the end of the day, we frankly don't know yet and we have to wait and see how things develop over the summer. There's a lot of variables to this, and it's not 100% predictable."

Speaking to a small group of reporters, including from CNN, during a return trip from Hawaii Saturday, Milley said the US provides "some limited intelligence and some limited air strike support," but the Afghan security forces have operated with increasing independence, even if they still rely heavily on US contractors for support, maintenance, and more.

Could China send peacekeeping troops to Afghanistan?

By Ma Haiyun

The US may implicitly have been targeting China when it indicated its plans to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan completely by 11 September 2021, thereby necessitating regional players to get more involved. If there is a UN peacekeeping mission, China may well join in to guard against spillover security threats to Xinjiang, but its precise involvement may complicate matters.

This handout photograph taken on 2 May 2021 and released by Afghanistan's Ministry of Defense shows US soldiers and Afghan National Army soldiers raising Afghanistan's national flag during a handover ceremony to the Afghan National Army army 215 Maiwand corps at Antonik camp in Helmand province, Afghanistan. (Afghanistan Ministry of Defense/AFP)

A South China Morning Post report recently hinted that China may send a peacekeeping force to Afghanistan after the final withdrawal of US troops there. Although the possibility was attributed to “analysts”, the news quickly attracted considerable attention in China, Afghanistan, and the US. Such speculation over Chinese peacekeeping troops in Afghanistan raises several issues regarding the peace process. First, the United Nations (UN)’s role in the Afghan peace process will be central after the US exit. Second, a future interim government of Afghanistan, which may be formed after the Istanbul conference, could possibly request the UN to send peacekeepers to its country. Finally, China may seek to play a role in advancing the intra-Afghan peace process by deploying a peacekeeping force to Afghanistan.
The UN’s likely central role

A wider war coming to Myanmar


CHIANG MAI – No group has yet claimed responsibility for several, almost simultaneous attacks on military targets in central Myanmar, including air bases recently used to target ethnic armed groups in the nation’s frontier areas.

Security analysts, however, believe the shadowy attacks are likely the work of an alliance between ethnic rebels and urban-based pro-democracy dissidents, with the former providing the explosives and the latter knowledge of local conditions in the Myanmar heartland.

If that assessment is accurate and the hits were not isolated incidents, it could mean that Myanmar’s long-running, low-intensity civil wars are spreading from ethnic minority areas in the nation’s periphery to major cities and towns.

Three months after top generals seized power from a popularly elected government and despite the fact that military and police have gunned down over 750 and arrested well over 4,000 protesters, people are still bravely taking to the streets to vent their anger with the coup.

The ongoing popular resistance underscores what is by now widely seen as perhaps the most unsuccessful coup in modern Asian history. That could yet spell ill for coup leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, who has stuck stubbornly to his guns amid rising international condemnation that is deeply isolating the country.

Opinion – The Fragile Power of Populist Leaders in a Pandemic

Mark Juergensmeyer

The American populist president, Donald Trump, came to his downfall largely due to the ineptitude of his administration’s ability to handle, or perhaps more correctly, mishandle the country’s response to the covid pandemic. What angered voters was not just his apparent inability to take the situation seriously, but also his cheerful optimism that consistently belied the facts of the growing crisis. In the beginning months of the pandemic crisis, Trump assured the American public that the disease was no worse than the common flu and that it would quickly vanish away. When it didn’t, rather than double down on mitigating factors that might control it, he consistently promised that things were getting better.

In September 2020, at an election rally in North Carolina when he stood maskless before a packed and largely mask-free crowd, Trump proclaimed that “we are rounding the corner of the pandemic.” Unfortunately for him, the crisis was simply getting worse. That is a problem with populists. They gain their following by weaving hopeful though often fictitious images of the future and promoting vaunted characterizations of their ability to handle crises. This was the peril of America’s Trump, and to some extent also of Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Brazil’s Jair Bolsanaro, the UK’s Boris Johnson, the Philippine’s Rodrigo Roa Duterte, and India’s Narendra Modi.

Strengthening the G-20 in an era of great power geopolitical competition

Colin I. Bradford

Now that it is clear that geopolitical confrontation is part of the repertoire of U.S.-China relations, there is a danger that this bilateral relationship could divide the world, ushering in another bipolar competitive era.

But there are alternative dynamics that could pluralize U.S.-China relations by involving other actors, dynamics that could channel the relationship toward more international cooperation at a time when such cooperation is sorely needed. Within the G-20 grouping — which brings together the world’s major economies, which are also the major carbon emitters — there are opportunities for change. The G-20 could become a vehicle for more ambitious concerted global actions and a platform for addressing and managing geopolitical tensions.


Throughout the 14 years that the G-20 has been meeting at leaders level, a handful of leaders have generated strong policy outcomes for the whole group. The composition of that relatively small group of leaders has varied from year to year. The G-20 is large enough to prompt shifts in these coalitions over time, as countries rotate in and out of the plurilateral leadership group.

This dynamic has increased the flexibility for officials to negotiate complex outcomes, avoiding rigid blocs that stifle innovation and reduce policy space. Plurilateral dynamics provide momentum and reward creativity, as well as generate buffers for managing U.S.-China geopolitical tensions as other significant countries assert their interests, presence, and influence.

Advancing Fast While Russia Falls Behind

By John A. Tirpak

China and Russia are the key adversaries when it comes to developing high-tech weaponry over the next 20 years, but while China’s rate of progress is accelerating, Russia is stymied by multiple factors, the Defense Intelligence Agency told Congress.

DIA Director Lt. Gen. Scott D. Berrier said China will have “basically modernized” its military in just six years and aims to introduce the most “disruptive” military technologies by 2030-2035, according to prepared testimony for the Senate Armed Services Committee provided April 29.

During the next two decades, any of the three main powers—China, Russia, or the U.S.—may steal the lead “in one or more fields and seek to develop military capabilities and concepts to capitalize on perceived advantages,” Berrier said. Any one of the three could come up with new weapons or concepts that “will change the character of warfare.”

But China’s whole-of-government approach—which Berrier called “military-civil-fusion”—intentionally blurs the lines between civilian and military technology efforts, and China’s greater investment in these presents “the greatest threat to U.S. technological superiority.” In fact, Berrier said China has “already achieved peer or near-peer levels in many research areas” and has targeted 57 specific technologies in which to outpace and out-field the U.S. military.

Soon, China will “almost certainly be able to hold U.S. and allied forces at risk at far greater distances from the Chinese mainland,” the DIA said, while it enhances its power projection forces. By 2027, China expects to be able to win a small number of brief but high-level military conflicts—“including the forcible unification of Taiwan”—while deterring, dissuading, or defeating any third-party military intervention. By 2050, China plans to be the dominant world military power.

China: Totalitarianism’s Long Shadow

Minxin Pei

Rapid economic growth in China over the last four decades has failed to bring about democratization. Instead of undergoing evolutionary liberalization, the Leninist party-state has in recent years reverted to a form of neo-Stalinist rule. China’s experience may appear to contradict modernization theory, which links economic development with democracy. A closer look at this experience, however, shows that democratizing a post-totalitarian regime is far more difficult than democratizing an authoritarian regime because post-totalitarian regimes, such as the one dominated by the Chinese Communist Party, possess far greater capacity and resources to resist and neutralize the liberalizing effects of modernization. However, the medium-term success of these regimes may only ensure their eventual demise through revolution. The socioeconomic transformation of societies under post-totalitarian rule empowers social forces and greatly increase the odds of revolutionary change when these regimes undergo liberalization, as shown in the former Soviet bloc.

Seymour Martin Lipset’s insight that economic modernization creates favorable conditions for stable democracy is one of the most influential, robust, and time-tested theories in social science. More than six decades after “Some Social Requisites of Democracy: Economic Development and Political Legitimacy”1 first appeared in print, Lipset’s work continues to frame scholarly debates and inspire new research. As with any established theory in social science, Lipset’s thesis has also been constantly tested against real-world experience. Today, the case of China, where one-party rule has persisted despite four decades of rapid economic modernization, challenges the validity of the Lipset thesis. In 2007, China’s economic miracle occasioned a forecast that the country could become partly democratic by 2015 and completely free a decade later.2 Unfortunately, the regime dominated by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has not merely endured, but grown more repressive at home and aggressive abroad.

China already ‘engaging in irregular war’ with US in the ‘grey zone’

Jamie Seidel

“National security leaders should look closely at what Chinese officials’ words and China’s military actions say about how the People’s Liberation Army might actually fight a war,” a US military academy analysis warns.

They say it’s a war already well under way. That means the start of any ‘conventional’ conflict will be murky and confused. And, even once the shooting starts, sowing doubt and disbelief will be a significant weapon in its arsenal.

It will involve police.

It will involve militias.

It will involve civilians.

And all will serve to pave the way for the People’s Liberation Army’s more traditional weapons to find its target.

It’s called the “Grey Zone”.

It’s the space between peace and war.

It’s where coercion, intimidation, propaganda and manipulation are at play.

China Features Heavily in the Army’s Next Big Emerging Tech Experiment


The Army will expand its emerging technology experiment this fall, bringing in more operators, more stealth aircraft, Navy standard missiles and new AI tools, and will focus heavily on defeating a high-tech adversary with a striking resemblance to China.

The Army will hold its second Project Convergence experiment at Yuma Proving Grounds in Arizona, and simultaneously at several other locations, from October 12 to November 9, Col. Tobin Magsig, the head of the Army’s Joint Modernization Command, told Defense One. First established last year, Project Convergence has become the Army’s largest technology combat experiment to test out new artificial intelligence, autonomy and software tools even rapid software development under battlefield conditions.

It’s also emerged as the most important U.S. military experiment to test out new concepts for interconnecting planes, drones, ships and operators across the battlefield and across the services, a broad effort called Joint-All Domain Command and Control, or JADC2. Unlike other experiments or military wargames that test current readiness levels, Project Convergence is aimed at rapidly accelerating the Army’s ability to find and take out targets by connecting people, vehicles and weapons through a massive, interconnected sensing and shooting kill web.

Does Terrorism Work?

Olusola Samuel Oyetunde

This content was originally written for an undergraduate or Master's program. It is published as part of our mission to showcase peer-leading papers written by students during their studies. This work can be used for background reading and research, but should not be cited as an expert source or used in place of scholarly articles/books.

Terrorism is one of the most widely discussed issues in the twenty-first century due to the increasing terrorist occurrences and its destructive impacts, especially since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Terrorist incidences in the world reached its peak in 2014 with about 16,903 attacks leading to 32,658 fatalities (Global Terrorism Index, 2015). However, there was a fifty-two per cent reduction in the number of deaths associated with terrorist incidences in 2018 compared to 2014 (Global Terrorism Index, 2019). While there is a decline in the number of deaths attributed to terrorism, its impact remains prevalent. For instance, there is an upsurge in the number of countries that experienced terrorism in 2018 with at least one causality from seventy-one countries, which is the second highest in the past twenty years (Global Terrorism Index, 2019). The increasing nature of terrorist attacks has led to the intensification of scholarly interest in terrorism and terrorism-related issues. To this end, prior research has examined the definitions, causes, effects and strategies used by terrorist groups (Halliday, 2001; John, 2014; Elu and Gregory, 2015). However, it seems that the few studies that have examined the effectiveness of terrorism as a means of political struggle have been inconclusive.

In order to understand the reason for the continued existence of terrorism and its proliferation, it is crucial to examine if terrorism works, that is, if it achieves its stated objectives. This essay will contribute to the ongoing discussion on the effectiveness of terrorism by arguing that the answer to the question “Does terrorism work?” depends on our definition of “terrorism” and “work”. These concepts are a subject of debate, and as a result, there may not be one formula for measuring whether terrorism is effective. Thus, the success-level of terrorism is determined by various factors, especially by how it is evaluated. For example, while Dershowitz (2002:13) understands success in terms of attracting media attention and securing temporal concessions, Abrahms (2006:51) perceives it as the achievement the organisation’s central strategic objectives. Consequently, this essay will contend that although terrorist organisations rarely achieve their strategic goals, they often succeed in the achievement of other objectives.

The U.S. is trying to reclaim its rare-earth mantle

Sabri Ben-Achour

The U.S. used to be a leader in mining and refining rare-earth elements into finished products. Above, a geologist points to monazite, which contains rare-earth minerals, in a South African mine.

“Is your right arm OK?” asks the radiology nurse as she tapes an IV to my arm. “Yes,” I say through clenched teeth, bracing for the needle.

I’m about to get an MRI of my brain as part of a study I volunteered for, but first they have to inject me with something.

“So we are about to give you gadolinium contrast, which kind of makes the arteries pop up better in the image so we see smaller veins and arteries as well,” I’m told. Around 30 million doses of this agent are administered each year worldwide.

Gadolinium is one of 17 so-called rare-earth elements. They have their own separate section in the periodic table and have names like neodymium, praseodymium, europium, promethium.

“They are so special because they have chemical and physical properties that are very useful for a very wide range of technologies,” explained Rebecca Abergel, assistant professor of nuclear engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, and a faculty scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab.
How we use rare-earth elements

Is the U.S. Military Ready for a Hypersonic Weapons War?

by Kris Osborn

Skimming and bouncing along the upper boundaries of the earth’s atmosphere, just prior to descending upon targets while traveling more than five times the speed of sound, hypersonic weapons can travel thousands of miles to a point of attack in a matter of minutes.

The technology is almost paradoxical to a degree, as the unprecedented advantage it brings to offensive warfare is matched if not outweighed by a corresponding disadvantage: defending against hypersonics. If an attacking weapon transits too quickly from one radar aperture or field of view to another too quickly, then how can defenders establish any kind of continuous track on the target?

Unsurprisingly, the Pentagon’s emerging Space Force is working quickly to address this predicament, a circumstance not made easier by the fact that both Russia and China are currently testing and operating hypersonic weapons.

There are clearly a lot of aspects of the big challenge to defend against hypersonic weapons. From a space perspective, probably the biggest one is being able to identify and detect and track these things from space, in a timely manner and effective way, U.S. Space Force Chief Scientist Dr. Joel Mozer recently told reporters.

America’s Military Risks Losing Its Edge

By Michèle A. Flournoy

For almost a decade, U.S. defense officials have deemed the return of great-power competition to be the most consequential challenge to U.S. national security. In 2012, during the Obama administration, the Defense Department announced that “U.S. forces will no longer be sized to conduct large-scale, prolonged stability operations,” such as those in Afghanistan and Iraq, marking a sharp departure from the United States’ post-9/11 defense strategy. In 2016, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter highlighted a “return to great-power of competition.” And in 2018, the Trump administration’s National Defense Strategy crystallized this shift: “Inter-state strategic competition, not terrorism, is now the primary concern in U.S. national security,” it declared, with a particular focus on China as the pacing threat.

Yet despite such a widespread and bipartisan acknowledgment of the challenge, the U.S. military has changed far too little to meet it. Although strategy has shifted at a high level, much about the way the Pentagon operates continues to reflect business as usual, which is inadequate to meet the growing threats posed by a rising China and a revisionist Russia. That disconnect is evident in everything from the military’s ongoing struggle to reorient its concepts of operations (that is, how it would actually fight in the future) to its training, technology acquisition, talent management, and overseas posture. Some important steps have been taken to foster defense innovation, but bureaucratic inertia has prevented new capabilities and practices from being adopted with speed and at scale.

The Biden administration has inherited a U.S. military at an inflection point. The Pentagon’s own war games reportedly show that current force plans would leave the military unable to deter and defeat Chinese aggression in the future. The Defense Department’s leadership, accordingly, must take much bigger and bolder steps to maintain the United States’ military and technological edge over great-power competitors. Otherwise, the U.S. military risks losing that edge within a decade, with profound and unsettling implications for the United States, for its allies and partners, and for the world. At stake is the United States’ ability to deter coercion, aggression, and even war in the coming decades.

From the Past, a Chilling Warning About the Extremists of the Present

By Neil MacFarquhar

They robbed an armored car outside a sprawling Seattle shopping mall.

They bombed a synagogue in Boise, Idaho, and within weeks assassinated a Jewish talk radio host in Denver.

Then a month later, they plundered another armored car on a California highway in a spectacular daylight heist that netted more than $3.6 million.

What initially seemed to F.B.I. agents like distant, disparate crimes turned out to be the opening salvos in a war against the federal government by members of a violent extremist group called the Order, who sought to establish a whites-only homeland out West.

Their crime spree played out in 1984. Fast forward to 2021. Federal agents and prosecutors who dismantled the Order see troubling echoes of its threat to democracy in the Capitol riot and the growing extremist activity across the country.

“When you see the country as politically and philosophically divided as it is today, that makes it more likely that somebody could take advantage of these times to bring about another revolutionary concept like the Order,” said Wayne F. Manis, the main F.B.I. agent on the case. “We stopped the Order. We did not stop the ideology.”

Inside Russia’s Robot Army: Rhetoric vs. Reality


WASHINGTON: Russia has created a new robotic combat unit of Uran-9 unmanned ground vehicles, which have been battle-tested in Syria, though with mixed results. It’s also developing an experimental unmanned version of its T-14 Armata tank, unmanned derivatives of the Cold War T-72 and BMP-3, and new long-range drones called Okhotnik and Altius.

But Russia’s quest for battle robots faces many of the same technical and policy problems as the US, said CNA and CNAS scholar Samuel Bendett, and Vladimir Putin is on a much tighter budget. Russia isn’t manufacturing useless Potemkin robots for propaganda purposes, but they’re not building the Terminator, either.

In many ways, Bendett told me in an interview, the US and Russian military robotics programs are much alike. Both have grand ambitions for highly autonomous war machines; both struggle with the limits of current unmanned systems that require constant human supervision; both worry that future AI might undermine human control.

US officials warn that Russia and China lack the ethical self-restraint of Western nations when it comes to battlefield automation. But, Bendett said, Russian leaders at least sound a lot like Americans in their insistence that a human, not a computer, must make the decision to use lethal force – at least for now.

Review – Paramilitarism: Mass Violence in the Shadow of the State

By Uğur Ümit Üngör

Paramilitarism is both a continuous and insufficiently understood presence in world history. Those two qualities are connected: because of the ubiquity of paramilitarism in such a wide-range of historical and geographical settings, it has been hard to formulate a common language and set of principles through which scholars of different backgrounds might communicate its common features. Additional problems of interpretation have to do with a tendency to condescend to paramilitarism as a peripheral or residual mode of violence in comparison to state institutions such as regular armed or security forces. And there is the tendency to romanticize paramilitary traditions and actors, often a process conducted first and foremost by former or present paramilitaries themselves, who are wont to exaggerate their own roles in national-liberation struggles and (importantly) exaggerate their appeal to the societies and states from which they emerged. These inter-connected problems have made the study of paramilitarism more difficult at virtually every level of analysis, local, national, regional, and of course global. Uğur Ümit Üngör’s impressive synthesis does much to confront and overcome these problems. The author has conducted a considerable amount of research into paramilitarism in its many guises across space and time, and he has distilled his work into this remarkably compressed and insightful short study. Anyone who has worked on paramilitarism in any context will want to read this, and future scholars wishing to broach this topic would be unwise to ignore its insights and its ideas.

The author takes an historical-sociological perspective, combining empirical observation of paramilitary case studies with existing theoretical reflection. The emphasis here is on the former, or rather, Üngör’s theoretical and analytical insights derive from his impressive survey of paramilitarism across the globe in the modern period. This account is the most comprehensive that I have read on the topic, encompassing all the relevant case studies and their historiographies with impressive linguistic scope. The sections that deal with ex-Yugoslavia and the contemporary Middle East (especially Iraq and Syria, the latter to be a topic of a forthcoming book by the same author) are particularly detailed. Üngör concludes that the most important relationship for paramilitaries is that with the state. This relationship is not understood in the traditional sense of an asymmetrical hierarchy in which paramilitaries feature as an appendage to a more powerful and better-organised state and its institutions (although this is surely sometimes the case). The relationship is rather dynamic, paramilitarism is often present and active at the birth of state projects (e.g., in modern Turkey, the Balkan national states of the nineteenth century) and remains entangled in its institutions and leadership (Üngör’s examples here are contemporary Kosovo and Northern Ireland). Paramilitaries can provide states with additional resources of military power, or they can expand their capacities for violence beyond legal and moral strictures by offering ‘plausible deniability’ to civilian leaders or regular military forces (sections on ex-Yugoslavia and the difficulties of overcoming the burden of proof against perpetrators of violence there highlight this phenomenon).

Peace in Libya Will Require More Than Elections

Mary Fitzgerald 

This time last year, the Libyan capital was caught up in a year-old military campaign that had further internationalized the country’s dangerous divisions. Today, there is a new mood of cautious optimism in Tripoli. In October, negotiators from the two main warring sides—the United Nations-backed Government of National Accord and forces led by Khalifa Haftar, a commander based in eastern Libya—reached a cease-fire agreement that allowed for the resumption of a U.N.-led dialogue process. This in turn paved the way to the formation of Libya’s first unified government since the country slid into civil war in 2014.

The new Government of National Unity, or GNU, offers hope that oil-rich Libya can move on from seven years of bloody power struggles. It took office in mid-March, and has already made history with the inclusion of the country’s first female foreign minister and justice minister. However, the underlying military-political and economic tensions that fueled the civil war persist and could yet derail what remains a fragile reunification process. ...

The Blocking of the Suez Canal: Lessons and Challenges

Tomer Fadlon, Ofir Winter, Shmuel Even

In late March 2021, maritime traffic in the Suez Canal was blocked in both directions, after a ship ran aground in the canal. The event exposed the vulnerability of the global trading system, and highlighted the medium and long-term challenges to international transportation of marine cargo in general, and for Egypt in particular. For Israel, the crisis resulting from the obstruction of the Suez Canal showcases its potential for serving as a land bridge between Eilat and the Mediterranean Sea. The Europe Asia Pipeline Company has pursued this idea in the energy sector for many years, even if only to a limited extent, and there is an initiative to use the route in order to transport oil and refined oil products from United Arab Emirates to Europe. Any future Israeli project, however, must take into account the concerns of Egypt, for whom the Suez Canal constitutes not only an important source of revenue, but also a national symbol. Jerusalem should coordinate plans with Cairo, act transparently, and strive to avoid implementation of these plans at Egypt's expense, if possible. In addition, Israel should assess the environmental risks of these projects to the land and marine nature reserves in the south of the country, and seek to contain ensuing environmental damage.

In March 2021, for the first time since the Suez Canal was reopened in 1975, traffic was blocked by the huge cargo ship Ever Given, which in turn left stranded hundreds of ships carrying cargo worth billions of dollars. Dislodging the ship, which took six days, was compared in Egypt to the Six Day War and breaking through the Bar Lev line in the Yom Kippur War. The Ever Given, en route from Yantian in China to Rotterdam, is one of the longest ships in the world (400 meters) and one of the heaviest (224,000 tons). The ship's capacity is 20,000 containers, and when it went through the Suez Canal, was filled almost to capacity.

The Suez Canal is a vital passage for world trade, through which over 12 percent of total global trade passes annually. Its strategic location provides a rapid connection between Eastern and European markets. For example, a ship traveling from Taiwan to the Netherlands at 30 kilometers per hour through the alternative route around the Cape of Good Hope will have to travel 13,500 nautical miles in 34 days before it anchors at Rotterdam Port, compared with 10,000 nautical miles in 25.5 days through the Suez Canal.

State of Defense 2021


Administration message-makers have spun the Afghanistan pullout as a major shift in resources to free up personnel and power to fight terrorism elsewhere and gird for a great-power showdown with China and Russia. But it’s really not. No major line-item changes — from end strength to the nuclear modernization plan — are expected in the White House’s first budget request, due next month. So where does that leave the military services? We answer that, and more, in Defense One's annual State of Defense 2021.

Sun Tzu Versus AI: Why Artificial Intelligence Can Fail in Great Power Conflict

By Captain Sam J. Tangredi, U.S. Navy (Retired)

In today’s Pentagon, the promise of artificial intelligence (AI) has become the equivalent of what logistics was to Admiral Ernest King, U.S. Fleet Commander and Chief of Naval Operations during World War II. Early in the war, King reportedly stated, “I don’t know what the hell this ‘logistics’ is that [Army Chief of Staff General George] Marshall is talking about, but I want some of it.”1 Recent Department of Defense (DoD) officials—following the thinking of political and corporate leaders—appear uniformly to perceive (or at least state rhetorically) that AI is making fundamental and historic changes to warfare. Even if they do not know all it can and cannot do, they “want more of it.”

While this desire to expand military applications of AI as a means of managing information is laudable, the underlying belief that AI is a game-changer is dangerous, because it blinds DoD to the reality that today’s battle between information and deception in war is not fundamentally, naturally, or characteristically different from what it was in the past. It may be faster; it may be conducted in the binary computer language of 1s and 0s; it may involve an exponentially increasing amount of raw data; but what remains most critical to victory is not the means by which information is processed, but the validity of the information.

That is why a rush to invest in military AI capabilities—hastened by the ultrahype of technology pundits, military “transformationists,” or hopeful investors—courts potential failure if DoD loses the perspective that, as a processing tool for military information, AI is but a data spotlight in a world full of mirrors. Despite doctrinal speculation, it changes neither the character nor the nature of war. Assuming it does, primarily because Defense leaders would like it to, puts both U.S. investment and defenses at risk—particularly if DoD relies on adaptation from commercial AI.