16 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.

As US pulls out of Afghanistan, China sees opportunities -- and potential for chaos

by James Griffiths and Nectar Gan

Hong Kong (CNN)China is conflicted about Afghanistan.

Speaking at a forum of Central Asian leaders this week, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Beijing supports the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan and stands ready to play a role in promoting future "stability and development."

Days earlier, however, a spokeswoman for China's foreign ministry had criticized the "recent abrupt US announcement of complete withdrawal of forces," saying this had "led to a succession of explosive attacks throughout the country, worsening the security situation and threatening peace and stability as well as people's life and safety."

These contrasting statements are indicative of how Beijing is torn between seizing the potential opportunity presented by the United States finally pulling out of Afghanistan, and the widespread -- and well founded -- fear that the country could plunge once again into civil war and chaos.

China is normally loathe to support any foreign intervention on principle, but unlike the Iraq War, which Beijing vociferously opposed, China's leaders were quietly supportive of the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, signing on to a United Nations Security Council resolution condemning the Taliban for harboring al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, and calling for a new government.

Don’t expect an al-Qaida reboot in Afghanistan

Daniel L. Byman

U.S. troops are beginning the process of leaving Afghanistan, after almost 20 years of fighting. Announcing his decision to complete the U.S. withdrawal by September, President Biden declared: “I believed that our presence in Afghanistan should be focused on the reason we went in the first place: to ensure Afghanistan would not be used as a base from which to attack our homeland again. We did that. We accomplished that objective.”

But al-Qaida — which, after 9/11, provided the U.S. rationale for invading Afghanistan — still has 400 to 600 members fighting with the Taliban, according to U.N. Security Council estimates. In a recent interview, al-Qaida operatives promised “war against the U.S. will be continuing on all other fronts.” Citing concerns about an al-Qaida resurgence, several members of Congress blasted Biden’s decision. More quietly, many of the president’s military advisers also opposed the U.S. move to withdraw.

Critics of Biden’s decision warn that al-Qaida remains strong — and that, if U.S. troops depart, the Taliban will allow it a haven, U.S. counterterrorism pressure will decline, the Afghan government will struggle and attacks on the United States from Afghanistan will occur. How valid are each of these concerns?


Abandoning Afghanistan

Paul D. Miller 

Last week, addressing a joint session of Congress, President Joe Biden reaffirmed his intent to end America’s involvement in the war in Afghanistan. In doing so, he echoed his announcement from mid-April in which he justified the withdrawal of U.S. forces by appealing to an inaccurate version of history, a questionable strategy, and a misguided vision of America’s responsibilities in the world.

America, Afghanistan, and the world will be worse off for Biden’s effort to end what he misleadingly called “the forever war.”

In Biden’s version of history, the United States has been trapped in a “cycle of extending or expanding our military presence in Afghanistan, hoping to create ideal conditions for the withdrawal, and expecting a different result,” as if the U.S. has repeatedly escalated the war, Vietnam-like, with no effect. If true, that would lend support to Biden’s argument that staying in Afghanistan any longer was bound to be fruitless.

No such cycle happened. Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama increased the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan from 2007 to 2010—and it worked. By 2010 the Taliban were on the back foot and outside observers, including the United Nations, judged that they had lost the military initiative. The United States had an opportunity to use its military leverage to push for a far more favorable resolution than now appears likely. Instead, the U.S. began to leave.

The Limits to US-China Climate Cooperation


CLAREMONT, CALIFORNIA – Despite their increasingly bitter rivalry, the United States and China have recently been sending the right signals regarding potential cooperation on combating climate change. The joint statement issued after the mid-April meeting between John Kerry, US special presidential envoy for climate, and his Chinese counterpart, Xie Zhenhua, indicates that the two governments may be trying to use collaboration on climate policy to prevent their relationship from devolving into outright enmity. But the path ahead is strewn with geopolitical landmines.

It is not difficult to understand why the US and China are behaving responsibly at the moment. Both countries view climate change as an existential threat and have a strong interest in cooperation. And Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping know that open intransigence or obstructionism on this issue would cost them dearly in terms of international public opinion.

During the Cold War, the ideological struggle between communism and capitalism divided the world and cemented alliances. But in the coming decade, ideology alone is unlikely to win the US and China many friends. The Communist Party of China no longer has any real ideology to speak of, while political polarization and Trumpism have tarnished America’s luster. Instead, as climate change puts human survival at risk, leadership in tackling the problem will shape international alliances.

The Logic of US-China Competition


CAMBRIDGE – In his recent address to the US Congress, President Joe Biden warned that China is deadly serious about trying to become the world’s most significant power. But Biden also declared that autocrats will not win the future; America will. If mishandled, the US-China great-power competition could be dangerous. But if the United States plays it right, the rivalry with China could be healthy.

The success of Biden’s China policy depends partly on China, but also on how the US changes. Maintaining America’s technological lead will be crucial, and will require investing in human capital as well as in research and development. Biden has proposed both. At the same time, the US must cope with new transnational threats such as climate change and a pandemic that has killed more Americans than all the country’s wars, combined, since 1945. Tackling these challenges will require cooperation with China and others.1

Biden thus faces a daunting agenda, and is treating the competition with China as a “Sputnik Moment.” Although he referred in his address to President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Great Depression, and avoided misleading cold-war rhetoric, an apt comparison is with the 1950s, when President Dwight Eisenhower used the shock of the Soviet Union’s satellite launch to galvanize US investment in education, infrastructure, and new technologies. Can America do the same now?

Magnetized Plasma Artillery? A Look at China's Plan to Arm Its Tanks

by Michael Peck

Here's What You Need to Know: Dennis Killinger, a professor emeritus of physics at the University of South Florida, called the idea “intriguing.” “The idea seems possible,” he told the National Interest. “My main question is what is the lifetime of the plasma and is it sufficient during the launch time inside the barrel.”

The Chinese military recently published a notice inviting researchers to devise a weapon that sounds like a sort of electromagnetic rail gun—which uses magnetism instead of gunpowder to fire shells—that several nations are developing. But actually deploying railguns has been hampered by the size of the weapon and especially the vast amount of electrical energy needed to propel a shell to speeds of greater than Mach 7. For example, despite years of research and vast sums of money, the U.S. Navy appears less than optimistic about fitting railguns on its warships.

But Chinese scientists believe that magnetized plasma artillery will be so light and energy-efficient that it can be mounted on tanks.

“The notice invites tenders for a theory-testing and a launch system for magnetized plasma artillery,” said China’s state-owned Global Times. “Although the weapon sounds as if it comes from a sci-fi movie, it will probably not shoot high-energy plasma but ultra-high velocity cannon shells.”

China’s Deep-Sea Motivation for Claiming Sovereignty Over the South China Sea

By Mark Crescenzi and Stephen Gent

In this March 31, 2021, file photo provided by the National Task Force-West Philippine Sea, Chinese vessels are moored at Whitsun Reef, South China Sea.

In March of this year, over 200 Chinese marine militia ships gathered at Whitsun Reef in the Spratly Islands. Their presence was an ominous reminder of China’s intention to claim large swaths of the South China Sea, enclosed by the so-called “nine-dash line,” as its sovereign territory. Philippine officials sounded the alarm and reiterated the 2016 ruling of an international arbitral tribunal that denied the legality of China’s previous claims. Chinese officials dismissed the ruling and its implications and downplayed the military presence. But quietly, China continues to fortify a new and controversial presence in the South China Sea that risks triggering conflict. At least one American pundit is already warning of the risk of war between the United States and China.

Among the many issues at stake is the free and unlimited access to these international waters and the critical trade routes that run across them. These top-water issues are important and have drawn the attention of the largest navies in the world. China’s naval presence in the region has reached record levels with a plan for even more growth. The United States has enhanced its naval presence in the region as well, and President Joe Biden signaled his intent to maintain a strong presence in the Indo-Pacific. The European Union has released its long awaited Indo-Pacific Strategy, which re-emphasizes the need for free and open access to international waters and trade routes. The United Kingdom is sending a fleet of warships to the region that is its largest deployed fleet since the 1982 Malvinas/Falkland Islands War. Given all this intensification, one might wonder if we are experiencing the precursor to war.

4 Dams on the Upper Mekong in Yunnan, China: 2011-2019

By Scott Ezell

These photos document the construction of four dams – from north to south, Wunonglong, Lidi, Tuoba, and Huangdeng (see map below) – along a 200-kilometer stretch of the upper Mekong in Yunnan, China, and the transformation of the river from a free-flowing current to a series of stagnant reservoirs. These hydropower projects are part of a larger transnational movement to build hundreds of dams on the Mekong and its tributaries, including the Nam Tha in Laos.

In 2011, I trekked along the upper Mekong from Deqen south through Tibetan and Lisu villages. The river was braided copper and bronze, churning between talus banks. Dams existed on the Mekong further south in Yunnan, but here it ran unimpeded. Construction of infrastructure and access roads for the dams had begun, however, and clouds of yellow dust rose up where earth machines raked open the valley walls.

In 2014, I walked and hitchhiked north along the Mekong starting from Yingpan, to document the dams’ construction. The river had been diverted so scaffoldings and concrete walls could be built across the riverbed, but it still flowed uninterrupted. The construction zones were remote from official security concerns and I passed freely through the area. Villages along the river were being evacuated, with local people forcibly resettled to long blocks of concrete barracks antithetical to the organic organization and architecture of traditional villages.

In 2019, I returned to photograph the completed dams. I set out walking from Yingpan, but before I reached the Huangdeng dam I was picked up by police, who expelled me back to the county seat of Lanping. I circled far north to Weixi, and accessed the Mekong at Weideng. There I rented a motorcycle and spent three days riding north and south to the dam sites. The Huangdeng, Lidi, and Wunonglong dams were complete, with a combined reservoir capacity of 2 billion cubic meters. The Mekong was blocked and bloated, looking alternatively like a swollen dead worm or a broad lifeless lake.

3 Reasons Why the US Doesn’t Have a Coherent China Strategy

By Bu Le and Dingding Chen

Although in the last five or six years there seems to have emerged a so-called new consensus on China within the United States, particularly following the 2017 Trump administration’s National Security Strategy report, in reality there are still major disagreements with regard to how to define China, how to compete with or confront China, and what issues should be prioritized. Perhaps the only consensus among the various U.S. institutions is to “get tough on China,” even though what exactly the term “tough” means is very unclear.

For instance, the new Biden administration is quietly preparing to end the Trump administration’s unsuccessful trade war with China, but Washington still does not have a clear sense of where the trade relationship between the two largest economies in the world should be going. This example is one of many moves in U.S. China policy that only prove that the United States ultimately does not have a coherent and consistent China strategy and policy. There are three major reasons for this.

The first reason stems from the unique U.S. political system, especially its endless elections. Every four years brings the chance of a new U.S. administration, and a new resident personality in the White House will mean a unique approach. Former President Donald Trump may be the most extreme case of a policy change associated with an individual president, but rest assured that he will not be the last unique president in U.S. history. This simply is a result of the U.S. presidential system, where too much power is given to the president.

To cite another recent example, the Trump administration put a heavy emphasis on the trade imbalance issue in the China-U.S. relationship, whereas the Biden administration chose to stress the importance of climate change and human rights issues in the relationship. It is striking how the trade issue is getting so little attention today, whereas two years ago newspapers were filled with it. When things like this happen, how can we expect a coherent and consistent U.S. policy toward China?

The Belt and Road Initiative: Forcing Europe to Reckon with China?

Jennifer Hillman and Alex Tippett

The following is a guest post by Jennifer Hillman, senior fellow for trade and international political economy, and Alex Tippett, research associate for international economics, at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Jennifer Hillman and David Sacks are codirectors of the CFR-sponsored Independent Task Force on a U.S. Response to China’s Belt and Road Initiative, which is co-chaired by Jacob J. Lew and Gary Roughead.

When the small nation of Montenegro approached the European Union (EU) for help paying off a nearly $1 billion loan to China’s Export-Import Bank (EXIM), borrowed to finance the construction of a large highway project, alarm bells were raised across Europe. The request presented the EU with a problem that members of the World Bank may soon find themselves grappling with—what to do about large loans for economically unviable projects already under construction as part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The European Commission ultimately decided to reject Montenegro’s request, raising fundamental questions about the EU’s willingness to reckon with BRI’s expansion.

While China’s BRI is commonly associated with Central and East Asia, as explained in a new CFR-sponsored Independent Task Force report, it has a growing footprint in Europe, with two-thirds of EU member states now signed on as formal partners. Prominent BRI investments have occurred in Greece, where the port of Piraeus has been refurbished and expanded by firms associated with the Chinese state, Portugal, which has had large Chinese investments in both the energy sector and in its port of Sines, and Hungary, which is home to a section of the troubled Budapest-Belgrade railway, one of BRI’s flagship European projects.

Lies on Social Media Inflame Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

By Sheera Frenkel

In a 28-second video, which was posted to Twitter this week by a spokesman for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip appeared to launch rocket attacks at Israelis from densely populated civilian areas.

At least that is what Mr. Netanyahu’s spokesman, Ofir Gendelman, said the video portrayed. But his tweet with the footage, which was shared hundreds of times as the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis escalated, was not from Gaza. It was not even from this week.

Instead, the video that he shared, which can be found on many YouTube channels and other video-hosting sites, was from 2018. And according to captions on older versions of the video, it showed militants firing rockets not from Gaza but from Syria or Libya.

The video was just one piece of misinformation that has circulated on Twitter, TikTok, Facebook, WhatsApp and other social media this week about the rising violence between Israelis and Palestinians, as Israeli military ground forces attacked Gaza early on Friday. The false information has included videos, photos and clips of text purported to be from government officials in the region, with posts baselessly claiming early this week that Israeli soldiers had invaded Gaza, or that Palestinian mobs were about to rampage through sleepy Israeli suburbs.

From Crisis to Crisis: Turkey-US Relations at a Low Point

Gallia Lindenstrauss, Eldad Shavit

On April 24, Biden dropped a bombshell, in the form of recognition of the Armenian genocide – which led to a new low in relations between Washington and Ankara. The changed attitude in the White House toward an ally that has assumed a new stance and acted in opposition to American interests and values demands attention by other US allies in the region, including Israel

Relations between Turkey and the United States, which have been at crisis level for some time, sustained a further shock with the explicit use by US President Joe Biden of the term “Armenian genocide” on April 24, Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day. Already during the administrations of Barack Obama and Donald Trump the image of Turkey in Washington changed from a valued ally to a state with barely any supporters in the US capital, and opposition to the policy of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is bi-partisan. Decisions that are clearly against Turkey’s interests, including its official removal from the F-35 project and recognition of the Armenian genocide, are received with little or no criticism in Washington. Notwithstanding the singular nature of Turkey-US relations, the factors underlying the erosion of the United States view of Turkey as a strategic ally demand attention in other countries as well, including Israel.

The Nuclear Talks in Vienna are a Sham–And Iran is Winning Them

by Fred Fleitz

According to the Biden administration, significant progress is being made at nuclear talks in Vienna to bring the United States back into the 2015 nuclear deal (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA). Biden officials claim there will be a “compliance for compliance” agreement under which the United States will rejoin the deal and drop sanctions imposed by the Trump administration. In exchange, Iran will fully meet its obligations under the JCPOA.

It may seem that Biden is on the brink of a major achievement, but when diplomatic agreements are the goal—rather than a tool to address a threat—it is not necessarily a victory. Here’s why.

Let’s start with the diplomatic process in Vienna. These are “indirect” talks because Iran refuses to allow its diplomats to meet personally with American diplomats. Under this process, Iranian and American diplomats are in different hotels and European diplomats carry proposals between the two delegations.

The Iranians refused to directly negotiate with the United States. This was an enormous snub that gave Tehran a clear advantage in the nuclear talks since it proves Biden wants a deal more than Iranian leaders do. They can now leverage the talks themselves as a mechanism to highlight American weakness and supposed despair, and to project their own strength.

U.S. Bases in Central Asia: Where Will They Go?

By James Durso

The U.S. is attempting to evacuate its troops and contractors from Afghanistan by 11 September 2021, the 20th anniversary of the al-Qaeda attacks.

American officials say they will keep the ability to collect intelligence and strike against terrorist threats to the U.S. by locating facilities and equipment in nearby countries.

Negotiations to locate American military and intelligence units in Afghanistan’s Central Asian neighbors will be difficult.

The neighbors will have to live with an Afghanistan in which the Taliban assume a larger role, probably within the country’s governing institutions, and hosting foreign forces will complicate bilateral relations.

So, what’s in it for them?

Of the five Central Asian countries only two are likely fits for U.S. designs, so let’s eliminate the outliers.

Washington's opportunity to treat Saudi Arabia as neither friend nor pariah

by Blaise Malley

During a primary debate in November 2019, candidate Biden pledged to turn Saudi Arabia into "the pariah that they are." Fast forward, Biden announced in March that his administration would not sanction Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. This is because the United States has not "when we have an alliance with a country, gone to the acting head of state and punished that person and ostracized him." Beyond the fact that Saudi Arabia has never been a U.S. treaty ally, the rhetorical transition from "pariah" to "ally" was a striking one.

The White House’s policy approach to the Saudi kingdom has been similarly inconsistent. Early indications were that the president would push back against the crown prince and stand up for American interests when necessary. One of the administration’s first foreign policy moves was to announce an end to supporting Saudi "offensive operations" in Yemen. The White House later released a report affirming the crown prince's role in the October 2018 assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The Syrian Civil War’s Never-Ending Endgame

The Syrian civil war that has decimated the country for 10 years now, provoking a regional humanitarian crisis and drawing in actors ranging from the United States to Russia, appears to be drawing inexorably to a conclusion. President Bashar al-Assad, with the backing of Iran and Russia, seems to have emerged militarily victorious from the conflict, which began after his government violently repressed civilian protests in 2011. The armed insurgency that followed soon morphed into a regional and global proxy war that, at the height of the fighting, saw radical Islamist groups seize control over vast swathes of the country, only to lose it in the face of sustained counteroffensives by pro-government forces as well as a U.S.-led coalition of Western militaries.

The fighting is not yet fully over, though, with the northwestern Idlib region remaining outside of government control. In early 2020, the Syrian army’s Russian-backed campaign to retake Idlib from the last remaining armed opposition groups concentrated there resulted in clashes with Turkish forces deployed to protect Ankara’s client militias. The skirmishes were a reminder that the conflict, though seemingly in its final stages, could still flare back up and escalate. The situation in the northeast also remains volatile following the removal of U.S. forces from the border with Turkey, with Turkish, Syrian and Russian forces all now deployed in the region, alongside proxies and Syrian Kurdish militias.

Russia Turns to China to Make Sputnik Shots to Meet Demand

By Huizhong Wu and Daria Litvinova

Russia is turning to multiple Chinese firms to manufacture the Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine in an effort to speed up production as demand soars for its shot.

Russia has announced three deals totaling 260 million doses with Chinese vaccine companies in recent weeks. It’s a decision that could mean quicker access to a shot for countries in Latin America, the Middle East, and Africa that have ordered Russia’s vaccine, as the U.S. and the European Union focus mainly on domestic vaccination needs.

Earlier criticism about Russia’s vaccine have been largely quieted by data published in the British medical journal The Lancet that said large-scale testing showed it to be safe, with an efficacy rate of 91 percent.

Yet, experts have questioned whether Russia can fulfill its pledge to countries across the world. While pledging hundreds of millions of doses, it has only delivered a fraction.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has said demand for Sputnik V significantly exceeds Russia’s domestic production capacity.

To boost production, the Russian Direct Investment Fund, which bankrolled Sputnik V, has signed agreements with multiple drug makers in other countries, such as India, South Korea, Brazil, Serbia, Turkey, Italy, and others. There are few indications, however, that manufacturers abroad, except for those in Belarus and Kazakhstan, have made any large amounts of the vaccine so far.

How Mongolia Made the Most of Vaccine Diplomacy

By Bolor Lkhaajav

Prime Minister of Mongolia Oyun-Erdene Luvsannamsrai received the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in Mongolia, Feb. 23, 2021.Credit: Government of Mongolia

Mongolia is ranking high in the global effort to vaccinate populations against COVID-19. As of May 5, 181 countries had started vaccinating their people against the virus, and Mongolia is one of them. According to the Foreign Ministry of Mongolia, 42.2 percent of the population has been vaccinated and 1,398,592 doses have been administered. Mongolia’s multi-pillar foreign policy translated into extremely valuable vaccination diplomacy during a challenging time.

After COVID-19 emerged to become a global pandemic, Mongolia went an astounding 10 months with no local transmission of the virus. But there was a worrying spike this spring, and the country now stands at over 41,000 total cases. According to E-Mongolia, the COVID-19 related death toll has now risen to 134. The increase in infections and the arrival of Mongolians from abroad fostered skepticism of the government’s handling of the overall pandemic.

The Mongolian government’s response has been focused on vaccinating the population while slowly receiving Mongolian citizens from abroad with the assistance of its global partners such as Japan, South Korea, and the United States. But with an array of vaccination options and persistent anti-vaccination sentiments, Mongolians were divided on the issue.


By John Bradford


The People’s Republic of China (PRC) has embarked on a massive investment spree and established a meaningful stake in the control of global maritime infrastructure. These investments include the construction of new ports, the expansion and modernization of cargo handling facilities, the purchase of port management rights, and the establishment of control over the operations of petroleum storage and transshipment depots. Much of the capital is formally sourced from the PRC’s One Belt One Road Initiative, but major investments are also being made directly by state-owned, PLA-linked, and other Chinese enterprises. The scope of control over global maritime infrastructure has become sufficiently large to be of concern. The U.S. Navy’s 2021 Chief of Navy Operations NAVPLAN warns that China is, “extending their infrastructure across the globe to control access to critical waterways.“1

There is growing concern that the PRC has, or could, use its investments to deny infrastructure access to its rivals. To date, PRC enterprises have not overtly denied access to others, but they are creating business models that advantage their partners over their commercial competitors. These advantages could have acute impacts for rivals should colluding PRC enterprises be able to establish themselves as a maritime infrastructure cartel or monopolize a specific market segment. However, PRC investment will have to grow considerably more before either of these options available. In contrast, infrastructure investments are already an important element of the PRC’s growing geo-economic influence over its partners. What deserves greater attention is the implications of PRC investments in global maritime infrastructure by specifically focusing on questions involving the potential denial of competitors’ infrastructure access.

Germany, May 8, 1945

By George Friedman

On May 8, 1945, Germany formally declared defeat in World War II. As others have said, there was one war in Europe that began in 1914 and ended in 1945, with a 20-year truce in between. Both wars pitted Germany against France, Russia and Britain with increasing involvement of the United States. It is not an overstatement to say that it was a war of Germany against the rest of Europe, with lesser European powers scattered in minor coalitions with one side or another. The wars began in the deep structure of Europe, but they were initiated on a broader scale by Germany and ended when Germany surrendered. The two wars might collectively be called the German War, laying the groundwork for asking how much of the Germany that was crushed in 1945 remains today. It’s therefore safe to say that 76 years ago, the Germans collapsed and, with that, the European war that began in 1914.

Germany did not unite as a country until 1871. The unifying principle was not religion or culture, as there were significant variations, but a common language that enveloped a common myth of the German past, a myth quite at odds with its reality. Emerging from this complex mix was a single powerful reality. Germany created an extraordinary economy. It passed France quickly and then surged past Great Britain, becoming the economic powerhouse of Europe.

The economic surge threatened to exhaust German raw materials, turning the country into a hostage of its suppliers. It was also exhausting the appetite for German goods in Europe. There were scant markets in play, but Germany was forced to both look beyond Europe and box European competitors out of Europe’s markets. That problem was not economic but political, and the political problem was ultimately military.

Cybersecurity is too big a job for governments or business to handle alone

Paul Mee, Chaitra Chandrasekhar

The recent hack of network management company SolarWinds, which enabled bad actors to compromise a range of US government agencies and major corporations, has revealed a troubling truth: Business and government expose each other to significant cyber-risks because they are interconnected and rely on the same network of software vendors. That’s why the strategic response must involve more intense collaboration. Simply put, the threat of cyberattacks is too big a job for either government or business to tackle alone.

Cybersecurity complaints to the US Federal Bureau of Investigation more than tripled during the pandemic last year, while the average payment by victims of ransomware jumped 43% in the first quarter of 2021 from the preceding quarter. Attacks on the software supply chain are growing exponentially, and the burgeoning Internet of Things (IoT) and 5G wireless technology offer more vulnerabilities to exploit.

Governments have a broad view of potential threats through law enforcement and intelligence capabilities, but they tend to see things through a national security lens rather than commercial risk. Companies have firm- and sector-specific risk information and often enjoy better access to cybersecurity talent, but they can’t easily take an economy-wide view and may find themselves overwhelmed by state-sponsored attackers.

Busting Big Tech

The European Commission’s recent decision to charge Apple with antitrust violations is further evidence that regulators around the world are seeking to curtail the market power of Big Tech. But official motives differ considerably across countries, and breaking up today’s internet behemoths might not produce the desired result.

In this Big Picture, Columbia Law School’s Anu Bradford shows how America’s laissez-faire approach to governing the digital economy has enabled the European Union to emerge as the leading global rule-maker, but notes that US regulators are starting to wake up to Big Tech’s excesses.

But Eric Posner of the University of Chicago cautions that targeting market-dominant tech firms will require transforming public opinion as well as overcoming legal obstacles. And MIT’s Daron Acemoglu warns that antitrust enforcement alone will not be enough to push technological change in the direction of empowering workers, consumers, and citizens, rather than toward the creation of a surveillance state and an economy bereft of good jobs.

Big Tech is being targeted in China, too, where Angela Huyue Zhang of the University of Hong Kong argues that the authorities’ sudden and aggressive antitrust action against the e-commerce giant Alibaba risks undermining investor confidence. Likewise, Minxin Pei of Claremont McKenna College thinks that reining in China’s private sector will probably strengthen the Communist Party of China’s grip on power for now, but could undermine it in the longer term.

Nation-state cyber attacks could lead to cyber conflict

by Allen Bernard
A new report from HP released Thursday, Nation States, Cyberconflict and the Web of Profit, found that nation-state cyber attacks are "moving us closer to a point of advanced cyber conflict."

"Nation-state conflict doesn't take place in a vacuum; as evidenced by the fact enterprise is the most common victim within those attacks analyzed," Ian Pratt, global head of Security for Personal Systems at HP, said in a statement. "Whether they are a direct target or a stepping-stone to gain access to bigger targets, as we have seen with the upstream supply chain attack against SolarWinds, organizations of all sizes need to be cognizant of this risk."

The research, which was sponsored by HP and conducted by Mike McGuire, senior lecturer in criminology at the University of Surrey, found a 100% rise in "significant" nation-state incidents between 2017-2020. McGuire, who looked at over 200 cybersecurity incidents associated with nation-states since 2009, found that enterprise-class organizations are now the most common target (35%), followed by cyber defense (25%), media and communications (14%), government bodies and regulators (12%) and critical infrastructure (10%).

"Nation-states are devoting significant time and resources to achieving strategic cyber advantage to advance their national interests, intelligence gathering capabilities, and military strength through espionage, disruption and theft," McGuire said in a statement. "Attempts to obtain IP data on vaccines and attacks against software supply chains demonstrate the lengths to which nation-states are prepared to go to achieve their strategic goals."

The Technology Behind How the Air Force and Army Are Preparing for the Next War

by Kris Osborn

The U.S. military has big, high-tech plans to network its forces so that they can win any war. The Air Force calls this program the “Advanced Battle Management System” and the Army calls it “Project Convergence.” Both of those systems are now defining terms that refer to the U.S. military’s massive and high-speed warzone transformation to real-time, multi-node connectivity, data sharing, sensor-to-shooter pairing, manned-unmanned teaming, air-sea-ground-undersea networking and artificial intelligence-enabled computer processing. All of these upgrades and changes are in service of one objective: speed.

Attacking faster than the enemy by exponentially reducing sensor-to-shooter timelines and optimizing methods of attack in real-time, are objectives each of the respective military services hopes to achieve.

It might not be an exaggeration to say that the U.S. military is now beginning to achieve, actualize and bring to life a decades-long vision of highly-networked, multi-domain, joint warfare operations, given the pace of emerging technical leaps forward in the areas of AI, sensing and communications technologies. Integrated joint-warfare operations enabled by inter-service air-land-sea information sharing and secure connectivity, has for years been on the Pentagon’s radar as essential for winning a future war. However, while there was great progress in many areas, the vision has never really come to life—arguably—until now.