31 July 2021

The PLA’s Developing Cyber Warfare Capabilities and India's Options

Maj Gen P K Mallick, VSM (Retd)

Chinese President Xi Jinping has made it clear that his objective for China is to emerge as a ‘cyber superpower’. China wants to be the world’s largest nation in cyberspace and also one of the most powerful. The information technology revolution has produced both momentous opportunities and likely vulnerabilities for china. China is home of largest number of ‘netizens’ in the world. It also hosts some of the world’s most vibrant and successful technology companies. It also remains a major victim of cyber crime. 

Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) believes that with the rise of the Information Age future wars will be contests in the ability to exploit information. Wars will be decided by the side who is more capable to generate, gather, transmit, analyse and exploit information.

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.


Rajesh Basrur

TIndia has experienced rising tensions with China in recent years, as demonstrated by two border crises in 2017 and 2020-21. The second event saw the death of some 20 Indian troops, and at least 4 Chinese soldiers, in hand-to-hand combat – the first fatalities in nearly half a century of periodic border face-offs. New Delhi’s policy response has spanned both internal and external balancing. The former has involved augmenting India’s capacity to engage in limited combat of the type that nuclear-armed states have occasionally fought, as did the Soviet Union and China in 1969 and India and Pakistan in 1999. The Indian military has bolstered its border by deploying combat troops, cruise missiles, and advanced combat aircraft. However, China has done much the same, putting pressure on India to upscale its military capabilities.

A Taliban Victory Would Be ‘The Return of a Dark Age for Afghanistan’

Lynne O’Donnell

As the world watches to see how the war in Afghanistan unfolds following the departure of all U.S. and coalition troops by Aug. 31, many people in the country are feeling betrayed, disappointed, and abandoned. They blame the United States for the violence and killing being perpetrated mostly by the Taliban, which the United Nations said is at a record high.

Among the critical voices is Shukria Barakzai, a prominent women’s rights advocate and former politician who helped draft Afghanistan’s post-Taliban constitution, which guarantees a range of freedoms, including equality for women. She was twice elected to Parliament and was the ambassador to Norway. As founder and editor of Aina-e-Zan (“Women’s Mirror”) weekly newspaper, she was World Press International Editor of the Year in 2004.

Since leaving government, Barakzai said she is “raising my voice against the injustice that’s happening in my country, and especially what’s going to happen to women and the great achievements we have had in the past 20 years” if the Taliban win a military victory and reestablish an Islamic emirate.

Afghanistan FM Atmar Says Taliban Promoting Extremism, Paving Way For Islamic State

Foreign Minister of Afghanistan Mohammad Hanif Atmar warned that the activities of the Taliban in his country would aggravate extremism and prepare the ground for notorious terrorist groups such as Daesh in the region.

In a meeting with Iranian foreign minister’s special envoy for Afghanistan, Mohammad Ebrahim Taherian, held in Kabul, the senior Afghan diplomat hailed Iran’s stances in support of the peace process in his country.

Elaborating on the situation in Afghan regions that are under the control of the Taliban, Atmar warned that the presence and the activities of the Taliban would promote extremism and make way for the international terrorist groups, like Daesh, in Afghanistan and the region.

Elsewhere, he stressed the need for the development of political, economic, cultural and trade ties between Kabul and Tehran, calling for closer cooperation in the process of establishing peace in Afghanistan.

China Is Using Tibetans as Agents of Empire in the Himalayas

Robert Barnett

In April 1998, with the Himalayan passes still more than 6 feet deep in snow, Penpa Tsering, a 22-year-old Tibetan herder, set off to the south from his home in Tibet across a remote 15,700-foot-high pass called the Namgung La. He was leading a train of a dozen yaks carrying tsampa (parched barley flour), rice, and fodder.

Penpa Tsering had been dispatched by the village leader of Lagyab, a settlement in Lhodrak county nearly 7 miles northeast of the Namgung La as the crow flies, to take desperately needed supplies to four other Tibetan herders who were spending the winter in a remote grassland area at 14,200 feet on the south side of the pass. Without the food that Penpa Tsering’s yaks were carrying, the herders would not survive the winter. After one day and one night of walking, Penpa Tsering reached his fellow herders and saved their lives. They later said they had expected to die. But Penpa Tsering never made it back to Lagyab: He died in an avalanche as he tried to find his way back across the pass.

China’s ‘Digital Silk Road’ Enters the Western Balkans

The Digital Silk Road (DSR), an important component of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), is an increasingly scrutinized aspect of China’s foreign policy toolbox that combines the efforts of the Chinese government and Chinese tech companies. The DSR covers a wide array of areas, ranging from telecommunications networks, to ‘Smart City’ projects, to e-commerce, to Chinese satellite navigation systems.

Despite its framing as a benign investment and tech-focused cooperation initiative by China, it is increasingly perceived as a vehicle for exporting techno-autocratic governance that provides crucial tools to undemocratic leaders to tighten their grip on civil society.

This brand new policy paper focuses on one aspect of DSR – Chinese companies’ involvement in the rollout of 5G networks. The research focuses specifically on the countries of Western Balkans – Serbia, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, and Albania – surveying the situation on the ground in regard to acceptance of DSR by local governments and provides recommendations to stakeholders.

How AI Is Revealing the Secrets of Iran’s Nascent Centrifuge Factory


Iran is perhaps 18 to 24 months from completing an underground centrifuge assembly hall at its Natanz nuclear facility, according to a recently released analysis from Center for Security and International Cooperation.

The analysis shows that Iran will be able to rebuild and extend its ability to enrich uranium despite several high-profile setbacks that Iranian officials have blamed on sabotage.

The new facility, which CISAC analysts first described to the New York Times in December, is just south of existing facilities at Natanz. It is being built deep within a mountain, where it is less vulnerable to air strikes — and hidden from imaging satellites. So CISAC analysts used AI tools from Orbital Insight to help them track construction workers at the site. They found that they could track labor fluctuations related to last year’s explosion at Natanz, and others related to the excavation and construction of the new assembly hall.

The Rocky New Era of the Saudi-Emirati Relationship

Neil Quilliam and Sanam Vakil

The once closely coordinated and tightly knit Saudi-Emirati relationship is fraying. A cascade of policy divergences has emerged between Riyadh and Abu Dhabi over the past year, and more acutely over the past weeks. The long list of differences includes attitudes toward the war in Yemen, the pace of reconciliation with Qatar after a three-and-a-half-year rift, normalization with Israel and the Abraham Accords, managing ties with Turkey, OPEC production quotas, Iran strategy, and cross-border trade.

The emerging dynamic between Riyadh and Abu Dhabi is the new normal—and it applies not only to the two states but to all six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). The sooner outside countries understand the new transactional dynamic, the better they’ll be able to manage relations with the entire region.

In truth, the tensions between Riyadh and Abu Dhabi are nothing new. They were an on-again, off-again feature of GCC politics decades before the 2011 Arab uprisings. These differences were often papered over because of shared concerns stemming from Iranian regional expansion and the threat from political Islam. That these challenges are resurfacing reminds that intra-Gulf competition has long underpinned the GCC.

Biden Issues National Security Memorandum On Critical Infrastructure


WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden today issued a national security memorandum on improving critical infrastructure cybersecurity, with the goal of encouraging critical infrastructure owners and operators to voluntarily adopt better cybersecurity standards.

The memorandum is intended to address what a senior administration official described Tuesday evening as the nation’s “woefully insufficient” cybersecurity posture; it also comes less than 24 hours after Biden stated that a cyberattack could someday lead to a “real shooting war.”

“I think it’s more than likely we’re going to end up, if we end up in a war — a real shooting war with a major power — it’s going to be as a consequence of a cyber breach of great consequence, and it’s increasing exponentially,” the president said Tuesday during a visit to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

Biden: If U.S. has 'real shooting war' it could be result of cyber attacks

Nandita Bose

WASHINGTON, July 27 (Reuters) - President Joe Biden on Tuesday warned that if the United States ended up in a "real shooting war" with a "major power" it could be the result of a significant cyber attack on the country, highlighting what Washington sees as growing threats posed by Russia and China.

Cybersecurity has risen to the top of the agenda for the Biden administration after a series of high-profile attacks on entities such as network management company SolarWinds, the Colonial Pipeline company, meat processing company JBS and software firm Kaseya hurt the U.S. far beyond just the companies hacked. Some of the attacks affected fuel and food supplies in parts of the United States.

"I think it's more than likely we're going to end up, if we end up in a war - a real shooting war with a major power - it's going to be as a consequence of a cyber breach of great consequence and it's increasing exponentially, the capabilities," Biden said during a half-hour speech while visiting the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI).

Tech Innovation, Spectrum Strategy Among House Markup Priorities


WASHINGTON: The House Armed Services Subcommittee for Cyber, Innovative Technologies, and Information Systems released its proposed Fiscal Year 2022 National Defense Authorization Act markup today.

The markup, which is the legislative process of amending the Defense Department’s proposed budget released in May, includes the following highlights:

Establishes pilot programs to accelerate moving science and technology initiatives from research to implementation — to include improving the tech transfer process from small businesses to the military — and requires identifying barriers to quicker adoption and scaling of innovative tech;

Adds a thirty-first mission area called “spectrum operations” and requires appointing a senior department official to lead implementation of the electromagnetic spectrum strategy published in October;

A US-Russia Deal on Afghanistan?


BISHKEK – During their June 16 Geneva summit, Russian President Vladimir Putin reportedly offered US President Joe Biden the use of Russian military bases in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan in order to coordinate actions vis-à-vis Afghanistan. The Kremlin’s motives, of course, are not altruistic. Russia wants to prevent the United States from building its own bases in the region. But Putin’s offer is tempting, and Biden may well find a way to accept it.

Central Asia, a region nearly the size of the European Union nestled between Russia and China, is thus back in international headlines – again because of bad news, and again in connection with the violence and instability in Afghanistan. Biden’s decision to withdraw the remaining US troops from the country will bring to an end a 20-year war that has cost America nearly $2.3 trillion and failed to achieve any of its goals. And analysts now warn that the ongoing Taliban offensive could lead to full-scale civil war, a surge in drug trafficking, massive migration, and the spread of Islamic fundamentalism to neighboring countries.

Op-ed | Peace in the Era of Weaponized Space

Brian G. Chow and Brandon W. Kelley

We are on the verge of a new era in space security: the age of diverse and highly capable dual-use space systems that can serve both peaceful and anti-satellite (ASAT) purposes. These new systems, such as spacecraft capable of undertaking rendezvous and proximity operations (RPOs), ground-based lasers capable of interacting with space objects, and actions in cyberspace, cannot feasibly be banned; nor should they be, as they promise immense civil and commercial benefits. Instead, we must find ways to maintain peace despite their presence.

The steps currently being taken by the United States to mitigate counterspace threats are necessary but they will not alone be sufficient — the next generation of ASAT weapons will pose a much greater threat than current systems, and require tailored responses. We stand, as we did in the 1950s and 1960s, at the brink of poorly understood but potentially catastrophic risks. The solution now is the same as it was then: first, to exploit the United States’ democratic advantage in untapped intellectual capital; and second, to harness the power of dissent and rigorous contestation to improve predictions, strategic planning, and cost-effective readiness. To that end, the U.S. Department of Defense should establish an open and permanent forum for submission of ideas by all concerned parties, both inside and outside government, and facilitate on-the-record debate regarding their validity and desirability.

Cuba’s Moment of Reckoning Has Been a Long Time Coming

Howard W. French

When I became a correspondent covering the Caribbean and portions of Latin America—my first overseas job for the New York Times—in the spring of 1990, Cuba’s then-leader Fidel Castro already seemed like an antiquated figure to many observers, a literal greybeard at the age of 63.

This impression was accentuated for me in part due to the youthfulness of his country’s population, not to mention my own. It also derived from political history, as well as the geopolitical context of the moment. Castro had already been in power since 1959, making him one of the longest-serving leaders in the world. But the global currents at the time of my arrival were shifting rapidly, with regimes that embraced Marxism-Leninism suddenly toppling in bunches. ...

UK’s former cyber security head says Chinese ownership of Newport chip fab would pose greater threat than Huawei

Sebastian Moss 

The proposed sale of Britain's largest semiconductor fab to a Chinese-backed group is a "first order strategic issue," the former head of the UK's National Cyber Security Centre said.

Ciaran Martin told The Telegraph that the sale of the Newport Wafer Fab to Nexperia was a bigger threat to the UK than allowing Huawei in its 5G networks - something he helped block while at the NCSC.

“Huawei in the periphery of 5G only really mattered because the Trump administration became obsessed with it for reasons they never convincingly set out,” Martin said.

“By contrast, the future of semiconductor supply is a first-order strategic issue. It goes to the heart of how we should be dealing with China.”

Facebook's 'Disinformation Dozen' Are Flourishing Across Social Media


All except two of the 12 social media personalities dubbed the "disinformation dozen" are still active on at least one of the major platforms of Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, and boast a combined 6 million followers, Newsweek analysis has found.

The dozen were named by the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) as those intentionally peddling the most viral false information about vaccines and COVID-19 online, in a study released in March 2021 and later cited by the Joe Biden administration.

The CCDH urged social media companies to shut down accounts linked to the 12 but, despite several being removed, a majority are still active.

As of July 25, accounts linked to the dozen still had a combined 520,000 followers on Instagram, 830,000 on Twitter and 4.7 million on Facebook.

But the content they share may also have changed. Two of the three most-popular of the dozen appear to have stepped away from posting about COVID and vaccines in recent months after being hit with suspensions or a ban on smaller accounts.

Making Supply Chains More Resilient


MUNICH – Automobile and electronics manufacturers worldwide have recently had to reduce output because a severe drought in Taiwan has hit the island’s production of semiconductors. This and other global supply-chain disruptions – many of them caused by the COVID-19 pandemic – have prompted advanced economies to take steps to mitigate the potential impact. But what types of government action make economic sense?

Supply-chain bottlenecks can have a significant economic effect. Germany, for example, imports 8% of its intermediate products from low-wage countries (the United States relies on these economies for just 4.6% of its inputs). Problems with input deliveries recently led Germany’s Ifo Institute to lower its forecast for German GDP growth this year by almost half a percentage point, to 3.3%.

The UK's Science and Technology Imperative


LONDON – The challenge that China’s rise poses for liberal democracies puts a premium on pushing the frontiers of science and technology. Western economies have a deep ability to innovate when they have the will to do so, as the rapid development of safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines has shown. But how can this momentum be maintained across a wide range of areas when we are not confronting an acute crisis?

In many respects, the United States is leading the way. Soon after taking office, President Joe Biden elevated the Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to cabinet status, and appointed the renowned geneticist, molecular biologist, and mathematician Eric Lander to the post. And the US Innovation and Competition Act, passed by the Senate in June, matches this signal of intent with action, promising to commit $250 billion to promote emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotics, and quantum computing.

Why Friedman Was Wrong About Booms And Bust – Analysis

Frank Shostak*

In his attempt at explaining what business cycles are all about, Milton Friedman held that the economy’s output is bumping along the ceiling of maximum feasible output except that every now and then it is plucked down by a cyclical contraction. He attributed this contraction to various shocks.

He was of the view that economic contractions involve declines in the economy’s output below its full potential ceiling or maximum level.

Friedman held that similarly to a guitar string the harder the economy is plucked down the stronger it should come back.

In the Friedman’s plucking model, a large contraction in output follows by a large business expansion. A mild contraction, by a mild expansion.1

Yemen's Civil War

Jon Alterman: Peter Salisbury is the senior analyst for Yemen at the International Crisis Group. He has been working on Yemen for more than a decade, and in my experience, he is one of the best-informed people I've ever spoken to about the ongoing conflict in Yemen. Peter welcome to Babel.

Peter Salisbury: Thanks very much for having me, Jon.

Jon Alterman: Who's fighting in Yemen right now?

Peter Salisbury: The really simple version is that you've got the Houthis—who increasingly control the northwest of Yemen—fighting a wide range of mainly local groups with a bunch of different international backers. You can sub-divide those groups into tribal and politically aligned forces—backed by Saudi Arabia and Yemen's internationally recognized government in Marib and Taiz—and then secessionist and formerly Houthi-allied forces in the south and along the Red Sea coast, who are linked to the United Arab Emirates. The issue with describing these as one block—as one group—is that there has been as much fighting between some of the secessionists in the south and the government and its allies as there has been between these groups and the Houthis. Increasingly, we have a number of armed groups who are pretty powerful, not overtly are not aligned with the government, and not in this war to bring President Hadi back to power. Although from the outside it looks like a relatively simple two-party war—and some people would want to call it a proxy war, although I wouldn’t—the reality is that you have all these different groups with different agendas all lined up against each other. Even without the Houthis, there’s a wide range of groups doing the fighting.

The COVID-19 Pandemic Puts the Spotlight on Global Health Governance

The novel coronavirus caught many world leaders unprepared, despite consistent warnings that a global pandemic was inevitable. And it has revealed the flaws in a global health architecture headed by the World Health Organization, which had already been faulted for its response to the 2014 Ebola pandemic in West Africa. Will there be an overhaul of the WHO when the pandemic is over?

After the novel coronavirus first emerged in late 2019 in Wuhan, China, its combination of transmissibility and lethality brought the world to a virtual standstill. Governments restricted movement, closed borders and froze economic activity in a desperate attempt to curb the spread of the virus. At best, they partially succeeded at slowing down the first wave, with the second and in some cases third waves that experts warned about now upon us. According to official records so far, more than 194 million people worldwide have been infected, and more than 4 million have died from COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. The actual toll of the virus is far worse and will continue to climb.

The EU’s unsustainable China strategy

EU–China relations have become increasingly strained in recent years. For the most part, the EU’s approach to China has been driven by the economic interests of a small number of member states, but relations are becoming more complicated. Internal and external political tensions make doing business in and with China even more difficult, while the country’s emergence as an economic competitor has reinforced the EU’s insecurities about its own future economic position in the world.

China’s heated rivalry with the US has also become an issue of contention in the transatlantic relationship, despite the EU having similar and growing frustrations over China. The Biden administration is keen to work with allies in dealing with China and the EU has so far suggested a limited willingness to do so.

Beyond developing a toolkit of small, largely defensive measures, the EU’s approach to the economic challenge from China, as well as to broader geopolitical and geo-economic issues, has been to pursue ‘strategic autonomy’. It aims to be a neutral, but not equidistant, third pillar in a world order dominated by China and the US.


Michael Poznansky

A flurry of recent high-profile cyber operations targeting the United States, including the SolarWinds hack by Russia, the Microsoft Exchange hack by China, and the ransomware attack on Colonial Pipeline, among others, has led to spirited debate about how the United States can best defend itself and advance its interests in cyberspace. In May 2021, President Joe Biden released a detailed executive order to “improv[e] the nation’s cybersecurity.” The first head of the recently created Office of the National Cyber Director, Chris Inglis, was just sworn in. There are clearly more changes on the horizon to the institutional architecture, strategy documents, and policies in this domain.

With that in mind, this essay explores two of a much larger set of challenges facing the United States in cyberspace in the coming years. First is the perennial tension between the desire for more coordination and oversight on the one hand and flexibility, agility, and responsiveness on the other. The second turns on a particular kind of asymmetry in which the United States has certain vulnerabilities that its chief rivals do not, and the effect this has on interactions in cyberspace.

‘It Failed Miserably’: After Wargaming Loss, Joint Chiefs Are Overhauling How the US Military Will Fight


A brutal loss in a wargaming exercise last October convinced the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. John Hyten to scrap joint warfighting concepts that had guided U.S. military operations for decades.

“Without overstating the issue, it failed miserably. An aggressive red team that had been studying the United States for the last 20 years just ran rings around us. They knew exactly what we're going to do before we did it,” Hyten told an audience Monday at the launch of the Emerging Technologies Institute, an effort by the National Defense Industrial Association industry group to speed military modernization.

The Pentagon would not provide the name of the wargame, which was classified, but a defense official said one of the scenarios revolved around a battle for Taiwan. One key lesson: gathering ships, aircraft, and other forces to concentrate and reinforce each other’s combat power also made them sitting ducks.