1 August 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 Cyber-Influence Operations

 Maj Gen PK Mallick, VSM (Retd)

… With its growing assertiveness in the international arena, China uses new technologies to achieve its foreign policy goals and project an image of responsible global power … spending billions on influence operations across the world ... fits in with China’s larger aim of expanding its soft power alongside its growing economic and military power … reach of Beijing’s overseas media is impressive and should not be underestimated. But the results are mixed ...

Coal Mining and Indigenous Communities in India: Conflict or Co-optation?

Itay Noy

Anti-mining protests by Adivasis, India’s indigenous communities, have in recent years drawn considerable attention. In many places across India’s mining tracts, Adivasis have been battling to protect their homes and local environments from the country’s expanding mining industry, which is intent on harvesting the coal that lies under their land. This, however, is only part of the picture. While stories about encounters between mining and indigenous communities – not only in India but also in other parts of the world – tend to focus on tribal opposition movements, the reality is often more complex and messy, and does not conform to the widespread but ultimately specious binary of “Adivasis versus mining corporations.”

I discovered this firsthand between 2015 and 2017 when I spent 18 months living and doing fieldwork in Karampot (a pseudonym), a coal mining-affected Adivasi village in the state of Jharkhand, eastern India. Once receding into a stretch of fields and sal woodland, the village is now abutted by a state-run, opencast coal mine, which has been encroaching on the land and forest surrounding it. Rather than an ongoing struggle by villagers against mining and land expropriation, however, I witnessed in Karampot a different dynamic – much less often documented but perhaps not less common. It involves not resistance but co-optation and fragmentation within the community, which effectively locks it into a dependent relationship with an environmentally detrimental extractive industry.

US Stepping up Airstrikes This Week to Support Afghan Forces

Robert Burns

The U.S. military has launched more than a dozen airstrikes in the past week in support of Afghan government forces in their fight against the Taliban, a sharp spike over the handful that were done in the previous six weeks, according to U.S. officials.

The Pentagon said Tuesday that both conventional warplanes and armed drones were used, but did not provide details. A U.S. official, however, gave some specifics and said there has been a significant increase in strikes since July 20, with the number sometimes reaching almost a handful a day.

The strikes, which include several conducted last week, indicate stepped up U.S. support after weeks of battlefield gains by the Taliban as U.S. troops complete their withdrawal. U.S. officials have said that the aircraft have been flown from bases outside of Afghanistan because the U.S. military pulled its combat planes out of the country.

The US military couldn’t stop the heroin trade from funding the Taliban. But synthetic opioid producers might.


The global drug trade could eventually accomplish what the U.S. military tried and failed to do in Afghanistan: bust up a heroin industry that fuels insurgencies and corruption.

A threat to the Afghan heroin market — which accounts for anywhere between 10%-30% of that country’s gross domestic product — looms because of a growing preference among drug producers for far cheaper synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl, according to a new Rand Corp. study.

“All told, fentanyl represents an attractive alternative for drug producers and marketers who are looking to reduce their operating costs and risks. Therefore … when comparing the two drugs, it is hard to see how heroin can compete directly or indefinitely with this low-cost, high potency alternative,” Rand said in its report that examined the implications for Afghanistan.

Can the Taliban Play China and Russia Off the United States?

Catherine Putz

Concluding her remarks at a special session of the Joint Coordination and Monitoring Board (JCMB), a platform for strategic coordination between the Afghan government and international donors on which Afghanistan continues to rely, the United Nations Secretary General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan Deborah Lyons said that at a time when half of the Afghan population faces extremely dire circumstances, “Afghan leaders with us need to decide whether to subject Afghanistan to further generations of war, or to reach political compromises that will allow the country to breathe again, to rest, and to rebuild.”

Earlier in July, after giving remarks about the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, U.S. President Joe Biden responded to a question regarding how serious a factor Afghan government corruption was in “this mission failing there” by first pushing back — “Well, first of all, the mission hasn’t failed, yet” — before noting that there’s been corruption in all parties to the Afghan conflict. “The question is, can there be an agreement on unity of purpose?” Biden also commented that the negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban hadn’t quite worked out as planned, “So the question now is, where do they go from here?”

‘We Will Not Flinch’: Austin Promises US Will Continue to Bolster Taiwan’s Self-Defense


Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the United States will continue to help Taiwan and other allies in the Pacific defend themselves against aggression from China even as he said a new, more transparent relationship with Beijing is desired.

“We will not flinch when our interests are threatened, yet we do not seek confrontation,” Austin said at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in Singapore on Tuesday, during his second overseas trip to the Pacific.

The United States is trying to balance a relationship with China as a peer competitor but also as a potential threat. Austin’s visit comes at a pivotal time for the U.S. military, one day after President Joe Biden announced the second withdrawal of forces deployed in counterterrorism missions, this time from Iraq.

Administration officials argue the military must draw down its forces in Iraq and Afghanistan and focus on the Pacific. It is part of a larger belief that future U.S. security threats will revolve around cyber, space, and resource conflicts with China and Russia, and less so with the terrorism threats that have emanated from the Middle East, North Africa, and southwest Asia for the last two decades.

After Years of Chinese Influence, U.S. Tries to Renew Ties in Southeast Asia

Sui-Lee Wee

SINGAPORE — Lloyd J. Austin III, the American defense secretary, sought on Tuesday to reassure Southeast Asian nations that the United States was still invested in the region despite a monthslong absence by top officials in a part of the world that has been aggressively courted by China.

Speaking at a lecture in Singapore organized by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a British think tank, Mr. Austin said, “I’ve come to Southeast Asia to deepen America’s bonds with the allies and partners on whom our common security depends.”

Mr. Austin’s visit is the first by a U.S. cabinet member to Southeast Asia since President Biden took office in January.

Nepal’s Cautious Approach to the Tibetan Question

Arun Budhathoki

China’s President Xi Jinping’s visit to the Tibet Autonomous Region last Friday, the first official visit by a Chinese leader to the troubled region in 30 years, sent out strong signals to its southern neighbors.

Coming at a time when a military standoff between India and China along their disputed border – India borders the TAR – shows no sign of ending, Xi’s visit to Nyingchi near the McMahon Line, the disputed border in the eastern sector, raised eyebrows in New Delhi.

But also, Xi’s visit to the TAR would have been taken note of in Nepal. Like India, Nepal borders Tibet, and it is home to thousands of Tibetan refugees. Accordingly, the Tibetan question is a key issue in China-Nepal relations.

Around 20,000 Tibetan refugees live in Nepal. Following China’s crushing of the Tibetan uprising in 1959, the 14th Dalai Lama and thousands of his followers fled Tibet. While the majority went to India, a sizeable number came to Nepal and Bhutan.

How Far Can Raw Talent Take South Asian Athletes at the Olympics?

Niha Dagia

Pakistani weightlifter Talha Talib may have missed out on a rare Olympic medal as he debuted for Pakistan in the Tokyo 2020 games Sunday, but he turned heads in South Asia.

The 21-year-old entered the competition without a coach, supported only by family and friends after training in a makeshift gym without standard Olympic-level equipment. The athlete from Gujranwala, known as the “city of wrestlers,” held the gold medal spot in the 67 kilogram category until the final round.

In the end, he finished fifth.

A dream of every athlete, the Olympics are considered the pinnacle for sports. Competing at the games is proof that you are among the best, and winning gold confirms that you are the best among the best.

Is Pax Sinica Possible?


SEOUL – For nearly a decade, Chinese President Xi Jinping has been promising to deliver “the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.” This promise – which he dubbed the China Dream – took a clearer form with the introduction of the two centenary goals: building a “moderately prosperous society” by 2021 (the centennial of the founding of the Communist Party of China, CPC) and becoming a “modern socialist country” by 2049 (100 years after the founding of the People’s Republic). Now, China is one centennial down – and, according to Xi, it has achieved its first goal. Is the China Dream within reach?

While the second centenary goal specifies goals like strength, prosperity, democracy, harmony, and cultural advancement, it also represents a vision of China as a global economic and political power. Ultimately, Xi seems to want to build a Pax Sinica, which would compete with – and even replace – the Pax Americana that has prevailed since the end of World War II.

China Assuming New Dominance in Turkmenistan

Paul Goble

Turkmenistan’s longstanding neutrality has kept it out of Russian regional security arrangements like the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), which has constrained the level of influence Moscow could have in this notoriously insular Central Asian republic. But now, China is on the way to becoming the dominant outside power in Turkmenistan. The reasons for this rise in Beijing’s sway are manifold. First has been China’s already heavy involvement in Turkmenistan’s natural gas sector and transit routes through that country between China and Europe. But other factors include the rapidly growing Taliban threat to the Central Asian region (see EDM, July 13); the readiness of Ashgabat to support China on Xinjiang because, unlike other Central Asian countries, it lacks a diaspora being victimized there; and Beijing’s increasingly obvious interest in expanding its economic involvement in the region into security cooperation (see EDM, July 20). In doing so, Beijing has stolen a march on Moscow and positioned itself to compete with Turkey and other outside powers there in ways that it was never able to before.

The Geopolitical Olympics: Could China Win Gold?

Graham Allison

The Tokyo Olympics offers an apt analogy for reflecting on the much more consequential geopolitical Olympics in which China is challenging the United States today. In the century-long history of the modern Olympics, when did China win its first medal? Not until the 1984 Games in Los Angeles. Just a quarter-century later, in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, China displaced the United States from its accustomed position as No. 1—taking home forty-eight gold medals to the United States’ thirty-six.

While the United States snapped back in 2012 and 2016, the outcome of this summer’s games looks to be tight. Most betting sites have the United States winning forty gold medals to China’s thirty-three. But curveballs and caveats abound: tight rules have banned spectators and excluded elite athletes who failed Covid-19 tests. Meanwhile, several favored U.S. Olympians have stumbled in early competition. Sportswriters can be forgiven for repeating Yogi Berry’s one-liner about baseball: “It ain’t over till it’s over.”

China may be having a harder time with Biden than with Trump

Ishaan Tharoor

On Monday, the United States’ second-most senior diplomat met with Chinese counterparts in the port city of Tianjin. Ahead of Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman’s visit to China, U.S. officials said the aim of this round of discussions — the second face-to-face talks between senior officials from both countries since President Biden took office — was to set “guardrails” around the increasingly fractious Sino-U.S. relationship and “keep the channels of communication open.” Coming out of the meetings, it wasn’t quite clear what markers had been laid down amid a testy airing of grievances.

In exchanges with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Vice Foreign Minister Xie Feng, Sherman laid out Washington’s many concerns with Beijing, from its campaigns of repression in Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Tibet to the recent determination by the United States, the European Union and other world powers that hackers affiliated with the Chinese government have participated in a broad array of malicious cyber activities.

Sherman said that her administration welcomed “stiff competition” with China, but did not seek conflict. But she insisted to reporters after the meetings that China, which bristles over Western criticism of its human rights record, could not place itself above reproach. “We do expect … [Chinese officials] to understand that human rights are not just an internal matter, they are a global commitment which they have signed up for” under U.N. conventions, Sherman told the Associated Press.

China Seeks Taliban Promise to Wage War on Uighur Fighters in Afghanistan


China has sought assurance from the Taliban during a meeting in Tianjin that the resurgent movement will take on a murky Uighur Islamist separatist group in Afghanistan.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi hosted a delegation of the Taliban led by Taliban political committee head Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar on Wednesday, marking the group's latest in a series of international trips as its fighters take territory nationwide in Afghanistan amid a U.S. military withdrawal from the country.

The top Chinese diplomat said his country "has always respected Afghanistan's sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity, adhered to non-interference in Afghanistan's internal affairs and pursued a friendly policy toward the entire Afghan people," according to a readout provided by the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

Wang was critical of the U.S. and allied NATO forces in how they handled both the conflict and their withdrawal from it.

While Biden Aims For A New Nuclear Deal, Israel Must Stay Tough on Iran | Opinion


Senior Israeli officials will be in Washington next week to prepare for newly elected Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennett's first meeting with U.S. president Joe Biden. Bennett knows the importance of public comity between himself and the American president. But make no mistake; Israeli officials are deeply troubled by Biden's apparent readiness to bring Iran back into the fatally flawed 2015 nuclear deal at any price. It will be in both countries' best interest if Bennett tells Biden privately—but directly—what the latter's administration is doing wrong.

After six rounds of negotiation, during which Iranian officials refused to sit down directly with their U.S. counterparts, nuclear talks are on hold as the Islamic Republic of Iran waits for the inauguration next month of its new president, Ebrahim Raisi.

Hand-picked by the supreme leader, notorious for his role in the mass murder of Iranians and elected by the lowest number of voters in Iran's history, Raisi will preside over a country racked with daily demonstrations. Iranians are in the streets protesting shortages of water and electricity. But the protests are also political—protesters blame the corrupt clerical regime for their suffering.

America Needs a Grand Strategy

Robert Wilkie

America’s basic strategic posture has not changed since it inherited Britain’s mantle of world leadership during World War II. Preserving national sovereignty and independence while simultaneously ensuring countries can freely navigate the world’s oceans and airspace continue to be essential for the safety and prosperity of the United States.

But threats are rising from all corners of the world. Now more than ever, America needs a robust foreign policy shaped by a grand strategy. Indeed, the free world needs America to have such.

The rise of China, revanchist Russia, and militant Islam have convinced some that the world is far too complicated for traditional strategic thinking and that, by continuing its feckless global involvement, the United States only causes more problems. They argue that we should accept a restricted role in global affairs.

They could not be more wrong.

Joe Biden Says He’s Ending Forever Wars. He Isn’t.

John Glaser

President Joe Biden is playing hide the ball with America’s Forever Wars. In his public pronouncements, he depicts his administration as diligently rolling back the numerous post‐​9/​11 U.S. military misadventures. He delivered a number of speeches declaring an end to the U.S. war in Afghanistan and specifying a timeline for a withdrawal of U.S. troops by September. In April, the administration reached a tacit agreement with the Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al‐​Kadhimi to officially conclude the U.S. combat mission in Iraq. “There will be no U.S. military forces in a combat role by the end of the year,” says a Biden senior official.

This public rhetoric is profoundly misleading. Biden certainly knows that bringing an end to these far‐​flung “counter‐​terrorism” missions is popular with the electorate. That may explain the eagerness to portray his administration’s approach as one of ending endless wars, as the slogan goes. But it is not true.

Secretary of Defense Remarks at the 40th International Institute for Strategic Studies Fullerton Lecture (As Prepared)

Good evening, everyone. It’s great to be here in Singapore, and it’s an honor to be giving what I’m told is the 40th Fullerton Lecture. IISS has done an outstanding job enriching our dialogue about the Indo-Pacific. And James, thanks to you and John for all that you’ve done to make this event possible. It’s also great to see Senior Minister Teo and Minister of Defense Ng —thank you both for your hospitality.

Now, we are meeting in difficult times… but we’re working with our friends so that we all come out of the pandemic stronger than before.

I’m here to represent a new American administration, but also to reaffirm enduring American commitments. And above all, I want to talk about the strategic imperative of partnership.

You know, I learned a core lesson over four decades as a soldier, in peace and in war: Nobody can go it alone, at least not for very long. We are far stronger, and for far longer, when we come together than when we let ourselves be split apart.

Cryptocurrency should be added to the US-Japan trade deal

Sale Lilly and Scott W. Harold

When the U.S. and Japan agreed on a Digital Trade Agreement in late 2019, they declined to include language governing cryptocurrency and blockchain technologies. Given that some of the earliest cryptocurrency markets began in Japan, and that many of the largest companies originate in the United States, this decision was somewhat surprising.

Today, the overall supply of cryptocurrency, or digital representations of cash, and associated financial blockchain technologies such as smart contracts and non-fungible tokens stands at over a third the size of the total U.S. monetary base.

As the Biden administration begins to define its approach to international trade, and the Suga administration looks to further tighten cooperation with the U.S., it may be worth reconsidering the exclusion of cryptocurrency from the U.S.-Japan trade deal. If they do, the two sides could either negotiate a separate annex to the existing agreement, or redefine the interpretation of that agreement to include regulation of cryptocurrency.

The U.S. Is Making One Thing Clear: China Must Back Off On Taiwan

Peter Suciu

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin issued a stern warning to China regarding its aggression in the Pacific.

Speaking at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in Singapore on Tuesday, Austin said the United States would not flinch when America’s interests are threatened, but added that the U.S. is not seeking a confrontation.

Austin, who is the first African American to serve as the secretary of defense and previously served as the twelfth commander of the United States Central Command (CENTCOM), also reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to Taiwan, which Beijing sees as a breakaway province.

The U.S. will “stay focused on helping Taiwan to defend itself or having the capabilities to defend itself going forward,” the former general noted.
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Improving Cybersecurity for Critical Infrastructure Control Systems Is Only a First Step

James Andrew Lewis

The central question raised by today’s National Security Memorandum (NSM) on Improving Cybersecurity for Critical Infrastructure Control Systems is what should take the place of a voluntary approach to cybersecurity. This responsibility falls on Congress. In many areas, Congress has realized that the United States is in a contest with China. The Chinese think the United States is unable to govern itself. Providing the authorities needed for better cybersecurity is an opportunity to prove China wrong.

Proposed legislation in 2012 would have given the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) the authority to regulate critical infrastructure, but it was fiercely opposed by many in the private sector. One result of this failure to pass legislation in 2012 has been more than a decade of significant economic loss (probably more than $1 trillion in aggregate) and major damage to national security.

Stymied by Congress’s unwillingness to provide new authorities, the Obama administration issued Executive Order 13636 (Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity) on February 12, 2013. This order circumvented Congressional reluctance by creating a sector-specific approach. Agencies used their existing authorities over critical infrastructure sectors to hold their charges accountable in meeting new cybersecurity standards created by the NIST Cybersecurity Framework developed in close partnership with the private sector. (When asked why it was called a framework, one of Executive Order 13636’s authors replied that calling it regulatory was too politically sensitive.)

Geo-tech politics: Why technology shapes European power

Ulrike Franke, José Ignacio Torreblanca

New technologies are a major redistributor of power among states and a significant force shaping international relations.

The European Union has for too long seen technology primarily through an economic lens, disregarding its implications for its partnerships and for its own geopolitical influence.

If the EU wants to be more than a mediator between the two real technological powers, the United States and China, it will need to change its mindset.

For the EU and its partners, the vulnerabilities created by battles over technology divide into two types: new dependencies and openness to foreign interference.

The EU and its member states need deeper engagement with the geopolitical implications and geopolitical power elements of technology.

Hybrid CoE Paper 7: Geopolitics and strategies in cyberspace: Actors, actions, structures and responses

Antonio Missiroli

During the COVID-19 pandemic, widespread hostile cyber-enabled activities have highlighted that no domain of public life is now immune to geopolitical or systemic competition. The spectrum of such hostile activities has encompassed ransomware attacks against medical facilities, intellectual property theft attempts against laboratories developing vaccines, as well as misinformation and disinformation campaigns. They have highlighted that ‘cyber’ has become ever more critical to our individual and collective security and an increasingly contested ‘space’ in its own right. This Hybrid CoE Paper analyzes why this is so, who operates in cyberspace and with what aims, and how some of the resulting security challenges are being addressed.

A finalized piece of analysis on a topic related to hybrid threats, based on one or several research questions. May be either a conceptual analysis or based on a concrete case study with empirical data.

Can diplomacy get global cyberwarriors to sheathe their swords?

Ned Temko

Anew arms race has erupted around the world, with implications not just for countries’ security, but their citizens’ fundamental rights too. Unlike the old competition – over missiles and munitions – this one revolves around a powerful, 21st-century weapon: cybertechnology.

And in what could lead to a diplomatic tug of war as well, the Biden administration has begun pressing both Russia and China to agree to practical limitations on this new threat: in effect, a new kind of arms control for a new kind of arms.

That’s the message from a recent series of dramatic developments, culminating in last week’s revelations concerning a piece of Israeli software called Pegasus, which has given governments from Mexico to Morocco, and from Hungary to India, the capability to target, hack into, and take control of individual mobile phones.

Navigating Through Turbulence

The last few years have seen rises in authoritarianism, economic protectionism, poverty, and threats to human rights and civil liberties, trends that were all further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Efforts to combat such trends take many forms, but this report is particularly concerned with the role and impact of think tanks given their capacity to understand, explain, and shape these trends. Such organizations have proliferated globally since the 1990s, but there has been limited research and a lack of consensus regarding how successful they are in counteracting these negative trends. To explore this topic, FP Analytics conducted an in-depth survey and semi-structured interviews with think tank personnel to highlight the experiences and viewpoints of the think tank staff working on the ground to advance democracy, economic openness, human rights, and poverty reduction in their home countries.

Executive Summary

Emergency Fighters and National Resilience

Jacob Parakilas

Last week, the Russian Sukhoi design bureau unveiled the prototype of its new “Checkmate” light tactical fighter aircraft, to great interest from the aviation community. The interest stems not from the fact that the new Sukhoi represents any kind of novel capability – it is a budget-friendly competitor to expensive Western 4.5/5th generation aircraft – but because as development costs skyrocket, a new aircraft is a rare event these days.

That has not always been the case. In 1940, the United Kingdom found itself staring down the apparently unstoppable German war machine across the narrow English Channel. Having taken substantial losses of men and materiel in the Norwegian and French campaigns, the British government supplemented its conventional military procurement with emergency programs to quickly build basic, functional weapons: everything from small arms to armored vehicles to fixed defenses. The government also considered how to quickly build so-called “emergency fighters” to combat the Luftwaffe.

Russia Goes to War: Exercises, Signaling, War Scares, and Military Confrontations

Konrad Muzyka

Executive Summary
In September, Russia and Belarus will hold their quadrennial “Zapad” or Western operational-strategic exercise. Last held in 2017, this exercise comes at a time when Russia’s relations with the West are at their lowest point following Russia’s annexation of Crimea and combat troop deployment to Eastern Ukraine in 2014. Russian force and equipment prepositioning near Ukraine in April 2021, as well as the Russian government’s announcement that it will deploy 20 additional military units to its Western Military District (WMD), indicate that the exercise will be particularly large. This will be an important exercise to better understand Russian-Belarusian military integration and the potential future use of Belarusian territory by Russia.

Telling the Difference: An Exercise or Changing Force Posture?

Cybersecurity for SMEs - Challenges and Recommendations

In response to the COVID19 pandemic, ENISA analysed the ability of SMEs within the EU to cope with the cybersecurity challenges posed by the pandemic and determining good practices to address those challenges. This report provides cybersecurity advice for SMEs, but also proposals for actions that Member States should consider in order to support SMEs improve their cybersecurity posture.

Exercise Tests DOD's Integrated Deterrence


Air Force Gen. Glen D. VanHerck, commander of North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command, today briefed the news media on Global Information Dominance Experiment 3, which took place July 8-15.

The experiment focused on a peer competitor and centered a lot on contested logistics in scenarios where lines of communication — such as the Panama Canal — were challenged, he said without going into specifics since much of the experiment is classified.

GIDE 3 enabled the department to rapidly collaborate with all 11 combatant commands and across the department to see pertinent data and information, using a variety of sensors, artificial intelligence and machine learning.