2 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 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.

Can India Make a Play in Afghanistan?

Michael Kugelman

The Afghanistan Factor
Shared concern about China is the core driver of the U.S.-India partnership, but in recent months, other priorities have intervened. When Indian External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar visited Washington in May, COVID-19 cooperation was the main focus. Now, it’s Afghanistan.

This week, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken traveled to India, where his meetings covered a variety of topics: U.S. Indo-Pacific policy, the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue—known as the Quad, the pandemic, and climate change. Blinken also addressed civil society leaders with a focus on India’s democratic backsliding—an indication the Biden administration isn’t afraid to engage on issues New Delhi would prefer it avoid.

But Afghanistan undoubtedly loomed large over the visit, given the central focus the U.S. withdrawal occupies in the Biden administration’s South Asia policy and India’s growing involvement in Afghanistan-focused regional diplomacy. It figured prominently in Blinken’s meetings and in his public comments during the trip.


Prakash Gopal

The past year has witnessed tumultuous and unforeseen changes in the global geopolitical landscape due to the pandemic. While India struggles to contain its devastating second wave, it is simultaneously confronted with a significant national security challenge from across the disputed Himalayan border with China. A skirmish along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) that started in May 2020 escalated rapidly into a full-blown crisis, with clashes in Galwan on June 15, 2020, causing casualties on both sides. After multiple rounds of talks, the crisis remains unresolved and has starkly exposed India’s lack of credible deterrence that could either deny or punish China’s belligerence across the unsettled border.

In response to the border crisis, the Indian government promoted and contributed to the rapid coalescence of the quadrilateral security dialogue (Quad)—a loose coalition of the United States, Japan, Australia, and India. Notable milestones in the Quad’s accelerated development include the addition of Australia in the Malabar series of naval exercises and several high-level meetings of officials from the four countries, the highest-profile of which being the first leaders’ summit in March 2021. The assumption that India’s sudden moves to consolidate the Quad were driven primarily by Chinese actions along the LAC may be debated. Nevertheless, if that is the case, it follows that India views its renewed efforts in coalition-building as part of a solution to its China problem. Though the Quad may be useful in tackling security threats in the larger Indo-Pacific region, in the near term, it is unlikely to meaningfully contribute to bolstering India’s ability to deter China along land borders or in the maritime domain.

Pakistan’s Imran Khan Says US ‘Really Messed It Up In Afghanistan’

Al Bawaba News

The Pakistani prime minister has said that the US “really messed it up in Afghanistan” by first looking for a military solution and then seeking political reconciliation with the Taliban from a position of weakness.

His remarks come as the US and NATO forces are set to end their 20-year involvement in Afghanistan in just over one month.

“I think the US has really messed it up in Afghanistan. You see, first of all, they tried to look for a military solution in Afghanistan, when then never was one,” Imran Khan told PBS NewsHour, an American news program, late Tuesday.

He said that when the US realized there was no military solution in Afghanistan, “unfortunately” their bargaining power “had gone.”

The Kremlin’s Bluff in Afghanistan

Stephen Blank

A close examination of the Russian government’s public positions on the impending Taliban takeover of Afghanistan provides a revealing picture of Moscow’s approach to conflicts abroad and of its posture in Central Asia more specifically. While reveling in Washington’s failure in Afghanistan (TASS, July 16, 21) and criticizing the United States for the latter’s badly planned withdrawal from there, Russia has also broached the idea of allowing US forces access to Russian bases in Central Asia—before denying it had done so (Mid.ru, July 21). At the same time, Moscow has brought pressure to bear upon Central Asian governments to refrain from hosting those US forces in their own countries (Mid.ru, July 16). That bravado and gloating, nonetheless, obscures deeper worries in Russia regarding the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan.

In response to mounting signs of concern in Tajikistan in particular (see EDM, July 13), Russia has warned the Taliban and its associated groups against spreading terrorism (and drugs) to Central Asia, stepped up joint military drills there (Caspian News, July 23; Anadolu Agency, July 27), and loudly stated the readiness of the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) to assist in defending any member threatened by the Taliban or other militants. Back in 2019, the head of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), Aleksandr Bortnikov, warned that 5,000 Islamic State fighters had descended on northern Afghanistan, though at the time most foreign intelligence services dismissed those assertions as overblown (RFE/RL, May 21, 2019).

Fog of War or Foggy Narratives? Afghanistan’s Information War Heats Up

Tanya Goudsouzian

As the war in Afghanistan rages on between the Taliban and Afghan security forces, one frequently-cited feature in Western media coverage has been a series of color-coded maps describing areas of control. These graphics attempt to simplify a complex, decades-long war for the general public, most of whom are unfamiliar with Afghanistan’s history, topography, demography, and other characteristics. In the absence of independently verified data from the battlefield, these easily digestible graphics seem to show sweeping Taliban gains but are compiled almost entirely on the basis of Taliban claims, with little to no reference to Afghan government statements or statistics. Routinely used as a source by many news agencies, such maps may mislead news consumers worldwide and also impact Afghan lives, public opinion, and potentially the outcome of the war. Yet, these maps seem to have little connection to reality and have yet to clearly define what “control” means, or how the colors equate to governance.

Much has been said of the fog of war and how real-time reports are rarely accurate in the best of circumstances. The military even has an adage for this: “The first report is usually wrong.” While the adage refers to fast-changing battlefield conditions, it is made far worse when the maps and reports are manipulated. The four-decade-long Afghan war, complex in nature, has always been characterized by competing narratives, with media, at times, unwittingly spreading disinformation.

A Picture of China’s Expansion

The rapid pace of Chinese growth has expanded the country’s need for natural resources, especially farmland, timber and inputs needed for emerging technologies such as batteries destined for electric vehicles. This has compelled Chinese companies in the agriculture, forestry and mining sectors to acquire lands overseas on an extraordinary scale, particularly in Africa and Asia. According to Landmatrix, between 2011 and 2020 Beijing acquired control of 6.48 million hectares around the world, compared to the 1.56 million controlled by the U.K., the 860,000 by the United States and the 420,000 by Japan.

The increased Chinese influence all around the world has  triggered fears and concerns among other states, since emerging and developing countries that accept China’s investments run the risk of falling into the so-called debt trap. For example, after joining the Belt and Road Initiative, Montenegro found itself in a situation where it couldn’t repay the debt it incurred for financing highway construction, and it was forced to ask for Western banks’ help. Countries in this same situation could become significantly exposed to Chinese geopolitical influence. That’s why some countries, like EU member states and Japan, are trying to implement countermeasures to balance Chinese investments in infrastructural projects and land acquisitions.

China Used Vaccines, Trade To Get Ukraine To Drop Support For Xinjiang Scrutiny – Analysis

Yevhen Solonyna and Reid Standish*

(RFE/RL) — Ukraine succumbed to Chinese pressure to remove its name from an international statement about human rights abuses in China’s western Xinjiang region by threatening to limit trade and withhold access to COVID-19 vaccines, Ukrainian officials and lawmakers with knowledge of the issue told RFE/RL.

After initially joining with more than 40 other countries on June 22, Kyiv withdrew its signature two days later from a statement at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva that called for China to allow independent observers immediate access to Xinjiang, where Beijing is operating a camp system that UN officials estimate has interned more than 1 million Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and other Muslim minorities.

The incident was first reported by AP last month citing Western diplomats speaking anonymously. RFE/RL has since spoken to three Ukrainian lawmakers and a senior government official who confirmed the report and provided new details.

Protests in Iran Point to the Middle East’s ‘Water Bankrupt’ Future

Candace Rondeaux

Iran’s southwestern province of Khuzestan has long been a hotbed of civil unrest and instability. In 1979, at the height of the Islamic Revolution led by the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, segments of the province’s large minority Arab population led a violent push for autonomy. The oil-rich province on the border of Iraq was also at the center of the first major offensive in the Iran-Iraq war during the 1980s. In 2005, a wave of bomb attacks set off by Arab separatists rocked Khuzestan’s provincial capital, Ahvaz. Six years later, in 2011, an Iranian government crackdown on protests inspired by the Arab uprisings resulted in the deaths of 15 people.

Now, with unrest once again rocking Khuzestan for the past several weeks, the province also appears to be emerging as another major flashpoint in the Middle East’s ongoing struggles with water scarcity and the increasing hazards of climate change.

U.S. designates al Qaeda financial facilitator based in Turkey


The U.S. Treasury Department announced today that two money men working for al Qaeda and Hay’at Tahrir al Sham (HTS) have been designated. The designations are part of a broader U.S. effort to sanction individuals and entities taking part in the Syrian war. Other extremists and parts of Bashar al-Assad’s regime were also designated and sanctioned as part of the campaign.

Hasan al-Shaban is one of the two bag men targeted by Treasury. He is described as a “Turkey-based al Qaeda financial facilitator” who “materially” assists the worldwide insurgency and terrorist network.

Treasury says that an al Qaeda “fundraiser” provided al-Shaban’s “banking information…to prospective donors as a way for them to send money to support al Qaeda military efforts and the so-called mujahideen fighting in Syria.”

Biden Looks To Techno-Alliances To Chip In On Semiconductors – Analysis

Tian He*

The Biden administration has proposed an ambitious plan to build an alliance of techno-democracies to counter the rapid rise of China as a technology superpower. This strategy is quietly taking shape in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, as US President Joe Biden sets out to rebuild the semiconductor sector in the United States.

While the United States still dominates chip design, many US firms have outsourced production. The country’s share of global chip manufacturing has fallen from 37 per cent in 1990 to 12 per cent today. Meanwhile, three East Asian semiconductor powerhouses — Japan, Taiwan and South Korea — contribute nearly 70 per cent of global semiconductor production. China is rapidly catching up with its neighbours and is on pace to become the world’s largest chip producer by 2030.

The erosion of the US manufacturing base has made the United States dangerously dependent on East Asia for its supply of semiconductors. The recent COVID-19 pandemic-induced chip shortage revealed long-standing vulnerabilities in US semiconductor supply chains. Given that semiconductors are essential for almost all electronic gadgets and emerging technologies, the Biden administration is naturally worried about the United States losing access to its supply.

U.S. F-35s on U.K. Carrier a Powerful Message of Commitment, Consensus and Collaboration

Scott Swift

The deployment of the HMS Queen Elizabeth Carrier Strike Group is a compelling sight in the western Pacific. The multinational carrier strike group, made up of U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps, Royal Netherlands Navy and Royal Navy units, sends a strong signal of commitment to the region and underscores the increasing concern of U.S. all.

That concern is being addressed through commitments alluded to by the U.S. Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin, in his comments at the recent INDOPACOM change of command. Speaking to an international audience, he called for “integrated deterrence.”

“Under this integrated deterrence,” he said, “the U.S. military isn’t meant to stand apart, but to buttress U.S. diplomacy and advance a foreign policy that employs all instruments of our national power.” While the deployment had been long in planning and was underway when he made those comments, they serve as a fitting reminder of what the HMS Queen Elizabeth Carrier Strike Group represents.

To Beat China In The Gray Zone, You Have To Be There

James Holmes

During Desert Shield and Desert Storm my skipper took delight in regaling ship riders with the wonders of battleships, ours in particular. This old sea-dog had a standard talking point to the effect that “we got to the Gulf fast—and we’re going to stay here!” We dissolute youth mocked the Old Man for his banal words at the time, but over the years I’ve come to realize there was sublime wisdom in them. If you want to control something you have to be there to control it. Showing up intermittently and going away will not cut it if your opponent is there, in force, all the time, to impose its will.

That’s the basic point I want to get across today. Judging by what I’ve heard from eavesdropping on you the past couple of days, I am preaching to the choir here. But it’s worth repeating. It is incumbent on all of us to champion that basic yet profound idea with senior leaders to assure it’s put into practice in gray-zone competition.

Russia’s New Strategy for Central Asia

Ekaterina Zolotova

While Russia was grabbing attention with its buildup and withdrawal of military forces along its western border with Ukraine, it was making a different, diplomatic advance in another buffer region: Central Asia. On April 30, leaders from the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) – Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Russia, as well as observer states – gathered in Kazan, Russia. A few days before the meeting, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu traveled to Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, which is an observer member of the EAEU. Of course, Russian cooperation with the countries of Central Asia is nothing new. But the meetings were emblematic of a shift in Russian strategy away from the ad hoc approach of past decades and toward something more coherent. Facing rising competition for regional influence, and with diminished political and economic capital to impose its will, Moscow is trying to build up the EAEU and lead by subtler means.

Haphazard Strategy

The Age of Zombie Democracies

Kenneth Roth

Over the past decade, autocrats around the world have perfected the technique of “managed” or “guided” democracy. In Belarus, Egypt, Russia, Uganda, Venezuela, and elsewhere, authoritarian leaders have held periodic elections to enhance their legitimacy but monopolized the media, restricted civil society, and manipulated state institutions and resources to ensure that they remained in power.

Such methods are never foolproof, however, and their effectiveness has diminished as citizens have wised up and learned to operate within rigged systems. A growing number of autocrats have thus been forced to rely on ever starker forms of repression: they still hold periodic elections since their people have come to expect them, but they do not even pretend that these empty rituals are free or fair. The result has been the proliferation of what might be called “zombie democracies”—the living dead of electoral political systems, recognizable in form but devoid of any substance.

Hybrid CoE Working Paper 11: Disinformation 2.0: Trends for 2021 and beyond

Isabella Garcia-Camargo, Samantha Bradshaw

Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election drew attention to the ways that social media can be leveraged for information operations by nation-state actors. Since then, however, these campaigns have evolved. Using the 2020 election in the United States as a case study, this Hybrid CoE Working Paper evaluates how the actors, strategies, and tactics for spreading disinformation have evolved from 2016 to 2020, and discusses the direction that future policymaking should take to address contemporary trends in information operations.

A medium-length paper covering work in progress. Develops and shares ideas on Hybrid CoE’s ongoing research/workstrand themes, or analyzes actors, events or concepts that are relevant from the point of view of hybrid threats.

Kremlin says Biden is wrong to say that Russia only has nuclear weapons and oil

Anastasia Teterevleva

MOSCOW, July 28 (Reuters) - The Kremlin said on Wednesday that U.S. President Joe Biden's assessment of Russia as only having nuclear weapons and oil was wide of the mark and betrayed a lack of knowledge about the country.

Biden made the remark on Tuesday during a speech in which he 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. 

Biden boasted that the U.S. intelligence services were superior to their Russian counterparts and said Putin had "a real problem."

"... He's sitting on top of an economy that has nuclear weapons and oil wells and nothing else. Nothing else. Their economy is, what?, the eighth smallest in the world now, largest in the world? He knows he's in real trouble, which makes him even more dangerous, in my view," said Biden.

The Politics Of The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam – Analysis

Ambassador Gurjit Singh*
On 5 July 2021, Ethiopia informed Egypt and Sudan that the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on the Blue Nile in Ethiopia is undergoing its second filling. Cairo once again took the matter to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). The UNSC discussed the matter on 9 July, under ‘threat to peace and security.’ It did not approve the Tunisia-led resolution asking for Ethiopia to desist from unilateral actions regarding the GERD. The UNSC has cautioned parties to maintain peace and continue negotiations, including technical discussions to arrive at a solution.[1] It supports the African Union (AU) led negotiation process.[2]

Located in the Benishangul-Gumuz Region of Ethiopia,[3] the construction of this giant hydropower dam on the Blue Nile began in 2011, to be completed in 2022. With a generating capacity of 6.45 GW, it will be the seventh-largest globally and the biggest in Africa.


Stavros Atlamazoglou

Recently, the U.S. and British intelligence communities issued an advisory uncovering the “Brute Force” cyber techniques used by the Russian GRU intelligence agency against hundreds of Western government and private targets. These revelations come in the wake of months of successive cyberattacks against American and European targets, including the SolarWinds, which saw Russian and Chinese hackers gain access to U.S. government systems, and Colonial Pipeline, which interfered with the flow of fuel on America’s East Coast this past May.

According to the Intelligence Community, the GRU cyberattacks started from the middle of 2019 and are likely still ongoing, with the GRU’s 85th Main Special Service Center (GTsSS) unit 26165 identified as the main perpetrator behind the attacks. The goal of this cyber warfare campaign is to access protected and classified databases in order to purloin information, but also to pave the way for future breaches.

The first water war is uncomfortably close

Roger Boyes

‘Whisky is for drinking,” Mark Twain supposedly said, “water’s for fighting.” That’s the way it’s looking in the Middle East and beyond at the moment. Disputes about how to allocate the water of the world’s great rivers — the Nile, the Tigris-Euphrates, the Mekong, to name just a few — have been raging for centuries but they have stopped short of all-out war. Climate change, the warming of the seas and extreme weather fluctuations may be bringing closer the first outright water war since the days of ancient Mesopotamia.

The water war of the 21st century could come in two forms. The first would be in a mismanaged or panicked response to rising seas. Around 150 million people live one metre or less above current

Four Things to Consider on the Future of AI-enabled Deterrence

Alex Wilner, Casey Babb, Jessica Davis

Analysts and policymakers alike believe artificial intelligence (AI) may fundamentally reshape security. It is now vital to understand its implications for deterrence and coercion. Over the past three years, with funding from Canada’s Department of National Defence through its Innovation for Defence Excellence and Security (IDEaS) program, we undertook extensive research to better understand how AI intersects with traditional deterrence theory and practice in both the physical and digital domains. After dozens of interviews and consultations with subject matter experts in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Europe, Israel and elsewhere, we came away with four key insights about AI’s potential effect on deterrence. The implications of these findings pose challenges that states will have to reckon with as they integrate AI into their efforts to deter threats ranging from organized criminal activities, to terrorist and cyberattacks, to nuclear conflict and beyond.

AI Poses a Communications Dilemma

The Truth About Tripwires: Why Small Force Deployments Do Not Deter Aggression

Dan Reiter, Paul Poast

A pillar of American grand strategy since 1945 has been the deployment of forces — sometimes smaller and sometimes larger — abroad. A key logic underpinning smaller deployments is that they serve as tripwires: Attacking them is assumed to inevitably trigger broader intervention, deterring aggression. We question this logic. Not only are small tripwire deployments unlikely to prevent an attacker from capturing its objective and establishing a strong defensive position, tripwire-force fatalities may be insufficient to provoke broader intervention. To deter, forward deployments must be sufficiently substantial to shift the local balance of power. Our claim is examined in three 20th-century deterrence attempts: the successful 1949 American attempt to deter a North Korean attack on South Korea; the unsuccessful 1950 American attempt to deter a North Korean attack on South Korea; and the unsuccessful 1914 British attempt to deter a German attack on Belgium.

Basing U.S. troops close to the front lines of an area where war is likely to break out has been a cornerstone of American grand strategy since World War II.1 From the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea to the plains of West Germany during the Cold War, U.S. troops have been placed directly in the path of expected assaults. The goal of forward-deploying these troops is simple: to deter aggression. Mere verbal promises to protect an ally can be dismissed as “cheap talk.”2 Making an effective threat to protect an ally requires non-verbal measures. After all, actions speak louder than words.

Russia’s Mighty S-500 Anti-Aircraft System Is No Joke

Caleb Larson

It could be one of the most advanced air defense systems in the world, and it appears ready to enter serial production.

Russia’s S-500 air defense missile system made a public appearance in a video released by the Russian Ministry of Defense which showed the missile system targeting a “high-speed ballistic target.”

“S-500 anti-aircraft missile system has no analogues in the world and is designed to defeat the entire spectrum of existing and promising aerospace attack weapons of a potential enemy in the entire range of altitudes and speeds,” the Russian Ministry of Defense explained in their release — and that explanation could very well be accurate.


Mitchell G. Klingenberg

As Sino-American relations come under increased strain, scholars, civil authorities, servicemembers, and strategists have theorized about how the United States can bring various instruments of national power to bear against the People’s Republic of China. Some have speculated, channeling concerns of the National Defense Strategy Commission, that armed conflict with China might spell decisive defeat for US forces. Preoccupation with the pacing threat of the century has even infiltrated popular print culture. The novel 2034 is a New York Times bestseller and has captured scores of readers through its gripping, Tom Clancy–esque tale of great power war. Too many of these considerations, in imagining some unrealized future, fail to offer historical perspective; they neglect the fact that the United States has deployed forces to China before.

In the summer of 1900, the Society of Righteous and Harmonious Fists, a militant, antiforeign society, took root in China’s northern provinces and overran the imperial seat of Peking (present-day Beijing). Commonly called Boxers, they were religious zealots who practiced ancient forms of mysticism, self-flagellation, and martial arts in an effort to make themselves invincible to Western weapons. As a militia, albeit one that lacked a central and unified command, the Boxers sought to end foreign commercial, industrial, and religious influence in China. They routinely slaughtered Western Christians (whom they regarded as “foreign devils”) as well as indigenous Chinese who converted to, and proselytized on behalf of, Christianity. In 1900, Boxers enjoyed official sanction in the Manchu court as Qing officials—powerless to suppress the group, and simultaneously lacking a modern, twentieth century–style military with which to deter foreigners—felt their power slipping away.