3 September 2021

Cyber Weapons – A Weapon of War?

Maj Gen PK Mallick, VSM (Retd)

The character of warfare has changed fundamentally over the last decade. In the past, it was essential for an adversary nation or insurgent to physically bring weapons to bear during combat. That requirement is no longer a necessity. In cyber operations, the only weapons that need to be used are bits and bytes. In this new era of warfare, logistics issues that often restrict and limit conventional warfare and weaponry are not impediments. This new weaponry moves at the speed of light, is available to every human on the planet and can be as surgical as a scalpel or as devastating as a nuclear bomb.

Cyber attacks in various forms have become a global problem. Cyber weapons are low-cost, low-risk, highly effective and easily deployable globally. This new class of weapons is within reach of many countries, extremist or terrorist groups, non-state actors, and even individuals. Cyber crime organisations are developing cyber weapons effectively. The use of offensive Cyber operations by nation-states directly against another or by co-opting cyber criminals has blurred the line between spies and non-state malicious hackers. New entrants, both nation-states and non-state actors have unmatched espionage and surveillance capabilities with significant capabilities. They are often the forerunners for criminal financial gain, destruction and disruption operations. Progressively, we see non-state actors including commercial entities, developing capabilities that were solely held by a handful of state actors.

Social Media in Violent Conflicts – Recent Examples

Maj Gen PK Mallick, VSM (Retd)

Alan Rusbridger, the then editor-in-chief of the Guardian in his 2010 Andrew Olle Media Lecture, stated, “News organisations still break lots of news. But, increasingly, news happens first on Twitter. If you’re a regular Twitter user, even if you’re in the news business and have access to wires, the chances are that you’ll check out many rumours of breaking news on Twitter first. There are millions of human monitors out there who will pick up on the smallest things and who have the same instincts as the agencies—to be the first with the news. As more people join, the better it will get. ”

The most important and unique feature of social media and its role in future conflicts is the speed at which it can disseminate information to audiences and the audiences to provide feedback.

Climate Change Is the Biggest Threat to Indian Ocean Security

Arjun Gargeyas

“The Indian Ocean is warming at a higher rate than the other oceans around the world,” revealed Swapna Panickal, a meteorological scientist at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, based on the recently released Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report. The IPCC shed light on the potential disasters that the world and the Indian Ocean region might have to face in the coming decades. This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the issues concerning the Indo-Pacific. But the threat of an existential crisis due to natural disasters for a number of island states in the region requires a joint plan of action to tackle the current situation.

The dormant Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) has the ability – and the need – to take the initiative on protecting the region’s interests amid the unfolding climate crisis.

The decline of multilateralism and multilateral institutions has led to a lack of accountability among states in responding to global challenges. A multilateral body with the ability to promote cooperation is the need of the hour. Climate change and the potential havoc it might bring to the Indian Ocean region can and must serve as a wake up call for the IORA. However, this must also be used as a base to address other long-standing problems concerning the region as a whole.

Former Afghan President Ghani had informed Biden that Taliban was advancing with ‘full Pakistani support’. Read excerpts

In July 2021, the then-President of Afghanistan Ashraf Ghani in a phone conversation with US President Biden told US President Joe Biden how the Taliban was advancing quickly with the help of Pakistan, as per a Reuters report.

He had said, “Mr President, we are facing a full-scale invasion, composed of Taliban, full Pakistani planning and logistical support, and at least 10-15,000 international terrorists, predominantly Pakistanis thrown into this.”

Ghani had urged US President to take note of Pakistan’s relations with the Taliban into consideration while making any decision about the withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan.
The phone conversation between Ghani and Biden

As per experts of the call provided by News Agency Reuters, on July 23, then-President Ghani and President Biden had a conversation about the ongoing scuffle between Afghan forces and Taliban. Biden said that after having discussions with the officials in Pentagon, NSA and others, he came to the conclusion that the perception around the world, and in parts of Afghanistan, “is that things aren’t going well in terms of the fight against the Taliban.” He added that there was a need to project a different picture of the whole situation.



The Taliban delegation to Jalalabad in the summer of 1996 was a dour bunch of old men who took their meals together at a long table in the dining room of the Spinghar hotel. They were there to negotiate the surrender of Jalalabad and I was there to document the last stand of the Afghan government, such as it was, so there were some hard stares across the breakfast buffet. Then we would all go out and face the jet engine heat of the day.

A week later I was driving through Kabul when a Taliban gunner opened up on us with a machine gun. (The Taliban already harbored Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaida figures in Afghanistan, but the Islamic State was not yet in existence.) My driver cranked a U-turn and roared back up the ruined boulevard. “We hate those people,” he said, “but they promise to clean up corruption, and so we will let them into our country.” The Taliban claimed Kabul weeks after I got out, hanging President Najibullah from a streetlight for corruption and completing their three-year campaign to establish an Islamic government in Afghanistan. From there, I was told by a captured Taliban fighter, they planned to wage jihad across Southeast Asia and eventually the world.

Hazaras, the Most Unloved, Marginalised People of Afghanistan

Ullekh NP

In Delhi’s Ashram area where she has lived for the past three years with her family comprising parents, brothers and husband, Rabia (name changed) serves me tea and cheese, recalling in accented Hindi how traumatic it was to live in Afghanistan since the time she was born. Her parents are from ‘elsewhere’, she doesn’t remember where, but she was raised in Bamiyan, which was home to the giant 1500 years old Buddhas carved on a mountain that were destroyed by the Taliban in 2001. “Even our men were always made to feel they were outsiders. They thought our womenfolk are meant to be slaves, which was why I discontinued my studies after class XII,” says the 30-year-old, explaining the agony of being born a Hazara and also a woman in the landlocked country ravaged by wars.

Some of her relatives are in Bamiyan and their plight due to the Taliban’s return to power, her brother Rashid says, is like being a goat in front of a pride of lions. “Nobody respects us. Everyone is a target of the whimsical Taliban soldiers and we are targets for additional reasons. They don’t consider us Muslim,” he says, emphasising that even non-Hazaras are hiding in parks and the woods to escape the Taliban who, according to information he claims to have gathered from friends back home, are ransacking home after home in most cities to either beat up or kill males they consider are enemies and take away their women to marry them off to the Taliban fighters.

Living with the Taliban?

Anthony H. Cordesman

Living with the Taliban involves major risks and uncertainties, and it will be more than difficult even if it proves successful. No one can dismiss the risk that the Taliban will emerge as a hardline extremist state and/or use, or at the very least, tolerate some form of terrorism. Any form of cooperation will mean accepting a substantial amount of the Taliban’s restrictions on human rights and authoritarianism. It will also involve dealing with a movement that operates with such different – and unpredictable – political dynamics.

At the same time, it may well be the best option the United States now has for trying to moderate the Taliban’s behavior, protect the Afghan people, and limit the risk of the Taliban tolerating extremist movements and acts of terrorism. At this point, the Taliban seems to have at least some moderate elements that are focused on creating an effective and stable government. There is no clear extremist element in at least its visible political and religious leadership. The Taliban faces its own threat from ISIS-K. Al-Qaeda, while present, does not seem to be a highly active force, and it badly needs trade, diplomatic recognition, aid, and financial ties to the outside world.

Insurgent Bureaucracy: How the Taliban Makes Policy

Ashley Jackson and Rahmatullah Amiri

The Taliban’s system of shadow governance in Afghanistan and the experiences of civilians now living under Taliban rule are each well documented by both scholars and journalists. The precise policies that guide Taliban governance and the factors that have shaped these rules are little understood, however. This report, which is based on more than a hundred interviews with Taliban fighters and officials as well as with civilians living in areas under Taliban control, provides insights into how Taliban policy is made and implemented. Drawing on Taliban policy documents obtained through fieldwork and never before made public, it also elucidates key policies and structures that govern the movement.

The Taliban’s policymaking process is far from straightforward but not wholly unfamiliar. In general terms, policy is the result of a set of interrelated decisions taken by a range of actors regarding objectives and the best way to achieve them.1 Implementing policy adds another layer of internal bargaining and influence, wherein policy is shaped by multiple actors inside the organization, each with varying levels of agency and power, as well as by various interests.2 These actors interact not only with each other but also with those outside the organization. The more complex and varied these interactions are, the more complicated it becomes to isolate the factors that shape policy and its implementation. Rather than a purely rational or linear process, “the whole life of a policy is a chaos of purposes and accidents.

The United States Can’t Ignore the Taliban’s Internal Structure

Sam Abodo

For over a decade, Washington has spoken of the Taliban as a loose band of fighters. This assumption was, and continues to be, false. The Obama administration, for instance, devised a divide-and-conquer strategy to reach the “reconcilables” in the insurgency. To be sure, from building an economy to deterring ISIS attacks, a Taliban government faces steep obstacles. But cohesiveness is not one of them. A brief overview of the Taliban’s internal structure reveals a meticulous but flexible approach that Washington must reckon with to avoid being once again blindsided by the group’s advances.

Take the Doha Agreement, for example. During the negotiations, Haibatullah Akhunzada, the amir of the Taliban, strengthened the insurgency’s traditional consultative process by consistently deferring to committees. These consultations demonstrated that Taliban leadership can discuss disagreement within a framework without fear of retaliation. Though the amir is the supreme ruler, critical decisions like peace deals don’t occur without a dialogue.

Five myths about the Taliban

Ashley Jackson

A little less than two decades after it was forced from power in Afghanistan by the U.S. invasion prompted by the 9/11 attacks, the Taliban has now captured most of the country and the capital, Kabul. The group’s return has raised questions about how it was able to seize so much territory so quickly, and whether it has changed from the brutal regime most remember from the 1990s. Its comeback has also revived several erroneous or outdated beliefs.

Myth No. 1

Pakistan controls the Taliban.

The Taliban has been variously portrayed as a proxy of Pakistan, so much so that #SanctionPakistan began trending across social media in response to the Taliban’s recent military advance. Former Afghan president Ashraf Ghani has long blamed Pakistan for the Taliban’s resurgence, as have many Western analysts.

Osama bin Laden’s security chief triumphantly returns to hometown in Afghanistan


The man who served as Osama bin Laden’s security chief at the battle of Tora Bora triumphantly returned to his home in eastern Afghanistan today, less than two weeks after the country fell to the Taliban. The Al Qaeda commander was reportedly freed by Pakistan a decade ago.

Dr. Amin al Haq, the former head of bin Laden’s Black Guard, was captured on video in a large convoy as it traveled through a checkpoint in Nangarhar province. Haq was accompanied by a large convoy of heavily armed Taliban fighters in brand new SUVs. A small crowd flocked to Haq to shake his hand and take selfies with him.

The video of al Haq is evidence that Al Qaeda commanders now feel secure enough to appear publicly in a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.

It was not immediately clear if al Haq was returning to his home in eastern Afghanistan for the first time, or if he has been in Afghanistan the entire time since being released from Pakistani custody. He may have also been traversing the porous border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Either way, the confidence to travel and operate out in the open – in plain sight for the first time in a decade – speaks to the marked change in Afghanistan over the last month.



On the afternoon of July 9, 2021, William Walters rode an elevator to the seventh floor of the State Department’s Harry S. Truman Building. Passing a praetorian guard of aides, assistants, and diplomatic security agents, he entered the wood-paneled sanctum of his boss, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken. The visit was professional, personal, and pressing.

A physician and a veteran of the Army’s most elite special operations unit, “Doc” Walters headed up Operational Medicine, or OpMed—the State Department’s little-known expeditionary force that has helped organize and carry out daring rescues of U.S. officials, American citizens, and foreign nationals imperiled overseas. Created in 2013, after the deadly siege of the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, Walters’s directorate had been a turnkey solution for overseas operations at times when the proverbial shit hit the fan. Indeed, only a few months before, Blinken had thrown his public support behind OpMed, telling Vanity Fair—in a May story on Walters’s team—that the unit was a “lifeline for the Department of State and the American people. Though perhaps lesser known outside of the Department, it’s vital to our operations. That’s because OpMed provides the platform and personnel to save American lives around the world, especially in times of crisis.”

U.S.’s Pledge to Fight Terrorists in Afghanistan Will Be Harder Without Boots on the Ground

Warren P. Strobel, Gordon Lubold and Michael R. Gordon

Gone are the military bases and other infrastructure that provided a platform for operatives from the Central Intelligence Agency and other intelligence agencies. Gone is the U.S.-backed Afghan government and its intelligence service, the National Directorate of Security, which worked closely with American spy services. Gone, evacuated or scattered are Afghan agents and troops who fed on-the-ground information to the CIA.

U.S. officials acknowledge the military has lost 90% of the intelligence collection capabilities it had using drones before the drawdown of forces began in May.

“It is not the way you generally ever want to structure a counterterrorism campaign,” said Seth Jones, a former adviser to U.S. Special Operations Forces in Afghanistan now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank.

The potential perils of the Biden administration’s from-a-distance strategy were illustrated on Sunday. The U.S. military said a U.S. drone strike killed several suicide bombers inside a car that was laden with explosives. But many Afghans on the ground said the strike killed 10 civilians, including several children. The strike was the second the U.S. military launched following Thursday’s suicide bombing at Kabul airport that killed nearly 200 Afghans and 13 U.S. troops. The military’s U.S. Central Command said it was aware of reports of civilian casualties.

Last Flight From Kabul

The last American troops left Kabul on Monday—before the Aug. 31 deadline as the Taliban and President Biden had insisted—ending a 20-year conflict but also diminishing the hope of escape for tens of thousands of Afghan interpreters and others who helped America. The frantic evacuation flights managed to get many out, but this was a shameful day in American history, no matter how much the White House wants to spin it otherwise.

Aug. 31 was the arbitrary deadline Mr. Biden set when he thought he would be able to boast on the 20th anniversary of 9/11 that he had ended a “forever war.” He refused to extend the date despite pleas from NATO allies and knowing the date was too soon to evacuate the deserving. Mr. Biden nonetheless told Americans that he would evacuate all Americans who wanted to leave.

His deadline meant that the evacuation failed as much as his withdrawal strategy did. An unknown number of Americans—perhaps a few hundred—weren’t able to leave on the last flights. Nonprofit groups estimate that as many as 60,000 Afghans who fought or assisted the NATO mission were left behind.

What Is Known About ISIS-K Funding in Afghanistan?

Alex Zerden

The horrific Aug. 26 complex attack against Afghan civilians and U.S. Marines at the Kabul airport has put international attention on the Islamic State in Khorasan (ISIS-K), a relatively small and obscure offshoot of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS-Core). The attack raised an important question about the group’s capabilities to conduct further attacks against U.S. interests, both in Afghanistan and abroad.

In the aftermath of the attack, focus will naturally fall to questions about the group’s leadership and organizational structure. But to fully understand the group and disrupt future terrorist attacks, policymakers must recognize how the group raises revenues to fund its activities as well as steps already taken by the international community.

How ISIS-K Raises Money

The Roots Of US Failure In Afghanistan – OpEd

Ivan Eland

The rapid collapse of Afghanistan has led to predictable finger-pointing about who is to blame for “losing Afghanistan.” Both President Joe Biden and his predecessor, Donald Trump, laudably wanted to end the quagmire. Both made blunders.

Most recently, under Biden, Trump’s deadline for withdrawal was ignored, a Trump-era crisis response plan aimed at avoiding chaotic evacuations was halted, and a massive intelligence failure missed adroit Taliban negotiations with local governing structures to pre-cook a rapid takeover of the country. Also, Biden’s effort to quietly warn U.S. citizens to leave and offer them the price of the air ticket out of the country—all designed to avoid inducing panic—delayed the start of an airlift by months, leaving thousands of Americans stranded. Then, the Biden Pentagon abandoned the critical Bagram Air Base, which could have increased capacity and the rapidity of evacuation. Throughout, Biden’s White House and Pentagon have been concerned more with things other than assembling and implementing a sound disengagement campaign.

However, the best way to avoid this chaos in the future is to think twice, and even three times, before getting involved in counterinsurgency and nation-building missions in developing countries.

Afghanistan: Sharp Regression – Analysis

Ajit Kumar Singh*

Though just two weeks have passed since the Taliban returned to power in Kabul, fear among masses, as expected, has spread like wildfire across Afghanistan, forcing thousands to run towards the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, to escape a dreaded future. Unsurprisingly, the Kabul Airport and its surroundings have since become the epicenter of violence.

Several rounds of firing near and around the Kabul Airport have been reported. However, what happened on August 26, 2021, reflects the true picture of Afghanistan’s impending future. In one of the deadliest ever attacks recorded in the country and deadliest ever in Kabul since 2001, an Islamic State-Khorasan Province (IS-KP) suicide bomber killed at least 200 Afghan nationals and 13 United State (US) service members, including 12 Marines and a Navy medic, at Abbey Gate, Kabul Airport. Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby tweeted,

We can confirm that the explosion at the Abbey Gate was the result of a complex attack that resulted in a number of US & civilian casualties. We can also confirm at least one other explosion at or near the Baron Hotel, a short distance from Abbey Gate.

Russia and China Eye a Retreating U.S.

John Bolton

In the near term, responding to both menaces and opportunities emanating from Afghanistan, China will seek to increase its already considerable influence in Pakistan; Russia will do the same in Central Asia’s former Soviet republics; and both will expand their Middle East initiatives, often along with Iran. There is little evidence that the White House is ready to respond to any of these threats.

Over the longer term, Beijing and Moscow enjoy a natural division of labor in threatening America and its allies, in three distinct theaters: China on its periphery’s long arc from Japan across Southeast Asia out to India and Pakistan; Russia in Eastern and Central Europe; and the Russian-Iranian-Chinese entente cordiale in the Middle East. U.S. planning must contemplate many threats arising simultaneously across these and other theaters.

This underscores how strained our defense capabilities are to protect our far-flung interests, especially given the unprecedented domestic spending demands President Biden is now making. Washington’s most important task, therefore, is somehow to secure significant increases in defense budgets across the full threat spectrum, from terrorism to cyberwar. Diplomacy alone is no substitute.

Fentanyl in America: A Barometer of the China-US Relationship

Bonnie Girard

One of the telltale signs of the state of the relationship between the United States and China is the degree to which illicit drugs from China enter the U.S. market.

Indeed, a newly released report from the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission (USCC) found that “China remains the primary country of origin for illicit fentanyl and fentanyl-related substances trafficked into the United States.”

Most China observers are now clear-eyed and in agreement about one theme of the China-U.S. relationship: Beijing and Washington are staring at each other over an ever-widening chasm of differences of both policy and principle. Within that chasm, there are factions within the CCP that would not go out of their way to stop the flow of a drug that has a debilitating influence on the United States.

The drug trade is a key indicator of the overall integrity of the China-U.S. relationship because this trade could not happen without the actual or tacit knowledge, approval, and support of the Chinese government, which is led by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). As with the flow of people, surveillance over the movement of goods that go in and out of China is and has historically been rigorous.

NATO allies are preparing for a future without America’s “forever wars”

Jen Kirby

Afghanistan wasn’t just America’s 20-year war. It also belonged to US allies.

“This has been above all a catastrophe for the Afghan people. It’s a failure of the Western world and it’s a game changer for international relations,” the European Union’s chief diplomat Josep Borrell told an Italian newspaper Monday, according to the Washington Post.

“Certainly,” he continued, “we Europeans share our part of responsibility. We cannot consider that this was just an American war.”

As President George W. Bush said in October 2001 while announcing airstrikes against al-Qaeda and the Taliban, the US had the “collective will of the world” behind its mission in Afghanistan. (Iraq, of course, was a different story.) The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has invoked Article 5 — the common-defense clause — only once in its history, after the 9/11 attacks. More than 51 NATO members and partner countries sent troops to Afghanistan, with a combined 130,000 troops at the deployment’s peak.

Experts react: The US withdrawal from Afghanistan is complete. What’s next?

US Army Soldiers assigned to the 10th Mountain Division stand security at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, in this photo taken on August 15, 2021 and released by U.S. Navy on August 18, 2021. Photo by US NAVY/Central Command Public Affairs/Sgt. Isaiah Campbell/Handout via Reuters.

The final US troops departed Afghanistan on Monday shortly before midnight local time, ceding the country to Taliban control ahead of US President Joe Biden’s August 31 deadline—and nearly twenty years after the United States first invaded the country.

What’s next for Afghanistan? How will evacuations proceed without the US military controlling Kabul airport? What’s next for the counterterrorism mission? How will other regional and global powers shape the country the United States leaves behind?

We reached out to experts from across the Atlantic Council, many of whom have worked on Afghanistan policy at the highest levels of government, for their reactions and thoughts on what comes next. This post will be continuously updated as we receive more expert assessments of the withdrawal and its aftermath.

McMaster Still Gets Afghanistan Wrong

Will Smith

With the failure of America’s two-decade-long nation building project in Afghanistan on full display, an array of former officials have stepped into the spotlight to offer their thoughts on why the Taliban has been able to consolidate control over Afghanistan so quickly. Speaking at a recent Wilson Center event, H.R. McMaster, the retired U.S. Army lieutenant general who served in Afghanistan and was National Security Advisor to former President Donald Trump, attempted to place blame for the Taliban’s gut-wrenching victory on the “defeatists” who advocated for an end to America’s longest war.

Two key claims ran through McMaster’s talk at the “Hindsight Up Front: Afghanistan” event hosted by the Wilson Center. First, the United States had been “winning” in Afghanistan until it made unnecessary concessions to the Taliban during negotiations. Second, maintaining a “sustainable commitment” in Afghanistan in the years to come, rather than withdrawing, would have allowed America to ultimately achieve success at a low cost.

In light of Craig Whitlock’s publication of the “Afghanistan Papers,” which documented how U.S. officials systematically lied to politicians and the public about the progress of the war, it is perhaps unsurprising that McMaster’s analysis of the Taliban’s success devoted little attention to the two decades that the United States spent attempting to build a competent Afghan government. Conveniently, the starting point for McMaster’s analysis is the U.S.-Taliban peace deal—cynically referred to by McMaster as the “capitulation agreement”—that was negotiated after he left the Trump administration.

For Biden, ‘forever war’ isn’t over, just entering a new, perilous phase

Ashley Parker

The withdrawal of the final U.S. troops from Afghanistan on Monday marks the end of the U.S. military’s 20-year mission in Afghanistan.

But for President Biden, the end of the “forever war” is more of an inflection point than an actual conclusion. The departure of forces kicks off a new phase of the United States’s entanglement in Afghanistan that could also prove perilous — and no less challenging for American leadership than the previous two decades.

Biden and his team now have to grapple with deep skepticism over whether the Taliban, which now rules Afghanistan, will keep its promises for a peaceful transition. It pledged not to seek revenge on the Afghans who worked with and aided Americans during the conflict, and to respect the rights of women — at least within the framework of the group’s interpretation of Islamic law. But many foreign policy experts and even Biden allies remain mistrustful of what, exactly, that means.

The Wages of Defeat in Afghanistan


LONDON – The recent terrorist bombing at Kabul airport that killed more than 100 Afghan civilians and 13 US troops has added more horror to an awful summer. It also shows that Voltaire was not always correct. An enthusiastic gardener, he occasionally gave the impression one could forget about the world’s troubles by weeding a herbaceous border or strolling through an orchard. No such luck these days, alas, even on holiday in August.

When I am at my summer home in rural France, I look at the beautiful white-flowered rose – a Kiftsgate, native to western China – that envelops the entrance arch. I once saw an even more magnificent specimen. It covered the wall of the presidential palace in Kabul, which I visited in 2003 as a European Commissioner to help put in place the European Union’s development program in Afghanistan after the Western military intervention there to rout al-Qaeda.

30 Years After End of Soviet Union, Its Main Lesson for Russia Remains ‘Reform or Else'

Sergei Guriev

Thirty years after the failed August 1991 coup in the Soviet Union and the dissolution of the country four months later, it is hard to avoid asking: What led to the demise of that superpower and are the same factors relevant for its successor, today’s Russia? The final years of the USSR have been the subject of many studies, including post-Soviet reformer Yegor Gaidar’s “Collapse of an Empire: Lessons for Modern Russia.” Five years ago, Russia Matters’ Simon Saradzhyan carried out a thoughtful analysis of the factors identified by Gaidar and found that some do apply to Russia still. Rather than retrace their steps, this article will consider what we have learned since then. The main takeaway is very simple.

Despite certain important differences in the overall circumstances, the key dynamic for today’s Russia is similar to that faced by the late-Soviet-era leadership: Rapid economic growth requires reforms; reforms frighten entrenched elites; lack of economic growth will eventually force the regime to change—though whether this means more democratization or more repressiveness remains to be seen.

Social media: A tool for peace or conflict?

Dr Simone Bunse

Human rights activists have used social media technology to organize peaceful protests and defend democracy for more than a decade. More recently, peacebuilders have discovered it can be a tool to understand conflict dynamics and counter extremism better. Yet the potential of social media as a megaphone for promoting human rights, democracy and peace is overshadowed by its dismal record of being used to drive radicalization and violence through disinformation campaigns. This ‘online frontline’ will continue to be the case, unless regulators, social media firms and citizens revisit current policies and practices.

At the 2021 Stockholm Forum on Peace and Development researchers, policymakers, tech companies and civil society organizations had an opportunity to explore how social media can be harnessed for peacebuilding purposes and to assess policy responses to harmful online disinformation campaigns. This Topical Backgrounder is inspired by these discussions, particularly on the Janus-faced nature of social media. It makes four recommendations—one each for peacebuilding practitioners, policymakers, social media companies and citizens—to protect peace, democratic institutions and people’s welfare:

Why doesn't the U.S. win wars anymore?


The type of wars that Americans win — major wars between the great powers — no longer occur.

The type of wars that Americans lose — civil wars in foreign countries — are the ones that remain.

American strength will continue to lure presidents into foreign intervention.

We live in an age of power, peace, and loss. Since 1945, the United States has emerged as the unsurpassed superpower, relations between countries have been unusually stable, and the American experience of conflict has been a tale of frustration and defeat.

This raises the first paradox: We lose because the world is peaceful. The decline of interstate war and the relative harmony among the great powers is cause for celebration. But the interstate wars that disappeared are the kind of wars that we win. And the civil wars that remain are the kind of wars that we lose. As the tide of conflict recedes, we're left with the toughest and most unyielding internal struggles.

The Plea of Necessity: An Oft Overlooked Response Option to Hostile Cyber Operations

Louise Arimatsu, Michael N. Schmitt

States are increasingly focused on the measures—cyber or otherwise—that they can take in response to hostile cyber operations. Although cyber operations are usually responded to with acts of “retorsion” (acts that are lawful, although unfriendly), international law recognizes other self-help mechanisms that allow for more robust responses. In the cyber context, most attention has focused on countermeasures and self-defense. Yet, both are subject to various limitations that constrain their availability.

This article examines a further option, the so-called “plea of necessity.” It allows States to respond to a hostile cyber operation when the action taken would otherwise be unlawful but is the only way to safeguard an “essential interest” of the State from a “grave and imminent peril.” Although the plea has commanded comparatively little attention, it avoids some of the limitations and ambiguity besetting its counterparts. Indeed, necessity often provides a more defensible legal basis for responding to serious hostile cyber operations, although it is not without its own limitations and ambiguity

A Required Course For Americans: Strategic Failure 101


The last convoy of U.S. troops left Iraq under cover of darkness on December 18, 2011. To keep the U.S. military withdrawal secret from insurgents—or Iraqi security officers secretly aligned with militias—U.S. interpreters called local tribal and government leaders the day before to reassure them that business would continue as usual.

In an eerie repetition of the withdrawal from Iraq, on July 5, 2021, American forces left Afghanistan’s Bagram Airfield in the dead of night without informing the Afghan military leadership. Within hours, local Afghans looted the airfield.

Today, Americans are watching as another army created, equipped, and trained by the U.S. military in Afghanistan is melting away under assault by jihadist Islamist groups that fight not for religion or ideology, but against the American and allied military presence—what the Taliban view as foreign occupation or oppression.

Blind, Confuse and Demoralize: Russian Electronic Warfare Operations in Donbas

Sergey Sukhankin

Executive Summary
Electronic Warfare (EW) has historically been one of the key pillars of Russian/Soviet military might. Following the tumultuous period of internal crises in the 1990s, Russia managed to restore and, in some categories, surpass Soviet-era achievements in the realm of EW. Given the evolution of modern warfare and increasing reliance on new means of combat, primarily involving various types of drones, EW will preserve its strategic importance in Russia’s military thinking for the foreseeable future.

The Ukrainian crisis—both the annexation of Crimea and (to a much greater extent) hostilities in the Donbas region—has allowed Russia to test its EW inventory accumulated after 2008. In Donbas, Russia successfully experimented with brand new as well as some previously used pieces. Moreover, the use of EW became one of the decisive factors in securing the survival of Moscow-backed “separatist” forces on the one hand, and soundly defeating the Ukrainian military on the other hand.