18 September 2021

Deterrence Theory– Is it Applicable in Cyber Domain?

Maj Gen PK Mallick, VSM (Retd)


The Deterrence Theory was developed in the 1950s, mainly to address new strategic challenges posed by nuclear weapons from the Cold War nuclear scenario. During the Cold War, the U.S. and the Soviet Union adopted a survivable nuclear force to present a ‘credible’ deterrent that maintained the ‘uncertainty’ inherent in a strategic balance as understood through the accepted theories of major theorists like Bernard Brodie, Herman Kahn, and Thomas Schelling.1 Nuclear deterrence was the art of convincing the enemy not to take a specific action by threatening it with an extreme punishment or an unacceptable failure.

Chinese Cyber Exploitation in India’s Power Grid – Is There a linkage to Mumbai Power Outage?

 Maj Gen PK Mallick, VSM (Retd)


On Feb. 28, 2021 The New York Times (NYT), based on analysis by a U.S. based private intelligence firm Recorded Future, reported that a Chinese entity penetrated India’s power grid at multiple load dispatch points. Chinese malware intruded into the control systems that manage electric supply across India, along with a high-voltage transmission substation and a coal-fired power plant.

The NYT story1 gives the impression that the alleged activity against critical Indian infrastructure installations was as much meant to act as a deterrent against any Indian military thrust along the Line of Actual Control as it was to support future operations to cripple India’s power generation and distribution systems in event of war.



Ahmad Massoud, leader of the resistance and son of the famed guerrilla leader Ahmed Shah Massoud, has very publicly requested U.S. support. In a Washington Post opinion article on Aug. 18 and a series of media interviews, he exhorted America to take up its role as the “arsenal of democracy” and provide his newly formed National Resistance Front with weapons and assistance. Plenty in Washington listened sympathetically, determined not to abandon the rebels to the Taliban. Predictably, the calls for action gathered steam, spearheaded by Republican Rep. Mike Waltz, who appears eager to play the role of a modern-day Charlie Wilson. Joined by influential Sen. Lindsey Graham and others, together they called on President Joe Biden to “stand with our friends in the Panjshir Valley” and to recognize them as the “legitimate government representatives” of Afghanistan.

As far as can be ascertained from fragmentary news reports, the resistance hangs on by a thread. The Taliban has declared victory in Panjshir after occupying the provincial capital of Bazarak and the international media, largely dependent on journalists embedded with the Taliban, have been quick to accept this line. But it is worth recalling that Soviet forces also occupied parts of the Panjshir multiple times during the 1980s yet could not maintain their presence. Bazarak is only a short way into the long valley and, while symbolic, hardly represents a militarily decisive objective. The resistance claims it continues to occupy “strategic positions” and has vowed to fight on: If it can hold out until the winter snows arrive this could give it time to regroup and resupply. Meanwhile, Massoud called for a national uprising, just as widespread protests rocked Kabul. Although the prospects for the resistance look grim, it might be premature to declare “game, set, match.”

Taiwan Is Arming Itself To Beat A Chinese Invasion. Some New Weapons Are Better Than Others.

David Axe

The Taiwanese defense ministry is asking lawmakers for $17 billion for 2022. That record budget, accounting for 2.3% of the country’s gross domestic product, would be a 5% boost over 2021’s spending.

The budget would pay for, among other things, new air-defense missiles for the navy’s six Kang Ding-class frigates plus four MQ-9B armed drones for the air force as well as a host of missiles for that service’s growing fleet of new F-16V fighters.

Most of the proposed expenditures—but not all—align with Taiwan’s increasingly defensive war strategy.

Where once the 24 million-person island democracy boasted more and better ships, planes and tanks than its much more populous enemy, today China with its 1.4 billion people has a quantitative and, increasingly, qualitative military advantage over Taiwan.

Taliban Won’t Gain Much From U.S. Military Equipment Left In Afghanistan

Vikram Mittal

Over the last month, the world watched as NATO forces withdrew from Afghanistan and the Afghan National Army collapsed to the Taliban. Among the numerous concerns this has raised, the many U.S. military vehicles left behind has loomed large. Indeed, the Taliban is now reported to have over 2,000 armored vehicles and up to 100 aircraft, including American UH-60 Black Hawks and Russian Mi-17s.

Initially, some argued that the vehicles would be useless to the Taliban due to a lack of experienced operators. This is not the case: A recent Taliban parade in Kandahar indicated that they have trained vehicle operators, including helicopter pilots. The Taliban’s expertise with American military equipment indicates that the Taliban have absorbed members of the Afghan National Army. Moreover, numerous agencies have asserted that the Taliban is getting support from other countries. This foreign support would allow the Taliban to have additional access to experienced vehicle operators and instructors.

While on the surface, this situation seems dire, these vehicles, even with trained operators, will offer little military value to the Taliban. In the end, this equipment set will end up like the graveyard of Soviet equipment abandoned throughout Afghanistan in 1989.

Top US spy says Somalia, Yemen, Syria and Iraq represent greater terrorist threat than Afghanistan

Katie Bo Williams

(CNN)Afghanistan is no longer the US' top concern among international terrorist threats to the American homeland, the nation's top spy said at an intelligence and national security conference in Washington on Monday, even amid ongoing fears from some critics who argue that the country could become a haven for terrorist organizations like ISIS and al Qaeda to regroup following the US withdrawal.

Terror threats emanating from Somalia, Yemen, Syria and Iraq -- in particular ISIS -- pose a greater danger than those that might emerge from Afghanistan, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines told the annual Intelligence and National Security Summit.

"In terms of the homeland, the threat right now from terrorist groups, we don't prioritize at the top of the list Afghanistan," she said, speaking by videoconference. "What we look at is Yemen, Somalia, Syria and Iraq for ISIS. That's where we see the greatest threat."

Where did the $5tn spent on Afghanistan and Iraq go? Here’s where

Linda J Bilmes

While Washington bickers about what, if anything, has been achieved after 20 years and nearly $5tn spent on “forever wars”, there is one clear winner: the US defense industry.

In Iraq and Afghanistan, the American military relied to an unprecedented degree on private contractors for support in virtually all areas of war operations. Contractors supplied trucks, planes, fuel, helicopters, ships, drones, weapons and munitions as well as support services from catering and construction to IT and logistics. The number of contractors on the ground outnumbered US troops most years of the conflicts. By the summer of 2020, the US had 22,562 contractor personnel in Afghanistan – roughly twice the number of American troops.

The gravy train for the defense industry was also fueled by the way the wars were budgeted and paid for. Congress used “emergency” and “contingency” funding that circumvented the normal budget process. For the first decade of the conflict, the US used emergency appropriations, which are typically reserved for one-off crises such as floods and hurricanes. Detailed spending oversight was minimal. And because this type of spending is excluded from budget projections and deficit estimates, it enabled everyone to sustain the pretense that the wars would be over shortly.

Deterrence Implications of the U.S. Withdrawal From Afghanistan

David J. Trachtenberg

Twenty years ago, I was sitting in my Capitol Hill office when a colleague rushed in. “Turn on your TV,” he said. “You have to see this.” The attack on America had begun.

Over the next few hours, we were evacuated from the Capitol grounds as confusion reigned over which target might be the terrorists’ next. Weeks earlier, I had been offered a job as the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Policy, but my transition from a House staffer to a Pentagon official was delayed. In retrospect, the delay was propitious, as the Pentagon absorbed the next terrorist blow. Three days after I arrived at the Pentagon for my new assignment in October 2001, Operation Enduring Freedom—the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan—began.

The events of twenty years ago left an indelible mark on me and many of my generation. Twenty years later, the return to power of the Taliban in Afghanistan and the ignominious U.S. withdrawal are bitter pills to swallow. Not simply because they reflect a failure of American leadership but because the U.S. withdrawal will likely have negative and long-lasting repercussions for U.S. credibility and deterrence well into the future.

What Game Theory Says About China’s Strategy

 Peter Coy

On March 19, 1956, The New York Times carried an interview with Matyas Rakosi, who was described as “Hungary’s ebullient Communist boss.” Rakosi said that his enemies had accused him of using “salami tactics,” that is, cutting away all opposition slice by slice. He didn’t deny it: “That is the job of any good political party — including the Communists,” Rakosi said.

Salami-slicing may have originated as a metaphor in Hungary, but in the decades since, it has entered the vocabulary of politicians, military tacticians and editorial writers far from the banks of the Danube.

China, for instance. In August, The Global Times, a newspaper published under the auspices of the Chinese Communist Party, wrote, “The Biden administration has been gradually advancing ties with the island of Taiwan by using salami-slicing tactics.” China itself has been accused of salami-slicing tactics with its encroachments in the waters around Taiwan, in the South China Sea and on its border with India in the Himalayas. (The Chinese term for salami-slicing is “can shi,” meaning nibbling like a silkworm.)

Economics, specifically the discipline known as game theory, has a lot to say about salami slicing. The strategy is to move against a foe in small increments, always staying below the threshold that will provoke a response.

China, Afghanistan, and the Belt and Road Initiative: Diplomacy and Reality

Magnus Marsden

A series of diplomatic statements by China has indicated a “cautious alliance” between the country and the Taliban. On their part, the Taliban have declared China to be Afghanistan’s “main partner.” In the wake of the violent return to power of the Taliban, international leaders have made much of China’s potential role in Afghanistan. Most statements emphasize the possible dividends of growing levels of Chinese investment in Afghanistan in the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) – China’s central foreign policy scheme that seeks to create land and sea infrastructural links designed to facilitate economic activity within and beyond Asia.

Serious questions remain, however, about Afghanistan’s incorporation within the Belt and Road project. Most obviously, the security situation in Afghanistan will hamper China’s ability to invest in it. The Taliban have publicly stated they will not interfere in China’s affairs, yet there remains an important question mark over the ability and willingness of their new and internally divided administration to reign in Islamist movements hostile to neighboring states — including China. At the same time, opposition to Taliban rule — both in the form of street protests and in the military activities of the National Resistance Front led by Ahmad Masood — will be a source of further caution in China. Various groups have targeted Chinese personnel in Pakistan in recent months; comparable incidents in Afghanistan would bring the country’s cautious alliance with the Taliban under yet more scrutiny in China itself.

Is the CCP About to Rehabilitate the Cultural Revolution?

Jesse Turland

There are claims that a new “Resolution on History” may be on the horizon in China. This would revise a previous “Resolution on History” issued under Deng Xiaoping in 1981 criticizing the Cultural Revolution.

“Questions of the party’s historical experience and major successes” and “summarizing the 100-year struggle” will be the focus of the Sixth Plenum of the 19th Party Congress scheduled for November, according to a Xinhua report on August 31.

Following Xinhua, on September 1 privately owned New York-based media company Duowei News claimed the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has a third “Resolution on History” in the works, citing unnamed sources “closely involved in party governance.”

“No Friend of Iran”: Tehran’s Responses to the Taliban’s Return to Power in Afghanistan

Jamsheed K. Choksy and Carol E. B. Choksy

Taking a swipe at the Taliban’s newly-announced interim government of terrorists and criminals, Iran’s semi-official Mehr News Agency critiqued: “The Taliban … have repeatedly alleged they would form an inclusive government.” Given the Taliban’s current approach to governance, experts in Tehran at the Strategic Council on Foreign Relations, that advises Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, warn “relations between Iran and the Taliban or the government formed by the Taliban will not be amicable.” During July and August, as Iran’s executive branch transitioned from the presidency of Hassan Rouhani to that of Ebrahim Raisi, the government in Tehran began adapting to new realities on its eastern front. After two decades, the US can no longer use Afghanistan to strike Iran but the restoration of Taliban rule there does not bode well either. In the estimation of many in Tehran’s government and most of the Iranian public, takfīrīs or militant Sunni extremists are controlling Afghanistan again. It is not just the Taliban that Iran finds troubling but also the new Afghan regime’s longstanding partner Al-Qaida plus units of Da‘ish or the Islamic State—two more terrorist groups with which Iran has clashed—that have begun entrenching in Iran’s eastern neighbor. So, Iran is working to safeguard its internal security and regional influence.

U.S. Navy’s Solar Drone Will Fly 90-Day Missions Seeing All With Palantir Technology

David Hambling

The U.S. Navy is developing an uncrewed, solar-powered aircraft known as Skydweller that is designed to remain airborne for 90 days at a stretch. It was revealed Thursday that the drone will be equipped with state-of-the-art analytics from Palantir Technologies to rapidly process the vast amounts of data it collects literally on the fly. The aircraft, being developed by U.S.-Spanish company Skydweller Aero, will be provide the capability to persistently watch wide expanses of oceans as never before.

The idea of an ‘eternal aircraft’ that uses sun power by day and batteries by night has been around for more than 20 years. NASA’s giant HELIOS prototype flew to over 90,000 feet in 2001, but, like most subsequent solar aircraft, it was comparatively fragile and broke up in flight in 2007. This fragility has been a running problem in solar aircraft development and has repeatedly led to programs being delayed or cancelled, notably Google’s Solara 50, which crashed in 2015, and Facebook’s Aquila, which suffered the same fate 2016.

However, Skydweller comes from more robust and proven stock, as it is based on the crewed Solar Impulse 2 aircraft, which flew around the world in stages in 2016. The current Skydweller prototype is the Solar Impulse 2 airframe, which has been modified for uncrewed operation.

Crashing Out: In Afghanistan, the United States succeeded only in creating a virtual fantasyland

Bruno Maçães

In the summer of 2002, Karl Rove arranged a meeting with journalist Ron Suskind to tell him that reality was a thing of the past. Rove was the most senior and best-known advisor to President George W. Bush, the mastermind behind his election almost two years earlier. The meeting with Suskind happened as the Iraq War was looming. Public debate about invading Iraq revolved around forensic evidence and intelligence reports, taken more or less seriously by the members of what Rove called the “reality-based community”—people emotionally attached to reality the way their ancestors were attached to God.

Suskind did not disagree. He liked to believe that solutions emerge from the “study of discernible reality,” but when he started to mumble something about the values of the Enlightenment and the ideal of empiricism, Rove cut him off. “Not the way the world really works anymore. We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you are studying that reality . . . we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort themselves out.”

Reflections on Afghanistan: War is Folly for the Weak on Wisdom and Will

Robert Cassidy

The results of the South Asia war games over the last several decades became apparent last month. Pakistan and its Taliban creation won. China and Russia tied for second place. Iran came in third. America quit. The Afghans suffered most, and lost. Embarking on wars without knowing who your genuine enemies are and without understanding what the sine qua non for the defeat of those enemies might be, is reckless, malfeasant, and negligent in massive ways. It is the height of folly. If senior leaders make decisions to go to war without discussion and without arguments; if they emphasize action and revenge absent analysis and rationality; if they attend to the tactics and violence without thinking through an end to a war that links it to a durable peace, they most likely suffer from hubris, self-delusion, and ignorance. Folly is their fate. Their soldiers, citizens, and allies are destined to trauma, defeat, and tragedy.

The first two quotes below convey realities about policy, strategy, and war that endure over centuries. The theorists who penned them were so extraordinary that their work remains salient still. The third quote holds up over time too. It points to the folly of war when senior civilian and military leaders lack the intellectual capital, analytical capacity, and humility to think through the most important factors pertaining to war and strategy.

On Geoeconomics

Antonia Colibasanu

Last week, I spoke and moderated at several conferences in person – a rare thing since the pandemic began – whose topics ranged from defense and security to regional commerce to European affairs. The common denominator, of course, was geopolitics, but what struck me most about my conversations was that, rather than the withdrawal from Afghanistan or the elections in Germany, nearly everyone was concerned foremost by inflation and the green economic shift underway in Europe.

In fact, nearly every conversation had one thing in common: Our society’s economic challenges in light of the pandemic. Until August, inflation was generally triggered by the energy sector and by a narrow set of goods such as semiconductors whose price increases were linked to the supply chain crisis. But, as evidenced by recent upticks in food and services prices, it seems as though the effects are widening. Bad weather conditions, unusual droughts and floods that destroyed harvests, often cited as the collateral damage of climate change, have contributed to an increase in food prices.

And though that was the case even before the pandemic started, the pandemic has indeed exposed the vulnerabilities in the food system, impacting production, supply and delivery. Increased ocean freight rates, higher fuel prices and a shortage of truck drivers are pushing up the cost of transportation services. Moreover, the pandemic created difficulties for producers to access the labor force they need to get crops delivered in due time (to say nothing of the workers needed to deliver and distribute other goods). Such was the case for tomatoes, oranges and strawberries producers in Europe in 2020. In Australia, industry groups fear that pandemic-related challenges could derail what is expected to be a stellar crop of winter grains this season.

The food industry is hardly the only industry grappling with these kinds of challenges. An explanation put forward by HR specialists cites the fact that there seems to be a mismatch between the industries hiring and those seeking jobs, a development apparently borne out by the uneven recovery in different industries. Another explanation refers to the fact that, during the pandemic, many workers moved away from the cities where they worked, leaving their jobs unfilled until there is a better sense of when the pandemic may subside. This speaks to the importance for the workforce to be able – and willing – to migrate from one place to another.

Facebook Says Its Rules Apply to All. Company Documents Reveal a Secret Elite That’s Exempt.

Jeff Horwitz

The program, known as “cross check” or “XCheck,” was initially intended as a quality-control measure for actions taken against high-profile accounts, including celebrities, politicians and journalists. Today, it shields millions of VIP users from the company’s normal enforcement process, the documents show. Some users are “whitelisted”—rendered immune from enforcement actions—while others are allowed to post rule-violating material pending Facebook employee reviews that often never come.

At times, the documents show, XCheck has protected public figures whose posts contain harassment or incitement to violence, violations that would typically lead to sanctions for regular users. In 2019, it allowed international soccer star Neymar to show nude photos of a woman, who had accused him of rape, to tens of millions of his fans before the content was removed by Facebook. Whitelisted accounts shared inflammatory claims that Facebook’s fact checkers deemed false, including that vaccines are deadly, that Hillary Clinton had covered up “pedophile rings,” and that then-President Donald Trump had called all refugees seeking asylum “animals,” according to the documents.

A 2019 internal review of Facebook’s whitelisting practices, marked attorney-client privileged, found favoritism to those users to be both widespread and “not publicly defensible.”

American Global Leadership Is in Retreat

Walter Russell Mead

The 20th anniversary of 9/11 finds American foreign policy in a peculiar place. The U.S. hasn’t stabilized the Middle East, permanently remade Afghan society or ended jihad. But no terrorist has managed to inflict another attack on the scale of Sept. 11 on the American homeland. As a result, the War on Terror has receded to the margins of U.S. politics as fears that the liberal world order is crumbling rise to the fore.

The central pillar of Washington’s post-Cold War grand strategy was a quest to build a liberal international order by promoting free trade and secular democratic governance under the aegis of American power around the world. The U.S. foreign policy establishment still believes not only that this strategy offers the best way to secure American interests, but that it represents humanity’s best hope to survive. In the era of nuclear weapons, the age-old cycle of great powers going to war with one another threatens the entire human race and must end, while global problems like climate change can only be addressed through the establishment of effective global institutions.

European Strategic Autonomy After Afghanistan


MADRID – There is good reason to be critical of the American withdrawal from Afghanistan. If the images of desperate Afghans flocking to Kabul airport were not harrowing enough, the deadly attack on the gathered crowds certainly should have been. The chaotic and humiliating end to an unpopular war, with its terrible humanitarian consequences, was the upshot of a series of political miscalculations by a succession of American leaders.

In Europe, the rapid collapse of the Western-backed Afghan government has prompted a spate of finger-pointing and accusations. But the return of the Taliban to power has also intensified an already-growing sense of insecurity regarding the future of NATO and the transatlantic relationship more broadly. Whether anxiety will spur action, however, remains far from certain.

For the European Union, geopolitical soul-searching is something of a chronic condition. It generally leads to bold declarations and hopeful visions of strategic autonomy – an idea that has been in the air since the 1990s, but that has gained newfound relevance in recent years.

3 Years Later: An Analysis of GDPR Enforcement

Ilse Heine

The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) was adopted in 2016 and officially launched in May 2018 to govern the use of personal data by both EU and non-EU companies who collect, process, and store the data of EU citizens. For many in the EU, the adoption of the GDPR was considered a historic moment. At the time of its launch, former VP of the European Commission, Viviane Reding, noted that the “reform will restore trust in digital services today, thereby reigniting the engine for the growth of tomorrow.”

Despite being lauded as one of the EU’s greatest achievements, stakeholders expressed skepticism about its implementation. Among businesses, there was confusion about compliance, given the ambiguity of the law, as well as heightened fear of the associated costs. In 2018, a PwC survey found that companies forecasted spending in excess of €1.3 million on GDPR readiness initiatives. Even now, concerns persist about the negative consequences of the law on business growth and innovation.

To comply with GDPR, companies must adhere to several rules, including robust consent requirements, privacy by design, and mandatory breach notifications. The law extends several rights to users to access and control their data, including data portability and the ‘right to be forgotten.’ Each Member State must appoint a Data Protection Authority (DPA) (multiple in the case of federal structures, like Germany) who is responsible for monitoring and enforcing the law. Three years later, even though challenges remain for a more effective implementation, GDPR enforcement has led to improved security practices.

Russia and the Technological Race in an Era of Great Power Competition

Emerging and disruptive technologies (EDTs) are often perceived as carrying the potential to revolutionize governmental structures, economies, militaries, and entire societies. Russian leadership shares that belief. The Kremlin perceives the ability to innovate as a capability of a great power, helping to achieve the goals in strategic competition. Russia recognizes that EDTs will be fundamental to the country’s overall military deterrence and defense posture and will also allow the regime to increase control over Russian society. Therefore, Russia joining the technological race seems less of a choice and more of an existential necessity for both external and internal reasons.

Trends in the Technological Race

Although a new era of “great power competition” has invited comparisons with the Cold War, today’s strategic competition between the United States, Russia, and China—with multiple simultaneous competitions under different or overlapping sets of rules—is more complex and unpredictable than the previous U.S.-Soviet rivalry. Long-term economic interdependencies coexist with core strategic disagreements, while ideological and institutional contests focus on the making and interpretation of rules and norms. Consequently, the ways and means of engaging in strategic competitions vary from pursuing security and prosperity through cooperative and institutional terms strictly in the economic arena, to sharp political-military competition for power and status. The race for technological superiority is a central pillar of this competition, one that could potentially produce a game-changing, war-winning advantage.

Russia’s Response to US Withdrawal From Afghanistan: Criticism of US, Concerns About Security Environment

Mary Chesnut and Julian G. Waller

The U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan has prompted a variety of responses from Moscow, whose security experience in the country is longstanding—including a previous, also failed, attempt at state-building in the 1980s. While schadenfreude and strategic anti-U.S. messaging forms the most visible aspect of Russia’s immediate response, Moscow’s more material concerns—regional instability, narcotics trafficking and the spread of radical Islamic terrorism—should not be understated. As Afghanistan’s political order readjusts under the Taliban, expect Moscow to vie for an outsized role in the process—engaging in multinational diplomatic efforts while also using the opportunity to call for increased Eurasian strategic coordination through non-Western venues such as the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), and the Russia-India-China (RIC) Triangle. Thus far, official Russian messaging toward the Taliban can be characterized as somewhere between cautious optimism and a more measured “wait and see” approach.

Rajan Menon, Wars of Unintended Consequences

TomDispatch began with the Afghan War — with a sense I had from its earliest moments that it was a misbegotten venture of the first order. Here, for instance, is a comment I wrote about that disaster in December 2002, a little over a year after the U.S. began bombing and then invaded that country:

“This week, two wounded American soldiers and a dead one brought some modest attention to the American situation in Afghanistan. [The Toronto Sun‘s Eric] Margolis reminds us that the Soviets, too, were initially triumphant in Afghanistan, installed a puppet government, declared the liberation of Afghan women, and churned out similar propaganda about their good deeds. Where the analogy breaks down, of course, is that there is no other superpower left to fund and arm a resistance movement against an American Afghanistan. Still, we declared victory awfully early and didn’t go home. It’s likely to prove a dangerous combination. (The word to watch for in the American press is ‘quagmire.’ When you see that and Afghanistan appearing in the same articles, you’ll know we know we’re in trouble.)”

Unfortunately, when it came to the American media, that Vietnam-era word never made a serious appearance, even as the Afghan War stretched on, year after year, ever more quagmirishly. In a sense, on a planet without another superpower, America was left to play the roles of both the Soviet Union during its disastrous war of the 1980s in Afghanistan and of the United States in those same years when it put such effort into creating a crew of extreme Islamist fighters to take the Russians down. In other words, in a world of one, all the imperial roles were ours and it couldn’t be clearer now that we did indeed take ourselves down in a fashion that, in its final moments at Kabul’s airport, proved all too desperately dramatic.

Stephen Booth: The EU’s western establishment v its eastern European members. There’s a clash over defence as well as culture.

Stephen Booth

The crisis in Afghanistan has understandably prompted a renewed foreign policy debate in the UK and throughout Europe. Questions are being asked about how much reliance should be placed on Washington in the future. The answer, for some in the UK and continental Europe, should be a greater focus on strategic UK-EU foreign and security policy cooperation.

The Government’s critics accuse it of an ideological aversion to greater cooperation with the UK’s former EU partners. It is true that the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement, reached last year, did not include any formal framework for UK-EU foreign policy cooperation. Meanwhile, the UK’s Integrated Review, published in March this year, introduced the “Indo-Pacific tilt”, and was notably light on direct references to the EU.

However, crucially, the Integrated Review also stated that “the precondition for Global Britain is the safety of our citizens at home and the security of the Euro-Atlantic region, where the bulk of the UK’s security focus will remain.” It added, “We will work with the EU where our interests coincide – for example, in supporting the stability and security of our continent and in cooperating on climate action and biodiversity.”

Dell XPS 15 Review: This Is What Other Slim Laptops Want To Be When They Grow Up

Dave Johnson

Spend enough time evaluating laptops, and they tend to blur together with a disappointing veneer of sameness. Sure, there are standout models that occasionally rise above the noise; I am particularly enamored with the Asus ZenBook Pro Duo 15, which has a tilt-up display between the keyboard and main screen. And there’s the stunning Alienware M17 R4, with its true mechanical keyboard. But those are specialized (and pricey) gaming rigs. When it comes to a standard performance-focused 15-inch laptop, Dell’s updated XPS 15 is a superb laptop that could well be my new favorite for getting work done.

The Dell XPS 15 for 2021 has a large touchpad and the option for a 3.5K OLED touchscreen. DAVE JOHNSON/FORBES

John Arquilla on the New Challenge of Cyberwarfare

Shannon Tiezzi

As we move into the era of 5G networks and the Internet of Things, the challenges of keeping online systems safe and secure is growing ever-more daunting. In parallel, the question of cyberwar is looming larger and larger.

But this is not a new problem. John Arquilla, distinguished professor of defense analysis at the United States Naval Postgraduate School, originally coined the term “cyberwar” over 20 years ago and remains one of the world’s leading experts on the threats posed by cyber technologies to national security. His recent book, “Bitskrieg: The New Challenge of Cyberwarfare” discusses the state of cyberattacks and cybersecurity – and he finds the U.S. critically underprepared for the age of cyberwarfare.

In this interview, Arquilla discusses the future of cyberwar, the potential for cyber arms control, and how best to respond to cyberattacks.

Hyten Says Pentagon Moving 'Unbelievably Slow' with Modernization

Mikayla Easley

The Defense Department is being slowed down by bureaucracy and risk aversion as it attempts to modernize its capabilities to compete with China, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff lamented Sept. 13.

During an event hosted by the Brookings Institution, Gen. John Hyten was asked about the implementation of the 2018 National Defense Strategy and related technological developments.

“The downside is, we’re still moving unbelievably slow,” Hyten said. “We’re so bureaucratic and we’re so risk averse."

"When you don't have any potential adversaries out there you can try to remove all risks in the system and you can go slow, but when you have a competitor like China and Russia ... going fast, you have to be able to move fast as well. And we still move way too slow," he added.

Losing Small Wars: Why US Military Culture Leads to Defeat

Andrew Milburn

“Sir – it’s the TEA”

The Target Engagement Authority was a US one star who sat in the joint operations center in Erbil, with the task of approving and controlling all Coalition fires in Northern Iraq. I took the headset, preparing myself for the argument that I knew was coming.

“Andy, are you firing mortars”,

“Yes sir”,

“What the hell is going on?”

“Sir, the Pesh are getting mortared in the breach. I’ve got an OP less than 500 meters away.”

“Are US personnel taking fire?”

“Not yet, sir”

The Fortress of Broken Dreams: Strategic Lessons of Dien Bien Phu

Mike Hennelly

The word “catastrophe” has an interesting history. When it was first introduced into the English language, it carried the meaning of sudden dramatic change; something like a plot twist. Over the centuries, it developed a darker significance as “a sudden disaster, widespread and very fatal.”1 For six months in 1953-54, the French Army fought Viet Minh forces in a remote mountain valley of northwest Indochina known as Dien Bien Phu and the battle came to exemplify both meanings of the word. For the Viet Minh, the result was a catastrophe in the obsolete sense of the word; an unexpected victory that surprisingly and suddenly rang down the curtain on the French war in Indochina. For the French, it was a catastrophe in the modern sense of the word; a certain and very fatal disaster. Within two months of the fall of Dien Bien Phu, French Prime Minister Joseph Laniel and General Henri Navarre, the commander of all French forces in Indochina, had lost their jobs. Within six months, the French were being swept forever from Vietnam. A sudden dramatic change, indeed.


The enduring strategic riddle of Dien Bien Phu centers on a simple question – how could the French have lost? In the decade leading up to the battle, France had earned its place as a member of the alliance that defeated Nazi Germany and had subsequently become a valued member of NATO. These achievements are relevant because Dien Bien Phu was a battle of conventional units fighting each other. The French Army had a world-famous reputation for building fortifications and for their use of artillery, both of which came into play at Dien Bien Phu. The French employed some of the most sophisticated aircraft in the world around Dien Bien Phu as they sought to destroy enemy forces and interdict their supply lines. The French forces were led by soldiers who had outstanding combat records in World War II. All of this should have provided the French with advantages on the battlefield. So how did the French lose so badly? The French first occupied the valley in November of 1953 and had four months to prepare for the first major Viet Minh assault which erupted on the late afternoon of 13 March 1954. Despite all of this preparation, the fortress fell after fifty-five days of fierce Viet Minh assaults and on 7 May 1954, more than nine thousand French soldiers trudged off into Viet Minh captivity.

There is also a recurring and vivid contrast that makes it difficult to study Dien Bien Phu. At the tactical level, there is the sheer weight of romanticism that has gradually accrued to the battle. Jungle strongpoints manned by the Foreign Legion, French paratroopers making night jumps into the doomed fortress, “Hell in a Very Small Place” and “The Centurions” are just some of the images that arise from a consideration of tactical combat at Dien Bien Phu. The strategic level presents a far less inspirational picture. In sharp contrast to the brave and self-sacrificing soldiers struggling in the mud and monsoon rains of their jungle fortress, we have the air-conditioned generals in Hanoi and Saigon, sniping at each other with hostile memos and undermining each other with well-timed press leaks. When presented with this contrast, it is easy to slide into a facile (and mistaken) conclusion that Dien Bien Phu was doomed by stupid decisions made by incompetent decision-makers at the strategic level. The problem with this type of conclusion is that “Stupidity is not a very interesting analytic category.”2

It is not productive to use the excuse of stupidity to understand the strategic decisions that led to the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu because that type of shallow analytical thinking doesn’t lead to any useful conclusions. It is, moreover, a counterproductive approach because many people who make poor strategic decisions had gotten to their position of authority by spending a lifetime impressing other people with their competence. Stupidity, therefore, is not their defining characteristic. A more productive approach to understanding dysfunctional strategy is to remember that strategic decisions are an intensely human activity and they are decisively shaped by perceptions and emotions. As we will see in this essay, there were cognitive traps that undermined French strategic thinking and directly led to the catastrophe of Dien Bien Phu. What is more, these types of traps can also undermine strategic thinking in the 21st century.

The unrecognized problem

On the morning of 20 November 1953, more than one thousand French paratroopers wearing American-supplied parachutes flung themselves out of their American-supplied aircraft into the sky above Dien Bien Phu. Thousands more would follow in the next few days. Because Dien Bien Phu was so remote, it could only be supplied by air and so the first priority of the French (after securing the area) was to build a serviceable airstrip. For the next few months, the aerial resupply pipeline was reinforced with dozens of American civilian pilots (hired by the CIA) flying hundreds of flights in American supplied C-119 “Flying Boxcar” aircraft to Dien Bien Phu. One historian cites this factor as one of the primary reasons why Dien Bien Phu survived as long as it did.3

In some respects, the French occupation of Dien Bien Phu resembled the liberation of Paris nine years earlier. During World War II, France was overrun and occupied for four years by the German army. The Free French forces that were raised to fight the Germans were, therefore, an army without a country and they were only able to exist because they were armed, equipped and supplied by the Allies. The United States, for example, fully equipped eight French divisions with everything from tanks to bullets.4 The most prominent example of the newly created Free French units was the French 2nd Armored Division under General Philippe Leclerc, which participated in the invasion of Normandy and subsequently swept across northern France as part of the V Corps of the U.S. Army.


After the allies invaded France in June of 1944, it became apparent that General Dwight Eisenhower (Supreme Allied Commander) and General Charles de Gaulle (leader of Free French forces) had different priorities. Eisenhower had the mission of defeating German forces and ending the war in western Europe. General de Gaulle wished to become widely accepted as the de facto leader of France. By August 1944, Allied forces had broken out of Normandy and had German forces on the run. Standard military doctrine dictates that a force on the run should be kept on the run so Eisenhower’s overwhelming priority was the relentless pursuit of the retreating Germans. For a variety of reasons, his plans did not include the immediate liberation of Paris. General de Gaulle, however, wanted Paris liberated as soon as possible and he wanted it liberated by a French military unit under his authority. The ensuing clash between Eisenhower and de Gaulle centered on the role of Leclerc’s French armored division. The Allied high command had equipped and armed this unit and put it under Eisenhower’s command. They expected it to operate in the Allied command structure like any American or British combat division. Generals de Gaulle and Leclerc, however, saw this unit as a tool that could be used whenever they wanted to achieve French goals. Eisenhower was warned by de Gaulle that he was going to give Leclerc orders to abandon his assigned combat mission and liberate Paris. Eventually, de Gaulle eventually won his argument with Eisenhower. Leclerc’s division and the U.S. 4th Infantry Division were detached and given the mission of liberating Paris.5

The Free French Army – Paris

This episode is significant because it demonstrates that de Gaulle and other French military leaders spent most of World War II choosing strategic goals without actually having the means to achieve those goals. The liberation of Paris was one example of this pattern of strategic thinking. After World War II ended, France began fighting to regain its control of Indochina and once again French strategy was soon being bankrolled by the United States. By 1954, the French high command was making all the strategic decisions in the Indochina war while “the United States was financing seventy-eight percent of the cost of the (Indochina) war.”6 By the time that the French began the Dien Bien Phu campaign in 1953, they had established a decade-long pattern of making strategic decisions without owning the resources needed for those decisions.

This situation of unacknowledged strategic dependence became more pronounced as the siege of Dien Bien Phu tightened. As the siege approached its climax, the French realized that they didn’t have enough airpower to disrupt the enormous Viet Minh tactical and logistical footprint that had built up around Dien Bien Phu. In a last desperate move, the French Government turned to the United States and requested massive airstrikes from B-29 heavy bombers. This move is interesting because governments rarely make formal requests for assistance unless they have reason to believe their request will be granted. As we have seen, the French had been conditioned over a decade to assume that American aid would be forthcoming to help achieve French goals. But this time the “deus” refused to emerge from the “machina.” After intense debate within the Eisenhower Administration (which, among other things, badly split the Joint Chiefs of Staff), the French request was turned down and Dien Bien Phu fell a month later.7

Analysis of the situation

When Carl von Clausewitz wrote his book On War one of his most profound insights was the idea that successful strategy demonstrates a logical linkage between the various components of strategy. The concept of strategy is made up of three different building blocks: goals, courses of action and resources (a.k.a. ends, ways and means). The two key words that encapsulate the idea of strategic logic are “feasibility” and “relevance.” To maximize the chances of success, strategic choices need to be feasible. By which we mean that one must have sufficient resources to support the courses of action that are chosen to achieve one’s goals. In addition, strategic choices need to be relevant. By which we mean that one must choose courses of action that will directly lead to the accomplishment of one’s goals.

The French by themselves did not have a feasible strategy in Indochina. In effect, the United States was investing in the French war in Indochina just as it invested in creating a French Army during World War II. This situation is common in the world of banking and investment where one of the most common activities consists of investors giving money to institutions that will (hopefully) engage in mutually profitable activity while keeping the investor’s interests in mind. Such arrangements have led to a great deal of interest in the behavior of people who make strategic decisions with “other people’s money.” One of the most commonly accepted findings is that people will tolerate higher levels of risk with other people’s money than they will with their own. Those who make decisions with other people’s money frequently display an increased willingness to engage in reckless behavior. This problem is so well known that the Securities and Exchange Commission spends a significant amount of time, effort and energy ensuring that investment firms do not recklessly take on unacceptable levels of risk when investing other people’s money.8

Was there evidence that the French strategic decisions in Indochina were reckless? In 1953, the two highest ranking French military commanders in Indochina were General Henri Navarre, the commander of all French forces in Indochina and General Rene Cogny, one of Navarre’s immediate subordinates and the commander of Land Forces North Vietnam. By January 1954, it seems reasonable to assume that both Navarre, Cogny and their respective staffs, were spending their time worrying about the gradually worsening situation at Dien Bien Phu. But that would have been a mistaken assumption. As it turns out, both Navarre and Cogny had other priorities and the results for Dien Bien Phu were disastrous.

French troops in cover at Dien Bien Phu

General Navarre was focused on his upcoming Operation “Atlante” which he considered to be the key military operation of 1954. This operation was designed to be the first serious test of a newly formed Vietnamese Army and a functioning Vietnamese Army was a precondition for continued American aid to French Indochina. “Atlante” was planned as a six-month operation that would eventually involve more than forty army battalions as well as naval forces and air support units. It dwarfed the French effort at Dien Bien Phu. Moreover, it was going to take place in central Vietnam, roughly 500 miles southeast of Dien Bien Phu (so there was no way the two operations could reinforce each other). According to Bernard Fall, Navarre’s decision to initiate Operation “Atlante” in December 1953 “was the decisive moment when the fate of Dien Bien Phu was sealed.”9

Dien Bien Phu was not General Cogny’s primary strategic concern either. His focus was the Red River Delta, “France’s essential redoubt” in northern Vietnam which contained Hanoi and the port of Haiphong.10 This region had been the scene of fierce fighting for several years and the Delta had come perilously close to being overrun by Viet Minh forces in the winter of 1950/1. In the fall of 1953, Cogny was convinced that the Viet Minh were planning another major offensive in the Delta and even when Dien Bien Phu was only weeks away from falling into Viet Minh hands, Cogny was still arguing that “the vital Red River Delta was in mortal danger of being overrun” and was demanding immediate reinforcements.11 Even though Dien Bien Phu was not the main priority of either of the top French commanders, they still went ahead with the operation. And because the French high command had other, stronger priorities, their relative lack of attention to Dien Bien Phu created several French misperceptions that directly led to their eventual defeat

Marshal Henri Navarre on a cover of a Time Magazine, 28 September 1953

In the wake of the disaster at Dien Bien Phu, General Navarre tried to defend his record with the idea that “Dien Bien Phu absorbed perhaps five percent of the French battle force in Indochina, it tied down as much as fifty percent of Viet Minh forces and the vast bulk of the military aid (that the Viet Minh received) from China.”12 Ironically, this feeble attempt to spin the results of Dien Bien Phu actually highlights the French strategic miscalculations.

Navarre’s perspective points out that General Vo Nguyen Giap was willing to risk the largest Viet Minh force ever seen in Indochina for an operation that lasted for months. Obviously, Giap and the Viet Minh grasped the strategic significance of Dien Bien Phu while Navarre and his subordinates did not. In addition, the fact that the French put several of their most elite combat units in a situation where they had to fight for months against overwhelming odds shows that the French high command had disastrously misunderstood Viet Minh intentions and capabilities. It seems reasonable to conclude from this series of strategic miscalculations that conducting a war while being bankrolled by another country led to a lack of discipline in French strategic thinking. A military strategy should never have more than a single top priority and the French had at least three. These priorities took their attention away from Dien Bien Phu and blinded them to the fact that they were simultaneously creating a symbol of immense strategic value while putting that symbol at mortal risk.


Clausewitz once said that “everything in war is very simple, but the simplest thing is difficult.”13 The same observation applies to the process of building and implementing strategy. It is simple to say that there should be strong connections between the three strategic building blocks of ends, ways and means. What is difficult is to pick apart and understand the complex nature of the strands that link each of these components of strategy. In the decade that ended with the French defeat in Vietnam, French decision-makers had become conditioned to seek strategic goals that could only be obtained with someone else’s money. The French defeat at Dien Bien Phu was not caused by the U.S. refusal to provide last minute airstrikes. The French defeat at Dien Bien Phu occurred because French dependence on American resources led to a lack of discipline and a degree of recklessness in French strategic decision-making. As we saw, the French strategic plan for Dien Bien Phu was critically undermined by the existence of multiple, conflicting priorities and by lazy assumptions on the part of French commanders and their staff. As a result, they failed to recognize both the strategic symbolism of Dien Bien Phu and the nature of the enemy they were facing in that remote valley.

In what way is the example of Dien Bien Phu relevant to 21st Century strategic thinking? To answer a question with a question: why has the field of economics expanded beyond a rational actor model of decision-making? Researchers in a variety of fields, such as economics, political science and psychology, have recently argued that there are multiple factors that influence perceptions of risk and reward in decision-making.

In this case, the specific nature of the linkages between French strategic ends, ways and means was one of those factors. It might not be considered rational to pursue three different and competing priorities during a military campaign, but General Navarre was not operating strictly on a rational model. His willingness to accept risk was influenced by the fact that there were two distinct sources of funding for the Indochina war. The French Government, once so eager to re-establish its pre-war level of influence in Asia, now sought a graceful exit from a protracted war and, to achieve this end, it was willing to provide some of the funding for an Indochina war. The U.S. Government provided the majority of the funding for the war because it was willing to support anyone who could provide a muscular response to a perceived expansion of international Communism. General Navarre’s risk tolerance was higher than it might have been otherwise because he had funding coming from two different governments, each of whom had a unique set of strategic goals. Navarre must have thought it highly unlikely that he would suffer a defeat so catastrophic as to threaten the strategy of both of his sponsors. Unfortunately for him, Dien Bien Phu was such a defeat.

The Orange Book

Paul F. Renda

In the past 10 years, there has been a surge in personnel who have entered the cybersecurity field. This article argues that the Department of Defense’s “Rainbow Series” of books for information security is still relevant today for informing the expertise of both new and experienced information security professionals. The Rainbow Series is composed of 27 Department of Defense books where each book in a series is a different color, hence the name “Rainbow Series.” One book in particular, Trusted Computer System Evaluation Criteria, also known as the “Orange Book” is still used as a reference for security assessments today. Although the Orange Book may seem ancient due to its publication date in the 1980s, the Orange Book could have predicted the problems we have today with ransomware and trojan horses.

As a sample, here are some of the titles in the Rainbow Series: