24 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.

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.

India’s Confused Approach to Afghanistan

Mohamed Zeeshan

Amidst the chaos of unfolding events in Afghanistan, India has floundered. Its approach to the crisis in Afghanistan has been characterized by incoherence and inconsistency.

There was reasonably long time-lag between former U.S. President Donald Trump’s deal with the Taliban, which paved the way for the exit of U.S troops from Afghanistan, and the eventual pullout of troops.

Yet, India was caught unprepared.

After having been shut out of early dialogue under Trump, India has been deeply unsure of how to approach the Taliban.

As late as the end of June, India seemed reluctant to recognize the reality on the ground. It took pains to contradict Qatari authorities, who claimed that India’s Minister for External Affairs, S. Jaishankar had met Taliban leaders in Doha. India’s position at the time was that the Taliban was not a legitimate stakeholder, even as the balance of power was tilting firmly in its favor.

But only two months later, when that policy became so obviously unsustainable, New Delhi had to change tack and publicly establish official dialogue with the group’s leadership.

Afghanistan’s Fate Will Be Shaped by Geoeconomics

Jose Miguel Alonso-Trabanco

Geoeconomics was originally defined by the strategic thinker Edward Luttwak as the logic of conflict expressed through the grammar of commerce. As such, it represents an analytical model that is appropriate to examine the involvement of geopolitical forces in the economic sphere of wealth, markets, trade, business, and money. The contemporary pertinence of this hybrid paradigm has been emphasized by structural game-changers like rising economic multipolarity, the weaponization of complex interdependence, the quest to control scarce raw materials, the recurrence of systemic financial crises that unleash disruptive consequences, the ongoing struggle to master advanced technologies, the growing role of the state in economic affairs, the proliferation of all manner of illicit flows, and the conformation of regional blocs to pursue shared interests through combined strength.

In the particular context of Afghanistan, the limited usefulness of sheer military might has been dramatically demonstrated in the withdrawal of Soviet and American forces, both of which were overwhelmingly superior ‒ in terms of weaponry, technology, and economic resources ‒ to the local insurgents they were trying to crush. The defeat of both superpowers means that hard power alone is not enough to shape the course of events there. In fact, the facts on the ground illustrate that trying to conquer Afghanistan with armies can be counterproductive for foreign invaders. Venturing into such a black hole can end up depleting their power, resources, vitality, and morale.

Afghanistan: Future Of Global Terrorism – Analysis

Dr. Shanthie Mariet D Souza and Dr. Bibhu Prasad Routray

One of the clauses of the February 2020 agreement between the Taliban and the United States (U.S.) made it obligatory on the insurgents to prevent the soil of Afghanistan from being used by global terror groups like the al Qaeda against the U.S. and its allies. Just like the Trump administration, the Biden administration too reiterated that decimating al Qaeda was the primary objective of the U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan. Votaries of the drawdown of troops, hence, argued that since al Qaeda has been weakened and the Taliban have promised to prevent the group from reviving, the U.S. troops can return home from the forever war. Ground level situation and recent developments in Afghanistan, however, underline that this logic is deeply flawed. Under the new Taliban government, global terrorism is all set to flourish, with a devastating impact on the region and beyond.


Successive reports by the United Nations, since 2020, have pointed at the undisrupted ties between the al Qaeda and the Taliban. These reports have suggested, foot soldiers of both not only share bases, safe houses and training facilities, but also have jointly fought the security forces belonging to the erstwhile civilian government. The nexus further unveils a disturbing reality. As the Taliban marched into the Afghan capital on 15 August, among the group’s foot soldiers were hundreds of AQ cadres. Similar transgression has happened in each of Afghanistan’s provinces, thereby vastly expanding the operational areas of the AQ.

How the U.S. Helped, and Hampered, the Escape of Afghan Journalists

Ben Smith

As American news organizations scrambled to evacuate their Afghan journalists and their families last month, I reported that those working for The New York Times had found refuge not in New York or Washington, but in Mexico City.

The gist of that column was that even outlets like The Times and The Wall Street Journal had learned that the U.S. government would not be able to help at critical moments. In its place was a hodgepodge of other nations, led by tiny Qatar, along with relief groups, veterans associations and private companies.

Some State Department officials took umbrage at the idea that the U.S. government had abandoned Afghans who had worked alongside American journalists during the 20-year war. In telephone interviews last week, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and two other officials closely involved in the evacuation of journalists and many others from Afghanistan made the case to me that the U.S. exit should be seen as a success. They pointed to the scale of the operation — 124,000 people evacuated, in total — as the ultimate American commitment to Afghanistan’s civil society.

Our remote warfare counterterrorism strategy is more risk than reward


Afghanistan has begun its fade into the history of American foreign policy, yet the aftershocks of the war on terror remain entrenched in policy decisions, with implications that could very well threaten our future security and stability.

With the loss of permanent basing in Afghanistan, President Biden has touted an over-the-horizon counter terrorism strategy, a system built on sensors and remote systems: “We’ve developed an over-the-horizon capability that will allow us to keep our eyes firmly fixed on any direct threats to the U.S. in the region and to act quickly and decisively if needed.”

There is tremendous risk in reliance on disaggregate and remote technology, primarily not understanding the full situation on the ground resulting from the degrees of separation between target and analyst. No number of high-definition screens, signals intelligence, and delay-hampered tracking across disparate environs will advance American security or redress the failures of a poorly defined counter-terror strategy from previous decades.


Larry P. Goodson and Thomas H. Johnson

In 2001, the United States invaded and occupied Afghanistan, and eventually spent over a trillion dollars, as it and its allies killed some 170,000 Afghan citizens. Twenty years later, the United States withdrew from Afghanistan in defeat.

Why was America there? Thucydides reminded us in The Peloponnesian War some 2,500 years ago that, war’s “three…strongest motives [are] fear, honor, and interest.” The United States went to war in Afghanistan in the wake of the 9/11 attacks due to fear and to protect its honor, but inadequate understanding of Afghanistan and its geopolitical neighborhood as well as limited U.S. interests prompted mission creep, such that 20 years marched on. America’s youngest soldiers today were not even born when this war began, but their generation will suffer its consequences most. The U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan will destroy American honor and undermine American interests. Further, the suicide bombing reportedly carried out by the terrorist group ISIS-Khorasan on August 26, 2021, suggests that even fear, the initial motive for intervention, still exists. Perhaps the United States and other major powers can win only when they are motivated by intense fear. And once Osama bin Laden scurried away to Pakistan, the fear receded—or more probably, humans simply cannot stay in a state of intense fear for very long.

After Afghanistan Pullout, US Seeks NATO Basing, Intel Pacts


ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Against the backdrop of the troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, the top U.S. military officer is meeting in Greece with NATO counterparts this weekend, hoping to forge more basing, intelligence sharing and other agreements to prevent terrorist groups from regrouping and threatening America and the region.

Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the meeting of NATO defense chiefs will focus in part on the way ahead now that all alliance troops have pulled out of Afghanistan and the Taliban are in control.

Milley, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and American intelligence officials have warned that al-Qaida or the Islamic State group could regenerate in Afghanistan and pose a threat to the United States in one year to two years.

Why do nations fail?

Lee Jong-wha

In the wee hours of Aug. 30, the last U.S. troops flew out of Kabul Airport, completing the U.S. military’s drawdown and leaving Afghanistan in frantic disarray in the hands of the ruthless Taliban. The Islamic fundamentalist regime has taken command over the country 20 years after a U.S.-led invasion toppled it for sheltering al-Qaeda and its leader Osama bin Laden responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The return of harsh Islamic fundamentalist rules has been seriously endangering the lives of women and ordinary citizens.

The chaotic scenes of Kabul were mirrored in the recent Korean film “Escape from Mogadishu,” an action drama based on real events in December 1990 depicting a perilous escape attempt by workers at the embassies of the two Koreas stranded in the middle of the Somali civil war. Somalia has been under opposition groups since January 1991, but conflict among various armed factions and terrorist attacks are never-ending. Only last month, a suicide bomber blew up a restaurant in Mogadishu. The American mission has been fighting against the extremist al-Shabab, but Somali people must go on living with terror.

Will Turkey’s Détente with Egypt and the Gulf Extend to the Horn of Africa?

Aykan Erdemir Varsha Koduvayur

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced a $30 million donation to Somalia last month. This gesture raised eyebrows among Turkish citizens, who protested that their cash-strapped government should have used the money on firefighting planes to battle raging blazes at home. But Erdogan’s interest in Somalia is not a passing fancy or humanitarian gesture. Over the last decade, Ankara’s aid to Mogadishu totaled more than a billion dollars as Erdogan and his Qatari allies competed against their Egyptian and Gulf rivals for influence in the Horn of Africa. Yet as Turkey and Qatar now pursue détente with Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the Horn may get a respite from their rivalry.

The Gulf states’ involvement in the Horn has grown sharply in the last decade, becoming yet another flashpoint in a regional struggle over ideology and strategic terrain. The Horn is adjacent to the Red Sea, which lies between two key maritime chokepoints upon which global trade and traffic depend: the Bab el-Mandeb Strait in the south and the Suez Canal in the north. Somalia also opens out to the broader Indian Ocean basin, itself a key route for maritime security and trade. As the Indian Ocean base race heats up, the Gulf states have been keen to secure their own interests.

After 16 years of Angela Merkel, what’s next for Germany?

Constanze Stelzenmüller and Adrianna Pita

Related material:

Listen to Brookings podcasts here, on Apple or Google podcasts or on Spotify, send email feedback to bcp@brookings.edu, and follow us at @policypodcasts on Twitter.

Thanks to audio producer Gaston Reboredo, Chris McKenna, Fred Dews, and Marie Wilken for their support.


PITA: After 16 years as Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel is stepping down. On September 26, Germany will hold its first election since West Germany’s first elections in 1949 in which there is no incumbent seeking re-election.

RCEP Edges Closer to Ratification in an Indonesia Battered by COVID-19

Kyle Springer

On August 25, Indonesia’s Trade Minister Muhammad Lutfi presented his case for the lower house of Indonesia’s legislature, or DPR, to ratify the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) trade pact. In his statement to DPR Commission VI, which is responsible for the legislative oversight of trade agreements, Lutfi argued that RCEP will be beneficial to Indonesia, promising to strengthen its role in regional supply chains and improve its economic performance amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

For RCEP to enter into force, at least six ASEAN countries and three partner countries must ratify the agreement through their respective domestic processes. Singapore and Thailand have already ratified it, as have China and Japan, needing either Australia, New Zealand, or South Korea to ratify to hit the mark.

Making the ASEAN tally is more complex, but there are reasons to be optimistic. The Philippines aims to be among the ASEAN-6, having set its process in motion in May. Vietnam was a champion of the agreement, leading to its signing in November 2020. Brunei is chair of ASEAN this year and Cambodia in 2022, giving them an incentive to speed things up. RCEP’s progression toward ratification and entry-into-force under Cambodia’s stewardship would be a desirable outcome for the country.

China’s South China Sea Strategy Is All About Taiwan

Sorin Adam Matei, Matt Ellis

Is the occupation of the South China Sea by the People’s Republic of China (PRC) the equivalent of the German militarization of the Rhineland in 1934? Will there be a Taiwanese Anschluss like the annexation of Austria in 1938 which followed the Rhineland operation? Can world peace last if the world gives China a Munich-like deal? These questions are not idle historical speculation. Our new spatial analysis suggests that China is poised to move its strategic goalposts again and soon, reminding of the momentous events of the 1930s.

In 2016, the PRC effectively annexed the South China Sea. That year, China refused the findings of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague regarding the Chinese occupation of several reefs and islands and the extension of Chinese maritime borders over 1,000 miles away from the mainland. The court found China in violation of international law; The unilateral declaration of sovereignty over a portion of the high seas is not only contrary to the international laws as signed by China but an indication of hostility. Since then, China has maintained control over the islands and the surrounding areas by force, elbowing out or even sinking ships seen as a threat. In historical terms, it is equivalent to Germany’s occupation of the demilitarized Rheinland in 1934, in contradiction to the provisions of the Versailles Treaty. Is this a momentary crisis or a sign of future trouble? Our geostrategic investigation suggests that a crisis on par to that which preceded World War II could be expected.

Tactical Takeover: Germany’s Liberals Are Ready to Run the Country

Rainer Zitelmann

In Germany, the Free Democratic Party (FDP) is traditionally the party that is most closely aligned with the market economy. They call themselves “the liberals,” although it is important to remember that “liberal” has quite a different meaning in Germany than it does in the United States, where the term is often associated with left-wing politics. Make no mistake, the FDP is not left-wing. “Liberal” in Germany means pro-market and pro-civil rights.

At present, the FDP is still an opposition party. But, with elections to the German Bundestag coming up on September 26, the FDP could soon play an important role in forming a government. The FDP under its leader Christian Lindner is currently riding higher in the polls than ever before, and a double-digit result seems certain. The party is currently being courted by several parties that would need its support to form a coalition government:

First, the CDU, Angela Merkel’s current governing party, which is doing worse in the polls than at any point in the history of the Federal Republic, would like to form a coalition with the FDP. On a personal level, the heads of the CDU (Armin Laschet) and the FDP (Christian Lindner) understand and get along with each other. They have even governed together in Germany’s largest state, North Rhine-Westphalia. However, even combined, the two are not likely to secure enough votes for a majority. They will need a third partner, and it will have to be a left-wing party at that: either the Social Democrats (SPD) or The Greens.

China's military has an Achilles' heel: Low troop morale


TOKYO -- The Chinese Communist Party has unintentionally revealed weaknesses of the country's military.

One indication came with the building of facilities for launching new intercontinental ballistic missiles in an inland desert region. The other was a series of further attempts to increase childbirths, including measures to help reduce the costly burden of educating children. Behind these moves lurks evidence that the country is addressing concerns regarding troop morale and the military's ability to fight a sustained war.

For nearly a decade, China has been busy in the South China Sea, first building artificial islands, then deploying radar equipment and missiles to deter foreign military aircraft and vessels from approaching the area, and finally deploying strategic nuclear submarines capable of launching ballistic missiles in the now-protected sea.

Turkey faces gathering storm in Syria

Three Turkish soldiers were killed Sept. 11 in a bomb attack in Idlib, the last stronghold of Turkish-backed and Islamist opposition in northwest Syria — and Turkey responded by hitting US-backed Kurdish groups in northeast Syria.

This latest episode "underscores Ankara’s growing predicament in Idlib, where jihadi forces target Turkish troops even as Turkey’s military presence shields them against the Syrian army," as Fehim Tastekin explains.

Think of it as a war within a war: While the decade-long conflict started as an effort to overthrow Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, it has devolved into Turkey’s endless war with no seeming exit strategy, except one offered by Russia (see below).

US encircling China on multiple new Cold War fronts


The Indo-Pacific’s Cold War is heating up as the region splits ever more decisively into opposed camps with a loose alliance of US-led democratic powers on one side and authoritarian China and its aligned satellites on the other.

And the first economic salvos of the contest launched by Donald Trump’s trade war are becoming more militarily provocative under Joe Biden.

The escalating contest took a game-changing turn last week when the US and Britain announced they will provide Australia with the technology and capability to develop and deploy nuclear-powered submarines in a new trilateral security arrangement that will put more pressure on China’s contested claims in the South China Sea and other maritime theaters.

The nuclear submarines will tilt the region’s strategic balance and potentially cause China to concentrate more of its security energies closer to home and less so on far-flung theaters. From that perspective, the submarine deal is part of a coordinated encirclement strategy that Beijing will certainly view as a threat to its plans to increase and strengthen its presence in the Indian Ocean region.

After 20 years of waging religious guerrilla warfare, Taliban fighters in Kabul say they miss the battle

The Washington Post

“All of my men, they love jihad and fighting,” he said. “So when they came to Kabul they didn’t feel comfortable. There isn’t any fighting here anymore.”

Just months ago, the unit was staging attacks on government outposts and convoys. Now the fighters are standing at checkpoints, searching cars and inspecting vehicle registrations.

“Many of my fighters are worried that they missed their chance at martyrdom in the war,” Nifiz said. “I tell them they need to relax. They still have a chance to become martyrs. But this adjustment will take time.”

Taliban leaders claim the group has changed since it last controlled most of Afghanistan in the 1990s and have suggested it could be a more tolerant governing force. But interviews with more than two dozen Taliban fighters, commanders and leaders since the fall of Kabul reveal a movement open to some change but one that is dedicated to the harsh enforcement of rules — such as gender segregation — that date to the movement’s founding.

While most of the group’s political leadership has spent years meeting with foreign officials over a decade of peace talks with the United States, the Taliban rank-and-file has been fighting a war they believed was sanctioned by God, offering them a clear path to paradise in the afterlife.

Biden Says 'America's Back.' The World Has Some Questions

As President Biden prepared for his maiden speech to the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday, his White House was reeling from a trifecta of bad news stories — headlines that underscored questions about U.S. leadership in the world.

"We are closing the chapter on 20 years of war and opening a chapter of intensive diplomacy by rallying allies and partners and institutions to deal with the major challenges of our time," a senior Biden administration official told reporters, describing the theme of the speech.

But it comes after the Pentagon acknowledged it had killed an aid worker, seven children and two other civilians in a drone strike in Kabul during the tumultuous withdrawal of U.S. troops last month from Afghanistan. One of America's oldest allies, France, pulled its ambassador from Washington, angry about being left out of a new defense partnership in the Indo-Pacific and about losing a valuable submarine contract with Australia.

And an important scientific advisory body failed to give a ringing endorsement to Biden's plans to give Americans COVID-19 vaccine booster shots — plans that the World Health Organization has criticized as people in many parts of the world have yet to receive a single dose.

The USA, China, and the “Whole of Society” approach

Still catching up on the backlog of podcasts. I listened to episode 34 of the Irregular Warfare podcast weeks ago – and jotted down a few notes. This episode was on “China’s Strategically Irregular Approach.”

Before I even listened to it, I opined that there would be a discussion or comment about how “good” China is at irregular warfare and how “bad” we are at it.

The discussion was more nuanced than that, thankfully. But there is one area in which I think we (the US) continue to get a bad rap.

And that’s on the topic of the “whole of society” approach.

In any discussion on China’s approach to competition, their ability to marshal their entire society in lockstep towards their political goals is touted as a huge advantage. A top-down approach, where the CCP dictates the direction, and often the pace and style.

US-Vietnam Relations: From Reconciliation to a Relationship of Substance

Le Hong Hiep

During U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s visit to Vietnam in late July, the two countries signed a memorandum of understanding under which America will assist Vietnam to locate, identify, and recover the remains of Vietnamese soldiers who were killed during the Vietnam War but are still listed as missing in action (MIA). The move shows that 46 years after the war ended, Washington is still working hard with Hanoi to promote reconciliation between the two former enemies. Such relentless efforts have been part and parcel of America’s Vietnam policy since the two countries normalized relations in 1995.

This long journey toward reconciliation is vividly recounted in “Nothing Is Impossible: America’s Reconciliation with Vietnam,” a new book by Ted Osius, who served as U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam from 2014 to 2017. Inspired by a statement of Pete Peterson, the first U.S. ambassador to postwar Vietnam, that “nothing is impossible in United States-Vietnam relations,” the book provides the most detailed and insightful account so far of developments in U.S.- Vietnam relations since normalization, as well as the many challenges that the two countries have overcome along the way.

The Seeds of Another Trade War over Clean Energy

Nikos Tsafos

The legislative text for the president’s Build Back Better Act has several provisions to incentivize domestic job creation and reshoring. This is no surprise given that President Biden has, from the start, framed climate action in terms of delivering quality jobs for Americans. But the provisions, as written, treat domestic manufacturers differently than foreign ones: they offer higher credits for renewable energy projects with domestically sourced inputs and for electric vehicles manufactured in the United States. In the past, such measures have been found to violate the rules of the World Trade Organization (WTO), which aims for consistent treatment between domestic and foreign suppliers. It is easy to see the seeds of another trade war over low-carbon energy being sewn in Congress today.

Domestic jobs and manufacturing have been a recurring theme for the Biden administration, as part of an agenda to “rebuild the middle class.” In its review of critical supply chains, the administration floated a proposal to offer higher rebates for electric vehicles produced with high labor standards in the United States (p. 137) and suggested a push for the Department of Energy to boost “domestic manufacturing requirements for grants, cooperative agreements and R&D contracts” (p. 145); it tasked the U.S. Export-Import Bank “to support the establishment and/or expansion of U.S. manufacturing facilities and infrastructure projects in the United States that would support U.S. exports” (p. 14); and it hinted at several other measures to support local jobs and domestic manufacturing.

Nuclear subs and a diplomatic blowup: The US-France clash, explained

Ellen Ioanes

France recalled its ambassadors to the United States and Australia on Friday in protest of Australia’s decision to cancel a major defense deal in favor of a new one with the US and Britain.

The dramatic move caps a week of indignation for France, which described the new US-UK-Australia deal as “a stab in the back” on Thursday, and represents a major diplomatic break between longtime allies.

It’s the first time France has recalled its ambassador to the US, and it comes after French officials canceled a Washington, DC, gala scheduled for Friday.

The new US-UK-Australia deal, which was announced on Wednesday by the leaders of the three countries, lays the groundwork for Australia to acquire at least eight nuclear submarines with support from the US and the UK. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said it also marks the “first major initiative” of a tripartite new security agreement among the countries under the acronym AUKUS (pronounced AWK-us, according to the AP).

Exclusive: An American Company Fears Its Windows Hacks Helped India Spy On China And Pakistan

Thomas Brewster

Earlier this year, researchers at Russian cybersecurity firm Kaspersky witnessed a cyberespionage campaign targeting Microsoft Windows PCs at government and telecom entities in China and Pakistan. They began in June 2020 and continued through to April 2021. What piqued the researchers’ interest was the hacking software used by the digital spies, whom Kaspersky had dubbed Bitter APT, a pseudonym for an unspecified government agency. Aspects of the code looked like some the Moscow antivirus provider had previously seen and attributed to a company it gave the cryptonym “Moses.”

Moses, said Kaspersky, was a mysterious provider of hacking tech known as a “zero-day exploit broker.” Such companies operate in a niche market within the $130 billion overall cybersecurity industry, creating software—an “exploit”—that can hack into computers via unpatched vulnerabilities known as “zero days” (the term coming from the fact that developers have “zero days” to fix the problem before it’s publicly known). They act like super-powered lockpicks, finding loopholes in operating systems or apps to allow a hacker or spy to break into targets’ digital lives. So rare are such exploits, they can fetch upwards of $2 million each. Buyers wielding them have the power to either protect themselves from those who might have knowledge of the relevant zero day, or to inflict massive damage on others. For instance, attackers used at least one zero in an infamous 2020 attack on $2.5 billion market cap software provider SolarWinds and many of its customers—from U.S. government departments to tech giants like Cisco and Microsoft. The attacks cost SolarWinds at least $18 million, with warnings that the overall figure, counting the cost for SolarWinds customers who were also compromised, could get into the tens of billions.

Biden’s broken promise on Yemen

Annelle R. Sheline and Bruce Riedel

When Joe Biden included ending the war in Yemen as a key goal during his first foreign policy speech as president, he was breaking with his predecessors. Donald Trump had backed the Saudis and Emiratis, even using a presidential veto to stymie a congressional attempt to end U.S. involvement in the war. When Mohammed bin Salman, then Saudi defense minister, launched his military intervention in Yemen 2015, Barack Obama decided to provide assistance — a Faustian bargain aimed (unsuccessfully) at tempering Saudi criticism of the Iran nuclear deal. Biden’s decision to prioritize Yemen by appointing a special envoy — as well as reversing Trump’s designation just before leaving office of the Houthis as a foreign terrorist organization — raised hopes that a greater emphasis on diplomacy from the U.S. might finally move the devastating war towards resolution. Yet almost eight months later, little has changed.

Biden’s statement that “we’re stepping up our diplomacy to end the war in Yemen” may have betrayed naiveté about the impact the U.S. could realistically have. The war is likely to continue regardless of what Washington does: the lucrative war economy; inflows of resources from foreign sponsors; and the lack of incentives to negotiate spur the myriad combatants to keep fighting, regardless of civilian suffering. But while Biden may not be able to end the war, he can end America’s complicity in it.

The Post-Merkel Return of German Ideologies

Adam Tooze

In what may prove to be her last speech to the Bundestag, last week, German Chancellor Angela Merkel appealed to voters to give their vote to Armin Laschet to be her successor as leader of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party. For Merkel as chancellor to speak in such a partisan manner from the rostrum of the parliament was unusual. It is indicative of her party’s desperation, which has slumped to historic lows in opinion polls. In some ways, even more revealing than her belated support for Laschet was the dark fear Merkel conjured up. German voters should back Laschet, she urged, because the alternative would be a government of the left uniting the Social Democratic Party (SPD), the Greens, and Die Linke.

Laschet himself and Bavaria’s Markus Söder, his rival for national CDU leadership, have since doubled down, warning not just of Die Linke, a party formed out of remnants of Germany’s Socialist Unity Party and the West German left. They also have also called into question the SPD’s own post-war history, reminding voters of the SPD’s opposition back in the 1950s, its alliance with France that formed the European Union, West Germany’s original membership in NATO, and the SPD leadership’s hesitancy in 1989 when it came to German reunification.

Bolsonaro Needs Brazilians to Believe He’ll Stage a Coup

Eraldo Souza dos Santos

Following the coup that took place in Myanmar in early February, a video was posted online and quickly went viral. Filmed in the capital, Naypyidaw, it showed a fitness instructor performing aerobics to a bouncy dance tune as a military convoy passed behind her, on its way to parliament to oust the elected government. “As it isn’t uncommon for Nay Pyi Taw to have an official convoy, I thought it was normal so I continued,” the instructor, Khing Hnin Wai, wrote in a subsequent Facebook post.

More than six months later, on Aug. 10, a parody video spread widely on social networks in Brazil. This one showed a woman dancing to a similarly upbeat musical soundtrack outside the Presidential Palace in the capital, Brasilia, as tanks rolled by in the background as part of a military parade. The video’s message was not lost on anyone paying attention: President Jair Bolsonaro, a former army captain with an avowed nostalgia for Brazil’s two-decade military dictatorship, had been saying for months that he might not accept the results of next year’s presidential election.

Governments hold upper hand online

Scott Rosenberg

Governments around the world are finding it easier than ever to make the internet, and the companies that run it, knuckle under.

Driving the news: Russia Friday forced Apple and Google to remove an app that supporters of dissident leader Alexei Navalny had created to coordinate opposition votes in Russian elections.

Also last week, China's government removed nearly all online content connected with one of its top movie stars as part of a broader campaign against the power of celebrities, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Full shutdowns of internet access by governments seeking to cut off citizens' access to information for political reasons have become increasingly common, a study Axios reported earlier this month found.

The big picture: Governments are limiting or banning applications, content and connectivity itself — and Big Tech companies, rich and powerful as they are, can't or won't fight back.

From the Arab Spring to the Black Lives Matter protests, the internet has helped organizers build popular movements and even, on occasion, overthrow governments