10 May 2022

Surveillance systems and internet rules: Blunting China’s techno-totalitarianism

Klon Kitchen

Hello, and happy Thursday! On this date in 1961, astronaut Alan B. Shepard Jr. made a 15-minute suborbital flight, becoming America’s first space traveler. And now, 61 years later, a civilian company will be returning three astronauts to Earth tomorrow.

Today’s newsletter has two related stories. The first discusses a possible ramping up of U.S. sanctions against a Chinese surveillance company and the second explains how Iran is following the Chinese model of internet surveillance. Taken together, these stories try to explain why aggressive action is critical if Washington wants to blunt Beijing’s development and export of techno-totalitarianism. I hope it’s helpful.

How the West Was One

Dr Michael Howell

A world without the US dollar is a near impossible thought. But spurred on by the Russia–Ukraine conflict and the extension of sanctions, many now see a fast-growing challenge to the US dollar’s dominance from rival units such as the Chinese yuan.

Doubters point to the fall in the US dollar’s share of forex reserves from 73% in 2001 to under 59% today. Academics widely predict that the world is heading for a multipolar currency system. There is even a clamour to label these new configurations ‘Bretton Woods II’ or even ‘Bretton Woods III’, after the 1944 world monetary conference which set out the currency contours that underpin the international liberal order.

Can the Intelligence Community Tell What’s Brewing in Afghanistan?


Whenever the United States gets traumatized by the unexpected abroad, discussion inevit ably  start about the inadequacy of American intelligence collection and analysis.There is truth behind this reflex response: US intelligence organizations, particularly the two largest and most consequential, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the National Security Agency (NSA), the latter of which is responsible for the bulk of America’s intercept of foreign communications and other digital treasure troves, often don’t perform as envisioned. Criticisms of the NSA usually revolve around timeliness—seeing and analyzing the intercepts soon enough—and the unavoidable mathematical problems that give encryption an advantage over decryption. AndLangley has a way of confidently repackaging establishment biases, in both analysis and operations, which makes it comfortable speaking “truth” to power except when conventional wisdom fails. Weapons of mass destruction—seeing them when they’re not there, not seeing them when they are—revolutionary movements, and religious terrorism have been challenging subjects for Langley to get ahead of. And the Directorate of Operations, the outfit that makes the CIA special among America’s intelligence services, has long-standing problems with agent recruitment—a chronic inability to put the right operatives on difficult targets long enough to develop creative approaches and a promotions system that rewards case officers who recruit by volume not quality—that may well have given us, among other things, nearly useless agents against the Taliban and Al-Qa’ida.

How AI Would - and Wouldn't - Factor Into a U.S.-Chinese War

Ryan Fedasiuk

In March, a largely overlooked, 90-page Government Accountability Office study revealed something interesting: This summer, the Pentagon is getting a new AI Strategy.

Between shaping ethical norms for AI and establishing a new Chief Data and AI Officer, it’s clear top brass have big plans for the technology, though the report is light on the details. Released in 2018, the last AI Strategy laid the scaffolding for the U.S. military’s high-tech competition with China. But over the past four years one thing has become apparent: The United States needs a balanced approach to AI investment — one that doesn’t simply guard against threats, but also imposes costs on a Chinese force that sees AI as the key to victory

What the China-Solomon Islands Pact Means for the U.S. and South Pacific

Zongyuan Zoe Liu

Is China’s deal with the Solomon Islands another sign that it is growing more influential in the South Pacific?

The bilateral security cooperation agreement signed in April reflects Beijing’s longtime engagement with and growing influence in the South Pacific. Since President Xi Jinping took office, the Chinese government has twice elevated China’s diplomatic partnership with the region. Eight countries in the region are China’s comprehensive strategic partners, the highest classification of diplomatic partnership in China’s foreign relations. Top Chinese officials have frequently visited the region, with Xi attending summits there in 2014 and 2018.

U.S. Steps Up Diplomacy in Pacific Amid Solomon Islands-China Pact

Ambassador Judith Cefkin

A leaked draft of a Solomon Islands-China security agreement has led to heightened concern over the island nation’s turn toward China. Washington dispatched a high-level delegation in late April to the island nation, days after China said the pact had been signed, saying it would “intensify engagement in the region.” The United States and its regional partners, particularly Australia and New Zealand, are worried about the potential of Chinese military bases on the islands, although the details of the agreement remain vague — which is itself a source of concern. As part of its Indo-Pacific Strategy, the Biden administration aims to advance a free and open Indo-Pacific, an objective that could be complicated by China’s prospective new arrangement with Solomon Islands.

The New Arctic Geopolitics

Wilfrid Greaves

The Russo-Ukrainian War has altered the trajectory of international cooperation in the circumpolar Arctic. Regardless of whether Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – which began in 2014 – ultimately ekes out some form of victory for Moscow, or is beaten back by Ukrainian resistance with support from the West, it has redefined Arctic geopolitics, and its outcome will shape its future. In this, the war threatens to undo 30 years of progress on pan-Arctic cooperation and institution-building that have been a central achievement of the post-Cold War international order.

Until recently, circumpolar politics has been guided by the idea of the region as ‘One Arctic’ characterised by peaceful cooperation based on similar social, economic and ecological foundations. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, all Arctic states have committed to the maintenance of a rules-based region, founded on multilateral cooperation, consensus decision-making and non-violent dispute resolution. This regional order has been built on three pillars: privileging the role and interests of the eight Arctic states; emphasising the Arctic Council as the premier forum for regional cooperation; and limiting the role and activities of NATO – founded, after all, as a defensive alliance against the Soviet Union – in the circumpolar region.

How Wars End | War terminations: insights for the Russia-Ukraine War

How and when does the Russia-Ukraine war end? HCSS director of research Tim Sweijs and assistant analyst Mattia Bertolini consider what we can learn from war terminations in the past: how long they lasted, how they ended, whether they relapsed, and what factors contributed to their end.

These insights are used to assess the prospects of war termination in the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict and provide recommendations to European policymakers to bring an end to the current war and ensure durable peace between Russia and Ukraine.

Only 1/5th of post-WWII wars had a decisive outcome. Almost 1/3rd ended in a ceasefire and only 1/6th ended with a peace agreement. Between 1975-2018, 4 in 10 negotiated peace agreements broke down.

Elon Musk bets the farm: How the billionaire’s Twitter buy could blow back on Tesla

Benjamin Powers

Elon Musk may be the world’s richest man, but that doesn’t mean he has a lot of money.

With much of his wealth tied up in stock holdings, he’s financing his $44 billion purchase of Twitter in part by borrowing against his shares in Tesla — tying the fortunes of the carmaker, the main source of his wealth, to those of the volatile and barely profitable social media site.

Success would make the richest man who has ever lived richer still. Failure could increase the amount of Tesla stock he is leveraging, creating problems for both Musk and the car company. Despite Musk’s optimism, others have tried and failed to raise Twitter’s profits to match its outsized influence.

As battle for Ukraine enters a new phase, so does lethal US aid


WASHINGTON: It’s been two months since Russia began its unprovoked invasion in Ukraine, and a new phase of the war is starting as Russia turns away from its failed assault on Kyiv and begins to coalesce artillery and air support in the eastern Donbas region.

For the United States, which has provided a total of $3.4 billion security assistance to Ukraine since the invasion started on Feb. 24, a similar transformation is in progress. While the beginning stages of the conflict saw the US send basic equipment that the Ukrainian military could pick up and use without any training — things like small arms, vehicles and the shoulder mounted Javelin anti-tank missile system — that paradigm is beginning to shift.

Army stretches little wings with desert mini-drone swarm tests


WASHINGTON: In the middle of the Utah desert, the US Army plans to test the efficacy of swarms of mini-drones that the service hopes will provide a ISR, targeting and battle damage assessments.

But as the Army tinkers with the emerging technology at the ongoing EDGE 22 experiment at Dugway Proving Ground, service leaders already know one thing: With the swarm of drones comes a flock of challenges.

“There’s just waveforms and how they’re transmitted through the sky, and what’s in the sky at the time, and what kind of things the Lord has thrown into the sky when you’re wanting to do this, with the amount of power that you maybe have available to you — that has a lot of constraints and a lot of variability,” Jeffrey Langhout, director of the Aviation and Missile Center at the Army’s Combat Capabilities Development Command, said in an early April interview with Breaking Defense at Army Aviation Association of America conference in Nashville, Tenn.

Small Drones Are Giving Ukraine an Unprecedented Edge

IN THE SNOWY streets of the north Ukrainian town of Trostyanets, the Russian missile system fires rockets every second. Tanks and military vehicles are parked on either side of the blasting artillery system, positioned among houses and near the town’s railway system. The weapon is not working alone, though. Hovering tens of meters above it and recording the assault is a Ukrainian drone. The drone isn’t a sophisticated military system, but a small, commercial machine that anyone can buy.

Since Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine at the end of February, drones of all shapes and sizes have been used by both sides in the conflict. At one end of the scale are large military drones that can be used for aerial surveillance and to attack targets on the ground. In contrast, small commercial drones can be flown by people without any specific training and carried around in a suitcase-sized box. While both types of drones have been used in previous conflicts, the current scale of small, commercial drone use in Ukraine is unprecedented.

Russian Forces May Soon Be Forced Out of Artillery Range of Kharkiv: Report


Ukrainian forces may soon force Russian troops out of artillery range of Kharkiv, according to an assessment that says the fight in the Donbass region is entering a decisive phase.

U.S. think tank the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) said Friday that over the previous 24 hours, Ukrainian forces had captured several settlements north east of Ukraine's second largest city in an operation which has developed into a "successful, broader counteroffensive."

Could Big Tech Play Peacemaker in Ukraine?

Ville Korpela Diana Mjeshtri

More than 10 million refugees have been forced to relocate from Ukraine according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, with 3.6 million seeking shelter outside of the country and 6.5 million temporarily hiding outside of their homes. Ukrainian vice prime minister Mykhailo Fedorov pleaded directly with Elon Musk on Twitter:

While you try to colonize MarsRussia try [sic] to occupy Ukraine! While your rockets successfully land from space — Russian rockets attack Ukrainian civil people! We ask you to provide Ukraine with Starlink stations and to address sane Russians to stand.

US Sends 100+ Phoenix Ghost Drones to Ukraine, Compliments Javelin Anti-Tank Missiles


Anti-Tank Guided Missiles, Rocket-Propelled Grenades, helicopter-launched Hellfire Missiles and tank rounds themselves are all known and established tank-destroying weapons proven many times in combat, yet now Ukrainians are adding air-launched anti-armor attack drones to their arsenal.

Much has been discussed regarding the success of Javelin anti-tank missiles in Ukraine as fighters stage dispersed, hit-and-run ambush tactics to cripple and destroy advancing Russian armored forces, now this attack envelope will be expanded through US-delivered Phoenix Ghost drones

For Russia and the West, Ukraine War Is a Study in Supply


Logistics received a moment in the Congressional spotlight on Thursday, as lawmakers praised the U.S. military’s efforts to swiftly move weapons, equipment, and people to reassure European allies and help the Ukrainian military fight Russian invaders.

“It's been an absolute marvel of logistics in terms of time, speed, accuracy. What has been accomplished is—people will be writing books about this,” Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, said during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.

Better weather may shift Russia’s fortunes in Ukraine


The widely-heralded, much-feared Russian offensive in the Donbas has in 17 days made slow progress in grabbing key terrain and has so far failed to wipe out the main force Ukrainian army.

This is despite the highly vulnerable state of the Ukrainian forces, surrounded on three sides but still holding out.

But with “demilitarization” being one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s stated war aims, if the Kremlin raises its game and closes off the salient, it could change the war.

The ‘Kalibrization’ of the Russian Fleet

Commander Joshua Menks and Michael B. Petersen

Russia’s war in Ukraine has once again piqued interest in Moscow’s military, including its navy. While there has been no significant naval combat, and the Russian Federation Navy (RFN) has not played a central role outside of a handful of actions, the RFN has played a crucial strategic deterrence role against NATO during the current conflict. At the center of this strategic deterrence mission is a military philosophy that emphasizes long-range precision strikes against critical targets on land. This is a role the RFN has long prepared for, but it has received only limited attention.

Russia military watchers have written extensively about antiaccess/area-denial (A2/AD) and bastion defense.1 While this work has been welcome and undergone a positive evolution over time, as Western understanding of Russian thinking on these concepts has improved, it also tends to prejudice the defensive aspects of Russian warfighting.2 Only recently have Western observers begun exploring the more offensive (or “active defensive”) aspects of 21st-century Russian warfighting at the tactical, operational, and strategic levels of war.3 Russian writers have long believed in the importance of conventional precision-guided munitions in offensive operations, but deployment of these weapons over the past ten years has sharpened and increased the role of naval forces in the Russian strategic construct. This offensive role for naval forces remains underexamined by Western observers and is especially important considering Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Good US-China Strategic Competition


MILAN – It is now widely accepted that the economic and technological relationship between the United States and China will be characterized by some combination of strategic cooperation and strategic competition. Strategic cooperation is largely welcomed, because addressing shared challenges, from climate change and pandemics to the regulation of cutting-edge technologies, demands the engagement of the world’s two largest economies. But strategic competition tends to be viewed as a worrisome, even threatening, prospect. It need not be.Economics

Anxiety about Sino-American competition, particularly in the technological domain, reflects a belief on both sides that a national-security-based, largely zero-sum approach is inevitable. This assumption steers decision-making in an unconstructive, confrontational direction and increases the likelihood of policy mistakes.

All the reasons Russia will invade Moldova


There is growing concern that Moldova and Transnistria could be dragged into Russia’s war against Ukraine.

Both Transnistria and Moldova are directly west of Ukraine. Transnistria, a small, breakaway region of Moldova, is sandwiched between Moldova and Ukraine along its southwestern border.

Three explosions were reported on April 25 and 26, 2022, in Transnistria. Transnistria military forces also reported sightings of drones and shots fired by an unknown person on April 27.

The Character of War Is Constantly Changing Organizations and people who can rapidly and effectively adapt are more likely to prevail.

Captain Gerard Roncolato

The U.S. Navy and Marine Corps face daunting times, particularly with the return of great power competition. The known is becoming unknown; the predictable, unpredictable. Surprise at every level is likely—technical, tactical, operational, strategic. Organizations and people who can rapidly and effectively adapt are more likely to prevail; those who cannot, will fail. This, perhaps, is why the old warning not to fight the last war should resonate.2

Prevailing against the capable and powerful opponents that are emerging demands the Department of the Navy (DoN) up its game—it must get better at all aspects of war, from political and strategic thinking through plans and procurement to tactics and techniques. Getting better means thinking and doing differently. Business as usual will no longer suffice.

New White House directive warns of cryptological risks from quantum computers


WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden today will sign two directives aimed at advancing quantum science, including a memorandum outlining his administration’s plan to address national security risks posed by quantum computers that could be capable of cracking the Defense Department’s encryption.

Quantum computers, one of many quantum information science applications, is a “fundamentally different kind of computer with the ability to analyze information in ways that traditional computers cannot,” according to a White House press release announcing the directives.

Although the Biden administration welcomes “the many promising applications of QIS,” it also acknowledges that advances in quantum technologies pose a risk specifically to America’s economic and national security, a senior administration official told reporters yesterday

US, NATO dangerously aim to destroy Russia’s military


Nothing like a coherent strategy emerged from 20 years of NATO’s war in Afghanistan; at best there were long lists of aspirations with no clear objectives or assessments of the resources needed to achieve them.

But, two months after the Russian invasion, it looks very much as if the US and NATO are beginning to develop a coherent plan for Ukraine. Military strategy has been described as a synthesis of ends, ways and means. Last week, senior US and UK officials clarified the objectives – the ends.

For some time the US and NATO spoke of defending the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. On April 25, in a speech pledging to defend the “rules-based international order”, Lloyd Austin, the US defense secretary, announced that the US wanted Russia “weakened to the point that it can’t do things like invade Ukraine.”

View from the front lines: A Ukrainian commander on what it will take to win the battle for the east

Nikhil Kumar and Kseniia Lisnycha

Early on Friday, Ukraine said it had recaptured the village of Ruska Lozova, population 5,000, after two months of what one resident called a period of “terrible fear.” The village had been without electricity and water, and some residents said they had spent weeks in cellars while Russia bombed the area. They also said the Russians had forced some Ukrainians to leave and cross into Russian territory.

Villagers were seen embracing Ukrainian soldiers after the siege ended. “We had two nights which were scary as hell … we thought the sky was burning, the whole village was burning,” Svitlana Perepilitsa, 23, told Agence France-Presse.

Fires, explosions and false-flag operations: How war is spilling beyond Ukraine’s borders

Joshua Keating

Russia accuses Western powers of waging a “proxy war” via Ukraine. President Joe Biden refers to the conflict as not just a war between Russia and Ukraine but an attack on the “free world.” And some of Ukraine’s supporters say we’re already in World War III. Given the number of countries now involved in the war and the rhetoric they’re employing, it’s almost surprising that the violence — at least in terms of open fighting between militaries — has been largely confined inside the country’s borders.

More than two months into the war, that may be changing. We still haven’t seen the direct NATO vs. Russia combat that many fear, but increasingly, the violence is spilling beyond Ukraine’s frontiers.

China’s Xi Proposes Global Security Initiative

Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan

Chinese President Xi Jinping has come up with a new global security proposal questioning implicitly the logic of the Indo-Pacific strategy, as well as the Quad involving Australia, Japan, India, and the United States. Xi proposed a new “Global Security Initiative” at the Boao Forum for Asia’s annual conference in China on April 21, while calling out Cold War mentality, hegemonism, and power politics as issues that would “endanger world peace” and “exacerbate security challenges in the 21st century.” 

According to Xi, the initiative is meant to “uphold the principle of indivisible security, build a balanced, effective and sustainable security architecture, and oppose the building of national security on the basis of insecurity in other countries.” Xi also emphasized the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all nations, as well as their right to choose their own development paths and social systems.