30 May 2022

North Korean Cryptocurrency Operations: An Alternative Revenue Stream

Heeu Millie Kim

Executive Summary

As cryptocurrency has risen to prominence within the past decade, its widespread use has like- wise created great potential for exploitation by malicious actors. With a cyber arsenal capable of reaching cryptocurrency platforms and users, North Korea has increasingly targeted virtual assets as a source of revenue for its regime. In its 2021 final report, the United Nations Panel of Experts estimated that North Korea stole approximately $316.4 million in virtual assets between January 2019 and November 2020. The decentralized nature of the cryptocurrency market is well-suited for a heavily-sanctioned and financially-isolated state like North Korea, especially given tighter trade restrictions and border closures during the COVID-19 pandemic. The ease of obscuring ownership of virtual assets and the lack of regulatory oversight make cryptocurrency all the more attractive for North Korea.

What Will Determine the Future of Money?

Michael B. Greenwald

The international economy is beginning to fracture around the development of novel digital currencies and the human values that their systems represent. Since currencies represent a commonly accepted medium of exchange and can act as an enabler or disabler of economic relationships, they have the power to shape how the global economy functions.

The economic landscape today is evolving rapidly with the emergence of various fiat currencies, central bank digital currencies (CBDCs), and cryptocurrencies that each represent a set of goals or priorities set forth by the issuing body. For example, the US Dollar symbolizes globalization. Bitcoin represents hyper-globalization, with a focus on decentralization and a sprinkle of revolution. The Digital Yuan represents an attempt to track purchases, collect data on consumers, and disconnect a sizable portion of the global economy from the US Dollar.

COVID-19, further discomfort with a US-centric global economy, and the implementation of economic sanctions have ignited isolationist sentiment across the world, leading to the fracturing of interests, values, and leadership. If unchecked, this trend could create an economy that is based on a basket of currencies rather than one that hinges primarily on the performance of the US Dollar/US economy. The growing pains of crypto have not deterred the decentralized finance and creator economy from pursuing a privacy-based system that operates outside of the purview of governments, which helps explain the rise of Monero, Horizen, Railgun, Dash, ZCash, and other so called privacy coins.”

Why China-Taiwan Relations Are So Tense

Lindsay Maizland

Taiwan, officially known as the Republic of China (ROC), is an island separated from China by the Taiwan Strait. It has been governed independently of mainland China, officially the People’s Republic of China (PRC), since 1949. The PRC views the island as a renegade province and vows to eventually “unify” Taiwan with the mainland. In Taiwan, which has its own democratically elected government and is home to twenty-three million people, political leaders have differing views on the island’s status and relations with the mainland.

Cross-strait tensions have escalated since the election of Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen in 2016. Tsai has refused to accept a formula that her predecessor, Ma Ying-jeou, endorsed to allow for increased cross-strait ties. Meanwhile, Beijing has taken increasingly aggressive actions, including by flying fighter jets near the island. Some analysts fear a Chinese attack on Taiwan has the potential to draw the United States into a war with China.

Downsizing the Department of Defense

Frederico Bartels

The Defense Department has lots of “spare bedrooms” they are not using and cost big money to maintain.

Saving defense dollars should be a shared bipartisan concern.

While it makes sense to maintain some extra capacity in case the need arises to scale up our forces, there is no need to maintain over 15% of excess capacity.

One way that many families deal with increased costs is by downsizing, especially when they become “empty-nesters.” Downsizing makes even more sense when your family hasn’t used that spare bedroom in a long time. The Defense Department has lots of “spare bedrooms” they are not using and cost big money to maintain.

Since 2016, the department has told us they have at least 15% excess military infrastructure. At least three different studies have highlighted the excess and estimate the Pentagon could save about $2 billion dollars a year if allowed to trim its excess properties through the process called base realignment and closure (BRAC).

Texas’s New Social Media Law Will Create a Haven for Global Extremists

Daveed Gartenstein-Ross and Varsha Koduvayur

Last Saturday, Payton Gendron murdered 10 Black victims at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, and livestreamed the shooting on Twitch. Twitch pulled the horrific stream within two minutes—but by then, the video had already been shared on Facebook, Twitter, and elsewhere. For Gendron, social media exposure was central to the white supremacist race war he saw himself fighting: In his manifesto, he noted that livestreaming the attack was meant to “increase coverage and spread my beliefs.” To the rest of us, his ability to broadcast his hate crime should show how content moderation on social media platforms, though often maligned and never perfect, serves an important social good.

But a new law in another U.S. state is about to put significant constraints on social media companies’ nascent efforts to rein in extremist content, violent images, and systematic disinformation—with potentially global effects. (Full disclosure: At Valens Global, we have received funding from Meta, the owner of Facebook, for our work on how national security intersects with technology, but we receive funds for this research from many sources.) A new Texas law limiting content moderation will have ripple effects far beyond the state, as hate speech, disinformation, and pro-terrorist content may now find protection in Texas. From there, it could quickly spread via the borderless internet into other states and countries.

Tajik terrorist serves as Taliban commander in northern Afghanistan


As the Taliban continues to maintain that it doesn’t allow foreign fighters in Afghanistan, a Tajik national and commander for the Al Qaeda-linked Jamaat Ansarullah remains in control of several districts in a northern Afghan province.

During the Taliban’s swift offensive across Afghanistan last spring and summer, the Taliban placed five districts in the northern province of Badakhshan under the control of Mahdi Arsalon, a Tajik national and a commander in the Al Qaeda-linked Jamaat Ansarullah (JA). Arsalon was given control of the districts by Qari Fasihuddin, an ethnic Tajik Taliban commander who served as the shadow governor of Badakhshan at the time. Fasihuddin has since been appointed to serve as the Taliban’s chief of army staff.

The clear cooperation between the Taliban and Jamaat Ansarullah directly contradicts repeated Taliban claims that their regime does not provide safe haven to foreign fighters. In an interview with CNN this past week, the Taliban’s Minister of the Interior, and leader of the Haqqani Network, Siraj Haqqani doubled down on the assertion, declaring that the Taliban does not support foreign fighters and does not allow Afghanistan to serve as a breeding ground or launching pad for terrorism.

Japan to 'drastically strengthen' military capability

Takaya Yamaguchi

TOKYO, May 27 (Reuters) - Japan aims to "drastically strengthen" its military capabilities, according to an economic policy draft seen by Reuters, as officials worry that Russia's invasion of Ukraine could prompt instability in East Asia.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, meeting U.S. President Joe Biden on Monday, pledged to "substantially increase" Japan's defence budget.

The draft, a long-term economic outline that is updated annually, does not gives details about spending, but says for the first time: "There have been attempts to unilaterally change the status quo by force in East Asia, making regional security increasingly severe."

China Closes its Windows to the World: When Will They Reopen?

John S. Van Oudenaren

Throughout the pandemic, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has focused on sharply limiting international travel as a risk vector for the spread of COVID-19, and as a result has kept its borders largely closed. As Beijing edges closer to a total shutdown and lockdowns persist in several other large cities, including Shanghai; the already stringent entry and exit restrictions on Chinese citizens implemented as part of the “dynamic clearance” zero-COVID policy have been further tightened. At a special meeting on May 10, the National Immigration Administration (NIA) called for “strict implementation” of existing polices barring “non-essential” outbound travel (China News Service, May 12). The NIA stated that full cooperation with these measures is vital to “win the battle to defend Shanghai” and to “vigorously support Beijing’s epidemic prevention work.” This week, the NIA provided further guidance as to what constitutes “essential departures“(必要出境, xuyao chujing), which include business; scientific, technical, medical and research cooperation; academic study; and “urgent personal affairs” such as funerals and elder care (Sina, May 24). The new regulations build on the NIA’s imposition of tighter restrictions on international travel last July, which institutionalized a pattern of strong discouragement of “non-essential” overseas travel by authorities since early 2020 (Xinhuanet, July 30, 2021). The impact of this de facto moratorium on overseas travel was evident even before these restrictions were issued with the PRC issuing only 2% as many passports in the first half of 2021, as it did during the same period in 2019 (Sixth Tone, August 4, 2021).

Implications of a Coercive Quarantine of Taiwan by the People's Republic of China

Bradley Martin, Kristen Gunness, Paul DeLuca, Melissa Shostak

China's coercive options for Taiwan range from routine violations of Taiwan's declared Air Defense Identification Zone to a full-scale invasion. Within the spectrum are efforts to isolate Taiwan to prevent it from sending exports or receiving imports. Typically, this would be called a blockade. However, because China does not view the government on Taiwan as sovereign and thus rejects the idea that a state of war could exist, blockade is not the correct term. Therefore, in this report, the authors examine how China might implement a quarantine of Taiwan. Unlike in a blockade scenario, China's goals for the quarantine would not be to completely cut off food and supplies to Taiwan, but rather to demonstrate de facto sovereignty by controlling the air and maritime space around the island, as well as which cargo deliveries, ships, aircraft, and people have access to Taiwan.

Cuba’s New Leaders Promise Continuity to a Population Seeking Change

In April 2021, Cuba experienced a watershed moment when Miguel Diaz-Canel became the leader of the Cuban Communist Party, completing a political transition that began three years earlier when Diaz-Canel was inaugurated as president. Now, for the first time since the 1959 revolution, a Castro leads neither the country nor the party, making way for a new generation of leaders to chart the island nation’s path forward.

After taking office in 2018, Diaz-Canel slowly moved to put his stamp on the nation, beginning with the adoption of a new constitution in April 2019 that included some institutional reforms, including the creation of a prime ministerial position, and some attempts to embed market economics within Cuba’s socialist state. But the watchword for the new leadership continues to be “continuity,” disappointing those in Cuba who had hoped for greater systemic reforms to unleash a younger generation of entrepreneurs. And the deterioration of U.S.-Cuba relations under former President Donald Trump jeopardized even Havana’s limited efforts at opening up parts of the economy to the private sector.

Engage, Isolate, or Oppose American Policy Toward the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan

James Dobbins, Andrew Radin, Laurel E. Miller

With the American military withdrawal, the Taliban's seizure of control, and a developing humanitarian crisis, the United States faces a question of what policy it should pursue toward the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. To inform U.S. policymakers, the authors of this Perspective identify the remaining American interests in Afghanistan — principally counterterrorism and humanitarian relief — and propose a framework to evaluate three different U.S. overall policy approaches: to engage with the Taliban, to isolate the regime, or to oppose the Taliban by seeking to remove them from power. The authors identify the conditions under which these policies may be most appropriate and how they would best serve U.S. interests. They conclude that engagement offers the only prospect of advancing American interests in the country. They caution, however, that isolation is the more usual U.S. response to an unwelcome change in regime. With its embassy closed and a comprehensive sanctions regime in place, this will become the default U.S. policy toward Afghanistan in the absence of contrary decisions.

Biden’s Taiwan Position Is Not an Accident

In Japan earlier this week, President Biden, responding to a direct question, gave a direct answer:

Reporter: “Are you willing to get involved militarily to defend Taiwan, if it comes to that?”

President Biden: “Yes.”

According to Asia watchers in Washington, this simple statement may have either upended 40 years of U.S. policy regarding Taiwan, precipitated a major crisis with China, or could need to be walked back by the White House staff.

It may be possible, though, that the president was not changing U.S. policy, but rather reshaping the existing policy to adjust for changes in geopolitics over the past 40 years (the rise of China) and over the past 90 days (Russia’s invasion of Ukraine).

Russia’s Military Was Doomed by Putin’s Culture of Militarism

Alexander Clarkson 

At least once at every conference about an international security crisis, in the midst of debate, a participant will suddenly lean back and quote Carl von Clausewitz in a booming voice to underscore a tenuous point. Sometimes, in order to demonstrate that they are not just drawing on conventional wisdom about politics and war, the Clausewitz citation might be followed up by an observation borrowed from Henri Jomini. Every once in a while, there might even be a Sun Tzu quip thrown in for good measure.

When it comes to analysis of what the Russo-Ukrainian war tells us about the future of conflict, we have seen the full deployment of quotes from all three. When trying to define the potential trajectory of the struggle between Ukraine and Russia, many analysts have reached back to Clausewitzian concepts focusing on how strategic goals generated by political pressures should define military approaches. Looking at the fighting on a tactical level, the debates have also reflected the influence of Jomini’s vision of warfare, with its emphasis on a set of specific rules of battle whose purpose is to ensure that an army can use maneuver to concentrate its strength on an enemy’s key point of weakness. Poking through all this speculation are also concepts around the Ukrainian military’s use of indirect approaches and information war that draw on the thinking of Sun Tzu, with its perspectives on how strategic goals can be achieved through minimal use of force. ..

U.S. Treasury Targets Hamas Financial Network


On May 24, the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) announced it designated a Hamas financial official, and other financial facilitators, including companies used to move money for the Gaza-based militant organization. The move is the latest in a series of actions by the U.S. government to target Hamas’ illicit financial network around the globe.

The individuals and entities sanctioned by Treasury were Ahmed Sharif Abdallah Odeh, Usama Ali, Hisham Yunis Qafisheh, ‘Abdallah Yusuf Faisal Sabri, Trend GYO, Anda Company, Agrogate Holding, Al-Rowad Real Estate Development, Sidar Company and Itqan Real Estate JSC.

All were found by Treasury to be involved in concealing and laundering funds for Hamas.

Watch out Microsoft and Oracle: Here come the Chinese software giants!

Barry van Wyk

Yesterday, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology reported that total revenues of China’s software industry in the first four months of 2022 were 2.77 trillion yuan ($416.24 billion), a year-on-year increase of 10.8%. Net profits were 278.5 billion yuan ($41.79 billion), a year-on-year decrease of 1.4%. For the whole of 2021, revenues were 9.49 trillion yuan ($1.42 trillion), a year-on-year increase of 17.7% and the highest growth rate in seven years.

The fastest growth is in industrial software, cloud services, big data, integrated circuit design, ecommerce, and information security.

There are 309 listed companies in the software and IT service industry in China:58 companies have a market capitalization in excess of 10 billion yuan ($1.50 billion), and seven have a market capitalization of more than 50 billion yuan ($7.50 billion).

Some of the largest domestic software companies which reported revenues in excess of one billion yuan ($150.08 million) in the first quarter include

 NARI Technology Development 国电南瑞, iSoftstone 软通动力, and iFlytek 科大讯飞.

In the first quarter, 216 listed companies achieved positive year-on-year revenue growth, and 144 achieved positive year-on-year growth in net profits.

War Will Never Be This Bulky Again

Phillips Payson O’Brien
Nearly 80 years on from the end of World War II, it is striking how much of that conflict remains with us. This is of course true in terms of historic legacy—politicians who compare themselves to Churchill, for example, or fears of German power within Europe.

But Russia’s invasion of Ukraine makes clear that we still live in World War II’s shadow in other ways too. The Russian military, for example, shares many similarities with the great armies of that period. The country’s ground forces are built around large numbers of heavy armored vehicles, most famously tanks, and concentrations of heavy artillery. Much like the German Wehrmacht’s plans for attacking the Soviet Union in 1941, the Russians expected to blast holes in Ukrainian lines with their big guns, and then move tanks and armored personnel carriers through the gaps to make rapid advances, with Russian fighters and bombers in support. Even the Russian navy, with its large surface vessels not too dissimilar in shape and size from those you could have seen in the Pacific or North Atlantic in the early 20th century, was discussed as a force capable of launching an amphibious assault on the Ukrainian coast, much as the Allies did on D-Day in June 1944.

Putin Is Going to Lose His War And the World Should Prepare for Instability in Russia

Anders Åslund

Russian President Vladimir Putin could hardly have used his May 9 Victory Day address, an annual holiday marking the Nazis’ surrender to the Soviets, to declare victory in his military campaign against Ukraine. Neither did he use the occasion to declare a general mobilization, as some analysts had predicted. Instead, speaking from a podium in Moscow's Red Square, Putin sounded like a sore loser, whining that NATO’s threats had “forced” him to act preemptively in the Donbas.

Three months after launching his ill-conceived invasion of Ukraine, it seems increasingly likely that Putin’s bid to liberate the Donbas from Kyiv will be remembered as one of the most spectacular failures in contemporary military history. Russian troops lost the battle for Kyiv within the first month of the conflict and are now struggling to make any headway in eastern Ukraine. Meanwhile, they continue to suffer devastating losses: by May 16, according to Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense, Ukrainian forces had killed more than 28,000 Russian soldiers. The question now is whether the national humiliation Russia faces more closely resembles the 1905 Russo-Japanese war, which marked the beginning of the end of the Tsarist era, or Josef Stalin’s failed attempt to seize Finland in the Winter War of 1939-1940.

Winning the Tech Battle With China: The Example of Huawei

Min-Hua Chiang


Beijing has assigned technology a central role in its global rivalry with the U.S. Allowing it to succeed would threaten Americans at home and our interests abroad.

Huawei’s failure shows China’s inability to reach technological self-reliance.

If China wants to fight it out, the U.S. must do what it has to in order to prevail. It has the economic model to do it.

Whenever China policy is talked about in the U.S., the conversation often turns to how the Trump administration “got China’s attention.” It did, indeed—specifically, by complicating its plans for tech dominance—a policy that should continue in the current administration.

Commercial and military drones in Ukraine: The evolutionary use and implications on security and safety

There has been a tremendous amount of reporting on drones and the Ukraine war but a real lack of reporting from the ground perspective. Recently, coverage on capability and effects from the ground point of view has emerged, and the information is insightful and valuable. Elements of Ukrainian Special Forces have been causing havoc on Russian Motorized Rifle formations. The Russian advantage in terms of the “principle of mass” is clearly there, but unconventional warfare is proving to be the creative factor generating ground parity for the Ukrainian effort.

Textbook small unit operations and “hit and move” techniques have shown to be highly successful, especially with the right anti-tank and armor weapons. But what about drones? How are these platforms changing the landscape in what has become a target-rich environment? And how does this shape our future security environment in areas outside of conflict zones?

U.S. Aims to Constrain China by Shaping Its Environment, Blinken Says

Edward Wong and Ana Swanson

WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said Thursday that despite Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, China remains the greatest challenger to the United States and its allies, and that the Biden administration aims to “shape the strategic environment” around the Asian superpower to limit its increasingly aggressive actions.

“China is the only country with both the intent to reshape the international order and, increasingly, the economic, diplomatic, military and technological power to do it,” Mr. Blinken said in a speech laying out the administration’s strategy on China. “Beijing’s vision would move us away from the universal values that have sustained so much of the world’s progress over the past 75 years.”

The speech was the first public overview of President Biden’s approach to China, and it is based on a much longer classified strategy that was largely completed last fall. U.S. officials say that decades of direct economic and diplomatic engagement to compel the Chinese Communist Party to abide by American-led rules, agreements and institutions have largely failed, and Mr. Blinken asserted that the goal now should be to form coalitions with other nations to limit the party’s global power and curb its aggressions.

Russia’s grain blockade may require US intervention


WASHINGTON - The American general slated to become NATO’s next supreme allied commander warned Thursday that Russia’s blockade of Ukrainian grain exports could enable terrorist networks in other parts of the world and may require U.S. military intervention to ensure global markets don’t become destabilized.

Gen. Christopher Cavoli, commander of all U.S. Army forces in Europe and Africa, told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee that groups including the Islamic State, al-Shabab and Boko Haram stand to benefit from food shortages resulting from the war. Those groups “feed on weak governance and food insecurity and corruption and poverty,” he said, noting they already have been “doing fairly well” in Africa in recent years. “A food shortage now would just exacerbate the situation down there.” Cavoli appeared on Capitol Hill as part of the confirmation process to lead U.S. and NATO forces in Europe.

The Effects of Digital Transnational Repression and the Responsibility of Host States

Noura Aljizawi, Siena Anstis

In March, days after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Russian government released a list of 313 Canadian politicians and civil society activists banned from Russia. Marcus Kolga, a Canadian journalist and policy analyst in Toronto with Eastern European roots and a special interest in Russian and Eastern European affairs, was not surprised when he found his name on the list. This was not the first time his activism led to retaliation by the Kremlin.

Kolga has long observed that people like him—open critics of Russia—are targeted in Canada through various means of online and offline transnational repression. Whenever he speaks about Russia’s human rights abuses, he quickly becomes the subject of online trolling, disinformation and smear campaigns. He receives online death threats aiming to discredit and silence him. Some of the most popular Russian media outlets are part of these campaigns. He also receives offline death threats from individuals whom he describes as “Kremlin nationalists” in Canada.

Biden Says We’ve Got Taiwan’s Back. But Do We?

Oriana Skylar Mastro

President Biden’s recent trip to Asia nearly went off without a hitch — until Taiwan came up. Mr. Biden was asked whether the United States would respond “militarily” if China sought to retake the self-ruled island by force.

It was one of the most explicit U.S. defense guarantees for Taiwan in decades, appearing to depart from a longtime policy of “strategic ambiguity.” But it’s far from certain that the United States could hold off China.

I have been involved in dozens of war games and tabletop exercises to see how a conflict would turn out. Simply put, the United States is outgunned. At the very least, a confrontation with China would be an enormous drain on the U.S. military without any assured outcome that America could repel all of China’s forces. Mr. Biden’s comments may be aimed at deterring a Chinese attack, and hopefully they will.

"Dealing with Horrible Leaders Is Part of the History of International Relations"

Bernhard Zand

DER SPIEGEL: Professor Allison, five years ago you wrote: "However evil, however demonic, however dangerous, however deserving to be strangled Russia is, the United States must struggle to find some way to live with it." How can the U.S. and Europe live with Russia after Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine?

Allison: That Putin is a demon, I think hardly anyone denies. And anybody with a soul will agree that his behavior is outrageous and unacceptable. On the other hand, Putin remains the leader of a nuclear superpower that has an arsenal that is capable of destroying every person in the U.S. and every person in Europe. If you and I both have superpower nuclear arsenals and you do your best to attack and disarm me, I nonetheless still have the capability to erase your nation from Earth.
About Graham Allison

Graham Allison, 82, is one the leading political scientists in the United States. A security and nuclear expert, he served as the dean of the John F. Kennedy School of Government and director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University. As the planning chief at the Pentagon, he coordinated the U.S. strategy toward the successor states of the Soviet Union after the end of the Cold War. Two books established Allison’s prominence beyond the academic community: In "Essence of Decision", published in 1971, he used the example of the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 to analyze the constraints and often unconscious motives of political decision-makers. In 2017’s "Destined for War", he coined the term "Thucydides’ trap" for the Chinese-American relationship: a geopolitical constellation between an established and a rising power that usually, but not always, ends in armed conflict.

DER SPIEGEL: A lesson we learned during the Cold War ...

Allison: ... and then forgot about. It was a lesson of madness, aptly described at the time as MAD – mutually assured destruction. Or, in another grotesque metaphor, though still not as grotesque as reality: It’s as if we wake up and we’re inseparable, conjoined Siamese twins, and neither can strangle the other without committing suicide.

DER SPIEGEL: What can we learn from this for living with Putin’s Russia?

Allison: That we will have to find a way to coexist. That was the challenge that we ultimately met in the Cold War. As uncomfortable, even unbearable as it may seem: Unless God helps us, lightning strikes and Putin dies – which would be great as far as I’m concerned – we’ll have to be ending a war with a demon. And that will remind us of how Roosevelt and Churchill sat down with Stalin who had killed 30 million people, or of Nixon’s meeting with Mao, who may have had killed even more. Dealing with really horrible leaders, even mass murderers to the extreme, is part of the history of international relations.

DER SPIEGEL: Do you consider Putin a "rational actor"?

Allison: There has been a debate about that, but my answer is yes. Putin is a rational actor in the sense of a person who is purposive, who’s calculating and who believes what he is doing is attempting to achieve an objective. He’s made a very bad calculation because he thought that somehow Ukraine was not as much of a country as it has turned out to be. He thought he could reabsorb Ukraine by killing President Volodymyr Zelenskyy or capturing him by sending special forces to Kyiv. But he was not alone in thinking that. Most of the Russian elite do not believe that Ukraine is a separate country. They believe in a mystical history of Russia and have not accommodated to the idea that Ukraine really wants to be an independent country. So, I don't take the fact that he made a fatal error, a big strategic mistake, as an absence of rationality, any more than I think George W. Bush's attack on Iraq in 2003 as a sign that it had been irrational. It was being dumb. It was a big strategic mistake. But that’s different.

DER SPIEGEL: In "Essence of Decision," your seminal analysis of the Cuban Missile Crisis, you argue that political leaders are not only guided by rational considerations but also constrained by internal politics, by their bureaucracies and by groupthink – especially during crises. Which factors do you think are guiding the actors in the Ukraine crisis?

Allison: We don’t know enough about what Putin thought he was doing and what his opportunities were. Putin has been very proud of rebuilding Russia’s military. He put a lot of money into his troops and they’ve shown themselves to be successful at fighting and winning. But that was either long ago, like in Chechnya, or in places like Crimea, where they hardly had to fire a weapon. So, the Defense Ministry may well have imagined that the invasion of Ukraine would be a cakewalk – like some in the Bush administration envisioned the invasion of Iraq. The Russian intelligence community also seems to have performed rather poorly.
"Our people at the highest levels of the U.S. government have been thinking about the question: Can Putin lose this war, and can he survive if it is an unambiguous loss?"

DER SPIEGEL: Is there any indication that conflicts within the Russian leadership preceded the invasion?

Allison: I don’t know. Putin has clearly sidelined anybody who could have been a potential threat. He is ruling autocratically and has been manipulating the minds of the people, making sure that all the people around him are very loyal. He has a pretorian guard of security guards who are independent from the security services, which shows his extreme caution. And he has ruled with a version of kleptocracy in which he’s had a number of extremely rich colleagues. As they become rich, some of them become a little bit more independent and spend half their time abroad. I’m sure that made him nervous, and it would be very interesting to one day scientifically analyze the motives that drove Putin. But I think he’s sufficiently powerful and had sufficient command authority that he could decide up to the last minute whether to order troops to go into Ukraine or not.

DER SPIEGEL: In the early days of the Cuban Missile Crisis, U.S. generals advised President John F. Kennedy to launch a massive, unannounced air strike on Cuba. What scenarios do you think the U.S. leadership is currently playing out?

Allison: Our people at the highest levels of the U.S. government, including at the Pentagon and the White House, have been thinking about the question: Can Putin lose this war, and can he survive if it is an unambiguous loss? I don't know what their answer is. My answer is no. He believes, accurately, that if he were to suffer an unambiguous loss, he would lose his position and likely be killed – think of Czar Nicholas II in 1917. And he would be remembered in Russian history as the person who lost Ukraine and maybe even revived the West. This is not a good alternative for him. So the main analytic point is: If he is forced to choose between losing and escalating the level of violence and destruction, then, if he’s a rational actor, he’s going to choose the latter.

DER SPIEGEL: And do what?

Allison: Putin has shown no compunction about killing people, even in massive numbers. We saw that in Grozny, and we are seeing it in Mariupol today. If we present him with an unambiguous choice between losing everything and taking a chance, we’ll have to reckon with the use of a tactical nuclear weapon. And that is a nightmare scenario. The use of a comparatively small atomic bomb of 15 or 20 kilotons, about the size of the Hiroshima bomb, could kill 20,000 to 50,000 people in one single act, depending on the size of the city it hits. This would break the nuclear taboo that has existed for more than 70 years – and we would be in a new reality.

DER SPIEGEL: How would the U.S., how would NATO respond to such an act?

Allison: Not by the use of tactical nuclear weapons, I believe. But you cannot not do something rather dramatic. If we were to respond for example by attacking inside Russia – the missile fields from which these Iskander missiles are fired – well, then you would have Americans killing Russians, and you’re on an escalation ladder that is very slippery. This scenario seems so incredible, so otherworldly, that most people can’t get their head around it. That’s why I think it’s so urgent that we find a way to stop the killing now. Because it brings us back to the central analytic point and the question of whether we should just take Putin and tell him he has a choice between losing everything and a chance of winning something.

DER SPIEGEL: What could this something be?

Allison: Something that would allow him to spin in his own mind a story – and maybe to his Russian citizens – that he’s won something. So he could say: I’ve consolidated our control of Donbas. We now have a land bridge to Crimea. Ukraine is not going to be a member of NATO for 15 years. President Zelenskyy has already spoken about that. We will, of course, know that Putin is suffering a strategic defeat – and we must ensure that he does. But it's important to give him a reason to stop the war.

DER SPIEGEL: A cease-fire, victory, a sustained weakening of Russian forces, even a hint of regime change: Washington has sent conflicting signals about what the U.S. wants to be the outcome of this war.

Allison: The Biden administration isn’t very good at explaining its policies, but it does have a fairly coherent view. My interpretation is that we have four interrelated war aims. Point one: Ukraine survives. Point two: No third world war. Point three: a decisive strategic defeat for Putin's Russia. And point four: strengthening the international security order.

DER SPIEGEL: Could you briefly walk us through this, point by point?

Allison: OK. Aim one means that Ukraine survives as a free and independent country. Notice I didn't say how much of its territory Russia is still occupying, but that Ukraine survives in such a way that in the future it's going to thrive. And in the future, it will get back its territory.

DER SPIEGEL: Point two?

Allison: No third world war. This means that no U.S. or NATO soldier kills a Russian – and vice versa. Incidentally, this war aim explains why NATO has been so disciplined so far, why there is no no-fly zone and no protection zones proclaimed by NATO.

DER SPIEGEL: Point three?

Allison: When this war is over, Russia and the world should realize that the cost of this invasion far outweighs its benefits and that Putin is critically weakened. Is NATO destroyed? No, it is stronger than ever. Are the U.S. and Europe divided, which is what Putin surely wanted? No, they are more united than before – and the states on Russia’s borders, the "threat" Putin said he was going to dispel, are better protected. So, I would say anybody looking at this would say: Putin may have thought he won something, but overall, he lost.

DER SPIEGEL: And point four?

Allison: This may sound a little polyannish, but in the end the international community will have shown that there are crimes under international law that simply cannot be accepted. And one of those is invading your neighbor in order to redraw boundaries or, in any case, doing it in such a brutal way. So, this is about turning Putin and his people into pariahs. We may still have to deal with them the way we had to deal with Stalin and Mao. But these people will no longer go shopping in Paris, own apartments in London or a yacht in Nice.

DER SPIEGEL: And what will happen to Ukraine?

Allison: The Ukrainians have shown themselves to be so courageous and so determined, they now have a moral claim on Europeans and Americans that they never had before. We’re going to be supporting them to the maximum extent in trying to build a successful country. So, if we manage to bring this conflict to an end without Putin escalating, it could be a great success.

DER SPIEGEL: Chancellor Olaf Scholz justified his reluctance to send heavy weapons to Ukraine by saying that he wanted to prevent a third world war . What do you think of this argument?

Allison: It is absolutely correct to ask yourself at every step up the escalation ladder what reaction this step might trigger. Not only Germany, but the U.S. and other allies did this. They all move up, but very cautiously, trying to make that calculation. You can never be quite certain which step will trigger what. Supplying arms that would allow Ukraine to launch attacks on Russian territory, for example, would greatly increase the risk of escalation. It is therefore very sensible to question oneself carefully and in detail when taking such steps.

DER SPIEGEL: Others say Putin’s nuclear threats are part of his warfare – tactical attempts at intimidation. The West should not be bluffed.

Allison: That’s a very good rhetorical argument that you sometimes hear in the American debate as well. But it often comes from people who don’t really know the risk they’re dealing with here. It is not sensible to take a chance.

DER SPIEGEL: From an American perspective, Putin is almost completely isolated. However, Moscow has a de facto ally in China. How will the Ukraine war change the relationship between the U.S. and China?

Allison: Let's imagine if, before meeting Vladimir Putin in early February, China’s leader Xi Jinping was presented with two charts: one representing the advantages, and one the disadvantages for China if Putin invaded Ukraine. The biggest benefit from China's perspective is that Russia’s actions in Ukraine and its threat to Europe will become the focal threat that consumes all of America’s attention. And given that Americans have trouble thinking about more than one problem at a time, this will suck all the oxygen out of our concerns about China. And since the one thing China wants most from the U.S. right now is neglect – that’ll do it.

Has Ukraine Broken the Russian Military?


There’s no way to verify that 29,600 Russian troops have died in the invasion, as Ukraine’s defense ministry claimed on Thursday, but what is known is that Russia is calling for more volunteers and raising the upper age limit of enlistees.

The Russian military has also lost thousands of weapons, and in the last few weeks has scaled back from a three-pronged attack on Ukraine to a narrower effort to take the whole of the Donbas—and retain the parts it captured in 2014. The losses could make it difficult to wage war anywhere else in the short term, defense experts and officials said.

“Russia has taken heavy losses in this campaign, which will reduce its ability to engage in conflict over the next few years,” said Ryan Brobst, a research analyst for Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.

As of press time, the independent site Oryx has used photographs to document 4,150 destroyed or damaged Russian pieces of equipment, including 734 tanks and 148 aircraft (fighter jets, helicopters, and drones).

Iranian Protesters Are Angry About More Than Just Food Prices

Vahid Yücesoy

Since early May, Iran has been rocked by protests over a precipitous rise in food prices, triggered by the government’s decision to cut existing subsidies on food products. Since then, prices have gone up dramatically, with staples such as imported wheat increasing by up to 300 percent and cooking oil by close to 400 percent. Within a matter of days, protests that sprang up almost simultaneously in the north, east and center of Iran had spread across the country, eventually reaching the capital, Tehran, where bus drivers went on strike.

The rising price of food products are yet another blow for millions of low- and middle-class Iranians already bearing the brunt of years of severe economic mismanagement and corruption by the government. The Trump administration’s decision in 2018 to unilaterally withdraw from the multilateral nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, and reimpose backbreaking economic sanctions deepened the hardships felt by Iranians. The war in Ukraine and the ensuing price hikes for food products have only made things worse.

Why the battle for the Black Sea may be the most important showdown in the war — for Ukraine and for the world

Joshua Keating

In April, crowds in Kyiv waited in line, some for more than four hours, to purchase a special edition stamp issued by the Ukrainian post office depicting a solitary soldier
flipping the bird at a naval vessel in the distance. The stamp commemorated one of the iconic (if somewhat embellished) stories of the first day of the war in Ukraine, in which one of the border guards defending Snake Island, a small rock outcropping in the Black Sea, replied to the Russian cruiser Moskva’s demand that his men surrender with the now-immortal line: “Russian warship, go f--- yourself.”

The incident took on greater significance two months later when the Moskva, the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea fleet, was sunk by Ukrainian anti-ship missiles.

The ongoing battle for Snake Island is more than just a meme. It’s a key facet of the larger battle off the southern coast of Ukraine. It’s a front where — the sinking of the Moskva notwithstanding — Russian forces have had an easier time accomplishing their strategic objectives than their counterparts on land. Given the strategic and economic importance of shipping lanes in this area, the battle for the Black Sea may also be the key fight when it comes to Ukraine’s struggle to keep its battered economy afloat. And it’s not an exaggeration to say it could directly impact the lives of millions of people around the world.
The blockade

A cyberwar is already happening in Ukraine, Microsoft analysts say


Everyone keeps asking when Russia is going to launch the cyberwar. It's been more than three months since Putin invaded Ukraine, but the digital destruction that experts promised seems to be missing - or is it? Software giants like Microsoft might have the answer. NPR's cybersecurity correspondent Jenna McLaughlin went to Seattle to find out.

JENNA MCLAUGHLIN, BYLINE: Tom Burt says there's absolutely a cyberwar going on in Ukraine right now.

TOM BURT: If you are Ukrainian, this has been a relentless, unending cyberwar that has been launched in correspondence with the physical war, in what is clearly the world's first major hybrid war.

MCLAUGHLIN: I spoke to Burt inside Microsoft's Digital Crimes Unit, part of a sprawling tech metropolis surrounded by woods and mountains just east of downtown Seattle. On the wall, he had a massive map of Ukraine to show us where the cyberattacks are happening.

The Russia-Ukraine war at three months

Steven Pifer

Three months after Russia’s large-scale invasion of Ukraine began, the Russians have failed to achieve their objectives. U.S. officials now expect a war of attrition, with neither side capable of a decisive military breakthrough. How the war will conclude remains unclear.


On February 24, Russian forces invaded Ukraine from the north, including from Belarus, from the south out of Crimea, and from the east. The multiple axes of attack suggested that the Russian military aimed to quickly capture the capital of Kyiv, depose the democratically-elected government, and occupy perhaps as much as the eastern two-thirds of Ukraine.

The Russians failed. Their forces reached the outskirts of Kyiv but retreated at the end of March. The Russian army’s thrust toward Odesa bogged down around Mykolaiv after three weeks. In May, Russian forces attacking Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city and located just 25 miles from the Russian border, were pushed back, having entered only the city’s outskirts.

Winning the web: How Beijing exploits search results to shape views of Xinjiang and COVID-19

Jessica Brandt, Bret Schafer, Elen Aghekyan, Valerie Wirtschafter

As the war in Ukraine unfolds, Russian propaganda about the conflict has gotten a boost from a friendly source: government officials and state media out of Beijing. In multiple languages and regions around the world, China’s “wolf warrior” diplomats and state media routinely amplify Kremlin conspiracy theories rationalizing President Vladimir Putin’s invasion, and undermining the credibility and appeal of the United States, NATO, and independent media — even as China declines to endorse the Kremlin’s adventurism wholesale. This spring, for example, China’s messengers promoted the baseless Russian claim that the United States has been supporting a biological weapons program in Ukraine — at times, more aggressively than Russia itself.

Because Russian state media have been de-amplified or banned by multiple Western social media platforms, Beijing’s messaging could play an outsized role in channeling Kremlin talking points to audiences around the world.

These narratives do not just spread on social media. Beijing’s state-funded publishers have considerable success in a domain that has received comparatively little attention: search results.