26 July 2022

Outlook for China tourism in 2022: Trends to watch in uncertain timesFebruary 22, 2022 | Survey

Guang Chen, Steve Saxon, Jackey Yu, and Cherie Zhang

Although Chinese consumer confidence is growing, desire for travel has shown a faltering recovery due to sporadic COVID-19 outbreaks. A predictable pattern is emerging where desire for travel recovers roughly two months after a decline and even though international travel is restricted, the desire for travel remains. Furthermore, travelers’ preferences are shifting, with implications for travel companies.

This article updates findings of McKinsey’s Survey of Chinese Tourist Attitudes and compares the results across the five surveys taken in April 2020, May 2020, August 2020, January 2021, and October 2021. It also examines the implications of shifting attitudes toward travel and offers actions that travel companies may consider when planning for the year ahead.
Consumer confidence is growing but desire for travel shows a pattern of spikes and dips

Indian Perspective on Iran-China 25-year Agreement

Siddhant Nair

Iran is vital for India and China regarding energy resources and connectivity goals. Iran is a key to landlocked Central Asia, accessing Afghanistan and bypassing the Strait of Hormuz via the Chabahar Port. These are some of the central interests of China and India’s security and economy. Under the Trump administration, the U.S. imposed crippling sanctions on Iran, devastating Iran economically and isolating it internationally. Iran signed a 25-year agreement with China to counter the sanctions, joining the Belt and Road Initiative and countering economic and international isolation.

The 25-year agreement and U.S. sanctions have pushed Iran towards the Chinese bloc. With tensions between the U.S. and China, and India seemingly aware of the Chinese threat, Indo-Iran ties are questioned. In recent years, India and China have had tensions. Since the Galwan Valley clash between the two countries in 2020 that led to the death of 20 Indian soldiers, tensions have remained high despite de-escalation talks (“Galwan Valley: A year after the violent clash,” 2021). India has also leaned towards the West to get support against China. The formation of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue is an example of this. India and Iran have faced multiple obstacles in their relations, from the delayed funding for the Chabahar port project to Iran seemingly kicking India off the Zahedan railway project.

Beyond Good and Evil: The Sources of US Strategy in Post-Invasion Afghanistan

Luke Seminara

Across two decades, the War in Afghanistan lost its moral purpose. The US went from taking the battle to the terrorists to propping up a dysfunctional Afghan regime in the face of an ever-resilient Taliban insurgency. In this paper, I shall analyze the roots of this nation-building struggle, namely the Bush administration’s grand strategy after toppling the Taliban in late 2001. My timeframe of interest is from the Bonn Conference of December that year, wherein the US and its Afghan partners agreed to pursue a democratic political order, to that order’s ostensible realization with Hamid Karzai’s election to the Afghan presidency in October 2004. The US ultimately embraced primacy, although said strategy came about through a complex interaction of perceptual, bureaucratic, and threat environment-related factors. In particular, post-9/11 anxieties and post-invasion hubris among top decision-makers led to a forceful yet open-ended mission with lofty and vague objectives. The result was reactive, bottom-up policymaking by officials in the field, resulting in expanding commitments with no coherent plan.

So, come election time, Afghanistan was spiraling towards insurgency. I argue the US may have avoided this fate through a more restrained, less unrest-prone strategy — first, it would have embraced reconciliation with the Taliban, and second, it would have allowed for an illiberal Afghan regime. Whether perceptual factors would have permitted this approach is up for debate.

Balancing Conventional and Hybrid Threats in (Future) State Competition: Potential policy pitfalls stemming from the Ukrainian conflict

Pieter Balcaen, Bernard Siman

Much attention has been drawn in latest years to the increasing challenges posed by ‘hybrid threats’, and the question how to deter them. The events in Ukraine have prompted NATO allies to accelerate the expansion of their military capabilities to deter further Russian aggression, resulting in an increased political will to reinforce conventional deterrence. While we are certainly in favour of strengthening a long neglected defence, this paper aims to point out some pitfalls in policymaking, associated with the blindly adapting of the (future) force generation process to the events in Ukraine. The course of the conflict, and the consequences that stem from it should prompt us to reflect more thoroughly on the security challenges Western countries are most likely to face.

The Russia–China Alliance versus the West: What about the Rest?

Dr Karin von Hippel and Lt Gen (Ret'd) Sir Robert Fry

The Ukraine war has further entrenched and exacerbated the geopolitical rivalry between the West and the Russia–China camp. This new 'Superpower Plus' clash leaves the so-called ‘Rest’ in a difficult position, with some countries feeling pressure to choose sides, and others trying to remain neutral. Worryingly, many are leaning closer to the Russia–China position than the West.

In the 2 March vote at the UN General Assembly, 141 countries ‘deplored the aggression’ committed by Russia against Ukraine, with five votes against (not surprisingly, these were Belarus, Eritrea, North Korea, Syria and, of course, Russia). But 35 countries abstained, indicating tacit support for Russia, and these votes came from across the globe: from El Salvador to Equatorial Guinea to Namibia to Mongolia. The abstainers also represent places that will be significantly impacted by the negative spill-over from the war, whether in terms of food scarcity, prohibitive energy prices, supply chain blockages or rising inflation, which could lead to a global recession and new refugee flows.

As Small Drones Shape How We Fight, is the British Army Ready to Face Them?

Sam Cranny-Evans

It typically starts with a collection of vehicles and soldiers in the centre of a screen, a form of crosshair focused on them. Slowly the camera will begin to pan out and orbit the object of the footage, indicating that the video feed is coming from an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). The observed are unlikely to know that they are being watched: even a mid-sized UAV such as the Orlan-10 is hard to see at an altitude of a few kilometres, and its small engine provides only a faint indication that it is there. What happens next depends on the type of UAV; in some instances, the observed soldiers and vehicles are subjected to a massive bombardment of rockets carrying cluster munitions as well as conventional artillery rounds. Some have time to run for cover; others are less fortunate. In other instances, a single precise explosion is observed – either a guided artillery round or a missile – which typically destroys the object of the video. One further scenario that is increasingly common is the release of a modified grenade or mortar from the bottom of the observing UAV, which tumbles towards the targets and detonates among them.

Russia's 'new' anti-ship missile

Timothy Wright

According to a report from the news agency TASS, the Russian Navy is developing a 'new' type of anti-ship ballistic missile known as Zmeyevik. The weapon probably first entered development during the Cold War and, like many other programmes, may have been shelved due to cuts to Russia’s defence budget in the 1990s until work resumed in recent years. This would match the development chronology of other ‘new’ Russian missile systems, such as the Avangard (RS-SS-19 Mod 4) hypersonic boost-glide vehicle and the RS-28 Sarmat (RS-SS-X-29) intercontinental ballistic missile, both of which were also shelved for a period beginning in the 1990s.

Zmeyevik is designed to ‘destroy large surface targets, primarily aircraft carriers’, according to TASS. Russian sources suggest the system might be deployed with coastal missile units of the Russian Navy. In this capacity, it would complement existing coastal-defence systems with a far shorter range, such as the K-300P Bastion-P (RS-SSC-5 Stooge).

Strengthening US-India Relations

David C. Mulford

Editor’s note: This essay is a product of the US-India Program at the Hoover Institution. The goal of this initiative is to generate, identify, and advance policy-relevant scholarship and connections that will deepen the relationship between the world’s oldest democracy and the world’s largest democracy.

For the past twenty years, US-India relations have been deepening to the point where both sides have become comfortable referring to a key strategic partnership binding the countries together more closely than ever before. This well-advanced initiative has been taking place across a broad front, which has engaged in virtually every area of human endeavor. There has been no formal treaty agreement of cooperation. The relationship is simply there and has worked.

An Operation Paperclip for Taiwan

Allison Schwartz, Ben Noon

One reason China may soon invade Taiwan is to capture the island’s uniquely valuable semiconductor production facilities. Taiwan’s crown jewel of chip manufacturing, TSMC, produces more than 90% of the world’s cutting-edge semiconductors. China could hold the United States and its allies economically hostage if it took the island democracy. Deterring the invasion of Taiwan is a daunting military and diplomatic undertaking alone, but the U.S. must think about how to avert economic disaster should deterrence fail. One way to mitigate the threat to the global economy would be to evacuate Taiwan’s most skilled engineers when war appears imminent.

Bringing a couple of thousand engineers to the United States would deny Chinese occupiers the full value of TSMC’s chip factories post-invasion and secure the sufficient talent to lead the herculean national effort to save the U.S. economy by crash-building a TSMC based in the United States. Taiwanese engineers would staff the factory floors and management offices of the new American semiconductor industry.

Food May Be the Ultimate Weapon in the 21st Century

Hal Brands

President Joe Biden’s administration is reportedly rewriting its National Security Strategy, which the White House is required to send to Congress annually, to account for the lessons of the war in Ukraine. One issue that this document will have to grapple with outside its traditional focus on statecraft and diplomacy: food.

The conflict in Ukraine has put the geopolitics of food in the headlines, because Russian President Vladimir Putin has used hunger as a weapon against Kyiv and much of the world. Putin is giving an object lesson in how geopolitical insecurity can cause food insecurity — which can then make a whole raft of problems worse across the globe.

Biden Replicates Henry Kissinger’s Mistakes

Erdogan has charmed or cajoled into inaction George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump. While Joe Biden promised to hold Erdogan accountable for his actions, Biden’s top aides now void that pledge. The result is strategic shortsightedness unseen in a half-century and a price for appeasement that Biden will force allies and democracies to pay.

First, some history: Detente between the United States and the People’s Republic of China was Henry Kissinger’s legacy achievement, but it came at a high cost. While Kissinger assured colleagues that he would protect other American allies, the declassified record shows that he almost gleefully undermined Taiwan more than the White House expected or than he admitted at the time. The secret assurances and concessions Kissinger gave Chinese Chairman Mao Zedong and Premier Zhou Enlai emboldened Beijing to expect not only an end to Washington’s diplomatic relations with Taipei but also an end to Taiwan’s existence as a separate entity free from Communist domination.

The Internet is Fragmented. What Should the United States Do Now?

Adam Segal

At the end of June, Delhi police arrested Mohammed Zubair, an Indian journalist and prominent critic of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, for allegedly violating federal laws on social media. According to a police spokesperson, Zubair's Twitter posts were "demeaning to one community." An anonymous account had complained to Twitter that one of his tweets was an insult to Hindus, but press activists and other civil rights groups place Zubair's arrest as part of long campaign against free speech. The same week, the Indian government reportedly forced Twitter to take down posts from Freedom House on how internet freedom has declined in India.

Unfortunately, India is not an outlier on these trends, and a new CFR Independent Task Force on U.S. foreign policy for cyberspace confronts the reality of an increasingly controlled and fragmented internet head on (you can read the full report here, and my introduction to the report here). As the report bluntly puts it, "the era of the global internet is over."

China’s Collapsing Global Image

Joshua Kurlantzick

In the past four years, China’s global image, which had been positive or at least neutral in many parts of the globe for the previous two decades, has deteriorated extensively. This deterioration has occurred not only among leading democracies such as the United States and Japan, with whom China already had prickly relations, but also among developing countries in Africa, Asia, and Eastern Europe. China had enjoyed positive relations with states in these regions between the 1990s and late 2010s. In some parts of the world,
China now has its worst public image in many decades.

This negative perception is a sharp reversal from China’s recent heyday, in which China launched a massive soft power campaign in many developing regions; vowed to be a different, less interventionist major power than the United States; and rolled out its massive Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Many developing countries, and even some publics in some rich democracies, responded to this charm offensive and viewed China relatively positively. What’s more, a growing number of countries took an interest in China’s state capitalist developmental model after the 2008-9 financial crisis damaged the image of the United States’ economic model.

Why the U.S. Needs to Say Less and Do More on Taiwan


Over the past several months, the Biden administration has made numerous moves to clarify or change approaches to China and the Indo-Pacific. President Joe Biden recently traveled to the region to visit Japan and Korea and to meet the Quad leaders, and to announce the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF). Last month, Paul Haenle spoke with Evan Medeiros at an event on U.S.-China competition. An excerpt of the event, which has been edited for clarity, is below.

Evan Medeiros: We can start with comparisons between this administration and the last administration. I think the [current] administration gets a bad rap as “Trump lite.” I just think that is an unfair criticism because, sure there are similarities and differences, but the differences, to me, are big, important, sort of chunky differences between the Biden approach and the Trump approach.

China’s Data Ambitions Strategy, Emerging Technologies, and Implications for Democracies

Lindsay Gorman

China seeks to become the global leader in technologies emerging from advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) and data analytics. This strategy has the dual objectives of accelerating the transformation of China’s own economy and building the nation into a cyber power.[1] To achieve these goals, the country has combined national policy planning and aggressive data-retention policies with an outgoing effort to export data-based technologies.

This essay details China’s data ambitions with a particular eye to how they relate to emerging technology goals associated with AI. It then discusses how these efforts complicate democratic values in cyberspace and analyzes options for how democracies can address these threats.


China’s big data strategy was officially launched in 2014 when it was included in a government work report for the first time.[2] Between 2014 and 2017, this “national big data strategy” grew to support industry development. In 2015, the State Council issued its first top-down strategic planning document on big data, the “Action Plan on Promoting Big Data Development,” which called for the creation of databases on China’s population, corporations, natural resources, and geography and integrated data systems for transportation and tourism, medical information, and education management. At the subnational level, the action plan called on city-level governments and above to implement government affairs and public services applications, track economic data, examine agricultural trends, and utilize smart cities to collect citizen data for services and control.[3]

HIMARS: The new U.S. rocket launchers in Ukraine are making the Russians furious. But can they win the war?

Joshua Keating

The Ukrainians have a new weapon to sing about. Taras Borovok, the Ukrainian soldier who previously penned a viral musical tribute to the Turkish-supplied Bayraktar drone, recently released a new song paying tribute to the American supplied High-Mobility Advanced Rocket System — better known by its now-famous acronym.

“HIMARS! Our trusted ally from America is here. Do you want to meet him?” goes the catchy jingle shared last week on the Facebook page of the Ukrainian armed forces’ general staff.

Even by the standards of this social-media saturated war, the HIMARS is getting a lot of hype. A month ago, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov tweeted, “HIMARS have arrived to Ukraine. Thank you to my colleague and friend @SecDef [Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III] for these powerful tools! Summer will be hot for the Russian occupiers. And the last one for some of them.”

Virtual Battlespace: The U.S. Marine Corps Is Going Digital

Caleb Larson 

The United States Marine Corps—the United States’ force-in-readiness—is looking to “industry partners” to bring the Live Virtual Constructive-Training Environment (LVC-TE) into service. The LVC-TE is a “software-intensive system” that the Marine Corps hopes to use to “provide enterprise services to execute persistent, consistent, collective training capability” via the connection with “legacy Marine Corps training systems.” The Marine Corps’ goal is to provide support for Marine Expeditionary Forces training and other subordinate units, as explained in a press release.

“The LVC-TE program is a key component of TECOM's modernization efforts for the Marine Corps and conforms to the tenets of the Commandant's Planning Guidance and Force Design 2030,” explained Deputy Commanding General of Marine Corps Training and Education Command BG. Matthew Reid.

How the West Failed to Isolate Russia

Mark Episkopos

Russian president Vladimir Putin has given the green light to a Black Sea grain export deal, the first major agreement between Moscow and Kyiv since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24.

“This is an agreement for the world,” said UN secretary-general António Guterres on Friday. “It will bring relief for developing countries on the edge of bankruptcy and the most vulnerable people on the edge of famine. It will help stabilize global food prices which were already at record-levels even before the war.”

The agreement, which was negotiated by Ukraine, Turkey, Russia, and the United Nations, sets forth a framework for the resumption of global grain shipments out of Ukraine. The deal provides for the creation of a “control center,” staffed by UN, Turkish, Russian, and Ukrainian officials, in Istanbul to monitor and coordinate grain exports out of a designated maritime safe corridor. The arrangement covers food exports from the Ukrainian port cities of Odessa, Chernomorsk, and Yuzhny.

#Reviewing The Wolves of Helmand

Emily Swain

War memoirs have a long and distinguished history. They are often written to preserve history or to cement the victors’ preferred version of events. Sometimes, as Karl Marlantes said of his own writing, they are written to help other warriors or, even the author, to make sense of the experience and share lessons learned.[1] The Wolves of Helmand, a memoir of the author’s deployment to Afghanistan, captures one warrior’s story of engaging in combat, both physical and cultural. Afghanistan has often defied comprehension by the non-native and Frank Biggio’s stories contribute to a better understanding of that culture—so different from America’s—and how U.S. military forces engaged with it.

In this book, Biggio’s purpose is stated directly in his subtitle, “a view from inside the den of modern warfare.” Biggio recounts the highlights of his seven-month deployment in 2009 to Afghanistan as a reservist supporting 1st Battalion, 5th Marines. The unit was assigned to the district of Nawa, in the southern Afghanistan province of Helmand where the Taliban were devastating the country in attempts to topple the fledgling U.S.-installed government.

Loyal Wingman or ‘Untethered’ Drone? Why Not Both, Industry Leaders Say

Greg Hadley

FARNBOROUGH, U.K.—As the Air Force moves forward with plans to team manned and unmanned systems in the future, the service might be best served by pursuing platforms that can function on their own as uncrewed aircraft—but are still capable of working as “loyal wingmen” to manned systems.

So said several executives of top defense contractors at the Farnborough International Airshow this week, emphasizing flexibility in how these new aircraft would be able to operate.

The question of how the Air Force should approach the concept of manned-unmanned teaming has been an open one. Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall has endorsed the idea of unmanned combat drones, designed to work with manned aircraft and “run plays” called by the pilot. He’s also called for up to five drones to fly alongside fighters.

JUST IN: Army Aiming to Demo New Mobile Command Post by 2026

Josh Luckenbaugh

A team from the Army's Command, Control, Communication, Computers, Cyber, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Center tested out several capabilities of the Mobile and Survivable Command Post, or MASCP, at the service’s annual network modernization experiment event at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey, this summer. The goal is to “redefine the various architectures that make up the command post to better enable mobility, survivability” and ensure the post remains effective, Tyler Barton, computer scientist and MASCP project lead, said at a roundtable on July 21.

“The more mobile and survivable the posture of your command post, the more challenging being effective — both from a technology and systems standpoint, and just from a human standpoint of being dispersed from the staff you’re used to working with closely,” he added.

General disorder: Another four-star tries to cash in


Old generals don’t fade away, they move in the bright light of day from the Pentagon into lucrative contracts with defense companies, think tanks and foreign governments.

The revolving door between military/defense industry/wonkism/lobbyist is usually not much of a problem for the D.C. crowd as long as the paperwork is filed before the stars are traded for cufflinks. But some former officers get caught in the door, and things can get messy.

Last night, we found out that JOHN ALLEN, the retired Marine Corps four-star and president of the Brookings Institution think tank, failed to disclose his work for the Qatari government and allegedly lied to federal investigators about it when asked.

At NetModX experiments, Army takes on contested communications


WASHINGTON: The Army’s network research team and science and technology community just wrapped up nine weeks of experiments, involving communications tech that could be used on the service’s high-profile next-gen helicopters and will help inform its ongoing Joint All Domain Command and Control efforts.

During the fourth annual Network Modernization Experiment, or NetModX, at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey, the Army’s Network Cross-Functional Team (CFT), its C5ISR Center and the science and technology community, including industry vendors, all came together to look at ways to improve the service’s acquisition and S&T investments and examine what’s coming out of them.

He Tried to Reform the Way a Top D.C. Think Tank Gets Money. Now the FBI Is Looking Into Him.


The establishing documents for the Brookings Doha Center may be uncomfortable reading for advocates of academic freedom.

Inked in 2007, the deal between the storied Washington think tank and Qatar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs laid out the financial terms under which Brookings established a groundbreaking outpost in the Persian Gulf. The fantastically rich, autocratic emirate would put up $5 million, bankrolling the groundbreaking research facility — but also got a notable degree of contractual prerogatives for a government over a proudly independent organization. The center’s director, the heretofore unreported document read, would “engage in regular consultation with [the foreign ministry],” submitting an annual budget and “agenda for programs that will be developed by the Center.” Any changes would require the ministry’s OK. (The document was obtained from Qatar by a U.S. source; a Brookings spokesperson did not dispute its validity.)

How Mattis Betrayed His Fellow Marines at the Behest of the Deep State

Fred Galvin

My new book, A Few Bad Men, details the mendacity and mad dishonesty of retired Marine General James “Mad Dog” Mattis. The fact that it was written by a Marine once under his command, whom he betrayed for the sake of politics and getting to slap on another star, says volumes about this once-lionized figure.

It all goes back to an incident in Afghanistan in 2007, and the Court of Inquiry trial of innocent Marines that followed, which Mattis himself instigated.

Lt. Colonel Steve Morgan, USMC (retired) and jury member of the 2008 Marine Special Operations Command’s Court of Inquiry says in the foreword to A Few Bad Men, “This is a case of a perfect storm of toxic leadership.”

In the Information Battlespace, Cold War II Has Already Begun

James P. Farwell

Two words no Western leader wants to say are “cold war.” Nobody wants it, but the facts speak for themselves: we are already deep into a global cold war. China and Russia are using every tool in the gray zone toolbox to advance their strategic interests at the expense of the liberal world order, and information warfare ranks among their most potent tools. We should be fighting back. Our leaders need to understand the power of the information battlespace and fund the capacity to wage it effectively.

This is not the twentieth-century Cold War. During that war, there was very little direct contact below the summit level between the United States and its allies and the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China. Western businesses did not do much business in Russia or China. Travel and people-to-people contact were limited. Today, the West, Russia, and China are enmeshed in integrated global business, communication, and information ecosystems.

Chris Reed: Stunning plunge in China’s population has changed the course of world history


Two candidates leap to mind. The climate emergency causing hell in Europe this week — and promising hell for all eventually — is one. The growing popularity of authoritarian views in the United States and many other nations is the second.

The failure of a third to capture the media’s attention is baffling: the increasingly frank way that the Pentagon acknowledges that its military appears to regularly encounter unidentified aerial phenomena, citing spacecraft that can do things no human-made craft could ever do — with the evidence being not just pilots’ visual anecdotes but their jets’ tracking technology. This isn’t 1990s alien abduction and crop circles crapola. This is the richest, most powerful institution in the world telling us there may be aliens among us. Shouldn’t this get more attention than Bennifer?

The Character of War Is Constantly Changing

Captain Gerard Roncolato, U.S. Navy (Retired)

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.

War is changing at a dramatic rate and scope. Knowledge gained from one’s own experiences informs a shrinking portion of the emerging reality. The DoN must look elsewhere for insights and guidance. This generation’s predecessors looked to history and theory, even in periods of dramatic technological change, geostrategic upheaval, and economic dislocation. Indeed, it was because of such changes that they turned to history.3

Here’s how Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is fueling a comeback for coal

Dave Levitan and Nikhil Kumar

This month, the German government cleared plans to reactivate decommissioned coal-fired power plants. Austria is about to reopen a plant that has been shut since 2020. The government in France said it is “reserving the option” to do the same this winter, while the Netherlands has lifted a cap on the amount of energy that can be produced by coal-fired facilities. Over in Britain, the government is looking at the possibility of delaying the closure of some coal-based plants.

On the other side of the world, Colombia is stepping up coal production and has resumed exports to Ireland, which had halted imports from the Andean country in 2016 because of human rights concerns. Australian and South African coal producers have seen a jump in demand from international buyers. U.S. coal exports, meanwhile, are set to reach a three-year high this year.

The Syrian Civil War’s Never-Ending Endgame

The Syrian civil war that has decimated the country for more than a decade, provoking a regional humanitarian crisis and drawing in actors ranging from the United States to Russia, has been drawing inexorably to a conclusion for years now. President Bashar al-Assad, with the backing of Iran and Russia, has emerged militarily victorious from the conflict, which began after his government violently repressed civilian protests in 2011. The armed insurgency that followed soon morphed into a regional and global proxy war that, at the height of the fighting, saw radical Islamist groups, including the Islamic State, seize control over vast swathes of the country. They subsequently lost almost all the territory they controlled in the face of sustained counteroffensives by pro-government forces as well as a U.S.-led coalition of Western militaries.

Though the fighting has waned in the past two years, parts of the country—such as the northwestern Idlib region—remain outside of government control. In early 2020, the Syrian army’s Russian-backed campaign to retake Idlib from the last remaining armed opposition groups concentrated there resulted in clashes with Turkish forces deployed to protect Ankara’s client militias. The skirmishes were a reminder that the conflict, though winding down, could still flare back up and escalate. The situation in the northeast also remains volatile following the removal of U.S. forces from the border with Turkey, with Turkish, Syrian and Russian forces all now deployed in the region, alongside proxies and Syrian Kurdish militias.