6 August 2022

Nancy Pelosi Just Lit a Match at the Dynamite Factory


As House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s plane approached the airport in Taipei on Tuesday, Chinese warships and fighter planes squeezed the meridian line—the air-and-sea border dividing the People’s Republic of China from Taiwan—while American aircraft carriers steamed nearby to ward off or meet any threats. It’s impossible to deny that this trip was, at the very least, poorly timed.

Several U.S. officials—in the White House, the State Department, the Pentagon, and the intelligence community—had tried, perhaps too delicately, to discourage Pelosi from stopping off in Taiwan during her congressional delegation’s brief tour of allied capitals in East Asia. President Joe Biden said publicly that top U.S. military officers opposed the visit, though he stopped short of saying he agreed with them, sensitive to the legislature’s prerogatives as a coequal branch of government and perhaps fearful of being denounced as “soft on China.”

Nobody Wants the Current World Order

Shivshankar Menon

The world is between orders; it is adrift. The last coherent response by the international system to a transnational challenge came at the London summit of the G-20 in April 2009, when in the wake of the 2008 financial crash, leaders took steps to avert another Great Depression and stabilize the global banking system. The subsequent international response to climate change, the metastasizing debt crisis in developing countries, and the COVID-19 pandemic can only be described as pathetic.

That failure stems from the fact that fewer and fewer countries, including the ones that built the previous international order, seem committed to maintaining it. The United States led two orders after World War II: a Keynesian one that was not inordinately interested in how states ran their internal affairs in a bipolar Cold War world (a socialist India, therefore, could be the largest recipient of World Bank aid in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s), and, after the Cold War, a neoliberal one in a unipolar world that ignored national sovereignty and boundaries where it needed to. Both orders professed to be “open, rules-based, and liberal,” upholding the values of democracy, so-called free markets, human rights, and the rule of law. In reality, they rested on the dominance and imperatives of U.S. military, political, and economic power. For much of the era that followed the demise of the Soviet Union, most powers, including a rising China, generally went along with the U.S.-led order.

Breaking Down the Taiwan Problem


The Cipher Brief: How do you expect President Xi Jinping to respond to this visit by Pelosi in the long-term? Beijing was quick to put out some fairly strong warnings about a response if the House Speaker went through with her plans to visit.

Ambassador Detrani: This is a series of events and the Pelosi visit is part of that. We saw President Biden say twice that the US is prepared to militarily defend Taiwan. We have possible legislation going forth with Bob Menendez and Lindsey Graham talking about making Taiwan a non-NATO ally, not with a Mutual Defense Treaty Agreement, but a non-NATO ally with provisions to provide them with the weaponry necessary to counter any form of aggression.

From Xi Jinping and from China’s vantage point, this is escalation. This is movement towards encouraging Taiwan to move towards independence, which for China is a red line.

This Means War: Has Pelosi’s Visit Sealed Taiwan’s Fate?

David T. Pyne

Since the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) inception over seventy years ago, China’s reunification with Taiwan has been its paramount foreign policy objective. Chinese president Xi Jinping has made repeated statements that China’s patience for Taiwan to accept its offer of peaceful reunification is running out. Over the past two decades, China has greatly increased its amphibious assault capabilities. Meanwhile, the frequency and scale of Chinese fighter and bomber incursions into Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) during the past year have been unprecedented, with more than 1,400 incursions, accompanied by large People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) exercises off the coast of Taiwan, since Joe Biden became president.

Last month, Beijing took the unprecedented step of claiming full sovereignty over the Taiwan Strait and warned the United States against any attempt to circumnavigate it with its warships without its permission. The Biden administration has expressed concern that China would take military action against Taiwan within the next eighteen months, including a blockade of foreign ships sailing in and out of the Taiwan Strait. In response to the increasing threat, the Biden administration has dispatched a carrier battle group led by the USS Ronald Reagan to take a position east of Taiwan in an attempt to deter such Chinese aggression.

Yes, China Would Go To War Over Taiwan

Ted Galen Carpenter

Tip of the Iceberg: Pelosi’s Taiwan Visit and Surging U.S.-China Tensions – Defying Beijing’s objections and warnings, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has fulfilled her plans to include Taiwan as a stop on her trip to East Asia. She is the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit the island in 25 years. Beijing’s warnings about Washington’s growing support for Taiwan have soared since Pelosi announced her intentions in July, with one state media figure even advocating shooting down her plane, along with any U.S. military aircraft serving as an escort.

Fortunately, China’s government did not adopt such a reckless course. However, it did warn of “serious consequences” to U.S.-PRC relations if the visit went forward. It remains to be seen just how serious those consequences become, but it is clear that Pelosi’s visit has exacerbated already nasty tensions in bilateral relations. Her trip is just the tip of the iceberg, though, with respect to the reasons for the deteriorating relationship between Washington and Beijing.

The Miscalculations and Missed Opportunities that Led Putin to War in Ukraine


When Bill Clinton telephoned Vladimir Putin on New Year’s Day, 2000, to congratulate him on his appointment as acting President, Putin told him: “There are certain issues on which we do not agree. However, I believe that on the core themes we will always be together.” Clinton was equally upbeat. Putin, he said, was “off to a very good start.”

Later it would be said that the American President had been naïve and that Putin’s protestations of friendship with the West were a masquerade from the start. But Clinton was not alone in seeing the Russian President as a valuable partner in the post-Cold War world. Britain’s Prime Minister, Tony Blair, thought “Putin admired America and wanted a strong relationship with it. He wanted to pursue democratic and economic reform.” The Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, pronounced him ‘a Russian patriot’ and Clinton’s successor, George W. Bush, found his support after 9/11 simply “amazing… He even ordered Russian generals to brief their American counterparts on their experiences during their Afghanistan invasion in the 1980s… I appreciated his willingness to move beyond the suspicions of the past.”

What Twitter’s Move to Shutter Offices Signals for Big Tech

TWITTER EXECUTIVES CAN currently travel the world by globe-trotting among the company’s 38 offices, from San Francisco, Sydney, and Seoul to New Delhi, London, and Dublin.

But not for much longer. On July 27, the company sent a memo to employees saying that one office in San Francisco would be shuttered; plans for a new office in Oakland, California, would be abandoned; and the future of seven locations was being carefully considered as part of a cost-cutting measure. Five other offices globally would definitely be downsized. It’s all part of an attempt to prepare the company for purchase by Elon Musk and tighten expenditure as much as possible.

Twitter isn’t the first to cut down its office space. In early June, Yahoo was rumored to be getting rid of its 650,000 square foot San Jose campus, which was only completed at the end of 2021. Later that month, Yelp announced it was edging closer to being fully remote, and closing 450,000 square feet of office space across the United States. It was followed a week later by Netflix, who said it plans to sublease around 180,000 square feet of property in California as part of a broader company downsizing. That echoed Salesforce, which put up half of its eponymous San Francisco tower block for sublease in mid-July.

Russia, Ukraine, and the decision to negotiate

Steven Pifer

With an ugly war of attrition in Ukraine threatening to drag on for months, some fear possible escalation and suggest Washington should start talking to Moscow about a cease-fire and ending the war, or offer proposals to foster diplomatic opportunities.

Ending the fighting may well require talks, but the decision to negotiate should lie with Kyiv.

The Russian army launched a large-scale invasion of Ukraine on three fronts on February 24. However, by the end of March, it had to abandon its goal of capturing the Ukrainian capital and withdrew from much of northern Ukraine. The Kremlin said its forces would then focus on Donbas, consisting of Ukraine’s easternmost oblasts of Donetsk and Luhansk.

By mid-July, Russian soldiers had occupied most of Luhansk. That represented a symbolic victory, but in reality three months of grinding fighting gained little new territory. The Russian army, which has seen roughly 15,000 to 25,000 soldiers killed in action and lost much equipment, appears exhausted.

IP22039 | The Environmental Impact of Military AI

Wichuta Teeratanabodee

Artificial intelligence — one of the key emerging kinds of technology in defence — has been used to combat climate crises, including by improving preparedness and disaster risk mitigation. With the capability to store, process, and analyse large amounts of data, AI and machine learning systems can help monitor and forecast extreme natural disasters, subsequently reducing the risks of those occurrences.

However, AI technologies may at the same time have adverse environmental impact as most processes involved in training and developing the technology, such as data storage and processing, themselves consume enormous amounts of energy. Consequently, militaries must address the environmental aspects in their development of AI governance frameworks.


These expert roundtable discussions are convening global leaders from the military, government, academia, and technology sectors to consider conceptually what it means to visualize the information domain.

The overarching objective of the series addresses these core questions:How do information operations impact governments and stakeholders in the current era?

What challenges and opportunities do information operations pose to swift and effective decision-making? What interactions do they have with other domains?

How can emerging technologies provide pathways for faster and more reliable development of a common operating picture and common understanding in order to enable effective decision-making?

How should governments and stakeholders combat misinformation as a tool of modern conflict?

What Leadership Type will Succeed Al-Qaeda’s al-Zawahiri?

Tricia Bacon, Elizabeth Grimm

Questions of succession loom large for al-Qaeda. By most accounts, al-Qaeda leader Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri is alive, but in poor health, and thus questions of succession loom large for the group. This succession—when it occurs—would mark only the second leadership transition for al-Qaeda in its more than 30-year existence. During his time as al-Qaeda’s leader, al-Zawahiri persisted in following the blueprint developed by Usama bin Laden. In so doing, he provided a degree of consistency for the group, which has faced unprecedented counter-terrorism (CT) pressure since 2001. At the same time, his approach to leadership and the CT environment the group faced made it difficult, perhaps impossible, for al-Zawahiri to rejuvenate the beleaguered organisation. Such are the trade-offs of what we call a ‘caretaker leader’. While many have criticised al-Zawahiri’s characteristics as a leader, we argue that rather than focusing on al-Zawahiri or his potential successor’s personality traits, the more critical question to examine is what type of leader al-Zawahiri has been and what type his eventual successor could be.

Usama bin Laden’s leadership is well-documented, as the group’s founder, but the leadership role of his successor has been less explored. Why does this matter? Succession is a critical juncture that all terrorist groups must reckon with if they survive long enough. These transitions can potentially threaten the very survival of the group, or at least force a reckoning of how to function in the founder’s wake. Based on our forthcoming book, Terror in Transition, we put forward an analysis of where the group stands right now, what role al-Zawahiri played in al-Qaeda, and what possible roles the next successor might fill. We conclude with counter-terrorism implications for each possible type of successor to help guide action against the group following this transition.

AI Startups and the Fight Against Mis/Disinformation Online: An Update

Anya Schiffrin, Hiba Beg, Juan Carlos Eyzaguirre


In an address at Stanford University in April 2022, former president Barack Obama said that “one of the biggest reasons for democracies weakening is the profound change that’s taking place in how we communicate and consume information.”1 He pointed to the problem of disinformation and suggested that artificial intelligence (AI) would soon exacerbate the threat.

In many ways, Obama’s speech summarized an emerging consensus about the problems in the information ecosystem. Interest in these problems and discussion of solutions have grown among scholars, activists, and legislators since 2016, when investigations revealed the role of mis/disinformation in the US presidential election as well as in the Brexit referendum in the United Kingdom. Over the course of the coronavirus pandemic, worries about the effect of vaccine and public health mis/disinformation have grown. And Russia’s mis/disinformation campaign before and during its invasion of Ukraine once again revealed the high stakes of the problem and demonstrated the need for efforts to combat it, including comprehensive legislation governing social media platforms.2

How Russia’s War on Ukraine Has Impacted Global Gas Markets: Roundtable Report


On June 7, the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University hosted a private virtual roundtable conducted on a not-for-attribution basis on how Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has impacted global gas markets. The roundtable took place three weeks after the European Commission (EC) published its REPowerEU Plan. As of early June, a total of five countries (Bulgaria, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, and Poland) and Shell in Germany have had their contracted gas supplies cut by Russia due to their refusal to pay for them in rubles.

Participants in the roundtable included senior corporate executives, civil society representatives, energy analysts, and experts from academia and think tanks. What follows is a summary of the discussion, which focused on two topics: the war’s short-term impact on different regions, particularly Europe, where the EC has sought to reduce dependence on Russian gas and secure supply for the upcoming winter simultaneously, and how high natural gas prices and supply disruptions could impact the role of natural gas in the energy transition in the long term.

China’s Choices: A New Tool for Assessing the PLA’s Modernization

Jack Bianchi, Madison Creery, Harrison Schramm, Toshi Yoshihara

All militaries confront resource tradeoffs. As China and the United States enter a period of intensifying military competition, understanding the tradeoffs the two must face and their likely consequences will become ever more important. Yet, without a better understanding of China’s own resourcing constraints and associated vulnerabilities, policymakers lack the critical insights to holistically assess the state of the competition and develop effective strategies.

To advance the policy community’s understanding of China’s budgetary choices, relative tradeoffs, and constraints on military modernization, the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA) created a one-of-a-kind model for exploring Beijing’s defense portfolio. The China Strategic Choices Tool (SCT) is a user-friendly, web-based application that allows participants to step into the shoes of Chinese statesmen and defense planners to make high-level resourcing and force structure decisions regarding the future of China’s military. By simulating investments in and divestments from a broad portfolio of PLA capabilities, the tool allows users to generate alternative future force structures within a budgetary constraint.


Brandon Bailey

Space systems are leveraged by many government and commercial entities to provide global capabilities unique to the space domain. During a conflict, adversaries will seek to disrupt, deny, degrade, deceive, or destroy those capabilities. Cyberattacks are a complex but effective and increasingly prevalent attack vector in the space domain. To counter the threat posed by cyberattack, cybersecurity and space operations are becoming inextricably linked.

Historically, spacecraft had been considered relatively safe from cyber threats and space system vulnerabilities were often overlooked in evaluation of critical infrastructure. With space cyber threats emerging from nation-state actors, government and industry stakeholders identified that additional defenses should be implemented. Space-centric cybersecurity standards and governance have been slow to materialize, however, and are lagging behind the growth of the cyber threat. Defense-in-depth techniques for space system protection must be adopted across the government, industry, and international community to ensure space systems are resilient to cyber compromise. Potential solutions will include increased cooperation across these domains and require a blend of policy, standards, and technical solutions.

Decoupling in Strategic TechnologiesFrom Satellites to Artificial Intelligence

Tim Hwang


Geopolitical tensions between the United States and China have sparked an ongoing dialogue in Washington about the phenomenon of “decoupling,” the use of public policy tools to separate the multifaceted economic ties that connect the two powers. This process has already begun, with a range of steps taken in recent years on both sides of the Pacific to reshape the bilateral economic relationship.

Decoupling encompasses a wide range of tactics and policy objectives. Some have advocated for decoupling as a means of protecting the economic health of certain U.S. industries. Others have argued for decoupling as a tool to reduce the dependence of the United States on China for strategically important products and supplies. Still others see decoupling as a means of limiting the channels through which China might compromise U.S. national security, as in the ongoing debates around 5G and network infrastructure.

This issue brief studies the efficacy of one specific aspect of this broader decoupling phenomenon. Specifically, it examines the use of export controls and related trade policies to prevent a rival from acquiring the equipment and know-how to catch up to the United States in cutting-edge, strategically important technologies. This objective has already motivated some of the most widely discussed events of the “decoupling era” in U.S.-China relations. The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, for example, has been active in blocking Chinese firms from accessing specific types of leading-edge semiconductor designs.

Biosecurity Is National Security


BOSTON – If a cyberattack upended the global economy, effectively shut down major cities like New York, and put millions of lives at risk, governments and institutions worldwide would undoubtedly respond by investing heavily in defensive capabilities. They would beef up their cybersecurity, install new safeguards, and collect data and intelligence on future threats – just as many already do in response to acts of cyber warfare.

When it comes to the equally disruptive COVID-19 pandemic, however, the response has been far less decisive. As new variants ravage the health and economic security of the world’s population, biosecurity measures – the early warning and monitoring technologies meant to prevent the spread of infectious diseases – are still not as layered, pervasive, or formidable as the cybersecurity systems we use to contain and mitigate the activities of computer hackers.

The Coming Taiwan Crisis


CLAREMONT, CALIFORNIA – US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s arrival in Taiwan has incited a predictably strong response from China. Chinese warplanes have brushed up against the median line dividing the Taiwan Strait. The Chinese foreign ministry has warned of “serious consequences” as a result of Pelosi’s visit to the island. Chinese President Xi Jinping has told US President Joe Biden that “those who play with fire will perish by it.” And now, China has just announced a major military exercise with live-fire drills starting August 4 (just after Pelosi leaves Taiwan). The specter of military confrontation looms large.

But Pelosi is hardly responsible for today’s heightened tensions over the island. Even if she had decided to skip Taipei on her tour of Asia, China’s bellicosity toward Taiwan would have continued to intensify, possibly triggering another Taiwan Strait crisis in the near future.

Contrary to the prevailing narrative, this is not primarily because Xi is committed to reunifying Taiwan during his rule. Although reunification is indeed one of his long-term objectives (it would be a crowning achievement for both him and the Communist Party of China more broadly), any attempt to achieve it by force would be extremely costly. It might even carry existential risks for the CPC regime, the survival of which would be jeopardized by a failed military campaign.

US Congress Reaffirms Ties With India

Husain Haqqani and Aparna Pande

The U.S. House of Representatives paved the way for removing a potential irritant in India-U.S. relations last month when it called upon the Biden administration to issue an India-specific waiver under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA). Secretary of State Antony Blinken can now exempt India from CAATSA sanctions designed to impose restrictions on countries that buy military systems from Russia.

The purpose of CAATSA was to chasten the United States’ enemies, not punish its friends — a point made by supporters of the amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) 2023 that called for the waiver for India. Ro Khanna, the Indian-American Democratic congressman from California who moved the amendment, noted that India needs to maintain its Russian weapon systems as it faces “immediate and serious” threats from China.

China Thumbs Its Nose at India in Sri Lanka

Sudha Ramachandran

A Chinese “research and survey” vessel that is heading to Hambantota Port in southern Sri Lanka could roil India-Sri Lanka relations again.

On July 30, Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Defense spokesperson Col. Nalin Herath told reporters at a press conference in Colombo that “the vessel will be in Hambantota from August 11 to 17, mainly for replenishment, including fuel.” “Such vessels periodically come from various countries such as India, China, Japan, Australia,” Herath said, adding that “it is nothing unusual.”

Only days earlier, the defense ministry had denied reports of the Chinese vessel’s impending arrival at the island.

The ship in question is the Yuan Wang 5, a “Chinese scientific research vessel” that “will conduct satellite control and research tracking in the north western part of the Indian Ocean region,” Indian television news channel Times Now reported on July 23.

US Strike Shows Afghanistan Still Terror Base

Aamer Madhani, Zeke Miller, Nomaan Merchant, and Lolita C. Baldor

The Biden administration is holding out the CIA operation that killed al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri as a monumental strike against the global terror network responsible for the September 11 attacks of 2001. But there’s a downside, too.

The drone strike also is putting into stark relief the mounting evidence that after 20 years of America’s military presence — and then sudden departure — Afghanistan has once again become an active staging ground for Islamic terror groups looking to attack the West.

The operation carried out over the weekend after at least six months spent monitoring movements by al-Zawahiri and his family, came just weeks before the one-year anniversary of the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from the country.

Did Pakistan Help the US Take Out al-Zawahiri?

Umair Jamal

Al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri was killed in a U.S. drone strike on the morning of July 31 in Kabul. His elimination is the biggest blow to the militant group since the group’s founder Osama bin Laden was killed in 2011 in Pakistan’s military garrison town of Abbottabad.

As expected, Islamabad has not accepted a Pakistani role in the drone strike. However, its Foreign Office issued a carefully worded and relatively ambiguous statement on Tuesday. “Pakistan stands by countering terrorism in accordance with international law and relevant UN resolutions,” it said, without mentioning Pakistan’s role in the strike. “We have seen the official statements by the United States and media reports regarding a counter-terrorism operation carried out by the U.S. in Afghanistan,” the foreign office spokesperson, without mentioning Zawahiri’s name.

Moscow Fears ‘De-Russianization’ of Kaliningrad and Steps Up to Block It

Paul Goble

Since 1991, when the Soviet Union disintegrated and Kaliningrad became an exclave separated from the Russian Federation by Poland and Lithuania, Moscow has been worried about two aspects: transportation links between Kaliningrad and Russia proper and changes in the Kaliningrad population’s attitudes because of their neighbors’ actions—which are leaving the populace less like their nominally Russian ethnic counterparts and potentially less loyal. The first has almost always attracted more attention, most recently when Lithuania imposed, and then lifted, a ban on the movement of EU sanctioned goods between Russia and Kaliningrad and when a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) exercise suggested that the West might seize Kaliningrad in a time of war (see EDM, October 12, 2021, March 10). The second angle is at least as worrisome as the first, if less obvious, because it may represent a more serious long-term challenge to the Kremlin’s control in Kaliningrad and its ability to maintain the Russian nation’s unity more generally against regionalist sentiments.

#Reviewing Soldiers of End-Times: Assessing the Military Effectiveness of the Islamic State

Kyle K. Rable

Ido Levy’s Soldiers of End-Times: Assessing the Military Effectiveness of the Islamic State is a timely study of the effectiveness of the military tactics and strategy of the Islamic State (IS) from 2014 to 2019. Levy, an associate fellow with The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, surveys the major operations conducted by IS to examine the sources of its military effectiveness and to derive lessons for countering IS and other like groups.[1] Throughout his study, Levy examines how IS fought their form of an effective conventional war. He argues that IS created an innovative organization, extensively shaped the area of operation, maintained a high will to fight among its soldiers, and maintained a fast-paced offensive style based on the suicide vehicle-born improvised explosive device (SVBIED).[2] These factors are shown in his examination of major IS offensive operations and how they were affected when IS transitioned to defense.

In examining the effectiveness of IS military operations, Levy is one of the first to attempt to create a larger study on IS. Levy is restricted in his study by the novelty of his subject. The fall of IS is still very recent at the time of publication and many of the U.S. defense sources are still restricted to the general public. He does an admirable job of pulling together primary source material that is publicly accessible, using news reports of incidents, and conducting interviews with U.S. military personnel who were present and other experts on IS and jihadist operations. Levy admits that there needs to be further examination of the IS military structure and its effectiveness as historical distance is created and more information is gathered.

Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan highlights America’s incoherent strategy

One way to view Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan is as a bold assertion of principle. China has taken to bullying countries that maintain even the most innocent ties with the island, which it claims. Lithuania, population 2.6m, has felt China’s wrath for simply allowing Taiwan to open an office with an official-sounding name in Vilnius, its capital. Ms Pelosi, the speaker of America’s House of Representatives, has been threatened, too. China says its army “will not sit idly by” if she visits Taiwan—something she has every right to do, and that Newt Gingrich, her predecessor as speaker, did in 1997. Perhaps her trip will inspire others to stand up to the bully.

Another view, though, is that the trip is a symptom of America’s incoherent approach to China—the country’s single most important opponent in the long run. If so, a trip designed to convey strength risks instead showing up the Biden administration’s confusion and lack of purpose.

One problem is Ms Pelosi’s timing. To be sure, there are moments when America must confront China to make clear that it will assert its interests, press its rights and defend its values. But such moments are often fraught with the risk of escalation. America should choose them carefully.

This is a sensitive period for China’s leader, Xi Jinping, who faces big domestic challenges while preparing for a Communist Party congress at which he is expected to secure a third five-year term as the party’s leader, violating recent norms. Mr Xi has nurtured an aggressive form of nationalism and linked “reunification” with Taiwan to his goal of “national rejuvenation”. Now is a dangerous time to test his resolve just for the sake of it.

Another problem is Ms Pelosi’s apparent lack of co-ordination with Joe Biden. When asked about her plans, the president cited military officials who thought the trip was “not a good idea right now”. Once it was leaked, he faced only bad options: bless Ms Pelosi’s travels and risk a confrontation with China; or prevent her from going, caving in to Chinese threats (and opening himself up to Republican criticism). True, Congress is a separate branch from the executive, but Taiwan policy is too important for turf wars. In the end Ms Pelosi has made Mr Biden look irresolute and lacking in authority.

Worst, Ms Pelosi’s trip risks exposing how unsure the administration is of its Taiwan policy. If, heaven forbid, the visit escalates into an international security crisis, the fault will lie with China. But the situation will also test Mr Biden and his team, who are already dealing with the war in Ukraine. Are they prepared?

Mr Biden has vowed more than once to defend Taiwan from invasion, disregarding a long-held position of “strategic ambiguity” under which past presidents purposely avoided definite commitments. Some in Washington support this new clarity, especially as China grows more confident—and more capable of defeating America in a fight over Taiwan. But after each promise the president’s aides walk it back, turning strategic ambiguity into strategic confusion.

America is right to want to defend Taiwan from invasion. The country is a pro-Western democracy of 24m people that plays an important role in the global economy, producing the world’s finest computer chips. It is also a pillar of the American-led order in the region. But declaring that intention does little to deter China, which already assumes America would protect the island. If anything, the drawing of a clear line tells Mr Xi how far he can go, encouraging the “grey zone” tactics China uses to harass Taiwan. It has, for example, flown ever-larger numbers of warplanes near Taiwanese airspace several times this year. Rather than grandstanding, Mr Biden should focus on preventing an invasion by improving Taiwan’s military capability.

This starts by asking his generals to have a frank discussion with their Taiwanese counterparts. Taiwan needs to do more to combat corruption and waste in its armed forces, and to improve training and recruitment. Its top brass have been loth to give up some of their expensive kit and instead embrace a “porcupine” strategy, by which Taiwan would use smaller, more mobile and concealable weapons to wage asymmetric war.

America should make it clear that it is willing to help. It could, for example, upgrade its training mission in Taiwan, offer it Israel-style military aid to buy American weapons, and create financial incentives for it to choose more asymmetric options. The next time America conducts exercises with its other Asian allies it should invite Taiwan to observe (or join). They should all follow America and Japan in developing plans for the next big crisis.

That need not come this week. The Biden administration rightly notes that Ms Pelosi’s trip does nothing to change the status quo. Ms Pelosi should try to do some good while she is there, by warning against both China forcefully occupying Taiwan and Taiwan embracing independence. At the same time, she should voice energetic support for her Taiwanese hosts.

China will respond, possibly with military action that could include sending warplanes over Taiwan or even firing missiles into waters off the island, as well as economic and diplomatic measures to isolate it further. The Chinese response could play out over weeks and months, if not years. Over that time, the real test of America’s commitment will not be headline-grabbing visits but whether it helps Taiwan become more resilient.

Are US threat assessments outpacing the military threats America actually faces?

Joe Cirincione

When I was on the professional staff of the House Armed Services Committee in the 1980s and 1990s, we always started our annual budget reviews with a threat assessment. Our military leaders would come to the committee, present their views of the Soviet threat, and outline the weapons and forces they believed they needed to counter the threat. We would then proceed to mark up a budget based on that assessment.

That changed after the collapse of the Warsaw Pact and then the Soviet Union. For several years, the administration and our military leaders were confused about the threat. They couldn’t quite decide what it was, and what was needed to counter it. Some factions of the government insisted that this was all a clever ploy. Then-Deputy Director of the CIA Robert Gates famously argued that the Soviet reforms initiated by then-Secretary General Mikhail Gorbachev were merely “breathing space” before a “further increase in Soviet military power and political influence.”

War in Taiwan will be more shocking than Ukraine

Nigel Inkster

When Russian President Vladimir Putin launched his “special military operation” – in reality a full-blown invasion- of Ukraine in February 2022, he did so immediately after meeting his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping. At that meeting the two sides announced that the China-Russia relationship was a partnership “with no limits”. Since then China, while purporting to remain neutral, has in practice been supportive of Russia’s objectives, seeking to put the blame for the crisis on NATO expansion and reinforcing Russian disinformation about supposed US biological warfare laboratories in Ukraine.

Xi and Putin have long chafed under the US-led system of global governance which they perceive as perpetuating US and western advantage while holding their own countries back. And both have drunk deep of the Cool-Aid exemplified by the common Chinese trope “the East is rising, the West is in decline.” That said, it is important to keep in mind one fundamental difference between the two. Putin’s Russia is a disruptor, seeing its own security as a function of others’ insecurity. China on the other hand prioritises stability above all else.

Destabilizing Major Powers

George Friedman

The Geopolitical Futures model argues that the northern tier of entities are the center of power in the global system and define how the system works at any given moment. The anchors of the northern tier are China, Russia, the European Union and the United States. These four entities collectively make up over 60 percent of global GDP, the measure of economic production. They also collectively contain a majority of global military power. They’re each different in the amount of economic and military power they contain. Russia has a relatively low GDP but significant military power. The EU members are relative weak militarily but have substantial GDP collectively. The U.S. and China possess both types of power.

The northern tier is dealing with economic, political and military challenges. The three frequently occur together when the northern tier undergoes this level of dysfunction. The likelihood of the problems spreading globally is almost certain over time. The likelihood is also high of this period leaving the northern tier profoundly changed. World War II was a military, economic and political phenomenon involving most of these countries. It led to economic and political transformations that still shape the world. So, the question is what the current crisis of the northern tier will lead to.

Ukraine’s Asymmetric Responses to the Russian Invasion


(PONARS Eurasia Commentary) When can a weaker actor win against a far stronger player? For decades, Russian military experts and political elite have suggested that Russia should use asymmetric means and strategies in response to threats and challenges, especially from the West. Moscow now faces asymmetric strategic approaches directed against itself—a first since its own Afghanistan and Chechnya conflicts. Analyzed here are the disproportionate approaches used by Ukraine in the first phase of this year’s war. Although many factors such as Western support have been important for Ukraine’s defense, the tenacity, cohesion, and will of the Ukrainian citizens and soldiers have obstructed the invaders—particularly during the first shocking and precarious days of the heavily lop-sided contest.

Plans and Prevailing Approaches

When Russia’s initial blitzkrieg failed, it changed focus to slowly advance into the east and south of Ukraine. The war became a protracted conflict with elements of insurgency and guerilla warfare. From the beginning, Ukrainian civilians protested and fought Russian troops, often armed with just hunting rifles and Molotov cocktails. Civil resistance and insurgency will continue to play a critical role. Ukraine has experience with insurgency and guerilla warfare from World War II against both the Nazis and Soviets. More than 400,000 people participated in the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (OUN-UPA) in the 1940s and 1950s.

CHIPS Is a Missed Opportunity for Real Security

Dustin Carmack

“ … We have to be on guard against China at all times … For all technology, we have to do everything we can to make sure our leading edge technology, whether it’s in CHIPS, or artificial intelligence, or other areas, can’t get into the hands of the Chinese.”

That was Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo last Sunday on “Face the Nation.”

One can be in complete agreement with that statement and look at the underlying legislation—the Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors for America Act, or CHIPS—that passed both chambers of Congress last week and find it lacking.