23 August 2022

China’s Options and Goals in a New Taiwan Strait Crisis

Dr Sidharth Kaushal

After weeks of speculation, US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi has landed in Taiwan. In response, China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has conducted live fire exercises off Pingtan island in Fujian province, and has declared its intention to conduct a series of exercises around Taiwan in August. Notably, some of the areas that the PLA has notified civilian aircraft and vessels to avoid overlap with Taiwan’s territorial waters – an escalation from previous provocations such as incursions into Taiwan’s air defence identification zone (ADIZ). Though troubling, these activities are likely not a prelude to further escalation. However, if similar Chinese activity is repeated in the future and becomes routine, it could significantly undermine Taiwan’s conventional deterrent.

No Immediate Military Clash

There are many reasons the Chinese leadership might wish to avoid a direct clash at the present moment. The Chinese military, which is still untested, would struggle to conduct a contested amphibious assault against a Taiwan well equipped with anti-ship cruise missiles and backed by the US.

The Return of Great Power War

Timothy R. Heath, Kristen Gunness, Tristan Finazzo

Through a careful synthesis of current and historical data on relevant factors, anticipated trends, and research-grounded speculation, the authors analyze several scenarios of systemic U.S.-China conflict under hypothetical conditions in which China has neared the point of global primacy. Drawing on academic and research findings regarding the potential trajectory of international security and warfare in coming years, China's approach to future warfare, relevant experiences of preceding great powers, and patterns in interstate wars, the authors explore the possibility of a U.S.-China war of power transition.

The authors develop two scenarios of systemic U.S.-China conflict. The first scenario features a low-intensity conflict that unfolds across much of the world, across many domains, and over many years. The second features a high-intensity war that evolves out of the low-intensity war. The high-intensity war scenario envisions aggressive actions by both countries to destroy the warfighting capability of the adversary and carries an extremely high risk of escalation to the most destructive levels. Both scenarios occur within the context of a deeply fragmented international situation in which the U.S. and Chinese militaries experience immense strain from sustaining the war effort while grappling with an array of nontraditional threats and responding to demands for aid from embattled partners. Although their analysis concerns a hypothetical conflict situation in which China has neared global primacy, the authors' findings could inform defense planning for potential contingencies even today.

Lawrence Freedman: ‘Autocracies tend to make catastrophic decisions. That’s the case with Putin’

Peter Beaumont

Russia’s war against Ukraine has been hampered by failings experienced by autocratic states during conflict, according to a far-reaching new study of command in war by one of the UK’s most prominent academics in the field.

Command, a wide-ranging analysis of post-second world war conflicts by the leading strategic studies expert Lawrence Freedman, examines a series of well-known conflicts, from the Cuban missile crisis to the French defeat at the hands of the Viet Minh at Dien Bien Phu, through to the Falklands war and Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait, up to the present war in Ukraine.

“The big theme,” said Freedman, emeritus professor of war studies at King’s College London, “is that autocracies are very bad at this. A lot of most catastrophic decisions come from autocratic decision-making. That is certainly the case with Vladimir Putin but also Saddam Hussein and even [the Argentine military dictator Leopoldo] Galtieri during the Falklands war.”

Beyond munitions: A gender analysis for Ukrainian security assistance

Cori Fleser


The 2022 NATO Strategic Concept, which was adopted in June and supersedes a 2010 version, is known for several significant firsts, including a focus on China and an emphasis on climate change. Another important first concerns the need to integrate “human security and the Women, Peace and Security agenda” across all of NATO’s core tasks: deterrence and defense; crisis prevention and management; and cooperative security. The Strategic Concept—which provides a security diagnosis that is meant to influence policy—highlights gender equality as a reflection of NATO’s values. It also calls attention to the disproportionate impact of pervasive instability, including conflict-related sexual violence, on women, children, and minority groups. This inclusion reflects agreement among allies that gender equality and human security are core components of individual and collective security.

Allies are witnessing the linkage between gender and human security in real time through the Russian war in Ukraine. As the war enters its six month, nearly each week brings new reports of war crimes, genocide, and sexual violence perpetrated by Russian forces against Ukrainians. Since the February invasion, the Kremlin has intentionally targeted Ukrainian civilians in bread lines, apartment buildings, schools, churches, and hospitals, while employing disinformation campaigns to obfuscate the reality of Putin’s “special military operation” from the Russian public. By the end of May, Ukraine had identified more than six hundred Russian war crime suspects. While Ukraine is not a member of the Alliance, the outcome of the war in Ukraine—and human security of its citizens—is of vital importance to NATO, European security, and the rules-based international order emphasized throughout this Strategic Concept.

Russia’s Struggles We explain why the last several weeks of the war in Ukraine have gone poorly for Russia.

David Leonhardt and Claire Moses

When we last updated you on the war in Ukraine, we laid out three possible scenarios for the near future. This morning, we’ll explain how the events of the past six weeks have affected the war, with help from our colleagues who are covering it from Ukraine, Washington and elsewhere.

The bottom line is that the most recent phase of the war has gone better for Ukraine than many observers expected after Russia’s progress earlier this year. “The Ukrainians are doing well,” Helene Cooper, a Washington correspondent, told us. “The Russians are measuring progress in feet, not even miles, at this point.”

As Anton Troianovski, The Times’s Moscow bureau chief, puts it: “The Russians appeared to have lost some of the momentum they had earlier in the summer. If you look closely, you see the Ukrainians gaining a bit of momentum, even though not that much is changing on the map.”

Car explosion kills daughter of Putin ally Alexander Dugin, Russia says

Rachel Pannett, Annabelle Timsit and Mary Ilyushina

The daughter of Alexander Dugin, a far-right Russian nationalist who helped shape the Kremlin’s narrative about Ukraine, was killed Saturday when the car she was driving exploded near Moscow, according to Russia’s main investigative authority.

Russia’s Investigative Committee said it was looking into the incident and had opened a criminal murder case.

A Toyota Land Cruiser “went off at full speed on a public highway” and caught fire, it said, after an “explosive device planted under the bottom of the car on the driver’s side” blew up. The driver, identified by the committee as “journalist and political scientist Daria Dugina,” died at the scene. It said early evidence pointed to “a murder for hire.”

Dugina, 29, was driving her father’s car from a festival they both attended when the blast occurred, engulfing the car in flames, Dugin’s friend Andrey Krasnov told the state-run media outlet Tass. Krasnov said she “was driving another car but she took his car today.” He said he believed her father was the target of an attack, “or maybe the two of them.”

US intelligence is going big on countering China. Will it succeed?


For years, the US intelligence community has dedicated resources to countering the threat of terrorism. Pivoting to Beijing won't be easy.

As the US-China competition for influence and markets heats up, Washington appears to be gearing up to contain Beijing on a crucial front: spying.

For many American government officials and security analysts, the move has been long overdue. The US intelligence community including retired CIA officers pushed Washington to channel more resources toward countering the perceived Chinese threat in what some officials call the “third epoch of intelligence” competition.

Suspected Chinese hackers spied on gov’ts, NGOs, media: Report

Liam Gibson

Taipei, Taiwan – A hacking group suspected of acting on behalf of the Chinese government has carried out a multi-year espionage campaign against numerous governments, NGOs, think-tanks and news agencies, according to a new report.

The group, known as RedAlpha, has specialised in stealing login details from individuals in organisations considered to be of strategic interest to Beijing, according to the report released by cybersecurity firm Recorded Future.

Those targeted for “credential-phishing” since 2019 include the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Amnesty International, the Mercator Institute for China Studies (MERICS), Radio Free Asia (RFA), the American Institute in Taiwan, Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), and India’s National Informatics Centre, according to Recorded Future.

What Are the Implications of the Cyber Dimension of the China-Taiwan Crisis?

Erica D. Lonergan and Grace B. Mueller

The crisis brewing between China and Taiwan has involved strident Chinese threats and warnings, military exercises (including firing nearly a dozen missiles toward Taiwanese-controlled waters), and China’s suspension of talks with the United States. Even if China is not seeking to use the current situation as a pretext to justify an invasion of the island, there is the risk that miscalculations or accidents could cause the situation to escalate along a dangerous trajectory.

But what about the cyber dimension of this crisis? Some experts have warned that international crises are fertile ground for cyber escalation and caution that the dangers are growing. Nevertheless, there is limited evidence that cyber operations lead to escalation (especially above a use of force threshold). Therefore, the present China-Taiwan situation may provide yet another case to evaluate the role of cyberspace in crisis stability. What does the evidence reveal?

How many Russian soldiers have been killed in Ukraine? What we know, how we know it and what it really means.

Joshua Keating

Last week, after Ukraine’s dramatic and deadly strike on a Russian air base in Crimea, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy had a particularly blunt message for the Kremlin.

“If almost 43,000 dead Russian soldiers do not convince the Russian leadership that they need to find a way out of the war,” Zelenskyy said, “then more fighting is needed, more results are needed to convince.”

We don’t really know how many Russian soldiers have been killed in Ukraine. But there is no shortage of estimates.

The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, which provides a daily running tally on social media, put the number of enemy “liquidated” at around 43,000 as of Aug. 11 — hence Zelenskyy’s figure. The Russian government has not published its own losses since March 25, when it gave a total of 1,351 killed and 3,825 wounded. (Wartime casualties are a state secret in Russia, and revealing them is punishable by up to seven years in prison.)

Managing Sino-American Dynamics at the Precipice

Brian Wong

The Sino-American relationship is one that is as much determined by structural forces and mutual interests as it is by one-off incidents. Whether it be the Belgrade embassy bombing in 1999, the Hainan Island incident in 2001, or, indeed, the recent visit by the American Speaker of the House to Taiwan – an island over which China claims sovereignty – it is clear that those who believe great power rivalry can be reduced into questions of material and economic co-dependence are greatly mistaken.

Grey rhinos and black swans – terms most familiar to those who are well versed in Chinese political parlance – evade structural logics. The former refers to risk factors that are clearly foreseeable, and that cannot be easily diffused or mitigated through pre-existing structural and institutional solutions. The latter denotes risk factors that are neither knowable nor knowably uncertain – e.g. they are, as Rumsfeld puts it, unknown unknowns.

Action begets reaction. Pelosi’s recent visit to Taiwan may have been viewed by some as an act of symbolic defiance and valour – yet it has also indubitably accelerated the worsening of Sino-American relations.

Drones and transport could reshape Eurasian geopolitics

Dr. James M. Dorsey

When US intelligence asserted that Iran was selling hundreds of combat drones to Russia, it was signalling more than Iranian support for Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

Suggesting that Russia was not capable of serial producing its own drones, the intelligence served to question further Russian military capabilities, already overshadowed by doubt because of the poor performance of Russian military personnel and equipment on the Ukrainian battlefield.

The US disclosure followed the inauguration in Tajikistan of Iran’s first overseas drone manufacturing facility. The factory produces Iran’s Ababil-2 multipurpose reconnaissance and killer drone.

The disclosure likely also drew Gulf attention to Iran’s potentially expanding role in assisting Russia, and China, in an increasingly bifurcated world at a time that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were manoeuvring to put their strained relations with the Islamic republic on a more even keel.

The China Trap U.S. Foreign Policy and the Perilous Logic of Zero-Sum Competition

Jessica Chen Weiss

Competition with China has begun to consume U.S. foreign policy. Seized with the challenge of a near-peer rival whose interests and values diverge sharply from those of the United States, U.S. politicians and policymakers are becoming so focused on countering China that they risk losing sight of the affirmative interests and values that should underpin U.S. strategy. The current course will not just bring indefinite deterioration of the U.S.-Chinese relationship and a growing danger of catastrophic conflict; it also threatens to undermine the sustainability of American leadership in the world and the vitality of American society and democracy at home.

There is, of course, good reason why a more powerful China has become the central concern of policymakers and strategists in Washington (and plenty of other capitals). Under President Xi Jinping especially, Beijing has grown more authoritarian at home and more coercive abroad. It has brutally repressed Uyghurs in Xinjiang, crushed democratic freedoms in Hong Kong, rapidly expanded its conventional and nuclear arsenals, aggressively intercepted foreign military aircraft in the East and South China Seas, condoned Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and amplified Russian disinformation, exported censorship and surveillance technology, denigrated democracies, worked to reshape international norms—the list could go on and will likely only get longer, especially if Xi secures a third five-year term and further solidifies his control later this year.

The war that changed the world Six months in, Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has revealed a global order in transition.

Jeremy Cliffe

It feels like an eternity ago, that grim wintry pre-dawn of Thursday 24 February. A time before the place names Bucha and Irpin, Kramatorsk and Mariupol became bywords for the bloodiest war in Europe since 1945; before the letter Z became emblematic of a new fascism; before a new Iron Curtain fell over the continent; before it became impossible to describe the Covid-19 pandemic as a “once in a decade” shock to the global system. A time when a British prime minister could, as Boris Johnson had done in November, blithely declare that “the old concepts of fighting big tank battles on the European landmass are over”.

The final act of that pre-invasion era was at one with the dark poetry of the moment. In a ten-minute video address issued in the early hours of 24 February, after months of Russian troop build-ups on the Ukrainian border and increasingly deranged rhetoric from Moscow, Volodymyr Zelensky made a last-ditch plea for peace. Ukraine’s president appealed directly to Russian citizens in their own language: “The people of Ukraine want peace,” he said, but warned that the country would defend itself: “While attacking, you will see our faces. Not our backs. Our faces.” Then, just before 5am local time, Vladimir Putin announced a “special military operation”. Within minutes, air-raid sirens and the first explosions were heard in cities across the country.

Why China will become ever more dangerous as its baby bust worsens

George F. Will

On Jan. 10, 1980, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, then in the first of his four terms, delivered a Senate speech pertinent to today’s foremost U.S. foreign policy challenge: China. Casting a cold eye on the Soviet Union 17 days after its Christmas Eve invasion of Afghanistan, Moynihan criticized the preceding decade’s excessive emphasis on detente (citing Samuel Johnson: “the triumph of hope over experience”). He added that increased Soviet stridency and aggressiveness suggested the behavior of “a wounded bear.” He had recently said “the defining event” of the 1980s “might well be the breakup of the Soviet Empire.” And it also could be “the defining danger.”

Forty-two years later, China becomes more dangerous as its decline becomes more predictable. Writing in the Spectator, Rana Mitter, a British historian and political scientist, cites a U.N. report that China’s population growth has declined 94 percent, from 8 million in 2011 to 480,000 last year. The projection of China’s 15- to 64-year-old population in 2100 has been revised from 579 million to 378 million.

Another Iran Deal? Looking Back and Looking Ahead

Jacob Nagel, Jonathan Schanzer

After multiple failed rounds of nuclear diplomacy in Vienna and Doha, talks between Iran and the P5+1 (the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia, and China) are back on in Vienna. The revived talks first hit a snag earlier this year when Tehran raised several new demands, including the removal of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) from the State Department’s Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO) list.1 Washington initially balked but reportedly then acquiesced to a partial solution: removing secondary sanctions on companies doing business with the IRGC.2

“I am absolutely sincere… when I say that Iran got much more than it could expect,” said Russian diplomat Mikhail Ulyanov back in March.3 The deal now on the table is far better for Tehran than the one to which Ulyanov referred.

Admittedly, the regime has more than once pumped the brakes on nuclear diplomacy. This intransigence signaled that Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Islamic Republic’s supreme leader, may not have ever wanted an agreement at all. Rather, he may seek to prolong talks to advance the regime’s nuclear program while avoiding harsh decisions by the Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Still, recent news out of Vienna suggests a deal may be imminent, with even more Western concessions.

DOD’s Diplomats Don’t Need More Rank, Just Less Disdain


Dear Mr. Secretary,

You recently announced the downgrade of five military attaché positions currently held by general officers. Having been neither a general officer nor assigned to the affected embassies, I won’t weigh in on the merits of that decision.

Rather, as a two-time attaché at the O-6, or colonel, level, I can offer a way to improve the effectiveness of your military diplomats around the world, regardless of rank—and it won’t cost a penny. That’s because the host nation ultimately doesn’t care what rank the attaché holds; they care that he or she is well-informed and influential within America’s power centers.

As you’re well aware, the vast majority of our senior defense official/defense attaché positions are not held by general officers. Yet the position carries weighty responsibilities: to act as the “principal DoD official in a U.S. embassy as designated by the Secretary of Defense,” as “the Chief of Mission's principal military advisor,” as “the senior diplomatically accredited DoD military officer,” and as “the single point of contact for all DoD matters” related to the diplomatic mission.

Russia’s New Naval Doctrine: A ‘Pivot to Asia’?

Daniel Rakov

On July 31, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed an updated version of the Naval Doctrine of the Russian Federation. This is a top-tier strategic-planning document, elaborating Moscow’s official approach to the maritime domain. The new edition reflects significant changes compared to the previous one from 2015.

It is tilted toward global confrontation with the West, pre-eminence of the security prism in defining national goals, and reorientation of Russia’s foreign policy toward the Global South following its invasion of Ukraine. The Kremlin intends to strengthen its naval combat capabilities worldwide and announces its higher readiness to employ military means to further its interests in international waters, including an intention to increase its naval presence on the high seas. In order to do so, the new doctrine calls for a complete restructuring of the shipbuilding industry, with a qualitative scale-up in its technological and production capabilities, both in the military and civilian domains.

China’s drills to change US military assumptions


Chinese and foreign media have recently reported that the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a heavyweight think tank in the United States, has conducted scenario planning looking toward war in the Taiwan Strait.

Participants included former senior military officers, senior government military and political experts and fellows from think tanks such as the RAND Corporation and the Center for New American Security (CNAS).

The scenario planning had been scheduled for a long time. It caught a lot of attention as it happened after US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan.

The CSIS assumed a war will break out in the Taiwan Strait in 2026. Such an estimation could be based on the prediction of the former commander of the US Pacific Command, Admiral Philip Davidson, who said in his testimony before Congress that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) would be ready to attack Taiwan in 2027.

Oil, Energy and Mining in International Politics

Despite concerns over the environmental impact of industrial mining and the contribution that fossil fuels make to global warming, resource extraction continues to be a major source of revenue for both developing countries and wealthier nations alike. In fact, the amount of resources being pulled from the earth has tripled since 1970, though the global population has only doubled in that time.

Global efforts to reduce carbon emissions as part of climate change diplomacy notwithstanding, fossil fuels remain among the most prized extractives, for a simple reason: Global demand combined with the wealth they generate have historically given some countries, including members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, outsized global influence.

The lucrative contracts associated with the extractive sector help to explain why resource extraction remains central to many developing countries’ strategy to grow their economies. But the windfalls don’t come without risks, most prominent among them being the “resource curse” that can plague countries that fail to diversify their economies to generate alternate sources of revenue. Corruption can also thrive, especially when government institutions are weak. When the wealth generated from resource extraction isn’t fairly distributed, it can entrench a permanent elite, as in Saudi Arabia, or fuel persistent conflicts, as in the Democratic Republic of Congo. And the environmental damage caused by the extractive industries has decimated local communities and driven social protest movements around the world.

More Weapons Won’t Solve Nigeria’s Security Crisis

Charles Kwuelum  and Iyabo Obasanjo

The degree of insecurity in Nigeria is unprecedented. In addition to an ongoing terrorist insurgency in the northeastern part of the country—which has seen government troops battling the likes of Boko Haram and an offshoot of the Islamic State—there is widespread farmer-herder violence and banditry in every region of the country. It’s not just external analysts, such as former U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria John Campbell, who are arguing that Nigeria is a failed state. Nigerian public and government officials regularly say as much themselves, and act accordingly.

For instance, the governor of Kaduna state, Nasir Ahmad El-Rufai, threatened earlier this year to hire foreign mercenaries to protect the state after several attacks there. Matthew Hassan Kukah, the bishop of the Roman Catholic diocese of Sokoto, Nigeria, said in April that “we stare at an imponderable tragedy as the nation unravels from all sides.” And former President Olusegun Obasanjo recently remarked that “a situation where you are not safe on the road, you are not safe on the train, you are not safe at the airport, shows a very serious situation.”

We’re Still Asking the Wrong Questions About War With China Over Taiwan

Howard W. French

When a major Washington think tank earlier this month released the details of a sophisticated simulation of a war pitting China against the United States and its allies over Taiwan, some of the media coverage took comfort in what was at best a tentative conclusion: that with U.S. help, that island’s government could successfully defend itself against an attempted armed takeover by Beijing.

In an uncanny bit of coincidental timing, Beijing has been busy lately, in the wake of U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s recent Taiwan visit, trying to send the opposite message. It has done this by running its own war simulation—not of the board game-like variety common to modern wargames but by actually carrying out the largest ever deployment of Chinese forces around Taiwan, hoping to impress observers not just by the quantity and quality of its military means but also by its greatly improved capacity for joint operations among the various branches of its armed forces.

No one knows, of course, who in reality might prevail in a war over Taiwan, nor even how or when such a war might begin and unfold. A proper reading of the details of this and other credible simulations of conflict with China should offer a chilling correction to anyone who clings to conventional definitions of victory, which would go out the window in case of a conflict between the world’s two most powerful nations. Just for starters, the United States could easily lose two aircraft carriers, with 5,000 people aboard each; as many as 500 aircraft, many with their pilots; and, together with its allies, including Taiwan itself, suffer a horrendous rain of Chinese ballistic missiles.

Army lesson from Ukraine war: cyber, EW capabilities not decisive on their own

Mark Pomerleau

AUGUSTA, Ga. — One of the key observations the U.S. Army is taking from the war in Ukraine is that non-kinetic capabilities such as cyber and electronic warfare must be combined with other weapons in order to achieve their full potential on the battlefield.

“The conflict also reveals an important aspect of both EW and cyber: neither is dominant on its own and they work best when converged with other multi-domain effects,” Lt. Gen. Maria Gervais, deputy commanding general and chief of staff at Training and Doctrine Command, said during a presentation at the TechNet Augusta conference on Tuesday.

For example, “the ability to use EW to detect an adversary is most formidable when matched with a long-range precision fires,” Gervais said.

Cyber and full-spectrum operations push the Great Power conflict left of boom

As the United States and its allies move from almost a quarter century of focus on the Global War on Terrorism, and shift to the new realities as specified in the current National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) — which authorizes funding levels and provides authorities for the U.S. military and other critical defense priorities — so too must technology and capability adapt and align to the new operational environment. Cyber and information warfare will take greater precedence than ever before as the NDAA outlines the threat environment.

How then can cyberspace operation (CO) and information warfare (IW) capabilities best align to support and enable multi-domain operations across a wide spectrum of threats, while at the same time ensuring safety and security of critical infrastructure and assets? On one hand, CO and IW must operate in a Phase 0, or “left of boom” non-kinetic environment to help shape, deter, defend, and inform, while at the same time posturing to ensure combatant commander and National Command Authority (NCA) freedom of maneuver in cyberspace while denying adversaries the same, should hostilities begin.

Russian cyber-espionage gang targets NATO, NGOs, and think tanks – Microsoft

Jurgita Lapienytė

“Such targeting has included the government sector of Ukraine in the months leading up to the invasion by Russia and organizations involved in supporting roles for the war in Ukraine,” Microsoft said.

Since the beginning of 2022, the threat actor has been observed targeting over 30 organizations, in addition to personal accounts of people of interest.

“Seaborgium has been observed targeting former intelligence officials, experts in Russian affairs, and Russian citizens abroad,” Microsoft said.

Seaborgium focuses on defense and intelligence consulting companies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and intergovernmental organizations (IGOs), think tanks, and higher education.

Bangladesh and Nepal Are Not Destined to Repeat Sri Lanka’s Mistakes


South Asia is in trouble. The economic crisis in Sri Lanka has led to an uprising ousting the government, with crowds taking over the president’s office and residence. The country has defaulted on foreign debt and asked the international community for help with basic necessities. In Nepal, concerns over depleting foreign exchange reserves and increasing inflation have prompted the government to reduce fuel consumption by increasing nonworking days in the week. Bangladesh, one of the strongest economies in the region with robust growth numbers, has decided to put nonurgent projects on hold and voiced concerns about a ballooning trade deficit and falling remittances.

But despite their many social and historical similarities, South Asian states are vastly different in the way they think about debt, the way they engage with China, and what they prioritize. They are not all destined to repeat Sri Lanka’s situation. Focusing on the nature and extent of China’s influence is far more useful in understanding what is happening than the typical “debt trap” narrative stemming from its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). And nowhere is the imprint of these engagements reflected more distinctly than in the strength of institutions, independence of civil society, and likelihood for the elite to be influenced by external actors.

The Bloody Uprising Against the Taliban Led by One of Their Own

Christina Goldbaum and Najim Rahim

BALKH AAB, Afghanistan — The rumbling of engines echoed across the valley at dusk, as scores of men with mismatched camouflage and mud-caked Kalashnikovs descended into the town in northern Afghanistan.

Many had driven hours down the snow-capped mountains to reach the town and join forces with Mawlawi Mahdi Mujahid, a former Shiite commander within the mostly Sunni Taliban who had recently renounced the new Taliban government and seized control of this district.

For months, the Taliban had tried to bring him back into their fold, wary of his growing clout among some Afghan Shiites eager to rebel against a movement that persecuted them for decades. Now, Taliban forces were massing around the district he controlled — and Mahdi and his men were readying to fight.

Looking for Legitimacy: Taliban Diplomacy Since the Fall of Kabul

Aaron Y. Zelin

When the Taliban first ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, only Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates recognized its “Islamic Emirate.” Yet while no country has officially recognized the new government established after the group recaptured Kabul one year ago, the Taliban is far less isolated today than it was during its first iteration. In March, for example, Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu called for international recognition of the Islamic Emirate, while his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov argued that it should be granted a seat at the United Nations. Just how extensive is this diplomatic momentum? And how might it be affected by the July 31 targeted killing of al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, who was reportedly being sheltered in Kabul by Taliban interior minister Sirajuddin Haqqani?



Proxy war is an underappreciated component of warfare. In many cases, proxy war is omitted from discussions of international armed conflict, relegated to non-international armed conflict and the realm of non-state actors. This taxonomy is incorrect because it overlooks the ways in which state actors use other state actors, in addition to non-state actors, to engage in proxy war.

Further, Western militaries and pundits alike tend to place proxy war in a category outside the bounds of acceptable practice. Instead, they often label proxy war a nefarious activity conducted by cynical strategic actors.1 To be sure, a quick scan of U.S. Army doctrine, for instance, yields scant mention of proxy war, and when proxy war is mentioned, it is applied to non-state actors and how an adversary operates.2 This is also an incorrect categorization of proxy war.

These two ontological misconceptions are the primary factors derailing a clear understanding of how proxy war fits both within warfare and within war as a whole. The ongoing Russo-Ukrainian War provides the defense and security studies communities a ripe opportunity to review their understanding of proxy war and to rectify ontological incongruencies.

The Russo-Ukrainian War demonstrates that proxy wars are not solely the action of cynical, revanchist actors operating through non-state actors. Rather, it is a striking example of how state actors fight proxy wars through other state actors. To that end, multiple Western nations are engaged in a proxy war against Russia to support and defend democratic ideals, the rule of law and the international system.3 However, to see beyond proxy war’s ontological misgivings, and square the circle, a solid theoretical foundation is required. This paper, building on existing proxy war literature, seeks to provide that foundation by introducing two forms of proxy war: the traditional model and the technology diffusion model. This paper builds on those two forms of proxy war and asserts that each form contains two subcategories: state actor and non-state actor. In short, this paper adds to the existing literature on proxy war by injecting four new named and categorized subjects into the field’s taxonomy to overcome the ontological shortcomings of proxy war.


A proxy war is armed conflict, whether international armed conflict or non-international armed conflict, in which one side (or more) uses an intermediary as its primary combat force to achieve its strategic aims.4 Within proxy wars, five basic strategic relationships exist: coercive, exploitative, transactional, cultural or contractual.5 Those relationships guide the interaction between principal and proxy (see Figure 1). Further, the unique structure of each strategic relationship governs what a principal can expect from, and accomplish with, its proxy. These five relationships come to life in proxy war’s two basic forms—the traditional model and the technology diffusion model (see Figure 2).

Figure 1: Five Models of Proxy War (Enlarge)


Proxy war’s traditional model results from a principal actor using a proxy for the day-to-day rigors of combat against an enemy. This is the most common form of proxy war and what most people envision when “proxy war” is mentioned. The use of combat advisors, especially at the tactical level, is one of the primary indicators of this form of proxy war. Iran’s use of Iraq-based Shia militia groups to combat the U.S. military during both Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Inherent Resolve are recent examples of this form of proxy war, something to which the U.S. military can easily relate.6

Two subcategories exist within the traditional model. The first subcategory occurs when a state actor uses a non-state actor as its proxy. This category aligns with the Iranian model described in the previous paragraph and is the most recognizable form of proxy war.

The second subcategory is less common than the previous, but still pervasive. The second subcategory results from a state actor enlisting another state actor as its proxy, whether explicitly or implicitly, to fight against a common foe. Although it is easy to confuse this subcategory as a coalition or an alliance, it differs in that the principal does not fight alongside the proxy; instead, it provides the proxy with combat support. Combat support often comes in the form of planning, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), targeting, strike and logistics. This category is also characterized by the use of combat advisors, although many of those combat advisors are far closer to the front or fulfill a dual role, both advising and carrying out combat support.

As David Lake notes in a contemporary work on proxy war, the United States’ support to the post-Saddam government of Iraq typifies this subcategory.7 In post-Saddam Iraq, the United States developed, financed, equipped and trained the Iraqi security forces.8 The United States then used the Iraqi security forces to combat Iranian interference in Iraq and to lead the U.S. effort to snuff out the growing post-Saddam insurgency.9 The Iraqi security forces fought alongside and, later, in front of U.S. forces during this war.10 That is not to say that the U.S. military did not conduct unilateral operations, because it did. However, as the war progressed, the U.S. military relied more on the Iraqis for combat operations and took a back seat, offering advice, training and logistical support.11

Operation Inherent Resolve, on the other hand, also provides an example of the traditional model’s state actor/state actor subcategory. Despite being outfitted with friendly terms and phrases such as “partner” and “advise and assist,” the United States’ operational and tactical level reliance on the Iraqi security forces to combat the Islamic State meets the definitional requirements of a proxy war.12 U.S. forces provided combat advisors and planning and logistics advisors, and they covered discrete capability gaps for the Iraqis, to include ISR, targeting and precision strike. All of these factors combine to meet the standard for a traditional principal-proxy relationship.13

To reiterate, the traditional model is the most common form of proxy war. Within this model, two subcategories exist—one in which a state actor fights through a non-state actor, and the other in which a state actor fights through a state actor. It is important to remember that the state actor/non-state actor subcategory can be mistaken as a coalition or an alliance, but proxy relationships are discernible by the degree to which participants share tactical and existential risk.14 In situations in which the risk is offloaded to one actor, and the other actor (or actors) remain(s) relatively clear of harm’s way, the situation is likely a proxy war and not a coalition or an alliance.15


The technology diffusion model is proxy war’s second form. This model results from the principal providing its agent with financing, weapons, training and equipment instead of indirectly fighting through the proxy. This model is often a third-party actor’s pragmatic response to the actions of an aggressor state against a weaker actor. Further, this form of proxy war is useful for opportunistic principals interested in seeing an adversarial state actor fail in a third-party conflict. The technology diffusion model is often indicated by operational and strategic combat advising, but also by the use of technical advisors. Technical advisors often operate in third-party countries and train and educate the proxy on the use of foreign-supplied equipment and weapons. The technology diffusion model also has two subcategories.

The first subcategory is the result of a principal providing a non-state actor with financing, weapons, training and other equipment to combat an enemy, but not taking an active role in the fighting itself. This subcategory is fairly common. The United States’ support for the mujahideen during the Soviet-Afghan War (1979–1989) is perhaps one of the best-known examples of this model.16 The U.S. Stinger missile came to be seen as a meme of U.S. involvement in that war, as the Stinger missile decidedly assisted the mujahideen defeat of the Soviet Union. Moreover, Russia’s support to the Taliban and its affiliates during the U.S. war in Afghanistan (2001–2021) is another example of this proxy arrangement.17

On the other hand, the second subcategory results from the principal providing another state actor with financing, weapons, training and other equipment to combat an enemy, but not taking an active role in fighting. From a historical standpoint, the United States’ support for Iraq during the Iran-Iraq War (1980–1988) is an example of this situation.18 However, the ongoing Russo-Ukrainian War is a more tangible illustration of this subcategory.

From a technology diffusion standpoint, the United States has provided Ukraine military aid exceeding $4.6 billion since February 2022.19 As recently as 31 May 2022, President Biden reiterated the United States’ commitment to Ukraine’s survival and, conversely, the thwarting of Moscow’s policy aims in Ukraine.20 The most recent aid package, valued at $700 million, includes High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS), towed 155 millimeter artillery, a panoply of unmanned aerial systems and a wide variety of other weapons and related equipment.21 Furthermore, American combat advisors trained Ukrainian soldiers in Germany on the use and upkeep of the U.S.-provided combat equipment, to include its towed artillery.22

It is important to note that the donation of money, equipment and weapons does not necessarily equate to an actor engaging in proxy war. Stated or unstated, an actor’s involvement meets proxy war criteria mainly based on the intent behind its contributions and the degree of its support. It is also important to remember that press releases, open-source documents and doctrines often obfuscate intent and methods and instead focus on communicating a narrative. To that end, because a state actor is not using the phrase “proxy war” does not mean that they are not engaged in that activity. In both cases, resource commitment and intent—not words—are the surest way to discern if an actor has committed to a proxy war or if it is just providing a needy international actor with support.


Proxy wars must always be at the fore of warfare studies because they dominate both international and non-international armed conflict. Further, proxy war’s nuance is important to understand because misunderstandings can cue missteps, from the policy level all the way to the tactical level of war. Providing a clear taxonomy for proxy war, as this paper does, helps overcome ontological shortcomings that also contribute to poor showings in proxy war.

Looking to the future, as the international system continues to rely on a rules-based international order, the student of warfare should expect to see a few trends in future war. First, in cases in which maligned state actors attempt territorial conquest vis-à-vis another state, one should anticipate a pragmatic response from third-party actors. If the third party elects a proxy war strategy, one should expect it to employ the traditional model against adversaries that it expects to defeat relatively soon. However, if the third party assesses a longer, more costly war, but goes with a proxy strategy, one should anticipate the technology diffusion model (see Figure 3). 

Figure 3: Anticipated Applications

Second, the method of identifying a proxy is less a selection process than it is assessing the available actors and evaluating one’s capacity to create a proxy from the groups of fighters, partisans or like-minded people, then being able to transition it into a coherent force that can be put in the field to combat an adversary. In most cases, proxy selection is pragmatic and dynamic—it is based on how available resources allow for the quickest solution.
Finally, the student of warfare must expect proxy wars to continue at a regular clip in the cycle of violence that permeates the modern world. Proxy war provides policymakers, strategists and practitioners with quick, relatively cheap and low-risk (to oneself) options for the continuation of policy aims. The flexibility of proxy war strategies means that they will remain at the fore of international and non-international armed conflict for the foreseeable future.

Fresh Fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh Bodes Badly for Armenia—and Russia

Kirill Krivosheev

New clashes in the Nagorno-Karabakh region disputed by Armenia and Azerbaijan, and Baku’s demands for the area’s “demilitarization” are a stark reminder that the fighting in Ukraine is inflaming tensions in other post-Soviet conflicts. Periodic exchanges of fire between the Armenian and Azerbaijani sides are nothing new, but this time the skirmishes could lead to Azerbaijan gaining control of the Lachin corridor, a mountainous road that connects the region with Armenia, and also houses key gas and electrical infrastructure. If all of that gets cut off, the very existence of what remains of Armenian-controlled and -populated Nagorno-Karabakh will be under threat.

The Lachin corridor is located between the Armenian border and Nagorno-Karabakh’s main town, Stepanakert, but in Soviet times it was populated by Azeris. During the first Nagorno-Karabakh War (1992–1994), it was the scene of particularly vicious fighting, and in December 2020, after Armenia’s defeat in the 2020 war, Baku demanded the return of this territory.