30 August 2022

Restraining Russian Ransomware

Scott Jasper

Last May, Americans up and down the East Coast waited in long lines for gas. The panic wasn’t caused by a foreign war or sanctions but by a Russian ransomware attack. The Russia-based criminal group DarkSide had infected Colonial Pipeline with ransomware and demanded millions of dollars to unlock Information Technology systems. Colonial shut down the flow of fuel from the Gulf Coast for a week, even after paying the hackers roughly $5 million.

Soon after, DarkSide went dark when its blog site and payment server were taken down by its service provider. However, the group adapted. It rebranded as BlackMatter in an attempt to avoid law enforcement. That tactic worked until Russian authorities arrested a DarkSide hacker behind Colonial Pipeline in January after President Joe Biden asked President Vladimir Putin to crack down on Russian cyber criminals.

Another prolific ransomware operation named Conti, run by a Russian cybercrime syndicate, chose a different, more clever strategy to continue its operations in the face of efforts by law enforcement to stop them. Conti drew undue attention after the Russian invasion of Ukraine by officially announcing full support for the Russian government, and declaring that it would strike back at the critical infrastructure of any country that decided to organize war activities against Russia. In response, an infuriated Ukrainian security researcher leaked thousands of internal Conti messages and the source code for the Conti ransomware encryptor and decryptor.

America Should Walk the Walk in the Taiwan Strait

Thomas J. Shattuck

As soon as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s plane took off from Taipei on August 3, the Chinese military initiated a days-long military response to punish Taiwan for crossing a perceived “red line.” The People’s Liberation Army Eastern Theater Command carried out exercises that included launching missiles over Taipei and into Japan’s exclusive economic zone, flying drones over the offshore island of Kinmen, simulating a blockage of Taiwan, and surging an unprecedented number of aircraft and naval vessels closer to Taiwan than ever before, with one exercise area about ten miles from Taiwanese territory.

The Chinese military response to Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan marks the beginning of a new phase of Beijing’s coercion of Taiwan in an attempt to force a “peaceful reunification.” While China gradually eroded the status quo in the Taiwan Strait in the past several years by cutting off official communication with the Tsai administration in 2016, using its de facto veto to prevent Taiwan from participating as a guest or observer in United Nations-affiliated organizations after allowing it to participate under the Ma administration, sending military aircraft into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone nearly every day since September 2020, poaching Taiwan’s few remaining diplomatic allies, and punishing countries economically for enhancing their unofficial ties to Taiwan, among other things, its reaction to the Speaker’s visit quickly shattered long-held norms that maintained a semblance of stability.

Russia’s New Nuclear Threat: Power Plants as Weapons

Mary Glantz, Ph.D.
Source Link

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and occupation of Europe’s largest nuclear power station have triggered the first real-world case of a crisis that security scholars have feared for decades: a threat of radiological disaster from a wartime incursion on an operating nuclear power plant. Russia effectively is using the plant at Zaporizhzhia as a pre-positioned nuclear weapon to threaten and intimidate not only Ukrainians but millions of Europeans across a dozen countries. This is undermining global security institutions in which all countries have a stake, and Russia must join the international community in treating nuclear power plants as demilitarized zones.

In particular, Russia must cease all military operations at or near Ukraine’s nuclear facilities and return full control of the Zaporizhzhia plant to Ukraine. The requirement that it do so is rooted in international humanitarian law, which prohibits attacks against civilian targets and demands “particular care” around nuclear power stations. Indeed, Russia’s actions around the Zaporizhzhia plant, and earlier at the Chernobyl nuclear complex, violate Russia’s own formally professed standards, which bar military actions that “may result” in any release of “destructive factors and consequent severe losses among the civilian population.”
What Russia is Doing and Why

Symposium: Was withdrawing from Afghanistan the right thing to do?

Responsible Statecraft

A year ago this month, the world dramatically changed for the Afghan people: after the U.S. military began withdrawing in the summer of 2021, the central government in Kabul fell in August and the Taliban completed its takeover. While the evacuation at the end of the month was chaotic and painful to watch — 13 American service members, mostly in their 20s, perished in Aug. 26 in a terror attack outside the airport — the festering humanitarian crisis left behind has been a source of growing frustration among observers here, and even worse for those still living there.

Meanwhile, questions about the wisdom of the 20-year war and foreign occupation persist among Americans, particularly veterans who sacrificed life and limb for something they sense had no lasting impact on Afghanistan at all.

So we asked more than 20 scholars, journalists, veterans and advocates on both sides — Afghan and American — if they think the 2021 military withdrawal was the right thing to do, or not.

China moves to fill the void left by Russian sanctions – on its own terms

François Chimits, Antonia Hmaidi

Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, China has been careful to officially maintain its “pro-Russian neutrality.” Nevertheless, Beijing’s propaganda machine is hard at work amplifying Russian narratives in line with its recent “friendship without limits.” Beijing has refused to impose any sanctions on Moscow and, following an initial adjustment period marked by economic disengagement, has not restrained from deepening economic ties with Russia. At the same time, China is aiming to minimize its exposure to OECD sanctions and is demanding high export prices of its northern neighbor, especially for products of strategic importance such as semiconductors.

Research Reports] Preventing Global War: How to End the Ukraine War without Escalation

1. Introduction

The Ukraine War has created a serious threat of a "World War III" possibly involving the use of nuclear weapons. Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022, and Ukraine has been fighting back, obtaining massive military assistance from Western countries. At the same time, the West has been increasing economic sanctions against Russia, including a coal and oil embargo to be put in place by the end of 2022, and even targeting Russian gas in the long run.1

As Ukrainian forces resolutely fight back and its government rejects the surrender of any of its land to Russia, Russian president Vladimir Putin is trying to claim some level of victory by occupying certain Ukrainian territories, including the Donbas region in the east. As there is no indication that either country will achieve its fundamental objectives, many experts predict that this war will be prolonged, even for "several years."2 At the same time, if Russia decides to attack one of the NATO states to stop military assistance or to break the economic sanctions, or resorts to the use of nuclear weapons for military gains in Ukraine, there is a serious possibility that NATO will start a military intervention and enter all-out war with Russia, as Richard Betts warns in Foreign Affairs in July 2022.3

Foreign businesses want out of China. But breaking up may be tougher than ever


In 2018, Fabien Gaussorgues realized that what had once been an asset for his manufacturing firm — producing 100% of its electronics and consumer goods in China — was fast becoming a headache.

Then-President Trump had begun levying tariffs on Chinese products, kicking off further measures between the U.S. and Chinese counterparts as businesses scrambled to offset the financial impact. Though other options seemed plentiful on paper — Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines — Gaussorgues found that relocating production would not prove easy.

Four years later, his company, Agilian Technology, which designs, produces and distributes goods for overseas clients, remains wholly reliant on its factory in southern China. Yet the impetus for departing what has long been considered the bedrock of global manufacturing has only escalated.

For U.S. troops who survived Kabul airport disaster, guilt and grief endure

Dan Lamothe

From a guard tower overlooking Kabul’s airport, two U.S. Marines spotted a man matching the description of a suspected suicide bomber. They radioed their commanders: “Do we have permission to engage?”

Request denied, one of the Marines, Sgt. Tyler Vargas-Andrews, recalled being told. Too many civilians nearby.

The man vanished from view among a crush of people clamoring outside the airport’s Abbey Gate, he said. It was Aug. 26, 2021. Hours later, an explosion ripped through the crowd, killing an estimated 170 Afghans along with 13 U.S. troops.

Vargas-Andrews contends that “unfortunately, a lot of people died” because he was directed to stand down. “That’s a hard thing to deal with,” he said. “You know, that’s something that, honestly, eats at me every single day.”

Arrests and Killings Drive Afghan Troops Once Allied With U.S. Into Hiding

Jessica Donati

KABUL—The Taliban appear to have launched a campaign to track down former Afghan members of U.S.-backed military and intelligence units, according to colleagues, relatives and a network of American veterans trying to help them.

Former Afghan troops have increasingly been arrested, gone missing or been killed since the Taliban seized power last August. The goal, the people say, is to prevent troops from joining an opposition group that has taken root in the northeast.

The arrests and killings add to the risks faced by elite forces, who have been targeted in revenge attacks for their role in the war against the Taliban. Thousands have likely gone into hiding or fled across the border to neighboring countries. Among them is Ahmad, who said goodbye to his wife and children and sought refuge in a safe house in Kabul almost a year ago with the help of a retired U.S. Army Ranger.

Ahmad knows five colleagues from his special-operations unit, who worked closely with the Rangers and the Central Intelligence Agency, who have disappeared in recent months. His former colleague Abdul was taken from his house a couple of months ago. Abdul had received a call from another former colleague, asking him to step outside to talk, according to his wife, Murwarid. He found a group of Taliban waiting to arrest him.

War Brings Ukraine’s Women New Roles and New Dangers

Megan Specia and Emile Ducke

CHERNIHIV, Ukraine — The road to the training site was lined with crumbling homes and damaged buildings, a reminder of how war had consumed the northern Ukrainian city of Chernihiv just months ago.

At the head of the class was a woman named Hanna, along with a board showing images of unexploded munitions and landmines. She explained to the class the risks of minefields and how they are marked. One woman attending the day’s training asked if it was safe to take her 3-year-old son to a local park.

“Don’t walk in the woodland — it’s best not to walk there,” said Hanna, 34, advising her to stay on undisturbed paved areas.

Analysis: China's navy begins to erase imaginary Taiwan Strait median line

Yimou Lee and Greg Torode

TAIPEI, Aug 26 (Reuters) - For nearly 70 years an imagined line running down the Taiwan Strait between Taiwan and China has helped keep the peace but the so-called median line is looking increasingly meaningless as China's modernised navy asserts its strength.

China has never officially recognised the line that a U.S. general devised in 1954 at the height of Cold War hostility between Communist China and U.S.-backed Taiwan although the People's Liberation Army largely respected it.

Now Taiwan is bracing for warships from China's much larger navy routinely pushing over the line as part of the steps an angry Beijing has taken to protest against a visit to Taipei three weeks ago by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

"They want to increase pressure on us with the end goal of us giving up the median line," said one Taiwanese official familiar with security planning in the region.

China’s Growth Sacrifice


NEW HAVEN – Since the days of Deng Xiaoping, economic growth has mattered more than anything for China’s leaders. The 10% annualized hyper-growth from 1980 to 2010 was widely seen as the antidote to the relative stasis of the Mao era, when the economy grew by only about 6%. But under President Xi Jinping, the pendulum has swung back, with 6.6% average growth from 2013 to 2021 much closer to the trajectory under Mao than under Deng.

Some of the slowdown was inevitable, partly reflecting the law of large numbers: Small economies are better able to sustain rapid growth rates. As China’s economy grew – from 2% of world GDP in 1980 at the time of the Deng takeoff to 15% when Xi assumed power in 2012 – an arithmetic slowdown became only a matter of time. The surprise was that it took so long to occur.

Stalin’s Lessons for Putin

Lawrence Freedman

On 23 February 1942 Joseph Stalin, as People’s Commissar of Defence and Chairman of the State Defence Committee of the U.S.S.R., issued his ‘order of the day’. This was almost exactly 80 years before Vladimir Putin launched his war against Ukraine. Stalin’s order was addressed to ‘comrades, Red Army and Red Navy men, commanders and political workers, guerrillas-men and women’. Eight months earlier, he noted, ‘fascist Germany treacherously attacked our country, crudely violating a treaty of non-aggression.’

The enemy, he recalled, had ‘expected that at the very first blow the Red Army would be routed and would lose the ability to resist. But the enemy badly miscalculated.’ Because of the suddenness of the attack, the ‘Red Army was forced to retreat and evacuate part of our territory’, but even as it did so ‘it wore down the enemy forces and dealt them heavy blows.’ Then, as the war progressed, it was able to refresh and gain in strength. In particular it ‘defeated the German fascist troops which threatened to encircle the Soviet capital.’ With the initial German assaults blunted a significant moment had arrived.

Rival Chechen fighters take war to battlefields of Ukraine


KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Kneeling in a patch of yellow wildflowers, a Chechen soldier carefully attaches an explosive device to the bottom of a small drone. Seconds later, it is released. It explodes next to two old storefront mannequins set up 200 meters (yards) away, one with a Russian-style military hat on its head.

After this and other training outside the Ukrainian capital, the Chechen soldiers, in assorted camouflage footwear and protective gear, will be heading to the front lines in Ukraine, vowing to continue the fight against Russia that raged for years in their North Caucasus homeland.

Fighters from Chechnya, the war-scarred republic in southern Russia, are participating on both sides of the conflict in Ukraine.

Pro-Kyiv volunteers are loyal to Dzhokhar Dudayev, the late Chechen leader who headed the republic’s drive for independence from Russia. They form the “Dudayev Battalion” and are the sworn enemies of Chechen forces who back Russian President Vladimir Putin and joined Russia in the months-long siege of Ukraine’s key port of Mariupol and other flashpoints in eastern and southern Ukraine.

Afghanistan withdrawal anniversary: Painful lessons from 20 years at war Has America reverted to the situation in 2001 in Afghanistan?

Obeying President Biden’s order, a year ago U.S. troops fled from Afghanistan amid botched planning and chaotic execution. Tens of thousands of Afghans who had loyally served America were abandoned. Thirty million Afghans who had tasted freedom were again oppressed by the medieval Taliban.

Two decades ago, U.S. troops invaded Afghanistan to destroy the al Qaeda terrorist organization. A few weeks ago, a U.S. missile killed Ayman al-Zawahri, the al Qaeda leader living comfortably in Kabul. At a cost of a trillion dollars and the tragic loss of more than 7,000 American and allied servicemen and contractors, the Afghanistan war ended in abject failure that had two root causes.

First, the White House was responsible for the critical decisions. President Bush initiated the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, then later decided to stay to build two democratic nations. He enormously expanded the war objectives without regard for the time required and the costs.

America’s Next War Will Be Urban

Anant Mishra Edward Salo

Cities have remained a center of gravity for most conflicts and conventional wars, though they became a focal point in strategic planning only at the beginning of the twenty-first century. The Russo-Ukrainian War has reignited the debate on the future of modern warfare and the trends that continue to point toward its urban nature. Battles raging in the major cities highlight the importance of strategic control. In the context of political optics, there is no better example than the intense battles which occurred in Mosul, Aleppo, and Raqqa between 2011 and 2018 to retain control as part of broader politico-military objectives.

American military leaders have recently predicted that the next urban battles will be fought in megacities. Gen. Charles Krulak contended that the foundations of future warfare were not laid by Operation Desert Storm but by U.S. combat missions in Somalia and Russian lessons from the First Chechnyan War. These predictions are based on two factors: the migration from rural to urban areas, and the rise of intra-state conflicts.

By 2050, the overall growth of the world’s population could rise to 2.5 billion people residing in urban areas. The U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) recently highlighted the immediate need to identify alternative approaches to urban operations. History continues to remind us that urban warfare is no longer an instrument of war, as close-quarter battles and house-to-house sieges have elevated from tactical alternatives for small unit action to the main offensive as a part of broader strategic planning.

Hidden Weakness: Cyberwarfare Can Bring Down Xi Jinping

Julian Spencer-Churchill Liu Zongzo

Domestic resistance to Chinese president Xi Jinping is currently manifesting in a wave of sensitive data leaks from within China. This is decisive for two reasons. First, it reveals a sharp value divergence between the policies and practices of the Communist Chinese regime and the rapidly changing political culture of the Chinese people. If this critical vulnerability is escalated by agents within or outside of China, it could lead to a crisis of legitimacy in Beijing. Second, these data leaks reveal China’s asymmetric susceptibility to cyber warfare. Beijing’s hyper-sensitivity to attacks on its legitimacy, both historically and with the current government, provide a powerful retaliatory instrument against hybrid Chinese aggression and China’s cyber espionage and public diplomacy campaigns.

A recent spate of classified file leaks from China is a strong indicator that there is a factional struggle in the lead-up to the crucial 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) that will determine whether President Xi Jinping will secure an indefinite appointment as General Secretary. Xi Jinping, whose support base is narrow within the party but benefits from strong popular support, faces those targeted by his successive anti-corruption campaigns, including the business-oriented Shanghai Gang of Jiang Zemin. For example, Jiang Zemin’s grandson, Jiang Zhicheng (Alvin Jiang), and Jack Ma’s relationship can be traced back to 2012 given Alibaba’s close affiliation with the Jiang faction. In April 2022, a book entitled China Duel, authored by a princeling with the pseudonym Yang Xiang, revealed extensive details on the Jiang faction’s attempt to have Xi demoted and dismissed at the end of Hu Jintao’s tenure in 2012.

New GAO report will feed Space Force-IC ‘negotiation’ on space-based ISR


WASHINGTON — The Government Accountability Office has entered the swirling debate about the division of responsibility between the Space Force and the Intelligence Community for acquiring and disseminating space-based intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance data — with a new report focused on commercial ISR acquisition, according to officials.

A classified version of the report was completed in July and provided to various Defense Department and IC agencies, and an unclassified version is due to be released within weeks pending DoD review, the officials said. Besides addressing IC roles and missions, the report also makes recommendations on how to speed ingestion of emerging capabilities.

“I’ve seen the GAO report, and I don’t think there’s anything groundbreaking” David Gauthier, the head of commercial operations for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), said during a webinar Thursday sponsored by the Intelligence National Security Alliance (INSA). “From my recollection, the biggest recommendation is clearly defining roles and responsibilities. And that’s something we all know needs to be done.”

A New Phase in the Global Economic War

Antonia Colibasanu

When Russia invaded Ukraine in February, it didn’t just start a ground war in Europe – it opened up what would become a worldwide economic war involving nearly every major power. The West responded to the invasion by imposing sanctions and using the international financial system against Russia, hoping to bleed Moscow enough economically to come to terms. Instead, Russia dug its heels in, doubling down on the decades-long strategy of weaponizing its energy sales to Europe while searching for new allies and buyers. Naturally, the removal of Russian energy sent shocks throughout the global economy.

Nearly six months later, the world has entered a new phase of the economic war. Even major powers are dealing with surging inflation, an ongoing pandemic, energy shortages and a potential food crisis. Extended high temperatures across Europe have raised energy demand for consumers trying to stay cool, as industry attempts to ramp up production as part of a long economic recovery. And that’s to say nothing of the upcoming winter, droughts in both hemispheres, pollution, supply chain disruptions, and continued ravages to fertile lands in Ukraine – all of which will compound global economic problems.

When the UK’s Timing Systems Fail, This Service Will Save Them


IF YOU HEAD southwest out of London, you might enter Teddington, a suburb with tree-lined avenues that sits on the banks of the river Thames. Here, in this innocuous neighborhood, you’ll find one of the United Kingdom’s more unusual security programs: the National Timing Centre (NTC), a government-led laboratory that is working to create a new, more resilient way for the country to measure time.

For decades, the UK, like almost every other country, has relied on global navigation systems—signals from satellites orbiting in space—to accurately tell the time. These GNSS signals provide the foundation for mobile networks, energy grids, and the internet. They’re the source of the time on your smartphone, laptop, and any other smart device that plays a part in your life. But there are growing fears that GNSS could be disrupted or fail—and with huge implications. A five-day disruption would cost the British economy an estimated £5.2 billion ($6.15 billion).

In 2017, an independent report commissioned by the British government declared that ignorance of the importance of precise time measurement, and the role of GNSS in providing it, was “especially acute.” It added that the vulnerability of the system, to both natural and intentional interference, was “poorly understood,” before recommending that the country take steps to increase the resilience of its accurate timing.

Curious About 3D Printing? Here Are Some Tips Before You Dive In


WHAT I INTENDED to do with my 3D printer, I can’t remember. I vaguely remember wanting to print big things, but I was unsure what those might be. More abstractly, I was hoping the printer might combine several hobbies and interests into one: computer programming, additive and subtractive manufacturing, computer-aided design, tinkering, and an unyielding desire to create something, anything.

Expecting too much of my printer was my first mistake. I stumbled into dozens of other pitfalls after the printer arrived, up until the day I placed it on a shelf in my garage and solemnly declared across my family’s breakfast table that I was done (for now) with the 3D printer. The room virtually erupted in applause.

That’s because my hobby became an obsession, something I could have avoided had I understood the limitations of both my skill set and the capabilities of the printer. Meanwhile, since March 2020, additive manufacturing has been one of the few industries to grow despite the pandemic. The machines have proven their commercial mettle during disrupted supply chains and has offered rapid prototyping capabilities to at-home renaissance workers looking to aid the health care industry.

Twitter, Meta, and Blowing the Whistle on Big Tech


In late 1969, Daniel Ellsberg made a brave and consequential decision. As an employee of the RAND Corporation, a US government contractor, he had access to classified documents that contradicted top officials’ promises that the Vietnam War could be won. He secretly copied the documents and for the next year tried to get them made public, first through Congress, then through the press. In June 1971, The New York Times published the first of a series of articles on what would be known as the Pentagon Papers. The government sued to suppress them, and while the case made its way through the courts, Ellsberg leaked the papers to The Washington Post. By that time the FBI was after him, though he had not publicly admitted his role as the whistleblower. He came clean just before the Supreme Court allowed the Times to continue publishing on June 30. Ellsberg was arrested and tried for theft and conspiracy, going free only because of government misconduct.

Earlier this year, Peiter “Mudge” Zatko made a decision of his own. A security expert handpicked by Twitter’s then-CEO Jack Dorsey in November 2020 to address the company’s chronic failings, he was fired last January after clashes with the current CEO, Parag Agrawal. Zatko believed that Twitter’s management wasn’t taking steps to fix its security problems—and that Agrawal was lying about those shortcomings to the board of directors, shareholders, and regulators. Like Ellsberg, he decided to go public. Unlike Ellsberg, Zatko was able to tap the services of a nonprofit, Whistleblower Aid, set up specifically to assist people like him and keep them out of legal trouble. After meeting him in March, a cofounder of the nonprofit, John Tye, agreed to work with Zatko.

Their Photos Were Posted Online. Then They Were Bombed


THE SHADOWY RUSSIAN Wagner paramilitary group has been responsible for atrocities around the world. After first surfacing during Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, Wagner mercenaries have been spotted across Central Africa, Syria, and Libya. Since March, according to British intelligence, Wagner forces have been operating in Ukraine, directly alongside Russia’s official military forces.

One part of the Wagner group was attacked in the city of Popasna, Ukraine, earlier this month. On August 8, a pro-Russian journalist in the area shared photos on the Telegram messaging app that allegedly showed the local Wagner headquarters. In doing so, they exposed the location of the group. One photo, which has since been deleted, included a sign revealing the base’s address. Ukrainian forces put the data to work.

A center of excellence for preventing civilian harm is coming

Meghann Myers

Following revelations of two high-profile U.S. strikes that inadvertently targeted civilians, the Pentagon is creating a far-reaching organization with an oversight committee to address how to not only better plan air strikes, but how to respond when civilians become collateral damage.

Over the next few years, the Civilian Protection Center of Excellence will stand up as part of what the Defense Department has dubbed its Civilian Harm Mitigation and Response Action Plan. It’s the first effort to standardize civilian harm mitigation techniques and collect data for lessons learned across the military services and combatant commands.

“Hard-earned tactical and operational successes may ultimately end in strategic failure if care is not taken to protect the civilian environment as much as the situation allows—including the civilian population and the personnel, organizations, resources, infrastructure, essential services, and systems on which civilian life depends,” the report reads.

Afghanistan’s former President Ashraf Ghani on the U.S. withdrawal and Taliban takeover

Nick Schifrin and Dan Sagalyn

Last August, the Taliban swept into Kabul after conquering the country at a torrid pace. Afghan security forces did not resist, the American withdrawal was thrown into further chaos, and the Afghan government dissolved in hours. Ashraf Ghani, the country's former president who fled Kabul in a helicopter, joins with Nick Schifrin to discuss the withdrawal and the Taliban takeover.

Read the Full Transcript

Amna Nawaz:

Well, last August, the Taliban swept into Kabul, Afghan national security forces fell apart, and the Afghan government dissolved.

The man who sat atop that government was President Ashraf Ghani, who fled Kabul in a helicopter. The former president is now in the United Arab Emirates. And he spoke with Nick Schifrin yesterday.

What is Taiwan’s plan to protect itself against Chinese pressure?

Ryan Hass

Flying into Taiwan amidst Beijing’s unprecedented military exercises in response to U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s August 2-3 visit was notable for its normalcy. There was no panic, no run on food and home supplies. The public calm contrasted with the last Taiwan Strait crisis in 1995-96, when Taiwan’s stock market and currency dropped and people queued to apply for American visas. Now, by comparison, restaurants are packed and sidewalks are filled with people living their everyday lives.

I visited Taiwan with Brookings colleagues from August 8-13. Our group met with Taiwan’s top elected and appointed officials, opposition party leaders, business executives, public intellectuals, and members of civil society. Recognizing that it is impossible to form a full picture of Taiwan’s outlook based on one week on the ground, I am sharing this situation report to help fill in the gaps at a time when COVID restrictions make it difficult to engage in such face-to-face exchanges.

At the surface, there seemed to be public pride in Taiwan’s resilience in the face of China’s escalating pressure. That steadiness both reflects and is reflected in the temperament of Taiwan’s leader, President Tsai Ing-wen. Tsai has signaled that Taiwan will not flinch, but also will not provoke. She instructed her administration to deprive China of any justification for escalating tensions in the Taiwan Strait.

Iran and Afghanistan: Growing Tensions after the Return of the Taliban

Grant Farr

Iran and Afghanistan share a common border, similar languages and cultures, and in many ways common regional interests. But the Taliban takeover of the Afghan government in 2021 has introduced new challenges to this relationship. These challenges include the access to water from Afghan rivers, the large number of Afghan refugees in Iran, the flow of illicit drugs into Iran, and the Taliban attack on Shia Muslims.

Trouble at the border

On July 3, 2022, Iranian border authorities and Taliban border guards engaged in gun battles at the Iran-Afghan border in the Iranian province of Baluchistan. One person on the Afghan side was killed. Iran claims the clash occurred because Taliban forces attempted to raise their flag “in an area that is not Afghan territory” (Reuters, 2022). This clash, while minor compared to fighting in other areas, is indicative of the growing tensions. On August 14th, 2022, an Iranian delegation arrived in Kabul to discuss border issues with Afghanistan, and particularly the increasing conflicts between the two nations regarding water rights and refugees. This coincided with the July clash in the Darwish area of Kang district of Nimruz Province of Afghanistan where at least one Taliban soldier was killed (Eqbal, 2022).

At The Brink of Nuclear War: (Mis)Perceptions & The Kargil Crisis

Zin Mar Khing

The role of misperception has been considerably emphasized in the process leading to crisis and war. Robert Jervis, a leading scholar with many landmarks works in the study of war and misperceptions, has long argued that a crisis is most likely to escalate to war when states overestimate others’ hostility but underestimates the extent to which their capabilities or actions can be seen as threats by their adversaries.[1] However, these misperceptions can be avoided by safeguarding common perceptual errors. Although a crisis or conflict may take place without misperception(s), it is rarely completely out of question. The Kargil crisis in 1999 between India and Pakistan is a critical case in point. It marked the first military confrontation between the two new nuclear states and is said to be the first crisis that came closest to a nuclear war since the Cuban Missile Crisis.[2] However, despite being the longest and the most intense among other Indo-Pakistani conflicts with nuclear threats looming over the horizon, it did not escalate to a nuclear war. Today, the Kargil crisis remains highly debated in the international strategic community due to its significant occurrence in the post-nuclear era. Given that, this paper will seek to address how (Jervis’s model of) misperceptions of the conflict parties leads to the crisis escalating to war, and why despite huge hostility, a full-scale nuclear war is avoided.

Their Photos Were Posted Online. Then They Were Bombed

The shadowy Russian Wagner paramilitary group has been responsible for atrocities around the world. After first surfacing during Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, Wagner mercenaries have been spotted across Central Africa, Syria, and Libya. Since March, according to British intelligence, Wagner forces have been operating in Ukraine, directly alongside Russia’s official military forces.

One part of the Wagner group was attacked in the city of Popasna, Ukraine, earlier this month. On August 8, a pro-Russian journalist in the area shared photos on the Telegram messaging app that allegedly showed the local Wagner headquarters. In doing so, they exposed the location of the group. One photo, which has since been deleted, included a sign revealing the base’s address. Ukrainian forces put the data to work.

A few days after the photos were posted online, Ukraine’s military turned the base to rubble, claiming they hit it using American-made rocket systems. A Ukrainian government official said that it “seems” the Wagner-operated location was found using the photos shared on Telegram. The strike appears to be one of the latest incidents in Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine where open source intelligence—knowledge gained from publicly available information—has been used to target military attacks or inform tactical operations.

Afghanistan After Zawahiri: America’s Counterterrorism Options in the New South Asia

Philip Wasielewski


The current national security horizon of the United States is dominated by the immense storm cloud of the Russian-Ukrainian War. Hovering behind it are other darkening shadows of possible Chinese aggression against Taiwan, Iranian and North Korean nuclear threats, and worldwide economic distress. Yet the threat from terrorism—or more precisely, the threat of violent Islamist extremist attacks against the US homeland and American interests—remains. While terrorist groups are diminished after two decades of US and partner counterterrorism efforts, many of the most dangerous organizations still exist and have a presence in Afghanistan.

A year after America’s precipitous and disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan, the terrorism threat that brought the United States there in the first place still exists. While the United States and the Taliban regime have a common interest in defeating the Islamic State in Afghanistan, there is no other convergence of interests (or values) between Washington and Kabul. In fact, the Taliban is actively aiding America’s enemies. Afghanistan is home to numerous other terrorist groups sheltered and/or supported by the Taliban. Some of these groups (like al-Qaeda) have global ambitions, while others are focused on regional targets in India, Pakistan, and Central Asia.