11 September 2022

China's Weapons Exports and Private Security Contractors

Cortney Weinbaum, John V. Parachini, Melissa Shostak

Military weapons exports are an important tool for projecting a country's influence around the world, and China has marketed and exported weapons to 38 countries from 2018 to 2021. In addition to exporting weapons, China has exported private security contractors (PSCs) to protect and secure its interests, such as mining facilities, ports, and infrastructure projects, in other countries. To illustrate the spread of China's global military and security influence, RAND researchers developed a map that shows which countries received Chinese weapons, PSCs, or both in 2018–2021. The researchers found that 48 countries received Chinese weapons or PSCs during those years, including 14 countries that received both. The map, along with a table that the researchers created, shows China's expansive influence across Asia and Africa and into Latin America. The tool also shows the types of weapon systems that each country purchased.

Afghanistan’s Security Challenges under the Taliban


The Taliban’s military takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021 put an end to 43 years of almost continuous war, an overlapping series of conflicts that reached a new ferocity as U.S. forces prepared for their departure. As the former insurgents took power, the world’s attention focused at first on the disastrous humanitarian and economic fallout. Few outside observers took note of the dramatic shifts in the security situation, including a slowdown in the pace of violence to a level that most Afghans had not witnessed in their lifetimes.

Afghans certainly noticed the change. They had grown accustomed to a drumbeat of death and destruction: an estimated 20,000 to 40,000 battle fatalities per year, a toll that for several years had surpassed those of Syria, Yemen and Iraq, and more U.S. airstrikes than in any other part of the world. All of a sudden, after the Taliban seized power, the emergency wards were not full of Afghans suffering shrapnel cuts and blast injuries. In the early months of 2022, by UN estimates, fighting diminished to only 18 per cent of previous levels. Another comparison, of the first ten months of Taliban government against the same period a year earlier, found that the rate of battles, explosions and other forms of violence per week had fallen fivefold (as shown in Figure 1).

India’s Cyber Security Policy: Strategic Convergence and Divergence with Quad

Debopama Bhattacharya


The rise in cyber-attacks across the Indo-Pacific and beyond has necessitated a robust and a common approach towards cyber-resilient information infrastructure in the region. The Quad has taken a good leadership role in this regard through the Joint Cyber Principles of Quad Cybersecurity Partnership. India has had a cyber-security policy since 2013 and has since been working to mitigate cyber threats at source. A nodal cyber-security agency, a strong regulatory framework, a center for protection of critical infrastructure, periodic audits, have all successfully built a strong cyber-security architecture in the country. The cyber-security policy of India shares many common principles with the Quad Joint Cyber Principles. India’s already existent cyber-security architecture can help realize some of the Quad goals like that of sharing of intelligence across agencies and a collective cyber-security workforce. This issue brief analyzes the magnitude of cyber threats in the Indo-Pacific region, particularly within the Quad nations, the convergence and divergence of India’s cyber-security policy with that of Quad and the importance of a shared cyber-security goal among the Quad nations

Belt and Road Initiative: China’s Lending Hands Come with Claws

Akhil Ramesh


With the economic crisis unfolding in Sri Lanka, there is a renewed interest in better understanding and analyzing the Belt and Road Initiative to prevent nations from both falling under China’s orbit and as a consequence to its “debt-traps”. This issue brief broadens the scope of analysis on the BRI by examining projects in South East Asia that may have greater geo-economic and geo-strategic significance than debt traps or deep sea ports or even power rivalry. While China has taken advantage of the infrastructure deficit in South East Asia as it has in other parts of the world, the old adage, ‘the devil is in the details’ is an appropriate characterization of the BRI in the region. This paper details the cost of roads laid per mile to the significance of special economic zones (SEZ) in the Mekong region in shaping the regional trade architecture.

Afghanistan: One year of Taliban rule

Hameed HakimiDr Gareth Price

One year after the Taliban’s ascent to power in Afghanistan, the plight of Afghans is worsening. The economic situation is dire, malnutrition rates are increasing, women’s rights are being curtailed, there is continuing migration and internal displacement, and the health care system is crumbling – the already high maternal mortality rates are thought to have increased four-fold.

Since seizing power, the Taliban claim they have achieved full territorial control, established security and removed ‘islands of illegitimate power’. However, while physical security has improved by some measures – aid agencies report enhanced access to some provinces – a significant rise in attacks by the Islamic State Khorasan Province (IS-KP) targeting Shia and other minorities is one of many reminders that Afghanistan is far from secure. In addition, targeted killings of high-profile Taliban supporters and members, some claimed by the IS-KP in suicide attacks mimicking Taliban tactics, underline the vicious nature of the ongoing conflict.

NATO and Climate Change: A Climatized Perspective on Security

Lucia Garcia Rico


The effects of anthropogenic global warming are not only degrading human living conditions and ecosystems but also challenging the security environment. Climate change will bring more competition over scarce resources, the failure of vital infrastructure, and a new geostrategic scenario, among other disruptions. Climate change-related impacts may provoke political unrest and heighten domestic and international tensions. Extreme climate events will multiply security risks and degrade the state’s capabilities to counter them.

Politicians and policymakers must launch effective action to prevent and prepare for the effects of climate change to protect their citizens and their environment. While some uncertainties may remain about climate change and security, we should remember that strategic and military contingency plans are put in place to prepare for possible undesirable scenarios—not just those that are already confirmed.

NATO aspires to take the lead in understanding and adapting to the impact of climate change on security. The new Strategic Concept declares that climate change is a defining challenge of our time, with a profound impact on Allied security. Now, the Alliance and the Allies must “walk the talk” by preparing to face the emerging climate change-driven challenges and adapting their armed forces to the new climate conditions created by global warming.

Robotic & Autonomous Systems (RAS) Strategy

LT GEN Simon Stuart

The use of advanced and networked technologies on the battlefield is increasing, and future warfighting is expected to centre on human-machine teams in both the physical and virtual sense. Army’s Robotic and Autonomous Systems (RAS) Strategy V2.0 articulates how Army aspires to leverage emerging technology such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), autonomy, and robotics to gain operational advantage. This document builds on the first iteration of the Strategy in 2018 which led to rapid acceleration in both knowledge and demand for RAS across Army.

RAS covers a wide range of interconnected technologies, including uncrewed systems, AI, self-learning machines, and systems more able to make sense of their environment. The increased use of RAS capabilities will continue to evolve the way Army trains and fights – enabling increased tempo, decision-making and reducing risk. In turn, this will afford commanders new opportunities in achieving competitive advantage in some of the most dangerous tasks in the future operating environment. RAS technologies also provide significant opportunities to improve the way in which we learn, adapt and train.

Chinese discourse power: Ambitions and reality in the digital domain

Kenton Thibaut

As China’s military and economic power has grown, so has its ambition to shape global norms to suit its priorities. China believes that the United States currently dominates the international system, and sees growing Western opposition to China as evidence that the current order is now a threat to the continued security of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). As such, China’s leadership has come to see its ability to reshape the international order—or, at least, to decenter US power within it—as essential to the party’s future.

China’s leaders have clearly articulated that they believe that Western countries, and especially the United States, have been able to exert global dominance because they possess what China terms “discourse power” (话语权): a type of narrative agenda-setting ability focused on reshaping global governance, values, and norms to legitimize and facilitate the expression of state power.



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 to 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.

Initial access broker repurposing techniques in targeted attacks against Ukraine

Pierre-Marc Bureau

As the war in Ukraine continues, TAG is tracking an increasing number of financially motivated threat actors targeting Ukraine whose activities seem closely aligned with Russian government-backed attackers. This post provides details on five different campaigns conducted from April to August 2022 by a threat actor whose activities overlap with a group CERT-UA tracks as UAC-0098 [1, 2, 3]. Based on multiple indicators, TAG assesses some members of UAC-0098 are former members of the Conti cybercrime group repurposing their techniques to target Ukraine.

UAC-0098 is a threat actor that historically delivered the IcedID banking trojan, leading to human-operated ransomware attacks. The attacker has recently shifted their focus to targeting Ukrainian organizations, the Ukrainian government, and European humanitarian and non-profit organizations. TAG assesses UAC-0098 acted as an initial access broker for various ransomware groups including Quantum and Conti, a Russian cybercrime gang known as FIN12 / WIZARD SPIDER.

TAG is sharing additional context and indicators, including disclosing new campaigns that weren’t previously detailed or attributed to the group, to assist the security community in investigating and defending against this threat.

State of AI: Artificial Intelligence, the Military and Increasingly Autonomous Weapons

Kirsten Gronlund

As artificial intelligence works its way into industries like healthcare and finance, governments around the world are increasingly investing in another of its applications: autonomous weapons systems. Many are already developing programs and technologies that they hope will give them an edge over their adversaries, creating mounting pressure for others to follow suite.

These investments appear to mark the early stages of an AI arms race. Much like the nuclear arms race of the 20th century, this type of military escalation poses a threat to all humanity and is ultimately unwinnable. It incentivizes speed over safety and ethics in developing new technologies, and as these technologies proliferate, it offers no long-term advantage to any player.

Nevertheless, the development of military AI is accelerating. Below are the current AI arms programs, policies, and positions of seven key players: the United States, China, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, Israel, and South Korea. All information is from State of AI: Artificial intelligence, the military, and increasingly autonomous weapons, a report by Pax.

The Dangerous Decade

Richard Haass

“There are decades where nothing happens, and there are weeks where decades happen.” Those words are apocryphally attributed to the Bolshevik revolutionary (and Foreign Affairs reader) Vladimir Lenin, referring to the rapid collapse of tsarist Russia just over 100 years ago. If he had actually said those words, Lenin might have added that there are also decades when centuries happen.

The world is in the midst of one such decade. As with other historical hinges, the danger today stems from a sharp decline in world order. But more than at any other recent moment, that decline threatens to become especially steep, owing to a confluence of old and new threats that have begun to intersect at a moment the United States is ill positioned to contend with them.

On the one hand, the world is witnessing the revival of some of the worst aspects of traditional geopolitics: great-power competition, imperial ambitions, fights over resources. Today, Russia is headed by a tyrant, President Vladimir Putin, who longs to re-create a Russian sphere of influence and perhaps even a Russian empire. Putin is willing to do almost anything to achieve that goal, and he is able to act as he pleases because internal constraints on his regime have mostly disappeared. Meanwhile, under President Xi Jinping, China has embarked on a quest for regional and potentially global primacy, putting itself on a trajectory that will lead to increased competition or even confrontation with the United States.

In Praise of Lesser Evils Can Realism Repair Foreign Policy?

Emma Ashford

It’s not a great time to be a realist. Although many prominent realist theorists of international relations correctly predicted the war in Ukraine, their focus on great-power politics over the rights of small states and their warnings about the risks of escalation have not been popular among the foreign policy commentariat. The insistence of some realists, chief among them John Mearsheimer, that the war is almost entirely the result of the structural factor of NATO’s expansion rather than the bellicosity of Russian President Vladimir Putin has not endeared realism to a broader public audience, either. According to the scholar Tom Nichols, the war in Ukraine has proved that “realism is nonsense.”

Some of this is just realism’s normal public relations problem when it comes to ethics and human rights. One of the main philosophical traditions of international politics, realism sees power and security as being at the center of the international system. Although the school of thought comes in a variety of flavors, nearly all realists agree on a few core notions: that states are guided primarily by security and survival; that states act on the basis of national interest rather than principle; and that the international system is defined by anarchy.

None of these notions are pleasant or popular. The realist Robert Gilpin once titled an article “No One Loves a Political Realist.” All too often, pointing out the harsh realities of international life or noting that states often act in barbaric ways is seen as an endorsement of selfish behavior rather than a simple diagnosis. As one of the school’s founding fathers, Hans Morgenthau, put it, realists may see themselves as simply refusing to “identify the moral aspirations of a particular nation with the moral laws that govern the universe.” But their critics often accuse them of having no morals, as the Ukraine debate has shown.

The Weakness of Xi Jinping How Hubris and Paranoia Threaten China’s Future

Cai Xia

Not long ago, Chinese President Xi Jinping was riding high. He had consolidated power within the Chinese Communist Party. He had elevated himself to the same official status as the CCP’s iconic leader, Mao Zedong, and done away with presidential term limits, freeing him to lead China for the rest of his life. At home, he boasted of having made huge strides in reducing poverty; he claimed to be raising his country’s international prestige to new heights abroad. For many Chinese, Xi’s strongman tactics were the acceptable price of national revival.

Outwardly, Xi still projects confidence. In a speech in January 2021, he declared China “invincible.” But behind the scenes, his power is being questioned as never before. By discarding China’s long tradition of collective rule and creating a cult of personality reminiscent of the one that surrounded Mao, Xi has rankled party insiders. A series of policy missteps, meanwhile, have disappointed even supporters. Xi’s reversal of economic reforms and his inept response to the COVID-19 pandemic have shattered his image as a hero of everyday people. In the shadows, resentment among CCP elites is rising.

World War II and the Rise of American Intelligence

Nicholas Reynolds 

REVIEW — Let me to begin by acknowledging that I wasn’t sure I should have agreed to review this book. Yet another book on intelligence in the aftermath of the Second World War? Hadn’t this field been fully ploughed?

That concern was ill-founded. Need to Know is a readable, thoughtful book on an important subject. The author intends to write a “crossover” book covering more than one agency and focusing on strategy rather than tactics, the view from “thirty thousand feet rather than from the forward edge of a foxhole.” Those are ambitious objectives, given how few working intelligence professionals ever manage to look past their own agency and how many historical foxholes have been dug deeper and deeper over time. Readers looking for new developments or the exploration of previously neglected primary sources will find little of either in Need to Know. On the other hand, it is highly successful at achieving the perspective proposed by the author.

A large part of this success flows from the author’s focus on personalities, not just the personalities of individuals but also the personalities and cultures of organizations and services. This emphasis is not without its dangers. Most of the first three chapters of the book focus on the William Stephenson – William Donovan relationship, and some of this could have been edited at little cost. That is the last quibble of this review.

Are al Qaeda and Iran really at odds?

Jonathan Schanzer

A photo, first posted on an anonymous Twitter account, circulated last week among terrorism watchers here in Washington. It received scant attention in the mainstream media. The now authenticated photo, dated 2015, shows three of al Qaeda’s top leaders smiling casually. Their names: Saif al Adel, Abu Muhammad al Masri, and Abu al Khayr al Masri. Their location: Tehran.

All three men served in key leadership positions for the world’s most dangerous terrorist organization. And all three men were apparently circulating freely in Iran.

Al-Adel is now believed to be on the short list of candidates to lead al Qaeda after the American assassination of Ayman al-Zawahiri in Afghanistan in early August. Al-Masri was a senior al Qaeda leader who was gunned down on the streets of Tehran, presumably by the Israeli Mossad, in November 2020. Al Masri, another senior al Qaeda leader, was felled in Syria by a U.S. drone strike in 2017.

The photo questions — yet again — the notion that al Qaeda and the Islamic Republic were at odds. If anything, they appear to cooperate, even if Sunni-Shi’ite sectarian tensions prevent a full-blown alliance.

American officials (mostly those advocating for a nuclear deal with Iran) have repeatedly and falsely asserted that the Iranian regime maintained an antagonistic relationship with al Qaeda, placing members of the world’s most dangerous terrorist group under house arrest. This assertion has been regurgitated by prominent beltway analysts such as Nelly Lahoud and Peter Bergen. Both wrote books recently, parroting lines proffered by U.S. officialdom, downplaying the ties between Tehran and al Qaeda. Both got it wrong.

Here’s just a sample of what we know:

The 9/11 Commission Report (released in 2004) states: “Iran facilitated the transit of al Qaeda members into and out of Afghanistan before 9/11 … some of these were future 9/11 hijackers.”

In 2009, the U.S. Treasury Department issued sanctions against four al Qaeda leaders based in Iran. One of them was Sa’ad bin Laden, the son of Osama bin Laden.

In 2012, the U.S. Treasury sanctioned Adel Radi Saqr al-Wahabi al-Harbi, a top al Qaeda operative in Iran. According to the Treasury press release, “Iran continues to allow al Qaeda to operate a core pipeline that moves al Qaeda money and fighters through Iran to support al Qaeda activities in South Asia. This network also sends funding and fighters to Syria.”

This came on the heels of a designation the year prior in which Treasury sanctioned “Ezedin Abdel Aziz Khalil, a prominent Iran-based al Qaeda facilitator, operating under an agreement between al Qaeda and the Iranian government.” Treasury targeted Khalil (aka Yasin al-Suri) along with five other al Qaeda operatives, noting how Iran was a “critical transit point for funding to support al Qaeda’s activities in Afghanistan and Pakistan. This network serves as the core pipeline through which al Qaeda moves money, facilitators and operatives from across the Middle East to South Asia …”

What’s most notable about these revelations is that they were made by the Treasury during the Obama administration. When the Obama Administration inked the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action nuclear accord with the Islamic Republic in Iran, there was no discussion of this pipeline.

The administration yielded an estimated $150 billion dollars to the regime in exchange for fleeting nuclear restrictions. The regime’s malign regional activities, including its collaboration with al Qaeda, were deemed outside the purview of the agreement.

While the Obama administration ended its investigation into this collaboration, the Trump administration revived it. In 2017, the Central Intelligence Agency released (thanks to a campaign by FDD’s Long War Journal) a trove of documents from the 2011 raid by U.S. Navy SEALS on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Among the documents was a video that revealed that bin Laden’s son Hamza was married in Iran, with senior al Qaeda figures in attendance. In 2019, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo renewed the allegations of Iranian collusion with al Qaeda. In early 2021, he charged that Iran was the new home base for al Qaeda.

This did not stop the incoming Biden administration from pursuing a return to the nuclear deal that President Donald Trump exited in 2018. The deal currently being negotiated in Vienna could yield Iran an estimated $275 billion in the first year, and as much as $1 trillion over the ensuing decade. Once again, the regime’s ties to al Qaeda are not addressed.

Earlier this year, a federal judge found in favor of victims and families that sued Iran for providing “material support” to al Qaeda, among other groups that perpetrated terrorist attacks against American servicemembers and civilians in Afghanistan. The case offered new insights into this dynamic.

The debate about the Islamic Republic’s collaboration with al Qaeda is far from over. Much is already known, and there is ample evidence yet to be released. However, proponents of nuclear diplomacy with Iran hope to sweep it under the rug, for fear of scuttling talks.

Another 9/11 anniversary is approaching. For the sake of those who perished on that day, not to mention the men and women who gave their lives on the battlefields of Afghanistan, it’s time for a full and truthful account of this relationship to be released by the U.S. government. It should be produced without fear or favor.

Futures Command faces identity crisis as Army shifts mission

Jen Judson

WASHINGTON — Gen. Mark Milley confronted a daunting challenge when he became chief of staff of the Army in 2015.

Virtually all of the Army’s recent modernization efforts — from the sprawling Future Combat Systems program, centered around a network that connected new vehicles, drones and other technology, to the Comanche helicopter to the Crusader weapon system intended to replace aging artillery — had ended in cancellation.

When Milley, who now leads the Joint Chiefs of Staff as the Pentagon’s top officer, became Army chief, he sketched out a new approach. Over his first several months in the position, he proposed a four-star command, dubbed “Army Futures Command,” that would ultimately lead the service’s modernization programs, grouped into six priority categories.

Milley saw the command as a new way forward, breaking free of the bureaucracy and silos that had hampered previous efforts.

A Recent Chinese Hack Is a Wake-up Call for the Security of the World’s Software Supply Chain

John Speed Meyers

It’s perhaps only a coincidence that there’s a famous Chinese saying that neatly summarizes a recent hack on MiMi, a Chinese messaging app. According to recent reports, a Chinese state-backed hacking group inserted malicious code into this messaging app, essentially pulling off the equivalent of the infamous SolarWinds hack. Users of MiMi were served a version of the app with malicious code added, thanks to attackers taking control of the servers that delivered the app. In short, this was a software supply chain attack in which the software delivery pipeline was compromised.

And no one knew for months.

This hack hasn’t gotten much press in Western media, potentially because this appears to be an example of Chinese state surveillance on targets that aren’t in the United States or Europe. That’s a shame because this attack points to a growing trend of software supply chain attacks, even by the Chinese government. Consequently, Western companies and governments should take note and begin preparing defenses.

How China Is Responding to Its Water Woes

Genevieve Donnellon

China’s driest and hottest summer has been since it began keeping records in 1961. The severe heatwave was brought on by a greater-than-usual Western Pacific subtropical high, further compounded by reduced rainfall. The effects of these extreme weather events are seen in many provinces and sections of the Yangtze River Basin (YRB), one of China’s strategic development regions and the country’s longest river.

Estimates from the South China Morning Post (SCMP) suggest that the current heat wave has affected over 900 million people in more than 17 provinces and an estimated 2.2 million hectares of agricultural land in the provinces of Sichuan, Hubei, Hebei, Jiangxi, and Anhui. As a result, this has posed a threat to China’s water, energy, and food security.

However, climate change-related extreme weather events are only one of China’s many water challenges. In addition to the drought, China faces enormous water quality, quality, and spatio-temporal distribution challenges. Due to various factors, including rapid industrialization, urbanization, as well as climate change impacts, demand for fresh water is quickly increasing. Forecasts project that by 2030, China’s water demand will surpass 800 billion cubic meters. However, China’s supply is severely undermined by worsening interlinked factors of water scarcity, urbanization, population growth, pollution, and competing water demands.

Competing in the 21st Century: Is Geography No Longer Destiny?

Jerry Haar

According to fourteenth-century Tunisian sociologist Ibn Khaldun and twenty-first-century British archaeologist Ian Morris, “Geography is destiny.” However, others such as American political commentator Thomas Friedman, author of The World is Flat, would firmly disagree. Yet in today’s techno-driven and globalizing world, the truth is that both opinions are correct.

Were they around today, Khaldun and Morris would make their case by pointing to Silicon Valley, an area between San Jose, California, and San Francisco that grew largely as a result of Frederick Terman, the legendary dean of Stanford engineering school during the 1940s and 1950s. Terman created the tradition of Stanford faculty starting their own companies. This “first mover advantage,” bolstered by the founding of Hewlett-Packard in 1939 and the genesis of large defense and aerospace contracting in the Bay Area, was anchored by the close-knit relationship with two of the world’s great and nearby universities—Stanford and the University of California at Berkeley. These institutions and their world-class human capital have served as a perpetual source of research and development (R&D), entrepreneurship, innovation, and commercialization. Silicon Valley’s destiny is indeed linked to it geography.

Can Realism Find a Home on the Left?

Sumantra Maitra

Is realism compatible with progressivism? This is at the heart of a crucial recent article by Stephen Wertheim in Foreign Affairs. “Even before Russia invaded Ukraine, the Biden administration was halting its efforts to scale back U.S. political-military objectives: The force posture review affirmed the status quo, and Biden repeatedly claimed that the United States had an obligation to defend Taiwan,” Wertheim writes. He classifies progressives into three categories. The first set, exemplified by Samantha Power, Madeleine Albright, and Hillary Clinton, argues in favor of a hawkish bend of internationalism that promotes democracy and human rights. The second group is the global governance wonks, which include people such as Anne Marie Slaughter. Wertheim argues that these two categories are distinct because arguably the latter is more multilateral than the former even though they both are in favor of an interventionist foreign policy. Wertheim calls the third category, where his sympathies lie, “progressive realists.” “Whereas progressive internationalists and global cooperators want to shape the world order to their liking, restrainers are skeptical that such a goal either should be paramount or will be achieved through military preponderance.” Ultimately, what Wertheim suggests is progressivism with limits. “Progressive internationalism retains considerable appeal in a world of public discontent, zealous nationalisms, and authoritarian ascent. Democracies need to find better ways to deliver for their people in an interconnected world,” Wertheim writes, adding that, “great-power competition complicates internationalists’ efforts to promote democracy and human rights impartially … Progressives will condemn these governments’ depredations, but if a neo-cold war takes hold, a relentless cycle of accusations and counteraccusations could make China and Russia ever more suspicious and aggressive, generating a feedback loop that rewards the most extreme voices in each country—and in the United States.”

Smart Manufacturing: A Linchpin in China’s Industrial Policy

Emily Jin

Industrial capacity is not synonymous with technological prowess. A country’s industrial base includes not just its cutting-edge technologies and actors, but also its foundational capabilities that make up the base of its economic prosperity and competitive capacity. The People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) “smart manufacturing” policies aim to upgrade its foundational industrial capabilities and create conditions for technological breakthroughs. If the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is successful at developing a self-reliant and high-value smart manufacturing sector, the productivity gains would better equip China to challenge the United States’ economic and national security interests.

What is smart manufacturing? Chinese policymakers conceptualize it as manufacturing integrated with information technology using advanced techniques—which drives data-driven production, generative digital operations, and the fortification of intelligent supply chains that are responsive to internal and external supply and demand. In China, smart manufacturing is as much of a buzzword—or an aspirational goal—as it is a declared path to national wealth and power. With concentrated state capacity and investment and knowledge transfer from international firms, China is positioning itself to upgrade foundational parts of its economic model and prepare for significant productivity advances in manufacturing. The near-term goal is to obtain the technology capabilities. The broader, and perhaps more strategically important, goal is to reduce reliance on foreign inputs.

Washington must act to build capable federal cybersecurity workforce

Dr. Georgianna Shea, Matthew Brockie

With the U.S. facing a reported cybersecurity personnel shortage of at least 700,000 workers, the White House’s July workforce summit set the appropriately ambitious goal of filling those vacancies.

The summit—hosted by National Cyber Director Chris Inglis — emphasized plans to build the national workforce and improve its skills while addressing diversity, equity, and inclusion issues. The programs announced at the summit, however, only minimally address one of the central problems: the mismatch between the skills of applicants and the needs of employers, including the federal government.

Most of the initiatives announced at the summit focused on enhancing school programs and increasing the number of individuals entering the workforce. For example, CISCO, IBM, Girls Who Code, Fortinet, Dakota State University, and Ambassador Susan E. Rice have unveiled plans focused on bolstering K-12 cyber education as well as recruitment from historically black universities and colleges. This will increase the number of cybersecurity professionals entering the market but may not significantly close the gap between qualified cybersecurity professionals and open vacancies in government and industry.

Why Would Russia Buy North Korean Weapons?

Hyung-Jin Kim and Kim Tong-Hyung

North Korea is apparently moving to sell millions of rockets and artillery shells, likely from its old stock, to its Cold War ally Russia.

Russia has called a U.S. intelligence report on the purchasing plan “fake.” But U.S. officials say it shows Russia’s desperation with the war in Ukraine and that Moscow could buy additional military hardware from North Korea.

The ammunitions North Korea reportedly intends to sell to Moscow are likely copies of Soviet-era weapons that can fit Russian launchers. But there are still questions over the quality of the supplies and how much they could actually help the Russian military.

Slapped by international sanctions and export controls, Russia bought Iranian-made drones that U.S. officials said had technical problems in August. For Russia, North Korea is likely another good option for its ammunitions supply, because the North keeps a significant stockpile of shells, many of them copies of Soviet-era ones.

North Korea “may represent the single biggest source of compatible legacy artillery ammunition outside of Russia, including domestic production facilities to further supplies,” said Joseph Dempsey, research associate for defense and military analysis at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS).

Lee Illwoo, an expert with the Korea Defense Network in South Korea, said both North and South Korea — split along the world’s most heavily fortified border for more than 70 years — keep tens of millions of artillery shells each. He said that North Korea will likely sell older shells that it wants to replace with newer ones for multiple rocket launch systems or sophisticated missiles in its front-line army bases.

North Korea’s greater reliance on nuclear weapons and guided missiles may also remove the need for many of its older, unguided artillery shells that once played a prominent role, said Ankit Panda, an expert with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

But Bruce Bennett, a senior security expert at the California-based Rand Corporation, said most of the artillery rounds to be sent to Russia are likely to be ammunition for small arms, such as AK-47 rifles or machine guns.ADVERTISEMENT

“It’s not millions of artillery shells and rockets – that’s more than the likely consumption. It could be millions of small arms rounds,” Bennett said.

According to an IISS assessment, North Korea has an estimated 20,000 artillery pieces including multiple rocket launchers in service, a number that Dempsey described as “significantly more than any other country in the world.”

North Korea’s state media have called its artillery guns “the first arm of the People’s Army and the most powerful arm in the world” that can reduce enemy position into “a sea of flames.”

But its old artillery systems, whose ammunitions will likely be supplied to Russia, have a reputation for poor accuracy.

During North Korea’s artillery bombardment of South Korea’s front-line Yeonpyeong Island in 2010 that killed four people, Bennett said that only 80 of the 300-400 weapons North Korea should have fired likely hit their target. In his assessment, Lee said about half of the North Korean shells launched ended up falling into waters before reaching the island.

“That is miserable artillery performance. The Russians may experience the same thing, which will not make them very happy,” Bennett said.

Observers doubt the usefulness of North Korean ammunition for the Russian campaign in Ukraine, which they say has depleted the military. There have been photos of barrel-busted Russian guns on social media.

It’s unclear how serious Russian shortage of ammunitions is. In July, a senior U.S. defense official told reporters that Russia was launching tens of thousands artillery rounds each day and couldn’t keep it up forever.

“While substantial stockpiles likely still exist, they may be increasingly infringing on those reserved for the contingency of a wider future conflict,” Dempsey said.

It’s unlikely North Korea would provide Russia with ballistic missiles that it views as crucial in its military strategies toward Washington and Seoul, said Yang Uk, an analyst at Seoul’s Asan Institute for Policy Studies.

And if North Korea decides to supply missiles to Russia, it would need to send their launch platforms as well because Russia doesn’t have launchers for the North’s Scuds and other missiles. North Korea has developed a highly maneuverable, nuclear-cable ballistic missile that was likely modeled on Russia’s Iskander. But the two missiles are of different sizes, according to Shin Jongwoo, a military expert at the Seoul-based Korea Defense and Security Forum,

There would be a number of items that North Korea could provide to Russia, given that the two countries share weapons systems going back to Soviet times. But the type of ammunitions North Korea would provide to Russia “are likely to be old and somewhere close to expiring,” said Moon Seong Mook, an analyst at South Korea’s Korea Research Institute for National Strategy.

In return for weapons, North Korea will likely want food, fuel, and other materials from Russia because the North finds it difficult to buy such goods from abroad under U.N. sanctions imposed over its nuclear program.

Panda said North Korea is likely benefiting in the form of cash transfers from Russia, or perhaps greater Russian leniency in not enforcing other sanctions on Pyongyang, including the transfer of materials necessary for the growth of North Korea’s missile programs.

According to Bennett, North Korea would be willing to be compensated with fuel. For its more advanced arms, it could seek advanced weapons technologies from Russia, possibly including those it needs for its expected nuclear test, the first of its kind in five years, he said.

Deal or No Deal, Israel Must Restore a Credible Military Threat

Jacob Nagel

The Iranian regime and the US are exchanging drafts of what is being described again as a “take it or leave it, last chance [nuclear] deal.” Both sides will not admit publicly to having compromised, amidst a flurry of activity. For now, it is unclear whether a new agreement is imminent or not.

There are three major unresolved issues for the Iranian regime, among other minor ones.

First, what happens if a future US president pulls out of the deal? Regime negotiators, under the direction of Iranian supreme leader Ali Khameinei, demand legal assurances in the event that a future president exits the deal. They also demand a predetermined end to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) investigations into Iran’s suspicious activities before the appropriate information has been provided. Finally, the regime demands the removal of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), or at least all of its associated businesses, from Washington’s list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs).

Other issues linger, but it all boils down to two key questions: Does Khameinei really want a deal? And how many more concessions will the US envoy to Iran, Robert Malley, make?