17 October 2022

How TikTok ate the internet

Drew Harwell

On the night Shelby Renae first went viral on TikTok, she felt so giddy she could barely sleep. She’d spent the evening painting her nails, refreshing her phone between each finger — 20,000 views; 40,000 — and by the next morning, after her video crossed 3 million views, she decided it had changed her life.

She didn’t really understand why it had done so well. The 16-second clip of her playing the video game “Fortnite” was funny, she thought — but not, like, millions-of-views funny. She wasn’t a celebrity: She grew up in Idaho; her last job was at a pizza shop. But this was just how the world’s most popular app worked. TikTok’s algorithm had made her a star.

Shelby Renae, a former pizza-shop worker, posts TikTok videos of herself playing the video game “Fortnite.” She has 1.3 million followers and her videos have been liked 37 million times.

Now 25, she spends her days making TikTok videos from her apartment in Los Angeles, negotiating advertising deals and always chasing the next big hit. Many days, she feels drained — by the endless scramble for new content; by the weird mysteries of TikTok’s algorithm; by the stalkers, harassers and trolls. Yet still, in her off hours, she does what all her friends do: watches TikTok. “It will suck you in for hours,” she said.

Lockheed Martin Laser Breakthroughs Could Signal A Turning Point For Missile Defense

Loren Thompson

The Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency awarded Lockheed MartinLMT -4.1% a $2 million contract in September to assess how high-energy lasers might be integrated into the nation’s missile-defense architecture.

It’s a modest contract for a company that generates over a billion dollars in revenue per week, but it could have outsized implications for how wars will be waged in the future, given the series of breakthroughs the world’s biggest defense company has achieved in laser systems.

Lockheed, a contributor to my think tank, recently delivered the most powerful laser it has ever built, a 300-kilowatt system, to a project run by the Pentagon’s research and engineering chief called the High Energy Laser Scaling Initiative.

As reported by Jason Sherman in Inside Defense, the initiative as conceived in 2019 called for further scaling to a 500-kilowatt system in 2024, and then to 1,000 kilowatts (one megawatt) later in the decade. At the latter level of intensity, a laser could deposit enough energy on a hostile ballistic missile during its vulnerable boost phase to destroy the missile.

China accuses US of ‘Cold War thinking’ in security strategy


BEIJING (AP) — The Chinese government on Thursday accused Washington of “Cold War thinking” and appealed for efforts to repair strained relations after President Joe Biden released a national security strategy that calls for “out-competing China” and blocking its efforts to reshape global affairs.

The foreign ministry also accused Washington of trade protectionism after Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said the United States would reinforce its global supply chains to guard against “geopolitical coercion” by China, Russia and other governments.

Biden’s document Wednesday accused China of trying to “erode U.S. alliances” and “create more permissive conditions for its own authoritarian model.” It called for “out-competing China” in political alliances and “global governance” as well as business, technology and military affairs.

Has the War in Ukraine Finally Killed the Main Battle Tank?

Kris Osborn

The U.S. Army is working on a program known as the Optionally Manned Tank, a largely conceptual effort to explore future tank platforms. Army platform developers say some kind of initial “step” is expected to emerge next year, but that a wide range of options are being closely examined. Unmanned capabilities, long-range sensing and fidelity, composite armor materials, and multi-domain manned-unmanned, air-ground networking are likely to figure prominently. These factors are informing ongoing analysis of how the Army plans to address the future role of heavily armed platforms.

There does appear to be a delicate and perhaps necessary balance between a continued place for heavy armor and the need for faster and lighter expeditionary platforms. Unmanned teaming, artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled computing, multi-domain networking, and high-speed, lethal, forward-operating anti-armor weapons may all be used in close coordination with a future tank platform as part of modern combined arms maneuver concepts. Weapons developers are likely weighing the promise of current and emerging future technologies with the kind of protection, informational, and mobility requirements necessary to prevail on the battlefield.

Can the West Keep Up With Putin’s Escalation in Ukraine?

Mark Temnycky

As the Russian invasion of Ukraine approaches its eighth month, the war has been devastating. Tens of thousands of Ukrainians have died and one-fourth of Ukraine’s total population has been displaced. Dozens of cities, villages, and towns have been destroyed by the Russian bombardment, and economists predict it will cost hundreds of billions to rebuild the country.

The Russian Federation has also incurred grave losses. According to Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense, over 62,000 Russian soldiers have been killed during the war. Russia has lost numerous tanks to Ukrainian forces and thousands of pieces of Russian military hardware have been destroyed, costing billions of dollars.

Despite these tremendous losses, Russia’s invasion continues without an apparent end. Instead, Russian president Vladimir Putin has decided to escalate the war. On September 21, Putin ordered a partial mobilization across Russia, stating that reservists and citizens with previous military experience would be subjected to military service. The decision will likely lead to the deaths of thousands more all because Putin is unwilling to admit the failure of his unnecessary war.

Will Xi’s Paranoia Defeat Him?

Susan Shirk

Over the past decade, Chinese President Xi Jinping has expressed many of the same anxieties as his predecessor, Hu Jintao, about domestic threats to social stability. Both leaders have worried about the fragility of Chinese Communist Party (CCP) rule in a rapidly changing society and sought to secure it by exerting greater control over social and economic life. Both, moreover, see security dangers as emanating mainly from domestic problems, though they also cast a suspicious eye on “malign” international forces. As Xi often observes, the security threats confronting China come from the “increasingly complex” external and internal threats that “are interlocked and can be mutually activated.”

However, Xi takes the paranoia that has been endemic to Chinese politics since Mao Zedong’s rule to an extreme. China is stronger than ever. It has a hugely successful economy, a capable military, and growing global influence. The government enjoys a high level of public support. Yet Xi’s fixation on security betrays his persistent feelings of vulnerability. Xi’s “overall national security outlook” is more holistic than Hu’s, more party-centered, and more explicitly highlights external threats.

Colombo Lotus Tower and the Case for Transparency

Rathindra Kuruwita

The opening of the Colombo Lotus Tower, South Asia’s tallest structure, to the public on September 15, has revived focus on the nature of Chinese lending practices in Sri Lanka.

Built at an estimated cost of $113 million, the Colombo Lotus Tower project was constructed on an $88 million loan from the EXIM Bank of China, with the Sri Lankan government footing the rest of the costs.

Often portrayed as a symbol of the excesses of the Mahinda Rajapaksa administration, the tower project underscores the importance of transparency in development finance.

Work on the project commenced in 2012 and was plagued by delays. The Rajapaksa administration said that the purpose of the project was to improve Sri Lanka’s telecommunications infrastructure and provide leisure activities for the public.

As of now, the tower is mainly used as a leisure center.

In the first fortnight of its opening to the public, over 100,000 people visited the tower. The average daily income from ticket sales has been around $5,500 and the expected annual revenue is about $8.2 million.

How China’s Air Force Can Benefit from the Russia-Ukraine War

Jhao-kai JHENG and Lin (Kirin) PU

The Russia-Ukraine War has generated an unprecedented disaster for Russia’s aircraft industry, which might provide China the opportunity to access advanced aero technologies that Moscow refused to provide before. After Russia invaded Ukraine, Western countries imposed the most comprehensive sanctions and export controls since the end of the Cold War, rendering Russia unable to manufacture advanced military hardware for war and arms export. Although Moscow has sought arms assistance from Beijing, China seems reluctant to buttress Russia overtly. However, economic support from Beijing has deepened Moscow’s reliance on China. It might increase China’s bargaining power to acquire advanced aero technologies from Russia, given that Beijing may be the only possible savior to Moscow’s waning aerospace industry after the invasion.

China’s Dream of Building a Strategic Air Force

Since the end of the Cold War, China has enhanced its strategic air power through arms acquisition from former Soviet states. Most importantly, after the Taiwan Strait Crisis in 1996, deterring the intervention of the U.S. in the West Pacific has been a priority for the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). The strategic bomber is seen as the key for China to employ its Anti-Access/Area Denial tactics; for example, the upgraded Russian-made Tu-22M3M Backfire, equipped with hypersonic missiles, can render U.S. Navy fleet defense ineffective.

How Japan Got the Pandemic Right – and Wrong

Trevor Incerti and Hikaru Yamagishi

On October 11, Japan finally allowed international visitors to enter the country without special restrictions. Japan’s move came after many other countries re-opened borders to international travelers – a full year after the United States. While the headline public health outcomes of Japan’s pandemic have been largely positive (e.g., a relatively low death rate despite elderly and densely populated demographics), the exact contributing factors remain unclear. So far, Japan’s successes and failures appear to be a result of the centralization of political power by the dominant incumbent party, as well as idiosyncratic factors such as human capital in public health leaders, prior behavioral norms, and underlying medical conditions of the population. While the reduction of negative health impacts is of primary importance in assessing Japan’s pandemic response, the trajectory of the last two years and 10 months has left observers with uncertainty about the nation’s institutional ability to nimbly and effectively respond to future challenges.

By virtually all headline metrics, Japan’s COVID-19 policy has been a success when compared to its G-7 peer nations. Despite an aging population and densely populated urban areas, Japan suffered a fraction of the case and death rates typically observed abroad (although it should be noted that neighboring South Korea and Taiwan fared similarly).

Saudi Arabia Swings Toward Russia


CAMBRIDGE – The OPEC+ oil producers, led by Saudi Arabia and Russia, surprised markets earlier this month by deciding to cut production by two million barrels per day – roughly the equivalent of 2% of the global supply. The decision, which briefly sent Brent crude climbing toward $100 per barrel, signaled the cartel’s resolve to boost prices in the face of a faltering global recovery. That put US President Joe Biden in a precarious position ahead of next month’s midterm elections. But it also demonstrated Saudi Arabia’s growing willingness to resume its swing-producer role and highlighted its newfound alignment with Russia.

The increase in oil prices following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, together with limited spare capacity, has made the cohesion of OPEC+ necessary and spurred its members to coordinate collective production targets more effectively. But cohesiveness alone cannot preserve the cartel’s role as global price-setter. That role depends on the Kingdom’s willingness to resume its traditional function as the market’s swing producer, which it has been reluctant to carry out in recent years.

The Ukraine Safari


LJUBLJANA – I don’t usually write about cultural products from my own country, but I must make an exception for Slovenian filmmaker Miran Zupanič’s new documentary Sarajevo Safari, which details one of the most bizarre and pathological episodes of the 1992-96 siege of the Bosnian capital.

It is well known that Serb snipers in the hills surrounding the city would arbitrarily shoot residents on the streets below, and that select Serb allies (mostly Russians) were invited to fire some shots of their own. Yet now we learn that this opportunity was provided not only as a gesture of appreciation but also as a kind of tourist activity for paying customers. Through “safaris” organized by the Bosnian Serb Army, dozens of rich foreigners – mostly from the United States, the United Kingdom, and Italy, but also from Russia – paid top dollar for the chance to shoot at helpless civilians.

Consider the special form of subjectivity that such a safari would confer on the “hunter.” Though the victims were anonymous, this was no video game; the perverse thrill lay in the fact that it was real. And yet, by playing the “hunter,” these rich tourists, occupying a safe perch above the city, effectively excluded themselves from ordinary reality. For their targets, the stakes were life or death.

Russia on the Run

Recent developments in Ukraine – including an attack on the symbolically important and strategically vital Kerch Strait Bridge linking Russia to Crimea, and, more importantly, Ukrainian forces’ liberation of huge swaths of territory that Russia had just “annexed”– have set the Kremlin on edge. But Russian President Vladimir Putin still possesses a massive nuclear arsenal and plenty of cannon fodder – and may be unafraid to use them.

Then again, maybe not both of them. While Putin has shown no compunction about sending Russians to their deaths, Josef Joffe of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies argues that he is unlikely to deploy a nuclear weapon, even a “little” tactical one. Putin may “simulate insanity,” but it is “‘rational’ brinkmanship,” aimed at “intimidating Ukraine and the West” in a way Russia’s “failing army” cannot.

Putin’s “nuclear bluster” is also supposed to help him at home, says the New School’s Nina L. Khrushcheva, by “papering over” the fact that the war in Ukraine is a “strategic disaster” for Russia and that the international community will never recognize Putin’s latest territorial claims. But what is really protecting Putin from internal challenges to his rule is not the Kremlin’s narrative about Ukraine, which “not all Russians are buying,” but rather naked repression.

Fighting Polio to the Finish


WASHINGTON, DC – When I took my children to receive their polio vaccines a few years ago, I thought about how lucky we are to live in a place where we can access lifesaving interventions with such ease. We didn’t need to take a long bus ride or walk great distances to get to the clinic, and there was no reason to think that there would be no doses in stock.

Although I was fully aware of the protection my children were receiving, I never considered that poliovirus could pose a real threat in Washington, DC. After all, the virus hadn’t been found in the United States for years. But recent developments are a wake-up call, underscoring just how critical something as simple and routine as vaccination can be.

Elon Musk’s Covert War on Free Speech


NEW YORK – In 1897, the American newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst sent illustrator Frederic Remington to cover the Cuban War of Independence. When Remington relayed that “there will be no war,” Hearst allegedly cabled back: “You furnish the pictures, and I’ll furnish the war.”

It’s an old story with a well-known moral: Wealth confers power, and power begets a craving for more power. A familiar corollary follows: He who controls the means of mass communication controls how reality is constructed and conveyed.

The means of mass communication have changed since Hearst’s time, but the behavior of plutocrats has not. Having used Twitter quite effectively to promote his own businesses, Elon Musk recognizes that the platform commands significant influence in contemporary public life. While he has since tried to wriggle out of the deal that he signed to buy the platform, he may have no choice but to follow through. In any case, it is worth considering his stated reason for pursuing ownership of the company.

U.S. Influence Operations: The Military’s Resurrected Digital Campaign for Hearts and Minds

Renee DiResta, John Perrino

In October 2008, the U.S. Special Operations Command published a request for proposal (RFP) seeking “rapid, on-order global dissemination of web-based influence products and tools in support of strategic and long-term U.S. Government goals and objectives.” The RFP listing, for something nondescript called a “Trans Regional Web Initiative” (TRWI), appeared at a time when the global war on terror—and the growing online presence of terrorists—was a particularly critical mission. The TRWI required a lead that could handle everything from the development of website architecture and content management systems, to the development of content “tailored to foreign audiences” in the battle for hearts and minds.

At the time, the announcement was viewed with some skepticism. Wired, for example, warned that U.S. efforts had largely been unsuccessful at “creating cultural and/or news content that appeals to foreign audiences” and speculated whether anyone would read the websites. But in September 2009, the contract, worth $10 million for the first year with four annual renewal options that would later exceed $20 million, was awarded to one of the largest government and military contractors, General Dynamics Information Technology (GDIT).

Clarifying Responsible Cyber Power: Developing Views in the U.K. Regarding Non-intervention and Peacetime Cyber Operations

Russell Buchan, Joe Devanny

“I won’t go into detail about [U.K. offensive cyber] activities—stealth and ambiguity are key attributes of cyber operations.” So said Sir Jeremy Fleming, the head of the U.K. intelligence, cyber, and security agency GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters), in a recent commentary. The intelligence official argues for discretion regarding public comment about sensitive operational equities—no one’s idea of a snappy, newsworthy headline. But placed in its proper context, Fleming’s public intervention tells us something interesting about the U.K. government’s evolving views about cyber strategy.

For more than a decade, the U.K. government has been developing a public narrative about its cyber strategy. This effort spans the governments of four (and now, with the recent appointment of Liz Truss, five) prime ministers, including four sequential iterations of a published National Cyber Strategy (2009, 2011, 2016, and 2022). Much of this effort rightly has focused on improving domestic cybersecurity and resilience, as well as maximizing the contribution of digital technologies to national prosperity. But, given that the lines between the domestic and the international are blurred in cyberspace, from its inception U.K. strategy also has addressed the issues of state behavior in cyberspace, the risks posed by non-state actors, and the role of laws and norms in contributing to strategic stability.

What Can a Secretive Funding Authority Tell Us About the Pentagon’s Use of Force Interpretations?

Katherine Yon Ebright

For nearly two decades, the Department of Defense has used 10 U.S.C. § 127e, an obscure counterterrorism funding authority, to create and command proxy forces across Africa and Asia. The full list of these proxy forces is highly classified and yet unknown. But journalists like Nick Turse, who was recently featured on The Lawfare Podcast, have so far uncovered § 127e programs in Afghanistan, Cameroon, Egypt, Iraq, Kenya, Lebanon, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Somalia, Syria, Tunisia, and Yemen.

While some of the countries in which the Department of Defense has run § 127e programs are unsurprising—the United States’s counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, and Syria are no secret—other locales may raise eyebrows and constitutional concerns alike. What gives the Department of Defense the legal authority to run counterterrorism operations in Cameroon, Egypt, or Niger? Particularly when the operations in these three countries have reportedly involved sending § 127e proxy forces on security sweeps, raids, and kill-or-capture missions?

The Department of Defense may conduct its § 127e programs in the shadows, but the range of programs involving combat hints at how the Pentagon interprets its authority to use force. Section 127e does not itself authorize U.S. forces to conduct or direct proxy forces into hostilities; it can only amplify the United States’s capacity to conduct hostilities already permitted by an Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) or Article II of the Constitution, which confers on the president an inherent authority to use force in self-defense. Working backward from independent reporting on § 127e, we can infer how the 2001 AUMF and Article II have been used. And we can conclude that these authorities may have been stretched beyond the executive branch’s representations to Congress and the public.

Pakistanis Perceive China as Their ‘Best Friend’

Kristina Kironska and Jeremy Garlick

For years, the leaders of China and Pakistan have eulogized the relationship between the two countries as “higher than the mountains, deeper than the oceans, sweeter than honey.” Then-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif promoted the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) – an infrastructure investment megaproject in Pakistan financed by China since 2015 – as a “game changer.” Now there is firm evidence in the form of survey data that such phrases are more than just rhetoric – at least as far as the citizens of Pakistan are concerned.

As part of the Sinophone Borderlands public opinion survey in Pakistan in June 2022, over 1,200 Pakistani respondents were asked two open-ended questions about their perception of China. Respondents were drawn from all regions of Pakistan and included a representative sample of age groups and genders. The same questions have also been asked in many other countries and very rarely have the answers been as significantly positive as in Pakistan.

China-Poland Relations Amid the Ukraine War

Lunting Wu and Kamil Matusiewicz

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has produced two considerably different reactions from Beijing and Warsaw. China has been reluctant to condemn Russia’s aggression, while Poland has been at the forefront of backing Kyiv. How has the war in Poland’s immediate neighborhood shifted its relations with China, Poland’s largest trading partner in Asia?

China-Poland Ties Before the Russia-Ukraine War

First of all, both countries are of strategic importance for each other. Poland signed a Memorandum of Understanding on cooperation within the Belt and Road Initiative framework with China in 2015. One year later, the two nations elevated their bilateral ties to a “comprehensive strategic partnership,” a symbol of diplomatic proximity that China shares with important partners such as France and Brazil.

What Is Happening With Sovereign Debt in Central Asia?

Djoomart Kaipovich Otorbaev

China maintains close trade and economic ties with the countries of the former Soviet Union, including the provision of concessional loans. To put this into context, it is essential to understand the overall situation regarding the sovereign debts of these countries, including the outlook for the coming years. Figure 1 shows how sovereign debt as a ratio of GDP has evolved since the mid-1990s, along with a forecast until 2027, for the Central Asian republics.

In the 1990s, almost all the former Soviet republics were forced to take loans from international development institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Some issued sovereign debt, such as government bonds. In a few countries, sovereign debt greatly exceeded sustainable levels.

For example, sovereign debt exceeded 125 percent of GDP in Kyrgyzstan in 2000, and 110 percent of GDP in Tajikistan in the same year. Simply put, in the 1990s these countries could not independently maintain the balance of payments and stability in socioeconomic development. In this regard, by applying to the Paris Club of creditor countries, Kyrgyzstan achieved a partial write-off and restructuring of its sovereign debts in March 2005.

Turkey’s Growing Influence in Central Asia

Genevieve Donnellon-May

Following the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit in Uzbekistan in September, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared that Turkey intends to become a full member of the SCO, a China-led Eurasian intergovernmental political, economic, and security organization. At present, Turkey is a dialogue member. Full membership would make Turkey the only North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) member in the SCO. While Erdogan’s declaration suggests that Ankara is seeking alternatives to its often tense relations with the West, it can also be seen in the context of Turkey’s growing influence in Central Asia and broader geopolitical ambitions.

Growing Presence in Central Asia

Following the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991, Ankara set up the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency to increase cultural and economic ties with the Central Asian countries. A couple of decades later, in 2009, the Cooperation Council of the Turkic Speaking States (known as the Turkic Council) was formally established. In 2021, the council decided to rename itself as the Organization of Turkic States. Made up of five members – Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkey, and Uzbekistan – and two observer states (Hungary and Turkmenistan), the organization’s participant states are home to around 170 million people and a combined GDP of $1.5 trillion. The trade volume among these countries is estimated at $16 billion.

Is the OPEC+ Oil Cut a Turning Point in U.S.-Saudi Ties?

Blaise Malley

In the aftermath of the OPEC+ oil cartel’s decision to cut production last week, Democratic leadership in Washington finally appears determined to rethink America’s relationship with Saudi Arabia, at least for the time being.

On Monday, Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), the chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, released a blistering statement that denounced “Saudi Arabia’s recent decision to help underwrite Putin’s war through the OPEC+ cartel,” and called for a freezing of all security cooperation with Saudi Arabia. Through his position atop the Foreign Relations Committee, Menendez vowed not to allow any arms sales to Saudi Arabia until it changes its stance on oil production and the Russo-Ukrainian War more broadly.

One day later, the White House signaled that it would be open to supporting such a plan from Congressional Democrats. “I think the president’s been very clear that this is a relationship that we need to continue to re-evaluate, that we need to be willing to revisit,” John Kirby, the strategic communications coordinator for the National Security Council, said on CNN. “And certainly in light of the OPEC decision, I think that’s where he is.”

Unable to Leave: The Afghans Stuck in Afghanistan

Hanh Nguyen, Themba Lewis, and Hui Yin Chuah

Much has been written about Afghanistan over the past year. The speed of withdrawal by allied forces, the resurgence of non-inclusive governance, threats posed by al-Qaida and the Islamic State’s local branch (ISK), and challenges in responding to humanitarian emergencies have all taken headline space. Less has been written about “involuntarily immobile” populations stuck in the country and the risks facing these groups. In order to holistically comprehend Afghanistan today, and prepare for the future, it is essential to understand the situation facing those left behind as Western forces withdrew.

Afghans who could not board evacuation flights, cannot access foreign visas, or cannot make – for reasons of age, finance, risk, or many others – the dangerous and expensive overland journey out of the country are particularly perilously placed. These populations are vulnerable to considerable security risks, natural disasters, a collapsed economic and administrative infrastructure, and decreasing options for basic survival. They are the canaries in the coalmine, measuring our successes and failures as a broader human community.

North Korea Tests Long-Range Strategic Cruise Missile

Mitch Shin

Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), one of North Korea’s main state-controlled media outlets, reported on Thursday that the country had test-fired two long-range strategic cruise missiles.

Kim Jong Un, the supreme leader of the North, guided the test-launch on Wednesday, KCNA reported. It also reported that the missiles successfully hit the target 2,000 kilometers away in the western waters of the country and proved “the correctness, technical advantages and actual war efficiency of the overall weapon system.”

The South Korean military did not release a public alert about the North’s test on Wednesday, and the U.S. and Japanese militaries also have not released any statement on this test yet. North Korean cruise missile launches, unlike its ballistic missile launches, are not a violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions.

FCC Looks to Ban Huawei and ZTE Equipment Sales in U.S.

Stephen Silver

Back in 2019, the Trump administration issued an executive order that amounted to a ban on American companies buying equipment from or working with the Chinese telecommunications company Huawei. The ban was later extended multiple times in 2020. Now, the Biden administration is pushing to ban equipment from Huawei as well as ZTE. But rather than an executive order, the plan is coming from the Federal Communication Commission (FCC).

According to Axios, the FCC “plans to ban all sales of new Huawei and ZTE telecommunications devices in the U.S. — as well as some sales of video surveillance equipment from three other Chinese firms.” The reason for this is national security, Axios said, citing “sources with direct knowledge of the private deliberations.”

The FCC had previously banned federal funds from being used to buy equipment from those companies.

Putin Could Cripple Ukraine Without Using Nukes

Leon Hadar

Much of the discussion in Washington and other Western capitals in recent days has been focused on Russian president Vladimir Putin’s supposed threat to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine, in response to challenges to what he perceives to be Moscow’s core national interests.

Yet as we ponder this specter of Russian deployment of its nuclear arsenal which, we are warned, could lead to a Cuban Missile Crisis II, we need to be reminded that a global superpower can cripple a small or mid-size power without resorting to the use of nukes. By just using the full force of its conventional weapons in Ukraine, Russia would force Washington into the same no-win situation it found itself in after the 1956 Soviet invasion of Hungary, when it concluded that saving the victim of Moscow’s aggression would require direct U.S. military intervention.

How Biden’s New National Security Strategy Gets China Wrong

The Biden administration’s new National Security Strategy (NSS) attempts to explain how the United States can win a global struggle for democracy over authoritarianism. In doing so, the document reveals a wide gulf between Washington’s ambitions and its capabilities—a gulf which threatens to drive America into years of dangerous, likely-futile attempts to decisively “shape” the global order and “win” the coming era of great power competition.

The Biden administration argues that America and the world are engaged in a critical struggle with “powers that layer authoritarian governance with a revisionist foreign policy.” The NSS states that Russia and China (“the largest autocracies”) threaten the interests of even non-democratic states by “…waging or preparing for wars of aggression, actively undermining the democratic political processes of other countries, leveraging technology and supply chains for coercion and repression, and exporting an illiberal model of international order.” The NSS suggests the adversarial elements of U.S. security policy are primarily aimed at only two powers; in other words, the core dynamic driving Washington’s grand strategy today is really great power competition, not ideology per se.

Russia Doubles Down on Its Failed Air Campaign

Ian Williams

In recent days, Russia has significantly escalated its air and missile raids against civilian targets in Ukraine, acts that showcase the cynicism and moral depravity of Vladimir Putin’s regime and its so-called special military operation. From a strategic perspective, though, these attacks will have little effect on Ukraine’s campaign to liberate its territory still under Russian occupation. Rather, they are a continuation of an air and missile campaign that has already failed to further the Kremlin’s war aims in any tangible way. These attacks are instead likely to backfire, steeling Ukraine’s resolve and prompting greater support from the West.

While the situation is ongoing, Russia appears to have launched well over 150 missiles and drones since October 10. We have seen a multi-vector attack, with projectiles fired from Russia, Belarus, the Black Sea, and occupied Crimea. These salvos have included some of Russia’s more modern missiles, like the sea-launched 3M-14 Kalibr cruise missile and the air-launched Kh-101. However, the lion’s share appears to be loitering munitions imported from Iran, or weapons not fit for purpose such as S-300 air defense interceptors repurposed for striking ground targets. A portion of the missiles have been stopped by Ukrainian air defenses, but many are finding their targets.

How Will the 20th Party Congress Impact China’s Military?

On October 16, 2022, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) will convene its 20th National Congress to reshuffle the country’s leadership roster and set the political and policy direction going forward. Party congresses, which only take place once every five years, are closely scrutinized for clues into China’s opaque political system. As part of broader personnel shifts, the top brass of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is slated to be significantly altered. This ChinaPower feature analyzes past personnel changes within the PLA leadership to identify important trends and to forecast changes that could take place at the 20th Party Congress. Following the conclusion of the 20th Party Congress, this page will be updated with new information and analysis.

The 20th Party Congress: A Pivotal Moment

The 20th Party Congress comes at a pivotal and challenging moment for China. A severe housing market slump, sluggish global growth, record high youth unemployment, and burdensome “Zero Covid” policies are weighing heavily on the Chinese economy and domestic politics. Beijing also faces a more difficult external security environment and growing challenges abroad. CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping’s more assertive foreign policy has provoked a backlash from the United States and many of its allies and partners. China’s unprecedented military activities around Taiwan in August 2022, coupled with its continued alignment with Russia, have further frayed Beijing’s relations with many countries and raised the risk of regional tensions.

The New Biden National Security

Anthony H. Cordesman

A copy of the new U.S. National Security Strategy the Biden Administration issued October 12th is attached to this commentary that highlights both the key goals in the new strategy and what the document says about the way the Biden Administration intends to meet them.

In general, the document does a good job of describing the administration’s broad policy goals in every major area of U.S. strategy and covering the entire globe. It also integrates every major aspect of civil and military policy and focuses on working closely with America's strategic partners, other friendly states, and international institutions.

At the same time, it does not go beyond stating broad goals, and stating how existing policy level initiatives can be strengthened to help achieve them. It does not advance detailed plans, programs, or indications of what new resources will be required. It rarely provides even the most general net assessments of key issues, or details as to what implementation plans exist—as distinguished from stating goals for existing initiatives.