29 October 2022

China Virtually Tested Launching Nuclear Weapons at Satellites

Caleb Larson

Chinese physicists are experimenting with disabling satellites in space to disrupt the communications and surveillance capabilities of other countries—namely, the United States.

According to a recent South China Morning Post report, the physicists simulated a nuclear explosion. The results of their experiment indicate that a modestly powerful atomic blast in space could interrupt satellite networks, if not destroy them outright.

“The blast could turn air molecules into radioactive particles and produce a cloud with a shape similar to an upside down pear, said nuclear physicist Liu Li and his colleagues in a paper published in the peer-reviewed journal Nuclear Techniques on October 15,” the South China Morning Post report explained. “In about five minutes, the cloud could rise to an altitude of nearly 500 km and spread over an area of more than 140,000 sq km.”

Ukraine and the Cuban Missile Crisis: What Would JFK Do?

Graham Allison 

Sixty years ago today, October 27, 1962, was the darkest day of what historians agree was the most dangerous crisis in recorded history. Had war come, it could have meant the instant death of hundreds of millions of souls. In a quiet aside that day, President John F. Kennedy confided to his brother Robert that he thought the odds that this would end in war were “between one in three and even.” Nothing historians have discovered in the decades since has done anything to lengthen these odds.

On this twelfth day of the thirteen-day crisis, the United States found itself at the end of the road it had chosen. Two weeks earlier, when U.S. intelligence discovered the Soviet Union attempting to place nuclear-tipped medium and intermediate-range missiles 90 miles off America’s shore on the island of Cuba, Kennedy responded by imposing a naval quarantine of the island. While that successfully prevented additional shipments of missiles or nuclear warheads to Cuba, it did nothing to prevent the Soviets from rushing the missiles already on the island to a point at which they would be capable of launching nuclear warheads against American cities. At this final crossroad, unless Nikita Khrushchev could somehow be persuaded to reverse course and withdraw the missiles, or the United States conducted airstrikes to destroy the weapons immediately, the Soviet strategic offensive nuclear base in Cuba would become a fait accompli.

Hi, What Are You Looking For?

Dakota Wood

Is Report of U.S. Military Weaknesses Silly and Dangerous or Spot-On and Alarming?: According to Politico, an anonymous defense official claims Pentagon leaders are “none too pleased” that The Heritage Foundation’s latest Index of U.S. Military Strength has characterized American hard power as “weak.” The unnamed source also said that Heritage’s scoring is “silly and dangerous,” in part because it is “based on the outdated requirement that the military be able to fight two wars simultaneously,” a metric changed by the Obama administration and maintained by both the Trump and Biden teams.

Perhaps one can forgive someone in the Pentagon for taking offense when an outsider says their baby is ugly but, if it is true, prideful umbrage does not overrule the fact of the matter. When it comes to assessing our military, it’s size, readiness, and capabilities that counts. The Pentagon should care far more about its ability to protect U.S. interests than its self-esteem.

Inside Elon Musk’s Big Plans for Twitter

Mike Isaac, Lauren Hirsch and Anupreeta Das

Elon Musk has never been accused of dreaming small. He has reinvented at least two industries with Tesla, his electronic vehicle company, and SpaceX, the rocket company — and now his ambitions are carrying over to his $44 billion acquisition of Twitter.

Mr. Musk, the world’s richest man, has presented a pitch deck to investors in recent days outlining his grand — some might say incredible — plans for Twitter and its financial targets. The New York Times obtained the presentation. Here’s a peek into what Mr. Musk sees for the social media service in the years ahead.

In his pitch deck, Mr. Musk claimed he would increase Twitter’s annual revenue to $26.4 billion by 2028, up from $5 billion last year.

JUST IN: China Has ‘Theory of Victory’ to Defeat U.S. Military, Report Finds

Josh Luckenbaugh

China has not only closed the military capability gap and increased competition with the United States, but also has developed a strategy to defeat the United States in a potential conflict, according to a new report.

“The Future of Conflict and the New Requirements of Defense,” by the Special Competitive Studies Project — a bipartisan initiative promoting the adoption of emerging technologies in national security — outlines how advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence are “creating new ways to apply military force.”

China is looking to “harness these changes with the aim of eroding or even leapfrogging the United States’ military strengths,” the report said.

Over the last few decades, China has studied how the United States has traditionally fought wars using “networks of precision-guided munitions engaging each other,” or what the Chinese military refers to as “informatized warfare,” SCSP’s senior director for defense Justin Lynch said.

Russian 'Document Trove' Shows Scope of Country's Military Problems


AU.S. think tank says newly uncovered documents from an abandoned Russian command post underscore how weakened Russia's military had become as Ukrainian forces scored significant victories against its larger foe over the summer.

The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) reacted to a Reuters report detailing Russia's retreat from a town in eastern Ukraine, saying the "investigation of a document trove found in an abandoned Russian command post ... supports ISW's longstanding assessments about the poor condition of Russian forces."

Previously published Western intelligence has described dysfunction and poor morale among Russia's armed forces. The Reuters report published Wednesday shows this dysfunction through the lens of a doomed Russian post.

Washington Should Halt Military Welfare for Europe

Doug Bandow

Is Europe threatened or not?

For months, the United Kingdom has been leading the charge against Russia over Ukraine. When serving as foreign secretary, Liz Truss, recently ousted as prime minister, hired a Beatles tribute band to lobby Secretary of State Antony Blinken to take a tougher stand toward Moscow. Then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson even more ostentatiously played uber-hawk when visiting Ukraine, mimicking Winston Churchill, about whom Johnson wrote a biography. London’s message appeared to be "Follow Me!"

Alas, it was all for show. Johnson called on NATO allies to “dig deep” on defense, but refused to hike British military outlays. He promised to do so in the future, but the value of his promises was always heavily discounted. As Johnson’s chancellor of the exchequer, Rishi Sunak refused to endorse increasing military outlays to 3 percent of GDP. Under short-lived Prime Minister Truss, reported the Times, Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt was “considering keeping defense spending at about 2 per cent until 2026-27, but committing to increasing it significantly to hit the target of 3 per cent by 2030.”

Retired general’s pro-Saudi op-eds didn’t disclose financial incentives

Eli Clifton

Over four years, Ret. Air Force General Charles “Chuck” Wald published a series of op-eds with Reuters, NBC News, The Hill, and Newsweek in which he promoted weapons sales, U.S. security guarantees, and closer military cooperation with Saudi Arabia while simultaneously working as a security consultant for the kingdom’s defense ministry.

Readers were kept in the dark about this potential conflict of interest.

Over 500 retired U.S. military personnel, many of them, like Wald, high-ranking officers, were approved by the State Department to conduct work for foreign governments, according to recently released records obtained as a result of Freedom of Information Act lawsuits by The Washington Post and the Project on Government Oversight, or POGO.

Saudi Arabia, the focus of the Post’s reporting on 15 retired U.S. generals and admirals working as contractors for the kingdom’s defense ministry since 2016, reveals a stark example of how mainstream media outlets provide a platform for foreign policy hawks without disclosing their potential conflicts of interest when publishing op-eds whose arguments appear to benefit their foreign clients.

Russia And Ukraine Are Headed For A Winter (Nuclear?) War Of Hell

Daniel Davis

Ahead of a looming winter battle in Ukraine, President Volodymyr Zelensky on Tuesday defiantly claimed that his troops would not only push Russian forces back along the current fronts, but would also “definitely liberate Crimea” as well. Elsewhere on the same day, the firebrand leader of Chechnya, now Col. Gen. Ramzan Kadyrov, vowed Russian troops would conquer all of Ukraine, and that his troops would not take prisoners in battle, but “we will burn them” all.

This battle, however, has major ramifications for American national security, as the risk of nuclear weapons’ use grows in tandem with the escalation of the conventional conflict.

Most Western attention has been riveted to spectacular Ukrainian gains made since late August in the Kharkiv region in the north and the Kherson region in the south. But those rapid advances have now been reduced to relatively static lines on the Kharkiv front in the north, the Donbas front in the east, and the Kherson front in the south. Russia sent emergency reinforcement troops to stabilize the lines in each location while Ukrainian troops engage in an operational pause while it seeks to rebuild its striking power.

Chechen Pride Or Kremlin Ambitions? Tracking Kadyrov's Long Game

Cameron Manley

In a war where most Russian military commanders choose to remain in the shadows, and regular soldiers are prohibited from using their phones, one man stands out from the rest: Ramzan Kadyrov, the Kremlin-backed leader of the Russian republic of Chechnya.

The day Russian President Vladimir Putin declared his "special military operation," it’s hard to forget the 12,000 "volunteer" soldiers amassed in the central square in the regional capital, Grozny, as Kadyrov hailed the start of the invasion and pledged to send a wave of Chechen volunteers into Ukraine.

Eight months ago, at the moment of the highest stakes for Putin, it was a clear sign that the once rebellious Muslim-majority republic could be counted on in Moscow.

Managed Competition: A U.S. Grand Strategy for a Multipolar World

George Beebe


Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has greatly narrowed Russia’s strategic playing field by alienating the West and cementing Russian dependence on China and the Global South. But it has also dealt a staggering blow to the Biden administration’s nascent grand strategy.

When Biden entered office he identified the rise of China as the United States’ chief geopolitical challenge. His team said that their goal was to stabilize the U.S.-Russian relationship and to end our “endless wars” in order to facilitate a strategic focus on Beijing.1 He simultaneously sought to rally the world’s democracies against the challenge of authoritarianism, strengthen what he called the rules-based international order, and promote global cooperation on critical transnational problems such as climate change and contagious disease.2 This approach would, in turn, enhance global stability and prosperity for the American people, thereby constituting a “foreign policy for the middle class.”3

Great power competition has escalated into open conflict, the risk of nuclear confrontation has increased, and the space for international cooperation on climate and contagion has narrowed to a sliver.

Xi Jinping: An Echo of Saddam?

Robert D. Kaplan

Xi Jinping’s consolidation of power at the recent Communist Party congress in Beijing was accomplished with a Shakespearean twist. Xi’s predecessor as president, Hu Jintao, seated next to Xi, appeared to be forcibly removed from the closing session of the congress by two attendants before the television cameras. Hu had presided over a comparatively open and prosperous political and economic system, when U.S.-China relations seemed stable and improvable. While there may be a mundane explanation for Hu’s removal from the congress, such as a health scare, given the perfectionist choreography of these events, chances are that Xi himself had ordered Hu’s public humiliation.

It recalled to my mind another such humiliation, albeit far more brutal. On July 22, 1979, six days after officially replacing Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr as president of Iraq, Saddam Hussein convened a meeting of Baath Socialist party leaders which he ordered videotaped and which is available on YouTube. Seated on stage, Saddam announced that sixty-six party leaders had been uncovered as traitors and comprised a fifth column. As each name was read out, guards grabbed a baffled man from his seat in the audience and forced him out of the auditorium. At the end of this process, those still seated, white with both fear and relief, spontaneously leaped to their feet shouting undying loyalty to Saddam. Of the sixty-six named, twenty-two were quickly ordered executed by firing squads. Wider purges followed that autumn. The country now was literally Saddam’s. He had achieved total fear.

Experts react: Rishi Sunak makes history as newest UK prime minister. Can he calm a country in chaos?

His moment has arrived. Rishi Sunak, the former chancellor of the exchequer, was tapped as the United Kingdom’s newest prime minister on Monday after no other Conservative Party hopefuls garnered enough support among members of Parliament. Sunak, 42, who is of Indian descent, makes history as the first person of color to become prime minister and takes over for Liz Truss—the shortest-serving prime minister in UK history—amid political and financial turmoil. Can Sunak calm the markets and the country? What should the world expect from Great Britain’s new leader? Our experts are on the case.

Sunak’s opportunity to reclaim UK international soft power

We don’t know much about Rishi Sunak’s position on Britain in the world. During the last leadership contest, his focus was on the cost of living crisis and its various consequences, but we did glean some insights. We can expect a pretty hard line on immigration and refugee policies, as he supported the controversial Rwanda asylum plan announced earlier this year and maintained his support during the campaign. Sunak will likely push for greater economic and trade diplomacy—during his tenure as chancellor, he helped negotiate the Group of Seven’s minimum global corporation tax agreement. On Brexit, he was also a prominent “Leave” campaigner who has maintained vocal support in the years since, and we can anticipate that he will push for a further decoupling from the single market and the EU—he will likely push for the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill and the data reform bill once he takes office, which both seek to disengage the United Kingdom from the EU’s regulatory frameworks.

NATO Force Planning and the Impact of the Ukraine War

Anthony H. Cordesman

There is no way as yet to know how the war in Ukraine will end, or even whether it will end or linger on at low levels or in the form of an uncertain ceasefire. What does seem all too predictable is that NATO will face a continuing and far more aggressive challenge from Russia as long as Putin is in power.

It also seems all too likely to be a future where Russia will continue to exploit every weakness and division in NATO at the political and economic level and will attempt to exploit the one area where it remains a real superpower – its lead in both deployed strategic nuclear weapons and its holding of stored tactical and theater nuclear weapons – at both political and military levels. It seems equally likely that Russia will try to exploit its gas and oil exports in new ways, maintain its new ties to OPEC as long as it can, and strengthen its ties to China.

The days in which the members of NATO could exploit the peace dividends that occurred with the break-up of the Soviet Union in December 1991, and the Warsaw Pact in February 1991, now seem to have ended, and so have the days in which they could safely cut their forces and let them go hollow in terms of strength, modernization, and readiness.

The EU-U.S. Data Privacy Framework: More Steps Needed to Repair Trust in Data Flows

Caitlin Chin

The new EU-U.S. Data Privacy Framework (EU-U.S. DPF) reads as a good faith effort to maintain transatlantic data flows following the Court of Justice of the European Union’s (CJEU) 2020 decision to invalidate the Privacy Shield—a diplomatic milestone, but not a comprehensive reform of U.S. government surveillance. Keeping in mind its trade-oriented motivations, the Biden administration’s Executive Order on Enhancing Safeguards For United States Signals Intelligence Activities and related Department of Justice (DOJ) regulations take a targeted approach to meet two primary benchmarks that the CJEU set in Schrems II.

First, the executive order pledges to tailor U.S. signals intelligence collection to what is “necessary” and “proportionate” to protect both national interests and individual privacy and civil liberties, directly adopting terminology from the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. Going further, it generally instructs U.S. agencies to limit signals intelligence to 12 contexts, such as the advancement of climate action, public health, election integrity, and cybersecurity—and authorizes them to conduct bulk surveillance in six, including to protect against international terrorism and espionage, where the information in question “cannot reasonably be obtained by targeted collection.”

China’s Xi ‘More Powerful Than Mao,’ Seen Abandoning Market Reforms – Analysis

Hsia Hsiao-hwa, Gu Ting and Wang Yun

Ruling Chinese Communist Party leader Xi Jinping’s next five years will likely see more hard-line policies out of Beijing on the economy, foreign relations, human rights and public dissent, analysts told RFA.

Germany-based ethnic Mongolian rights activist Xi Haiming said the fact that Xi had packed the Politburo Standing Committee with his close allies showed that he can now act as he pleases.

“This is the last madness,” Xi Haiming told a recent political forum in Taiwan. “Xi has emerged, naked, as Emperor Xi, as a dictator.”

“Too many people in China are lining up to be his eunuchs, kowtowing to him, waiting for the emperor to ascend to the throne.”

A senior Chinese journalist who gave only the surname Geng, for fear of political reprisals, said China is now firmly back in the Mao era.

Biden’s National Security Strategy: America’s Search For Order In The Middle East – OpEd

James Ryan

(FPRI) — President Joe Biden’s National Security Strategy (NSS) addresses two trends in America’s Middle East policy that have been apparent over his tenure: military de-escalation and regional integration. A year after the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, the NSS emphasizes what was implied in that decision—that US military involvement cannot effectively promote stability, and by extension, the goal of democratization, through efforts at regime change. The statement exclaims that, “it is time to eschew grand designs in favor of more practical goals,” namely regional stability and the advancement of US interests such as countering Russian and Chinese aggression, and shoring up domestic industry. In addition to Afghanistan, the Trump-era Abraham Accords—the 2020 joint agreements between Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain to normalize diplomatic relations—appear to be the second hinge point of this policy statement.

Building on this mission statement, the framework expounds five principles to guide US policy in the Middle East that build on the grander narrative of the NSS as a whole, including (1) the promotion of a rules-based order, (2) freedom of navigation in the Gulf and the protection of national sovereignty, (3) a commitment to solving conflicts with diplomacy, (4) promoting regional integration on political, economic, and security fronts, and (5) the promotion of a human rights agenda.

Xi’s Conflict-Prone China


NEW HAVEN – China’s 20th Party Congress has come and gone. Despite all the fanfare and media hype, it was a hollow event. It revealed little we didn’t already know about China – an autocracy that maintains grandiose ambitions and ideological bluster to match, but is woefully unprepared for an uncertain future filled with risks largely of its own making. That much is evident when the results of the Congress are examined from three perspectives: leadership, strategy, and conflict.

The leadership reveal of the so-called First Plenum – the formal meeting of the Party’s newly “elected” 205-member Central Committee that immediately follows the conclusion of the National Congress – was completely in line with the power consolidation that has been underway since Xi Jinping was first appointed general secretary ten years ago. Confirmation of Xi’s third five-year term as leader of the Communist Party of China (CPC) was never in doubt, nor was his selection of loyalists to surround him at the top in the seven-member Standing Committee of the Politburo.

China’s Fiscal Challenges


BEIJING – When China’s GDP growth is below target, successive governments have relied on the same tool: government spending on infrastructure investment to stimulate the economy. But the success of fiscal stimulus requires getting the details of implementation right.

Two challenges stand out. The first is financing. While Chinese policymakers rely on fiscal spending to help achieve the official growth target, they are uneasy about the central government’s rising leverage ratio and about moral hazard at the local-government level. Given this, they are reluctant to finance infrastructure investment through the general public budget.

Instead, the authorities use other “budgeted funds,” including local-government special-purpose bonds (SPBs) and revenues from the sale of land rights. Such financing is augmented by “self-raised funds,” obtained mainly through municipal-bond issuance, bank loans, and state-owned enterprises.

China’s Coming Clash with Economic Reality


LONDON – Judging by the reporting from the Communist Party of China’s 20th National Congress, Xi Jinping, newly anointed to an unprecedented third term as president, is tightening his political grip and strengthening the CPC’s control over society. Can successful economic development continue in this environment?

I have been thinking for many months now that one day, I would wake up to read that China was revisiting its zero-COVID strategy, overhauling the CPC’s interaction with domestic private business, truly reforming the country’s hukou system of residence permits, and rethinking crucial aspects of its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and its recent tactical stance on international governance. It is proving to be a very long wait.

Win, Lose, or Draw, the Wagner Group Benefits From the War in Ukraine

Christopher Faulkner, Marcel Plichta

Between conscription, mobilization, and coercion, Vladimir Putin is putting more men under arms than ever. The Russian government’s partial mobilization may be going poorly, but it will ultimately mean that more Russians will see genuine combat than have for a generation. These men will have need for employment, and some doors will be newly open to them when the guns go silent—particularly those who have acquired a new title, war veteran.

One option for Russia’s next generation of ex-soldiers will be to join a private military company (PMC). Traditionally, PMCs are thought of as (mostly) apolitical for-profit organizations that fulfill a range of military and security functions, from fighting on the frontlines to carrying out specialized missions like training soldiers or protecting VIPs. Unlike traditional PMCs, Russian security firms like the Wagner Group are quasi-state actors, intimately connected to or even developed by the Kremlin as auxiliary forces used to pursue its geopolitical goals. For Russians with combat experience, the better pay (and life insurance) associated with a PMC is enticing, and there will be more demand than ever.

Northeast Asia’s Changing Security Environment

Bolor Lkhaajav

The security of Northeast Asia is threatened by the equivocal actions of regional actors. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – and resulting strained relations with G-7 countries, including Japan – and North Korea’s recent provocations, taken together, change the security environment of Northeast Asia at large. These precarious instabilities further limit what other countries, like Mongolia, can do to mitigate and defuse any escalation.

Any conversation concerning the security environment of Northeast Asia must involve Russia’s annexation of Ukrainian territories and North Korea’s recent artillery fire and missile tests. Although Moscow’s war does not directly involve the Northeast Asian countries, it has certainly disseminated political, economic, and security shock waves. Moreover, there is a possibility that the Kremlin’s action has emboldened Pyongyang’s determination to ramp up its testing.

The latest round of provocations from North Korea leaves Seoul and Tokyo with little hope, but severe suspicion and distrust. In South Korea, support is growing for Seoul to pursue its own nuclear weapons to better defense against aggression from the North.

Can the Social Media and Poster Campaign Against Xi Jinping Make a Difference?

Chauncey Jung

On October 13, just three days before the opening of the 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), two hand-written protest banners appeared on Sitong Bridge, located in Beijing. In simple language, the sole protester called on the government to stop its zero-COVID strategy and continue to conduct economic reforms, and advocated for democracy and the removal of “dictator” Xi Jinping.

In 2018, the authoritarian leader repealed constitutional term limits and created a path for him to stay as China’s top leader indefinitely. At the 20th Party Congress, Xi indeed secured a third term for himself as CCP general secretary and once again avoided naming a potential successor.

Chinese police quickly stopped the one-person protest on Sitong Bridge. But this rare protest inspired further actions on social media and in multiple locations around the world. With hashtags such as #Notmypresident, #endxictatorship, and #FreeChina, internet users demonstrated their anger and disapproval of the Chinese regime and Xi Jinping’s ambition to rule the country for a third term – or even for life.

Can Sunak Save Britain? Political Chaos and the Long Shadow of Brexit

Bronwen Maddox

Yesterday, when Rishi Sunak stood in front of the portable lectern outside No. 10 Downing Street to make his first statement as prime minister, it marked a watershed in many ways. At 42, he is the youngest prime minister in modern British history; he is also the first person of color to hold the post, and the first Hindu. But the significance goes beyond these symbolic attributes: he represents a possible return to stable government after 44 days of unrelenting crisis under his predecessor, Liz Truss, and after six years of political drama.

Truss is an unusual political character: she lacks charisma or force of persuasion and yet still identifies as a disruptor. Ultimately, however, all she disrupted was her own premiership, causing a catastrophe for the Tories. The Conservative Party is one of the world’s most successful political organizations, but it is now in danger of not just losing power in the next general election but fracturing beyond repair. The task of rescuing both his country and his party now falls to Sunak.

Improving US Relations Is Not a Priority for China

Patrick M. Cronin

In light of the direction Xi Jinping laid out during the Chinese Communist Party's 20th National Congress, do you see the US and China on a path to intensifying rivalry, or is there room for reconciliation during Xi's third term in power?

Xi Jinping’s priority is rejuvenating the CCP and restoring China's unsurpassed influence, not improving relations with the United States. The 20th Party Congress report offers a foreboding geopolitical assessment, warning of “black swan” and “gray rhino” events that demand the Chinese people be prepared for “high winds, choppy waters, and even dangerous storms.” Prior party reports placed more emphasis on peace and development, while this latest directive sees dark, hegemonic forces resorting to “force and subterfuge.” This sounds more like a rival state than an actor seeking great-power reconciliation

If there is room for reconciliation, what would provide such opportunity or catalyst for two countries to sit and talk?