3 November 2022

Russia's 'dirty bomb' diplomacy

Nigel Gould-Davies

On Sunday 23 October, Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu phoned his French, Turkish, British and American counterparts, in that order, to warn that Ukraine was planning to use a dirty bomb on its own territory. The next day, Chief of General Staff Valery Gerasimov repeated this to his US counterpart, General Mark Milley. The claim is unfounded and Russia has provided no evidence to support it. A dirty bomb – a conventional explosive including radioactive materials that would be dispersed by explosion – is an untested weapon of almost no military utility. Even if Ukraine did not currently have battlefield momentum, there would be little reason for it to contemplate using such a weapon. Western governments have emphatically rejected Russia’s unsupported claim.

Since Shoigu’s phone calls, other senior Russian figures have amplified the dirty-bomb claim, including Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and the head of the radiation, chemical and biological protection force in the Russian Ministry of Defence, Igor Kirillov. It has quickly become a dominant theme on Russian state television news and talk shows (though not all guests have been on-message). This is a concerted effort to instil an imagined threat in the wider population.

Germany and the EU’s China Policy: Missing in Action?

Anton Karppanen

Despite signs to the contrary in the run-up to former Chancellor Angela Merkel’s departure and the change of guard in Germany, the country’s China policy seems to be continuing along its familiar business-first line. Olaf Scholz is set to make his first trip to China as chancellor in early November, accompanied by a business delegation. He has been adamant that Germany will maintain its profitable business links with China, swearing off ideas of “decoupling” from the country. However, this line is increasingly at odds with many both in Germany’s domestic politics and among its partners in the EU and elsewhere.

Scholz’s foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock, advocated for a tougher line on China both during her bid for the chancellorship and later as foreign minister. Just in September, reports came in that Germany has been preparing a new trade policy that spells an end to “naivety,” according to Germany’s trade minister. The policy also includes plans to restrict Chinese infrastructure investment and to refrain from supporting initiatives like the Belt and Road.

Stephen S. Roach Says More…

Stephen S. Roach: I view stagflation as a protracted period of high inflation, below-potential economic growth, and rising unemployment. In the stagflation of the late 1970s, the Fed was, indeed, a key actor. Convinced that idiosyncratic supply-side disruptions like energy and food shocks should not be addressed by monetary policy, Burns erred on the side of excessive accommodation, allowing the real federal funds rate to fall deeply into negative territory from late 1974 to early 1978, setting the stage for the Great Inflation that was to come.

As expected, Chinese President Xi Jinping has been given an unprecedented third five-year term. More surprising was the absence of any sign that Xi intends to revise the policies that have done so much economic damage in recent years.

The Fed’s current chair, Jerome Powell, seems determined to avoid that mistake. But in reacting to pandemic- and war-related shocks, the Powell Fed initially succumbed to the Burns-era mindset and viewed sharply higher inflation as transitory. In fact, from November 2019 through October 2022, the Fed has held the real federal funds rate at -3.7% – fully two percentage points below the Burns Fed’s average of -1.7% in 1974-78.

Will Russia be open to letting Saudi Arabia join BRICS?

Joe Webster

On May 19, Beijing proposed expanding the BRICS grouping of nations, which includes Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa, the first mention of any additions since South Africa joined in 2010. Moscow’s initial reaction to Beijing’s proposal was cautious and ambivalent, as the Russian Foreign Ministry took six full days to clarify that it “welcomes China’s proposition to enlarge the alliance…but believes it too early to name new possible members.” Moscow may have been unenthusiastic about any new BRICS members because it believed that expansion would dilute its influence and, potentially, highlight its economic weaknesses.

Russia’s position on expanding BRICS may be changing

Russian state media appeared to welcome Saudi Arabia’s accession yesterday, amplifying reports of South African President Cyril Ramaphosa’s visit to Riyadh, where Ramaphosa remarked that his Saudi counterpart had expressed interest in joining the BRICS grouping.

China shows no signs of opposing Saudi Arabia’s accession to BRICS, and may even be quietly supportive. While the most authoritative PRC organs (the Foreign Ministry and the People’s Daily, in that order) have yet to weigh in on Riyadh’s latest plan, the Global Times (GT) wrote on Wednesday that the “U.S. ‘oil for security’ formula faces a setback.” The GT also praised Saudi Arabia’s “growing autonomy in its diplomacy with Washington.”

Orbit of Babel: SDA developing ‘translators’ to get data from ISR sats to warfighters


WASHINGTON — The Space Development Agency is working to develop a “translator” payload to enable intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance data gathered by commercial and partner agency satellites to be routed to its satellite communications network — which in turn will downlink that data directly to weapons platforms, according to SDA Director Derek Tournear.

“We’re working with partners to build out ‘translator sats,'” he said Tuesday, “that is, a satellite that will be able to basically talk to the SDA Transport Layer and talk to either the commercial or other government agency providers … to move data from one network on to the other.”

The capability to link sensor data to shooters in near real time across all five warfighting domains — land, sea, air, space and cyberspace — is the central premise of the Defense Department’s Joint All Domain Command and Control (JADC2) concept for prosecuting future conflicts. SDA’s planned Transport Layer of data relay satellites in low Earth orbit are being developed to do just that, serving as the JADC2 communications backbone.

Xi's new generals offer cohesion over possible Taiwan plans

Greg Torode

HONG KONG, Oct 27 (Reuters) - Chinese President Xi Jinping's new generals may have been selected for their political loyalty to him, but those ties could serve at least one vital military purpose in any Taiwan invasion plan: ensuring cohesion and decisiveness.

Although the Politburo's seven-man Standing Committee would make the ultimate decision on any Taiwan action, the Central Military Commission would forge and execute the battle plan, eight Asian and Western military attaches say.

Three new generals were appointed to the top command body on Sunday after the Communist Party's five-yearly congress - an event at which Xi said China would "never promise to give up the use of force" to take control of the self-ruled island.

Four security analysts and four military attaches say Russia's Ukrainian quagmire has shown how vital speed - both in build-up and execution - would be to any Chinese plan, in part to prevent Taiwanese forces and international support from mobilising.

Tech Proliferation: How GitHub Facilitates Academic Breakout

Christian Schoeberl

Policymakers and researchers alike have a vested interest in understanding the emerging technology pipeline. CSET alone has a number of publications that aim to track the prevalence of research on key technologies across the world, from tracking AI-related research and examining China’s Advanced AI Research to measuring AI development and its transformation into patented technology. GitHub metadata contributes to this area of research by providing deeper insight into the utilization of research presented in publications. While not all emerging technology fields are heavily represented on GitHub, subjects including artificial intelligence, computer engineering, and bioinformatics have a large presence within the landscape of open source software.

As covered in earlier snapshots, the advantages of open source software extend beyond idea sharing amongst researchers and into more general experimentation and implementation by any user. GitHub users include students, researchers, computer scientists, data analysts, and many others with an interest in software engineering. CSET’s GitHub repository dataset includes repositories cited by publications in our merged corpus of scholarly literature.1 By tracking changes in repository metadata before and after publication, we are able to explore the proliferation of the research across GitHub.

A Common Language for Responsible AI

Emelia Probasco

Executive Summary

The deputy secretary of defense’s memorandum entitled “Implementing Responsible Artificial Intelligence in the Department of Defense” articulates five ethical principles for artificial intelligence systems: responsible, equitable, traceable, reliable, and governable.1 Those guiding principles have evolved the Department of Defense’s thinking on responsible AI, but they are not sufficient for implementing responsible AI principles across everything from development to acquisition to operations. One foundational task toward implementing these guidelines, as laid out in the DOD memorandum “Responsible Artificial Intelligence Strategy and Implementation Pathway,” is the standardization of language and definitions relating to the characteristics of responsible AI.2

Policymakers, engineers, researchers, program managers, and operators all need the bedrock of clear and well-defined terms that are appropriate to their particular tasks in developing and operationalizing responsible AI systems. Creating those standard terms and definitions requires input from all the communities involved in realizing responsible AI, both internal and external to the DOD. Thankfully, a community-defined taxonomy for responsible AI has already been started by the National Institute for Standards and Technology as a part of its draft AI Risk Management Framework (AI RMF), and the DOD could benefit by leveraging the work NIST has already done.

Palestinians: Why Are Attacks on Christians Being Ignored?

Khaled Abu Toameh

A series of violent incidents in Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, and the nearby towns of Beit Jala and Beit Sahour, have left Christians worried about their safety and future under the Palestinian Authority (PA).

Many Christians living in these communities are complaining that the Palestinian Authority is not doing enough to punish those who attack churches and Christian-owned businesses. The perpetrators are Muslims who make up the majority of the population in the Bethlehem area.

Earlier this year, Palestinian Evangelical Pastor Johnny Shahwan was arrested by the PA security forces on charges of "promoting normalization" with Israel.

The arrest came after Shahwan, founder and chair of the board of Beit Al-Liqa (House of Encounter) in Beit Jala, appeared in a photo alongside Rabbi Yehuda Glick, a former member of the Israeli parliament, the Knesset.

Is Biden’s National Security Strategy a Match for a Chaotic World?

Matthew Kroenig and Emma Ashford

Matthew Kroenig: Hi, Emma! I hope you are enjoying this beautiful fall morning in Washington, D.C. The air is cool, the leaves are changing color, and national security wonks are debating the Biden administration’s new National Security Strategy (NSS). It couldn’t be better timed; leaves are falling as U.S. President Joe Biden publishes a strategy for a world falling apart.

Emma Ashford: You know what else is falling apart? The United Kingdom. Prime Minister Liz Truss has resigned after only 44 days in office. But I don’t want to spend too much time on that; with the way things have been going in London, we’ll probably have another British government collapse before the next edition of It’s Debatable even gets published.

Here in Washington, everyone is talking about the new NSS and what it tells us about the Biden administration’s foreign policy.

Biden’s Unprecedented Semiconductor Bet


In early October, the U.S. government rolled out extensive new restrictions on China’s access to advanced semiconductors and the equipment used to make them. The restrictions require a hard-to-get license for the sale of advanced semiconductors to entities within China, largely depriving the country of the computing power it needs to train artificial intelligence (AI) at scale. The rules also extend restrictions on chipmaking tools even further to industries that support the semiconductor supply chain, cutting off both the U.S. talent and the components that make up the tools that make the chips. Together, these restrictions amount to the single most substantial move by the U.S. government to date in its quest to undermine Chinese technology capabilities.

The new restrictions also attempt to settle a long-running debate within U.S. technology policy. That debate centered on a perceived trade-off between two competing goals: damaging Chinese capabilities today versus maintaining American leverage in the future. With the latest rules, the U.S. government is betting that it can so deeply undermine China’s semiconductor fabrication capabilities that it won’t matter how motivated or well-resourced China’s efforts are to create its own semiconductor industry—they simply won’t be able to catch up.

Biden’s National Security Strategy Is Undone by Fantasy

Nadia Schadlow

The Biden administration’s National Security Strategy, released last week, deserves credit for correctly identifying China as the U.S.’s most “consequential geopolitical challenge.” But by calling climate the “existential” threat to the U.S. and encouraging cooperation with Beijing on the issue, the strategy document creates a dangerous contradiction. The focus on climate will make it harder to meet the threat from China and diminish the chances that the U.S. will succeed in sustainably reducing carbon emissions.

China has benefited from the openness of the international economy even as Beijing “frequently uses its economic power to coerce countries” while limiting access to its own markets, the strategy points out. The document reaffirms the link between economic strength and national security, recognizing that the U.S. needs to produce goods, tie trade policies to the well-being of the American people, and retain its competitive edge across key technologies. It also affirms that a successful U.S. approach to China will require the help of allies and partners, since the U.S. and its allies make up about 65% of global gross domestic product.

What China’s New Central Military Commission Tells Us About Xi’s Military Strategy

This line up stands out for several reasons. First, Xi was prepared to break with longstanding norms to put in place the CMC team he wanted. For example, it is noteworthy that Xi broke retirement norms by keeping Zhang — a 72-year old Army veteran — to serve another term as Vice Chairman (VC). The typical age of retirement for the PLA is 68. The only other time someone older than Zhang served as VC was when Liu Huaqing was appointed VC at the 14th Party Congress in 1992, at the age of 76. In addition, the promotion of He Weidong to become CMC VC was unusual as he had not served on the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) previously and essentially jumped two grades from heading the Eastern Theater Command (ETC) to land the second CMC VC billet.

Second, Xi has shown loyalty and political reliability gained through personal and familial bonds remain important components for promotion. Zhang’s father, Zhang Zongxun, was a founding member of the Red Army and served alongside Xi’s father, Xi Zhongxun in the 1940s, making him one of Xi’s most trusted officers in the PLA. General He Weidong and Admiral Miao Hua are also allies of Xi, having overlapped in Fujian province in the late 1990s and early 2000s when Xi was deputy party secretary and governor. Xi and He also reportedly overlapped when Xi was party secretary of Zhejiang province.

The UK and the Chinese Technological Challenge

Julia Voo

Last week, in a speech at RUSI, Sir Jeremy Fleming set out what he views as ‘the national security threat that will define our future’ – China and technology. Fleming’s speech outlined the breadth and complexity of China’s ambitions and capability in cyberspace, and what is needed from the UK and its allies to address this challenge. Undoubtedly, technological innovation provides a strategic advantage to countries who can harness its potential, and while it is to be expected that China would seek to exert its influence over the global ecosystem, the response from the UK remains unclear.

But does the UK even have the right resources to respond to China’s technological growth? While many inside and outside government are working on aspects of this critical work, there are gaps to be filled. The UK needs to invest in homegrown expertise and skills – not only in industry, as suggested by Fleming, but also in academia and government – to coordinate a whole-of-nation approach if it wants to stand a chance of competing.

Deterrence in the Indo-Pacific

Oriana Skylar Mastro

As China’s military might and tendency toward regional aggression
grow, the United States and its allies are increasingly concerned with
deterrence. Their strategies seek to prevent Beijing from disrupting the
rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific by, for example, invading Taiwan or
conducting gray-zone operations in the South China Sea.

One of those strategies was to revive the Quad grouping with
Australia, Japan, India, and the United States in 2017 to protect freedom
of navigation and promote democratic values. In the period since, the
Quad has become implicitly—or explicitly, at least on the part of the
United States—aimed at countering China’s malign activities in the
Indo-Pacific region. Statements from the February 2022 Quad Foreign
Ministers’ Meeting highlighted the threat of “unilateral attempts to
change the status quo by force and coercion” in the South and East China
Seas while also reaffirming the Quad’s commitment to a free and open
Indo-Pacific. Although the Quad has been reluctant to directly address
security cooperation, the 2020 and 2021 joint military Malabar exercises
revealed a shared focus on improving interoperability.

Minilateral Deterrence in the Indo-Pacific

Arzan Tarapore is the South Asia Research Scholar at the Walter H. Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center at Stanford University (United States).

Brendan Taylor is Professor of Strategic Studies at the Australian National University (Australia).

Oriana Skylar Mastro is a Center Fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University and a Nonresident Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (United States).

Eric Sayers is a Senior Vice President at Beacon Global Strategies, a national security consulting firm in Washington, D.C. (United States). He is also a Visiting Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. Prior to joining Beacon Global Strategies, he was a special assistant to the commander of Indo-Pacific Command and a professional staff member with the majority staff of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee.

Anticipating Chinese Reactions to U.S. Posture Enhancements

Kristen Gunness, Bryan Frederick, Timothy R. Heath

The dramatic increase in Chinese power and military capabilities over the past two decades has prompted numerous calls for U.S. policymakers, and the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) in particular, to reevaluate their approach to the Indo-Pacific region, including changes to U.S. military posture. This report provides a framework for assessing likely Chinese reactions to planned or proposed posture enhancements in the Indo-Pacific region. The authors demonstrate how U.S. Army and other military planners can apply the framework to assess an enhancement's likely deterrent value and whether it may induce aggressive People's Republic of China (PRC) responses. Although the framework cannot provide definitive predictions regarding specific Chinese reactions, it helps to ensure consideration of the factors and characteristics most directly linked with Chinese perceptions and behavior.

The framework contains three main components. First, it identifies the key factors that appear to drive Chinese thinking and reactions. Second, it assesses how the characteristics of U.S. posture enhancements—their location, the U.S. allies or partners involved, their military capabilities, and the public profile or messaging that accompanies them—may affect Chinese reactions through each key factor. Third, the framework provides a typology of potential Chinese reactions, organized by their level of intensity. The authors apply the framework to three hypothetical U.S. posture enhancements to demonstrate its use and offer insights and recommendations for DoD and Army planners and policymakers.

The Pentagon’s new defense strategy is out. Now the real work begins, experts say


WASHINGTON — After months of delays, the unclassified version of the National Defense Strategy hit the streets on Thursday, pledging a renewed focus on China and including not much in the way of surprises.

Now, experts say, is time to answer the big question: Can the Defense Department actually execute it?

“Bottom line, regarding the strategy writ large, I’d say it’s fundamentally sound and logically supported. The department did a good job of thinking through what problem it needs the military to focus on, and has a sensible, coherent approach to getting after it,” said Jim Mitre, who served as executive director of the 2018 NDS.

“The issue is, can the department execute this strategy and really do it in time?” Mitre, currently the director of the international security and defense policy program at the RAND Corporation, told Breaking Defense. “Can it modernize its forces, establish greater resilience to adversary attack, develop a more tech savvy workforce, et cetera, with alacrity? … In particular can it do so on a timeline that’s sufficient to deter war with China, not just in some far-off future, but in the next few years?”

What the United Nations Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights (Don’t) Say About Content Moderation

Brenda Dvoskin

In 2020, one of the Facebook Oversight Board’s first cases dealt with Facebook’s decision to delete a post alleging that a cure for COVID-19 existed. The board decided that Facebook ought to reinstate the comment because its deletion was an unproportional measure under the test set forth in Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to evaluate restrictions on freedom of expression. This is just one example of how the board uses international human rights law (IHRL) as its own framework to justify all of its decisions. This framework conveys the message that the board’s members are not merely an editorial board issuing decisions and recommendations based on their normative taste. Instead, the board presents itself as an executor of the global public interest, purportedly embedded in international law. Just like courts articulate their policy preferences as legal reasoning, the board tries to persuade us that its decisions are an application of exogenous principles with global legitimacy.

But are the Oversight Board’s decisions really an objective application of widely accepted international rules? In a forthcoming paper, I argue that this is not the case. The board uses IHRL in an imaginative and incoherent fashion, often widely reinterpreting international law principles and instruments. Thus, even if IHRL reflected some global agreements, it is doubtful that the board’s use of these norms and instruments reflects that consensus. This is bad not only because it is misleading as to what international law requires but also because it conceals the need to figure out what the actual global public interest is in platform-moderation policies.

How Should the U.S. Military Share Secrets?

Andrew Radin

Allies and partners play a pivotal role in the Department of Defense’s recently released National Defense Strategy (NDS). The strategy is a “call to action … to incorporate Allies and partners at every stage of defense planning.” According to the strategy, “[a]lliances and partnerships are our greatest global strategic advantage” and a core element of how the United States hopes to compete with both Russia and China simultaneously. But for this cooperation to work—especially the combined planning, operations, and investments called for in the strategy—allies may require access to details of U.S. military plans and activities.

U.S. policies for foreign disclosure pose a challenge for the close coordination the strategy envisions. There are complex regulations and a developed bureaucracy in place to vet when and why the Defense Department may release classified information to foreign countries. To achieve the stated goal of leveraging ally and partner capabilities, while still protecting U.S. advantages, the Defense Department should rethink its disclosure policies.

National Security Decision Memo 119 (NSDM), issued in 1971, remains the central document for today’s Defense Department disclosure policies. As the Nixon administration put it at the time, “It is the policy of the United States Government to treat classified military information as a national security asset which must be conserved and protected and which may be disclosed to foreign governments and international organizations only where there is a clearly defined advantage to the United States.”

Democratic Governments Are Failing to Leverage Technology Companies

Daniel Byman

The response was swift and broad. Within the first hours and days of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and before many U.S. and allied sanctions had even been enacted, major technology companies had already sprung into action. Google and Apple halted Google Pay and Apple Pay across Russia, leaving more than 70 million Russians unable to use these services to pay for groceries, electronics, and even their daily commute. YouTube banned Russian state media-funded outlets like RT and Sputnik outside of Russia, losing them millions of views and an important propaganda tool for Moscow. Google and Meta ended digital advertising in Russia, a blunt tool that cut off funding from state-controlled Russian media but also hampered the reach of the Russian opposition. Offices of major tech companies in Russia shut down, and employees fled to other countries. Microsoft halted sales in the country, warned its security specialists were seeing increased hacking attempts from inside Russia, and declared it would continue to detect and advise the Ukrainian government about cyberattacks targeting the country.

From imposing economic sanctions, to deplatforming cultural and propaganda organs of unfriendly states, to closing down offices and precipitating a brain drain, to protecting against espionage, the actions of tech companies are becoming interwoven with government foreign policy. And Russia is not an exceptional case: In Afghanistan, China, India, Myanmar, and Brazil, tech companies are providing, denying, limiting, or otherwise adjusting their services in response to human rights concerns, fears that terrorists will abuse their products, and worries about facilitating the rise of or otherwise supporting authoritarian regimes that use their products to monitor citizens, spread propaganda, and distort discourse. These companies do all this, of course, even as they seek to expand their markets and increase the user base of their products.

Digital Hezbollah and Political Warfare in Cyberspace

Pierre Pahlavi

“DO NOT try to do too much with your own hands,” T.E. Lawrence advised in an essay from August 1917. “Better the Arabs do it tolerably than that you do it perfectly.” This is a key tenet of insurgency warfare that the Islamic Republic of Iran has been keen to apply in its relationship with Lebanese Hezbollah—especially as their collaboration has expanded into cyberspace. When it comes to influence strategy, Iranian leaders have long known that, in an era of increasingly vocal nongovernmental players and deregulation of information exchanges, governments can no longer rely solely on their own official communication channels to win the heart and minds of foreign populations. Diffusing ideological content through indigenous networks is likely to have a deeper impact than through national channels. In today’s hypermedia age, working with local friends and allies, with and through local medias, is certainly one of the most crucial and delicate aspects of any credible cyber-influence strategy.

Ever since its establishment in 1982 with Iranian subsidies and with the support of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Lebanese Hezbollah has been a crucial surrogate for allowing Iran to break its diplomatic isolation and extend its footprint throughout the Middle East “by other means.” The Party of God has acted as a platform of influence through which the Islamic Republic projects its ideological doctrine regionally and prolongs its other-than-war strategy. Engaging with this non-governmental actor, often described as a state within a state, and taping into its networks is a way of filling the gaps between official efforts and effectively reaching out to Lebanese and Middle Eastern youth, consumers, politicians, journalists, businesses, and opinionmakers. By relying on the Lebanese Shia movement to amplify the echo of its message in the proverbial Arab street, it is also a matter of compensating for Iran’s weaknesses in the conventional realms while establishing a virtual border with Israel and challenging Saudi Arabia and Gulf Cooperation Council countries in their strategic depth.

Since the early 1980s, Hezbollah has devotedly reproduced the Iranian modus operandi by combining the classic methods of insurrectional warfare with sophisticated propaganda campaigns to carry out a full-spectrum fight against its American, Israeli, and Saudi adversaries. Blending irregular warfare and high-tech psychological methods, Hezbollah is a pioneer in the art of multifaceted influence strategies enabling the promotion of strategic interests while avoiding head-on combat with militarily superior adversaries: “Inspired and refined with the help of Iran,” notes Ben Schaefer, “Hezbollah is shifting its coercive tactics from urban streets and battlefields to the routers of their Western adversaries.” After initially using it as a simple guerrilla auxiliary, Iran helped it grow into a powerful cyber-proxy capable of magnifying the scope of Iranian ideological power. Over the past decade, this maleficent group has developed into one of the main cyber-protagonists of today’s global arena.

IN THE years following the 1979 revolution, the Iranian regime started relying heavily on its standing as a beacon of the Shia world to galvanize support from pockets of Shia populations in a Sunni-dominated Middle East. With 140 million followers forming an almost uninterrupted string of communities stretching from the Mediterranean to the Ganges Valley, the Shia world constitutes a formidable pool of influence that is all the more strategic for Tehran as three-quarters of the region’s oil reserves are concentrated in areas two-thirds populated by Shia denizens. In the Lebanese context, Tehran’s religious outreach policy has included spreading pro-regime messages through a network of mosques and husseiniyyas (religious meeting locales), as well as through medias linked to the Islamic Republic information agency known as Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting. One of the spearheads of Tehran’s audiovisual diplomacy with regard to local Arab-Shia populations is the satellite channel Al-Alam (the Arab World) conveying to its Arabic-speaking and Shia audience favorable views on the Islamic Republic. Launched in 2003 during the U.S. invasion of Iraq and having offices in Teheran, Bagdad, and Beirut, the Iranian TV station prides itself on providing an alternative to other satellite networks run by the Gulf monarchies.

Very quickly, however, those responsible for the Iranian influence strategy came to realize that, to better bridge the famous “last three feet” that stand between Tehran and its target audience, it is essential to relay their message via Hezbollah’s own influence network. Iranian sponsors, therefore, ensured that the substantial aid provided to the Shia militia was not only used to set up an army of several thousand fighters but also served to build a powerful propaganda machine deeply rooted in Lebanese society. Founded in 1991, Al-Manar (The Lighthouse, or The Minaret), the largest and most prominent broadcasting company in Lebanon, rapidly positioned itself at the heart of the influence system co-managed by the Party of God and its Iranian backers. From the get-go, the pro-Iranian TV station plainly displayed its mandate on its website: “Al-Manar is the first Arab organization to stage an effective psychological warfare against the Zionist enemy.” The return on investment has been total for Tehran: Al-Manar acts as a proxy channel for ideological subversion re-broadcasting Iranian messages without its initiatives being directly attributable to the Islamic regime. In other words, a powerful information laundering device.

To support and strengthen this type of subversive partnership, Iran created, in October 2003, the National Passive Defensive Organization (NPDO), an elite cyber-organization in charge of promoting Iran’s interests by systematizing “the use of nonlethal means” including psychological action and the use of mass media conduits. A key cog in the Iranian influence projection program, NPDO has been working closely with the Lebanese Hezbollah to promote “regional resistance doctrine.” It is notably thanks to this form of mechanism that Hezbollah and its satellite channel have succeeded in mastering the art of public diplomacy to galvanize Arab populations against Washington. So much so that, in 2002, several Western observers were already attributing the unprecedented level of anti-American hatred and the failure of U.S. public diplomacy in the Middle East to the virulent anti-Western messages spread through Iran-backed media like Al-Manar.

ISRAEL AND Hezbollah’s thirty-three-day war in the summer of 2006 marked a turning point in the partnership between Hezbollah and Iran by enabling a symbolic victory over Israel and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF)—a victory very largely won on the media front and the cyber battlefield. “How could a few hundred guerrillas force their will on a regional power [like Israel]?” asked Ron Schleifer of Ariel University in the immediate aftermath of the conflict. For him, the standoff between Israel and Hezbollah was a blatant example of asymmetric psychological warfare illustrating the way in which a weaker challenger can level the playfield and seize the initiative at the expense of its conventional opponent. In the Israeli political scientist’s view, the pro-Iranian militia largely prevailed in this “war of images” by focusing on communication techniques and methods of message dissemination, thus securing a key advantage over its powerful adversary despite its initial lack of brute force.

Short of weapons of mass destruction, Hezbollah relied on weapons of mass persuasion to emerge as the virtual winner of the Second Lebanon War. Firstly, the militia benefited from a powerful psychological warfare system overseen by a psywar unit specifically dedicated to the diffusion of doctrinal and symbolic imagery. As the spokesperson for the Israeli army noted at the time, this special unit enjoyed irrefutable expertise in the art of acting on the morale of key segments of local, regional, and international public opinions. However, it is the Shia cable television channel Al-Manar which, by forming the centerpiece of Hezbollah’s psychological action artillery, proved decisive: It was the first channel to announce the kidnapping of the Israeli soldiers on the Lebanese border. Following the “ceasefire,” it was Al-Manar that featured Hassan Nasrallah, the secretary-general of Hezbollah, saying: “we are at the brink of a great victory; a strategic and historic one … a great triumph brought about by Hezbollah fighters and its Iranian allies.” In the space of a month and, to large extent, thanks to Al-Manar’s propaganda machine, Hezbollah metamorphosed from a simple armed Islamist group to the leading mouthpiece of the Lebanese resistance against “Zionist imperialism.”

In addition to yielding an indirect victory over the IDF, the Second Lebanon War provided Iran’s IRGC with a testing ground to experiment with the so-called Mosaic Asymmetrical Warfare doctrine adopted in 2005. To a large extent, it is by applying the Iranian ally’s recommendations that the Party of God managed to symbolically win over the Israeli forces. It is no coincidence that only a few weeks after the end of the conflict, Brigadier General Mohammad-Ali Jafari, commander of the IRGC, pointed out that: “As the likely enemy is far more advanced technologically than we are, we have been using what is called ‘asymmetric warfare’ methods … We have gone through the necessary exercises and our forces are now well prepared for this.” In many regards, the 2006 war proved a pivotal moment: it is at this point that specialists such as F.G. Hoffman date the emergence of what they coined “hybrid conflicts”—ones involving coordinated use of military and non-military means to achieve gains in the psychological dimensions of conflicts.

Tajik-made Iranian Drones Are Not in Ukraine Either

Catherine Putz

Last week, Ukrainian journalist Dmitry Gordon commented during a discussion with Russian-born Israeli businessman Leonid Nevzlin that Iran manufactured drones in Uzbekistan. The comment triggered a swift retort from Tashkent, which denied the report and urged Ukraine to “take appropriate measures” to prevent media from spreading “unfounded accusations.”

In writing about the kerfuffle, I noted that Gordon probably misspoke, confusing Uzbekistan with Tajikistan. Tajikistan, after all, does have an arrangement with Iran to produce drones. In May, Iran’s Major General Mohammad Bagheri, the chief of staff of the Iranian Armed Forces, traveled to Dushanbe to meet with President Emomali Rahmon and senior military officials, and inaugurate a drone factory.

On October 28, Gordon clarified that he’d meant to say “Tajikistan.”

And yet, the devil is still in the details.

On October 30, the Tajik Ministry of Foreign Affairs refuted Gordon’s claims that Tajikistan produced drones used to kill Ukrainians. “We emphasize that the Republic of Tajikistan does not export military equipment to third countries,” the statement noted.

The Ukraine War Will End With Negotiations Now Is Not the Time for Talks, but America Must Lay the Groundwork

Emma Ashford

By late August 2022, the West’s focus on Russia’s war in Ukraine was diminishing. The two sides were bogged down in an extended stalemate, freeing Western leaders from making difficult choices or thinking too hard about the future of the conflict. Events since early September—dramatic Ukrainian gains, followed by Russian mobilization, annexations, missile attacks on civilian areas, and nuclear threats—have shattered that illusion, pushing the war into a new and more dangerous phase.

Since the start of the war, the Biden administration has effectively maintained a balanced realpolitik approach: arming and funding Ukraine yet continuing to make clear that the United States will not engage directly in the conflict. But the administration has avoided talking about one crucial area of war strategy altogether: how it might end. Experts and policymakers who have suggested that the United States should also support diplomatic efforts aimed at a negotiated settlement have been treated as naïve or borderline treasonous. Driving the administration’s skittishness about endgames, then, are questions of morality: many argue that it is immoral to push Ukraine toward a settlement.

Force Structure in the National Defense Strategy: Highly Capable but Smaller and Less Global

Mark F. Cancian
Although the unclassified 2022 National Defense Strategy (NDS) contains few details about forces and force planning, it hints at major changes that may play out in future budgets. Forces will focus tightly on high-end threats from China and Russia. Trade-offs include smaller forces, backing away from some regions and threats, a reduced level of forward deployments, a restructuring of U.S. forces in NATO, and a new approach toward readiness. These efforts could produce major changes in how forces are structured and postured.

A High-Level Document

The document hints at major changes because it is written at a very high level of abstraction. For example, it does not contain a single number. If strategy is about ends, ways, and means, the document does a good job describing the ends that the department seeks but says nothing about ways (forces and programs) or means (personnel and budgets).

This arises because of a change that Congress made in 2016. Frustrated by what it regarded as strategic documents that lacked clear descriptions of policies and trade-offs, Congress mandated that the NDS be classified in 10 USC 113 (g) in order to be more candid. Congress laid out a wide variety of topics that this classified document should contain. It also mandated an unclassified summary. In the spring of 2022, the Department of Defense (DOD) published a two-page fact sheet, and on October 27, published this 24-page unclassified NDS document.