15 January 2023

Taiwan must not suffer the same fate as Ukraine

Anders Fogh Rasmussen

This week China embarked on significant military exercises around the coast of Taiwan. It was the second such drill in less than a month and the latest in a series of provocations by Beijing designed to intimidate Taipei. This was the backdrop for my visit to Taiwan last week, the first official one by a former Nato secretary-general. I was there to declare my full support for freedom, democracy and the right of the Taiwanese people to decide their own future, in peace.

It was my second time on the island. I originally visited in 1994 as a young member of the Danish Parliament. Since then, Taiwan’s economy has boomed, becoming a leader in cutting edge technologies and an indispensable link in global supply chains. Even more importantly, its democracy has become a beacon of liberty not only in Asia but for the entire world.

Taiwan’s democratic transformation would be impressive under any circumstances. The fact it has happened while facing daily provocations from a nuclear armed neighbour makes it remarkable. Here, the parallels with Ukraine and Russia are hard to ignore. An authoritarian leader turning increasingly repressive at home and aggressive abroad, revanchist rhetoric about reuniting the motherland, a build-up of military equipment and personnel aimed menacingly at a smaller democracy next door. The democratic world failed to deter a Russian attack on Ukraine — we must not make the same mistakes with China. We must learn the right lessons from the war in Ukraine to prevent one in the Taiwan Strait.

China and the Philippines

George Friedman

Last week, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. visited President Xi Jinping in China, where they agreed to cooperate in peace and security operations and in developing gas and oil deposits in the South China Sea. On the surface, this seems like a routine diplomatic meeting, but that it took place at all suggests there may be more than meets the eye. Relations between the Philippines and China have been strained in the past, with Beijing unhappy about Manila’s ties with the U.S. and Manila angry about Beijing poaching in its territorial waters.

Eased tensions between the two reveals some of the dynamics at play between China and the United States. China’s strategic problem is that it depends on international trade, particularly for minerals, and on exports, particularly to the United States. Exports account for about 20 percent of China’s gross domestic product.

From this, it follows that the most important Chinese imperative is to maintain exports, and the greatest threat to its exports is if China were denied access to the global sea lanes. The ports on China’s east coast are the key to China’s economy. If they were closed or interdicted for any reason, the Chinese economy would be stunned at least and shattered at most.

How China Became an Innovation Powerhouse


Conventional wisdom often suggests that technological breakthroughs proliferate in an environment of free markets, free speech, and democracy. In short, if you want to innovate, you need to operate like the United States. But over the past twenty years, China has transformed from a technological backwater into an innovation powerhouse.

Today, China directly competes with the United States on key emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence and quantum computing. And it has managed to accomplish this feat even as its government has tightened controls on markets, speech, and politics.

In this video, I argue that three main factors have turbocharged China’s rise as a technological powerhouse: a large, semi-protected market; ties with researchers and companies around the world; and waves of financial, human, and physical capital invested in promising fields like AI. To keep the United States competitive, Washington should explore certain elements of China’s strategy, including a willingness to experiment with pro-innovation policies and an ability to accept a certain amount of “waste” when catalyzing technological upgrading.

House China committee’s mission: Military imbalance is foremost among many challenges


The House of Representatives finally has a Select Committee on China, a sorely-needed instrument to drive China policy debate in Congress and, if its agenda is set properly, prompt the White House to consider its approach to Beijing in a clearer light.

As committee chair, Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) will set the panel’s mission. Its central task should stem from geopolitical reality. The military balance has shifted severely against the United States after decades of neglect, particularly naval neglect. This shift has undermined the strategic status quo in Europe and in Asia. Unless the U.S. addresses it, primarily through a major expansion of naval forces and a commensurate increase in defense industrial capacity, it is a matter of time before an element of the strategic status quo cracks. The most likely fissure will involve Taiwan.

The success of Ukrainian resistance has blinded the U.S. and its allies to strategic history. Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine was only its latest move in the struggle for Eurasian mastery that resumed early in the last decade. At the time, the global financial crisis, America’s withdrawal from Iraq and military spending cuts reduced U.S. power; defense spending as a percentage of GDP dropped to 1990s levels by President Obama’s second term. Yet the 2010s were not the 1990s, and Putin’s Russia overran Crimea and deployed to its “near abroad.”

China Cements its Position in the Middle East

Judith Bergman

When Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in Saudi Arabia on December 7 for his first visit since 2016, he was welcomed with a lavish reception. The contrast to the low-key reception of US President Joe Biden last July could hardly have been greater. Pictured: The Chinese and the Saudi flags fly in Riyadh, on December 7, 2022, ahead of Xi's visit to the Saudi capital. (Photo by Fayez Nureldine/AFP via Getty Images)

When Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in Saudi Arabia on December 7 for his first visit since 2016, he was welcomed with a lavish reception. Fighter jets escorted his plane into Saudi airspace, a purple carpet was rolled out, and cannons were fired. Saudi Arabia's de facto leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), welcomed Xi the next day with a ceremony, during which Xi's car was escorted by members of the Saudi Royal Guard on horseback and carrying the flags of both countries, followed by a welcoming banquet.

The contrast to the low-key reception of US President Joe Biden last July could hardly have been greater. Biden took a longstanding ally, Saudi Arabia, and, by repeating that he would make the kingdom a "pariah nation," created an adversary.

"For an American president to be silent on the issue of human rights is inconsistent with who we are and who I am," Biden said. The same concern for human rights has not seemed to bother him, however, when it comes to China or Iran, whose record on human rights is at least as bad as Saudi Arabia's, if not worse.

China’s Autocracy in Crisis


NEW YORK – Until fairly recently, Chinese President Xi Jinping touted his zero-COVID policy as proof that authoritarian one-party states like China are better equipped to deal with pandemics (or any other crisis) than messy democracies hampered by selfish politicians and fickle electorates.

When aspiring dictators are not held accountable for attempting to overthrow democratic governments, they tend to return, emboldened. Brazil, currently reeling from an attack on its Supreme Court and National Congress, may be showing that a credible threat of accountability can restrain would-be autocrats.

This might have seemed plausible to many in 2020, when hundreds of thousands of Americans were dying and former US President Donald Trump was touting antimalaria drugs and bleach injections as COVID-19 remedies. Meanwhile, Xi enforced rigid pandemic restrictions that almost shut down the entire country, forced people into isolation camps, and insisted that Chinese citizens traveling abroad wear hazmat suits, like workers in some giant toxic laboratory. For a while, this strict regime appeared to keep COVID deaths to a minimum, compared to most other countries (though Chinese government statistics are notoriously unreliable).

US spies lag rivals in seizing on data hiding in plain sight


WASHINGTON (AP) — As alarms began to go off globally about a novel coronavirus spreading in China, officials in Washington turned to the intelligence agencies for insights about the threat the virus posed to America.

But the most useful early warnings came not from spies or intercepts, according to a recent congressional review of classified reports from December 2019 and January 2020. Officials were instead relying on public reporting, diplomatic cables and analysis from medical experts — some examples of so-called open source intelligence, or OSINT.

Predicting the next pandemic or the next government to fall will require better use of open source material, the review found.

“There is little indication that the Intelligence Community’s exquisite collection capabilities were generating information that was valuable to policymakers,” wrote the authors of the review, conducted by Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee.

That echoes what many current and former intelligence officials are increasingly warning: The $90 billion U.S. spy apparatus is falling behind because it has not embraced collecting open-source intelligence as adversaries including China ramp up their efforts.

The Microchips Are Down


CAMBRIDGE – “Potato chips, computer chips, what’s the difference?” a top economic adviser to US President George H.W. Bush supposedly asked in the early 1990s. “A hundred dollars of one or a hundred dollars of the other is still a hundred dollars.” At the time, Japanese firms were pushing their American competitors out of the market for memory chips, but free-market elites in Washington, DC, staunchly opposed any form of industrial policy to protect the domestic semiconductor industry. If foreign companies could produce chips at a lower price, they argued, American consumers would pocket the cost savings and direct their spending to other sectors.

Chipmakers in Silicon Valley were understandably dismayed. But they were hardly the only industry suffering from Japanese competition, and the federal government could not afford to protect them all (nor could it risk the political blowback of saving some but not others). In the years that followed, the structure and composition of the US economy evolved accordingly. The American share of global semiconductor manufacturing dropped from 37% in 1990 to 12% today. Asia now accounts for over 70% of semiconductor production, with the most advanced chips being produced exclusively in Taiwan and South Korea.

Yet not until the COVID-19 pandemic did the United States (and the rest of the world) seem to realize that computer chips really are quite different from potato chips. Because semiconductors are used in a vast range of goods – from computers, smartphones, and coffee makers to toys, automobiles, and weapons systems – the global chip shortages of 2021 cost the US economy $240 billion (around 1% of GDP). The global auto industry alone produced 7.7 million fewer cars than it would have, and the health-care, defense, space, and energy industries all suffered significant losses.

The Limits of Japan’s Military Awakening


TOKYO – For decades, Japan has based its international clout on economic competitiveness, not military might. But, with China’s lengthening shadow darkening its doorstep, Japan now seems to be abandoning its pacifist postwar security policy – which capped defense spending at about 1% of GDP and shunned offensive capabilities – in favor of assuming a central role in maintaining security in the Indo-Pacific region.

Last month, Japan unveiled a bold new national-security strategy, which includes a plan to double defense expenditure within five years. That spending – amounting to some $320 billion – will fund Japan’s largest military build-up since World War II, and implies the world’s third-largest defense budget, after the US and China. Importantly, the new strategy includes acquisition of preemptive counterstrike capabilities, such as Tomahawk cruise missiles from the United States, and the development of its own hypersonic weapons.

Japan began laying the groundwork for this shift under former Prime Minister Abe Shinzō, who was assassinated last July. On Abe’s watch, Japan increased defense spending by about 10%, and, more significantly, reinterpreted (with parliament’s approval) the country’s US-imposed “peace constitution” to allow the military to mobilize overseas for the first time since WWII. Abe also sought to amend Article 9 of the constitution, which renounces “the threat or use of force” by Japan, but his efforts were stymied by popular protests.

What is a ‘main battle tank,’ and how will Ukraine use them?


WASHINGTON – The dam has broken for main battle tanks, with Poland pledging to provide Ukraine small numbers of the massive armored vehicles and more nations expected to follow. Now for the hard part: getting Ukraine enough of these heavy tanks to matter — and then teaching Ukrainians how to use them, because Western war machines are very different from the Soviet-derived designs they’ve fought with since 2014.

Poland has pledged about a dozen German-built Leopard IIs, Finland has suggested a Europe-wide effort to send Leopards, and Britain is rumored to be sending ten of its home-grown Challenger IIs, but Ukraine’s top commander, Gen. Valeriy Zaluzhny, has said he needs 300. So the numbers are too small to matter much militarily — so far. What’s more, sending many small batches of different tanks is a logistical nightmare. Ukrainian support troops already have to make heroic efforts to maintain a hodgepodge of often-incompatible equipment, from Western tech to Soviet-era holdovers to captured Russian machines, all with different requirements for training, supplies, and spare parts.

But despite hot takes from Elon Musk and other commentators that drones and smart weapons make tanks obsolete “deathtraps,” the kind of cross-country offensive Ukraine plans for the spring still requires so-called main battle tanks — heavily armored, heavily armed, tracked and turreted vehicles designed for face-to-face combat. (Lighter vehicles can also play key roles, like the M2 Bradley and Marder, well-armed and fully tracked troop carriers being provided by the US and Germany respectively, or the AMX-10 RC, wheeled scout cars from France, but they can’t slug it out with the toughest foes like main battle tanks). So the challenge for Ukraine and its suppliers is to figure out what kind of tank they can field quickly and in quantity, and how to adapt the battle-hardened Ukrainian forces to best use them.

Trends That Will Define the Coming Years

Antonia Colibasanu

The world is always changing, but some changes are more important than others. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will likely be remembered as the start of a new era in geoeconomics. In response to the war, the West launched sanctions against Russia, escalating the economic war the Kremlin began when it blocked Ukraine from trading with the world through its ports. Moscow answered by drastically reducing natural gas exports to Europe. The uncertainty and tit-for-tat measures kicked off an energy crisis. And the war renewed focus on the growing divide between the West and a nascent revisionist bloc led by China and Russia. It is difficult to see a path back to the status quo ante bellum, but several major trends that will define the next decade have become clear.

Protectionism and Global Realignment

For years before COVID-19, China, Russia, Iran and North Korea challenged the economic, financial, security and/or geopolitical order that the United States and its allies created after World War II. The era of relentless globalization had started to slow or even reverse. The pandemic kicked things into overdrive, accelerating reshoring and so-called friendshoring and depriving developing economies of foreign investment.

The war in Ukraine and its economic aftereffects are squeezing developing countries even more. In 2022, most of them put off making a choice between the West and Russia, hoping for a resolution to the conflict that would ease their economic pain. A case in point is Hungary, which, like many of these countries, depends on Russian energy and other commodities to sustain its economy and thus is wary of breaking ties with Moscow. Budapest has sought to slow the progression of Western sanctions against Russia. Others have avoided adopting anti-Russia sanctions altogether.

Why the World Feels Different in 2023

Ravi Agrawal

The most meaningful trend in global politics for 2023 is one that isn’t getting enough attention. The global south is becoming more visible—and influential—in every arena.

COP27, last year’s big climate summit, will be remembered for the breakthrough agreement of a “loss and damage” fund earmarked to help developing countries deal with the ravages of climate change. 2022’s biggest sporting event, the men’s soccer World Cup held in Qatar, marked the first time an Arab country played host and the first at which an African team, Morocco, advanced to the semifinals. (The tournament will also remain special for attendees from Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia, for whom it’s challenging to travel to sporting events in Europe and North America.) Or consider how, as Russia waged war in Ukraine, many countries in the developing world declined to participate in U.S.-led sanctions against Russia. The moral merits of such a decision can and should be debated. But leaving aside the thorny issue of ethics in foreign policy, leaders from New Delhi to Nairobi exhibited a growing confidence in asserting their own strategic interests instead of the West’s.

The non-Western world—the long-ignored global south, or the “Rest,” as it’s often called—is making its voice heard. These parts of the planet, younger and faster-growing than the West but also more vulnerable to climate change, are becoming increasingly powerful and more assertive stakeholders in global politics. Policymakers and businesses in the West will need to adapt.

The United Arab Emirates President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan arrives to deliver a speech on the second day of the COP-27 climate conference in Egypt.

Russia Faces Three Pivotal Moments in 2023

In 2023, Russia faces three crucial issues—President Vladimir Putin’s plans for his future, the battle between the hawks and pragmatists in the elite, and looming government personnel changes—that could reshape the country.

More than ten months on from the invasion of Ukraine, the contrast between the scale of the external shocks faced by Russia and the relative inertia inside the country is striking. Despite military failings and punishing sanctions, most Russians have gone on with their lives as though nothing is happening, while the elites have tried not to think about what tomorrow may bring, instead putting their full trust in Putin.

However, 2023 could prove a dramatic year for Russia and be make-or-break for its leadership’s resistance to change, with three internal questions in particular promising to shape the country’s development for decades to come.

First, Putin will have to decide whether to run for re-election in 2024. Russia’s constitution was amended in 2020 to allow him to remain president until 2036. He may alternatively name a successor, though to leave enough time for campaigning, he would have to do so by the end of December 2023.

Moscow Shakes Up Command of Its Forces in Ukraine (Again)

John Hardie

Moscow announced yesterday that the chief of the Russian military’s General Staff, General Valery Gerasimov, had been appointed commander of Russian forces in Ukraine. Gerasimov’s appointment reasserts his and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu’s role in Russia’s so-called “special military operation,” but it bodes poorly for Moscow’s war effort.

The Ministry of Defense (MoD) said the previous commander, General Sergei Surovikin, who also heads the Russian Aerospace Forces, will now serve as a deputy commander under Gerasimov. General Oleg Salyukov, the commander-in-chief of Russia’s Ground Forces, and Colonel General Aleksey Kim, a deputy chief of the General Staff, will also serve as deputy commanders, the ministry said.

The day prior, Russian media reported that Colonel General Alexander Lapin had been appointed as Ground Forces chief of staff, although the Kremlin declined to confirm or deny those reports. Lapin previously led Russia’s Central Military District and “Center” grouping of forces in Ukraine but was fired in October. His removal came amid intense criticism from Ramzan Kadyrov, head of Russia’s Chechen Republic, and Yevgeny Prigozhin, the Kremlin-connected businessmen who funds Russia’s Wagner military contractor group.

If those reports are true, Lapin will apparently be taking over for Kim. The latter was appointed as Ground Forces chief of staff a few months ago but has evidently received another promotion to the Russian General Staff, as the MoD statement indicates.

Gerasimov’s appointment is the latest in a long string of command shake-ups in a war effort often plagued by Kremlin micromanagement and a lack of unity of command.

What is the Wagner Group, the mercenary organization working for Russia in Ukraine?


Allegations of war crimes and human rights abuses in Ukraine by the invading Russian forces continue to pile up, and some of these incidents have been linked to a mercenary organization called the Wagner Group.

Sean McFate is a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and the author of The Modern Mercenary: Private Armies and What They Mean for World Order. He’s also a U.S. Army veteran and former military contractor, which he acknowledges is another term for a mercenary.

McFate spoke with me for our daily podcast The Decibel in May, about the Wagner Group: how it operates, what members of the group have said to him, and why hiring mercenaries might become more common.

Raman-Wilms: So let’s just start with the basics here. What is the Wagner Group?

McFate: The Wagner Group is a mercenary organization that works for Russia. But it’s not like a legal entity. It doesn’t have a legal charter anywhere. It’s owned and controlled by a Russian oligarch whose name is [Yevgeny] Prigozhin, and he is close to [Russian President Vladimir] Putin. Basically, the Wagner group does the Kremlin’s dirty work overseas, and it’s been their weapon of choice the last eight years when they’ve expanded into Africa and expanded into the Middle East. And Russia’s not doing this with Special Forces or sort of some ex-KGB organization. They’re using the Wagner Group.

Ukraine's Battlefields Are Freezing. Here's What That Means for the War.

Marc Champion and Alberto Nardelli

Temperatures in eastern Ukraine have been well below freezing in recent days, hardening the ground and opening a window for potential winter offensives by both sides.

But such pushes may not come, either now or during a more sustained cold spell.

Military analysts within and outside Ukraine say that while the shift from muddy to frozen terrain is important in enabling the use of wheeled combat and support vehicles, it’s just one of many factors commanders would consider before risking a major new assault.

More important are the availability of reserves, equipment and ammunition, and the need to create weak spots to exploit in enemy lines.

Both sides are being stretched by slow, but resource-sapping offensives already underway. Russian forces are trying to take Bakhmut and nearby Soledar, while Ukrainian troops are attacking Kreminna and Svatove; all are small-to-mid-sized towns in the eastern Donbas region that Russia claims to have annexed, but only partially occupies.

“The situation around Soledar and Bakhmut is forcing our command to use more reserves in this direction, so it may be that in the close future there won’t be enough left to conduct a big offensive in the south, from Zaporizhzhia, or anywhere else,” said Igor Levchenko, head of strategic modeling at New Geopolitics, a Kyiv-based think tank.

The World Needs More Nuclear Power

DJ Nordquist and Jeffrey S. Merrifield

Any serious effort to grapple with climate change must begin by reckoning with the math involved in transitioning to so-called net-zero carbon emissions—that is, the point at which humans are removing as much carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as they are adding to it, stopping humankind’s contribution to climate change. This transition to green energy is complicated by the fact that even energy sources widely considered to be “green” have negative externalities, despite what many policymakers may wish. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, for example, children as young as seven mine cobalt, which is needed to make electric car batteries. In China, which controls 80 percent of all solar panel manufacturing, the solar industry relies on Uyghur slave labor. To put it simply, there is no such thing as a free lunch.

Although the International Energy Agency’s revised 2022 energy outlook raises some of these issues, it nonetheless lays out a path to net zero by 2050 that, as one would expect, maximizes wind and solar power while assuming countries can find and extract the required minerals at economic prices. But even under these optimistic assumptions, an often overlooked zero-carbon energy source still does much of the heavy lifting: to reach net zero by 2050, the IEA says nuclear energy capacity will need to double. Its model assumes an annual average of 30 gigawatts of new nuclear capacity coming online starting in the 2030s, and staying on that track until 2050.

Nuclear fission, the process that creates nuclear energy, produces abundant power while emitting essentially zero greenhouse gases, similar to wind, solar, and hydroelectric. Moreover, it is a safe and proven technology that already provides over half of U.S. carbon-free energy generation while operating nonstop instead of at the whim of Mother Nature.

Military Review,

General Suggested Writing Themes and Topics—2023
Section I: Notable Commentary on the Civil-Military Relationship
Civilian Control of the Military: A “Useful Fiction”?
Who’s the Boss? Defining the Civil-Military Relationship in the Twenty-First Century
Politics, Warfare, and the American People: How America’s Uneven Political Leadership Harms Its Ability to Win
Ignoring Failure: General DePuy and the Dangers of Interwar Escapism
Section II: Afghanistan and GWOT Retrospective: Will We Forget?
Military Power Is Insufficient: Learning from Failure in Afghanistan
All Power Is Local: Understanding Disciplinary Power to Mobilize the Population
Civil Dispute Resolution: An Ignored Winning Strategy for Afghanistan
Rule of Law and Expanding the Reach of Government: Lessons Learned from an AFPAK Hands Foxhole
Cracks in the Liberal Edifice
America’s Great-Power Opportunity: Revitalizing U.S. Foreign Policy to Meet the Challenges of Strategic Competition
Medal of Honor: Spc. 5 Dennis M. Fujii

What three years of China’s covid travel restrictions cost the world

Lili Pike

For more than a thousand days, China has kept its borders largely closed to the outside world, in an effort to guard against the spread of covid. Today, China is taking a giant step out of its isolation, scrapping its quarantine requirement for inbound travelers.

In March 2020, to prevent a wave of “imported” infections, China locked down its borders to foreigners. Millions of international tourists who visit the Great Wall, Forbidden City and dozens of other sights every year were barred from entry. They weren’t the only ones shut out – so were visiting students, scholars, artists and members of delegations and exchange programs that have been a staple of travel to China for decades. Nearly all existing visas to China were suspended, upending countless lives on both sides of the border overnight.

In the nearly three years that followed, Chinese consulates approved only a limited number of business and family-visit visas; tourist visas remained off-limits. And the travelers who were permitted entry faced other obstacles. In tandem with the border restrictions, the Civil Aviation Administration of China strictly limited international flights, sending the cost of tickets soaring. People flying from the U.S. have had to pay $5,000, and sometimes more, for an economy-class ticket to China – several times the average pre-pandemic price. And once travelers arrived in China, they faced at least 14 days of quarantine in a hotel; some were subjected to far longer periods of isolation – up to two months in some cases.

Beheading the Hydra

Seth Cropsey

The U.S.’ Brittle Logistical System is a Crucial Vulnerability in Great-Power War

Discussion of wartime logistics goes back at least to Thucydides’ account of Sparta’s march to choke Athenian food supply during the Sicilian expedition. Logistics is the key to victory, no less than any other combat variable. It enables a resilient force, one that can take hits and keep fighting. The United States military, particularly its Navy, is not that sort of force, particularly not in the Indo-Pacific, where it faces a possible sea war against China. No matter the equipment the U.S. builds, a lack of logistical forces will cripple American power and make Chinese victory a matter of time.

Logistical capacity is grossly underappreciated in warfare. The external observer focuses on tactical and technical aspects of warfare. In Ukraine, for example, during the early war commentators highlighted the apparently outsized effects of light anti-tank missiles. Throughout the summer the Western media emphasized the sheer number of shells Russia expended each day as it pounded Severodonetsk, along with the severe casualties Ukraine took while holding its defensive positions. Each interaction is relevant.

Yet neither explain the situation. Ukraine employed dismounted light infantry to disrupt Russian logistics during the Kyiv Offensive. By stalling Russian armored spearheads, the Ukrainian military could bring its artillery to bear against slowed, confused enemy columns, blunting their advance and ultimately forcing Russia to recoil and withdraw from northern Ukraine. In the east, Russia’s fires did not purely attrit Ukrainian forces. They also disrupted Ukraine’s ability to resupply units within the Severdonetsk Salient. Indeed, Ukraine held its position until Hirske and Zolote fell, thereby exposing the T1302 Road between Severodonetsk and Bakhmut.



We're (mostly) through the pandemic. Russia has no way to win in Ukraine. The European Union is stronger than ever. NATO rediscovered its reason for being. The G7 is strengthening. Renewables are becoming dirt cheap. American hard power remains unrivaled. Midterms in the United States were decidedly normal … and many of the candidates posing the biggest threat to democracy (especially those who would have had authority over elections) lost their races. Meanwhile, Donald Trump is the weakest he has been since he became president, with a large number of Republicans preparing to take him on for the GOP nomination.

There's got to be a catch.

The big one: A small group of individuals has amassed an extraordinary amount of power, making decisions of profound geopolitical consequence with limited information in opaque environments. On a spectrum of geopolitics with integrated globalization at one extreme, these developments are at the other extreme, and they're driving a disproportionate amount of the uncertainty in the world today.

Our top risks this year are skewed toward these actors and their impact: Rogue Russia, Maximum Xi, Weapons of mass disruption, and Iran in a corner all come from international actors facing severe structural challenges and strong opposition (internal and/or external) in achieving their desired goals, with neither oversight, adequate expert inputs, nor checks and balances constraining their actions.

America’s Presence in Syria Is Riskier Than Ever

Geoff LaMear

“Out with the new, in with the old” appears to be the doctrine for U.S. policy in Syria in 2023. U.S. troops are resuming operations after a pause in the wake of Turkey’s attacks on U.S.-supported Kurdish forces. This penchant for the status quo ignores the risks that have made a continued U.S. presence in Syria increasingly perilous.

Washington’s decision to support the Syrian rebels at the onset of the Syrian Civil War proved disastrous and enabled the rise of ISIS and other militant groups. The ensuing carnage then brought about further intervention, and with ISIS’ defeat, the American justification for remaining in Syria became increasingly muddled. Now, the perverse logic used to justify stationing U.S. troops in Syria is to protect those same U.S. troops. This self-sustaining cycle, in which Washington has produced a problem for every solution, has gone on long enough.

While Washington’s strategy is static, the situation is dynamic and more precarious than ever. Turkish rocket attacks on Kurdish forces have come within 130 yards of U.S. troops. Turkey views Washington’s Kurdish allies as terrorists, and the recent bombing in Istanbul raised the possibility of another Turkish ground invasion of Syria. Turkey is a NATO member and has already stalled Sweden and Finland’s NATO applications over its concerns about Kurdish militants. The United States is unlikely to gain anything from further entanglement in a conflict that has been ongoing since the 1970s. Moreover, antagonizing Turkey is likely to undermine NATO cohesion, given how seriously Ankara takes the threat of terrorism.

The Long War in Ukraine

Ivo H. Daalder and James Goldgeier

Whenever the United States faces a foreign policy crisis, critics claim that the U.S. government is doing either too much or not enough. So it is with Ukraine. Many fault the Biden administration for failing to provide Ukrainian forces with the heavy weapons—mainly tanks, long-range missiles, and combat aircraft—that they say are needed to expel Russian troops from Ukrainian soil. Others, worried about Western staying power and the rising human and economic costs of the war, urge the administration to pressure Kyiv into negotiating a deal with Russia—even if that means giving up some of its territory.

Neither argument is convincing. The Ukrainian military has surprised everyone with its capacity to defend the country and even retake a good part of the territory it lost at the outset of the war. But ejecting Russian troops from all its territory, including Crimea, will be exceedingly difficult, even with greater Western military aid. Achieving such an outcome would require the collapse of dug-in and reinforced Russian defenses and would risk starting a direct war between NATO and Russia, a doomsday scenario that no one wants. As for negotiations, Russian President Vladimir Putin has given no indication that he is prepared to give up his imperial dream of controlling Ukraine. And it would be just as difficult to convince the Ukrainian government to cede territories to a brutal occupying force in return for an uncertain peace. Given the strong incentives on both sides to continue fighting, a third outcome is much more likely: a prolonged, grinding war that gradually becomes frozen along a line of control that neither side accepts.

Japan Is Changing the Game for Space Powers

Namrata Goswami

2023 is going to be Japan’s year in space. In a first for humanity, a privately owned lunar lander, built by Japanese private space company ispace, will attempt to land on the lunar surface by April. If successful, this private Japanese lunar landing will be a game changer for space that will challenge the usual way space exploration has been conducted since 1957, when the erstwhile Soviet Union launched Sputnik.

Space has remained a state-dominated enterprise since then. The private sector has provided the technological innovation for systems like rockets or satellites but never takes the lead when it comes to conducting space business in their own right. Now ispace will attempt to collect lunar samples and then sell them to NASA, as per a pre-agreed contract.

While the amount to be paid is just $5,000, the symbolic effect is deeply consequential for the future of the space resources economy. It will set a precedent that private space companies are able to sell the resources they mine in celestial bodies and keep the profits.

Surprisingly, the consequence of this event has been lost amid the strategic analysis of the space economy, which is focused currently on satellite launches and reusable rockets. What ispace will establish is different from just building space platforms – what companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin are focused on. Instead ispace is looking toward the space economy of the future – areas that countries like China are focused on, like asteroid mining, space-based solar power (SBSP), and permanent settlements on the Moon and Mars.

Adam Tooze: Why Nuclear Fusion Is Not the Holy Grail

Cameron Abadi

Last month in California, a nuclear reactor produced 3.15 megajoules of energy using only 2.05 megajoules of energy input. That surplus has been treated as a major breakthrough in the future of energy because it was produced through the process of nuclear fusion. Experts have talked for decades about nuclear fusion’s potential as a carbon neutral source of energy without any of nuclear energy’s toxic waste.

What were the economics behind this breakthrough technology? Might it provide a status boost to old-fashioned engineering relative to computer engineering? And what’s the path from laboratory success to industrial use? Those are a few of the questions that came up in my recent conversation with FP economics columnist Adam Tooze on the podcast we co-host, Ones and Tooze. What follows is an excerpt, edited for length and clarity.

Cameron Abadi: This breakthrough was achieved by the National Ignition Facility (NIF). Could you describe the history of the NIF and its relationship to the U.S. government?

Adam Tooze: It’s a project that goes back originally to some really far-out thinking in the 1950s about uses that could be made of atomic bombs for the purposes of power generation. And the original idea was literally to organize a continuous stream of atomic explosions underground—you know, find some suitably stable caves, and explode several atomic bombs a day to keep a huge mass of water boiling to generate lots of steam. Anyway, that’s where it started.

Japan Bets Big on Bringing Semiconductor Manufacturing Home

William Sposato

TOKYO—To get back some of the high-tech mojo that made it an economic powerhouse, Japan is launching an ambitious program to bring back cutting-edge semiconductor manufacturing, a field it ceded to Taiwan, South Korea, and China nearly 20 years ago. But will this new campaign at state-backed industrial policy succeed, and more importantly, is it even the right goal?

The new initiatives are part of a broader strategy of greater “economic security” under Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s administration, a need driven home by the massive supply chain disruptions that occurred globally under the weight of shifting supply and demand amid COVID-19.

It is also part of what is, in effect, a broad-based defense mobilization program to contain an increasingly ambitious China—one that fits nicely in with the Biden administration’s own plans. Washington has put increasingly tight limits on U.S. companies’ involvement in Chinese chip manufacturing, seeking to keep control of the advanced electronics vital to modern warfare—and the economy as a whole—within its wider sphere of allies like Taiwan and Japan.

Other segments of the Japanese plan range from more advanced weapons systems, an ability to strike an enemy’s bases back at home (despite Japan’s constitution forsaking warfare), and roughly doubling military spending to 2 percent of GDP by 2027. It is a very full agenda, especially for a government that is now teetering from various scandals that always seem to befall Japanese administrations that are seen as already weak.

Get used to wielding ‘hard power,’ US Army general at head of NATO command tells allies


STUTTGART, Germany — Drastic changes are coming for NATO, and the U.S.-led alliance’s top American officer in Europe says members must face this fact: “Hard power is a reality.”

Supreme Allied Commander Gen. Christopher Cavoli, speaking at a security forum in Sweden on Monday, outlined the steps allies are taking, many of which stem from how Russia’s unprovoked war of aggression against Ukraine is unfolding.

“The scale of this war is out of proportion with all of our recent thinking, but it is real,” Cavoli said. “And we must contend with it.”

The implication is that while “soft power” diplomacy and economic measures favored by some allies in recent years have a role, being skilled with tanks, artillery and all manner of firepower must take precedence to defend against Russia.

For NATO, implementing its overarching strategy, known as Defense and Deterrence of the Euro-Atlantic Area, is central to its efforts as allies prioritize collective territorial defense, Cavoli said.

The work revolves around tailoring military plans by region with updated details on how strategic areas will be defended.

Russia’s Shrinking and Deteriorating Arsenal Meets Ukraine’s Growing and Improving Air Defenses

Brian E. Frydenborg 

Russia may very well be running out of both its modern long-range missilesespecially its Kalibr cruise missiles and Iskander missiles—and artillery rounds, forcing Russia to use degraded munitions from half-a-century ago and well-past their expiration date. In its desperation, it seems Russia is also getting artillery ammunition from pariah North Korea and is trying, thus far unsuccessfully, to get missiles from Iran (to add to Russia’s current humiliation, not that long ago, Iran and North Korea were under Moscow’s sphere of influence as a partial vassal and a supplicant client state, respectively, an indication of how low Putin has dragged Russia).

To focus more on the issue of these missiles and drones, in the face of being unable to generate any serious lasting major advances for nine months even while Ukraine has undertaken multiple major wildly successful counterattacks on multiple fronts, Russia has resorted in recent months to devoting much of its offensive operations to using these long-range missiles and drones to target civilians in major cities along with their vital power and water infrastructure in the midst of the harsh Ukrainian winter (“offensive” being doubly appropriate here as these attacks are clearly war crimes). Unable to properly target the Ukrainian military or defeat it on the battlefield, the inferior Russian military instead does what it can do best: target often defenseless civilians and civilian infrastructure.

Except Ukrainian cities and facilities are increasingly not defenseless. The supposedly mighty Russian Air Force has been cowed and is largely absent and not in a terribly dissimilar way to how I correctly predicted the Russian Navy would be cowed and largely absent, just with air defenses instead of anti-ship missiles, so for longer-range strikes, that is currently leaving Russia with the options of long-range attack drones (it does not have much of its own technology here, so it is getting many of them from Iran, as noted) and missiles.

US military urged to act faster on interlinked warfare system as China catches up

Liu Zhen

The United States must speed up the building of its interlinked warfare system as China pursues its own version to counter the US platform, American media reported its defence officials as saying.

The so-called Chinese Multi-Domain Precision Warfare (MDPW) was mentioned by the US Department of Defence in its annual China Military Power Report last November.

The MDPW aims to align all Chinese forces “from cyber to space”, US military website C4ISRNET.com reported last week.

US officials say the effort is “fuelled by a need to counter” the Pentagon’s Joint All-Domain Command and Control initiative (JADC2), it added.

The People’s Liberation Army first tested the MDPW in 2021 to interlink command and control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance to quickly coordinate firepower and expose foreign weaknesses, according to the Pentagon report in November.

The Russia-Ukraine war has some rethinking the role of offensive cyber operations in armed conflict

Derek B. Johnson

For some, the horror of the Russian invasion of Ukraine was also meant to mark the dawn of a new era in modern warfare: one in which degrading your enemy’s capabilities through cyberspace would play an important — perhaps even decisive — role in determining success on the real-world battlefield.

As militaries and societies grew ever more connected to and reliant on the internet to run, so too would the cyberspace domain grow in importance in combat, and nowhere was that supposed to be demonstrated more clearly than in Russia’s war, where their elite and well-resourced military hacking units could cut off Ukraine’s access to power, water and other essential resources, disrupt their communications, wipe out large swaths of private and public sector systems and data, and smooth the way for ground troops to dominate their Ukrainian counterparts.

In reality, the impact of offensive cyber operations appears to have been far more muted.

While the initial invasion did, in fact, come with a flurry of hacking campaigns against many of these targets as Russian troops crossed the border, the cadence of those campaigns have dropped markedly in the months following and have seemingly failed to provide Moscow with any meaningful advantage on the ground.