17 January 2023

Why the Taliban’s crackdown on women is hurting all Afghans

Nikhil Kumar, Joshua Keating

Zahra was at the finish line. In December, the 21-year-old woman was preparing to take the final exams for her diploma in political studies at a private university in Kabul, Afghanistan. “It was a goal,” she told Grid, the thing that had kept her going as her country’s prospects dimmed under the rule of the Taliban, the militant group that took control of Afghanistan after the departure of U.S. troops in 2021.

The exams were scheduled for mid-December.

But Zahra never took the tests. Last month, just as she was doing her final cramming, the Taliban issued its latest decrees for women in Afghanistan. One of which banned women from attending university.

“It was a shock,” said Zahra, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “They announced it in the evening. I only found out when I came to my university in the morning.”

It was a devastating blow — not only for female students in Afghanistan, but also for anyone still harboring hopes for a more moderate Taliban leadership in Afghanistan. It also confirmed the worst fears of those who had argued from the beginning that the militants hadn’t changed.

Gwadar’s Trials and Tribulations

Somaiyah Hafeez

In a video that has been widely circulated on Twitter, a child, dressed in red shirt and black jeans, is seen throwing a stone at a group of security personnel, who are carrying sticks and shields. The troops retaliate by throwing stones toward the child, who runs away. In another video, dozens of security forces personnel are seen standing by as someone, reportedly the child of a fisherman, is beaten and dragged on the road by other troops.

These are only two violent incidents that have emerged since the internet shutdown in Gwadar, a port city in Balochistan, Pakistan’s largest and most impoverished province, ended after more than a week.

For over 50 days, a sit-in protest outside the main entrance of the Gwadar port was ongoing before the protests turned violent during the last week of December, resulting in clashes between the police and the protesters. The sit-in was staged by the Haq Do Tehreek (Gwadar Rights Movement), which has emerged as a popular activist movement over the last couple of years in the city. Gwadar is lauded as the heart of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and widely seen as the main plank of China’s Road and Belt Initiative, but locals have long felt cut off from any benefits that status bestows on their hometown.

Why Pakistan Is Facing a Growing Food Crisis


Last Saturday in Mirpur Khas, a city in Pakistan’s Sindh province, hundreds of people lined up for hours outside a park to buy subsidized wheat flour, offered for 65 rupees a kilogram instead of the current, inflated rate of about 140 to 160 rupees.

When a few trucks arrived, the crowd surged forward, leaving several injured. One man, Harsingh Kolhi, who was there to bring a five kg bag of flour home for his wife and children, was crushed and killed in the chaos.

As the dust settled, a group of people at the site took Kolhi’s body to the local press club and demanded the registration of a murder case against officials responsible for the stampede as well as the flour crisis across the province, according to Dawn.

The incident is just one example of how the impact of the country’s burgeoning food shortage and a looming economic crisis are already being felt by Pakistan’s poorest.

As the country still reels from the devastating floods that hit over the summer, which government officials estimate damaged more than 80% of the country’s crops, it’s also contending with economic uncertainty that has left food and medicine lingering in ports. The State Bank of Pakistan says that their foreign exchange reserves have fallen to a critical level of $4.3 billion—barely enough for three weeks of imports.

Could Beijing Risk a Diversionary War Against Taiwan?

Timothy R. Heath

China’s deteriorating strategic situation and President Xi Jinping’s consolidation of power appears to raise the possibility that a desperate leadership might risk aggression against Taiwan. But Xi’s ascent to supreme power masks a far more significant development—the weakening of the Chinese state. Beijing’s military options against Taiwan are constrained by the consequences of declining state capacity and legitimacy. Incapable of reversing the situation, Beijing will face growing incentives to favor more limited courses of action when contemplating military options against Taiwan. More research is urgently needed to better understand how weakening state capacity might affect considerations of the use of force among rival great powers.

Once vaunted as the next superpower, China has stumbled in recent years. Coronavirus-related restrictions may have eased after weeks of protests, but now the country appears to be dealing with a major outbreak of the virus. Beijing’s struggles to contain the virus merely exacerbate a worsening economic situation. Per-capita income growth has slowed to a crawl, and there are few good prospects for reviving the country’s flagging growth. The property market, which drives about one-third of China’s economic activity, remains deeply troubled. Unemployment for the country’s youth has hovered around 20 percent through most of 2022. Owing to unresolved structural factors and looming demographic challenges, China’s economy is, accordingly, expected to slow dramatically in coming years, averaging perhaps 2 to 3 percent annually through mid-century.

China’s covid explosion: How the country went from ‘zero-covid’ to millions of cases a day

Lili Pike

In the month since China cut covid loose, dropping its “zero-covid” restrictions, the virus has run rampant. But it’s impossible to know just how rampant. The official death toll has barely ticked up — from 5,233 at the beginning of December to 5,272 on Sunday, meaning that officially only 39 people have died of covid in that period. Local government reports and expert modeling suggest that the toll is far higher and that daily caseloads are in the millions.

The Chinese government ended mass testing on Dec. 7 and stopped recording total cases a week later. Since then, the data on the outbreak has been murky at best. The Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention is still publishing daily covid statistics, listing just confirmed cases, but these numbers also bear little resemblance to on-the-ground reports. Global health experts have called for China to share more comprehensive information on the outbreak, but for the moment, China’s covid explosion is being obscured by the lack of data in a country that was already known for uneven reporting during the pandemic.

“China has a long and notorious history of delaying the reporting, or not reporting at all, of important epidemic information of international importance,” said Victoria Fan, a senior fellow in global health at the Center for Global Development. “Unfortunately, China’s recent actions are consistent with its past history of actions.”

The CPTPP Bids of China and Taiwan: Issues and Implications

Hugh Stephens,  Jeffrey Kucharski


The question of China’s and Taiwan’s accessions to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) has generated much interest and debate. It is seen as a critical decision point for the CPTPP because of the important implications this decision will have on the future of the bloc, relations amongst CPTPP members, and the geoeconomic and geopolitical situation in the Indo-Pacific region.

The purpose of this paper is to describe the process that will likely be followed in considering the applications for accession by both Taiwan and China, the factors that may influence the decision, the key hurdles both economies face, and our assessment of the probable outcomes and policy implications for member states, including for Canada.

On September 16, 2021, China formally submitted a request to join the CPTPP, and a week later, on September 22, Taiwan1 formally submitted its own application to join the Agreement as a separate customs territory, similar to the approach it used to join the WTO in 2002.

GOP pick to lead House China committee vows to win ‘new Cold War’

Bryant Harris

WASHINGTON — The House on Tuesday voted 365-65 to establish a special committee on China, and the lawmaker Republicans tapped to lead the bipartisan panel has vowed that Congress will use it to “win the new Cold War.”

Rep. Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin — who served as the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee’s personnel panel in the last Congress — has laid out an agenda for the China committee that includes several key defense priorities. The 16-member committee will consist of nine Republicans and seven Democrats.

Gallagher told Defense News that while the Armed Services and Foreign Affairs committees as well as the Appropriations Committee’s defense panel would take the lead on defense-related issues, the China committee would serve as “an incubator or accelerator for [Chinese Communist Party]-related legislation.”

“As someone who’s spent a lot of the last six years focusing on how we restore deterrence in the Indo-Pacific and deter hot war over Taiwan, I think a lot of what we can do on the select committee is tease out sort of the why,” Gallagher said. “Why does this matter? Explain to the American people about why they should care about helping Taiwan defend itself and arming Taiwan to the teeth.”

How Biden’s and Trump’s classified document cases compare, according to a former top classified records overseer

Steve Reilly

This week, President Joe Biden joined Donald Trump in finding himself under investigation by a special prosecutor for how he handled sensitive government documents after leaving office.

The turn of events set off a furious debate about whether this is a story about hypocrisy — which is how Republicans see it, after Democrats lampooned Trump over the discovery of documents strewn about at Mar-a-Lago — or one about how government should work, with a president responsibly working with the Justice Department when a mistake came to light.

There are clear differences in the two situations: Biden’s attorneys voluntarily handed over documents to the Justice Department marked “classified” when they were found in a closet at a think tank where Biden worked after his two terms as vice president. The attorneys later turned in more documents found at Biden’s home in Delaware.

Trump’s team, meanwhile, has not been cooperative. Trump repeatedly declined to identify or turn over secret government documents in his possession, prompting the FBI to execute a search warrant to reclaim the documents.

Destroying American Democracy - An Inside Job

Pete Hoekstra

Over the last few years, there has been much written about the destruction of American democracy. Frequently the threat has been of alleged interference in U.S. elections by Russia, China or other state actors. Government agencies, the name of election integrity, were assigned to identify and disrupt these foreign intrusions. As more and more information is revealed about these agencies, it seems that America's Intelligence Community participated in these activities domestically, and in a way that poses a grave threat to both election integrity and American democracy.

Just last week it was revealed that the FBI again withheld pertinent information from the American public, for past two months, until after the November 8, 2022 federal election. As with the Bureau's reported cover-up of evidence influence-peddling reportedly found on Hunter Biden's laptop, agents knew, since November 2, 2022, about at least some of the three sets of classified material that illegally found their way into the garage and library of President Joe Biden and into the Penn Biden Center think tank at the University of Pennsylvania -- to which anonymous members of the Chinese Communist Party have donated $54.6 million.

Their existence only became known this week, after the newly elected Republican-majority House of Representatives announced that it would hold hearings on "how the [Justice] department handled investigations into classified materials found at former President Donald Trump's Florida home and those found at President Joe Biden's office in a Washington think tank bearing his name and his Delaware home..."

Is the US military becoming a hollow force, and is it time for a strategic course correction?

Harlan Ullman

In the $1.7 trillion omnibus spending bill passed just prior to Christmas, Congress approved $858 billion for defense in fiscal year 2023. Yet, despite this large amount of money, for many reasons beyond its control the US military is headed toward becoming a twenty-first century version of the dreaded “hollow force” that plagued the nation after the Vietnam War.

How can this be? And more importantly, what must be done to prevent a hollow force from reoccurring?

Three critical reasons explain why, unless major changes are made now, the US military faces this dire outcome. First, the National Defense Strategy (NDS) is unexecutable because its aims are unachievable. Second, the current force is unaffordable because of uncontrolled real cost growth of every item from precision weapons to people to pencils. Third, the current force size of 1.4 million is not sustainable given the declining cohort of personnel eligible for service and those who wish to serve.

As I wrote last month in The Hill, the NDS is aspirational, not strategic. A combination of uncontrolled real annual internal cost growth of 5–7 percent—due to soaring price tags for personnel and high-tech weaponry—plus inflation as high as 8–10 percent requires an increase in this year’s $858 billion defense budget of $120–140 billion just to stay even next year. According to Pentagon estimates, only 23 percent of young Americans are physically, mentally, and morally qualified to serve. And just one in eleven is interested in joining the military—the lowest number in fifteen years.

Yes, America Should Cut Defense Spending

Doug Bandow

The possibility of a partial roll-back in the bloated $858 billion Pentagon spending bill approved last month, though still a long shot, is good news for beleaguered taxpayers, despite the wailing and gnashing of teeth by representatives of the military-industrial complex, and their political factotums—hawks ever-ready to subordinate all other U.S. interests to the military. Long ago the Washington foreign policy establishment was captured by the desire to dominate the world rather than defend the American people.
Defense Statements

Hysteria about the possibility of slowing the increase in Defense Department outlays is building from right to left on Capitol Hill. Former GOP Rep. Liz Cheney, whose father got out of Vietnam service, then turned uber-hawk and helped destroy Iraq, declared: “Ronald Reagan taught us that weakness is provocative. China and Russia are watching.” Centrist Democrat Rep. Abigail Spanberger went apocalyptic: “As the Chinese Communist Party is increasing its military spending, Ukraine is under siege, and Iran and North Korea are watching, cutting our nation’s defense spending is shortsighted and dangerous.” Tom Malinowski, a progressive Democrat defeated last November, was acerbic: “You can say all day to these people that if we gut defense spending and withdraw from global leadership, Putin and Xi Jinping will win, but they honestly don’t care.”

Is the U.S. Military Becoming a Hollow Force, and Is It Time for a Strategic Course Correction?

Harlan Ullman

In the $1.7 trillion omnibus spending bill passed just prior to Christmas, Congress approved $858 billion for defense in fiscal year 2023. Yet, despite this large amount of money, for many reasons beyond its control the U.S. military is headed toward becoming a twenty-first century version of the dreaded “hollow force” that plagued the nation after the Vietnam War.

How can this be? And more importantly, what must be done to prevent a hollow force from reoccurring?

Three critical reasons explain why, unless major changes are made now, the U.S. military faces this dire outcome. First, the National Defense Strategy (NDS) is unexecutable because its aims are unachievable. Second, the current force is unaffordable because of uncontrolled real cost growth of every item from precision weapons to people to pencils. Third, the current force size of 1.4 million is not sustainable given the declining cohort of personnel eligible for service and those who wish to serve.

As I wrote last month in The Hill, the NDS is aspirational, not strategic. A combination of uncontrolled real annual internal cost growth of 5–7 percent—due to soaring price tags for personnel and high-tech weaponry—plus inflation as high as 8–10 percent requires an increase in this year’s $858 billion defense budget of $120–140 billion just to stay even next year. According to Pentagon estimates, only 23 percent of young Americans are physically, mentally, and morally qualified to serve. And just one in eleven is interested in joining the military—the lowest number in fifteen years.

Biden’s Energy Hypocrisy with Venezuela

Edgar Beltrán

In late November, when most Americans were still digesting their Thanksgiving dinners, the Venezuelan government announced an agreement with the U.S., with the Biden administration easing oil sanctions to allow Chevron to pump Venezuelan oil and send it to the U.S. for six months. The license can then be renewed monthly. American officials hope the deal will encourage dialogue between President Nicolas Maduro and the Venezuelan opposition.

The Biden administration has taken a soft approach to Venezuela, reducing sanctions and freeing Venezuelan prisoners in the U.S., including two of Maduro’s nephews, who were jailed for drug trafficking. This softening has only been accelerated by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, as the war’s effects on global energy markets have led the U.S. to take an even more pragmatic stance toward Venezuela.

However, Biden’s oil policy toward Venezuela is wrong for two main reasons. First, it finances a dictatorship 3,000 miles away from Miami that is well-known for both harboring terrorists and the drug operations that have created chaos on the U.S. southern border. Second, if we consider all the domestic energy potential in the U.S., it seems irrational to make amends with a communist dictatorship for a few thousand barrels of oil per day.

The Pentagon’s Cyber Personnel Issues Need More Attention


OPINION — The Army, which seeks to double the size of its cyber forces over the next five years, is already short-staffed in two key cyber career fields, according to a Government Accountability Agency (GAO) study on Military Cyber Personnel, released December 21.

The GAO study discusses why all U.S. military services will face difficulties finding, recruiting and retaining people with needed cyber skills, and I will deal with those findings below.

First, however, I want to use the GAO report to reinforce what the Ukraine war has already shown — how important cyber has become in all elements of warfare and will be more so in the future.

On New Year’s Day, Ukrainian forces used satellite-guided rockets from American High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) launchers to strike with precision, targets more than forty miles away in the occupied Ukraine city of Makiivka. They destroyed a Russian ammunition depot and killed over 95 Russian soldiers and wounded many more who were living adjacent to that site.

For the HIMARS cyber-automated, fire support command, control and communications, the Ukrainians used International Field Artillery Tactical Data System (IFATDS), the export version of the U.S. Advanced Field Artillery Tactical Data System (AFATDS), a program which has been in service with American Army and Marines units since 1995.

Why the U.S. Shouldn’t Take Its Eye off Jihadi Terrorism in 2023

Katherine Zimmerman

Neither al Qaeda nor the Islamic State threaten the U.S. homeland directly. Nor can their various affiliates strike the United States. A near-decade-long trend of localizing jihad has continued, ensuring that the Salafi-jihadi terrorism threat remains regional if present at all. Most al Qaeda and Islamic State groups are embroiled in local conflicts, many have not even attempted to target Americans, and those that have set their sights closer on U.S. diplomats or soldiers posted abroad. Yet even with rising threats to U.S. interests from China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea, to name a few, the United States can’t simply walk away from the fight against al Qaeda and the Islamic State.

Counterterrorism operations have decimated al Qaeda’s and the Islamic State’s senior leadership cadre. In the past year alone, the Islamic State has replaced its leader twice and dealt with significant losses among the top deputies. So much so that U.S. officials have noted rising leaders are “not from the original team.” Al Qaeda suffered, too. A U.S. drone strike killed Osama bin Laden’s successor, Ayman al Zawahiri, in August 2022. Al Qaeda has not named Zawahiri’s replacement, raising questions as to the future of the transnational organization.

But weakness at the top has not translated into setbacks for the regional affiliates. Instead, al Qaeda and Islamic State groups are on upward trajectories: a growing number of fighters, improving capabilities, and expanding sanctuaries. Those trend lines will continue uninterrupted, especially as the United States and other partners, such as the French, draw down counterterrorism commitments. This right-sizing of resources away from addressing the transnational terrorism threat toward geostrategic competition aims to correct the past two decades’ overemphasis on counterterrorism, particularly given the absence of any repeat of a 9/11-style attack.

The Leopard plan: How European tanks can help Ukraine take back its territory

Gustav Gressel, Rafael Loss, Jana Puglierin

Six months since the start of Russia’s war in Ukraine, the defenders have shown mastery of Western-supplied weapon systems. Yet, with dwindling stocks of armoured vehicles, Ukraine’s army has been unable to wage manoeuvre warfare and exploit the holes their artillery is punching in Russia’s occupation force. So far Western governments have refused to supply Ukraine with Western-designed tanks and infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs). But things are changing – and a new plan from Berlin would win favour either side of the Atlantic.

During the first weeks of the invasion, the West supplied Ukraine with shoulder-mounted anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons in the tens of thousands. These helped to arrest and then roll back Russia’s advance on Kyiv. By May, Russia was engaged in an attrition campaign in Donbas, making use of its superior numbers of artillery and an abundance of ammunition. Ukraine faced severe ammunition shortages. The battle for Kyiv used up much of its stocks, and a concentrated Russian missile campaign had destroyed most of Ukraine’s defence industry. Where Ukraine once was self-reliant in the armament sector, it now heavily depends on support from the West.

Starting a War: A Guide to the Causes of Conflict and How to Begin One

Happy Sharer


War is an armed conflict between two or more parties that aims to achieve a political objective. It is a destructive process that can bring death and destruction on a massive scale, but it is also a powerful tool for achieving political goals. In this article, we will explore the causes of war and outline how to start one.

There are many reasons why people may want to start a war. It could be to gain control of resources, to protect their interests, to spread ideology, or even just to satisfy their own ambitions. Whatever the reason, starting a war requires careful planning and preparation, as well as a willingness to accept the consequences of conflict.
Increase Military Presence in a Region of Conflict

One of the first steps in starting a war is to increase the military presence in a region of conflict. This is often done to demonstrate strength and resolve, as well as to put pressure on the other side. To do this, a nation can strengthen its existing military forces by deploying additional personnel and equipment, or by establishing a presence in disputed areas.

UK to supply tanks; Russian missiles hit across Ukraine


LONDON -- U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Saturday promised to provide tanks and artillery systems to Ukraine, amid renewed missile attacks by Moscow targeting multiple Ukrainian cities for the first time in nearly two weeks.

Nine people were killed and 64 others wounded in the southeastern city of Dnipro, where a Russian missile strike destroyed a section of an apartment building, said Kyrylo Tymoshenko, deputy head of the Ukrainian presidential office.

Infrastructure facilities were also hit in the western Lviv region and Ivano-Frankivsk regions, in the Odesa region on the Black Sea and in northeastern Kharkiv. Kyiv, the capital, was also targeted.

Sunak made the pledge to provide Challenger 2 tanks and other artillery systems after speaking to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Saturday, the British leader's Downing Street office said in a statement.

It didn't say when the tanks would be delivered or how many. British media have reported that four British Army Challenger 2 main battle tanks will be sent to Eastern Europe immediately, with eight more to follow shortly after, without citing sources.

Review – Empires of Eurasia

Joseph MacKay

The Eurasian land mass once teemed with empires. Today, if our maps are to be believed, none remain, and the region is parceled out into nation states. Jeffrey Mankoff’s new book takes issue with this assumption, focusing on Russia, Turkey, Iran, and China. The book maps patterns of imperial activity in the region—past, but also present.

Mankoff’s core argument “is that these four states and their geopolitical ambitions remain indelibly shaped by their imperial pasts. Because they were once empires… [they] are not—and are unlikely to ever become—nation-states inhabiting a sharply delineated territory and with a population sharing a common ethnic or linguistic identity” (p.3). Put differently, their past imperial ambitions persist into the present. Mankoff rejects explanations drawn on authoritarian rule or Huntingtonian ideas about civilizations (p.5-6). Instead, he argues, the causes of that persistence are both historical and geographical or geopolitical. The broader Eurasian situation in which these four find themselves marks them off from other parts of the world.

Eurasia itself, then, is a central concept here. Citing Christopher Beckwith (2009, p.xx), Mankoff defines it expansively—stretching from the Yalu River west to the Danube, between taiga forests in the north and the Himalaya in the south. Stretching well beyond Central Asia, it takes in a loosely defined zone demarcated by Europe, East Asia, South Asia, and the subarctic. This is much of the Earth’s inhabited land area we are talking about.

The Strategic Importance of the Middle East

Anthony H. Cordesman

The Emeritus Chair in Strategy at CSIS has developed a three-part briefing on the key data and trends shaping the strategic importance of the Middle East and North Africa through 2050. Each is a separate document focusing on a given set of assessments of the current and probable changes in the region’s strategic importance.
Part One: Examining the Region

The first part is entitled The Changing Strategic Importance of the Middle East and North Africa Part One: Examining the Region. It is available on the CSIS website at https://csis-website-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/publication/230104_Cordesman_MEStrategy_Pt1.pdf?OHHkAPNGCwjzOo15Fs_1Kpe5qJPjJjVO, and a downloadable copy is available at the end of this transmittal.

This document focuses on the how the trends in the military and civil stability of the Middle East affect the strategic importance of the region and on how the gross differences in the data on the security and civil stability of given countries make any broad generalizations about region or its subregions do more to disguise the real-world nature of the region than define its importance.

It shows in detail that the nations in the region may largely share a common language and religion, but that virtually every other aspect of the region differs sharply by country. It cannot be understood or analyzed effectively without focusing on these national differences.

BRIEFER: Climate Change as a “Threat Multiplier”: History, Uses and Future of the Concept

Sherri Goodman, Pauline Baudu

“Threat multiplier” has become a widely used term by scholars and practitioners to describe climate change implications for security in both the policy realm and climate-security literature. The term was coined in 2007 by the CNA (Center for Naval Analyses) Military Advisory Board under the leadership of Sherri Goodman. It captures how climate change effects interact with and have the potential to exacerbate pre-existing threats and other drivers of instability to contribute to security risks. The concept has been characterized as “definitional” in having “set a baseline for how to talk about the issue” and having shaped “the way in which people studying climate policy think about risks.” Its use has also been described as “one of the most prominent ways in which the security implications of climate change have been understood.”

This briefer provides an account of the history of the “threat multiplier” term from its creation in the context of the environmental security era in 2007 to its progressive adoption by military, policy, and academic circles in the United States and abroad. It then examines the different conceptual ramifications that have derived from the term and its evolutions in capturing changing climate security realities.


Tim Gosling

Over the long term, it seems likely that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will prove a fundamental point of change for post-Cold War Europe. It’s abundantly clear that the short-term effects of the war dictated Europe’s direction in 2022, and will continue to do so throughout 2023.

The Czech Republic and its regional neighbours will feel the economic and political chaos emanating from the east in concentrated form as they try to adapt to this new reality. Even should the conflict end, which looks highly unlikely as 2023 begins, the spill-over will haunt the region for years to come.

The energy crisis will continue to have a significant impact. The Czech Republic has been scrambling to source alternative energy supplies to replace its heavy dependence on Russian oil and gas. It’s a struggle that’s far from over.

Despite appearing to have averted disaster this winter, the country will likely face a similar energy crunch in the winter of 2023-24, expects Matt Sherwood at the Economist Intelligence Unit. A landlocked Czech Republic doesn’t have the option of copying the likes of Germany and Poland in building new liquefied natural gas (LNG) infrastructure, while “plans to increase reliance on nuclear power will take many years to come to fruition,” the commodities analyst tells BIRN.

30 developing countries to watch in 2023

Homi Kharas and Charlotte Rivard

Strong headwinds suggest that 2023 will be a difficult year for global economic development. Avoiding setbacks will be at least as important as making renewed progress. Developing countries will continue to face overlapping crises with little to no fiscal space for addressing them. In the short term, debt and humanitarian distress are pressing threats, while in the longer term, climate action and spending on sustainable development goals (SDGs) remain priorities. If ignored, any one of these areas could have serious consequences for millions of people. If a critical mass of countries were to be adversely affected, it could create systemic failure in the global capacity to provide safety nets for people and resilience for economies.

Plans to avoid the worst outcomes will require some common features. At the country level, there need to be better policies, stronger institutions, and sound economic governance. At the international level, there need to be larger flows of official finance.

It will not be feasible to protect all countries from all types of risk. The human and financial resources to respond to crises are limited. The global community—major international organizations and large donors—needs a plan to avoid systemic risk and a watchlist of systemically important countries. Such a plan must triage and focus on those countries where the number of affected people is the largest. This does not imply that small countries should be ignored, simply that they have smaller spillover consequences for the rest of the world, and from a financial viewpoint, their issues are more manageable, so they can be dealt with as and when the need arises.

Russia’s largest hacking conference reflects isolated cyber ecosystem

Justin Sherman

In May of last year, around 8,700 leading hackers, developers, and cybersecurity firms in Russia converged on Moscow for one of the country’s largest hacker conferences: Positive Hack Days. Held annually since 2011, Positive Hack Days is in many ways reminiscent of American cybersecurity events such as Defcon or Blackhat, from its vendor-driven talks to its background music and social activities for participants.

Importantly, Positive Hack Days is organized by Russian cybersecurity company Positive Technologies—which the U.S. government sanctioned in April 2021 for supporting Russian government cyber operations. Reportedly, it discovers vulnerabilities in technology products, develops exploits for those vulnerabilities, and provides them to Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB). It plays a key role in Russia’s national cyber threat response program (GosSOPKA), too. But Positive Technologies’ assistance to the Russian intelligence community doesn’t end there. It also hosts events that serve as recruitment hotbeds for Russia’s FSB and military intelligence agency (GRU), which ostensibly survey company talks, capture-the-flag competitions, and other hacking challenges to identify talent. Positive Hack Days appears to be one such gathering.

Last May’s conference offers a unique window into Russia’s cybersecurity community. At a time when the Putin regime is waging an illegal war on Ukraine and Western governments have slammed the Russian economy with sanctions, Russia’s technology industry is more isolated than ever. In the overall Russian technology sector, plenty of developers oppose the war or have left Russia entirely. The politically charged environment in Russia creates precarity for those that remain. Although the panels and discussions at Positive Hack Days focused on nationalism and the importance of Russia’s domestic technology sector, some participants articulated concerns associated with technological isolationism. However, many others expressed support for the Putin regime, particularly those who have capitalized on sanctions and tech isolation as an opportunity to expand their own cybersecurity products and services. Western governments cannot understand and prepare for the future of Russia’s cybersecurity sector, cyber talent base, and cyber capability development without analyzing the full range of perspectives and interests found at these gatherings, too.

What We’ve Learned From the War in Ukraine

Ravi Agrawal

Remember the adage that generals always fight the last war? In Foreign Policy’s latest print issue, we asked 12 experts to think about the next one. What might it look like? More importantly, how do we prevent it? And how has the war in Ukraine re-shaped the global order?

FP subscribers can read the cover story here. I had a discussion with two of the issue’s contributors on FP Live, the magazine’s forum for live journalism. David Petraeus is a former director of the CIA and a retired four-star general who led U.S. operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Anne-Marie Slaughter is the CEO of New America and a former director of policy planning at the U.S. State Department. Subscribers can watch the full 30-minute discussion on the video box at the top of this page. What follows is a condensed and edited transcript.

Foreign Policy: General, I’ll start with you. You’ve led U.S. war strategy in some of its longest conflicts. Has anything about the war in Ukraine surprised you?

David Petraeus: There have been a number of surprises. I was impressed and slightly surprised that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has been so positively Churchillian. A strategic leader has to get the big ideas right, communicate them effectively, oversee their implementation, and determine how to refine them—and then do it again and again and again. He has done that magnificently. And, of course, Russian President Vladimir Putin has not. He’s gotten it all wrong.

The latest Pentagon UFO report finds balloons, drones and trash — but no aliens

Dan Vergano

A hotly anticipated, but threadbare, UFO report from U.S. intelligence and defense agencies doesn’t answer any questions about aliens. But its release on Thursday does point to new success in getting pilots to report such observations, despite long-standing military reluctance about being branded a nut as a result.

In the unclassified version of an annual congressional report released on Thursday by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Pentagon’s All-Domain Anomaly Resolution Office (AARO) reported more than double the number of “Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena” (UAP) sightings, 366, compared with a first report released in 2021, which noted 144. While some of the new reports were archival, 247 of them came after March 2021, and the great majority of them were from military pilots.

“Overall, I am encouraged to see an increase in UAP reporting — a sign of decreased stigma among pilots who are aware of the potential threat that UAPs can pose,” said Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, in a statement. In an era where spy drones from countries like China are a new worry for the U.S. military, that signal of reduced stigma may be the report’s real point, say observers, rather than finding aliens.

ChatGPT could be 'nuclear weapon' for cyber war

Casey Tonkin 

Artificial intelligence (AI) systems like ChatGPT could be devastating for the cyber security landscape with experts warning “it’s only a matter of time” before AI-assisted attacks unleash cyber warfare on a previously unimaginable scale.

Late last year, OpenAI let the public start testing ChatGPT, a natural language processing model that can seamlessly converse on any number of topics, debug code, and write news articles about itself.

ChatGPT immediately created a stir around the world, raising questions about academic integrity and what the knowledge economy will look like in an AI-powered future.

For the world of cyber security, in which a small team of underground hackers can send shivers down the collective spines of executives at multi-billion dollar companies, the public availability of fast, accurate, and highly intelligent AI systems like ChatGPT threatens to make attacks even easier to pull off.

Louay Ghashash, Director and CISO of security company SpartanSec and Chair of the Australian Computer Society (ACS) Cyber Security Committee, has been experimenting with ChatGPT and has found some alarming results.

Framing the Operational Environment: Insights from the Russia-Ukraine Conflict

Daniel L. Dodds

“Every problem has a solution, although it may not be the outcome that was originally hoped for or expected” (Hoffman, 2003, p. 162). According to the Department of the Army (DA) (2015), the Army design methodology (ADM) is a method for applying critical and creative thinking to understand, visualize, and describe unfamiliar problems and develop approaches for solving them. Beyond just solving problems, ADM solves the right problem by focusing on the root cause rather than tending to minor symptoms. Commanders and staff apply systems thinking and operational variables to visualize and describe the operational environment (OE) (DA, 2015). As such, the staff supports the commander by framing the OE through examining the relations, actors, functions, and tensions that describe current conditions which shape the reality on the ground. During this process, the staff become aware of the current state, project how the OE trends, describe the future state, and envision and end state (DA, 2015). The purpose of this paper is to explain the ADM activity of framing the OE by describing the importance of key concepts, tools, techniques, and how a Sergeant Major (SGM) can facilitate this activity in future organizations.

Framing the Operational Environment

An OE consists of conditions and circumstances that can influence the employment of systems and processes which affect the commander’s decision-making process (DA, 2014). To better grasp the OE, commanders and staff find facts about the area of interest and events within the area to gain a better perspective. According to Army Techniques Publication 5-0.1, the area of interest is the “area of concern to the commander, including the area of influence, areas adjacent thereto, and extending into enemy territory … [that] could jeopardize the accomplishment of the mission” (DA, 2015, p.75). Understanding how something and its surroundings relate to one another is necessary for setting context within the OE. This happens when the commander sets up a team to define what is going on, why it is going on, and how the OE should look in the future (DA, 2015). Answering these questions require the team to analyze the OE using operational variables to describe the current state.

A Maneuver-Centric Force No Longer?

Brennan Deveraux & John Thomas Pelham IV

U.S. Army Modernization Efforts and the Changing Character of Warfare

Is it time to challenge the U.S. Army’s long-standing maneuver-centric culture in light of the recent conflicts in Azerbaijan and Ukraine? While emerging Multi-Domain doctrine appears to be shifting the force towards a more effects-based warfare approach, Army echelons—particularly divisions and below—remain organized and equipped for maneuver operations. In this time of peace, a modern-day inter-war period, the U.S. Army must ask if it is on a viable modernization path for its vision of a future conflict or if the service needs to adapt to the changing relationship and corresponding primacy of maneuver and fires.

Whether from loitering munitions in the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh War between Armenia and Azerbaijan, or anti-tank guided missiles in the current Ukraine crisis, the changing environment has limited the success of armored formations in their current form. However, the subsequent debate has remained hyper-focused on the continued relevancy of mechanized vehicles—particularly the survivability of tanks in modern warfare. In turn, while land forces globally will continue to adapt the roles of specific systems to each unique conflict, pundits have overlooked a fundamental factor regarding the U.S. Army’s approach to warfare: its emphasis on maneuver.

Historically, the U.S. Army has built its identity around the infantry and cavalry (later armor) branches. Under this model, fires enable mounted (later mechanized) and light infantry formations to “close with and destroy enemy forces” or “seize and retain terrain.” Even with the proliferation of massed fires necessitated by the positional stalemate in the First World War and the significant advances in responsive fire-support capabilities in the Second World War, the U.S. Army continued to view maneuver forces as the decisive element on the battlefield. On the other hand, the fires branch remained a supporting member of the combined arms team. However, with the evolution of long-range and rapid-firing artillery, rockets, missiles, and other joint fires assets, maneuver’s traditional primacy amongst Western armies may be diminishing, if not ending altogether.

Intense fighting in eastern Ukraine showed the benefits — and limitations — of HIMARS, experts say

Michael Peck

If there is one weapon that symbolizes the Western arms that have helped Ukraine fight off Russia's invasion, it's the US-made M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System multiple rocket launcher, or HIMARS.

The success of Ukraine's recent counteroffensives has been partly attributed to HIMARS, of which the US has sent at least 20 to Ukraine.

But was HIMARS was really that effective? It was initially devastating, but Russian forces eventually learned how to cope with it, according to two US defense experts.

When HIMARS made its debut in Ukraine during the summer, it was hailed as a wonder weapon. GPS-guided rockets fired from the truck-mounted mobile launcher destroyed Russian headquarters and especially ammunition dumps, which helped curtail Russian artillery fire.