28 January 2023

Sri Lanka Says Debt-restructuring Talks Making Progress

Bharatha Mallawarachi

Debt-stricken Sri Lanka’s Central Bank chief said Wednesday that the country is making good progress in talks with its creditors to obtain financial assurances for debt restructuring, an important step toward finalizing an International Monetary Fund rescue plan.

Sri Lanka is bankrupt and has suspended repayment of its $51 billion foreign debt, of which $28 billion must be repaid by 2027.

It has reached a preliminary agreement with the IMF for a $2.9 billion rescue package over four years. Its completion hinges on assurances on debt restructuring from creditors that include China, India, and the Paris Club, a grouping of major creditor nations.

India announced last week that it has given its assurance to the IMF to facilitate the bailout plan. India has extended $4.4 billion in official credit to Sri Lanka, excluding other forms of lending.

“Other bilateral creditors, Paris Club, China and small bilateral creditors are in the process of issuing financial assurances,” Sri Lankan Central Bank Governor Nandalal Weerasinghe said.

The “process is making very good progress,” Weerasinghe told reporters at his office, saying the country hopes to receive “the necessary financial assurances from all our creditors in a very short period.”

Sri Lanka borrowed heavily from China over the past decade for infrastructure projects that include a seaport, airport, and a city being built on reclaimed land. The projects failed to earn enough revenue to pay for the loans, a factor in Sri Lanka’s economic woes.

China accounts for about 20 percent of Sri Lanka’s loans, making it the state’s largest bilateral creditor. That means Beijing’s cooperation in the debt restructuring process is critical. In general, however, China is often reluctant to provide debt relief, fearing that other debtor countries would demand similar treatment. Beijing prefers to suspend payments as a form of temporary relief.

Where Does South Asia Fit Now in US Security and Defense Strategies?

Monish Tourangbam and Vasu Sharma

The latest U.S. National Security Strategy (NSS) and National Defense Strategy (NDS) categorically highlight China’s assertive behavior in the Indo-Pacific and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as threats to the U.S.-led liberal international order. South Asia in terms of regional priorities for the U.S. is largely subsumed under the Indo-Pacific strategy and is likely to remain so considering evolving geopolitics.

More than anything else, the long war in Afghanistan shaped the United States’ South Asia strategy for the last two decades. Therefore, the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan in 2021 has regenerated the debate on what South Asia, and more particularly India, Afghanistan and Pakistan, fit into U.S. national security and defense strategies.

U.S. engagement in Afghanistan stands reduced to “over the horizon” counterterrorism capabilities and highly contingent upon the nature of its relationship with the Taliban. The Pakistan-U.S. relationship is highly circumscribed, and the India-U.S. partnership has assumed a broader strategic arc in the Indo-Pacific era.

Although both the NSS and NDS make no mention of South Asia as a region of strategic priority, the U.S. policy toward South Asia can be discerned via two lenses. First, through the India-U.S. partnership, which has been deemed vital for counterbalancing Beijing’s presence in the Indian Ocean Region. And second, in the focus on ensuring the security of the U.S. homeland, with no future attacks emanating from Afghanistan. Following the withdrawal from Afghanistan, U.S. dynamics with Pakistan seem highly transactional, depending on what Pakistan can offer for U.S. counterterrorism goals in the region, and what the U.S. can offer Islamabad in terms of military and non-military assistance.

Afghanistan’s Kamal Khan Dam and the Helmand River Treaty

Ikramuddin Kamil

The opening of the Kamal Khan Dam in March 2021 reignited an old dispute between Iran and Afghanistan over the allocation of water in the Helmand River. The river is considered to be one of Afghanistan’s natural lifelines. It’s the country’s longest and runs into Hamoun Lake, which lies on the border between the two neighbors.

At the inauguration of the Kamal Khan Dam, then-President Ashraf Ghani said, as summarized by media at the time, that “Afghanistan would no longer give free water to anyone, so Iran should provide fuel to Afghans in exchange for water.”

Less than six months later, Afghanistan came under the control of the Taliban.

According to Kabul, the dam was built to solve many of the region’s vast infrastructural and agricultural challenges. However, Tehran has attempted to halt its construction for years, maintaining that it would interrupt the water supply that feeds the Hamoun wetlands.

In late July 2022, Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian warned his counterpart, Afghanistan’s Amir Khan Muttaqi, that prohibiting Tehran from its rightful access to the Helmand River will only cause further strain to an already splintered relationship. Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, too, urged serious action.

This back and forth circles a critical question: Is Afghanistan legally permitted to divert the natural course of the Helmand River? Before we begin, let’s underscore the key elements of the existing bilateral accord.

An Overview of the Helmand River Treaty

America’s China Policy Is Not Working

Henry M. Paulson, Jr

For all the talk of how we have entered a new global era, the last year bears a striking resemblance to 2008. That year, Russia invaded its neighbor, Georgia. Tensions with Iran and North Korea were perennially high. And the world faced severe global economic challenges.

One notable difference, however, is the state of Chinese-U.S. relations. At that time, self-interested cooperation was possible even amid political and ideological differences, clashing security interests, and divergent views about the global economy, including China’s currency valuation and its industrial subsidies. As Treasury secretary, I worked with Chinese leaders during the 2008 financial crisis to forestall contagion, mitigate the worst effects of the crisis, and restore macroeconomic stability.

Today, such cooperation is inconceivable. Unlike during the financial crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic failed to spark Chinese-U.S. cooperation and only intensified deepening antagonism. China and the United States jab accusatory fingers at each other, blame each other for bad policies, and trade barbs about a global economic downturn from which both countries and the world have yet to recover.

The world has clearly changed. China has very different and more assertive leadership. It has more than tripled the size of its economy since 2008 and now has stronger capabilities to pursue adversarial policies. At the same time, it has done far less to open its economy to foreign competition than many in the West have advocated and expected. Meanwhile, U.S. attitudes toward China have turned sharply negative, as have the politics in Washington. What has not changed, however, is the fact that without a stable relationship between the United States and China, where cooperation on shared interests is possible, the world will be a very dangerous and less prosperous place.

China Increasingly Relies on Imported Food. That’s a Problem.

Zongyuan Zoe Liu

China has increased its reliance on food imports over the past two decades, prompting concerns among officials who worry that disruptions to food supply chains could trigger domestic unrest. In particular, this reliance has heightened China’s sensitivity to food supply disruptions caused by geopolitical tensions, such as Russia’s war in Ukraine.
What is China’s current food security situation?

With less than 10 percent of the planet’s arable land, China produces one-fourth of the world’s grain and feeds one-fifth of the world’s population. Data from the country’s National Bureau of Statistics showed that in 2022, China’s grain output reached a record high of 686.53 million tons [page in Chinese] despite delayed plantings, extreme weather, and COVID-19 disruptions. China ranks first globally in producing cereals (such as corn, wheat, and rice), fruit, vegetables, meat, poultry, eggs, and fishery products.

Despite its domestic production, China has been a net importer [DOC] of agricultural products since 2004. Today, it imports more of these products—including soybeans, corn, wheat, rice, and dairy products—than any other country. Between 2000 and 2020, the country’s food self-sufficiency ratio decreased from 93.6 percent to 65.8 percent. Changing diet patterns have also driven up China’s imports of edible oils, sugar, meat, and processed foods. In 2021, the country’s edible oil import-dependency ratio reached nearly 70 percent [article in Chinese], almost as high as its crude oil import dependence.

Why does China now depend on imported food?

A primary factor has been Chinese people’s increasingly sophisticated dietary demands, driven by a growing city-dwelling middle class pursuing safer, more diverse, and higher-quality food. Concerns about food safety in particular have increased demand for imports. While the Chinese government improved its national food safety standards in 2022, the country’s prolonged lack of strict food safety regulations has allowed opportunistic domestic producers to produce unsafe or toxic food. Several deadly food safety scandals over the past two decades have hurt Chinese people’s trust in local brands, leading them to prefer foreign ones. For example, contaminated baby formula killed six babies and poisoned three hundred thousand children in 2008; today, Chinese parents still favor foreign baby formula.

Taiwan’s Urgent Task A Radical New Strategy to Keep China Away

Michael Brown

Since the Ukraine war began, a growing number of U.S. officials have stressed the urgency of deterring Chinese military action against Taiwan. President Xi Jinping’s comments in October reinforced this view when he declared that China was prepared to take “all measures necessary” against foreign “interference” on the island and that “the wheels of history are rolling on toward China’s reunification” with it. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned that Beijing may intend to seize Taiwan on a “much faster timeline” than previously thought.

Despite this assessment, the United States has not devoted sufficient attention to the current approach to deterrence—and whether it is adequate to meet an accelerated threat. For years, Taiwan has been preparing for a conventional war with China, for which it has acquired big military hardware from the United States, such as Abrams tanks and F-16 jets. But Taiwan cannot match China in these categories, and a direct military confrontation is one that it cannot win. Moreover, despite its long-standing policy of strategic ambiguity, Washington has suggested that it would come to Taiwan’s aid if China invaded. Yet the United States has not taken adequate steps to put military resources in place and increase its own capacity to resupply those resources in anticipation of such an event.

A Chinese invasion of Taiwan would not resemble the Ukraine conflict in which the United States and its allies have been able to build economic sanctions and supply Ukraine with increasingly powerful weapons over many months. Given Taiwan’s location—only 100 miles from the Chinese mainland and 5,000 miles from the headquarters of the United States Indo-Pacific Command in Hawaii—Washington would not have time to prepare a response once an invasion was underway. Were the United States to come to Taiwan’s defense without sufficient planning, the outcome could be truly catastrophic. If China and the United States go to war, there would be few incentives for either side to back down and numerous paths to rapid escalation. With the prospect of a historically destructive conflict looming, ensuring effective deterrence is the most critical U.S. national security challenge in Asia, and by far the most urgent.

Iran is still in the Holocaust denial biz – big time

On January 20, 2022, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution that condemned the denial and distortion of the Holocaust. To no one’s surprise, the Islamic Republic of Iran chose to be the only country in the world that condemned and rejected this resolution.

The UN passed the resolution one month after Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi cast doubt on the Holocaust during an interview on CBS News’s 60 Minutes.

One year later, on the eve of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the eyes of the world are on the sustained protests on the streets of Iran, and the global community must continue to hold the Iranian regime accountable for its systemic denial of the Holocaust and the disrespecting of its victims.

To date, on three occasions, the Iranian regime has held Holocaust cartoon competitions. The first one was held in 2006, soon after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took the presidential office. For the second one held in 2016, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei sent a personal message of praise to the organizers. On New Year’s Day in 2021, Iranian officials, acting with the support of Khamenei, released the full results of Iran’s third major collection of political cartoons aimed at promoting Holocaust denial.

Meanwhile, the Iranian regime continues to cynically use the Holocaust to attack the West. It does so by stating that claims of freedom of speech in Western countries are lies because Western governments disallow and punish Holocaust denial.

This was evident recently, soon after the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo published caricatures of Supreme Leader Khamenei.

Basra’s stampede is a metaphor for Iraq’s governance failure

Ahmed Twaij

Iraqi soccer fans try to enter the Basra International Stadium in Basra, Iraq, Thursday, January 19, 2023. A stampede outside the stadium killed at least four people and injured many more. (Anmar Khalil/AP Photo)

It was meant to be the icing on the cake. The crowning of Iraq as champions of the Arabian Gulf was supposed to bring to a conclusion a tournament that had welcomed Iraq back into the international scene.

Celebrations, however, were overshadowed by the reported deaths of at least four from a stampede which also injured dozens of others ahead of the tournament’s final on January 19. Poor crowd control, awful security protocols and mismanagement resulted in the fatal chaos.

Instead of the focus being placed on sport, the failure of the security forces and resulting tragedy at the final became a metaphor for the gross ineptitude of the Iraqi government and burst the bubble of the two-week high that had been the Arabian Gulf Cup.

With hours to go before kick-off it was clear Iraqi government officials were not in control of the tens of thousands of fans who had descended on Basra’s ‘Palm Trunk’ stadium. Government officials quickly began discussing the possibilities of postponing the final of the tournament or even having it transferred to another neutral country as news of causalities began to spread.

Yet the government should have anticipated such crowds and been much better prepared. It was known the match was sold out and it was expected that those without tickets would attempt to crash the match.

Just two weeks earlier, after having attended the opening ceremony in Basra myself, I had written about how badly organised the crowd control was. It was a disaster waiting to happen as tens of thousands were shepherded through bottlenecked gates.

The Kingdom and the Power

F. Gregory Gause III

In October 2022, Saudi Arabia announced that OPEC+, a group of oil-exporting countries, would cut oil production targets substantially: by two million barrels per day. As the world’s top exporter of oil, the Saudis have always taken the lead in the group’s efforts to manage the world oil market. The move had an immediate if relatively modest impact on oil prices, which rose from a low for the year of around $76 per barrel before the announcement to a range of about $82 to $91 by mid-November. The shock felt by Americans was more geopolitical than economic: the Biden administration had asked

Lavrov's Africa Trip Reveals Limits to Russian Soft Power

Ivan U. Klyszcz

The focus of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's visit to South Africa, Eswatini, and Angola this week has been the portrayal of Russia as a partner for the continent’s development and security, especially in the energy sector. The tour also had an overtly propagandistic element aimed at bolstering Russia's tattered global image as it seeks to cultivate closer ties with African states against the backdrop of its disastrous invasion of Ukraine in February.

The image projected by Russian state and state-aligned media is one of Russia and its African counterparts earnestly attempting to build better relations, despite the West's meddling and its "neo-colonial" policies.

Given how little Russia can offer in economic terms at present, the development narrative is rather suspect, however. Before Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Moscow exported more to neighboring Belarus than it exported and imported from all 54 African states combined. Since the war and its economic fallout, Russia’s growth prospects look bleak, meaning that ambitious financial, infrastructure or trade projects were always unlikely to be initiated.

On the economic front, the tour appears to have produced uneven results at best. While economic ties were hailed by Lavrov and his counterparts in each country, only the announcement in Luanda of a prospective agreement for Russia to help Angola develop its own atomic energy program was of any note.

As Russia's nuclear energy regulator Rosatom had no presence in Angola until 2019, the initiative will be starting largely from scratch and Rosatom’s foreign ventures have often been delayed or ended up going nowhere, so the prospective deal may come to nothing.

What would ‘winning’ in Ukraine mean?

Iawoke in the small hours last week and began worrying about the Ukraine war. A friend had earlier taken me to task over the airy way I’d introduced an argument with the words ‘Once we’ve won the war in Ukraine’ – as though this was a simple matter and just a question of ‘when’. But what does ‘win’ mean? Does the searchlight of our intelligence, backed by what we already know, really illuminate the landscape ahead? Might things come to pass that we just haven’t thought of?

Even people as old as me remember wars that, though bloody and protracted, were fairly straightforward as narratives, with clear and final objectives and, in story terms, a reasonably clear-cut ending. The second world war is an outstanding example; the Falklands a more minor but equally clear case. We knew what winning meant. Hitler and Galtieri knew what losing meant. Even after the Korean war there was a simple and permanent partition. These were proper endings, followed by a stable state.

We imagine, I suppose, that the present Ukraine business will turn out like one of those. Crudely, I thought at first that the Russians should just be pulverised, Putin humiliated into personal collapse and all the territory Moscow had stolen returned to Kyiv. After that, I thought, Europe would be at peace again: stabilised, sorted and ready to help rebuild Ukraine.

But will it be anything like this? Let me throw into the mix of your own thoughts some doubts among mine.

Everyone is speculating on Putin’s leadership – will he be overthrown? Is his presidency strong enough to survive a peace deal with Ukraine and the West? Might he be replaced by a yet fiercer militarist? Good questions, but there’s another we don’t seem to be addressing: is Volodymyr Zelensky secure? Admittedly, my time spent travelled in Ukraine was short, and it was about 15 years ago, but it left me with a more jaundiced view of that country than one hears in these blue-and-yellow-flag-waving days.

NATO members are right to send tanks to Ukraine

Everybody knows that the second round of Ukraine’s war is coming. Everybody knows that the Ukrainians need tanks and long-range missiles to withstand the next Russian offensive and to take back the territory that is theirs. And everybody knows that, sooner or later, the West usually ends up giving Ukraine what it needs.

Could Ukraine Really Join NATO?

Peter Harris

Could Ukraine join NATO?

Henry Kissinger made headlines last week when he raised this possibility at the World Economic Forum in Davos. Appearing by video link, the elder statesman went so far as to call Kyiv’s membership of the alliance an “appropriate outcome” of the war.

It is desperately hard to imagine.

Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine 12 months ago on the pretext that NATO expansion constituted a grave national security threat to the Russian Federation. Assuming that Russian leaders will not budge from this view (nor lose the capacity to menace Ukraine in some form or another), it seems implausible that NATO will want to make Moscow’s nightmares come true when the current war is over. If people in the West want the postwar era to be defined by anything close to a stable peace with Russia, then Ukraine’s membership of NATO can hardly be viewed as a prudent course of action.

Why poke the bear?

After all, NATO is a defensive alliance that exists to keep its members safe. It is worth emphasizing that, for the past year, the organization has performed this function remarkably well. Despite the high-profile (and provocative) endeavors of NATO members to assist Ukraine’s war effort, there have been zero Russian attacks on NATO soil. On the contrary, the alliance continues to serve as a deterrent against Russian aggression and the ultimate guarantor of its members’ safety and survival.
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It strains credulity to argue (as some do) that the addition of Ukraine would add to the overall security of the alliance. While Kyiv would obviously breathe a heavy sigh of relief at finally obtaining a meaningful set of security guarantees, this would come at the cost of the other 30 members of the alliance (32 if Sweden and Finland are ever granted accession) being placed in much greater jeopardy of war with Russia, a nuclear-armed state. Such chronic insecurity is not something that NATO members will choose lightly.

Will Ukraine Wind Up Making Territorial Concessions to Russia?

We at Foreign Affairs have recently published a number of pieces on the war in Ukraine, the potential outcomes of the conflict, and the possibility of a negotiated settlement between Kyiv and Moscow. To complement these articles, we asked a broad pool of experts for their take. As with previous surveys, we approached dozens of authorities with expertise relevant to the question at hand, along with leading generalists in the field. Participants were asked to state whether they agreed or disagreed with a proposition and to rate their confidence level in their opinion. Their answers are below.

Kennan’s Warning on Ukraine

Frank Costigliola

George Kennan, the remarkable U.S. diplomat and probing observer of international relations, is famous for forecasting the collapse of the Soviet Union. Less well known is his warning in 1948 that no Russian government would ever accept Ukrainian independence. Foreseeing a deadlocked struggle between Moscow and Kyiv, Kennan made detailed suggestions at the time about how Washington should deal with a conflict that pitted an independent Ukraine against Russia. He returned to this subject half a century later. Kennan, then in his 90s, cautioned that the eastward expansion of NATO would doom democracy in Russia and ignite another Cold War.

Kennan probably knew Russia more intimately than anyone who ever served in the U.S. government. Even before he arrived in Moscow in 1933 as a 29-year-old aide to the first U.S. ambassador the Soviet Union, he had mastered Russian and could pass as a native. In Russia, Kennan immersed himself in newspapers, official documents, literature, radio, theater, and film. He wore himself thin partying into the night with Russian artists, intellectuals, and junior officials. Dressed like a Russian, Kennan eavesdropped on Muscovites in the streetcar or at the theater. He hiked or skied into the countryside to visit gems of early Russian architecture. His disdain for Joseph Stalin’s dictatorship, particularly after the onset of the bloody purges of 1935–38, was matched only by his desire to get close to the Russian people and their culture. In 1946, after dictating his famed long telegram to the State Department warning of the Soviet threat, Kennan was brought back to Washington. The following year, he won national attention for his article in Foreign Affairs calling for the containment of Soviet expansion.

Kennan was unique. When Assistant Secretary of State Dean Acheson told a colleague that the gifted diplomat was slated to head the newly formed Policy Planning Staff, the colleague replied that “a man like Kennan would be excellent for that job.” Acheson snapped back: “A man like Kennan? There’s nobody like Kennan.” Operating from an office next door to the secretary of state, Kennan helped craft the Marshall Plan and other major midcentury initiatives.

Michael Crichton: Environmentalism Is a Religion

In a speech he delivered to the Commonwealth Club of California, author, screenwriter, and director Michael Crichton lamented the removal of science from environmentalism. The speech given in September 2003 remains highly relevant as climate change and the impact of humans on their environment continues to be a highly politicized subject.

Crichton felt that environmentalism had become a religion and is now predominated by fundamentalists—individuals who are not open to reason or opposing ideas.

Best known for his works of fiction, including State of Fear, which tells the story of eco-terrorists creating seemingly “natural” disasters to mimic climate change.

Below is the full transcript of Crichton’s remarks.
Environmentalism Is a Religion: Speech to the Commonwealth Club, September 15th, 2003

I have been asked to talk about what I consider the most important challenge facing mankind, and I have a fundamental answer.

The greatest challenge facing mankind is the challenge of distinguishing reality from fantasy, truth from propaganda.

Perceiving the truth has always been a challenge to mankind, but in the information age (or as I think of it, the disinformation age) it takes on a special urgency and importance.

We must daily decide whether the threats we face are real, whether the solutions we are offered will do any good, whether the problems we’re told exist are in fact real problems or non-problems.

Every one of us has a sense of the world, and we all know that this sense is in part given to us by what other people and society tell us; in part generated by our emotional state, which we project outward; and in part by our genuine perceptions of reality. In short, our struggle to determine what is true is the struggle to decide which of our perceptions are genuine, and which are false because they are handed down, or sold to us, or generated by our own hopes and fears.

As an example of this challenge, I want to talk today about environmentalism.

What is Putin thinking

Clifford D. May

I’ve begun talking to myself. Not good. But who else can I talk to? I’m surrounded by fools and incompetents. Yes, there are those who defend me and the special military operation I initiated a year ago next month to restore Russia‘s dignity, power and glory. But how many of them are just hungry for crumbs from my table?

Half a million young Russians have now fled rather than fight for the Fatherland. There was a time when traitors were not allowed to just pack up and leave. Maybe it’s time to enforce such rules again.

I need to be honest with myself: The Ukrainians have surprised me. When I took Crimea back from their sweaty hands nine years ago, they just whined and licked their wounds.

This time they’re fighting like grizzly bears. And my generals? They failed me. I should have shot a few right away to encourage the others.

I do blame myself for not remembering how stubborn Ukrainians can be. Stalin found that out when he began collectivizing agriculture. The peasants didn’t like that. So, Stalin took away their grain and let a few million starve to death. That taught them a lesson! It’s time to give them another.

I also underestimated Zelenskyy, that comedian, that Jew. I thought as soon as he saw my tanks rolling toward Kiev — not Kyiv, damn it! — he’d run crying to the West where he’d give speeches for gelt.

Perhaps I should have limited myself to what Biden called a “minor incursion.” The problem is I’m not getting any younger. I don’t have years to spend slicing the kolbasa.

Sending tanks to Ukraine makes one thing clear: this is now a western war against Russia

Martin Kettle

Sending more western tanks to support Ukraine does not mean, as some politicians occasionally come dangerously close to implying, that the war is now almost over – save only for the fighting. The Ukraine war will still last months, if not years, and today’s decisions are more of a strategic body swerve than a complete and fully executed U-turn. Nevertheless, this is an unmistakably big moment, and for three main reasons.

The first is that battle tanks give Ukraine a military advantage that, in the words of Ed Arnold of the Royal United Services Institute, could be transformative. The three types of western battle tank now being committed to Ukraine – the US’s M1 Abrams, Germany’s Leopard 2 and the UK’s Challenger 2 – are all significantly more powerful than the Soviet-era T-72s that form the bulk of the Russian and Ukrainian tank forces. The same goes for the French Leclerc tanks, whose dispatch to Ukraine has not been ruled out either.

These western tanks all have greater mobility, more lethal firepower and stronger armour than those used by Russia. This also makes them heavier, which gives the lighter Russian tanks an advantage on boggy ground, of which there is no shortage in Ukraine once the thaw takes place. Even so, the modern western tanks’ control and navigation systems give them an all-round ability to operate in combined manoeuvres involving artillery and infantry, including at night, that the Russians cannot match.

These advantages give western tanks the potential to break through Russian lines and control the shape of the conflict across significant stretches of occupied territory. The tanks would also play a key role in defending Ukrainian lines against counterattack. But the most alluring potential of these weapons to Ukraine and its allies is that, if they are as successful as the hype implies, they could eventually put Kyiv in a position to dictate ceasefire and peace terms to Moscow.

The Russian army in 2023

Pavel Luzin

More than 10 months into the Russian invasion of Ukraine, looking back at 2022, the Kremlin is sparing no effort to at least partially restore the capability of its armed forces, which continue to shrink amidst heavy fighting. In recent months, neither the large-scale enlistment of prisoners, nor mass conscription, nor supplies of Iranian-made drones, nor command reshuffles coupled with nuclear blackmail have enabled Russia to turn the tide of war in its favour or improve its foreign policy standing.

Nevertheless, the Russian authorities clearly intend to continue the war at any cost in order to at least improve their foreign policy status. They still hope to force Ukraine and the West to broker a ceasefire and/or start negotiations, but only on the Kremlin’s terms, which include at least maintaining control over the occupied territories. These negotiations will buy Russia time to lick its wounds and to launch a new round of its war against Ukraine as well as its confrontation with the US and Europe. All in all, the Kremlin shows no signs of having abandoned its original war aims.

That is why, on 21 December 2022, at its year-end staff meeting, the Russian Ministry of Defence announced plans dubbed by many as a new ‘military reform’. However, reform implies institutional changes and innovations. What Moscow is going to do with its army amidst hostilities looks more like a desperate attempt to solve the most acute problems, or to pretend to be solving them.

Nominalists vs realists

Ukraine’s ‘decision-centric’ military needs more than armor to win


The Biden administration’s decision to send Bradley Fighting Vehicles to Ukraine is being heralded as a sign that the United States and its Western allies will back Kyiv’s efforts to retake Russian-occupied territory. But a hundred or so armored troop carriers will not be enough to drive Russian troops back across the border. Instead, allies should give Kyiv weapons that exploit the transformation of Ukraine’s military into a force that gathers, distributes and acts on information faster and more lethally than its enemy — or almost any other military.

Combining commercial satellite imagery with drone reconnaissance and Western intelligence, Ukrainian commanders maintain a comprehensive picture of the battlefield. Connected by Starlink to artillery batteries, missile launchers and attack drones, they use software to review their attack options. And when the timing is right, soldiers take out the most important Russian targets, from generals in command posts to ammo dumps brimming with ordnance.

What gets the most attention from Ukraine’s military innovation is the losses imposed on Russian forces, which have forced Moscow to call up hundreds of thousands of conscripts and beg North Korea and Iran for weapons. But simply closing kill chains more efficiently is only part of the story — and not the most important part.

Outnumbered and outgunned throughout the invasion, the Ukrainian military’s reliance on decision-making advantage is a preview of how wars will be fought going forward. Proliferation has put precision weapons in the hands of nearly every military and insurgent group. The next era of military conflict, therefore, will depend on which side can use their weapons more effectively and paralyze the enemy.

Russian forces are experiencing this dynamic. Facing Ukrainian commanders who can tap into an unprecedented range of information sources, a wide variety of lethal drones and missiles, and command and control software that builds strike plans like Google Maps builds a route, Russian troops are falling back into a defensive crouch while Moscow attacks Ukraine’s power grid at long range to force a temporary stalemate.

What’s the truth about casualty numbers in Ukraine?

The Russia-Ukraine war looks set to be one of the bloodiest in modern history. Even by conservative estimates, both sides are losing hundreds of soldiers per day, putting it within the top 10% of deadliest wars since 1812.

Over the past week, two major military figures in the West appeared to confirm the scale of suffering. Last Friday, Norway’s Chief of Defence, General Eirik Kristoffersen, claimed that Russia has endured 180,000 casualties to Ukraine’s 100,000 (plus another 30,000 Ukrainian civilian casualties). Meanwhile, U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley said on Friday that Russian casualties are “significantly well over 100,00 now” (The Sun reports American intelligence services suggesting this figure is around 188,000).

Gathering and assessing accurate casualty data, however, is a fiendishly difficult, and fraught, topic. I spoke to five prominent military analysts, some of whom did not even want to be quoted by name because of the sensitivity of the subject. Most agreed that both Kristoffersen and Milley were likely downplaying the number of Ukrainian casualties while overestimating Russia’s — something that has been a constant fixture of this war.

“There are somewhere approaching 100,000 casualties for Ukraine,” Dara Massicot, a senior policy researcher at RAND, says. But for the Russians, “the number is somewhere around 100,000-130,000 casualties (wounded and killed)— of that number, conservatively, probably 20,000-25,000 are killed in action”. Massicot believes that Milley is being “provided with the best possible information available to the US government”, but her Russian casualty figure is lower than both the U.S. and Norwegian estimates.

In part, this is because of the way information is recorded and delivered: journalists, intelligence services and governments regularly confuse kills with casualties, the latter of which includes those killed, died-of-wounds in hospital, wounded, missing and captured. It is different from KIA (killed in action). We also tend “to take government claims of other people’s losses at face value,” according to military historian Christopher Lawrence. He refers to the Ukrainian claim that 121,480 Russians have been killed, yet their own announced total losses as of 21 August was only 9,000 killed.

The future of covid vaccines: Four big questions for the FDA as it considers a move to annual shots

Jonathan Lambert

The Food and Drug Administration is considering a plan that would shift covid vaccines to annual shots, much like flu shots — and Thursday, the agency’s expert outside advisers will weigh in.

As the pandemic heads into its fourth year, these epidemiologists, vaccine researchers, immunologists and physicians will cast a consequential vote on the future of covid vaccines and vaccination in the United States. The panel will evaluate the FDA’s proposal for a once-a-year shot updated to match current circulating strains of the virus, drawing on new data from vaccine manufacturers and government officials.

The committee will end its daylong meeting with a vote on whether the FDA should simplify current vaccine recommendations. The vote is nonbinding, but the FDA usually follows suit.

Significant questions remain about the bivalent booster strategy the agency adopted last year, which only about 15 percent of people have received, and whether it’s the best way forward. Some committee members have also criticized the FDA for not sharing more data on the bivalent boosters during vaccine-advisory meetings last year.

Here are the big questions, both on and off the FDA panel’s agenda, that will determine vaccine policy moving forward.
Should the vaccine be simplified to a once-a-year shot for most people?

Right now, there’s no regular covid vaccine schedule. When vaccines first arrived in late 2020, people got them in waves as the government expanded eligibility. Uptake of the first batch of boosters, and the new bivalent ones, was also spread out over months. Guidance around what counts as “fully vaccinated” has been in flux during this period, as scientists have learned more about waning immunity from the shots themselves and how well new variants evade that immunity.

“I think right now, people are really confused about whether they’re eligible for a new shot,” said Jenna Guthmiller, an immunologist at the University of Colorado. “Uptake has been surprisingly low.”

Pentagon updates guidance for development, fielding and employment of autonomous weapon systems


The Pentagon has provided updated guidance for Defense officials who will be responsible for overseeing the design, development, acquisition, testing, fielding and employment of autonomous weapon systems — and created a new working group to facilitate senior-level reviews of the technology.

The move comes as the U.S. military is embracing artificial intelligence, unmanned platforms and other tech that could give weapon systems much more autonomy than those of previous eras.

The updated DOD Directive 3000.09, “Autonomy in Weapon Systems,” was signed off by Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks and went into effect Wednesday. It’s the first major update since 2012.

An autonomous weapon system is “a weapon system that, once activated, can select and engage targets without further intervention by an operator. This includes, but is not limited to, operator-supervised autonomous weapon systems that are designed to allow operators to override operation of the weapon system, but can select and engage targets without further operator input after activation,” according to the Pentagon’s definition.

A semi-autonomous weapon system is defined as “a weapon system that, once activated, is intended to only engage individual targets or specific target groups that have been selected by an operator.” So-called “fire and forget” or lock-on-after-launch homing munitions are some examples.

According to the updated directive, these kinds of technologies must be designed to allow commanders and operators to exercise “appropriate levels of human judgment” over the use of force. And they will be put through “rigorous” hardware and software verification and validation as well as “realistic” operational test and evaluation.

Tech stocks are down, advertisers are nervous, and workers are paying the price with layoffs. Here’s why.

Matthew Zeitlin

First the stock prices came down, and then the layoffs began.

If 2022 was the time when technology companies that had struggled to make consistent profits started letting go of employees — Snap cut a fifth of its workforce, Carvana let go 1,500 employees, Twitter … well, you know — then 2023 seems to be the year where even the giants of the industry are cutting headcount. In the past few weeks, Amazon, Google and Microsoft have announced or implemented layoffs of some 40,000 combined employees. Even Salesforce, the enterprise software giant, is laying off 8,000.

While these tech companies — and Meta, which laid off 11,000 in November — don’t all operate in the same business — Meta and Alphabet sell ads, Microsoft sells software, Amazon sells too many things to list — layoffs are happening for all of them. That’s because their investors expected more growth than they are currently showing, share prices that soared in 2020 and 2021 have come back to earth, and any time share prices fall, investors and executives get antsy — and workers often pay the price.

These most recent announcements are likely not the end of this layoff season.

“We … expect a major theme will be tech layoffs as Silicon Valley after a decade of hyper growth now comes to the reality of cost cutting mode to get through this economic storm,” Wedbush Securities analyst Dan Ives wrote in a note to clients. “The Cinderella ride has ended (for now).”

Interest rates and stock prices


John Nagl

Authors’ Note: One of the hallowed rites of passage each year at the Army War College is reading portions of Thucydides’ 2500-year-old The History of the Peloponnesian War. Most students find it extremely worthwhile, some to their surprise. Many scholars regard The Peloponnesian War as the first work of international relations since it attributes agency to human actions rather than to the will of the gods. A deep reading of Thucydides also requires students to navigate between the opposing pitfalls of the use of history: cherry-picking evidence to come to simplistic “lessons” or giving up any hope of drawing insights from such a distant time. Of course, every year there are always one or two students who do not make the effort. The following is a satirical portrait of one such student’s not-so-careful read of history along with the response of a more discerning classmate. (All citations come from Robert B. Strassler’s translation The Landmark Thucydides.)

The following list was found on the backside of a stained Redd’s Barbeque take-out menu a day before oral comprehensive exams at the Army War College in two separate sets of handwriting–a short list from one student and commentary from another.

Ten Things I Learned by Skimming Thucydides

It’s the day before oral comp exams. While my gullible classmates have been busy rereading Thucydides, I skimmed the text (It’s only a lot of reading if you do it!) and to be on the safe side, rewatched the movie 300. From what I could gather by flipping through the book, these are the top ten lessons I’m taking into oral comprehensive exams from The History of the Peloponnesian War:

1. War is predictable, and anyone paying attention can see how it will turn out.

The Spartan king Archidamus, preparing to invade Attica, disagreed with this assessment, as does almost anyone who has fought in any war. As Archidamus argued, “The course of war cannot be foreseen, and its attacks are generally dedicated by the impulse of the moment; and where overweening self-confidence has despised preparation, a wise apprehension has often been able to make head against superior numbers.” (2:11). Any resemblance between Archidamus’ warning and the American invasion of Iraq in March 2003 and subsequent events in the Middle East is purely coincidental.