20 February 2023

Will Pakistan Become The First Nuclear Power To Go Bankrupt? – Analysis

Yuan Yujing

On January 26, at the close of the official trading day, the Pakistani rupee (PKR) fell 9.61% against the U.S. dollar, setting a record for the largest one-day drop in more than two decades, and once again raising concerns about Pakistan’s debt crisis.

Dong Tao, managing director and the vice chairman for Greater China at Credit Suisse, pointed out that what lies behind the PKR’s exchange rate plunge is Pakistan’s deteriorating economic and financial situation in recent years. Data show that since 2023, the PKR has depreciated by 22% against the USD, and the national inflation rate has exceeded 20%, hitting a 48-year high. At the same time, in the domestic market of Pakistan, a large number of food and commodities are facing shortages, severely affecting the daily life of local consumers. Coupled with the soaring energy and food prices brought about by the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, there have been massive demonstrations ongoing in the South Asian country. In addition, under the pressure of the exchange rate, Pakistan is also facing serious capital outflow problems. Pakistan’s foreign exchange reserve balance fell to a record low of less than USD 3 billion at one point after repaying USD 1 billion in business loans to two UAE banks this year. Judging from the current import data, this amount can only maintain the country’s import demand for about three weeks. On this basis, Pakistan is also facing foreign debt pressure of more than USD 126.9 billion. Under internal and external difficulties, Pakistan is gradually slipping into the abyss of the debt crisis.

China’s Loans To Sri Lanka Have Been ‘Quasi-Predatory,’ Says Lankan Economist

P. K. Balachandran

Dr. Muttukrishna Sarvananthan prefers to consider Chinese loans to be “quasi-predatory” rather than “predatory”, taking into account the comparatively low-interest rates they carry.

Dr. Muttukrishna Sarvananthan of Point Institute of Development in Jaffna, says that Chinese lending to Sri Lanka between 2007 and 2022 was marked by an absence of due diligence, hidden conditions and aggressive lobbying with Sri Lankan politicians and bureaucrats. These are “predatory”. But considering the lower rates of interest charged, the lending could be termed “quasi- predatory”, he says.

Sarvananthan’s contentions are found in his critique of “Evolution of Chinese Lending to Sri Lanka since the mid-2000s – Separating Myth from Reality” written by Umesh Moramudali and Thilina Panduwawala and published by the China-Africa Research Initiative of the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) at the Johns Hopkins University.

In the critique entitled Chinese Lending to Sri Lanka: A Factual cum Reality Check: A Rejoinder to Umesh Moramusali and Thilina Panduwawala, Sarvananthan agrees that the leasing of the Hambantota International Port (HIP) to a Chinese company in 2017 was neither an “asset seizure” nor a “debt-to-equity swap.” It was not an “asset seizure” because the port was never made collateral for the loans from the China Exim Bank. It was not a “debt-to-equity swap” either, because the money received for granting 85% of the equity stake to the China Harbor Group was not utilized to repay the loans borrowed for the purpose of building and expanding the port.

South Asia’s Looming Water War


NEW DELHI – More than six decades ago, the world’s most generous water-sharing pact was concluded. Under the Indus Waters Treaty (IWT), upstream India left the lion’s share of the waters from the subcontinent’s six-river Indus system for downstream Pakistan. But repeated Pakistani efforts to use the treaty to disrupt India’s efforts to safeguard its own water security have driven India to rethink its largesse.

Last month, India issued notice to Pakistan that it intends to negotiate new terms for the IWT. In its current form, the treaty permits the World Bank to refer any India-Pakistan disagreement to either a neutral international expert or a court of arbitration in The Hague. But India contends that Pakistan, with its repeated bids for international intercession to block modestly sized Indian hydropower projects over technical objections, has abused and even breached the IWT’s dispute-settlement provisions.

India’s frustration intensified last October when the World Bank appointed both a neutral expert and a court of arbitration, under two separate processes, to resolve differences with Pakistan over India’s Kishenganga and Ratle hydroelectric projects in Jammu and Kashmir. India claims that the arbitral court proceedings, which began two days after it issued its notice to Pakistan, contravene the IWT, so it is boycotting them. The World Bank, for its part, has acknowledged that “carrying out the two processes concurrently poses practical and legal challenges.”

China’s balloon blunder shows the shortcomings of its national security apparatus

Mark Parker Young

Beijing’s decision to fly a reconnaissance balloon over the United States on the eve of Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit to China was a serious error that probably stemmed from both operational miscalculations and bureaucratic shortfalls. Assessments of Beijing’s decisionmaking must be tentative because its internal processes are opaque, but the composition of China’s national security apparatus highlights factors that probably contributed to the misjudgment. These factors suggest that operational planners assumed the United States would not identify the balloon as a Chinese platform and did not intentionally time its approach to coincide with Blinken’s trip.

False confidence in ballooning undetected

US officials have connected the balloon to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), calling it “a high-altitude balloon program for intelligence collection.” Only the PLA has the interest, mandate, and capability to acquire and operate a large-scale, long-range reconnaissance platform intended to enter foreign airspace and “monitor sensitive military sites,” as US officials said was its mission. The Chinese Foreign Ministry’s flurry of counteraccusations and claims that multiple civilian research platforms were simultaneously blown off course over the United States and South America lack credibility and suggest an effort to distract attention.

Behind China’s Balloons, a Push for Business to Serve the Military

Ana Swanson and Chris Buckley

WASHINGTON — A People’s Liberation Army veteran turned drone manufacturer. A Shanghai real estate company that wagered there was more profit in high-altitude airships. An eminent Chinese aviation scientist who started more than a dozen companies to commercialize his expertise.

Each sought to help their business by supporting China’s military modernization. Each now stands accused by the United States of helping to build China’s spy balloons.

The international fracas over those high-altitude balloons has thrown a light on China’s program of “military-civil fusion.” Xi Jinping, China’s leader, has pushed the recruiting of commercial businesses to help build what he has described as a world-class military guarding China’s rise as a superpower. The aim is to create a symbiotic relationship that provides the military with wider, faster access to commercial innovations, while also giving businesses contracts and military skills.

Xi Secures China Economy Boost as Zero COVID Ends


China's leader Xi Jinping has secured a timely economic bounce after hastily discarding his zero-COVID policy late last year amid intense scrutiny.

Rare public rallies in the final days of November against his government's yearslong pandemic strategy may have played a part in the decision barely two weeks later to do away with the world's most stringent anti-virus controls. Subject matter experts believe it was in fact the country's dim economic outlook that finally moved the Chinese president's needle.

Beijing is in a hurry to forget about the virus, which spread like wildlife in just two months, according to official estimates. Wu Zunyou, chief epidemiologist of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said late last month that 80 percent of the population, a likely 1.13 billion people, had already been infected. Now, the economy is recovering more quickly than anticipated.

Data released in mid-January by China's National Bureau of Statistics confirmed 2022 as the country's second-slowest year for economic expansion in nearly half a century. Its GDP growth of 3 percent fell below the stated target of "around 5.5 percent" and was a dramatic slump from the 8.4 percent posted for the 12 months prior. Only the 2.2 percent of 2020 was worse.

U.S.-China Relations Keep Getting Worse. Do They Have To?

Spencer Bokat-Lindell

The detection and downing of a Chinese spy balloon in American airspace earlier this month, and the attendant decision by Secretary of State Antony Blinken to postpone the first trip to China by America’s top diplomat since 2018, was just the latest episode in a longer story of deteriorating relations between the world’s two great powers.

That story began in earnest five years ago, when the Trump administration ignited a trade war that the Biden administration has continued to wage. It took another turn in May when President Biden pledged to defend Taiwan if China attacked it, a striking (if halting) departure from longstanding policy, which was underscored by the former House speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to the island over the summer. And last month, a top Air Force general issued a memo predicting a war in 2025 and calling for preparations “to deter, and if required, defeat China.”

Why does Washington believe that China is the top threat to U.S. national security? Are those fears founded, and what should be done to avoid a potentially disastrous military conflict between two nuclear-armed countries? Here’s what people are saying.
How dangerous is China, really?

Full throttle in neutral: China’s new security architecture for the Middle East

Tuvia Gering

This report addresses two widely held beliefs about the nature of China’s engagement in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) that ought to be revisited in light of notable developments. First, while it is widely assumed that Beijing’s interests in the region are limited to energy security and economic ties, this report will show how cooperation has expanded in recent years across the board. Indeed, China has been fortifying its strategic ties and expanding its cooperation by heavily investing in local Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) projects, as well as the infrastructure and technologies of the future. In doing so, it seeks to further integrate each nation’s development strategy with its own.

Second, this report will review the assumption that there is no substitute for the United States’ security and diplomatic dominance in the region. It will describe how China currently provides limited security alternatives that directly and indirectly undermine US dominance, even without displacing it. Moreover, it will illustrate how China’s expanding presence has resulted in a firmer determination to get more involved in regional security and politics, most notably through Xi Jinping’s Global Security Initiative and New Security Architecture for the Middle East.

This report will begin by providing an up-to-date and comprehensive analysis of China’s increased engagement and increased sense of urgency in the Middle East. The discussion will then turn to internal Chinese debates about stepping up security and political involvement, highlighting a shared belief among Chinese MENA scholars that these measures are necessary. Using the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Gulf security as case studies, it reveals the stark disparity between Beijing’s words and deeds. Furthermore, it outlines what the future Chinese strategy might entail, and why its current form does a disservice to its stated objectives of regional peace and security.

Saudi Arabia and the Future of Money

Daniel Pereira

Once again, like the ongoing Water Wars in France, recent geopolitical maneuvers read like a lost chapter from the OODA Loop Urtext: Kim Stanley Robinson’s near-future science fiction masterpiece, The Ministry of the Future (TMoF).

Those who have read the book will recall that influential stakeholders and policymakers from the financial and monetary systems figure very prominently in the narrative. The book argues that legacy nation-state-based systems will have to survive and retain some level of societal trust for new systems of value capture, storage, and exchange to emerge to address later stages of the climate crisis.

Recent reporting from Bitcoin.com and The Wall Street Journal on Saudi Arabia’s movement away from the U.S. dollar is an “origins story”, which makes the speculative fiction in TMoF read even more as a deeply accurate non-fiction complete with investigative reporting from the future.

Saudi Arabia Open to Trading in Currencies Other Than US Dollar, Signaling a Shift Toward De-Dollarization

U.S. defense spending will have to go up. The Ukraine war shows why.

Roger Zakheim

Last February, the world witnessed a massive Russian military convoy driving down the road toward Kyiv. One year later, that convoy of armor and steel is no more. The Russian military failed to seize Kyiv, and Ukrainians are valiantly fighting to preserve their freedom and sovereignty, inspiring the United States and its allies to rally to their side. As the war enters its second year, and as Congress debates military funding, the United States must take care to heed the lessons that this war has — or should have — taught us.

First, it has shown that providing a country with military capabilities necessary to defend its territory will not necessarily lead to escalation or spillover. Quite the opposite. Western support for Ukraine has helped transform the battlefield. This support helped badly damage Russia’s military capabilities and force Russian President Vladimir Putin to pare back his military objectives (for now).

Second, while the war in Ukraine has revealed how technology is leveling the playing field between great powers and smaller countries, it has also shown the limits of those tools. Conventional forces still matter. Indeed, we are entering a new stage in the war, in which Ukraine will need tanks and other conventional offensive platforms to dislodge entrenched Russian forces and reclaim its sovereign territory.

Gauging the Impact of the China-US Trade War

Ka Zeng

As the largest commercial conflict in modern history, the China-U.S. trade war, launched by then-President Donald Trump almost five years ago, was intended to pressure Beijing to change its unfair trade practices and decouple the United States from China’s economy. While there is growing evidence that the elevated tariffs have inflicted considerable harm on U.S. consumers and manufacturing output and employment without generating the desired leverage over China, it is less clear to what extent how the trade war has impacted China-U.S. economic relations or succeeded in separating the two largest economies in the world.

A closer look at China-U.S. trade and investment relations suggests that the trade war may have brought about some subtle changes to existing commercial patterns, although its long-term effects remain to be seen. In terms of trade, total U.S. imports from China dropped from $38.27 billion in March 2018 to $32.95 in January 2020, only to gradually recover since then. U.S. imports of Chinese products subject to the highest tariffs, which were concentrated heavily in intermediate products and capital goods, have experienced the steepest decline, while U.S. imports of non-tariffed goods, which covered mostly consumer products, have largely been insulated from such effects.

What are ‘shadow fleets’ and how do they hinder efforts to help Ukraine?

John Letzing

In December, the European Union banned imports of Russian crude oil by sea, and the EU and other major economies imposed a price cap – designed to keep essential exports flowing from one of the world’s biggest oil producers while still penalizing it.

Another embargo and a cap on refined oil products followed, nearly a year into an onslaught believed to have so far resulted in hundreds of thousands of military casualties and some 30,000 civilian deaths.

The sanctions mean that even if a delivery of Russian crude is headed somewhere without an embargo, insurers can't cover its transport if it’s being sold above a price cap. But there’s another option.

A non-Western-aligned shadow fleet (or “dark fleet”) is largely made up of ageing ships that maintain a low profile by sailing without insurance, turning off transmitters, falsifying documents, or simply painting over a name. Decades-old vessels are now being sold at record prices, and furtively joining its ranks.

How Ukraine war has shaped US planning for a China conflict


WASHINGTON (AP) — As the war rages on in Ukraine, the United States is doing more than supporting an ally. It’s learning lessons — with an eye toward a possible future clash with China.

No one knows what the next U.S. major military conflict will be or whether the U.S. will send troops — as it did in Afghanistan and Iraq — or provide vast amounts of aid and expertise, as it has done with Ukraine.

But China remains America’s biggest concern. U.S. military officials say Beijing wants to be ready to invade the self-governing island of Taiwan by 2027, and the U.S. is the island democracy’s chief ally and supplier of defense weapons.

While there are key differences in geography and in the U.S. commitment to come to Taiwan’s defense, “there are clear parallels between the Russian invasion of Ukraine and a possible Chinese attack on Taiwan,” a Center for Strategic and International Studies report found last month.

Kyiv and Moscow Are Fighting Two Different Wars

Lawrence Freedman

Over the course of the war in Ukraine, the strategies of Russia and Ukraine have increasingly diverged. At first, Russia sought to catch Ukraine by surprise using a modern army engaged in some fast-moving maneuvers that would yield a rapid and decisive victory. But over time, its army has been seriously degraded, and it has increasingly been relying on artillery barrages and mass infantry assaults to achieve battlefield breakthroughs while stepping up its attacks on Ukrainian cities. In the areas its forces are occupying, it is seeking to impose “Russification” and has dealt harshly with those suspected of spying and sabotage, or simple dissent.

Ukraine has been more innovative in its tactics and more disciplined in their execution. Aided by a growing supply of Western weapons and an agile command, it has managed to recover some of the areas occupied by Russian forces. But it has also been fighting on its own territory and unable to reach far into Russia. So while Ukraine has limited itself to targeting Russia’s military, Russia is targeting Ukraine as a whole: its armed forces, its infrastructure, and its people.

A Continent Forged in Crisis: Assessing Europe One Year into the War

Max Bergmann  and Otto Svendsen

Nearly a year after Russia invaded Ukraine, Europe remains a continent at war. Historians will likely see 2022 as a pivotal year akin to 1989 and 2001—years that marked the end of an era and the beginning of a new historical phase. Europe’s response to the war has changed the continent.

The changes in the past year have truly been dramatic. Countries with a long history of neutrality suddenly sought to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) military alliance. Almost overnight, the United Kingdom, seemingly irreparably entangled with Russian investment and influence, evicted Russian oligarchs and their wealth. Germany announced a new era, invested massively in defense, sent weapons to Ukraine, and ended its deep dependence on Russian natural gas. The European Union showed itself to be a geopolitical actor, implementing massive economic sanctions and, for the first time, providing billions of euros in lethal security assistance.

Most importantly, the unity forged in Europe in response to the war held. The prevailing assumption that Europe was weak led to constant predictions that this unity would crack. There were concerns that the millions of Ukrainian migrants could trigger a populist backlash and that rising energy prices and a cost-of-living crisis would prompt Europe to push for an end to the conflict, breaking with Ukraine and the United States. Furthermore, there were concerns that Europe would not get through the winter without Russian gas and that its economy might collapse.

Great Power Geopolitics And The Scramble For Oceania – Analysis

Eli Jackson

The practice of wooing peripheral states is as much a part of today’s budding U.S. rivalry with China as it was during the actual Cold War with the former Soviet Union. Indeed, the PRC has gone to tremendous lengths trying to create a sphere of influence in Washington’s backyard.

In 2000, Chinese trade with Latin America sat at $12 billion. By 2021 the region had done over $430 billion worth of business with the PRC. China is in the business of resource acquisition, perhaps above any other type of business, and the commodity-rich states of Latin America have remained a major target. Through foreign direct investment and infrastructure spending related to the BRI, China is the second-largest trading partner for all of Latin America (after the United States) but the largest partner for South America. China’s presence in Latin America should concern policymakers more than it does, but the Biden administration has, at least, signaled a desire to play catch-up in its backyard, via nearshoring projects and soft-power programs.

Likewise, over the last decade, a neocolonial race to invest in Africa’s numerous resources and bountiful patronage has played out between the likes of China, the U.S., and, increasingly, Russia. Unlike in Latin America, however, China’s economic footprint in Africa seems to be fading. Loans to the region (doled out for ports, railways, and the like and always degraded as debt-trap diplomacy by the United States and the West) are down to less than $2 billion after peaking at $28.4 billion in 2016.

The Confrontation With Russia And US Grand Strategy – Analysis

Nikolas Gvosdev

(FPRI) — Over the past year, two understated but dramatic shifts in US strategy have taken place: the United States no longer seeks to prioritize cooperation with Russia and no longer expects to forestall greater Russia-China cooperation. Support for Ukraine becomes critical as part of an overall strategy designed to degrade Russian capabilities. These developments will, in turn, shape and constrain the options available to the United States over the next decade.

For the past thirty years, US policy towards Russia has toggled back and forth between the hope that a post-Soviet Russia could become a near-peer partner to the United States, and concerns about Russia’s ability to raise costs for and frustrate US preferences for Europe and the Middle East. The effort to “reset” US-Russia relations during the first term of the Obama administration took place against the backdrop of Ukrainian elections that brought Viktor Yanukovych to power in Kyiv, and his efforts to balance between Ukraine’s desire for greater economic integration with Europe and reassuring Russia on its security agenda.

When the 2014 Maidan Revolution provided a popular rejection of Yanukovych’s regime, the Obama effort to reset relations became unsustainable. In response to a renewed push for Western integration on the part of the post-Yanukovych Ukrainian governments, Vladimir Putin resorted to outright force to seize control of Crimea and foment uprisings in southeastern Ukraine designed to destabilize the country and force its federalization. From this point onward, the US-Russia partnership became politically untenable.

Mexico Will Benefit From Washington’s Chip Focus

Allison Fedirka

The United States is prioritizing the creation of a regional semiconductor production chain to give itself alternatives to Asian firms, especially those with ties to China. Even for the country that invented the semiconductor, this is a massive task. The manufacture of cutting-edge chips is incredibly expensive and complicated, and just a few companies around the world are dominant. If the U.S. is going to succeed in its chips drive, it will need to involve Mexico.

Chip Race

Today, semiconductors are used in everything from consumer goods (computers, cellphones, automobiles, etc.) to military equipment and communication satellites. But despite the ubiquity of chips in modern technology, the manufacturing equipment for more than three-quarters of the global chip supply comes from just five companies. Three of these firms (Applied Materials, Lam Research Corp. and KLA Corp.) are in the United States, and the other two are in U.S. allies: the Netherlands’ ASML and Japan’s Tokyo Electron. ASML holds a monopoly on the machinery needed to make the most advanced semiconductors.

The U.S. is determined to defend and extend this advantage over China. In 2022, Washington passed the CHIPS and Science Act, which allotted $52.7 billion for the research, development and manufacturing of microchips. It also passed the Inflation Reduction Act, which supports the manufacture of electric vehicles and relevant chips in North America. Internationally, the U.S. in late January convinced Japan and the Netherlands to work with it on restricting semiconductor technology sales to China. This builds on a 2019 agreement that banned ASML from exporting its most advanced machinery to China. The latest agreement expands these restrictions, although details have not been released. The U.S. is likely trying to strike a balance between pressuring China and not spurring Beijing to accelerate development of domestic capabilities.

What we've learned from a year of Russian cyberattacks in Ukraine

Tim Starks

Welcome to The Cybersecurity 202! A chap yesterday walked in behind me as I held a door open, whereupon he convincingly made me think that I had somehow bashed his head with that door. At first I got all worried that I’d legit hurt someone, but he let me in on the ruse very quickly. I’m gonna say: Good prank.

Below: TikTok’s CEO speaks with The Post about the company’s plan to fight calls to ban the app, and two U.S. agencies say they will move to tighten election security ahead of 2024. First:

The Russia-Ukraine conflict is nearing its first anniversary, so it’s time to take stock of cyber’s role

Ukrainian forces move along the snowy terrain on a Soviet-era howitzer in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine on Tuesday. (Heidi Levine for The Washington Post)

Nearly a year into Russia’s conflict with Ukraine, the world has learned much about both the capabilities and limits of hacking in wartime.

Russian phishing attacks flooded Ukraine, tripled against NATO nations in 2022: Report


WASHINGTON — As Russian ground troops started massing along the border with Ukraine in 2021, Russian hackers began laying the foundation for their own unprecedented cyber onslaught not just against Kyiv, but the Western nations supporting the embattled Eastern European country. The digital campaign went into overdrive alongside the physical invasion — but in more recent months, Moscow seems unable to keep up the pace, at least for now.

According to a new report by Mandiant, a cybersecurity firm now part of Google Cloud, the spring and fall of 2021 saw dramatic spikes in phishing attempts. That’s a common preliminary stage of hacking, using deceptive emails, links, and websites to trick legitimate users into divulging their login information, which then opens the door for follow-on attacks.

During the next year, when Russia invaded Ukraine, Russian phishing attempts against Ukraine rose 250 percent, while Russian phishing against NATO countries increased over 300 percent, compared to a 2020 baseline. Within Ukraine, the campaign targeted more than 150 government entities, with those in the ministry of defense as the number one target.

The Drone War in Ukraine Is Cheap, Deadly, and Made in China

Faine Greenwood

Almost a year after Russian tanks first began rolling over the border into Ukraine, a war many expected would be over within a month continues to grind on. It’s grimly reminiscent of European conflicts of the 20th century—but it’s also the first war in history where both sides have made extensive use of cheap, startlingly effective small drones, the kind that can be bought at electronics stores or built with simple hobby kits.

When Russia launched its full-scale invasion, I knew two things for sure. First, that Ukraine was going to stun the world with what it could do with small do-it-yourself and consumer drones, a skillset that their drone hobbyists and tech experts had been tirelessly expanding ever since Russia’s earlier invasion in 2014 – efforts led by now-famous volunteer drone organizations like Aerorozvidka, whose members had become some of the world’s premier experts on building, modifying, and using small, cheap drones in warfare. Second, I knew that as an expert in both consumer and hobby drones, I was going to do my best to document what happened next.

As Russia’s ill-fated 40-mile mechanized convoy headed toward Kyiv in early March, a week into the invasion—a convoy that we now know was stopped in large part due to night attacks by Aerorozvidka’s DIY, crowdfunded drones—I created a publicly available Google Sheets database, a place where I could store and classify information related to small drones in the Ukraine war. My goal wasn’t to collect a scientific, or truly representative, sample of drone use in the war. Instead, it was to compile as much publicly available data as I could find, to assemble as many snippets in one place as I could of a large story.

The Great Spy Balloon Freakout

David Ropeik

These are not safe times to be a weather balloon.

Until a couple of weeks ago, the high altitude weather and research balloons we all know are up there doing all sorts of non-nefarious things were not even on the public’s risk radar screens. But now they’re certainly a bright pulsing blip on the screen of our fears.

In just a couple of weeks, we’ve soared into full-blown Balloon Freakout. One balloon that, according to the U.S. government, was connected to the Chinese military was found floating over nuclear missile bases in Montana. That device dangled all kinds of electronic gear and was shot down when it was safely over the ocean. Then, three more devices were spotted over Alaska, Canada and Lake Huron and were shot down too, even though close inspection by fighter pilots found they were carrying no discernible weapons, had no identifiable propulsion systems and had no apparent capability to transmit anything.

How can this threat have gone from zero to OMG! so quickly? It turns out that we are instinctively wired to worry more about new risks and about risks with a lot of uncertainty, according to research from the psychologist Paul Slovic and others. These devices are being referred to as “unidentified aerial objects” and officials admit they don’t know if any more are out there.

Europe’s winter energy crisis didn’t happen, but the continent may not be able to beat another hot summer

Nikhil Kumar, and Dave Levitan

Crisis? What crisis? After months of fretting about the prospect of crippling shortfalls in energy supplies over the winter, as the flow of Russian fossil fuels to Europe turned into a trickle, the continent suddenly — and surprisingly — finds itself with more energy in its storage facilities than it had anticipated.

There have been no large-scale blackouts or widespread energy shortages. Crisis averted. For now.

A big factor that helped: the weather. Higher than usual temperatures across Europe meant that fears of a sudden spike in usage, as people cranked up the heating, never materialized. Demand has also been lower as a result of higher energy costs, and governments have imposed restrictions that helped boost gas storage levels across the continent, which helped Europe make it through the winter months. Europe-wide gas storage is expected to stand at more than 54 percent full at the end of winter, significantly above the average of 35 percent over the past 12 years.

“Overall, things have developed much better than many people had feared,” Franziska Holz, an energy expert at the German Institute for Economic Research, told Grid. “All the arrangements to secure supply that were in put in place really helped.”

The Quad May Be Just the Thing to Apply to China’s Cyber Activities

Emilio Iasiello

In late January 2023, the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or “Quad,” issued a joint statement that pledged to collaborate to better secure cyberspace and foster an international digital economy to benefit the global community. Dubbed “the Challenge,” this effort consists of a checklist for individuals as well as commercial entities to review their security postures and provides best practice cybersecurity recommendations to be implemented to make persons and entities more cyber resilient. Additionally, the Challenge seeks to establish common cybersecurity requirements for critical infrastructures and foster more robust cooperation on information sharing in the Indo-Pacific region under this partnership. Given the region’s history with prolific cybercrime, and Quad members like India and the United States often being exploited by such activities, this initiative has the potential to be a regional exemplar of how countries can work together against common adversaries.

Officially called the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, the “Quad” is a group of four countries: the United States, Australia, India, and Japan. The organization began as a loose cooperation following the 2004 tsunami, dissolved in 2008, but then revived in 2017, as a means of counterbalancing Chinese diplomatic and military interests in the Indo-Pacific. Since the Indo-Pacific region spans two oceans, it is an important geographic location to preserve the multiple security interests that span a wide variety of areas to include but not limited to maritime rights, questionable island territory claims, natural disaster response, the conduction of joint naval exercises, and most recently, cybersecurity cooperation. Indeed, the Quad’s expressed interest in ensuring the security of telecommunications, and specifically, 6G technology, is a not-so-subtle dig at China whose telecom providers and telecom equipment manufacturers have been the center of security concerns over spying and other illegal cyber activities. Given that 6G technology is a priority project for China, getting shut out of regional markets would impact its aspirations and expansion of its sphere of influence.

Send Me Software, Not Hardware, Navy Infowar Leader Says


SAN DIEGO—Rear Adm. Doug Small, the commander for Naval Information Warfare Systems Command, said he only wants software solutions rather than another box of computers.

“If you want to bring a whole box with computers and cross-domain solutions and power supplies and all that, it's a lot harder to put that on a ship than it is software,” Small said during a presentation at the WEST 2023 conference Tuesday. “Don't bring us boxes of computers, bring us software.”

Small, who is also leading the Navy’s Project Overmatch effort to connect command and control communications across the service, also said that interoperability was key.

“Everything we do should be with the mind toward being absolutely interchangeable with our partners,” he said. “From Project Overmatch, we've been pushing on that pretty hard. We've already got an agreement at the Five Eyes level. We've been working toward a project arrangement toward that…we expect to be hand in glove with our international partners.

Clandestine U.K. Program Developed 3D-Printed ‘Suicide’ Drone For Ukraine


In an until-now secretive program, the United Kingdom has rapidly developed and flight-tested a number of “complex” drones that would be suitable for use by Ukraine in its conflict with Russia. While it’s unclear which of any of the unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) in question were ultimately selected for supply to Ukraine, it’s obvious that a range of different capabilities was explored in the process, including surveillance drones and, most intriguingly, what is described as a “3D-printed delta-wing ‘suicide’ drone.”

Some details of the rapid development program were recently revealed by QinetiQ, the U.K.-based defense technology company that works closely with the U.K. Ministry of Defense, especially on experimental projects and novel technologies. The drone program originated in the Future Capability Group — part of the defense ministry’s Defense Equipment and Support (DE&S) branch — which, in turn, engaged QinetiQ.

The creepiness of conversational AI has been put on full display

Louis Rosenberg

The first time Captain Kirk had a conversation with the ship’s computer was in 1966 during Episode 13 of Season 1 in the classic Star Trek series. Calling it a “conversation” is quite generous, for it was really a series of stiff questions from Kirk, each prompting an even stiffer response from the computer. There was no conversational back-and-forth, no questions from the AI asking for elaboration or context. And yet, for the last 57 years, computer scientists have not been able to exceed this stilted 1960s vision of human-machine dialog. Even platforms like Siri and Alexa, created by some of the world’s largest companies at great expense have not allowed for anything that feels like real-time natural conversation.

But all that changed in 2022 when a new generation of conversational interfaces were revealed to the public, including ChatGPT from Open AI and LaMDA from Google. These systems, which use a generative AI technique known as Large Language Models (LLMs), represent a significant leap forward in conversational abilities. That’s because they not only provide coherent and relevant responses to specific human statements but can also keep track of the conversational context over time and probe for elaborations and clarifications. In other words, we have finally entered the age of natural computing in which we humans will hold meaningful and organically flowing conversations with software tools and applications.


Tom Dull

The problem with being too busy to read is that you learn by experience . . . the hard way. By reading, you learn through others’ experiences, generally a better way to do business, especially in our line of work where the consequences of incompetence are so final.

                            Retired General James Mattis

An assignment to West Point perhaps inevitably means spending considerable time thinking about professional development in the Army officer corps. After all, for cadets the United States Military Academy is the first stage of a career-long development process. When I recently discovered that my next assignment will be command of 2nd Battalion, 11th Infantry Regiment—the unit responsible for the Infantry Basic Officer Leader Course—I reflected on General Mattis’s comments about the importance of reading. I began putting together a reading list aimed at young leaders—soon-to-be lieutenants here at West Point and elsewhere and newly commissioned officers just beginning their journeys as Army leaders.

This list is a start point—a menu of books that have personally influenced me and shaped the way I think about the profession of arms. All of these books were either presented or recommended to me by other fellow officers who have fought and led faithfully for our nation over the past thirty years. They have often spurred thoughtful conversations between me and other members of our profession. They have absolutely aided me as I continue to learn to lead in and outside of the Army. And ultimately, they are books I hope will help and inspire junior leaders to pursue excellence and continue to learn and lead.

Executive Compensation, Tech Transfer and National Security

Sanjai Bhagat, Michael Brogan, and Kevin Benson

China’s impressive military capabilities and increasingly hostile posture towards the U.S. and its allies causes significant concern among the top policy-makers in the U.S. As recently as the turn of the century, China was reluctant to challenge the U.S. military even in its own backyard. During the past quarter-century, however, China added significantly to its military capabilities, and now indeed challenges the U.S. military.

How did the Chinese military get so powerful and in such a short period?

The Chinese Communist Party focused on developing and modernizing its military via any and all means – legal and extra-legal. The legal mechanisms include China’s laudable investments in its higher education institutions, many of them focused on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). The extra-legal mechanisms include expropriation of dual use technology (useful for both civilian and military purposes) from cutting-edge U.S. (and allied) technology companies operating in China as well as outright theft of intellectual property. Why did U.S. technology companies that invested billions of their shareholder dollars (and trillions of U.S. taxpayer dollar investments in U.S. higher education institutions in STEM research) to develop their valuable dual-use technology allow China to expropriate this technology?

Russia’s Military still has a lot to worry about


EXPERT PERSPECTIVE — On the eve of the one-year mark of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Andriy Chernyak, a representative of the Main Intelligence Directorate at the Ukrainian Defense Ministry, told the Kyiv Post that “While information is spreading about a large-scale Russian offensive planned for Feb. 24, Ukraine’s military intelligence reports that Russia has already launched a full-scale offensive on Feb. 24 last year, which is still ongoing.”

That Ukrainian perspective was shared by a number of senior officials whom The Cipher Brief spoke with recently, many of them saying it doesn’t mean that Russia isn’t planning a renewed military push after what seemed like a brief period of disengagement. Based on their performance over the past year, there are enough questions around Russia’s military capabilities to question whether Moscow could sustain a new offensive.

Until now, Western assessments of Russia’s military performance have included questions of stabilization, recovery, and replenishment. In short, even with a new offensive push into Ukraine, Russia’s military has a lot to worry about.

The Cipher Brief spoke with Lt. General Robert Ashley (Ret.), former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, for his perspective.