7 March 2023

The Deep Roots of Pakistan’s Terrorism Crisis

Husain Haqqani

After 101 worshippers, most of them policemen, were killed in a suicide bombing at a mosque in Peshawar, Pakistan, on Jan. 30, experts speculated that Pakistan’s leaders might be on high alert. But several weeks later, it is business as usual in Islamabad.

Instead of treating increasing terrorist attacks as a national emergency, politicians are posturing for the next election. The military leadership is busy dealing with the challenge of former Prime Minister Imran Khan, who has galvanized support while criticizing the generals. To make matters worse, Pakistan is mired in an economic crisis: Its foreign reserves are at a nine-year low, inflation is at a 48-year high, and the Pakistani rupee lost 22 percent of its value last year. To avoid a default, Islamabad hopes to unlock another $1.1 billion in loans from the International Monetary Fund.

Pakistan’s political and economic troubles are intertwined with its inconsistent treatment of terrorists. For decades, Pakistan has allowed some terrorist groups to operate freely while cracking down on others. Militancy, and foreign sanctions resulting from terrorist financing, have in turn made it difficult for Pakistan to attract investment. Sympathy for jihadis among the public and within law enforcement and intelligence, along with inaction by members of the political class, has allowed domestic militant groups to operate with some impunity. Islamabad must change its tack if it hopes to prevent a full-blown insurgency and recover its global standing.

The state of Pakistan

Ashraf Jehangir Qazi 

THE reality of Pakistan, shaped by its wayward masters and bureaucrats, manifests itself each day. Not even December 1971 compares with the listless gloom that engulfs the country today. Ever since the loss of our eastern wing and the judicial murder of our first elected prime minister, our story has degenerated from the tragic to the pathetic to the absurd.

Ways out of this desolation exist. But they are barred by the corruption and cynicism of predatory ‘leaders’ and ‘defenders’ who accumulate vast fortunes through the criminal abuse of public trust; by the resignation of their prey who are preoccupied with getting through the day; and by the confusion of our intelligentsia and the irresponsibility of our intellectuals.

Every major institution and influential group of people has failed the country: the government; the army and intelligence apparatus; the judiciary; parliament; political leaders and parties; the media; the educational and health systems; the civil services; the landed, business and religious elites; etc. Together they have ensured a failed state. The primary culprits are known. They couldn’t care less.

The Quaid, the Pakistan Movement and the people of Pakistan are incessantly mocked. In his last days, the Quaid told the Raja of Mehmudabad “I am surrounded by traitors”. Today, the country is besieged by them. No enemy of Pakistan matches the enmity of its own rulers. They laugh all the way to their foreign banks and talk of national security and economic stability while the ruled sink below the poverty line to wither and die.

The time for questions has gone. Only answers matter, which only actions and organised movements can supply. There are social and rights activists, entrepreneurs and professionals who make a difference.

They need to coalesce and reinforce each other to generate transforming momentum. The people need servants. A populist panders to a vote bank and sees citizens as subjects. A leader serves citizens.

The Real Cause of Sri Lanka’s Debt Trap

Bram Nicholas and Shiran Illanperuma

Sri Lanka’s debt default – announced in April of last year amid foreign currency shortages that had triggered rolling blackouts, fuel queues, and street protests – has been subject to endless debate by local and international observers. The root causes of the country’s debt problem have been attributed to various factors, including corruption and nepotism, alleged predatory lending from China (the so-called “Chinese debt trap”), and a structural balance of payments deficit. These debates aside, it is increasingly clear that the immediate cause for Sri Lanka’s collapse is the structure of the country’s debt itself – specifically, its deep and growing exposure to international sovereign bonds (ISBs) issued at high interest rates.

In the immediate aftermath of Sri Lanka’s civil war in 2009, the country embarked on a mainly bilaterally-financed infrastructure investment program. However, alongside these borrowings for investments in ports, energy, and transport, the Sri Lankan government also binged on international sovereign bonds, issuing $17 billion worth of ISBs from 2007 to 2019, in face value terms. According to a 2021 report by the Advocata Institute, Sri Lanka’s ISBs were issued at high coupon rates (often between 5-8 percent), with some 36 percent of these ISBs being subject to classic collective action clauses, which make restructuring much harder for debtor governments. As a result of this debt-fueled growth strategy (or lack thereof), the country’s ratio of public external debt stock to GDP grew from 29 percent in 2010 to 44 percent in 2021.

The ISB Debt Trap

In historic terms, Sri Lanka’s current external debt ratio is hardly a precedent. The country endured higher external debt burdens, crossing 60 percent of GDP, in the 1990s, but managed to avoid a total default. The difference between now and then is that a greater share of the country’s external debt is borrowed from international capital markets at high interest rates.

China’s Brute Force Economics: Waking Up from the Dream of a Level Playing Field

Liza Tobin argues that the time has come for the United States and its allies to abandon the notion that competing on a level playing field with China’s state-led economy is possible and confront the reality of what she calls the country’s “brute force economics.” China’s tactics are not merely an assortment of cutthroat moves made by individual actors. Rather, they are features of Beijing’s long-term strategy and are backed up by the full force of the country’s party-state system, creating a challenge that Washington cannot afford to ignore.

In 2017, China’s chief justice, Zhou Qiang, told legal officials in Beijing to resist “erroneous” ideas from the West like “constitutional democracy,” “separation of powers,” and “independence of the judiciary.” His statements shocked some Western observers who had watched in cautious optimism as Zhou, a well-educated jurist with a reputation as a reformer, spearheaded efforts to make China’s courts more professional.1 Behind Zhou’s words was a hard truth: Reforms could only go so far before they collided with the reality that, in the People’s Republic of China, the judiciary is subordinate to the Chinese Communist Party.

This dynamic matters beyond China’s borders. Cooperative trading relations require a common set of rules or expectations that ensure that economic competition occurs on a level playing field. Beijing’s rejection of the rule of law as a fundamental operating principle means that the normative commercial structures upon which modern trade depends are at the mercy of a powerful and ideologically motivated political party. The Chinese Communist Party’s ruthless pursuit of techno-economic dominance in a range of strategic sectors has distorted activities that are usually thought of as positive sum — trade and technology cooperation — into zero-sum games.

The time has come for the United States and its allies to abandon the notion that competing on a level playing field with China’s state-led economy is possible and confront the reality of what I am calling the country’s brute force economics. I use this term as an analytic frame to summarize the aggressive, evolving, and often opaque web of policies and tactics that Beijing employs to give its national champions — corporations acting to advance government policy — an advantage and seize a dominant global market share in strategic sectors. The litany of specific practices is long: market access restrictions in strategic sectors, massive subsidies that fuel domestic overcapacity and enable Chinese firms to wipe out foreign competition, requirements for foreign firms to transfer technology in order to access the Chinese market, economic coercion, intellectual property theft, cyber- and human-enabled espionage, and forced labor. China’s brute force economics playbook puts competing firms out of business and destroys entire industries in rival nations. Once international competitors to Chinese national champions are either acquired or eliminated, trade partners have no choice but to rely on Chinese firms for critical technology products or inputs.

Four Nuclear States Can Ruin Your Whole Strategy

Matthew Kroenig

Wonder Land: China, Russia and Iran are turning the Ukraine conflict into a test that the autocratic alliance believes the West is going to fail. Images: AP/Getty Images/Zuma Press Composite: Mark Kelly

In its 2022 Nuclear Posture Review, the Biden administration promised to “reduce the role of nuclear weapons” in U.S. strategy. America’s adversaries have different ideas. In recent days, the rapidly advancing nuclear capabilities of all four of America’s nuclear-capable rivals—Russia, Iran, North Korea and China—have made international news.

Vladimir Putin announced on Feb. 21 that Moscow was suspending its participation in New Start, its last remaining arms-control treaty with the U.S. This means that for the first time since the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty of 1972, there are no negotiated limits on Russia’s nuclear forces.

America hasn’t conducted on-site inspections of Russia’s nuclear arsenal since March 2020 in any case, first because of Covid-19 and then Russian noncooperation during the war in Ukraine. That led the State Department to declare Russia “in noncompliance” with the treaty in January.

It would be prudent to assume Russia may soon expand its strategic nuclear force beyond the 1,550 warheads allowed in the treaty, if it hasn’t done so already. This is in addition to its large stockpile of battlefield and exotic nuclear weapons (such as underwater nuclear-armed drones) that the treaty doesn’t cover.

On Feb. 19, it was reported that International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors caught Iran enriching uranium to 84% purity—a hair’s breadth from the 90% needed for a bomb. Outside experts estimate that Iran’s breakout timeline—the time it would take to produce one bomb’s worth of weapons-grade uranium—is now essentially zero.

Some argue that we have more time because it would take months for Iran to fashion a functioning nuclear warhead, but in reality the game will be over as soon as the Iranians have enough material for a bomb. Like North Korea, Tehran could move the material to secret underground locations and fashion warheads undisturbed.

The Biden administration tried to negotiate limits on Iran’s nuclear program, but talks broke down in the face of Tehran’s brutal crackdown on protesters. President Biden says he is willing to use force as a last resort, but the moment of last resort is now and Mr. Biden isn’t readying military options. The 20-year international effort to keep Iran from the bomb has likely failed.

A Strategy of Denial for the Western Pacific

Elbridge Colby

China aspires to dominate the Indo-Pacific region—the impact of which would dramatically undermine Americans’ security, freedom, and prosperity. The only workable strategy is to deny China this goal. The naval services will play a central role.

The primary threat to core U.S. interests is that China could dominate Asia, and from that position atop more than half the global economy, undermine Americans’ prosperity, freedom, and even security. This is not a merely speculative fear. Beijing is pursuing regional hegemony over Asia, and if successful, it will very likely pursue the kind of global preeminence that would enable it to directly intervene in and exercise a domineering influence over Americans’ lives.

As a result, nothing else in the international system is as fundamentally dangerous to U.S. interests as Chinese hegemony over Asia. Accordingly, U.S. policy must prioritize avoiding that outcome, but must do so in ways that correlate the risks and costs the American people incur in doing so with the stakes, which are vital but not genuinely existential. In practice, this requires working together with Asian states in an antihegemonic coalition focused on denying Beijing dominance over the region.

Contrary to some commentary that suggests the military dimension in this dynamic is not that important, the U.S. military’s role in this strategy is central. This is because Beijing will likely not be able to dominate Asia without resorting to military force. While China has enormous and growing economic and other nonmilitary forms of influence, it is finding it difficult to use its leverage to get neighboring countries to accept what would essentially be a tributary relationship. Its efforts to do so have largely backfired—as demonstrated in places such as Australia, India, Japan, and Taiwan—and an increasingly aggressive China’s standing (as reflected in global polling) has declined precipitously.1

The bad news is China has another option: military force. Unlike economic sanctions, decisive and direct military force can compel other countries to do things they really do not want to do.
Coalition: The Center of Gravity

Is Putin winning? The world order is changing in his favour

‘This is not about Ukraine at all, but the world order,’ said Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, a month after the invasion. ‘The unipolar world is irretrievably receding into the past … A multi-polar world is being born.’ The US is no longer the world’s policeman, in other words – a message that resonates in countries that have long been suspicious of American power. The West’s core coalition may remain solid, but it has failed to win over many of the countries that refused to pick sides. Moscow’s diplomatic mission to build ties and hone a narrative over the past decade has paid dividends.

Look at Africa. In March last year, 25 African states out of 54 abstained or didn’t vote in a UN motion condemning the invasion, despite huge pressure from western powers. Their refusal to side clearly with Ukraine was testament to Russia’s ongoing diplomatic efforts in the developing world.

A year ago, Naledi Pandor, South Africa’s foreign minister, urged Russia to withdraw. After Lavrov’s visit a few weeks ago, Pandor was asked if she had repeated this sentiment to her Russian counterpart. It had been ‘appropriate’ last year, she said, but to repeat it now ‘would make me appear quite simplistic and infantile’. Pandor then lauded the ‘growing economic bilateral relationship’ between Pretoria and Moscow, and the two countries marked the war’s anniversary with joint military exercises.

Moscow presents itself as a bastion of stability in a world gone mad, even as it seeks to make the world madder

Then there are the North African countries, which have helped Russia offset the economic effect of western sanctions. Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria and Egypt have all, in the past year, imported Russian diesel and other refined oils, as well as chemicals.

Vladimir Putin is quite deliberately cultivating this alliance of nations who feel victims of western imperialism, and putting Russia at its head. The West wants to see Russia ‘as a colony’, he said in September. ‘They don’t want equal cooperation, they want to rob us.’

Cautious Contact on the China-Russia Border

Ed Pulford

It has been a challenging few years for residents of the China-Russia borderlands. Amid interrelated crises centered on the COVID-19 pandemic, East Asian territorial and trade disputes, and the 2014 and 2022 Russian invasions of Ukraine, local people have endured the effects of shifting great power ties, and broader “decoupling” dynamics in international relations at large. Yet beyond merely being subject to events and decisions happening on a global level, life in the borderlands sheds distinctive light on the China-Russia relationship, and the paradoxes that underlie it even in an era of supposedly blossoming friendship between Beijing and Moscow.

Early in 2020, the vast region where northeast China meets eastern Russia was among the first locations worldwide to see decisive cross-border action against the spread of the COVID-19 virus. On January 30 of that year, following the intensifying outbreak in Wuhan, the Russian government sealed the country’s 4,000-kilometer-long border with China to almost all traffic, allowing its citizens to return but otherwise indefinitely extending the routine closure around the Lunar New Year holiday.

As in many other parts of the world, in the months and years to follow, Moscow’s radical move created a sudden sense of panic. Friends and contacts, whom I know from 15 years living and conducting research in the region, told of chaos as Russians hurried to leave China. One friend who was studying in Harbin described navigating weeks of lockdowns and quarantines, as well as racist accusations that she as a “foreigner” had brought the virus to China. She left China in early March on a consulate-provided bus to her hometown near the border city of Khabarovsk.

Despite the closure of the eastern borders, Russia remained open to all countries except China. Consequently, as the pandemic took hold in Europe and spread quickly eastward, it was now the turn of Russia-based Chinese citizens to confront the virus’ spread – both as a health crisis and as a vector for racist outbursts. As politicians such as Vladimir Zhirinovsky, leader of Russia’s Liberal Democratic Party (who would himself later die of COVID-19), railed against the “Chinese flu,” panic swirled among Russia’s Chinese community.

China’s G20 Diplomacy Highlights Geopolitical Rifts

Shannon Tiezzi

Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang (left) shakes hands with Indian External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar during a meeting in New Delhi, India, Mar. 2, 2023Credit: Facebook/ Dr. S. Jaishankar

Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang made his first trip to India on March 1 and 2 to attend the foreign ministers’ meeting of the G-20 countries. Qin had a full agenda: In addition to the G-20 discussions, his bilateral meetings were of acute interest at a time of increasing great power competition. In addition to tensions with host country India over confrontations along their disputed border, Qin also had to navigate China-U.S. uncertainties and the looming shadow of the Ukraine war.

Qin’s remarks at the G-20 meeting underlined China’s priorities for the global order. First, he said, “We need to practice true multilateralism… No one should engage in power politics or even bloc confrontation.” That’s a recurring complaint from Chinese officials, referencing U.S. attempts to build coalitions that work together to address perceived threats from China and Russia.

Qin also took aim at U.S. efforts to “decouple” from China, which have particularly noticeable in the technology sector. “We need to promote the sound development of globalization, reject unilateralism, protectionism and attempts to decouple or sever supply chains, and ensure the stable and smooth operation of global industrial and supply chains,” he proclaimed.

For the most part, Qin kept his brief remarks focused on the economic situation – the traditional focus of the G-20, and certainly China’s preferred topic for the group to discuss, given the yawning chasm between member states on security and geopolitical issues. But he also acknowledged, “Global development and prosperity cannot be achieved without a peaceful and stable international environment.” Pointing to Xi Jinping’s still nebulous “Global Security Initiative” and China’s recent “position paper on the political settlement of the Ukraine crisis,” Qin declared that “China will always stand on the side of peace, actively promote peace talks, and play a constructive role.”

The Ukraine war (which China calls a “crisis”) figured heavily in the readout of Qin’s meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. That might seem obvious, but has not always been the case in the past. The Chinese readout of Xi Jinping’s September 2022 meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, for example, did not even mention Ukraine once.

How China Is Attempting to Control the ‘Information Pipes’

Joshua Kurlantzick

In the past decade, China’s government has stepped up its efforts to wield powerful tools of information around the globe – in its near neighborhood and, increasingly in more distant places including North America, Africa, Latin America, and Europe. These tools include Beijing’s own major state media outlets, like Xinhua, which have been expanded while China tries to make them credible, palatable alternatives to existing global newswires based in liberal democracies, like The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse, Reuters, Kyodo, and others. It also includes Beijing’s growing efforts to use proxies to control Chinese-language media outlets within other countries around the world, as well as Beijing’s increasingly sophisticated use of disinformation on major social media platforms in its neighborhood and globally.

Yet even as China attempts to use the control over media and information it has amassed, it is also working to dominate the “pipes” through which this information moves. I use the term pipes to mean the broad underpinnings of global information networks, including the actual physical infrastructure and the rules and norms that govern how information flows. More specifically, these pipes include the physical telecommunications networks for wireless and wired data; mobile phones and other devices that display information; tools that create the Internet of Things; tools that allow for surveillance; leading search engines, web browsers, and social media platforms; and the standards that govern the internet.

With greater influence in these areas, China would not have to rely as much on other countries to disseminate Xinhua, CGTN, and CRI, or on media coverage from local Chinese-language outlets controlled by Beijing. Instead, it could use its own pipes to more aggressively, and mostly covertly, spread state media coverage onto internet networks, social media platforms, mobile phones and other devices, browsers, and television conglomerates controlled by or closely linked to the Chinese government, which would deprive news consumers in many countries of independent coverage about China.

If Beijing had more control of the pipes of information, it also could, within foreign countries, more easily censor negative stories and social media conversations, and spread stories, rumors, opinions, accusations, blandishments, and other types of disinformation, obviously types of sharp power. Ultimately, it could use the pipes to help foreign countries copy China’s surveillance strategies and to export China’s vision of a closed and controlled domestic internet, part of Beijing’s overall model of technology-enabled authoritarianism.

How Silicon Valley Engineered China’s Protest Crackdowns

Craig Singleton

As an unprecedented protest movement quickly spread to dozens of Chinese cities last fall, calling into question Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s authority, the country’s Orwellian surveillance system went into high gear to scrutinize video footage, track phone records, and identify those involved. Yet China’s success in neutralizing these and other threats to the regime rests not on technology developed in Beijing, but in Silicon Valley.

Protests in China are not particularly rare. The number of “public order disturbances” rose tenfold from about 8,700 per year in the 1990s to around 90,000 in the early 2000s, according to Chinese government statistics. Beijing stopped reporting protest data in 2006, although credible studies suggest such figures have hovered near historic highs, with one such study estimating nearly 180,000 protests in 2010 alone. But whereas most Chinese protests involve specific material issues, such as local pay disputes and environmental causes, last December’s demonstrations centered around overturning Xi’s harsh zero-COVID restrictions—with some protestors even calling for Xi’s ouster.

Thousands of people from all parts of society risked their lives to pressure the Chinese government into relaxing mandatory COVID testing requirements, quarantines, and stringent lockdowns. The public anger was understandable: Xi’s pandemic restrictions wrought havoc on China’s public finances and exacerbated many of the structural imbalances that have long plagued Chinese society. The result has been a sharp uptick in urban youth unemployment, a record $1.1 trillion Chinese budget deficit, and a 26 percent drop in land sale revenues—a key driver of local government spending. Spooked by the scale of the demonstrations and the intensity of citizens’ grievances, Xi did the unexpected: he hastily retreated and ordered the rollback of nearly all of China’s pandemic-related restrictions.

Seemingly overnight, China’s protest movement fizzled out, too—but not because Xi relented. Instead, within hours of the first demonstrations, Chinese authorities began knocking on protestors’ doors and demanding to know their whereabouts during the unrest. Many demonstrators received threatening text messages about their participation in “illegal riots,” whereas others were ordered to report to the nearest police station for questioning. Some simply vanished.

The Resilience And Elasticity Of The Chinese Economy – Analysis

Wei Hongxu

After experiencing the short-term impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Chinese economy has gradually emerged from its effects.

Following its recovery from the pandemic, the prospects for the country’s economic recovery and growth are increasingly viewed favorably by domestic and international institutions. At the same time, the Chinese government is strengthening policies aimed at stabilizing the economy, hoping to return it to normalcy as soon as possible. However, researchers at ANBOUND believe that judging the current state of the Chinese economy requires careful consideration of its resilience, in which the recovery process will continue to be gradual.

With the outbreak of the pandemic in 2020, researchers at ANBOUND conducted some discussions on the impact of the pandemic on the Chinese economy, pointing out that as the world’s second-largest economy, China’s economy had strong resilience and would rebound quickly after short-term restrictions of the pandemic. However, this rebound was a rapid recovery and it would return to a trend of gradual slowing in the medium to long term. After achieving a recovery rebound of 8.1% in 2021, the country’s economy plunged again in 2022 due to the repeated impact of the novel coronavirus outbreaks, which were more severe and lasted longer than in 2020. The reversal of the real estate market trend has also dealt a blow to the economy. Although it still achieved a growth rate of 3%, the survival and confidence of market players have been greatly affected.

After the Iran Deal

Suzanne Maloney

When U.S. President Joe Biden assumed office, he was determined to resuscitate the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), from which his predecessor, Donald Trump, had unilaterally withdrawn the United States in 2018. Biden quickly appointed a special envoy to begin negotiations with Tehran and the five great powers that remain party to the agreement: China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United Kingdom. In his first speech before the United Nations, he declared that his administration was “prepared to return to full compliance” and was engaged in diplomacy to persuade Iran to

Iran Doubles Down on Arms for Russia

Robbie Gramer

Iran is doubling down on military support for Russia in a series of new military deals that could prolong the war in Ukraine and offer sanction-battered Tehran new economic and defense lifelines, according to five U.S. and NATO officials familiar with the matter.

In public, top U.S. and allied leaders have castigated Iran for supplying Russia with drones and vowed to use everything in their power to block those shipments. But behind closed doors, officials concede that there are no realistic avenues to stem the flow of Iranian military goods into Russia for it to deploy to Ukraine.

“There’s unfortunately a limit to what we can do to stop this unholy alliance with sanctions alone,” said one senior Eastern European official who tracks the matter.

Saudi Arabia’s Quandary: The End Of The Petrodollar – OpEd

J.R. MacLeod*

In 1971 Richard Nixon took the US off the last feeble vestiges of the gold standard, otherwise known as the Bretton Woods Agreement. That system had been a bizarre gold-dollar hybrid where the dollar was the world reserve currency but the US agreed to keep the dollar backed by gold. Henry Hazlitt’s book From Bretton Woods to World Inflation explains the consequences of this situation well.

The end of this system left a vacuum at the heart of world financial affairs, one that needed to be filled quickly. The dollar, now unmoored by gold, remained the default currency for international trade, but without the confidence derived from its former gold backing, the US needed to bolster its credibility lest other more enticing options appeared to displace the dollar’s hegemony.

During the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) had gained leverage by imposing an oil embargo, which caused serious disruptions in the global economy. In 1974 Henry Kissinger brokered a deal: Israel would back off its territorial ambitions, the Arab states would end the embargo, and oil would be traded in dollars. Thus, the petrodollar was born.

Every economy needs energy, and Saudi Arabia supplies plenty of oil, meaning that the dollar was backed up by a valuable commodity that would always be the recipient of demand. Everyone wants oil, and the Saudis would only trade it for dollars, so the dollar became unavoidable in international trade, reaffirming its status as the world reserve currency.

Even if others would have preferred a neutral, market-based currency not subject to manipulation, the opportunity cost of foregoing oil was far higher than the cost of having to use the dollar. A global medium of exchange selected by the market would have been more economically efficient, but given that the US and the Saudis possessed the ability to impose a politically motivated system, nobody was willing to bear the costs to create an alternative as long as the dollar was managed fairly sensibly.

Lab Leaks and COVID-19 Politics

Last weekend, the Wall Street Journal reported that the U.S. Department of Energy—one of several government agencies that have looked into how sars-CoV-2, the virus that causes covid-19, first emerged—has come to believe that the pathogen probably escaped from a laboratory in Wuhan, China. The department, which was previously undecided on the matter, reportedly changed its position in light of fresh intelligence, but it issued its determination with “low confidence.” In doing so, it joins the Federal Bureau of Investigation in favoring to some degree the lab-leak theory over the view that the virus has a zoonotic origin, leaping from animals to humans, perhaps in a Wuhan wet market. According to the Journal, the new information, which is in a classified report, but was reviewed by other members of the intelligence community, did not lead others to update their conclusions: four intelligence agencies, as well as the National Intelligence Council, still believe, also with “low confidence,” that natural transmission was responsible, and two remain undecided. (None think that China intentionally created the virus as a bioweapon.) Reviewing the totality of available evidence on the origins of a virus that by some estimates has killed twenty million people worldwide, the American intelligence community has reached a judgment that falls somewhere between not sure and who knows.

That uncertainty hasn’t stopped conservative politicians and commentators from declaring victory. “Lab leak theory appears vindicated,” Fox News reported. “So the government caught up to what Real America knew all along,” the Republican congressman Jim Jordan tweeted. “The same people who shamed us, canceled us, & wanted to put us in jail . . . are starting to say what we said all along,” Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene posted, shortly after. Reading these takes, you might be forgiven for overlooking the fact that much of the intelligence community still favors the natural-origin story, and that essentially no agency is confident in its assessment. “The bottom line remains the same,” an official told the Washington Post. “Basically no one really knows.” Leaders of the intelligence community are set to brief Congress next week. (The Energy Department declined to discuss details of the report with the Journal, and the F.B.I. did not comment.)

Why Russia’s manpower advantage may not be enough to win the war in Ukraine

Joshua Keating

The old saw that in war, “quantity has a quality all its own,” has been getting a workout in the recent commentary about the war in Ukraine. The quantity in question is people, and the concern among Ukrainians and their international backers is that Russia simply has more of them. The cold hard math is that there are about 100 million more Russians than Ukrainians.

If this war becomes a simple endurance test and President Vladimir Putin is willing to accept any number of Russian casualties to accomplish his goals, perhaps all the advanced weapons systems the West can send won’t make a difference. Russia has already suffered mind-boggling losses. A recent report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies put the number of Russian soldiers killed at 60,000 to 70,000, more than in all its wars combined since World War II. And yet a Ukrainian commander recently told NPR that he worries Russia simply has an “infinite” number of men to mobilize into his military.

Can Putin just keep throwing bodies into the fight until the Ukrainians are exhausted?

Wars are not won by population size alone, of course, or by leaders’ willingness to send young men to risk their lives. If they were, South Vietnam might be an independent, pro-American nation today. The numerical advantage doesn’t mean that Russian victory is inevitable. But unfortunately for anyone who would like the bloodshed to stop soon, this seems to be the calculus and the advantage that Putin is banking on.

Mobilization turns the tide

Biden Wants to Reboot America’s Cyber Defenses

Rishi Iyengar

U.S. President Joe Biden has had a rough couple of years on the cyber frontier. He inherited a massive hack that hit dozens of federal agencies, uncovered weeks before he took office, followed by two ransomware attacks that extracted more than $15 million from America’s largest oil pipeline and the world’s biggest meat producer (only a fraction of it was recovered), followed by a year spent helping protect Ukraine’s digital environment from Russia, the country linked to all three of those incidents. Now, Biden wants to make sure the second half of his term is less eventful than the first.

The administration’s National Cybersecurity Strategy, released to the public on Thursday, lays out a plan to “use all instruments of national power to disrupt and dismantle threat actors whose actions threaten our interests,” including diplomatic, financial, and military responses. “We have a duty to the American people to also double down on tools that only government can wield, including the law enforcement and military authorities to disrupt malicious cyber activity and pursue their perpetrators,” Kemba Walden, the acting national cyber director, told reporters on Wednesday.

Multiple former officials and experts commended the document as a groundbreaking step forward in shoring up U.S. cyber defenses—providing a clear vision and plan for government and the private sector alike. “This is, I think, the best cybersecurity strategy the government has ever produced,” said Jonathan Reiber, vice president of cybersecurity strategy and policy at software company AttackIQ, who served as chief strategy officer for cyber policy in the office of the U.S. Secretary of Defense during the Obama administration. “This is not rhetoric—this is like measurable technological and economic outcomes that they’re looking for. And that is really what’s required when we’re talking about changing the cybersecurity landscape.”

Russia-Ukraine War Report Card


One year into the Russia-Ukraine War, it remains difficult to get an accurate picture of what is actually happening. In part, this is the fog of war. In part, it is a reminder of Churchill’s observation that truth is the first casualty of war. In part, it reflects the extraordinary success of President Zelenskyy and his team in taking information warfare to the next level—crafting compelling daily narratives and controlling the flow of information: for example, withholding data about Ukrainian casualties. And finally, because most reporting on the war is done by journalists working at a distance rather than on the battlefield, news reports reflect prevailing narratives more than numbers.


Kateryna Stepanenko, Riley Bailey, Grace Mappes, Angela Howard, George Barros, and Frederick W. Kagan

Click here to see ISW’s interactive map of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. This map is updated daily alongside the static maps present in this report.

Click here to access ISW’s archive of interactive time-lapse maps of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. These maps complement the static control-of-terrain maps that ISW produces daily by showing a dynamic frontline. ISW will update this time-lapse map archive monthly.

The Kremlin accused Ukraine of conducting a border incursion in Bryansk Oblast, Russia on March 2 — a claim that Ukrainian officials denied. Bryansk Oblast Governor Alexander Bogomaz claimed that “several dozen” Ukrainian saboteurs conducted an armed incursion into the villages of Lyubenchane and Sushany on the international border.[1] The Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) doubled down on Bogomaz’s accusation and claimed that the Russian National Guard (Rosgvardia) conducted an operation to “eliminate” Ukrainian saboteurs who reportedly killed one individual and took up to six individuals hostage.[2] Russian milbloggers and news aggregators offered differing information about the number of casualties and hostages, including claims that Ukrainian saboteurs fired on a school bus.[3] Russian President Vladimir Putin then responded unusually quickly to these claims, alleging that “neo-Nazis and their owners” carried out a “terrorist attack” against Bryansk Oblast.[4] Putin did not directly name Ukraine as the perpetrator of the attack in his televised statement, prompting Russian state media to later clarify that Putin meant ”Ukrainian neo-Nazis.”[5] Putin also claimed that Russia will "crush” neo-Nazis that have consistently aimed to deprive Russia of its history, killed the daughter of Russian nationalist ideolog Alexander Dugin, and ”killed people in Donbas.”[6]

Ukrainian officials denied the Kremlin’s accusations of Ukraine’s involvement in Bryansk Oblast and claimed that Russian officials might be facing problems with increasing partisan activity in Russia. Ukrainian Presidential Adviser Mykhailo Podolyak stated that Russian accusations are a deliberate “provocation” aimed at scaring the Russian people into believing that Russia needs to continue to fight in Ukraine.[7] Representative of the Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) Andriy Yusov stated that the incident in Bryansk Oblast is “part of transformative processes in Russia” and pointed to inter-ethnic, inter-religious, and socio-economic conflicts among Russian citizens in Russia.[8] Yusov also noted that the March 2 public statements of the Russian Volunteer Corps’, which claimed responsibility for the incursion, further show that “Russia is beginning to wake up against Putin’s bloody dictatorship.”[9] Yusov likely referred to two videos uploaded by Russian Volunteer Corps fighters claiming that they crossed the international border into Bryansk Oblast to “liberate” fellow Russian citizens from Putin’s dictatorship without harming Russian civilians.[10] The Russian Volunteer Corps claims to be an all-Russian, Ukraine-based armed formation operating under the Ukrainian Armed Forces; however, it is unclear if the group is affiliated with the Ukrainian military. The head of Dutch open-source investigative group Bellingcat's far-right monitoring project reported that the leader of the Russian Volunteer Corps, Denis Kapustin, is a notable far-right extremist figure.[11] Social media users geolocated one of the two videos showing two servicemen with the Russian Volunteer Corps flag to Sushany.[12] ISW cannot independently verify Russian, Ukrainian, or Russian Volunteer Corps’ claims at this time, and the two videos each showing two men in uniform holding a flag remains the only concrete evidence available that anything happened.

OPINION: Old NATO’s Road to Nowhere

Mark Toth  Jonathan Sweet

Western Europe has gone down this appeasement road to nowhere before. In 1938 and again now – perhaps inconceivably – British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, French President Emmanuel Macron, and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz are reportedly angling for NATO to give this dead-end route yet another go. It did not work for Neville Chamberlain then, nor will this path lead to “peace for our time.”

In retrospect and in light of Britain, France, and Germany’s behind the scenes machinations, unless he is part of it, is it possible that U.S. President Joe Biden’s rousing speech in Warsaw was geared as much toward these three NATO countries as it was to Russian President Vladimir Putin?

If so, then that would mean Biden’s declaration that the “appetites of the autocrat cannot be appeased, they must be opposed,” had a very different second meaning. In that double entendre mode then, Biden’s message to London, Paris, and Berlin was that the appetites of the appeasers cannot be served. They must be forcefully opposed.

Lessons from history

Recent European history is proof enough of why the West must never travel down this road again. Appeasers chasing peace only find the very war in the end they were trying to avoid. That was exactly the case when Chamberlain and French Prime Minister Édouard Daladier foolishly agreed to carve up eastern Europe by signing the Munich Agreement with German Chancellor Adolf Hitler and Italian Duce Benito Mussolini in the name of “peace.”

In 1938, it was Czechoslovakia and the Sudetenland being served up on the menu. Now, if Old NATO – Britain, France, and Germany – prevail, it would be Ukraine’s Crimea, Luhansk, and Donetsk oblasts permanently lost to Russian tyranny. If that scenario plays out, there would only be two winners. Putin and “multi-polar” collaborator, Chinese President Xi Jinping. Taipei’s fate, in that vein, is closely tied to that of Kyiv’s own.

A Chance to Consolidate

Ebenezer Obadare

The just concluded Nigerian election will not pass the test of purity. It was marked by numerous irregularities, including the late arrival of polling material at polling stations, frustrating technical hitches, and scattered incidents of violence, among them numerous cases of voter intimidation by party agents and random miscreants. Evidence suggests that these logistical hiccups and scattered acts of lawlessness were more or less national in character.

Citing these disruptions and irregularities, some have been quick to suggest that the vote be canceled outright and rescheduled for a time when the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) will presumably be in finer logistical fettle. As results trickled in from across the country, former president Obasanjo asked President Muhammadu Buhari to step in and cancel all elections that did not meet “the credibility and transparency test.” Just before INEC finished the collation of results from across the states and declared Bola Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress (APC) the winner of the presidential election, representatives of the two main opposition parties, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the Labour Party (LP) also sought to pre-empt the announcement by calling for the election’s cancelation and INEC Chairman Mahmood Yakubu to step down.

While the anger and disappointment of those calling for cancelation may be understandable, their demand is both unlawful and irresponsible. Nigerian electoral laws are very clear as to what should happen if a candidate in an election has a legitimate grievance; nowhere in the relevant statutes is there an allowance for cancelation. Accordingly, the choice before Atiku Abubakar and Peter Obi is clear: concede and congratulate Mr. Tinubu, or seek legal remedy.

Africa in Transition

Michelle Gavin, Ebenezer Obadare, and other experts track political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa. Most weekdays.

Europe’s Geopolitical Necessity

Sébastien Lumet, Elie Perot

In recent years, a growing chorus of European Union and national leaders have stressed the need for Europe to step up its geopolitical profile. At the same time, there has been no shortage of criticism levelled against this aspiration. Some have highlighted the uncertain ends pursued under the calls for a “more geopolitical Europe,” pointing to the ambiguity—or as Hans Kundnani called it in a recent IPQ article, “confusion”—behind this label. Others have criticized the ways in which this idea has been publicly pushed forward, such as Josep Borrell’s clumsy metaphor depicting Europe as a “garden” to be defended against the “jungle” that the rest of the world would represent.

The greatest point of contention, however, concerns something more essential: whether the EU, founded as a democratic, inward-looking, and somewhat utopian peace project, is in danger of losing itself in a newly proclaimed quest for power. We argue that such anxiety is misguided. What a more geopolitical Europe requires is not to trade its morality for power, but to aim at a better balance between the two.
Political Modernity and Power

As a construct meant to transform the nature of relations between European states through democratic and liberal means, European integration has often been cast in direct opposition to the notion of power. From this perspective, a focus on power could seem to carry the risk of bringing the European continent back to the mindset that led to its past conflicts and divisions. Yet, it should not be forgotten that one of the key tenets of political modernity and democracy is not the negation of power, but rather its recognition and domestication.

Acknowledging that power constitutes an inescapable feature of social and political life represented a fundamental break in the history of political thought. In contrast with their medieval predecessors, modern theorists stepped away from preaching that the only path toward a prosperous, secure, and well-governed political community was through the infallible practice of (Christian) virtue. Most famously, Niccolò Machiavelli undertook instead to discuss “the real truth of the matter [rather] than the imagination of it.” This novel and realistic attitude led him to stress the necessity for rulers to resolutely apply power, in particular in times of great danger, and, in doing so, to make compromises with morality on occasion. In other terms, Machiavelli's originality was to conceive of politics as an autonomous field of human activity which, without ignoring morality, could not be reduced to it.

Washington Needs To Ditch Its America-First Approach to Critical Minerals

John Coyne

President Joe Biden participates in a roundtable on securing critical minerals for a future made in America Tuesday, February 22, 2022, in the South Court Auditorium in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building at the White House. (Official White House Photo by Cameron Smith)

Over the past few years, Covid-19, climate change and Chinese economic coercion have catalysed rapid global economic, foreign relations and national security policy changes. In Australia, the public discourse on sovereignty, national capacity and secure supply chains is one area where this change is particularly evident. These discussions have more recently prioritised the supply and value chains for critical minerals and rare-earth elements because of their links with advanced and low-emissions technologies.

In some countries, these policy challenges have given rise to responses based on a new version of economic nationalism. Sovereign critical mineral and rare-earth resilience is beyond the reach of any one country. Unilateral responses will not produce secure or reliable supply chains. Indeed, economic nationalism may actually aggravate the problem.

A critical mineral is a metallic or non-metallic element that is essential for modern technologies, economies or national security and has a supply chain at risk of disruption. Geoscience Australia lists 26 critical minerals ranging from graphite to magnesium.

The rare earths are a subset of critical minerals and comprise 17 metals—15 elements from the lanthanide series and two chemically similar elements, scandium and yttrium. All have unique properties that make them vital for various commercial and defence technologies, including batteries, high-powered magnets and electronic equipment.

Chinese economic coercion and ham-fisted domestic policy have highlighted the risk of disruption to global rare-earth and critical mineral supply chains.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian was right when he said: ‘No one should use the economy as a political tool or weapon, destabilise the global industrial and supply chains or punch the existing world economic system.’ Yet that is precisely what the Chinese Communist Party has been doing for the past decade with rare earths.

In 2010, the CCP effectively restricted rare-earth exports to Japan after a Chinese fishing trawler collided with a Japanese coastguard vessel near the disputed Senkaku Islands.

More recently, it threatened to limit rare-earth supplies to U.S. defence contractors, including Lockheed Martin, over U.S. arms sales to Taiwan.

Ukraine outgunned 10 to 1 in massive artillery battle with Russia


The Ukraine war has become a ferocious battle dominated by artillery and Ukrainian forces are operating at a huge disadvantage: Russia has numerical superiority of 10 heavy guns to every one at the disposal of Kyiv. Furthermore, Ukraine is running low on ammunition and requires urgent supplies of shells, Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s government has warned.

On the Luhansk front, at one of the Ukrainian army’s advanced positions in the area around the occupied city of Kreminna where the fighting is particularly intense, an artillery brigade is busy tuning a TRF1 howitzer cannon installed amid their sodden trenches. They received the French 155mm gun a few months ago and it is proving key to repelling Russian troops. But as the war enters its second year, Kyiv is in desperate need of fresh materiel. “We need more; we need all the ammunition they can provide. And we need it now,” says Sergey, the brigade commander, anchored next to the cannon in the mud.

The skies above are heavy with clouds and rain, making it difficult for Russian bombers and surveillance drones to operate. In the distance, a few stray explosions can be heard in the rolling hills of the Donbas. According to data from the European Commission to which EL PAÍS has had access, Russia fires between 40,000 and 50,000 artillery shells per day, compared to 5,000-6,000 Ukrainian forces expend. The Estonian government, which has been one of largest contributors to Kyiv’s war effort, puts the average use of artillery at between 20,000 and 60,000 Russian shells per day, and 2,000 to 7,000 Ukrainian rounds, according to a document sent to EU Member States by Tallinn, to which this newspaper has had access. These numbers equate to between 600,000 and 1.8 million Russian shells fired per month, compared to between 60,000 and 210,000 by Ukrainian artillery.

Why the Russia Sanctions Are Missing the Mark


While the sanctions regime imposed on Russia has dented its economy, it is far less severe than those imposed on North Korea and Iran, which included penalties on third-party countries. Imposing secondary sanctions could tighten the screws on Putin, but also accelerate deglobalization.

CAMBRIDGE – US President Joe Biden deserves all the praise he received for his recent trip to Ukraine and Poland to mark the first anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion. Biden’s ten-hour train ride from the Polish border to Kyiv – no small feat for an octogenarian leader – completely pre-empted Russian President Vladimir Putin’s propaganda plans for the occasion. It was a great day for Ukraine, the United States, and its NATO allies.

But when, during a speech at the Royal Castle in Warsaw, Biden claimed that the current sanctions on Russia represent “the largest sanctions regime ever imposed on any country in history,” his statement, though accurate, was also misleading. The sanctions that the US has used elsewhere, for example on North Korea and Iran, have been far more severe than the current sanctions on Russia, because they include secondary sanctions on third-party countries that continue to trade with these regimes. In the case of Russia, this is only just starting.

For now, Russia continues to sell oil to India and China and buy fresh fruits and vegetables from Israeli exporters. Moreover, a huge amount of trade takes place through so-called transshipments. To be sure, European exports to Russia have plummeted in line with the sanctions regime. But at the same time, the trade volume between Russia and countries like Turkey, Armenia, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan has shot up.

As a result, the sanctions have not hit Russia’s economy nearly as hard or as fast as expected. In the early days of the war, the US surprised even seasoned veterans of international finance when it swiftly froze $300 billion of Russia’s official foreign-exchange reserves. When Apple Pay and Google Pay were suspended in Russia, many hoped that Moscow’s subways would come to a standstill. But while Russia’s GDP was projected to shrink by at least 10%, the International Monetary Fund now estimates that the Russian economy contracted by just over 2% in 2022, and even expects it to grow slightly this year.

The Biden-Harris Administration’s National Cybersecurity Strategy

James A Lewis: Well, let’s go ahead and get started. I told them to take chairs out, and that was clearly a mistake. So welcome to CSIS. Thank you for what will be, I hope, is the initial discussion – I think is the initial discussion of “The Biden-Harris administration’s National Cybersecurity Strategy.” Long awaited, but worth the wait. So we’re all glad it’s here.

What we’re going to do is talk about the strategy. And really, for me, it lays out a way forward on three questions that go back to the dawn of cybersecurity – how to partner with the private sector, how to ensure best practices, and how to respond to cyberattackers. There’s a lot more in it, which we’ll try and cover in the one hour we have. I’ll note that we will be taking questions from the floor. If you hold your hand up, someone should give you a pad. And please try to write legibly, otherwise I’ll mangle your question.

But we have two speakers today. Kemba Walden, acting national cyber director. Prior to being the acting director, she was the principal deputy national cyber director. She comes from ONCD, from Microsoft’s Digital Crime Unit, and where she launched the ransomware program. And from a long time at DHS, including at CISA. So deep experience in the field.

Joining her will be Anne Neuberger, deputy assistant to the president and deputy national security advisor for cyber and emerging technology. I’m not going to read Anne’s bio because it would take most of the meeting, but she is the deputy assistant to the president and previously served, as many of you know, at NSA, and was NSA’s first chief risk officer. I didn’t know you were a presidential fellow. That’s very impressive. (Laughs.)

But with that, let me turn the floor over to Kemba. Kemba will talk, we’ll sit down. We will have a conversation, and then we will open the floor for questions from the audience. So welcome, Kemba. (Applause.)

Kemba Walden: So there’s some obvious differences between me and Jim. The most obvious might be that I am short. (Laughter.) So thank you for allowing me to stand here.

I want to start by thanking Jim. I’m grateful to you and to CSIS for giving me the opportunity to speak here today. I can’t think of a better place to launch a cyber strategy. After all, it was the CSIS Commission on Cybersecurity for the 44th presidency, led by Jim, that first called for the creation of a cyber office in the White House. Thank you for that.

Seymour Hersh’s Nord Stream Theory: Fact Or Fiction? – Analysis

Rene Tebel

In his online article “How America took out the Nord Stream Pipeline,” Pulitzer Prize winner Seymour Hersh sees the blowing up of the Nord Stream pipelines in the Baltic Sea as a collaboration between Norway and the United States.

Based on the testimony of a whistleblower, Hersh situates the planting of C4 explosive devices by U.S. Navy Divers under the cover of the BALTOPS 22 international naval exercise in June; according to Hersh, the explosive devices were triggered by a Norwegian Navy P8, which dropped sonar buoys for this purpose on September 26th, 2022.

First of all, it should be noted that neither the U.S., nor Russia, nor European states have been able to present any valid evidence of perpetration, so Seymour Hersh’s theory must be taken seriously. Unfortunately, however, his article fails to provide any evidence. What’s more, in addition to minor weaknesses in content, important questions remain unanswered: for example, Hersh does not address why the attack took place on September 26 of all days, why the detonations occurred 17 hours apart, and fails to mention the “dark ships” described by Jerry Javornicky.

The major event BALTOPS 22, with which Hersh links the attack, took place between June 5th and 17th, with the participation of over 45 ships and over 75 aircraft from 16 countries, including Germany, Poland, Sweden, Norway, the Baltic States, the United Kingdom and the United States.

NavyMil reported that “Scientists from five nations brought the latest advancements in Unmanned Underwater Vehicle (UUV) mine hunting technology to the Baltic Sea to demonstrate the vehicle’s effectiveness in operational scenarios.” A June 12th NATO article is even more explicit: “In support of BALTOPS, U.S. Navy Sixth Fleet partnered with U.S. Navy research and warfare centers to bring the latest advancements in Unmanned Underwater Vehicle (UUV) mine hunting technology to the Baltic Sea to demonstrate the vehicle’s effectiveness in operational scenarios. Experimentation was conducted off the coast of Bornholm, Denmark, with participants from Naval Information Warfare Center (NIWC) Pacific, Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) Newport, and Mine Warfare Readiness and Effectiveness Measuring (MIREM) – all under the direction of U.S. Sixth Fleet Task Force 68.”