11 March 2023

The Pyrrhic Victory of a China Consensus

Gibbs McKinley

According to U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, when it comes to China, “We’ll just need one philosophy, with one principle, and America will be stronger for the future to come.” His statement followed a 365-65 vote by the U.S. House of Representatives to pass a resolution creating a special Select Committee on China, which will reassess U.S. policy on China. The bipartisan committee, and McCarthy’s statement, are emblematic of the now well-established consensus that China poses the greatest long-term threat to U.S. interests.

Washington often pines after such bipartisan agreement in foreign policy — that politics may stop at the water’s edge so Americans can face foreign threats united. It has found that unity in the growing shadow of the threat posed by China. But chasing consensus could lead decision-makers in Washington astray, with disastrous consequences. Bipartisan consensus, after all, tends to be right more frequently when it’s not the product of fear. Today, anxiety around China is as mounting as national awareness of the challenge China poses to U.S. interests rises — embodied in the public fervor around the Chinese spy balloon that floated across the country last month.

Policymakers should exercise caution when using the lens of political consensus to authorize a slew of transformative decisions and policies in response to China’s coercive or aggressive actions. Mutual validation is not a substitute for individual judgment, as history has shown. In fact, it can very easily lead to disastrous consequences. Two of the most controversial decisions in U.S. foreign policy – the 1964 Tonkin Gulf Resolution and the 2003 invasion of Iraq — gained incredible bipartisan consensus.

How Is India Viewed in China?

Mu Chunshan

I have a popular account on Chinese social media where users often comment on various international issues. This has become a window for me to understand Chinese public opinion on foreign affairs.

Recently, the United States and Europe speculated China would provide weapons to Russia, which aroused the dissatisfaction of many ordinary Chinese. (I still think it is impossible for China to provide weapons to Russia, for the same reasons I highlighted in article last year arguing that China would not support Russia invasion of Ukraine.)

Interestingly, and unexpectedly, some netizens discussing the issue brought up the example of India to refute the U.S. accusations.

Several netizens pointed out that India and Russia have a higher-level relationship, called a “special and privileged strategic partnership,” and that there have been more arms deals between India and Russia than between China and Russia. So, they complained, why doesn’t the United States suspect India will provide weapons to Russia in the Ukrainian war?

In the eyes of these Chinese, this is further proof that the United States applies “double standards” to China and India in the Ukrainian war, though both countries have refused to condemn Russia for the war. The purpose is supposedly to draw India to the United States’ side and isolate China.

China’s Precarious Balancing Act

LONDON – Precisely how far China will go in supporting Russia has been one of the most important questions of the war in Ukraine. On February 20, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned that China may soon provide arms (“lethal support”) to Moscow. But then, on February 24 – the anniversary of Russia’s invasion – China released a position paper calling for a political settlement to end the conflict, tellingly omitting any mention of its “no-limits partnership” with Russia.

China’s goal was to present itself as a neutral mediator. In fact, Beijing’s ties with Russia remain unchanged, even if this relationship has grown more exasperating for Chinese diplomats over the past year. Their job is to continue striking a delicate balance, a task that is becoming increasingly difficult as Russian President Vladimir Putin doubles down on nuclear brinkmanship and reckless rhetoric.

With Putin extolling the law of the jungle in its most brutal form, China must be careful not to involve itself too much in the conflict. After all, Russia is clearly losing, and China has high hopes of repairing ties with major European economies. But Putin is of course keen to signal that China has his back. That is why he recently rolled out the red carpet for China’s top diplomat, Wang Yi, and then alluded to an (unconfirmed) upcoming visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping. Such diplomatic developments allow him to present China’s ambivalent position as, in fact, an endorsement of the invasion.

China is restructuring key government agencies to outcompete rivals in tech


TAIPEI, Taiwan — China is proposing to vastly restructure its science, technology and finance regulators as part of an ambitious, ongoing effort to outcompete geopolitical rivals while also tamping down risk at home.

The reorganization attempts to modernize the Science and Technology Ministry and will create a new, consolidated financial regulator as well as a data regulator.

The changes were proposed by the State Council, akin to China's cabinet, during annual legislative and political meetings where Chinese leader Xi Jinping is also expected to formally confirm his third term as president.

Much of the annual meetings this year — called the Two Sessions in China — has been aimed at boosting the country's self-reliance in key industry and technology areas, especially in semiconductors, after the United States imposed harsh export sanctions on key chip components and software on China.

"Western countries led by the U.S. have implemented comprehensive containment, encirclement and suppression against us, bringing unprecedented severe challenges to our country's development," Xi was quoted as saying this week, in a rare and direct rebuke by name of the U.S.

The Sino-Russian Partnership: Assumptions, Myths and Realities

Bobo LO

When Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin announced a “no limits friendship” at their February 2022 summit, the message was that Beijing and Moscow had reached a new peak in relations.

Yet Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has exposed the limits of Sino-Russian partnership and highlighted their sometimes diverging interests. Far from being an authoritarian alliance, this is a classic great power relationship centered in realpolitik. China and Russia are strategically autonomous actors, with fundamentally different attitudes toward international order.

The Sino-Russian partnership remains resilient. Both sides recognize that it is too important to fail, especially given there are no viable alternatives to continuing cooperation. Nevertheless, the balance of power within the relationship is changing rapidly. Russia’s geopolitical and economic dependence on China is greater than ever. Although predictions of a clientelist relationship are premature, this widening inequality represents a major long-term source of weakness.

The challenges Beijing and Moscow pose to Western interests are largely separate and should be addressed individually on their merits. Equally, it is naive to imagine that reaching out to either side could help loosen their strategic partnership. Western governments should focus instead on upping their own game—from revitalizing democracy and the rule of law at home to addressing universal threats such as climate change and food insecurity.

Whither Sunni-Shia Relations?


LONDON – Sunni-Shia relations have improved substantially in recent years as Saudi Arabia has toned down its anti-Shia rhetoric, and as some Arab Shia have tried to distance themselves from Iran (which itself has been beset by street protests). But longstanding animosities and historical controversies could easily return to the fore and re-erupt, especially given the role that Satellite television and social media now play in the Arab and wider Muslim public sphere.

One spark may come from a forthcoming TV series. This Ramadan (March 23-April 22), the Saudi-owned news channel MBC plans to air a major historical drama about Muawiya Ibn Abi Sufyan, an important but controversial figure in early Islamic history. The founder of the Damascus-based Umayyad Caliphate dynasty, Muawiya’s reign coincided with Islam’s first civil war, the so-called fitna, wherein he became the standard-bearer of those opposing Ali, whom Shia consider the rightful heir to the Prophet Mohammed.

With one of the largest budgets in Arab television history (rumors put it at around $75 million), the new series is the latest example of a longer-running trend. Ramadan series are incredibly popular across the Muslim world, where people, like elsewhere, increasingly absorb ideas about history through televised or streamed series. An earlier MBC historical drama on the Caliph Umar drew criticism from Sunni clerics who argued that no Companions of the Prophet should be depicted (and from Shia critics who disagreed with the show’s historical narrative).

The Biden administration’s two-track Pakistan policy misses the mark

Madiha Afzal

The U.S.-Pakistan relationship has weathered several bumps in the road over the past two years, including, most prominently, the fallout from the Afghanistan withdrawal and the Taliban takeover. The Biden administration has now settled on a bureaucratic division of labor in its policy toward Pakistan: a lack of engagement from the White House; robust, well-defined engagement from the State Department; and a continuation of long-standing military and defense ties. The new equilibrium is different from the past: President Joe Biden is the only U.S. president in recent memory not to have engaged with a Pakistani prime minister (neither Imran Khan nor his successor, Shehbaz Sharif). The bilateral relationship is also notably no longer centered solely around America’s interests in Afghanistan, as it was prior to August 2021: there is an effort by both sides to broaden its base.

Unfortunately, the overall relationship is weak at best. Here are the factors that have shaped the relationship over the last two years:


At the beginning of the Biden administration, Pakistan recognized the need to redefine the bilateral relationship, until then focused on Afghanistan, as the U.S. withdrawal from that country drew close. Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government pitched the need for a comprehensive relationship with the United States, one based on “geo-economics” — Pakistan’s catch-all for trade, investment, and connectivity — as opposed to a relationship focused on security concerns. The Biden administration wasn’t responsive, and the relationship got off to a cold start. At the time, the United States was focused on Afghanistan and the need for Pakistan to exercise pressure on the Taliban to push it toward an intra-Afghan peace. Then, as the Taliban undertook a systematic military takeover of Afghanistan while the United States withdrew, the relationship cooled further. In the months afterward, although Pakistan helped in evacuations from Kabul and in taking in Afghan refugees, the ignominy of the withdrawal — that the war ended with a clear Taliban victory and in view of Pakistan’s close relationship with the Taliban — pushed relations to a relative low point.

TikTok, COVID, and Chips: Senators and Intelligence Community Reinforce Diverse Threats Posed by China


Despite the war in Ukraine, China–and particularly non-military U.S. vulnerabilities to China–occupied most of the discussion when the heads of the nation’s intelligence agencies briefed lawmakers on the top threats to the United States on Wednesday.

“The very nature of national security is undergoing a profound transformation,” Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., said at the top of the hearing. “We can no longer just pay attention to who has the most tanks, airplanes, or missiles. We also need to focus on technology, [research and development] dollars, strategic investment flows and supply chains.”

For the most part, there was broad—almost choreographed—agreement between the lawmakers and the heads of the FBI, NSA, DIA, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, or ODNI, on a few key points: The United States still doesn’t know the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic but China is thwarting efforts to find out, and China’s reach via popular apps and electronics is a major vulnerability.

“​​The convergence of emerging technologies is likely to create breakthroughs that are not as predictable, and the risk of rapid development of more interconnected asymmetric threats to U.S. interest,” ODNI director Avril Haines told lawmakers. Moreover, she said, the way autocratic states are adopting new digital technologies and controlling them among their populations threatened to “distort publicly available information and [was] probably outpacing efforts to protect digital freedoms, and at the same time, educate audiences on how to distinguish fact from propaganda.”.

The Republicans’ Critical Race War


CHICAGO – For the past few years, Republicans in the United States have been waging an escalating battle against an academic approach to studying race in America known as critical race theory (CRT). They are fighting not because they are right, or even because they believe they are right, but because they have found that when it comes to winning US elections, culture warfare pays off. Racial animosity, sad to say, remains a key weapon in the arsenal of culture warriors.

Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin, indeed, based much of his 2021 election campaign on fomenting an anti-CRT panic and rode it to victory. Similarly, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a likely presidential candidate, recently picked a fight with the College Board over the alleged inclusion of CRT in its new Advanced Placement (college-level) curriculum in African American studies. Over the past two years, 18 GOP-controlled states have passed laws that prohibit or restrict its teaching.

But the leaders of the largely manufactured campaign against CRT have a strange way of showing their disapproval. At every turn, they have faithfully played out the scenario that CRT scholars have found repeatedly in American history, providing further evidence supporting the very theory that they insist must be rejected.

One of the originators of CRT was Derrick A. Bell, a former Department of Justice official, NAACP attorney, and the first tenured Black professor at Harvard Law School. In his 1970 constitutional law casebook, Race, Racism, and American Law, Bell drew on the US’ historical record to make several points about the US legal order.

We’ve entered a new Cold War with China

Joseph R. DeTrani


Although bilateral trade with China in 2022 increased to a record $690.6 billion, bilateral relations deteriorated to their lowest level since the normalization of relations in 1979. One could argue that we’ve entered a Cold War with China.

Chinese military aircraft continue to violate Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone, with the recent incursion of 21 J-10 and J-16 warplanes and four Chinese naval vessels dangerously close to Taiwan’s coast. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s cancellation of his visit to China due to the incursion of a Chinese surveillance balloon shot down after flying over the U.S. for several days and China’s unwillingness to apologize or answer the phone when Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin tried to reach his Chinese counterpart, Wei Fenghe, have contributed to even greater distrust between the U.S. and China.

China’s continued support of Russia in its war with Ukraine and reported intelligence indicating that China was considering the provision of weapons to Russia, despite China’s 12-point peace proposal — which neglected to address that it was Russia that invaded Ukraine and previously seized Crimea and other territories in eastern Ukraine with no mention of reconstruction aid to a devastated Ukraine — have put more of a spotlight on China and its true intentions in support of Russia’s war in Ukraine. Indeed, these developments and the recent state visit to China of Belorussian President Alexander Lukashenko, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, have contributed to deep distrust in the U.S. and NATO as to China’s true intentions.

The Future of the China-US Chip War

Zhuoran Li

Last year, the United States stepped up its competition with China in the semiconductor industry. In August, the Biden administration signed the CHIPS and Science Act, an $52.7 billion industrial policy that aims to bolster research, enhance supply chain resiliency, and revitalize semiconductor production in the United States.

In October, the administration rolled out the most extensive restrictions to date on China’s chip manufacturing industry. This new set of restrictions curbs the sale of advanced chips to China, depriving China of the computing power it needs to train artificial intelligence at scale. It also extends restrictions on chip-making tools even further to industries that support the semiconductor supply chain, cutting off both U.S. talent and the components used in the tools that make the chips.

The Biden administration has not offered Beijing a viable “exit strategy” to end the technology war; the White House neither demanded Beijing to improve its trade behaviors nor provided a roadmap for the lifting of sanctions. Thus, in the eyes of the Chinese leadership, the new semiconductor sanctions illustrate that the U.S. government is actively weaponizing its control over core technologies in order to contain China. As a result, China’s government elevated supply chain security to its highest priority.

The 20th Party Congress report, which was released days after the announcement of the United States’ latest semiconductor export controls, identified the current trade conflict with the U.S. as the “economic main battlefield” and vowed to “realize high-level technology self-strength and self-independence.” To achieve this goal, the state will mobilize and concentrate all forces to “attack technological bottlenecks” and “win the war of conquering core technologies.” Thus, the Chinese Communist Party will buttress its leadership role in science and technology affairs, construct a new “national system” (举国体制) for scientific research, and strengthen the “national strategic technological force.”

The Great Global Crack-Up


LONDON – The world is at last waking up to the ways in which economic interconnectedness amplifies the risks of geopolitical turmoil. But while there is good reason for countries to boost resilience, a wholesale shift from integration to fragmentation, driven by geopolitical hostilities, bodes well for no one’s peace or prosperity.

The global economy is not there yet. While capital flows have declined considerably from their 2007 peak of $12 trillion (22% of global GDP) – a trend that began with the 2008 crisis – economic integration remains strong. Total global trade in goods and services exceeds $40 trillion – a tenfold increase since 1990.

But, from 2016 to 2021, trade restrictions nearly doubled worldwide, owing primarily to tensions between the United States and China. In fact, fragmentation – like globalization before it – would not be possible without China, whose rise transformed the regional competition for economic, financial, and geopolitical clout into a global one. While some hope to balance rivalry with engagement – the European Union views China as “a partner for cooperation, an economic competitor, and a systemic rival” – the dynamics are obviously complex.

The COVID-19 crisis and Russia’s war against Ukraine have also contributed to fragmentation, as they have spurred countries to embrace “onshoring,” “near-shoring,” and “friend-shoring” with a growing sense of urgency. Yes, the pandemic showed that efficiency and cost-effectiveness do not necessarily square with economic security. But while adjustments are needed to strengthen supply-chain resilience, returning to a world divided into economic (and geopolitical) blocs holds serious risks.

The Astonishing Endurance of Unity on Ukraine

Nigel Gould-Davies

Ever since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine, many analysts have worried about the durability of Western support for Kyiv. Not a week goes by without new reports of weakening resolve, war fatigue, or cracks in the coalition. Yet a year into the conflict, the West’s commitment to Ukraine is undiminished—and, measured by aid delivered, stronger than ever.

This unity is unprecedented and underappreciated, and it far surpasses the strongest periods of transatlantic cohesion during the Cold War. It runs across states, societies, and companies. Every EU and NATO member state except Hungary has rallied behind Ukraine, despite deep divisions that preceded the war—over Poland’s authoritarian drift, for instance, and the United Kingdom’s ill-tempered exit from the European Union. Troubled economies roiled by war-fueled inflation have not led any major political party to argue that the costs of backing Ukraine are too high or that it is time to accommodate Russia’s demands. Pro-Ukraine policies have passed electoral tests in Italy and Sweden, where governments have turned over but support for Kyiv has endured. French President Emmanuel Macron beat off a challenge from far-right opposition leader Marine Le Pen, who came to see her long-standing ties to the Kremlin as a liability and destroyed thousands of leaflets picturing her with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Intelligence Suggests Pro-Ukrainian Group Sabotaged Pipelines, U.S. Officials Say

Adam Entous, Julian E. Barnes and Adam Goldman

WASHINGTON — New intelligence reviewed by U.S. officials suggests that a pro-Ukrainian group carried out the attack on the Nord Stream pipelines last year, a step toward determining responsibility for an act of sabotage that has confounded investigators on both sides of the Atlantic for months.

U.S. officials said that they had no evidence President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine or his top lieutenants were involved in the operation, or that the perpetrators were acting at the direction of any Ukrainian government officials.

The brazen attack on the natural gas pipelines, which link Russia to Western Europe, fueled public speculation about who was to blame, from Moscow to Kyiv and London to Washington, and it has remained one of the most consequential unsolved mysteries of Russia’s year-old war in Ukraine.

Ukraine and its allies have been seen by some officials as having the most logical potential motive to attack the pipelines. They have opposed the project for years, calling it a national security threat because it would allow Russia to sell gas more easily to Europe.

Ukrainian government and military intelligence officials say they had no role in the attack and do not know who carried it out. After this article was published, Mykhailo Podolyak, a senior adviser to Mr. Zelensky, posted on Twitter that Ukraine “has nothing to do with the Baltic Sea mishap.” He added that he had no information about pro-Ukrainian “sabotage groups.”

Brothers (not yet) in arms: China-Russia relations a year into the war in Ukraine

Alicja Bachulska

China’s top diplomat, Wangi Yi, recently concluded a tour of Europe. His stop in Germany at the Munich Security Conference featured an announcement that China would set out its “position on the political settlement of the Ukraine crisis”. This was promptly mistranslated by Western commentators as “China’s peace plan”, generating an abundance of column inches. Beijing officially published the ‘plan’ on 24 February, the anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

The content of the document seems benign. It calls for the resumption of peace talks, respect for the sovereignty of all countries, and the abandonment of the “cold war mentality”. It also frames “political settlement” as the best way to maintain the stability of industrial and supply chains and facilitate grain exports. Finally, it argues for a halt to the implementation of unilateral sanctions and the reduction of strategic risks related to nuclear proliferation.

But the 12-point ‘plan’ does not present any actual solutions. In fact, it merely reiterates Beijing’s standard talking points on the war in Ukraine – which are closely linked to its Russia-friendly perspective and its own strategic interests. European leaders need to view both Wang’s tour and the new document in that context: as part of a broader charm-offensive aimed at reviving Beijing’s standing in international affairs while maintaining its deep and longstanding relationship with Moscow.

Indeed, China’s position implicitly legitimises Russia’s behaviour and leaves the door ajar for concessions to the Kremlin. The document does not entertain the idea that Russian troops should withdraw from occupied Ukrainian territories. Moreover, the Chinese leadership underpins its call for a return to the negotiating table with the argument that a region’s security should not depend on the expansion or strengthening of military blocs. This framing clearly supports Moscow’s discourse that NATO expansion “provoked” the Kremlin into action in Ukraine. It also serves Beijing’s aim to weaken US-led organisations such as NATO.

Alligator arms: A proactive strategy for Ukraine’s military support

Dmytro Kryvosheiev

In the first year of Russia’s war on Ukraine, Western military aid was crucial for Ukraine’s survival and resistance. But the approach of Western governments has been reactive rather than proactive, and their hesitancy has consistently left Ukraine on the back foot. If Western allies truly want a Ukrainian victory, they need to adjust their strategy for military support.

No one doubts that Ukraine would not have been able to sustain a prolonged full-scale war with Russia without Western arms supplements. In 2022, Western allies expanded the list of equipment they delivered to Ukraine from anti-tank weapons to advanced modern air defence systems and battle tanks. But these arms were always sent to address the critical situations that Ukraine faced.

In the first weeks of the war, Ukraine’s artillery forces caused significant damage to Russia’s heavy armoured vehicles. But they were outnumbered and outgunned, and Russian losses would have been much higher if Western allies had provided artillery and multiple launch rocket systems to Ukraine at this stage. It was not until April 2022 that the United States sent M777 howitzers to Ukraine.

Fast forward a couple of months to when Russia concentrated most of its forces in eastern Ukraine to seize the Luhansk and Donetsk regions: through most of April and May, Russian troops bombed Ukrainian positions with tens of thousands of shells every day. In April, Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky and his advisers appealed for Western equipment, asking for fighter jets, but also artillery, tanks, and air defence systems. By late May, the situation in eastern Ukraine had become critical for the Ukrainian armed forces. And then, in June, the US and the United Kingdom decided to deliver the multiple launch rocket systems HIMARS and M270 respectively to Ukraine.

European defence partnerships

Jan Joel Andersson


European defence is built on cooperation: between NATO and the EU; between the EU and its partners; and a myriad of multilateral and bilateral defence cooperation agreements among EU Member States and beyond. But is this intricate architecture a confusing mishmash of duplications and inefficiencies, or a web of steel providing the foundation for stronger European defence?

In Europe, the EU’s most important defence partner is the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). With 21 – soon 23 – EU Member States also being NATO Allies, the two organisations are the key pillars of the European security architecture (1). This architecture, however, also relies on the EU’s partnerships with key countries outside the Union as well as on EU Member States’ own multilateral and bilateral defence cooperation arrangements.

Accordingly, this Brief is structured in two parts. The first part analyses some of the EU’s most strategic partnerships and suggests ways in which these could be further tailored and enhanced, for instance, through a so-called ‘Strategic Partnership Plus’ format. The second part shifts the focus to EU Member States’ various multilateral and bilateral defence cooperation arrangements, introducing the analytical concept of ‘institutional nesting’ to reduce overlap and ‘meeting fatigue’, while increasing efficiency, coherence and output. The Brief concludes with reflections on how to ensure that European defence partnerships lay the foundations of a stronger Europe.

How Close is the World to a Wider Conflict?

Tim Willasey-Wilsey CMG

The Western challenge is to ensure that Putin is defeated in Ukraine, but without allowing the conflict to spread beyond Ukraine’s borders – to Taiwan, Korea, Iran, the Baltic states or Russia itself.

‘How did the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand lead to the First World War?’ Even with the benefit of hindsight it is hard to identify the various links in the chain of causality. How did the Moroccan crises of 1905 and 1911, the Italian invasion of Libya in 1911, the Austro-Hungarian annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1908, and the complexity of asymmetric military mobilisation schedules lead to a Western Front stretching from Belgium to Switzerland for over four years and the deaths of 3.5 million soldiers?

By contrast, it is remarkably easy to see how Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine could lead to a wider international conflict.

China might decide that the Western provision of Leopard tanks to Ukraine and talk of sending fighter jets have tipped the argument in favour of arming Putin. Clearly, the possibility is sufficiently real for US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken to warn China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi of ‘serious consequences’ at the recent Munich Security Conference. Wang Yi was on his way to Moscow to meet Putin.

Strengthening the Link Between Technology and UK National Security

Joseph Jarnecki and Pia Hüsch

The government’s creation of a Department for Science, Innovation and Technology is welcome so long as national security plays a leading part in its agenda.

Last November we argued that UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s ambition to address international technology threats first requires ‘setting a clear direction at home’. His government’s recent move to establish the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT) could mark an important step in that direction.

Formed from a now slimmed-down Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), DSIT has received a warm reception from technology leaders and is intended to ‘spur stronger growth, better jobs and bold new discoveries’. An immediate issue, however, has been the silence around how defence and national security will feature in its activities. While a focus on prosperity makes sense as the UK teeters on the brink of recession, heightened geopolitical tensions emphasise the continued need for both security technologies and secure technologies.

With a general election anticipated in 2024, DSIT needs to deliver at pace across complex critical issues if it is to generate sufficient support to persist under a new government. Otherwise, the costs and efforts associated with rejigging departments will be wasted, and the momentum DCMS has built up on cyber security and technology issues could falter.

Future IUU Fishing Trends in a Warming World: A Global Horizon Scan

Lauren Young, Cathy Haenlein and Grace Evans

Comprising everything from small-scale, near-shore activity to industrial-scale, long-distance operations, the current IUU fishing threat has the potential to evolve significantly in a warming world. A global horizon scan explores the impacts of climate change on IUU fishing over the next 10 years and beyond.

Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing is a multifaceted global threat, occurring worldwide in inland waters, exclusive economic zones (EEZs) and on the high seas. Comprising everything from small-scale, near-shore activity to industrial-scale, long-distance operations, the current IUU fishing threat has the potential to evolve significantly in a warming world.

These evolutions stand to occur as fish populations themselves respond to a warming climate. Alongside critical stressors such as overfishing, oceanic warming is set to continue to contribute to an ongoing overall decline in fish populations globally. In parallel, there is evidence that key species are shifting poleward and to deeper waters, with declines in marine catch potential expected in the tropics. Combined with the effects of melting sea ice, changing weather patterns and the growth of marine heatwaves, among other factors, the impact on aquatic ecosystems is potentially highly destabilising.

These disruptive environmental changes have a range of potential implications for IUU fishing activity. The need to anticipate future trends across the threat landscape is thus pressing.

‘Not the right time’: US to push guidelines, not bans, at UN meeting on autonomous weapons


WASHINGTON — On Monday, government experts from around the globe will once again gather in Geneva to debate the ethics and legality of autonomous weapons.

The crucial question for arms controllers: What’s the greatest danger from militarized AI and other autonomous systems? Many peace activists and neutral nations focus on out-of-control killing machines, like the Terminators of pop culture or, more plausibly, the swarming assassination drones of the mockumentary Slaughterbots. But others, including US officials and experts, often focus on something subtler, like an intelligence analysis algorithm that mistakes civilians for terrorists, a hospital for a military base, or a scientific rocket for a nuclear first strike — even if it’s still a human pulling the trigger.

A growing movement hopes the United Nations Group of Government Experts meeting in Geneva will help lay the groundwork for a binding legal ban on at least some kinds of officials call “lethal autonomous weapons systems” and what activists call “killer robots”— however they end up being defined, a question that’s bedeviled the Geneva negotiators for nine years. Just last week, at a conference in Costa Rica, 33 American nations, from giant Brazil to tiny Trinidad, declared “new prohibitions and regulations… are urgently needed,” in the form of “international legally binding instrument” like those already banning land mines and cluster bombs.

The US Air Force Is Moving Fast on AI-Piloted Fighter Jets

ON THE MORNING of December 1, 2022, a modified F-16 fighter jet codenamed VISTA X-62A took off from Edwards Air Force Base, roughly 60 miles north of Los Angeles. Over the course of a short test flight, the VISTA engaged in advanced fighter maneuver drills, including simulated aerial dogfights, before landing successfully back at base. While this may sound like business as usual for the US’s premier pilot training school—or like scenes lifted straight from Top Gun: Maverick—it was not a fighter pilot at the controls but, for the first time on a tactical aircraft, a sophisticated AI.

Overseen by the US Department of Defense, VISTA X-62A undertook 12 AI-led test flights between December 1 and 16, totaling more than 17 hours of autonomous flight time. The breakthrough comes as part of a drive by the United States Air Force Vanguard to develop unmanned combat aerial vehicles. Initiated in 2019, the Skyborg program will continue testing through 2023, with hopes of developing a working prototype by the end of the year.

The VISTA program is a crucial first step toward these goals, M. Christopher Cotting, director of research at USAF Test Pilot School, explains. “This approach, combined with focused testing on new vehicle systems as they are produced, will rapidly mature autonomy for uncrewed platforms and allow us to deliver tactically relevant capability to our warfighter,” he says.

With Ukraine’s use of semiautonomous drones, the US military’s first autonomous flight of a Black Hawk helicopter last November, and the successful testing of AI algorithms in US U-2 spy planes in 2020, it’s clear that autonomous combat represents the next front in modern warfare. But just how completely will AI take over our skies, and what does it mean for the human pilots left on the ground?


Sam Biddle

U.S. SPECIAL OPERATIONS COMMAND, responsible for some of the country’s most secretive military endeavors, is gearing up to conduct internet propaganda and deception campaigns online using deepfake videos, according to federal contracting documents reviewed by The Intercept.

The plans, which also describe hacking internet-connected devices to eavesdrop in order to assess foreign populations’ susceptibility to propaganda, come at a time of intense global debate over technologically sophisticated “disinformation” campaigns, their effectiveness, and the ethics of their use.

While the U.S. government routinely warns against the risk of deepfakes and is openly working to build tools to counter them, the document from Special Operations Command, or SOCOM, represents a nearly unprecedented instance of the American government — or any government — openly signaling its desire to use the highly controversial technology offensively.

SOCOM’s next generation propaganda aspirations are outlined in a procurement document that lists capabilities it’s seeking for the near future and soliciting pitches from outside parties that believe they’re able to build them.

“When it comes to disinformation, the Pentagon should not be fighting fire with fire,” Chris Meserole, head of the Brookings Institution’s Artificial Intelligence and Emerging Technology Initiative, told The Intercept. “At a time when digital propaganda is on the rise globally, the U.S. should be doing everything it can to strengthen democracy by building support for shared notions of truth and reality. Deepfakes do the opposite. By casting doubt on the credibility of all content and information, whether real or synthetic, they ultimately erode the foundation of democracy itself.”

Cyberattacks Are Just One Part of Hybrid Warfare

Jeff Stone and Jordan Robertson

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022, was immediate top news worldwide due to eyewitness accounts and images of missile strikes shared on television and social media. By contrast, a near-simultaneous cyberattack on satellite systems that Ukraine relied on to coordinate troop and drone movements — systems that also provided broadband service to more than 100,000 internet users in at least 13 countries across Europe and North Africa — was cloaked in mystery for weeks, and to this day Russia’s government denies any involvement in it. Such is the nature of the modern form of combat known as hybrid warfare, which marries unambiguous brute force with stealth, subterfuge and heaps of plausible deniability.

1. What is hybrid warfare?

It’s a term for the mixing of conventional and unconventional tactics — violent and nonviolent, virtual and real-world, overt and covert — that countries can deploy against each other. They include state-on-state cyberattacks — cyberwarfare — as well as disinformation, economic pressure, propaganda, sabotage and the use of irregular forces, such as uniformed soldiers without identifying insignia. Hybrid warfare is “used to blur the lines between war and peace and attempt to sow doubt in the minds of target populations,” according to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Ambiguity and plausible deniability are hallmarks of hybrid warfare.

Pentagon publishes new ‘Joint Concept for Competing,’ warning that adversaries aim to ‘win without fighting’


The Department of Defense has released a new concept formally recognizing it is engaged in a competition on a daily basis below the threshold of all-out war or conflict, with chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley asserting that for the U.S. “more of the same is not enough.”

The document, which was not publicly released by DOD but was posted online by a third party, was published in February by the Joint Staff and titled “Joint Concept for Competing.” A Joint Staff spokesperson confirmed the document’s authenticity to DefenseScoop.

The concept signifies a paradigm shift. Adversaries have viewed conflict on a continuum while the U.S. has traditionally viewed it as a binary state of either war or peace.

“Simply put, U.S. adversaries intend to ‘win without fighting.’ In this context, U.S. challengers intend to pursue their objectives while avoiding armed conflict-rendering traditional Joint Force deterrence less effective,” Milley writes in the document’s forward. “Facing this dilemma, more of the same is not enough. By ignoring the threat of strategic competition, the United States risks ceding strategic influence, advantage, and leverage while preparing for a war that never occurs. The United States must remain fully prepared and poised for war, but this alone will be insufficient to secure its strategic objectives and protect its freedoms. If the United States does not compete effectively against adversaries, it could ‘lose without fighting.’”

ChatGPT has thrown gasoline on fears of a U.S.-China arms race on AI

David Ingram

Last month, as the tech industry was buzzing about ChatGPT, the research arm of the Defense Department put out an artificial intelligence announcement of its own: An AI bot had successfully flown an F-16 fighter jet in the skies above Southern California.

The news got relatively little attention, but it revealed an overlooked truth: The race to develop the next generation of AI isn’t just between tech companies like Microsoft and Google — it’s also between nations, which are working furiously to foster and develop their own technology.

An international competition over AI technology is playing out at a time of high tensions between the U.S. and China, and some experts said they fear how high the stakes have gotten.

“If the democratic side is not in the lead on the technology, and authoritarians get ahead, we put the whole of democracy and human rights at risk,” said Eileen Donahoe, a former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Human Rights Council and now executive director of Stanford University’s Global Digital Policy Incubator.

AI has become increasingly intertwined with U.S. geopolitical strategy even as chatbots, digital artwork and other consumer uses are stealing the headlines. What’s at stake is a host of tools that countries hope to wield in a fight for global supremacy, according to current and former U.S. government officials and outside analysts.

Submarines Will Reign in a War with China

Mike Sweeney

In 1989, two years after resigning as Secretary of the Navy, John Lehman penned a review of British historian John Keegan’s latest book for The Washington Post. Keegan had established a name for himself in military history with his first two efforts, The Face of Battle and The Mask of Command. All his works—including the subject of Lehman’s review, The Price of Admiralty—followed a similar structure. Keegan would take three or four battles from different time periods, provide a detailed overview of each with specific emphasis on what it would be like for ground-level participants in the conflict, and then offer summary thoughts in a final chapter. For the most part, Lehman praised the book, with one blunt caveat: “The lessons-learned chapter is really hogwash. But actually the nonsense only takes up 10 pages, and the other 282 are so good that forgiveness comes easily.”1

What had Keegan written that so offended the architect of President Ronald Reagan’s 600-ship navy? Keegan argued that of the two dominant naval platforms to emerge from World War II—the aircraft carrier and the submarine—the future belonged to the latter. While the carrier had undoubtedly been the pinnacle of naval power up to that point, conditions would become increasingly hazardous for surface forces moving forward. As Keegan writes in the concluding chapter, “An Empty Ocean”:

The aircraft carrier, whatever realistic scenario or action is drawn . . . will be exposed to a wider range of threats than the submarine must face. In a shoreward context, it risks attack not only by carrier-borne but also by land-based aircraft, land-based missiles, and the submarine itself.2


Even as the Army grows its footprint and relationships in the Indo-Pacific, it is not looking for a fight in what the service’s top civilian leader calls a “complicated neighborhood.”

“Our goal is to avoid fighting a land war in Asia,” Army Secretary Christine Wormuth said. “This is all about deterrence. We want to lower the temperature in the relationship with China.”

Speaking Feb. 27 alongside Gen. Charles Flynn, commander of U.S. Army Pacific, at an event hosted by the American Enterprise Institute, Wormuth said she does not believe an amphibious invasion of Taiwan is “imminent.”

“But we have to obviously prepare,” she said. “We’ve got to be prepared to fight and win that war, and I think the best way we avoid fighting that war is by showing the [People’s Republic of China] and countries in the region that we can actually win that war.”

The Indo-Pacific is not just an air or maritime theater, Flynn said. “This is a joint theater,” he said. “It’s got joint challenges and joint problems, and it requires joint solutions.”

Flynn, who has served multiple assignments in the Indo-Pacific since 2014, said the People’s Liberation Army is on a “historical trajectory.”

Weaponized balloons challenge US air superiority – quite littorally

Kelly A. Grieco and Maximilian K. Bremer

The future of 21st-century air warfare conjures up images of hypersonic missiles, swarms of smart drones, directed-energy weapons, and artificial intelligence. Balloons don’t immediately come to mind. But with the recent downing of a Chinese high-altitude surveillance balloon over the Atlantic Ocean, after it crossed the continental United States, we are reminded that what was once old is new again.

Just as the emergence of the submarine, the self-propelled torpedo, mines, and aircraft during the early twentieth century added sub-surface and above-surface threats in the contest for sea control, small drones, loitering munitions, missiles, and, yes, balloons add threats to air control from above and below the altitudes of conventional air superiority.

To gain an asymmetric advantage, U.S. adversaries increasingly seek to operate at the edges of the air domain — that is, at altitudes below and above the “blue skies,” where high-end fighter and bombers typically fly. In the air littoral, located below 15,000 feet, adversaries can exploit a mix of old and new technologies, such as man-portable air defense systems, radar-guided antiaircraft artillery, cruise missiles, dual-use drone technologies, and loitering munitions — to keep the airspace contested. The recent intrusion of a Chinese surveillance balloon into American airspace points to the potential emergence of an analogous set of littoral threats at highest reaches of the air domain.