19 March 2023

Structure and Contingency: War Onset in the East China Sea

What could trigger a conflict in the East China Sea between China on one side and Japan and the United States on the other, and what would that conflict look like?

This chapter (3) by Paul van Hooft, Tim Sweijs and Stella Kim imagines conflict and escalation scenarios in the East China Sea, by analyzing structural drivers of China, the US, Japan, South Korea, and other regional states’ maritime strategies, territorial disputes, and geographic constraints. The chapter also explores how “gray zone strategies”—strategies that exploit ambiguity about actors or territorial jurisdiction—risk creating contingencies that trap actors into escalatory paths.

In particular, the chapter highlights how European states, like the Netherlands and the UK, while unlikely to play a large role in any conflict scenario in the East China sea, do have a stake in ensuring stability of the multilateral order and the security of sealines of communication.

While scenarios are simply thought experiments; they cannot tell us what will happen, the chapter explores the features of the future security environment so we can best prevent what we can and prepare for what cannot. The paper concludes by highlighting how long-term structure pressures, nationalist-populist rhetoric, and the perceptions of national officials could combine to realize future conflict in the East China Sea.

The chapter is part of a larger book, Conflict Scenarios between United States and China at Sea published by the Korea Institute for Maritime strategy. However, HCSS is also exploring similar research for both Dutch government and Dutch industry, as part of our Europe in the Indo-Pacific Hub (EIPH).

How China Became a Peacemaker in the Middle East

Trita Parsi and Khalid Aljabri

While U.S. President Joe Biden’s Middle East team was focused on normalizing Saudi-Israeli relations, China delivered the most significant regional development since the Abraham Accords: a deal to end seven years of Saudi-Iranian estrangement. The normalization agreement signed last week by Riyadh and Tehran is noteworthy not only because of its potential positive repercussions in the region—from Lebanon and Syria to Iraq and Yemen—but also because of China’s leading role, and the United States’ absence, in the diplomacy that led to it.

Washington has long feared growing Chinese influence in the Middle East, imagining that a U.S. military withdrawal would create geopolitical vacuums that China would fill. But the relevant void was not a military one, created by U.S. troop withdrawals; it was the diplomatic vacuum left by a foreign policy that led with the military and made diplomacy all too often an afterthought.

The deal represents a win for Beijing. By mediating de-escalation between two archenemies and major regional oil producers, it has both helped secure the energy supply it needs and burnished its credentials as a trusted broker in a region burdened by conflicts, something Washington couldn't do. Chinese success was possible largely because of U.S. strategic missteps: a self-defeating policy that paired pressure on Iran with supplication to Saudi Arabia helped China emerge as one of few major powers with clout over and trust with both of these states.

James Zumwalt: China’s Doomsday Plan For America

A Chinese “weather balloon” paid the ultimate price of destruction after violating U.S. airspace, transiting across America, and meeting its demise over U.S. territorial waters six miles off the South Carolina coast at the hands of an F-22 pilot firing an air-to-air missile on February 4, 2023. As additional balloons launched by China around the globe and over the U.S. are being detected and destroyed, a U.S. national security threat assessment is in order. Ironically, however, based on the contents of a 2003 speech delivered at a secret meeting in China, such an assessment could well have been done long before the first balloon was ever launched. Discussion on the contents of that speech is particularly important as China now demands an apology from the U.S.

U.S. Navy divers managed to recover remnants of the downed balloon which were then sent to the FBI for examination. That examination has revealed, contrary to Beijing’s claim, it was not a weather balloon that had simply veered off course. Instead, the balloon was equipped with several antennas and solar panels suggesting the presence of multiple intelligence collection systems, such as high-resolution photography and audio collection of both encrypted and public signals.

Interestingly, the balloon’s supposed “errant” path took it over several sensitive U.S. military sites. And, as it turns out, that balloon is apparently part of a much larger Chinese spying system conducting surveillance in forty countries.

The aforementioned 2003 speech was delivered by a senior Chinese military official who boasted about what fate was awaiting 21st-century America.

The speech was delivered by China’s then-defense minister, General Chi Haotian, who served in that position from 1992-2003. Chi laid bare the fate Beijing was planning for America – a fate so diabolical that Hollywood science fiction screenwriters would be hard-pressed to conceive of a similar scenario.

China’s Model of a New Diplomacy Scores a Win With Iran-Saudi Deal

James T. Areddy

News that China brokered a Mideast diplomatic breakthrough offered the most tangible evidence to date that Beijing is willing to leverage its global influence to help resolve foreign disputes.

In a statement issued along with China, rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran said Friday they agreed to re-establish diplomatic ties that were severed in 2016. To propel the agreement, China hosted an unannounced four-day negotiating session between the Middle East adversaries in Beijing, where the parties pushed an agreement over the finish line.

The surprise development puts Washington on notice that despite the U.S.’s historical role and military footprint in the Middle East, China is a rising economic and diplomatic force there, according to foreign-policy analysts. While Beijing has participated in past international talks—like efforts to compel both Iran and North Korea to halt their nuclear weapons programs—the latest deal added some substance to initiatives by Beijing that it says serve as a new model for conducting international relations.

China drew closer to the oil-rich Middle East as it emerged as the world’s No. 1 energy importer, but its role is now much larger.

While the U.S. remains the undisputed military power, aid provider and political influence across the region, China is the Middle East’s biggest trading partner with a fast-expanding role in investment and infrastructure construction.

How Beijing Boxed America Out of the South China Sea

Niharika Mandhana

In early February, a Philippine coast guard vessel approached a small outpost in the South China Sea when it was hit by green laser beams that temporarily blinded its crew. The source was a Chinese coast guard ship, which Philippine authorities said approached dangerously close.

A few weeks earlier, the U.S. military accused a Chinese fighter pilot of another unsafe action over the waterway—flying within 20 feet of the nose of a U.S. Air Force aircraft.

Before that came a November incident involving a Philippine boat that was towing debris from a Chinese rocket launch. China’s coast guard deployed an inflatable boat to cut the tow line and retrieve the object, said Philippine officials.

Beijing is becoming the dominant force in the South China Sea, through which trillions of dollars in trade passes each year, a position it has advanced step-by-step over the past decade. With incremental moves that stay below the threshold of provoking conflict, China has gradually changed both the geography and the balance of power in the area.

The disputed sea is ringed by China, Taiwan and Southeast Asian nations, but Beijing claims nearly all of it. It has turned reefs into artificial islands, then into military bases, with missiles, radar systems and air strips that are a problem for the U.S. Navy. It has built a large coast guard that among other things harasses offshore oil-and-gas operations of Southeast Asian nations, and a fishing militia that swarms the rich fishing waters, lingering for days.

China Maritime Report No. 26: Beyond the First Battle: Overcoming a Protracted Blockade of Taiwan

Lonnie D. Henley


If there is a war over Taiwan, an extended Chinese blockade is likely to determine the outcome. While a blockade might include intercepting ships at sea, the primary focus would be on sealing airfields and ports, particularly on the west coast of Taiwan. China could sustain that type of blockade indefinitely. Penetrating a prolonged blockade and keeping Taiwan alive would require a serious U.S. investment in systems and operational concepts that we currently do not have. Unless we make that investment, we may win the first battle, defeating an attempted landing. But we cannot win the war.

Chinese refining markets 101—and their implications for price caps on Russian oil

Joseph Webster

With Chinese refineries front and center amid price caps on Russian crude and products exports, this article provides fundamental analysis of Chinese refining markets.

Beijing has had a complicated history with its refiners: it attempted to shutter excess capacity at independent refiners (so-called “teapots”) in the 2000s and early 2010s, only to be largely thwarted by provincial and even county-level governments determined to retain the tax base and employment associated with the facilities. Beijing then acquiesced—to a degree—as it relaxed restrictions on import quotas for independent refineries while continuing to consolidate some of the smaller players. While the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has not always achieved its objectives in China’s domestic oil market, it is nevertheless a very active manager, something Western policymakers should consider amid high volumes of Russian crude exports to China.
A brief history of contemporary Chinese refining markets

In 2022, China became the world’s largest refining market by capacity, at 18.8 million barrels per day (MMBPD) in 2022. This represents an astonishing increase from 2005, when capacity stood at only 8.5 MMBPD. And the surge is unlikely to stop any time soon, as capacity could grow to 20 MMBPD by 2025, although some analysts see a pullback in domestic refining capacity this year as several outdated facilities are phased out.

This Is What We Do in America. We Pause. We Forget. Then We Begin the Next War


My stepfather, brother, and I served in Afghanistan and Iraq. We are still there, frozen in the suck—a boomer, a Gen Xer, and a millennial—ducking mortars, mourning dead colleagues, and waiting for care packages curated by Mom. For seven years, I was an aid worker outside the wire and embedded with the U.S. military inside the wire. In the mid-2000s, I overlapped with one or both of my family members in each war zone. We rarely speak of it.

In my multigenerational, vast military family, “the suck” strained the bonds of love and commitment. Our individual experiences, worldview, and the impact of the wars upon us differed such that only silence maintains family cohesion. In sleep, we cry out what we cannot express in daylight, fighting our way out of the same village, the same valley, the same unarmored aid project pickup truck, again and again.

In the summer of 2021, bearded Taliban fighters swaggered from the shadows where they’d been governing secretly for decades and into the presidential palace to make their takeover official. Commentators in America lamented, “How did we come to this?” I didn’t ask that question. I sat alone in the dark sipping bourbon, staring out the window of my house in the African country where I now work. No one I served with asked that question as we texted our heartbreak. How else could the suck have possibly concluded? Yet still, the callouses of our collective cynicism didn’t buffer the gut punch of watching it unfold in real-time.

The two halves of the war blur together in a sandy haze of beige frustration. Iraq was bonkers, but Afghanistan was a special kind of hell. Iraq wore me down with unceasing explosions so regular the coffee tasted like plastic explosives by the time I departed. Afghanistan made me rethink my own nationalism and question the cognitive abilities of our elected officials. I arrived there in 2010 hoping that rural provinces were somewhat permissive, hoping that aid projects could have more success than in Iraq.

Former top U.S. admiral cashes in on nuclear sub deal with Australia

Craig Whitlock and Nate Jones

In its quest to build nuclear-powered submarines, the government of Australia recently hired a little-known, one-person consulting firm from Virginia: Briny Deep.

Briny Deep, based in Alexandria, Va., received a $210,000 part-time contract in late November to advise Australian defense officials during their negotiations to acquire top-secret nuclear submarine technology from the United States and Britain, according to Australian contracting documents. U.S. public records show the company is owned by John M. Richardson, a retired four-star U.S. admiral and career submariner who headed the U.S. Navy from 2015 to 2019.

Richardson, who declined to comment, is the latest former U.S. Navy leader to cash in on the nuclear talks by working as a high-dollar consultant for the Australian government, a pattern that was revealed in a Washington Post investigation last year. His case brings to a dozen the number of retired officers and former civilian leaders from the U.S. Navy whom Australia has employed as advisers since the nuclear talks began in September 2021, documents show.

The former U.S. Navy officials are profiting from a web of sources with sometimes divergent interests. One retired U.S. admiral charges $4,000 per day to consult for the Australian government while simultaneously advising other foreign defense clients and collecting his U.S. military pension, according to records obtained by The Post under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

America Is Too Scared of the Multipolar World

Stephen M. Walt

The Biden administration is striving for a unipolar order that no longer exists.

After the United States moved from the darkness of the Cold War into the pleasant glow of the so-called unipolar moment, a diverse array of scholars, pundits, and world leaders began predicting, yearning for, or actively seeking a return to a multipolar world. Not surprisingly, Russian and Chinese leaders have long expressed a desire for a more multipolar order, as have the leaders of emerging powers such as India or Brazil. More interestingly, so have important U.S. allies. Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder warned of the "undeniable danger" of U.S. unilateralism, and former French Foreign Minister Hubert Védrine once declared that "the entire foreign policy of France … is aimed at making the world of tomorrow composed of several poles, not just one." Current French President Emmanuel Macron's support for European unity and strategic autonomy reveals a similar impulse.

Surprise, surprise: U.S. leaders don't agree. They prefer the expansive opportunities and gratifying status that come from being the indispensable power, and they have been loath to abandon a position of unchallenged primacy. Back in 1991, the George H.W. Bush administration prepared a defense guidance document calling for active efforts to prevent the emergence of peer competitors anywhere in the world. The various National Security Strategy documents issued by Republicans and Democrats in subsequent years have all extolled the need to maintain U.S. primacy, even when they acknowledge the return of great power competition. Prominent academics have weighed in too—some arguing that U.S. primacy is "essential to the future of freedom," and good for the United States and the world alike. I've contributed to this view myself, writing in 2005 that "the central aim of U.S. grand strategy should be to preserve its position of primacy for as long as possible." (My advice on how to achieve that goal was ignored, however.)

Junipers, Oaks, and Killer Tomatoes

Gregory Guillot

The United States and Israel conducted the Juniper Oak 23 multi-domain military exercise in late January. The Pentagon calls it the “largest” and “most significant” bilateral U.S.-Israel exercise in history.

Why Putin Cannot End His War Against Ukraine

Ksenia Kirillova

Among the many terrible consequences of Russia’s full-scale aggression against Ukraine launched by Vladimir Putin a year ago, one should be singled out—that is, the Russian president’s inability to end the conflict as currently constituted. Several primary factors underline this fact.

First, the war has caused an unusually high level of support among the Russian public for the Russian authorities and Putin personally; in recent years, before the invasion, this rating had been steadily declining (Radio Svoboda, May 25, 2019). Even independent sociologists, for example, the scientific director of the Levada Center (labeled as a “foreign agent” in Russia), Lev Gudkov, admit that public support is “not very clearly expressed, but quite tangible for the authorities and the war itself in society.”

According to Gudkov, approval for the war among Russians remains around 70 percent. Yet, at the same time, 50 percent of respondents want the fighting to end. He notes that this duality is partly due to the fact that many Russians are deeply aware of the war’s criminal nature but prefer to isolate themselves from the unpleasant truth and avoid receiving objective information (Eurasia Review, February 17). Another factor that ensures passive support for the war from the majority of the population is the constant stream of propaganda that paints a harrowing future in the case of Russia’s defeat (Readovka, October 6).

Pro-Kremlin sociologists say that the lack of stability is having a negative impact on public sentiment. However, they immediately reassure the Russian authorities that this “does not affect the ratings of trust in the country’s leadership, since the prolongation of the special military operation means the prolongation of the effects of the consolidation of society and power” (T.me/russica2, February 6).

How to win the hot war in Ukraine and the cold war that will follow it

After a year there is so much to mourn. The dead, on both sides. The living, scattered across Europe by Russian missiles. The world’s poor, struggling to buy bread. But, addressing his nation this week, Vladimir Putin was unrepentant.

Ukraine’s allies can congratulate themselves that they have done their part to counter Mr Putin’s remorseless assault—though, with its courage and resolve, Ukraine itself deserves most credit. They have converged on two principles: that Ukraine must win, and that it is for President Volodymyr Zelensky to define what victory means. When he visited Kyiv on Tuesday, President Joe Biden was living proof of America’s commitment.

Yet even the worthiest principles have a way of wearing thin, as Mr Putin well knows. He believes that the West will tire and, with the possibility of a new American president in 2025 and stronger backing from China, he may yet be proved right. His speech this week made clear that he is mobilising Russia for a war that—hot or cold—could last a generation.

In the fighting and in the long years of the heavily armed stand-off that comes afterwards, Ukraine will prevail only when Mr Putin—or, more likely, his successor—concludes that further aggression would gravely weaken him at home. Western leaders need to signal their resolve to Russia and to prepare their own people for the confrontation ahead. That is why they should mark the second year of fighting by going beyond generalities and committing themselves to a credible blueprint for a long struggle.

Why Won’t the West Let Ukraine Win Against Russia?

John Bolton

New intelligence suggesting that a “pro-Ukraine group” sabotaged the Nord Stream pipelines in September triggered surprising political blowback in Europe. Spurred by potential economic disruption, speculation arose that Ukrainian involvement, direct or indirect, would undercut support for Kyiv’s resistance to Russia’s 2022 invasion. Ukraine denied any responsibility. German authorities suggested it might be a Kremlin “false flag” operation, scripted to throw suspicion on Kyiv.

But even if Ukraine masterminded the raid, why would successfully disrupting Nord Stream imperil foreign assistance? Such a potentially harmful reaction exposes a larger problem, which has repeatedly manifested itself since Russia’s unprovoked aggression. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization has been spooked by Moscow’s threats to “escalate” the conflict if Ukraine isn’t kept on a tight leash. Although President Biden failed, indeed barely tried, to deter Russia’s war, Vladimir Putin has masterfully deterred NATO from responding robustly enough to end the conflict promptly and victoriously. Time to solve this problem is growing short.

The threats to global stability and the US homeland are growing. How will the war in Ukraine end? Can China and the US develop a less combative relationship? Join historian and Journal columnist Walter Russell Mead and editorial page editor Paul Gigot for an interactive conversation on the threats to US security.See more...

Moscow’s successful intimidation highlights Washington’s failure to state clear war objectives and forge a strategy to achieve them. Mr. Biden wants Russia to “lose,” but seems afraid of Ukraine actually “winning.” If he believes America’s official position—restoring Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity—he should reaffirm it, and craft a plan to do so. If not, he should say so. We can then at least have an intelligible debate.

Exclusive: Chinese-made drone, retrofitted and weaponized, downed in eastern Ukraine

Rebecca Wright, Ivan Watson, Olha Konovalova and Tom Booth

Eastern UkraineCNN — Driving deep into the forest, the hush between the towering pine trees and the clear blue skies was splintered every few seconds by the sound of distant explosions from the frontline battles for eastern Ukraine.

Guiding us through the woodland on foot, Ukrainian soldiers eventually brought us to a clearing where they showed us the wreckage of a weaponized drone which they said they shot down with their AK-47 automatic weapons over the weekend.

A Mugin-5, a commercial unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) made by a Chinese manufacturer, is seen downed in eastern Ukraine.

Some tech bloggers say the machines are known as “Alibaba drones” as they have been available for sale for up to $15,000 on Chinese marketplace websites including Alibaba and Taobao.

Mugin Limited confirmed to CNN that it was their airframe, calling the incident “deeply unfortunate.”

A Solution for Japan’s Military Mismatch

Samuel P. Porter

If Japan fights a war in the near or distant future, it is likely to be against China. The Japanese government views a Chinese invasion of Taiwan as increasingly plausible, and judging by statements from senior Japanese government ministers in recent years, it’s likely the Japanese Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) would join the United States in defending Taiwan. Such a scenario would mark only the second time since the Korean War that Japanese forces have deployed to an active combat zone to defend a neighboring nation from invasion.

Given that Chinese naval dominance in Taiwanese waters all but precludes the possibility of deploying troops to Taiwan’s aid, the fighting is likely to take place in the air and on the seas—not on land. Despite this reality, Japan’s navy—the key actor that would lead any potential intervention—is distressingly understaffed due to chronic recruitment shortfalls. Japan’s army also faces significant manpower shortages. But most worryingly, Japan’s military personnel numbers are disproportionate to its present security needs at a time when the Japanese mainland faces no realistic threat of invasion.

Tokyo has offered little justification for this perplexing mismatch, and its recently announced defense spending increases do not include any measures to address recruitment problems in the short term. Given Japan’s present demographic challenges and recruitment difficulties, the Japanese government should resolve the navy’s personnel shortages by reassigning service members from the army. If Japan fails to act quickly to rectify these problems, it risks undermining its defense capabilities at sea when it needs them most.

Why Sending F-16s to Ukraine Would Be a Mistake

John Venable

The Ukrainian MiG-29 pilot known as the “Ghost of Kyiv” became legend during the first few months of the war in Ukraine. Video after video showed him popping up from low altitude to destroy Russian jets before diving back into the terrain to make his hasty escape.

The clips did a lot to garner global support for the Ukrainian people, but they were fakes -- computer-generated animations that created not just the Ghost legend, but an indelible myth about what well-flown, fourth-generation fighters can do in a high-threat environment like Ukraine.

In reality, there’s been little news about airpower’s effectiveness on either side of the war because it has been sorely absent from the battlefield. The Russian Surface to Air Missile (SAM) systems fielded on both sides are so effective that pilots rarely elect to attack enemy positions because the odds of either success or survival are so low. The threat has driven both sides to executing sporadic pop-up attacks that rarely leave a mark on their enemy.

To help counter the SAM threat in Ukraine, the U.S. has already given the Ukrainians High-Speed Anti-Radiation Missiles (HARMs), but to be effective, they must be launched within the missile’s max range at radars that are on/actively emitting. With no onboard system that can detect a SAM’s emissions or determine its location, hitting a SAM with a HARM launched from a MiG 29 is little more than blind luck.

Some believe that giving the Ukrainians F-16s will change that paradigm, but even our most advanced models are just as ill-suited for a high-threat environment as the fourth-generation MiG-29 and SU-27 fighters the Ukrainians are currently flying.

Russia Wants a Long War

Sam Greene and Alina Polyakova

U.S. President Joe Biden’s historic visit to Kyiv days before the one-year anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine sent an important message to Ukrainians and, indeed, to Russians. “Ukraine will never be a victory for Russia,” Biden proclaimed, adding that the United States will support Ukraine “as long as it takes.” Indeed, “as long as it takes” has become the new talking point for Ukraine’s allies, repeated by French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. But “as long as it takes” also signals to many Ukrainians that the allies expect the war to drag on for years, with Ukraine bearing the brunt of it. And they are right: even as the United States and its allies have sent billions of dollars’ worth of military equipment to Ukraine, there remains one thing they seem unable to supply: a clear, united commitment to a rapid Ukrainian victory. Unless the United States wants to find itself embroiled in another forever war, on terms that very much suit Russian President Vladimir Putin, it’s time for that to change.

A clear pattern has emerged in the past year: the Ukrainians request a weapons system and Western governments refuse to provide it, only to change their minds a few months later after public debates and disagreement among allies. The news in January that German Leopard tanks and U.S. Abrams tanks would be delivered to Ukraine later this year was, of course, welcome. But it came after months of debates between allies, culminating in an ultimatum from Germany that it would allow its tanks to be sent to Ukraine only if the United States pledged to send its own at the same time. The same is true of Patriot missile defense batteries, which Washington saw as a redline for Putin at the beginning of the war, only to send them months later after thousands more lives had been needlessly lost. The multiple launch rocket system known as HIMARS, which has proved so effective in helping Ukraine regain territory, was delivered only after extensive pressure and lobbying by Ukraine.

Who Really Blew Up the Nord Stream Pipeline?

Chas Danner

On September 26, a series of deep-sea explosions rocked the Nord Stream and Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipelines along the bottom of the Baltic Sea, near the Danish island of Bornholm. The bombings severed three of the Nord Stream projects’ four underwater pipelines, which were built to transport a direct supply of natural gas from Russia to customers in Western Europe — though neither were in operation at the time of the bombing thanks to tensions over the war in Ukraine. Nearly six months later, multiple countries continue to conduct their own investigations into the sabotage, but the mystery of who targeted the pipelines remains unsolved. Recent reporting, however, suggests investigators may be hot on the trail of the saboteurs. Below is what we know about the latest developments and prime suspects.
Was it some pro-Ukraine group?

This week, the New York Times reported that U.S. officials have recently seen new intelligence suggesting that a pro-Ukraine, but not necessarily Ukraine-backed, group was behind the sabotage. According to the Times, the unnamed U.S. officials who have reviewed the intelligence said that the group was likely made up of Ukrainian and/or Russian nationals who were opponents of Russian president Vladimir Putin, but there was no evidence of direct links between the saboteurs and Ukraine’s leadership. (Ukraine has repeatedly denied any involvement in the bombings.) The divers in the saboteur group were not currently working for military or intelligence services, but may have been trained by them in the past, according to the intelligence.

The Times also reported that “U.S. officials who have been briefed on the intelligence are divided about how much weight to put on the new information,” but that they are now more optimistic European and U.S. intelligence agencies will be able to get to the bottom of what happened.

Skeptical of the lab leak theory? Here’s why you should take it seriously.

Robert Wright

It is understandable that many Americans on Team Blue are deeply skeptical, if not completely dismissive, of the lab-leak hypothesis.

The idea that the covid-19 virus escaped from a laboratory in Wuhan, China — and, in most versions of the story, had been genetically engineered there — got much of its initial impetus from not-very-reality-based Trumpists, such as the famously inventive Stephen K. Bannon. And the hypothesis fit suspiciously well into their long-standing agenda of demonizing China. Peter Navarro, who served as an adviser to President Donald Trump, went so far as to suggest that the Chinese had developed covid as a bioweapon.

One place Navarro made that suggestion was on Bannon’s podcast, where commercial breaks were ushered in with snippets of a song called “Take Down the CCP” — written by Guo Wengui, the Bannon-backing billionaire Chinese exile who seeks regime change in Beijing (where he is under indictment for bribery and fraud among other things).

So, yes, there is reason to doubt the lab-leak hypothesis. But, strangely, this particular reason — the ideological motivation that helped propel it to prominence — is also a reason that left-of-center Americans need to take the hypothesis seriously.

The lab-leak scenario is having a day in the sun — both because of last month’s report that the Energy Department has weighed in on its side and because House Republicans are holding hearings that will give it airtime. This will naturally lead to discussions about how to prevent future lab disasters, especially ones involving genetically altered pathogens. And if far-right Chinaphobes dominate that discussion — because they’re the ones taking the lab-leak scenario seriously enough to dwell on its implications — then the policy discourse will be skewed in their direction.

Russia’s War in Ukraine: Top Ten Lessons

Kristine Berzina

German Marshall Fund (GMF) President Heather Conley and Estonian Ambassador Kristjan Prikk brought together on January 24 Kusti Salm, Permanent Secretary of the Estonian Ministry of Defense, and more than forty diplomats, US government officials, and think-tank representatives for a discussion on the defense ministry’s report, “Russia's War in Ukraine: Myths and Lessons”. A comprehensive review of the events of the last 12 months by participants yielded a wide range of perspectives. As the one-year mark of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine approaches, the GMF Geostrategy North team offers the following 10 lessons from Russia’s war in Ukraine that emerged from the discussion:While the West has responded to Russia’s aggression with striking unity, there are different views on whether Russia represents a long-term threat. In the medium term, voices on both sides of the Atlantic agree that the outcome of Russia’s war in Ukraine will define the state of transatlantic security. Failing to achieve victory in this war likely means a similar, future conflict for the transatlantic community.

While Russia has failed to achieve its objectives to date, it retains significant stocks of materiel and possesses a distinct numerical advantage in personnel. Moreover, Russia has demonstrated a willingness to absorb losses on the battlefield and through sanctions. While the West has succeeded with its various tactical responses, a strategic alliance response to Russia’s war is nevertheless required.

Russia was emboldened by a lack of European defense investment and a Western failure to respond to its previous aggression. While allies have made progress in certain areas, only nine NATO members currently meet their 2014 Wales summit commitment to spend at least 2% of GDP on defense. The West’s failure to exact a higher price for Russian aggression in Georgia and earlier in Ukraine also encouraged Russia to believe that the West would accept its most recent invasion.

The War in Ukraine and the Intelligence Revolution

Koichiro Takagi

Thorough disclosure of secret information by the Biden administration

On 18 February 2022, at a press conference over the weekend just before Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine, President Biden stated that he was convinced that President Putin had made the decision to invade Ukraine. When asked on what basis, President Biden responded succinctly, "we have a significant intelligence capability."1 On 23 February, the day before the Russian invasion began, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken stated unequivocally that Russia will begin its invasion tomorrow.2

This series of announcements by the US Government has two significant implications. The first is the high intelligence capability of the United States. US intelligence agencies accurately detected the highly secretive information about President Putin's decision, including the date of the start of the Russian invasion. The deployment of weapons, such as tanks and fighter jets, is relatively easy to detect through images taken by satellites and reconnaissance aircraft. However, the inside of the mind of other countries' leaders is not as easy to unravel.

Second, such highly secret information was made public at the press conference. Until then, it has been common practice for such secret information to be kept strictly secret from those outside the government. This is because disclosing confidential information would put the source of the information in grave danger. In particular, if the source is HUMINT, the source's life may be in danger.

Artificial Intelligence Is Dumb

ChatGPT, the hot new artificial intelligence text generator, is fun. Part of a larger profusion of MadLib-sy A.I. technologies—on par with “recordings” of Joe Biden and Donald Trump fighting about video games or “paintings” of scenes from Star Trek: The Next Generation by Van Gogh—it’s a diverting way to spend a few minutes. I am particularly fond of making it write poems about professional athletes in the style of the great nineteenth-century Romantics. (“Thou art like a sprite on the court / J.R. Smith, with your moves so deft and bold,” starts one such poem, meant to be in the style of “Ode to a Nightingale.” Does it sound like Keats? Not particularly. But J.R. Smith was a bit like a sprite on the court. ChatGPT gets partial credit.)

There are lots of ways to waste time on the internet and, thus far, ChatGPT and its A.I. brethren fill that niche nicely, if fleetingly—ChatGPT has replaced DALL-E and the other weird painting program that made profile pictures where you looked hot (but also may have stolen your face) as this moment’s hot new robot overlord. Even if the work it produces is often shoddy and stylistically flat, it is very fast. Consider the fact that this piece took me about a day to research and complete—but when I asked ChatGPT about how it will change humanity, it answered in about 15 seconds. (It told me, basically, that it would make stuff like customer service and data entry more efficient. “Overall, my impact on humanity will depend on how people choose to use me and the technology that supports my existence,” it concluded. “I am here to assist and provide information, but it is ultimately up to humans to decide how they will use that information to shape the world.” Thanks, ChatGPT!)

CIA’s Coming Tech Revolution


OPINION — Like many Americans who came of age in the 1980s, I have lasting childhood memories of the Space Shuttle program. The Shuttle program was a source of national pride. Designed and manufactured in the United States, the Shuttles represented the ingenuity of our country, and they served as a beacon of hope, strength, dedication to purpose, and, of course, innovation. It was only as a young adult when I came to understand the impetus of the Space Shuttle program – the U.S. Government accelerating the race to space against the Soviet Union through continued innovation.

I saw this mission imperative again when I worked in the Central Intelligence Agency’s Directorate of Operations, focusing on counterterrorism in a post-9/11 world. Reeling from the devastating attacks against our homeland, the CIA was driving a mission to identify and eliminate terrorists on a global scale. In pursuit of this mission, paradigms were shifted. Partnerships – domestic and foreign – were born, and tradecraft used by intelligence collectors was transformed.

This became the CIA’s primary focus for the next fifteen years and generations of officers were recruited, trained, and deployed overseas under this mandate. This crisis and resulting mission defined the CIA for many years. The CIA – and the entire Intelligence Community (IC) – expended all resources in this national promise to defeat terrorism. Over time, institutional barriers were overcome. A steadfast commitment to purpose resulted in alliances being built and relationships being formed. Underpinning all this was wide scale innovation in the development and use of specific technologies that very much enabled operations – lethal and otherwise.

Starlink and the Russia-Ukraine War: A Case of Commercial Technology and Public Purpose?

Amritha Jayanti

The commercial space technology Starlink grabbed headlines in the wake of the Russian-Ukraine war. Just two days into the conflict, Elon Musk, CEO and founder of SpaceX, the company that operates Starlink, agreed to supply Ukraine with the technology to ensure they had reliable internet connectivity and communication. Starlink has since been touted as critical in the war effort, but it has not come without hazards.

The case of Starlink support illuminates not just the opportunities of emerging technology in crisis, but also the politics (the lowercase p version concerning power and human behavior) and limitations of technology. This piece reviews the deployment of Starlink in the Russia-Ukraine war and analyzes the technology, politics, and public purpose dimensions of SpaceX’s support in Ukraine.
Overview of Starlink and Its Use in the War

Starlink, launched by SpaceX in 2019, is a private sector-run, low earth orbit satellite constellation that provides high-speed, low-latency broadband internet across the globe.[1] The goal of the technology is to increase access to high quality broadband and provide more people with reliable connectivity for digital communication, online services and goods, and information.

Interior Lines Will Make Land Power the Asymmetric Advantage in the Indo-Pacific


A key vulnerability in the People’s Republic of China’s anti-access/area defense makes conventional land forces—U.S. Soldiers and Marines—the joint force’s asymmetric advantage in a theater named for two oceans. The A2/AD system was built to find and destroy large, fast-moving ships and planes and to disrupt space and cyber capabilities. It was not designed to track distributed groups of mobile land forces inside its protective bubble.

Turning AirLand Battle on its head, land forces will become essential to getting air and naval assets into the fight, especially if space and cyber are contested. In the words of former Indo-Pacific commander Adm. Harry Harris, land forces will “sink ships, neutralize satellites, shoot down missiles, and hack or jam the enemy” to punch holes in the A2/AD network. These softening attacks will provide windows for the Air Force and Navy to conduct bursts of operations, from offensive attacks to transporting forces and equipment into theater.

The key is creating interior lines—essentially, compact lines of maneuver, communications, and logistics. Interior lines provide options for military and national leaders by positioning ground forces. The Marine Corps’ Stand-In Forces concept, for example, relies on interior lines to help hold positional advantage and physically control important terrain such as maritime chokepoints. Interior lines also underwrites operational endurance – the military’s ability to fight the successive battles of a war—by positioning foundational protection, collection, command and control, and sustainment needed in conflict.

The Strange Case of Iraq Syndrome

Peter Feaver, Christopher Gelpi, and Jason Reifler

After the Vietnam War, a generation of U.S. leaders developed what became known as “Vietnam syndrome”—a pathological belief that public support for the use of force was too fleeting, and the U.S. military’s power too uncertain, for foreign military operations to be advisable. This syndrome bedeviled U.S. decision-making for years, but by the mid-1980s, its power had begun to wane. The United States’ swift victory in the Gulf War in 1991 would have seemed to banish it for good. But in reality, the success of Operation Desert Storm reinforced the idea that the public would tolerate only short, low-casualty conflicts.

Concerns about the Vietnam syndrome returned as U.S. President George W. Bush prepared to invade Iraq in 2003. Bush went ahead anyway, and the resulting war was the most significant and costly that the United States had conducted since the 1970s. Although the invasion initially enjoyed considerable public support, its popularity waned when it did not go as planned. Within a few years, the Bush administration faced the very real prospect of losing, and only the politically controversial move of changing the strategy and surging more troops and resources into Iraq altered the trajectory of the war. Bush handed over to his successor, U.S. President Barack Obama, an Iraq war that was more promising than it had been in 2006 but still a far cry from the rosy prewar predictions.

Two decades after the initial invasion, Iraq remains a security project in progress. Compared with the United States’ outright defeat in Afghanistan, the result of the U.S. campaign in Iraq looks like a modest success. It still might be possible to achieve some of the goals of the war—an Iraq that can govern and defend itself and that is an ally in the war against terrorists—albeit at a tragically high price. But compared with the expectations of the war’s advocates, Iraq looks like a fiasco in the mold of Vietnam. And the shock has had the same result: policymakers have developed Iraq syndrome and now believe that the American public has no stomach for military operations conducted on foreign soil.

To Counter China, U.S. and Allies Seek to Make Militaries ‘Interchangeable’

Mike Cherney

When the top general for the U.S. Air Force in the Pacific traveled overseas recently to meet with U.S. allies, responsibility for 46,000 personnel across the region fell to an unusual second-in-command: an air vice-marshal from the Australian air force.

The Australian officer was appointed recently to be one of two deputy commanders for the U.S. Air Force in the region at its base in Hawaii. Although it isn’t unusual for people from friendly nations to embed in the U.S. military, it is the first time an allied officer has held such a top operational role in the U.S. Air Force’s Pacific command.

“That’s the kind of trust that we have in our two air forces, that we could work that closely together,” Gen. Kenneth Wilsbach, the U.S. Air Force commander for the Pacific, said while on a visit last month to an air show in Australia.

As concerns grow that China could launch an invasion of Taiwan in the coming years, the U.S. military is expanding its footprint in Asia and the Pacific and boosting the capabilities of allies, which U.S. planners hope will deter China from any aggressive moves. Key to that strategy is a growing focus on interoperability—the ability of U.S. and allied militaries to operate effectively together.

Tackling the Underwater Threat: How Ukraine Can Combat Russian Submarines

Dr Sidharth Kaushal and Dr Kevin Rowlands

Given that building anti-submarine warfare capabilities along Western lines would require significant time and resources, how can Ukraine best counter the Russian submarine threat?

One of the signal successes of the Ukrainian armed forces has been denying the Russian Black Sea Fleet’s surface vessels the ability to operate in close proximity to Ukrainian shores. The successful attack on the fleet’s flagship, the Moskva, with indigenous Neptune anti-ship cruise missiles and the subsequent Russian defeat at Snake Island denied the fleet the air cover it needs to be able to operate in range of an increasingly credible Ukrainian anti-ship missile threat. As such, it may prove increasingly difficult for Russia to enforce a renewed surface blockade of Ukraine if it decides that inflicting economic harm is important – a likely assumption if the war of attrition continues over the longer term.

That being said, Russia does have other options with which to menace Ukraine’s maritime economy. The risk posed by naval mines represents one vector; another is the use of submarines, which have not featured significantly in the conflict thus far. The Black Sea Fleet’s force of four Project 636 (Kilo) and Project 877 (Improved Kilo) submarines have not been used in a blockading role to date, acting primarily as a launch platform for 3M-14 Kalibr cruise missiles. However, if Russia did decide to use them in this capacity, it would raise new challenges for Ukraine’s sea denial strategy, which thus far has had to contend primarily with the (comparatively) easy task of anti-surface warfare. The skills and capabilities needed for Ukraine to conduct anti-submarine warfare (ASW) along Western lines would be time-consuming and expensive to generate, and are unlikely to be acquired in the foreseeable future, begging the question of how to ‘do’ ASW on a shoestring.

Fostering Innovation in Military Technology

Brodi Kotila, Jeffrey A. Drezner, Elizabeth M. Bartels

Technological superiority is a key part of the U.S. military's advantage over its competitors. During the Cold War, the U.S. government played a key role in sponsoring science and technology research. In recent years, however, technological innovation has been driven by the commercial market, where other nations — particularly China — have narrowed the advantage held by the United States.

Recognizing the need to harness innovation from the private sector, the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) and the military services have created a number of defense innovation organizations (DIOs) to help foster communities of innovators and accelerate the military's identification, development, and adoption of commercial, private sector–developed technology. But have these organizations been able to achieve their stated aims? A RAND National Security Research Division study examined how well DoD is identifying, developing, and transitioning innovative commercial technologies from the private sector to the military and how the defense ecosystem can more effectively support this process.