26 March 2023

India’s Coming Battle Over Its Supreme Court

Akhilesh Pillalamarri

The Supreme Court of India has been the subject of controversy over the remit of its powers in recent years. Over the past few decades, the scope of the judiciary has expanded to such an extent as to call into question the doctrines of separation of powers, checks and balances, and democratic legitimacy.

At the heart of the matter is the fact that the Supreme Court has accrued enormous power, beyond that which most judiciaries hold. In the 1970s, in response to the increasingly autocratic rule of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi of the Congress Party, the Supreme Court established the “basic structure doctrine” in the 1973 case Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala. This doctrine, which came about through a decision by a slim margin of 7-6 judges held that Parliament could not pass amendments that altered the “basic structure” of the constitution, even though the procedure for amendments is clearly laid on in Article 368 of the Indian Constitution. The problem is that there is no consensus on what elements are part of the “basic structure” of the constitution, although fundamental rights, federalism, separation of powers, and other key elements are often listed.

The Supreme Court used the precedent set by Kesavananda Bharati in the 1980 Minerva Mills v. Union of India case to overturn parts of the Constitution (Forty-second Amendment) Act, 1976 that was passed by Parliament. Around the same time, the apex court also began to allow public interest litigation, wherein any individual could file a case based on perceived public interest regardless of standing. This stands in contrast to the United States, where an individual can file a suit only if he or she has an actual and particularized injury. As a result, the Supreme Court began to take on an increasingly powerful role, sometimes functioning as a secondary legislature.

IMF to Assess Sri Lankan Governance as Part of $3 Billion Bailout

Krishan Francis

The International Monetary Fund said Tuesday it is assessing Sri Lanka’s governance in the first case of an Asian country facing scrutiny for corruption as part of a bailout program.

The IMF executive board approved a nearly $3 billion bailout plan for the bankrupt nation Monday and about $333 million was to be disbursed immediately to alleviate the country’s humanitarian crisis. The approval also will open up financial support from other institutions.

Sri Lanka suspended repayment of its debt last year as it ran short of foreign currency needed to pay for imports of fuel and other essentials. Shortages led to street protests that forced out Sri Lanka’s president. The economic situation has improved under current President Ranil Wickremesinghe, but his plans to privatize state companies have raised objections.

The senior mission chief for the IMF in Sri Lanka said the development lender would assess corruption and governance vulnerabilities in Sri Lanka and provide recommendations.

“Sri Lanka will be the first country in Asia to undergo a governance diagnostic exercise by the IMF. We look forward to further engagement and collaboration with stakeholders and civil society organizations on this critical reform area,” Peter Breuer told reporters.

Taiwan’s president to stop in U.S., raising prospect of friction with China

Meaghan Tobin and Ellen Nakashima

TAIPEI, Taiwan — Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen will visit the United States at the end of the month, stopping over in New York and California — where she will meet with a top U.S. lawmaker — on her way to and from Central America to shore up ties with her island democracy’s few remaining diplomatic allies.

With Beijing aggressively pushing to upend the U.S.-led international order, Honduran President Xiomara Castro last week said her country was looking to forge diplomatic relations with China, which means it would cut off official relations with Taiwan. The move would leave just 13 countries in the world that recognize Taiwan.

Tsai will travel from March 29 to April 7, stopping first in New York before heading to Guatemala and Belize and traveling through Los Angeles on the return leg, a spokesperson in Taiwan’s presidential office confirmed Tuesday without providing an itinerary for any U.S. engagements.

The trip, which will mark Tsai’s seventh visit to the United States since taking office in 2016, will include a meeting with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California on April 5, according to people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the plans have not been announced.

Don’t Panic About Taiwan

Jessica Chen Weiss

In the West and parts of Asia, concern is mounting that China might invade Taiwan to distract from mounting domestic challenges or because Chinese leaders imagine that their window of opportunity to seize the island is closing. Facing an economic slowdown and rising unemployment, some analysts argue, Beijing might be tempted to launch a military offensive to rally popular support. In January 2023, for instance, Taiwan’s foreign minister, Joseph Wu, speculated that Chinese President Xi Jinping might create an external crisis “to divert domestic attention or to show to the Chinese that he has accomplished something.”

Other analysts warn of an impending war because China’s rise is slowing. In their view, Beijing might try to seize the opportunity to use force against Taiwan while it has the advantage. Admiral Mike Gilday, chief of U.S. naval operations, suggested in October 2022 that China could try to take Taiwan as early as 2022 or 2023. Other U.S. officials, including Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and William Burns, the director of the CIA, have cautioned that Xi has not yet decided to invade Taiwan. But there is growing concern among some Western security analysts and policymakers that once the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) believes it has the military capability to invade Taiwan and hold the United States at bay, Xi will order an invasion.

Fears that China will soon invade Taiwan are overblown. There is little evidence that Chinese leaders see a closing window for action. Such fears appear to be driven more by Washington’s assessments of its own military vulnerabilities than by Beijing’s risk-reward calculus. Historically, Chinese leaders have not started wars to divert attention from domestic challenges, and they continue to favor using measures short of conflict to achieve their objectives. If anything, problems at home have moderated Chinese foreign policy, and Chinese popular opinion has tended to reward government bluster and displays of resolve that do not lead to open conflict.

Xi Jinping’s Russia visit: Russian ballet with Chinese characteristics diminishes India’s strategic space

Mohan Kumar

It is hard to overlook the strategic dimensions of the visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping to Moscow this week to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin. As is their wont when they meet, a fairly detailed joint statement was put out.

The main strategic takeaway is that Xi has not just doubled down on Russia but has specifically thrown his considerable weight behind the person of Putin. How else to explain the fact that even before Putin has announced his candidature for the Russian presidential elections due in March next year, Xi has backed Putin by expressing the hope that the latter would be re-elected as President of Russia. For Putin, who faces some internal dissent, this is a big deal: He is, after all, getting the endorsement of a big power for his policies in Ukraine. Xi’s personal endorsement of Putin is also a poke in the eye for the West and the International Criminal Court, which indicted him recently

The language of the joint statement on the war in Ukraine is what may be characterised as boilerplate. There is a predictable reference to the UN charter and to international law, but the reference to the “legitimate security concerns of all countries” and preventing the formation of “bloc confrontation” must have satisfied Russia enough to welcome Chinese attempts at mediation in the Ukraine imbroglio. Russia, therefore, called the Chinese peace proposals “constructive”. This, of course, means the Chinese peace proposals, such as they are, can be deemed dead on arrival by the Ukrainians and the West. We will have to see how the proposed telephone call between Xi and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy goes.

Beijing’s Lean Into Moscow


Fifteen years ago, as deputy assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia, I watched Beijing’s ambivalent response to Moscow’s dry run for its current war in Ukraine. When Moscow invaded Georgia in 2008 and detached two regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, it attempted to rally support from China and Central Asian members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. But then president Dmitri Medvedev had little success—not least because the precedent of hiving off parts of sovereign states risked, from Beijing’s perspective, undercutting its claim to be “sovereign” over Taiwan.

Fast forward to 2023. On Monday morning, Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in Moscow at a different time and in a different world. Strategically, Beijing is preoccupied with the United States, which Xi has publicly alleged aims to “contain, surround and block, and suppress” (遏制, 围堵, 打压) China. In this context, Russia is not the only country that shares Beijing’s ambivalence about American foreign policy and Washington’s frequent use of economic levers, but it is the only sizeable one. On numerous issues, from data sovereignty to the use of unilateral sanctions, Beijing and Moscow are broadly in agreement and seek to alter elements of the international system. Therefore, despite Moscow’s brutal invasion of Ukraine and claimed “annexation” of four Ukrainian regions over the past year, Beijing has leaned into its partnership with Russia, which Xi, in a piece published Monday in Russian-language media, describes as anchored by a “vision of lasting friendship.”

How China Views The Recent India-China Bilateral Talks On LAC

Antara Ghosal Singh

The Chinese strategic community kept a close eye as External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar met the newly appointed Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang on the sidelines of the G20 foreign ministers’ meeting on 2 March 2023. The meeting generated much concern within the Chinese strategic circles as it was understood to have generated more contradiction than consensus between the two sides. The mainstream Chinese discourse post the meeting was that “China needs to prepare for the worst at the LAC”.

From a Chinese perspective, India did not show a positive attitude during the meeting and did not reciprocate China’s so-called “goodwill gestures” such as it seeking to explore common grounds between the two countries beyond the border dispute or participating in defence exchanges and cooperation with India under the framework of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, etc. It was argued that the meeting only lasted for 45 minutes, in which Jaishankar made “a big fuss” about the border issue. He turned down Qin Gang’s proposal to put the border issue in an appropriate place and speed up the resumption of exchanges and cooperation in various fields, like resuming direct flights, facilitating personnel exchanges, etc. Instead, reiterated that the pre-requisite for the normalisation of Sino-Indian relations is that the border situation returns to normal—a move largely interpreted as Minister Jaishankar’s “arrogance” vis-à-vis the Chinese FM.

It is interesting to note how the Indian concern over “China’s non-compliance of existing pacts between the two countries – particularly, the pact not to amass forces on the border and not to try to change the Line of Actual Control (LAC) unilaterally” which it believes has led to the current crisis at LAC and its (India’s) principled stance that of not agreeing to “any unilateral attempt by China to change the Line of Actual Control (LAC)”, of not “compromising on the core issues”, of letting “the state of the border determine the state of the relationship” are being given a spin by the Chinese side to suit its self-interest.

The Strategic Culture of China and the Era of Xi Jinping

Prof. Priyadarśī Mukherji

India and China had been having cultural exchanges since several centuries in a relatively peaceful manner simply because Tibet stood in between these two civilisations as a buffer zone. Tibet played the role of a catalyst in bringing about a synergy between the two ancient Asian societies. Despite its geographic proximity with China, Tibet had evolved its distinct identity even before its coming in contact with Buddhism. The Tibetan empire built under King Songtsen Gampo (604-650) brought about geostrategic transformations in terms of its equation with China. The king sent a scholar named Thonmi Sambhota to India in the 7th century CE in order to create a distinct script for the Tibetan language. The written language of Tibetan was constructed on the basis of Gupta script and the Sharda letterings (which is based on Brahmi script), that originated in India. With the advent of Buddhism in Tibet, its physical and spiritual contacts with India increased across the Himalayas. Historically speaking, since time immemorial, Tibet has been the immediate neighbour of India, maintaining an independent entity for centuries. In ancient times, China never ruled over Tibet. In fact, in 763 CE, the Tibetan army under King Tri Songdetsen captured Chang’an (present-day Xi’an), the then capital of the Tang dynasty. Under the influence of Buddhism, Tibet transformed into a peaceful country, eventually becoming the purest repository of the Tantric Buddhist traditions. India maintained its contiguous borders with Tibet. China never shared its borders with India till Tibet stood obliterated from the world-map following the Chinese occupation of Tibet. Yet, India maintains its Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) force along the northern borders.

Explaining China’s Diplomatic Strategy on Ukraine

Jianli Yang

China’s leader Xi Jinping is in Moscow this week, where he will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin. This comes after a recent phone call between the foreign ministers of China and Ukraine. Following Beijing’s successful mediation between Saudi Arabia and Iran, China is now posturing as a mediator in the Russia-Ukraine war. This is not just for show. From the perspective of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) – whose ultimate goal is global economic, ideological, and military dominance – this is a necessary step for China.

The West continues to prop up Ukraine. If China doesn’t intervene, Russia will soon fail, and this is where China has the most to lose – not only by potentially losing the bulwark of the Putin regime, but also by losing the economic opportunity to rebuild Ukraine and instead bleeding out China’s pre-war economic investment in the country. The CCP sees this as the best time for it to play a mediating role. The Chinese regime is eager to assume this role as soon as possible, capitalizing on the momentum it gained by successfully mediating between the Saudis and Iranians.

According to information released by Beijing in January, China is focused on spearheading diplomatic breakthroughs in the Russia-Ukraine war, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the Iran-Saudi proxy conflict. Diplomatic relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia have already been restored, as of March 10, following China’s mediation.

20 Years Later, Terrorism Simmers from Iraq to Afghanistan, Officials Warn


DOHA, Qatar—“No, it wasn’t worth it.”

That’s how an advisor to Iraq’s prime minister responded to journalist Peter Bergen’s oft-asked question about the American invasion of Iraq. Bergen posed it on stage at a conference of counterterrorism professionals here just a few days shy of the 20th anniversary of the invasion’s start, and Mohammed Al-Darraji answered bluntly.

The human and financial cost of the American destabilization of Iraq left behind a failed state. And in recent weeks, new alarms are sounding about the security threats simmering from Iraq to Afghanistan that can be traced back to that fateful decision so long ago.

In their own remembrances this week, Western news pages and airwaves are filled with heartrending stories recalling the horrors of that war, the folly of nation-building, the unpunished culpability of the American politicians who ordered it, the way it changed the military, the lasting trauma of its veterans, and the relentless grief for those who died. Our collective sentiment for the Iraq War remains overwhelmingly negative, angry, and unsettled.

But looking forward, the outlook for Iraq, the region, and the adjacent global war on terrorism is once again alarmingly bleak. In the past month, generals, journalists, officials, and activists have issued new warnings.

Rare Earths Supply Chains and Confrontation with China

Ionut Popescu, Dan Negrea, James Jay Carafano
The war in Ukraine has resulted in ammunition shortages for U.S. troops and years-long backlogs for key weapons systems. But the danger of these shortages pales in comparison to the potential military shortages that could arise in a war over Taiwan due to America’s reliance on Beijing for Rare Earths Elements (REEs).

Experts have repeatedly urged Washington to address this critical national security vulnerability. A year ago, the Biden administration announced a new effort to address this problem, but the results are thus far underwhelming.

China only has around 36 percent of the world’s known rare earth reserves, but through a deliberate and methodical strategy, Beijing now controls more than 70 percent of the world’s extraction capability. Even more significantly, China commands nearly 90 percent of the world’s processing capacity.

Beijing’s industrial policy essentially pushed Western companies out of the rare earth mining and processing business in China. And it wasn’t just about profit. In1992, Deng Xiaoping, former general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, declared:

The Middle East has its oil, China has rare earth: China’s rare earth deposits account for 80 percent of identified global reserves, you can compare the status of these reserves to that of oil in the Middle East: it is of extremely important strategic significance; we must be sure to handle the rare earth issue properly and make the fullest use of our country’s advantage in rare earth resources.

20 Years After The Invasion Of Iraq, Americans Still Want The U.S. Involved In World Affairs

Geoffrey Skelley

The two likely rivals for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024 both openly oppose interventionist policies in Ukraine, like providing the country with further assistance in its war against Russia. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis made waves last week when he said defending Ukraine from Russian aggression was not “vital” to American interests. In doing so, he aligned himself with former President Donald Trump. Their shared position on U.S. involvement could be taken as evidence of an isolationist realignment on the American right, especially as polling suggests Republicans are less likely than Democrats to support aiding Ukraine.

What a difference 20 years can make. Back in 2003, when the United States invaded Iraq under the leadership of Republican President George W. Bush, it was the right that favored global intervention. From the war’s start to its conclusion in 2011,1 Republicans were far more likely than Democrats to say that the U.S. made the “right decision” in putting American boots on the ground in Iraq.

Yet while partisan attitudes toward American involvement in these recent foreign conflicts have seemingly flipped, it’s unclear how the American public as a whole now feels about our country’s place in the world. Several factors make it hard to tell how much American opinion has shifted toward isolationism. Foreign policy is not only about the use of military force, after all, and public opinion remains more supportive than not of the U.S. playing a major role in global affairs. Meanwhile, the influence of political leaders and partisanship on Americans’ attitudes complicate a common narrative among political and media circles that the country wants to become less involved internationally.

How the Battle for Bakhmut Has Exposed Russia’s Fault Lines

James Horncastle

The fight for the city of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine, which started in the summer of 2022, continues unabated. The battle has morphed from one of dubious immediate strategic benefit to Russia into one that has come to symbolize its war efforts. It also highlights the current deficiencies in Russia’s Armed Forces.

Symbolism is not new to warfare. The Battle of Stalingrad, although it had strategic calculations, was also important due to Hitler’s fixation on its symbolic value.

Furthermore, symbolic acts can have strategic impact beyond their immediate military concerns. The problem is when symbolism overtakes sensible strategy.

Bakhmut, from a strictly military standpoint, does not significantly change the war. For Ukraine, however, Bakhmut’s defense is aligned with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s arguments that he will accept nothing less than the full restoration of his country.

Russia, despite superior military capabilities, has so far failed to take the city.

Urban warfare favors defenders because they possess an intimate knowledge of the terrain that aggressors don’t. Furthermore, when an army relies on artillery and tactical bombing to the extent that the Russian army does, it risks creating new enemy defensive positions in the rubble of the others they’ve destroyed.

Even More Than Tanks and Planes, Ukraine Needs IFVs

Franz-Stefan Gady

The last few months saw a contentious debate among Kyiv’s Western partners about whether to supply Western-made main battle tanks to Ukraine to help it beat back the Russian invasion. Germany’s much-delayed decision to deliver Leopard 2 tanks (and allow other countries to deliver the German-made weapon), along with a British decision to send Challenger 2s, was hailed by many observers as a potential game-changer that would enable Ukraine to conduct offensive operations this spring.

Listen to Ukrainian military officers, like I was able to do during a research trip to Kyiv and the Donbas this month, and a different picture emerges. Not the tank, but it’s less glamorous cousin—the infantry fighting vehicle (IFV)—was at the top of its weapons wish list. “We need everything, but IFVs are probably the most urgent need we have,” an officer in a Ukrainian mechanized brigade messaged me last week.

That’s because success in ground combat doesn’t depend on tanks alone but rather on how well tanks can be integrated with other platforms to conduct combined arms operations. The most important of these other weapons—the one Ukrainians on the front lines have been clamoring for—is the armored IFV. Without the main battle tank and IFV operating together, the choreography of the swift and effective combined arms attack would collapse. Without IFVs, there can be no rapid and successful Ukrainian offensive this spring—regardless of how many Western tanks arrive. Although the United States, Sweden, and Germany have each pledged Western IFVs to Ukraine, their actual delivery has yet to be confirmed.

Israel’s Genius, and Its Bad Shepherds


I love Israel.

I’ve loved it since day one, just after the 1967 war, when I discovered this unknown land where everything spoke to me in secret.

I love the miracle of this country, born of a publicist’s passion for a history that he knew very little about; baptized with a name from psalmists and poets who knew nothing of what makes a nation; built by practical dreamers who, while resuscitating Hebrew, realized this other miracle, which was the invention of one of the only true social contracts in history (“we decide to be a republic, therefore we are one”—who else dared, except maybe America?).

I love Israel when I feel it’s a refuge for persecuted Jews, and I love it when it’s being menaced, stigmatized or demonized by adversaries who, by arms or words, intend to weaken or destroy it.

And, unlike France, which after six years of war with Algeria suspended some of its fundamental liberties, or the United States, which needed only six weeks after September 11 to pass their Patriot Act, I love that Israel, even at war, not after six years or six weeks, but since the very day of its birth, i.e., for 75 years, has never removed its freedoms or ceased to be a democracy.

Which brings me to my worry, and my anger, before the political and moral crisis currently shaking the country.

State Or Non-State? An Overview Of Possible Nord Stream Saboteurs

Rene Tebel

Immediately after the attack on the Nord Stream pipelines became known, Russia was reflexively accused of blowing it up by Western experts, media, and politicians. The sabotage was interpreted as part of Russian hybrid warfare, which also turns energy supply into a political weapon. The blame was based on the experience with Russia’s energy policy toward Ukraine, as well as on psychological-symbolic and practical reasons.

According to this interpretation, the explosion was meant to put Europe in fear of the approaching winter and discourage it from continuing to support Ukraine militarily and politically. In addition, the attack could be interpreted as a sign that Russia is ready to attack critical infrastructure outside the war zone. Finally, the acts of sabotage on the Nord Stream pipelines could also be interpreted as revenge for EU sanctions against Russia.

Moscow’s calculation to deliberately drive up European gas prices and avoid the risk of a contractual penalty for suspending its deliveries by destroying Nord Stream 1 were also variously cited as tangible reasons. This was credible, according to proponents of the assumption of Russian perpetration, because the pipelines had become irrelevant since the EU and Germany in particular used the Ukraine war as an opportunity to bring forward the ‘Energiewende’ (energy transition) to renewable energy and henceforth rely more on American LNG. The possibility of a self-harming act by Moscow was substantiated by the fact that Russia had already incurred its own economic damage by curbing and stopping gas supplies to Europe via Nord Stream 1.

Silicon Valley Bank and the Dangers of Magical Thinking

In 2015, in the midst of a furious lobbying effort on behalf of the banking industry, the C.E.O. and founder of Silicon Valley Bank, Gregory Becker, submitted a statement to the Senate Banking Committee that now reads like something out of a dark comedy. “SVB, like our mid-sized bank peers, does not present systemic risk,” he wrote. “We do not engage in market making, securities underwriting or other global investment banking activities. We also do not engage in complex derivatives transactions or dealing, offer complicated structured products, or participate in other activities of the sort that contributed to the financial crisis.” He went on to emphasize to the senators concerned about the security of the financial system how utterly boring his company was; its main business was traditional banking: taking money from depositors and lending it to companies that were growing and also to the investors in those companies—activities that are fundamental to creating jobs.

The context surrounding Becker’s statement exemplifies the corruption that plagues our regulatory system. In 2010, Congress passed an eight-hundred-and-forty-eight-page bill called the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act in response to the 2008 financial crisis. One of the major goals of the legislation was to place restrictions on the kinds of risk-taking activities that had contributed to the crisis. The financial industry lobbied aggressively to weaken the bill before it passed, and was successful on various fronts. Then, when the bill became law, the push continued to weaken it further. In 2018, shortly after the Donald Trump-led Republican Party pushed through a tax-cut package that drastically reduced corporate taxes and disproportionately benefitted wealthy executives and investors, Congress approved another bill that loosened the Dodd-Frank rules. The bill raised the threshold over which banks would be required to submit to extra regulations and oversight, from fifty billion dollars in assets to two hundred and fifty billion. Once the bill passed, many banks under the threshold did not need to conduct mandated stress tests to see how they would manage during adverse economic conditions; it also lowered the amount of cash that these banks needed to have on hand in case of hiccups in the market; and they were no longer required to have a plan to quickly shut down without disrupting the rest of the financial system, should an unspeakable crisis arise. The lobbyists’ arguments, which were echoed by many members of Congress (Democrats as well as Republicans) taking money from the companies that the lobbyists represented, were that the enhanced restrictions were suffocating small-town banks with unnecessary costs and demands that made it hard for them to compete. In response to many statements like the one that Becker sent to the Senate Banking Committee, the bill, called the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act, was signed into law in May of 2018.

As War in Ukraine Grinds On, China Helps Refill Russian Drone Supplies

Paul Mozur, Aaron Krolik and Keith Bradsher

The Biden administration vowed last month to crack down on companies that sell critical technologies to Russia as part of its efforts to curtail the country’s war against Ukraine. But the continued flow of Chinese drones to the country explains why that will be hard.

While drone sales have slowed, American policies put in place after Russia’s invasion have failed to stanch exports of the unmanned aerial vehicles that work as eyes in the sky for frontline fighters. In the year since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, China has sold more than $12 million in drones and drone parts to the country, according to official Russian customs data from a third-party data provider.

It is hard to determine whether the Chinese drones contain American technologies that would violate the U.S. rules or whether they are legal. The shipments, a mix of products from DJI, the world’s best-known drone maker, and an array of smaller companies, often came through small-time middlemen and exporters.

Complicated sales channels and vague product descriptions within export data also make it hard to definitively show whether there are U.S. components in the Chinese products, which could constitute a violation of the American export controls. And the official sales are most likely only one part of a larger flow of technologies through unofficial channels and other nations friendly to Russia, like Kazakhstan, Pakistan and Belarus.

After a year of war, why is Russian gas still flowing through Ukraine?

Joshua Keating

Almost from the moment Russia invaded last year, Ukraine has been insistently urging European countries to end their reliance on Russian gas, arguing that these purchases are effectively funding Russia’s war effort. “Please do not sponsor the weapons of war of this country, of Russia,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told the European Parliament last March. “No euros for the occupiers. Close all of your ports to them. Don’t export them your goods. Deny energy resources. Push for Russia to leave Ukraine.”

Europe has responded, though not as forcefully as some would like, cutting its use of Russian oil and gas, investing in other energy sources and vowing to completely phase out Russian imports by 2027. U.S. and European intelligence agencies reportedly now suspect that a pro-Ukrainian group was behind the explosion that damaged the Nord Stream gas pipelines linking Russia and Germany. If true, it would be the most profound indication of the lengths at least some Ukrainians will go to halt these exports. (The government in Kyiv denied any involvement.)

Less discussed is the fact that the vast majority of these energy resources now run through Ukraine itself. Ukraine’s own pipeline system now carries nearly all of Central and Western Europe’s remaining exports of Russian gas. This means that every day, 44 million cubic meters of gas, worth well over $100 million, pass through pipelines owned and maintained by the same country they are shelling and bombing on a daily basis.

How bad are the current market jitters?

Fourteen years since the global financial crisis ended, fears of a fresh crisis are in the air. According to Google, searches for “financial crisis” in America have risen four-fold over the past week to a ten-year high. Silicon Valley Bank (svb), a mid-sized lender based in California, failed on March 10th after depositors withdrew $42bn of cash—one quarter of its total—in one day. Two other mid-sized American banks have failed, too. The ripples have been felt in Europe. Credit Suisse, a 167-year-old institution with $400bn in deposits, was swallowed whole by UBS, its Swiss rival, on March 19th.

Bank shares in Europe are down by 14% over the past month, and in America they are 20% lower. The failure of svb, which had $200bn in assets, makes this year the worst year for bank failures by asset size in America since the global financial crisis, according to data from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, which insures depositors against losses. But the two crises are not comparable in scale. Whereas only three banks have failed this year, 414 lenders failed between 2008 and 2012 because they were swamped by bad debt from America’s subprime-mortgage crisis.

So far this time, in contrast with 15 years ago, the broader stockmarket has been relatively unruffled by the turmoil within banking. The vix “fear” index measures the volatility of the S&P 500, America’s leading share index, which rises as investors become jittery. A value above 30 is seen as bad news. The index peaked at 80 in September 2008 after Lehman Brothers, an investment bank, collapsed. Today the vix is at a relatively benign 22, which suggests that investors are so far keeping calm (see right-hand chart). The S&P 500 is up by 3% over the past week.

Richard Haass Says More…

Richard Haass: This is not a war about NATO enlargement or a future expansion to include Ukraine (which was not about to happen). It is not about NATO at all, or the United States, for that matter. This is a war initiated by Russia to eradicate Ukraine as a sovereign entity. Ukraine represented an alternative path for a Slavic nation – one characterized by a democratic political system and deep ties to the West. This was and is unacceptable to Putin, lest it stoke demands at home to shift Russia onto a similar path.

That Putin’s goals are so existential makes it difficult to see the war ending any time soon with the two sides reaching some kind of territorial compromise. Putin’s belief that time will weaken Western resolve further reduces the likelihood that he will consider any kind of settlement to end the war. For Ukraine’s part, the desire to reclaim all of its lost territory, secure economic reparations from Russia, and ensure accountability for Russian war crimes similarly precludes compromise. Again, we need to gird ourselves for a protracted conflict.

PS: In 2021, you wrote that the goal of US policy toward Taiwan “should be to reduce uncertainty about America’s intentions and its ability to make good on them, while underscoring to Chinese leaders the economic and military costs of aggression.” With this in mind, has the West’s response to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine made a Chinese attack on Taiwan less likely? More broadly, what changes to America’s China policy – one of the few domains where there is bipartisan agreement – are most urgently needed?

RH: The West’s response to Russian aggression in Ukraine may have affected China’s calculations on Taiwan. China has to assume any use of military force against Taiwan would lead to severe economic sanctions. Moreover, whereas the United States and others have helped Ukraine only indirectly, there is a real possibility that they would participate directly in the defense of Taiwan. Russia’s failure to achieve a swift victory, and its continued battlefield setbacks, have probably also given China pause, though it will learn from Russia’s mistakes and strengthen its capabilities.

World on ‘thin ice’ as UN climate report gives stark warning


BERLIN (AP) — Humanity still has a chance, close to the last, to prevent the worst of climate change’s future harms, a top United Nations panel of scientists said Monday.

But doing so requires quickly slashing nearly two-thirds of carbon pollution by 2035, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said. The United Nations chief said it more bluntly, calling for an end to new fossil fuel exploration and for rich countries to quit coal, oil and gas by 2040.

“Humanity is on thin ice — and that ice is melting fast,” United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said. “Our world needs climate action on all fronts — everything, everywhere, all at once.”

Stepping up his pleas for action on fossil fuels, Guterres called for rich countries to accelerate their target for achieving net zero emissions to as early as 2040, and developing nations to aim for 2050 — about a decade earlier than most current targets. He also called for them to stop using coal by 2030 and 2040, respectively, and ensure carbon-free electricity generation in the developed world by 2035, meaning no gas-fired power plants either.

U.S. Human-Rights Report Cites Allies and Adversaries

Vivian Salama

WASHINGTON—U.S. allies including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Pakistan are among the countries cited by the State Department as committing serious human-rights violations in a new report aimed at advocating for democratic practices around the world.

The 2022 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, released Monday, provides a detailed record of violations and abuses of persons in marginalized communities, some of whom also suffer disproportionately from economic inequality, climate change, migration, food insecurity and other global challenges.

From Iran’s brutal and violent suppression of peaceful protests often led by women, to what the report describes as “genocide and crimes against humanity” against predominantly Muslim Uyghurs in China, there continues to be a “backsliding of human rights conditions,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.

As the U.S. strives to gather support around the world for its confrontations with China and Russia, Mr. Blinken sought to head off any hurt feelings over the report, which includes a number of allied nations.

Google just launched Bard, its answer to ChatGPT—and it wants you to make it better

Will Douglas Heaven

Google has launched Bard, the search giant’s answer to OpenAI’s ChatGPT and Microsoft’s Bing Chat. Unlike Bing Chat, Bard does not look up search results—all the information it returns is generated by the model itself. But it is still designed to help users brainstorm and answer queries. Google wants Bard to become an integral part of the Google Search experience.

In a live demo Google gave me in its London offices yesterday, Bard came up with ideas for a child’s bunny-themed birthday party and gave lots of tips for looking after houseplants. “We really see it as this creative collaborator,” says Jack Krawczyk, a senior product director at Google.

No one knew how popular OpenAI’s DALL-E would be in 2022, and no one knows where its rise will leave us.

Google has a lot riding on this launch. Microsoft partnered with OpenAI to make an aggressive play for Google’s top spot in search. Meanwhile, Google blundered straight out of the gate when it first tried to respond. In a teaser clip for Bard that the company put out in February, the chatbot was shown making a factual error. Google’s value fell by $100 billion overnight.

Metal-Detecting Drone Could Autonomously Find Land Mines


Metal detecting can be a fun hobby, or it can be a task to be completed in deadly earnest—if the buried treasure you’re searching for includes land mines and explosive remnants of war. This is an enormous, dangerous problem: Something like 12,000 square kilometers worldwide are essentially useless and uninhabitable because of the threat of buried explosives, and thousands and thousands of people are injured or killed every year.

While there are many different ways of detecting mines and explosives, none of them are particularly quick or easy. For obvious reasons, sending a human out into a minefield with a metal detector is not the safest way of doing things. So, instead, people send anything else that they possibly can, from machines that can smash through minefields with brute force to well-trained rats that take a more passive approach by sniffing out explosive chemicals.

Because the majority of mines are triggered by pressure or direct proximity, it may seem that a drone would be the ideal way to detect them nonexplosively. However, unless you’re only detecting over a perfectly flat surface (and perhaps not even then) your detector won’t be positioned ideally most of the time, and you might miss something, which is not a viable option for mine detection.

U.S. and EU Announce Plans to Develop AI Standards


In late January, civil servants in the United States and European Union promised that the two would join forces and support development of AI models in five socially critical areas, including health care and the climate.

However, their agreement has yet to translate into concrete action. “In my opinion, it’s a statement of intent,” says Nicolas Moës, a Brussels-based AI policy researcher at the Future Society think tank. “We do not have, yet, a lot of understanding of how that is going to be executed.”

But if the agreement’s models do materialize, the developers’ actions could set a precedent for handling data in a world where two sides of the Atlantic paint very different regulatory pictures.

The agreement is a product of the EU-US Trade and Technology Council (TTC), a body of civil servants created at a diplomatic summit in July 2021. AI isn’t the TTC’s only concern; it handles a wide variety of trade-related issues, including security, international standards, data governance, and supply chains.

DoD driving ‘dramatic’ change to ‘outpace’ foes, line up with National Cyber Strategy


WASHINGTON — The Biden administration’s National Cyber Strategy “directly aligns” with what a top Pentagon official said were “dramatic” efforts already underway at the Defense Department to revamp the military’s cyber posture.

“The National Cyber Strategy challenges us to set the agenda on our terms to outpace our adversaries,” DoD CIO John Sherman said in a statement to Breaking Defense this week. “This vision directly aligns with the Department’s cloud and software modernization efforts which aim to drive a resilient, zero-trust based cyber foundation in the cloud. Now is the time to drive the dramatic change necessary to make cyber threats far more difficult and far more costly for our adversaries.”

The White House released its National Cyber Strategy earlier this month, outlining steps the government must take to secure the country’s digital future and defend its digital ecosystem against foreign adversaries like China and Russia. The strategy calls for rebalancing the responsibility of defensive cybersecurity to the “most capable and best positioned actors” in the US, essentially shifting it towards industry.

That’s especially true for the military, which relies on an army of private industry contractors, and Sherman told Breaking Defense that DoD recognizes the fundamental role it plays in collaborating with industry and, ultimately, the success of warfighters.

Army network plan will offset contested comms with multi-path transport-agnostic capabilities


To discuss the US Army’s progress in developing a layered terrestrial- and space-based tactical network that will be a main building block for Joint All Domain Command and Control, Breaking Defense talked with Col. Shane Taylor, project manager, Tactical Network, Program Executive Office Command Control Communications-Tactical (PEO C3T), and John Anglin, technical management division chief for PM TN.

Breaking Defense: A recent Army article quoted US Army Deputy Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. John Morrison as saying: “The Army’s Unified Network is the Army’s contribution to JADC2, and at the core of the unified network is space.” The unified network almost sounds like a concept of operations like Joint All Domain Command and Control. But it’s more than that. Describe what is meant by the “unified network.”

Anglin: The two main components of the Unified Network are the Integrated Tactical Network and the Integrated Enterprise Network, ITN and IEN. For ITN, we’re fielding kit from the company up through the battalion and brigade to division, with other maneuver type elements sprinkled in.

That’s supporting everything from the base band perspective for each of the enclaves that they need to support. We have our own transport network called the Unified Transport Network that is, essentially, colorless. That is what we’re using to interconnect all of the DoD teleports, the regional hub nodes. It’s the fabric that’s stitching all this together. Then there’s user enclaves that connect into that transport network.

Uncovering the unheard: Researchers reveal inaudible remote cyber-attacks on voice assistant devices

MARCH 20, 2023 — Guenevere Chen, an associate professor in the UTSA Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, recently published a paper on USENIX Security 2023 that demonstrates a novel inaudible voice trojan attack to exploit vulnerabilities of smart device microphones and voice assistants — like Siri, Google Assistant, Alexa or Amazon’s Echo and Microsoft Cortana — and provide defense mechanisms for users.

The researchers developed Near-Ultrasound Inaudible Trojan, or NUIT (French for “nighttime”) to study how hackers exploit speakers and attack voice assistants remotely and silently through the internet.

Chen, her doctoral student Qi Xia, and Shouhuai Xu, a professor in computer science at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs (UCCS), used NUIT to attack different types of smart devices from smart phones to smart home devices. The results of their demonstrations show that NUIT is effective in maliciously controlling the voice interfaces of popular tech products and that those tech products, despite being on the market, have vulnerabilities

Dangerous Generals

Mike Hennelly

One of the most vexing tasks faced by leaders in democracies is the challenge of dealing with dangerous generals. Not all generals have the potential to be truly dangerous; it is a function of position and behavior. The category of generals who possess the potential to be dangerous is restricted to those who are senior commanders or avatars of a state’s war-making ability. In World War II, Eisenhower was an example of the former and Patton was an example of the latter. These generals have the potential to be considered dangerous once they exhibit repeated incompetence or some other behavior that threatens the interests of the state.

The challenge of dealing with dangerous generals is not simply an exercise in civil-military relations. In a larger sense, it is relevant for any 21st century organizational leader because the relationship between political leaders and military commanders is one of governance. The military and political worlds have faced the problem of governance for much longer than the corporate world and lessons learned from civil-military relations have broad relevance to all sorts of governance relationships. How much latitude should be given to military leaders by those designated as their guardians? How can it be expected that guardians from one profession (such as political leaders) will have the expertise to oversee leaders from another profession (such as generals)? Politicians and generals have wrestled with these issues for centuries and their accumulated experience has value to leaders in all sorts of professions.