29 March 2023

Arming Vietnam: Widened International-security Relations in Support of Military-capability Development

Vietnam faces a serious long-term security challenge from China’s growing assertiveness in the South China Sea, and its response has included efforts to strengthen its military capability, particularly in the maritime sphere. This report assesses the extent of these efforts and looks at how Hanoi has used a widened array of international security relationships to diversify Vietnam’s procurement for its armed forces and coastguard, while also developing its national defence industry. The report argues that international sanctions imposed on Russia in response to the war in Ukraine seem likely to amplify these trends.

Vietnam faces a major long-term security challenge from China’s growing assertiveness in the South China Sea, despite the two countries’ close economic ties. While bilateral tensions have manifested as a maritime grey-zone conflict, Hanoi is determined to strengthen Vietnam’s military capability to deter Chinese escalation, particularly through what appears to be a maritime anti-access/area denial strategy. It is doing this cautiously and incrementally and, since 2016, equipment procurement has slowed, most probably because of budgetary constraints. Although the Vietnam People’s Army (VPA) is likely to depend on equipment originally supplied by Russia for years to come, for multiple reasons Hanoi has begun to diversify its military procurement and to rely less on Russia. It has already made some limited equipment purchases for its armed forces and coastguard from a range of other international sources, most of them small and medium powers, including Israel, which is now Vietnam’s second-most important defence supplier. Hanoi has also tentatively developed security relations with India, Japan and the United States, but, so far, these larger powers have not supplied Vietnam with strategically important equipment. Vietnam is continuing to develop its indigenous defence industry, often through partnerships with international suppliers. This will allow it to strengthen its capacity to maintain, repair, overhaul and modify major defence equipment and to produce systems for specific VPA requirements. Sanctions imposed on Russia in response to its invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 and the subsequent war seem highly likely to amplify these trends. Consequently, integrating military equipment from diverse sources to maximise Vietnam’s capability to deter escalation and contend with grey-zone pressure may become an increasingly important task for the country’s defence industry.

China Is Finally Making Progress on the China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan Railway

Niva Yau Tsz Yan

China has struggled to gain support from its Central Asian neighbors to build the China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan (CKU) railway since the 1990s.

The CKU railway is crucial to China for two interconnected purposes—to advance its geopolitical interests and to secure favorable relations with Central Asian elites for their support over Chinese legitimacy in Xinjiang (East Turkestan).

Originally signed in 1997 with Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, the CKU railway came alongside China’s own Great Western Development Strategy, a domestic initiative officially announced in 1999 (though many of its infrastructure projects had already begun several years prior). This was aimed at bringing resources located in its Western territories to China’s economic heartland on the East coast. Central Asia, including Xinjiang (East Turkestan), holds the vastest concentration of carbon resources and minerals in the Chinese Western neighborhood.

At the same time, in the 1990s, China had to build ties with these newly independent Central Asian states from scratch. Rested on economic incentives, China made repeated promises of “reviving the ancient Silk Road” in exchange for Central Asian non-support over the Uyghur political movement, a key element in legitimizing Chinese rule in Xinjiang.

China first built its railway reaching the two cities near the Kyrgyz border, Aksu and Kashgar, in 1998 and 2003. The 2000s was a decade where several key Chinese energy and infrastructure projects in Central Asia also took shape. The Chinese oil pipeline from Kazakhstan started operation in 2010, and the gas pipeline from Turkmenistan was completed in 2009. Needless to say, the construction of the CKU railway, its Kyrgyz and Uzbek sections, was gaining momentum, along with a regional perspective that viewed China as the new economic provider.

US-China ties: Averting the grandest collision of all

Graham Allison

If historian Thucydides were asked about what is happening in relations between the United States and China today, what would he say? That was the question posed to me at the Davos World Economic Forum in January. I responded that he would say that this is a classic Thucydidean rivalry in which the two parties are right on script, each competing to show which can best exemplify the typical rising and ruling power – leaving him on the edge of his seat anticipating the grandest collision of all time.

The debate that began in 2017 with the publication of Destined For War: Can America And China Escape Thucydides’s Trap? is now in the rear-view mirror. No one can deny that China is the most formidable rival a ruling power has ever seen.

Over the past generation, China has risen further and faster along more dimensions than any nation in history. During President Xi Jinping’s first decade in power, China’s gross domestic product has risen from half to three-quarters the size of the US economy (measured in market exchange rate). China has displaced the US as the world’s No. 1 manufacturer, No. 1 trading partner, and become a source of the most critical items in global supply chains.

It has also strengthened its military capabilities, with a specific focus on contingencies along its border and peripheral seas, to the point that it now has significant advantages in potential conflicts, particularly Taiwan contingencies.

Meanwhile, what Winston Churchill called the “deadly currents” in domestic politics that drove Britain to war with Germany in 1914 are now running rife in the US.

Xi and Putin just wrapped up talks in Moscow: What does it mean for the war in Ukraine and China’s global standing?

It’s a friendship testing the limits. Chinese leader Xi Jinping left Russia on Wednesday after three days of talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, in which Putin endorsed China’s “peace plan” for Ukraine and the two leaders stressed the need to “respect legitimate security concerns of all countries” to end the war—a talking point Russia has used to blame NATO and legitimize its war of aggression. What did this visit do for Putin’s international standing? What role might China play in the war? How should Washington view this partnership? Below, our experts cut through the pageantry and diplomat-speak.

China has doubled down on relations with Russia

Xi’s meetings with Putin and the joint statements released on Tuesday should dispel any remaining doubts that Xi has doubled down on relations with Russia over the past year even as Putin has unleashed his punishing war on Ukraine. Xi, intent upon preventing Russian failure in Ukraine, is supporting Putin’s continued ability to prosecute the war in numerous ways short of sanctions violation while deepening the countries’ military and economic ties.

At the same time, Xi is calling for peace and parroting Kremlin narratives about US and NATO culpability for “fanning the flames,” underscoring his belief that China can capitalize on this moment to bolster China’s claims to responsible global leadership. To that end, Beijing’s so-called “peace plan” is a gambit to remain faithful to Russian interests in maintaining control over illegally occupied territory in Ukraine while claiming neutrality and building China’s burgeoning reputation as a peacemaker following its brokering of an initial rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Iran earlier this month. These efforts dovetail nicely with Xi’s Global Security Initiative, a vague framework for global cooperation and security designed to offer a Chinese alternative to the US-led global order and rooted in principles repeated in yesterday’s joint statement such as opposition to “blocs” like NATO. Xi seems to view Russian partnership as essential not only to China’s bid to revise the global order but to girding for an expected protracted strategic competition with the United States as US-China ties grow ever more fraught. In particular, Russia is viewed as critical to mitigating the People’s Republic of China’s vulnerability to US actions in the event of a war over Taiwan and devising an alternative to the US-centric global financial system.

Why is China strengthening its military? It’s not all about war.

Timothy R. Heath

China’s rapid military modernization has spurred considerable fear that the country could provoke a war with the United States. Such fear may owe to an exaggerated view of the importance of war preparation as a driver of the People’s Liberation Army’s buildup.

In fact, a broad variety of political and security drivers underpin the military’s modernization, many of which have nothing to do with waging war. U.S. interests could benefit from a more accurate understanding of the reasons for China’s military buildup and from a perspective that balances attention to the military with a greater appreciation of the nonmilitary aspects of U.S.-China competition.

China’s military has experienced a dramatic buildup in recent years, owing in part to soaring defense budgets. From 2000 to 2016, China’s military budget increased annually by about 10%, although this growth subsequently slowed to about 5-7% per year. According to People’s Republic of China government sources, China’s defense budget was $230 billion in 2022, second only to the United States. The budget understates the amount of resources committed to the military. Western experts suggest that the difference could amount to $60 billion per year.

Surging defense budgets have yielded an increasingly lethal and capable PLA. U.S. officials have steadily warned of an eroding military advantage in the face of rapid PLA gains. During his service, U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Cameron Holt stated that China was acquiring weapons at “five to six times” the rate of the United States.

The dollar is our superpower, and Russia and China are threatening it

Fareed Zakaria

The most interesting outcome of the three-day summit between Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping got limited media attention. Describing their talks, Putin said, “We are in favor of using the Chinese yuan for settlements between Russia and the countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America.” So the world’s second-largest economy and its largest energy exporter are actively trying to dent the dollar’s dominance as the anchor of the international financial system. Will they succeed?

The dollar is America’s superpower. It gives Washington unrivaled economic and political muscle. The United States can slap sanctions on countries unilaterally, freezing them out of large parts of the world economy. And when Washington spends freely, it can be certain that its debt, usually in the form of T-bills, will be bought up by the rest of the world.

Sanctions imposed on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine combined with Washington’s increasingly confrontational approach to China have created a perfect storm in which both Russia and China are accelerating efforts to diversify away from the dollar. Their central banks are keeping less of their reserves in dollars, and most trade between them is being settled in the yuan. They are also, as Putin noted, making efforts to get other countries to follow suit.

The Biden administration has handled the economic war against Russia extremely effectively by building a coalition in support of Ukraine that includes almost all the world’s advanced economies. That makes it hard to escape from the dollar into other highly valued stable currencies such as the euro or the pound or the Canadian dollar, because those countries are also countering Russia.

In a New Cold War, Diplomacy Matters More Than Might


If we are approaching a second Cold War, this time with China and other strategic competitors, most of the action will take place in the realms of diplomacy, development, and economics. China certainly thinks so. Earlier this month, China announced a 12 percent increase in its diplomatic budget compared to a 7 percent increase in its military budget.

Of course, we should watch China's military spending and ensure that the United States and its allies have the qualitative and quantitative military edge against China. But the intentional focus by China on diplomacy, foreign aid, monies for "public diplomacy" and more money for international organizations should be a wake up call for the West that China understands that great power competition will not play out in Europe or even East Asia, but largely in Africa, Latin America, the Pacific Islands, and other parts of the "developing world" or the "Global South."

China has embassies in over 170 countries, has a very well-trained diplomatic corps that speaks English, French and increasingly local languages. In the last six weeks, China brokered a peace deal between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and Honduras announced that it would recognize the People's Republic of China after 82 years of recognizing Taiwan. This is merely part of a much bigger diplomatic and soft power push by China.

Semiconductors and Canadian National Security: Causes, Consequences, and Considerations

Kevin Budning, Guillaume Cote, and Alex Wilner


In his March 2022 State of the Union address, U.S. President Joe Biden told a packed House of Representatives that the path to rebuilding America’s economy was to reduce its reliance on foreign supply chains: “Economists call it ‘increasing the productive capacity of our economy.’ I call it building a better America.”

The president’s speech was just one of many public appeals for the United States to curb its dependence on others, while simultaneously increasing its production of critical goods. The post-pandemic economy has presented the U.S. with several unforeseen supply chain disruptions that are further contributing to inflation, especially in key manufacturing and technology sectors.

Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, simmering conflict between North Korea and American allies South Korea and Japan, plus rising tensions (and the perception of it) with China over Taiwan and Hong Kong, continue to upend the Pacific and European regions. This instability has exposed vulnerabilities in the U.S. aerospace and defence sectors with respect to the flow, sourcing and importing of a wide range of critical materials and advanced components.

To curb some of these challenges, in August 2022 the U.S. Congress passed The Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors (CHIPS) and Science Act, which earmarked $280 billion towards boosting the research, production and manufacturing of semiconductors in the United States. Semiconductors are a critical component needed to make microelectronics (MEs). Also known as chips or microchips, MEs are comprised of microprocessors, transistors and sensors. These small pieces of technology power just about every modern device, ranging from smartphones to automobiles, to airplanes, to dishwashers, to national defence systems. If state-level funding and private investments are included, more than $1 trillion will likely be allocated towards this effort over the next 10 to 15 years.

A Dead-End War: Russian Failure and Ukrainian Destruction

With all parties still clinging to their demands, there is no end in sight to the war: Russia wants to cement its control over four Ukrainian provinces, win recognition of its sovereignty over Crimea, and secure guarantees for Ukrainian neutrality. Ukraine wants a definitive end to hostilities, the withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukrainian territory (including Crimea), and negotiations on its strategic future.

The first anniversary of the war in Ukraine came on 24 February 2023, bringing an opportunity to reconsider the roots of the war, what it has become as it enters its second year, and what it could bring in the coming months, not only for Russia and Ukraine, but also in the broader international arena.

Ukraine has posed a problem for Russia’s strategic security since the first Ukrainian democratic revolution in 2004, but the threat at that point was not urgent. Russia still enjoyed considerable influence within the Ukrainian state and its political class. This changed with the ousting of Ukraine’s pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovych, in February 2014, after which Moscow encountered more nationalist, independent-minded leaders determined to strengthen relations with Western Europe and the United States.

Within days of Yanukovych’s ouster, Russia seized Crimea. Soon after, Russian-majority provinces in eastern Ukraine declared their independence and sought to affirm it by force of arms. While the West refused to recognise the annexation of Crimea, it took no military action to counter Russia. It did, however, increase shipments of defensive weapons and strengthened economic ties with Ukraine. It was no surprise, then, that Ukraine subsequently became more determined to join NATO and the European Union.

The World Will Regret Its Retreat From Globalization

Eswar Prasad

Globalization was meant to bring the world closer together, enmeshing advanced and developing economies in a web of mutually beneficial economic and financial linkages. From about the mid-1980s, trade and financial flows between countries expanded rapidly as governments dismantled barriers to these flows.

Not everything went according to plan. Tensions rose as the benefits were not equally shared within or among countries. Widening economic inequality, often attributed to free trade, roiled many advanced economies and has had far-reaching political consequences. While they benefited from access to foreign markets for their exports, many emerging market countries were ravaged by volatile capital flows and the fickleness of international investors. Still, there was a broad consensus that shared economic interests would ultimately triumph and even help smooth over geopolitical frictions.

This script held up well through the mid-2000s. Over the last decade and a half, a series of shockwaves has shredded the script. These include the 2008-09 global financial crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic, and various geopolitical ructions, such as rising U.S.-China tensions and the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Worldwide trade and financial flows have fallen well below their peaks.

The Road to the G20’s New Delhi Declaration


India has assumed the Group of Twenty (G20) presidency at a time of both crisis and continuity. Even as the world is recovering from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine has presented a major challenge for the G20. This is not the first crisis that the G20 has had to respond to as a collective. Just fifteen years ago, it emerged as the main group of countries to coordinate responses to the global financial crisis. Over the years, the G20 has been able to respond to crises while continuing dialogue and progress on issues that remain relevant to the future of the global economy. India is well poised to lead this process, especially on digital technology.

India’s position as a large emerging market, its demonstrated capabilities when it comes to creating large digital platforms for social inclusion, and its ability to work with a diverse set of international actors have created a unique confluence of opportunities that can be leveraged during its presidency of the G20.

Each of the essays in this compendium highlights the possibilities of progress and cooperation on the opportunities and challenges posed by technology. On data, the G20 has historically emphasized harmonization of approaches and standards and highlighted the use of data for developmental purposes. India’s robust domestic dialogue on data protection can allow it to provide a balancing framework, where developmental uses of data can be promoted while encouraging the growth of data privacy standards. In his essay on data for development, Anirudh Burman recommends that India should focus on subject areas and aspects of data flows that should remain unfettered, identify frictions such as those around access to data for law enforcement that provide an impetus for restricting data flows, and work toward operationalizing the idea of the free flow of data with trust.

COMMENTARY: Ukraine A Living Lab for AI Warfare

By Robin Fontes and Dr Jorrit Kamminga

An article in the New Yorker in March 2022 described the conflict as the “the first TikTok War.” Ukraine's Minister of Digital Transformation Mykhailo Fedorov has called it a “technology war.” Alex Karp, CEO of data analytics company Palantir, has suggested that the technology being used is changing the competitive advantage of a small country versus a larger adversary. The Washington Post in December ran a front-page article about how Ukraine and Russia are fighting the “first full-scale drone war.”

There is also increasing talk about how this conflict accelerates the arrival of fully autonomous drones and other weapon systems to the battlefield. The role of artificial intelligence in warfare looms directly overhead in such commentaries.

A drone war, however, is not immediately an AI war. To what extent is the Ukraine conflict also characterized by AI?

Kai-Fu Lee, CEO of Sinovation Ventures, has called AI weapon systems the “third revolution in warfare,” after gunpowder and nuclear weapons. Is that revolution unfolding before our eyes? Does Ukraine signal a change in the character of warfare?

Out of Africa: Financial Networks of Islamic State 2.0

Edmund Fitton-Brown

The killing of a prominent Islamic State financier in Somalia sheds light on the group’s transnational financial networks and shifting centre of gravity.

On 25 January 2023, US special forces killed well-known extremist Bilal Al-Sudani, together with nine associates, in northern Somalia. This has drawn media and expert attention to the role Somalia plays as a piece in the international jihadi jigsaw. Somalia is important not just because of the presence of Al-Shabaab but also because of the globally networked structure that Islamic State (IS) has created for finance and other purposes.

These networks have been the subject of increasingly detailed reporting by the UN’s Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team in recent years. They have grown in importance since the final defeat of the IS ‘caliphate’ in Iraq in 2017 and then in Syria in 2019. IS knew that it would need a structure outside its core area that could organise and support its remote provinces, and it thus decided to form a regional hub-and-spoke system.

In July 2022, the Monitoring Team revealed new information about IS’s Al-Karrar Office (AKO), which is based in Puntland, Somalia, and functions as the coordinating hub of the regional network that includes IS’s affiliates in Mozambique and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The key revelation was that AKO had a financial remit that extended beyond its regional network, both within Africa and further afield. In particular, AKO was involved in supplying funding to IS-Khorasan in Afghanistan.

The Politics of African National Debt

Simon Rynn

More than 20 years after global efforts to relieve African national debts, the issue is once again in the headlines. Which countries are at risk, what is at stake, and why is it all so political?

National debt levels have grown rapidly since early 2020. The campaign group Debt Justice rates 54 countries worldwide as currently in debt crisis, up from 31 in 2018. According to a recent UN report, 24 of the low-income countries at risk of debt distress are in Africa. Worryingly, Nigeria and Egypt, the biggest African economies, are on that list.

Who’s in Distress?

At the forefront of discussions over apparently unsustainable debt and potential defaults and rescheduling are Ghana, Zambia and Ethiopia. Others including Kenya, Egypt and Nigeria are close behind.

In February, Ghana missed an important repayment deadline. This in turn triggered a devaluation of its Eurobond holdings. The government has been in negotiations with the IMF and others for a temporary bailout and debt restructuring. Investors have been moving money out in response to news of a struggling treasury and accusations of spending largesse. Fitch has downgraded the country’s credit rating from ‘C’ to ‘D’ – making future lending more expensive.

Rare Earths Supply Chains and Confrontation With China

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.

The Dangers of a New Russian Proposal for a UN Convention on International Information Security

Valentin Weber

On March 7, 2023, Russia submitted its vision for a Convention of the UN on Ensuring International Information Security to the UN Open-Ended Working Group on Security of and in the Use of Information and Communications Technologies (OEWG). If the nine page document gains traction within the United Nations, it could undermine accountability of state actions in cyberspace and severely harm digital human rights.

The OEWG is a forum that facilitates discussions on international cybersecurity under the auspices of the first Committee of the United Nations General Assembly. The process was initiated by Russia to rival the UN Governmental Group of Experts that consisted of a selected group of countries, but which dealt with the same issues. Since 2019, within the OEWG, delegates of UN member states have, on a biannual and triannual basis, shared their perceptions of current and emerging threats, ways to build cybersecurity capacity, establish confidence building measures and understand how international law applies to cyberspace. Throughout the OEWG Russia has repeatedly called for a treaty to be established. Considering that Russia submitted its concept recently, it views the time as ripe to take this step.

In the opening paragraphs Russia contends that a legally binding treaty is needed as there are gaps in current international law. But many states (e.g. Sweden, South Korea, Colombia, Austria, and the United States) agree that there are no such gaps, and only further clarification of existing international law is needed. All countries have for instance agreed to the applicability of the UN Charter (a binding legal treaty) to cyberspace.

The Time to Prevent Shortfalls in Critical Materials Is Now

Rare earth elements are—despite their name—everywhere. They're in your cellphone, your car, maybe even in a crown in your mouth. They're in satellites, wind turbines, night-vision goggles, and laser-guided missiles. By one estimate, every F-35 Lightning II fighter jet has around 920 pounds of rare earth elements built into its engines and electronics.

All of which makes China's near-total domination of the rare earth market a matter of economic and national security concern.

A recent RAND study looked at what the United States can do to break its reliance on China for critical but hard-to-source materials, using rare earths as a case study. It found that existing plans to diversify the market likely don't go far enough, fast enough—and the clock is running.

“Things are moving in the right direction,” said Richard Silberglitt, a senior physical scientist at RAND who coauthored the study. “But they need to keep moving, and they probably need to accelerate.”

Rare earths and other critical materials like lithium have been called the building blocks of future innovation. Some can be used to make tiny but powerful magnets, the kind needed to power the next generation of electric cars. Others can withstand extreme temperatures, strengthen metals, polish glass, or serve as chemical catalysts; lithium is a key component of rechargeable batteries. Rare earths are not rare—in fact, some are more common than lead or copper—but they're hard to mine and hard to separate.

Jamestown Foundation

  •  After Two Sessions, Xi Turns Focus to U.S. Challenge
  • National People’s Congress: Premier Li Keqiang Sidesteps Xi’s Economic Approach, Focuses on Reviving Modest Growth
  • Why Taiwan’s 2024 Presidential Election is Wide Open
  • The Chinese Steel Industry: Three Pathways to Green Steel
  • How China Prolongs Myanmar’s Endless Internal Conflicts

The Age of AI has begun

Bill Gates

In my lifetime, I’ve seen two demonstrations of technology that struck me as revolutionary.

The first time was in 1980, when I was introduced to a graphical user interface—the forerunner of every modern operating system, including Windows. I sat with the person who had shown me the demo, a brilliant programmer named Charles Simonyi, and we immediately started brainstorming about all the things we could do with such a user-friendly approach to computing. Charles eventually joined Microsoft, Windows became the backbone of Microsoft, and the thinking we did after that demo helped set the company’s agenda for the next 15 years.

The second big surprise came just last year. I’d been meeting with the team from OpenAI since 2016 and was impressed by their steady progress. In mid-2022, I was so excited about their work that I gave them a challenge: train an artificial intelligence to pass an Advanced Placement biology exam. Make it capable of answering questions that it hasn’t been specifically trained for. (I picked AP Bio because the test is more than a simple regurgitation of scientific facts—it asks you to think critically about biology.) If you can do that, I said, then you’ll have made a true breakthrough.

I thought the challenge would keep them busy for two or three years. They finished it in just a few months.

Security News This Week: India Shut Down Cell Service for 27 Million During a Manhunt, the “Clop” gang’s ransomware spree, the DC Health Link breach comes into focus, and more.

A USHouse of Representatives hearing this week about the social media app TikTok did little to clarify lawmaker's specific concerns about the potential national security risks associated with the wildly popular app, but it did vividly underscore the country’s lack of federal data privacy legislation. WIRED also discovered that TikTok paid for influencers popular on its platform to attend a DC rally in support of the service ahead of the hearing.

Meanwhile, as a possible indictment of former US president Donald Trump looms in New York state, internet users began generating AI images of Trump being arrested, but there are ways to tell that they're fake. WIRED examined the increasingly aggressive and desperate tactics of Iran's government-backed hackers amid mass protest and unrest in the country. Citizen sleuths around the world are using open source intelligence to separate fact from fiction in the mystery of who sabotaged the Nord Stream pipeline. And vulnerabilities keep showing up in ultra-popular photo cropping tools, exposing a host of cropped images all over the world where some or all of the original image can be recovered.

And there's more. Each week, we round up the security news we didn’t cover in-depth ourselves. Click the headlines to read the full stories, and stay safe out there.

What cyber attack risks do the railways face?

DDoS attacks have increased in the past year, mainly targeting railways, and ransomware is the most common type of cyber attacks, the European Union Agency for Cybersecurity (ENISA) finds in its first cyber threat landscape report dedicated to the transport sector. The rise in DDoS attacks is primarily related to the Russian war in Ukraine, where cyber attacks on railway operators on both sides took place.

The report ​​covers the period of January 2021 to October 2022, in which 21 incidents targeting the railway sector were analysed, out of a total of 98 cyber attacks. The data collection and analysis primarily focusses on incidents observed in EU member states, but also around the world.

Across all subsectors in transport, authorities and bodies were being targeted, 38 per cent of the incidents targeted transport authorities. In the railway sector, however, incidents almost exclusively targeted railway undertakings and infrastructure managers. The category ‘all transport’ in the figure below refers to attacks that target either all four sectors or, more commonly, ministries of transport.
Annual observed incidents in each sector (January 2021 to December 2021, January 2022 to October 2022), source: ENISA

Ukraine War Shows Difficulty of Large-Scale Cyberattacks, NSA Director Says

Niharika Mandhana

SINGAPORE—U.S. adversaries have become more capable of carrying out sophisticated cyberattacks, but the Ukraine war shows how difficult it is to conduct large-scale operations against critical infrastructure, said National Security Agency Director Gen. Paul Nakasone.

“Many thought that Russia—which is a sophisticated actor—was going to conduct significant cyberattacks,” Gen. Nakasone told The Wall Street Journal on the sidelines of a defense technology summit in Singapore. “They’re not as easy to do.”

Gen. Nakasone, who also heads the U.S. Cyber Command, said America’s rivals are seeking ways to penetrate business and government networks, databases and weapons systems.

“Those three areas are important to think about—it’s not just that they’re in our networks, but it’s also the criticality of our data and also the insurance of our weapons systems being able to work,” he said. The U.S. has stepped up its security efforts to address these scenarios, he said.

Some American officials and analysts have warned that in the event of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan, a self-governing island that Beijing claims, Chinese hackers could go after U.S. targets such as its power grid, transportation network or telecommunications systems to sow panic and potentially weaken support for aiding Taiwan.

Amazon is about to go head to head with SpaceX in a battle for satellite internet dominance

Jonathan O'Callaghan

Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos are about to lock horns once again. Last month, the US Federal Communications Commission approved the final aspects of Project Kuiper, Amazon’s effort to deliver high-speed internet access from space. In May, the company will launch test versions of the Kuiper communications satellites in an attempt to take on SpaceX’s own venture, Starlink, and tap into a market of perhaps hundreds of millions of prospective internet users.

Other companies are hoping to do the same, and a few are already doing so, but Starlink and Amazon are the major players. “It is really a head-to-head rivalry,” says Tim Farrar, a satellite expert from the firm TMF Associates in the US.

The rocket that will launch Amazon’s first two Kuiper satellites—the United Launch Alliance’s new Vulcan Centaur rocket—has been assembled at Cape Canaveral in Florida. Its inaugural launch is set to fly two prototype Kuiper satellites, called KuiperSat-1 and KuiperSat-2, as early as May 4. Ultimately, Amazon plans to launch a total of 3,236 full Kuiper satellites by 2029. The first of that fleet could launch in early 2024.

Cybernews weekly briefing: more crazy innovations as the tech war rages

Jurgita Lapienytė

It’s been a busy week in the digital realm – from the bust of a teen behind a prominent hacker forum and the TikTok CEO’s showdown at the Capitol Hill, to the Ferrari breach and the hack of a top YouTube tech channel. Plus, we’ve got some exclusive stories of our own, as well as some bizarre news from the East.
Painful cybersecurity lesson

Cybercriminals have leveraged USB devices to deliver malware for ages, perhaps unsurprisingly since the urge to plug in an unknown device is stronger than common sense for all too many people.

Now, attackers crafted something even more dangerous – flash drives with military-grade explosives. When an Ecuadorian journalist plugged an unknown USB device into his computer, it immediately exploded, causing minor injuries.

At least two more journalists plugged in similar devices loaded with explosives. Luckily, the drives were not inserted properly, and therefore, there were no more explosions.
Cybernews exclusive investigations

Opportunities and Risks of 5G Military Use in Europe

Mary Lee, James Dimarogonas, Edward Geist

The fifth-generation (5G) technology standard for broadband cellular communications is expanding in Europe and will offer many more capabilities than the existing fourth generation long-term evolution standard. With this increase in capabilities comes opportunities for the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) to integrate advanced technologies and improved communications into its operations. However, these opportunities come with inherent risks. The authors describe the 5G rollout in Europe, characterize what Russian experts have determined regarding the military utility of 5G, and identify DoD opportunities and risks of using the 5G ecosystem in a future Baltics scenario.

The research involved literature and document reviews of the 5G rollout and threats to 5G in countries of interest. The authors also conducted a literature review of primary sources, including Russian-language sources, to assess Russian thoughts on 5G. They developed a smart logistics vignette to evaluate the benefits of 5G using a consensus of 11 subject-matter experts (SMEs) on three aspects of 5G across a variety of tasks during the vignette: operational impact of 5G, resilience with 5G, and uniqueness of 5G. Using these reviews, assessments, and SME consensus, the authors identified the risks and benefits of the military's use of 5G in the European theater.

Venture Capital Gives America a Strategic Edge in the Age of Technology Wars

Daniel Egel and Michael J. McNerney

Since the Cold War, America's technological leadership has provided the U.S. military a qualitative advantage over its adversaries. That edge is now threatened by China's rapid development of technologies with both civilian and military applications.

U.S. early-stage hardware startups are seriously disadvantaged by a persistent lack of financing. Meanwhile, China has been pouring money into Chinese—as well as U.S. and European—tech startups.

Recognizing this problem, Congress authorized the U.S. Department of Defense to spend $75 million to invest in dual-use hardware startups. However, the Pentagon has proven reticent to embrace a venture capital–style approach, even though research has demonstrated it is optimal for driving innovation.

The Pentagon has proven reticent to embrace a venture capital-style approach, even though research has demonstrated it is optimal for driving innovation.Share on Twitter

There is precedent for this type of approach within the United States. The U.S. intelligence community invests nearly $60 million in public funds each year through a venture capital fund called In-Q-Tel. Respected in VC circles, In-Q-Tel invests in startups working on A.I., virtual reality, biotech, data analysis, robotics, sensors, and more. Similarly, the United Kingdom invests more than $120 million annually and NATO plans to invest an additional $70 million per year in companies that build dual-use technologies.

Air Power in the Russian-Ukrainian War: Myths and Lessons Learned

Lieutenant General Mykola Oleshchuk, UKR AF, Lieutenant General Viacheslav Shamko, UKR AF

In the winter of 2021–2022, the entire world became an unwilling participant while Ukraine became the hostage of Putin’s geopolitical talk show. ‘Kremlin’s elders’ poured out threats and ultimatums unseen since past world wars. Ukraine and the West had been rejecting Moscow’s demands for a new division of the world as unthinkable in the 21st century. However, being confident that a great war in Europe would ‘never again’ repeat and Moscow’s threats were blatant blackmail, the European capitals responded rather weakly and indecisively, suffering from the energy and COVID crises and other internal issues. Consequently, the diplomatic meetings at the highest levels turned out to be barren. On the one hand, this response irritated the Kremlin but, on the other, it persuaded Putin that the West was weak and separated, and that its values and morality were emasculated. While the American partners warned about the inevitability of war, various experts predicted the Ukrainian nation would last only a week before its collapse under the hits of ‘the second army in the world’. Being in the whirlpool of the events, Ukraine was hoping for peace whilst preparing for defence.


John Spencer and Liam Collins

This week marks one year since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine kicked off a war that has offered up a wide range of lessons on the conduct of large-scale combat operations in the twenty-first century. In those twelve months, the war has touched all corners of Ukraine and yet its most defining features have been fights for control of cities. But while urban areas may be the war’s most important environment, at least to this point, no two urban battles have been the same. The battles in Kyiv, Mariupol, and Kherson, and the ongoing battle in Bakhmut have taken very different forms. This fact offers a valuable opportunity: by searching for elements common to each of these battles, despite the different contexts in which they occurred, we can illuminate fundamental lessons on urban warfare.

Four particular lessons stand out. Most of them are not new. Rather, they have been on display in previous wars, but too often ignored or forgotten. This is a mistake we should not make again. The US military must learn from the current war in Ukraine to avoid paying the penalty, in blood and treasure, when it finds itself in its own urban battles in the future.

1. In war, cities are important—even the ones with no military value.

Russia’s war in Ukraine demonstrates that cities often present strategic, operational, and tactical objectives in major land wars. Since the start of this war, urban areas have been the focal points—the places where much of the most intense fighting has occurred. When asked to identify one of the war’s major battles, most observers are likely to name one of the urban fights listed above—Kyiv, Mariupol, or Kherson. Others who have watched the conflict especially closely may even name Severodonetsk or Lysychansk, which Russia seized earlier in the war. In fact, most would be hard-pressed to name a major battle that did not occur in, or for, a city. Neither side has been able to avoid or bypass urban areas because they are tactically, operationally, and sometimes strategically important.

U.S. Military, Spy Agencies Differ on Threat From Afghanistan Militants

Gordon Lubold

WASHINGTON—A top U.S. military commander says Islamic State groups operating inside Afghanistan could pose a threat to the West within six months, but U.S. intelligence agencies don’t see the danger with the same urgency.

A classified intelligence assessment in December concluded that the threat from Islamic State’s affiliate in Afghanistan, known as Islamic State-Khorasan, was growing, according to U.S. officials, nearly 18 months after President Biden ordered the complete withdrawal of all American troops from the country in August 2021.

Gen. Erik Kurilla, the head of U.S. Central Command, which oversees U.S. troops in the region, says the Islamic State-Khorasan could pose a threat to American interests. The group seeks to expand its ranks and develop the capability to attack the West, and could act in concert with remnants of al Qaeda, he said.

“It is my commander’s estimate that they can do an external operation against U.S. or Western interests abroad in under six months, with little or no warning,” Gen. Kurilla said in a hearing last week.

Gen. Kurilla added that he believed an attack on the U.S. homeland would be much harder to do but remained an ultimate goal of the group. He named the particular strain of the group, the al-Sadiqi office, as the primary concern.

From Rockets to Ball Bearings, Pentagon Struggles to Feed War Machine

Eric Lipton

WASHINGTON — The Navy admiral had a blunt message for the military contractors building precision-guided missiles for his warships, submarines and planes at a moment when the United States is dispatching arms to Ukraine and preparing for the possibility of conflict with China.

“Look at me. I am not forgiving the fact you’re not delivering the ordnance we need. OK?” Adm. Daryl Caudle, who is in charge of delivering weapons to most of the Navy’s East Coast-based fleet, warned contractors during an industry gathering in January. “We’re talking about war-fighting, national security, and going against a competitor here and a potential adversary that is like nothing we’ve ever seen. And we can’t dillydally around with these deliveries.”

His open frustration reflects a problem that has become worryingly apparent as the Pentagon dispatches its own stocks of weapons to help Ukraine hold off Russia and Washington warily watches for signs that China might provoke a new conflict by invading Taiwan: The United States lacks the capacity to produce the arms that the nation and its allies need at a time of heightened superpower tensions.

Industry consolidation, depleted manufacturing lines and supply chain issues have combined to constrain the production of basic ammunition like artillery shells while also prompting concern about building adequate reserves of more sophisticated weapons including missiles, air defense systems and counter-artillery radar.