1 April 2023

Taliban’s Diplomatic Presence Growing in Central Asia

Catherine Putz

The Taliban have gained access to some of the erstwhile Afghan Republic’s embassies and consulates in Central Asia. The consulate in Tajikistan’s Khorog may be the latest.

The Taliban may have secured access to another of the former Afghan Republic’s diplomatic missions in Central Asia, this time in Tajikistan.

While Dushanbe has not confirmed the reports, over the weekend a Taliban Foreign Ministry spokesman said a delegation led by the head of the ministry’s finance and administrative affairs office, Mohammad Musa Amiri, had traveled to the Afghan consulate in Khorog on March 23. It’s not clear by what route the delegation may have traveled, but the city of Khorog — the capital of Tajikistan’s Gorno-Badakhshan region — sits on the border with Afghanistan where the Ghunt and Panj rivers converge.

Pakistan Says It Will Skip US Democracy Summit Amid Turmoil

Munir Ahmed

The decision seems aimed at assuaging close ally China, which has provided Pakistan with millions of dollars to ease its forex crisis.

Pakistan announced Tuesday it will not participate in this week’s U.S.-led Summit for Democracy, a move seen in part as an effort by the impoverished Islamic nation to assuage longtime ally China, which was not invited.

The Biden administration has invited 120 global leaders to the summit being held in Washington on Wednesday and Thursday. It will be co-hosted by the governments of Costa Rica, the Netherlands, South Korea and Zambia.

Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry in a statement thanked the United States and its co-hosts for the invitation. Pakistan was also not part of the first and only other summit held in December 2021.

Pakistan is the fifth largest country in the world with a population of over 220 million. It has a functional democracy, although critics say Pakistan ranks among the worst democracies in the world.

“Pakistan would engage bilaterally with the United States and co-hosts of the Summit to promote and strengthen democratic principles and values and work towards advancing human rights and the fight against corruption,” the statement said.

‘When we are together, we drive these changes.’ What Xi and Putin’s deepening alliance means for the world order.

Frederick Kempe

Russian President Vladimir Putin quoted Alexander III—tsar of Russia, king of Congress Poland, and grand duke of Finland—when asked in April 2015 what allies he could count on after he had begun his assault on Ukraine.

“Russia has only two allies,” he said, “its army and its navy.”

Now that Putin’s military has failed to achieve its war goals in Ukraine, demonstrating a surprising lack of discipline and capability, a more formidable ally stepped up this week who Putin hopes can help him turn his fortunes around: Chinese leader Xi Jinping.

In exchange, Putin is willing to offer China discounted energy deliveries, unique access to Russian markets abandoned by Western companies, military technologies ranging from ballistic missiles to nuclear submarines, and subjugation to China’s emerging ambitions for global leadership.

History will record Xi’s three days of meetings this past week with Putin in Moscow as the last pretense of neutrality in Putin’s war on Ukraine. It might seem to some that Xi is doubling down on last year’s bad bet of a “no limits” partnership with Putin, but Xi’s generational gamble is based on two fundamental convictions, which have grown as his relations with Washington have worsened.

China’s Diplomacy: A Triumph of Cost-Benefit Analysis

François Godement

Do China’s capacities match the long shadow it projects on the global community? And what are the risks that China is ready to take in its international endeavors?

These days, Xi Jinping’s global offensive is everywhere on display, from his renewed trips abroad to China’s public diplomacy. Xi is promoting a Global Security Initiative, a Global Development Initiative, and now even a Global Civilizational Initiative: top heavy in rhetoric, these offers to the world considerably broaden China’s bid for what it has called “discourse power” (话语权).

Zheng Bijian, a Chinese Communist Party adviser, who had promoted the notion of China’s “peaceful rise” at home and abroad in 2003-2004, also seems to have first coined the idea of discourse power. Hu Jintao, China’s leader from 2002 to 2012, made this notion a prerequisite to advance China’s soft power. More simply, Xi Jinping spoke in 2012 about “telling China’s story well.”

At the best possible moment for its stand regarding Russia’s war on Ukraine, China posed as a mediator between Iran and Saudi Arabia. After similar efforts in 2016 in Myanmar, China is also playing a role as a facilitator among conflicting parties in the Horn of Africa. And of course, China’s 12-point proposal for a solution to the “Ukraine crisis” is also a step up for Beijing’s diplomacy. Taken together, these moves are quite a change from China’s usually cautious and slow-moving diplomacy, and from an ingrained habit of describing any assertive development from China as merely reactive to the wrongful actions of one or the other international actor.

Re-platformed Planet? Implications of the Rise and Spread of Chinese Platform Technologies

Peter Raymond

Efforts should be made to build our country into a cyber power. . . . The countries that take command of the internet will win the world.— Chinese president Xi Jinping

China’s efforts to dominate and potentially weaponize next-generation technologies are now garnering considerable attention. In October 2022, the Biden administration imposed wide-ranging restrictions on China’s access to advanced chip technologies, and it is considering additional actions on quantum computing, artificial intelligence (AI), and biotechnologies. These measures come on top of broader Western efforts to constrain China’s growing dominance in telecommunications and surveillance technologies, such as those provided by Huawei, ZTE, Hikvision, and others.

Beyond their implications for weapons systems, these efforts reflect concerns regarding whose technologies will underlie our increasingly digital societies and what those technologies might be used for. Only recently, however, have the risks posed by China’s internet platforms—social media, e-commerce, and search applications such as TikTok, AliExpress, and WeChat—begun to be considered. Like their U.S. counterparts (such as Facebook, Google, and Amazon), Chinese platforms facilitate user interaction and offer community, connectivity, shopping, news, entertainment, search, and many other now indispensable functions for our internet-reliant digital societies.

Xi Jinping Says He Is Preparing China for War

John Pomfret and Matt Pottinger

Chinese leader Xi Jinping says he is preparing for war. At the annual meeting of China’s parliament and its top political advisory body in March, Xi wove the theme of war readiness through four separate speeches, in one instance telling his generals to “dare to fight.” His government also announced a 7.2 percent increase in China’s defense budget, which has doubled over the last decade, as well as plans to make the country less dependent on foreign grain imports. And in recent months, Beijing has unveiled new military readiness laws, new air-raid shelters in cities across the strait from Taiwan, and new “National Defense Mobilization” offices countrywide.

It is too early to say for certain what these developments mean. Conflict is not certain or imminent. But something has changed in Beijing that policymakers and business leaders worldwide cannot afford to ignore. If Xi says he is readying for war, it would be foolish not to take him at his word.


The first sign that this year’s meetings of the National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference—known as the “two-sessions” because both bodies meet simultaneously—might not be business as usual came on March 1, when the top theoretical journal of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) published an essay titled “Under the Guidance of Xi Jinping Thought on Strengthening the Army, We Will Advance Victoriously.” The essay appeared under the name “Jun Zheng”—a homonym for “military government” that possibly refers to China’s top military body, the Central Military Commission—and argued that “the modernization of national defense and the military must be accelerated.” It also called for an intensification of Military-Civil Fusion, Xi’s policy requiring private companies and civilian institutions to serve China’s military modernization effort. And riffing off a speech that Xi made to Chinse military leaders in October 2022, it made lightly veiled jabs at the United States:

Here Is Everything Taiwan Needs To Stop A Chinese Invasion

Robert Farley

What does Taiwan need in order to defend itself? Growing criticism of the Biden administration’s commitment to Ukraine has begun to coalesce around the idea that supporting the fight against Russia is hamstringing a potential future fight against China.

Does the argument hold much water?

Much of the answer depends on the specifics of the future fight. There are multiple plausible scenarios for the opening of a conflict between China and Taiwan, and so much depends on whether China attempts to blockade Taiwan, to seize offshore islands, or to undertake a full amphibious assault.

One of the best tools for analyzing Taiwan’s needs is through wargaming, and the wargaming community is indeterminate on the success of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan.

A recent panel at the International Studies Association discussed several models of cross-Straits conflict, concluding that attrition of both Chinese and American forces would be extremely high but also suggesting that the coalition (the Republic of China, the United States, and other ally nations such as Australia, Japan, South Korea, the United Kingdom, Canada, or the Philippines that chooses to join the conflict) forces would stand a good chance of defeating a Chinese invasion.

Is war with China inevitable? The answer to that question will determine our future


There's no clear evidence that China is likely to invade Taiwan anytime soon. Why is Washington fixated on war?

Is China really on the verge of invading the island of Taiwan, as so many top American officials seem to believe? If the answer is "yes" and the U.S. intervenes on Taiwan's side — as President Biden has sworn it would — we could find ourselves in a major-power conflict, possibly even a nuclear one, in the not-too-distant future. Even if confined to Asia and fought with conventional weaponry alone — no sure thing — such a conflict would still result in human and economic damage on a far greater scale than observed in Ukraine today.

But what if the answer is "no," which seems at least as likely? Wouldn't that pave the way for the U.S. to work with its friends and allies, no less than with China itself, to reduce tensions in the region and possibly open a space for the launching of peaceful negotiations between Taiwan and the mainland? If nothing else, it would eliminate the need to boost the Pentagon budget by many billions of dollars annually, as now advocated by China hawks in Congress.

How that question is answered has enormous implications for us all. Yet, among policymakers in Washington, it isn't even up for discussion. Instead, they seem to be competing with each another to identify the year in which the purported Chinese invasion will occur and war will break out between our countries.

Winning the New Cold War: A Plan for Countering China

James Carafano, Michael Pillsbury, Jeff Smith and Andrew Harding

Executive Summary

The Heritage Foundation’s “Winning the New Cold War: A Plan for Countering China” offers the U.S. government, business community, and civil society a comprehensive policy agenda for securing a prosperous American future while confronting the greatest external threat the U.S. has faced since the collapse of the USSR.

This plan deliberately invokes the legacy of the Cold War. While U.S. officials have been reluctant to frame the rivalry with China in these terms, their apprehension ignores a simple reality: China adopted a Cold War strategy against the U.S. long ago. “It does us little good to repeat again and again that we aren’t seeking a new Cold War when the CCP [Chinese Communist Party] has been stealthily waging one against us for years,” former Deputy National Security Advisor Matt Pottinger testified before the newly established House Select Committee on Strategic Competition between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party in 2023.

To win the New Cold War, this plan calls for sustained U.S. economic growth, greater political will, stronger external partnerships, secure borders, synchronized economic and security policies, resilient supply chains, enhanced military deterrence, and U.S. energy independence. It articulates the steps necessary to protect the homeland, protect U.S. prosperity, diminish China’s capacity to harm the U.S. and hold it accountable, reorient America’s defense posture, and exercise global leadership.

The U.S. Should Get Over Its Short War Obsession

Raphael S. Cohen and Gian Gentile

Americans have long been fixated on the idea of the short, decisive war. At the start of the American Civil War, Washington gentry traveled to watch the First Battle of Bull Run—to partake of a spectacle they presumed would soon end. In 1898, U.S. Secretary of State John Hay expected the Spanish-American War to be a “splendid little war,” culminating in a quick victory for the newly emerging global power. As U.S. troops neared the Yalu River in November 1950 during the Korean War, Gen. Douglas MacArthur promised that his soldiers would “eat Christmas dinner at home.” In 2003, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld predicted that the Iraq war “certainly isn’t going to last any longer than [five months].” Multiple administrations underestimated the timeline of the war in Afghanistan.

A similar obsession with short wars colors the coverage of the Ukraine war today. In 2022, as it became clear Russia was about to invade Ukraine, U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley, the U.S. intelligence community, and most outside experts predicted a Russian victory in a matter of days. As the Russian advance sagged, a handful of commentators then predicted a speedy Ukrainian victory. Many more have judged the war unwinnable and called for a quick end through negotiations. The media, for its part, has labeled the war a stalemate during just about every lull in fighting.

Americans hooked on Chinese apps

Sara Fischer

The standoff between the U.S. government and TikTok underscores a growing problem for policymakers: Chinese apps are booming in America, but most U.S. apps aren't able to operate in China.

Why it matters: Mobile apps are one of the most powerful vectors for expanding trade and exporting soft power, given how widely accessible they are, how much time is spent on them, and how little regulatory oversight there is online.Chinese companies are able to "leverage China’s one billion internet users to test user preferences and optimize their AI models at home, then export the tech overseas," The Wall Street Journal notes. But given censorship demands in China, American tech firms can't reciprocate.

Driving the news: In the past 30 days, four of the top 10 most-downloaded apps in the U.S. across Apple's iOS store and the Google Play store are owned by Chinese companies.Temu, an online retailer, has quickly become one of the fastest-growing apps in the U.S., giving marketplaces like Amazon and Walmart a run for their money. The company is based in Boston and owned by PDD Holdings, a multinational commerce company that's publicly traded on the Beijing stock exchange. PDD is also parent to Chinese social commerce company Pinduoduo.

TikTok continues to gain traction in the U.S., even amid calls for a possible ban. TikTok was by far the most-downloaded app in the U.S. and globally last year.

Pentagon Woos Silicon Valley to Join Ranks of Arms Makers

Sharon Weinberger

The Pentagon is seeking to enlist Silicon Valley startups in its effort to fund and develop new weapons technology and more-nimble suppliers, as the U.S. races to keep pace with China’s military advances.

The push to tap private capital comes in the midst of concern that U.S. defense-industry consolidation has led to dependence on a few large companies that rely on government funding for research and is hampering innovation. Meanwhile, China has pulled ahead in some key technologies, ranging from small drones to hypersonic missiles, helped by Beijing’s use of external public-private guidance funds, according to current and former Pentagon officials.

Steve Blank, co-founder of the Gordian Knot Center for National Security Innovation at Stanford University, said some estimates place Beijing’s capital infusion into the tech sector at more than $1 trillion.

“China is organized like Silicon Valley,” and the Pentagon is organized more like a Detroit auto maker, he said. “That’s not a fair fight.”

Bitcoin and Geopolitical Rivalry

Jose Miguel Alonso-Trabanco

Bitcoin, the flagship stateless cryptocurrency, is a double-edged sword that can either strengthen or harm national power. As financial warfare becomes increasingly complex, this decentralized cybercurrency is acting as a versatile strategic instrument of statecraft that can play various roles under confrontational geopolitical circumstances. This under-researched subject matter needs to be clarified because it entails meaningful implications for national security, strategic intelligence, foreign policy and grand strategy, but also for the domain of high finance. In order to provide a sharper sense of situational awareness, the following article integrates strategic forecasts that attempt to predict the hypothetical usefulness of Bitcoin for conflicts with scrutiny of illustrative contemporary examples that point in a similar direction.

Analysis of Hypothetical Applications

BTC circuits as conduits to bypass sanctions

Bitcoin can offer a potential lifeline for states under sanctions that need to ensure the continuity of their international economic exchanges. Since the BTC grid cannot be controlled by the coercive or restrictive power of national states, its borderless circuitry provides secondary financial arteries worth harnessing to bypass sanctions that limit the ability to carry out cross-border transactions and transfer wealth through more conventional platforms ‒ anchored to major reserve currencies ‒ that enable international payments. An additional advantage of decentralized virtual currencies for sanctioned states is their discretion. They offer covert gateways to engage formal financial systems or even to avoid them altogether if necessary. In other words, it is difficult to determine if sanctions are being neutralized through cryptocurrencies like BTC.

Digital Public Goods for Education: The Indian Experience


Summary: This article outlines the combination of policies, frameworks, and principles that resulted in a successful and sustainable implementation of digital public infrastructure (DPI) in India. It is hoped that this could inform G20 deliberations and consultations.

The coronavirus pandemic drastically accelerated the adoption of technology in school education. Governments worldwide reacted to pandemic-related school closures by urgently implementing digital solutions and platforms. According to a UNICEF data sheet, more than 90 percent of countries have implemented some form of remote learning policy. The retreat of coronavirus has uncovered structural problems in these hastily implemented solutions. Some of these problems include siloed solutions, lack of evolvability, vendor lock-ins that compromise sovereign control, and proprietary solutions that are not customizable. As a result, many pandemic solutions either have been abandoned or have not found any further investment. A UNICEF report revealed that “stagnation in access to digital learning made during the COVID-19 pandemic, as one-third of nationally developed platforms have entirely shutdown, are outdated, or no longer fully functional, limiting learning approaches to help schoolchildren recover their education.”

Despite this, India has stood out as an exception. This article outlines the combination of policies, frameworks, and principles that resulted in a successful and sustainable implementation of digital public infrastructure (DPI) in India. It is hoped that this could inform G20 deliberations and consultations.

The ‘cannon fodder’ advantage Why Wagner Group is more effective on the battlefield than the Russian military

Russian forces, led by the Wagner mercenary group, have been waging an offensive to gain control of Bakhmut for more than seven months now. As of March 21, Wagner Group claims to have captured 70 percent of the city, and it increasingly appears likely to gain control of the rest. Ukraine’s military command has nevertheless chosen to keep defending the city, even at the expense of reserve forces. This may have delayed Wagner’s progress, but it hasn’t been enough to stop it. Meanwhile, Russia’s regular army, which is trying simultaneously to press forward in multiple areas against Ukraine’s more modest forces, has had little success in recent months. What is it that makes Wagner Group Russia’s most successful fighting force at this stage of the war? And how might the Ukrainian military respond more effectively? Meduza explains.

How Wagner Group waged war in Ukraine over the last year

For the first few weeks of Russia’s full-scale war against Ukraine, the private military company controlled by Putin-associate Evgeny Prigozhin (known as Wagner Group) was not involved. It wasn’t until April 2022 that Wagner units were deployed in Popasna, a Ukrainian-held city in the Luhansk region that had been on the contact line between Ukrainian troops and Russian proxy forces since 2015 and was thus well-equipped to defend itself.

At that point, Russia’s military command, which had by then suffered defeats in the Kyiv, Kharkiv, and Mykolaiv regions, launched offensives in multiple directions at once in the Donbas. Most of these assaults failed, but Wagner mercenaries managed to dislodge the Ukrainian military from Popasna (and Russian troops managed to take the city of Lyman).
The advance ended there

Securing the Undersea Cable Network

John Arquilla

Threats to undersea cable networks are plentiful, requiring rapid and decisive policy responses. Arquilla delineates between physical and virtual vulnerabilities, identifying challenges with securing exposed cable segments and cybersecurity deficits which could cripple these critical infrastructure systems. To secure these cables, Arquilla proposes enhancing security at vulnerable points, for instance at cable landing sites. Further investment in cybersecurity measures would protect the data transmitted via undersea cables from malicious actors, and redundancy of physical and virtual components would provide an additional safeguard in the event of a successful attack.

Xi’s the Boss


MOSCOW – Despite their shared communist ideology, China and the Soviet Union were hardly close friends and committed partners during the Cold War. Petulant competitiveness defined the irrelationship, as they squabbled over Mongolia and Manchuria and jostled for leadership of the communist world. A similar dynamic was reflected in Chinese President Xi Jinping’s recent visit to Moscow, with one crucial difference.

Of course, there was plenty of collaboration between the USSR and China. Both backed Kim Il-sung’s communists in the Korean War, and the Chinese helped to uphold the Kremlin’s East European sphere of influence. (Albania was loyal to China, while Josip Broz Tito’s Yugoslavia used China as leverage to extract concessions and support from the Kremlin.) Moreover, Soviet scientists and engineers worked in China, with the Soviets agreeing in 1957 to help the People’s Republic acquire atomic capabilities.

But China and the USSR were not quite equal partners. Though Mao Zedong viewed himself as Joseph Stalin’s peer, leading the world’s peasant communists as Stalin led its proletarians, behind closed doors Stalin reportedly called Mao a “caveman Marxist” and a “talentless partisan.” When Mao visited Moscow for Stalin’s birthday celebrations in 1949, he was treated as just another guest.

India's Boom Is a Dangerous Myth


PRINCETON – Indian elites are giddy about their country’s economic prospects, and that optimism is mirrored abroad. The International Monetary Fund forecasts that India’s GDP will increase by 6.1% this year and 6.8% next year, making it one of the world’s fastest-growing economies. Other international commentators have offered even more effusive forecasts, declaring the arrival of an Indian decade or even an Indian century.

In fact, India is barreling down a perilous path. All the cheerleading is based on a disingenuous numbers game. More so than other economies, India’s yo-yoed in the three calendar years from 2020 to 2022, falling sharply twice with the emergence of COVID-19 and then bouncing back to pre-pandemic levels. Its annualized growth rate over these three years was a feeble 3.5%, about the same as in the year immediately preceding the COVID crisis.

All forecasts of higher future growth rates are extrapolating from the latest pandemic rebound. Yet, even with pandemic-related constraints largely in the rearview mirror, the economy slowed in the second half of 2022, and that weakness has persisted this year. Describing India as a booming economy is wishful thinking clothed in bad economics.

Russian Nukes In Belarus: Just Another Gimmick By Putin

Robert Kelly

Russian President Vladimir Putin plans to station tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, Russia’s eastern neighbor. Belarus also borders Ukraine’s north, and Putin wants Minsk to participate more openly in his war against their shared neighbor. Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko has acted warily with respect to Russia’s invasion, but he depends on Russian assistance to stay in power, especially after Putin helped him fight off mass protests in 2020. Lukashenko probably has little choice but to assent to the deployment of Russian nukes on his country’s territory.

Belarus also borders NATO countries. Putin’s emplacement of these weapons is likely meant as an oblique threat to the West. It fits Putin’s regular habit of talking up Russian nuclear weapons to unnerve Ukraine’s Western supporters. The tactic makes sense. Russian conventional power has embarrassed itself in Ukraine. Its army has struggled, and most of the world had expected a quick victory for Russian forces. Putin invokes Russia’s nukes to compensate. He has a long history of such bravado.

Putin’s Western sympathizers, who have talked up the possibility of World War III for over a year, will argue again that this deployment means we are sliding toward a global conflagration. But they are probably wrong. It remains unclear how invoking nukes will help Putin win a limited conventional war.

Ukraine Offensive Takes Shape, With Big Unknowns

Daniel Michaels

After months of new weapons deliveries from the West, Ukraine is poised to punch back at Russia’s invasion forces in coming weeks—a high-risk campaign that will set the course of subsequent battles and potential peace negotiations.

Ukraine’s operational plans remain confidential, but some aspects of what is to come are discernible from a look at the equipment each side has—or doesn’t have—and their recent performance on the battlefield. Both are struggling to make gains and have been burning through munitions at rates not seen since the two world wars.

For Ukraine to succeed against Russia’s deeper resources and entrenched defenses it will need a combination of skill and luck, finding and quickly exploiting weak points, say strategists. While Kyiv’s forces are more motivated and, in some cases, better armed than Moscow’s troops, Russia has had months to prepare for a Ukrainian attack and shown greater willingness to expend lives and materiel.


Autumn 2022 marked a turning point in the cyberwar linked to the conflict in Ukraine. This cyberwar, which until now has been focused on Ukraine, is now spreading to the whole of Europe, as the latest report by Thales experts shows.

"Europe has unwittingly entered a high-intensity hybrid cyberwar in the third quarter of 2022, with a massive wave of denial-of-service attacks, particularly in the Nordic, Baltic and Eastern European countries," says Pierre-Yves Jolivet, VP Cyber Solutions at Thales.

Indeed, the latest report drawn up by the Thales cyber intelligence team shows a new geography of cyber warfare.

While the majority of incidents worldwide were concentrated in Ukraine at the time of the invasion, European Union member countries have seen the number of incidents linked to the conflict increase dramatically over the last six months, from 9.8% to 46.5% of global attacks.

Pro-Russian hacktivists are now targeting Poland, the Baltic States and the Nordic countries in particular, with increasing focus on critical national infrastructure, including aviation, energy, health, banking and public administration.

Russia intensifies cyberattacks on Ukraine allies

Russian ‘hacktivists’ are hitting Poland and Nordic and Baltic countries with an arsenal of cyberweapons, analysts say.

Russia’s cyberwar on Ukraine has largely failed and Moscow is increasingly targeting Kyiv’s European allies, according to US and French analysts.

French defence firm Thales said in a report on Wednesday that Russia was hitting Poland and Nordic and Baltic countries with an arsenal of cyberweapons aiming to sow divisions and promote anti-war messages.

“These groups of independent, civilian hacktivists have emerged as a new component in the conflict. They can be assimilated to a cybercriminal group with specific political objectives and interests, acting out of conviction, yet not directly sponsored by any government. Members of such groups have a broad array of origins, technical skills and backgrounds,” Thales said in a statement.

About 60 percent of all cyberattacks reported worldwide were conducted by Russian hackers, the report said.

Microsoft said in a threat assessment earlier this month that Russian actors had launched attacks in at least 17 European countries in the first six weeks of this year.

How cyber lessons learned in warfare can be applied to business

As the war in Ukraine passes its first anniversary, full-stack software engineer Timothy Clark MBCS reflects on what the conflict teaches us about modern information security and how these lessons could be applied.

The war in Ukraine has caused the suffering of millions and the loss of tens of thousands of lives, and is undoubtedly one of the greatest human tragedies of the 21st century. In these times of peril, people reveal their true colours, and blue and yellow have shown to represent tremendous bravery and determination despite all the odds being stacked against them. Whilst many have been devastated by the conflict, the awe inspiring collective rise of Ukrainians everywhere has demonstrated what a truly special people they are.

This bravery has also led others to step up their support, whether it be other nations, billionaires such as Elon Musk, or simply ordinary people donating to initiatives such as President Zelensky’s United 24 fund. As we have seen during the COVID-19 pandemic, great tragedies have the power to unite us and to inspire us to use our innovation and creativity to find solutions. Throughout history, war has been no different - whether it be the First World war leading to the development of novel plastic surgery techniques, or the Cold War resulting in the space race and putting the first man on the moon.

The Ukraine war is a modern-day war, and as a result we have seen modern-day technological innovation. I hope to unpack some of this and reveal how the lessons we have learned in wartime might be used by business es in peacetime, once the dust finally settles on this dreadful human tragedy.

Encrypted communications

Contracts Identify Cyber Operations Projects from Russian Company NTC Vulkan


As a part of Mandiant’s research on Russian cyber and information operations (IO) capabilities, Mandiant worked with a collective of media outlets, including Papertrail Media, Der Spiegel, Le Monde, and Washington Post, to analyze several documents belonging to a Russian IT contractor named NTC Vulkan (Russian: НТЦ Вулкан). The documents detail project requirements contracted with the Russian Ministry of Defense, including in at least one instance for GRU Unit 74455, also known as Sandworm Team. These projects include tools, training programs, and a red team platform for exercising various types of offensive cyber operations, including cyber espionage, IO, and operational technology (OT) attacks.

The documents, which are dated between 2016 and 2020, offer a brief snapshot of previous Russian investments and considerations in scaling cyber operations and capability development. However, Mandiant lacks evidence to prove that the capabilities we discuss have been implemented or are feasible.

A note on source authenticity: Mandiant cannot conclusively confirm the authenticity of these documents based on limitations in our current visibility. However, we strongly suspect they are legitimate based on consistencies observed across the documents we reviewed, limited instances where we were able to validate details externally, and an apparent alignment between the capabilities detailed for development in these programs and those that we have previously observed used at high levels by Russian intelligence services.

NTC Vulkan Documents Detail Requirements to Develop Cyber and IO Capabilities

China’s Nuclear Energy Sector Targeted in Cyberespionage Campaign

Ionut Arghire

A South Asian advanced persistent threat (APT) actor has been targeting the nuclear energy sector in China in a recent cyberespionage campaign, Intezer reports.

Dubbed ‘Bitter’ and active since at least 2021, the group is known for the targeting of energy and government organizations in Bangladesh, China, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia, and is characterized by the use of Excel exploits, and Microsoft Compiled HTML Help (CHM) and Windows Installer (MSI) files.

Continuing to target Chinese organizations, the group used updated first-stage payloads in the recently observed espionage campaign, added an extra layer of obfuscation, and employed additional decoys for social engineering.

The Bitter APT targeted recipients in China’s nuclear energy industry with at least seven phishing emails impersonating the embassy of Kyrgyzstan in China, inviting them to join conferences on relevant subjects.

The recipients were lured into downloading and opening an attached RAR archive containing CHM or Excel payloads designed to achieve persistence and fetch additional malware from the command-and-control (C&C) server.

Export Control is Not a Magic Bullet for Cyber Mercenaries

Winnona DeSombre Bernsen

In 2023, it is now possible for any government or private company to get access to your most intimate secrets. How? By paying a company to hack into your phone. Since the early 2010s, news of private companies that sell spyware and other offensive cyber tools has become commonplace. The spread of tools through these “cyber mercenaries” is a risk to both human rights and national security: Authoritarian governments use these tools not just to spy on the United States and its allies, but also to surveil journalists and activists in the name of national security, which has led to the detention, torture, or even assassination of those targeted.
When it comes to nation-state spycraft and hacking, some cyber mercenaries can be “hackers for hire,” who conduct cyber operations on behalf of government customers. A larger number of mercenaries, however, sell offensive cyber tools to government clients that then use them for their own cyber operations, as many governments believe that privatized hacking may violate international law. A basic rule in the Geneva Conventions requires parties to clearly delineate combatants from civilians in any conflict, and people cannot always tell the difference between a military or intelligence operation in cyberspace.

Tools sold by cyber mercenaries do have legitimate uses: Some Western governments and law enforcement agencies (when operating with effective oversight) have used these types of tools to hack into terrorist networks, get intelligence on mass shootings, and even apprehend cartel leaders such as El Chapo. Some companies in the cyber mercenary industry refuse outright to sell to the states with the worst human rights records and sell only to countries with proper judicial review and law enforcement oversight. The industry overall is, however, global and growing, and its worst players are creating life-and-death consequences.

Tick TikTok Goes Globalization


MILAN – The spectacle of the US Congress grilling TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew on March 23 could one day be remembered as a turning point in the history of globalization. Over five hours of aggressive questioning, Chew – who is not Chinese but Singaporean – did a magnificent job defending his company’s Chinese ownership in the face of Congress’s limited understanding of the tech world.

The Biden administration views TikTok as a potential national-security threat and wants its Chinese-owned parent company, ByteDance, to sell the platform to a US-owned company or face a possible ban. Chew, however, proposes that ByteDance retain its majority ownership of TikTok but have its US operations run entirely by the Texas-based tech giant Oracle, which would store all US user data on its servers and monitor how TikTok’s algorithms recommend content. Meanwhile, the Chinese government has said that it would oppose a forced sale.

But the odds of Chew’s “Project Texas” convincing Congress or President Joe Biden seem slim. US lawmakers have little confidence in the Chinese government’s intentions – and with good reason. For years, Chinese hackers, presumably state-sponsored, have been relentlessly attacking the United States government and US-based companies and siphoning off trillions of dollars in intellectual property. Although exact numbers are difficult to come by, the pervasiveness of Chinese hacking has raised alarm bells among experts worldwide, particularly in ASEAN countries.

Publication Commercial Actors and Civil Society Consultation Report: How Can Non-Governmental Entities Contribute to Reducing Threats to Outer Space Systems?

This report highlights the key issues discussed during a co-organized UNIDIR-UNODA consultation that explored the perspective of non-governmental entities on space security, sustainability and safety, as well as how these entities can contribute to creating a peaceful and secure space environment.

The consultation took place in the margins of the Open-Ended Working Group on Reducing Space Threats through Norms, Rules and Principles of Responsible Behaviours with aims to enrich the conversation on space security in ongoing UN processes.

In this way, the consultation was able to provide insightful perspectives to the Chair of the Open-Ended Working Group, and to give State observers to the consultation a more diverse understanding of threats to space systems.

Between Vietnam and Ukraine: Reflections on Ending a War

Paul R. Pillar

There are major differences between Vietnam and Ukraine, but the ending of this war is again likely to involve the persuasion of a Ukrainian ally as much as the pressure of a Russian adversary.

This week marks fifty years since the United States withdrew its last troops from Vietnam. It was the end of America’s bloodiest war, as measured by American casualties, since World War II. The departure of the last troop-bearing plane culminated in a sixty-day withdrawal period as specified by a peace agreement that Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho had negotiated and was signed in Paris in January 1973.

I was on that last plane. As an Army lieutenant in a unit that processed personnel coming in or out of Vietnam, I had to manage the departure of other GIs who were still in Vietnam before my colleagues and I could pack our own bags and head for home. That experience sparked a lasting interest in the ending of wars that became the subject of a doctoral dissertation and book and the focus of much thinking about subsequent conflicts.

The peace agreement of 1973, notwithstanding what many contended were its flaws, was the right U.S. course of action at the time. Not to reach that agreement or something very much like it would have meant the perpetuation of costly U.S. involvement in a conflict that inevitably would have lost to a movement—the Viet Minh, which became the North Vietnamese regime—that embodied Vietnamese nationalism and had the wind of decolonization at its back.

A Tank by Any Other Name

Elliot Ackerman

The naming conventions vary—but the strength and speed remain the same.

The tanks are arriving in Ukraine, Abrams and Leopards to face off against T-90s. The last time German heavy armor traveled that far east, it wasn’t Leopards but Panthers and Tigers, and they tore up the earth around Stalingrad and Kursk. The last time U.S. heavy armor fought in Europe, it wasn’t Abrams but Shermans, named after Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, who commanded Union troops in the Civil War.

The names of tanks tell a story. The M1 Abrams main battle tank is named after Gen. Creighton Abrams, who commanded armor units in World War II. The time separating Abrams’s service in World War II and today’s war in Ukraine is roughly the same time separating the Civil War service of Sherman from those who rode in the tanks that bore his name. These naming conventions form neat, 80-year links in a chain of American war. Germany, which has eradicated so much of its martial past from its heritage, retains the naming convention of its tanks, a fact that Russian President Vladimir Putin touts in claims of Ukraine’s Nazification as today’s Leopards follow their Panther and Tiger progenitors into the bloodlands of Eastern Europe.

The Russian T-90s, whose charred carcasses littered the highways into Kyiv last summer, have their own lineage. They are descendants of the first Soviet tank, the T-18, which entered mass production in 1928, long after Western powers pioneered tank design during the later years of World War I. After Russia’s communist revolution, development of a tank became an important signal that Soviet industry could keep pace with the West.