1 May 2023

Aerospace Power: Pivot to future battlespace operations

Air Chief Marshal V. R. Chaudhari

The foremost lesson that can be drawn from the twentieth century and indeed the early twenty-first century is that no war can be successfully prosecuted without aerospace power and in the words of Field Marshal Montgomery, ‘If we lose the war in the air, we lose the war and lose it quickly’.

There are a few very pertinent words, which need a bit more study. The first is “Pivot”. Pivot translates to ‘Fulcrum‘, which is defined as a thing that plays a central or essential role in an activity, event, or situation.

The other words that need more study are “Future Battlespace Operations“. Over the last few decades, the understanding of a military operational environment has significantly transformed from primarily a force, time, and space-driven linear battlefield to a system of systems capable of simultaneous, parallel, and independent operations across multiple domains.

The traditional battlefield has long left the lexicon of modern strategists and what is increasingly being used is battlespace in the land, sea, air, cyber, and space domains.

When we bring all these words together, it broadly gives a contour of things to come in the next few decades. Call it a reveille bugle or a heralding trumpet, we must acknowledge that the wars of the future will be fought differently. Adversaries will use lethal as well as non-lethal weapons, wars will be fought across multiple domains, and will not distinguish between combatants and non-combatants.

The future battlespace will be increasingly complex characterised by heavy dependence on technology, asymmetric nature of threats, increased fog and friction, expanded battlespaces, high tempo of operations, enhanced lethality, compressed sensor-to-shooter cycles, and media scrutiny.

The High Costs of India’s INSTC Ambitions

Seamus Duffy

On April 20, the first trilateral political consultations between the Ministries of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Armenia, the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Republic of India were held in Yerevan.Credit: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Armenia

Last week, officials from Iran, India, and Armenia met for the first trilateral meeting between the countries. Although formally the meeting was a discussion of possible avenues of economic cooperation, such a summit comes with greater context. In early March, while the Armenian foreign minister was visiting India, a delegation of senior officials from the country emphasized Armenia’s importance in helping complete the International North-South Transportation Corridor (INSTC), a project India has been developing for almost a quarter century to more closely link itself to the markets of Europe. Although India has been pursuing this avenue of potential cooperation for several years now, this dialogue represents a new step in India’s pursuit of this relationship.

However, India’s interests here cannot be merely restricted to the strengthening of economic ties between the three countries. With the route of any Iran-Armenia transport connection crossing the Zanzegur corridor in the far south of Armenia, a subject of dispute between Azerbaijan, Turkey, and Armenia in the ongoing siege of Nagorno-Karabakh, India has not been shy in supporting Armenia with limited arms imports. India’s plans for the completion of the INSTC in fact hinge on such support. Without a robust defense of Armenia’s borders in the face of increasingly stiff outside pressure, India would likely have to complete the INSTC with the help of Pakistan-allied Azerbaijan. Even if India could swallow that bitter pill, it is not entirely clear that its partner Iran could. Thus, for India, the current orientation of its policy in the South Caucasus is relatively inflexible.

Left in this position, India’s pursuit of the INSTC forces them into an economic and security relationship with the other trilateral participants, Armenia and Iran. Although the INSTC may be an important goal for New Delhi, the question arises as to whether the rigid means by which India may accomplish this objective are really worth the costs associated with them.

India: One of the Biggest Beneficiaries of the War in Ukraine

Syed Fazl-e-Haider

On April 10, during her first official visit to India after Russia launched its all-out war against Ukraine in February 2022, Ukrainian Deputy Foreign Minister Emine Dzhaparova urged the Indian government to diversify its energy and military resources. “We think that it is crucial to diversify resources, not only energy but military resources, too, because what we see in my country is that when you are dependent on Russia, they will blackmail you,” said Dzaparova. Regarding the war, the Ukrainian official added, “I briefed India about the military situation, which is quite difficulty. … [Therefore], we are not in a position to instruct India” (Tribune India, April 11).

Although India is a member of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue—or Quad, along with the United States, Japan and Australia—it has yet to openly condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Barring India, the other Quad countries have vehemently condemned the Russian aggression. New Delhi even abstained from voting on the United Nations resolution condemning Moscow for its actions and demanding immediate and unconditional withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukrainian territory (Hindustan Times, March 2, 2022).

In 2022, even after the war started, New Delhi continued to buy Russian oil at discounted rates. As a result, India has come out as one of the biggest beneficiaries of the war in Ukraine, as it has enabled New Delhi to make a backdoor entry into the European market and resell the Russian oil it has purchased at a discounted rate. As a result, India is buying more and more cheap Russian oil and exporting it to Europe after refining it into fuel. India’s high volume of crude oil imports from Russia in 2022 and 2023 have helped New Delhi boost its exports of diesel and jet fuel to Europe (India Today, April 6). In fiscal year 2023, India has exported between 70,000 and 75,000 barrels per day (bpd) of jet fuel to Europe (Livemint.com, April 6). And in January 2023, India shipped 172,000 bpd of low-sulfur diesel to Europe and about 89,000 bpd of gasoline and diesel to the United States (Japan Times, February 5; Mind.ua, February 6). Moreover, Europe’s imports of diesel and jet fuel from India have increased to 200,000 bpd, with France, Belgium and the Netherlands as major European buyers of Indian diesel (India Today, April 6).

How effective are US ‘Over-the-Horizon capabilities’ in Afghanistan?


National Security Council spokesman John Kirby has argued that the Taliban killing of the Islamic State group leader believed responsible for the August 2021 attack on Abbey Gate that killed 13 U.S. service members helps to vindicate President Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw all American troops from the country.

“Having him gone is a good thing and it does part and parcel reflect the president’s decision to leave Afghanistan,” Kirby told reporters on Wednesday. “It does, in fact, prove, that you don’t need boots on the ground, you don’t need to remain in a particular field of battle, to be able to go after terrorists.”

Kirby stressed that the United States has “Over-the-Horizon capabilities” to monitor and strike terrorist groups in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Moreover, those capabilities have improved since the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan in August 2021, noting that a July 2022 U.S. drone strike in Kabul killed al-Qaida’s top leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.

What are ‘over-the-horizon’ capabilities?

In broad terms, “Over-the-Horizon capabilities” refer to a wide range of aircraft and other means by which the Defense Department and intelligence community can persistently monitor certain areas for potential threats, assess emerging threat networks over time, and strike authorized targets that are a threat to the United States – all without the need for troops on the ground, said Army Lt. Col. Rob Lodewick, a Pentagon spokesman.

For operational security reasons, a U.S. official declined to elaborate on exactly how the United States conducts intelligence, reconnaissance, and surveillance in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

Pakistan’s Electoral Limbo

Kunwar Khuldune Shahid

Lawyers and members of media gather outside the Supreme Court as they wait for court decision regarding provincial elections, in Islamabad, Pakistan, Tuesday, April 4, 2023.Credit: AP Photo/Anjum Naveed

On April 20, the Pakistan Supreme Court gave the nation’s political parties a week to reach consensus over a timeline for national and provincial elections. In its order, the three-member apex court, headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial, expressed “optimism” that all the major stakeholders would address the necessary grievances and agree on a date to hold the polls. On April 27, after the parties’ failure to agree upon a date, the Supreme Court conceded that it couldn’t “force” the parties to hold talks. Continued failure to agree upon a date, in turn, means that in accordance with the Supreme Court’s earlier order, it would be incumbent on the state to hold the provincial elections on May 14 – at least in theory.

The Supreme Court’s April 4 ruling, which undid the decision of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to postpone Punjab’s elections to October 14 following the dissolution of the provincial assemblies in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) in January, comes a year after the Imran Khan-led Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) government was ousted in a no-confidence motion. These last 12 months have been a microcosm of seven decades of dysfunctional governance in Pakistan, now culminating in ambiguity over the most fundamental of democratic exercises: holding an election.

“Ask Umar Ata Bandial when the next elections will be held. He appears to have all the answers. Ask him why he took the decision [to overturn the ECP’s ruling],” former Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) Secretary Kanwar Dilshad, told The Diplomat.

Many pro-government voices criticize the judiciary for overstepping its bounds ostensibly in a bid – at least on the part of the three-judge bench led by the CJP – to bolster Khan’s electoral chances. Those backing the top court’s rulings allude to Article 224 of the constitution, which mandates that elections be held within 90 days of an assembly being dissolved. The questions raised over following through with the stipulation, echoed by the ECP, are founded on the financial impracticality of holding provincial and national elections separately, especially amid a “heightened security situation” – though one in which nationwide cricket matches are being hosted uninterrupted, it must be added.

The Initial Digitalization of Chinese Diplomacy (2019–2021): Establishing Global Communication Networks on Twitter

Mette Thunø Kristoffer Laigaard Nielbo

The way in which Chinese diplomats communicate has changed recently, from being mostly reactive and pragmatic to being rhetorically more combative. This has generated strong academic, media, and policy interest. However, less academic attention has been devoted to the employment of social media for China’s new diplomatic communication strategy. By analyzing the recent employment of Twitter by China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), this article explores the initial digitalization of China’s public diplomacy from November 2019 to February 2021. Approaching Twitter as both a virtual network structure and an interactive strategic communication process, we collected 61,000 tweets from Chinese diplomats plus 282,000 tweets from Chinese official media and applied data analytics to examine how the MFA augmented its diplomatic digital presence by responding, reposting/retweeting, mentioning, and hashtagging. We also used discourse analysis to investigate how Chinese diplomats selected topics to generate, diffuse, and affect hegemonic discourses. We argue that China’s MFA initially adopted Twitter using a centrally controlled structure of topic, rhetoric, and discourses as well as cohesive dissemination and augmenting strategies. These communication structures created a self-referencing network closely aligned with Chinese official media on Twitter.

The PLA Rocket Force’s Conventional Missiles

Lawrence “Sid” Trevethan

The People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA’s) former Second Artillery Force was upgraded from a branch to a full military service—the PLA Rocket Force (PLARF)—on 31 December 2015.1 The Defense Intelligence Agency’s The PLA as Organization (version 2.0) wrote of that reclassification and reorganization:

The transformation of the PLA Second Artillery Force . . . has emerged as one of the centerpieces of Chinese military modernization. In less than two decades, China has progressed from a limited and vulnerable, non-mobile nuclear ballistic missile capability to one of the world’s most impressive nuclear and conventional missile, as well as cruise missile, programs.”2
DF-16 ballistic missiles. China Military

Why China Is Banning Rare Earth Metal Exports


China is reportedly moving toward banning rare earth metal exports to keep high-tech advantages within the country.

By limiting supplies of high-performance components—such as magnets—to the rest of the world, China could take a swing at the economies of the United States and Japan, among others.

Plans to implement the export ban could be finalized in 2023.

In a high-tech and high-stakes game of you-can’t-have-what-I-have, China is quickly moving toward a ban on certain rare earth metal exports. The policy change could create a disruption in non-Chinese economies unable to source enough rare earth metals needed for high-tech products and high-performance magnets.

In a report from Nikkei out of Beijing, China’s move will likely come soon in 2023, as the amendment to the country’s technology export restriction list has already passed several hurdles. This update to the list of banned export materials is likely to cause significant issues for both the United States and Japan.

This all comes as a response to the U.S. and others limiting their own exportation of high-tech microchips, leaving China on the outside looking in. The Asia News Network says Xi Jinping, China’s president, has focused on magnets as an economic growth point and a national security benefit.

ChatGPT and China: How to think about Large Language Models and the generative AI race Business & Technology

Paul Triolo 

China’s tech companies face significant challenges in developing AI, including domestic censorship and regulation, and American export controls on hardware. But the U.S. approach might end up making the Chinese companies stronger.

Much ink has been spilled in the last few months talking about the implications of large language models (LLMs) for society, the coup scored by OpenAI in bringing out and popularizing ChatGPT, Chinese company and government reactions, and how China might shape up in terms of data, training, censorship, and use of high-end graphics processing units (GPUs) under exports controls from the U.S.

But what is really at stake here? The issue needs to be explored first outside the usual lens of great power competition. Here is a framework for thinking about this problem which you have likely not read about in all the many columns on the subject written by generalists, people with a clear China axe to grind, or investors plugging a particular technology. Then we can get to great power competition.

China’s approach to LLMs and ChatGPT-like platforms will be different

For China, the OpenAI phenomena is somewhat novel, as there are few equivalent organizations in China.

OpenAI is an artificial intelligence (AI) research laboratory consisting of the non-profit OpenAI Incorporated, and its for-profit subsidiary OpenAI Limited Partnership. Small and run like a startup, OpenAI has been able to move more nimbly than some of the major U.S. AI players, all of which have been working on similar services. But Google, AWS, and Meta all have other businesses and reputations to protect, and so have been more circumspect in rolling out new generations of generative AI applications. Not OpenAI.

French twist: Emmanuel Macron cozies up to Chinese Communist Party

Clifford D. May

Is France still an ally of the United States? Based on Emmanuel Macron’s three-day state visit to the People’s Republic of China earlier this month, the answer to that question is in doubt.

To say that the French president kowtowed to Xi Jinping, the most powerful Chinese ruler since Mao Zedong, would be to exaggerate — but not by much.

Alluding to Mr. Xi’s intention to displace the U.S. as a global leader, Mr. Macron reportedly told Mr. Xi that “France does not pick sides.”

The new international order Mr. Xi envisions would be based on rules made by the Chinese Communist Party. Apparently, that troubles Mr. Macron not at all.

What does? In an interview with journalists from Politico and Les Echos, a French financial newspaper, Mr. Macron warned against Europe becoming “America’s vassal.” He urged his fellow Europeans to seek “strategic autonomy,” and to avoid “getting caught up in crises that are not ours.”

Accompanying Mr. Macron to China were several dozen French tycoons. In their briefcases were contracts they were eager to have signed by Chinese businessmen or CCP leaders — a distinction without a difference if you understand Beijing’s strategy of “military-civil fusion.”

As far as we know, Mr. Macron did not raise thorny issues such as Beijing’s cover-up of the origin of the COVID-19 pandemic, its persecution of Uyghurs, Tibetans and other minorities, or its crushing of Hong Kong’s freedoms in blatant violation of treaty obligations.

Nor did Mr. Macron suggest that French relations with the People’s Republic would suffer should Chinese troops invade Taiwan. Given that “Europeans cannot resolve the crisis in Ukraine,” he said, “how can we credibly say on Taiwan, ‘watch out, if you do something wrong we will be there’?”

How to Spy on China

Peter Mattis

Over the past few months, as competition with China has intensified, the Biden administration has struggled to provide the United States and its allies with a clear picture of Beijing’s intentions. In mid-February, for example, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned that China could soon begin providing Russia with lethal aid for its war in Ukraine—a step that would dramatically change the dynamic of the conflict. But so far, the administration has not been able to confirm plans for such aid or to find concrete evidence that such transfers are taking place. Similarly, in late February, CIA Director William Burns stated that Beijing will be prepared to conquer Taiwan by 2027. Yet there is widespread disagreement among analysts in Washington about Beijing’s military plans and if and when such an invasion might occur.

There is a reason for this enormous uncertainty. The CIA and the other agencies in the U.S. intelligence community have worked hard to understand China’s plans, intentions, and capabilities. But although Washington may have a rough sense of when China’s military will be ready to invade Taiwan, American spies have difficulty understanding Chinese objectives and leveraging that understanding to anticipate Chinese actions. Unlike Russia, which has been thoroughly penetrated by the U.S. intelligence community, reporting by the New York Times and Foreign Policy indicates that China dismantled the U.S. spy system at its borders, famously arresting and executing the CIA’s network of Chinese informants in the early 2010s. Moreover, power within the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is becoming ever-more concentrated at the top, making it harder for secrets to leak out. And Beijing’s international footprint is so sprawling that it is nearly impossible to keep tabs on all of China’s external activities and plans.

Above all, though, is the problem of Washington’s current approach to intelligence. Despite concerted efforts to do what it takes to gain more details on the CCP, the U.S. government remains largely wedded to traditional forms of intelligence gathering—government-managed, classified human and signals data—which are poorly adapted to today’s needs and have offered insufficient insight into Chinese intentions. Simply increasing the resources devoted to these existing practices is unlikely to yield the information Washington needs to predict Beijing’s behavior.

Why China is trying to mediate in Russia’s war with Ukraine


BEIJING (AP) — Chinese leader Xi Jinping said Wednesday that Beijing will send an envoy to Ukraine to discuss a possible “political settlement” to Russia’s war with the country.

Beijing has previously avoided involvement in conflicts between other countries but appears to be trying to assert itself as a global diplomatic force after arranging talks between Saudi Arabia and Iran in March that led them to restore diplomatic relations after a seven-year break.

Xi told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in a phone call that a Chinese envoy, a former Chinese ambassador to Russia, would visit Ukraine and “other countries” to discuss a possible political settlement, according to a government statement.

It made no mention of Russia or last year’s invasion of Ukraine and didn’t indicate whether the Chinese envoy might visit Moscow.

The Xi-Zelenskyy phone call was long anticipated after Beijing said it wanted to serve as a mediator in the war.


China is the only major government that has friendly relations with Moscow as well as economic leverage as the biggest buyer of Russian oil and gas after the United States and its allies cut off most purchases.

Beijing, which sees Moscow as a diplomatic partner in opposing U.S. domination of global affairs, has refused to criticize the invasion and used its status as one of five permanent U.N. Security Council members to deflect diplomatic attacks on Russia.

Zelenskyy earlier said he welcomed a Chinese offer to mediate.

China's Secretive Quest for Heavier Artillery


The People’s Liberation Army will soon begin experimenting with a bigger, more powerful cannon than any in the current Chinese or American arsenal, according to a contract recently awarded by the PLA Strategic Support Force.

A now-deleted post on the official Weapons and Equipment Procurement Information Network, a clearinghouse for Chinese military contracts, makes clear that the PLA is interested in testing 203mm (8-inch) artillery. That’s substantially larger than the PLA’s current 155mm (6-inch) guns, which suggests efforts to arm its future force with tubed artillery of longer range and much greater firepower.

While many militaries fielded 203mm cannons in the first part of the 20th century, most have phased them out in favor of 155mm guns. Today, the only 8-inch types used are the Russian 2S7 Pion/2S7M Malka, built between 1975 and 1990; and the old U.S. M110 self-propelled howitzer. Based on a cannon designed in 1919, the M110 was used by U.S. forces from 1963to the 1990s; it remains in service with several other nations as a legacy of Cold War partnerships.

China dabbled with 203mm artillery in the late 1980s, when Chinese arms manufacturer Norinco hired Gerald Bull, the Canadian engineer widely considered one of history’s greatest artillery developers. Bull, whose projects ranged from gun-launched rockets designed to reach outer space to Saddam Hussein’s “Project Babylon” supergun, traversed the globe selling his designs to a wide range of unsavory regimes, often with the U.S. government’s quiet approval. The PLA had originally hired Bull to develop a 155mm gun that could help counter the Soviet Union’s overwhelming firepower to the north. This became the PLL-01 howitzer, which remains in service today. Bull and Norinco went on to develop the 203mm W-90 artillery system, which apparently never advanced beyond the prototype stage. There are several possible reasons: technical difficulties, fewer export opportunities after the Iran-Iraq War, and Bull’s violent death in 1990 at the hands of a still-unknown intelligence service.The W-90, China’s previous attempt to create 203mm artillery

The Rise of China (and the Fall of the U.S.?)


From the ashes of a world war that killed 80 million people and reduced great cities to smoking rubble, America rose like a Titan of Greek legend, unharmed and armed with extraordinary military and economic power, to govern the globe. During four years of combat against the Axis leaders in Berlin and Tokyo that raged across the planet, America’s wartime commanders — George Marshall in Washington, Dwight D. Eisenhower in Europe, and Chester Nimitz in the Pacific — knew that their main strategic objective was to gain control over the vast Eurasian landmass. Whether you’re talking about desert warfare in North Africa, the D-Day landing at Normandy, bloody battles on the Burma-India border, or the island-hopping campaign across the Pacific, the Allied strategy in World War II involved constricting the reach of the Axis powers globally and then wresting that very continent from their grasp.

That past, though seemingly distant, is still shaping the world we live in. Those legendary generals and admirals are, of course, long gone, but the geopolitics they practiced at such a cost still has profound implications. For just as Washington encircled Eurasia to win a great war and global hegemony, so Beijing is now involved in a far less militarized reprise of that reach for global power.

And to be blunt, these days, China’s gain is America’s loss. Every step Beijing takes to consolidate its control over Eurasia simultaneously weakens Washington’s presence on that strategic continent and so erodes its once formidable global power.

A Cold War Strategy

After four embattled years imbibing lessons about geopolitics with their morning coffee and bourbon nightcaps, America’s wartime generation of generals and admirals understood, intuitively, how to respond to the future alliance of the two great communist powers in Moscow and Beijing.

Avoiding a Costly China-US Conflict

Sara Hsu

As the United States and China move closer to direct conflict, the stakes have been thrown into stark relief. Putting aside the humanitarian impacts – which would be devastating – the costs of a China-U.S. conflict for global supply chains alone would be very high due to strong interconnectedness between the two nations, and among the two nations and the rest of the world. The potential disruption of trade routes, loss of productive industries, and reduced foreign investment would result in rising costs and complexity for multinational businesses.

First, consider the impact of a China-U.S. direct conflict on trade routes. A conflict might result in naval blockades or restricted access to strategic shipping lanes, particularly in the South China Sea. Ports may be disrupted as well. Such disruptions would raise transportation costs, delay shipments, and cause shortages of goods. Insurance companies would raise premiums due to a heightened risk of conflict, piracy, or other security threats in the region.

Second, a direct conflict would result in a loss of production capacity due to direct damage to infrastructure, labor disruptions, and reduced access to energy and other resources. Because the United States and China are major manufacturing hubs, reduced production capacity in both countries would lead to a global shortage of goods and higher prices.

Dependent industries would be among the impacted sectors. Many industries, such as electronics, automotive, and pharmaceuticals, are heavily reliant on components and raw materials from both the United States and China. We have already witnessed a negative impact on dependent industries, including electronics, automotive, agriculture, and machinery, resulting from the China-U.S. trade war. Tariffs imposed on imports and exports led to supply chain disruptions, increased costs, and reduced demand for certain products. Companies in these industries had to adapt by finding alternative suppliers, adjusting pricing strategies, or passing on increased costs to consumers.

China Is Blazing a Trail in Regulating Generative AI – on the CCP’s Terms

Rebecca Arcesati and Wendy Chang

In April, China’s internet regulator published draft provisions for governing “generative artificial intelligence” (AI) (in Chinese, 生成式人工智能). The regulations aim to ensure “healthy development and standardized application” of AI services that can create text, videos, voice, and images.

OpenAI’s ChatGPT is just one of many such technologies swiftly emerging around the globe. Although the United States leads in this area, the Chinese government has leapfrogged the U.S. in creating a regulatory framework. China’s answer to ChatGPT – Baidu’s ERNIE Bot – is barely out of the gate with an underwhelming debut. But a deeper look at the development and commercialization of these technologies in China reveals that the government is actively trying to stay ahead of this growing trend.

This is in large part prompted by a desire on the part of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to maintain social and political stability by keeping its internet censorship mechanisms intact. However, the ability to roll out broad restrictions unchallenged also allows Beijing to move fast. Information controls aside, China’s forward-thinking approach to regulating the input and output of large language models (LLMs) may still lend lawmakers elsewhere – including in Europe – interesting angles to consider when developing their own regulatory framework.

Generative AI has seen explosive growth in the last few years, showing its transformative potential for economies and societies but also raising massive governance challenges. ChatGPT and its peers have demonstrated a stunning ability to comprehend and compose text, which will only improve with time. Image generators like Midjourney can generate original artwork based on text prompts. Advances in virtual and augmented reality technology to create immersive simulations are transforming fields from gaming to healthcare. Alongside these breakthroughs, generative AI already permeates social media in the form of photo- and video-enhancing filters. With these technologies have come a range of privacy, security, ethical, and socioeconomic concerns.

Russia Faces Serious Problems in Helping China Corner Rare Earth Mineral Market

Paul Goble

Moscow very much hopes to strengthen both itself and its alliance with Beijing by helping China corner the rare earths market in response to American plans for a blockade of Chinese technology producers. Russia could do so by providing supplies of these critical minerals to China and by blocking other countries, such as Mongolia, from shipping them to anywhere but China. Yet, while Beijing would be pleased by such a development, Russia, which in Soviet times was a world leader in rare earth metal production, faces serious difficulties in doing so. The loss of Moscow’s control over rare earth mines in former Soviet republics; the privatization of mining in Russia itself, which in turn has led to a falloff in rare earth extraction given the lack of domestic demand; and the failure of Russian firms mining other minerals to recover rare earths in the process have led to a collapse in Russian production. In 2022, President Vladimir Putin began a series of moves to change the situation; and he may even have planned his attack on Ukraine with an eye to accessing rare earth minerals (Window on Eurasia, February 26, 2022). But now, while some brave words are coming out of Moscow, Russian production has not increased in the ways Putin hoped, and Russia has less to offer its Chinese ally than either country expected.

The potential for a good fit between Russia and China in this sector is enormous, something that explains why both countries are interested in working together. Some Russian commentators are now even speaking of rare earths as a “joint weapon” for China and Russia against the West (Fondsk.ru, April 21). Others insist that, at present, rare earths are becoming “more important than oil” as a geo-economic and geopolitical weapon for the two Eurasian giants (Nezavisimaya gazeta, April 26). And still others, such as Russian military commentator Alexey Leonkov, are even declaring that Moscow and Beijing can “strip” the West of its rare earth resources and leave it incapable of producing modern weapons. “China has already taken a step in that direction,” and Russia can help by cooperating closely with Beijing on this point, Leonkov argued last week on Russian state television (Altview.ru, accessed April 27).

Iran Seizes U.S.-Bound Oil Tanker

Iranian naval forces seized a Marshall Island-flagged oil tanker traveling through international waters in the Gulf of Oman on April 27. The tanker, Advantage Sweet, was transporting oil from Kuwait bound for Houston, Texas, when Iran captured it around 1:15 p.m. local time just north of Oman’s capital, Muscat.

The U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, which patrols the Red Sea, Persian Gulf, and Arabian Sea, called the seizure a violation of international law and demanded the tanker’s immediate release. Earlier in April, the Fifth Fleet issued a warning advising all ships — especially Israeli ones — to proceed cautiously through the area due to an increased threat of Iranian harassment. According to the U.S. Navy, Iran has unlawfully seized at least five commercial vessels sailing through the region over the past two years.
Expert Analysis

“Threats to international maritime commercial traffic cannot be tolerated. The response from Washington and its allies should be resolute in demanding the ship’s immediate release while quickly ratcheting up pressure on the regime in meaningful and creative ways.” — Richard Goldberg, FDD Senior Advisor

“The regime in Tehran has learned that it very rarely pays a price for taking hostages, regardless of whether they are ships or people. Instead of treating hostage-taking as a standard part of the Western give-and-take with Iran, the United States and its allies need to exact a price from Tehran for subverting basic rules that help avoid war in a volatile region.” — David Adesnik, FDD Senior Fellow and Director of Research
Iran’s Record of Attacks and Seizures

Iran has been threatening commercial shipping in the region for years. In May 2019, Iran used mines to damage Saudi Arabian, Norwegian, and United Arab Emirates (UAE) tankers near the UAE’s Fujairah port. In June 2019, mines likely planted by Tehran damaged Japanese and Norwegian tankers near the Strait of Hormuz. Iran seized the British-flagged tanker Stena Impero that same year, detaining the ship and crew members for over two months.

Will South Korea Export Its Military Might to Ukraine?

Robbie Gramer

South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol signaled a possible shift in his country’s stance on Russia’s war in Ukraine, opening the door to potentially providing direct military support to Kyiv as Seoul looks to take a larger role in global security, ahead of a major summit with U.S. President Joe Biden in Washington this week.

Regional Responses to the Russia-Ukraine War

Michael J. Green, Nargis Kassenova, Pavel K. Baev, Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, Rajesh Rajagopalan, Jeffrey Reeves, Matthew Kroenig, and Clementine G. Starling


After eight years of simmering conflict, Russia undertook a full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022—an event that sent geopolitical shockwaves around the world. Beyond the immediate impact on how policy and military planners strategize about European security, the invasion has had wider implications for thinking about the stability of the international order and existing security arrangements, norms of sovereignty, the intertwined nature of security and economics, major-power relations, and the management and conduct of war. In this context, this Asia Policy roundtable examines the relevance of the Russia-Ukraine war to other regions outside the war zone, assesses the responses of countries in these regions to the war, and explores the lessons they have learned from the conflict so far. Notably, a clear line can be drawn between the northern regions, where the war has prompted close attention and strong reactions, and the southern regions, which have tended to view the war as a less pressing concern.

The roundtable opens with Michael Green’s analysis of Northeast Asia, focusing on Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and China. He argues that, for Northeast Asian governments, “Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has demonstrated that traditional national security toolkits really do matter and precisely which tools are most effective on the battlefield,” and that these governments are applying these lessons to their defense procurement, planning, and policies, even if the timelines for actualizing capabilities are still over the horizon. Japan and Taiwan, which draw parallels between Russia’s invasion and imagined future actions by China, have come out the strongest in support of Ukraine and the Western-led coalition backing Kyiv. Both have also stepped up plans for stronger national defenses and counterstrike capabilities. South Korea has ended its strategic ambiguity by clearly favoring the U.S. position on the conflict, albeit cautiously to mitigate any hostile response by China or Russia. And China, where all Northeast Asia’s attention is focused, has chosen to align more closely, at least diplomatically, with Russia rather than remain neutral or reassure other states in the international system. As a result, the geopolitical divide in Northeast Asia between China and U.S. allies is only set to grow.

In Central Asia, Nargis Kassenova assesses that the Russia-Ukraine war is also highly destabilizing. As part of Russia’s “near abroad,” Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan see Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as an existential threat because it “undermines the founding principles of the post-Soviet security and political order—the mutual recognition of each other’s sovereignty and the existing borders at the time of the Soviet Union’s dissolution in 1991.” Kazakhstan, which shares a border with Russia and has sometimes been identified as “historical Russia,” sees its sovereignty and national livelihood as particularly at risk. The Central Asian states, especially Kazakhstan, are thus forced to perform a delicate tightrope act as they attempt to deepen foreign and economic relations with other states, such as China, the United States, and Turkey, while not offending or alienating Russia, their powerful neighbor and historical supporter. Whether the Central Asian states can demonstrate unity and resilience in this regional balancing act remains to be seen.

The Secret War for Asia Is Being Fought Under the Sea

Maurizio Geri

The secret war to control the internet is being fought under the sea in Asia

A secret war is being fought in the Asia-Pacific. But rather than bullets and bombs, the weapons are digital, and the goal is to control the world’s flows of Big Data.

Over 486 undersea cables carry over 99% of all international internet traffic globally, according to the Washington-based research firm TeleGeography. The bulk of them are controlled by just a handful American technology giants, namely Alphabet, Google’s parent company; Meta – the owner of Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp; Amazon; and Microsoft.

Transmitting everything from emails and banking transactions to military secrets, these data flows are even more valuable than oil. With information at the centre of technological innovation, controlling data is recognized as the key to driving economic productivity. As such, the world’s subsea cabling infrastructure is increasingly vulnerable not only to sabotage, but also to espionage – spy agencies can easily tap into cables on their own territory.

That’s why over the last decade, geopolitical rivalry between the U.S. and China has increasingly focused on control of the world’s subsea cabling networks.
The New Great Game

Despite the U.S.’ first mover advantage, China has made serious headway in dominating subsea internet cables in Africa and is now rapidly attempting to challenge U.S. dominance over internet infrastructure in Asia.

Earlier in April, it emerged that China was planning a $500 million undersea internet cable network linking up Asia with the Middle East and Europe, creating a superfast connection between Hong Kong, China and much of the rest of the world. Washington sees the plan as a major move to underpin China’s future military and economic supremacy. China has also begun to impede projects to lay and maintain subsea internet cables through the South China Sea which could be linked to U.S. interests, by delaying licensing approvals and creating stricter operating restrictions.

Great Powers Don’t Default

Matt Pottinger and Daleep Singh

Since its founding, the United States has viewed paying its bills as a matter of economic and national security. Alexander Hamilton, the first secretary of the U.S. Treasury, pushed for the federal government to assume all the debt incurred by the states during the Revolutionary War. In a report Hamilton presented to Congress in 1790, he described the “punctual performance of contracts”—that is, meeting all financial commitments on time—as a matter of national honor. It was also critical, Hamilton argued, to building confidence in a financial system and a national currency that could underwrite his fledgling country’s industrial development and provide “security against foreign attack” by competing empires in Europe.

More than a century later, during World War I, Congress created the debt ceiling—a legislative limit on how much debt the Treasury can take on. Given the controversy surrounding the debt ceiling today, it may be surprising to learn that its original purpose was to make it easier, not harder, for the Treasury to manage the country’s finances during a time of global conflict. Beforehand, Congress had to approve each instance of the Treasury’s borrowing, because only the legislature has the constitutional authority to tax, spend, and borrow. With the debt ceiling, the department could borrow as much as it wanted, up to the limit set by Congress. Leaving aside how unusual it was—no other developed country except Denmark has a debt limit—the measure was seen as a patriotic concession by Congress to share its fiscal authority with the executive branch in service of shared geopolitical purpose. As a direct result of this congressional action, the Treasury was able to issue massive amounts of war bonds, which mobilized the American industrial base and helped turn the tide of World War I in favor of the Allies. After the war, the U.S. dollar overtook the British pound as the world’s dominant currency.

A century later, the United States is again facing intensifying geopolitical competition. Both China and Russia have made clear their desire to challenge the U.S.-led international order. And together, they have the capacity to do so—China thanks to its economic, military, and technological heft, and Russia owing to its outsize appetite for taking risks that disrupt the status quo. The United States and its allies are pushing back forcefully against both revisionist powers, but as this contest plays out, many countries are choosing not to align with either side.

Russian Warplanes Are ‘Trying to Dogfight’ US Jets Over Syria, General Says


Russian warplanes are flying increasingly close to American fighter jets in the skies over Syria “like they're trying to dogfight,” the top U.S. Air Force general in the region said.

Since March 1, Russian pilots have acted in hostile ways that have U.S. military leaders concerned about the possibilities for miscalculation and escalation.

The Russians have been “increasingly bellicose in how they're approaching us,” Lt. Gen. Alexus Grynkewich, who leads Air Forces Central Command, said in an interview. “They're maneuvering aggressively against us when our protocols would say we're supposed to stay… several miles apart and just monitor each other.”

“[T]hey're aggressively maneuvering, almost like they're trying to dogfight, if you will,” Grynkewich said. “That's very concerning.”

Dogfighting is a term used to describe planes engaging each other in aerial combat.

The general’s message to his pilots: “Don't take the bait.”

“The guidance that I've given our folks is we're not going to act like they are,” Grynkewich said. “We're going to act in a professional manner, and we're going to try to de-escalate the situation.”

Since U.S. aircraft rarely fly alone, there are multiple aircraft to protect one another.

“We always try to keep one of our fighters in a position of advantage with respect to the Russians as they're trying to do the maneuvering against the other one,” Grynkewich said. The other [American] one basically, tries to de-escalate, to shake them, to get them to turn and go a different direction.”

The Wall Street Journal first reported increasingly hostile interactions between American and Russian warplanes, but not the dogfighting.

The New Age of Tragedy

Robert D Kaplan, John Gray and Helen Thompson

The post-Cold War moment, a 30-year period when globalisation and free trade were orchestrated under the aegis of American supremacy, is ending. As the historian Anders Stephanson has written, “One could not deny that geopolitics reduced to a set of mopping-up operations was a historic achievement of US power.” Today, great-power rivalry, war and the competition for diminishing resources are old realities reborn, revenants of history that now define a present of increasing peril and uncertainty.

In The Tragic Mind (2023), the American correspondent, author and foreign policy adviser Robert D Kaplan argues that we must learn to think tragically to avoid tragedy. We need what he calls anxious foresight. The wisest among us fear disorder and anarchy as much as tyranny.

But thinking tragically is not fatalism. It is understanding our limitations and acting with more effectiveness.

For this wide-ranging exchange, we asked Kaplan, the Cambridge political economist Helen Thompson and the philosopher John Gray to explore what we are calling this new age of tragedy, and how societies might navigate and endure the gathering storms.

Weimar Germany connotates the ultimate doom: a cradle of modernity that gave birth to fascism and totalitarianism. More specifically, Weimar was an unstable political system that existed between late 1918 and 1933, born in the ashes of the First World War and ending with the ascension to power of Adolf Hitler. Our world is unlikely to be headed for such moral darkness. Nevertheless, Weimar constitutes a model of sorts. It was a system composed of a parliamentary upper house, a lower house, small states, and two large ones – Prussia and Bavaria – that were to some extent laws unto themselves. Complex and prone to bickering, Weimar was a classically overloaded political regime that existed in a state of perma-crisis. Such is our world today.

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The Incomplete U.S. Evacuation in Sudan

Robbie Gramer

Welcome back to Foreign Policy’s SitRep! Robbie and Jack here, informing you that if you haven’t seen South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol’s rendition of Don McLean’s “American Pie” at the White House state dinner on Wednesday night, you should go watch that now.

Russia’s Gas Exports Are Expected to Slide in 2023

Stanley Reed

Evidence is piling up about the steady disintegration of Russia’s vital natural gas export industry since the country’s invasion of Ukraine.

Russian news reports estimate that Russia’s gas exports by pipeline could fall as much as 50 percent in volume this year from last year. And last year was an especially bad year.

The problems are not limited to gas delivered by pipeline. The European Union is threatening to curtail imports of liquefied natural gas from Russia, which were the solitary bright spot for the Russian industry last year.

Russia has to a great extent cut itself off from Europe — its most important customer for natural gas, one that paid on time and full prices. By launching hostilities and then cutting and manipulating supplies, Russia threw away decades of work establishing itself as the largest gas supplier to energy-hungry Europe, ceding that position to Norway.

On Thursday, Izvestia, a Kremlin-linked publication, reported that pipeline exports might fall 50 percent in 2023, citing a government forecast. That figure roughly correlates with some Western estimates.

The State of the WarA Large-Scale Attack: Russia bombarded towns and cities across Ukraine for the first time since March. A rocket attack on an apartment block in Uman was one of the most deadly incidents for civilians in Ukraine this year.

First Known Contact: Xi Jinping, China’s leader and an ally of President Vladimir Putin of Russia, had an hour-long phone conversation with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine. The words “Russia” and “war” were not uttered.

Spring Offensive: Ukraine is preparing to launch a counteroffensive against Russian forces in the face of immense risks: Without a decisive victory, Western support for Ukraine could weaken, and Kyiv could come under increasing pressure to enter serious peace talks to end or freeze the conflict.

Why Does Japan Have a Military Base in Djibouti?

Jio Kamata

The fallout of a power struggle within the Sudanese military ranks has ignited an armed conflict, which is unfolding as a humanitarian disaster for the locals and endangering the lives of foreign nationals. Increasingly concerned about the fate of their own people, nations have announced they are evacuating their embassies or sending forces for rescue missions in Sudan.

Japan, one of the many nations alarmed by the situation in Sudan, has announced that its Self-Defense Forces (SDF) will dispatch their own aircraft to the East African nation of Djibouti, which hosts Japan’s only overseas base, in order to help evacuate diplomatic personnel and natives. Although the contentious situation in Sudan is starting to gain attention in Japan, the SDF response raises a more basic question: Why does Japan have a military base in the Republic of Djibouti in the first place?

Initially, the need for a Japanese base in Djibouti arose due to piracy. After a spike in the number of pirate attacks around the Gulf of Aden in 2008, the issue emerged on the radar of not only Japan but also the international community writ large. The Gulf of Aden faces one of the planet’s most crucial maritime chokepoints, the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, through which the bulk of the world’s oil and commerce flows. Concerned that a surge in piracy here would have real consequences for the global economy, the United Nations General Assembly passed multiple resolutions calling for deterring piracy, and a number of countries turned to Djibouti to install bases for their anti-piracy operations.

For Japan the stability of the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean, to which the piracy eventually spread, was even more pressing since Japan’s wellbeing as a nation was on the line. According to a government report on anti-piracy efforts, approximately 1,700 Japanese-related commercial vessels and 18 percent of exported automobiles – Japan’s driving economic force – travel through the Gulf of Aden. Beyond that, Japan’s heavy dependence on oil from the Middle East – which supplies close to 90 percent of Japan’s oil – multiplied the necessity for Japan to be more committed around the region.

Belarus and Its Neighbors in a Time of War: Attitudes, Perceptions and Realities

Grigory Ioffe

As a relatively small country squeezed between two increasingly antagonistic centers of power, Russia and the European Union, Belarus has always stood out for its dependency on multifaceted external factors. The war in Ukraine has exacerbated this dependency and added new aspects to it. Thus, attitudes regarding ordinary Belarusians have noticeably worsened in Ukraine and three neighboring countries—Latvia, Lithuania and Poland—that are also members of the EU. As a result, Belarusian émigrés often feel that landing a job, renting an apartment, as well as receiving a residency permit have become more difficult. “Why Do They Dislike Us So Much? How Can Belarusians Challenge Unfriendly Attitude Towards Themselves?” reads the title of a recent article from Yury Drakakhrust (Svaboda, April 19). According to him, the gist of the matter is Belarus’s complicity in Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. Additionally, not too many people abroad are willing to separate Belarusians themselves from the current political regime. In Drakakhrust’s opinion, unfriendly feelings toward Belarusians are not merely the outcome of respective governments’ resentment toward Minsk, at least not entirely; more likely, they are grassroots reactions per se.

Two recent developments are intimately related to the topic in question, including one that, by some accounts, reflects a positive outcome of the organized Belarusian opposition-in-exile’s effort to alter attitudes. Thus, the Lithuanian Parliament recently overcame the Lithuanian president’s veto on a bill that would differentiate between the legal situations of Belarusian and Russian citizens in Lithuania (Current Time TV, April 20). President Gitanas Nausėda’s original idea was to refrain from such a differentiation whereby applications for permanent residency and citizenship as well as buying property would no longer be approved when it comes to both Russian and Belarusian citizens. However, based in part on lobbying by Svetlana Tikhanovskaya’s “cabinet,” the parliament altered the president’s bill, making limitations imposed on Belarusians softer than on Russians (Zerkalo, March 29). When Nausėda vetoed that alteration, 99 members of parliament voted to overcome his veto, with seven members voting to sustain it and two abstaining (Gazetaby, April 20).

Russia ‘Recruits’ Allies and Partners in the Global South

Boris Bondarev

On April 24, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, presiding over a meeting of the United Nations Security Council, delivered an important speech devoted mainly to accusations of the collective West in revising the principles and values of the UN Charter (Mid.ru, April 24). In this context, Lavrov urged the countries of the so-called “Global South”—that is, developing states in Africa, Asia and South America—to take an increasingly active stance in the international arena, actively oppose Western policies and uphold the UN Charter, including the principles of independence, sovereignty and equality of states—thus trying to present Russia as a leading voice for developing nations.

These passages are in line with Moscow’s policy that seeks to detach the Global South from solidarity with the West in condemning Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. The Kremlin has not abandoned its attempts to split the international community, both to demonstrate that it is not in isolation and to attract, if not allies, then partners who could provide assistance or support for President Vladimir Putin’s aggressive political course. Russia sorely needs to replenish its manpower, weapons and ammunition stocks on the Ukrainian battlefield. As such, some sources have reported that Russian emissaries periodically try to recruit volunteers for the war effort, particularly in Afghanistan, Syria and various African countries (Current Time TV, October 27, 2022; YouTube, November 30, 2022).

Yet, what level of success can such an approach actually achieve? Russia has a well-established foundation for deepening friendly and mutually beneficial relations with a number of countries in the Global South. This groundwork was initially prepared during the years of the Soviet Union, when Moscow actively supported anti-colonial movements materially, financially and militarily (RIA Novosti, July 26, 2022). The Soviet Union also granted significant aid to numerous states across Asia and Africa (TASS, April 25, 2016). As a result, today, these countries’ populations still retain fond memories of Russia. Quite eloquent examples of this are the positions of South Africa and Uganda on the war in Ukraine and previous Soviet/Russian aid (Al Jazeera, March 18, 2022, RBK-Ukraina, March 31).