3 May 2023

America’s Bad Bet on India

Ashley J. Tellis

For the past two decades, Washington has made an enormous bet in the Indo-Pacific—that treating India as a key partner will help the United States in its geopolitical rivalry with China. From George W. Bush onward, successive U.S. presidents have bolstered India’s capabilities on the assumption that doing so automatically strengthens the forces that favor freedom in Asia.

The administration of President Joe Biden has enthusiastically embraced this playbook. In fact, it has taken it one step further: the administration has launched an ambitious new initiative to expand India’s access to cutting-edge technologies, further deepened defense cooperation, and made the Quad (Quadrilateral Security Dialogue), which includes Australia, India, Japan, and the United States, a pillar of its regional strategy. It has also overlooked India’s democratic erosion and its unhelpful foreign policy choices, such as its refusal to condemn Moscow’s ongoing aggression in Ukraine. It has done all of this on the presumption that New Delhi will respond favorably when Washington calls in a favor during a regional crisis involving China.

Washington’s current expectations of India are misplaced. India’s significant weaknesses compared with China, and its inescapable proximity to it, guarantee that New Delhi will never involve itself in any U.S. confrontation with Beijing that does not directly threaten its own security. India values cooperation with Washington for the tangible benefits it brings but does not believe that it must, in turn, materially support the United States in any crisis—even one involving a common threat such as China.

The fundamental problem is that the United States and India have divergent ambitions for their security partnership. As it has done with allies across the globe, Washington has sought to strengthen India’s standing within the liberal international order and, when necessary, solicit its contributions toward coalition defense. Yet New Delhi sees things differently. It does not harbor any innate allegiance toward preserving the liberal international order and retains an enduring aversion toward participating in mutual defense. It seeks to acquire advanced technologies from the United States to bolster its own economic and military capabilities and thus facilitate its rise as a great power capable of balancing China independently, but it does not presume that American assistance imposes any further obligations on itself.

The Sino-Indian Border After Galwan

Ajai Shukla

This photograph provided by the Indian Army reportedly shows Chinese troops dismantling their bunkers at Pangong Tso region, in Ladakh along the India-China border on Feb.15, 2021.Credit: Indian Army via AP

The lightly armed Indian patrol, about a hundred soldiers strong and led by a senior field commander, a colonel, moved cautiously through the Galwan River Valley. They were on a mission to monitor the Line of Actual Control (LAC), as Beijing and New Delhi call their de facto boundary in Ladakh.

Two months earlier, in April 2020, thousands of Chinese soldiers from the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) had intruded across the LAC at Galwan and five other places. In early June, attempting to reduce the risk of escalation, senior military commanders from both China and India negotiated a disengagement agreement that required troops on both sides to withdraw a few hundred meters, creating a buffer zone between them.

Now the Indian Army patrol was in Galwan to verify if the PLA had withdrawn, as agreed.

According to unofficial Indian versions of what transpired next (no official version has been put out) the patrol found a Chinese tent still standing on Indian-claimed territory, in violation of the mutual pull-back agreement. Believing that the PLA had left the tent behind, the Indian patrol set it on fire. But it was a trap. A large number of PLA soldiers who were hiding in the Galwan River Valley emerged and set upon the Indian soldiers.

In the barbaric fight that ensued, soldiers from two nuclear powers battled it out with spears, staves, and crude wooden clubs wrapped in barbed wire. Indians who tried to escape by climbing the steep cliffs along the Galwan River ran into Chinese ambushes. Some of the outnumbered Indians were thrown off the cliffs to their deaths, others were seriously injured. The Indian government announced that 20 Indian soldiers died in the clash, many more were wounded, and 10 were taken prisoner by the PLA. They were repatriated after a few days with serious injuries from torture and beatings at the hands of their Chinese captors. The Chinese side, more than six months later, said that only four of its soldiers had died in the clash – a number disputed by the Indian side in its reports.

What Does India Gain From the Shanghai Cooperation Organization?

Niranjan Marjani

Meeting of the Council of Heads of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization member states in Uzbekistan, Sep. 16, 2022.

As the president of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) this year, India is hosting a series of meetings leading up to the top-level summit on July 3-4. The SCO Defense Ministers’ Meeting just concluded while the Foreign Ministers’ Meeting is scheduled to be held on May 4-5. These back-to-back high profile meetings, with the Russian and the Chinese minsters attending, have generated much interest in India.

India perceives its membership in the SCO as a means to increase engagements with the Eurasian region. However, India’s participation in the grouping comes with several limitations.

First, disputes with China and Pakistan leave little room for India to maneuver in this grouping. This was witnessed during the Defense Ministers’ Meeting.

The tension between India and China was evident from their ministers’ exchanges – both non-verbal and verbal. On the sidelines of the Defense Ministers’ Meeting, India held bilateral meetings with China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Iran and Belarus. Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh greeted all of his counterparts, barring Chinese Defense Minister Li Shangfu, with a handshake. But Singh chose not to shake hands with Li and instead greeted him in the Indian way: saying “Namaste” with folded hands. During the bilateral meeting, Singh told Li in no uncertain terms that violation of existing agreements dealing with their disputed border has eroded the entire basis of bilateral relations.

As regards to Pakistan, its Defense Minister Khawaja Asif not only skipped visiting India, but he also did not attend the meeting virtually. Instead, a representative from the Pakistani Prime Minister’s Office, Malik Ahmed Khan, attended the meeting virtually. During the meeting, Singh unequivocally called for eliminating terrorism in all forms and fixing accountability on those aiding or funding such activities. Singh’s remarks were directed toward Pakistan.

AI Can Be a Gamechanger for Education in India

Mufsin Puthan Purayil

All of a sudden, ChatGPT is everywhere – and its explosive popularity in the education sector has been a headache for Indian educators.

A large language model developed by the American artificial intelligence research company OpenAI, ChatGPT can generate human-like text responses to various prompts and questions. AI-based tools like ChatGPT can perform tasks more efficiently and in the shortest time possible with their advanced machine and deep learning capabilities. For instance, in the few months of its existence, ChatGPT can already answer complex math-related questions and generate useful computer codes in mere seconds. Similarly, it can create PowerPoint presentations virtually from scratch; all one needs are the appropriate commands and prompts.

As ChatGPT and similar AI applications remain poised to usher in a disruptive paradigm shift in the learning and teaching process, educators find it hard to accept this interference. Some of the main concerns they harbor include AI promoting academic misconduct and malpractice, fostering laziness, limiting the development of critical thinking skills, increasing screen time, and students learning from inaccurate sources.

Therefore, despite AI’s potential to boost productivity, several educational institutions in India have rushed to ban such tools. Notably, India’s national-level Bboard of school education, known as the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE), has already banned the use of ChatGPT for its annual exams.

However, does the hyper-cautious, defensive stance adopted by educators and parents toward integrating AI in education make sense in India’s context?

The Indian education system continues to value and promote rote learning and memorization, so much so that rote learning often becomes the most preferred strategy to top exams in India. Perhaps barring a few, even the most highly competitive exams in the country are by far a test of candidates’ ability to memorize information. Even though several policies have been put in place over the years to address this – the National Education Policy 2020 being the most significant – India has not been able to significantly alter how teaching and learning are conducted in the nation’s educational institutions.

The SCO Meeting in India: A Chance for India and Pakistan to Turn a New Page?

Syed Basim Raza

On May 4-5, India will host a foreign ministers’ meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), where top diplomats from member countries will be discussing a wide range of issues including economic cooperation and regional security. Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari will be traveling to India to attend the summit, making him the first high-ranking Pakistani official to visit India since the visit of then-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in 2014.

This appears to be an eminent development after almost a decade of strained relations between India and Pakistan. The SCO has previously provided India and Pakistan with a platform for dialogue, facilitating the development of cordial relations between the two states. This foreign ministers’ meeting has the potential to ease the extremely strained relations between the two South Asian nuclear powers.

India and Pakistan have seen the lowest of lows in their relationship since independence in 1947. From their 1948 war to the recent air skirmishes of February 2019, India and Pakistan have fought three full-scale wars and many limited-scale skirmishes, which gives a clear picture of the condition of their bilateral relations

The issue of Kashmir remains a flashpoint between the two adversaries, with both claiming the region in full holding control over two different parts: Indian-administered Kashmir (which India stripped of its autonomy and brought under central control in 2019) and Pakistan-administered Kashmir (which still holds an uncertain administrative status, even according to Pakistan). From the 1948 war to the Kargil war, Kashmir was the focus for both states. Even beyond their direct conflicts, border management issues, terrorism, and infiltration pose further complications between India and Pakistan.

Despite periodic attempts to advance peace talks and reconciliation, relations between India and Pakistan remained fraught with mistrust and animosity. However, some positive developments can be seen in recent year. For example, the Kartarpur Corridor for Sikh pilgrims was developed and opened for pilgrims from India and Pakistan in 2019.

Pakistan’s Looming Crisis Could Come at a Cost


Tim Willasey-Wilsey served for over 27 years in the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office and is now Visiting Professor of War Studies at King's College, London. His first overseas posting was in Angola during the Cold War followed by Central America during the instability of the late 1980s. He was also involved in the transition to majority rule in South Africa and in the Israel/Palestine issue. His late career was spent in Asia including a posting to Pakistan in the mid 1990s.

If Pakistan’s army and government continue to block regional and national elections, they will increase the scale of Imran Khan’s eventual victory. Fear of Imran Khan’s brand of careless populism coincides with low public confidence in the army and with renewed threats from Afghan-based terrorist groups. The looming confrontation presents real hazards for a country and people facing economic distress.

OPINION — There is little doubt that former Prime Minister Imran Khan is the overwhelming favourite to win the regional and national elections in Pakistan. That is why the army and the government are together stretching every legal and constitutional sinew to delay the elections and to disqualify him from standing. The Supreme Court has recently ruled that two of the provincial elections must go ahead by 15th May.

The irony is that Imran Khan has been lucky. His dismissal by Parliament in April 2022 could not have come at a better time for his popularity. Since he was removed from office the economy (never exactly robust) has tanked and prices have risen exponentially. In March 2023, food inflation was reported as 47.1% for urban areas leading to an unprecedented cost of living crisis. The government’s bid for an IMF (International Monetary Fund) bailout has still not succeeded. The IMF has asked Pakistan to first secure loans from its traditional funders (China, Saudi Arabia and the UAE) all of which have been slow to come forward with sufficient largesse.

Islamic State Khorasan Province Is a Growing Threat in Afghanistan and Beyond

Colin P. Clarke

In this Oct. 8, 2021 file photo, people view the damage inside of a mosque frequented by the Shiite Muslim minority following a deadly bombing claimed by the Islamic State that killed dozens, in Kunduz province, northern Afghanistan.Credit: AP Photo/Abdullah Sahil, File

The international community risks underestimating the threat posed by the Islamic State in Afghanistan, also known as Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP). Just this week it was revealed that the Taliban had killed the Islamic State militant believed to be the leader of the cell that orchestrated the suicide attack near Abbey Gate at Kabul’s airport in August 2021. That attack killed 13 U.S. servicemembers, as well as 169 Afghan civilians, and remains part of a broader inquiry by the U.S. Congress, where a series of hearings aims to investigate the disastrous U.S. withdrawal and its aftermath.

The Biden administration has attempted to assuage its critics by touting the efficacy of “over-the-horizon” counterterrorism strikes, relying on armed drones and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities to target terrorist leaders. The killing of al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in July 2022 at a Haqqani guest house in Kabul is frequently cited as proof of concept. But that strike, impressive as it was for its lethal precision, is merely one data point. Offshore counterterrorism campaigns are complex and challenging even for a military as advanced as the United States.

The challenge posed by ISKP is far more complex than the Biden administration has acknowledged. The group has spread to nearly all of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces and boasts between 1,500-2,200 members. Since August 2021, the Islamic State’s Afghan affiliate has committed nearly 400 attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region. Within Afghanistan, ISKP has relentlessly attacked the Shia Hazara community in an attempt to further its sectarian aims. The group has been behind some of the most heinous attacks in recent memory, including the bombing of a maternity ward in Kabul in May 2020 and another attack against an office of Save the Children in Jalalabad.

Pakistan and the Afghan Taliban: Friends Becoming Foes

Arsalan Bilal

It is not only Afghanistan, under Taliban leadership, that has been in shambles in the recent months – neighboring Pakistan has also been on a downward trajectory, with its security situation and economy in dire straits. Adding to the difficulties, while the two countries grapple with multiple crises at home, their relationship is marked by a lot of friction.

The souring of the relationship was unexpected and startling for many. Pakistan, over the years, was deemed the Taliban’s principal supporter, notwithstanding the presence of international forces in Afghanistan for two decades following 9/11. But Pakistan has now gone to the extent of attributing its security woes to the assistance provided by militants in Afghanistan, indirectly blaming the Afghan Taliban.

A recent report from the United States Institute of Peace suggests that militants targeting the Pakistani state receive support from the Afghan Taliban, who are at the helm of affairs since the withdrawal of international forces in August 2021. Perhaps Islamabad did not anticipate this – at first, a Taliban victory in Afghanistan was considered synonymous with Pakistan’s victory owing to the historical convergence of interests between the two.

How has the Afghan Taliban-Pakistan relationship evolved against the backdrop of geopolitical changes in the region, and why are the two erstwhile friends at loggerheads now?

Pakistan has long been seen as not only sympathetic toward the Taliban in Afghanistan but also the group’s main patron since its inception in the 1990s. This background contributed to the impression that policymakers in Islamabad were jubilant over the Afghan Taliban’s rise to power in August 2021, despite fears that it could be disastrous for regional peace and stability.

In fact, some in the policy corridors in Islamabad believed it was Pakistan that had actually triumphed in Afghanistan. Following the Taliban taking over Kabul, Pakistan’s then-Prime Minister Imran Khan said that the people in Afghanistan had “broken the shackles of slavery,” essentially eulogizing the Taliban victory.

Pakistan’s then-top spy was subsequently seen having tea in a relaxed mood in Kabul. “Don’t worry, everything will be okay,” he said to a reporter when asked about the future of Afghanistan.

Pakistan: America’s Problem Partner

Zoraiz Zafar

When discussing the various inconvenient friendships of convenience in which the United States is entangled, Pakistan is a country that comes to mind almost immediately. Since gaining independence from Britain in 1947, the South Asian nation has had a difficult time maintaining pace with other economic juggernauts in the neighborhood—namely, China and India. Though Pakistan’s stagnating agrarian-based economy deserves its fair share of the blame for the country’s current state, the directionless and at times counterintuitive national-defense policies adopted by the ruling elite have also played their part in this downward spiral.

In its seventy-five years of existence, Pakistan has fought four wars with its archrival India, gone through a civil war that saw the liberation of its eastern wing (now known as Bangladesh), and has been facing waves of terrorism for the past two decades. As a result of such constant geopolitical turmoil, the country’s democratic institutions have continued to erode over time, paving the way for military dictators to rule the country for over half of its lifespan. Even in times when elected civilian governments have existed, the all-powerful military establishment has continued to exert its dominance over defense and foreign policy.

And to the detriment of both Pakistani and American long-term interests, the military establishment has consistently maintained its policies of appeasing and sponsoring terrorist groups. Outfits like al-Qaeda, the Afghan Taliban, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, have been known to have institutional support from the Pakistani military through its premier intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).

Among the multitude of reasons why the Pakistani military establishment has chosen this calamitous approach is an eternal quest for “strategic depth.” Pakistan is sandwiched between India in the east and Afghanistan and Iran in the west. Given the intense and bloodied rivalry with India, a country four times as big in land mass and almost seven times as big in population, the Pakistani military establishment determined that the best approach would be to install a puppet government in Afghanistan.

Taliban Wage War Over Coal in Northern Afghanistan

Stefanie Glinski

YAKAWLANG, Afghanistan—Fighting has been ongoing in the remote Balkhab district of Afghanistan’s northern Sar-e-Pol province over the past several weeks, part of a showdown between a cash-strapped central government run by the Taliban and locals who are trying to keep their own cut of the district’s riches. At the heart of the dispute is a battle over coal mines, and who gets to profit from them, trapping local residents in the middle.

China Balks at U.S. Push for Better Communications During Crises

Brian Spegele

BEIJING—China is resisting a U.S. push to build more-reliable systems for communicating in a crisis, raising the risk that a miscalculation by either side’s military could spill into conflict.

Rarely since the Cold War have tensions between two global powers risen to the levels that exist between the U.S. and China today. But unlike the Soviets, who embraced crisis hotlines with Washington as a way to defuse tensions, Beijing is resisting the establishment of new communication channels. As Chinese officials see it, hotlines give the U.S. cover to continue what they view as provocative military operations in China’s backyard.

The democratically self-governing island of Taiwan, which Beijing claims as part of China, sits at the nexus of the challenge. Concern that a heavy military presence around Taiwan could cause a mishap is a major reason why Washington wants better communication lines with Beijing. Chinese leaders see the U.S.’s increasing support for Taiwan as undermining the foundations of trust needed to establish credible communication between the two powers.

The seriousness of the situation has grown as American and Chinese military jets and naval craft operate in proximity in contested skies and waters. The two militaries regularly brush up against each other as China seeks to ward off the U.S. from operating in the South China Sea, most of which China claims.

China’s use of military drills to exert pressure on Taiwan raises the risks of an accident. When China launched military exercises around Taiwan in April in response to a meeting between House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.) and Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen in California, a U.S. aircraft carrier was operating only a few hundred miles away.

Is China’s Korla laser ASAT site hacking Western satellites?

Andrew Salerno-Garthwaite

The Korla East Test Site, where China is suspected of using anti-satellite laser weapons against foreign satellites. Photo courtesy of BlackSky.

New intra-day satellite imagery of the Korla East Test Site in Xinjiang, China, shows the operation of laser anti-satellite weapons (ASAT) to engage with Western satellites.

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China and Russia’s Long Dance


HONG KONG – Since around the start of this century, Chinese leaders visiting Moscow and Russian leaders visiting Beijing have spared few superlatives. Sino-Russian relations, they have proclaimed, have entered “their best period ever,” soared to “unparalleled heights,” and attained an unprecedentedly “high level of mutual trust.”

Such claims tell us something about the Sino-Russian relationship as it is today. But to understand how it evolved to this point, and how it might change in the future, we must examine the past, starting with the two powers’ first encounters in the seventeenth century.

After the Qing (Manchu) dynasty conquered China in 1644, it was confronted with what it saw as two distinct types of Russians: members of trade and diplomatic missions who arrived from the west; and Cossacks who had crossed Siberia and started marauding along the northeastern fringe of Qing territory, in the Amur River valley. The Qing called the first cohort Eluosi (an attempt at “Rus”) and the second one Luocha (“flesh-eating demons”).

Yet by 1670, the Qing had concluded that the Eluosi and Luocha were both associated with a formidable new power to China’s west and north. The Qing emperor, Kangxi, committed himself to driving out the Cossack marauders, first by besieging their outpost at Albazin in 1685-86. But he also took pains to put Sino-Russian relations on a stable and peaceful footing, acknowledging that, “If we advance and they retreat and we retreat and they advance there will be no end to the conflict and the border people will not be at peace.”

Kangxi therefore made overtures to the czar in Moscow, leading to the Treaty of Nerchinsk in 1689. The Russians agreed to withdraw from the Amur valley in exchange for access to the Beijing market for their merchants. Remarkably, this was the first-ever case of a Chinese government signing a document with a foreign power on approximately equal terms (a development partly explained by the fact that the Qing were not ethnic Han Chinese). The stage was set for a prolonged period of equilibrium.


Macron in China


LONDON – The Communist Party of China has a way of flattering foreign leaders into supporting its policies, or at least remaining mum about them. This certainly seemed to be China’s goal when it rolled out the red carpet for French President Emmanuel Macron in early April. Even Macron himself seemed slightly embarrassed by the pageantry.

Macron’s China trip has been widely derided in the West. Moreover, the statements he made during and after the visit about the relationship between France, the European Union, and China, and about Europe’s relationship with the United States and Taiwan, seemed to support the criticism that he lacks the determination required of a leader of a prominent liberal democracy at a time of rising authoritarianism.

Macron’s remark that Europe must not become a “vassal” of the US in its escalating rivalry with China has drawn criticism from politicians and commentators on both sides of the Atlantic. His divisive remarks seemed to evoke a Gaullist vision of France’s role in the world that feels more than a little outdated in the twenty-first century. Even Hubert Védrine, the foreign minister under President Jacques Chirac and a Macron supporter, acknowledged that France’s economy has “weakened too much” for it to reprise the leading global role that it played during Charles de Gaulle’s time.

My inclination is to give Macron the benefit of the doubt. He is, after all, highly intelligent. But the more he said about China, the US, France, Europe, and Taiwan, the more I recalled my history teacher at Oxford. Once, when reading an essay I had written suggesting that Charlemagne could be called the founder of modern Europe, my teacher interrupted me and said, “I beg your pardon.” He advised me to avoid grandiloquence and let evidence, facts, and pragmatism do the talking. So, my charitable response to Macron’s China trip is a respectful but stern “I beg your pardon.”

China and Russia’s Long Dance


The long history of Sino-Russian relations since the 1600s suggests that bilateral ties can flourish only while there is a semblance of military, political, and economic balance between the two sides. With China's star rising while Russia sinks into a quagmire of its own making, the writing may be on the wall.

HONG KONG – Since around the start of this century, Chinese leaders visiting Moscow and Russian leaders visiting Beijing have spared few superlatives. Sino-Russian relations, they have proclaimed, have entered “their best period ever,” soared to “unparalleled heights,” and attained an unprecedentedly “high level of mutual trust.”

Such claims tell us something about the Sino-Russian relationship as it is today. But to understand how it evolved to this point, and how it might change in the future, we must examine the past, starting with the two powers’ first encounters in the seventeenth century.

After the Qing (Manchu) dynasty conquered China in 1644, it was confronted with what it saw as two distinct types of Russians: members of trade and diplomatic missions who arrived from the west; and Cossacks who had crossed Siberia and started marauding along the northeastern fringe of Qing territory, in the Amur River valley. The Qing called the first cohort Eluosi (an attempt at “Rus”) and the second one Luocha (“flesh-eating demons”).

Yet by 1670, the Qing had concluded that the Eluosi and Luocha were both associated with a formidable new power to China’s west and north. The Qing emperor, Kangxi, committed himself to driving out the Cossack marauders, first by besieging their outpost at Albazin in 1685-86. But he also took pains to put Sino-Russian relations on a stable and peaceful footing, acknowledging that, “If we advance and they retreat and we retreat and they advance there will be no end to the conflict and the border people will not be at peace.”

Pentagon leaks suggest China developing ways to attack satellites – here’s how they might work

Ian Whittaker

The recent leak of Pentagon documents included the suggestion that China is developing sophisticated cyber attacks for the purpose of disrupting military communication satellites. While this is unconfirmed, it is certainly possible, as many sovereign nations and private companies have considered how to protect from signal interference.

Nearly every aspect of our lives is enabled by satellite communication, from financial transactions, navigation, weather prediction, and internet services to more remote locations. Yet given how many satellites are in orbit, while the effect might be felt on some of the population, if a satellite or two were lost there would not be any major problems.

But when we consider the military benefits of satellites, immediate communication is vital for early warning systems and tracking. So how easy would it be to disrupt these services?

The Chinese space programme has been advancing at a faster rate than that of any other country. China’s first successful launch was in 1970, but in 1999 its space programme leapt forward with the Shenzhou-1 launch which was the first in a series of unmanned, then manned, space missions of increasing sophistication.

China conducted just over 200 launches between 2010 and 2019. In 2022, it set a record with 53 rocket launches in a year – with an incredible 100% success rate.

As such, the Chinese National Space Administration (CNSA) has become a major player in global space activity and has a lot of experience with satellite communications. The leaked document suggests that the Chinese are looking for the capability to “seize control of a satellite, rendering it ineffective to support communications, weapons, or intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance systems”.

It’s also quite possible that the US and other nations might also be developing such capabilities.

Gold, Arms, and Islam: Understanding the Conflict in Sudan

Andrew McGregor

Sudan ended over a quarter-century of Islamist-military rule with the 2019 overthrow of President Omar al-Bashir, whose rule was based on Islamism, Arab supremacy, and the ruthless application of military power. A joint civilian-military government was formed to lead the transition to a civilian-led democracy. However, an October 2021 coup led by Sudan’s military and security forces ended all progress toward civilian rule, severing at the same time most of Sudan’s economic and financial ties to the West.

The UN and international diplomats have been trying to guide negotiations for a democratic transition between the military and the civilian Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC) coalition. The final version of the Framework Agreement on transition was to be signed on April 6. However, the deadline passed when the security forces indicated they were not prepared to sign due to the inability of two competing elements of the military to agree on integration and military reform provisions.

The Framework Agreement called for the integration of the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF, or al-Quwwat al-Musallaha al-Sudaniya) and Sudan’s Rapid Support Forces (RSF, or al-Quwat al-Da’m al-Sari). The SAF is led by Lieutenant General ‘Abd al-Fatah al-Burhan, who is Sudan’s de facto leader as Chair of the Transitional Sovereignty Council (TSC), while the RSF is a 30,000-strong paramilitary led by the number two figure in Sudan, TSC Deputy Chair Muhammad Hamdan Daglo “Hemeti.” The Framework Agreement was intended to lead Sudan to civilian rule. The SAF, however, is highly politicized, and many of its senior officers adhere to an Islamist ideology that rejects the idea of secular government. Rather than unifying the security forces, the Framework Agreement ultimately brought their differences to a head. Supporters of the former president in the SAF are seemingly using the dispute to create a state of political insecurity favorable for a return to Islamist-military rule. Nation-wide fighting finally broke out on April 15 between the two factions.

Nuclear Waste Is Misunderstood

Madison Hilly

Ms. Hilly is the founder of the Campaign for a Green Nuclear Deal.

On a visit in February to the site of the Fukushima nuclear plant meltdown in Japan, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York did something refreshing: She discussed radiation exposure and nuclear waste without fanning fear. The radiation she got from her visit — about two chest X-rays’ worth — was worth the education she received on the tour, she told her 8.6 million Instagram followers. She then spoke admiringly of France, which, she said, “recycles their waste, increasing the efficiency of their system and reducing the overall amount of radioactive waste to deal with.”

Progressive lawmakers, along with environmental groups like the Sierra Club and Natural Resources Defense Council, have historically been against nuclear power — often focusing on the danger, longevity and storage requirements of the radioactive waste. During the 2020 presidential campaign, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont said, “It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me to add more dangerous waste to this country and to the world when we don’t know how to get rid of what we have right now.” Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts echoed these concerns and pledged not to build any new nuclear plants if elected president.

So it’s no surprise that many Americans believe nuclear waste poses an enormous and terrifying threat. But after talking to engineers, radiation specialists and waste managers, I’ve come to see this misunderstanding is holding us back from embracing a powerful, clean energy source we need to tackle climate change. We must stop seeing nuclear waste as a dangerous problem and instead recognize it as a safe byproduct of carbon-free power.

Why is nuclear so important for reducing carbon emissions? The countries that have cleaned up their electricity production the fastest have generally done so with hydroelectric power, nuclear, or a combination of the two. The distinct advantage of nuclear is that it requires little land and can reliably produce lots of power regardless of weather, time of day or season. Unlike wind and solar, it can substitute directly for fossil fuels without backup or storage. The International Energy Agency believes it’s so crucial that global nuclear capacity must double by 2050 to reach net-zero emissions targets.

Drone Pilots Are The New Aviators! Ukraine & Russia Race To Train UAV Controllers For The Big Battle

Parth Satam

The drone war between Ukraine and Russia on the frontlines involves competing for not only who acquires the most drones but also who trains the most drone pilots.

Reports from both countries point to their militaries racing to train military personnel and volunteers in the drone activity that has emerged as a specialized professional vocation.

The EurAsian Times reported last month how Ukraine had acquired hundreds of commercially available drones and repurposed them for military use – from strapping them with explosives for kamikaze roles to tactical surveillance and artillery fire correction.

Russia has also introduced new types of drone systems and enhanced its air defense and already formidable electronic warfare (EW).
Ukraine’s Drone Pilot Training Effort

Ukraine has trained more than 7,000 UAV operators in more than 20 schools. Each private drone manufacturer also has its own training center, according to a TASS report that quoted Minister for Innovation and Science and Technology Mykhailo Fedorov‘s interview with Ukrinfor.

The report added that the Ukrainian MoD had announced the formation of companies of shock drone operators, which will be equipped, among other things, with Starlink satellite communication terminals.

“We have already contracted over 3,800 UAV systems for over 4.1 billion hryvnias (over US$112.1 million). Our goal is to train 10,000 people, so we are moving in this direction,” the TASS report quoted Fedorov. A trainee practicing operating a first-person view (FPV) drone at the Republican Center for Unmanned Systems in the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR).

Russia's Wagner boss escalates rift with Putin's military, threatens Bakhmut withdrawal due to a lack of thousands of artillery shells

Alia Shoaib

Wagner Group head Yevgeny Prigozhin attends the funeral of his fighters at the Beloostrovskoye cemetery outside St. Petersburg, Russia, on December 24, 2022. AP Photo

Yevgeny Prigozhin threatened to withdraw Wagner Group fighters from Bakhmut over shell shortages.

He issued an ultimatum to Russia's defense minister and gave him 24 hours to respond.
Prigozhin has previously sparred with Russia's military brass over complaints of a lack of support.

The founder of Russia's paramilitary Wagner Group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, has threatened to withdraw his mercenaries from Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine, escalating his rift with Russia's military leadership.

Prigozhin issued an ultimatum to Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu over ammunition shortages in an interview with Russian military blogger Semyon Pegov published Saturday.

"Every day, we have stacks of thousands of bodies that we put in coffins and send home," Prigozhin said, per Al Jazeera's translation.

"If the ammunition deficit is not replenished, we are forced – in order not to run like cowardly rats afterward – to either withdraw or die," he said.

Prigozhin warned that if Shoigu does not respond to his requests for more ammunition, Wagner fighters will withdraw from Bakhmut.

"We are patriots, and we will go to Bakhmut while we have the last cartridge, but these cartridges are left not for weeks, but for days," he said according to the video's subtitles, shared by Anton Gerashchenko, an advisor to Ukraine's internal affairs minister, on Twitter.

Dangerous Targets: Civilian Nuclear Infrastructure and the War in Ukraine

Darya Dolzikova​ and Dr Jack Watling

The war in Ukraine has underlined the need to enhance the safety and security of nuclear power plants in war zones.

Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022 saw the immediate capture by Russian forces of Ukraine’s Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant (ChNPP). A few days later, Russian forces attacked the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) – the first instance of an operational nuclear power plant (NPP) directly targeted as part of a military operation. Over the past year, Russia’s military activity in Ukraine has resulted in serious threats to the safety and security of Ukraine’s nuclear infrastructure, and there is good reason to believe that Russia has violated the protections granted to NPPs in international humanitarian law (IHL). Given the significant projected global increase in the number of nuclear reactors over the coming decades, it is likely that this will not be the last time NPPs are in the midst of military conflict. This report seeks to assess the risks the ongoing war poses to NPPs in Ukraine and to draw preliminary conclusions from these events to improve the safety and security of NPPs in conflict.

The greatest threat to Ukraine’s NPPs is unlikely to be from a direct strike on a reactor and an ensuing large-scale radiological incident similar to the 1986 Chornobyl disaster, but rather the failure of key systems – namely, water and energy supply – or human error, potentially resulting in an incident not unlike what occurred at Fukushima Daiichi NPP in 2011. The threat of direct strike is more of a concern when it comes to the pool-type spent nuclear fuel storage or the sarcophagus containing the remnants of the destroyed Unit 4 at the ChNPP, which are not designed to be as robust as the containment structures over the operating reactors. There is also a risk that Ukraine may run out of available storage for its used nuclear fuel as it cannot currently transport spent fuel safely. Finally, the possibility that Russia may manufacture a radiological incident at the ZNPP or another facility to spoil a Ukrainian offensive should not be disregarded.

Where has US leverage with Russia gone?

Zachary Paikin

More than a year after Russia launched its full-scale attack against Ukraine, there is a growing consensus in Western policy circles about what the path to a negotiated settlement looks like.

The formula goes something like this: Ukraine will launch a successful military offensive this spring and summer — one which makes gains large enough to persuade Russian President Vladimir Putin that his war is unwinnable, but does not go so far (for example, by attempting to retake Crimea) as to encourage him to escalate.

Russia will undoubtedly refuse to back down from its maximalist demands unless it suffers more losses on the battlefield. In that case, since he has deliberately left vague the definition of what constitutes “victory,” Putin could plausibly agree to cut his losses for the time being and spin his “special military operation” as a success at home. He could also frame any cessation of hostilities as a temporary strategic necessity while leaving open the possibility of future military action.

Yet this new conventional wisdom fails to account for key variables. For one, it depends on the success of Ukraine’s imminent offensive, which is anything but guaranteed. Russia’s forces are now more entrenched and better prepared than they were last autumn to repel a Ukrainian assault. And if Ukrainian soldiers and equipment are substantially attritted over the coming months for only marginal gains, then political support for Kyiv may begin to wane even before Western military-industrial production has ramped up in earnest.

Faced with this set of circumstances, Putin could opt to press his advantage by continuing the fight, rattling Ukraine’s morale even if Russian troops prove largely unable to move the frontline.

Perhaps more importantly, as Liana Fix recently argued at a colloquium convened by the Institute for Peace & Diplomacy, what leverage the West has to force Russia to the negotiating table is unclear. Faced with other setbacks, Putin has thus far opted to double down rather than cut his losses, much as he did when he annexed four Ukrainian regions following Kyiv’s successful Kharkiv counteroffensive last autumn.


Mac Caltrider

Ghost Robotics Quadruped Unmanned Ground Vehicles (Q-UGV) pose for a photo at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida, July 27, 2022. US Space Force photo by Senior Airman Samuel Becker.

The New York City Fire Department deployed a robot dog to help look for survivors following a parking garage collapse in Lower Manhattan on Tuesday, April 18, 2023. The remote controlled canine helped confirm the collapse killed one person and injured five more. The search-and-rescue mission marked the first time the department has deployed the robot in a real-world operation. The use of the robot dog doesn’t just herald a new era of civilian search and rescue, it also signals a change in military operations.

The FDNY’s robot — nicknamed Spot for its Dalmatian-like paint job — is a new tool the department purchased from Boston Dynamics last year. It takes a team of three experienced firefighters to operate but eliminates the need to send a human firefighter into certain dangerous environments. According to the robot’s operator, Stephen Millet, Tuesday’s collapse was the exact type of scenario for which Spot was designed.

“Both sides of the building were bowed out. The garage had collapsed from the fourth floor down to the first, leaving all the cars nose down, one on top of each other. It looked like if you sneezed, the whole structure was going to fall,” Millet told Coffee or Die.

America’s Failing Saudi Policy

Gerard A. Neumann

Military adventures in far-off regions require a reliable forward outpost, friends in the neighborhood, and, most importantly, the fuel to get there. Since the Gulf War began in 1990, the United States has looked to Saudi Arabia to fill these requirements. In exchange for their hospitality, camaraderie, and oil at a reasonable price, the Saudis received American protection and weapons—adynamic colloquially called “oil for security.” The relationship between a strictly democratic state and an unapologetically authoritarian kingdom went steady for nearly two and a half decades. On paper, the partnership was an exceptional triumph of realpolitik in a period of idealistic geopolitics.

However, as America wraps up its interventions in the region, it no longer requires a forward outpost. Nor does it need a military ally in the region with whom to exchange intelligence. The only things keeping the partnership alive are Saudi Arabia’s vast oil deposits and leadership in OPEC. Yet Saudi oil policy has run contrary to U.S. interests. OPEC’s production quotas have kept oil prices worldwide high, twisting the knife in a struggling American economy. Additionally, the Saudi military intervention in Yemen using American weapons and intelligence has kept the region unstable and damaged America’s international reputation. Current U.S. policies have utterly failed to address these imbalances. It’s time for an ultimatum: Riyadh must provide the oil or lose the security.

The Middle East is a region lacking a structure for stability. It has neither a clear military and/or political hierarchy nor an effective economic union between its disparate states. The closest thing it has to an economic union is OPEC, whose mandate only coordinates oil production and as such only counts oil producers amongst its member states. And while the borders in the Middle East are artificially drawn, for the most part, the religious and ethnic rivalries are very real. This state of affairs leaves a constant power vacuum that no individual state can fill, while also making negotiation on a personal and political level extremely difficult.

Washington Must Focus on Asia When Targeting Tehran’s Drone Technology Procurement

Behnam Ben Taleblu

The U.S. Treasury Department recently sanctioned a multi-jurisdiction procurement ring supporting the Islamic Republic of Iran’s drone and military programs. Concurrent with Iran’s continued proliferation of drones to Russia for use in Ukraine, both the Biden administration and Congress have sought to stem the flow of American components found in downed Iranian unmanned aerial systems.

Yet while preventing transfers of such Western equipment to Iran is both necessary and understandable, Asia has long served as a critical hub for military and missile technology to the Islamic Republic. An increase in the pace and scope of penalties targeting Tehran’s networks and fronts in Asia will be essential to disrupting Iran’s drone program.

The latest U.S. penalties center around an Iranian electronics firm known by an English transliteration of its acronym, PASNA. First sanctioned in 2018 for seeking technology with military applications from China and for reportedly providing material support to the sanctioned Iran’s Electronics Components Industries—a subsidiary of the sanctioned Iran Electronics Industries, which is, in turn, a subsidiary of Iran’s sanctioned Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics (MODAFL)—PASNA continued its activities after exposure in 2018 through fronts, aliases, and affiliates, both in Iran and Malaysia.

Beyond exposing these fronts, the Treasury Department also sanctioned the managing director of PASNA, Mehdi Khoshghadam, as well as four suppliers of electronic goods and microelectromechanical systems to PASNA operating in both Hong Kong and the People’s Republic of China. These penalties build on recent efforts by the Treasury Department to disrupt other Iranian drone technology procurement rings in Asia. Last month, the department targeted five firms operating in China and Hong Kong that sold aerospace components and light-aircraft engines to Iran Aircraft Manufacturing Industries, which is a subsidiary of the Iran Aviation Industries Organization, itself another MODAFL subsidiary.

The Renminbi’s New Role: Sanctions Busting


A clerk counts renminbi banknotes at a branch of Bank of China in Nantong, Jiangsu province, July 23, 2018. Credit: Imaginechina via AP Images

The opening of the Rooppur nuclear power plant in eastern Bangladesh next year will provide the largest boost to the country’s energy production capabilities in decades. But it will carry another distinction relevant to international finance — it will have been paid for, in large part, with renminbi, even though China has barely been involved in its construction.

Using China’s currency has helped solve a long stalemate between the government in Dhaka and Russia, which initially agreed to finance the $12.7 billion project in 2016. Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year, the U.S. effectively shut it off from the dollar-dominated global financial system, making it nearly impossible for Bangladesh to make loan-related payments in greenbacks; Bangladeshi officials, meanwhile, refused to settle the transaction in Russian rubles.

US National Cyber Director: Fending off cyber threats in space is 'urgent,' needs 'high level attention'

Jessica Lyons Hardcastle

RSA CONFERENCE Defending space systems against cyberthreats remains "urgent and requires high-level attention," according to acting US National Cyber Director Kemba Walden. And to this end, the White House will host its first space industry cybersecurity workshop this week in southern California.

But before her stop in Long Beach, Walden met reporters at the RSA Conference in San Francisco, and securing cyberspace in outer space was one of the topics of discussion.

"We are all aware that the first 'shot' in the current Ukraine conflict was a cyberattack against a US space company," Walden said, referencing the bricking of Viasat terminals just as Russia invaded Ukraine in early 2022.

"The White House is deeply committed to driving efforts to enhance space systems cybersecurity, recognizing that the incredibly complex and unique space ecosystem requires a very close public-private partnership, given the pace and scale of private-sector innovation," Walden continued.

Western space systems are in the sights of the usual suspects – China, Russia, etc – as evidenced by the Starlink and Viasat cyberattacks during Putin's war on Ukraine. Securing this equipment is a multi-faceted challenge that spans domains, components, and public and private organizations. As such, the solution will require a collaborative approach, Walden told reporters.

Can Cyber Attacks Be Considered War Crimes?


In mid-March 2023, the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague issued an arrest warrant against Vladimir Putin, accusing him of committing war crimes in Ukraine. Among the charges levied included the deportation of children, rapes, mass killings, and widespread torture. Notably, the charges cited include the purposeful bombing of a civilian maternity hospital and a theater in March 2022. According to its mandate, the ICC can allegedly prosecute political leaders for “waging aggressive war,” which includes unjustified invasion, and especially intentionally directed attacks against a civilian population. Such offensives are in direct conflict with Article 8 of the Rome Statute of the ICC, though there is some skepticism over such an indictment as the ICC has no power to arrest suspects, and Russia is not a signatory to the agreement that set up the court.

This raises the question if similar criteria can’t also be applied to cyber attacks that occur during periods of conflict. In 2015, the United Nationals Group of Government Experts believed that International Humanitarian Law (IHL) applied to cyber attacks. This sentiment has been also expressed by the International Red Cross that believes that IHL limits cyber operations during armed conflict just like any other weapon. Therefore, by extension, cyber attacks that meet the threshold described in Article 8 of the Rome Statutes would ostensibly apply to cyber attacks as well. For example, purposeful cyber attacks against power grids during periods of inclement weather, or those disrupting emergency services and hospitals directly affecting people’s lives, or manipulating water facilities’ chlorine levels are the types that if severe enough could meet the threshold criteria that triggers Article 8. Though such a grievous attack has not yet transpired, the Ukraine conflict has shown that the more cyberspace becomes a battleground for state and nonstate actors, the greater the chances – and opportunities – for such an attack to occur as cyber attacks have become another tool to perpetrate warfare and are not always necessarily conducted under strict supervision or guidance.