18 May 2023

Book Chapter - Interrogating Power and Legitimacy in the Information Age from an Indian Perspective


Even as the world has entered the Information Age, many of the formal structures and processes of international politics remain embedded in their Industrial Age origins. This chapter begins with conceptualising the ideas of power and legitimacy for the new Age. It then explores how nation-states and other actors are employing them to promote their interests and how this might shape the politics of the coming decades. Finally, it discusses the relative strengths and weaknesses of liberal democracies and authoritarian states in the Information Age.

In any discussion on geopolitics today, the phrase A Changing World Order almost certainly finds a mention. The narrative arc of the phrase goes something like this: the liberal democratic world order led by the US is facing serious challenges not just from China but also a host of other state and non-state actors. As a result, the narrative predicts, international politics will change dramatically over the next couple of decades.

The discussion about alterations in power and legitimacy is ensconced in this larger conversation about the changing world order. This linkage is not new; every significant global reordering brings forth a fresh discussion on the distribution of power and the nature of just arrangements (legitimacy), as these are two fundamental ingredients of any world order[1]. Several chapters in this book contribute to this debate, primarily focusing on specific nation-states as their unit of analysis. This chapter takes one step back and locates the changing meanings of power and legitimacy in the context of the Information Age.

The Information Age is defined as the period beginning in the last quarter of the 20th century marked by the increased production, transmission, consumption of, and reliance on information[2]. The impact of this Age on human minds, relationships, and communities is a primary area of research in many fields of the arts and sciences today. While this Age began with the euphoria that the increased production, transmission, and consumption of information will make the world more peaceful by 'connecting' people across geographic and sociological boundaries, recent assessments are far more sobering. Several studies have highlighted that certain forms of digital media take advantage of our cognitive vulnerabilities by creating urgency, encouraging constant seeking, recommending sensational content, and isolating us in bubbles[3]. Like other fields, the Information Age calls for a reassessment of the formal structures and processes of international politics, which are embedded in their Industrial Age origins. In fact, terms such as power and legitimacy, which underlie much of the international politics conversations, need to be reconceptualised in the context of the new Age.

What is the DPI Approach?


Summary: The aim of this essay is to clarify how the DPI approach can be institutionalized while providing negotiators, diplomats, and technologists the language that is potentially necessary to define an idea whose time has come.

Digital public infrastructure (DPI) is a brand-new approach to the digitization of large-scale systems. It has the potential to revolutionize the way in which public services are delivered, since it is much more than a software or a technology infrastructure—it is a framework that encompasses technology, markets, and governance. It offers nation states unprecedented agency over their own digital journeys. It is designed to ensure the sovereignty of core public services, enabling capabilities that are critical to national growth. Crucially, it helps governments unlock the power of market innovation and entrepreneurship, creating competition and strengthening local and potentially global digital ecosystems.

Certain properties of DPI are instinctively understood in nations that have adopted the approach, even if they themselves do not as yet use the abbreviation “DPI.” Whether it is Brazil, Estonia, or India, there is an intuitive appreciation for the vast potential of DPI. Yet, for many parts of the world, this language is only beginning to be understood in its entirety.

This essay intends to describe the DPI approach. It is authored from the perspective of building bridges of understanding between communities, countries, and global institutions invested in interoperable and life-changing systems for the delivery of public service at scale. DPI is a relatively new theory of change. The language around DPI is only now being constructed for global absorption. Whether it is at the G20 or in bilateral negotiations between countries, this approach and the language that defines it are only now being established. The aim of this essay is to clarify how the DPI approach can be institutionalized while providing negotiators, diplomats, and technologists the language that is potentially necessary to define an idea whose time has come.


China completes warship deliveries to Pakistan as military alliance grows

BEIJING, May 11 (Reuters) - China has delivered two frigates to Pakistan's navy, completing a four-warship deal inked in 2018, Chinese media reported, amid deepening military cooperation between the two nations in one of the world's most complex geopolitical regions.

The vessels - two Type 054A frigates - will be used to safeguard the seas of the China-Pakistan economic corridor (CPEC), state-backed Chinese newspaper Global Times reported late on Wednesday.

CPEC is an ambitious infrastructure project that links Xinjiang in west China to Pakistan aimed at offering an alternative transportation route in the future for goods including gas. Part of the network is Pakistan's Gwadar port, located on a key waterway in the Arabian Sea.

Economic and military ties between the two neighbours have deepened against a shifting geopolitical backdrop, evident from Pakistan's increasing military procurement from China and joint military exercises to safeguard assets and trade routes. For China, Pakistan and its access to the Arabian Sea is key in the event of a maritime blockade in the Strait of Malacca.

China delivered the first batch of six J-10 fighter jets to Pakistan in March last year. Eight Hangor Class submarines that Pakistan ordered from China are expected to be delivered before 2028.

Earlier this week, China's defence minister told Pakistan's navy chief that their militaries, including their navies, should "expand into new fields of cooperation" to bolster their capability in safeguarding regional security.

"The prospects for cooperation between the two sides, in my opinion, is getting stronger and stronger," Song Zhongping, a military commentator with Phoenix TV, told Reuters.

In South Asia, China's ties with India, with whom Pakistan has frosty relations, have deteriorated in recent years, and the withdrawal of U.S. troops in nearby Afghanistan has raised geopolitical uncertainty in the region, pushing China and Pakistan to seek a stronger alliance.

The Prospect of US-Taliban Counterterrorism Cooperation: Is the Embrace Worth It?

Shanthie Mariet D’Souza

This image from a video released by the Department of Defense shows U.S. Marines at Abbey Gate before a suicide bomber struck outside Hamid Karzai International Airport on Aug. 26, 2021, in Kabul Afghanistan.Credit: Department of Defense via AP, File

It is not often that the United States and the Taliban vouch for the authenticity of the same incident. On April 25, American officials appeared to confirm the Taliban claim that the mastermind of the August 2021 suicide bombing attack at Kabul International Airport’s Abbey Gate, which killed 13 U.S. troops and as many as 173 Afghan civilians, was killed in a Taliban operation in early April.

Strangely, however, neither side provided the name of the terrorist that was killed, a member of Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP). No other details or evidence were provided. This information vacuum has come under attack, with a former Afghan security force commander asserting that the claims of the Taliban and its confirmation by the United States are false.

The attempt to sing in one voice could point to the possibility of some degree of convergence between the two countries, as far as counterterrorism is concerned.

Sayed Sami Sadat served as a lieutenant-general of the Afghanistan army and commanded forces in the southern province of Helmand in the last months of the Taliban offensive. In August 2021, a day before Kabul fell into the hands of the Taliban, he was appointed to head the Afghan National Special Operation Corps. Sadat alleged in a tweet on April 26 that the mastermind of the Abbey Gate attack, ISKP commander Abdullah Omar Bajawari, is still alive.

In a follow-up interview with me on May 12, Sadat insisted that Bajawari heads ISKP’s intelligence wing and operates from Kunar province. Bajawari was authorized by ISKP leader Sanaullah a.k.a. Shahab al-Muhajir, a Kabul native, to plan the attack. Sadat claimed that the Taliban operations in April 2023 had killed Doctor Hassan, a junior coordinator for ISKP’s operations in Herat, in western Afghanistan. Hassan had nothing to do with the Abbey Gate attack, he said.

Neither the Taliban or U.S. claim, nor Sadat’s contradictory assertion, is verifiable.

Government Supporters Call for Pakistani Chief Justice to Quit

Munir Ahmed

Supporters of Pakistan Democratic Movement, an alliance of the ruling political parties, take part in a rally outside the Supreme Court in Islamabad, Pakistan, Monday, May 15, 2023.Credit: AP Photo/Anjum Naveed

Thousands of Pakistani government supporters converged on the country’s Supreme Court on Monday, in a rare challenge to the nation’s judiciary. Protesters demanded the resignation of the chief justice over ordering the release of former Prime Minister Imran Khan.

The Pakistan Democratic Alliance, a grouping of 13 political parties affiliated with the ruling Pakistan Muslim League, called for the protests.

Khan’s dramatic detention from a courtroom in Islamabad last week sparked outrage among legions of his supporters, who set buildings and vehicles ablaze across major cities and attacked military facilities. At least 10 people died in pitched battles with police. Dozens were injured and thousands of Khan’s supporters from his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party were arrested.

The Supreme Court, headed by Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial, intervened and ordered him to be freed. Bandial criticized the way Khan was arrested and said that his detention was unlawful. But the government and its allies have accused the top judge of bias.

“Our peaceful protest is against Chief Justice (Umar Ata Bandial) for facilitating the release of Imran Khan,” said Fazalur Rehman, the head of the Pakistan Democratic Alliance.

The radical Islamist political party Jamiat-e-Ulema-Islam is leading the protest call. Also, as part of the alliance, the Pakistan People’s Party led by Bilawal Bhutto Zardari — the son of assassinated Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto — is joining the protest.

In a televised statement on Monday, Defense Minister Khawaja Mohammad Asif accused the Supreme Court of siding with Khan. He suggested the court “examine the conduct of the chief justice” and take legal action against him.

Pakistan’s People Are Fleeing Not Only Economic Crisis But Extremism

Arsalan Bilal

Young Pakistanis are increasingly inclined to leave their country in the quest for better lives abroad. Empirical evidence suggests that there is a striking surge in young people attempting to emigrate from the country, primarily to settle in affluent Middle Eastern and Western countries. It is hardly surprising that young people in Pakistan feel compelled to move abroad. The country has been marred by crippling economic crises in recent years, but not all those who want to leave Pakistan have economic motives.

The security situation in Pakistan has been precarious for almost two decades. Many who want to move away from Pakistan desire to ensure that they have both physical and economic security, which can translate into sustained prosperity.

What remains most worrisome is that among those who want to leave the country are liberal youngsters who seem to have lost hope in the country owing to sharply rising religious extremism and violence. Many think the problem is irreversible in the near future.

This is a recipe for disaster because Pakistan is losing vibrant future leadership — a leadership that is liberal, progressive, and thus has the capacity to steer the turbulent and failing country in the right direction.

Pakistan has a large diaspora. According to the International Labor Organization, 11 million Pakistanis have moved to countries around the world for overseas employment since 1971.

That number might be a low estimate. Tens of thousands of people try moving abroad illegally every year, too. No one knows exactly how many, but according to estimates around 40,000 attempt illegal passage into Europe alone each year.

Statistics made public by the Bureau of Emigration and Overseas Employment reveal that more than 800,000 Pakistanis went abroad to seek better economic prospects just last year. The actual figure is certainly higher as it does not factor in illegal immigration but also misses those on student, family resettlement, and permanent residency visas.

Don’t Ignore Chinese Legacy Chips as an Economic and Security Threat

James Marks

On February 24, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo launched the Biden administration’s vision for implementing the CHIPS Act, encouraging semiconductor companies to apply for a piece of the $39 billion which has been devoted to reinvigorating America’s domestic chipmaking capacity. Coupled with the Commerce Department’s stringent export controls issued last fall, which targeted leading chipmakers with ties to the Chinese military such as YMTC, it’s clear that the Biden administration is serious about semiconductor competition with China. But every chip matters to national and economic security, not just the leading-edge variety. But as a new paper from China Tech Threat argues, the administration must now address the threat of “legacy” Chinese chips from companies like Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation (SMIC).

Also known as mature chips, legacy chips—either fourteen or twenty-eight nanometers in size or larger, depending on your definition—are the semiconductors that go into commonplace technologies such as cars, refrigerators, and washing machines. More importantly, defense systems make frequent use of them—Gina Raimondo has told the U.S. Senate, “We have reports from Ukrainians that when they find Russian military equipment on the ground, it’s filled with semiconductors that they took out of dishwashers and refrigerators.” While they don’t get as much attention as leading-edge chips, which are associated with advanced technologies, legacy chips are everywhere. And with the adoption of 5G networks fueling the rise of “smart” objects, the demand for all types of semiconductors will only increase. Unfortunately, the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS), which administers export controls, has only targeted China’s advanced semiconductor-making capacity.

Chinese companies, perhaps recognizing how the West has underestimated the importance of legacy chips, have decided to increase their output of these critical products. John Lee, the director of the consulting firm East West Futures, told the MIT Technology Review in January that China’s role in supplying these “indispensable chips … is becoming bigger rather than smaller.” Leading that effort is SMIC, China’s largest chipmaker. The Commerce Department placed SMIC on the Entity List in late 2020 with the intent to kill its ability to make leading-edge chips. But SMIC’s legacy business remains unaffected. The company recently posted a record $7.2 billion in revenue and announced expansion plans, despite uncertainty in the broader semiconductor sector. When the company’s four new production fabs come online, it will more than triple the company’s output, estimates Samuel Wang, a chip analyst with the consulting firm Gartner.

How to Read Xi’s Muscular Message on China’s Global Role

Ian Johnson

This month saw the Chinese rite of spring known as the lianghui, or “two sessions”: the annual meetings of the national advisory committee and the country’s parliament. Neither body holds much power, and it’s easy to write the whole exercise off as empty theater. Yet, public rituals are meant to deliver messages, and this year’s lianghui offered two important points: President Xi Jinping and his muscular foreign policy are here to stay, and China is back open for business after three years of fighting COVID-19—even if its return to growth is bolstered through unsustainable deficit spending.

The first point was made on March 9 when Xi took a third term as “state president,” a largely honorary position in the Chinese political system. Power in China derives from the Chinese Communist Party, which Xi has led since 2012 as general secretary. (He secured a third five-year term in that post this past October) Being president mainly matters because it makes Xi head of state, meaning he can meet other heads of state as equals, rather than as merely the leader of a political party.

But the title also matters for understanding Xi’s ambitions. Xi took power in 2012, but just six years later telegraphed that he wanted to rule beyond 2022. Even though largely ceremonial, the title of president was enshrined in the constitution as having a two-term limit. So, with an eye on a third term, Xi persuaded parliament in 2018 to lift the term limits on the presidency, signaling his goal of leading China longer than anyone in a generation.

Is China a democracy or a dictatorship?

Senior Fellow Ian Johnson explains politics in China. Watch here.

China’s Washington Problems

US-China Rivalry Exacerbates US Corporate Risk ANALYSIS

Derek S. Reveron, John E. Savage 

Strategic competition between the United States and China is not just geopolitical, but directly impacts US-based corporations and the global economy. While US firms may not be interested in the strategic rivalry between the United States and China, they are nonetheless on the frontlines.

To be prepared for this new environment, companies need to expand their concept of risk beyond assessing financial risks and build networks to collaborate in this new environment. Connectivity through cyberspace exposes corporations to five types of risks: geopolitical, insider, environmental, supply chain, and regulatory.

The US government needs to look at new ways to enable true public-private partnerships. Publishing advisories in advance of geopolitical events is a start, but new approaches are needed to find a balance between the government’s focus on national security and corporations’ focus on multinational operations.

Editor’s note: This is the first paper in the “Expanding the Focus” series in the National Security Studies program. In May 2023, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan observed that “the future of the United States is going to be defined as much by the energy transition, technological change [and] demographic changes as it will by traditional security matters.” He noted that national security policy must address “the fundamental set of challenges that occupy our minds in every region we encounter: food and health security, nuclear proliferation, climate change, secure supply chains, trusted technology ecosystems and a stable basis upon which people can work to build a better life.” The “Expanding the Focus” set of papers published by the National Security Studies program at the Foreign Policy Research Institute will seek to further define and discuss these challenges.

It’s been more than two decades since US officials recognized the challenges of China’s return to strategic significance. When he ran for president, then-Governor George W. Bush said, the United States “made a mistake [in] calling China a strategic partner … We need to be tough and firm.”

China Gears Up for Cognitive Warfare


China’s military is increasingly at work on wearable technology and a dedicated psychological support system to win at what it views as the crucial space of cognitive warfare—manipulating enemy troops’ state of mind to shape their behavior and hardening its own forces against such efforts.

“In future cognitive domain operations, the influence of rational factors such as science and logic on individual cognition is likely to be weakened, and cognitive confrontation may become a contest of emotions,” says one recent article in PLA Daily. “The rapid development of intelligent technology is changing the logic of information dissemination in an all-round way, making the impact of information on thinking and consciousness more profound and comprehensive, and human brain cognition has truly risen to an important field of military confrontation.”

Cognitive domain operations seek to capture the mind of one’s foes, changing the thoughts and perceptions of an adversary to shape their decisions and actions. As another People’s Liberation Army outlet describes, a cognitive attack aims to “use an “invisible hand” to control the opponent’s will, making the opponent feel “I can’t” and “I dare not,” and then achieve the effect of “I don't want to.”

Given such perceived stakes, PLA media is also more and more concerned with warding off such attacks and steeling their forces’ will in the mental aspects of war.. In “Cultivate a Good Combat Psychology,” the authors write, “War is not only a material contest, but also a spiritual contest. People are always the decisive factor in the outcome of a war, and the effective functioning of people depends on the support of a good psychological situation and stable psychological quality.”Training for mental resolve, they write, can help ward off sensory disorders and other problems that can hurt judgment and decision-making. Training environments must “improve the psychological adaptation, stability, and endurance of officers and soldiers on the battlefield.” In line with an ideological theme that cuts through much of PLA writing, they say such training can help troops cultivate “revolutionary heroism” that acts as a “spiritual sword” to overwhelm and defeat enemies.

Import Dependency and China’s Food Security

Omkar Bhole

The issue of food security has been in the news after Xi Jinping’s recent article on agricultural self-reliance in Qiushi journal, a magazine published by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC). In this article, he pointed out that the Russia-Ukraine crisis has demonstrated that agriculture has become a “foundation of national security” and called for food self-sufficiency as one of the top priorities in the coming years. Even the government work report for 2023 has declared stabilization of grain output as one of the top priorities for the government and aims to achieve grain output of over 650 million tonnes (referred to as ‘military order’ by China’s agriculture minister), which has been continuously achieved since 2015 (Figure 1).

However, during the Xi era, China’s per capita output of grains has increased only marginally from 462.5 kg in 2013 to 483.5 kg in 2021. This has resulted in growing dependency on imports during the same period, which, according to Xi, is a national security concern. This dependency has created several vulnerabilities for China which can be exploited in times of crisis. China is currently the largest producer as well as the largest importer of several other food items and thus, China’s food security efforts will inevitably have an impact on the world.

(Figure 1) Source: National Bureau of Statistics

In the Ukraine War, China Is the Only Winner

Nilay Saiya Rahmat Wadidi

The war in Ukraine has settled into a bloody stalemate with no end in sight. As the world braces for more bloodshed and destruction in the second year of the war, all the major players find themselves having gained no clear victory—except China.

On one side of the conflict are the United States and its allies. Since President Joe Biden has come to office, the United States has been Ukraine’s most steadfast supporter, pumping more than $75 billion into the country in humanitarian, financial, and military support. Washington has been, or will soon be, providing Kiev with advanced weapons systems, including Javelins, the Patriot air defense system, and M1A1 and A2 Abrams tanks. America’s European partners have also been providing ongoing assistance to Ukraine in different areas, including financial, humanitarian, energy, and budget support, as well as diplomatic outreach. The European Union in December last year agreed on a legislative package that will provide Ukraine with €18 billion in financial support over 2023. Yet, despite the seemingly bottomless support provided by the West to Ukraine, the United States and its European allies are no closer to expelling Russia from Ukraine than when the war first began, while draining their own resources.

On the other side of the war is Russia, which continues to be the architect of its own demise. While the Russian economy has resisted the brunt of Western economic sanctions, Moscow has lost the EU market, experienced a tremendous brain drain, grown dependent on Iran and North Korea for arms and supplies, and become the de facto junior partner to China. By all metrics, Russia has failed in its bid for renewed hegemony over its own front yard. NATO is now more united than ever, has added Finland to the alliance, and is on track to add Sweden. Furthermore, the Russian-Ukrainian war has accelerated the global transition towards alternative energy, thereby posing a grave threat to Moscow’s fossil-fuel-based economy. In terms of the human cost of war, the Centre for Strategic and International Studies reports that Russian armed forces and private military contractors fighting alongside them have suffered 60,000 to 70,000 combat fatalities over the past year.

“Joint Sword” Exercises Around Taiwan Suggest a Shift in PLA Operational Doctrine

David Chen

Early assessments of the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) April exercises in the waters and airspace around Taiwan have focused on the diplomatic and political ramifications of yet another episode of saber-rattling by Beijing, but the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) own after-action assessments suggest growing self-confidence in their joint capabilities and the validation of a shift in operational doctrine that has been years in the making. Doctrine [1], or guidance on military thought, is currently provided in the “Chinese PLA Joint Operations Outline” (中国人民解放军联合作战纲要), which remains closely held, but doctrinal concepts and methods of operations are freely discussed by PLA academics and commentators, helping to illuminate the underlying precepts (PRC Ministry of National Defense [MND], January 5, 2022). As Chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC), Xi Jinping has also provided authoritative guidance in the form of “Military Strategic Guidelines” (军事战略方针) that emphasizes three major points: “innovation” (创新性), “agility of integrated offense and defense” (攻防结合的灵活性) and “active seizure of [battlefield] initiative” (争取主动的积极性). [2] Xi has continued to emphasize these themes into his third term under various political slogans, including “completion of army building, the objective of one hundred years of struggle” (实现建军一百年奋斗目标), a reference to the approaching centenary of the Red Army’s founding in 1927 (PLA Daily, November 5, 2022). The April exercises can be seen as one more step on the way to 2027.

The “Joint Sword” (联合利剑) exercise began on April 8 and ended on April 10, along with other separate and continuing operations surrounding Taiwan. Over three short days, Joint Sword effectively demonstrated new doctrinal concepts of speed, agility and dynamic control, which align with both Xi’s overarching guidelines and years of vigorous internal debate within PLA academic circles. Joint Sword was a demonstration exercise for both a worldwide audience and validation to the CMC and Xi that the PLA can perform up to expectations.

Achieving Decision Dominance

The PRC has sought to achieve “leapfrog development” (跨越发展) in military affairs from both a technological and a theoretical perspective. Harnessing civilian and commercial enterprises, China has focused on emerging disruptive technologies, including artificial intelligence (AI), directed energy, hypersonic vehicles and quantum-enabled communications, as a means to surpass its potential adversaries (Strategy Bridge, September 6, 2017). The PRC envisions that these technologies will enable the PLA to leapfrog over the “network-centric warfare” model pioneered and perfected by the United States and move toward a next-generation model of warfare. The PLA dubs its general model of modern operations “体系作战” or “system-of-systems operations,” which encompasses PLA institutional reforms in training, equipment and operations. Within that overarching model are key concepts-of-operations that the PLA is increasingly eager to demonstrate in the field.

Sword out of Sheath?: Assessing the Strategic Implications of the PLA’s April Exercises Around Taiwan

Ying Yu Lin

Thus far in 2023, People’s Republic of China (PRC) President Xi Jinping has consolidated his power base after securing his third term as General Secretary at the 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) last October. Despite the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic dealt a heavy blow to China’s economy, Beijing has still shown signs of actively preparing for war, as seen in its defense budget allocation and the implementation of the new Reservists Law (PRC Ministry of National Defense [PRC MND], March 6).

The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) undertaking of another round of large-scale military exercises around Taiwan in early April following President Tsai Ing-wen’s transit visit to the U.S. provides further evidence of the PRC’s intent towards Taiwan. Another key takeaway from the turnover at the 20th Party Congress was the new line-up of the Central Military Commission (CMC). What caught the attention of outside observers was that three members of the seven-person CMC, chaired by Xi, are from the ground force component of the PLA. They include Zhang Youxia, who got his second term as vice chairman; He Weidong, who serves as the other vice chairman of the CMC; and Liu Zhenli, the new Chief of the General Staff (Gov.cn, March 10). Expectations for the new CMC include accomplishing the challenging task of effectively integrating PLA services and branches in order to facilitate joint deployment of air and naval forces and enable effective command and control in joint operations. The goal is for the PLA to acquire not only the capability to be able to conduct joint operations to take big islands like Taiwan, but also to be able to execute an anti-access and area denial campaign against potential intervention by foreign forces.

Combat Readiness Patrols and the “Joint Sword” Exercise

Shortly after President Tsai concluded her transit through America by meeting U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in California, China announced a series of maritime law enforcement and military activities near and around Taiwan: a “Joint Maritime Patrol and Inspection in Central and Northern Parts of the Taiwan Strait” from April 5 to 7 and a “Combat Readiness Patrol and “Joint Sword” exercises from April 8 to 10 (Huanqiu, April 5; Xinhuanet, April 8). In addition to intimidating Taiwan by carrying out military maneuvers freighted with warning messages, the PRC also took advantage of the media coverage to maximize its propaganda effects (PLA Daily, April 9). However, whether the patrols and Joint Sword exercises achieved Beijing’s desired aims remains in question. Moreover, a comparison of the April 2023 and the August 2022 exercises is not particularly justifiable due to several factors. The two rounds of drills are distinct from each other in terms of their objectives, purposes and simulated scenarios.

Analysis: Saudi Arabia’s diplomatic energy, soft power in Sudan

Giorgio Cafiero

A month into Sudan’s ongoing conflict, there have been more than 600 deaths. The humanitarian disaster in the country is worsening as violence in Khartoum and other parts of the country continues.

The Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF), led by Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), controlled by Mohamed Hamdan “Hemedti” Dagalo, are fighting for control of the country in a struggle they see as existential.

Few analysts are optimistic about peace returning to Sudan any time soon. On May 6, representatives of both sides began their first talks in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, since Sudan’s crisis erupted on April 15.

Five days later, the SAF and the RSF signed a “declaration of principles”, committing to ending their occupation of private homes, removing their forces from public and private properties, implementing measures that provide protection to civilians and medics, and facilitating humanitarian relief to people in need. The declaration also addressed refraining from torture, forced disappearances, sexual violence, and recruitment of child soldiers.

However, the talks – brokered by Saudi Arabia and the United States – failed to bring the violence to an end as air raids and artillery attacks continued in Khartoum one day after the declaration was signed.

United Nations officials say the talks in Jeddah will continue and hopefully lead to a ceasefire soon. Regardless of the results, holding these talks indicates that Saudi Arabia is trying to demonstrate its ability to play a leading diplomatic role in the Arab world after years of a sullied global image caused by the war in Yemen.

Earlier in the year, Saudi Arabia had surprised diplomatic observers by agreeing to restore ties with Iran, a longtime regional rival. The move was welcomed by many as a positive step in calming regional conflicts that the two countries had found themselves on opposing sides of.

Erdogan proves unbeatable as Turkey heads for runoff

Amberin Zaman

The latest count from Turkey's Supreme Electoral Board shows Erdogan with 49.40% of ballots cast versus 44.96% for Kilicdaroglu, indicating the country is set for a runoff on May 28.

As Turkey heads for a runoff election in two weeks, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan proved once again that he and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) remain unbeatable, leaving the opposition in a state of shock and disarray and likely granting the country’s strongman his dream of reigning over the republic in its 100th year.

Even the most respected pundits got it wrong, predicting in the final days before yesterday’s parliamentary and presidential elections that the main opposition’s presidential candidate Kemal Kilicdaroglu would win, perhaps even in a first round. The opposition is now left taking credit for denying Erdogan a win in the first round after he failed to secure more than the 50% vote needed to win by a whisker. The Supreme Electoral Board’s latest count shows him with 49.40% of ballots cast versus 44.96% for Kilicdaroglu. Sinan Ogan, a right-wing nationalist contender, trailed in a distant third with 5.2%.

Barring some last-minute twist, Erdogan is widely expected to embark on an unprecedented third decade in power after winning the second round. The 69-year-old leader exuded confidence last night as he addressed crowds gathered outside his AKP headquarters in Ankara. “It is our people and country who won. We are not like those who sought to dupe the people, probably for the last time, by claiming they were miles ahead of us,” Erdogan declared.

The AKP and its far-right Nationalist Movement Party partners also prevailed in the 600-member parliament, bagging 322 seats. Kilicdaroglu’s pro-secular Republican People’s Party (CHP) and five other opposition parties united under the Nation’s Alliance came in second with 213 seats and a leftist bloc led by the pro-Kurdish Green Left Party (YSP) pulled in third with 65.

Just how Erdogan managed to pull off another victory in the face of tremendous adversity will be scrutinized for years. The economy is in shambles, with runaway inflation leaving millions of Turks struggling to even afford onions. The massive earthquakes that decimated large swathes of southern Turkey have multiplied their misery. The president and his family, who live in a 1,100-room palace, are tainted by widespread allegations of corruption. Tens of thousands of dissidents are languishing in jail.

Operation Shield and Arrow: Hamas is the Primary Winner

Udi Dekel

“Quiet will be met with quiet” is the recurring refrain of Israel’s deterrence operations against Islamic Jihad in Gaza, which amounts to no change in the strategic reality in the south of the country. In practice, Hamas, the sovereign in Gaza, emerges from this round empowered: it set the rules of the game, apparently determined the length and intensity of the operation, and once again did not have to pay the price of responsibility for Gaza

Another exchange of blows in the Gaza Strip between Israel and Islamic Jihad ended with Egyptian mediation. Israel once again initiated a military operation, seizing an opportunity to attack senior Islamic Jihad figures, while allowing Hamas, which in practice rules the Gaza Strip, to avoid responsibility for what occurs there. Militarily, Israel saw operational success, both offensively and defensively. However, politically, Israel allowed Hamas to set the rules of the game, continue to enjoy the fruits of its arrangement with Israel, and emerge stronger at the end of this round of fighting.

Operation Shield and Arrow largely resembled two previous rounds of fighting – Operation Breaking Dawn (August 2022) and Operation Black Belt (November 2019). In all three rounds, Israel focused on the campaign against Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), which does not govern Gaza; initiated the rounds with targeted killings of PIJ commanders; responded to rocket launches at the Israeli home front with interceptions and preemption; and sought to keep the round brief in order to control the boundaries of the campaign and prevent it from deteriorating into a direct confrontation with Hamas. All three rounds were campaigns of deterrence, without a political purpose. The impact of the previous two campaigns was brief; it is likely that the impact of Operation Shield and Arrow will be as well. During and after these campaigns, no attempt was made to change the strategic security reality vis-à-vis Hamas, which is Israel’s core security challenge in the Palestinian arena.

Local to Global: Tensions Course through Iraq’s Waterways

Natasha Hall and Caleb Harper

On March 24, Iraq became the first country in the Middle East to join the UN Water Conference, the United Nations’ multilateral effort to facilitate cooperation on transboundary water resources. Prime Minister Mohammed Shia’ al-Sudani announced the move at the United Nation’s first major conference on water since the 1970s. Just two days prior, he had visited Ankara to request the release of more water downstream to ease Iraq’s rising water insecurity—a request President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey pledged to meet.

These two events came a few weeks after violent clashes between protestors and security forces broke out in the Dhi Qar governorate in southern Iraq over rising water insecurity. But protestors in Dhi Qar did not blame Turkey for their water woes—they blamed the Iraqi government. The Turkish-Iraqi negotiations over water were no mere coincidence. For more than three-quarters of a century, diplomats have worked to prevent international water disputes from provoking violence across borders. Now they are working to use international water agreements to avoid violence within borders. Their tasks are growing harder.

States failing to address water management within their borders are inclined to blame external factors for water problems, whether that is upstream neighbors or climate change. For years now, downstream governments in the Middle East and North Africa have complained that neighbors are taking more than their fair share of water. Those complaints have only gotten louder as the effects of climate change and decades of mismanagement have further reduced the share of water available. In December 2021, in the midst of a years-long drought, the Iraqi Ministry of Water Resources threatened to sue Iran in international court over its water policies, claiming that Iran was digging tunnels to divert water away from Iraq. Iran cast the blame for Iraq’s water troubles on Turkey, accusing Ankara’s water policy of causing the dust storms that disrupt Iraq and Iran. For its part, Turkey claims both Iranian and Iraqi politicians of scapegoating Ankara to shift the blame away from their own mismanagement of water resources.

Why America Is Struggling to Stop the Fentanyl Epidemic

Vanda Felbab-Brown

The United States is suffering the deadliest drug epidemic in its history. Overdoses claimed the lives of more than 100,000 Americans between August 2021 and August 2022 alone. Over the span of just a few years, drug deaths have doubled. Most of these overdoses involve fentanyl, which now kills around 200 Americans every day.

To address the crisis, the U.S. government is not only deploying law enforcement to crack down on fentanyl dealers but also taking steps to prevent and treat substance use and the harms it produces. But the continued growth of the fentanyl epidemic makes clear that these measures are not

Nigeria Is Boiling

Ebenezer Obadare

Nigeria’s February 2023 general election should have been a triumph of democracy. For the first time since the country transitioned from military to civilian rule in 1999, no former army generals appeared on the presidential ballot. Nigeria had already achieved the all-important milestone of a peaceful transfer of power between political parties in 2015, when Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress defeated the incumbent president, Goodluck Jonathan of the People’s Democratic Party. And this year, Buhari adhered to the country’s term limits and passed the baton to another member of his party, Bola Tinubu, who would prevail in what

Shifts in the Western Pacific

George Friedman

Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. visited Washington last week, where he signed what is essentially a collective defense agreement. In doing so, he sealed their bilateral relationship just a few weeks after signing another agreement that allows the U.S. to station troops and aircraft at bases in the Philippines. The alliance creates a serious problem for China, whose fundamental interest is having unfettered access to the Pacific Ocean and thus unencumbered global trade.

At roughly the same time, Taiwan and Japan held a meeting to plan the coordination of forces in the event China attacks Taiwan. That Beijing immediately condemned the meeting emphasized its significance. The fall of Taiwan would be a serious threat to Japan’s access to the Pacific and possibly a threat to the Japanese mainland. These threats may be far-fetched, but a Chinese occupation of Taiwan graduates them from non-existent to at least theoretical.

Japan has been in the process of expanding its military for some time, and obviously a joint Japanese-Taiwanese force would necessarily include the United States. There are also indications that South Korea would participate.

The new map of the Western Pacific thus puts China in a very different position. An invasion of the Chinese mainland by any new coalition is still impossible given the size and sophistication of Chinese land forces. But China’s difficulties in securing guaranteed access to the Pacific and its regional waters have soared. The ability of Japan and Taiwan to intercept Chinese naval movements, combined with the United States’ and Australia’s ability to block Chinese movement to the south, is a problem for Beijing. The obvious vulnerability of the coalition is that it has shown its hand and undoubtedly has not fully completed its defenses. China could preemptively strike any one of the coalition partners in theory, but the narrowness of the waterways makes the risk of defeat high.

Protecting The Skies: How Does Ukraine Defend Against Russian Missiles?

Kristyna Foltynova

Over the past several months, Russia has launched multiple waves of missiles and drone attacks across Ukraine. The heaviest attack so far came on November 15, when more than 100 missiles targeted a dozen cities and districts, as well as the country’s critical energy infrastructure.

Ukraine had relied mostly on Soviet-era defense systems such as the S-300. But now that air defense is Ukraine’s top priority, Western countries have been pushed to provide more sophisticated devices.

Here are some of the systems that are helping to defend Ukrainian skies.
S-300: Old But Still Powerful

The S-300 is a long-range surface-to-air system, originally developed in the Soviet Union during the 1960s and 1970s. It is capable of targeting aircraft, cruise missiles, and ballistic missiles.

At least 17 countries -- including Ukraine, Russia, and several NATO members – have the S-300. While it’s technically a defense system, Russia seems to have repurposed it to strike ground targets, too. This is why there was initially some confusion over who was responsible for the missile that hit Poland in November.

Before the invasion, Ukraine had about 250 S-300 systems, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies. Several more have been delivered since then, as part of military aid. It remains unclear how many have been destroyed by Russian missiles.
IRIS-T: The First Modern System From The West

On October 11, Ukraine received its first modern Western defense system from Germany: IRIS-T, one of the world's most advanced air-defense systems.

Back in June, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz promised that four of these systems would be delivered, and the deal was expected to be finalized by the end of this year. However, Russia’s deadly strikes on Ukrainian cities have sped up the process.

How One Millennial Ukrainian Is Defeating Russians: Viral Videos, Collaboration, and Lots of Drones


Angled down, the cannon of the Ukrainian tank shoots point-blank range at a Russian trench in a video filmed by drone and viewed millions of times since it was posted in April. In another video, a lone Russian soldier surrenders—to a drone.

Both videos come from a battalion fighting in Ukraine’s seasoned 54th Mechanized Brigade, which is currently defending Ukrainian positions in eastern Ukraine near Bakhmut, a city that has become a global byword for devastation during Russia’s nearly nine-month siege.

The battalion’s latest video racked up almost half a million views in under five hours, and its last four videos garnered over 1 million views each. Top Ukrainian news outlets Hromadske and Chanel 5 have covered the battalion in detail, as have international outlets like The Daily Mail.

The battalion’s 34-year-old commander, who goes by the callsign K-2, shows how Ukraine’s army has promoted at least some younger, innovative commanders, even if the service still displays some Soviet-style thinking. The commander spoke with Defense One by video call from the frontline on Orthodox Easter, when Russian guns might be expected to be silent. His battalion is also known as K-2, after his callsign.

A bearded millennial who came of age at the same time as YouTube gained popularity, K-2 said he also craved getting the silver YouTube button given to channels that top 100,000 subscribers. The channel is now far past that, but the button hasn’t arrived yet.

“But if I don’t get one, I’ll go buy one,” he said with a laugh.

K-2 launched the videos as a way to give his soldiers a taste of recognition short of handing out medals. But they have also had the unintended effect of promoting the battalion, which raises money from volunteers to support its operations. Ukraine’s army relies heavily on volunteers for non-lethal support. K-2 said his battalion gets around 90 percent of their vehicles and 60 percent of their drones via donations from volunteers.

What Americans think about the debt ceiling fight

William A. Galston

For most Americans, the debt ceiling is something abstract and technical that officials in Washington fight about. They have a hard time understanding the impact that this issue could have on their daily lives, and they do not appear to be listening to the warnings that policy experts are issuing with increasing urgency. The following contradictory and ambiguous poll findings illustrate the problem.

Many economists and budget experts predict that a default would trigger significant interest rate increases, a fall in the stock market, instability throughout the financial system, and the weakening of the dollar’s leading role in the global economy. Still the people don’t believe them, at least not yet. When a recent Economist/YouGov survey asked voters whether a failure to raise the debt ceiling followed by a default on the national debt would be a crisis, only 37% answered in the affirmative. Forty percent thought it would be a major problem but not a crisis, and the rest regarded this prospect as at most a minor problem.

Most Americans do believe that the federal government spends too much and has accumulated too much debt, but they are not sure what to do about these problems. According to some polls, the debt ceiling should be raised only in return for spending cuts; according to others, these issues should not be linked. A recent Harvard/Harris survey found that 64% of voters think that Republicans should agree to raise the debt ceiling only if Democrats agree to spending restraints. But the most recent Washington Post/ABC survey found the reverse: only 28% of respondents want President Biden to agree to spending cuts in return for Republicans allowing the federal government to pay its debts, compared to 59% who want spending cuts and the debt ceiling to be addressed as separate rather than linked issues.

One possible interpretation: many people don’t yet understand the link between the debt ceiling and debt default. A recent CBS News poll informed voters that “the debt ceiling is the legal limit the federal government can borrow to pay its current debts” and then asked whether Congress should raise the ceiling. Forty-six percent said that Congress should do so; more (54%) said that it should not. But when informed failing to raise the ceiling could result in the U.S. defaulting on its current debt, only 30% continued to say that the ceiling should not be increased.

In Sudan, U.S. Policies Paved the Way for War

Justin Lynch

Fighting in Sudan began on April 15 after years of tension between the country’s two power brokers: Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the country’s de facto leader and head of the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF), and Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, widely known as Hemeti, who leads the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF). Running street battles started in Khartoum and spread across the country. Residents report that low-flying airplanes strafe the ground. Reports of horrendous human rights violations are starting to emerge.

Can We Stop Runaway A.I.?

Technologists warn about the dangers of the so-called singularity. But can anything actually be done to prevent it?

Increasingly, we’re surrounded by fake people. Sometimes we know it and sometimes we don’t. They offer us customer service on Web sites, target us in video games, and fill our social-media feeds; they trade stocks and, with the help of systems such as OpenAI’s ChatGPT, can write essays, articles, and e-mails. By no means are these A.I. systems up to all the tasks expected of a full-fledged person. But they excel in certain domains, and they’re branching out.

Many researchers involved in A.I. believe that today’s fake people are just the beginning. In their view, there’s a good chance that current A.I. technology will develop into artificial general intelligence, or A.G.I.—a higher form of A.I. capable of thinking at a human level in many or most regards. A smaller group argues that A.G.I.’s power could escalate exponentially. If a computer system can write code—as ChatGPT already can—then it might eventually learn to improve itself over and over again until computing technology reaches what’s known as “the singularity”: a point at which it escapes our control. In the worst-case scenario envisioned by these thinkers, uncontrollable A.I.s could infiltrate every aspect of our technological lives, disrupting or redirecting our infrastructure, financial systems, communications, and more. Fake people, now endowed with superhuman cunning, might persuade us to vote for measures and invest in concerns that fortify their standing, and susceptible individuals or factions could overthrow governments or terrorize populations.

The singularity is by no means a foregone conclusion. It could be that A.G.I. is out of reach, or that computers won’t be able to make themselves smarter. But transitions between A.I., A.G.I., and superintelligence could happen without our detecting them; our A.I. systems have often surprised us. And recent advances in A.I. have made the most concerning scenarios more plausible. Large companies are already developing generalist algorithms: last May, DeepMind, which is owned by Google’s parent company, Alphabet, unveiled Gato, a “generalist agent” that uses the same type of algorithm as ChatGPT to perform a variety of tasks, from texting and playing video games to controlling a robot arm. “Five years ago, it was risky in my career to say out loud that I believe in the possibility of human-level or superhuman-level A.I.,” Jeff Clune, a computer scientist at the University of British Columbia and the Vector Institute, told me. (Clune has worked at Uber, OpenAI, and DeepMind; his recent work suggests that algorithms that explore the world in an open-ended way might lead to A.G.I.) Now, he said, as A.I. challenges “dissolve,” more researchers are coming out of the “A.I.-safety closet,” declaring openly that A.G.I. is possible and may pose a destabilizing danger to society. In March, a group of prominent technologists published a letter calling for a pause in some types of A.I. research, to prevent the development of “nonhuman minds that might eventually outnumber, outsmart, obsolete and replace us”; the next month, Geoffrey Hinton, one of A.I.’s foremost pioneers, left Google so that he could more freely talk about the technology’s dangers, including its threat to humanity.

Companies have to figure out the skills they need to reap AI benefits

Eileen Yu

Organizations need to build new skillsets for a workplace that will increasingly tap into artificial intelligence (AI), but they must first figure out how they plan to benefit from the technology.

As many as 97% of workers believe companies should prioritize AI skills in their employee development journey, according to a survey released by Salesforce.com, which polled 11,035 working adults in February across 11 markets -- such as Singapore, India, Australia, France, and the US -- on AI digital skills.

All respondents in India said organizations should prioritize AI skills in their employee development plans, while 98% in Singapore and 97% in Australia said likewise.

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Globally, 61% of respondents said they are already aware of how generative AI would impact their work, including 70% in Singapore and 53% in Australia. This figure was as much as 93% in India.

However, just one in 10 of all survey respondents currently carry out daily work tasks that involve AI. This proprotion reached 15% in Singapore and just 7% in Australia, while about 40% in India believe their current daily work involves AI.

In Singapore, 57% believe AI is among the most in-demand digital skills today. And while 51% in the Asian city expressed concerns about generative AI replacing jobs, 72% said they are excited about using it. Another 57% cited ethical AI and automation skills as among the fastest-growing and in-demand skills today.

Some 63% of respondents in Singapore said their organization is considering ways to use generative AI, compared to 46% in Australia and 91% in India. Worldwide, 67% said their company is exploring ways to tap into the technology.

Figuring out exactly how they plan to use AI should be the first step -- and several organizations still need to work this out, according to Terence Chia, cluster director of digital industry and talent group for Infocomm and Media Development Authority (IMDA).

A ‘Stronger, Faster’ Intelligence Community Is Possible With AI


Generative AI could make U.S. intelligence better, but only if done with caution, the Defense Intelligence Agency’s director says.

“It definitely can make us better, faster, stronger. We have to go carefully,” Lt. Gen. Scott Berrier said during an INSA event Thursday night, adding that AI is something the agency has been slow to embrace but is working on. “We're trying to be faster, we're trying to be better.”

Berrier said generative AI—which uses prompts to write text, create video, even produce music—could be a tremendous assistant to analysts and while it will affect the human workforce, it won’t completely replace it.

“When I think about AI—pattern analysis and clustering of concepts, these things,” Berrier said. “It can do a lot of good; it can make our job easier with a lot of information put in. But it can’t determine intent. Now it can get you on the road to what you think might be intent, but this is where critical-thinking analysts really come in.”

The intelligence leaders’ comments come after multiple defense and AI experts have expressed excitement or fear of the technology’s potential—and as Congress weighs the pros and cons of regulating it.

But when it comes to military use, some believe there may not be as much cause for concern. Palmer Luckey, the founder of defense technology company Anduril Industries, told CNBC that the “military is actually an area where we don’t need to worry so much about figuring this out as if it’s Pandora’s box opening for the first time.”

However, society writ large—from economists to the entertainment industry—may not be ready because other sectors haven’t been thinking about the ethical problems of AI for as long as the Defense Department has, Luckey said.

But the trick to integrating generative AI, which is already used to improve imagery, with intelligence gathering could be exploiting its benefits without curtailing the technology’s potential.