23 May 2023

End of the Road for India and Russia’s Rupee-Ruble Trade?

K.A. Dhananjay

Recently, India and Russia decided to halt talks on reviving the Soviet-era rupee-ruble currency exchange mechanism after both sides failed to resolve teething troubles that hindered its successful implementation.

In the wake of Western sanctions and Russia’s suspension from the SWIFT bank messaging network, rupee-ruble trade was pitched as a credible platform that would solve prevailing bottlenecks in cross-border transactions by allowing trade settlement in rupees or rubles. Even as India-Russia energy trade witnessed significant growth, however, the rupee-ruble system could not gain traction as expected. It was marred by four key issues.

First, Western sanctions on Russia deterred the Indian banking system from doing business with Russia. Although India has not supported the West’s Russia sanctions regime, Indian banks are heavily reliant on SWIFT and Western financial infrastructure and seek to avoid potential sanctions. India’s banks thus are cautious about clearing payments with Russia. This has had a negative impact on the rupee-ruble trade as well – Indian banks are reportedly refusing to process payments to Russia through the Special Rupee Vostro accounts set up for the purpose.

Second, the repatriation of funds has been a contentious issue for Russian exporters trading with India. Facing a liquidity crunch at home, Russian businesses prefer receiving a fair share of their export proceeds from India directly instead of investing in Reserve Bank of India (RBI) prescribed low-yield government securities. Having a bilateral trade deficit of $38 billion, India’s foreign exchange reserves are also put under strain when surplus rupee balances are allowed to be converted and remitted back to Russia. While the RBI has generally permitted repatriation in the international rupee settlement mechanism, its implementation vis-à-vis Russia is ambiguous and uncertain.

Third, the Chinese yuan’s growing influence over the Russian ruble, and its potential to spill over to the rupee-ruble trade, had kept India worrying. As part of its newfound strategic relationship with China, Russia has been pushing for the yuan as its go-to currency for settling international trade payments, including those with India. Being China’s territorial and hegemonic adversary, India refused to settle payments in yuan to avoid exposing its volatile currency market to a highly regulated Chinese currency. However, Russia was able to transact in yuan with India on some occasions.

Why Does the G7 Need India?

Niranjan Marjani

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is visiting Hiroshima, Japan, from May 19 to 21 where he will represent India as an invited country at the 49th G-7 Summit. This engagement comes amid a busy diplomatic schedule for India, which holds the presidency of the G-20 and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) for 2023. The G-7 Summit is thus a platform for India to take its many multilateral engagements forward. For the G-7, engaging with India is imperative for several reasons.

First, with a GDP of $2.66 trillion, India’s economy is larger than three member countries of the G-7 – France, Italy, and Canada. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), India is one of the fastest growing economies in the world and is expected to grow at 5.9 percent in 2023-2024. India is also the fastest growing economy in Asia. The World Bank has said that India’s growth rate is the highest among the seven largest emerging-market and developing economies.

India’s economic growth is in contrast with that of Western countries, most of which are facing stagnant growth prospects. Anne-Marie Gulde-Wolf, deputy director for the Asia and Pacific department of the IMF, said that India could be a key economic engine capable of driving global growth through consumption, investment, and trade. As an outlier among world’s major economies, India remains an attractive investment destination due to factors such as market potential, low manufacturing costs, business reforms, and a favorable industrial climate.

Recently India surpassed China as the most populous country in the world. With 68 percent of the population of working age (15-64 years) and 65 percent of the population under the age of 35, India offers a young and abundant skilled and semi-skilled work force.

Second, along with the United States and Japan, the European countries are formulating their policies to engage more with the Indo-Pacific region. In the past few years, the United Kingdom, France, and Germany – G-7 members from Europe – have formulated their own Indo-Pacific strategies. Italy too has shown inclination recently to engage with the Indo-Pacific region.

It’s Time for the Generals to Let Go in Pakistan

Omar Waraich

There is a dangerous confrontation playing out on the streets of Pakistan. The country’s most popular politician is locked in a battle with its most powerful institution. Last week, former Prime Minister Imran Khan was dramatically snatched by scores of paramilitary forces from an Islamabad courthouse. Supporters rampaged through Pakistan’s streets in protest, torching buildings, ransacking the official residence of a senior military commander, and even storming into the Army’s headquarters. Khan was released on bail three days later and has since escalated the confrontation—accusing the Army chief, Gen. Asim Munir, of targeting him.

Gen. Mike Minihan. Mike Tsukamoto/Air & Space Forces Magazine

Gen. Mike Minihan

On Jan. 27, a memo from Air Mobility Command boss Gen. Mike Minihan began circulating on social media. In it, Minihan warned of a possible war between the U.S. and China in 2025 and offered instructions for the Airmen of AMC.

The memo generated international headlines and sparked debate among lawmakers, experts, and observers. The full text of the memo can be read below, with additional context in brackets:

SUBJECT: February 2023 Orders in Preparation for — The Next FightSITUATION. I hope I am wrong. My gut tells me we will fight in 2025. [Chinese President Xi Jinping] secured his third term and set his war council in October 2022. Taiwan’s presidential elections are in 2024 and will offer Xi a reason. United States’ presidential elections are in 2024 and will offer Xi a distracted America. Xi’s team, reason, and opportunity are all aligned for 2025. We spent 2022 setting the foundation for victory. We will spend 2023 in crisp operational motion building on that foundation. If you want to know what the operational motion I demand looks like, look at what Total Force Team Charleston did in January.

COMMANDER’S INTENT. Go faster. Drive readiness, integration, and agility for ourselves and the Joint Force to deter, and if required, defeat China. This is the first of 8 monthly directives from me. You need to know I alone own the pen on these orders. My expectations are high, and these orders are not up for negotiation. Follow them. I will be tough, fair, and loving in my approach to secure victory.

END STATE. A fortified, ready, integrated, and agile Joint Force Maneuver Team ready to fight and win inside the first island chain. Maximize the use of the force and the tools we currently have and extract full value from things that currently exist. Close the gaps: C2, navigation, maneuver under attack, and tempo.

Chinese Breakthroughs Bring Quantum Tools Closer to Practicality


A tenfold leap in a key aspect of quantum communications is just one of several recent breakthroughs by Chinese research teams that have major implications for the future of computing and communications.

Quantum communications systems pass information using quantum bits: particles that exist in two states until they are observed. If an enemy observes these qubits—that is, intercepts a message—they lose this quality of “superposition.” The information they carry is lost and, as a bonus, the interception is easily detected. (Imagine dipping a cup into a stream of water; any attempt leaves traces.) But the intended recipients can interpret the information because they are being sent something called quantum keys. The inability to send enough of these keys has been a bottleneck in the pursuit of practical quantum communications.

Now a team of Chinese scientists at the University of Science and Technology of China has reported a breakthrough: a tenfold increase in the rate of stable quantum-key distribution. Led by the decorated USTC researcher Pan Jianwei and MIT-trained Xu Feihu, the team managed to push 115.8 megabytes of encrypted data per second over a 10-kilometer fiber-optic channel, shattering by over ten times the previous record of around 10 Mb/s. This breakthrough enables systems to handle vastly more data, larger files, and more users.

Another challenge for quantum systems, though, is that any increase in distance or bandwidth begins to introduce a large quantity of errors and decoherence. This is a result of the delicate superposition of the qubits, which frequently introduces unacceptable error rates and computational bottlenecking. Although these errors can be corrected by using extra qubits, this takes more computing power. It can even introduce more errors; the correcting qubits themselves are also delicate.

However, another Chinese team, led by Yu Dapeng of the Shenzhen Institute of Quantum Science and Engineering as well as researchers from Tsinghua and Fuzhou Universities, are also making progress on this problem. In March, the team announced a new system for real-time error correction in quantum systems. Their approach corrects for the added error potential of the extra qubits, improves the stability of information storage, and requires fewer resources, allowing quantum systems to realize a net-positive for resource intensity.

Beyond quantum communications

Ukraine and China Will Dominate G7 Summit, but a New Threat Lurks: A.I.

David E. Sanger

The leaders are expected to hold their first talks on a common regulatory approach to generative artificial intelligence.

President Biden departing Joint Base Andrews in Maryland on Wednesday for his trip to Hiroshima, Japan, for the Group of 7 summit.Credit...Kenny Holston/The New York Times

President Biden began his foreshortened Asia trip on Thursday in Hiroshima, a city that devotes itself to reminding the world of what happens when a brutal war escalates into a nuclear one. There he prepared for discussions with his closest allies on two crucial issues: how to better arm Ukraine as it enters its counteroffensive against the Russian invaders, and how to slow, or halt, the downward spiral in relations with China.

Both are now familiar topics to the leaders of the Group of 7 nations, who have grown far tighter, and have remained surprisingly unified, since Russia began its assault on Ukraine 15 months ago. But at some point over three days of discussions, the G7 leaders are also expected to venture into new territory: the first conversations among the world’s largest democratic economies about a common approach to regulating the use of generative artificial intelligence programs like GPT-4.

Artificial intelligence was not on the early agenda as Prime Minister Fumio Kishida invited the other six leaders — joined by Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India and, via video or in person, President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine — to the Japanese prefecture where he got his political start.

But as the new artificial intelligence language model from OpenAI made nations around the world focus for the first time on the possibilities for disinformation, chaos and the physical destruction of critical infrastructure, Mr. Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, began calling counterparts to seek a common discussion.

Bernard Baruch coins term ‘Cold War,’ April 16, 1947


On this day in 1947, Bernard Baruch, the multimillionaire financier and adviser to presidents from Woodrow Wilson to Harry S. Truman, coined the term “Cold War” to describe the increasingly chilly relations between two World War II Allies: the United States and the Soviet Union.

Baruch used the phrase in a speech to the South Carolina House of Representatives, where his portrait was being unveiled.

“Let us not be deceived;” Baruch said, “we are today in the midst of a Cold War. Our enemies are to be found abroad and at home. Let us never forget this: Our unrest is the heart of their success.”

In September 1947, Walter Lippmann, Baruch’s friend and one of the day’s most widely read journalists, used “Cold War” in his New York Herald Tribune column.

The phrase caught on — to describe the bipolar diplomatic and military rivalry between the nuclear superpowers.

Baruch was born in Camden, S.C., in 1870, the son of German-Jewish immigrants.

After making a fortune on Wall Street, he usually wintered at Hobcaw Barony, his 17,500-acre estate on the South Carolina coast.

He bought the property in 1905.

Winston Churchill knew Baruch and was on the way to see the financier when he was hit by a taxi in 1931. Churchill later coined his own memorable term “Iron Curtain,” during a speech in Fulton, Mo., on March 5, 1946.

US to Counter Russian Disinformation on Ukraine With AI Tool

The US State Department has developed an AI-based online tool to counter Russian disinformation on the Ukraine war.

The Ukraine Content Aggregator will collect “verifiable Russian disinformation” and share it with partner nations, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced last week.

“Russia continues to push a steady, relentless stream of disinformation about its war of aggression against Ukraine, to lie about and cover up horrific abuses it’s committed, to try to justify committing others,” he said at the Freedom House 2023 Annual Awards Ceremony.

“We’re promoting independent media and digital literacy. We’re working with partners in academia to reliably detect fake text generated by Russian chatbots.”
Longstanding Disinformation Narratives

The war saw an escalation in Russia’s longstanding disinformation narratives against Ukraine, including Russia’s claim that Crimea always belonged to Moscow, and that Kyiv has been infiltrated by neo-Nazis or conspiracy theories about Ukraine/US bioweapons laboratories.

According to NewsGuard, Russia’s state-controlled broadcaster RT’s documentary site published 50 films on the war in one year — nearly one a week — that pushed the propaganda.

The films use footage of civilian casualties caused by Russian strikes spun to make it seem Ukraine is behind it.

Many of the documentaries reached YouTube, garnering over half a million views combined, wrote the journalism and technology tool that tracks online misinformation.
Exploiting Anti-Colonial Sentiments

Preparing for future wars means getting ready for World War II-level losses, the Air Force’s top officer says


The superiority the U.S. Air Force has enjoyed in skies around the world for the past three decades is coming to an end, the service's new top officer said in his first major strategic document, published this week.

In a paper titled “Accelerate Change or Lose,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles C.Q. Brown Jr., who took over in August, wrote that the window of opportunity to adapt to future challenges is closing and that changes are needed in how the service develops, acquires, and uses its manpower and technology.

The Air Force has enjoyed “a historically-anomalous period of dominance” since the Gulf War in late 1990, Brown wrote.

“For decades, American, allied and partner warfighters have felt safe with the top cover and strategic deterrence our air forces have provided; and for much of our existence as a country our Homeland has served as a sanctuary. These assumptions no longer hold true today,” Brown added.

Brown wrote that during the decades in which the U.S. focused on fighting violent extremism, adversaries studied the Air Force with the aim of developing means to counter it.

Brown echoed many officials in cautioning about “great power competition,” which primarily refers to Russia and China. Those countries have developed advanced air-defense systems and other long-range weapons, and the Air Force needs to “build deep institutional understanding” of them, Brown wrote.

“Future warfare will not remain far from our shores,” Brown added. “Overseas, our Airmen will have to fight to achieve localized air superiority.”

Those changes mean a future fight against a peer or near-peer competitor could come with losses comparable to some of the most intense combat the US military has faced.

“Tomorrow's Airmen are more likely to fight in highly contested environments, and must be prepared to fight through combat attrition rates and risks to the Nation that are more akin to the World War II era than the uncontested environment to which we have since become accustomed,” Brown wrote.

A manned-unmanned fight

Biden’s ‘Strategic Competition’ Is a Step Back

Cornell Overfield

Recent reporting and public statements by U.S. officials have confirmed U.S. foreign policy has a new guiding creed. As U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration prepares to release its own national security and national defense strategies, officials are settling on “strategic competition” as the guiding idea of policy—especially, though not always explicitly, with China. Former U.S. President Donald Trump’s beloved “great-power competition” has been cast aside.

Cold Wars, Grey Zones, and Strategic Competition: Applying Theories of War to Strategy in the 21st Century.

Peter L. Hickman 

Lt. Col. Peter L. Hickman is an Air Force Weapons Officer with an MPhil in Military Strategy from the School of Advanced Air and Space Studies, an M.A. in Political Theory, and a Ph.D. in International Relations from Arizona State University. He is currently a Strategist for the Director of the Air National Guard; past assignments include Air Combat Command Headquarters, National Guard Bureau Headquarters, the U.S. Department of State, and the staff of a member of the House Armed Services Committee.

Disclaimer: The perspectives presented are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of the Department of Defense, United States Air Force, Air National Guard, or any other office or organization.

In 1947 Bernard Baruch warned the United States “not to be deceived” by the post-WWII “peace.” He described the emerging rivalry between the U.S. and the USSR as a “Cold War” that was not quite war but was also not quite peace.[i] Echoes of this concept of a Cold War are evident today in the somewhat ambiguous phrase “Strategic Competition” that the Biden Administration uses to describe relations between the United States and China.[ii] Though strategic competition is not a state of war, the rivalry between the U.S. and China is a precarious kind of peace in which both sides are also preparing for the possibility of future significant military escalation, major war, or even nuclear exchange.

U.S. foreign policy in the grey zone between war and peace has become the norm rather than the exception since Baruch’s warning in 1947. Though the U.S. Congress declared war eleven times between 1812 and 1942,[iii] Congress has not declared war in the last eighty years despite nearly 100,000 U.S. battle deaths in that same period.[iv] The conflicts in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan are all frequently referred to as “wars,” yet none drew a declaration of war from Congress. All are individually understood as instances of broader “wars”; the Cold War and the War on Terrorism. “Wars” on social ills further subsume the conceptually elegant definition of war as an “act of force to compel our enemy to do our will”[v] into an ill-defined aspiration to change a social or political status quo. Today’s interest in “grey zone” conflict illustrates that even in foreign policy, the concepts of war and peace have lost saliency for describing political reality and are more likely to be seriously encountered in academic environments than in the practice of grand strategy.[vi] The normalcy of “military operations other than war” since the 1950s has even led some military leaders to try to remind American service members that war at the scale of World War II remains a possibility in the future and is not simply a thing of the past.[vii]

The United States and NATO at a Crossroads regarding the War in Ukraine

How can a toll be exacted from Russia, without deteriorating into an all-out war? Western leaders must now tackle this challenging question, following the escalation in the Ukrainian theater, Putin’s annexation announcement, and Russia’s threat to use nuclear weapons on the battlefield. What dilemmas confront the NATO members, first and foremost the United States, and what is Israel’s role in this inter-bloc struggle?

President Putin’s decision to annex four regions of Ukraine and his definition of his struggle against the Western elites as an existential struggle, while avowing his determination to defend the annexed territories and making implicit threats about the possibility of using unconventional weapons, significantly increase the risk of escalation. Consequently, the United States and its allies are now at a crossroads. It seems that Russia’s conduct will compel them to formulate a follow-up strategy that will heighten the challenge of supporting Ukraine without getting dragged into war with Russia. Thus far, aside from the threat of a serious and “decisive” response, the United States and NATO have maintained a veiled response to Russia’s potential use of unconventional weapons. The response could be political (cutting off relations) and economic, but a conventional military response cannot be ruled out. The official statement by Israel – which so far has refrained from responding to Ukraine’s request to provide it with military aid – that it will not recognize Russia’s annexation of the Ukrainian regions is a positive step, but insufficient. The Israeli government should stand clearly by Ukraine’s side, including responding to its military requests. In addition, it should unhesitatingly stand by the side of the US in the struggle, which will influence the shaping of the future world order and the leading role of the United States.

The United States administration persists in its determined statements regarding Russia's actions in the war in Ukraine. In response to Russia's decision to annex four regions of Ukraine's territory, President Biden condemned the move, defined it as illegitimate, and stated that the United States will continue to help Ukraine restore its control over its territory by strengthening its military and diplomatic capabilities. Biden also warned Moscow that Washington would defend every inch of NATO territory. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg emphasized that Russia's actions constitute a rhetorical escalation the likes of which have not been seen since the beginning of the war.


Faced with one of the “most disruptive” periods in time, the Army must move now to deter aggression and transform for the future, the commanding general of Army Futures Command said.

“We have one United States Army. When the country says go, we’re going,” Gen. James Rainey said May 18 during a keynote presentation to close the Association of the U.S. Army’s 2023 LANPAC Symposium and Exposition in Honolulu.

Rainey said the Army’s modernization efforts are on track, but “we’ve got to get after this.”

While 2040 sounds “like forever,” new capabilities must be in the works now if they’re going to be fielded by then, he said. “In the next 12, 18 to 24 months, we all collectively need to be incredibly obsessed with a sense of urgency as we transform our Army,” Rainey said.

Gen. Charles Flynn, commanding general of U.S. Army Pacific, agreed, as he thanked the allies and partners who attended and participated in LANPAC. “That is the greatest counterweight we have to any adversary, … the work of us as a team,” he said.

As threats and technology evolve, some things remain constant, Rainey said. To start, war remains a human endeavor, he said. “It’s a contest of wills between human beings. That is not changing,” he said.

So, even though the Army is part of a joint force, “land still matters,” Rainey said. “Land is decisive.”

Another constant is that technology rarely delivers on its promise, and as much as armies would like to plan for short wars, “with a few notable exceptions, they are usually not the case,” Rainey said. “Aspiring for short wars is great, but you need to be ready. If you’re going to start one, you need to finish it.”


The Army is hardening its networks and strengthening cooperation with allies and partners to protect against cyberattacks and information warfare, a panel of experts said May 17 at the Association of the U.S. Army’s LANPAC Symposium and Exposition in Honolulu.

“If you’re going to make a very quick transition to crisis or conflict, that is not the time to be hardening your networks, that is not the time to be wondering if your allies and partners have hardened their networks,” said Lt. Gen. Maria Barrett, commanding general of Army Cyber Command.

The challenge, she added, is, “How do we get everybody to a state where we can safely share this type of information at the speed that it has to? And all this has to be done in competition.”

Lt. Gen. Hiroe Jiro, commanding general of the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force’s Training, Evaluation, Research and Development Command, agreed. “When we talk about [artificial intelligence] or information warfare and big data, one thing we need to pay attention to is system integration,” he said. When the U.S. and Japan, for example, can securely share information, the two countries’ militaries can “decide faster than the enemy, you can judge faster than the enemy and you can move faster than the adversary,” he said.

This cooperation also can save lives, Hiroe said. “We need to accelerate this system integration, especially in the Indo-Pacific region,” he said.

Strong partnerships with like-minded nations are critical, said Maj. Gen. William Hartman, commander of U.S. Cyber Command’s Cyber National Mission Force. “When we bring our talented resources [together], we’re pretty powerful,” he said.

“We’re obviously in very challenging times,” he said. “The threats are going to increase. If we are collectively going to be prepared to deal with the threat, not just in this theater or globally, it is going to take partnerships.”

Sudan’s Darfur draws neighbours back into a war that never ended

Mohammed Amin 

Sudan’s warring factions are engaged in a fierce and complex battle for local and regional support in Darfur, as fighting intensifies in the country’s western region.

Sources in Darfur and the countries it borders have told Middle East Eye that the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) paramilitary led by General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, commonly known as Hemeti, is receiving support from eastern Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar, Russian military outfit Wagner and the government of the Central African Republic (CAR).

An Egyptian military source has told MEE that Egyptian pilots are flying Sudanese air force planes, with the relationship between the armies of Egypt and Sudan a longstanding one. The Sudanese military denies its planes are being used by Egyptian pilots.

The government of Chad is aligned with General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, commander of the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF), but the RSF is drawing in fighters from Sudan's neighbours.

Adding to the tangled web of support and sabotage are powerful Sudanese leaders from Darfur, including Musa Hilal and Minni Minnawi, both of whom have joined the Sudanese army to form what analyst Kholood Khair called an “anti-Hemeti coalition”.

Another key figure is Sudanese Finance Minister Gibril Ibrahim, leader of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), whose home territory is Darfur and Kordofan.

Both the army and RSF accuse each other of getting external support while denying they receive any themselves.

This comes after at least 280 people died over the weekend in El Geneina, the capital of West Darfur, following an attack by an armed militia dressed in the uniform of the RSF.

Almost a thousand people have now died in Darfur since the conflict between the Sudanese army and RSF began on 15 April.

The Geopolitics of U.S. Engagement in Sudan

Zineb Riboua

No one can accuse the Biden administration of being overly generous with praise for Saudi Arabia. It therefore raised some eyebrows when U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken tweeted on May 5: “The U.S. and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia welcome the start of pre-negotiation talks between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces in Jeddah.”

The Revolution No One Wanted Alex de Waal writes about Sudan

Sudan’s​ capital, Khartoum, is being destroyed in a fight to the death between two venal, brutal generals. This is a war of choice; allowing it to happen was a failure of international diplomacy. But if we look at the city’s 200-year history, the fighting shouldn’t be a surprise. Khartoum was founded on a command post built for the purposes of imperial robbery – and every subsequent regime has continued this practice. In ordinary circumstances, Sudan is run by a cabal of merchants and generals who plunder the darker-skinned people of the marchlands and bring their wealth to Khartoum, a relatively opulent city and a haven of calm. But the logic of kleptocracy is inexorable: when the cartel is bankrupt, the mobsters shoot it out. We saw this in Liberia and Somalia thirty years ago. The ransack of the Sudanese state today is ten times bigger.

Khartoum was founded in 1821 at the junction of the two Niles – the White Nile, which rises in Equatorial Africa, and the fast-flowing Blue Nile, which brings seasonal floods from the Ethiopian highlands. At the point where the rivers converge, just opposite the modern parliament building, and for some miles downstream, the pale brown and blue waters run next to each other, unmixed. The site was chosen by Ismail Kamil ‘Pasha’, son of Muhammad Ali, khedive of Egypt, who had dispatched an army to conquer what is now Sudan. He also licensed a multinational band of freebooters to roam wherever they wished, as long as Cairo shared in the takings. For six decades Khartoum was an outpost of rapacious 19th-century frontier capitalism: a trading and slaving entrepot for the ravaging of the Upper Nile Valley.

Elephant tusks were in demand for piano keys, and elephants themselves were exported – among them Jumbo, who was sent to London Zoo and then sold to Barnum and Bailey’s circus in America. Khartoum’s traders and freebooters raided for slaves, or played divide-and-rule among the people of the southern forests and marshes, buying captives for their own plantations along the river or to be sold to Egypt. To this day, Sudanese have a lexicon of skin colour, from red and brown through green and yellow to ‘blue’ – the darkest people of the south, still routinely called abid, meaning ‘slaves’. Southern Sudanese were depicted as untouched primitives by colonial-era anthropologists, but they had been dragged into the imperial capitalist order. The chief warlord was Zubeir Rahma, a northern Sudanese trader and slaver, who set up a string of forts across southern Sudan and then led his private army against the vast western sultanate of Darfur in 1874. His ambition to become ruler of what was then the richest domain on the edge of the Sahara was thwarted when the khedive, alarmed by his rise to prominence, detained him in Cairo.

Turla Disrupted: What Does That Mean for Russian Cyber Operations?


On May 9, 2023, the U.S. Justice Department issued a press release that its Operation MEDUSA, along with allied country support, disrupted a Russian-operated global computer network infrastructure that has been conducting hostile cyber activities for nearly 20 years. Attributed to Russia’s Federal Security Service’s (FSB) 16th Center, the activity dubbed “Turla” has implemented some of the more sophisticated malware in operations that have targeted hundreds of targets in at least 50 countries, focusing on high-value organizations such as government institutions, media, and any other entity of interest to the Russian government. Some of the more notable victims have been the German Bundestag and the Ukrainian Parliament in 2014, and France’s TV5Monde in 2015, as well as NATO members, among others.

The “Snake” malware is an incredibly complex piece of malware that the Turla operators have consistently updated since its emergence in 2003 to keep its performance robust and persistent. Once deployed on a victim computer, the malware typically is able to run undetected by the machine’s owner. The malware enables its operators to remotely deploy other malware tools to enhance its functionality, identify potentially sensitive information, and exfiltrate it surreptitiously. Perhaps more remarkable about this worldwide operation is the fact that it utilized customized communication protocols, which allowed these actors to obfuscate their activity, and avoid detection and monitoring from victimized countries intelligence services.

While the United States spearheaded this effort, the global scale of this advanced cyber espionage group required a multilateral effort that included collaboration from Five Eyes intelligence and law enforcement partners. No detail was given as to the extent of this cooperation, but reports cite the use of a variety of “sources, methods, and partnerships” with respect to the sharing of information about foreign cyber threats. Certainly, the magnitude of disrupting such a complicated network, and the time it took to track, map, was necessary for the FBI in a show of one upmanship to create a unique tool to disable the Snake malware on infected computers without impacting the host computer’s legitimate operations.

Japan and the Future of Commercial Space


Japan has entered the commercial space race, by way of the Tokyo-based space startup ispace, inc. Following are details about the company in the run-up to its 2022 maiden mission in partnership with SpaceX: the launch of a lunar lander – the first by a commercial space company.

ispace M1 Mission: On Sunday, December 11 at 2:38 a.m. ET, SpaceX launched ispace’s HAKUTO-R Mission 1 and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Lunar Flashlight to a lunar transfer orbit from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. This was the fifth launch and landing of this Falcon 9 first stage booster, which previously launched SES-22 and three Starlink missions.

“…it wants to become the lunar version of FedEx…”An intensifying US-China space rivalry and Elon Musk’s ambitious Mars program have fired up scores of startups across the world chasing lucrative contracts, as humans race for resources that could foster life beyond Earth.
Among those is a small Japanese company seeking to make a mark as early as this month with what could be a first for a commercial firm. Tokyo-based ispace Inc. is scheduled to send a lunar lander earliest by Nov. 22 [2022], carrying multiple government and commercial payloads, including two rovers.

Like Musk’s dream for a Martian colony, the startup’s grand vision is to build a human settlement on the moon by 2040, but before that, it wants to become the lunar version of FedEx — earning money by ferrying scientific equipment and commercial goods to the moon.
Ispace’s maiden mission will put to the test not just the technological credentials it’s built since its founding in 2010 but also the faith of its backers, one of whom is a former SoftBank Group Corp. executive.

A lot rides on its success, including a potential initial public offering as early as this fiscal year and a shot at a bigger sliver of an industry pie that Morgan Stanley estimates will triple to $1 trillion in two decades from 2020.

Currently, a dozen companies are developing landers and lunar vehicles, mainly through NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services, or CLPS, program. One leading company in this sector, Masten Space Systems Inc., filed for bankruptcy in July. The firm received a $4.5 million bankruptcy auction-opening bid from space robotics tech developer Astrobotic Technology Inc. in August

The Looming El Niño Could Cost the World Trillions of Dollars


TROUBLE IS BREWING in the sea. The Pacific Ocean has transitioned away from La Niña conditions, when a long band of cold water forms off the coast of South America, and is barreling toward its counterpart: an El Niño, when a warm band emerges instead. Scientists expect El Niño to arrive in the next few months, with a 55 percent chance of it being a particularly strong event. This shift could help raise global temperatures above 1.5 degrees Celsius, the Paris Agreement’s warming threshold, and will influence weather all over the world, potentially causing significant droughts in some places while boosting extreme rainfall in others.

The economic consequences, researchers report today, could be a $3 trillion hemorrhage over the next several years, with low-income tropical countries getting hit especially hard. Writing in the journal Science, they determined that the El Niños of 1982-83 and 1997-98 led to worldwide losses of $4.1 trillion and $5.7 trillion, respectively, which dragged on for more than five years after the climatic events had dissipated. By the end of this century, the cumulative bill for El Niños could come to $84 trillion. “There's an economic legacy of El Niño in GDP [gross domestic product] growth,” says Christopher Callahan, an Earth system scientist at Dartmouth College who coauthored the paper. “That primarily occurs in the countries in the tropics that are strongly affected by El Niño. But this effect is quite large.”

The paper adds to a growing body of research that climate change and increasingly extreme weather are going to be extraordinarily expensive, especially for developing economies. “For optimal climate policy, adaptation, and questions of climate justice, we need to know what the social and economic costs of climate change are,” says Leonie Wenz of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, who studies climate economics but wasn’t involved in the new paper. “We find more and more evidence that the costs of warming are substantial and way bigger than previously thought and commonly assumed.”

The Role of Open-Source Intelligence in the War in Ukraine

Alexander E. Gale

During the Ukraine conflict, OSINT has had a considerable impact on military intelligence, information warfare, media reporting, and the recording of war crimes.

In recent years, the abundance of open-source intelligence (OSINT) has increased tremendously, largely owing to the ever-growing importance of the internet and social media, as well as the larger availability of publicly accessible information and satellite imagery tools. Whereas before, intelligence was largely the purview of national intelligence agencies, the so-called democratization of intelligence has enabled a greater range of individuals to collect information and deliver intelligence products in an impactful way. The consequences of this are readily observable in the ongoing war in Ukraine, where OSINT is being used in a variety of ways to monitor troop movements, shape the narrative, track war crimes, and assist in war reportage.

OSINT is defined as ‘the practice of collecting and analysing information gathered from open sources to produce actionable intelligence.’ One advantage of OSINT is that the types of sources available are incredibly varied. Data can be collected, processed, and analysed from commercial satellite images, public social media posts, unencrypted radio messages, and other publicly available sources.

The abundance of publicly available information readily available for intelligence purposes has had had an impact on the ground in Ukraine. In addition to the activities of Ukraine’s intelligence professionals, Ukrainian civilians, as well as members of the international community sympathetic to the Ukrainian side, have played a role in delivering useful insights from OSINT to the Ukrainian military. As noted by British Army General Sir Jim Hockenhull in December last year, OSINT has ‘proved to be a force multiplier’ by allowing a wider range of individuals to participate in the collection, processing, analysis, and dissemination of intelligence.

Pentagon Moves To Support War In The “Grey Zone”


The Department of Defense issued a directive this month based on new authority granted by Congress last year to engage in “low-visibility, irregular warfare” operations.

In the FY2018 defense authorization act (PL 115-91, sect. 1202) Congress specifically authorized the Secretary of Defense “to provide support to foreign forces, irregular forces, groups, or individuals engaged in supporting or facilitating ongoing irregular warfare operations by U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF).”

The new authority was needed, Congress said, in order to fill a perceived gap in the US military’s ability to fight in conflicts that are below the threshold of war.

“Adversarial nations are becoming more aggressive in challenging U.S. interests and partnerships and destabilizing regional order through the use of asymmetric means that often fall below the threshold of traditional armed conflict, often referred to as the ‘grey zone’,” according to the Senate Armed Services Committee report (115-125) on the 2018 defense bill (section 1201).

“The committee notes that the ability of U.S. SOF [special operations forces] to conduct low-visibility, irregular warfare operations in politically sensitive environments make them uniquely suited to counter the malign activities of our adversaries in this domain.”

“However, the committee is concerned that the Secretary of Defense lacks sufficient authority to provide support for irregular warfare operations by U.S. SOF to counter this growing threat and therefore believes that granting this authority will provide the Secretary with the necessary options and flexibility to achieve U.S. military objectives,” the Senate Armed Services Committee wrote last year.

The amount of money that was authorized for this purpose — $10 million per year for three years — is minuscule by conventional U.S. military standards, but it could still be meaningful in the context of irregular warfare.

War or peace? Understanding the grey zone

John Raine
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Much has been made of hybrid or 'grey zone' conflict between states in recent years. However, as John Raine argues, the ever widening list of actions viewed as belligerent only increases the likelihood of escalation.

The long and costly clean up after the attempted assassination of Sergei Skripal and the international debate on Huawei as an instrument of Chinese state power are reminders of the multifarious forms of state activity in the area between war and peace.

Similarly, President Trump’s reported obsession with intelligence briefings that relate to Germany and China’s commercial positioning rather than counter-terrorism matters, and President Macron’s recent broad definition of what constitutes a threat to Europe, are examples of how this area is being increasingly characterised as a domain of war rather than peace. It is the ‘grey zone’ where hybrid or asymmetric warfare is conducted.

But if this domain does constitute a battlespace, it is starting to look very congested, with a steadily growing number of players, capabilities and agendas. Organised crime should be considered as part of this domain, as well as state-backed troll farms, terrorists, political activists and IP thieves.

Policymakers shaping national security strategies attempt to apply as elastic a definition of the threat as possible, while ensuring that such strategies still meet conventional, standing defence obligations too. But given the incremental growth of designated threats, this is not sustainable. What principles might help them in navigating the grey zone?
Discipline in definition

The impulse to designate this domain as a place of conflict rather than competition is strong. After all, conflict is more likely to command attention and resources than peace. Yet much, but not all, of what we see being conducted in this space could be characterised as features of the difficult, new peace as much as the new warfare.

Many AI tools are a distraction, but you’d better pay attention

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The onslaught of new artificial-intelligence-integrated tools claiming to help you at work doesn’t appear to be slowing down. Generative AI is all the rage, and everyone wants to be at the party.

On Thursday, OpenAI, the company behind ChatGPT, launched a mobile app on iOS that integrates Whisper, an open-source speech-recognition system, enabling voice input. Workers can use ChatGPT for tasks such as idea generation, note summarization and technical topic assistance. In the last couple of months, Microsoft also announced new AI features for its apps in Microsoft Office, including its email provider Outlook, word processor Word and presentation maker PowerPoint. Similarly, Google released its vision and very first features for its workplace suite of tools called Google Workspace. And they’re not alone. Other workplace software providers that have recently announced AI integrations include Salesforce and Salesforce-owned Slack, Zoom, Box, Adobe and HubSpot, to name a few.

Generative AI is supposed to help workers do things like draft emails with a simple prompt, summarize meetings (even ones you don’t attend) and include action items, create entire presentations complete with speaker notes and AI-generated images, sift through long email threads or texts and pull out key points, and highlight important patterns in sets of data.

Google also recently demoed its video communication tool called Project Starline. The tool uses AI to create a 3D image of a person during a video call using a few cameras and a screen. The idea is to create a feeling of someone else’s lifelike presence and allow for things like nonverbal cues and eye contact. When someone reaches out to you, the image appears as though the person’s arm is coming through the screen.

“It feels like you’re at the table … like you were together,” said Andrew Nartker, general manager of the project.

The prototype of Starline is being tested by Salesforce, T-Mobile and WeWork, which are helping provide feedback for further development of features like whiteboarding. A firsthand test of the tech did provide a sense of presence different from an average video call. Still, it’s not perfect. At times, the pixels of the image flickered similar to the way you might see a virtual background accidentally malfunction on a traditional video call. It’s also too early to know whether the experience could make people sick the way virtual reality does for some users. Google believes it would be much more similar to watching a 3D TV than using virtual reality because no headsets are involved.

Pentagon Outlines Upcoming Contractor Cybersecurity Plan


By November, Pentagon cybersecurity leaders aim to lay out just how private contractors will be expected to work with government agencies to safeguard data and ward off attacks.

“We are working on a strategy—a [defense industrial base] cybersecurity strategy—that we hope to have out later this year,” David McKeown, DOD’s chief information and security officer, said at GovExec’s Cyber Summit event Thursday. “Our strategy is bringing all of the pieces and parts within the department together…laying it out who's going to be doing what, and we overlay everything on top of the NIST cybersecurity framework.”

Lawmakers requested the strategy as a step toward reducing the vulnerabilities created by doing sensitive business with hundreds of thousands of private contractors.

McKeown said the strategy would have several phases, starting with identifying what needs to be protected, then figuring out what measures are needed to protect data, detect intrusions, respond to attacks, and recover from them. For example, DOD’s pending cyber certification program, CMMC, will fall under the “protect” phase.

The strategy document is also meant to guide companies to government cybersecurity resources. These include the Defense Cyber Crime Center and the NSA’s Cybersecurity Collaboration Center, which share threat intelligence and offer free tools like protective DNS and email security.

“Right now, there's a lot of different paths that people are interfacing with the department and getting services [from] department,” McKeown said. “We have things that we are doing to support industry and all of those things. We will also be rationalizing the tools that we provide. For instance, the protected DNS is super simple to adopt, easy to implement. You don't have to be a rocket scientist at a small business to onboard that. We want to field some tools like that that are really good bang for the buck.”

NIST on Blockchain and Cybersecurity at the Physical Layer (Access Control Systems)

In May of 2022, The National Institute of Standards and Technologies (NIST) released a white paper with a promising perspective on the role of blockchain at the OSI physical layer by way of access control systems:

“Blockchain can be utilized for access control systems as a trustable alternative for a single entity/organization or a member of a large-scale system to enforce access control policies. The robust, distributed nature of blockchain technology can overcome the limitations of traditional access control systems in a decentralized and efficient way.”

Meanwhile, The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Identity of Things Working Group has been working with a global consortium on the development of the IEEE P2958 standards:

OODA Loop Sponsor

This standard “defines a decentralized identity and access management (IAM) framework for the Internet of Things (IoT) based on emerging concepts such as decentralized identifiers (DIDs) and verifiable credentials (VCs). The framework addresses the integration of DIDs and VCs into the lifecycle of IoT devices as well as the decentralized IoT security services such as device authentication, data authorization, and access control.”

These projects offer a great overview of the promise of blockchain technologies at the physical device layer and opportunities for the creative development of an innovation marketplace for novel defensive cybersecurity platforms. We review the NIST and IEEE efforts here in two separate posts. We begin with the NIST white paper.
Blockchain for Access Control Systems – NIST IR 8403 (1)
NIST’s Computer Security Division, Information Technology Laboratory’s white paper on Blockchain for Access Control Systems presents general information for blockchain access control systems from the views of blockchain system properties, components, functions, and supports for access control policy models. Considerations for implementing blockchain access control systems are also included.

These are the jobs that AI can’t replace

Ian Shine

AI is unlikely to be able to replace jobs requiring human skills such as judgement, creativity, physical dexterity and emotional intelligence.

As a result, the highest job growth in 2023-2027 is expected to be for agricultural equipment operators, drivers of heavy trucks and buses, and vocational education teachers, according to the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report 2023.

The skills most in demand from employers over the next five years will include analytical thinking, empathy and active listening, and leadership and social influence, according to the report.

I’ve just asked ChatGPT this question: “What jobs will AI be unable to replace?”

Within seconds it has whizzed out a 275-word answer. When I asked it to edit its answer down to under 50 words, it was a lot slower. A lot, lot slower.

This perhaps proves some of the points ChatGPT made in its original answer, when it told me that AI will be unable to replace:

Jobs that require human judgement and decision-making

Jobs that require complex and nuanced communication.

Given that ChatGPT and other forms of generative AI create their output by synthesizing what they find on the internet, it’s no surprise that its answer crosses over with some of the findings in the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report 2023, an in-depth analysis of how jobs and skills will evolve over the next five years – written by humans.

The jobs that are safest from AI

How emerging tech could mitigate emerging human crises

Smriti Kirubanandan

The emergence of new technologies brings great promise and opportunity for humanity.

But, while these technologies offer immense potential for positive change, they also pose new challenges and dilemmas when confronted with complex human crises.

By adopting a responsible and inclusive approach, we can harness the power of emerging technologies to address and mitigate human crises, ushering in a paradigm shift towards a more resilient and equitable future.

As the world continues to advance technologically, the emergence of new technologies brings great promise and opportunity for humanity. But, while these technologies offer immense potential for positive change, they also pose new challenges and dilemmas when confronted with complex human problems. Here, I explore the dynamic relationship between emerging technologies and human crises, highlighting the opportunities and ethical considerations that arise from this nexus.

The potential of emerging technologies

Artificial intelligence and automation

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and automation have the potential to revolutionise various industries, leading to increased efficiency, productivity and convenience. AI-powered systems can automate repetitive tasks, improve decision-making processes and enhance customer experiences. The widespread adoption of AI and automation, however, also raises concerns about job displacement, as machines take over tasks traditionally performed by humans. This technological shift requires proactive measures to reskill and upskill the workforce, ensuring a smooth transition and minimising the negative impact on their well-being and financial state.

How is the World Economic Forum ensuring the ethical development of artificial intelligence?Show more

Internet of Things