11 June 2023

How China Engages South Asia: Themes, Partners and Tools

Constantino Xavier & Jabin Jacob

After several decades of limited engagement, China has rapidly deepened and diversified its relations with India and its neighbouring countries. However, beyond the economic dimension, not much is known of the other aspects of China’s growing footprint in the region. As it garners political, diplomatic and security influence, China has also become increasingly entangled in various domestic processes of South Asian democracies, from shaping public opinion to influencing policy-making. As with other great powers, China’s objective is two-fold: to encourage policies that are favourable for itself, and to pre-empt decisions that would go against its core interests. This report assess how China is becoming increasingly influential beyond just trade and other economic ties with India and its neighbours. Based on eight case studies by analysts and scholars from Bangladesh, Nepal, India and Sri Lanka, the report examines China’s growing role in a range of sectors in these four countries, including education, public diplomacy, technology, social media, civil society, party politics, religion, and governance. It is among the first systematic, case study and evidence-based analyses of China’s new methods and strategies of engagement with South Asia. Going beyond an India-centric perspective, the report also expands our understanding of how other South Asian countries perceive China and seek to promote their own interests and concerns.

Chile’s Political Pendulum Swings Back

Richard M. Sanders

The December 2021 election of Gabriel Boric as President of Chile was hailed by progressive opinion around the world. Here was a new type of Latin leftist—young, untainted by authoritarian tendencies, sensitive not only to longstanding issues of inequality but also to newer ones of climate change, gender, sexuality, and indigenous rights. He would represent a new, impatient generation of Chileans who would supplant the stodgy, timid centrists and implement real change.

Now, a year and a half later, the picture looks very different. Boric’s support has sunk in the polls, hovering around 30 percent. A new constitution drafted by a convention dominated by the political Left was soundly rejected in a referendum. The country’s Right triumphed in a follow-up election to name delegates to a second convention. Issues of crime, terrorism, and illegal immigration dominate the public agenda, while much of Boric’s legislative agenda is stuck in a divided Congress.

Amid Crisis, the Left Triumphs

The saga of the rise and apparent decline of Boric and Chile’s Left began in 2019 with a series of protests, extending for months and throughout the length of the country. The demonstrations were sparked initially by an increase in Santiago’s metro fares. Although many of the protesters, in what was known as the “social explosion,” were peaceful, there was significant violence and destruction of property.

The protests reached a point where it was unclear if then-President Sebastian Piñera could survive in office. Seeking a political solution to the unrest, Piñera and the political establishment agreed to a longstanding leftist demand for a convention to rewrite Chile’s constitution. The document was initially imposed during the dictatorial regime of General Augusto Pinochet but was significantly modified after the restoration of democracy in 1990.

Some on the far left saw the convention as a trap to channel the energies of the protests into normal politics. Boric, a former student leader-turned-congressman for a small, new leftist party (Social Convergence), supported it, giving him new prominence. The legislation authorizing the convention passed and was submitted to a referendum, where it gained extensive support from an exhausted public. In May 2021, an election was held to name delegates to the constitutional convention. To the surprise of many, leftist forces gained over a two-thirds majority.

Are China’s Intentions Really Such a Mystery?

Francis P. Sempa

In an article in the Naval War College Review, three academics cast doubt on what they call the “growing hawkish consensus” about China’s “intent and capabilities.” Jeffrey Meiser, an associate political science professor at the University of Portland (Oregon), Renny Babiarz, an adjunct faculty member at Johns Hopkins, and David Mudd, who recently graduated from the University of Portland with English and political science degrees, “see significant evidence that China’s intentions are indeterminate and, in some arenas, neutral or even possibly aligning with U.S. national security interests.” The best strategic approach to China, they conclude, is not engagement or containment, but instead what they term “entanglement.” This article is an example of why most academics should be kept as far away from policy making as possible.

The three academics caution those who fear the worst about China’s intentions that there are “complexities involved in understanding the intentions and capabilities of rising powers.” The China hawks, they suggest, are engaging in “anti-Chinese” groupthink. Just as those who counseled engagement with China in the early post-Cold War period were over-optimistic about China’s intentions, today those who counsel containment of China have an “overly simplistic” view of China’s strategic culture which is not monolithically aggressive but consists of competing “subcultures” that affect elite decision-making. Meiser, Babiarz and Mudd believe that China’s strategic culture shifted “between the Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping eras,” and that shift was followed by “an inconclusive amalgam of concepts and goals, and visions of success articulated by Presidents Jiang Zemin, Hu Jintao, and Xi Jinping.”

From their safe ivory tower, the three academics briefly cite China’s recent aggressive rhetoric and deeds but claim that these “do not point uniformly towards an aggressive orientation.” As proof, they cite “a chorus of Chinese academics [who] have elucidated various visions that argue that China’s uniquely humane characteristics (Confucianism, most notably) could contribute to a more ‘harmonious world’”--as if Chinese academics have a say in policy making. Meiser, Babiarz and Mudd downplay the geopolitical significance of China’s Belt and Road Initiative and its nuclear buildup. And they use academic jargon--China’s “norms, goals, actions and outcomes”--to portray Chinese intentions as “uncertain.” They even rank so-called “levels” of uncertainty, placing China between level 3 (a “range of futures”) and level 4 (“true ambiguity”).

The end of Western naivety about China

Among western democratic governments, this is a moment of unhappy clarity about China. Their bleak consensus follows years of naivety and wilful self-delusion about the nature of Xi Jinping’s regime. A changed mood—one of shared, durable gloom—was on display at the latest Stockholm China Forum. This is a gathering of American and European officials, scholars and business types that Chaguan has attended, on and off, since 2008 (Chinese diplomats and scholars attend some sessions).

The war in Ukraine hung over the latest forum, jointly hosted by Sweden’s foreign ministry and the German Marshall Fund, a think-tank. There was no happy talk about China being an ideal peace-broker, as some European leaders had suggested in the early months of the conflict. Instead, participants talked of Chinese envoys touring European capitals to recommend that Ukraine lay down its arms and sue for peace, while casting Vladimir Putin as a ruler acting in self-defence. One speaker called China’s “collusion” with Russia an “electroshock” for Western governments. China is expected to play a role in the conflict’s end-game and in post-war reconstruction, not least because Ukraine’s government wants Mr Xi at the table. But there was shared horror in Stockholm at any notion of China helping to design a future security architecture for Europe. That distrust is born of hearing Chinese officials blaming the nato defence alliance for war in Ukraine, and promoting a world order in which individual countries seek security via shifting, values-free calculations of their interests.

A Hidden Player: The Significance Of Mongolia In Geopolitics – Analysis

Matija Šerić

Mongolia is a country that has a unique geographical, demographic, economic and geopolitical position. And it is not favorable at all, at least at first glance. Mongolia has no access to the sea, it is located in the climatically cruelly cold East Asia. It has the lowest population density of any sovereign state in the world: two inhabitants per square kilometer.

Its three million inhabitants live in an area the size of Alaska (1.5 million square km), and it is surrounded by 133 million Russians in the north and 1.4 billion Chinese in the south. Although all the above factors greatly limit the economic development of Mongolia, it nevertheless has the best cashmere in the world, a huge potential for eco and cultural tourism, and possesses huge mineral resources: copper, gold, coal, molybdenum, fluorite, uranium, tin and tungsten.

Mongolia is actually an enclave between the superpowers of Russia and China. It is currently a democratic enclave surrounded by autocracies. It is this fact, apart from its harmful effects, that gives this country an important and potentially decisive importance in international relations. Hypothetically and in reality, Mongolia can be a crucial geopolitical player that can seriously damage the Russian-Chinese alliance and lead to a split between these two countries, and on the other hand, it can become a key American partner in the challenging Far East region.

Mongolia has a rich history dating back to the founding of the famous Mongol Empire (1206-1368) and Genghis Khan, who created the largest land empire in history. Historians believe that this is a ruler who was the creator of the Mongolian nation, respected the rule of law, protected religious freedom, promoted international trade and established new diplomatic relations between Asia and Europe. The Mongol Empire connected the previously disconnected world by creating “a unique intercontinental system of communication, trade, technology and politics”.

Why Did the United States Invade Iraq? The Debate at 20 Years

Twenty years after the Iraq War began, scholarship on its causes can be usefully divided into the security school and the hegemony school. Security school scholars argue that the main reason the Bush administration decided to invade Iraq was to safeguard the United States against the conjoined threat of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and links to terrorist groups. Hegemony school scholars argue instead that the purpose of the Iraq War was to preserve and extend U.S. hegemony, including the spread of liberal democratic ideals. Debates between these camps inform broader disputes about the lessons of the Iraq War for the future of U.S. foreign policy and the analysis of other key questions about the war’s origins. Nonetheless, this binary may not be productive for Iraq War scholarship, and more attention to global and cultural factors would be a useful way to advance this field.

Twenty years after the United States invaded Iraq, there is no shortage of explanations for why this war took place. Political scientists and journalists dominated the early waves of scholarship on the subject, but in the last few years historians have increasingly intervened. This includes major new works published this year from Melvyn Leffler and Samuel Helfont.1 The invasion of Iraq remains the single most important foreign policy decision by a U.S. president in the 21st century, so the surfeit of analysis should surprise no one.

This article maps out the debate on the Iraq War’s origins as they have developed over the last 20 years. It aims to play honest broker between competing schools of thought, clearly laying out their interpretations, assessing points of tension, and factoring in the influences of politics and ideology on scholarship. Below, I will show how divergent interpretations of the war have emerged from the different lenses, methodologies, and objectives that scholars have brought to the table.

No single article can tackle every aspect of Iraq War scholarship. Thus, this essay focuses on three questions that are essential for explaining the war’s origins but that continue to divide scholars. First, was the Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq driven more by the desire for security or the pursuit of primacy? Second, was the Bush administration’s decision to pursue “coercive diplomacy” in the fall and winter of 2002–2003 a genuine attempt to avoid war or a means to legitimize a decision for war made earlier in 2002? Third, how much did neoconservatives matter in the making of the Iraq War?

Who won the debt ceiling fight?

David Wessel and David Dollar 

David Wessel, senior fellow and director of the Hutchins Center on fiscal and Monetary Policy at Brookings, joins host David Dollar to discuss what’s in the debt ceiling deal reached between President Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. The deal, signed into law by the president on June 2, averts a debt default that was expected as early as June 5. Wessel explains the deal’s broad provisions, it’s impact on fiscal policy, and whether it resolves the long-term budget and debt issues.

Food Insecurity: Outlook for 2023

Geopolitical Futures

Over the course of 2022, global food prices gradually began to ease. However, this wasn’t necessarily reflected in prices at local markets in countries experiencing food insecurity. Countries that rely on food imports and have low foreign reserves are at greatest risk of seeing a lack of access to food. Costly agricultural input materials, labor and energy also contribute to high food costs.

The Ukraine-Russia Culture War


BERKELEY/KYIV – When Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, few believed resistance would last longer than a few days. In both Russia and the West, Russian troops were expected to sweep into Kyiv, parade uniforms in hand, install a proxy government, and effectively end Ukrainian statehood.

But whereas Western leaders believed that Ukraine was no match for Russia militarily, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s confidence in a swift victory rested on a more fundamental assumption: Ukrainians would have little will to resist, because they had never actually existed. In Putin’s eyes, Ukraine’s history and identity were so bound up with Russia that its people would have no reason to risk their lives and property for the sake of sovereignty.

The war is rooted in this imperial miscalculation. The strength of Ukraine’s resistance has depended less on the military assistance provided by NATO members than on the Ukrainian people’s insistence on their own agency and destiny. Ukrainians understand that the fight is for their national survival, and that cultural decolonization is essential to it.

This has caused much handwringing in the West, where Ukrainians’ unwillingness to share the stage with Russians is still raising eyebrows. In May, for example, the Russian-American writer Masha Gessen resigned from the board of PEN America in response to the cancellation of a panel they were chairing with two Russian writers at the organization’s World Voices Festival. Two Ukrainian writers – both active soldiers – had refused to participate in an event with Russians, so the Russians were sent packing. (A similar episode occurred in Estonia earlier the same month.)

While some decried “the impulse to censor anyone Russian,” Gessen’s response to the episode was sympathetic to the Ukrainians and nuanced in justifying their resignation (Gessen uses they/them pronouns). While recognizing that “Ukrainians are constantly confronted with Russian dominance in cultural spheres and in academia,” their concern was for the “human victims” – the curators, musicians, and writers whose work was in danger of being “erased.”

Ukraine’s Big Offensive Kicks Off To Tough Resistance


Ukraine’s long-awaited counteroffensive is now fully underway as its troops, backed by NATO-donated Leopard-2 tanks and other armor, have pressed forward on multiple vectors across the battlefield. Heavy losses are being reported as Ukrainian forces attempt to punch through long-entrenched Russian positions in Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk oblasts.

“In the Zaporizhzhia direction in the Orikhiv area, the enemy is actively on the defensive,” Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said Thursday on her Telegram channel.

"Amidst a highly complex operational picture, heavy fighting continues along multiple sectors of the front. In most areas Ukraine holds the initiative," the U.K. Defense Ministry (MoD) said on its Twitter account.

The objective is to push across the flat open fields south of the Dnipro River toward Crimea in order to cut the peninsula off from the so-called land bridge. A successful operation would go a long way toward meeting Ukraine’s desire of kicking Russia completely out of its lands and continue to keep the all-important flow of arms and financial aid coming from the U.S. and allies. An unsuccessful operation would increase pressure on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to come to the bargaining table. It could also push foreign governments to reevaluate the flow of billions of dollars in foreign assistance to Kyiv.

Ukrainian forces "have suffered losses in heavy equipment and soldiers as they met greater than expected resistance from Russian forces in their first attempt to breach Russian lines in the east of the country in recent days," CNN reported, citing "two senior US officials."

"One US official described the losses – which include US supplied MRAP armored personnel vehicles as 'significant..”

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby and the Pentagon declined to comment, while Ukrainian military sources, speaking anonymously to The Washington Post, confirm that the new, much more intense phase of the war has been opened.

Casualties and equipment losses - even including reports of Leopard-2 tanks - in an operation like this, especially in the early phases, are to be expected. Russian forces are certainly taking losses as well.

Defence production: is just-in-time just too late?

The war in Ukraine is driving home a message that lean defence supply chains are far less attractive in a time of conflict than in peacetime. This may contribute to the largest re-evaluation of defence supplies in 30 years.

In peacetime, lean supplies promise lower budgets, tight inventory management and little excess production infrastructure. Coupled with supply-chain problems caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, however, the war in Ukraine is demonstrating to the United States Department of Defense (DoD) and other defence establishments that some additional costs in their associated industries may well be worth carrying – and indeed could be vital. This is particularly so for Washington when considering any potential confrontation with China. That prospect is adding further urgency to recent efforts to embrace new types of suppliers that appear more nimble, innovative and willing to take risks.

Calling time on just-in-timeWhat is unfolding may be the biggest reassessment of defence-industrial needs since the post-Cold War moment in 1993 when then-US deputy defense secretary William Perry hosted the ‘Last Supper’ of prime defence-contractor bosses and warned that defence cuts meant the industry would have to consolidate. That shaped today’s US defence-industrial base. With the end of the Cold War, the Pentagon moved away from maintaining costly stockpiles and embraced the just-in-time supply model of the corporate world to help generate a peace dividend.

But DoD Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Bill LaPlante says the Ukraine conflict and other factors have highlighted the weakness of some of that thinking, which can hobble efforts to boost production. As Pentagon acquisition chief, LaPlante has called shifting away from a just-in-time approach ‘something that is essential to the future fight’.

Similarly, US Air Force Lieutenant General Michael J. Schmidt, who runs the Joint Program Office for the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II, said, ‘When you take a just-in-time mentality, which I think is kind of a business model in the commercial industry that works very well in terms of keeping cost down and those kinds of things, it introduces a lot of risk operationally.’ Speaking at a US Navy League gathering, Gen. Schmidt argued that the military needs to figure out what amounts to adequate resilience for a future conflict.

Collapse of critical Ukrainian dam sparks region-wide evacuations. Here’s what we know

Jonny Hallam, Josh Pennington, Helen Regan, Olga Voitovych, Irene Nasser, Sebastian Shukla, Ivana Kottasová, Gianluca Mezzofiore and Jo Shelley

A major dam and hydro-electric power plant in Russian-occupied southern Ukraine suffered a collapse early Tuesday, prompting mass evacuations and fears for large-scale devastation as Ukraine accused Moscow’s forces of committing an act of “ecocide.”

Residents downstream from the Nova Kakhovka dam on the Dnipro River in Kherson were told to “do everything you can to save your life,” according to the head of Ukraine’s Kherson region military administration, as video showed a deluge of water gushing from a huge breach in the dam.

The critical Nova Kakhovka dam is the largest reservoir in Ukraine in terms of volume. It’s the last of the cascade of six Soviet-era dams on the Dnipro River, a major waterway running through southeastern Ukraine. There are multiple towns and cities downstream, including Kherson, a city of some 300,000 people before Moscow’s invasion of its neighbor.

Here is what we know about the crisis.
What happened?

It is unclear what caused the dam to collapse in the late evening of Monday or early hours of Tuesday.

A CNN analysis of satellite imagery from Maxar shows the dam was damaged just days before suffering the structural collapse.

The satellite images show the road bridge that ran across the dam was intact on May 28. However, imagery from June 5 shows a section of the same bridge missing. Analysis of lower-resolution satellite imagery suggests the loss of the bridge section took place between June 1 and 2.

CNN cannot independently verify whether the damage to the road bridge played a part in the dam’s collapse, or whether it was destroyed in a deliberate attack by one of the warring parties.

Ukraine’s counteroffensive won’t be an easy retread of last year’s wins

Has Ukraine’s long-awaited spring counteroffensive finally begun? Even now, as the calendar ticks firmly into summer, the answer still very much depends on whom you ask. Russian officials say yes, it has — a view shared by some U.S. officials, too. But the Ukrainians have directly rejected these claims. “When we start the counteroffensive, everyone will know about it, they will see it,” Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, told Reuters on Wednesday.

Ultimately, the wins of last year’s counteroffensives were easy to spot. After Ukraine stealthily maneuvered its forces to the Kharkiv region in September, they were able to displace invading Russian forces who had been expecting the counteroffensive to begin hundreds of miles south in the Kherson region. The Russians were flummoxed. In the resulting strategic disarray, Moscow’s forces were soon also forced to retreat in the south, with Ukraine ultimately liberating the city of Kherson and the surrounding area in November.

However, the landscape of the war has fundamentally changed since last year. There are several reasons that this year’s efforts may not prove to be an easy repeat of 2022’s counteroffensives for Ukraine — for better or worse.

1. The battle map has been redrawn. Last year, Ukraine was able to retake significant areas of land in the Kherson region, but only on the west bank of the Dnieper. This mighty, sprawling river serves as a dividing line between Ukrainian forces and Russian occupiers, who have destroyed bridges that could be used to cross it. Crossing the Dnieper is possible — small groups of Ukrainian soldiers have already done just that — but it presents a significant tactical problem.

That problem may have been made more severe this week by the collapse of the Russian-controlled Kakhovka dam and hydroelectric power plant, which resulted in enormous flooding, with thousands of homes caught in rising waters. The flooding has already reshaped the battlefield, cutting off one of the few remaining routes across the river.

What the Shakeup at CNN Says About the Future of Cable News

New York City went to sleep Tuesday night under an acrid haze and an apocalyptically eerie sky. Little did we know that it wasn’t just the work of Canadian wildfires but the television gods portending ill: with the morning came news that Chris Licht, the C.E.O of CNN, had been fired. Licht, who had spurred so many gossipy headlines and titillated certain media columnists to no end, was felled in a blaze of remarkable TV-exec hubris, having participated in a good old-fashioned magazine profile. “Zucker couldn’t do this shit,” Licht said in one memorable scene, referencing his predecessor while hoisting a metal pole under the keen eye of his celebrity trainer.

Licht took over CNN last year in the fog of scandal. Jeff Zucker had been ousted after it was revealed that he had been in a long-term affair with a fellow-executive at the network. Now Zucker thinks that was pretense—an elaborate cover for CNN’s new owner to get rid of him, a man who many believe made the network synonymous with anti-Trump sentiment. That new owner, Warner Bros. Discovery, was the latest hybrid beast, cobbled together from prestige parts—HBO and CNN—and Discovery’s lowbrow reality-TV chum, to emerge from the fragmented media landscape. David Zaslav, who piloted the merger and would run the new company, needed to cut costs and make an inordinate amount of money. (Warner Bros. Discovery was born with more than fifty billion dollars in debt.) Zaslav had a behind-the-scenes partner: his mentor John Malone, the libertarian billionaire. A photograph of Malone is positioned prominently on a credenza behind Zaslav’s desk, in L.A., where you might find a portrait of a wife or children.

After the merger went through, in the spring of 2022, one of Zaslav’s first major moves was to shut down CNN+, CNN’s streaming experiment, a month after it launched. He also killed a Batgirl movie that was already in postproduction and laid off more than three hundred CNN employees. Zaslav’s generous pay—north of two hundred and forty-six million dollars in 2021, when the merger was taking shape—and newly minted media moguldom, which comes with perfectly pressed summer suits and a Beverly Hills villa previously owned by Robert Evans, belied his somewhat straightforward task of nickel-and-diming the company into something near profitability.

Three questions (and expert answers) about the dam collapse in Ukraine

Atlantic Council experts

It’s set off a cascade of problems.

Early Tuesday, large sections of the Nova Kakhovka dam and hydroelectric power plant in southern Ukraine gave way. Since 1956, the dam has pinched the Dnipro River, creating a massive reservoir upstream as far as Zaporizhzhia and, downstream, a succession of towns and villages along the river terminating in Kherson, all of which could now be flooded.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has accused Russian forces of blowing up the dam–a claim US intelligence reportedly appears to support. The Kremlin, which currently controls the area around the dam, has blamed Ukrainian forces.

Below, Atlantic Council experts answer our most pressing questions about what the damaged dam means for the ongoing war.
1. If Russia is behind the dam collapse, what would it reveal about Russian strategy and tactics at this stage in the war?

That they have no red lines that can’t be crossed and that they have no regard for human lives or ecology. I’m afraid that if the Russians are capable of blowing up such a large piece of critical infrastructure, they’re also capable of striking at the occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant—the consequences of which would be horrific. There is little left in the West’s toolbox to restrain Russia, but a tightening of the noose of sanctions and providing Kyiv with all the fighting kit it is asking for would be a logical starting point.

Michael Bociurkiw is a Ukraine-based nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center.

It would reveal nothing new compared with what we have already known about Vladimir Putin’s Russia and its efforts to destroy the Ukrainian state and the Ukrainian people. Putin’s regime has already systematically committed crimes against humanity and pursues a policy of genocide, showing total disregard for human lives. Destruction of the Nova Kakhovka dam appears to be one more piece of evidence of the dark nature of Putin’s regime—a terrible and extremely dangerous act aimed at inflicting maximum suffering on people and maximum damage on the environment. Putin is still trying to escalate and terrorize Ukraine and its partners. It’s long overdue that we deny him this possibility.

Russian War Report: Satellite imagery analysis captures flood threat after dam’s destruction

Digital Forensic Research Lab

As Russia continues its assault on Ukraine, the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRLab) is keeping a close eye on Russia’s movements across the military, cyber, and information domains. With more than seven years of experience monitoring the situation in Ukraine—as well as Russia’s use of propaganda and disinformation to undermine the United States, NATO, and the European Union—the DFRLab’s global team presents the latest installment of the Russian War Report.

Nova Kakhovka dam rupture floods acres of civilian settlements in Kherson Oblast

On June 6, satellite imagery published by Maxar confirmed the collapse of the Nova Kakhovka dam in Ukraine. The dam is located downstream of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, and upstream of the city of Kherson, in southeast Ukraine. Ukraine and Russia continue to blame each other for its destruction.

Has Ukraine’s counteroffensive really begun?

Atlantic Council

Will we know it when we see it? Ukrainian forces are probing front lines and attacking multiple Russian positions, even as leaders in Kyiv remain cagey on whether Ukraine’s much-anticipated summer counteroffensive has begun. Russia is sending its own signals. After digging in along the front line, Russian forces have ramped up air attacks on Kyiv in recent days and, on Tuesday, may have destroyed a major dam in southern Ukraine (more here), possibly in an attempt to derail Ukrainian offensive plans already underway. Where to start? As always, with our experts.

Is the offensive underway?Dan assesses that the counteroffensive has probably begun. But he adds that it’s not yet clear whether Ukrainian forces are focused on severing the land bridge in southern Ukraine connecting Russia and the occupied Donbas region with the Crimean peninsula, which “seems the logical direction,” or on making gains in eastern Ukraine, which is “a less-anticipated move but possible for just that reason.”

Andriy judges that the offensive is only in its preliminary stages. “When it starts, we will see a full use of the brigades trained and equipped for that operation and, of course, the magnitude of the operational activities will be much higher.”

John just returned from Kyiv, where he spoke with Ukraine’s political and military leadership. He says the offensive’s start date is less important than Ukraine’s overall capability. “Suffice it to say that the Ukrainian military is ready and the Ukrainian people determined.”

Rather than looking out for “a single big push to penetrate Russian defenses and secure a decisive breakthrough,” Peter, from his vantage point in Ukraine, advises thinking about Ukraine’s counteroffensive as “a rolling series of local probes and thrusts,” at least in its initial stages.

What’s coming next“We can expect at least a modest [Ukrainian] success—the liberation of hundreds of square kilometers” of territory currently occupied by Russia, John tells us. “More is certainly possible, including breaking Moscow’s land bridge to Crimea.” But he counsels observers to be “patient watching this drama play out.”

Five questions (and expert answers) about the recent clashes in Kosovo

Atlantic Council experts

All politics is local, all consequences are not. In April, the Serb majority population in the north of Kosovo boycotted municipal elections, which were held after their representatives left the official Kosovo government institutions following a dispute between Kosovo and Serbia, in part about car license plates. With Kosovo Serbian candidates and voters boycotting, Kosovo Albanian candidates won the local elections in the north, in which only 3.5 percent of the local population participated. Protests erupted when four mayors took office under instruction from Kosovo’s Albanian dominated central government and under special police protection, resulting in injuries to intervening NATO peacekeeping troops. Now, Europe and the world watch, trying to prevent an escalation of ethnic violence. Atlantic Council experts answer the critical questions below.

1. How did we get here?

Based on all the information we received from our contacts in civil society, including both Kosovo Serbs and Albanians, the question was not so much “if” but rather “when” the long-lasting crisis would escalate. There were numerous potential triggers for escalation that were plainly evident to those willing to acknowledge them. Many of these triggers stemmed from a series of escalatory decisions made by political leaders on both sides.

Just to highlight a few examples: the withdrawal of Kosovo Serbs from Kosovo institutions, particularly the police force; the deployment of Kosovo special police forces to the streets in the northern region; the expropriation of land in municipalities predominantly inhabited by Serbs; the refusal to participate in the elections; and ultimately, violent clashes between the Serbian minority and NATO soldiers this week triggered by four newly elected Kosovo Albanian mayors taking office in northern Kosovo after April elections that were boycotted by Kosovo Serbs.

Maja Piscevic is a nonresident senior fellow with the Atlantic Council’s Europe Center and representative of the Center in the Western Balkans.

The Serb-majority municipalities in northern Kosovo have long been the flashpoint in the protracted dispute between Kosovo and Serbia. The escalation earlier this week followed a series of tit-for-tat actions on both sides after the most recent tense standoff over license plate enforcement on the Kosovo-Serbia border in late 2022.

It Was All in Vain: Edward Snowden’s Sacrifice 10 Years On

Patrick G. Eddington

This week marks the 10th anniversary of the first story featuring National Security Agency (NSA) contractor‐​turned‐​whistleblower Edward Snowden’s initial revelation: the role of Verizon in aiding NSA’s telephone metadata mass surveillance program.

As the Guardian noted at the time, “The court order appears to explain the numerous cryptic public warnings by two US senators, Ron Wyden and Mark Udall… that the US government is relying on ‘secret legal interpretations’ to claim surveillance powers so broad that the American public would be ‘stunned’ to learn of the kind of domestic spying being conducted.”

The Verizon revelation and the many others that followed in the months after it underscored the most consequential effect of Snowden going public: NSA’s ostensible overseers – the House and Senate Intelligence Committees – had been witting of the mass surveillance and instead of stopping it had gone along with it.

Snowden’s error was in believing that meaningful, forceful, and effective democratic oversight of NSA, FBI and other federal law enforcement and intelligence components actually exists.

Worse, through the annual appropriations process, Congress had given NSA (and the FBI) the money to continue that mass surveillance. American taxpayers were paying for the “privilege” of being spied on at scale by their own government.

And as I’ve noted previously, Snowden’s efforts to inform his fellow Americans of the surveillance dragnet under which they now operated were met with scorn or outright attacks, some from the press but most from members of Congress whose oversight failures Snowden had effectively exposed.

Fifty years earlier, in an era that saw similar whistleblower‐​driven revelations of widespread illegal federal government surveillance, Congress was far less amenable to such executive branch misconduct. In 1975, the work of the Senate investigative committee, led by the late Senator Frank Church (D‑ID), exposed massive, previously undisclosed unconstitutional surveillance and political repression operations aimed at literally hundreds of thousands of Americans.

Buffer States Are Worth a Second Look

Christopher Mott 

While it will take years, if not decades, to sort through the wreckage of the Ukraine War to come to any kind of consensus, it does seem clear that the maximalist claims of alliance networks have an immensely destabilizing role in the international system. The failure to set up buffer states— nations that agree not to join the alliance network of any nearby power blocs—between NATO and Russia might have led to the outbreak of war. Often situated at places where potential contention could arise, these countries keep rival power poles from having direct contact with each other. The reasoning is that if two powers can agree that neither dominates a particular smaller country, they can accept that the lessened risk of a hand-off approach to that particular state is the best way to de-escalate rivalry in that region.

The concept of buffer states has been used many times in history, though with admittedly mixed results. The idea is quite rare in modern international relations discourse, however. When it is mentioned, it is often done so in a disparaging manner. This is not only because the most famous example of a buffer state in the modern mind is the extremely ineffective invasion highway known as Belgium in the early twentieth century, but also because alliance networks have become increasingly burdened with values-laden assumptions that they did not have before. NATO, infused with democratist ideology, cannot accept that a country that wishes to join and become part of its network might be better left outside for reasons of geographic cohesiveness and avoiding more potential flashpoints with Russia. Russia, on the other hand, was ostensibly supportive of a neutral Ukraine but probably expected to dominate it indirectly in some capacity. The inability of these outside parties to stay out of the country resulted in a significant conflict that could have been avoided. Diplomats should learn from this and get more serious about the concept of buffer states.

Despite famous failures, there have in fact been numerous successful buffer states in history; places that for long periods of time (geopolitically speaking) served as effective points of no-contact between otherwise rival powers. Some exploited natural geography to further reinforce the natural borders already in place. Nepal, between the British and Qing empires and now modern China and India, is an example of this. Austria in the Cold War, with the victorious powers of World War II all agreeing to a mutual military withdrawal, is another. Perhaps the longest and most surprising of such states to modern observers is that of late-nineteenth through mid-twentieth-century Afghanistan. Not wanting to rule the unprofitable and warlike territory itself, the British Raj nevertheless was consumed by the specter of a Russian invasion through the territory during the height of Anglo-Russian rivalry in Central Asia, often referred to as “The Great Game.” After a succession of fruitless wars there, it was agreed to draw the boundaries of Afghanistan in such a way that Russian and British imperial interests would not directly collide with each other. The arrangement would bring a surprising amount of stability for the tribalistic nation, and only collapse when a series of coups and internal upheavals opened the way for a Soviet invasion in 1979 and subsequent Pakistani and U.S. intervention.

Europe’s Next War Could Start in Kosovo

Dominick Sansone

The recent flare-up in northern Kosovo between NATO peacekeeping troops and ethnic Serbians has reminded the world that while the brutal war in Ukraine may be the greatest threat to European stability at the moment, it is by no means the only one.

On May 29, Serb protestors clashed with NATO troops after the authorities in Kosovo attempted to escort newly elected mayors into government administration buildings in the Serb-dominated northern municipalities. The ethnically Albanian mayors were elected in November 2022 with a meager voter turnout of 3.5 percent, as ethnic Serbians in the region boycotted the elections as part of their ongoing struggle with Kosovo’s government. This came on the heels of the July 2022 decision in Pristina, the country’s capital, to force Serbs in the region to adopt Kosovo license plates rather than Serbian ones.

Although the matter may seem trivial to outside observers, the move was interpreted by many as simply the latest example of Pristina’s overreach. Though Kosovo officially proclaimed its independence in 2008, it was a contentious move that many countries do not recognize. Although the four Serb-majority northern municipalities compose a relatively small portion of the country, with ethnic Serbs composing only 6 percent of the country’s total population, a 2013 EU-brokered deal was meant to allow for a degree of self-rule in the region. The Serbs living in Kosovo have grown increasingly discouraged by Pristina’s failure to implement the terms of the agreement, a fact that both the United States and the EU have acknowledged.

Back in July, protestors set up a number of roadblocks in northern Kosovo following the initial move to alter licensing and registration. Serbian president Aleksandar Vučić described the gravity of the situation by stating that “we [authorities in Belgrade and Serbs in northern Kosovo] have never been in a more difficult situation”—quite a statement considering the region’s notorious volatility.

The West Must Prepare for a Long Overdue Reckoning

Chandran Nair

The post-Western, multipolar international order is coming to pass. As the world grapples with the implications of this shift in power, the foundations of a great reckoning are taking shape. This reckoning will challenge the long-held beliefs and structures that have sustained Western dominance of the world for the past few hundred years, exposing along the way the nature of the West’s perceived entitlement to lead the global pecking order. The end result will be a significant re-evaluation of international relations as we know it.

This great reckoning will be driven by five major trends, which are compelling Western nations to confront and adapt to a future where power must be shared with the rest in a multipolar world. A failure to recognize, or attempting to strongly resist, these trends could pose significant risks not only to the West itself but also to global stability. Yet future conflicts can be avoided if this period of change is viewed as an opportunity to build a more equitable world, rather than as a crisis that threatens preferred and entrenched privileges.

Five Trends to Consider

What future awaits the West—a smooth transition toward multipolarity or a period of instability and potential conflict—will largely depend on how policymakers respond to the following five trends.

First is the unravelling of the hitherto telling of history. The West, across its colonial history, has practiced and perfected the selective interpretation and telling of events, choosing to portray itself as the originator of modern civilization and a benevolent guiding force. This is now changing; information technologies, such as the Internet and social media, have broken the monopoly over information and history once held by Western gatekeeping institutions (media companies, universities, book publishers, and more). As a consequence, people around the world are recognizing that history is no longer confined to Western interpretation—including its projection of benevolence.

Ukraine Military Situation Report – Analysis

Can Kasapoğlu*

A. The Front Lines

Two noteworthy trends are informing the front lines in Ukraine. First, the Ukrainian military is now staging a series of small-to-medium-scale offensive actions. Second, Ramzan Kadyrov’s Chechen fighters are replacing Wagner units at an increasing rate.

1. The Ukrainian Military Conducts Offensive Skirmishes

A careful assessment of various sources, ranging from Russian and Ukrainian official announcements to open-source defense intelligence assessments, hints that the Ukrainian military has started to test the waters ahead of its long-awaited counteroffensive.

Several news outlets misreported these ongoing operations as a large-scale offensive push. The latest skirmishes are instead developing attacks and armored recon efforts—live-fire reconnaissance missions that presage follow-on offensives. The Ukrainian General Staff is likely conducting these rapid and calculated small maneuvers to test Russian defenses’ reaction times and force Russian combat formations to reveal their integrated fire plans. Ukrainian commanders are also trying to improve their understanding of Russian artillery planning in defensive combat operations. These factors remain critical to assessing the opposing force before launching a large-scale action.

In addition, the Ukrainian General Staff is looking for potential weak spots along the first lines of defense. Some of these probing actions could be designed to disguise the main effort, probably in the south. At the time of writing, a substantial portion of Ukraine’s offensive action is taking place in the east.

While the Ukrainian military’s increasingly assertive advances do not yet constitute the long-anticipated counteroffensive, they are harbingers of a large-scale offensive campaign.

2. Ramzan Kadyrov’s Chechens Increase Participation in Combat Operations

Akhmat, the Chechen Special Forces loyal to strongman Ramzan Kadyrov, are becoming more involved in the Russian military campaign in Ukraine.

Bad Company: Wagner Group And Prigozhin At Crossroads In Ukraine – Analysis

Colin P. Clarke*

(FPRI) — “The children of elites…allow themselves to lead a public, fat, carefree life while the children of others arrive back shredded to pieces in zinc coffins,” snarled Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin in one of his most recent videos posted online.

The words were delivered as Prigozhin stood in front of a pile of bloodied corpses of Wagner Group fighters. Prigozhin has made it a habit to regularly air his grievances with Russian oligarchs, political elites, and senior military figures, especially Sergei Shoigu, an army general and head of Russia’s Ministry of Defense. Russian army general and Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces Valery Gerasimov, is another frequent target of Prigozhin’s ire.

On the battlefield, the Wagner Group and Prigozhin are approaching a pivotal crossroads in Ukraine, especially in light of Kyiv’s imminent counteroffensive. “We are withdrawing the units from Bakhmut … most of the units will rebase to camps in the rear. We are handing our positions to the military,” said Prigozhin on Wagner’s Telegram channel. The announcement has brought even more attention to Wagner’s future role in Ukraine as well as forecasting what the next step is for the private military company (PMC), including a possible refocus on the Middle East and Africa, where Prigozhin oversees numerous lucrative security-for-resources partnerships. But first, Prigozhin will have to successfully navigate intra-Russian dynamics, which could be especially difficult after his scathing critiques of Russia’s war efforts in Ukraine.

Beyond his complaints about a lack of ammunition provided by the Russian Ministry of Defence and the high casualties borne by his fighters (Wagner has lost as many as 20,000 men just in Bakhmut alone) Prigozhin has recently been wading into more political diatribes, excoriating Russian elites and warning about the possibility of a revolution within Russia if Moscow fails to get more serious about fighting the war in Ukraine. Prigozhin urged the Kremlin to implement martial law, while repeatedly criticizing the Russian military’s apparent lack of strategy in prosecuting the conflict. He also seemed concerned about Ukraine’s counteroffensive.

The National Cybersecurity Strategy: Breaking a 50-Year Losing Streak

Jason Healey 

Editor’s Note: This piece is the second in a two-part series about White House cybersecurity policies. Part 1 of the series can be found here.

More than 50 years ago, an influential task force concluded that it was impossible to adequately secure computers and networks from cyberattacks unless they were entirely closed off from the outside world. Attackers, not defenders, generally have the advantage. Two years later, the Air Force convened another important task force, which found that “none of the [red team] efforts had failed to date.” That is, when friendly hackers attempted intrusions to test cybersecurity, they always succeeded.

Not only do those half-century-old assessments remain broadly relevant today, but so are many of the solutions: “Unless security is designed into a system from its inception,” these earliest computer security experts wrote in 1972, “there is little chance that it can be made secure by retrofit.” Or as cyber defenders say now, we need security by design, baked in from the beginning, not bolted on later.

After five decades, the same problems remain: Attackers still have the advantage. After five decades, reports make the same findings. After five decades, little seems to have changed. The improvements that defenders implement are overwhelmed by our growing (and already significant) dependence on technology and the improvements made by the attackers.

There may be hope, however. On March 2, the Biden administration released its new National Cybersecurity Strategy. Developed by the Office of the National Cyber Director (ONCD), the strategy is the United States’ boldest attempt yet to break this long running cycle, which, if not dealt with, will worsen over time. Unless cyber defenders drive real change now, the situation will worsen for another 50 years, or longer. Future generations will not have an internet as amazing and open as the one today, one that perhaps is taken for granted.

The new strategy tackles head-on the seemingly eternal challenges of security by design, calling for “fundamental changes to the underlying dynamics of the digital ecosystem,” rebalancing “the advantage to its defenders and perpetually frustrating the forces that would threaten it.”