6 August 2023

Critiquing Competition: International Voices Skeptical of Technology Competition Reinforce the Need for a Positive U.S. Tech Vision

Hello, I’m Ylli Bajraktari, CEO of the Special Competitive Studies Project. In this edition of 2-2-2, SCSP Director for Foreign Policy Will Moreland reflects on the recent Kigali Global Dialogue and lessons for engaging those developing economies that are skeptical of, but essential actors in, the global technology competition.

Recognizing a competition is the first step in winning one. For too long, the current international competition grew with inadequate recognition. Then history began a sharp turn. Evidence of expanding authoritarian “tech spheres of influence” started to emerge. Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine brought a stark reminder that authoritarian aggression persists. Within the United States, awareness of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) as a competitor now has grown. Internationally, Washington’s re-engagement with core partners — from NATO and the G7 to the Quad and beyond — has also yielded deeper alignment. Within that close circle, momentum appears strong.

However, a wider lens reveals a more fraught picture. Beyond those allies and partners, skepticism of the competition paradigm is deepening, particularly for countries in the “Global South.” Many of these concerns are not new. For years, there has been a refrain of “don’t make us choose” between Washington and Beijing. Russia’s blatant territorial aggression spurred only tepid interest in sanctions outside the West. An entire recent Foreign Affairs issue heralded a new age of non-alignment and “fence sitters.”

The United States can ill afford to ignore the concerns of over two-thirds of the world’s population. Attending the recent Kigali Global Dialogue offered greater insight into these concerns. An American response demands a combination of a new positive vision for a tech-enabled future and specific steps to engage developing countries on their priorities.

A Very Quiet Meeting in Doha: US Officials Meet With Taliban Representatives

Catherine Putz

On July 30-31, a U.S. delegation, led by U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Thomas West, met with Taliban representatives and “technocratic professionals” in Doha, Qatar.

Close watchers of Afghanistan noted the meeting, which appears to be the first official talks between the United States and the Taliban since August 2021.

Jonathan Schroden of the CNA Corporation remarked on Twitter (X): “The fact that the (seemingly) most substantive talks between the US & the #Taliban since the signing of the Doha deal in 2020 didn’t even register as a news item here makes clear where #Afghanistan stands on the US list of priorities these days.”

The U.S. State Department’s July 31 media note on the meeting provided some details of the discussion; what was left out is telling too.

For instance: Who attended these meetings?

West was joined in Doha by U.S. Special Envoy for Afghan Women, Girls, and Human Rights Rina Amiri and the chief of the U.S. Mission to Afghanistan, Karen Decker (the mission is presently still based in Doha). Presumably, other staff attended as well, but the U.S. readout highlights these three.

The composition of the Afghan delegation was not laid out with the same level of detail in the U.S. readout, with only “representatives of the Afghan Central Bank and Afghan Ministry of Finance” mentioned.

Why We Continue to Misunderstand Conflict Economies

David Mansfield

It’s said that the definition of madness is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome. Yet, once again, the international community is using the reports of a government in Kabul to build an understanding of the Afghan economy and the tax revenues that the de facto authorities earn. Corruption shaped the economic political fabric of the Afghan Republic and impacted the very data used to measure and analyze the performance of the economy. This all points to the need for a more skeptical view of the official data reported by Kabul, and other administrations in fragile and conflict-affected states. There is, after all, much that takes place on the peripheries of these states that is difficult to monitor and control; it is part of what defines them.

For example, in February the World Bank reported that the value of cross-border trade between Afghanistan and its neighbors had returned to the levels occurring under the Republic, and that the revenues it generated for the Taliban had increased. Surely, this was a claim that should have immediately set alarm bells ringing given the scale of the current economic crisis in Afghanistan reported by the United Nations and the history of misreporting and false statistics that emanated from Kabul for almost two decades.

After all, Khalid Payenda, the former minister of finance, referred to the scale of corruption at the customs offices as “mind boggling” during the final months of the Afghan Republic and provided a rich account of the scale of the graft occurring at several official border crossings in September 2021. My own research with the United States Agency for International Development as well as our imagery collection at the borders of Torkham, Islam Qala, Abu Nasr Farahi, Ziranj, and Spin Boldak in late 2020 indicated that underreporting at these borders was endemic and that, in most cases, the volume of goods entering and exiting Afghanistan was often more than twice as much as reported.

Taliban Abuses Worsen as World Turns a Blind Eye


On August 15, 2021, Sonita Soroush, a proclaimed journalist, producer, manager, and reporter for Ariana News, found herself in the midst of a crowd of her colleagues and coworkers in front of the Ariana TV station discussing the following day’s schedule and program. Little did she know what was about to happen in the next few minutes and the following weeks. As they were chatting about what to put in front of their millions of viewers the next morning on Sob-e-Zindagi (the morning show), the show she was responsible for, one of their admin managers showed up and asked why they were still standing in front of the office. Shockingly, Sonita recalls, “Our manager told us that the Taliban might enter Kabul anytime now, and to go home, pack your bags, get your passport, and we will evacuate you all to safety.” She further said, “Shockingly, I stepped outside and noticed there was heavy traffic. I was halfway to getting to my home when I got another call from the News Department Manager asking me where I was.” Sonita told her manager that she was on her way to her house to get her passport and bags as per the office’s recommendation. “He abruptly told me, don’t come back, go and hide; the Taliban have entered the city gates.”

She recalls this moment in dismay and discomfort. Remembering the days when Afghanistan had one of the most open and free media outlets and agencies providing facts and stories to millions of people reignites her feelings of grief at what the country has lost since then. “Suddenly, everything seemed dark. Even with that image carved in my mind, I still thought maybe this would not be like the last time the Taliban were here,” she said. She would later understand that she could not have been more wrong. The Taliban are the same as they always have been, and even worse in many aspects.

Media and journalism have historically been vital yet underdeveloped aspects of Afghan society. The first official newspaper in Afghanistan, known as Shams -ul- Nahar or the Morning Sun, was established in 1873 during the reign of King Sher Ali Khan. On January 11, 1906, the second official newspaper, Siraj-ul-Akhbar, or Lamp of the News, was formed. However, due to widespread illiteracy in the country, the majority of Afghans relied on oral communications to receive news and information. Newspapers primarily catered to the educated elite, both men and women, who were literate. Research indicates that even during the early 20th century and the late 19th century, when newspapers existed, the monarchy, particularly the royal families, exercised control over the content intended for public consumption. Illiteracy empowers government officials and strips the citizenry of their agency to digest and interpret information for themselves.

For the US, Fentanyl Is All About China

Allison Fedirka

While many governments around the world are focused on securing supply chains, there’s at least one the U.S. government desperately wants to break up: the fentanyl supply chain. Nearly a dozen U.S. government agencies are working together to choke off illicit flows of the drug. In addition to saving American lives, Washington wants to reduce insecurity in Latin America and highlight China’s role in the fentanyl trade to introduce an anti-China element into its security cooperation, particularly with Mexico and Colombia.

China’s rapid growth has over the past two decades helped it develop its economic influence in Latin America – aided in no small part by the absence of a U.S. counter-strategy. At first, Washington saw Beijing’s growing presence as simple economic diversification, and thus no threat to hemispheric security or U.S. security and military relationships with Latin America. Only recently has the U.S. started to see China’s commercial activities in the region as a potential threat, especially as it relates to U.S. access to rare earth elements and the security of allies’ ports and 5G technology.

At the same time, China’s economy is in secular decline. This slowdown, combined with the United States’ drive to decouple supply chains from China, is naturally steering Mexico back toward its northern neighbor. Mexico is an obvious destination for multinational firms that want to manufacture close to the U.S. market at a relatively low cost. For its part, Colombia – for years a beneficiary of Chinese trade and investment – has gotten closer to Beijing politically since the inauguration in 2022 of President Gustavo Petro. However, it too is questioning the future of Chinese foreign investment and trade, leading it to consider alternatives such as the United States.

The New Silk Road: A Project For China’s Global Hegemony – Analysis

Matija Šerić

China’s “Belt and Road Initiative”, or as it is called in China, “One Belt, One Road”, is much better known under the name “New Silk Road”. It’s one of the most ambitious infrastructure projects of all time.

The initiative was launched in 2013 by Chinese President Xi Jinping, and includes a large set of development and investment projects aimed at connecting Asia and Europe through all forms of transport infrastructure. Over the course of a decade, the initiative spread to Africa, Oceania and Latin America, significantly strengthening the global economic and political influence of the People’s Republic of China.

The project currently covers 151 countries (with the potential to grow) and is considered a central pillar of Xi’s foreign policy that seeks to ensure China’s global dominance and make the 21st century China’s century. In other words, Xi wants his country to assume the status and role of the US in the world. China wants to become the most dominant country in the world, which will lead the world into new times.
The historic Silk Road

The historic Chinese Silk Road was created during the westward expansion of the Chinese Han dynasty (from 206 BC to 220 AD). The ancient Chinese created a trade network across Central Asia (modern Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan) and modern India and Pakistan. Also, these trade routes stretched more than 6,000 km to Europe.

China was thus at the center of ancient globalization in those ancient times. It connected eastern and western markets, encouraged the development of economies and exchanged cultural and religious traditions. Valuable Chinese silk, spices, porcelain, and other goods moved west, while China received gold and other precious metals, ivory, and glassware.

Shakeup At China’s Rocket Force Suggests Strategy Shift Toward ‘Nuclear Triad’ – Analysis

Joyce Huang

Chinese President Xi Jinping, also the military’s commander-in-chief, this week replaced two leaders of the elite force overseeing the People’s Liberation Army’s conventional and nuclear missiles.

The reshuffle at the PLA Rocket Force suggests a marked shift in Xi’s nuclear strategy toward the so-called “nuclear triad” — a three-pronged force that enables nuclear missiles to be launched from the air, sea and land — under an integrated command system, analysts warn.

That will help strengthen China’s nuclear deterrent capabilities and thus pose a greater threat to U.S. security, they say.
Nuclear triad

Xi, on Monday, appointed Wang Houbin, former deputy commander of the navy, and Xu Xisheng, former political commissar of the air force’s Southern Theater Command, to serve, respectively, as the rocket force’s commander and political commissar.

“What has happened is that, in order to have a modern and effective nuclear deterrent, is to have what is called the nuclear triad. So, three ways of delivering nuclear missile or nuclear deterrence … This is more about putting nuclear weapons on planes, on submarines and not necessarily on land-based missiles,” Alexander Neill, a Singapore-based adjunct fellow at the think tank Pacific Forum, told VOA Mandarin by phone on Tuesday.

Neill said that China, in order to be a modern nuclear power with aggressive and offensive capabilities, has to acquire the ability to launch nuclear weapons from various positions – something that will keep its enemy guessing.
Fresh leadership

Wang and Xu will replace their predecessors Li Yuchao and Xu Zhongbo.

Why China Has a Giant Pile of Debt

Keith Bradsher

China, which has lent nearly $1 trillion to some 150 developing countries, has been reluctant to cancel large debts owed by countries struggling to make ends meet. That is at least in part because China is facing a debt bomb at home: trillions of dollars owed by local governments, their mostly off-the-books financial affiliates, and real estate developers.

One of the main issues for Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen during her visit to Beijing this week is whether she can persuade China to cooperate more to address an evolving debt crisis facing lower-income countries. But China’s state-controlled banking system is wary of accepting losses on foreign loans when it faces far greater losses on loans within China.
How much debt does China have?

It’s hard to know exactly because official data is scant. Researchers at JPMorgan Chase calculated last month that overall debt within China — including households, companies and the government — had reached 282 percent of the country’s annual economic output. That compares with an average of 256 percent in developed economies around the world and 257 percent in the United States.

What distinguishes China from most other countries is how fast that debt has accumulated relative to the size of its economy. By comparison, in the United States or even deeply indebted Japan, debt has risen less precipitously. The steep increase in China’s debt, more than doubling compared with the size of its economy since the global financial crisis 15 years ago, makes managing it harder.

China’s lending to developing countries is small relative to its domestic debt, representing less than 6 percent of China’s annual economic output. But these loans are particularly sensitive politically. Despite heavy censorship, periodic complaints emerge on Chinese social media that banks should have lent the money to poor households and regions at home, not abroad. Accepting heavy losses on these loans would be very unpopular within China.

Why China is not as powerful as the West might think


President Xi Jinping wants to project China as a powerful trade partner — or dangerous adversary — to virtually any country hoping to be successful in the 21st century.

“The rise of the East, and the decline of the West” is his motto. As Chinese growth rocketed and Western politicians fretted over how to respond, it became a national catchphrase, too.

But among the Chinese people — and increasingly in the chancelleries and boardrooms of Europe — a different story is beginning to be told: Beijing’s march toward global economic domination may not be invincible after all.

China managed only weak GDP growth after belatedly liberating itself from pandemic restrictions. The property market is in crisis and youth unemployment has risen to hazardous levels, with one estimate putting it at 50 percent. Private entrepreneurs increasingly live in fear of what the state will do to their businesses and consumers have stopped spending the way they did in the pre-COVID good times.

In Shanghai, London and New York, Chinese and foreign businesses alike are now grappling with a new scenario: What if the slowdown is here to stay?

“The risks of a major economic crisis in China, or perhaps more probable an imminent stagnation in sustainable economic growth, are […] rising,” Jacob Kirkegaard, senior fellow at the Peterson Institute For International Economics, told POLITICO.

What happens to China’s economy matters hugely for the world.

According to the latest statistics, the Chinese economy grew at a weak pace in the second quarter of this year, with GDP just 0.8 percent up in April-June from the previous quarter, on a seasonally adjusted basis. Year-on-year, GDP expanded 6.3 percent in the second quarter — below the 7.3 percent forecast.

China ups military ante on Taiwan’s eastern flank


Soldiers of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) Marine Corps march during a military drill as the sun rises at a military base in Taonan, Jilin province. Photo: Reuters / China Daily

China has upped the ante on its military pressure on Taiwan, intensifying military drills east of the self-governing island to prepare for a blockade aimed at forcing eventual reunification.

This month, Nikkei reported that China has dramatically increased military drills simulating a blockade of Taiwan since former US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited the island last August.

Nikkei notes that before Pelosi’s visit, Chinese ships and planes have become more active in the Western Pacific, in the Philippine Sea east of Taiwan.

The paper also notes the deployment last December of China’s Liaoning aircraft carrier east of Taiwan, followed in April this year by deployment of the carrier Shandong in the same region.

Nikkei notes that in April, a Chinese TB001 combat drone was confirmed east of and around Taiwan on a highly unusual flight path, according to the Taiwanese Ministry of National Defense. It also says that in May, a BZK005 reconnaissance drone was spotted off the east coast of Taiwan.

Nikkei also says that sightings of Chinese aircraft in the airspace east of Taiwan have substantially increased since March, noting that from Pelosi’s visit until February 2023, they were observed no more than three days a month. The number gradually increased from 10 days in April to 12 in May, six in June, and 12 in July.

The End of China’s Economic Miracle

Adam S. Posen

As 2022 came to an end, hopes were rising that China’s economy—and, consequently, the global economy—was poised for a surge. After three years of stringent restrictions on movement, mandatory mass testing, and interminable lockdowns, the Chinese government had suddenly decided to abandon its “zero COVID” policy, which had suppressed demand, hampered manufacturing, roiled supply lines, and produced the most significant slowdown that the country’s economy had seen since pro-market reforms began in the late 1970s. In the weeks following the policy change, global prices of oil, copper, and other commodities rose on expectations that Chinese demand would surge. In March, then Chinese Premier Li Keqiang announced a target for real GDP growth of around five percent, and many external analysts predicted it would go far higher.

Initially, some parts of China’s economy did indeed grow: pent-up demand for domestic tourism, hospitality, and retail services all made solid contributions to the recovery. Exports grew in the first few months of 2023, and it appeared that even the beleaguered residential real estate market had bottomed out. But by the end of the second quarter, the latest GDP data told a very different story: overall growth was weak and seemingly set on a downward trend. Wary foreign investors and cash-strapped local governments in China chose not to pick up on the initial momentum.

This reversal was more significant than a typical overly optimistic forecast missing the mark. The seriousness of the problem is indicated by the decline of both China’s durable goods consumption and private-sector investment rates to a fraction of their earlier levels, and by the country’s surging household savings rate. Those trends reflect people’s long-term economic decisions in the aggregate, and they strongly suggest that in China, people and companies are increasingly fearful of losing access to their assets and are prioritizing short-term liquidity over investment. That these indicators have not returned to pre-COVID, normal levels—let alone boomed after reopening as they did in the United States and elsewhere—is a sign of deep problems.

China Was the World's Biggest Economic Miracle and It Will Be Again | Opinion


According to the World Bank, China's real per capita GDP rose from $404 in 1979—the year Deng Xiaoping opened the economy to private enterprise—to $11,560 in 2022 in constant 2015 U.S. dollars. It jumped five-fold since 2001. By contrast, India's real per capita GDP rose from $373 in 1979 to just $2,085 in 2022. By comparison, you can see what a success story China has been, one unique in economic activity.

This is not to say Deng's trajectory is still at play. Deng Xiaoping's economy, which turned subsistence farmers into semi-skilled industrial workers, surely has peaked. The great migration from country to city is slowing, and China's workforce is slowly shrinking.

But China is building a new digital economy powered by AI and high-speed broadband, with 2.3 million of the world's 3 million 5G base stations and download speeds double ours. It has automated ports that can empty a container ship in 45 minutes rather than the 48 hours required at our port of Long Beach. It's also automated mines where no worker goes underground, factories controlled by AI, and warehouses in which robots do the sorting and packaging.

Most of all, nearly two-thirds of Chinese citizens have an education beyond high school, compared to just 3 percent who had one in 1979. China graduates more engineers than the rest of the world combined, and Chinese universities teach at world standards.

China has also extended its economic reach to developing economies. It now exports more to the Global South than to developed markets, doubling its exports to ASEAN and tripling its exports to Central Asia after 2020. It builds broadband, railroads, and ports from Africa to South America, promoting a permanent market for its exports.
eople watch a disabled man writing Chinese characters with bionic hands at the Apsara Conference, a cloud computing and artificial intelligence (AI) conference, in Hangzhou, in China's eastern Zhejiang province on November 3, 2022.STR/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

China's new digital economy is in early days, to be sure, and a lot can go wrong. But some things are going right. China overtook Japan as the world's largest auto exporter this year, thanks in part to Tesla's mega-plant in Shanghai. China now makes the 21st century equivalent of the Model T in the form of EVs with a $10,000 price tag.

Ukrainian Troops Trained by the West Stumble in Battle

Eric Schmitt and Helene Cooper

The first several weeks of Ukraine’s long-awaited counteroffensive have not been kind to the Ukrainian troops who were trained and armed by the United States and its allies.

Equipped with advanced American weapons and heralded as the vanguard of a major assault, the troops became bogged down in dense Russian minefields under constant fire from artillery and helicopter gunships. Units got lost. One unit delayed a nighttime attack until dawn, losing its advantage. Another fared so badly that commanders yanked it off the battlefield altogether.

Now the Western-trained Ukrainian brigades are trying to turn things around, U.S. officials and independent analysts say. Ukrainian military commanders have changed tactics, focusing on wearing down the Russian forces with artillery and long-range missiles instead of plunging into minefields under fire. A troop surge is underway in the country’s south, with a second wave of Western-trained forces launching mostly small-scale attacks to punch through Russian lines.

But early results have been mixed. While Ukrainian troops have retaken a few villages, they have yet to make the kinds of sweeping gains that characterized their successes in the strategically important cities of Kherson and Kharkiv last fall. The complicated training in Western maneuvers has given the Ukrainians scant solace in the face of barrage after barrage of Russian artillery.

How the Ukraine Counteroffensive Can Still Succeed

Frederick W. Kagan , Karolina Hird and Kateryna Stepanenko

The situation in Ukraine still favors Kyiv despite the limited progress made in the counteroffensive so far. Ukrainian forces attempted a limited mechanized penetration of prepared Russian defenses in the south in early to mid-June, but failed to break through the Russian lines. They then switched to slower and more careful operations while disrupting Russian rear areas with long-range precision strikes. Ukraine began the next, reportedly main, phase of its counteroffensive on July 26 with a determined drive to penetrate Russian lines in western Zaporizhia Oblast. It’s far too soon to evaluate the outcome of that effort, which is underway as of the time of this writing, but it is vital to manage expectations. Ukrainian forces are fighting now to break through the first line of long-prepared Russian defenses. Several lines lie behind it, stretching for many miles. Ukrainian progress will very likely alternate periods of notable tactical advances with periods, possibly long periods, of pause and some setbacks. Much as we might hope that the road to the Sea of Azov will simply open for Ukrainian forces the odds are high that fighting will remain hard, casualties high, and frustration will be a constant companion. All of which is normal in war.

But the Ukrainian counteroffensive can succeed in any of several ways. First, the current Ukrainian mechanized breakthrough could succeed, and the Ukrainians could exploit it deeply enough to unhinge part or all of the Russian lines. Second, Russian forces, already suffering serious morale and other systemic problems, could break under the pressure and begin to withdraw in a controlled or uncontrolled fashion. Third, a steady pressure and interdiction campaign supported by major efforts such as the one now underway can generate gaps in the Russian lines that Ukrainian forces can exploit at first locally, but then for deeper penetrations. The first and second possibilities are relatively unlikely but possible.

The West Attacked Russia’s Economy. The Result Is Another Stalemate.

Alan Cullison and Georgi Kantchev

Economists expect sanctions to cause Russia to stagnate in the years ahead. PHOTO: SOFYA SANDURSKAYA/TASS/ZUMA PRESS

Weeks after Russia invaded Ukraine last year, a White House official warned Moscow that a raft of U.S.-led sanctions could cut Russia’s economy in half.

Last week the International Monetary Fund gave some upbeat news for the Kremlin, saying it now expects Russia’s economy to grow 1.5% this year, supported by extensive state spending. That follows a shrinkage of 2.1% the year before, when Russia became the most sanctioned major economy in the world.

Economists expect the sanctions to cause Russia to stagnate in the years ahead and the fault lines are already emerging. But the West’s failure to quickly bring the Russian economy to its knees for its invasion of Ukraine mirrors a larger stalemate on the battlefield there, despite a raft of Western lethal aid to Kyiv and economic support for the Ukrainian cause.

Russia’s real GDP, change from a year earlier, with projections for 2023 and 2024

When they were unveiled, the sanctions were described by Biden administration officials as the most consequential in history, and the initial shock and awe roiled Moscow’s financial markets. But today the economy has muddled through enough for the Kremlin to support an attritional war that the U.S. had hoped to avoid.

Sanctions initially starved Russia of microchips and high-tech components last year, crimping its ability to produce precision-guided missiles. But since then Moscow has found loopholes through neighboring countries, and is bombing Ukraine daily with precision weaponry.

Russia’s crude oil continues to flow, even if the lower prices it fetches have hit state coffers. Analysts say that the main effect of sanctions—technological backwardness and an inability to modernize—will hamper its economic growth in the longer term.

“Sanctions have not destroyed the Russian economy just yet,” said Sergei Guriev, a professor at Sciences Po in Paris and a former Russian government adviser. “They have started to constrain but not stop Putin’s ability to finance this war.”

Macron knows that Europe needs to stand on its own two feet

Artin DerSimonian

The recent evolution in French strategic thinking owes a great deal to the war in Ukraine, but these shifts will have deeper and wider implications for European security and the transatlantic relationship moving forward.

As the U.S.-China rivalry intensifies, it will become increasingly valuable for Washington to see a unified, capable, and determined European pillar within the transatlantic alliance that is willing to effectively manage security affairs on the continent and carry its own weight internationally — an undertaking long promoted by French leaders.

In a 2019 interview, French President Emmanuel Macron infamously asserted that NATO was experiencing “brain death” and urged Europe to “start thinking of itself strategically as a geopolitical power,” lest it risk losing control over its own “destiny.” These comments highlighted concerns across Europe that Washington was losing interest in the continent and could no longer serve as a reliable ally. Four years later, Macron now declares that Russian President Vladimir Putin has “jolted [NATO] back with the worst of electroshock.”

France has a long tradition of seeking an independent geopolitical role for itself, primarily based on its nuclear deterrent, permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, capable armed forces, and experienced diplomatic and intelligence networks. During his tenure, Macron has staked much of his international reputation on forging a Europe with “strategic autonomy,” understood as a strategy rooted in its conception of European interests while preserving the ability to act alone when necessary and with allies whenever possible. Having been elected only a few months after former U.S. President Donald Trump entered the White House, Macron’s impression that Europe’s reliance on Washington was an unpredictable gamble was hard to argue with.

For those NATO members that were once part of the Soviet bloc, the deterrent capabilities of the alliance and the U.S. have long been their only guarantee from feared Russian revanchism. Therefore, these states tended to view Macron’s push for European strategic autonomy as a threat to their own security as they doubted western Europe’s ability and willingness to militarily defend the central and eastern nations of the continent absent U.S. leadership. When Biden and his team of committed transatlanticists entered the White House, those fears diminished. Macron, however, persisted in his calls for strategic autonomy.

The Crisis of American Leadership


For most of the post-World War II era, the United States has abided by international law and made the world a safer place. But President George W. Bush’s disastrous military adventurism so powerfully undermined trust in the US-led international order that it has become nearly impossible to tackle pressing global challenges such as climate change.

TOULOUSE – In December 2003, roughly nine months into the Iraq War that would forever define his legacy, then-US President George W. Bush was asked whether his administration’s policies complied with international law. “I don’t know what you’re talking about by international law. I better consult my lawyer,” he joked. Bush’s disastrous military adventurism starkly illustrated the importance of international norms and institutions, as well as the consequences of disregarding them. Unfortunately, we seem to have forgotten this lesson once again.

Since the end of World War II, the United Nations has been the cornerstone of the international rules-based order. While numerous other international agreements address issues such as chemical weapons, biological warfare, and regional stability, the UN has been entrusted with the overarching role of maintaining global peace and stability. What made it effective, at least for a while, was the support of the world’s liberal democracies and, crucially, the unwavering commitment of both Democratic and Republican administrations in the United States.

To be sure, the US has long been ambivalent about some aspects of the international order, as demonstrated by its long-standing refusal to join the International Criminal Court. For the most part, however, the US has adhered to the global rulebook, despite the enormous political and economic power it acquired in the aftermath of World War II, which would have enabled it to do whatever it wanted unilaterally.

Ukrainian troops on front line admit Russians tougher than expected in ongoing counteroffensive

Patrick Reilly

Ukrainian troops admitted that the Russians have put up a tougher fight than expected as they continue pushing into enemy-controlled territory.

Troops at the vanguard of Ukraine’s long-planned counteroffensive in the southeast region of the country said that a fierce battle last week revealed that the Russian troops are better prepared than originally anticipated.

“The Russians were waiting for us,” a 29-year-old soldier using the call-sign Bulat told Reuters in the Southern Donetsk Province.

“They fired anti-tank weapons and grenade launchers at us. My vehicle drove over an anti-tank mine, but everything was ok, the vehicle took the hit, and everyone was alive.”

Ukraine’s boldest counteroffensive yet is now in its third month. Last week’s battle of Staromaiorske gave an indication as to why the advance has been so slow — and bloody.Ukraine launched its counteroffensive three months ago, but progress has been slow.

Ukraine has tested its allies’ patience with its military strategy and demands

Holly Ellyatt

As the war with Russia has played out, it’s been inevitable perhaps that there have been tensions and differences of opinion between Kyiv and its allies.

Ukraine has to tread a fine line with its international friends.

It’s reliant on its partners for billions of dollars’ worth of military hardware and assistance but insists it’s fighting the West’s war too.

Most recently, tensions have emerged over Ukraine’s military strategy and demands on NATO.

A meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Council during the NATO summit on July 12, 2023, in Vilnius, Lithuania.

Ukraine’s relationship with its international partners has become increasingly complex, and it was perhaps inevitable that tensions and differences of opinion between Kyiv and its allies arose as the war with Russia dragged on.

Ukraine has to tread a fine line with its international friends. It is reliant on its partners for billions of dollars’ worth of military hardware, as well as other forms of humanitarian and financial assistance, and it needs a continuous and increasing supply of arms to fight Russia. It insists, however, that it is fighting not only for its own survival but for the West, too, facing a hostile and unpredictable Russia.

Kyiv’s biggest individual benefactors like the U.S. and U.K., who have given more than $40 billion and $4 billion in security assistance to Ukraine, respectively, have pledged to support Ukraine till the end. The phrase “whatever it takes” has become a mantra often repeated at public gatherings of allies assessing the war and the military needs of Ukraine.

A guidebook to Russian wartime oligarchs How Russia’s richest businessmen profit from the war in Ukraine

Assembly line at the Kalashnikov plant

Independent Russian investigative outlet Proekt has put out a “guidebook to Russian wartime oligarchs,” which details the “contributions” the wealthiest Russian nationals have made so far to the war in Ukraine. Proekt journalists studied state contracts and other open sources of information, discovering in the process that at least 81 of Russia’s richest businessmen are involved in supplying Russia’s military-industrial complex, its army, and its National Guard, though some deny their involvement with the defense economy and even openly criticize the war. Meduza shares an English-language synopsis of Proekt’s investigation.

The Proekt team’s investigation started by looking at the 2021 Forbes Russia list. Journalists then analyzed publicly available state contracts between companies wholly or partially owned by the people on that list and organizations like military manufacturing plants, Russia’s Defense Ministry, and the National Guard. They focused on the period between 2014 and 2023. Proekt notes, however, that the Defense Ministry and military factories began to classify most contracts as secret in 2017.

Of the 81 businessmen included in the investigation who have been involved in weapons manufacturing, 80 have been sanctioned but only 14 faced restrictions from all of Ukraine’s allies. Another 34 were sanctioned only by Ukraine.

Contracts between the oligarchs’ companies and Russia’s military-industrial complex during the entire period of military conflict in Ukraine (2014–the present) were worth at least 220 billion rubles ($2.4 billion), writes Proekt.

Who profits from the war, and how? A few examples.

In March 2022, the Russian military killed civilian residents in the city of Bucha, outside of Kyiv. Video footage of the events — shot by drones, surveillance cameras, and a Bucha resident, Viktor Shatilo, who filmed the murders on his cell phone from his home’s attic — shows that some people were killed by BMD-2 and BMD-4M airborne infantry fighting vehicles. The latter are produced by the company KBP Instrument Design Bureau, which belongs to the High Precision Systems holding company, part of the state corporation Rostec.

Starlink’s SOS – Ukrainian Military Struggles as Russia’s ‘Tobol’ EW Strikes

Girish Linganna

Girish Linganna is a Defence & Aerospace analyst and is the Director of ADD Engineering Components (India) Pvt Ltd, a subsidiary of ADD Engineering GmbH, Germany with manufacturing units in Russia. He is Consulting Editor Industry and Defense at Frontier India.

Reports indicate that the Starlink communication system used by the Ukrainian armed forces has exhibited unexpected behaviour as of late. There have been rumblings that Starlink’s services have been suspended in certain parts of the combat zone in Ukraine. According to reports from Western media outlets, Elon Musk, owner of SpaceX, has repeatedly prevented the Ukrainian military from gaining access to the Starlink Internet service, eventually undermining Kyiv’s military plans. The billionaire has not yet responded to the claims.

In an interview with media on July 31, retired lieutenant colonel of the Lugansk People’s Republic Armed Forces Andrey Marochko said that analysis of intercepted chatter by Ukrainian forces on the line of contact showed that the Ukrainians had trouble using the Internet via Starlink satellites in the Lugansk tactical direction. Russian use of electronic warfare equipment to disrupt SpaceX’s communications is widely blamed.

As per Ukrainian commander Madyar, The Russian army “has already obtained the technology that allows them to jam Starlink.” The Russian Ministry of Defence has yet to comment on the issue.

According to Western media, the Russian Army began using the 14Ts227 Tobol EW system as early as 2022. Supposedly, this system disrupts satellite communication channels used by Ukrainian forces.

On April 18, the Washington Post reported a new Russian innovation and how it could be used in the ongoing Special Operation. Leaked classified documents from the American intelligence community provided the details about “Tobol.” The referenced sources are from March of 2023. Even though the data’s integrity is under question, people are nevertheless curious about the hack and the details it may provide.

What's the Best Tank in the World? Emerging AbramsX?


The US Army’s M1A2 Abrams v4, Israel’s Merkava, Germany’s Leopard 2 or the famous Russian T-14 Armata are all main battle tanks which could compete for distinction of … the best tank in the world.

However, what about an emerging tank which has yet to fully exist? It seems General Dynamics Land Systems AbramsX could very well be the best tank to ever exist, should it perform as anticipated.

GDLS revealed its AbramsX last Fall at the 2022 Association of the United States Army Annual Symposium as an offering or vehicle for the Army to consider.How might the AbramsX build upon armored vehicle and tank innovations? GDLS developers have explained a number of key elements to this, including an unmanned turret, ability to launch drones, fire course-correcting ammunition, operate 360-degree thermal sites, evolving AI-enabled command and control capability and new generations of sensor data processing and integration.

While the Army typically does not comment on specific industry offerings, the tank was offered to the Army as a demonstrator for exploration. Mr. William Nelson, Deputy, Army Futures Command, did not comment at all on the AbramsX specifically, but did tell Warrior the service is working intensely on the extent to which emerging armored vehicle and tank technologies are driving new requirements and maneuver formations.

"We need lighter formations that are more lethal and survivable, and heavy formations which are lighter with a reduced logistical footprint. I think that defines the future and is not something you turn on a dime," Nelson told Warrior.

The AbramsX is a 60-ton offering designed to be a little faster, more mobile and more expeditionary than the existing Abrams, something which could massively improve its ability to cross bridges, enter strategically vital passageways and perhaps keep pace with maneuvering infantry and lighter-vehicles on the move. The lighter weight offering also appears to address ongoing Army concerns about Abram tank weight, referring to the extent to which its 70-ton weight could limit the platform's mobility and deployability to a certain extent.

What If?

Chris Williams

Storm clouds are gathering. The United States faces an increasingly threatening political-military environment driven by a range of hostile adversaries armed with increasingly sophisticated means and methods of debilitating attack. Will current domestic distractions prevent our leaders from fashioning effective policies and plans to anticipate and repel such attacks? Do we have the requisite military capabilities to deter or defeat such threats?

The 9/11 Commission cited “a failure of imagination” as one of the principal causes of America’s inability to anticipate and prevent the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, DC on that fateful morning almost twenty-two years ago. Consistent with that finding, one must ask: What If?

What if Vladimir Putin, having finally recognized that he will not achieve his goal of subjugating Ukraine, authorized strikes against various Ukrainian targets using low-yield tactical nuclear weapons to shock NATO, destroy critical infrastructure, and leave key cities uninhabitable? What if immediately thereafter Putin agreed to a “ceasefire-in-place” and called for “face-to-face negotiations to resolve the matter of Ukraine” – an approach that would leave Russia in control of occupied Ukrainian territory? And what if Putin encouraged Wagner Group mercenaries to launch attacks against Poland, a NATO ally, all while denying responsibility for such actions? How would the U.S., NATO, and others respond?

What if North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un fomented an escalating political crisis on the peninsula, launched debilitating cyberattacks on critical infrastructure in the South, and demanded replacement of the ruling government in Seoul with a pro-North regime that supports removal of all US forces from the peninsula? What if the North also released a list of a dozen South Korean cities that would be attacked by artillery and rockets armed with chemical weapons if his demands were not met? What if such a warning caused panic and led to hurried evacuations of several of those cities thereby creating a humanitarian and political crisis in the South? What if, amid the crisis, North Korean special forces conducted sabotage operations against ROK command control & communications targets and assassinated South Korean political and industry leaders? And what if Kim asserted that if the US did not begin a full withdrawal of its military forces from the South within one week, the North would launch missile attacks against U.S. military bases in the South and throughout the region and destroy Washington, D.C., and other U.S. cities? How would the U.S. and its friends and allies respond?

Five Ways The Ukraine War Could Become A Nuclear Conflict

Loren Thompson

Use of even one nuclear device in the Ukraine war would change everything.WIKIPEDIA

Eighteen months into war between Russia and Ukraine, the conflict has become nearly invisible to many Americans. News from the front is frequently reduced to a few sentences, and each new day’s reporting sounds like yesterday’s.

As Western nations have gradually crossed every “red line” laid down by Russian President Vladimir Putin, Moscow’s repeated warnings about the possibility of nuclear weapons being used have ceased to elicit fear.

Thus, when Deputy Chairman of the Russian Security Council Dmitry Medvedev warned on June 30 that success of the current Ukrainian counter-offensive might provoke a “nuclear conflagration,” his comment was barely noticed. Some Western observers seem to have concluded such statements are a bluff, despite the frequency with which they are issued by senior Russian officials.

The Biden administration takes the warnings seriously, and has sought to find a middle ground between doing too little and doing too much in arming Kyiv. Nonetheless, there is inherent danger in supporting war on the doorstep of another nuclear power. Nobody in Washington can claim to understand with any precision what Putin’s inner circle is thinking, or how it might react to a variety of plausible developments.

Against that backdrop, here are five scenarios in which Moscow might decide to “go nuclear.” Since US planning scenarios typically anticipate that the nuclear threshold initially would be breached in a limited and local way, I will confine myself mainly to situations in which Russia employs tactical weapons—of which it has roughly 1,900.

Ukraine Situation Report: Kyiv Changes Counteroffensive Tactics


Despite tens of billions of dollars of weapons poured into Ukraine and training of many of the country's troops by the U.S. and its allies, progress in the counteroffensive has been limited. So Kyiv is changing its tactics.

The New York Times on Wednesday reported that Ukrainian military commanders are now "focusing on wearing down the Russian forces with artillery and long-range missiles instead of plunging into minefields under fire." This comes as a troop surge is underway in the country’s south, "with a second wave of Western-trained forces launching mostly small-scale attacks to punch through Russian lines.”

The results, to date, have “been mixed,” the publication reported. While Ukrainian troops have retaken a few villages, “they have yet to make the kinds of sweeping gains that characterized their successes in the strategically important cities of Kherson and Kharkiv last fall. The complicated training in Western maneuvers has given the Ukrainians scant solace in the face of barrage after barrage of Russian artillery.”

The tactical change up “is a clear signal that NATO’s hopes for large advances made by Ukrainian formations armed with new weapons, new training and an injection of artillery ammunition have failed to materialize, at least for now,” the paper reported.

The situation on the battlefield “raises questions about the quality of the training the Ukrainians received from the West and about whether tens of billions of dollars’ worth of weapons, including nearly $44 billion worth from the Biden administration, have been successful in transforming the Ukrainian military into a NATO-standard fighting force.”

The Times piece includes analysis from Rob Lee, Senior Fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute and Michael Kofman, Senior Fellow, Carnegie Endowment and Principal Research Scientist, CNA. Kofman noted that there were challenges with how Ukrainian troops were trained to fight the NATO way. Lee said the training timetable was too compressed.

Private infrastructure complicates US warfare plans


Depending on who’s telling the tale, US near-peer adversaries China and Russia may have accomplished a significant paradigm shift in their cyber operations by targeting civilian infrastructure – or they may simply be doing the same sorts of things Washington is doing with its own cyber warfare plans.

In National Defense magazine this month Josh Luckenbaugh says that, while the US and Western countries consider civilian infrastructure off-limits, its adversaries do not abide by those principles. He says that US near-peer adversaries plan to use such effects-based operations to change the US political calculus by impeding decision-making and causing social panic.

Luckenbaugh also says that since US near-peer adversaries are looking for new ways to attack critical infrastructure, looking for new ways to partner with the private sector becomes imperative, as most US critical infrastructure is privately owned.

He also notes that the US military does not own and operate critical infrastructure, necessitating new forms of public-private partnership that secure the latter but do not affect the political calculus between free enterprise, privacy, and state security.
The Taiwan case

In the latest tit-for-tat in the ongoing cyberwar between the US and China, the US has exposed extensive Chinese cyberattacks aimed at critical infrastructure to disrupt the former’s military rescue operations in the event of an attack on Taiwan from the Chinese mainland.