1 December 2023

Sixteen more hostages freed from Gaza as part of Israeli-Hamas truce

Nidal Al-Mughrabi, Mohammed Salem and Emily Rose

Sixteen people who were being held hostage in Gaza were handed over to Israeli officials on Wednesday, the second and last day of an extended truce in the Gaza war between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas, the Red Cross and other authorities said.

In a repeat of scenes over the past six days during a humanitarian pause in hostilities, the civilians were released to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and driven in vehicles to Israel.

Under the terms of the Qatari-mediated deal, 30 Palestinians -- 16 minors and 14 women -- will be released on Wednesday in exchange, Majed Al-Ansari, spokesperson for Qatar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.

Two Russian citizens and four Thai citizens were released outside the framework of the agreement while the 10 Israeli citizens freed included five dual citizens, Ansari said. They were a Dutch dual citizen, who is also a minor, three German dual citizens and one U.S. dual citizen, he said.

The hostages freed were among some 240 people seized by Hamas gunmen during a rampage into southern Israel on Oct. 7 in which Israel says 1,200 people were killed. Israel's bombardment of Gaza in retaliation has killed more than 15,000 Gazans, according to health authorities in the Palestinian enclave.

The office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier identified two Russian-Israeli women freed on Wednesday night as Yelena Trupanov, 50, and Irena Tati, 73. Video from Hamas' armed wing showed the women being handed over to the ICRC and driven out of the Gaza Strip.

Hamas’s Political Leaders Aren’t in Charg

Anchal Vohra

From the comfort of Doha, Hamas’s political leaders have been negotiating the release of Israeli hostages in exchange for Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. Others who live in Beirut under the patronage of Hezbollah sporadically brief the press. And yet according to at least four Israeli and Arab officials the key players are Hamas’s military leaders inside the Gaza Strip itself.

Every time there is a communication blackout in Gaza, negotiations for hostage release are set back, a Qatari official aware of the negotiations told Foreign Policy. While the political leadership in exile has a say in the ongoing hostage negotiations, two of the group’s more extremist leaders based in Gaza seem to have an upper hand.

Mohammed Deif, the chief commander of the al-Qassam Brigades, or the military wing of Hamas, and Yahya Sinwar, Hamas’s leader of the Gaza Strip and the man who helped form the brigade in 1991, are the architects of Oct. 7 attack, and the top authorities laying down conditions for hostage release. For instance, the demand during negotiations that Israel stop flying its intelligence gathering drones was insisted upon by Hamas so the position of the men holding the hostages wasn’t exposed.

“They show us a united front,’’ an Arab source briefed on the matter said “but like in any war, anywhere, the military wing has more sway.’’ Hugh Lovatt, a senior policy fellow with the Middle East and North Africa Programme at the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), said that, while Hamas still works through consensus, the military leadership is the dominant voice. “The al-Qassam brigade physically holds hostages so they are the ultimate power brokers,’’ he told FP, “but not the only ones.’’

Sinwar, 61, and Deif, 58, were both born in Khan Younis refugee camp in southern Gaza, the current headquarters of Hamas according to former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. “They are probably hiding in Khan Younis and that’s likely where the bulk of hostages are held,’’ Eran Lerman, Israel’s deputy national security advisor between 2006 and 2015, told FP over the phone.

India’s dilemma: Are Hamas fighters terrorists?

Bharat Karnad

The Indian government has been hoisted on to the horns of a dilemma. The rightwing coalition government in Israel of Benjamin Netanyahu, not unreasonably, seeks universal branding of the Hamas (Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiya — Islamic Resistance Movement) as a terrorist organisation in order to justify its all-out military campaign launched in the Gaza Strip. It was in response to the surprise combined arms attack October 7 on the nearby Israeli kibbutz (farming cooperative) and small towns across the “iron wall” the Israelis built along the border with Gaza to keep themselves safe. Had this Iron Wall worked as advertised, there would have been no Israel-Hamas war.

The so-called “Iron Wall” is a high advanced-tech steel wire fence interspersed with towers mounting machine guns slaved to banks of surveillance sensors, including aerostats (large ground-tethered balloons with radars and thermal sensors, cameras, and other devices that maintain a 24/7 vigil). The machine guns automatically fire in “kill zones” that cover the length of the wall on the Israel-Gaza border the instant sensors at any time detect breaches of the wall.

It is a solution, incidentally, the Indian government considered buying into to prevent infiltration across the Line of Control in J&K by Pakistan-based jihadi groups. But it was deterred by the high price. Just as well, because while it cost Israel a billion dollars to install this protective border complex, it took the lead Hamas elements only a few seconds to “blind” the thermal and imagery sensors, and a few precision drone bomblets dropped on the towers, to render the wall useless, and allow the Hamas fighters to flow unimpeded into Israel. The Israeli “iron dome” air defence system, was likewise defeated by a too large barrage of rockets fired from within Gaza.

Why Israel Won’t Change

Dahlia Scheindlin

Almost from the moment Hamas broke through Israel’s security barrier with the Gaza Strip on October 7 and began its rampage, it felt as if Israel would never be the same. Within hours, Israelis were forced to confront the reality that many of the assumptions that had long guided Israeli policy toward the Palestinians had crumbled. The state’s 16-year-old policy of blockading Gaza had failed to make them safe. The government’s calculation that it could lure Hamas into pragmatism—whether by allowing Qatari funding for Hamas or by giving work permits for Gaza laborers—had instead lured Israel into complacency. And the belief that most threats from Hamas could be neutralized by high-tech surveillance, deep underground barriers, and the Iron Dome missile defense system had proved dead wrong.

On a broader level, the attacks showed the terrible failure of the idea that the Palestinian political question could be sidelined indefinitely without any cost to Israel, a belief so axiomatic among Israel’s leadership that commentators found names for it: conflict management, or “shrinking the conflict.” Thus, there had been no Israeli-Palestinian negotiations on a final status peace deal for years, even as Israel pursued normalization with a growing number of Arab states. Over the course of more than two decades, the right-wing parties dominating the Israeli political scene had promised voters that the country was more secure than it would be under any other policy, and the majority of voters agreed. But on October 7, Hamas’s attack brought the status quo crashing down.

Yet in one major way Israel remains unchanged. Although Israelis blame the country’s leadership for the catastrophic security failures surrounding the attacks, their basic political orientation seems unlikely to budge. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may well be forced to step down when the war is over—if not before, since the war has no clear endpoint. But as Israeli history has repeatedly shown, especially in recent decades, episodes of war or extreme violence like the current one have only reinforced a rightward tilt in Israeli politics. If that pattern holds now, Israelis might elect a new government, but they might also endorse the same flawed assumptions that have defined that tilt and which have helped shape the current crisis.

How to End the Civil War in Israel-Palestine

Chibli Mallat

How does it end? How should it end?

How does the war initiated by the Hamas massacre at dawn on Oct. 7 end? One never knows how a war ends, let alone when. In Gaza, there have been several wars since Israel pulled out and destroyed its settlements in 2005. None prevented the devastation wrought by the next one. Further back, no one could predict that Gaza would be occupied by Israel in 1967. And in 1948, when 200,000 refugees of the 800,000 Palestinians uprooted north of Gaza found shelter in the narrow green strip between two deserts, where only 80,000 lived before the war, most thought they would be able to return home within a few weeks.

We know how both parties would like the war to end, in the context of what is feasible: for Israel, the destruction of Hamas, meaning its inability to ever launch another war, together with the killing of as many of its members and leaders as possible. We also know how Hamas would like it to end, to fight the Israelis and inflict as many casualties as possible, and an eventual halt to hostilities with them in continued control of all or part of the strip. This would mark Hamas’s acknowledgement among Palestinians as the central if not sole interlocutor for the future of Palestine.

With the positions so far apart, the hostilities will continue with varying fits and intensities, and the repeat of large-scale suffering and massacres. The current disagreement is over “a limited humanitarian pause” (for the Israeli government, at the time of its choice) or a lasting cease-fire (advocated by Hamas to operate immediately and enduringly).

If Israel pursues a full-scale ground invasion of Gaza, with the complications wrought by the presence of civilian and military prisoners taken by Hamas on Oct. 7, the continuation of hostilities is an assured recipe for more deaths on both sides. So long as the guns have not gone silent, the likelihood grows of a brutal war devolving into wide-scale regional violence. Even if the Israeli army subdues the entirety of Gaza again, and Hamas’s rule is ended, Israel will be confronted by a devastation even worse than that which has existed in the Gaza Strip since 1948.

Gaza’s Gordian Knot

Seth J. Frantzman

Israel and Hamas agreed to a pause in fighting on Friday, November 24, after almost fifty days of war in Gaza. The pause required Hamas to release dozens of hostages while Israel would release Palestinian prisoners. However, Israeli officials have vowed to continue fighting in Gaza. This leaves questions about what will become of Gaza after the war. Competing visions for Gaza illustrate that there is no clear policy for the area when the war is over. Consequently, the differing views in Israel, the United States, and the region must be reconciled to move forward.

Israeli military chief of staff Herzi Halevi went to northern Israel on November 28 and spoke to IDF troops. He announced, “we are preparing for the continuation of the operation to dismantle Hamas. It will take time, these are complex goals, but they are justified beyond measure.” Israel’s Defense Minister Yoav Gallant visited Gaza over the weekend on November 25. He told soldiers that “our ability to bring home the first group of hostages is the result of military pressure. As soon as military pressure is applied, they [Hamas] want a break. When you increase the pressure, they want another break.” The timeframe for continuing operations was mere days, meaning the pause in fighting was not expected to last long: “Any further negotiations [with Hamas] will be held under fire.”

Currently, Israel has three divisions of soldiers in Gaza. The Thirty-Sixth Armored Division sits across the center of the Gaza Strip, cutting off Gaza City from southern Gaza. Other units operate along the coast and north of Gaza City, essentially encircling the city. Hamas has been pushed out of numerous neighborhoods, and it has taken losses, although the exact number is unclear.

Rula Hardal: Life as a Palestinian Citizen of Israel

Jon Alterman

Jon Alterman: Rula Hardal is a research fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Israel, a former lecturer at the Arab American University, and a former professor at Al-Quds University. She completed her doctorate in political science at the University of Hanover in Germany, and she's about to become the Palestinian co-director of A Land for All, an Israeli-Palestinian political organization. Rula, welcome to Babel.

Rula Hardal: Thank you.

Jon Alterman: You've written a lot about identity. How do you think about your own identity? It's complicated.

Rula Hardal: Yeah, it's quite complicated because I deal with that as a political scientist, not only in my daily life but also in my academic life. It's to be a Palestinian born, raised in Israel, part of the Palestinian people but also being a minority inside Israel and being an Israeli citizen. I also lived abroad for 10 years in Germany and came back and decided to live and work in the West Bank. Later on, I moved back to Israel for my academic work. Yeah, it's quite complicated.

Jon Alterman: Can you talk about your decision to move to the West Bank and what you found there?

Rula Hardal: Well, when I decided to come back from Germany after 10 years there, I decided to be in a Palestinian context in terms of society, life, and academic engagement. I got an offer from Al-Quds University, and I worked there for six years. I discovered that even though I feel very connected to the Palestinian people, and I searched the Palestinian society in terms of politics and national movement, I had the feeling that I'm still on the edge of the Palestinian society and the Palestinian narrative. I didn't feel very connected, and I felt also that the other side don't look at me as being pure Palestinian.

Open Networks: A DPI-embedded Approach for Online Marketplaces


Digital public infrastructure (DPI) promises a transformative, digital, and whole-of-society approach to providing benefits for our economy and social lives. The Outcome Document of the Digital Economy Ministers Meeting convened during India’s G20 presidency stated that DPIs are “a set of shared digital systems that should be secure and interoperable, and can be built on open standards and specifications to deliver and provide equitable access to public and/or private services at societal scale and are governed by applicable legal frameworks and enabling rules to drive development, inclusion, innovation, trust and competition and respect human rights and fundamental freedoms.” Most countries looking to adopt DPIs today want to use them for digital identities, payments, direct benefit transfer and credentialing. However, DPIs can also be used modularly by governments and businesses, and the fact that they could be tailored to cater to the sectoral needs of any country has made their value proposition even stronger. In the field of online commerce, DPIs are beginning to get developed on the principles of open networks to democratize access to goods and services in the digital economy.

An open network is a decentralized digital infrastructure that allows market access to all participants on the internet, regardless of the platforms and applications used by buyers or sellers. Open networks provide an alternative to closed, self-contained platforms that control large sets of consumer data and have become the so-called “gatekeepers” of the digital economy. They do so by enabling market participants in any commercial ecosystem to interact directly without the need for a platform intermediary. The difference between a platform and an open network is essentially the design choice that eliminates the reliance on platform intermediaries for an online transaction to take place in the latter. Any DPI is built on an open protocol that makes interoperability possible for digital systems to communicate freely with each other.

Britain Missing In Action On India-Middle East-Europe Corridor

Mohammed Soliman

During the G20 summit in September 2023, the United States and its closest allies and partners—the European Union, France, Germany, India, Italy, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates—announced the formation of the India-Middle East Europe Corridor (IMEC). The corridor is meant to reshape power dynamics in Eurasia, and bridge the middle geo-economic and geopolitical space between the Indo-Pacific and Europe, with a focus on West Asia. IMEC, comprising a multi-modal transportation system, digital infrastructure, and clean hydrogen pipelines, is poised to encounter numerous challenges such as geography, logistics, geopolitics, competition, and regional security.

Washington aims through the initiative to influence Eurasia’s economic and security dynamics by promoting minilateral trade and security networks in alignment with Western interests. Despite the worsening situation in Gaza, IMEC remains a priority for President Joe Biden. In his October 19 foreign policy speech, Biden underscored the significance of the corridor in promoting stability, creating jobs, and reducing conflicts. The inclusion of IMEC in Biden’s speech highlights its strategic importance within his foreign policy, indicating a future objective for Washington once there is a resolution to the deteriorating situation in Gaza.

Surprisingly, the United Kingdom—America’s closest geopolitical ally—does not appear to be participating in IMEC. Among European partners, particularly Paris, Berlin, and Rome, London stands out in the war in Gaza. From talks about Britishtroops stationed in Gaza after Israel’s war to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu floating the idea of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair becoming a humanitarian coordinator for Gaza, whether these talks turn into reality or not, they still reflect the value that London brings to the table even after the foreign policy consequences of Brexit. Still, the United Kingdom is missing in action from America’s biggest geo-economic initiative—IMEC, a strategic miscalculation that should be addressed.

US Authorities Charge Man From India in Plot to Kill Sikh Separatist Leader in New York City

Larry Neumeister and Ashok Sharma

U.S. authorities announced murder-for-hire charges Wednesday against a man from India who they say plotted to pay an assassin $100,000 to kill a prominent Sikh separatist leader living in New York City after the man advocated for the establishment of a sovereign state for Sikhs.

U.S. Attorney Damian Williams announced the charges against Nikhil Gupta, 52, an Indian national who had lived in India, as an indictment was unsealed in Manhattan federal court.

“As alleged, the defendant conspired from India to assassinate, right here in New York City, a U.S. citizen of Indian origin who has publicly advocated for the establishment of a sovereign state for Sikhs, an ethnoreligious minority group in India,” he said in a release.

According to the release, Czech authorities arrested and detained Gupta on June 30 on the basis of a bilateral extradition treaty between the U.S. and the Czech Republic. It was not immediately clear when he might be brought to the United States.

U.S. officials became aware of the plot to kill Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, who is considered a terrorist by the Indian government.

Anne Milgram, administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration, said in the release that the DEA stopped the plot when a foreign government employee recruited an international narcotics trafficker to commit murder in the United States.

According to the indictment, the plot was directed by an Indian government agency employee who has described himself as a “senior field officer” with responsibilities in “security management” and “intelligence” and also claims to have served in India’s Central Reserve Police Force and been trained in “battle craft” and “weapons.” The government employee was identified in the indictment only as “CC-1.” Pannun was only identified in court papers as the “Victim.”

Myanmar Court Sentences Former Minister to 10 Years Prison

Sebastian Strangio

A court inside Myanmar’s Insein Prison yesterday sentenced the country’s former minister of information to 10 years in prison for expressing dissent against the ruling military junta.

According to a report from the Burmese language service of Radio Free Asia (RFA), which cited “sources with ties” to the fearsome Yangon prison, the sentence against Ye Htut was handed down yesterday after a closed-door trial.

“The verdicts were made after questioning a prosecution witness, without asking a defense witness,” the source told RFA.

A former army officer, Ye Htut served as information minister and presidential spokesperson in the military-backed administration of President Thein Sein. The 64-year-old was arrested late last month in connection with “spreading wrong information on social media,” the military junta said. One security source told the AFP news agency that Ye Htut had been charged under section 505 (a) of Myanmar’s penal code, a broad and vaguely worded provision that criminalizes any comments or communication that can be deemed to “cause fear” or spread “false news.”

According to the RFA report, Ye Htut was sentenced to seven years in prison for violating Section 505(a) and three years for “sedition” under Section 124(a) of Myanmar’s Penal Code.

As the spokesperson for the Thein Sein administration during 2013-2016 and information minister from 2014 to 2016, Ye Htut was the public face of the administration that presided over a dramatic, if ultimately limited, series of economic and political reforms during this period. Like many Myanmar citizens during those years, which were marked by the sudden advent of affordable mobile internet access, Ye Htut was to become a devotee of Facebook, a habit that he has kept up since his retirement.

Taiwan still flashing red despite US-China ‘thaw’


A restoration of high-level official meetings between US and People’s Republic of China (PRC) leaders following the spy balloon crisis of February 2023 has fueled cautious optimism that US-China relations are improving.

The most important event in this purported “thaw” was the meeting between Chinese Communist Party General Secretary Xi Jinping and US President Joe Biden in California on November 15. Xi appeared to offer the Americans assurances that China was not preparing to wage war against Taiwan.

But while the Xi-Biden summit was modestly successful, the chance of a conflict is scarcely if at all reduced because Taiwan, the most likely trigger for war, remains as much a flashpoint as ever.

The most encouraging item from the summit on the Taiwan issue is that Xi reportedly told Biden that China had no plans to take military action against Taiwan. This, however, is only superficially encouraging.

First, it tells us nothing new. War would be a terrible option for Beijing. Either a blockade or invasion could fail, and any “victory” would be Pyrrhic for the Chinese, with huge losses of lives and treasure, serious and perhaps regime-threatening economic disruption, and decades of difficulty trying to govern a hostile Taiwan population.

Therefore we can assume Xi would opt for war only as a last resort, prompted by a trigger that has not yet occurred, such as Taiwan’s formal declaration of de jure independence.

We have China’s ‘anti-access’ challenge exactly backward


When one looks across the span of the Pacific, one fundamental strategic truth stands out: the U.S. and every single one of our partners in the region—traditional allies such as Japan and Taiwan, off-and-on allies like the Philippines, new and would-be partners like Vietnam and Indonesia—are what are known as “status quo powers.” None are driven by expansionist ambitions; rather, each seeks simply to safeguard their territories.

Understanding this is crucial because it flips the way that U.S. defense analysts typically talk about the challenge of China. They constantly frame it around the problem of “anti-access, area denial,” or A2AD, capabilities that the growing Chinese military has built up over the last decade, where they are the ones with the cost-imposition advantage.

Yet, our core challenge is not actually how to pop that A2AD bubble; we do not actually want to seize and hold any territory currently held by the People’s Liberation Army. It is actually the inverse: how can we create our own robust anti-access aerial denial around our bases and allies, with our own cost advantages? This is the actual path to ensure that China is deterred from ever choosing the path of conflict.

When the situation is viewed this way, it reveals three lines of effort that we would do well to bolster.

The first is to recognize the shared challenge for every nation now contending with the Chinese military: Defense of territory and effective and affordable aerial and maritime domain awareness. Gray-zone operations have become the norm. Daily incursions test the defenses of nations, whether by forcing Japanese and Taiwanese fighter jets to scramble to escort yet another PLAAF jet flying into their air zones to Chinese fisheries and militia harassing the Philippines. The goal of our adversary is to wear us down gradually, to strain our systems, exhaust our people and budgets, and, most of all, erode the norms, until it is the incursion zones that become the new borders.

Don’t Count on Economic Woes to Deter China

Michael Gallagher

During his September trip to Vietnam, President Biden dismissed a reporter who asked for his thoughts on the threat the Chinese Communist Party poses to Taiwan. “I think China has a difficult economic problem right now,” Mr. Biden said. “I don’t think it’s going to cause China to invade Taiwan. And matter of fact, the opposite—it probably doesn’t have the same capacity that it had before.”

Mr. Biden’s response perhaps explains why his administration’s China policy has veered away from competition and toward accommodation. The hope is that Beijing’s economic woes will make it more conciliatory. But that assumption badly misunderstands the power-hungry nature of the Chinese Communist Party and the lessons of history.

China doubtless has problems. Many commentators have asked if we’ve reached “peak China,” the point at which demographic headwinds and self-destructive economic policies combine to slow the once mighty engine of the Chinese economy, perhaps for good.

But there is good reason to be skeptical that China’s economic difficulties will on their own prevent conflict. Building a first-class military and reclaiming Taiwan are among President Xi Jinping’s priorities. Even if the economy sags and Mr. Xi has to cut back in other areas, the military will get the funds it needs. The Pentagon’s recently released annual report on Chinese military and security developments makes clear that, notwithstanding a significant slowdown in China’s rate of economic growth, Beijing “can support continued growth in defense spending for at least the next five to 10 years.”

Economic pain may actually be a feature of Mr. Xi’s strategy, not a bug. He thinks the U.S. is weak and unwilling to suffer hardship. China endured the Great Leap Forward (1958-62) and the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) and still held together, albeit through intense repression and at the expense of tens of millions of Chinese lives. In the event of a Taiwan conflict, sanctions and supply-chain disruptions would wreak havoc on the global economy. Even if China were harder hit, Mr. Xi might bet that Western societies would buckle first, particularly given his proactive steps to prepare for war. As Mr. Xi put it at the start of the 20th Party Congress in October 2022, China must “prepare for a rainy day, and be ready to withstand major tests of high winds and high waves.”

China’s “Important Data” Regime Challenges Global Norms

Scott Livingston

China has recently launched a series of provincial “data security escort” special action campaigns (数安护航”专项行动) to speed implementation of a new regulatory regime that focuses on the identification and protection of a specific subset of data known as “important data” (重要数据) (GDCENN, October 26; Anquan Neican, August 15; Jiangsu Government, June 29). [1] The development of this regime introduces a novel new element to data protection laws, one in which private data holdings must be assessed for their national security implications and, where such data is deemed “important,” reported to the government and restricted from overseas transfer unless approved.

China’s new requirements on “important data” end a more halcyon era in which companies were largely free to exchange their Chinese data with overseas corporate affiliates and business partners, provided that such data did not constitute a “state secret.” The new rules add an additional layer to an increasingly crowded cybersecurity compliance landscape in China, while also increasing the insight the Chinese Party-state has into private data holdings.

For China’s trading partners, this new regime poses a further challenge to the open internet, one in which cross-border data flows are increasingly restricted in the name of national security. This policy has the potential to significantly reshape global data flows over the next decade.

From ‘Who Holds the Data?’ to ‘Who Does the Data Affect?’

Data protection laws in the European Union, United States, and China have, to date, largely focused on regulating the collection, processing, and sharing of individuals’ personal information (PI). Governments may deem certain data as “classified” (or in China, a “state secret”), while many corporations may designate sensitive private data as “trade secrets” to protect them from third parties. In general, however, these governments have declined to mandate a data protection regime for the non-classified, non-PI data of natural or legal persons.

Moonshot vs. Long March: Contrasting the United States’s and China’s Space Programs

Katherine Kurata, David Lin

On the morning of November 2, 2023, the Gobi Desert’s silence was shattered: From a remote launchpad at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center (中国酒泉卫 星发射中心), the Hyperbola-2 (双曲线二号), a slender rocket bearing the iSpace emblem (星际荣耀), surged upwards, before gracefully alighting back on Earth (iSpace WeChat, November 2; CNSA, November 2). This suborbital hop marked a major achievement for iSpace as the company progresses towards developing reusable medium-lift rockets. The test demonstrated key technologies like the methalox engine and landing capabilities that will enable iSpace’s larger reusable rocket plans with Hyperbola-3. In China’s rapidly growing commercial space industry, iSpace, alongside other ambitious startups like Galactic Energy (星河动力), CAS Space (中科宇航探索技术), and Deep Blue Aerospace (深蓝航天), are striving to replicate the success of American pioneers such as SpaceX (Galactic Energy WeChat, July 24; CAS Space WeChat, April 4; Deep Blue Aerospace WeChat, May 7, 2022). Their goal: to revolutionize orbital access with reusable rocket technology.

The success on November 2 was more than an engineering accomplishment; it was a testament to China’s emerging “innovation power”—its capacity to create, adopt, and seamlessly integrate new technologies (Foreign Affairs, February 28; US House of Representatives, May 17). This successful launch marks not just a step forward in technological capability but also a strategic shift in the global space race. With a unique mix of state guidance and entrepreneurial zeal, China is charting an alternate path in space exploration, contrasting sharply with the United States’s focus on private sector innovation.

As the United States and China advance their respective space programs, their differing approaches are reshaping the landscape of space leadership. While America champions private sector innovation, China exerts centralized state control. Yet amidst an increasingly congested orbital environment, it is clear that the future trajectory of space exploration hinges not solely on innovation itself, but specifically on the capacity for nations to effectively combine government direction with commercial dynamism. The country that strikes this balance will harness the strengths of both its public and private sectors to accelerate advancement, and will be positioned to spearhead humanity’s future in the final frontier.

PLA Officer Cadet Recruitment: Part 1

Jie Gao, Kenneth Allen

This is the first article in a two-part series on People’s Liberation Army (PLA; 人民解放军) officer cadet recruitment since the PLA reduced the number of officer academic institutions (院校) in 2017 to 34, as part of the eleventh Force Reduction that began in 2016. There had previously existed 63 such institutions since 1998. This article examines recruitment of non-aviation cadets with a focus on 2023 and 2024. The article does not discuss education or training once they assume their cadet billets. The second article will focus on recruitment for aviation cadets for the entire PLA. Part 2 will be published in Issue 22.

China’s military activity has increased significantly in recent times, leading to concerns that the likelihood of an attempt to take over Taiwan is increasing. Indeed, China’s President Xi Jinping told President Biden in San Francisco this week that reunification is “unstoppable (中国终将统一,也必然统一)” (Xinhua, November 16). Given the almost daily incursions of PLA aircraft over Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone (ROC Air Force, accessed November 16) and other posturing in the South China Sea (see China Brief, October 6), it is imperative to understand the makeup of China’s forces, in order to provide a clearer understanding of the Chinese Communist Party’s ambitions.

In June 2023, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA; 人民解放军) announced the process for recruiting new officer cadets into 27 academic institutions for the upcoming class and identified three key issues:
  1. The number of recruitment directions has increased, and the professional fields suitable for the development of future wars have become more diverse.
  2. The number of professional categories has increased, and the integration of command and skills has been added to the command and technical categories.
  3. The number of students enrolled has increased, with an increase of more than 2,000 students as compared with last year, with the total number reaching 17,000 (Ministry of National Defense, June 15).

A key Pentagon data link can now talk to satellites—but not in the USA


The Pentagon has extended a widely used tactical data link into space, forging a key connection in its connect-everything effort. Now it needs permission from another arm of the federal government to try it in America.

In a trio of demonstrations held from Nov. 21 to 27, the Space Development Agency used Link 16 to bounce data from ground radios off satellites. The satellites were in low Earth orbit, but the radios were “within the territory of a Five Eyes partner nation,” SDA officials said in a Tuesday statement.

That’s because the Federal Aviation Administration had declined requests for U.S.-based tests, citing concerns that the U.S.-and-NATO-standard gear might interfere with civil aircraft signals.

The demonstrations were part of the SDA’s effort to connect Link 16, which transmits common tactical pictures and various other types of communications, to the Proliferated Warfighter Space Architecture, a planned constellation of low-Earth-orbit satellites intended to be the military’s “space backbone.”

“Due to current Federal Aviation Administration restrictions that prevent broadcasting Link 16 from space into the U.S. National Airspace System, SDA coordinated with the [National Telecommunications and Information Administration] to obtain a waiver to transmit to a Five Eyes nation and over international water to meet established PWSA mission criteria,” the SDA statement said.

The successful demonstration may provide SDA with more evidence it can use to try to win FAA approval to test Link 16 over U.S. territory.

Russia to US: You won’t win the next arms race


The U.S. won't win the next arms race against Moscow, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said.

“If the U.S. expects to win another arms race … then the Americans are mistaken,” Ryabkov said in an interview with Russian state-run daily Izvestia, published Wednesday. “We will not give in to provocations, which are typical of American policy toward Russia, but we will guarantee our security.”

Despite its isolation on the international stage following the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the Kremlin has retained some allies who have continued to boost its arsenal.

Iran has supplied Russia with Shahed drones, while North Korea has shipped vast amounts of ammunitions — reportedly over a million shells. POLITICO has also revealed that Beijing has chipped in with weapons and military equipment.

Russia has also been pulling out of arms treaties, including the New START Treaty with the U.S. and the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE).

In Russia, the shift in public opinion is unmistakable

Mikhail Zygar

Twenty months ago, after Vladimir Putin had launched his full-scale invasion of Ukraine, many high-ranking Russians believed that the end was near. The economy faced disaster, as they saw it, and the Putin regime was on the brink of collapse.

Today, the mood has changed dramatically. Business leaders, officials and ordinary people tell me that the economy has stabilized, defying the Western sanctions that were once expected to have a devastating effect. Putin’s regime, they say, looks more stable than at any other time in the past two years.

Restaurants in Moscow are packed. “The restaurant market is growing, not only in Moscow, but throughout Russia, facilitated by the development of domestic tourism,” said a top Russian restaurateur. “And the quality of food is also changing for the better. Sure, panic struck the industry in early 2022, but it quickly passed.”

Real estate prices are rising, and construction is booming. At the beginning of 2022, most global brands left Russia, leaving empty storefronts in malls and streets. Now, the gaps have been filled by Russian counterparts, as the chief executive of one retail network told me. Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, recently admitted that the Russian economy had faced “a threat of collapse” in the months after the invasion but said the country is now over the worst.

Before the war, Russian business executives generally kept their savings in the West. They also bought real estate, properties that sometimes served as second homes for their families. Now, as one Russian oligarch told me, that door has been slammed shut, sparking an investment boom at home. The only option left is for tycoons to put their money into domestic investments. Major building projects are now underway in places ranging from the Altai Mountains in eastern Siberia to Karelia on the border with Finland. In September, Bloomberg reported that Russian oligarchs had returned at least $50 billion to Russia since the invasion. According to those I interviewed, that estimate is very modest.

Armenia and Azerbaijan Discussing a Swap of Exclaves

Paul Goble

On November 28, Alen Simonyan, head of Armenia’s National Assembly, told journalists that “the ball is in Azerbaijan’s court” regarding peace negotiations between the two countries. He added, “Armenia fully supports the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. … If desired, the peace agreement can be signed within the next 15 days if the government of Azerbaijan demonstrates [real] political will” (AzerNews, November 28). The international community has long insisted that the solution to the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict lies in the restoration and recognition of the Soviet administrative borders between the two republics. Yerevan and Baku, under pressure from the West, have edged toward a solution along these lines, which would involve swapping their respective exclaves. Russia, however, is wary that such an arrangement could finally lead to a comprehensive peace agreement between the two sides, which could further disrupt Moscow’s influence in the South Caucasus.

The Armenian and Azerbaijani exclaves came about during Soviet times as a means of Moscow asserting and maintaining its administrative control. Until the disillusion of the Soviet Union, there were eight Azerbaijani exclaves inside Armenia subordinate to Baku and two Armenian exclaves inside Azerbaijan under Yerevan’s control, despite each being surrounded by the territory of the other. The exclaves were small: the Armenian ones totaled only 124 square kilometers, while the Azerbaijani ones totaled only 50 square kilometers, typically encompassing a single village or group of villages. This led to the exclaves being ignored by outsiders until now, though these regions have remained symbolically important to both Armenia and Azerbaijan (Stoletie, October 28; Newsarmenia.am, November 18; Gazeta.ru, November 24).

The former Armenian or Azerbaijani residents fled these exclaves in large numbers as the conflict intensified between Yerevan and Baku and military forces on both sides began to occupy these areas. Today, these exclaves contain few, if any, residents of the nationality that led to their creation due to the ongoing conflict over the past three decades. As a result, many believe that these exclaves must be returned to their original countries due to legal precedent and national pride. These supporters take heart from the insistence of the international community that a peace agreement between the two countries must be based on the restoration of the 1991 borders (Eurasianet, August 3, 2021; Window on Eurasia, August 7, 2021; Zerkalo, May 10, 2022)

Biden's role in Ukraine peace is clear now


It is now clear that the Ukrainian offensive of the summer and fall of 2023 has failed, with minimal gains and enormous losses. There has been no repeat of the sweeping Ukrainian victories of 2022. Ukrainian army chief General Valery Zaluzhny has admitted that the war has now entered a stalemate.

Russia is now attacking in its turn; and although so far its forces also have made only very slow progress, time does not appear to be on Ukraine’s side. Russia has some four times Ukraine’s population and 14 times its GDP, which give it huge advantages in what has become a war of attrition. Serious imbalances in the U.S. and European military industries mean that Russia is also producing far more shells than Ukraine is receiving from the West.

Ukraine’s victories in the first months of the war were due to the courage and grit of Ukrainian soldiers, certain particularly effective Western weapons, and extremely bad Russian planning. They were also, however, attributable to the fact that Ukraine was able to mobilize more men than Russia, due to President Putin’s hesitation over increasing conscription. That advantage has now been reversed.

Moreover, as recent developments in the U.S. Congress and in Europe make clear, there can be no guarantee that Western aid will continue at levels sufficient to allow Ukraine to continue the fight successfully.

There is therefore no realistic prospect that Ukraine can significantly improve its existing position on the battlefield. The West can provide more weapons, but it cannot generate additional Ukrainian soldiers. Ukraine is facing greater and greater difficulties in recruiting troops; meanwhile, Russia is calling up reserves and continually strengthening its defensive lines in southern and eastern Ukraine.

What should Ukraine do next?


In my previous post I discussed the likely form Putin’s strategy would take when Russia is neither winning nor losing its war with Ukraine. If a cease-fire was agreed tomorrow, Russia would be left with a significant amount of Ukrainian territory but less than sought, in a form difficult to occupy and defend over the long term and requiring significant funds to reconstruct and subsidise. It would not be able to stop Ukraine getting close to NATO and the EU. The assumption that Putin would readily agree to a cease-fire if only Zelensky could be persuaded to agree to one does not reflect the logic of Russia’s strategic position. Russia has not proposed one, although Putin has recently spoken in general terms about the desirability of peace.

Putin wants substantive political concessions from Ukraine, accepting both the loss of territory and some sort of veto over its foreign policy. He will also want the sanctions regime to be unravelled. Full negotiations on a comprehensive peace settlement, which these demands would require, could be extraordinarily protracted and complex. (Ukraine would raise issues of reparations and war crimes.) A cease-fire would allow both sides time to regroup and refresh but for neither would this represent a satisfactory or stable outcome.

It is possible that the fighting will reach a genuine deadlock where both sides have secured their positions and neither feels strong enough to mount an offensive. The conflict would then acquire an uneasy stasis, but we are far from that situation. For now the prospect is of continuing fighting that does not quite reach a conclusion, which in principle could go on for many years. Conditions might change sufficiently to trigger some serious diplomatic activity: a sudden shift in balance of military advantage or the wider political context (for example after a Trump presidential victory).

How Jensen Huang’s Nvidia Is Powering the A.I. Revolution

Stephen Witt

The revelation that ChatGPT, the astonishing artificial-intelligence chatbot, had been trained on an Nvidia supercomputer spurred one of the largest single-day gains in stock-market history. When the Nasdaq opened on May 25, 2023, Nvidia’s value increased by about two hundred billion dollars. A few months earlier, Jensen Huang, Nvidia’s C.E.O., had informed investors that Nvidia had sold similar supercomputers to fifty of America’s hundred largest companies. By the close of trading, Nvidia was the sixth most valuable corporation on earth, worth more than Walmart and ExxonMobil combined. Huang’s business position can be compared to that of Samuel Brannan, the celebrated vender of prospecting supplies in San Francisco in the late eighteen-forties. “There’s a war going on out there in A.I., and Nvidia is the only arms dealer,” one Wall Street analyst said.

Huang is a patient monopolist. He drafted the paperwork for Nvidia with two other people at a Denny’s restaurant in San Jose, California, in 1993, and has run it ever since. At sixty, he is sarcastic and self-deprecating, with a Teddy-bear face and wispy gray hair. Nvidia’s main product is its graphics-processing unit, a circuit board with a powerful microchip at its core. In the beginning, Nvidia sold these G.P.U.s to video gamers, but in 2006 Huang began marketing them to the supercomputing community as well. Then, in 2013, on the basis of promising research from the academic computer-science community, Huang bet Nvidia’s future on artificial intelligence. A.I. had disappointed investors for decades, and Bryan Catanzaro, Nvidia’s lead deep-learning researcher at the time, had doubts. “I didn’t want him to fall into the same trap that the A.I. industry has had in the past,” Catanzaro told me. “But, ten years plus down the road, he was right.”

In the near future, A.I. is projected to generate movies on demand, provide tutelage to children, and teach cars to drive themselves. All of these advances will occur on Nvidia G.P.U.s, and Huang’s stake in the company is now worth more than forty billion dollars.

AI has a political proble


Left-leaning media outlets are more skeptical of artificial intelligence than right-leaning outlets, a new study shows, which could make a significant difference in voters’ attitudes toward military and government use of AI—as well as how those technologies are regulated.

The study, published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science in September and made public last week, looked at the way media outlets such as the Washington Post, CNN, the New York Post, and The Wall Street Journal, discussed AI, paying particular attention to specific sentiment tags to determine whether the coverage was positive or negative. The authors found “that liberal-leaning media show a higher aversion to AI than conservative-leaning media,” they wrote. “These partisan media differences toward AI are driven by liberal-leaning media’s greater concern about AI’s ability to magnify societal biases.”

The authors also note that social justice protests and campaigns that emerged after the 2020 death of George Floyd had a broad effect on the sentiment toward AI.

“The results indicated that this event heightened sensitivity toward social biases in society and, consequently, influenced sentiment toward AI in both liberal and conservative media. Thus, these results provide convergent support for the notion that media reactions to AI are influenced by social bias concerns.”

The results come as the Pentagon is growing more vocal in its ambition to use AI to transform the way it operates on multiple levels, but to do so in line with the ethical principles it first published in 2019.