17 December 2023

China and the Future of the U.S.-Israel Alliance


As the USS Gerald R. Ford rushed to the Eastern Mediterranean in response to Hamas’s October 7 massacre, it sailed in the figurative wake of its predecessor, the USS Independence. During the Yom Kippur War, the Independence — followed by hundreds of U.S. planes laden with munitions and supplies — streamed toward the Jewish state to safeguard its security. Then, as now, a rattled, reeling Israel confronted an existential threat. And then, as now, Jerusalem depended on Washington to help beat back its foes.

For the United States, however, the comparison between 1973 and 2023 is less clear. After 10/7, the United States rallied to Israel’s side in kinship with a longtime friend and in revulsion at Hamas’s savagery — but with a strategic case relying less on U.S. interests in the Middle East than on a tenuous link to Ukraine’s fight for freedom. Perhaps sensing this ambiguity, in the weeks after the war began, despite Americans’ overwhelming sympathy for Israel, a majority of Democrats and independents opposed sending U.S. military aid to Israel, with only a modest majority of Republicans supporting it. And Washington’s embrace of Jerusalem is as much a bear hug as a shield, meant to avoid a wider Middle Eastern war as the price of restoring Israeli deterrence — precisely the opposite of U.S. policy in 1973.

The U.S. government’s approach to the Hamas massacre reflects the fact that the attacks did not reorient the long-term trend in American foreign policy. With the Cold War and the War on Terror over — conflicts in which Israel served as a crucial U.S. ally — Washington now faces a new struggle: great-power competition with China. In that fight, the ramparts in need of manning are in East Asia, not the Middle East. Cultural ties and lingering U.S. interests in Israel’s neighborhood may compel some continued cooperation, but the partnership will not thrive without a core strategic purpose. The U.S.-Israel alliance was born out of strategy, not moral or religious considerations, and without any such foundation, it will decline.

Forget About Israeli-Palestinian “Peace”

Leon Hadar

Here we go again. Another war between Israelis and Palestinians helps stir new discussion about reviving the “peace process” as officials, lawmakers, pundits, and think tankers come up with this or that plan to finally bring peace to the Holy Land.

Hey, this time, it will work. And if you just draw the border here, get rid of a few Jewish settlements there, exchange this territory for that territory, allow in Arab refugees, and find a way to divide Jerusalem and its holy sites, then Jews and Arabs would be living happily ever after in their shared territory.

There is, of course, that old reliable, the two-state solution. And if that doesn’t work, we’ll check out the one-state solution because isn’t it clear that Palestinian-Arabs and Israeli-Jews are ready to live together like French speakers and Flemish people in Belgium? But then, on second thought, things don’t look so great even there, either. So, how about a federation or a confederation? And in a bow to the spirit of globalization, we’ll add here that “they will sign a free-trade agreement.”

Perhaps the time has come to cease peace processing and fantasizing that, to paraphrase Isaiah, the two people “will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks,” that “nation will not lift up the sword against nation, and never again will they learn war.”

Instead, we need to lower our expectations time when the Israelis have yet to recover from the horrors of October 7 and the massacre of more than 1,200 Israelis. Moreover, the Arabs are watching the destruction in Gaza and the death of 16,000 Palestinians. “Peace” has never been so far away.

Developing Countries Should Reject American-Style Protectionism


For nearly 50 years after the end of World War II, the United States led the effort to liberalize global trade through the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). In 1994, the US rallied 123 countries to sign a multilateral treaty establishing the World Trade Organization, which subsumed GATT while expanding its scope to cover services trade and intellectual property.

Paradoxically, America’s current industrial policy poses an existential threat to the multilateral trading system it worked so hard to build. In Washington, there is now a bipartisan consensus that the WTO has failed to defend America’s vital economic interests and inadvertently created a formidable geopolitical rival by allowing China to take advantage of the system. This realization has led both Democratic and Republican administrations to take steps that have shaken the foundations of the institution the US helped found.

Since 2016, the US has refused to approve new judges to the WTO’s Dispute Settlement Body and blocked the reappointment of those whose terms have expired. By December 2019, the DSB was reduced to a single member, below the minimum of three required to adjudicate cases. Consequently, there is currently no effective mechanism to resolve trade disputes among WTO members, significantly increasing the likelihood that member countries will adopt policies that violate their legal obligations.

Unsurprisingly, the US itself is a serial violator. In 2018, as the DSB effectively stopped functioning, then-President Donald Trump imposed tariffs on imported washing machines and solar panels. Shortly thereafter, the Trump administration announced additional tariffs on aluminum, steel, and a wide range of Chinese goods.

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, and 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 British troops 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.

Amid global competition, the United States actively works to unite North America, the European Union, and the United Kingdom to counterbalance China and Russia. Washington should invite London to the IMEC in order to improve Britain’s standing as it harmonizes UK interests with those of the United States and the European Union in a changing global environment. A strong British presence globally is critical for the United States, given London’s role in the Australia-UK-US (AUKUS) security pact, support for Ukraine, and the UK-Japan-Italy sixth-generation stealth fighter project. Stability in Europe is a shared interest, making it important for the United States to encourage a more strategic UK-EU relationship. Ukraine’s war effort further solidified Washington’s position as a bridge builder between London and its European counterparts. IMEC could serve as a platform for Washington to foster structured dialogues between Brussels and London post-Brexit, potentially strengthening UK-EU relations. While the United Kingdom is clearly not seeking re-entry into the EU single market or customs union anytime soon, IMEC could facilitate closer ties.

The IRGC’s space programme and a move towards longer-range missiles

Fabian Hinz
Source Link

The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is continuing to develop advanced space-launch vehicles (SLVs), most recently launching its third satellite in September 2023. The programme is officially aimed at developing a space-launch capability. The technologies used, however, have sparked concern that the programme serves as a hedging effort allowing the IRGC to develop long-range ballistic-missile technology while nominally adhering to its self-imposed 2,000 km range limit.

Space-launch vehicles

The IRGC’s Self-Sufficiency Jihad Organization began pursuing solid-propellant SLVs in the 2000s. Under the leadership of Hassan Tehrani Moghaddam, the founder of Iran’s missile force, the programme ran parallel to Iran’s main space initiative, with the goal of developing a heavy launch vehicle capable of deploying payloads into geostationary orbit. While significant progress was achieved, a still not fully explained explosion in 2011 resulted in the death of Moghaddam and the destruction of a major research and development facility. This incident set back the programme considerably.

The programme’s Shahroud site remained active, however, and the corps revealed in 2020 that it had resumed the development of solid-propellant SLVs. Statements by IRGC officials indicate that the current programme is pursuing the same goals as the programme before 2011, albeit using newer and more advanced technology and while pursuing a more gradual development approach.

Since the unveiling of the second incarnation of its SLV development programme in 2020, the corps has introduced two new, advanced solid-propellant rocket motors: the smaller Salman and the 68-tonne thrust Raafe. Both motors use lightweight carbon casing and movable nozzles for thrust vector control.

In Balochistan, Families Demand Answers for Forced Disappearances

Somaiyah Hafeez

Balaach Mola Bakhsh was sleeping at his home when personnel from the Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) took him away on October 29. After 22 days, on November 20, a First Information Report (FIR) was registered against him by the CTD, claiming that Bakhsh had been caught in possession of explosives. He was presented in front of the court where 10 more days of remand were granted. His bail plea was scheduled for November 24.

On November 23, the CTD claimed that four terrorists from “a proscribed group” had been killed in an encounter in Turbat, a city in Balochistan, Pakistan’s largest province. One of the dead was Bakhsh.

His family immediately refuted the official narrative, alleging a staged encounter.

“They took him away from home, and then said we caught him from the mountains with arms,” Balaach Mola Bakhsh’s sister raged on social media. “I want the release of all missing persons. I am burning from the insides, there’s nothing left. Do you think we enjoy sitting outside like this?”

“They took my son and killed him,” lamented his mother. “I brought him up in poverty. I worked as an embroiderer to raise him. He was sleeping next to me. They took him away from me in the darkness of the night. There’s a fire burning in my heart.”

The Evolution of China’s Interference in Taiwan

Tim Niven

On January 13, 2024, Taiwan will once again elect a president according to the country’s own constitution. Once again, Taiwan’s democracy will operate despite pressure from the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

For decades, China has engaged in foreign information manipulation and interference (FIMI) targeting Taiwan, and has optimized its tactics, techniques, and procedures, with the ultimate goal of annexing Taiwan. Beijing’s sustained, long-term FIMI campaigns affect the context of every election in Taiwan, and particularly presidential elections, where cross-strait issues dominate voter concerns.

FIMI efforts sustained over such a long timescale provide abundant opportunities for learning from trial and error. At Doublethink Lab, we have been observing and analyzing PRC FIMI targeting Taiwan for the last five years. Our observations to date suggest an evolution in tactics that appear to optimize the role of the different actors in China’s FIMI apparatus, leading to reduced risks and costs associated with attribution, while increasing effectiveness and driving societal polarization. These tactical evolutions are likely driven by the failure of China’s efforts to decrease resistance to, and increase support for, their desired annexation of Taiwan. Instead, efforts are shifting to attack the functioning of Taiwan’s democracy.

Strategic Energy Partnership: Bangladesh’s Vision For A Sustainable Future

Syed Raiyan Amir

Bangladesh has embarked on a strategic initiative to fortify its energy diversity through a transformative collaboration with Excelerate Energy, a prominent entity specializing in energy solutions. This monumental undertaking entails a comprehensive 15-year sales and purchase agreement, scheduled to commence in 2026, geared towards the acquisition of liquefied natural gas (LNG).

The agreement, formally inked on November 8, 2023, signifies a momentous leap towards enhancing the energy security of the second-largest economy in South Asia. It paves the way for an annual procurement of 1 million tonnes of LNG from Excelerate Energy, setting the stage for a significant shift in the country’s energy landscape. The signing ceremony, graced by officials from both Excelerate Energy and Petrobangla, also witnessed additional accords related to the Moheshkhali LNG Expansion and the Payra Term Sheet.

Under the terms of this agreement, Excelerate Energy commits to an annual supply of LNG ranging between 1 million and 1.5 million tonnes. The pricing framework is intricately set at 13.35 percent of the price of crude oil per unit, supplemented by an additional USD 0.35. This proactive initiative underscores Bangladesh’s forward-thinking approach to energy security, underscoring its dedication to diversify its energy portfolio and reduce dependence on a single source.

In conjunction with this functional agreement, Excelerate Energy has made substantial contributions to Bangladesh’s national grid by injecting 102.86 billion cubic feet (Bcf) of LNG. Further reinforcing this effort, SUMMIT LNG Terminal Co. (Pvt) Ltd. has bolstered the national supply by incorporating an additional 100.02 Bcf since April 2019. Bangladesh’s venture into LNG imports commenced in 2018, facilitated exclusively through government agencies. Currently, the nation engages in LNG imports from Oman and Qatar through long-term contracts, with two additional agreements inked this year to expand LNG imports, slated to commence in 2026. Moreover, ongoing procurement of LNG from the open market persists, with recent approval granted for the acquisition of an LNG cargo ship from Singapore’s Vital Asia Pvt.

China’s Space Program in 2023: Taking Stock

Namrata Goswami

As we come to the end of 2023, it is an apt time to revisit China’s priorities for its space program. In President Xi Jinping’s speech at the 20th Party Congress in October 2022, space infrastructure was identified as a critical component of the Chinese Communist Party’s legitimacy. Space is also integral to China’s strategic competition with the United States and a key component of its national power.

In his speech, Xi put space achievements at the front of his list of China’s scientific progress: “We have witnessed major successes on multiple fronts, including human spaceflight, lunar and Martian exploration, deep sea and deep Earth probes, supercomputers, satellite navigation, quantum information, nuclear power technology, new energy technology, airliner manufacturing, and biomedicine. China has joined the ranks of the world’s innovators.”

This perspective is reflected in China’s 2021 white paper on space activities, which reiterated Xi’s guidance that “to explore the vast cosmos, develop the space industry and build China into a space power is our eternal dream… the space industry is a critical element of the overall national strategy.” Scientific innovation, including space capabilities, is seen as the key to the continued growth of China’s economic and military power.

Within the parameters of this CCP guideline, China identified certain major priorities for its civil-military space program during 2023. These included the development of a heavy lift reusable rocket, diversified space platforms across multiple orbits, and the related faculty to construct and extend large platforms in space. China is also seeking to encourage its commercial space sector, cultivate its lunar capabilities and regulations, advance a holistic end-to-end space logistics system, and build satellite internet infrastructure as part of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

United States Versus China In A War

Lim Teck Ghee

It is clear from various military statistics that the United States has an overwhelming superiority over China in most if not all spheres of any likely war. Be it in nuclear weaponry, warships, submarines, military aircraft or military satellites, the US alone – without allies in the West, and Taiwan and possibly Japan – has the resources to outshoot China.

At the same time, the military capacity of the US is increasing every year. Latest reports show that the United States spends more on national defence than China, Russia, India, Saudi Arabia, United Kingdom, Germany, France, South Korea, Japan, and Ukraine combined. US defence expenditure of US$870 billion in 2022 dwarfed that of China’s estimated US$230 billion.

The US is also the world’s leading armament producer and salesman. The US accounted for 40% of the total volume of international arms transfers between 2018–2022. Japan and Australia, members of the QUAD set up to counter China in the Indo Pacific region, are the US biggest weapons customers while Taiwan under President Tsai Ing-Wen has purchased several US$ billion worth of weaponry during Biden’s administration.

Meanwhile, current wars in Gaza and Ukraine are keeping US armament factories busy and ensuring big pay cheques for the political and military lobbies supporting them. They are also keeping investors in US ‘defence’ companies happy.

Any war, even a heightened threat in the Asian and Pacific region, will undoubtedly produce enormous returns to the US and western military industrial complex even if the larger share market drops.

China, despite its enormous industrial and manufacturing capability, ranks fourth in the world in armament exports after US, Russia and France, with an estimated 5.2%, or one-eighth of the US volume. China’s armament exports fell by 23% from 2013-17 to 2018-2022 whilst that of the US increased by 14%.

Costs Determine Success In China’s Satellite Technology Development

Zhao Zhijiang

Satellites can be classified into three categories based on orbital altitude: geostationary, medium-orbit, and low-orbit. Low-orbit satellites, characterized by low transmission time, minimal path loss, small satellite terminal size, and large system capacity, have a competitive advantage in satellite communication. They are currently a focal point of research in satellite internet technology. Satellite internet is a communication system that enables global connectivity through satellites, providing broadband internet services to different users across land, sea, and air using a certain number of satellites. Satellite internet is a current market trend and a global focal point for future competition, likely to unfold among the United States, China, the European Union, and Russia.

At present, Elon Musk’s space-based high-speed internet project Starlink holds a leading position. Notably, during the Russia-Ukraine conflict, it became a crucial communication method for Ukraine. The Ukrainian military used Starlink to operate drones and unmanned boats against the Russian military. Recently, Musk also visited Israel, securing agreements for Starlink’s application in the Gaza Strip. This indicates the geopolitical significance assigned to satellite internet technology. For China, urgent attention is required to develop low-orbit satellite communication technology. However, compared to foreign counterparts, China faces the challenge of relatively high costs in satellite manufacturing, posing a significant disadvantage. The cost factor is crucial in determining China’s success in the sustainable development of satellite research. Failure to reduce costs could impede China’s ability to succeed in this field.

From the perspective of the development history of satellite technology, many once-dazzling corporate brands have failed due to issues related to cost control in research and manufacturing. Iridium, Globalstar, Teledesic, and Orbcomm are vivid examples. Taking the Iridium communication system under the U.S. Motorola company as an example, the total cost of this system, consisting of 66 satellites, amounted to USD 5 billion. The high cost made the operation of the Iridium system unsustainable, leading to its eventual bankruptcy. Later, after business restructuring and adjustments, Iridium experienced a turnaround from losses to profits and developed the Iridium NEXT in recent years, with a new research and development cost reaching as high as USD 3 billion. Many satellite communication companies in the market have been teetering on the edge of profitability due to the high costs involved.

How China is challenging the U.S. military’s dominance in space

Courtney Kube and Dan De Luce

China’s rapidly growing arsenal of anti-satellite weapons could cripple America’s military in a crisis and the U.S. is scrambling to shore up its defenses miles above the Earth.

China is testing and developing an array of weapons and tools that could destroy, disable or hijack satellites that the U.S. military heavily relies on to operate around the world, Defense Department officials and experts say.

In recent years, China has rapidly closed the gap with the U.S. in space. Beijing is ramping up the pace of its satellite launches and mastering capabilities that only the United States had a decade ago, experts say.

China doubled its number of satellites in orbit between 2019 and 2021, from 250 to 499, according to the Defense Intelligence Agency. It is also developing increasingly advanced spy balloons and hypersonic missiles that operate in near space, above the altitude flown by most aircraft but below the orbit of satellites.

In recent weeks, China successfully tested the equivalent of a refueling tanker for satellites, a game-changing innovation that would enable Beijing to extend the life of satellites that would otherwise expire after running out of fuel, Defense officials say.

“I think the Chinese are giving us a real good run for the money,” said Dean Cheng of the U.S. Institute of Peace think tank, an expert on China’s military space program.

Houthis Attack Norwegian Tanker In Red Sea

Saeed Al-Batati

Yemen’s Houthi militia claimed responsibility for a missile attack on a Norwegian-flagged tanker in the Red Sea on Tuesday.

Earlier, they threatened to attack any Israel-bound ships and warships that follow them.

The Houthi attack comes as the Coalition to Restore Legitimacy in Yemen pledged to assist Yemeni Coast Guard personnel in protecting the Red Sea and Yemen’s coastline.

Houthi military spokesperson Yahiya Sarae said that the militia launched a “naval” cruise missile at the Norwegian tanker that was claimed to be going to Israel ignoring the militia’s instructions not to sail in the Red Sea. Numerous ships, he added, cooperated with orders and diverted their routes.

“Over the last two days, Yemeni military forces were successful in blocking the passage of many ships that heeded Yemeni naval warnings. We did not attack the Norwegian oil tanker until its crew ignored all warnings,” Sarae said, adding that the ship was taking oil to Israel.

The US Central Command said in a statement that at about midnight (Yemeni time), an anti-ship cruise missile launched from Houthi-controlled territory attacked the Motor Tanker STRINDA in the Bab El-Mandeb Strait, causing the tanker to catch fire, but no casualties were reported.

A Flawed And Dangerous Presence: US Troops In Syria

Binoy Kampmark

Despite a focus on boxing China in the Indo-Pacific, US involvement in the Middle East continues to be widespread and problematic. While Israel is given its regular steroid diet of murderous arms, US military personnel find themselves scattered throughout a myriad of bases and countries. Recently, Kentucky Republican Senator Rand Paul decided that Syria should not be one of them.

In his bill to the Senate, Paul called for “the removal of United States Armed Forces from hostilities in Syria that have not been authorized by Congress”, leaving a 30-day timeframe for the measure to take place. It notes, among a number of events, that US armed forces in Syria and Iraq since October 17 “have been attacked at least 52 times, with 28 attacks in Syria and 24 attacks in Iraq. Such attacks resulted in at least 56 members of the United States Armed Forces being injured, of whom at least 25 members have sustained traumatic brain injuries.” Such are the travails of empire.

The concern is valid enough. With the Israel-Hamas war continuing in its heaving murderousness, allies for the Palestinian cause are getting tetchy. From the US perspective, that tetchiness deserves retaliation, notably targeting any forces backed by Iran throughout the Middle East. The soldiers, in other words, are not just in harm’s way, but likely to cause widening harm.

As Paul explained to his fellow senators, “It seems to be, though our 900 troops have no viable mission in Syria, that they’re sitting ducks.” Even more saliently, he insisted that they were “a tripwire to a larger war, and without a clear-cut mission, I don’t think they can adequately defend themselves, yet they remain in Syria.”

The problem here, as with all childish impulses of US power, is the fear that its freedom loving forces might look like insufferable sissies in the face of armed savages who have no innate sense of that same freedom.

Hacker Group Linked to Russian Military Claims Credit for Cyberattack on Ukrainian Telecom


Over nearly a decade, the hacker group within Russia's GRU military intelligence agency known as Sandworm has launched some of the most disruptive cyberattacks in history against Ukraine's power grids, financial system, media, and government agencies. Signs now point to that same usual suspect being responsible for sabotaging a major mobile provider for the country, cutting off communications for millions and even temporarily sabotaging the air raid warning system in the capital of Kyiv.

On Tuesday, a cyberattack hit Kyivstar, one of Ukraine's largest mobile and internet providers. The details of how that attack was carried out remain far from clear. But it “resulted in essential services of the company’s technology network being blocked,” according to a statement posted by Ukraine’s Computer Emergency Response Team, or CERT-UA.

Kyivstar's CEO, Oleksandr Komarov, told Ukrainian national television on Tuesday, according to Reuters, that the hacking incident “significantly damaged [Kyivstar's] infrastructure [and] limited access.”

“We could not counter it at the virtual level, so we shut down Kyivstar physically to limit the enemy's access,” he continued. “War is also happening in cyberspace. Unfortunately, we have been hit as a result of this war.”

The Ukrainian government hasn't yet publicly attributed the cyberattack to any known hacker group—nor have any cybersecurity companies or researchers. But on Tuesday, a Ukrainian official within its SSSCIP computer security agency, which oversees CERT-UA, pointed out in a message to reporters that a group known as Solntsepek had claimed credit for the attack in a Telegram post, and noted that the group has been linked to the notorious Sandworm unit of Russia's GRU.

Stop Planting Trees, Says Guy Who Inspired World to Plant a Trillion Trees


In a cavernous theater lit up with the green shapes of camels and palms at COP28 in Dubai, ecologist Thomas Crowther, former chief scientific adviser for the United Nations’ Trillion Trees Campaign, was doing something he never would have expected a few years ago: begging environmental ministers to stop planting so many trees.

Mass plantations are not the environmental solution they’re purported to be, Crowther argued when he took the floor on December 9 for one of the summit’s “Nature Day” events. The potential of newly created forests to draw down carbon is often overstated. They can be harmful to biodiversity. Above all, they are really damaging when used, as they often are, as avoidance offsets— “as an excuse to avoid cutting emissions,” Crowther said.

The popularity of planting new trees is a problem—at least partly—of Crowther’s own making. In 2019, his lab at ETH Zurich found that the Earth had room for an additional 1.2 trillion trees, which, the lab’s research suggested, could suck down as much as two-thirds of the carbon that humans have historically emitted into the atmosphere. “This highlights global tree restoration as our most effective climate change solution to date,” the study said. Crowther subsequently gave dozens of interviews to that effect.

This seemingly easy climate solution sparked a tree-planting craze by companies and leaders eager to burnish their green credentials without actually cutting their emissions, from Shell to Donald Trump. It also provoked a squall of criticism from scientists, who argued that the Crowther study had vastly overestimated the land suitable for forest restoration and the amount of carbon it could draw down. (The study authors later corrected the paper to say tree restoration was only “one of the most effective” solutions, and could suck down at most one-third of the atmospheric carbon, with large uncertainties.)

A tale of two satellites: ISR on the Korean Peninsula

Timothy Wright

Within two weeks, North and South Korea have each successfully launched their first military geospatial imaging satellites. Although the information-gathering capabilities of North Korea’s satellite are probably inferior to South Korea’s, Pyongyang will likely improve this over time, possibly with Russian assistance. Space-based systems will increase Pyongyang and Seoul’s capability to hold each other’s territory at risk, but paradoxically may also improve stability.

Targeting tacticsSpace-based intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) systems play an important role in the so-called ‘kill-chain’ through which militaries detect, track and engage targets with precision-strike systems. Pyongyang and Seoul possess large arsenals of precision-guided ballistic and land-attack cruise missiles, but their respective ISR capabilities to inform targeting decisions are less mature by comparison. North Korea has developed several types of uninhabited aerial vehicles (UAVs) for ISR purposes, but sensor, endurance and communications constraints limit their utility, and they are vulnerable to South Korean and United States air defences. South Korea has more advanced ISR capabilities, but it has historically relied on United States space-based assets for its geospatial imagery needs.


North Korea said that it developed a space-based ISR capability to provide its armed forces with ‘real-time information’ to improve its ‘war deterrent’. Following the successful launch of the Malligyong-1 satellite on 21 November, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said that it provided North Korea with ‘eyes’ to complement its ‘fist’. To underline this point, North Korean state media claimed the satellite imaged Andersen Air Force Base on Guam and other ‘ major targets in the enemy region’ that North Korea could target in a conflict, without releasing imagery.

The Gulf states push for renewables but face challenges in climate diplomacy

Laith Alajlouni,  Amnah Ibraheem & Asna Wajid

Gulf-state leaders have been emphasising their significant clean-energy investment pledges during the 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP28, in Dubai. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have said that they will spend up to US$266.6 billion and US$54.5bn, respectively, by 2030 to upgrade their energy infrastructure and begin a long-term transition towards achieving net-zero carbon emissions. Climate-related investments are also a major factor driving Gulf-state diplomacy.

Saudi Arabia’s state-owned ACWA Power announced a US$10bn investment in Egypt’s green-energy sector in August 2023. The company is already participating in the construction of the Suez Gulf wind farm and the Kom Ombo photovoltaic plant, with ambitions to hold a 50% share in Egypt’s renewable-energy market by 2026. It also plans to expand into China and Central Asia. Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund, Qatar Investment Authority, agreed to invest US$2.4bn in Germany’s largest power producer, RWE AG, so that it could acquire the American firm Con Edison Inc.’s clean-energy subsidiary. And, in Central Asia, Abu Dhabi’s clean-energy company, Masdar, has become a leading player, recently signing agreements in Azerbaijan for three renewable-energy projects with a combined capacity of 1 gigawatt and valued at US$1bn. Masdar’s joint investment project in the Eastern Mediterranean will produce renewable electricity for the Greece–Egypt subsea power link through its affiliate Infinity Power and Greece’s Copelouzos Group.

Despite this burgeoning activity, however, two perennial issues continue to impede the regional push towards green energy: the continuing imperative to expand Gulf-state oil production and the intractable Hamas–Israel conflict. Firstly, regarding oil production, the UAE this year simultaneously held the COP28 presidency while also planning a major expansion of its oil-production capacity. This tension was apparent in the country’s much-criticised appointment of Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, chair of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, as COP28 president.

‘Energy Droughts’ In Wind And Solar Can Last Nearly A Week

Solar and wind power may be free, renewable fuels, but they also depend on natural processes that humans cannot control. It’s one thing to acknowledge the risks that come with renewable energy: the sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow, but what happens when the grid loses both of these energy sources at the same time?

This phenomenon is known as a compound energy drought. In a new paper, researchers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) found that in some parts of the country, these energy droughts can last nearly a week.

“When we have a completely decarbonized grid and depend heavily on solar and wind, energy droughts could have huge amounts of impact on the grid,” said Cameron Bracken, an Earth scientist at PNNL and lead author on the paper. Grid operators need to know when energy droughts will occur so they can prepare to pull energy from different sources. On top of that, understanding where, when, and for how long energy droughts occur will help experts manage grid-level battery systems that can store enough electricity to deploy during times when energy is needed most.

The team published the findings in the journal Renewable Energy and will be presenting at this week’s annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union.

Hunting for cloudy, windless days

In the past, researchers studied compound energy droughts on a state or regional scale. But not much has been studied on a nationwide scale. To find out more about the risk of energy droughts over the entire continental U.S., the researchers dug into weather data and then used historical energy demand data to understand how often an energy drought occurs when that energy is needed the most.

Pentagon Says Ukraine’s Battle Against Russia Should Concern Whole Globe

Jim Garamone

Ukraine’s battle against Russia should concern the whole globe, Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder said Tuesday during a news conference.

What happens to Ukraine has consequences not only to that country but nations throughout Europe and into the Indo-Pacific.

It will most likely be absorbed into Russia. However, there is no guarantee that Russian President Vladimir Putin would be satisfied with just that. “Broadly speaking, past performance is usually an indicator of future performance,” Ryder said. “We’ve seen Russia conduct ‘gray zone’ operations. We know that their goal, which they have failed at, was to eliminate Ukraine as a nation.

“So, the concern here is, yes, if Putin were allowed to win, Russia won’t stop [and] they will move on to other countries with attempts to either invade or destabilize,” the general continued.

That situation could put NATO allies under direct Russian threats, Ryder said. The United States and all other NATO nations would defend those allies under Article 5 of the Washington Treaty that established the alliance 74 years ago. It “would be something that we would obviously take very seriously,” Ryder said. “So, again, this is why Ukraine matters. It’s not just about Ukraine. It’s about international security, not only in Europe but also globally.”

The United States has been stalwart in its support of Ukraine since Russia invaded in February 2022. “That’s why the United States has committed more than $44 billion in security assistance to Ukraine’s brave defenders,” the press secretary said. “The Department of Defense will continue to work closely with our allies and partners worldwide to support Ukraine as it fights for freedom and to meet the clear objectives set out by President Joe Biden.”

Thinking Like a State

John J. Mearsheimer and Sebastian Rosato

Surprisingly, for an article assessing the prevalence of rationality in international politics (“Why Smart Leaders Do Stupid Things,” November/December 2023), Keren Yarhi-Milo’s review of our book, How States Think, never offers its own definition of the term. Yarhi-Milo does, however, argue that irrational leaders resort to mental shortcuts, otherwise known as heuristics, or succumb to their emotions. But even this description of irrationality is wanting because it focuses on individuals and says nothing about irrationality at the collective or state level.

For us, rationality has both an individual and a collective dimension. Rational leaders are homo theoreticus. They employ credible theories about the workings of the international system and use them to understand their situation and determine how best to navigate it. Rational states aggregate the views of key policymakers through a deliberative process, one marked by vigorous and uninhibited debate.

Yarhi-Milo suggests that we think realism is the only credible theory out there. Thus, if leaders act on the basis of theories other than realism, they are not acting rationally. But that is simply wrong. Our book is not a brief for realism. We emphasize that there are several credible realist and liberal theories and that leaders acting on the basis of any of them are rational. Indeed, Yarhi-Milo notes that our inventory of credible theories includes the various liberal theories underpinning NATO expansion and the U.S. grand strategy of liberal hegemony, which sought to expand membership in international institutions, foster an open world economy, and spread democracy around the globe.

Ultimately, Yarhi-Milo commends our definition of rationality. In her opinion, our book proves that “leaders rely on theories, both credible and not, to help them make decisions” and “proves the importance of process, something overlooked by scholars, in determining whether a leader or a state made a rational decision.” Moreover, she employs our definition to assess the rationality of British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s decision to appease Nazi Germany at Munich in 1938, the George W. Bush administration’s decision to attack Iraq in 2003, and Russia’s decision to invade Ukraine in 2022. In essence, she recognizes that credible theories and deliberation are the hallmarks of rationality. That said, she disagrees with us about the facts of each of those cases, which leads to the vital issue of evidence.

Go green, go bankrupt?


In November, Germany’s supreme court declared that it would be unlawful for the government to use emergency Covid-19 funds to pay for its transition to Net Zero. This prompted the coalition to announce last week that it may not be able to produce a 2024 budget by the end of this year. Public spending for the rest of 2023 has been frozen.

There is now a chance that the 2024 budget may indeed be ready this week. But the fiasco has nonetheless been deeply embarrassing for chancellor Olaf Scholz. The supreme court ruling has made a mockery of Scholz’s promise to spend billions on new ecological projects to support Germany’s flailing economy. Earlier this year, Scholz was claiming that Germany would experience an economic miracle fuelled by investment in new wind turbines, electricity grids, hydrogen power and subsidies for chip and battery production. That has now been exposed as just so much hot air.

This budget crisis poses huge problems for the government and its Net Zero agenda. Back in 2022, the coalition had intended to plug a €60 billion gap in the budget with funds that had been set aside to deal with the cost of the Covid pandemic and lockdowns. This €60 billion was to be repurposed to cover part of the immense costs of its green-energy transition plan. Doing so would have allowed the government to pretend that the Net Zero transition would place no additional burden on the taxpayer, and therefore dodge any parliamentary and public debate about its green policies.

It’s hardly surprising that the government’s budgetary trick has now been ruled unconstitutional. One reason the court gave is that emergency funds must be used for the purpose they were set up for. Another is that the ‘special budget’ is incompatible with Germany’s ‘debt brake rule’ (Schuldenbremse), which caps fiscal deficits at 0.35 per cent of GDP per year.

American exceptionalism in 2024

Joseph S. Nye

As the 2024 presidential election approaches, three broad camps are visible in America’s debate over how the United States should relate to the rest of the world: the liberal internationalists who have dominated since World War II; the retrenchers who want to pull back from some alliances and institutions; and the ‘America firsters’ who take a narrow, sometimes isolationist, view of America’s role in the world.

Americans have long seen their country as morally exceptional. Stanley Hoffmann, a French American intellectual, said that while every country considers itself unique, France and the US stand out in believing that their values are universal. France, however, was limited by the balance of power in Europe, and so couldn’t pursue its universalist ambitions fully. Only the US had the power to do that.

The point is not that Americans are morally superior; it is that many Americans want to believe that their country is a force for good in the world. Realists have long complained that this moralism in American foreign policy interferes with a clear analysis of power. Yet the fact is that America’s liberal political culture made a huge difference to the liberal international order that has existed since World War II. Today’s world would look very different if Adolf Hitler had emerged victorious or if Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union had prevailed in the Cold War.

American exceptionalism has three main sources. Since 1945, the dominant one has been the legacy of the Enlightenment, specifically the liberal ideas espoused by America’s founders. As President John F. Kennedy put it, ‘The “magic power” on our side is the desire of every person to be free, of every nation to be independent … It is because I believe our system is more in keeping with the fundamentals of human nature that I believe we are ultimately going to be successful.’ Enlightenment liberalism holds such rights to be universal, not limited to the US.

Armada aims remote deployment of AI power to battlefields using Starlink

Ameya Paleja

Armada, a startup based out of San Francisco in the US, is using SpaceX's satellite-based internet service Starlink to take artificial intelligence (AI) to remote places around the world. Interestingly, the company is not directly collaborating with SpaceX on this but has built solutions that work with the space-based service.

AI applications that have blossomed after ChatGPT's introduction last year have all relied on the centralization of information into a data model that runs on some of the most powerful computers assembled in recent times. While this approach can work for designing and initial testing, if AI has to be used in challenging environments using real-time data, the analysis of information has to be decentralized.

Cutting edge AI is possible even on an oil rig using Armada.

Elon Musk's SpaceX has been building a powerful resource to make high-speed internet available in far-flung places. However, the company has been so focused on scaling up its network that it has not built a software stack on top of its satellites. This is where Armada hopes to cash in. Coming out of stealth this week, the company has unveiled a bunch of products that make it possible to take AI to places where data is generated.

New Report: “Cybersecurity Futures 2030: New Foundations”

The global cybersecurity landscape is rapidly changing – and by 2030, it will once again be radically transformed. To better understand how technological, political, economic, and environmental changes are impacting the future of cybersecurity for governments and organizations, the UC Berkeley Center for Long-Term Cybersecurity (CLTC), the World Economic Forum Centre for Cybersecurity, and CNA’s Institute for Public Research have collaborated on Cybersecurity Futures 2030: New Foundations, a foresight-focused research initiative that aims to inform cybersecurity strategic plans around the globe.

Sponsored by Fortinet, Meta, Okta, and Repsol, the Cybersecurity Futures 2030 project includes insights that are broadly applicable across countries and regions. The findings are based on discussions held at a series of in-person workshops conducted throughout 2023, including in Dubai, UAE; Washington, D.C.; Kigali, Rwanda; New Delhi, India; and Singapore, as well as a virtual workshop with participants from multiple European countries and the U.K. The workshops were centered around discussion of four scenarios that portray diverse “cybersecurity futures,” fictional (but plausible) depictions of the world roughly in the year 2030. The scenarios were designed to explore trade-offs in goals and values that decision-makers will have to contend with in the near future.

“The goal of Cybersecurity Futures 2030 is to promote digital security as a strategic priority, and understand how systemic cybersecurity challenges are experienced and addressed in different regions around the world,” said Ann Cleaveland, Executive Director of the UC Berkeley Center for Long-Term Cybersecurity. “We will use these findings to help decision-makers in government, industry, academia, and civil society seize opportunities and mitigate risks just over the horizon.”

“Through Cybersecurity Futures 2030, we are helping governments, the private sector, and academia shape a future-focused research and policy agenda for the next five- to seven years,” said Dawn Thomas, a managing director and research analyst in CNA’s Institute for Public Research.