22 December 2023

Yemen’s Houthis ‘will not stop’ Red Sea attacks until Israel ends Gaza war

Yemen’s Houthis will not halt attacks on ships linked to Israel in the Red Sea, despite the United States announcing a new maritime protection force to counter them, a spokesperson for the rebel group said.

“Even if America succeeds in mobilising the entire world, our military operations will not stop … no matter the sacrifices it costs us,” Mohammed al-Bukhaiti, a senior Houthi official, said in a post on X on Tuesday.

The Houthis would only halt their attacks if Israel’s “crimes in Gaza stop and food, medicines and fuel are allowed to reach its besieged population”, al-Bukhaiti said.

He spoke after US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced a coalition on Monday to protect trade in the Red Sea after the attacks forced shipping lines to suspend operations.

The Iran-linked Houthis have waged attacks on more than a dozen commercial ships in an attempt to pressure Israel to end its bombardment of the Gaza Strip.

“These reckless Houthi attacks are a serious international problem and they demand a firm international response,” Austin said about the new 10-nation coalition. He said the force would operate “with the goal of ensuring freedom of navigation for all countries and bolstering regional security and prosperity”.

Member of Elite Hamas Unit That Led Oct. 7 Terror Attack Found Hiding Inside Gaza School

Christopher Gavin

Amember of Hamas' commando force that led the terror group's Oct. 7 raid in southern Israel was found by Israeli soldiers as he hid inside a Gaza school late last week, the Israeli military said Monday.

The fighter, who is apart of Hamas' "Nukhba" forces, was captured by the Israel Defense Forces' 401st Brigade during a raid Friday in the Alma'atsam in Allah school in Gaza City's Rimal neighborhood, according to IDF spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari.

Several other terrorists were either killed or captured, the Jerusalem Post reported. Those taken into custody were transferred to IDF's Intelligence Division for questioning.

Israel has vowed to track down and kill all of the terrorists responsible for the Oct. 7 massacre that left some 1,200 people dead and another 240 hostage.

The Israeli military captured a members of the Nukhba force, an elite group of Hamas fighters who led the Oct. 7 attacks in Israel.

Tunnel warfare expert on what she sees in newly-discovered tunnel in Gaza

Erin Burnett 

Tunnel warfare expert Daphné Richemond-Barak tells CNN's Erin Burnett what she sees in the tunnel the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) say is "the biggest Hamas tunnel" found in Gaza so far.

Israel’s Unfinished Democracy

Yohanan Plesner

In the months before Hamas’s heinous October 7 attacks, Israeli society was more polarized than ever before. Efforts by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s far-right government to ram through antidemocratic reforms had provoked the largest and most sustained protests the country had ever seen. By this past summer, polls indicated that 45 percent of the public thought that the country was on the brink of a violent civil war.

Since then, the attacks and the subsequent government decision to launch an all-out campaign against Hamas have united Israelis behind the war. Thus, they have shown overwhelming support for the twin goals of returning the hostages and toppling the terrorist regime in the Gaza Strip. Yet the polarization has hardly disappeared: even now, at the height of the fighting, the trust that Israelis place in the government is at an all-time low, and the rally-round-the-flag effect has been limited to support for the Israel Defense Forces and their mission to defeat Hamas. What does this mean for the country and its ability to shape a stable postwar order?

In the wake of October 7, it has become a truism that nothing in Israel will ever be the same. Although it is impossible to predict the outcome and the long-term effects of the war, many have noted that Israel’s political makeup and security doctrines will almost certainly undergo profound changes. The catastrophic intelligence failures that preceded the attacks are bound to have far-reaching repercussions on Israel’s security and defense establishment. Israel will need to reframe its whole approach to the Palestinian conflict. Many have also speculated that the current leadership, led by Netanyahu, will have to step down at the end of the war.

What to Know About the Hacker Group That Shut Down 70% of Iran’s Gas Stations


Around 70% of Iran’s petrol stations have seen their services disrupted Monday after a massive cyber attack was carried out by the hacker group Gonjeshke Darande, which translates to “Predatory Sparrow” in Farsi. The group has also claimed responsibility for attacks against Iranian petrol stations, rail networks and steel factories, according to Iranian state media. The attacks have forced many Petrol stations to operate their pumps manually.

“We, Gonjeshke Darande, carried out another cyberattack today, taking out a majority of the gas pumps throughout Iran. This cyberattack comes in response to the aggression of the Islamic Republic and its proxies in the region,” wrote the group on X, formerly known as Twitter. “We delivered warnings to emergency services across the country before the operation began, and ensured a portion of the gas stations across the country were left unharmed for the same reason, despite our access and capability to completely disrupt their operation.”

The group joined X in December 2023 and has previously been linked to Israel, according to the Times of Israel. Approximately 300,000 Iranian Jews live in Israel, most of whom fled Iran as refugees during the 1979 revolution, when the Iranian Jewish community was heavily persecuted and a frequent target of state-sanctioned violence. Many Iranian Jews living in Israel were educated in Iran and speak fluent Farsi.

The last time a major cyberattack disrupted Iranian fuel supply was in Oct. 2021. Iran similarly accused Israel and the United States of being behind those attacks. Iran’s civil defense agency, which oversees the country’s cybersecurity, says that it is still investigating the attack.

Iran’s Ministry of Petroleum also told an Iranian television station that the disruption at gas stations would not impact the price of fuel. Iranian fuel is heavily subsidized by the state, and plans to raise fuel prices in 2019 led to major protests across the country that year.

What Worries Me About the Gaza War After My Trip to Arab States

Thomas L. Friedman

I’ve been concerned from the start that Israel launched its invasion of Gaza to eradicate Hamas with no plan for what to do with the territory and its people in the wake of any victory. Having just spent a week in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates taking the pulse of this important corner of the Arab world, I am now even more worried.

Let me summarize my concerns this way: Because Hamas built a vast tunnel network under Gaza, Israeli forces, in their quest to eliminate that vicious terrorist organization, are having to destroy huge numbers of structures. It’s the only way they can kill a lot of Hamas fighters and demilitarize Gaza without losing a lot of their own soldiers in the short window that Israel feels it has in the face of pressure from the U.S. and other allies to wind down the invasion.

Israel was justified in hitting back at Hamas for breaking the cease-fire that existed on Oct. 7 and indiscriminately murdering, raping or maiming more than 1,200 people and kidnapping some 240 others in its path that day. Hamas plotted and executed a campaign of unspeakable barbarism that seemed designed to make Israel crazy and lash out without thinking about the morning after the morning after. And that is just what Israel did.

But nine weeks later, we can now see the morning after the morning after. In pursuing its aims of dismantling Hamas’s military machine and wiping out its top leaders, Israel has killed and wounded thousands of innocent Gazan civilians. Hamas knew this would happen and did not care a whit. Israel must. It will inherit responsibility for a gigantic humanitarian disaster that will require a global coalition years to fix and manage. As The Times reported on Tuesday, “Satellite imagery shows that the fighting has resulted in heavy damage to almost every corner of Gaza City” — at least 6,000 buildings hammered, with about a third of them in ruins.

What Has Hamas Accomplished?

Daniel Byman

On Oct. 7, Hamas militants surprised Israel and slaughtered 1,200 people while taking more than 200 as prisoners. It was an impressive tactical success for the group. But as Israeli forces steadily increase their hold on Gaza, leaving much of it in ruins and killing around 19,000 Palestinians, what can Hamas claim it has achieved?

How Saudi Arabia Could Use Its Leverage in Gaza

Aziz Alghashian

It wasn’t long ago that most of the world was focusing on a U.S.-Saudi-Israeli “big Middle East deal.” The current climate of death, destruction, and the catastrophe that is unfolding before our eyes is a long way from the exuberance surrounding potential Saudi-Israeli normalization in the weeks and months prior to the war.

Trends in Terrorism: What's on the Horizon in 2024?

Colin P. Clarke

On the morning of October 7, Hamas terrorists breached the border fence between Gaza and Israel under the cover of a withering rocket barrage. Within hours, the Palestinian militant group had killed 1,200 innocent people in Israel, kidnapped over 240, and plunged the region into its most dangerous crisis in decades.

The brutal attack on October 7, and Israel’s military response, has made the war in Gaza a central component of the terrorist threat landscape heading into 2024. In the United States, FBI director Christopher Wray has warned on numerous occasions ever since about the elevated terrorism threat level, stating before Congress that “We assess that the actions of Hamas and its allies will serve as an inspiration the likes of which we haven’t seen since ISIS launched its so-called caliphate years ago.” Europeans are also worried. EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson recently stated: “With the war between Israel and Hamas, and the polarization it causes in our society, with the upcoming holiday season, there is a huge risk of terrorist attacks in the European Union.” The conflict between Israel and Hamas looms large and will, in all likelihood, serve as a catalyst for terrorist plots and attacks outside of the conflict zone itself, spurring radicalized individuals, small cells, and decentralized networks to strike at targets associated with one side or the other. Indeed, this has already occurred, with seven individuals arrested across Denmark, Germany, and the Netherlands for planning terrorist attacks against Jewish institutions in Europe. Some of the men were believed to be Hamas members.

While the conflict in Gaza will occupy a substantial amount of global counterterrorism bandwidth, the center of gravity for terrorism in the near future is likely to remain the Sahel region of sub-Saharan Africa. The Sahel has been plagued by porous borders, weak security forces and illegitimate military juntas. Throughout this region, jihadist groups, including Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (JNIM), Islamic State Sahel Province (ISSP), and Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), will continue to operate with near impunity, taking advantage of failed states and ungoverned spaces. The Sahel has seen a string of successive military coups in recent years, leaving Kremlin-friendly regimes in power in Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger. Accordingly, this has opened the door to further Russian influence through the deployment of mercenaries from the Wagner Group, a private military company in the midst of a transition following the death of its leader Yevgeny Prigozhin in a plane crash that most believe was orchestrated at the behest of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Wagner has exacerbated the terrorism issue throughout the Sahel, since its coup-proofing operations are conducted with a heavy hand, leading to significant civilian casualties and collateral damage, pushing civilians into the arms of JNIM and ISSP, growing their ranks.

The growing risk of global disorder

Mohamed A. El-Erian

The Western-led global economic order had a bad 2023. Surprisingly, the primary cause was not the emergence of an alternative order led by China, as some had anticipated. Instead, it was internal stress that led to more doubts around the world about its effectiveness and legitimacy.

But a new international order is unlikely to emerge anytime soon. Instead, as more and more countries decide to self-insure by building alternatives to the Western-led order, the global economy risks increasing fragmentation, eroding America’s leadership role and accelerating a systemwide shift toward disorder.

To be sure, doubts about the Western-led economic order began long before 2023. Over just the past 15 years, its credibility and smooth functioning have been undermined by policy missteps that resulted in a series of disruptions. These include the 2008 global financial crisis, the growing weaponization of trade and investment sanctions, the unequal distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, central banks’ mischaracterization of inflation as “transitory,” and the consequences of the banks’ aggressive interest-rate hikes.

The multilateral system has been further undermined by its inability to tackle urgent global challenges such as climate change and overwhelming debt in the Global South. As these pressures intensify, Western-dominated institutions are increasingly viewed as ineffective and insufficiently inclusive.

Two developments, in particular, have fueled widespread frustration with the Western-led order this year. First, as is now widely documented, Russia has managed to maintain active trading relationships despite ostensibly suffocating sanctions, which restricted the country’s ability to use the SWIFT international payment system and capped the price of its oil exports. Although the ad hoc trade and payment schemes devised by Russian technocrats are far from cost-effective, they have enabled Russia to minimize the damage to its domestic economy and finance its war effort in Ukraine.

The Limits of American Power

leonidas zelmanovitz

It is well accepted among foreign relations specialists that at the time of the Cold War (1945–89) we lived in a “bipolar” world, with the United States and the Soviet Union competing for global hegemony. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, we lived in a “unipolar” world, with the United States as the sole superpower from 1989 to 2008 and the beginning of the Great Recession. Finally, we entered the “multipolar” world that we live in today, with three global superpowers: the United States, China, and Russia, and a number of regional powers, such as India and Iran.

To understand how global order might be maintained and a war of annihilation averted, we might recur to a neglected concept that emerged as the last multipolar era was ending: respect for great power spheres of influence.

Cold War Spheres of Influence

Many of the arrangements that brought us through the bipolar era unscathed were shaped— if not implemented—during the Second World War, out of a process of negotiation between great powers.

The composition of the Security Council of the United Nations, for instance, reflected the leading allies in WWII: the US, UK, France, the USSR, and China. The monetary arrangements agreed to at the Bretton Woods Treaty of 1944, though centered on the US dollar, were made with due consideration of the concerns of the other powers. (So much so that years later, the system crumbled because it became too onerous for the US to honor its commitments to redeem its currency in gold when asked by the central banks of other members.)

The secret sauce for Taiwan's chip superstardom

Rupert Wingfield-Hayes

When 23-year-old Shih Chin-tay boarded a plane for the United States in the summer of 1969, he was flying to a different world.

He grew up in a fishing village surrounded by sugarcane fields. He had attended university in Taiwan's capital Taipei, then a city of dusty streets and grey apartment buildings where people rarely owned cars.

Now he was off to Princeton University. The US had just put a man on the Moon and the Boeing 747 in the skies. Its economy was larger than those of the Soviet Union, Japan, Germany and France combined.

"When I landed, I was shocked," Dr Shih, now 77, says. "I thought to myself: Taiwan is so poor, I must do something to try and help make it better off."

And he did. Dr Shih and a group of young, ambitious engineers transformed an island that exported sugar and t-shirts into an electronics powerhouse.

Today's Taipei is rich and hip. High-speed trains zip passengers along the west coast of the island at 350km/h (218mph). Taipei 101 - briefly the tallest building in the world - towers over the city, an emblem of its prosperity.

Much of that is down to a tiny device no larger than a fingernail. The silicon semiconductor - wafer-thin and best-known now as a chip - sits at the heart of every technology we use, from iPhones to airplanes.

Taiwan now makes more than half the chips that power our lives. Its biggest manufacturer, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), is the ninth-most valuable business in the world.

Visualizing 2024: Trends to Watch

Matthew P. Goodman, Kat Duffy, Zongyuan Zoe Liu, Liana Fix, and Will Freeman

Looking ahead to 2024, five CFR fellows highlight in charts, graphs, and maps some of the most important trends to track, including power dynamics in the Asia-Pacific region, digital threats to elections, and the changing mix of migrants arriving at the southern U.S. border.

U.S. Economic Influence in the Asia-Pacific

The U.S. Lags Behind China in Free Trade Agreements in Asia

Number of free trade agreements with other Asia-Pacific countries in 2018 and 2022

Few global dynamics will shape the next several decades of geopolitics more than the U.S.-China rivalry, as the two preeminent powers push their interests in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond. According to the Lowy Institute’s Asia Power Index, which ranks the relative power of the more than two dozen countries in the region, the United States remains the most influential across a range of metrics, including military capacity and cultural sway. Yet in one crucial area—economic relationships, defined by Lowy as “the capacity to exercise influence and leverage through economic dependencies”—the United States is lagging far behind China in regional power. And things could continue to get worse for Washington in 2024.

The power gap in one particular measure of economic influence—economic diplomacy—is especially wide. The main factor explaining China’s advantage in this area is the U.S. absence from the two major trade arrangements in the Indo-Pacific, namely the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), the world’s largest plurilateral trade agreement [PDF], and the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). (Former U.S. President Donald Trump famously pulled the United States out of CPTPP’s precursor arrangement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, on his first full day in office in 2017.)

How—and Why—Yemen’s Houthi Rebels Are Poised to Seriously Disrupt the Global Economy


After two months, the crisis in the Middle East is poised to seriously disrupt the global economy as well as regional stability—thanks to the Houthis, a rebel Shi’a group in Yemen, and their successful effort to disrupt shipping through the Red Sea.

While attacks by the Houthis on commercial shipping began on November 19, they escalated last week, with the Yemeni rebels firing anti-ship ballistic missiles at several passing ships and hitting one (the first time such a weapon has ever been used successfully). As none of the ships were bound for Israel or owned by Israeli companies, the attacks signaled the Houthis were stepping up their efforts to pressure local commerce as a way to force Israel to suspend its campaign in Gaza.

Shipping companies got the message. Five of the largest shipping firms announced they would redirect their container ships away from the Bab al Mandab strait, the strategic waterway through which ships must pass on their way to the Suez Canal and which handles over 10% of global commerce.

Following the announcement, traffic through the Red Sea dropped by 35%. Commerce hasn’t been blocked completely, since most ships can opt for the longer but safer route around Africa, but the Houthis have increased the cost of shipping globally, imposing additional costs to commerce at a time when trouble at the Panama Canal has already made shipping more complicated and central banks worry about a new inflationary spike. If the Houthi “blockade” continues, the costs to consumers and the impact on local states will be considerable.

Drone Attacks on Vessels in the Red Sea Have BP Halting Shipments

Rocio Fabbro

British oil and gas giant BP will pause shipments through the Red Sea, joining the world’s largest container vessel companies in avoiding the region as attacks escalate — sending the price of oil up.

“In light of the deteriorating security situation for shipping in the Red Sea, BP has decided to temporarily pause all transits through the Red Sea,” the company said in an emailed statement, noting that the safety of its crew is its priority.

The company said it will keep the precautionary pause subject to the evolving circumstances in the region. Securing the Red Sea has become a top priority for companies and governments, as roughly 10% of global trade transits the strategic waterway, and through Egypt’s Suez Canal in the north and the Bab el-Mandeb Strait.

Ryan Petersen, founder and chief executive of Flexport, told The Messenger that even small changes, such as the rerouting of vessels, could have big supply chain and pricing effects.

"To put in perspective, 30% of global containerized freight moves through the Suez, and the average value of goods on each vessel is around $1 billion," Petersen said in an email. "With these bottlenecks, about 25% of global effective capacity could be removed from the market."

Brent crude, the global benchmark, climbed 2.8% to $78.62 a barrel, and Western Texas Intermediate rose 2.74% to $73.39 a barrel. Natural gas futures were up 2.85%.

DHS report says a border wall is the most effective method to stop illegal immigration

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) inspector general determined that a border wall is the most effective method to stop illegal immigration, a newly released report says.

According to the 2017 report, which was obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request by the Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI), a “pedestrian fence,” popularized by President Donald Trump as a “border wall,” was in fact the best way to halt illegal immigration.

The study considered 25 different border areas, according to the report, but initially received only one relevant document, which was the 2017 report for then-Acting CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan about the effectiveness of a border wall.

The 225-page report also considered other methods to curb immigration such as cameras, mobile surveillance radars, sensors, a vehicle fence and the deployment of additional agents, and a pedestrian fence with anti-climb capability.

Erdogan and Orban pledge closer ties in Budapest meeting

Although Turkey and Hungary are the only countries yet to ratify Sweden's NATO membership, the countries' two leaders did not address the subject, highlighting instead closer defense and energy ties.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan traveled to Budapest on Monday, where he received military honors and was warmly greeted by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

It is Erdogan's second visit in the past four months and marked the 100th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two nations.

Despite both countries being the last NATO member states yet to ratify Sweden's membership in the transatlantic military alliance, neither leader brought up the subject in public remarks. However, Hungarian President Katalin Novak, who also met with Erdogan, said the pair did discuss NATO expansion privately.

How Hungary and Turkey want to deepen ties

"We wish to further strengthen our ties in areas such as defense and energy, where we already have fruitful cooperation," said Erdogan.

The Turkish leader said the countries would also work together to increase bilateral trade volume from roughly $4 billion (€3.6 billion) annually to $6 billion (€5.5 billion).

Speaking to reporters after their meeting, Orban said Hungary was "looking for partners with whom we can win. The big plan is that Turks and Hungarians will be victorious together in the 21st century."

Worried About Political Deepfakes? Beware the Spread of ‘Cheapfakes’


Over the summer, a political action committee (PAC) supporting Florida governor and presidential hopeful Ron DeSantis uploaded a video of former president Donald Trump on YouTube in which he appeared to attack Iowa governor Kim Reynolds. It wasn’t exactly real—though the text was taken from one of Trump’s tweets, the voice used in the ad was AI-generated. The video was subsequently removed, but it has spurred questions about the role generative AI will play in the 2024 elections in the US and around the world.

While platforms and politicians are focusing on deepfakes—AI-generated content that might depict a real person saying something they didn’t or an entirely fake person—experts told WIRED there's a lot more at stake. Long before generative AI became widely available, people were making “cheapfakes” or “shallowfakes.” It can be as simple as mislabeling images, videos, or audio clips to imply they’re from a different time or location, or editing a piece of media to make it look like something happened that didn’t. This content can still have a profound impact if they’re allowed to circulate on social platforms. As more than 50 countries prepare for national elections in 2024, mis- and disinformation are still powerful tools for shaping public perception and political narratives.

Meta and YouTube have both responded in recent months with new policies around the use of generative AI in political ads like the one in support of DeSantis. Last month, Meta announced that it would require political advertisers to disclose whether an ad uses generative AI, joining Google, which owns YouTube, in responding to concerns that newly available tools could be used to mislead voters. In a note on its blog post about how the company is approaching the upcoming 2024 elections, Meta says that it will require advertisers “to disclose when they use AI or other digital techniques to create or alter a political or social issue ad in certain cases.”

“The scope is only political ads, which is a tiny part of the political ecology where people are increasingly using AI-generated media,” says Sam Gregory, program director at the nonprofit Witness, which helps people use technology to promote human rights. “It's not clear that it covers the broad range of shallowfakes or cheapfake approaches that are already being deployed both in political ads, but also, of course, in much broader ways that people use in political context.”

New report urges US to look beyond cheap low-earth satellites for missile warning


Lots of cheap satellites in low-Earth orbit may not be enough to protect against Chinese and Russian hypersonic weapons, so the U.S. should broaden its missile-defense strategy by adding a variety of sensors—including drones, aircraft, and higher-orbit satellites, according to a new report from CSIS.

Despite the Pentagon's launch of several constellations in recent years, today's highly maneuverable hypersonics remain very difficult to track, especially across large bodies of water such as the South China Sea, one of the report’s authors said Monday.

“This problem is so challenging in part because hypersonic weapons are sub-pixel-size targets. They're smaller than the pixels used to actually image them, and so their signatures get diluted with all their surroundings. It's akin to trying to find a cup of tea that you've dropped into a swimming pool and figure out how hot it is,” Masao Dahlgren said at a CSIS event in Washington, D.C. “We don't get dense coverage near the equator. We get it near the poles.”

Additionally, putting too many satellites in low-earth orbit means increased risk of space debris.

“In the past year, the amount of collision-avoidance maneuvers that needed to happen with the Starlink constellation were an order of magnitude greater than they were in the past five years combined,” Dahlgren said.

Cheap low-earth orbit satellites are also vulnerable to a radiation field created by a nuclear test, which means an adversary could knock out the Pentagon’s sensing ability with a single test, he said.

Heavy Armoured Forces in Future Combined Arms Warfare

Nick Reynolds

The British Army is likely to be called on to engage in high-intensity warfighting at some stage in the future, and must be able to do so credibly in order to contribute to NATO’s deterrent posture. Heavy armoured forces and main battle tanks will remain an important element of warfighting, and will therefore continue to occupy an important position in the British Army’s Order of Battle. There have been concerns about the vulnerability and survivability of main battle tanks on the contemporary battlefield, as well as the ability of lighter forces backed up by ISTAR capabilities and indirect fires to create difficult operational problems for the enemy in high-intensity warfighting. However, heavy armoured forces – through their substantial combat power – ensure that a force can remain mobile while in direct contact with enemy forces, and as such heavy armour still has a valuable role to play on the battlefields of the future.

However, adaptations are necessary if heavy armoured forces are to remain relevant. This paper argues that the primary requirement is to implement a comparative shift away from protection and towards mobility. Secondary requirements are numerous, and include better use of deception and decoys to counter improved enemy ISTAR capabilities, and the potential integration of uncrewed ground vehicles to add situational awareness and defensive capabilities without increasing vehicles’ weights (already problematically high). The British Army’s heavy armoured forces will also need to relearn old lessons about logistics, sustainment, vehicle recovery and the reconstitution of armoured formations that have suffered a significant level of battlefield attrition. Finally, crew expertise matters, and will – as always – be essential for keeping vehicles in working order on operations and minimising the need for the concentration of vulnerable elements of the support apparatus such as forward repair facilities. Investment in the British Army’s people should therefore not be overlooked in the heavy armour context.

What to Know About the JN.1 Variant of the COVID-19 Virus


A new variant of the virus that causes COVID-19 is rising to prominence in the U.S. as winter illness season approaches its peak: JN.1, yet another descendent of Omicron.

JN.1 was first detected in the U.S. in September but spread slowly at first. In recent weeks, however, it has accounted for a growing percentage of test samples sequenced by labs affiliated with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), surpassing 20% during the two-week period ending Dec. 9. By some projections, it will be responsible for at least half of new infections in the U.S. before December ends.

The World Health Organization (WHO) on Dec. 19 declared JN.1 a variant of interest due to its "rapidly increasing spread." But the agency has not labeled JN.1 a variant of concern—that is, a new strain of the SARS-CoV-2 virus with potential for increased severity; decreased vaccine effectiveness; or substantial impacts on health care delivery.

Here’s what to know about JN.1.

Is JN.1 more infectious or severe than other SARS-CoV-2 variants?

JN.1 is closely related to BA.2.86, a fellow Omicron descendent that first popped up in the U.S. this past summer. The two variants are nearly identical, according to the CDC, except for a single difference in their spike proteins, the part of the virus that allows it to invade human cells.

Global implications of the shipping attacks in the Red Sea

Nick Childs

The recent upsurge in attacks on shipping in the Red Sea, the Bab el-Mandeb Strait and the Gulf of Aden, committed mainly by Ansarullah (Houthi) forces in Yemen in relation to the Hamas–Israel war, has sounded alarms in the international shipping community. Multiple major ship operators have now said they are steering clear of the area. The longer this persists, the greater the eventual cost and disruption to international maritime trade and energy security. The pressure on governments and navies to ‘do something’ has been mounting.

This pressure will have ramifications both for the region and more widely. The Red Sea is a key maritime artery, and the narrow Bab el-Mandeb is a critical choke point for shipping. Threats to shipping in the region arcing from the Gulf to the Horn of Africa are by no means new. But they have grown more complex, as have the challenges in countering them; this complicates the business of finding an effective response to the current threat.

In the last few years, the threat level in the Red Sea and the Bab el-Mandeb seemed tolerable to the international shipping community. The focus of attacks seemed to be Saudi-linked maritime assets. More recently, in the wake of the 7 October Hamas attacks on Israel, and Israel’s military response, the Houthis declared that they were targeting Israeli-connected or Israeli-bound traffic. The shock waves have grown stronger as the tempo of attacks has increased and the level of discrimination has decreased.

The choppy waters of the Middle East have played host to some of the high points of cooperative maritime security, despite contestation in many areas. A coalition of nearly 40 countries under the Combined Maritime Forces based in Bahrain and led chiefly by the United States has developed and conducted security operations in regional seas since 2002. Dealing with non-state threats such as al-Qaeda or Somali-based piracy, at a time when navies faced relatively few other major commitments and had more ships to hand, was one thing; it is something else entirely to operate in an environment of increased regional competition among states and state proxies like the Houthis and with major navies now overstretched.

Wills and Means: How Ukraine Can Win

Edward Lucas

As 2023 draws to a close, gloom reigns. Not so much in Ukraine, where gritty determination abounds, but in Western capitals. Ukraine can’t win. The counter-offensive has failed. A deal is inevitable. Better sooner than later. These arguments are rungs on a ladder that leads not to peace, but more war. Russia’s goal is not a modest territorial adjustment with a neutralized neighbor, but the evisceration of Ukrainian statehood and national identity. And with one neighbor tamed, it is only a matter of time before the Kremlin tackles another. Anything else is wishful thinking.

Amid the despondency comes a shaft of light, from the Estonian defense ministry in Tallinn. Called Setting Transatlantic Defence up for Success: A Military Strategy for Ukraine’s Victory and Russia’s Defeat, its 22 crisply written pages should be required reading over the holiday break for every decision-maker.

Its opening contention is that defeatism is the product of Russian information warfare. The first and most urgent step is, therefore, to dump the current strategy, shaped by fears of escalation, and to concentrate instead on making it clear that victory for Russia is not, as the Kremlin would like to believe, inevitable, but impossible. “While Russia is still impervious to the logic of reason, it is continuously sensitive to the logic of force,” the report’s anonymous authors write. In other words, start increasing military and economic pressure on Russia and continue until a breaking point is reached.

Getting on Track

Masao Dahlgren

The conflict in Ukraine has made it clear that missiles “are foundational to adversaries’ way of war.” Future missile threats, however, increasingly stress existing missile defenses, flying lower, faster, and on unpredictable trajectories. Most importantly, they are difficult to detect—defeating them will require elevated sensors, on aircraft or satellites, to track them at range. As the Department of Defense begins to deploy a space-based sensor constellation, Getting on Track unpacks the design tradeoffs involved and key pitfalls to avoid. Using advanced simulation tools, the authors underscore the necessity of diversifying satellite orbits, designing constellations for early, persistent coverage, and retaining requirements for fire-control-capable sensors.

How to Prevent an AI Apocalypse


A little over a year ago, the San Francisco-based OpenAI released its chatbot, ChatGPT, triggering an artificial-intelligence gold rush and reigniting the age-old debate about the effects of automation on human welfare.

The fear of displacement by machines can be traced back to the nineteenth-century Industrial Revolution, when groups of English handloom weavers, known as Luddites, began destroying the power looms that threatened their livelihoods. The movement, which peaked between 1811 and 1817, was ultimately suppressed by government forces, and its leaders were executed or exiled to Australia.

But the Luddites’ arguments found an unexpected (and somewhat ironic) champion in renowned economist David Ricardo, who argued in his 1817 book On the Principles of Political Economy and Taxation that “the opinion entertained by the laboring class, that the employment of machinery is frequently detrimental to their interests, is not founded on prejudice and error, but is conformable to the correct principles of political economy.” The British economist Nassau Senior, for his part, advised the weavers to “get out of that branch of production.”

They ended up doing just that: 250,000 handloom jobs disappeared between 1820 and 1860. But while mechanization ended up benefiting human workers – the United Kingdom’s population and per capita real income multiplied over the same period – it adversely affected horses, whose numbers fell sharply as trains (and, later, motorized vehicles) replaced horse-drawn transport.

Since the Industrial Revolution, the prevailing pro-machine argument has been that by increasing labor productivity, automation boosts real incomes, allowing more individuals to enjoy higher living standards without corresponding job losses. Moreover, liberation from tedious menial tasks has enabled us to redirect our energy to more valuable pursuits.