28 December 2023

Why Israel can’t accept a ceasefire


During their protected wars in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, America’s leaders and generals could never define victory. Hamas, by contrast, has a clear understanding of what it looks like. Now that the terror group has demonstrated the failure of Israel’s deterrence, it insists it will not any more short ceasefires in exchange for hostages, but only a complete end to Israel’s offensive, which would of course leave it in full control of Gaza.

What would this entail? Most immediately, this would also hand Hamas the millions of dollars in aid that will arrive from Western nations, as well as the billions coming from Qatar, Kuwait and other oil-rich countries. And while these funds are intended for welfare distributions and for civilian reconstruction, Hamas will of course use them to rebuild its underground tunnel networks, and to fund its military training, propaganda and political units in and out of Gaza.

The reason it would get away with this is straightforward: Hamas has never pretended to be fighting for the well-being of Gaza’s population, or for Palestine as a national cause. It serves global Islam —the Umma — that rejects all nationalisms and demands supremacy over all other religions. In other words, it accepts no responsibility for the dead and wounded of the war, or for Gaza’s reconstruction.

Hence, if there is a permanent ceasefire, Hamas can start to prepare its next surprise attack, hoping for another October 7 of indiscriminate killings and rapes. If anyone in Gaza objects, Hamas will also act as it did in the past, shoving sacks over their heads and shooting them in front of crowds.

And yet, steadfastly ignoring this inevitability, retired generals and even, in an unguarded moment, Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin, have urged the Israelis to reduce their bombing or even their attacks altogether, in order to win over Gaza’s population. Yet this is to forget that such a formula failed in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan: populations dominated by brutal extremists cannot be “won over”.

Could Hamas Become a Global Threat?

Colin P. Clarke

The scale and sophistication of the Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attacks have led many counterterrorism analysts to revisit their assumptions about the group’s intent and capabilities. And one of the biggest questions many have is whether the group, which has never launched a successful attack abroad in its 36-year existence, could transform into a global threat, rather than simply remain a regional one.

Netanyahu Vows To Expand War On Hamas, Gaza Death Toll Rises

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to expand his country’s war against Hamas in Gaza, as health authorities in the enclave reported dozens of victims in an Israeli strike on a refugee camp.

“We are expanding the fight in the coming days, and this will be a long battle and it isn’t close to finished,” Netanyahu told members of his Likud party Monday.

Israeli strikes pounded central Gaza late Sunday and into Monday. Heath authorities in the Hamas-run territory said at least 70 people were killed in an Israeli airstrike that hit that Maghazi refugee camp.

The Israeli military said it was reviewing the reported strike in Maghazi, while reiterating its commitment to minimizing harm to civilians in its war to eliminate the Hamas militant group.

News reports say Egypt has proposed a plan to end the current conflict with a cease-fire, a phased hostage release and the formation of the Palestinian government of experts to administer the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. There has been no official response to the proposal from Israel or Hamas.

Meanwhile, Israel has reported several more deaths among its soldiers in the conflict, pushing the number killed since Friday to 17 and the total number of Israeli soldier deaths since launching its ground operation in Gaza to 156.

The Israeli offensive, which has included thousands of airstrikes in addition to ground operations, has left vast parts of Gaza in ruins and killed 20,400 Palestinians, according to the Gaza health ministry.

The fighting has also displaced most of Gaza’s 2.3 million people, with many trying to find safety in overcrowded, U.N.-run shelters in southern Gaza.

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.

America’s Strategic Maneuver on Gaza at the United Nations

Ali Balcı

As a staunch supporter of Israel, the US has often risked its international reputation to defend Israel’s unlawful occupation of Palestinian territories and alleged war crimes against civilians. Washington has exercised its veto power in the UN Security Council (UNSC) on draft resolutions concerning Israel a total of 46 times since the early 1970s. These drafts sought to condemn Israel’s actions, such as the invasion of southern Lebanon and the annexation of the Syrian Golan Heights. They also aimed to lay a framework for peace in the protracted Israel-Palestine conflict, including appeals for self-determination and Palestinian statehood, calls for Israel to adhere to international law, and denunciations of the displacement of Palestinians or the construction of settlements in occupied Palestinian territories. It was a rarity for the US to refrain from using its veto power, allowing resolutions critical of Israel to pass. For instance, in late December 2016, Arab countries prepared a draft resolution urging Israel to halt settlement activities in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. This draft was timely as the Obama administration had indicated that the United States would not use its veto and would instead abstain, allowing the proposal to pass in the UNSC as its term neared its end. On December 23, 2016, with the US abstention, the UNSC adopted the resolution (S/RES/2334) with 14 members voting in favor, demanding an end to Israeli settlement building in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Unlike Obama, Biden’s personal lifelong attachment to the Jewish state is far stronger. Biden often references his 1973 encounter with Prime Minister Golda Meir as a defining moment that solidified his view of Israel as essential for Jewish survival. Since the onset of the Gaza war, the Biden administration has leveraged the US’s influential position in international institutions to unwaveringly support Israel. The US exercised its veto power twice in the UN Security Council to block resolutions calling for a ceasefire, on October 18 and December 8, respectively. In the UN General Assembly, Washington cast no vote on resolutions critical of Israel, despite their extremely broad international support. However, the Biden administration altered its stance on December 22, 2023, despite intense pressure from Israel to maintain its previously unconditional support. During the vote on the draft resolution authored by the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the United States abstained, which contributed to the adoption of the resolution with 13 votes in favor (S/RES/2720). How can we explain this shift in the US government’s stance within the most critical international body, the UN Security Council? I propose that four key dynamics contributed to this change: global isolation, distancing among allies, domestic pressure, and compromises in the wording of the draft resolution. The compromise on wording, unlike the first three factors, diminishes the significance of this policy shift.

India: Disruption In The Shadow Of Accords

Afsara Shaheen

On December 17, 2023, two active cadres of the Zeliangrong United Front (ZUF), Daiguang Gangmei aka Kiakna (21) and Rachunlung Gangmei (25), and one cadre of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM), ‘sergeant major’ Ramreikan aka Akan, were killed in a gunfight between ZUF and NSCN-IM at Lamdangmei Village Prayer Mountain under the Khoupum Police station in Noney District of Manipur.

On September 24, 2023, a suspected ZUF cadre, David Gaingamlung Gonmei, was killed and another sustained injury in a gunfight with suspected NSCN-IM cadres at Phoibut Village in the Tupul area of Noney District in Manipur.

On July 28, 2023, two suspected NSCN-IM militants, ‘major’ Alen Sekho and ‘captain’ Angam, were killed and one civilian, identified as Gaitaguang Gangmei, sustained injuries, in firing by suspected ZUF cadres at Rengpang Village under the jurisdiction of Khongsang Police Station in the Noney District of Manipur.

On July 20, 2023, a ‘regional chairman’ of ZUF, Obed Kamei, was killed by suspected NSCN-IM cadres at Dailong Village in the Tamenglong District of Manipur.

According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), since the formation of ZUF in 2011, there have been a total of 22 violent clashes between the ZUF and the NSCN-IM resulting in 40 fatalities including 18 ZUF cadres, 15 NSCN-IM cadres, another six militants (group identities not established) and one civilian (caught in cross fire). These include four violent clashes between the ZUF and the NSCN-IM resulting in seven fatalities including four ZUF cadres and three NSCN-IM cadres in 2023. Moreover, the ZUF has killed four civilians and two Security Force (SF) personnel. Another 19 ZUF cadres have also been killed – 10 by SF personnel, seven in intra-factional clashes, one by unidentified assailants, and one lynched by villagers in Tamenglong District – between February 25, 2022 and December 22, 2023. There have, thus, been a total of 65 ZUF-linked fatalities.

Two of the most prominent factional clashes (in terms of fatalities) include:

September 25, 2012: Six militants were killed and one civilian was wounded in a clash between NSCN-IM and ZUF in the Tamenglong District of Manipur. The identities and factional affiliation of the slain militants remain unconfirmedOctober 7, 2011: Six NSCN-IM militants were killed and five wounded in a clash with the ZUF at Leishok village in Tamenglong District.

India: Escalating Losses In J&K

Ajit Kumar Singh

On December 21, 2023, four Army personnel were killed and another two were injured in an encounter with terrorists at Dhatyar Morh between Dera Ki Gali and Bufliaz, falling under the jurisdiction of Surankote Police Station in Poonch District. According to reports, the terrorists, whose number is believed to be between three and four, had taken positions atop the hill from where they targeted the Army vehicles which were transporting personnel to the site of a cordon-and-search operation.

On November 22-23, four Army personnel, including two captains, identified as Captain M. V. Pranjal of 63 Rashtriya Rifles and Captain Shubham Gupta of 9 Para Special Force, were killed and three other Army personnel, including a Major, were injured during a counter-terrorist operation in the Kalakote area of Gulbagh Forest in the Rajouri District. Two Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) foreign terrorists, trained in Afghanistan, were also killed during the encounter. A fifth soldier, who had been injured during the operation, died on November 23.

On September 13, 2023, Colonel Manpreet Singh, Battalion Commander of 19 Rashtriya Rifles, his company commander Major Aashish Dhonchak and Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) Humayun Bhat, were killed in a counter-terrorist operation in the Kokernag area of Anantnag District. Meanwhile, another soldier, who was reported missing on September 14, was confirmed dead on September 15. The terrorists managed to escape.

On August 4, 2023, three Army soldiers were killed during an encounter with terrorists in the Hallan forest area of the Manzgam Block in Kulgam District. Upon receiving information about the presence of militants, Security Forces (SFs) launched a search operation. They were fired upon during the intensified searches, triggering an encounter. The terrorists managed to escape.

Leveraging India’s Digital Success To Achieve Sustainable Goals

Dr. Sameer Kumar

A recent international summit in New Delhi brought leaders and heads of nations of the G20 grouping to discuss and debate pressing issues concerning our globe – including climate change, economy, poverty, war and conflict, diseases, and inequality.

However, sustainable development would be vital to addressing these concerns and ensuring that our globe is pollution-free and not exhausted of its natural resources, thus ensuring that future generations can meet their needs. Several of these challenges are interconnected in nature, such as poverty, inequality, and climate change, and sustainable development offers a working framework that promises to address them holistically. Take, for example, poverty; sustainable development provides an approach for inclusive policies that benefit all and not just a select few. Or, for that matter, environmental degradation, where it offers a framework for implementing sustainable practices to protect the environment.

Nations in the G20 account for 80% of the world’s population and about 85% of the economy. The grouping has come a long way since its inception in 1999. Since 2008, summits have grown bigger and have been held every year with the head of the state participating. Although the initial idea of G20 was to devise policies and frameworks for global financial stability, it is now also a platform for addressing other global concerns.

It was an excellent opportunity for India, the world’s most populated country and a fast-emerging economy, to showcase its leadership on the world stage. The good thing is that G20 is not just a talk shop; commitments made here are taken forward concretely. For example, in the 2009 G20 summit, a declaration to reduce greenhouse emissions was made. The 2015 Paris Agreement followed this. Last year’s G20 saw commitment to a global minimum of 15% corporate tax, and the roadmap showed good progress.

Corona Pandemic Reduced The Melting Of Himalayan Glaciers

Reducing air pollution to levels similar to those during the coronavirus pandemic could protect the glaciers in the Himalayas and prevent them from disappearing by the end of the century. This is the conclusion reached by an international research team analysing the situation during the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020.

The cleaner air has ensured that less soot has been deposited on the glaciers, resulting in 0.5 to 1.5 mm less snow melting per day. The rapid retreat of glaciers and the loss of snow cover already pose a threat to the sustainable water supply of billions of people in Asia who live in the catchment areas of rivers such as the Indus, Ganges and Yangtze. If emissions of air pollutants such as soot could be reduced to at least the level of the lockdowns, snowmelt could be reduced by up to half. A switch to clean energy supplies and lower-emission modes of transport would therefore bring significant benefits for sustainable water supplies, agriculture and ecosystems in large parts of Asia, the researchers write in the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics (ACP).

The mountains of the Hindu Kush Himalayas (HKH) and the highlands of Tibet in Central Asia form the largest snow-covered region outside the poles. The meltwater from these glaciers feeds rivers in India and China, which fuel agriculture, hydropower generation and the economies of these countries. The Himalayan snowmelt in spring provides around half of the annual fresh water for around 4 billion people in South Asia and East Asia. But resources are dwindling: Global warming has already led to a loss of around 40 per cent of the Himalayan glacier area compared to the Little Ice Age in the Middle Ages. With the exception of a few Karakoram glaciers, the snow mass there has also decreased significantly over the last 30 years. Model simulations for extreme scenarios show that the melting snow in the Himalayas could cause the glaciers there to disappear by the end of the 21st century. This is worrying news for the water supply of several billion people.

Economic Revival is on the Minds of Bhutanese Voters

Santosh Sharma Poudel

On January 9, Bhutan will vote in the final round of its fourth parliamentary election. The contest is between the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the Bhutan Tendrel Party (BTP), which emerged with the largest percent of the votes in the primary round of voting on November 30. Five parties had contested in the primary round, and the PDP and BTP secured 42.5 and 19.6 percent of the votes, respectively.

The ruling Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT) secured only 13.1 percent of the votes. Standing fourth among the contesting parties, it failed to qualify for the final round.

In power, the DNT presided over a challenging time for the nation. Its term coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic. The party managed the pandemic through strict and unpopular measures at the cost of business, severely limiting tourism. The external debt service ratio increased from 5.8 percent in 2019-20 to 15.1 percent in 2022-23. Increased fuel prices exacerbated the country’s economic troubles.

As a result, economic issues top the agenda in the upcoming election. Two days before the election primary, Kuensel’s editorial noted that “all parties highlighted reviving [the economy], making it the most talked about during the campaign period, including providing content for social media.” Despite the country being known for its Gross Happiness Index, the newspaper noted that many Bhutanese believe the “rest of the priorities are taken care of if the economy is on the right track.”

Bhutan’s economy has recovered, growing at nearly 4.5 percent a year, after shrinking by 10 percent in 2020. It is expected to grow at a similar rate in the coming year.

Flight To Progress: Japan’s Pivotal Role In Bangladesh’s Aviation Renaissance

Syed Raiyan Amir

In a significant move towards fortifying bilateral ties, Bangladesh and Japan inked an agreement on December 24, 2023, marking Japan’s commitment to supporting Bangladesh’s development endeavors. The accord involves a substantial loan of $540 million allocated for the ongoing construction of the third terminal at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport, along with a cargo terminal and associated facilities. This financial infusion is part of the third tranche of Japanese loans dedicated to the comprehensive airport expansion project, totaling a substantial $2.21 billion.

The terms of the loan, as disclosed by the Japanese embassy in Dhaka, are characterized by an interest rate of 1.30 percent. The repayment schedule spans 20 years, commencing after a grace period of 10 years. The official signing of the agreement transpired in Dhaka, featuring the participation of IWAMA Kiminori, the Japanese ambassador to Bangladesh, and Shahriar Kader Siddiky, the secretary to the Economic Relations Division.

The genesis of this financial collaboration traces back to December 2019, with the airport expansion project estimated to incur a total cost of Tk 21,300 crore. Of this financial outlay, Tk 15,000 crore originates from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), while the remainder is shouldered by the Bangladesh government.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina inaugurated the terminal partially on October 7, underscoring its strategic importance. Although operational use by airlines is anticipated in the near future, the overarching objective of the project is to address the escalating demand in aviation. This entails expanding airport capacity, enhancing accessibility, and bolstering security measures—a collective effort that is poised to make substantial contributions to Bangladesh’s economic growth.

In alignment with these goals, the expanded airport is projected to play a pivotal role in augmenting regional connectivity. This, as articulated in the official statement, aligns with Japan’s unwavering dedication to supporting Bangladesh’s development through a strategic partnership aimed at fostering mutual prosperity.

American Spies Confront a New, Formidable China

Warren P. Strobel

Beijing’s spycatchers all but blinded the U.S. in China a decade ago when they systematically rounded up a network of Chinese agents working for the CIA. As many as two dozen assets providing information to the U.S. were executed or imprisoned, among them high-ranking Chinese officials.

The CIA is still struggling to rebuild its human espionage capabilities in China, the agency’s top intelligence target, according to interviews with current and former U.S. officials. The gaps leave the U.S. with limited understanding of secret deliberations among Chinese leader Xi Jinping and his inner circle on key security issues such as Taiwan and other topics, the officials said.

“We have no real insight into leadership plans and intentions in China at all,” said a former senior intelligence official who until recently read classified reporting.

Strengthening the human spy network targeted on China is one goal of a titanic, but mostly secret, shift at the CIA and its sister U.S. spy agencies. It comes amid a larger transformation in U.S. security policy away from fighting insurgencies around the world and toward preparing for a possible “great power” conflict with China and Russia.

After two decades of hunting terrorists, the $100 billion-a-year U.S. intelligence community is retraining personnel, redirecting billions in budgets and retooling expensive spy machinery to focus on those potential adversaries.

The pivot hasn’t been simple. Hamas’s surprise Oct. 7 attack on Israel and the ensuing war in Gaza, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have demanded White House attention and intelligence resources, complicating CIA Director William Burns’s drive to ensure China is the top long-term priority. One agency veteran said that handling the two crises, while keeping a sustained focus on Beijing, will test the agency’s agility.

The U.S., which ceded responsibility for monitoring Palestinian militants to Israel in the years following the September 2001 terrorist attacks and like Israel was blindsided by the Hamas assault, has redirected some intelligence resources to the Israel-Palestinian conflict in recent weeks, officials said. It isn’t publicly known how substantial they are.

What War Games Really Reveal

Jacquelyn Schneider

Last January, the Republican-led U.S. House of Representatives created a special committee to examine the economic and military challenges China poses to the United States. Mike Gallagher, a Republican representative from Wisconsin who is one of Washington’s most vocal China hawks, was an obvious choice to lead the panel. For the past year, Gallagher has used the committee to sound the alarm on China and rally support for new measures that could hinder Beijing in its competition with the United States.

In his quest to build political consensus around a tougher approach to China, Gallagher (and the committee’s ranking Democrat, Raja Krishnamoorthi) has employed one particularly effective tool: the war game.

In April, Gallagher and Krishnamoorthi convened a bipartisan group of lawmakers to spend an evening playing a war game that simulated a conflict between the United States and China over Taiwan. In Gallagher’s opening remarks, he said he hoped that playing the game would impart “a sense of urgency” and demonstrate “that there are meaningful things we can do in this Congress through legislative action to improve the prospect of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.” Players were asked to act as advisers to the president, recommending diplomatic, economic, and military responses to a Chinese invasion of Taiwan. These members of Congress gathered around a campaign map, their foreign and domestic moves adjudicated by a war-gaming facilitator from a Washington think tank. Their goal was to deter China, represented by a team made up of think-tank staff members. According to Gallagher, the game revealed that the United States needed to “arm Taiwan to the teeth”—a strong endorsement for a multibillion-dollar package of Taiwanese military aid that his China committee was considering at the time. Since then, Gallagher has taken his war game on the road, playing a version with Wall Street executives in New York City in early September, and he says he plans to play a similar game with leaders of American technology companies.

These congressional games came on the heels of a series of high-visibility unclassified Taiwan war games played in 2022 at prominent American think tanks. The outcome of these games made waves in American media, securing segments on the Sunday morning news shows and headlines in The New York Times and The Washington Post. The games drew broad attention partly because of who was playing them: among the participants were Michèle Flournoy, a former undersecretary for policy at the U.S. Department of Defense and a possible future secretary of defense in a Democratic administration, and General James “Mike” Holmes, the retired four-star commander of Air Combat Command. Although run with different players and designs, these games demonstrated that there would be “no quick victory” for either side, that all military forces involved would suffer dramatic casualties, that the United States desperately needs more munitions, and that such a conflict would have a dangerous potential for escalation—even to nuclear war.

Clashing Geopolitical Railways: China’s Belt And Road Initiative And US Effort To Redefine African Infrastructure

Syed Raiyan Amir

From the very beginning, China’s Road and Belt Initiative stands as a monumental venture in the domain of infrastructure and economic expansion, sprawling across the continents of Asia, Europe, and Africa. The initiative has garnered commitments from 52 African governments in the form of Memorandums of Understanding (MoU), resulting in the infusion of astronomical sums of capital into the construction of pivotal infrastructure such as roads, ports, railways, and more. While ostensibly aimed at enhancing continental connectivity, this extensive network of projects also serves as a strategic conduit for China to gain unprecedented access to Africa’s abundant mineral resources.

Notably, the initiative has enabled China to establish a formidable foothold in resource-rich nations like Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where a staggering 80% of copper mines are already under Chinese ownership. This strategic positioning provides China with an advantageous grip on Africa’s vast mineral wealth, particularly crucial in countries boasting substantial reserves of copper and other indispensable minerals. The cumulative expenditure by China in this endeavor has surpassed a trillion dollars, underscoring the magnitude of its investments, which, at least in part, are strategically geared towards securing a dependable supply of resources pivotal to the global energy transition.

In a bid to counterbalance this influence, the United States is funneling millions into the Lobito Corridor project. Undoubtedly, the challenge of sourcing metals crucial for the energy transition continues to plague Western nations. Trafigura, a prominent commodity trade consortium, contends that the Lobito Atlantic Railway will “offer a more expeditious western route for the transportation of metals and minerals originating from the Democratic Republic of Congo.”

China’s Military-Civil Fusion Strategy: A Blueprint For Technological Superiority

Nicholas R. Licata

In an effort to transform the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) into the most technologically advanced military in the world, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is systematically reorganizing its science and technology sectors to ensure that new innovations simultaneously advance the growth of its military capabilities.

This “Military-Civil Fusion” (MCF, 军民融合) strategy targets technologies such as quantum computing, semiconductors, 5G, nuclear technology, aerospace technology, gene editing and artificial intelligence to achieve military dominance. While other nations have tried this strategy before, China’s MCF is expansive and institutionalized in a way that exceeds previous efforts. China is likely to produce a variety of new weapons of mass destruction using this policy in the next decade and threaten the United States’ regional interests more than it already has. MCF is still in its early stages but if the United States does not catch up with China’s strategy soon, it risks being technologically outpaced.

MCF applications in China date back to the 1980s and 1990s, but the concept of MCF as a core national policy is a relatively new phenomena under the Xi presidency, tailored to a globalized commercial ecosystem. In pursuing MCF, the CCP has gone as far as to establish the Central Commission for Integrated Military and Civilian Development in 2017 to oversee its integration, and shows little signs of slowing down. Recent documents and initiatives such as the 13th Five-Year Plan and 19th National Congress of the CCP describe a MCF framework that is early in its actualization, but capable of posing significant security challenges for the United States and its Indo-Pacific allies.

Despite how recently China enshrined MCF in its national agenda, the United States already recognizes it as a major concern for its interests in the Indo-Pacific. While China has been seeking avenues to potentially develop key technologies via MCF, the United States has been vocal in accusing China of corporate espionage and undermining American companies. Among the sectors targeted by MCF, artificial intelligence (AI), nuclear energy, and gene editing are at particular risk of these practices, and have the most substantial implications for PLA strategic dominance over the United States.

U.S. Strikes Iran-Backed Groups in Iraq After Attack on Base Injures 3 Americans

Helene Cooper

The United States conducted a new round of airstrikes early on Tuesday in Iraq, most likely killing militants and destroying three facilities used by Iranian proxies that had been targeting American and coalition troops, U.S. military officials said.

The American strikes were in retaliation for a series of assaults, including a drone attack hours earlier by members of Kataib Hezbollah and affiliated groups on Erbil air base in Iraq, U.S. officials said. The drone attack injured three American service members, one of them critically, officials said.

“My prayers are with the brave Americans who were injured,” Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III said in a statement.

The latest strikes targeted facilities used by Kataib Hezbollah, a militia group in Iraq that is considered a proxy of Iran.

After the Erbil attack, which took place on Christmas morning Eastern time, President Biden ordered the Department of Defense to prepare response options, White House officials said, and later in the day authorized the strikes.

Mr. Biden chose specific Kataib Hezbollah and affiliated facilities that had been used to launch unmanned aerial drone attacks, officials said.

In a statement, U.S. Central Command said that early assessments indicated that the U.S. airstrikes destroyed the targeted facilities and most likely killed a number of militants. The statement said that there were no indications of civilian casualties.

“These strikes are intended to hold accountable those elements directly responsible for attacks on coalition forces in Iraq and Syria and degrade their ability to continue attacks,” Gen. Michael Erik Kurilla of U.S. Central Command said in the statement. “We will always protect our forces.”

Biden orders strikes on an Iranian-aligned group after 3 US troops injured in drone attack in Iraq


President Joe Biden ordered the U.S. military to carry out retaliatory airstrikes against Iranian-backed militia groups after three U.S. servicemembers were injured in a drone attack in northern Iraq.

National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson said one of the U.S. troops suffered critical injuries in the attack that occurred earlier Monday. The Iranian-backed militia Kataib Hezbollah and affiliated groups, under an umbrella of Iranian-backed militants, claimed credit for the attack that utilized a one-way attack drone

Biden, who is spending Christmas at the presidential retreat at Camp David, Maryland, was alerted about the attack by White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan shortly after it occurred on Monday and ordered the Pentagon and his top national security aides to prepare response options to the attack on an air base used by American troops in Erbil.

Sullivan consulted with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. Biden’s deputy national security adviser, Jon Finer, was with the president at Camp David and convened top aides to review options, according to a U.S. official, who was not authorized to comment publicly and requested anonymity.

Within hours, Biden convened his national security team for a call in which Austin and Gen. CQ Brown, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, briefed Biden on the response options. Biden opted to target three locations used by Kataib Hezbollah and affiliated groups, the official said.

The U.S. strikes were carried out at about 4:45 a.m. on Tuesday in Iraq, less than 13 hours after the U.S. personnel were attacked. According to U.S. Central Command, the retaliatory strikes on the three sites, “destroyed the targeted facilities and likely killed a number of Kataib Hezbollah militants.”

How We Deterred Iran in the Gulf Last Time

William J. Luti

“We’re not in an armed conflict with the Houthis,” deputy Pentagon press secretary Sabrina Singh recently stressed, and “part of why we are in the region is to bolster our deterrence.”

Such words aren’t assuring for our Navy ships in the Red Sea, which have been fending off missiles and attack drones fired by the Iran-backed rebels for the past several months. Yes, the Navy’s boast in an Army-Navy Game day video that one of our destroyers is 22-0 against Houthi fire is impressive and a testament to the skill of our Navy crews. But if the scoreboard flips to 100-1, Americans will demand to know why Iran didn’t feel all that deterred by our naval deployments and why our sailors were injured or killed.

Actually bolstering deterrence requires the political will to impose a cost that far outweighs any gain the Houthis could hope to attain. Anything else is posturing that puts our sailors on the defensive and in harm’s way.

Fortunately, we know how to re-establish deterrence. We’ve been here before.

On April 14, 1988, the USS Samuel B. Roberts was hit by an Iranian mine while escorting Kuwaiti oil tankers in the Persian Gulf. The explosion lifted the ship out of the water, ripped a 30-foot hole below the waterline, destroyed a 15-foot section of the keel, and seriously injured 10 sailors.

As recounted in Bradley Peniston’s gripping account, “No Higher Honor: Saving the USS Samuel B. Roberts in the Persian Gulf,” the crew welded steel plates and strung cables to keep the ship’s stern from breaking off in a heroic case of damage control.

Four days later, at the direction of President Reagan, the U.S. Navy, in combined surface-ship and air attacks, engaged the Iranian Navy in a daylong battle named Praying Mantis.

When my crew and I manned up for the early launch from the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Enterprise, we didn’t know the ensuing fight would become the largest naval and air battle since World War II.

Where Did the Houthis Get Anti-Ship Ballistic Missiles?

James Holmes

In recent weeks Houthi rebels fighting for control of Yemen have lashed out at mercantile shipping in the Bab el-Mandeb Strait and southern Red Sea indiscriminately, in hopes of stemming the flow of goods to Israel and raising the price of seaborne trade for countries that back the Israeli campaign in Gaza. Yemen sits astride the critical juncture between the Red Sea and Indian Ocean, making such a campaign possible. But while the low-grade maritime war has made headlines, giving rise to a multinational coalition to defend freedom of the sea, reportage has muffled a glaring point about the war almost into silence.
How did Houthi Rebels get Anti-Ship Ballistic Missiles (ASBM)?

Specifically, on at least one occasion, Houthi rocketeers have fired an anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM)—a genre of weaponry ostensibly possessed only by China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Rocket Force—against merchant shipping. On December 3 the U.S. Central Command, which oversees U.S. military operations in the Middle East region, reported that Yemeni rebels had lofted an antiship ballistic missile toward the U.K.-owned, Bahamanian-flagged cargo ship Unity Explorer. No less an authority than The Economist confirmed the ASBM attack.

This is a big deal.

No disrespect to the Houthi scientific-technical enterprise, which I’m sure is formidable, but it strains credulity to believe a substate group—and a group that happens to be supported by the Islamic Republic of Iran, an informal client of China—has mastered technology that’s beyond everybody except Chinese engineers.

Russian Warship Explodes In Massive Fireball After Cruise Missile Strike


Among multiple explosions, a huge fireball rose high above the pier in the Crimean coastal city of Feodosia early Tuesday morning local time. According to Mykola Oleshchuk, the commander of the Ukrainian Air Force, a strike by his forces destroyed the Ropucha class landing ship Novocherkassk. While we cannot confirm the general's claim, based on open source imagery, a vessel very similar to a Ropucha class ship has been photographed on fire or next to a pier that is on fire.

In addition, low-resolution satellite imagery taken by Planet Labs on the 24th does show a Ropucha class vessel in the same berth.

"And the fleet in Russia is getting smaller and smaller! Thanks to the Air Force pilots and everyone involved for the filigree work!" Oleschuk declared on Telegram, according to Reuters.

Planet Labs imagery taken on the 24th shows the planform of a Ropucha class ship docked where the ship is seen burning in imagery after the blast. 

The Ropucha class landing ship Novocherkassk. 

Biden’s Foreign Policy Had a Rough 2023, and 2024 Looks Rougher

Hal Brands

There hasn’t been much holiday cheer for Ukraine. President Volodymyr Zelenskiy left Washington last week without any new US aid for his embattled state. That may be an omen of hard times ahead in 2024. The final year of President Joe Biden’s term will see the present world order facing trouble on every front — including the one on which it is most vulnerable, in the US itself.

Next year is shaping up to be ugly for Ukraine. Its much-touted counteroffensive has ended in disappointment. Its forces are bloodied and exhausted. Recriminations about whether Ukrainian timidity or Western avarice are to blame for that failure are playing out, predictably, in the US press.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, conversely, is feeling pretty smug. He has taken the best punch Ukraine and its Western allies can throw. His arsenal of autocracy is out-producing America’s arsenal of democracy. Now Washington is struggling to help Ukraine defend itself.

If Ukraine does receive a major infusion of US aid in 2024, it may still have to husband its strength, absorb Russian attacks, and prepare for the next big push — perhaps the last big push — in 2025. If it doesn’t get that aid, it may struggle to protect its cities from drone and missile attacks this winter and hold battlefield positions against superior Russian artillery and manpower next spring. The question going into 2023 was, how much land can Ukraine liberate? The question for 2024 is, can Ukraine hang on?

The outlook isn’t much brighter in the Middle East. Israel hopes it can wrap up the most intense phase of its war against Hamas by year’s end. The Biden administration hopes so, too.

Ending the conflict is key to lowering the diplomatic costs the US is paying as it supports an
eminently justified Israeli offensive that has, nonetheless, claimed a reported 20,000 lives.
Ending the war — and, perhaps, the tenure of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — is also
vital to restoring momentum toward creation of a Saudi-Israeli coalition against Iran.

Somalia says U.S. drone strike killed mastermind of attack on Americans

Katharine Houreld

A U.S. drone strike has killed a senior Somali militant accused of masterminding a 2020 attack on a military base in Kenya that killed three Americans, a top Somali official told The Washington Post on Friday.

Moalim Ayman, who led a unit in the militant al-Shabab group responsible for terrorist attacks in Kenya and Somalia, was killed by a drone in the group’s stronghold of Jilib in southern Somalia on Dec. 17, Information Minister Daud Aweis said.

Jaysh Ayman, as his unit was known, emerged in 2014 as al-Shabab’s main unit in Kenya, and has attacked churches, police stations, hotels and coastal communities. In 2015, it attacked Garissa University, killing 148 people, almost all of them students. It was the deadliest terrorist attack in Kenya since the 1998 bombing of the U.S. Embassy.

“We can confirm 100 percent that it was him,” Aweis said. “It took a few days to make the final confirmation, we made it yesterday.”

The delay in announcing his death was likely due to the need to source material to make a genetic match. Aweis declined to say how the death was confirmed or give further information, including anything on how the strike was planned, simply saying “he was a target for a very long time … intelligence gathering done in collaboration with our partners and we cannot give any more details.”

The U.S. Africa Command, which announced the Dec. 17 airstrike, said “we’ve seen the reporting and can confirm that U.S. Africa Command conducted the strike on Dec. 17. We have not yet confirmed the target of that strike.”

The U.S. government said Ayman masterminded a Jan. 5, 2020 attack on a military base in Kenya that killed two U.S. contractor pilots and an army specialist. A third U.S. contractor and two other U.S. service members were injured. Six U.S. aircraft were also destroyed.

Beyond the Twilight of the Westphalian Myth

Mohamed M’Hadhbi

Many criticisms have been formulated against considering the Peace of Westphalia 1648 as the origin of the modern international state system, according to the claims of the dominant narrative in International Relations (IR). It is worth noting that, although interesting, those criticisms did not generate an alternative. Westphalia represented a kind of a cognitive obstacle, in the form of an ideological construct, hindering an objective account of the modern state system born after World War II (WWII). The aim of this article is to propose some milestones that may pave the way towards a new vision of the modern state system. Therefore, I will first explain why the main features of the modern state system, namely sovereignty and territoriality principles, saw their socio-historical “condition of possibilities” concretized only in the twentieth century. Following this, I will emphasize the originality and the high degree of “systematicity” of the post–WWII state system, and analyse its main pillars. Third, and finally, I argue that the modern state system may be less liberal and less anarchic than widely claimed.

It is striking to observe that neither the text of the Peace of Westphalia agreements of 1648, nor the context of that era, may allow considering them as the origin of the modern state system. The supposed paternity is not based on sound proof. The Treaties of Westphalia were rather a constitutional document of the Holy Roman Empire, which did not mention the word sovereignty (De Carvalo, Leira, Hobson, 2011) – but talked, instead, about “possessions” and what may be inferred as a communal aspiration for regional peace (Christian Europe). The two treaties of Westphalia of October 24, 1648, spoke indeed “In the name of the most holy and individual Trinity”, regretted the “effusion of Christian Blood”, while seeking “the Glory of God, and the Benefit of the Christian World”. Thus, they were considered as “The Last Christian Peace” (Croxton, 2013). The genealogy issue of the modern international state system has probably been overestimated and given more attention than necessary.

In any case, it remains quite anachronistic to look after territorial sovereignty’s affiliation, as a universal norm, in Westphalia 1648. The “right of states to freedom from outside intervention was established by international law only for the first time in the twentieth century” (Glanville, 2013). Even beyond the agreements of Westphalia, one can see that the legal philosophy in the seventeenth century was conceptualizing “the right of superiority”, the “right of conquest”, and still talking about “slaves” as a legal notion (Grotius, 2001). In sum, the Westphalia concept was a kind of “ideal-type that is becoming something of a caricature” (Schmidt, 2011). In reality, territorial sovereignty, and non-intervention in other states affairs, as universal normative principles, were only possible after WWII, subsequent to a gestation period of almost thirty years prior, marked by a fierce ringing for “international peace”. This may be the only plausible, although formal, similarity with Westphalia, as Churchill once said (Ragnolini, 2018).

he Race to Put Brain Implants in People Is Heating Up

Emily Mullin

In September, Elon Musk’s brain-implant company Neuralink announced the much-anticipated news that it would start recruiting volunteers for a clinical trial to test its device. Known as a brain-computer interface, or BCI, it collects electrical activity from neurons and interprets those signals into commands to control an external device. While Musk has said he ultimately wants to merge humans with artificial intelligence, Neuralink’s initial aim is to enable paralyzed people to control a cursor or keyboard with just their thoughts.

Rival efforts to connect people’s brains to computers are also moving forward. This year, Neuralink competitor Synchron demonstrated the long-term safety of its implant in patients. Other startups tested novel devices in human subjects, while new ventures came on the scene.

“It can definitely feel like a breakout year, but in fact it’s the result of decades of work in academia,” says Sumner Norman, a visiting researcher at the California Institute of Technology who’s also the cofounder and CEO of Forest Neurotech, which launched in October. “I think we’re really just starting to feel the effects of that exponential growth.”

The origins of BCIs stretch back to the 1960s and 1970s, when the first ones were tested on lab animals. As researchers began to understand the brain better, these systems evolved to be more sophisticated, allowing paralyzed people to move robotic arms, play video games, and communicate with their minds. Once a largely academic pursuit, BCIs are now of interest to a growing cadre of companies that have emerged since Neuralink’s founding in 2016.

“Science and technology have reached a level of maturity where we can begin to have real, dramatic effects on the human condition,” says Jacob Robinson, CEO and founder of startup Motif Neurotech and a professor of engineering at Rice University. “People like Elon Musk recognize these inflection points and they put capital into commercializing it.”

Encryption: It’s Not About Good and Bad Guys, It’s About All of Us

Heather West


It reads like a classic Hollywood script: the detective — Miss Marple or Sherlock Holmes — takes on the evidence, studiously following a trail to understand a crime and catch the perpetrator. We celebrate smart detective work in the media and the real world, making sure that law and order are preserved and that criminals are caught and punished.

But over the last few decades, the detective’s job has changed. The way we communicate and share information has evolved, going online, and the detectives have followed. Where once letters were sealed in envelopes, today they’re drafted at a computer, encrypted, and zipped along a wire as bits and bytes. Detectives aren’t just examining footprints or interviewing eyewitnesses; they’re sitting at a computer and sifting through digital evidence. This evidence comes from digital devices and online services, which often protect the content and communication of their users with encryption. Encryption safeguards the privacy, security, and authenticity of information that is stored on a device or in the cloud or sent digitally. Many regulatory and industry bodies require the use of encryption, particularly for sensitive information, but it is also a well-established best practice for almost any kind of data.

These security protections for digital information have created a conflict: law enforcement and intelligence agencies feel that they’re losing the trail. Governments are looking for new investigatory tools to chase down criminals, yet these often amount to blunt instruments. Some mechanisms amount to wholesale interference with the encryption that protects everyone’s online banking, messaging, and digital trail, making this information accessible both to the good and bad actors and impacting every user of these products and services.

It’s an old debate. Over the years, many proposals have aimed to interfere, degrade, or even ban encryption. When the telephone was created, controversy swirled over wiretapping. As soon as the internet was introduced to the public, proposals to interfere with encryption became more common than ever. Throughout, technologists have raised the same concerns that creating a weakness – metaphorically opening a door — or sharing encryption keys hurts their ability to protect people using online services.