29 December 2023

A Future Look Back at Israel’s War on Hamas

Daniel Byman

Let’s conduct a mental exercise. It’s Oct. 7, 2025, two years after Hamas’s devastating terrorist attack that killed around 1,200 people, and Israel’s Gaza Strip policy is in ruins. Hamas emerged from the rubble of the war in 2023 and again controls Gaza, with its prestige in the West Bank and elsewhere greatly enhanced. Israel’s international standing, including in Washington, is in tatters. At home, Israel’s political and social divisions are even more pronounced than before the war, effectively paralyzing the country. Perhaps most troublingly, Iranian proxies are more aggressive than ever before, with regular rocket attacks into northern Israel by Hezbollah and with Houthi fighters in Yemen menacing Israeli shipping.

The Shrinking Cost of War Threatens Western Militaries

Philip Pilkington

In business, the term “commodification” describes the transition of something previously a luxury good into a day-to-day commodity that is bought and sold cheaply. When smartphones first went to market, they were expensive luxury items. Today, while high-end smartphones are not cheap, commodified models are available for as low as under $100.

Commodification is not limited to commercial affairs. War also experiences the process in its own way. The battlefield of the medieval era, for example, was dominated by the noble knight, an extremely well-equipped man trained since birth in the arts of war. In fifteenth-century England, a top-class suit of armor cost £20 or more, the equivalent of 800 days of wages for a simple archer. There were practical considerations behind buying a suit of armor. In addition to the protection it granted from blows and the fear it inspired, knightly armor granted the wearer prestige in a culture that placed a premium on such. Moreover, since armor was used for such a long period in the medieval era, we can surmise that its long-term value was, in some sense, worth the expense.

All this changed, however, when new bow technology came into being.

The first was the English longbow. The longbow itself was not particularly expensive, but using it required lifelong training due to its high draw weight. This meant that training and using longbowmen was expensive. Next came the crossbow, which further called into question the cost-benefit of knightly armor. While more costly to produce than the longbow, it required little training. As the crossbow proliferated—eventually accompanied by similar technologies like the hand cannon and the arquebus—knights disappeared from the battlefield, surviving only in parades and chivalric tournaments.

A Growing Butcher’s Bill: Israel’s War Spending

Binoy Kampmark

The Bank of Israel Governor Amir Yaron is worried. He is keeping an eye on the ballooning costs of his country’s war against Gaza and the Palestinians. Initially, the Netanyahu government promised to increase its defence budget by NIS 20 billion (US$5.48 billion) per annum in the aftermath of the war. But a document from the Finance Ministry presented to the Knesset Finance Committee on December 25 suggests that the number is NIS 10 billion greater.

The Finance Ministry is also projecting that the war against Hamas will cost the country’s budget somewhere in the order of NIS 50 billion (US$13.8 billion). NIS 9.6 billion will go towards such expenses as evacuating residents close to the borders of the country’s north and south, buttressing emergency forces and rehabilitation purposes.

The increased military budget is predictable and in keeping with the proclivities of the Israeli state. What is striking is that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has regarded Israeli defence expenditure as generally inadequate when looked at as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP). Between 2012 and 2022, military expenditure as a percentage of GDP fell from 5.64% to 4.51%. Doing so enables him to have two bites at the same rotten cherry: to claim he was blameless for that very decline in military expenditure, and to show that he intends to rectify a problem he was hardly blameless for.

Even in war time, Netanyahu is proving oleaginous in his policy making. The mid-December supplementary budget for 2023, coming in at NIS 28.9 billion, was intended to cover the ongoing conflict with Hamas and Hezbollah. But its approval was hardly universal. Opponents of the budget noted the allocation of hundreds of millions of shekels towards “coalition funds” intended for non-war related projects relevant to parliamentarians and ministers. Benny Gantz’s National Unity party, a coalition partner, would have nothing to do with it. Intelligence minister Gila Gamliel was absent from the vote, while Yuli Edelstein of Netanyahu’s own Likud Party abstained. Opposition leader Yair Lapid pointed the finger at the rising budget deficit.

India’s Space Program in 2023: Taking Stock

Namrata Goswami

India’s space program has dominated the news cycle since its Chandrayaan 3 lunar landing on the Southern hemisphere of the Moon on August 23, 2023. The ability to build an end-to-end space logistics capability, with a low-key budget of $75 million — that included the rocket launch, propulsion system, lunar lander and rover — caught the imagination of the world, specifically emerging nations in space, looking to build their own space programs in a sustainable manner.

Since then, India has announced its Chandrayaan 4 mission, which aims to land on the far side of the Moon and bring back lunar samples. India’s Aditya 1 mission, aimed at understanding the Sun’s corona is on its way to park on the halo orbit, at Earth-Sun Lagrange point 1. India announced an official space policy in 2023, identifying the key institutions that will regulate its private space sector and made its position on the utilization and ownership of space resources clear. The Indian Air Force (IAF) has submitted a proposal to rename the IAF as the “Indian Air and Space Forces,” highlighting a shift in strategic thinking within India about the importance of space for national security purposes. This effort is part of Space Vision 2047, the centennial year celebration of India’s independence (1947) from British colonial rule.

This article offers an analysis across four different factors that highlight the current and future focus of India’s space program. These include policy and institutions — both civil and military — space capabilities and missions, international partnerships, and the future space policy vision.

Policy and Institutions, Civil and Military

In 2023, India announced its official space policy. As per that space policy document, the focus of India’s space program is to develop and support its commercial space sector. Toward this end, India has clarified that the Department of Space, under the Prime Minister’s Office, is the main policymaking and implementation body, while the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) is going to focus on research and development. The New Space India Ltd (NSIL), established in 2019, is responsible for “commercialising space technologies and platforms created through public expenditure.” The Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Center (IN-SPACe) will function as the single-window authorization center for both public and private sector space activities.

Are India and Armenia Moving Toward a Strategic Partnership?

Abhinav Pandya

When it comes to Indian geopolitical maneuvers, the global strategic community feels that India punches much below its weight, mostly confined to South Asia. Until recently, India’s strategic calculus was primarily limited to Pakistan, followed by China. Its outreach to the Western world was largely economic and cultural, barring a minor strategic component dwelling upon defense deals. However, after the Chinese incursions in Doklam and Galwan worsened the India-China relationship and the involvement of extra-regional actors like Turkey in the Kashmir conflict, India’s foreign policy vision, approach, and strategic calculus are expanding beyond South Asia. Some of its manifestations include India’s interest in the Indo-Pacific, global strategic connectivity projects like IMEC, an upsurge in India-Greece bilateral ties, and New Delhi’s enthusiastic showmanship during its G20 presidency.

India’s outreach to Armenia, a faraway country in the South Caucasus, is part of this new change. The October 2021 visit of Dr. S. Jaishankar, India’s External Affairs Minister, to Yerevan is historic because it’s the first such visit of the Indian foreign minister to Armenia in the last thirty years. Before this, Prime Minister Modi met his Armenian counterpart, Nikol Pashinyan, on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York, seeking Yerevan’s support in finalizing a trade arrangement with the Eurasian Economic Union (EaEU).

In the last three years, India has emerged as a major weapons supplier to Armenia. These big-ticket defense deals include the sale of Pinaka multi-barrel rocket launchers, a $40 million contract of SWATHI weapon-locating radars, ammunition anti-tank missiles, and 155 mm artillery guns. The author’s interlocutors in India’s Ministry of External Affairs informed that Armenia is interested in more defense deals, including drones and counter-drone systems, loitering munitions, and mid-range surface-to-air missiles. In October 2022, Armenia’s defense minister, Suren Papikyan, visited the New Delhi defense expo and met his Indian counterpart, Rajnath Singh.

Indian Envoy Meets With Putin, Bypassing Western Pressure

Sameer Yasir

President Vladimir V. Putin on Wednesday met with the Indian foreign minister at the Kremlin, highlighting Russia’s attempts to break through its isolation from the West by pivoting to an increasingly powerful Asian nation.

From the start of Russia’s war with Ukraine, India has taken a neutral stance, citing its longtime ties with Moscow and insisting on its right to navigate a multipolar world its own way.

Russia has long been the most important military supplier for India, and as international sanctions in response to the war began constricting Russian oil sales, India rapidly expanded its purchases to become one of the chief buyers of discounted Russian petroleum. In doing so, India has frustrated American efforts to isolate Russia since the Ukraine war began in 2022, providing a much-needed financial boost to Moscow’s coffers.

“Everything is in your hands,” Mr. Putin said, “and I can say that we are successful because of your direct support.”

Mr. Putin added that he intended to discuss the situation with the war in Ukraine and invited India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, to visit Russia.

The Indian foreign minister, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, said that he had brought a written letter to Mr. Putin from Mr. Modi in which the Indian leader conveyed his thoughts on the state of Russia-India relations.

Earlier on Wednesday, Mr. Jaishankar conducted a separate meeting with his Russian counterpart. He said that his discussions would include “the state of multilateralism and the building of a multipolar world order.”

The Delimitation of Pakistan’s Democracy

Kunwar Khuldune Shahid

On December 23, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) decided that it would address all formal complaints regarding the constituency delimitation after the general elections scheduled for February 8. The ECP’s decision comes after the Supreme Court ruled the previous week that holding timely elections needed to “be given primacy” to ensure “continuity of democratic governance” leaving the dispute of delimitations for later. The contention is rooted in the ECP’s November 30 notification, which announced the delimitation of constituencies that would make up the 266 general seats in the National Assembly and 593 general seats for the four provincial assemblies of Punjab, Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and Balochistan. The ECP had already “disposed” disputes in 88 districts, and settled 1,324 objections in the lead-up to its final delimitation notification last month.

Many of the objections raised by candidates in the delimitation process criticize the breaching of the population allocation mechanism. According to the ECP regulations, the maximum allowed variation in populations in relation to the average voter per seat in an assembly is 10 percent, a margin exceeded in over one-fifth of the constituencies, as per the Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN). However, the final constituency boundaries unveiled sizeable divergence from the 10 percent rule with the largest constituencies in an assembly seen to be almost twice the size of the smallest; for example, with an almost three-time disparity in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa between NA-39 Bannu and NA-1 Chitral.

An ECP official privy to the delimitation process told The Diplomat that the entire exercise was carried out as per regulations, and that the issue has been politicized by various parties “as is customary.”

“As per the Elections Act, we have to keep the provincial and district integrity in mind. There are geographical considerations as well,” the official said.

Why Australia Isn’t Sending a Ship to the Red Sea

Grant Wyeth

Australia takes its international responsibilities seriously, yet as a middle power, it is limited in its resources to contribute to every aspect of insecurity. It needs to make choices based on its own interests and where it can be most helpful. This is the calculation the Australian government has made in refusing a request to send vessels to join Operation Prosperity Guardian – the mission to prevent further attacks by Houthi militia in Yemen on shipping lanes in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.

It doesn’t help that insecurity is on the rise. The Houthi attacks are symbolic of a more chaotic world emerging. Instead of major shocks to the international system, a series of smaller system failures are occurring. These compound and eat away at previously reliable structures. For Australia, this means making often difficult choices about what issues are of greatest importance.

Australia’s Defence Strategic Review released earlier this year reaffirmed that the northeast Indian Ocean was considered part of Australia’s “immediate region,” which may be where Australia has decided to focus its attention. The country’s participation in the invasion of Iraq two decades ago may have chastened Canberra to be wary of straying too far from home.

Yet when it comes to threats to trade, there are different calculations that need to be made. Rather than being divided up into sectors, the Indian Ocean and its connecting waterways should be understood as a single strategic zone. One that transports a number of goods vital to Australia’s normal functioning, in particular oil. While over half of Australia’s oil imports are refined in Singapore, a large percentage of this oil is sourced from the Middle East.

In rejecting the request to join Operation Prosperity Guardian, Canberra has made the calculation that its focus needs to be on China’s changing of conditions in the South China Sea. This may seem like a rational calculation to make. This is clearly Canberra’s most pressing concern, and there are enough other countries invested in the attacks in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden to provide the hardware necessary to address the problem. Australia’s contribution would be welcome, but not a decisive factor.

Increased US partnership with the Philippines coming in 2024

Geoff Ziezulewicz

In 2023, the U.S. and the Philippines announced a historic pact that would open up several bases on the island archipelago nation to American forces for the first time in decades.

While the agreement does not allow the U.S. to permanently station troops in Philippine territory, several of the newly accessible bases abut the South China Sea to the north.

Plans are already underway to fortify the newly accessible bases.

The coming year will likely see Washington and Manila expand their cooperation and ready their respective navies to counter China’s assertions of ownership over parts of the South China Sea.

Old salts shouldn’t expect anything similar to the Navy’s former and massive presence at Subic Bay, which ended in 1992, but the new agreement marks a significant change forged largely out of maritime interests.

China and the Philippines, along with Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan, have been locked in increasingly tense territorial disputes over the busy and resource-rich South China Sea. Washington lays no territorial claims to the strategically important waters but has deployed its warships and aircraft for patrols that it says promote freedom of navigation and the rule of law. In turn, that military presence has infuriated Beijing.

At the announcement of the new deal in February, Austin thanked Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., whom he briefly met in Manila, for allowing the U.S. military to broaden its presence in the Philippines — Washington’s oldest treaty ally in Asia.

“I have always said that it seems to me that the future of the Philippines and, for that matter, the Asia-Pacific will always have to involve the United States, simply because those partnerships are so strong,” Marcos told Austin.

Corruption Scandal in Xi's China Leads to Dozens of Arrests

Micah McCartney

Scores of officials have been snagged in Chinese leader Xi Jinping's campaign to cleanse vulnerable sections of the military of corruption, a China-focused consulting firm says.

The ongoing reshuffling "will have extensive ramifications for the chain of command, as well as the combat readiness/ability to function normally of critical [People's Liberation Army] infrastructure," Canada-based Cercius Group said.

Over the summer, Xi suddenly replaced top generals in the PLA Rocket Force, which oversees China's nuclear and conventional arsenals. Li Shangfu and Qin Gang, who were then China's defense minister and its top diplomat, disappeared within weeks of them, just months after being appointed to office.

The ousters led to questions in the global security space over the stability of Beijing's security apparatus at a time when military-to-military lines of communication with the United States were frozen.

"So far, we have been able to track down around 70 individuals who have been taken away within the larger frame of the Rocket Force investigation," the Asia Sentinel website quoted Cercius as saying earlier this month.

The investigation has two targets: political and financial corruption, the firm told Newsweek.

The goal of investigations in the first category is to ensure "everyone dances to Xi's tune when it comes to a potential Taiwan campaign," Cercius said. Xi also seeks to oust potentially disloyal PLA officials who are "forming cliques."

China has vowed to unify self-ruled Taiwan, through force if necessary, although the current Chinese government has never governed there. Xi has instructed his military to be ready for a potential war over Taiwan by 2027.

Will the New Year Bring a War With China?


This hasn’t exactly been a year of good news when it comes to our war-torn, beleaguered planet, but on November 15, US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping took one small step back from the precipice. Until they talked in a mansion near San Francisco, it seemed as if their countries were locked in a downward spiral of taunts and provocations that might, many experts feared, result in a full-blown crisis, even a war—even, god save us all, the world’s first nuclear war. Thanks to that encounter, though, such dangers appear to have receded. Still, the looming question facing both countries is whether that retreat from disaster—what the Chinese are now calling the “San Francisco vision”—will last through 2024.

Prior to the summit, there seemed few discernible obstacles to some kind of trainwreck, whether a complete breakdown in relations, a disastrous trade war, or even a military clash over Taiwan or contested islands in the South China Sea. Beginning with last February’s Chinese balloon incident and continuing with a series of bitter trade disputes and recurring naval and air incidents over the summer and fall, events seemed to be leading with a certain grim inevitability toward some sort of catastrophe. After one such incident last spring, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman warned that “the smallest misstep by either side could ignite a US-China war that would make Ukraine look like a neighborhood dust-up.”

In recent months, top leaders in both Beijing and Washington were becoming ever more concerned that a major US-China crisis—and certainly a war—would prove catastrophic for all involved. Even a major trade war, they understood, would create economic chaos on both sides of the Pacific. A complete breakdown in relations would undermine any efforts to come to grips with the climate crisis, prevent new pandemics, or disrupt illegal drug networks. And a war? Well, every authoritative nongovernmental simulation of a US-China conflict has ended in staggering losses for both sides, as well as a significant possibility of nuclear escalation (and there’s no reason to assume that simulations conducted by the American and Chinese militaries have turned out any differently).

When will we finally secure our government against Chinese cyberattacks?


Homeland Security Committee Chairman Rep. Mark Green (R-Tenn.) recently sent a letter to the Department of Homeland Security asking for it to take data security and hacking attempts by America’s enemies more seriously. Green also wrote to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), asking it to investigate the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), especially USA Staffing (the part of OPM that oversees most of the federal government’s human resources needs).

Green is right to start getting serious about data security and hacking, even if OPM, apparently, has not. The Washington Post reported last week that China’s cyber army is invading U.S. services, including public utilities, communications systems, and supply chain facilities such as seaports.

Will OPM again be a target of a China cyberattack?

The OPM 2014-2015 data breach, the most significant breach in U.S. history at the time, jeopardized nearly 22 million records. The intrusion gave China access to the personal information of federal employees, fingerprint records, and the contents of the Standard Form 86, which is used to apply for a security clearance and contains detailed information of the applicant’s background, finances, their family members, and foreign contacts.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee observed that the breach wasn’t a quick smash-and-grab of perishable information, stating it will have a generational impact as China may be able to monitor selected federal employees for the rest of their lives.

The committee’s report noted, “The long-standing failure of OPM’s leadership to implement basic cyber hygiene, such as maintaining current authorities to operate and employing strong multi-factor authentication, despite years of warnings from the inspector general, represents a failure of culture and leadership, not technology.”

Chinese Spy Agency Rising to Challenge the C.I.A.

Edward Wong, Julian E. Barnes, Muyi Xiao and Chris Buckley

The Chinese spies wanted more. In meetings during the pandemic with Chinese technology contractors, they complained that surveillance cameras tracking foreign diplomats, military officers and intelligence operatives in Beijing’s embassy district fell short of their needs.

The spies asked for an artificial intelligence program that would create instant dossiers on every person of interest in the area and analyze their behavior patterns. They proposed feeding the A.I. program information from databases and scores of cameras that would include car license plates, cellphone data, contacts and more.

The A.I.-generated profiles would allow the Chinese spies to select targets and pinpoint their networks and vulnerabilities, according to internal meeting memos obtained by The New York Times.

The spies’ interest in the technology, disclosed here for the first time, reveals some of the vast ambitions of the Ministry of State Security, China’s main intelligence agency. In recent years, it has built itself up through wider recruitment, including of American citizens. The agency has also sharpened itself through better training, a bigger budget and the use of advanced technologies to try to fulfill the goal of Xi Jinping, China’s leader, for the nation to rival the United States as the world’s pre-eminent economic and military power.

The Chinese agency, known as the M.S.S., once rife with agents whose main source of information was gossip at embassy dinner parties, is now going toe-to-toe with the Central Intelligence Agency in collection and subterfuge around the world.

U.S Destroyer, Super Hornets Splash Red Sea Attack Drones and Missiles


A U.S. guided-missile destroyer and fighters from aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69) interdicted a dozen suicide drones and anti-ship missiles on Tuesday, according to U.S. Central Command.

Houthi forces fired the 12 attack drones, three anti-ship ballistic missiles and two land-attack cruise missiles from Yemen, according to the statement from CENTCOM.

The missiles and drones, “were fired by the Houthis over a 10 hour period which began at approximately 6:30 a.m. (Sanaa time) on December 26. There was no damage to ships in the area or reported injuries,” reads the statement.

The attacks were interdicted by destroyer USS Laboon (DDG-58) and F/A-18E/F Super Hornets that had sortied from the carrier. Since last week, Eisenhower and its escorts have been operating from the Gulf of Aden.

On the other side of the Bab el Manbed, Laboon has been operating as part of the ongoing Operation Prosperity Guardian collation that was stood up to protect merchant shipping in the Red Sea.

Since Oct. 17, the Iranian-backed Houthi forces have targeted ships they say have a connection to Israel in a show of solidarity with Hamas in Gaza.

US Navy shoots down more than a dozen drones, missiles in Red Sea

Diana Stancy Correll

The Navy destroyer Laboon and other U.S. assets shot down more than a dozen drones and missiles in the Red Sea on Tuesday — just days after the ship took down four unmanned aerial vehicles in the same waters.

The incident is the latest episode where U.S. warships in the Middle East have intercepted air drones and missiles that officials claim originated from Iran-allied Houthi rebels in Yemen, amid heightened tensions in the region stemming from the Israel-Hamas war.

According to U.S. Central Command, U.S. assets including the Laboon and F/A-18 Super Hornets from the Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group “shot down twelve one-way attack drones, three anti-ship ballistic missiles, and two land attack cruise missiles in the Southern Red Sea that were fired by the Houthis over a 10 hour period” on Tuesday.

“There was no damage to ships in the area or reported injuries,” CENTCOM said.

No other details were immediately available, and CENTCOM did not say whether the attack targeted the Laboon.

Big Oil Enters 2024 Strengthened by U.S. Industry Consolidation

Gary McWilliams

The oil and gas industry went on a $250 billion buying spree in 2023, taking advantage of companies' high stock prices to secure lower-cost reserves and prepare for the next upheaval in an industry likely to undergo more consolidation.

A surge in oil demand as world economies shook off the pandemic downturn has stoked acquirers' enthusiasm. Exxon Mobil, Chevron Corp and Occidental Petroleum made acquisitions worth a total of $135 billion in 2023. ConocoPhillips completed two big deals in the last two years.

The grand prize in this dealmaking is the largest U.S. shale-oil field, the Permian Basin in west Texas and New Mexico. The four companies are now positioned to control about 58% of future production there.

Each aims to pump at least 1 million barrels per day (bpd) from the oilfield, which is expected to produce 7 million bpd by the end of 2027.

And more transactions are on the horizon. Three-quarters of energy executives polled in December by the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas expected more oil deals worth $50 billion or more to pop up in the next two years.

Endeavor Energy Partners, the largest privately held Permian shale producer, is exploring a sale that could further concentrate U.S. shale oil output.

"Consolidation is actively changing the landscape," said Ryan Duman, director of Americas upstream research at energy consultancy Wood Mackenzie. "A select few companies will determine whether (production) growth will be strong, more stable or somewhere in between."

Air Force plans return to WWII-era Pacific airfield on Tinian


The U.S. Air Force is bringing the island airfield that launched the atomic bombings of Japan back into service as it seeks bases where its Pacific forces can disperse in wartime.

Gen. Kenneth Wilsbach, commander of Pacific Air Forces, told Nikkei Asia for a Dec. 13 report that North Airfield on the island of Tinian is being reclaimed from jungle that has overgrown it since World War II.

In 1945, the airfield included four 8,500-foot runways that launched B-29 Superfortress bombers against Japan.

Visitors to Tinian, a U.S. territory 118 miles from Guam, can still see pits where the atom bombs — Fat Man and Little Boy — were loaded onto B-29s bound for Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The North Airfield “has extensive pavement underneath the overgrown jungle. We’ll be clearing that jungle out between now and summertime,” Wilsbach said.

“If you pay attention in the next few months, you will see significant progress” he told Nikkei, without providing a timeline for when the airfield will be in use.

Pacific Air Forces confirmed the comments in an email Tuesday to Stars and Stripes.

The recently passed National Defense Authorization Act, which will fund the military in 2024, includes tens of millions of dollars for projects on Tinian.

Funding for the island includes $26 million for airfield development, $20 million for fuel tanks, $32 million for parking aprons, $46 million for cargo pad and taxiway extension and $4.7 million for a maintenance and support facility.

Ukrainian Military Says It Shot Down Five Russian Jets

Emily Shugerman
The Ukrainian military claimed on Sunday that it had downed five Russian fighter jets over the previous three days—a potentially major success for the country, if accurate, amid an unproductive winter in its war with Russia.

Those recent Ukrainian successes, in fact, were tempered by Russia’s own claim that it had taken the eastern Ukrainian city of Maryinka.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said in a televised meeting Monday that its forces had “completely liberated the settlement of Maryinka today.” But as with most things in Ukraine, it wasn’t immediately clear whether Russia was being completely truthful. A spokesman for the Ukrainian military denied that Maryinka was in Russian hands, with the spokesman saying Ukrainian forces were still inside the city.

In a Facebook post Sunday, the Ukrainian military claimed it had destroyed two Russian fighter jets. The claim came just days after the military said it downed three other Russian fighters in the southern region of the country.

In a Dec. 25 post on Telegram, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said this Christmas “sets the right mood for the whole coming year—the mood of our possibilities.”

“The stronger our air defense system is, the fewer Russian devils there will be in our sky and on our land,” he said.

Russia has yet to comment on the claims, but a Telegram channel run by Russian Army Capt. Ilya Tumanov—according to The New York Times—reported Friday that a number of its planes were lost. The Telegram account said those planes were downed by Patriot missiles, an air-defense system designed by the United States.

Washington’s ‘Ship of Fools’ Delude Themselves About Russia’s Intent

Col. (Ret.) Jonathan Sweet and Mark Toth

On Christmas Day, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and his generals sent a strong message with the violent destruction of the Russian naval landing ship Novocherkassk while it was docked in Feodosia, Crimea. The vessel was suspected of carrying Iranian-made drones.

With the hit, Zelenskyy’s messaging was threefold: One, Kyiv has no intention of negotiating away any of its territory, regardless of how many “peace feelers” Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin may have floated in Washington and Brussels. Two, Ukraine remains intent on militarily retaking the entire Crimean Peninsula. And three, the Ukrainian army will fight on, with or without U.S. military aid and economic support.

While Ukraine continues to push back against Russia, Washington remains at war with itself. Ideally, the Christmas weekend should have brought hope to the Ukrainian people in their fight against Russian aggression. Instead, it became another lost weekend.

Putin likely is taking notice. If he has put out feelers about negotiating a ceasefire, it’s not about finding lasting peace. More likely, he wants to further divide Capitol Hill and use beltway politics to buy time so that Moscow can reset its badly mauled army and fight another day — the same tactic Putin used in Chechnya.

We know how this could end: If Washington policymakers accept Putin’s overtures for their own political expediency, the result could be a badly destabilized eastern Europe — and potentially, a fractured NATO.

Yet, as we have warned, Washington is on the cusp of awarding Putin that which he cannot militarily achieve: Russian domination of eastern and central Europe and renewed opportunity for Moscow to reassert itself in the Balkans and Caucasus.

13 Ways the World Got Better in 2023

As in most years, much of the media focus in 2023 was on the myriad crises people all over the world faced, from horrific wars in Eastern Europe and the Middle East to devastating natural disasters (many climate-change-related) in Turkey, Southeast Africa, Hawaii, Canada, and more. At the end of this long year, though, it's worth taking a step back and considering some of the ways things improved. Here are some examples, gathered together by TIME's climate and health journalists:

COVID-19 death numbers plummeted…

Since the pandemic began, COVID-19 has been a leading cause of death both in the U.S. and around the world. That began to change this year, thanks in part to widespread access to updated vaccines and treatments that prevent the worst of disease. According to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as of early December, around 65,000 people in the U.S. had died from COVID-19 in 2023 —less than half the number who died from the virus in 2022

…and life expectancy rose

In the U.S., projected life expectancy is already creeping back upward as fewer lives are claimed by the virus, a trend that will likely continue as lifespan estimates reflect the progress made in 2023.—J.D.

Electric vehicles actually reduced fossil fuel demand

The proliferance of electric vehicles has reached a scale where they are finally making a noticeable dent in global oil use. In 2023, EVs are expected to have cut oil demand by about 1.8 million barrels per day, according to BloombergNEF.

That represents about 2% of global supply. Analysts expect this to accelerate, with EVs projected to displace as much as 12.4 million barrels of oil per day by 2035. In fact, despite some reporting that car dealers are offering EV discounts, suggesting that consumer demand in the U.S. is waning (citing reasons such as cost and lack of charging infrastructure), EV sales have actually been strong this year. While there may be regional differences, national sales have been growing year-over-year. And according to market research firm Rho Motion, global sales of EVs and plug-in hybrids increased 20% as of this November compared to a year ago; North America and China represent the bulk of this growth. This makes EV uptake the only indicator of climate progress monitored by the World Resources Institute that is considered on track for helping meet the Paris Agreement's 1.5°C global warming limit.—Kyla Mandel

The Biggest Threats to Global Economic Stability


The International Economic Association (IEA) recently concluded its 20th World Congress in Medellín, Colombia. This triennial event brings together scholars from all over the world to share and discuss the latest developments in economic thinking. This year’s edition underscored the urgency of re-evaluating some of the field’s core assumptions. The rapidly escalating debt crisis in the Global South, while not a direct focus of the conference, cast a shadow over it.

The IEA was founded in 1950, with Joseph Schumpeter chosen to be its first president. Since then, the organization has been led by some of the world’s most renowned economists, including Paul Samuelson, János Kornai, Kenneth J. Arrow, Amartya Sen, and Joseph E. Stiglitz. With the world economy increasingly strained by supply-chain disruptions related to the war in Ukraine, the lingering consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the cloud of uncertainty hanging over the fighting between Israel and Hamas, this year’s Congress has thrown these daunting challenges into sharp relief.

As the global economy undergoes a fundamental transformation, some of the deeply held assumptions economists have relied on to model it must evolve, too. Unsurprisingly, many of the presentations during this year’s Congress focused on the impact of digital technologies and social media on labor, wages, and inequality. Others focused on the changing nature of globalization, the shift from a unipolar to a multipolar economic order, and the erosion of democratic institutions amid the rise of populist nationalism.

Danny Quah’s lecture underscored the speed with which the global economy is changing. Building on earlier studies by Jean-Marie Grether and Nicole A. Mathys, as well as his own previous research, Quah illustrated the world economy’s shifting center of gravity, which he defines as the “average location of economic activity across geographies.” In 1980, he showed, this center was located in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, reflecting the dominance of North America and Western Europe during this period.

Out of the Trenches

In “Back in the Trenches” (September/October 2023), Stephen Biddle contends that the war in Ukraine more closely resembles World War I and World War II than a military revolution and does not reflect a revolutionary change in the character of warfare. To support his argument, he asserts that armies lost a greater percentage of tanks in those wars than the Russians and Ukrainians are losing today in Ukraine. Biddle points out that the United Kingdom lost 98 percent of its tanks in the 1918 Battle of Amiens.

What he fails to mention, however, is that 80 percent of those losses were the result of mechanical failures, not damage inflicted during combat. In World War II, hundreds of divisions were engaged in mobile warfare. In contrast, the war in Ukraine now features small infantry-led fights in which tanks play a minimal support role. Even so, tank losses exceed 50 percent for both sides. Clearly, new technology is having an effect. In the entire Nagorno-Karabakh conflict that took place in the fall of 2020, over 75 percent of Armenian vehicle losses were caused by drones, according to the open-source organization Oryx. In Ukraine, hundreds of videos show vehicles being destroyed by drones. The fact that $400 drones are laying waste to armor from miles away represents a significant tactical shift.

A core element of Biddle’s argument is that the number of casualties inflicted per round of artillery fired “exceeds the world war rates, but not by much.” Yet Biddle goes on to put the World War II figure at three casualties per 100 rounds fired and the figure for the Ukrainian army today at eight casualties per 100 rounds fired—a 266 percent increase. And the Ukrainians have achieved that gain even though they are firing mostly unguided rounds, some of which are decades old, from a set of global suppliers that have uneven quality-control standards. Something is making these systems much more effective. The answer is drones. As Biddle notes, they permit the army to observe and adjust its artillery missions.

Biddle contends that precision munitions have had little effect on the battlefield. But he neglects to mention the Ukrainians’ highly effective use of extensive surveillance, an agile command-and-control system, and long-range rocket launchers and missiles such as HIMARS and Storm Shadow. He also ignores the dozens of videos showing cheap Ukrainian drones targeting as few as two soldiers. Ukraine certainly believes that drones have had a huge impact. In May, it ordered 200,000 more of them for delivery by year’s end.

In the 4th Infantry Division, soldiers are cooking up homebrew data tools


Army aviators juggle a lot of information to make sure their helicopters are ready to fight. So the 4th Combat Aviation Brigade recently coded up a tool to help.

“They've got a maintenance program of record that gives them good information. They've got the mission program of record that tells them what they're supposed to train. They've got the funding line of effort that tells them how much they can spend,” said Maj. Gen. David Doyle, who leads the Army’s 4th Infantry Division, to which the aviation brigade belongs. “And by doing just a little bit of coding work, they can pull those different programs of record and give a commander a clear decision, or at least a chance to say ‘this is the sequence in which we do our mission’.”

By taking “existing tools that are free and on the market and then writing just a little bit of code,” the 4th CAB produced a new tool that “scrapes information out of the program record and lets us see it in a more clear way,” Doyle said.

Now Doyle is working to spread this kind of creative, do-it-yourself data processing throughout his division.

Earlier this month, the 4th ID held the first of a planned series of data-literacy workshops. About 200 soldiers and Army civilians, including lieutenant colonels with graduate degrees in data management, came to Ft. Carson, Colo. on Nov. 30 and Dec.1 to talk about how their units use data, what problems they face, and how they might solve them. The division’s brigade deployed in Korea also joined virtually.

The workshop was led by Schuyler Moore, the chief technology officer of U.S. Central Command, which has become known for its own efforts to use more digital tools.

Biden Endangers U.S. Troops

It was going to happen sooner or later: American service members would be seriously hurt as Iran-backed militias conduct lethal target practice against U.S. bases in the Middle East. When will President Biden do his duty as Commander in Chief and protect Americans deployed abroad?

Iranian proxies have attacked U.S. forces in the Middle East about 100 times since October, and on Monday an explosive drone made it past U.S. defenses at a base in Iraq. Two Americans were wounded and a third is in critical condition.

The Administration conducted retaliatory strikes on three facilities used by Kataib Hezbollah, the Iranian proxy group responsible for the attack. Defense secretary Lloyd Austin issued a statement saying his “prayers” are with the wounded. Which is nice, but Mr. Austin isn’t a chaplain. The U.S. defense chief’s job is to deter such attacks and defend his troops from being too-easy targets for Shiite militias.

The White House response was worse. The National Security Council’s Adrienne Watson issued a statement announcing the reprisal and insisted that the “President places no higher priority than the protection of American personnel serving in harm’s way.”

This is demonstrably false, and the bromide is insulting. Mr. Biden’s highest priority, whispered by the White House every day, is avoiding escalation with Iran or its proxies. Mr. Biden is afraid—we use that word advisedly—of being involved in a larger conflict, which might not be popular in an election year. But that anxiety is now interfering with his core obligation to defend U.S. forces.

Iranian front groups have been trying to kill U.S. troops for months. Yet Mr. Biden offered the military equivalent of a wrist slap after Americans suffered traumatic brain injuries in attacks this autumn.

The biggest tech stories of 2023 – from cyber warfare to AI’s ‘existential risk’

Alex Hern

Merry Christmas! We have made it – almost – through another year without being churned into paste by a super-intelligent AI, conscripted into a Martian work camp by an insane billionaire or forced offline by a Carrington event.

Even in the absence of civilisation-altering events it’s been a busy year. But the advantage of a slow week (I hope that isn’t tempting fate) is that you can reflect on the past 12 months and realise that, sometimes, there’s only a few stories that really matter.

My initial draft of this newsletter said “obviously this was the most important story in my life this winter”, but thankfully I remembered my son was born in January before sending it off to my editor. Still, if you don’t work at the Guardian, it may seem self-indulgent to describe the ransomware attack as one of the biggest stories of the year.

But it started the year off as it would continue: with proof that cybercrime isn’t going anywhere and it is increasingly able to damage institutions to much the same degree as more direct acts of vandalism.

Almost exactly a year on, and nothing’s changed. From a parliamentary report published earlier this month:

Hinton: ‘Overreacting is a lot better than under-reacting.’ 

“Existential risk” has been part of the discussion around artificial intelligence for more than a decade, popularised in 2014 by Oxford philosopher Nick Bostrom’s book Superintelligence, but mainstream treatments of the idea – that an overly competent AI could be the end of civilisation – have tended toward dismissive. Think Terminator references.