30 December 2023

How Surprise Attack is Possible

Phil Wasielewski

Hamas’ surprise terrorist attack against Israel on October 7, and the subsequent fighting in Gaza has again plunged the Middle East into a situation bordering on apocalyptic. The horrors of the attack are compounded by the shock that Israel’s vaunted intelligence services were seemingly caught unawares after decades of exceptional performance. Recently, a rather damning report claims that Israeli intelligence intercepted Hamas’ attack plan but that the plan was considered “aspirational” and incapable of being implemented.

How could this happen?

The truth will probably not be fully known until an impartial and dispassionate investigation can be conducted, similar to the Agranat Commission that reviewed Israeli intelligence and defense shortcomings prior to the October War of 1973. When an investigation of the Hamas surprise attack is completed, it will likely provide not lessons learned but lessons relearned regarding not only intelligence collection and analysis, but also military and political judgements. These judgements will likely have been clouded by four attributes of human nature that are a common factor in surprise attacks. If the four horsemen of the Apocalypse are Death, Famine, War, and Pestilence, then the four horsemen of surprise attack are Ambiguity, Misperception, Deception, and Preconception.

Ambiguity, information open to more than one interpretation, is the constant companion of intelligence work. Rarely, if ever, do sources provide a clear view of enemy capabilities, plans, and intentions. Instead, they offer partial views, and sometimes even erroneous ones, either on purpose or by human error. Studies of past surprise attacks show that victims often had indications of the attack (signals) but were unable to recognize them because of the ambiguous nature of the reporting, as well as the plethora of competing and contradictory reports (noise). In November 1941, most in Washington and Hawaii assumed that war with Japan was coming, but also assumed that Japan would strike only the mineral rich colonies of Southeast Asia and not also Pearl Harbor.

Sino-Indian Border Infrastructure in the Indian Defense Ministry’s Year End Review

Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan

The Indian Ministry of Defense released its Year End Review 2023 a few days ago. The review provides a state of play on areas under its purview including defense production and exports, major defense acquisitions, border infrastructure, and individual service updates from the Indian army, navy and air force.

Much of what India is attempting to do in the defense realm has to do with China and its growing military prowess. However, a look at past year-end reviews demonstrates that it is not always so overt in doing so. In this regard, the Year End Review for 2020 was an exception, as there was a special emphasis on China’s aggressive behavior. The review came only a few months after the Galwan clash, in which India lost 20 soldiers, so this is maybe not so surprising. But since then, it appears that India has gone on to do a more general review that scans all the major developments concerning the Indian Ministry of Defense.

Even though there was no specific mention of China in this year’s review, the construction of border infrastructure along the India-China border is accelerating and there is a detailed appraisal of the current status in the review. This is important given that India and China are still locked in a conflict with a total of around 150,000 troops standing by on both sides of the border. Many commentators have suggested that it was the infrastructure race that led to the Chinese actions in 2020.

Upgraded infrastructure comes with enormous benefits, from better trade to commercial prospects. It’s also a critical enabler for applying military power. In the case of India and China, there has been an evident military imbalance as far as defense platforms, military units, and the physical infrastructure. China’s focus on building modern state-of-the-art infrastructure across the border and in the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) has had an important bearing in terms of its ability to get troops to the border. The extensive road network in Tibet as well as the rail links that China has developed in these areas have facilitated troop mobilization by road and rail in a short time span. Further, China’s establishment of oil and logistic depots all along the border areas says a lot about the advanced infrastructure capabilities that China has put in place, which in turn put India at a significant disadvantage.

What Lies Ahead for Bangladesh

Aaqib Md Shatil

Dhaka University authorities canceled a discussion on recent changes in the national curriculum just hours before it was to take place on December 13 after reportedly receiving a call from a “special place.” The person in charge, a professor at the university, defended the move by saying that the panelists were suspected of discussing things that are “anti-government.” These “cannot be allowed” at the university, he said.

Those familiar with the idea of “thought policing” will find some uncanny similarities to the situation in Bangladesh. This disturbing trend of refusing to listen to any argument but the ones supportive of the regime, that too in the confines of academia, is one of the many symptoms seen in totalitarian regimes.

In a few weeks, Bangladesh will vote in deeply flawed elections. The ruling Awami League (AL) seems set to tighten its authoritarian grip over power in a lopsided election that is being boycotted by the main opposition, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). Ahead of the election, there is a palpable fear of the AL taking to totalitarian rule in the months ahead.

Italian polymath, Umberto Eco, who grew up during the time of fascist dictator Mussolini, wrote an essay when he was 10 years old on why Italians should die for Mussolini’s glory and Italy’s immortal destiny. His answer was in the affirmative and he won the first prize in the competition.

This story takes us to Carl Friedrich and Zbigniew Brzezinski, who argued that the key difference between autocracy and totalitarianism is that autocracy is defined by prohibitions, i.e., the understandings of what people must not do, whereas totalitarianism includes both prohibitions and imperatives or prescribed behavior i.e. the understandings of not just what they should not do, but also what they should do. So, in addition to the repression in authoritarian states, in totalitarian states, the mobilization of the masses to follow the state’s prescribed behaviors without question is crucial.

Washington’s flawed Myanmar policy

Brahma Chellaney

As the Israel–Hamas war rages, the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza is grabbing headlines—as well it should. But another armed conflict, in Myanmar, is also causing mass suffering, with more than two million people internally displaced and over a million more streaming into neighbouring Bangladesh, India and Thailand. And it’s attracting far less international attention.

This is not to say that outside forces aren’t engaged in the conflict in Myanmar. On the contrary, the United States seems to view supporting the rebel and pro-democracy groups attempting to overthrow the military junta—which returned to power in a February 2021 coup—as a kind of moral test. But its approach is doing Myanmar little good.

After the military overthrew Myanmar’s nascent civilian government—to which it had begun ceding power barely six years earlier—US President Joe Biden’s administration reimposed wide-ranging sanctions, which it has since ratcheted up. But, so far, the sanctions have left Myanmar’s military elites relatively unscathed, even as they have unravelled the economic progress made over the past decade and inflicted misery on ordinary citizens.

The Biden administration has also deepened engagement with the so-called National Unity Government that was formed as an alternative to the junta. Though the US, like the rest of the world, has refrained from formally recognising the shadow government, that hasn’t stopped the Biden administration from providing ‘non-lethal aid’ to its notional army, the People’s Defence Force, as well as to ethnic insurgent organisations and pro-democracy groups, under the BURMA Act. And the US has a history of interpreting ‘non-lethal’ rather loosely. Non-lethal support for Syrian rebels, for example, included enhancing their operational capabilities on the battlefield.

The battle for the Arctic


The Arctic Circle runs for nearly 10,000 miles. Inside it, just four million people live on this vast, desolate expanse of land, sea and ice. Comprising four per cent of the Earth’s surface, the Arctic is fiercely inhospitable and mostly still untouched.

Much of the Arctic consists of the northern reaches of eight sovereign states. Norway borders Russia in the Arctic, but only at its easternmost tip in the north. Finland has a much longer, 830-mile border with Russia, the northern part of which lies inside the Arctic Circle. Russia itself boasts half of the Arctic Ocean’s coastline and half of the Arctic’s population. Then there is Sweden, Denmark (which owns Greenland), Iceland, Canada and the US, whose Alaskan territory is separated from Russia by the 55-mile-wide Bering Strait.

In the West, many have long regarded the Arctic as an unsullied jewel of the Earth. More recently, Western elites have tended to talk about the Arctic almost entirely in terms of climate change. It is presented as a beleaguered refuge for species under threat, from polar bears to walruses to grey whales. Some now believe that climate change is about to doom the Arctic ice itself to extinction.

As a result of this narrow environmentalist view of the Arctic, many Westerners are missing the main event: a spreading series of stand-offs – exacerbated by Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine – between Russia and its seven Arctic neighbours.

A potential war zone

The Arctic has long been a potential arena for war, especially nuclear war. American and Russian submarines stationed there boast intercontinental ballistic missiles and act as strategic nuclear deterrents. For Moscow, the Kola Peninsula in Russia’s far north-west forms a gateway for vessels from its massive fleet of mainly nuclear-powered submarines. Through the so-called GIUK gap, the gap between Greenland, Iceland and the UK, Russia’s subs can reach the Atlantic.

The West Must Face Reality in Ukraine


Harvard’s Graham Allison recently commented that, while China “is and will be the fiercest rival a ruling power has ever faced,” the current “demonization” of the country “confuses more than it clarifies.” To “create and sustain a strategy for meeting the China challenge,” Allison insists, the United States “must understand China for what it is” – neither “ten feet tall” nor “on the brink of collapse.” Post-Soviet Russia has never received such consideration.

On the contrary, the US has spent decades caricaturing Russia as both a quintessential villain and a fragile has-been. After Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, then-President Barack Obama dismissed it as a “regional power” displaying its own weakness. And following the full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year, the apparent assumption was that Russia – and Vladimir Putin’s regime – would quickly crumble under the weight of Western sanctions.

Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine was fueled by delusion. But that does not mean that the West’s assessment of the situation was sensible. On the contrary, most Western observers seemed to be able to imagine just two scenarios: either Putin takes Kyiv in a matter of days, turning Ukraine into a Kremlin puppet, or Russia is quickly defeated, forcing Putin to withdraw his troops and recognize Ukraine’s territorial integrity.

This helps to explain why, when Russia’s initial offensive stalled, then-British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, visiting Kyiv, reportedly recommended that Ukraine should “just fight,” rather than negotiating a peace deal. Better to let Russia lose – weakening the country’s economy, depleting its military, and damaging Putin’s position, possibly beyond repair – than to reward it for its invasion.

A new study reports 309 lab acquired infections and 16 pathogen lab escapes between 2000 and 2021

Matt Field

In the fall of 2019, workers at a veterinary research center in the northwestern Chinese city of Lanzhou began to fall ill with a disease that caused fever, muscle aches, and other symptoms. Workers at a nearby plant that made brucellosis vaccines had been using expired disinfectant to treat waste gas; the gas was contaminated with aerosolized Brucella bacteria and wafted on southeast winds to the research facility. Eventually over 10,000 people were infected with the disease, which can cause long-term illness. This was just one of 16 times a pathogen escaped from a laboratory setting between 2000 and 2021, according to a new study in The Lancet Microbe.

An international team of researchers looked for all the cases of infections acquired in a laboratory or times a pathogen accidentally “escaped” from a laboratory setting. They found 309 laboratory-acquired or -associated infections from 51 pathogens; eight of these cases were fatal, including one of “mad cow” disease. The 16 incidents they found of a pathogen escaping a lab setting included well-publicized accidents such as the time where a West Nile researcher became infected with the first SARS virus in 2003 after handling contaminated samples in Singapore. He went on to expose 84 contacts and risked re-igniting the 2002-2004 SARS epidemic, by then quiet in Singapore. In another case, US government workers taking inventory in preparation for a move at the National Institutes of Health found old vials labeled “variola,” a reference to the virus that causes smallpox, in an unsecured refrigerator in 2014.

The study comes at a time when the US government and other groups are re-assessing biosecurity protocols for studies involving potentially pandemic agents. Many experts have called for a strengthening of global oversight over pathogen research. The new study on accidents points to one area, where the risks associated with research and biotechnology remain murky: “[Without] globalised formal reporting requirements, the data summarised here could only represent the tip of the iceberg,” the authors wrote.

China Wants to Move Ahead, but Xi Jinping Is Looking to the Past

Lingling Wei

A song called “Tomorrow Will Be Better” became a sensation in mainland China in the 1980s, when the nation was emerging from the poverty and turmoil of Mao Zedong’s rule.

Its inspirational lyrics, which exhorted listeners to “look upward for the wings in the sky,” came to represent a generation that was starting to believe in a brighter future.

Now people in China are listening to the song again—but for a very different reason. Videos of the song are circulating on
WeChat and other communications apps, often with taglines expressing sadness about the end of that era.

“The 1980s are gone forever,” wrote one listener. “So long, those years of burning passion,” wrote another.

For many Chinese, especially those who came of age during the past 40 years of reform and opening, China appeared to be on an irreversible path forward toward more growth, openness and opportunity.

But now China’s leader, Xi Jinping, is restoring aspects of Mao’s rule, forcing people to confront a more uncertain future rooted in China’s past.

Xi’s predecessors, beginning with Deng Xiaoping, embraced market forces, growth and limited freedoms. Xi, by contrast, is placing national security over the economy, tightening government control, and putting the Communist Party—and himself—at the center of Chinese society.

A Dec. 16 article published by the party’s influential journal, Qiushi, elevated Xi to the same historical status as Mao, calling Xi “the People’s leader”—a title previously reserved for China’s Great Helmsman.

Overcoming external challenges for Chinese modernization

The 2024 Global Times Annual Conference, themed "Following the Path of Chinese Modernization, Coping with Changes Unseen in a Century" was held in Beijing on Saturday. To understand the implications of Chinese modernization in this turbulent world and analyze what China can do to stay on this path and overcome various challenges in 2024, the Conference invited over 100 representatives from all walks of life as well as experts and scholars to share their views on four major themes. The following contains excerpts from the third theme - "Conflict, competition and cooperation: the external environment of Chinese modernization"

Enhancing China's ability to shape the peripheral environment

Liu Jiangyong, professor at the Institute of Modern International Relations, Tsinghua University:

The year of 2023 marks the 51st anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic relations between China and Japan, as well as the 45th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Peace and Friendship Between China and Japan. When leaders of the two sides met in San Francisco in November, the two sides reaffirmed the positioning of comprehensively advancing the strategic and mutually beneficial relations between China and Japan. In fact, the continuous progress of China's economy and technology has benefited the people of Northeast Asian countries, including Japan.

Yet in general, China-Japan ties are still relatively fragile. The Chinese and US leaders met in San Francisco in November, pointing out the direction for China-US relations to return to the right track. This has objectively forced Japan to make certain adjustments, but instead of making strategic adjustments, Japan only made tactical tunings.

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. Left unchecked, these could lead to the manufacture of weapons that shift how wars operate in the future. AI may lead to advances in defense equipment such as missiles, command decision making, and military simulation. Nuclear energy can be repurposed to increase the number of nuclear warheads China already has or improve the destructive potential of its arsenal. Strides in gene editing such as CRISPR-Cas9 could result in genetic weapons of mass destruction. Considering the existential threats MCF poses for its security, the United States must respond quickly before it is surpassed by China’s military.

US allies reluctant on Red Sea task force

Phil Stewart, David Latona and Angelo Amante

U.S. President Joe Biden hoped to present a firm international response to Yemen's Houthi attacks on Red Sea shipping by launching a new maritime force, but a week after its launch many allies don't want to be associated with it, publicly, or at all.

Two of America's European allies who were listed as contributors to Operation Prosperity Guardian - Italy and Spain - issued statements appearing to distance themselves from the maritime force.

The Pentagon says the force is a defensive coalition of more than 20 nations to ensure billions of dollars' worth of commerce can flow freely through a vital shipping chokepoint in Red Sea waters off Yemen.

But nearly half of those countries have so far not come forward to acknowledge their contributions or allowed the U.S. to do so. Those contributions can range from dispatching warships to merely sending a staff officer.

The reluctance of some U.S. allies to link themselves to the effort partly reflects the fissures created by the conflict in Gaza, which has seen Biden maintain firm support for Israel even as international criticism rises over its offensive, which Gaza's health ministry says has killed more than 21,000 Palestinians.

"European governments are very worried that part of their potential electorate will turn against them," said David Hernandez, a professor of international relations at the Complutense University of Madrid, noting that the European public is increasingly critical of Israel and wary of being drawn into a conflict.

Biden needs to strike back hard against Houthis to protect Red Sea

Mark Dubowitz 

On the day after Christmas, in the space of just 10 hours, US forces in the Red Sea had to shoot down 12 suicide drones, three anti-ship ballistic missiles and two land-attack cruise missiles, all of them launched by the Iran-backed Houthi terrorist group in Yemen.

The Houthis are torturers whose official motto is “Death to America, death to Israel, curse the Jews, and victory to Islam.”

Subtle they aren’t.

Yet one of President Biden’s first decisions after taking office was to remove the Houthis from the official US list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations.

You can draw a straight line from there to the threat in the Red Sea today.

Reward the bad guys for bad behavior and you get more of it.

The White House insisted it was taking the Houthis off the terror list for humanitarian reasons, but the real story is it was one of many concessions to the Houthis’ patrons in Tehran from an administration desperate to avoid trouble in the Middle East.

The predictable result was more trouble, not less.

Yemeni men carrying a model of the Houthi-hijacked ship Galaxy Leader at a protest in Sana’a, Yemen on Dec. 22, 2023. Photo by Mohammed Hamoud/Getty Images

If Biden wants to protect US and allied naval forces in the Red Sea while keeping its shipping lanes open, he needs to show the Houthis they will pay a heavy price for attacking the United States and its friends.

How many Russian generals have been killed in Ukraine?


The war in Ukraine has been particularly lethal for Russian general officers, several of whom have died since February 2022.

The fog of war has made it difficult to keep track of Russian generals who have been killed. At the start of the war, the Ukrainians claimed to have killed 12 Russian general officers, but indications emerged afterward that some of those generals are still alive including Maj. Gen. Vitaly Gerasimov and Lt Gen Andrey Mordvichev, according to the BBC. Ukraine also claimed in September that it had killed Russian Adm. Viktor Sokolov, commander of the Black Sea fleet, in a missile strike, but video emerged afterward showing that Sokolov was still alive.

Task & Purpose has attempted to provide a tally of the Russian generals who have been killed since February 2022. This list is far from comprehensive because it does not include Russian losses due to mysterious circumstances, such as when Lt. Gen. Vladimir Sviridov was found dead along with his wife at their home in November.

Russia is a place where people who have crossed the Kremlin often die by falling from high-rise buildings – in all fairness, those open windows can come out of nowhere.

Open sources indicate that at least seven Russian general officers have been killed in Ukraine:

Where Did the Military Go Wrong With Gen Z?

As a grandfather and veteran, I thank Rep. Mike Gallagher and Prof. Kevin Wallsten for their op-ed “Why Doesn’t Gen Z Want to Be All It Can Be?” (Dec. 14). If the next generation is largely unwilling to serve in the armed forces, then the nation’s future is at best uncertain.

The armed forces have in the past drawn from families and regions that emphasize traditional values, including patriotism. But when those families observe a defense establishment that appears to be absorbed by DEI and woke ideology, is it any surprise that many young, potential soldiers will turn away?

Beyond the Osprey: DARPA wants high-speed vertical takeoff X-plane

Stephen Losey

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is working with four companies to design an experimental vertical-takeoff-and-landing aircraft that can fly at speeds far faster than the V-22 Osprey.

The collaboration comes as the U.S. military considers how it might operate aircraft in areas that lack traditional runways.

DARPA calls its program SPRINT, for Speed and Runway Independent Technologies. In November, the agency awarded contracts to Aurora Flight Sciences, Bell Textron, Northrop Grumman and Piasecki Aircraft Corp. to start honing their ideas. The total value for these four deals, which cover the initial phase, could be worth $15 million to $20 million, depending on what options the agency exercises.

By spring of 2027, DARPA wants one of those companies to have finished designing and prototyping their aircraft, built it, and carried out its first flight.

Navy Cmdr. Ian Higgins, SPRINT’s program manager, said in a Dec. 15 interview that speed is one of the key requirements for this aircraft. When the SPRINT aircraft flies forward, DARPA wants it to reach speeds between 400 and 450 knots, or about 460 to 520 mph. The V-22 Osprey has a maximum speed of 270 knots.

“What we ... want to be able to achieve is higher-end speeds,” Higgins said. “We’re going another 100-plus knots beyond [the Osprey], which itself challenges physics if you were just to use the propulsion system that’s in the Osprey.”

Higgins said the SPRINT aircraft also must be able to hover and be stable, transition between hovering and forward flight, and have a distributed power system during that transition that effectively powers all the propulsion systems. Higgins said SPRINT is not focusing on the survivability or potential payload of these concepts.

Constitutional Violations: Julian Assange, Privacy And The CIA

Binoy Kampmark

As a private citizen, the options for suing an intelligence agency are few and far between. The US Central Intelligence Agency, as with other members of the secret club, pour scorn on such efforts. To a degree, such a dismissive sentiment is understandable: Why sue an agency for its bread-and-butter task, which is surveillance?

This matter has cropped up in the US courts in what has become an international affair, namely, the case of WikiLeaks founder and publisher, Julian Assange. While the US Department of Justice battles to sink its fangs into the Australian national for absurd espionage charges, various offshoots of his case have begun to grow. The issue of CIA sponsored surveillance during his stint in the Ecuadorian embassy in London has been of particular interest, since it violated both general principles of privacy and more specific ones regarding attorney-client privilege. Of particular interest to US Constitution watchers was whether such actions violated the reasonable expectation of privacy protected by the Fourth Amendment.

Four US citizens took issue with such surveillance, which was executed by the Spanish security firm Undercover (UC) Global and its starry-eyed, impressionable director David Morales under instruction from the CIA. Civil rights attorney Margaret Ratner Kunstler and media lawyer Deborah Hrbek, and journalists John Goetz and Charles Glass, took the matter to the US District Court of the Southern District of New York in August last year. They had four targets of litigation: the CIA itself, its former director, Michael R. Pompeo, Morales and his company, UC Global SL.

All four alleged that the US Government had conducted surveillance on them and copied their information during visits to Assange in the embassy, thereby violating the Fourth Amendment. In doing so, the plaintiffs argued they were entitled to money damages and injunctive relief. The government moved to dismiss the complaint as amended.

Overcoming A Clausewitz-Centric Mindset In Nontraditional Wars

G.L. Lamborn

Standing in the heat at Gia Lam airfield in Spring 1975, respected author and military theorist Colonel Harry Summers was puzzled. Despite ten years of US support, the deployment of nearly 500,000 US soldiers and Marines, the provision of heavy weaponry and helicopters, and the expenditure of an estimated one trillion dollars, the Saigon government had collapsed in defeat. Summers turned to his North Vietnamese counterpart, Colonel Tu, and stated “You know, you never defeated us on the battlefield.” Colonel Tu thought about that for a minute, then replied: “That may be so. But it is also irrelevant.”

Colonel Summers might have phrased his bewilderment in this way: “How is it that you won the war when we consistently defeated you on the battlefield?” The thoughtful Colonel Tu probably would have replied: “You fought only the enemy you could see, but not the enemy that you could not see. You fought the wrong war.”

Lessons Not Learned

Following Prussia’s crushing defeat at Jena-Auerstedt in October 1806, Carl von Clausewitz became a prisoner of the French at the Chateau de Coppet. There he had ample time to reflect on Napoleon’s political and military victories. Clausewitz studied the factors contributing to Napoleon’s triumphs, such as strategic surprise, rapid forward movement, flanking of enemy forces, and speed of concentration. He also noted the connection between battle and political results, perhaps his most profound observation.

Upon his release from captivity after the Peace of Tilsit, Clausewitz returned to Prussia and worked with King Friedrich Wilhelm and others to reform the Prussian army and state.

Months later in July 1808 at Baylen, Spanish insurgents, including thousands of angry civilians, wiped out a French regular force of 20,000 under General Pierre Dupont. France’s invasion of Spain unleashed powerful political forces—early signs of nationalism and ethno-centrism, which were to flower later in the nineteenth century and shape a new form of war, popular insurgency—the “war of the people.”

Is US military power reaching its limit?


During the Christmas period, America’s role as global policeman has been coming under scrutiny.

The origins of the story go back weeks, with Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen attacking commercial ships in the Red Sea in response to Israel’s war in Gaza. These attacks culminated in the decision by global shipping companies to avoid transit through the region due to the heightened risk.

As a result, the Houthis have now enacted a de facto naval blockade — without possessing a navy. In response, on 18 December, the Pentagon announced Operation Prosperity Guardian, but many allies — such as Spain, Italy and France — declined US command over their navies in the region.

For a country whose global dominance rests on control over the high seas, this was bad optics. Shipping companies, however, were willing to return to the region now that they were under a naval umbrella. “With the Operation Prosperity Guardian initiative in operation, we are preparing to allow for vessels to resume transit through the Red Sea both eastbound and westbound,” the Danish shipping giant Maersk said in a statement.

But it does not appear as though the attacks have stopped. US Central Command reported that on 23 December the Houthis fired two anti-ship ballistic missiles and four unmanned aerial drones. Two container ships were attacked but neither were damaged, with the US Navy shooting down the drones. While this may seem like a victory, it shows that the Houthis are not deterred. Eventually, one strike is bound to get through.

That is because the weapons that the Houthis are using, most of which are of Iranian origin but some of which are domestically produced, are extremely cheap and quick to build. The air defence that the US Navy is using is neither cheap nor quick to build — much less to transport to the Red Sea for resupply.

Don’t Give Up on a Better Russia

Aleksei Miniailo

February 24, 2022, was the worst day of my life. When I woke up to news that Russia was invading Ukraine, it felt impossible to believe. I knew that Russian President Vladimir Putin had been massing troops along Ukraine’s borders, and I had read that Western intelligence agencies believed war was imminent. A couple of days before the invasion began, I had even submitted an application to hold an antiwar rally in Moscow. And yet the idea that Putin would try conquering Europe’s largest country—one with so many cultural and familial ties to Russia—still felt unfathomable. I hoped the headlines were wrong, and that journalists had mistaken another provocation for a full-blown attack.

Alas, they had not. As I read more, it quickly became evident that the assault was real. In photos and videos, I saw explosions on the streets where I once walked with my friends. My relatives in Zaporizhzhia were writing to me from a missile shelter. As a Russian opposition activist, I am no stranger to horrible Kremlin behavior: I have protested against rigged elections, seen my colleagues get arrested, and spent two months in jail myself—barely avoiding charges that carried a prison term of up to 15 years. But watching the invasion begin was more terrible than anything I had experienced before.

After it became clear the invasion was real, I gathered with friends and allies to brainstorm what we could do. It would have been easy, in that moment, for us to fall into despair. But as activists and researchers, we knew that Putin’s regime was less steadfast than it seems. We had seen Putin use polls and elections to create an impression, both within Russia and outside the country, that he has overwhelming support—an impression that helps him both control Russians and influence foreign politicians. And we worried that many Russian pollsters would struggle to adjust their methods to a wartime environment.

Will Ukraine War End in 2024? Experts Weigh In

Brendan Cole

Vladimir Putin's confirmation that he would run again for president in 2024 was predictable but could there be any surprises next year in the war he started in Ukraine?

Russians go to the polls from March 15, less than a month after the full-scale invasion marks its second anniversary. Both sides seem resigned to a long conflict, with the high numbers of casualties, equipment losses and economic damage since it started on February 24, 2022 set to escalate.

Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymr Zelensky maintain maximalist goals that preclude talks to end the war imminently and experts have told Newsweek the fighting is likely to continue into 2025.

Outlier events cannot be ruled out, such as the brazen challenge to Putin's authority by Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin, whose death in a plane crash followed his seizure of military facilities in Rostov-on-Don and a march on Moscow. Also, the Kremlin has repeatedly dismissed rumors about Putin's health.

"The only way I can foresee the Ukraine war possibly ending in 2024 is if Vladimir Putin dies," Beth Knobel, professor of communications and media studies at Fordham University, and former CBS News Moscow bureau chief, told Newsweek.

"It is theoretically possible that Russia could take advantage of a change in leadership to try to declare victory and just hold onto the land it grabbed since February of 2022," she said. "But even if Putin dies, I think there's only a miniscule chance that Russia would back off from the war, because it has already invested so much of its national image in winning."

A widely anticipated Ukrainian counteroffensive that started in June aimed at recapturing Russian-occupied territory, has not made the progress Kyiv's allies wanted.

What 2023 Taught Us in the Russia-Ukraine War

Stefan Theil

As Russia’s war against Ukraine enters its third winter, the scenarios for its outcome are still unclear. With neither side making substantial territorial gains in more than a year, there is much debate about whether the conflict has entered a stalemate—and who is to blame for Ukraine not advancing more quickly. At the same time, the fighting remains highly volatile in other ways, as Ukraine’s effective defeat of the Russian Black Sea Fleet in 2023 has shown.

Self-assessment: setting expectations on the Russo-Ukraine War


Sam has already published his annual self-assessment and this is mine. Although I have written about the Gaza War, and will return to that early in the new year, this piece focuses on the Russo-Ukraine War. This is not only because of the amount I wrote on the topic but also because the question of the expectations surrounding this war has become an issue in itself. Has an optimism bias pervaded the commentariat? Did pro-Ukrainian sympathies lead to playing down Russia’s inherent strengths and failing to appreciate Ukraine’s vulnerabilities?

There was certainly more optimism surrounding the Ukrainian position at the start of the year than there was at the end. This is partly because of the uncertainties surrounding the level of US and European support, a matter to which I will return in my conclusion. But it was largely because of the meagre returns from Ukraine’s intensive efforts to liberate more territory.

Commenting on an ongoing war is difficult, especially for someone not close to the front lines. This is why, as I noted in last year’s assessment, my preference is ‘to talk about trends, possibilities, and developments coming into view.’ Wars pass through stages, as fortunes shift, and the challenges of supply and reinforcement change. Over time some possibilities become impossible, some quite likely, and new ones emerge. Of these the most unlikely, such as peace negotiations, can be worth discussing to understand why they are unlikely or what would need to change to make them likely. So my self-assessment question is not whether my predictions are right, because I made few that were firm, but did much happen that would surprise a regular reader of these posts.

And strategies make a difference. Few outcomes in war are inevitable. Armies can be caught out by sudden changes in the weather, spectacular acts of incompetence (a large force being conspicuously gathered in a way that can be easily targeted), or just the push and pull of competing military and political priorities. Perhaps the Ukrainian army could have achieved more with better choices, including by its international supporters, although the alternatives always seem much clearer in retrospect. Perhaps what they were trying to do was just too difficult. The Russian Army put even more effort into their offensives and achieved even more meagre results in their efforts to occupy more territory. Both sides have struggled to mount offensives against well-defended positions. In which case how does this war end?

Meet Joe Biden’s Favorite Hacker

Eric Geller

When Jeff Moss got a phone call from the White House in the early months of Barack Obama’s presidency, he thought the new administration was trying to get one of its officials on the speaker lineup for the world-famous Black Hat security conference that he had created and still helped run.

Instead, the staffer on the other end of the line asked Moss, one of the country’s most respected hackers, if he would be interested in occasionally reviewing and commenting on government reports in his area of expertise.

Moss agreed, figuring it wouldn’t take too much of his time. Two months later, when he started receiving paperwork to apply for a security clearance, he learned what he’d actually signed up for: a spot on the Department of Homeland Security’s Homeland Security Advisory Council, a role usually given to big-name corporate executives, who covet the position as a sign of credibility and prestige. The group of outside experts help steer the department’s work on everything from immigration to aviation security to Moss’s domain of cybersecurity.

“That was my big introduction into the big tent, into the government space,” Moss said in a recent interview.

Fourteen years later, Moss — who still helps organize the corporate-owned Black Hat conference and also runs its more freewheeling sister event, DEF CON — has become one of the government’s most trusted advisers on cybersecurity issues. With the ear of President Joe Biden’s top cyber aides, Moss tries to help the feds harness the energy and talents of independent security experts to better defend the U.S. from digital attacks — and, in the process, overcome decades of mutual suspicion and hostility between Washington’s stodgy bureaucrats and the country’s nonconformist techies.

Moss no longer serves on the Homeland Security Advisory Council after failing “the political vetting that the Trump administration introduced,” he said, but two years ago, he joined the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA)’s Cybersecurity Advisory Committee, where he leads a group that delivers policy advice from independent researchers, cyber threat analysts and security professionals.

The Year Policymakers Woke Up to AI

Rishi Iyengar

To get a sense of the capabilities, contradictions, and chaos that have defined artificial intelligence in the past year, one only needs to look to the technology’s most high-profile champion.

Space Force hosts inaugural ‘orbital warfare’ training exercise


The Space Force recently held its first-ever Red Skies exercise focused on training guardians how to respond to potential adversary attacks against U.S. space-based assets, the service announced Dec. 22.

Space Training and Readiness Command (STARCOM) hosted the inaugural event Dec. 11-15. Red Skies is envisioned as an annual training experience that emphasizes “orbital warfare” disciplines, according to the Space Force. The simulation-based exercise enabled guardians from Space Operations Command (SPoC) to hone skills in orbital mechanics and satellite flight relevant for Space Force operations.

“Realistic simulation like this allows us to refine tactical skills that drive us towards tactically relevant thinking … more towards what it means to ensure space superiority,” STARCOM Deputy Commander Brig. Gen. Todd Moore said in a statement.

During the exercise, guardians trained for tactical command-and-control operations and how to operate multiple satellites, all while engaging opposing forces in a simulated environment, according to a Space Force press release.

While the first event was held entirely through simulations, the service plans to eventually incorporate real-world satellites — similar to the “live-fire” training demonstrated during Black Skies.