24 May 2024

India and Chabahar: Navigating the Tides of US Sanctions

Namita Barthwal

On May 13, Indian Ports Global Ltd. (IPGL) and the Port and Maritime Organization (PMO) of Iran signed a 10-year agreement to operate the Shahid-Behesti terminal of the Chabahar port. This agreement is part of a four-phase development program that began in 2016. Under the new agreement, IPGL will invest $120 million in the terminal’s infrastructure development. Additionally, India has agreed on a $250 million credit line to further develop the Iranian port. The signing ceremony was attended by India’s minister of shipping and waterways, Sarbananda Sonowal, who reiterated Chabahar’s strategic importance in connecting India with Afghanistan and Central Asian countries.

However, this development was quickly overshadowed by a warning from the U.S. State Department, which raised concerns about potential sanctions risks for IPGL. In response, India has taken a diplomatic route to deter the United States from imposing sanctions stemming from the 2012 Iran Freedom Counterproliferation Act (IFCA) on IPGL, a Public Sector Undertaking (PSU). Previously, Indian PSUs have received exemptions from Washington under the IFCA for their engagements with Iran, including importing oil from the country and developing Chabahar port, considering its regional significance.

India has four reasons for building the Shahid-Behesti terminal of the Chabahar port. First, it has established a direct trade route from India to Afghanistan and Central Asia, bypassing Pakistan. On October 29, 2017, the first shipment of wheat from India to Afghanistan via Chabahar port marked the terminal’s operational status.

Senior Study Group on Counterterrorism in Afghanistan and Pakistan: Final Report


Executive Summary

When announcing the US withdrawal from Afghanistan in April 2021, President Joe Biden identified counterterrorism in Afghanistan and Pakistan as an enduring and critical US national security interest. This priority became even more pronounced after the Taliban’s return to power in August 2021, the discovery of al-Qaeda’s leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in Kabul less than a year later, and the increasing threat of the Islamic State of Khorasan (ISIS-K) from Afghanistan. However, owing to the escalating pressures of strategic competition with China and Russia, counterterrorism has significantly dropped in importance in the policy agenda. Following 9/11, the national security policy pendulum swung to an overwhelming focus on counterterrorism, but since the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, it appears to have swung in the opposite direction.

In 2022, the United States Institute of Peace convened the Senior Study Group on Counterterrorism in Afghanistan and Pakistan to examine the counterterrorism challenge from the region in light of the US withdrawal and growing strategic competition. The study group is a bipartisan group of experts, bringing a range of policy, scholarly, operational, and analytical experience related to terrorism, counterterrorism, and South Asia policy issues.

In meetings from 2022 to 2023, the study group assessed the terrorism threat from Afghanistan and Pakistan and its bearing on US interests, as well as reflected on lessons from efforts to mitigate terrorism risks over the past 20 years. Members then examined what the components of a well-defined and sustainable counterterrorism strategy for the region could be to effectively mitigate existing threats, especially those directed against the US homeland and its allies and partners.

Manila-Beijing Row Worsens As China Yet To Show Evidence Of ‘Secret Deal’ – Analysis

Camille Elemia

Manila’s row with Beijing has worsened in recent weeks, as China insists that the Philippines has violated their alleged secret deals and concessions on the South China Sea, but has not shown any evidence to back its claim.

For its part, the Philippines has consistently denied the existence of such deals or concessions, with some observers saying China’s assertion is part of its divide-and-conquer strategy, and other analysts noting that Beijing has a record of secret agreements that breach global regulations.

The recent controversy between the Philippines and China centers around an alleged secret recording Beijing’s embassy in Manila made of a phone conversation, and released what they said was its transcript to some media organizations.

The call, they said, was between a senior Filipino military official and a Chinese diplomat, during which Manila reportedly agreed on a new model for arranging notifications of resupply missions to Second Thomas (Ayungin) Shoal.

South Asian Students Targeted by Angry Mob in Kyrgyz Capital

Catherine Putz

On May 17, a video started to circulate on Kyrgyz social media depicting a fight between “foreigners” and Kyrgyz in the front yard of a hostel in the country’s capital, Bishkek. The following night angry crowds of mostly young men gathered in the city. Through the night they protested, blocking a major avenue and attacking dormitories housing students primarily from South Asia, injuring at least 41 people.

Much of the violence took place at the International University of Kyrgyzstan. The rector of the university, Asylbek Aidaraliev, said at a press conference on May 20 that people suddenly began to gather around 1 a.m. “They broke the windows, broke in through the back door, started running around the floors, knocking out doors, glass, taking money and iPhones,” he said.

Aidaraliev noted that the few police present when the attack began did “stood there and didn’t take a single step. True, there were not many of them. Then, as I understood, they tried to intervene, but they were also beaten.”

He suggested that the events were pre-planned: “There was a fight on May 13, and everyone would have forgotten about it. But on May 17, people suddenly gather, for what reason is unclear.”

Britain Accuses China Of Working To Provide Russia With ‘Lethal Aid’

Reid Standish

Britain has accused China of preparing to or already providing ‘lethal aid’ to Russia for its ongoing full-scale invasion of neighboring Ukraine.

Citing U.S. and British defense intelligence, Defense Secretary Grant Shapps said there was evidence that “lethal aid is now, or will be, flowing from China to Russia and into Ukraine.”

“Today I can reveal that we have evidence that Russia and China are collaborating on combat equipment for use in Ukraine,” Shapps told a defense conference in London on May 22.

The British defense minister did not provide details or evidence to back up his claim, but his assertion, the first such accusation from a Western official, would indicate a new level of support for Moscow from Beijing and that China had pivoted to directly supporting Russia’s military.

“We should be concerned about that because in the earlier days of this war, China would like to present itself as a moderating influence on” Russian President Vladimir Putin, Schnapps said, adding that trade data since the Kremlin’s February 2022 full-scale invasion of invasion shows that Beijing and Moscow “are covering each other’s backs.”

Tracking China’s Moves On Information Warfare – Analysis

Kalpit A Mankikar and Satyam Singh

The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is shifting focus to improving logistical elements that act as a force-multiplier during prolonged wars, learning from active conflicts in Europe and West Asia. Those looking for clues should pay heed to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s recent visits and pronouncements to see how this new approach is being operationalised.

In his capacity as head of the Central Military Commission that oversees the PLA, Xi visited the Army Medical University in Chongqing recently, pitching for greater innovation in battlefield treatment methods, healthcare of soldiers, and coordinated logistical support. He laid emphasis on building better medical universities for the PLA, linking it to strengthening of the war effort in his “New Era”. He called upon the medical students and military personnel to produce a new generation of ‘red military doctors’ who would strengthen the combat effectiveness of troops in war. This is in line with Xi’s repeated calls to improve the preparedness of the PLA. Xi’s visit to the premier military medical facility comes close on the heels of reports that the PLA carried out drills to evacuate injured troops from islands off the Zhejiang province’s coastline. Some strategists have speculated if the military exercise was meant to test PLA battle readinessin a possible event of China’s invasion of Taiwan.

China’s Gray-Zone Tactics Come to America

Denny Roy

China employs various “gray zone” tactics—moderately aggressive actions that are not egregious enough to provoke conventional military retaliation­—against multiple adversaries. One such tactic is deployed within the United States: undeclared influence operations through social media. Chinese government-linked activity has recently become more worrisome. Previously, the principal danger was PRC propaganda lulling the U.S. into uncritical acceptance of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) foreign policy agenda. Now, the Chinese government is adding its weight to the forces tearing at America’s national fabric from the inside.

Until recently, the main thrust of PRC-sponsored messaging aimed at Americans through social media was to cultivate a positive image of China and its current government and promote Beijing’s point of view on controversies, such as Taiwan’s political relationship with China, the treatment of Uyghurs and Tibetans, and the restriction of civil liberties in Hong Kong. The content of social media posts was similar to what Chinese diplomats based in the United States were saying when they gave public speeches and TV interviews or wrote editorials for newspapers.

Who Is Ali Bagheri Kani, Iran’s New Foreign Minister – OpEd

Palestine Chronicle

Ali Bagheri Kani played a prominent role in the negotiations with Western powers, rising to become a pillar of Iran’s foreign ministry.

Born in 1967, Ali Bagheri Kani is an Iranian politician and academic.

He served as assistant foreign minister for political affairs and his name was associated with the negotiations related to Tehran’s nuclear program, as he had led his country’s negotiating team in Vienna and a number of Arab capitals and is considered politically conservative.

Kani was an assistant to the Iranian chief negotiator Saeed Jalili. He played a prominent role in the negotiations with Western powers, rising to become a pillar of Iran’s foreign ministry.

He became a deputy foreign minister and the foreign minister in May 2024 after the death of Amir Hossein-Abdollahian in a helicopter crash on May 19.

The Iranian Nuclear Strategy—Is It About to Change?

Sima Shine & Raz Zimmt

In recent months, as Iran has approached the nuclear threshold and shortened the times for producing nuclear weapons, and as the monitoring by the International Atomic Energy Agency over the nuclear facilities has significantly declined, Iran could likely decide to change its policy and achieve nuclear weapons capability. Although a decision on this matter poses risks to Iran—military conflict with Israel and possibly even the United States—Iranian leader Ali Khamenei could retreat from his current position that maintaining the nuclear threshold is sufficient. Therefore, through a credible military threat, the Iranian leadership must be convinced that progressing to nuclear weapons will directly endanger the regime’s survival. At the same time, the international community should embark on a series of political and economic moves to persuade Iran to rollback its nuclear program.

In recent years Iranian officials have mentioned the possibility that Iran’s nuclear strategy could shift toward producing nuclear weapons. However, in the past year and especially in recent months, the preoccupation with this issue has increased considerably. Iranian statements often refer to the advanced technological status of their nuclear program, stressing the potential to produce nuclear warheads within a short time. Former head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization, Ali Akbar Salehi, claimed in an interview aired on Iranian television in February 2024 that the regime has all the necessary components for nuclear weapons but has not assembled them. Mahmoud Reza Aghamiri, president of Shahid Beheshti University and a nuclear scientist, said in April 2024 that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei can at any time withdraw his fatwa banning the production of nuclear weapons and that Iran is capable of producing them.


US Allies Recognize Palestine as a State

Khaleda Rahman

In a historic and co-ordinated move, Ireland, Spain and Norway announced they would recognize a Palestinian state on Wednesday.

The announcements come amid growing outrage over the civilian death toll and humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip from Israel's seven-month war, which has prompted global calls for a ceasefire and lasting solution for peace.

First, Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre announced that Norway will officially recognize a Palestinian state as of May 28.

"The Norwegian Government has decided that Norway will recognize Palestine as a state," Støre said. "In the midst of a war, with tens of thousands killed and injured, we must keep alive the only alternative that offers a political solution for Israelis and Palestinians alike: Two states, living side by side, in peace and security."

The Palestinian people "have a fundamental, independent right to self-determination," Støre said. "There will be no peace in the Middle East without a two-state solution. There can be no two-state solution without a Palestinian state."

Why Iran Believes It’s Winning Against Israel

Ali Vaez

On Sunday, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and several other officials, including Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, died in a helicopter crash. This incident occurred following an unprecedented round of escalation between Iran and Israel in April, sparking speculation on the potential implications for Iran’s regional policy and the ongoing conflict with Israel.


What Raisi’s Death Means for Iran’s Future

Jack Detsch

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi died on Sunday when a helicopter carrying him and a delegation of other Iranian officials crash-landed in the mountains of northern Iran, throwing the future of the country and the region into further doubt.

No, Rishi Sunak is not a technocrat


Even the papers most friendly to the Conservatives are struggling to find reasons why they might win. You still get the occasional half-hearted mention of 1992, as if that situation bore any resemblance to this one, but the fight has gone out of them.

Instead attention is turning, earlier than usual, to explaining the upcoming defeat, and Rishi Sunak’s inability to improve their fortunes. There is a general consensus that he is terrible at politics. He has never given a memorable speech. His interviews are typically an execrable mish-mash of unjustified boasting and rebarbative defensiveness. His approach to party management is so bad that Natalie Elphicke is somehow now a Labour MP.

So far, so obvious. But the second part of the consensus is that he’s basically a decent, smart, hard-working chap, who is just not cut out of for the performative and irrational world of modern politics. A recent BBC profile quoted sources claiming “He is all duty and hard work” and the “the cleverest person in the room”.

Biden is losing World War III

MARK TOTH AND JONATHAN SWEET

President Joe Biden has become the James Buchanan of the 21st century.

Buchanan, the nation’s 15th president, widely considered history’s worst, sought to mollify everyone, yet in the end pleased no one. Under his rule, the nation drifted ever-closer to secession and Civil War.

More than a century and a half later, the world is devolving into a global ideological World War III. Russia, China and their proxies are actively attacking U.S. interests.

Yet Biden’s National Security Strategy remains rooted in fighting “something less than two simultaneous or overlapping major conflicts,” according to a January Congressional Research Service report entitled “Great Power Competition: Implications for Defense.”

The report notes that, in 2018, the Trump administration was confronted with an Obama-era decision of “building a force not around the demands of two regional conflicts with rogue states, but around the requirements of winning a high-intensity conflict with a single, top-tier competitor — a war with China over Taiwan, for instance, or a clash with Russia in the Baltic region.”

The Ugly Lessons of October 7

EUGENE KONTOROVICH

Hamas’ grisly terror raid on Oct. 7 has proved to be the single most stunningly successful act in gaining support for the Palestinian cause—not among Israeli or American voters, of course, but among top Democratic policymakers, and their counterparts across the Western world. One might think that a campaign of unrepentant killing, torture, rape, and hostage-taking would be disqualifying for a national independence movement. But in Washington, Hamas’ ongoing crimes have resulted in much of the weight of the U.S. government being brought to bear on advancing the cause of Palestinian statehood, and its correlate, the punishment and demonization of the Jewish state.

Months of U.S. backing for the Palestinian national cause have produced glorious results for Palestinian diplomacy. Whereas less than two years ago, at a meeting with President Mahmoud Abbas, President Biden had declared that “the ground is not ripe” for renewing negotiations between Ramallah and Jerusalem, the Oct. 7 massacres made Biden change his mind—and make the establishment of a Palestinian state with all deliberate speed a central priority of U.S. Middle East policy. Since Oct. 7, four countries have recognized the “State of Palestine,” with three European states indicating their intent to do so in May. That is more recognition than the PA has won in the entire past decade (notably, only one country moved to recognize Palestinian statehood during the Trump administration).

Pentagon's Russian Oil Red Line Questioned

Isabel van Brugen

The Pentagon's red line on Ukraine's drone strikes on Russian energy infrastructure is under scrutiny after an investigation found that some targeted oil refineries have supplied President Vladimir Putin's military with fuel in the ongoing war.

Kyiv began its drone campaign targeting Russian refineries in early January, nearly two years into the war, obstructing gasoline production in Russia and cutting Moscow's export revenues, which are at the heart of the country's war economy.

At least 13 successful attacks have been carried out on Russian oil refineries during the conflict so far, targeting some of the largest in the country and facilities deep inside Russian territory, according to Ukraine. The drone strikes have already disrupted at least 14 percent of Russian oil refinery capacity, the Pentagon's intelligence agency said this month.

Olha Stefanishyna, a Ukrainian deputy prime minister, said in March that Russian oil refineries were legitimate military targets in the war, although the strikes aren't typically directly claimed by Kyiv but by the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) and Ukraine's Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) instead.

Fears Russia ‘space weapon’ could be used for cyber warfare ad sabotage

Sam Rucker

The US has accused Russia of launching an anti-satellite weapon into space and placing it in the same orbit as an American probe, leading to fears of possible sabotage and cyber warfare.

Pentagon spokesman Brigadier General Pat Ryder on Tuesday evening said Russia had “launched a satellite into low Earth orbit that we assess is likely [to be] a counter space weapon”.

Ambassador Robert Wood, a US representative to the UN, told a Security Council debate on the ban of space weapons this week that the satellite, launched on 16 May, was “presumably capable of attacking other satellites in low Earth orbit”.

Why Realists Oppose the War in Gaza

Stephen M. Walt

At first glance, you might think that foreign-policy realists wouldn’t care one way or the other about what Israel is doing in Gaza. Yes, it’s a humanitarian disaster and possibly a genocide, but is brutal behavior all that rare in the conduct of international politics? Aren’t realists the first to point out that in a world with no central authority, governments are going to take the gloves off if they think they will benefit and that no one will stop them? Consider how the United States reacted after Pearl Harbor or after Sept. 11, how Russia is acting in Ukraine, or how the contending forces are behaving in Sudan, and you’ll see what I mean.

Is the War in Gaza Turning Israel Into a Pariah State?

David E. Rosenberg

If Israel needed any more evidence that it is rapidly turning into an international pariah because of the Gaza war, International Criminal Court Prosecutor Karim Khan provided it on Monday when he said that he was seeking arrest warrants for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant.

What Happens if Trump Is Convicted? Your Questions, Answered

NIK POPLI

As the Manhattan criminal trial of former President Donald Trump heads into the final stretch, a jury will soon deliver a verdict that could raise a series of unprecedented legal and political questions if Trump is convicted.

The presumptive Republican nominee is currently facing trial on 34 felony counts over allegations that he falsified business records to conceal a $130,000 hush-money payment to adult film actress Stormy Daniels before the 2016 election. He’s the first former President in the U.S. ever to be indicted, and while he faces three other criminal cases, the New York case will render the first verdict and may be the only case that gets to trial before the election.

Trump’s former fixer Michael Cohen testified during the trial that Trump personally approved the hush-money reimbursement plan central to the criminal allegations, but questions remain about Cohen’s credibility given his history of lying and committing crimes.

Prosecutors will need to prove to jurors beyond a reasonable doubt that Trump not only falsified or caused business records to be entered falsely, but that he did so with the intent to commit or conceal another crime related to violating federal and state election laws.

The Global Economy Is More Vulnerable Than It Seems

BERTRAND BADRÉ and YVES TIBERGHIEN

Today’s economic outlook is strangely contradictory. While global markets, led by technology and energy, have been ebullient over high short-term profits, the mood at the Spring Meetings of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund last month was decidedly somber. Two global institutions that normally speak in banalities issued strong warnings about the growing risks of economic fragmentation.

The idea that an interdependent global economy can work within a geopolitical system based on the national sovereignty of nearly 200 states has always reflected a certain amount of idealism. Or perhaps it was more like hubris. This strange marriage did, after all, collapse in the 1930s, with the division lasting through the end of World War II.

But idealism was not dead, and the global system was subsequently rebuilt on a foundation of agreed rules, shared international institutions, a degree of mutual forbearance, and crisis management. From the start, security considerations were kept as separate as possible from the economy, but this became especially important in the 1990s, when countries with radically different regimes began integrating into the global economy.

How AI Is Changing Tech Policy Politics in Washington

Bruce Mehlman, Matt Perault

In the tech sector, the political alliances that drive policymaking shift rapidly. The rise of artificial intelligence (AI) is changing them again. These new dynamics will influence the scope and scale of AI regulation in the United States and throughout the world.

In the first phase of internet-era tech policy, large majorities on both the left (“new Democrats”) and the right (“free market conservatives”) viewed technology as a force for good and the companies that created tech products as the crown jewels of American entrepreneurship and ingenuity (see Table 1). New economy acolytes battled old economy advocates over immigration, intellectual property, taxation, and regulation, with a bipartisan majority believing that what’s good for the internet was good for America.

The second phase witnessed more traditional liberal-conservative divides. The left sought tighter rules to control what they perceived as market failures and protect consumers, such as net neutrality and privacy rules, while the right wanted less interference with free speech and free enterprise.

Fox in the Henhouse: The Growing Harms of North Korea’s Remote IT Workforce

Glenn Chafetz

North Korea has quietly seeded thousands of information technology (IT) professionals into contractors and subcontractors that serve the United States’ largest and most profitable companies. These workers operate under American or third country false identities. This IT army’s main objective is to earn money for the perpetually cash strapped Kim Jong Un regime. These funds support North Korea’s ballistic missile and nuclear programs and prop up Kim’s dictatorship.

In addition, North Korean arms are now findings their way into conflicts around the world. Russia has started to use North Korean missiles to conduct strikes inside Ukraine and North Korean munitions have been used by Hamas in attacks against Israel forces in Gaza. All of this is made possible because of funds flowing from IT workers into North Korean government coffers.

Moreover, the access that these North Korean infiltrators have gained within U.S. companies provides the Kim regime multiple vectors for the theft of intellectual property (IP), the holding of U.S. data hostage for ransom, attacks on critical infrastructure, and the launching of cyber attacks. Thus, American companies are unknowingly funding an enemy state dedicated to their own degradation and destruction.

Don’t Believe the AI Hype

DARON ACEMOGLU

According to tech leaders and many pundits and academics, artificial intelligence is poised to transform the world as we know it through unprecedented productivity gains. While some believe that machines soon will do everything humans can do, ushering in a new age of boundless prosperity, other predictions are at least more grounded. For example, Goldman Sachs predicts that generative AI will boost global GDP by 7% over the next decade, and the McKinsey Global Institute anticipates that the annual GDP growth rate could increase by 3-4 percentage points between now and 2040. For its part, The Economist expects that AI will create a blue-collar bonanza.

Is this realistic? As I note in a recent paper, the outlook is far more uncertain than most forecasts and guesstimates suggest. Still, while it is basically impossible to predict with any confidence what AI will do in 20 or 30 years, one can say something about the next decade, because most of these near-term economic effects must involve existing technologies and improvements to them.

Google Cloud VP: "Cyber attacks are psychological warfare"

Adiel Eithan Mustaki

The conversation with Sandra Joyce, vice president at Google Cloud and head of Mandiant Intelligence at Google, takes place two hours after the release of the report by the Israeli cybersecurity giant Check Point that revealed that the amount of Iranian cyber attacks against Israel has doubled since October 7.

Joyce's job is to assess the risks and threats in the world of cyber and information security in order to know which threats Israel needs to watch out for. According to Joyce, the challenge is not only dealing with the direct consequences of the cyber attacks, but also with the attacks' ability to undermine public trust in the country and the attempt to dismantle social cohesion through fake accounts on social networks.

Do we have reason to fear the increase in Iranian attacks since October 7?

"Even before October 7, Iran acted extensively against Israel in the cyber field, as well as against other countries. We also saw attacks by Hamas. So even before the war, for years, there was a challenging environment in terms of cybersecurity in Israel. On the other hand, another thing we saw that was interesting is that after October 7, many groups from Iran carried out relatively simple attacks and actions, such as defacement of a website for a limited period, and then claim that they were able to gain access to databases and data and publicize the damage in a much more significant way than what actually happened. There is a sort of "information operation", part of which is also directed at Israel. I think this is the interesting area - this intersection between the goals and capabilities of cyber attacks and the information operation."

23 May 2024

Increased Reliance On Russia And Commitments To China Driving Uzbekistan’s Gas Imports – Analysis

Yunis Sharifli

Since 2022, Uzbekistan has faced an energy shortage with significant political and economic consequences. Despite its gas reserves, the country has transitioned from an energy exporter to an energy importer. A terminal decline in domestic gas production and a lack of significant discoveries of new deposits, coupled with aging infrastructure, have led to the energy shortages, particularly in the winters of 2022 and 2023 (Interfax, February 22; Daryo, March 27).

Cogeneration plants running on gas produce almost 85 percent of Uzbekistan’s electricity. In this regard, the gas shortages and growing electricity crisis have forced thousands of industrial workers into temporary layoffs and fueled public discontent (Eurasianet, December 9, 2022; CABAR.asia, January 1, 2023; see EDM, April 18, 2023). The gas shortage in Uzbekistan could lead to further discontent in the population’s future, and Tashkent’s growing alliance with Moscow may play a role in the tense geopolitical environment in the region.

In Tashkent alone, approximately 6,000 wholesale gas customers were disconnected from the national gas network, and 120 out of 584 neighborhoods experienced frequent and prolonged power and gas outages during the winter of 2023 (Eurasianet, January 16, 2023). The government has adopted a multi-pronged strategy to address the growing energy crisis, including importing gas from various countries, including Russia and Turkmenistan. Uzbekistan’s share of imported gas rose from $50.4 million in 2020 to $695 million in 2023, reflecting a growing reliance on external sources to meet domestic demand (Daryo, March 27).

Al Qaeda: Background, Current Status, And US Policy – Analysis

Clayton Thomas and Abigail G. Martin

Al Qaeda (AQ, alt. Al Qaida or Al Qa’eda) is a transnational Sunni Islamist terrorist organization with a network of affiliates. The group rose to global prominence after perpetrating the September 11, 2001 attacks (9/11) in the United States. Since then, sustained counterterrorism (CT) efforts by the United States and its partners have weakened the group, particularly in its historic base in Afghanistan.

For several years, U.S. officials and international observers have characterized the AQ threat as stemming mainly from the group’s affiliates in Yemen and Africa. The 2024 Annual Threat Assessment (ATA) of the U.S. Intelligence Community described Africa as the “center of gravity in the Sunni global jihad,” although it did not characterize affiliates there as posing a direct threat to the U.S. homeland. U.S. policy efforts, as directed and overseen by Congress, to counter Al Qaeda have included military action, foreign partnerships, sanctions, and law enforcement activities.

Background

In 1988, Osama bin Laden established Al Qaeda from a network of Arab and other foreign veterans of the U.S.- backed Afghan insurgency against the Soviet Union, with the aim of supporting Islamist causes in conflicts around the world. After the 1991 Gulf War, citing opposition to Saudi Arabia’s decision to host U.S. troops and other grievances, the group made the United States its primary target. Bin Laden left his native Saudi Arabia that year for Sudan, until the Taliban took power in Afghanistan in 1996 and offered refuge to AQ members and other armed Islamists.

Can New UN Envoy Avoid Past Mediation Failures In Myanmar? – Analysis

Nicola Williams

Australia’s former foreign minister Julie Bishop takes on a challenging role as the recently appointed UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on Myanmar. To avoid joining the high-level graveyard of UN envoys, diplomats and ASEAN leaders who have tried and failed to negotiate with the junta, she must remember the lessons learnt from over a decade of international peacebuilding and failed mediation efforts.

Bishop should avoid advocating for high-level track-one negotiations to solve Myanmar’s civil war. There is no bargaining range for talks between the junta and the broad resistance, as both sides seek decisive military outcomes and have entirely different visions for the country. Considering Myanmar’s experience with multi-stakeholder peace negotiations with the junta involved, this approach is unviable, even in more ‘ripe’ times for bargains. Track-one negotiations are generally only feasible at the tail end of many track-two peace processes across multiple years and different issues or, potentially, for a victor’s peace when the military is significantly weakened.

Focussing on the subnational conflicts within Myanmar’s national conflict and ethnic relationships within the broad federal democracy movement embedded within the resistance will be more effective. This could involve looking at contests over territory and identities in the hotly contested Shan State and workshopping what the federalism puzzle could look like in one of Myanmar’s most complex ethnic landscapes. The approach may also tackle challenges among political stakeholders with legitimacy claims and ‘turf’ contests. In any strategy, it is wise to go bottom-up rather than top-down.

Sino-Russian Entente Shifts Tectonic Plates Of World Politics – OpEd

M.K. Bhadrakumar

The state visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin to China underscored that the two superpowers’ choice of entente-type alignment has gained traction. It falls short of explicit military obligations of support and yet will not entirely rule out military support either. By embracing a form of strategic ambiguity, it provides them the optimal means to address the common threat they face from the United States via the prism of collective action while preserving the autonomy for independent action to pursue specific interests.

The epochal significance of the talks in Beijing lies in that the bedrock of strategic understanding accruing steadily to the modelling effort of the Russia-China entente has evolved into a more effective alignment choice than a formal alliance to balance against the US’ dual containment strategy.

The entente permits both Russia and China to strike the middle ground between entrapment and deterrence. At the same time, the strategic ambiguity inherent in these two seemingly self-contradictory goals of an entente is expected to be a key component of its success as an alignment strategy.

As Taiwan’s new president takes office, report warns of cyber side of China’s ‘long-term’ strategy

COLIN CLARK

Within hours of Taiwan’s new president taking office Monday, China began a social media and propaganda effort to convince the Taiwanese people and Taiwan’s supporters that any efforts to become independent would, in the words of the foreign minister, “pose the most serious challenge to the international order, the most dangerous change to the status quo in the Taiwan Straits, and the most significant disruption to peace in the Straits.”

The public offensive could be followed shortly, however, by more subtle manners of persuasion and interference, including the covert and widespread use of cyber tools against individuals, companies, the military and government organizations seen to be pushing independence, if recent history recounted in a new report from US defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton is any indication.

The report, titled “How to Succeed at Annexation Without Really Trying: The PRC’s Taiwan Cyber Strategy Explained” and published earlier this month, analyzes the online arm of China’s quest to control Taiwan. And while the report said that China is unlikely to use cyber alone to win against Taiwan, one of the report’s authors described it Friday to Breaking Defense as a “critical tool in the PRC [People’s Republic of China] strategy.”

Symbolic Western Sanctions Will Not Change Iran’s Behavior – OpEd

Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami

The EU and the Australian government last week announced new sanctions that aim to pursue the Western policy of changing the behavior of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Their respective announcements were part of a calibrated political strategy to counter Iran’s destabilizing activities in the Middle East and Europe. These sanctions are a sign of the deteriorating Iranian-Western relations in the context of the Red Sea crisis, the Israel-Gaza war and Iranian support to the Russian war effort against Ukraine.

These sanctions are different from previous ones because they could be a sign that, if Iran does not change its regional strategy, Europe could designate the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization. The trigger of such a designation could be an increase in tensions in the Middle East and military escalation between Iran and Western-based military forces in the region. Another potential factor behind these sanctions could be the rise of Iranian military support to Russian forces, especially the delivery of missiles that could hit European soil.

If Europe decides to put the IRGC on its sanctions list, the implications could be the closure of European member states’ respective embassies in Tehran and a rise in the number of EU nationals imprisoned in Iran. There are currently a dozen EU citizens in jail in Iran, including four French nationals and Johan Floderus, a Swedish national who is an employee of the European External Action Service.

Russia Begins ‘Non-Strategic’ Nuclear Weapons Drills Near Ukraine Border


Russia has begun “practical training in the preparation and use of non-strategic nuclear weapons,” its Defense Ministry said Tuesday.

Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the drills earlier this month in “response to provocative statements and threats by Western officials,” the ministry said.

French President Emmanuel Macron has said NATO should not rule out deploying troops to Ukraine, while British Foreign Minister David Cameron has said Ukraine has the right to fire Western missiles into Russian territory.

The drills are being conducted in Russia’s southern military district, which borders Ukraine and also includes parts of Ukraine that Russia claims it has annexed.

The Russian defense ministry said the training is designed to test “the readiness of personnel and equipment of non-strategic nuclear weapons combat units to respond and to unconditionally ensure the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the Russian state.”

It was not immediately clear if any test firings have occurred.

The West has accused Putin of irresponsible nuclear saber-rattling.

Brass Tacks: Why Russia’s Military Fails To Reform – Analysis

Kirill Shamiev

“On a freezing winter dawn, a column of Russian troops moved through what the leadership in Moscow considered to be Russian territory. By midday, commanders were receiving alarming reports. In one town at the border, local fighters had stopped the column and burned and overturned 16 trucks. Later, another convoy was ambushed. Heavy casualties began to appear in the reports of military commanders. Soon, a special military operation that was supposed to be small and aimed at crushing an unfriendly political leadership turned into a long, bloody war with thousands of casualties that would change the Russian nation for years to come.”[1]

This story sounds remarkably familiar. But it is not from an early memoir of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It is how Russian general Gennady Troshev described the beginning of the first Chechen war in December 1994.

But past is apparently prologue. In 2022, Russian forces invaded Ukraine, a country that Russian president Vladimir Putin often implies is part of Russia. The plan was for the Russian military, supported by Russian intelligence agents, to quickly decapitate the government and occupy the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv. Within hours of crossing the frontier, the first reports of military setbacks and casualties began to roll in. In just a few days, it became clear that the most recent special military operation would in fact be yet another long, bloody war.

The Risk To America’s AI Dominance Is Algorithmic Stagnation – Analysis

Vincent Carchidi

Imagine an artificial intelligence (AI) application that you can meaningfully communicate with during moments of careful deliberation. I do not mean the mimicry of communication popularized by chatbots powered by Large Language Models (LLMs), most recently embodied in OpenAI’s GPT-4o. I envision an AI model that can productively engage with specialized literature, extract and re-formulate key ideas, and engage in a meaningful back-and-forth with a human expert. One easily imagines the applicability of such a model in domains like medical research. Yet, the machine learning systems that have captured the world’s attention—generative AIs like ChatGPT, Gemini, and Claude—lack the intellectual resources and autonomy necessary to support such applications. Our lofty AI vision remains a matter of science fiction—for now.

The drive to master AI in geopolitics is undeterred by this reality. Indeed, the geopolitical “scramble” for AI triggered in 2023—represented by states as diverse as Britain, France, Germany, India, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, the United States, and China—was undoubtedly sparked by generative AI and machine learning more broadly. However, some corners of the AI world conceive of machine learning as merely the current stage of state-of-the-art AI—but not its final stage.


FAS's Report on Russian Nuclear Weapons: Flaws and Fallacies

Mark B. Schneider

Introduction

The Federation of American Scientists (FAS) is an American think tank that advocates for what it calls “minimal deterrence.” It does not support the U.S. strategic nuclear triad or non-strategic nuclear weapons and calls for the complete elimination of the U.S. ballistic missile submarine force.[1] Correspondingly, it has an apparent tendency to downplay the size and significance of the Russian nuclear arsenal. In the absence of detailed U.S. government information since the end of the Cold War on the Russian nuclear threat, the latest FAS report on Russia’s nuclear weapons receives considerable attention; much of the global media regard it as authoritative on Russian nuclear warhead numbers, a status it does not deserve.[2]

The annual FAS report is the product of a great deal of research. Much of it is accurate, but on the critical question of the number of Russian nuclear weapons, it provides almost no sourcing for its numerous numbers.[3] It is possible that Russia has 5,580 nuclear weapons, as FAS assesses, but it is also possible that Russia has at least twice that number.[4] For example, in 2020, noted Russian journalist Pavel Felgenhauer wrote that, “Indeed, taking into account non-strategic (tactical) nuclear weapons, which no one has ever verifiably counted, Russia may have more (maybe twice as many overall) than all the other official or unofficial nuclear powers taken together.”[5]

Since 2020, the FAS estimate of the number of Russian nuclear weapons has declined from 5,977 to 5,580.[6] However, no evidence for this decline is cited. Indeed, the Biden Administration has repeatedly said that the number of Russian nuclear weapons is increasing.[7]

Ukraine War Maps Show Russian Advances in 10 Frontline Locations

Brendan Cole

Russian forces have advanced along the front line near settlements in three regions, according to a Ukrainian open-source project, as maps show the latest state of play in the war.

Moscow's forces have been gaining momentum in Vladimir Putin's full-scale invasion in recent weeks, launching a push on May 10 in Ukraine's northeastern Kharkiv region bordering Russia, helped in part by Ukrainian ammunition and equipment shortages.

While Ukraine's General Staff described the situation at the front on Sunday as "tense, but under control" Telegram channel Deep State noted Russian advances toward a total of 10 villages, two in Kharkiv Oblast and others in the Donetsk and Zaporizhzhia regions.

Its live map showed the extent of the push toward Robotyne and Verbove in the Zaporizhzhia region as well as six villages in the Donetsk region.

Army leader dismisses House proposal for drone branch creation

ASHLEY ROQUE

House lawmakers are poised to vote next week on a measure establishing a US Army drone branch, but Army Undersecretary Gabe Camarillo said such a creation isn’t warranted right now and could hamstring service plans.

“It’s an area of specialization that probably isn’t necessarily warranted at this time,” Camarillo told reporters after a Center for a New American Security event today.

“Operating and defending against the drone threat,” he later added, “is something that will be experienced by, you know, all formations at multiple echelons.”

Camarillo’s comments come just days before members of the House Armed Services Committee are slated to mark up the fiscal 2025 defense authorization bill. Ahead of the marathon event, this week Chairman Mike Rogers released a package of changes likely to be included in the bill, including a provision for the Army to establish “Drone Corps as a basic branch.”

Reflections on Revolutions

Max J. Prowant

For the past few years, pundits and policymakers have made a living explaining why we are at the end times. With the left regularly predicting the end of liberal democracy and the right of moral virtue, we are living in an age that is pessimistic at best, reckless and dangerous at worst. Amid the hysterics, Fareed Zakaria may be the most influential voice that has consistently urged calm in the face of large-scale change. His new book, Age of Revolutions: Progress and Backlash from 1600 to the Present, offers a powerful defense of liberalism’s achievements and a caution to revolutionaries that Edmund Burke himself would endorse. The logic of Zakaria’s defense, however, devolves into an identification of liberalism with “progress” in such a way that appeals to salutary checks on liberalism are treated as reactionary and dangerous. His argument, accordingly, should be taken with some caution.

According to Zakaria, we are living in a revolutionary age, both in our domestic politics and in the world at large. Domestically, the traditional left-right divide is changing. For decades, the dividing line between left and right was economic in nature; conservatives wanted tax cuts, deregulation, and a smaller federal government whereas liberals wanted to preserve and expand a host of entitlement programs. Both, however, operated within a broad liberal framework that located the ends of government in the protection of individual rights. That is no longer the case. The divide now concerns the “open” versus “closed” societies where moral and ideational issues are more determinant of a person’s vote than tax cuts and spending. Internationally we are seeing a similar “revolution” against the US-backed liberal order uniting the world through free trade, collective action, and easy immigration. This revolution, led by an array of demagogues and populists, prefers tighter borders and national identity instead of globalism.

Demography: The ticking time bomb threatening Europe’s democrac

MATTHEW MACWILLIAMS

In Europe, democracy is conceived of as a fundamental value that enjoys broad, unwavering public support across the Continent. As such, the far-right wave predicted to make landfall during next month’s European election is seen as no more than a transitory political phenomena. Surely, European democracy will persist and persevere over time.

But this fairy-tale ending, the story of the inevitability of democracy in Europe, is as comforting as it is dead wrong.

Data from numerous surveys show that consistent support for democracy across Europe is already quite low. And if demography is destiny, it looks like public support for democracy will continue to fall, with Europe possibly reaching an inflection point where nondemocratic forms of government not only take root but flourish.

How do we know this?

According to the Open Society Foundation’s 2023 global poll, which Comms Hub advised on and analyzed in Europe, only 38 percent of Germans aged 18 and up are consistent supporters of democracy. In France, the number stands at a paltry 27 percent, while Italy and Poland clock in at less than 45 percent.

Gaza and Elections, continued

AYAAN HIRSI ALI

My friend and I wrote recently about how the Gaza war may end up costing Joe Biden re-election. Against this backdrop moderate Democrats should look with concern at Britain’s local elections on May 2nd, when their sister Labour Party suffered heavy losses among Muslim voters across the country. Islamist voters give left-wing parties a choice: Join us in trying to destroy Israel, or risk losing. The Labour leaders’ present priorities and those of the Islamist voters are irreconcilable.

Hundreds of local councils, mayoral positions, and police commissionerships were up for grabs, with the opposition Labour Party scoring a number of key victories at the expense of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s Conservative Party. This is just the latest sign that the Conservatives (or “Tories”) are heading for a heavy defeat at the next yet-to-be-announced UK General Election.

Despite these advances, Labour lost a lot of votes in areas with large Muslim populations, with the Guardian reporting that the party's vote was down 17.9% in areas where more than a fifth of people identified as Muslim. In areas that are majority Muslim, ITV’s analysis found that Labour lost fully 33% of their previous vote share. In the most heavily Muslim-populated wards of all (those with over 70% Muslim population share), Labour lost a whopping 39 percentage points. The falling Muslim support is a direct response to how Labour’s leader, Sir Keir Starmer, reacted to Israel's war against Hamas in Gaza. These votes are not usually going to the Tories, but to smaller parties Islamists can control.

Why Won’t Biden Let Ukraine Hit Russia Back with US Weapons?

Hal Brands

Ukraine’s fate is no longer hostage to neo-isolationists in the US Congress. But its fortunes are still at their lowest ebb since the desperate days after the initial Russian invasion in early 2022.

Case in point: the new Russian thrust toward Kharkiv. That assault probably won’t conquer Ukraine’s second-largest city. But it demonstrates the price that Ukraine is paying for America’s — and its own — tardiness in girding for this moment. And it underscores the inanity of US restrictions that keep Kyiv from taking the fight to Russia on its own soil.

There have been sharp swings on the battlefield around Kharkiv, in Ukraine’s northeast. The Russians tried and failed to conquer the city during the early going in 2022, although they did get close enough to pummel parts of it with artillery. Months later, a Ukrainian counteroffensive routed Russian forces from the region. But now the Russians are back, and they are driving hard against Ukraine’s understrength defenses.

Fortunately for Ukraine, the force that Russian President Vladimir Putin has committed — between 30,000 and 50,000 personnel — is probably insufficient to take the city. This attack seems aimed at lesser, but still important, objectives.

Ukraine May Soon Have to Sue for Peace | Opinion

Dan Perry

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky's term runs out today, May 20. While the war with Russia has enabled a quiet extension, it is a fitting moment to take stock of a catastrophe that has been overshadowed by the Gaza war but whose associated risks are far higher.

Support for Ukraine has become a divisive political issue in the United States, as it seems almost anything important will—and so many people are emotional about it. But a sober analysis suggests Ukraine may soon have to seek a deal with Russia.

At a London conference I attended this weekend on geopolitics, quite senior U.S. and European officials and analysts divided along two clear narratives.

The first is that Russian President Vladimir Putin is a dictator, a Soviet nostalgist and an imperialist with a potentially Hitlerian bent which, if appeased, would whet an appetite that would soon turn to Moldova, the Baltics and perhaps even Poland.

A Government Shakeup in Moscow

George Friedman

The Russian government announced last week a massive shakeup of its senior staff. Several ministers in civilian sectors such as energy, agriculture, industry and trade, and transportation were relieved of their positions, but the most notable departure was Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, who was replaced by Andrei Belousov, a former assistant to Vladimir Putin and a former minister of economic development. Putin has insisted that Shoigu, the architect of the war in Ukraine, will still be involved in military affairs, and his appointment as secretary of the Security Council is perhaps a testament to the president’s sincerity.

Indeed, there is little reason to believe this is some kind of Stalinist purge. Putin has made every effort to dismiss the idea that the team that managed the war failed. Recent government statements suggest that Putin needs a better balance of military and economic affairs, so installing a former economic development minister to the top defense post makes sense in this regard. Even so, we would be remiss if we neglected to mention reports that one senior Defense Ministry official was arrested and charged with corruption. Whether this is a single event or the beginning of more arrests (or worse) is yet unknown.

The Gantz Ultimatum

MICHAEL DORAN

On Saturday night, the leader of Israel’s National Unity party ushered in a new era of national disunity. Benny Gantz, who joined the Israeli government shortly after the Oct. 7 attacks, gave Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu an ultimatum: either he formulates a war strategy that will remake the diplomatic landscape of the Middle East, or else Gantz will resign. This performance, hardly calculated to build a national consensus, laid the predicate for a speedy defection from the government and the beginning of a campaign to topple Netanyahu. While Gantz’s resignation, when it comes, will not bring an immediate end to this government, it will place the coalition under strain, and may well make early elections more likely.

After having attempted to defeat Benjamin Netanyahu in five rounds of elections between 2019 and 2022, Gantz heeded calls from the Israeli public to put aside political feuds. He joined the government, sparking the creation of a special war cabinet, which, in addition to him, consists of Netanyahu, Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant, and three observers. While decisions of the war cabinet are not constitutionally binding, they carry moral authority. Gantz’s presence reassures the Israeli public—and foreign friends—that policy serves the national interest. From now on, however, the government’s decisions will be open to the accusation that they serve the prime minister’s narrow interests.

In fact, Gantz was already making the case on Saturday night. “A small minority took over the bridge of the Israeli ship, and is sailing it toward a wall of rocks,” Gantz asserted, as if he himself had not been present on the bridge throughout the war.

Israel’s Catch-22 in Rafah

Seth J. Frantzman

Israel’s military campaign in Gaza is grinding on after seven months of fighting Hamas. Since the October 7 attack, Israel has faced not only threats from Hamas in Gaza but also increasing attacks from Iranian-backed proxy forces in the region, such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis in the Red Sea. As Israel approaches its eighth month of war, it is now clear that defeating Hamas in Gaza has become much more challenging than other counter-terrorism campaigns, such as the Iraqi defeat of ISIS in Mosul in 2017. Israel now faces hard choices in Gaza as to what will come next.

The war in Gaza went through several phases. It began with a bombing campaign followed by a ground offensive on October 27. An initial intense campaign in northern Gaza led to 1.7 million Gazans fleeing and saw Israeli tanks and infantry sweeping through dense urban areas. The initial intense phase of fighting, which saw large Hamas concentrations eliminated in northern Gaza, quickly gave way to less intense fighting and more raids by special forces. The shift to lower-intensity fighting in December and January came amid U.S. pressure on Israel but also for operational reasons. The IDF had called up 300,000 reserve soldiers in October after the Hamas attack, and they couldn’t be kept at the front forever.