23 January 2024

An Israeli airstrike on the Syrian capital killed at least 5 Iranian advisers, officials say


An Israeli strike on the Syrian capital on Saturday destroyed a building used by the Iranian paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, killing at least five Iranians, Syrian and Iranian state media reported.

The Syrian army said the building in the tightly guarded western Damascus neighborhood of Mazzeh was entirely destroyed, adding that the Israeli air force fired the missiles while flying over Syria’s Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. The Israeli military did not comment.

A few hours later, an Israeli drone strike on a car near the southern Lebanese port city of Tyre killed two people, including a Hezbollah member, who were in the vehicle and two people who were in a nearby orchard, an official with the group and Lebanon’s state news agency said. One of those killed was Ali Hudruj, a local Hezbollah commander, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations, without giving further details.

Nour News, which is believed to be close to Iran’s intelligence apparatus, identified two of the dead in Damascus as Gen. Sadegh Omidzadeh, the intelligence deputy of the guard’s expeditionary Quds Force in Syria, and his deputy, who goes by the nom de guerre Hajj Gholam. The guard later issued statements identifying the five dead as Hojjatollah Omidvar, Ali Aghazadeh, Hossein Mohammadi, Saeed Karimi and Mohammad Amin Samadi. It gave no ranks for them. The difference in information could not be immediately reconciled.

An opposition war monitor, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said at least six people — five Iranians and a Syrian — were killed in the missile attack that struck while officials from Iran-backed groups were holding a meeting. The Observatory’s chief, Rami Abdurrahman, said three of the Iranians were commanders, adding that four other people are still missing under the rubble.

The Telegram channel for Iranian state TV reported that Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi condemned the Israeli attack on Damascus, adding that “the Islamic Republic will not leave the crimes of the Zionist regime unanswered.”

China Builds Spy Stations in Mountains on Disputed Border

Aadil Brar

China has been building new radar and electronic warfare facilities in the mountains along its long, disputed border with India, recent satellite imagery revealed.

An expansive radome—a structure housing radar and other signals intelligence equipment—is under construction at Lake Mansarovar in its southwestern Tibet region, according to stills captured this month.

The facility appeared to be equipped with dedicated solar arrays to ensure a sustained power supply, photographs from Sinergise's Sentinel Hub website showed. The service hosts images from the Sentinel-2 satellite of the European Union's Copernicus Earth observation program.

New electronic warfare facilities can be seen coming up near Lake Mansarovar, located in China's southwestern Tibet region, as seen in satellite imagery captured on January 8, 2024. China and India are quietly constructing permanent infrastructure in sensitive border areas.

China and India have been locked in an escalated military standoff for nearly four years since a deadly border clash in the summer of 2020, itself a result of their decades-long unsettled Himalayan boundary.

The buildup of military infrastructure is thought to be part of the People's Liberation Army's broader strategy of enhancing its intelligence gathering and electronic warfare capabilities, with both forces deployed in the mountainous regions throughout the year.

In a report last September, Kartik Bommakanti, a senior fellow with the Observer Research Foundation think tank in New Delhi, described the PLA's electronic warfare regiment as multifaceted, capable of electromagnetic attacks and jamming, long-distance electronic surveillance, as well as cyber operations and communications near the border.

India-Europe Ties At Tipping Point – OpEd

Andrew Hammond

UK Prime Minister Winston Churchill famously described Russia during the Second World War as a “riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” Yet, fast forward almost a century later and similar sentiments are felt today toward India by many Europeans.

The relationship between Europe and the world’s most populous democracy is a tantalizing mix of complexity, ambiguity, frustration and wonder too. This was encapsulated in a report released this month by the European Parliament, which rightly asserted “the partnership has not yet reached its full potential,” despite momentum in recent years. This viewpoint is widely shared across the continent with, for instance, a report by the Jacques Delors Institute in France recently stating that “EU-India economic relations are well below their potential.”

To be sure, perceptions of New Delhi have changed dramatically across much of the bloc in recent decades. Back then, India was aligned with the Soviet Union and was a protectionist economy moving away from the colonial era. Much of Europe therefore had a remote relationship with the Asian giant.

Today, however, India is a €3 trillion ($3.3 trillion) economy with vast potential. It is also increasingly aligned with Europe and the wider West, despite disagreements over key issues including Ukraine.

'A Disaster': India’s Arjun Tank Took Decades to Build

Maya Carlin 

Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine has highlighted the significant role main battle tanks (MBTs) can play in modern warfare.

Moscow has had to turn to its antiquated stockpile of Soviet-era tanks to aid its offensive efforts, while Kyiv is relying on upcoming shipments of advanced Western armored vehicles to bolster its defense.

Russia is not the only nation to continue to sport aging MBTs in its armored corps. India currently operates just under 2,000 specialized Soviet-designed T-72 tanks, which first entered service with the country in the early 1980s. For more than five decades, however, India has struggled to produce its own domestic MBT - the Arjun.

Due to a series of logistical delays and design issues, the homegrown MBT continues to face extreme technical issues rendering more than three-quarters of these units completely non-operational.

A brief history of the Arjun tank:

The third-generation MBT was initially developed by the Combat Vehicles Research and Development Establishment for the Indian Army. Following the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971, New Delhi desired a new main battle tank that could elevate its armored corps.

Over the next few years, CVRDE was created and tasked with overseeing the development of the new indigenous armored vehicle. While the first prototype was delivered in 1989, the Indian Army found major defects in the first batches of produced tanks up until the mid-1990s.

Designed to primarily feature Indian components, the Arjun’s developers were tasked with designing the tank’s hull, armor, turret, and running gear. India’s manufacturing capabilities were just not up to the task at the time, further delaying the Arjun’s production. Roughly 25 percent -30 percent of the tank’s components are imported.

Regional Opinion Urges Iran-Pakistan Amity – OpEd

M.K. Bhadrakumar

Unsurprisingly, the eruption of tensions in the Pakistan-Iran diplomatic ties on Tuesday following Tehran’s air strike across the border against Baluchistan is subsiding, which testifies to the political maturity of the two countries. Neither side wants the tensions and both are astute observers of the regional and international environment. Their chosen path of reconciliation becomes a model for other regional states in Central Asia, South Asia and West Asia.

Iran and Pakistan have a troubled history of relations, which bear similarities with the Pakistan-India relationship in some ways, where too issues of national sovereignty and territorial integrity lie enmeshed with backlogs of history and culture and complicated by geopolitics.

At the root of it is the Baluchistan problem, the legacy of 1947 Partition and the unresolved nationality question and resulting alienation, real or imagined threat perceptions, deep-rooted deficiencies in governance and development that cannot be addressed through coercive methods of statecraft that come naturally to the ruling elites in our part of the world — and, indeed, external interference endemic to regions of strategic importance.

Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper carried an excellent write-up by a Baluchi writer giving a resume of Iran-Pakistan border tensions through the past several decades. To my mind, broadly, the historical space has two phases — the period upto the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran and the state of play thereafter.

Myanmar Military’s Air Superiority Slipping Away Amid Sanctions And Opposition Attacks – Analysis

Zachary Abuza

One of the most important setbacks for Myanmar’s military since an opposition alliance launched Operation 1027 last October has been the loss of three different aircraft: two jet trainers and an Mi-17 heavy-lift helicopter. An Mi-35 attack helicopter was also lost in 2023.

The Myanmar military should have total air superiority.

For the first two years of the conflict, the opposition National Unity Government’s (NUG) best air defense was doxing Air Force pilots – publishing their addresses, as part of an assassination campaign.

Gradually, the NUG’s People’s Defense Force militias began to erode the junta’s air superiority by effectively deploying armed drones.

Significantly, we’re now seeing Ethnic Resistance Organizations (EROs) begin to deploy air defenses, at a time when the junta has become even more dependent on air attacks. That increased tempo of operations requires more maintenance on overworked airframes.

These military junta losses matter for three reasons.

First, while not small by regional standards, the Myanmar Air Force (MAF) certainly does not have excess capacity. At the top end, it has some 31 SU-29s and four recently delivered SU-30s from Russia.

Confronting Digital Authoritarianism Through Digital Democracy: Lessons From Taiwan

Michael Caster

On January 13, the citizens of Taiwan took to the polls in a presidential election bombarded by the full coordinated force of information manipulation and influence operations directed by the People’s Republic of China. Disinformation spikes by some 40 percent ahead of elections in Taiwan, according to Billion Lee, the founder of Taiwan fact-checking organization Cofacts. Ahead of Saturday’s vote, this included coordinated inauthentic behavior spanning hundreds of Facebook profiles and cross-platform amplification of Beijing-backed disinformation from TikTok and YouTube, along with deepfakes and other AI-generated content.

Despite this, Taiwan elected Lai Ching-te of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), in a rebuke to the Kuomintang (KMT), the party seen as more friendly toward Beijing’s interests. This was certainly not the result China had been trying to game.

Now, especially ahead of a year of global elections, Taiwan may offer lessons in confronting digital authoritarianism’s influence through its practice of digital democracy.

Taiwan’s Digital Democracy

China has a history of foreign information manipulation and influence operations targeting Taiwan, from economic to political and diplomatic pressure, to cyber and cognitive warfare, and increasingly sophisticated disinformation operations. In fact, the most recent dataset from the Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) and Digital Society Project tracking foreign government manipulation of social media and disinformation among 202 countries from 2000-2021 showed Taiwan as the country most targeted globally by foreign disinformation operations, although it is not always possible to attribute the information threats directly to China.

Rather than succumb to malicious foreign manipulation and influence, Taiwan has sought to “promote co-creation from tensions and conflicts,” in the words of Digital Minister Audrey Tang, through a whole of society approach to digital democracy.

China Raises Private Hacker Army To Probe Foreign Governments

Aadil Brar

China has inadvertently raised a private army of hackers to help it discover vulnerabilities in overseas computer networks thanks to a cybersecurity law that makes it mandatory to first inform the Chinese government.

In July 2021, China's cyberspace watchdog, its public security ministry, and its industry ministry jointly published the Regulations on the Management of Network Product Security Vulnerabilities, which make Chinese companies report loopholes in their software or the products they use within 48 hours of discovery.

Under the rule, the Chinese state institutions issue rewards for finding the cybersecurity vulnerabilities in software that is often used by foreign governments, in what may be a subtle new form of state-backed cyber warfare. At the same time, China is promoting young cybersecurity engineers in a doubling of its efforts to probe foreign systems for areas the Chinese government can exploit.

The new law has effectively changed the landscape of online network security within China, according to cybersecurity analyst Dakota Cary, who last week told The Record podcast—run by cybersecurity company Recorded Futures—that any business operating within its borders must report coding flaws to the government before taking any further steps to address the vulnerability or make it known to the public.

Cary, who is a non-resident fellow at the Atlantic Council think tank's Global China Hub, believes the requirement has fostered both collaboration and competition among the agencies, leading to efforts to outperform each other. And in an evident shift from the earlier voluntary disclosures to China's cyberspace watchdog or its intelligence services, there is now rivalry in the structure of vulnerability databases, he said.

A "vulnerability" is a loophole in the written code of software or a website that can allow a hacker to remotely access a computer system. Major technology giants such as Google and Facebook pay so-called "white hat," or good faith, hackers to find these points, which have the potential to undermine software companies.

Will China Move Toward a ‘War-Driven’ Economy?

Kung Chan and He Jun

In the aftermath of the profound impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the surge in anti-globalization sentiments, and escalating geopolitical competition, the landscape of the global economy has undergone substantial transformations.

China, too, felt these shifts, distinct from the era of globalization. China’s private enterprises are grappling with escalating challenges in their operations. The business milieu is witnessing a persistent deterioration, prompting a discernible erosion of confidence in the future market.

Geopolitical factors have now instilled apprehensions among foreign enterprises contemplating investments in China. On one hand, concerns loom regarding potential sanctions and constraints from the Western world, while on the other, there is a palpable unease that China may respond disproportionately to Western actions, thereby exerting pressure on foreign investments.

Concurrently, ordinary consumers, influenced by unfavorable expectations concerning economic prospects, employment, income growth, and capital markets, find their confidence notably subdued, a trend reflected in China’s consumption and investment figures.

With all these factors in mind, the future trajectory of the Chinese economy has sparked diverse perspectives. Within the country itself, some have proposed that China is shifting toward a “war-driven economy.” According to such a view, Chinese investment strategies ought to align with this premise, with emphasis placed on the military industry, cutting-edge technologies, food security, supply and marketing cooperatives, large-scale community canteens, and low-end consumption. Conversely, promoting high-end consumption, large-city strategies, and individual wealth creation should be discouraged.

Washington Is Exaggerating China’s Military Budgets

William D. Hartung

The U.S. Congress has just reached a tentative agreement to appropriate $886 billion for the Defense Department and related work on nuclear weapons at the Energy Department, and if all goes as planned, the Biden administration will release its new budget request in early February. The central justification for this spending—which is at one of the highest levels since World War II—is China, which the Pentagon routinely refers to as the “pacing threat” driving U.S. strategy.

Assessing the potential military threat from China is an art, not a science. Information regarding the details—how much the Chinese are spending, how the funds are being spent, whether the technologies they are investing in will work as advertised, how long it will take to get from the research stage to workable systems, and how the military spending will trend over the next 10 to 15 years—is hard to come by due to both a lack of transparency and the inherent difficulties involved in predicting the pace of technological development.
But there is ample evidence to suggest that China hawks in the Pentagon and Congress are overstating China’s military capabilities while underplaying the value of dialogue and diplomacy in addressing the challenges that Beijing poses to the United States and its allies.

One key front in the debate on Pentagon spending is the controversy over how much China actually spends on its own military. There’s no debate that Chinese spending has substantially increased over the past two decades as its economy has skyrocketed. Yet the most recent analysis by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute—the standard source for global comparisons of military outlays—suggests that the United States still outspends China by a healthy margin of 3-to-1.

But the Heritage Foundation and other critics argue that the standard approach understates China’s military investments by a substantial margin, for two reasons. Firstly, official Chinese reporting omits key military-related activities, including a full accounting of research and development on new weapons systems and the cost of defense capabilities in space. Secondly, Chinese currency goes further than that of the United States due to cheaper costs for key inputs, including but not limited to personnel in the armed forces and the weapons industry.

Will China Move Toward a ‘War-Driven’ Economy?

Kung Chan and He Jun

In the aftermath of the profound impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the surge in anti-globalization sentiments, and escalating geopolitical competition, the landscape of the global economy has undergone substantial transformations.

China, too, felt these shifts, distinct from the era of globalization. China’s private enterprises are grappling with escalating challenges in their operations. The business milieu is witnessing a persistent deterioration, prompting a discernible erosion of confidence in the future market.

Geopolitical factors have now instilled apprehensions among foreign enterprises contemplating investments in China. On one hand, concerns loom regarding potential sanctions and constraints from the Western world, while on the other, there is a palpable unease that China may respond disproportionately to Western actions, thereby exerting pressure on foreign investments.

Concurrently, ordinary consumers, influenced by unfavorable expectations concerning economic prospects, employment, income growth, and capital markets, find their confidence notably subdued, a trend reflected in China’s consumption and investment figures.

With all these factors in mind, the future trajectory of the Chinese economy has sparked diverse perspectives. Within the country itself, some have proposed that China is shifting toward a “war-driven economy.” According to such a view, Chinese investment strategies ought to align with this premise, with emphasis placed on the military industry, cutting-edge technologies, food security, supply and marketing cooperatives, large-scale community canteens, and low-end consumption. Conversely, promoting high-end consumption, large-city strategies, and individual wealth creation should be discouraged.

However, the reality is that it is highly improbable for China to engage in actual warfare. Historically, a “war-driven” economy has proven incompatible with a thriving economy. If the focus is on war, the economy suffers, and vice versa. It should be kept in mind that a sustained state of preparedness for war, subordinating the economy to this objective, is not synonymous with normal defense investments.

The West Needs to Show It Values All Human Life

Mark Malloch-Brown

Many thousands of civilians have reportedly been killed. The number of people displaced from their homes is well into seven figures. Densely populated urban areas have been reduced to rubble. Supplies of electricity, food, and water have been cut off. Hospitals have come under attack. Many of those fleeing, injured, or dead are children.

Will the Houthis Target U.S. Troops in Djibouti Next?

Emily Milliken

The world is left wondering how the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen will respond to a series of devastating strikes on the group’s military assets.

On January 11, the United States and the United Kingdom launched over 100 precision-guided missiles at Houthi targets in Yemen in response to weeks of Houthi attacks on civilian and military vessels in the Red Sea and Bab el-Mandeb Strait. The strikes targeted more than sixty sites, including military bases in Sanaa and Taiz, a naval base in Hodeidah, and military sites in Hajjah. At least five Houthi fighters were killed in the operation. Over the next week, the United States and its partners conducted four more strikes on Houthi offensive capabilities.

While the attacks were meant to degrade the rebel group’s capabilities and act as a deterrent to future attacks, the Houthis have shown that they are still capable of conducting maritime attacks. In reality, the strikes will likely continue to embolden the Houthis and their other Iran-backed allies to ramp up their attacks against the United States, Israel, and their allies in the short term.

Shortly after the strike on the radar site, Houthi spokesperson Mohammed Abdulsalam said that the U.S. attack would not deter the group from targeting Israel-linked vessels. Another Houthi official claimed during a television interview with a Hezbollah-linked outlet that the group had developed a target list that included American bases in the region. Such a list could include U.S. bases in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait, or Syria.

And in true Houthi fashion, the threats were accompanied by a flurry of propaganda. For instance, the group released imagery showing its troops training on a Soviet-era T-80 tank, a Soviet-era Zu-23-2 autocannon, and an Iranian-made AM-50 Sayyad anti-material rifle. They also released videos of Houthi fighters practicing an October 7-style raid on a mock Israeli village, where they shot at posters of Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and simulated kidnapping Jewish men dressed in ultra-Orthodox garb.

Microsoft says Russian state-sponsored hackers spied on its executives

Zeba Siddiqui and Christopher Bing

Microsoft (MSFT.O), opens new tab said on Friday that a Russian state-sponsored group hacked into its corporate systems on Jan. 12 and stole some emails and documents from staff accounts.
The Russian group was able to access "a very small percentage" of Microsoft corporate email accounts, including members of its senior leadership team and employees in its cybersecurity, legal, and other functions, the company said.

Microsoft's threat research team routinely investigates nation-state hackers such as Russia's "Midnight Blizzard," who they say is responsible.
The company said its probe into the breach indicated the hackers were initially targeting Microsoft to learn what the technology giant knew about their operations.

The company said the hackers used a "password spray attack" starting in Nov. 2023 to breach a Microsoft platform. Hackers use this technique to infiltrate a company's systems by using the same compromised password against multiple related accounts.

The Russian Embassy in Washington and Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Microsoft said it investigated the incident and disrupted the malicious activity, blocking the group's access to its systems.

"This attack does highlight the continued risk posed to all organizations from well-resourced nation-state threat actors like Midnight Blizzard," the company said, noting that the attack was not the result of a specific vulnerability in it products or services.

"To date, there is no evidence that the threat actor had any access to customer environments, production systems, source code, or AI systems," a company blog reads.

Commander: Navy’s new Task Group 59.1 to usher unmanned systems into ‘operational realm’


BEIRUT — After the US Navy’s Task Force 59 identifies an unmanned system it wants to use in the Middle East, it’s up to one of the service’s newest Task Groups, 59.1, to bring that tech into the “operational realm” so it can be used in real-world ops, according to 59.1’s chief.

“[While] the intent of Task Force 59 has been to bring new systems, experiment [with] those systems and see the value in them, [bringing] valuable assets to the theater in this region will come under the realm of Task Group 59.1 and we will take them to the operational realm,” Lt. Luis Echeverria, the newly appointed commander of Task Group 59.1, told Breaking Defense in an interview today.

“We’re ultimately developing the next generation of sailors that will operate the hybrid fleet. The hybrid fleet in specific [includes] the manned and unmanned vessels integration and we’re showcasing that within [this] theater, but that is going to evolve Navy-wide,” he said.

Task Group 59.1 was commissioned on Jan. 3, and will focus on the “operational deployment of unmanned systems teamed with manned operators to bolster maritime security across the Middle East region,” according to a US Naval Forces Central Command announcement on Jan. 16. The group carries the nickname “The Pioneers”.

With a motto of “Unleashing the Power of Innovation,” 59.1 will operate throughout the area of operations for the Bahrain-based US 5th Fleet, encompassing the Arabian Gulf, the Gulf of Oman, the Gulf of Aden, the Arabian Sea, parts of the Indian Ocean and covering crucial sea trade bottlenecks like the straits Bab El Mandeb and Hurmuz and the Suez Canal.

“We are bringing budding, relevant technology to warfighters and doing it fast,” Capt. Colin Corridan, Task Force 59 commodore, said in the NAVCENT release. “Breaking the molds of the legacy acquisition model requires a level of connective tissue between industry partners and the end user operators, and 59.1 answers that bell. Our sailors will be there to ensure seamless integration of new tech introduced to operators while in theater.”

More Ukrainian Strategic Strikes


Today’s strikes against a Russian oil terminal in Bryansk, as well as in the Leningrad region, represents the continued maturing of Ukraine’s strategic strike campaign against Russia. These are the second and third such strikes in the past 48 hours, with another attack against a major Russian oil loading terminal in St Petersburg, on Thursday. As I explored in my first article on this topic nearly a year ago, long range strike has been an important strategic adaptation for the Ukrainians since the beginning of the Russian large-scale invasion nearly two years ago.

In theory, strategic adaptation should increase the strategic effectiveness of the institution undertaking innovation and organisational change. This is the case with Ukraine and its evolving ability to hit Russian targets at greater distance and with increased frequency. Ukraine has demonstrated an ability to undertake a systemic program of indigenous research, development and production, absorption of Western weapons (such as Storm Shadow and SCALP) as well as the application of Western doctrine for joint strike planning and execution.

The Ukrainian strike complex appears to be maturing just as it is needed most.

This year, Ukraine is likely to assume a strategically defensive posture. This is to its advantage. As I outlined in a recent War Shorts Commentary, positional warfare is Ukraine’s friend in 2024. It allows Ukraine the time to reconstitute its army, through training, equipment replacement and standardisation, rest and rotation, as well as potentially mobilising new troops and formations. It also permits time for rebuilding of Western defence industry, and the conservation of resources this year so they can be built up and then expended in 2025 offensives.

Finally, embracing positional warfare provides the breathing space for a reconsideration of Ukrainian and Western strategy for the war. As I wrote in a recent Foreign Affairs article, Western strategy must shift from resourcing the ‘defence of Ukraine’ to resourcing the ’defeat of Russia’. Without such a change in strategy and resources, it is difficult to see a resolution to this war that is both just and enduring for the Ukrainian people.

Heard in Davos: What we learned from the WEF in 2024

World leaders and business executives left the freezing temperatures of the Swiss mountain resort of Davos after a week of high-stakes meetings about key world issues.

Here's what we learned:


Gaza dominated the agenda of the World Economic Forum (WEF), but leaders failed to produce clear details on any practical pathway to Palestinian statehood, or a ceasefire between Israel and Gaza's Palestinian militant group Hamas.

The war is slowing down the economy of the entire region, said Qatar's finance minister. The head of the Palestine Investment Fund estimated at least $15 billion would be needed to rebuild houses in Gaza alone. Arab states said they would not fund reconstruction unless there was a lasting peace.

"We agree that regional peace includes peace for Israel, but that could only happen through peace for the Palestinians through a Palestinian state," Saudi foreign minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan told a WEF panel.


Attacks by Yemen's Iran-aligned Houthi group on ships in the Red Sea would drive the cost of goods from Asia to Europe much higher, logistics giant DP World said. CEOs at Davos said they were gaming out alternative supply routes. Yemen's vice president and Iran's foreign minister said the attacks would not stop until Israel ended the war in Gaza.

"If it's in the short term, tankers might be available ... But if it's longer term, it might be a problem," said Amin Nasser, CEO of oil giant Saudi Aramco.

The free world comes out swinging

John Ivison

As the Davos jet set arrived in the Swiss Alps earlier this week, the weather matched the mood: gloomy, with much to be gloomy about.

A barometer on global cooperation released by the World Economic Forum suggested that in almost every category – trade, innovation, health, and security – the picture is as turbulent as a brooding J.M.W. Turner seascape.

The study suggested cooperation is being eroded by conflict and competition from autocracies around the world. In the WEF’s Chief Economists Outlook, 56% of the respondents said they expect the global economy to weaken this year, in part because of geopolitical uncertainty.

Events in Ukraine, Gaza, and the Red Sea are precarious, and the Western response is half-hearted, appearing to confirm Russian President Vladimir Putin’s view that democracies are weak and hamstrung by the need to win votes.

Attendees in need of a pick-me-up may have lamented the decision not to repeat the experiment of micro-doses of mind-expanding magic mushrooms that were on offer last year.

Democracies strike back

Strangely though, the clouds cleared, literally and metaphorically, as the week progressed, and leader after leader took to the stage to proclaim their optimism about the world in 2024.

Maybe it is because Western politicians were in such close proximity to the new masters of the technology universe – AI pioneers like Open AI CEO Sam Altman – and their unshakeable confidence that we are on the cusp of a new era of tech-driven prosperity.

Maybe it’s because the global elite are simple people with simple tastes – the best of everything – and Davos is obliging them.

More Than 42,000 Russian Troops Killed In Ukraine Since Launch Of Full-Scale Invasion


(RFE/RL) — At least 42,284 Russian military personnel have been killed since the start of Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, according to research by journalists from Mediazona and the BBC Russian Service who have established the deceased soldiers’ identities.

The number includes 5,089 mobilized soldiers and 7,810 inmates recruited from Russian prisons, the two media organizations said.

The journalists from Mediazona and BBC Russian Service also established that out of the total, at least 3,053 were officers and 349 of them had ranks of lieutenant colonel or higher.

The journalists based their research on data from open sources such as obituaries in the media and messages on social networks by relatives of the victims.

A breakdown by Russian regions showed that most of the identified troops killed in action were from the Krasnodar region, 1,640, followed by the Sverdlovsk region with 1,449, Bashkortostan with 1,353, and Chelyabinsk, 1,191.

Russia’s capital, Moscow, lost at least 482 identified military personnel, while 480 deceased soldiers were from St. Petersburg, Russia’s second-largest city.

The Russian Defense Ministry does not disclose data on personnel losses and does not comment on figures reported by journalists.

Prioritizing health: The EPA must seize the opportunity to make our air cleaner


As the new year brings a renewed focus on staying healthy, resolutions of exercise and eating better can be accompanied by a third goal: breathing in cleaner air. A recent study shows that higher levels of fine particulate matter, an air pollutant, increases the risk of eight different heart-related diseases. Thankfully, this health goal does not require a gym membership.

Any day now, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is expected to announce updated air quality standards (NAAQS) to regulate this pollutant. While the EPA has been advised by the medical community to strengthen these standards to protect health, polluting industries are pushing back, saying the economic cost of clean air is “too high.”

Air pollution was responsible for 6.7 million deaths globally in 2019. Fine particulate matter increases the risk of several causes of death in the United States, including lung cancer, heart disease, and dementia, making it arguably one of our most dangerous public health threats.

So what really is the cost of improving our air?

As physicians, we do our best to treat patients with medications and lifestyle interventions, but really, it’s hopeless unless we clean up the air and the environment in which our patients live.

Fine particulate matter, also known as soot or PM2.5, causes inflammation inside the lungs, exacerbating the risk of asthma attacks and impairing lung development in children. Higher levels of exposure increases the risk of heart attacks, strokes and cognitive decline, as well as the risk of pregnancy complications.

Everyone is impacted by breathing in polluted air, but it is children, older adults, and pregnant women who are most at risk. This is why I, and health care providers across the country, are asking the EPA to strengthen the current standards of particulate matter air pollution to align with the consensus of the scientific community in protecting the health of our most vulnerable populations.

DragonFire: The British Military Wants Laser Weapons to Destroy Drones

Peter Suciu

DragonFire isn't the name of a new Game of Thrones spinoff, but it is possibly powerful enough that it could shoot down the mythical beasts from the hit series House of the Dragon. It is the new high-power laser weapon that is being developed to counter aerial targets, including drones.

The DragonFire also has a far greater range than the fire-breathing creatures of lore – able to strike a £1 coin from a distance of up to a kilometer away, the UK's Ministry of Defence (MoD) announced; but added that its official range remains classified. It is a line-of-sight laser-directed energy weapon (LDEW) that can still engage any visible target, including extremely small ones!

Tests of the platform have been underway at the MoD's Hebrides Range, located off the coast of Scotland.

In addition to its extreme accuracy, the platform can engage targets at the speed of light. In contrast, its intense beam of light can cut through the target, leading to structural failure or more impactful results – such as if an inbound missile's warhead is targeted.

The platform is also highly cost-effective compared to other air-defense systems

"Firing it for 10 seconds is the cost equivalent of using a regular heater for just an hour. Therefore, it has the potential to be a long-term low-cost alternative to certain tasks missiles currently carry out. The cost of operating the laser is typically less than £10 per shot," the MoD explained.The Royal Navy shared images of the recent test firing of the DragonFire on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, with the caption "Hit me with your laser beam... Scientists have successfully shot down drones with Dragonfire - the UK's first laser weapon, which could be fitted to future generations of warships to fend off air and drone attacks."

DragonFire: Counter Drones and Missiles

The development of LDEWs comes amid the increasing use of drones in warfare, which has been seen during the conflict between Ukraine and Russia, with Russia believed to be using Iranian-made "kamikaze" drones to attack Ukrainian cities.

The U.S. Navy Is All About Warfighting and Combat Readiness

James Holmes

It’s all “warfighting,” all the time, for the next four years while Admiral Lisa Franchetti, the newly installed chief of naval operations (CNO) or top-ranked U.S. naval officer, presides over the U.S. Navy. It seems Admiral Franchetti is a one-note instrument. Combat readiness is the note—and it’s the right note.

Last week Franchetti revealed her priorities for the navy while addressing the annual Surface Navy Association (SNA) National Symposium in Crystal City. Accompanying her remarks was a one-page précis titled “America’s Warfighting Navy.” In it, Franchetti pledges to “deliver decisive combat power,” focusing on physical capability; to “strengthen the navy team,” enriching the human element of maritime might through “world-class training and education” (warming the heart of this former trainer and current educator); and to “earn and reinforce the trust of the American people” in the institution’s ability to “field and maintain the world’s most powerful navy and the infrastructure that maintains it.”

Now, the days are gone when the chief of naval operations actually oversees naval operations, in the manner of Admiral Ernie King during World War II. King bestrode the service in all its dimensions. Nowadays a CNO’s job is to “man, train, and equip” the fleet, supplying battleworthy naval forces to regional combatant commanders. The CNO is a force provider, while regional commanders are the true executors of U.S. military strategy. Still, service chiefs are tone-setters, shaping the culture alongside their responsibility for matériel and human excellence. Battle-mindedness should be the default habit of mind, heart, and deed in the naval service. All else lies downstream from the service ethos. CNO Franchetti gets that.

And the rest? With apologies to Clint Eastwood, there’s little to condemn as ugly in Franchetti’s vision for the service. Goodness abounds here, while there are some bad aspects—or at least aspects open to question—to her vision.

First the good. Franchetti acknowledges that America’s post-Cold War holiday from history has ended. U.S. naval forces can no longer indulge the comforting assumption that they will operate, in the CNO’s words, “from a maritime sanctuary against competitors who cannot threaten us.” The tactical, operational, and strategic setting has turned hostile. She warns mariners, sotto voce, never again to delude themselves into believing that triumph in one conflict obviates their prime function—fighting peer foes for command of the sea—for all time.

Freedom on Trial

Paul J. Saunders

On January 20, 1994—thirty years ago today—Richard M. Nixon announced the creation of the Center for Peace and Freedom (later renamed the Center for the National Interest). “The communists,” Nixon said, “have lost the Cold War. But it is a mistake to say that the West has won it.”

What did he mean? This lifelong anti-communist explained that “now freedom is on trial. Can freedom provide those material things that people need and want … as well as the higher freedoms—freedom of the press, freedom of religion, freedom in all of its great and glorious aspects? That is the challenge we have today.”

Today, the United States continues to face this very challenge. In some respects, it appears even more daunting. And not only internationally, but—probably quite surprisingly to the former president, who expressed his optimism that freedom and technological progress would go far in dealing with problems like “inadequate health care and hunger”—domestically as well. Indeed, populist sentiments on the right and the left are the clearest possible indication that many Americans believe that their government has failed, or is failing, to ensure that free political systems (democracies) pass Nixon’s basic test. That many other such systems face the same predicament is a powerful warning.

In these few lines, Nixon expressed a fundamental and often forgotten aspect of America’s political system and the freedom and democracy the United States has sought to promote internationally. Freedom and democracy are means—not ends. People in America and around the world see that clearly; striving to meet their needs and wants, material and beyond, often largely defines their lives. Governments that fail to support them in this, whether free or not, risk public wrath. If they fail to do so over an extended period, their citizens question not merely the competence of specific personalities but the effectiveness and fairness of the political system itself. In the United States, Republican and Democratic political candidates have routinely attacked the American government on both points for quite some time without apparent concern for the fact that widespread loss of confidence in systems of government can (and does) have calamitous consequences. It turns out that Americans have been listening to them.

To Stop AI Killing Us All, First Regulate Deepfakes, Says Researcher Connor Leahy


It was 2019, and OpenAI’s GPT-2 had just come out. Leahy downloaded the nascent large language model to his laptop, and took it along to a hackathon at the Technical University of Munich, where he was studying. In a tiny, cramped room, sitting on a couch surrounded by four friends, he booted up the AI system. Even though it could barely string coherent sentences together, Leahy identified in GPT-2 something that had been missing from every other AI model up until that point. “I saw a spark of generality,” he says, before laughing in hindsight at how comparatively dumb GPT-2 appears today. “Now I can say this and not sound nuts. Back then, I sounded nuts.”

The experience changed his priorities. “I thought I had time for a whole normal career, family, stuff like that” he says. “That all fell away. Like, nope, the crunch time is now.”

Today, Leahy is the CEO of Conjecture, an AI safety company. With a long goatee and Messiah-like shoulder-length hair, he is also perhaps one of the most recognizable faces of the so-called “existential risk” crowd in the AI world, raising warnings that AI is on a trajectory where it could fast overwhelm humanity’s ability to control it. On Jan. 17, he spoke at a fringe event at the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, where global decisionmakers convene annually to discuss the risks facing the planet. Much of the attention at Davos this year has been on the spiraling conflict in the Middle East and worsening effects of climate change, but Leahy argues that risk from advanced AI should be discussed right at the top of the agenda. “We might have one year, two years, five years,” Leahy says of the risk from AI. “I don't think we have 10 years.”

Despite his warnings that the end is probably nigh, Leahy is not a defeatist. He came to Davos armed with both policy solutions and a political strategy. That strategy: focus first on outlawing deepfakes, or AI generated images that are now being used on a massive scale to create nonconsensual sexual imagery of mostly women and girls. Deepfakes, Leahy says, are a good first step because they are something nearly everyone can agree is bad. If politicians can get to grips with deepfakes, they might just stand a chance at wrestling with the risks posed by so-called AGI, or artificial general intelligence.

New Air Purifier Design With Innovative Foam Technology Promises Virus-Stopping Performance And Zero Waste

Researchers at the University of Bath have invented a new form of high-performance air purifier that promises zero harmful waste.

Key to the purifier and how it works is FOAM3R filter technology, patented by the University, which is described as a highly adaptable disruptor technology for microbial, CO2 and volatile organic compound (VOC) odour removal.

FOAM3R can be used to produce multi-functional foam structures for a wide range of applications, including aircraft cabins, in-car air filters, ship and boat cabins, residential heating, ventilation and air-conditioning, home air purifiers and respirator and breathing apparatus.

The innovative foam comprises of high temperature polymer and active media such as selective adsorbents to capture contaminants and antibacterial agents to combat microbes. It is mouldable and lightweight, energy-efficient and anti-bacterial, and the addition of active metals into the structure makes it 99.999% efficient in removing common bacteria and viruses.

It also boasts a tailorable composition that allows for targeted capture of a wide range of small to large VOCs – some of which are responsible for unpleasant smells, while others can be harmful to human health – and high-performance removal of CO2.

The home air purifier design, currently in the prototype stage, features two cylindrical columns of the FOAM3R material. During operation, one column is used to purify the air, while the other ‘regenerates’ for reuse through heating, restoring the foam’s sorbent properties.