25 January 2024

Hezbollah’s Exposed Position Following IDF Bombardment – Analysis

Jonathan Spyer

Israeli aircraft and artillery this week carried out what the Lebanese media described as the “densest bombardment of a single location” in southern Lebanon since the commencement of the current round of hostilities between Jerusalem and the Lebanese Hezbollah movement on October 8, 2023.

The targets were located in the area of Wadi Saluki, well known to Israelis as the site of a bloody battle in the last days of the 2006 war.

The bombardment of Wadi Saluki is the latest episode in the controlled but intense confrontation currently taking place on the northern border.

Civilians on the Border Affected

Civilians have largely left the area on both sides of the border. Approximately 86,00 Israelis have departed the border communities. Those who have stayed are in danger of being targeted by Hezbollah teams using anti-tank guided missiles.

On January 14, Mira and Barak Ayalon were killed in the northern village of Kfar Yuval, when Hezbollah launched an anti-tank guided missile (ATGM) at their home. Missiles were also fired at Misgav Am, Avivim, Yiron, Zarit, and Shomera during the week.

The deliberate targeting of civilians by Hezbollah is contrary to all laws of war, though little reference to it or condemnation of it may be found in the global media or from Western leaders. On the Lebanese side of the border, around 100,000 people have also left their homes in the wake of the fighting. Hezbollah has occupied many of the deserted houses.

The northern border area is today an active combat zone. About 170 Hezbollah fighters have been killed since October 8, along with 19 members of other terror groups, and 19 civilians, including three journalists. Israel has lost nine soldiers and six civilians.

The Greater Goal in Gaza

Marwan Muasher

As Israel’s war in Gaza enters its fourth month, an intensifying debate has unfolded about who should rule the territory when the fighting stops. Some have suggested an Arab force, a notion already rejected by Egypt, Jordan, and other Arab states. Others have proposed a reconstructed Palestinian authority, ignoring the fact that less than ten percent of Palestinians would support such an outcome, according to a recent Palestinian poll. Yet a third idea is to put Gaza under international control, an approach that has already been rejected by Israel, which does not want to set such a precedent.

But there is a larger reason these envisioned solutions are doomed to fail: they all treat Gaza in isolation, as if it can be addressed without regard to the broader issue of Palestinian statehood and self-determination. In this way of thinking, once Hamas is made to disappear and once the question of who rules Gaza is answered, there can be a return to the status quo ante. Both assumptions are fundamentally flawed, and any policy based on them will lead to disaster.

To be truly durable, a solution for the future of Gaza must be framed within a larger endgame for all Palestinians under Israeli control. It must finally address the root cause of unending violence: the Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem, Gaza, and the West Bank. Years of failed negotiations have also made clear what such a plan will require in order to succeed: unlike so many of its predecessors, it must be credible and time-bound, and the endgame itself must be well defined at the outset.

Establishing such a comprehensive process will require extraordinary effort. But the alternative is far worse. The current war has already led to the killing of huge numbers of civilians, the destruction of Gaza, the undermining of Israel’s security and international support, the creation of another 1.5 million Palestinian refugees, and the looming threat of a further mass transfer of Palestinians out of their ancestral lands. Any attempt to resolve the day-after problem by reverting to the old paradigms will simply invite these catastrophes to be repeated again.

Some Palestinians Want to Leave Gaza. Let Them.

Joshua Krug

Recently, I reached out to a prominent Palestinian activist to learn about his experiences in Gaza since the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel. He told me that his apartment had been destroyed, and that he lives in a tent with his family. They are under the near-constant threat of bombings, are often hungry, and are worried about starvation and sickness. He wants to leave the enclave—but right now, he can’t.

Several other Palestinians I’ve talked with also want to leave Gaza, and have also encountered closed borders. They of course want the violence to stop, and do not want to be permanently shut out. But above all, they want to be safe. (And I have withheld their names to protect their safety.)

An article in The Guardian this month featured a U.K.-based Palestinian who said his family members were killed in Israeli air strikes and echoed the above sentiments: “I’m not sure why no schemes have been introduced, nothing to evacuate people. I don’t even hear humanitarians talk about this any more.”

I am an American Jewish academic based in Germany, and I oppose the forced relocation of Palestinians from their land. Gaza is central to Palestinian history, and I would like people there to survive and thrive right where they are. Still, life—rather than land—should be the ultimate value, a simple fact often lost in the heated debates around the current conflict. I hear calls for a cease-fire and for the surrender of Hamas, but almost never for a safe path out of an active war zone. Palestinians deserve a state of their own, and the opportunity to take refuge outside a war zone rather than serve as martyrs for “the cause.”

About 2 million Palestinian civilians are trapped in Gaza. The enclave is surrounded by Israel, Egypt, and the Mediterranean Sea, and is subject to a blockade from all sides. The Rafah border crossing into the Sinai Peninsula would seem to be the most obvious way out, but Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi opposes letting in civilians on the grounds that this would undermine Palestinian aspirations for an independent state, breach Egypt’s sovereignty, and create security problems, potentially destabilizing the country. (Egypt has accepted a small number of Palestinians from Gaza in need of medical care, and some Palestinians have been able to leave the enclave by paying bribes.)

Why Iran Doesn’t Want a War

Reuel Marc Gerecht and Ray Takeyh

The war in Gaza has now gone where many feared it would, expanding into conflict in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and the Red Sea. With America’s repeated strikes against the Houthis in Yemen this month, fears of a larger regional conflagration are steadily growing.

Present in each of those arenas is Iran — and the question of whether Tehran and its powerful military will enter a wider war.

For years, Iran has provided funding, arms or training to Hamas and Hezbollah, which are fighting Israel, and to the Houthis, who have been attacking ships in the Red Sea. Iran has also launched its own strikes in recent days in retaliation for a deadly bombing earlier this month, claiming to target Israeli spy headquarters in Iraq and the Islamic State in Syria. It has also exchanged strikes with Pakistan across their shared border.

While Iran is clearly asserting its military strength amid the widening regional turmoil, that doesn’t mean its leaders want to be drawn into a wider war. They have said as much publicly, and perhaps more important, they have meticulously avoided taking direct military action against either Israel or the United States. The regime appears to be content for now to lean into its longtime strategy of proxy warfare: The groups they back are fighting Iran’s foes and so far, neither Israel nor the United States has signaled any interest in retaliating directly.

At the heart of Iran’s aversion to a major conflict are the domestic issues that have been preoccupying the regime. The elderly supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is seeking to secure his legacy — by overcoming political headwinds to install a like-minded successor, pursuing a nuclear weapon and ensuring the survival of the regime as an Islamist paladin dominating the Middle East — and that means not getting dragged into a wider war.

Ayatollah Khamenei’s government has been trying to keep his political opposition in check since 2022, when the Islamic Republic faced perhaps its most serious uprising since the revolution. The death of Mahsa Amini in the custody of the morality police tapped into widespread frustration with the country’s leaders and triggered a national movement explicitly intent on toppling the theocracy. Using brutal methods, the mullahs’ security forces regained the streets and schools, well aware that even unorganized protests can become a threat to the regime. Iran is also facing an economic crisis because of corruption, chronic fiscal mismanagement and sanctions imposed because of its nuclear infractions.

Indian Government to Terminate Free Movement Regime With Myanmar

Rajeev Bhattacharyya

The Indian government has firmed up plans to terminate the Free Movement Regime (FMR), which allows residents on either side of the India-Myanmar border to visit each other’s territory up to a distance of 16 km (10 miles) without a visa.

Government sources cited by the media said that they also plan to equip the border with an “advanced smart fencing system” within four-and-half years. A smart fence has already been installed at some stretches along the India-Bangladesh border.

The rationale of the government’s decision stems from cross-border criminal activities such as the influx of illegal immigrants, and smuggling of drugs, gold, and exotic animals. Anti-India separatist groups that have camps and training facilities in Myanmar have also taken advantage of the FMR to carry out attacks in the northeastern Indian states that share borders with Myanmar.

Recently, the Manipur government made a fervent plea to the central government to put an end to the FMR along the India-Myanmar border. The state government is concerned over illegal immigration from Myanmar and has alleged that a section among the illegal immigrants is engaged in poppy cultivation. The state government also implicated migrants from Myanmar in the recent riots in Manipur that were triggered in May last year.

The Manipur government wants the entire 398-kilometer (247-mile) border between the state and Myanmar fenced, of which only around 10 km has been fenced so far. The fencing project was suspended following objections raised by civil society groups, who claimed that Manipur would end up ceding territory to Myanmar if the fence was erected.

The 1,643-km India-Myanmar border runs through the states of Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, and Mizoram besides Manipur. Communities residing along the border share ethnic ties and a common ancestry that sustain the social and economic linkages.

Making Sense of India’s Muted Response to the Red Sea Crisis

Rushali Saha

The global repercussions of the recent Houthi attacks on international maritime vessels in the Red Sea are becoming apparent. As shippers globally are rerouting away from the Red Sea route – which is the shortest and most efficient trade route for ships moving from Asia to Europe – increased freight costs are likely to impact energy prices and inflation.

In a globalized world, no country is immune from such geopolitical incidents, no matter how distant they might be. India in particular has been directly impacted by the attacks, forcing it to increase its maritime presence in the region – while refraining from joining the U.S.-led coalition.

On November 19, Houthi rebels hijacked an Israeli cargo ship in the Red Sea, to “express solidarity with Palestine” over the ongoing war between Israel with Hamas in the Gaza strip. Since then, more than 28 ships have been attacked.

Following continued, frequent attacks by the Houthis, exactly a month later, the United States announced a “defensive coalition” of nations – Operation Prosperity Guardian – to aid the safe movement of ships in the Red Sea. Around 20 countries reportedly joined the Operation, some of which are not “willing to publicly declare themselves as partners.”

A more aggressive move followed when the United States and United Kingdom, supported by Australia, Bahrain, Canada and the Netherlands, first launched military strikes against Houthi targets on January 12. Subsequently, the U.S. has continued with retaliatory strikes, relisted the Houthis as “specially designated global terrorist group” and is now calling for a “world response” to deal with the crisis.

Initially, the Houthis were attacking ships with direct links to Israel; however, the more recent attacks have attacked ships of countries which they saw as “providing support” to Israel. India, which has so far officially maintained a neutral position on the Israel-Palestine conflict, was directly drawn into the crisis when a commercial ship heading toward Pipavav, in India’s Gujarat state, was hijacked, allegedly by the Houthis. In another instance, a ship docked at the Mangalore Port, MV Chem Pluto, was attacked by a projectile launched by Houthi rebels. Just a day later, a Gabon-flagged vessel with Indian crew onboard was struck by a one-way attack drone only 200 nautical miles off the Indian coast.

The BNP’s Islamist Dilemma

Saqlain Rizve

In November last year, Iqbal Hasan Mahmud Tuku, a standing committee member of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), asserted in an interview with an Indian daily, The Hindu, that the BNP is a secular party. He continued: “At one point, we had an alliance with the Jamaat [Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami] just the way political coalitions take place in democracies like India. That is now in the past.”

However, following this statement, Ruhul Kabir Rizvi, the senior joint secretary-general of the party, contradicted it, claiming that the BNP’s stance differs.

“Recently, the party’s national standing committee member Tuku discussed secularism, political Islam, and Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami,” Rizvi said, emphasizing that the expressed views, statements, and opinions are Tuku’s personal and have no association with the party itself.

The BNP-led 20-party alliance, which included Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), dissolved in December 2022 following the BNP’s decision to sever ties and formalize the end of relations with the JI. This alliance, initially formed in 1999, won the 2001 national election as a four-party coalition. Over time, it expanded to a 20-party alliance in 2012 but remained largely inactive since the 2018 election amid allegations of vote rigging.

The BNP had distanced itself from the JI due to widespread criticism for aligning with a party that opposed Bangladesh’s liberation in the 1971 war.

However, the BNP didn’t keep its distance even for a year. According to The Daily Star, a national daily of Bangladesh, before the Nayapaltan rally on October 28, 2023, BNP leaders reportedly reached out to Jamaat leaders to repair relations and jointly pressure the ruling Awami League to meet the BNP’s demand for elections under a neutral caretaker government.

India's Private Power Market: Expanding Private Sector Electricity Distribution

Richard M. Rossowand Akshat Singh

Improving access to electric power is critical for India to meet human development and economic growth objectives. Persistent underperformance by most state-run electric power utilities has been a significant obstacle to meeting these goals, and it has also been slowing India’s interest in decarbonizing the economy. Given the failure of government reforms, private sector distribution has proven to be a promising solution to improve the operational and financial performance of electricity distribution companies (discoms).

This report proposes a road map for state governments interested in undertaking discom privatization. The authors interviewed various government and private sector officials to identify challenges and opportunities based on their experiences. Discom privatization is also politically sensitive, since there is an underlying belief that it has a negative impact on electoral performance. The authors analyzed election data to test this, finding that contrary to popular belief, privatization has no effect on average voting patterns: the average percentage of incumbents voted out of power remains largely consistent in constituencies with private distribution when compared to the state average.

The U.S. Should Remain Engaged in Bangladesh

Alexander B. Gray

Bangladesh’s recent parliamentary elections, which cemented the control of the ruling Awami League (AL) of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, have received a cool reception in the United States and Europe. The U.S. State Department, in its post-election statement, declined to call the elections “free and fair” and lamented the failure of Bangladesh’s main opposition party (the Bangladesh National Party or BNP) to participate.

As a nongovernmental observer who witnessed the elections at the invitation of the Bangladesh Election Commission, I came to an opposite conclusion from the State Department based on the over fifty polling sites our multinational team of independent observers visited and the hundreds of voters we spoke with. As our team stated following the election in Dhaka, based solely on our personal observations and referring only to the processes and procedures surrounding the voting itself, we judged the election to be largely free and fair and absent the widespread violence that has accompanied previous elections in Bangladesh.

Importantly, this conclusion was made irrespective of the decision of the principal opposition party, the BNP, to boycott the election. The participation of the BNP would have provided considerable legitimacy for Bangladesh’s democratic process. However, the BNP’s decision to boycott is an internal political matter that should not detract from the general success of the Election Commission, which acted as a quasi-caretaker government in advance of the election. Notably, rural turnout and the participation of female voters appeared strong.

As in all democracies, developing and developed alike, Bangladesh’s election procedures have room for improvement. Relatively limited voting hours artificially deflate turnout. The decision to declare a public holiday on Election Day, creating a three-day weekend, encouraged many voters in Dhaka to make plans that did not include voting. Infrastructure constraints and economic disparities remain a challenge. And limited instances of violence, although much reduced from past elections, were reported outside of Dhaka. Bangladesh’s young democracy continues to evolve, both in how it conducts elections and its broader democratic institutions.

Surveying the Experts: U.S. and Taiwan Views on China's Approach to Taiwan

Bonny Lin, Brian Hart, Chen Ming-Chi, Shen Ming-Shih, Samantha Lu, Truly Tinsley and Yu-Jie (Grace) Liao

The year 2024 will be crucial for Taiwan, cross-strait relations, and U.S.-Taiwan relations. On January 13, Taiwan elected William Lai to be its next president, setting the stage for heightened tensions between Beijing and Taipei. As the world looks to 2024 and beyond, there are critical questions about what kind of actions China might take to coerce Taiwan or force unification. Might China quarantine or blockade Taiwan, or would Beijing invade? Under what conditions would Beijing take various actions, and how capable is China? What approach should Taiwan, the United States, and its allies pursue? How do certain geopolitical developments change Beijing’s calculus?

To make sense of these questions and better understand key trends in China’s approach to Taiwan, the CSIS China Power Project surveyed leading experts and former officials from the United States and Taiwan. The results of this survey provide valuable insights into areas of convergence and divergence in how U.S. and Taiwan experts evaluate China’s approach to Taiwan. This report summarizes the results of the survey and analyzes their implications.

Time Is Not On Myanmar Junta’s Side Almost 3 Years After Coup – Analysis

Zachary Abuza

In his televised New Year’s address to the country, Myanmar’s junta leader Min Aung Hlaing vowed to prioritize economic growth in 2024, apportioning all the blame for the country’s sharp economic contraction on the opposition his coup ousted almost three years ago.

Min Aung Hlaing made no mention of the military’s setbacks since the Three Brotherhood Alliance of ethnic armies in northern Myanmar launched their offensive on October 27, 2023. And while the losses, which include over 30 towns and the surrender of over 3,000 troops are real, the continued economic crisis remains the junta’s single largest vulnerability.

The economy has shrunk by 10-12 percent since the Feb. 1, 2021 coup that deposed the National League For Democracy-led government.

In a recent report, the World Bank predicted the country would only see 1% growth in 2024, given the “broad-based slowdown across productive sectors including agriculture, manufacturing, and trade.”

Over half the population is living beneath the poverty line, while the World Bank found that 40% of surveyed families saw a decline in income in 2023 compared to 2022.

The kyat currency has lost half of its value since the coup and it now appears that the State Administrative Council (SAC), as the junta is formally known, has given up any hope of controlling it.

Forex woes

In early December 2023, the Central Bank of Myanmar announced that it would no longer fix the exchange rate, allowing the currency to trade at market prices.

China’s Challenge To The International Economic Order – Analysis

Maximilian G. Mooradian

The United States has led the international economic order for the last seventy-eight years, with only the Soviet Union posing a serious challenge. However, China is starting to pose a severe threat to the United States by trying to replace the US dollar as the world reserve currency. According to the International Monetary Fund, the Chinese yuan is the third-largest trade financing currency and the fifth-largest payment currency, and is a special drawing rights currency with foreign investors demanding an increase in renminbi internationalization.

At a recent Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit, Chinese President Xi Jinping’s new proposal discussed the vulnerability of China’s economy to the dollar and how he wishes to create a new system that reduces the dollar’s global influence. Xi Jinping aims to position China at the helm of a worldwide economic order, shielded from the dollar’s impact regarding sanctions and the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications (SWIFT) system. SWIFT was founded in 1973 as a global provider that connects around 11,000 banks and is used by more than 200 nations. SWIFT has a virtual monopoly over the world’s financial exchanges, and it is almost impossible to conduct business without them. However, Xi plans to out-compete the US-led SWIFT through the China-led Cross-Border Interbank Payment System (CIPS) organization and the Russian-led System for Transfer of Financial Messages (SPFS), proving to be a formidable rival to the United States in their conquest to reshape geoeconomics and geopolitics.

The Impact of Russia’s War in Ukraine on the Chinese Yuan

China’s currency received much attention when the war in Ukraine began in 2022. Due to Russia’s invasion, the United States and NATO imposed heavy sanctions that banned Russian banks from using the SWIFT international banking system, making it impossible for other banks to do business with Russia. These sanctions also froze Russian assets held abroad and halted cross-border payments. Seeing an opportunity to seize Russian business that SWIFT lost, China offered to help Russia’s faltering economy and economic isolation by agreeing to increase the exchange of yuan-ruble trade. This allows China to increase its economic influence, helps keep the Russian economy afloat, and removes the dollar from involvement in the countries’ mutually beneficial economic partnership.

No Place to Hide: A Look into China’s Geosynchronous Surveillance Capabilities

Clayton Swope

China launched a remote-sensing satellite called Yaogan-41 into geostationary orbit (GEO) on December 15, 2023. Analysts expect the satellite to settle into a position that would allow continuous surveillance of the Pacific and Indian Oceans, as well as Taiwan and Mainland China. Paired with data from other Chinese surveillance satellites, Yaogan-41 could provide China an unprecedented ability to identify and track car-sized objects throughout the entire Indo-Pacific region and put at risk numerous U.S. and allied naval and air assets operating in the region.

Q1: What is Yaogan-41?

A1: Officially, the Chinese government says that Yaogan-41 is a civilian high-altitude optical remote-sensing satellite intended for crop yield estimation, environmental management, weather forecasting, and disaster prevention. However, Western observers assess that Yaogan-41 is primarily a military reconnaissance satellite, as the Yaogan program supports the space component of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). China has successfully placed 144 Yaogan surveillance satellites into orbit since the start of the program in 2006. Translated into English from Chinese, Yaogan literally means remote sensing.

Once Yaogan-41 reaches its intended position it will become the fourth Chinese optical surveillance satellite in GEO. Notably, Yaogan-41 is much larger and heavier than its three optical predecessors. Whereas these other satellites were launched by the Long March 3B rocket, capable of lifting 2,000 kilograms (kg) into GEO, Yaogan-41 used China’s largest rocket, the Long March 5, capable of launching a 4,500 kg payload. Additionally, Yaogan-41’s payload fairing was 50 percent longer than the usual Long March 5 fairing, making the particular Long March 5 that launched Yaogan-41 China’s tallest rocket.

Experts assume that Yaogan-41 is also more capable than its three GEO peers, whose highest optical resolution is believed to be around 15 meters. This resolution is enough to detect and likely classify large ships. If Yaogan-41’s builders were able to incorporate technology Chinese researchers expected to perfect by 2020, the optical resolution of Yaogan-41 might approach 2.5 meters. This resolution would be enough to identify and track car-sized objects, the equivalent to seeing a strand of hair from 800 meters away.

China’s long march back to stagnation

Debin Ma

As the world grapples with the implications of ominous shifts within China, MIT economist Yasheng Huang (黃亞生), an astute long-time observer of the Chinese economy, has produced a well-timed book. In The Rise and Fall of the EAST: How Exams, Autocracy, Stability, and Technology Brought China Success, and Why They Might Lead to Its Decline, he combines a close examination of contemporary China with an ambitious, if sometimes overly so, assessment of the country’s recent and distant past.

Like Huang’s other writings, The Rise and Fall of the EAST has a crisp, punchy and occasionally satirical tone. Unflinching in his criticism of the current Chinese regime’s failings, Huang champions China’s great reformers, including politically fallen ones.

Given the current political climate in China, it is a courageous book. Huang shows, with great conviction, that China owes its economic miracle to its embrace of market forces and the private sector, which formed the core of the “reform and opening up” that began four decades ago, following the death of Mao Zedong (毛澤東). By retreating from those earlier policies and commitments, Chinese leaders created the conditions for the setbacks and stagnation that we are seeing today.

Illustration: Tania Chou

Building on the title’s acronym, the book’s chapters unfold like an array of mirror images alternating between past and present, and between China and the West. Students of contemporary China, especially those from outside the country, would be well rewarded by the intimate and updated portrayal of the events and personalities of the past few decades.

End America’s unwise alliance with Qatar


An alliance with the U.S. — specifically, a Major Non-NATO alliance — was once the most highly coveted relationship a nation could earn, a sacrosanct pact of mutual importance. But one such alliance is now a liability for both the U.S. and its long-time allies.

Qatar, our oil-wealthy “ally” in the Persian Gulf, is funding and harboring terrorists that not only threaten American forces but are attacking long-standing American allies. Worse yet, Doha believes this terrorist/ally balance is protected because the country hosts the largest U.S. military base in the Middle East.

A U.S. base should give America leverage with the country hosting it — it should not give leverage to Iran, in the case of Iraq; and it should not give leverage to Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Houthis in the case of Qatar.

Qatar is counting on the proposition that hosting a strategically significant U.S. base insulates Doha from the repercussions of funding and supporting Hamas attacks against Israel and helping the terrorist organization survive to carry out more such attacks in the future —attacks promised by Hamas leaders from luxury hotels in Doha.

How did the Hamas political office end up in the capital of a U.S. ally? Qatar’s ambassador to the U.S. says the nation was asked by the Obama administration in 2012 to set up “indirect lines of communication” with Hamas. Doha gravely mistook the request. Qatar was certainly not asked to give Hamas billions of dollars, give its leaders a platform on Al Jazeera to call for jihad, and embed its reporters to film terrorist attacks.

There should be a cost: targeted sanctions and designations like those established by the Russian Elites, Proxies, and Oligarchs Task Force, which was set up to seize and reallocate assets to support the victims of Vladimir Putin’s aggression. The U.S. should seize assets tied to individuals and entities in Qatar for supporting terrorist groups, especially those tied to Iran, a state sponsor of terrorism. The U.S. should use those funds to replenish the U.S. Victims Of State Sponsored Terrorism Fund.

Biden sent private message to Tehran amid airstrikes: ‘We’re well-prepared’

Edward Helmore and David Smith

Joe Biden said on Saturday that the United States has sent a private message to Tehran that “we’re confident we’re well-prepared”, following a second night of US and British strikes against Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen.

Speaking to reporters on the White House lawn on Saturday morning, on his way from Washington to Camp David in Maryland, the US president declined to go into further detail and switched to answering questions about the Taiwan election.

His comments came after a fresh round of airstrikes hit a Houthi radar facility, raising further fears of a wider regional conflict. This came amid concerns about the world economy as well as security and civilian safety, and further backlash in the US from progressives in the Democratic party who have decried Biden’s executive decision to launch strikes on Yemen without seeking the backing of Congress.

In a statement from the US military, the US Central Command said the “follow-on action” early Saturday local time against a Houthi radar site was conducted by the Navy destroyer USS Carney using Tomahawk land attack missiles.

That came a day after strikes on Friday hit 28 locations and struck more than 60 targets; the US said the strikes were designed to “de-escalate tensions”.

The latest strike came after the US navy on Friday warned American-flagged vessels to steer clear of areas around Yemen in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden for the next 72 hours after the initial airstrikes. The Houthi leadership, who say they are acting in solidarity with Gaza and targeting Israeli-linked shipping, later vowed fierce retaliation across the Red Sea trade route.

Ukraine’s $30 Billion Problem: How to Keep Fighting Without Foreign Aid

Chelsey Dulaney

Ukraine will run out of money within months and be forced to take painful economic measures to keep the government running if aid from the U.S. or Europe doesn’t come through, according to economists and Ukrainian officials.

The U.S. and the European Union, Ukraine’s largest financial backers, have promised Kyiv billions of dollars in new financial and military aid. But pledges from both have been upended by infighting in Washington and in Brussels. While political leaders insist those aid packages will pass eventually, timing is critical for Ukraine.

The country faces a $40 billion-plus financial shortfall this year, slightly smaller than 2023’s gap. Funding from the U.S. and EU was expected to cover some $30 billion of that. The money is needed to keep the government running and is used to fund salaries, pensions and subsidies to the population.

After meeting with President Biden, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer expressed optimism about legislation that would combine border security with aid for Ukraine. House Speaker Mike Johnson called the meeting “productive.” Photo: Will Oliver/Shutterstock

Ukraine has introduced a windfall tax on banks, reallocated some tax revenues and ramped up domestic borrowing, which should cover budget spending through February, according to the Ukrainian Ministry of Finance.

“These measures are limited in their effect,” said Olga Zykova, Ukraine’s deputy finance minister. “All our partners share the sense of urgency” for further funding, she said.

The government could be forced to take additional steps to preserve cash if aid doesn’t come quickly. Delays to military aid packages would also deal a blow to Ukraine’s battlefield effort, which has stalled out after a failed counteroffensive.

Kyiv could then buy itself a few more months by delaying salaries or borrowing even more from its own banks and domestic investors. Ultimately, Kyiv could be forced into printing money, a strategy that has fueled economic implosions in countries such as Venezuela.

The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund Should Do Less to Achieve More

Jennifer "DJ" Nordquist and Dan Katz

Created in the aftermath of World War II, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF)—referred to here as the Bretton Woods institutions—have played an important role in the international financial architecture of the modern era. Because they sit at the heart of that system, these institutions have been constantly buffeted by the cross-cutting forces of geopolitics, economic policy aims, and financial markets. Predictably, no one is happy. It is time to get back to basics.

A growing chorus of Western international development experts and their governments have been arguing for abandoning the institutions’ traditional mission of poverty elimination, economic development, and financial stability to mainly focus instead on addressing climate change. In the United States, the administration under President Biden has repeatedly emphasized its support for a so-called evolution, including an expansion of lending capacity and reshuffling of priorities, especially to emphasize climate change.

At the recently concluded 2023 Annual Meetings of the World Bank Group and the IMF in Marrakech, stakeholders focused on expanding the Bretton Woods institutions’ focus on climate change rather than optimizing the effectiveness of existing operations. World Bank president Ajay Banga argued for “widening the aperture of the World Bank,” and IMF director Kristalina Georgieva principally focused on increasing IMF resources so the IMF could take a larger, more active role in the global economy. The talk is now openly of a future capital increase for the World Bank from some countries, and the United States seems to be moving toward supporting one for the IMF (along with some calls for reform). This approach leads to a common trap for good-faith actors who aim to solve all of the world’s problems but end up solving none. Ambitious proposals like former Treasury secretary Larry Summers’ call for a new triple mandate of crisis response, post-conflict reconstruction, and sustainable development will most likely result in even greater institutional drift, an erosion of the Bretton Woods institutions’ unique value proposition, reduced impact, and continued frustration.

Rather than conclude the World Bank and the IMF must do more to meet today’s challenges, the Bretton Woods institutions should instead ask more fundamental questions about what they seek to achieve, how to prioritize and focus their efforts, and how to establish accountability mechanisms that incentivize achievement of those goals.

Towards Achieving a Better Understanding of the Nation’s Defenses

Thomas Spoehr

Soon, in an annual rite of spring, Congress will summon Pentagon leaders to testify on the “posture” of their services, commands, and department. The hearings will explore how the President’s impending fiscal year 2025 budget request will or will not support the nation’s defense. Conducting dozens of such hearings requires thousands of hours of preparation and execution by Congress and the Pentagon. But in their current construct, the time is poorly spent.

Over time, DoD posture hearings have largely devolved into “information-free” events. At the outset, Pentagon witnesses affirm the president’s budget meets their needs. Thus satisfied, many Congressional leaders are then content to spend the rest of their allotted time asking about the Pentagon’s intent to buy pieces of hardware or to extol the virtues of installations – all made or located in their districts and states.

In the rare instance a congressman does ask a relevant question about readiness or preparedness, the witnesses often will seek to defer the answer to a forum outside the public eye. Or if they answer it, often the response is so vague as to be meaningless.

Further, when the uniformed military leaders present are asked questions, their answers often largely mirror the statements of their civilian political leaders, even though their perspectives are statutorily different.

After about four hours of this banal exchange, hands are shaken, and the words that were spoken, largely forgotten.

Improving these hearings will require Congress to ask better questions and for the Pentagon to provide more fulsome answers.

It was not always so. When Army chief General Edward “Shy” Meyer in 1980 testified that his service had become “hollow,” the news came like a thunderclap. Twenty-three years later, famously contradicting his Pentagon masters including defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Army Chief of Staff General Eric Shinseki told the Senate that “several hundred thousand soldiers” would be needed to secure Iraq. More recently, in 2022 Admiral Chas Richard, the outspoken former head of U.S. Strategic Command, pulled no punches when he testified America faced “a crisis deterrence dynamic right now that we have only seen a few times in our nation’s history.” But these glimpses of candor are unfortunately increasingly infrequent.

US support for Ukraine: The difference between victory and defeat


Ukrainians will continue to fight Russian forces that have been invading, occupying and bombing their country not just since Russian President Vladimir Putin launched his full-scale invasion in February 2022 but since the illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the initial invasion of Ukraine’s Donbas region. This is true whether or not Congress passes President Biden’s supplemental request, which includes $61 billion in assistance for Ukraine. Passage of the assistance, however, could mean the difference between Ukrainian victory and defeat.

Defeat would put Ukraine at the mercy of a Kremlin determined to stamp out a separate Ukrainian identity and expose other countries in the region to potential Russian advances. It also would deal a serious blow to U.S. leadership and prestige and require more costly measures than current aid to Ukraine to defend vital American interests in Europe.

Ukrainians have shown tremendous courage and determination in defending their land, their freedom and their lives from Putin’s brutal assault that has included war crimes, crimes against humanity and even genocide. Despite being outnumbered and outgunned, and in defiance of predictions of many, including Putin, that they would be quickly defeated, Ukrainians have regained control of more than 50 percent of the land Russian forces initially occupied.

Since last summer, when the much-touted Ukrainian counter-offensive began, Ukraine has successfully driven Russia’s Black Sea Fleet out of its base at Sevastopol. The counter-offensive has fallen short of the hopes many, including the three of us, had; but those hopes were never realistic given the time Russia had to prepare its defenses and the foot-dragging by the West in delivering Ukraine what it needed to breach those defenses.

Congressional approval of assistance to Ukraine would not lead to an immediate military victory for Ukraine, as it will take time to get long-promised weapons into Ukrainian hands. But it would be an enormous morale boost for Ukrainians who are doing the fighting and for Ukraine’s leadership, and, at a minimum, it would prevent a Russian victory.

National Security Advisers Meet In Davos To Advance Blueprint For Peace In Ukraine

Top Ukrainian officials together with Switzerland’s foreign minister presented the outcomes of the 4th National Security Advisors (NSA) meeting, facilitated by the World Economic Forum and hosted by Switzerland Sunday, where experts discussed steps needed for a lasting peace in Ukraine. Leaders from Ukraine and Switzerland shared highlights of the discussions in two press conferences.

The meeting, which included national security advisers from 83 countries and international organizations, focused on several parts of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s 10-point plan calling for an end to hostilities with Russia. This included talks on the withdrawal of Russian troops and release of all prisoners, food and energy security, nuclear safety, environmental protection and justice for crimes committed.

President Zelenskyy will address participants at the Annual Meeting on 16 January at 14.15 CET.

Andriy Yermak, Head of the Office of the President of Ukraine, noted in the evening press conference the substantial number of countries now involved in the peace dialogue and said Ukraine will be holding summits with African and Latin American countries in the near future. He said that the re-establishment of an independent and peaceful Ukraine with its internationally recognized borders is important not just for the sake of upholding principles and rules.

“It’s about our fruitful cooperation in the future,” Yermak said. “We have a great country. We have a great history. And that’s why today we are talking about reconstruction, [and] talking about future cooperation. This is the Ukrainian dream – which, of course, needs to start with our victory.”

Yuliia Svyrydenko, First Deputy Prime Minister of Ukraine, highlighted that food insecurity due to the war has impacted those who can least afford it. “After the invasion, the price [of wheat] jumped to record levels, by over $400 per ton,” she said. “We need to increase the capacity of food aid to the most vulnerable consumers.”

The Battle To Clear The Black Sea Of Mines – Analysis

Tony Wesolowsky and Georgi A. Angelov

A Panama-flagged cargo ship navigating the Black Sea on its way to a Danube River port to load grain, a crucial export commodity for war-hit Ukraine, was jolted by an explosion in late December that threw the vessel off course, sparked a fire on deck, and left two crew members injured.

The Ukrainian military, which dispatched tugs to the site, said on December 28 that the ship had hit a Russian mine in the Black Sea, the second such incident in as many months in the major trade route.

Since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion of neighboring Ukraine in February 2022, the Black Sea has increasingly become a war zone, its waters littered with mines and its skies buzzing with drones and missiles. Russian attacks have hit targets close to the borders of NATO members Romania and Bulgaria, threatening new shipping routes that have been a lifeline for Ukraine. And tourists, usually bound for Black Sea resorts, have been scared away with reports of drifting rogue mines.

There could be some respite, however, after Turkey, Romania, and Bulgaria — the only NATO countries with direct access to the Black Sea — announced on January 11 the launch of a joint force to clear sea mines, the first major combined effort among allies in the dangerous waters since the start of Russia’s 2022 invasion.

The Turkish and Romanian defense ministers — Yasar Guler and Angel Tilvar, respectively — and Bulgaria’s Deputy Defense Minister Atanas Zapryanov signed a memorandum of understanding in Istanbul establishing the Mine Countermeasures Naval Group in the Black Sea (MCM Black Sea).

The joint operation will primarily deploy minesweepers — specially equipped warships that remove or detonate naval mines in large areas — and minehunters, smaller, more nimble vessels that destroy individual mines and can operate in shallow waters. The three countries will also utilize helicopters and drones from the air.

US tops public distrust in innovation on eve of Davos, survey shows

Megan Davies

Business and governments are doing a poor job of managing and regulating new technologies, a survey of people ahead of this week's World Economic Forum's annual meeting has found.

The Edelman survey, released as the WEF meeting is set to begin under the theme "Rebuilding Trust", found 39% of respondents asked if they trusted business and NGOs with introducing innovations and governments to regulate them, said it was poorly managed. Just 22% said it was well managed.

Still, business was the most trusted category to integrate innovation into society, ahead of NGOs, government and media.

The highest level of mistrust about the management of innovation among the countries surveyed by the public relations firm was in the United States, with 56% saying that innovation was poorly managed versus 14% saying it was well managed. The survey questioned 32,000 people in 28 countries during November.

The report said examples of pushback against technology included Beijing dropping COVID vaccine mandates in July 2022 after online pushback, U.S. Republican positions against electric vehicles and Hollywood writers' battle against the use of artificial intelligence in writing scripts.

A "Frozen Conflict" Boils Over: Nagorno-Karabakh in 2023 and Future Implications

Walter Landgraf & Nareg Seferian

Executive Summary

This report has two objectives: first, to present an account of the conflict with an emphasis on analytically useful categories and context up to the present, and second, to discuss local, regional, and global consequences of the latest developments of the dispute, including policy implications and recommendations.

An Account of the Conflict
  • Azerbaijan’s lightning attack on Nagorno-Karabakh in September 2023 ended three decades of de facto independence for the breakaway region. Previously, the Armenian-populated Nagorno-Karabakh Republic had shown remarkable durability, enabled by support from Armenia and Russia, the latter more after the Second Karabakh War of 2020. However, changed regional and global power dynamics since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in early 2022 encouraged an opportunistic Azerbaijan, backed by Turkey, to deliver the death knell to Nagorno-Karabakh.
  • Prior to Azerbaijan’s latest assault, two wars had been fought over Nagorno-Karabakh. The first began as a limited conflict, which turned into a larger-scale war when the USSR dissolved. Its ceasefire in 1994 resulted in the establishment of the de facto independent Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. The second war, in 2020, resulted in Azerbaijan reversing the gains of the Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians and further isolating the territory. Russia mediated the ceasefire and thereafter stationed peacekeepers in the region.
  • Many issues are still unresolved in this long-running conflict. The biggest concern is directing much-needed humanitarian aid to those displaced by the latest violence. There also remains potential for future Azerbaijani incursions into Armenia to secure a path to its exclave of Nakhchivan.
Consequences of the Dispute’s Latest Developments and Implications
  • Nagorno-Karabakh has important implications for other international conflicts grappling with the competing principles of territorial integrity and national self-determination. The principle of nonuse of force is also affected by the fall-out of this dispute, risking the normalization of international violence with impunity.
  • The US has limited foreign policy options to affect the current situation on the ground. One approach is to expand the American diplomatic footprint in the region to reinforce its influence. More consequentially, it should work with the European Union and regional players to implement an enduring monitoring mechanism to prevent renewed escalation. This effort should focus on reducing human suffering while improving the quality of life of people displaced by violence, and be pursued with a presence on the ground in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh to facilitate the potential return of refugees to their homes.

Azerbaijani service members guard the area, which came under the control of Azerbaijan’s troops following a military conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh against ethnic Armenian forces and a further signing of a ceasefire deal, on the border with Iran in Jabrayil District, December 7, 2020. Picture taken December 7, 2020. 

Spacepower Strategy for Medium Powers: Applying Observations from the Maritime Domain

LT COL Jason Lau


Medium powers are much like forgotten middle children. While the eldest child is usually given the responsibility of caring for his or her younger siblings, and the youngest child needs the most assistance, the middle child has an indifferent existence, neither important enough nor helpless enough to merit much attention. 

Medium powers face the same conceptual neglect in academic expositions on seapower and spacepower. In a critique of Julian Corbett’s seminal publication,Principles of Maritime Strategy, John Klein argues that Corbett “addresses the dynamic interaction of those states with the most power and capability with those states with less . . . but . . . fails to fully elucidate the proper strategy [for] medium powers.”1 How medium powers should develop and apply seapower and spacepower is a “missing link” in strategic analyses; this paper gives this category of states the attention they deserve.2 

Spacepower for Medium Powers, Not Medium Space Powers 

This paper does not address whether and how a medium space power should increase its spacepower, even though that is an important topic. Instead, it explains the significance of spacepower for medium powers, and it offers various ideas for medium powers to consider as they look to craft a spacepower strategy that serves their national interests. 

Overall power stature is predominant in a state’s actions to acquire domain-specific capabilities. The order is essential: A state does not set out to be a great space power and then decide to be a global superpower thereafter; a state identifies itself as a superpower first and then realizes a need to develop spacepower to support its national interests. Similarly, a state identifies as a medium power first and then decides to develop a corresponding amount of spacepower that would best support its national interests.