28 January 2024

Gaza And After: A Transatlantic Security Perspective – Analysis

Ian Lesser

The October 7 2023 Hamas attacks and Israel’s ensuing offensive in Gaza have sent the Middle East back into a state of turmoil. This will have important security and diplomatic implications not only for the Middle East but also for the broader Euro-Atlantic region. Moreover, as it underscores the ongoing relevance of terrorism and counter-terrorism, the current war will likely impinge on transatlantic relations at a time when the US and Europe are striving to re-focus on deterring great-power conflict in Europe and the Indo-Pacific.

The horrific attack on Israel by Hamas on 7 October 2023 and the devastating war it has unleashed in Gaza hold the potential to reshape the strategic environment in the Middle East and the Mediterranean. The evolving conflict also underscores the wider security challenges facing Europe and the US, with implications for the future of deterrence, crisis management and burden-sharing. The consequences are potentially far-reaching at a time of shifting global dynamics and critical elections on both sides of the Atlantic.

A hybrid attack

The attack by Hamas and elements of Palestinian Islamic Jihad was extraordinary in terms of its scale, with some 1,200 Israelis and others killed and roughly 240 taken hostage, but also in terms of its hybrid nature. The attack combined elements of terrorism with irregular warfare and an ongoing information campaign. Sophisticated planning and deception were accompanied by straightforward, violent rage. The massive failure of warning and intelligence on the Israeli side will no doubt be researched and debated for years to come. The 7 October experience –and in a very different sense the early lessons from Ukraine– illustrate the dynamic relationship between technology and the human factor, between offence and defence in war. Faith in technology and established patterns of deterrence cannot make up for systemic failures when decisionmakers are simply ‘looking the other way’. Like Russia’s war in Ukraine, but on a much smaller scale, the Gaza crisis also highlights the enduring power of ruthlessness as a factor in international security.

Extremism From the River to the Sea


The reported death toll among Palestinians in Gaza now exceeds 25,000, and still there is no end in sight for the fighting, nor any clarity on Israel’s strategic objectives. Debates about what should eventually follow the war are intensifying. The United States has been increasingly vocal in its call for renewed efforts toward a two-state solution, which has been the policy of the European Union and most of the international community for years. The Arab Peace Initiative also aims to establish two states for the two peoples who reside between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River.

But Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has once again explicitly declared his opposition: “I will not compromise on full Israeli security control over all the territory west of Jordan – and this is contrary to a Palestinian state.” That confirms what many had long suspected: for years, his policies have sought to block all movement toward a two-state solution, and they have largely succeeded.

Unfortunately, proponents of a two-state solution do not hold a dominant position in the current public discourse, either in Israel or in the Palestinian territories. With the war raging, emotions are high, and extremists on both sides have benefited politically. There is a deepening sense of mutual enmity, and scant attention has been paid to the long-term possibilities for peace. But that eventually will change, potentially allowing for more constructive forms of discourse.

To be sure, moving from the current war toward a two-state future will not be easy. Border issues must be sorted out, along with the status of Jerusalem (perhaps the most sensitive aspect of the dispute for both sides). The extensive illegal Jewish settlements on occupied territory remain one of the largest and most obvious impediments to progress.

But an eventual two-state solution is not as unimaginable or as inconceivable as critics suggest. On the contrary, numerous blueprints are available. Some years ago, the US think tank RAND published a visionary research brief featuring “an arc” of Palestinian cities linked by modern rail to both Gaza in the south and the port of Haifa in the north.

Emerging Missile Technologies: A New Arms Race in South Asia?

Abdul Moiz Khan, Usman Haider

On January 27, 2023, India tested its Hypersonic Technology Demonstration Vehicle (HSTDV) for the third time and later successfully tested the ‘Agni Prime’ missile off the coast of Odisha in June. Three months later, India tested extended-range (ER) BrahMos missiles from all three ground, air, and naval platforms. These tests were coupled with Indian advancements in indigenous ballistic missile defense systems (BMDs) and the deployment of newly purchased S-400s from Russia along Pakistan’s borders. Although India has a No-First Use policy on paper, its recent missile tests and the development of BMD capabilities signals that India is moving towards a counterforce strategy with an objective to disarm Pakistan with a comprehensive first strike.

Overall, in 2023, India conducted eleven missile tests while Pakistan undertook two in a likely response. In October, Islamabad tested two medium-range ballistic missiles (MRBMs): Ghauri and Ababeel. The latter is a multiple-independent targetable re-entry vehicle (MIRV) technology, seen as a cost-effective solution to counter India’s BMD. From Pakistan’s perspective, its recent missile tests are a necessary response to ensure deterrence credibility in light of India’s missile technology advancements and perceived offensive posture. India’s missile tests and its comprehensive first strike contemplations are irresponsible in light of present dynamics and may fuel further instability in the region.

India’s missile tests and its comprehensive first strike contemplations are irresponsible in light of present dynamics and may fuel further instability in the region.

Indian Missile Tests


India has indigenously developed hypersonic technology demonstrator vehicles (HSTDVs) since 2019, with the latest test conducted earlier last year. Pakistan perceives India’s development of hypersonic weapons as a counterforce tool because of their precision capabilities, speed, and maneuverability, making them difficult to intercept. HSTDVs can achieve speeds up to six times the speed of sound because of the scramjet engine technology they use.

What the China-Maldives-India Triangle Tells Us About 21st Century Balancing

Ovigwe Eguegu

President Mohamed Muizzu of Maldives recently concluded a state visit to China during which he met President Xi Jinping, signed several deals, and saw the China-Maldives relationship upgraded to the level of “comprehensive strategic cooperation.”

While the outcomes that Muizzu flew across the Indian Ocean with following his state visit to China are fairly standard, what is unusual are two other factors.

First, the island country’s strategic location means that the United States, China, and India care deeply about its perspective and allies. The Maldives is adjacent to one of the densest trading routes in the world; over 80 percent of energy imports to the Indian subcontinent pass thorough the shipping lane to the north of the Maldives.

Second, typically, India is the country of choice for the first foreign visit of Maldivian presidents. Muizzu thus broke tradition by choosing China for his first state visit abroad and before that, he paid visits to Turkey and the UAE. December 2023 also saw the Maldives skip the critical Colombo Security Conclave – a regional security forum where India, Sri Lanka, Mauritius, Bangladesh, and Seychelles convene to cooperate on security in the Indian Ocean region.

So, is Muizzu undertaking, as some have suggested, a full “pivot” to China, and if so, why? More broadly, is the Maldives a canary in the coal mine of a new era of “periodic alignment” i.e. oscillating between rival power poles, rather than non-alignment or multi-alignment? Indeed, we’ve seen another recent example in the opposite direction: Muizzu’s visit to China came soon after the election of Argentina’s new President Javier Milei, who ran a heavy anti-China campaign before his win.

Maldives Relations With India and China

Malé’s ties with New Delhi run deep. Historically, the Maldives and India have maintained deep economic and security ties and the Maldives has benefitted from India’s relief aid on multiple occasions, including the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, the 2014 water crisis, and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pakistan’s Next Government Faces An Economy Sliding Into The Void – Analysis

Saima Nawaz

Pakistan faces multifaceted challenges, spanning an economic downturn, high unemployment and political turbulence. The major ingredients in Pakistan’s economic and social malaise are the Pakistan Democratic Movement coalition government’s election year policies, such as exchange rate caps and import controls, and delays in the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) Extended Fund Facility program.

Growth dipped sharply to -0.2 per cent in 2023, down from 6.1 per cent in 2022. The drop was primarily due to sluggish growth in industrial and services sectors. This recession translated to greater unemployment, which reached a record high of 8.5 per cent in 2023, surpassing the 6.2 per cent observed in 2021.

The interim government formed after the ouster of former prime minister Imran Khan has failed to create economic stability in the country. Unnecessary delays to the 2024 elections — announced only after intervention by the Supreme Court — and political chicanery further added to the economic and political uncertainty.

One positive for the interim government was the successful negotiation with the IMF for a US$3 billion Stand-By Arrangement, restoring creditor confidence and supporting external sector needs. The IMF Executive Board approved US$700 million in January 2024, bringing total disbursements to US$1.9 billion.

The government that emerges after the elections, now set for 8 February 2024, will face numerous challenges. Addressing the increasing uncertainty and distrust in the electoral process among political parties and the public will be key to fostering political stability.

Fiscal imbalances, high debt payments and balance of payment gaps will pose significant hurdles to the new government’s economic revival agenda. The government must also tackle rising unemployment, especially among the youth, and historically high inflation that is responsible for the significant increase in poverty, in order to secure social prosperity.

Decoupling From China’s Rare Earths

Jonathan Harman

Over the past year, China has begun more heavily regulating rare earth exports critical to U.S. national security. While unsurprising given U.S.-China tensions, it underscores America’s need to decouple its defense supply chains from China.

To ensure it can maintain a ready rare earths supply, the U.S. government has made efforts to decouple from China. These efforts—including friend-shoring with U.S. allies, invoking the Defense Production Act (DPA), and adding provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act to fund and provide some low-cost loans to domestic rare earths producers—have helped better secure rare earth supply chains and spur American production. However, though not the only factors, drawn out litigation and high capital costs continue to make it difficult for U.S.-based rare earth mining and refinement facilities to set up shop and compete with Chinese producers.

To facilitate U.S. rare earth production, the federal government should reevaluate its permitting litigation processes and offer more low-cost loans to American rare earth companies.

In August, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) began requiring all Chinese businesses get state permission to export select gallium and germanium products. These products are necessary for many widely used products like semiconductors, fiber optics, and infrared sensors—all of which are critical to national security.

The United States currently imports about half its germanium and gallium supplies and 80 percent of its total rare earth oxides from China, which is a significant liability.

The U.S. government is aware it is dependent on Beijing’s good will for rare earth imports and has made some meaningful progress in decoupling.

In 2022, the Pentagon developed a program to recycle optical-grade germanium to make America less reliant on germanium imports for infrared technology. The defense department, starting in the 1980s, also began developing a national germanium stockpile. Since then, it has created other rare earths stockpiles and began rapidly increasing their supplies in 2022.

However, while stockpiles and recycling programs are necessary, they are not sufficient to maintain or expand U.S. military capabilities long term.

China’s Rise: Unraveling Power and Principle

In the ever-evolving strategic environment, China’s rise stands out as a pivotal change in the twenty-first century. China’s nuclear breakout and aggression toward Taiwan lead to an important question: Is China’s trajectory a harmonious coexistence or a looming threat? Beyond the layers of its self-perception as the “Middle Kingdom” and its quest for global dominance, there is a narrative that extends beyond geopolitics, leaving an enduring impact on human rights and freedoms worldwide.

China’s notion of the “Middle Kingdom” is not just a historical concept; it is a guiding force shaping the nation’s foreign policy. Seen in initiatives like the Belt and Road Initiative and military expansion, it portrays China as the cultural, political, and economic epicenter of the world. This intentional effort to shape the global system involves territorial disputes, diplomatic pressures, and information warfare, projecting China’s influence far beyond its borders.

However, beneath the peaceful platitudes lies a shadow. Under the leadership of Xi Jinping, China’s human rights landscape has taken a dark turn. From the oppression of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang to the challenges faced by Tibetans and Hong Kongers, China’s stance on basic freedoms is increasingly disconcerting. Moreover, China’s influence extends globally, touching on economic coercion, cyberattacks, and support for authoritarian regimes, challenging international human rights institutions and norms.

China’s challenge to the US and the post-1945 international system manifests in various forms, presenting a multifaceted threat. The ambition to displace, rather than replace, the US raises concerns about potential conflicts and instability. At its core is an ideological clash—China’s authoritarian capitalism versus the liberal democratic order that is the cornerstone of the international system. The corridors of power in the West are replete with recommendations: fortify alliances, champion human rights, and competently engage with the rising power.

As the world stands on the brink of a new global order, there is a sense of urgency to understand Chinese aspirations and prevent them from turning into conflict with the United States. The intertwining of power and principles calls for careful navigation of uncharted waters. The profound impact on human rights and freedoms demands a collective response—a strategic dance between nations, not merely in policy but in the very fabric of conscience.

Beijing’s Economic Challenges Present Opportunities for Washington

Craig Singleton

China’s National Bureau of Statistics reported last week that the country’s economy grew by just 5.2 percent in 2023, with the World Bank forecasting that China’s growth rate could slow even further in 2024 and 2025. Washington should capitalize on China’s economic downturn to curtail Beijing’s economic influence and technological reach, albeit without impinging upon America’s post-pandemic recovery.

Excluding the pandemic years, China’s 5.2 percent growth in 2023 was its slowest since the tumultuous period following the 1990 Tiananmen Square massacre. Even that figure may be exaggerated. China’s economic statistics are based on opaque models the late Chinese Premier Li Keqiang once referred to as “manmade” and “unreliable.”

Doubts concerning China’s economic health have mounted since Xi Jinping assumed power. Since then, Beijing has ceased reporting a range of verifiable economic indicators and has altered the methodologies used to track politically sensitive economic trends. For instance, after June 2023, Beijing stopped publishing China’s urban youth unemployment rate after it peaked at 21.3 percent. However, this month, Chinese officials claimed youth unemployment had dropped to 14.9 percent based on a new formula that excludes millions of college-aged citizens previously accounted for in China’s unemployment statistics.

For two decades, China has reportedly met or exceeded nearly all its predetermined gross domestic product (GDP) targets. To do so, China has relied on massive debt issuance to fund non-productive investments in certain sectors, such as housing and infrastructure. As a result, Chinese government debt today is more than triple the country’s GDP, well above the levels observed in many industrialized nations, such as the United States.

Compounding China’s dire economic situation is weak global demand for Chinese exports, which declined by 4.6 percent in 2023. China’s real-estate market, accounting for one-quarter of Chinese GDP, also faltered. In all, property investment contracted by 9.6 percent, new construction starts dropped by 20.4 percent, and new homes sales declined by 6 percent. China’s economic turbulence coincided with a major demographic downturn, with the population shrinking by two million last year, foreshadowing serious productivity challenges ahead.

He Hunted Corrupt Chinese Officials. Now He’s Set to Be Foreign Minister.

Lingling Wei and Charles Hutzler

When Xi Jinping was looking for someone to succeed the abruptly removed Qin Gang as foreign minister last summer, people familiar with the matter say, one name made it to the top of the Chinese leader’s list.

Liu Jianchao was an unusual candidate in many ways. A translator-turned-diplomat, he heads a Communist Party agency traditionally tasked with building ties with other Communist states such as North Korea and Vietnam. His U.S. experience has been relatively limited compared with that of many previous foreign ministers. His stints at the party’s anticorruption watchdog also make him a rarity in the country’s foreign-policy establishment.

But Liu came highly recommended to the leader by senior foreign-affairs officials precisely for his party experience and demonstrated political loyalty—traits especially valued by Xi at a time of heightened party control and emphasis on security, according to the people familiar with the matter.

The top leader decided to give Liu a trial run first, the people said, with the focus on beefing up his experience in dealing with the U.S.—China’s biggest geopolitical rival. As a stopgap measure, Xi reassigned former Foreign Minister Wang Yi to his old post in July.

Were the Saudis Right About the Houthis After All?

Hussein Ibish

Informed Americans finally seem to understand that the macabre slogan of Yemen’s Houthi militia group—“God is the greatest, death to America, death to Israel, a curse upon the Jews, victory to Islam”—is more than empty rhetoric.

The Houthis are a potent Iranian proxy group, and their slogan, adapted from Iranian revolutionary propaganda, is being made manifest in action. They’ve attacked Red Sea shipping lanes more than 30 times since October 17, under the implausible pretext of aiding Hamas and protesting Israeli military actions in Gaza.

Washington long held, against Saudi protestations, that the Houthis didn’t or couldn’t possibly pose a significant threat beyond Yemen. Now the United States is leading a large coalition of countries determined to restore maritime security against Houthi piracy in the Red Sea. Surely those behind Washington’s efforts are asking themselves: Were the Saudis right about the Houthis all along?

Saudi Arabia has taken the Houthi threat seriously since 2015, when Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman first emerged as an important Saudi decision maker. That March, Riyadh organized a coalition of Arab states, including the United Arab Emirates, to stop the Houthis from taking over Yemen during that country’s civil war. The intervention was consistent with UN Security Council Resolution 2216, but it met with only cautious approval from Washington. Barack Obama’s administration later reluctantly decided to support the action in exchange for Saudi Arabia’s help in getting Gulf Arab countries to approve, with even greater misgivings, Washington’s nuclear negotiations with Iran. Many Arab countries and Israel worried that the resulting nuclear deal would unduly strengthen Tehran.

Soon the war produced a humanitarian crisis, and American support began to erode. The UAE was relatively successful in the south of Yemen, but Saudi Arabia got badly bogged down in the north. Then came the brutal assassination of the Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, in October 2018. That incident, together with the war, became Exhibit A in the bill of particulars that Democratic Party candidates, including Joe Biden in 2020, presented against Riyadh.

Houthis now drawing support from former enemies in Yemen


The Houthi attacks on vessels in the Red Sea and their missile and drone launches toward Israel have gone a long way to restoring a sense of national pride among many Yemenis. This, combined with growing support from other political groups within Yemen, and in the region, mean attacks will not likely end soon — despite sustained U.S. airstrikes against them.

Since January 13, the U.S. and the UK have carried out eight rounds of strikes on targets in Houthi-controlled northwest Yemen. This followed multiple warnings by Washington for the Houthis to end their attacks on ships in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. There are now indications that the Biden administration is preparing to carry out airstrikes for an indefinite period whilst expanding the target list.

Sustained airstrikes will slowly degrade some of the Houthis’ military capacity, especially their ability to launch anti-ship missiles. However, they will do little to stop the groups’s use of one-way attack drones (OADs) and marine mines to target ships.

The OADs and the facilities used to manufacture and assemble them are spread across northwest Yemen. Most of these facilities are either underground or located in dense urban areas. Even with a continued air campaign against them, the Houthis are in a position to keep menacing international shipping with OADs and mines for months if not years.

Most significantly, Western airstrikes risk strengthening the Houthis’ grip on power. Many of the Houthis’ former enemies are openly and covertly expressing their support for the group now. The Houthi attacks on what they describe as Israeli and U.S.-vessels resonates with many Yemenis, and indeed, many people around the world who are decrying the Israeli actions in Gaza.

Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of Yemenis routinely gather on Fridays in the capital of Sana’a to protest the Israeli invasion of Gaza and, more recently, U.S. and UK airstrikes. From the perspective of many Yemenis, the Houthis possess the moral high-ground, and the power of that narrative, regardless of its veracity, should not be underestimated.

How quickly could Iran make nuclear weapons today?

David Albright

Iran’s growing nuclear weapons capability is often condemned, most recently in a December 28th joint statement by the United States and its close European allies.1 The occasion was the Iranian action to expand its output of 60 percent enriched uranium. This level of enrichment is a hair’s breadth from 90 percent enriched or weapon-grade uranium, the enrichment level most desired for making nuclear weapons. That is also the enrichment level used in Iran’s nuclear weapons designs, which it nearly perfected during its crash nuclear weapons program in the early 2000s, codenamed the Amad Plan. This program was shut down in 2003 and replaced with a smaller, more dispersed nuclear weapons effort, with the decision to make them postponed.2

The unfortunate reality is that Iran already knows how to build nuclear weapons, although there are some unfinished tasks related to the actual construction of them. If the regime’s leadership decided to build them, how would it proceed? How long would it take?

The long pole in the tent of building nuclear weapons is essentially complete. Iran can quickly make enough weapon-grade uranium for many nuclear weapons, something it could not do in 2003. Today, it would need only about a week to produce enough for its first nuclear weapon.3 It could have enough weapon-grade uranium for six weapons in one month, and after five months of producing weapon-grade uranium, it could have enough for twelve.

The other major poles in the tent are “nuclear weaponization” and delivery. Iran has a variety of delivery systems, including nuclear-capable missiles: the delivery pole is ready.

Weaponization is the pole that needs more work. It involves theoretical calculations and simulations; development, testing, and construction of the other components of the nuclear weapon; the conversion of weapon-grade uranium into metallic components; the integration of all the components into a nuclear weapon; and the preparation for mounting the weapons on aircraft or missiles or for use in a full-scale underground test. This pole includes the mastery of the high explosive triggering system, the molding and machining of high explosives, and the building of a neutron initiator that starts the chain reaction at just the right moment to create a nuclear explosion.

Iran has multiple pathways to complete its weaponization requirements and build nuclear weapons. The two most prominent pathways are (1) launching an accelerated effort to achieve a few crude nuclear weapons or reconstituting, or (2) completing its earlier Amad nuclear weapons program with the ability to serially produce annually many warheads suitable for delivery by ballistic missiles.

Iranian Military Technology and Advisers Aid Houthi Attacks in Red Sea, Officials Say

Benoit Faucon and Warren P. Strobel

Iran is sending increasingly sophisticated weapons to its Houthi allies in Yemen, Western officials and advisers say, enhancing their ability to attack merchant vessels and disrupt international commerce despite weeks of U.S-led airstrikes.

The Houthis, once derided as a ragtag militia operating in Yemen’s arid backcountry, have emerged as one of Iran’s most capable proxies, these officials and analysts say, due to the flow of weapons from Tehran—and their own homegrown ingenuity.

Among other high-end gear, Iran has provided the Houthis with drone jammers and parts for long-range rockets and missiles. The Iranians and their Lebanese Hezbollah allies have sent advisers to Yemen to help the Houthis plan and launch their attacks.

The Houthis’ missile and drone attacks on merchantmen and U.S. warships, which they say come in retaliation for Israel’s war on Hamas, have prompted two weeks of American and British counterattacks. Those in turn risk drawing Washington into a long-running tit-for-tat military campaign and escalating the U.S.-Iran proxy war. As the Houthis come under pressure from U.S. strikes, Western officials see signs they are adapting militarily, and they say the new technologies could increase the effectiveness of the Houthis’ attacks on ships and Israeli territory.

On Monday, the U.S. and the U.K. launched a second major assault against eight Houthi locations, the eighth time overall that the U.S. has targeted the group and its weapons, many of them provided by Iran. U.S. officials said the strikes destroyed missiles, drones and weapons storage areas.

On Jan. 11, the day before the first of those Western counterstrikes, U.S. Navy SEALs seized a vessel laden with state-of-the-art Iranian military technologies, the Western officials and advisers said. Those included assembly kits for the Ghadir, an Iranian antiship rocket with a range of over 200 miles that the Houthis haven’t been using before; engine nozzles for the Toufan, a ballistic missile recently unveiled by the group that could target Israel more effectively; and optical extensions designed to improve the accuracy of drone attacks. Three days earlier, Omani authorities also confiscated drone jammers, which Western officials and advisers said had also come from Iran.

Strike warfare: An American fetish and a global scourge


It was hard to know whether to laugh or cry in response to recent press reports suggesting that the Biden administration is gearing up for a “sustained bombing campaign” against the Houthis in Yemen. Unsurprisingly, the initial coalition strikes against the Houthis apparently did not destroy the Houthi arsenal being launched at commercial vessels in the Red Sea.

As was the case in the great jihadi hunt across Southwest Asia stretching over nearly a quarter century, the United States today finds itself at war in a conflict with no defined political objective and a clearly unachievable military objective against an enemy that is nested in a complex political and strategic circumstance that is completely unfamiliar to the United States. Sound familiar?

It is also a war with no apparent timeline in which the application of force is linked to ill-defined benchmarks, suggesting that we could launch our bombs and missiles indefinitely or until we run out of ammunition — to no strategic purpose.

Have we learned nothing from our follies of the last 25 years in which we proved incapable of clearly relating ends, ways, and means in making decisions on when and under what circumstances to use force?

For those states that can afford them, standoff weapons and bombs have become the preferred method of policing the international system. Yet it’s hard to remember any of these strikes having any sort of lasting positive impact once the headlines and videos faded. Strangely, these tools of war maintain a hold on government and the popular imagination as some sort of “decisive” action that curiously demonstrates strength, commitment, and resolve.

The reality is that strike warfare — long range strikes by planes and missiles — has rarely achieved its advertised political and strategic consequence. Yet it remains a dangerous, drug-like chimera to countries like the United States desperately searching for some sort of easy, low-cost way of maintaining global influence, control, and primacy in a chaotic world. Like all drugs, the initial rush feels great, but the long-range addiction is, in the end, far more destructive, dangerous, and difficult (if not impossible) to kick.

Geopolitics, Not Ideology, Should Guide Our Policies Toward China, Russia, and Iran

Francis P. Sempa

The neoconservative crusade against “autocracy” is on display in the pages of National Review, where Corban Teague of the McCain Institute’s Human Rights & Freedom Program and Daniel Twining of the International Republican Institute call upon America to “robustly counter” the “axis of autocracy” composed of China, Russia, and Iran. After the failures of the Afghan and Iraq wars, which the neoconservatives transformed into a Global War on Terror (GWOT), the search for a new ideological opponent has been found: Autocracy. Once again, the neoconservatives are attempting to transform a geopolitical conflict into an ideological crusade. The “axis of evil” has been replaced by the “axis of autocracy.”

The Biden administration has bought into this crusade, framing of our policies toward China, Russia, and Iran as a struggle between democracy and autocracy. But there are plenty more autocracies out there (including some of our allies) so the list of enemies can be expanded (North Korea, formerly of the “axis of evil,” comes to mind). Of course, autocratic regimes have existed on the earth since the beginning of recorded history. A crusade against autocracy will take a long time--even longer than the failed GWOT. In his first State of the Union address, President Biden stated: “In the battle between democracy and autocracy, democracies are rising to the moment, and the world is clearly choosing the side of peace and security.” This “battle,” the president said, is “going to take time.” Biden’s language was reminiscent of George W. Bush’s speeches after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. And, as we have seen, crusading rhetoric can lead to crusading wars, with disastrous results.

Teague and Twining contend that what is at stake in the war against autocracy is whether the world “balance of power tilts toward freedom and individual liberty, or a world dominated by brutal autocrats oppressing their own people and terrorizing their neighbors.” “China, Russia, and Iran,” they write, “pose a connected threat and must be addressed collectively.” The goal of the axis of autocracy, they claim, is to “make the world safe for autocracy,” which is why we need to supply aid and weapons to Taiwan, Ukraine, and Israel.

Pentagon Says US, Partners Continue Pushback Against Iranian-Backed Houthi Terrorist Group

The U.S. and U.K., with support from Australia, Bahrain, Canada and the Netherlands, conducted strikes on eight Houthi targets in Iranian-backed Houthi terrorist-controlled areas of Yemen, the Pentagon press secretary said.

The strikes came “in response to the Iranian regime-backed Houthi’s continued attacks against international and commercial shipping as well as naval vessels transiting the Red Sea,” Air Force Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder said during a briefing today. “The strikes were precise, proportionate and intended to further disrupt and degrade the capabilities the Houthis have been using to threaten global trade and the lives of innocent mariners.”

According to U.S. Central Command, the strike targets included missile systems and launchers, air defense systems, radars and underground weapons storage facilities. The strikes occurred near midnight, Jan. 22, Yemen time.

Within 15 to 30 minutes following those initial strikes, Ryder said, the U.S. struck an additional Houthi target — an anti-ship cruise missile — which he said was, at the time, prepared to launch and which presented a threat to vessels operating in the region.

“Our aim remains to de-escalate tensions and restore stability in the Red Sea,” Ryder said. “We will not hesitate to defend the lives and the free flow of commerce in one of the world’s most critical waterways in the face of continued threats.”

According to Ryder, the Defense Department assesses that since January 11, the U.S. and partners have destroyed or degraded over 25 Houthi missile launch and deployment facilities, more than 20 missiles and an additional number of unmanned aerial vehicles, coastal radar and air surveillance capabilities and weapons storage areas.

“We have been very focused on targeting the kinds of things that they’ve been employing or using to conduct attacks against international shipping and mariners,” he said. “That will continue to be our focus.”

Diplomacy Watch: Zelensky's lonely calls for 10 point peace plan


In a speech to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland this week, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called for a “just and stable” peace, but maintained that a ceasefire to freeze the conflict with Russia at current lines remained unacceptable.

“I remind you that after 2014, there were attempts to freeze the war in Donbas. There were very influential guarantors of that process,” Zelensky said. “But Putin is a predator who is not satisfied with frozen products.”

Despite a recent report from the New York Times suggesting that Russian President Vladimir Putin has been quietly signaling an openness to a ceasefire, Zelensky argued that he “embodies war.”

“We all know that he is the sole reason why various wars and conflicts persist, and why all attempts to restore peace have failed,” the Ukrainian president said. “And he will not change.”

Instead, Zelensky remains committed to his vision of a 10-point peace formula, which calls for, among other stipulations, the withdrawal of Russian troops from all Ukrainian territory and the prosecution of Russian officials for war crimes.

“[T]hose demands are considered, by analysts and even politicians backing the proposal, to be unreachable given the current balance of forces on the battlefield,” reported the New York Times on Tuesday.

Kyiv continues to try to persuade the international community to sign onto its peace plan. According to Zelensky, representatives from over 80 countries and international institutions have met in a series of meetings since last summer to discuss the Ukrainian peace formula. This week, Switzerland agreed to host the next round of talks, which Zelensky said will include world leaders for the first time.

The Camouflage of Tomorrow: 2 Next-Gen Technologies Concealing U.S. Soldiers


Widespread access to next-generation camouflage systems, like night vision and thermal imaging, has revolutionized how the U.S. Armed Forces conceal vehicles and personnel on the battlefield, with both technologies making it far easier to spot enemy forces, even in the dark. But because these rapid advancements are available to other militaries around the world, too, the U.S. has found itself in a technological arms race to see and not be seen.

Here’s a quick primer on two simple innovations keeping U.S. soldiers concealed on the battlefield: the Ultra-light Camouflage Netting System and the Improved Ghillie System.

Night Vision

Night vision works by amplifying visible light in your immediate vicinity. In most cases, the night sky offers more than enough light to effectively “see in the dark.” However, things can get problematic if you go indoors where there’s no existing illumination.

Thermal Imaging

The Ultra-Light Camouflage Netting System
This content is imported from youTube. You may be able to find the same content in another format, or you may be able to find more information, at their web site.

The military has long used camouflage netting to conceal vehicles and personnel on the battlefield. Despite their ubiquity, these nets are no match for new sensors entering the battlefield, able to see more than just the visible light spectrum. This renders legacy camouflage netting obsolete, with next-to-no concealment from night vision or thermal.

The Price of Failed Wars

Simone Ledeen

A growing number of Americans grapple with a profound dilemma. This dilemma stems from our recent and painful history of interventions gone awry, and outcomes that diverged sharply from the intended goals. The conversation regarding the reasons for our current decline in military recruitment numbers, combined with Americans' increasing isolationism, should include more than just the scourge of "wokeism." We must scrutinize our failures, take the important lessons learned, and hold failed leaders accountable.

The scars from the Iraq War run deep in the American psyche. A war initiated under the pretense of eliminating weapons of mass destruction ultimately transformed Iraq into an Iranian satellite. The toll in blood and treasure was staggering. Our nation, me included, realized that the promised liberation had instead sown chaos and instability.

Similarly, the two-decade-long engagement in Afghanistan aimed to oust the Taliban and establish a stable government. Despite immense investments, our chaotic withdrawal and the subsequent collapse of the Afghan government and its armed forces, has raised questions about the efficacy of such prolonged wars when we have such fickle political leadership. Skepticism has taken root, with many Americans questioning the wisdom of sacrificing lives and resources for outcomes that seem elusive at best.

American reluctance to engage in wars is rooted in a distrust of political and military leadership, rather than a doubt in the military's capabilities. This skepticism is fueled by the observation that, despite the military's ability to achieve success, political decisions and a lack of long-term commitment often undermine these efforts. The experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan, where years of sacrifice and significant casualties ultimately led to withdrawal and diminished any chance of lasting success, exemplify this concern. People question why they should support wars when leadership decisions may negate the potential for enduring achievements.

One glaring issue is the short attention span exhibited on the global stage. While adversaries plan and act in terms of decades and generations, American foreign policy often succumbs to the volatility of short-term political cycles. The absence of a cohesive, long-term strategy that spans administrations weakens the nation's position, allowing adversaries to exploit the inherent instability in U.S. foreign policy.

Israel-Gaza war spillover risk: Mapping recent strikes in Middle East

 Areesha Lodhi and Alia Chughtai

As Israel’s war on Gaza pushes on in its fourth month, fears of regional escalation are growing, with multiple nations and armed groups targeting each other’s territories and common waters, and the United States boosting its military assets in the region.

Last week, Iran launched attacks in Syria and Iraq after members of its elite forces were killed in the Syrian capital Damascus allegedly in Israeli attacks, while the US along with the United Kingdom have carried out several attacks against the Houthis in Yemen.

KEEP READINGlist of 3 itemslist 1 of 3

Tens of thousands of people have been displaced in Lebanon and Israel due to an exchange of fires between Israeli forces and Hezbollah fighters on their border.

Last week, tit-for-tat attacks between Iran and Pakistan threatened to open a new military front, but diplomacy helped cool the tempers, for now.

Here is what you need to know about the military hostilities that have broken out in the region since the start of Israel’s war on Gaza on October 7.

The Red Sea and Yemen

The Iran-backed Houthi group in Yemen has been targeting commercial and military ships linked to Israel in the Red Sea as a response to Israel’s war in Gaza.

Houthi officials have demanded that Israel stop the war and allow humanitarian aid to enter the Palestinian enclave. The group’s first attack occurred on November 19, 2023, when they took over a cargo ship called the Galaxy Leader, which records suggest is owned by an Israeli businessman.

The Three Fronts of The Neo-Cold War

Jose Miguel Alonso-Trabanco

The Cold War of the 20th century was essentially a geopolitical confrontation involving the world’s leading thalassocracy versus the top continental tellurocracy. Under this bipolar order, the Western maritime power of the United States competed with the Eurasian land power of the Soviet Union for global hegemony. In this rivalry, the risk of an apocalyptical Armageddon discouraged the prospect of a direct nuclear exchange between the two superpowers.

Europe was the epicenter of the clash and even though tensions were —for the most part— kept frozen through the distribution of spheres of influence, mutual hostility between NATO and the Warsaw Pact never subsided. Both Washington and Moscow understood that their dispute had to be managed in order to guarantee the preservation of strategic stability. Yet, Americans and Soviets fought each other in peripheral theaters of engagement from the “third world,” usually through their intelligence services and proxy forces. In this unconventional conflict, the CIA and the KGB masterminded coups, targeted assassinations, espionage, covert missions, psychological operations, diplomatic intrigues, civil wars, the rise of armed militias and all sorts of ‘active measures’ in places like the Middle East, Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean. A setback anywhere was a setback everywhere that required a quid pro quo. In particularly contested flashpoints —like Korea, Vietnam and Afghanistan— the superpowers intervened directly, but that was the exception rather than the rule. This more or less balanced correlation of forces existed until the implosion of the USSR. As is known, this antagonism was underpinned not just by incompatible interests, but also by contrasting ideological models of political economy.

The demise of the Cold War brought an ephemeral unipolar configuration. Under ‘Pax Americana’, overenthusiastic intellectuals and policymakers assumed that liberal democracy, a rules-based order, free markets and the Western conception of human rights would flourish on a global scale. Yet, this illusion was eclipsed by the relentless march of history. The second “twenty years’ crisis” has unleashed chaos, anarchy, uncertainty, bloodshed, forever wars and unorthodox forms of conflict. Several regions and states have been engulfed by the tectonic shockwaves of the ensuing turmoil and complex interdependence has fueled the proliferation of threats related to the prospects of coercion, disruption, subordination, and conquest. Under this ominous Zeitgeist, the spectre of strategic competition between status quo and revisionist great powers has been reactivated.

In a first, Army uses Slack-style battlefield software to coordinate field exercises


FORT JOHNSON, Louisiana—Sgt. Maj. Gary Lynn spotted U.S. soldiers playing his enemy and pulled out the most powerful piece of communication equipment he had: an Android phone bolted to his body armor.

With a few taps, Lynn marked the enemy’s position in the ATAK app, sending it instantly to a 101st Airborne command post camouflaged among tall pine trees in the Louisiana forest.

This week saw the Army test the widespread use of the ATAK system at multiple levels of command at the Joint Readiness Training Center here, the first such use at any of the service’s four sophisticated combat-training centers, according to Alex Miller, a senior science and technical advisor to Army Chief of Staff Randy George. The deployment comes as the Army pushes to modernize its command-and-control approaches and slim down its command posts.

The Army has used variations of the ATAK software, but never before integrated it into “part of the core mission command architecture,” Miller said, with soldiers using ATAK-enabled phones, TAK software on vehicles, and WinTAK, a Windows-based version, at command posts in this week’s exercises.

Beyond plotting the positions of forces on a live map, the software enables soldiers to create chat groups and pipe in communications from radios, among other functions. Compared to older mapping tools such as Blue Force Tracking, ATAK appears to offer a more flexible, easier-to-use interface.

The map even allows command posts to track the speed and direction of units that are carrying a linked Android device, said Capt. Charles O’Hagan of the 101st Airborne’s second brigade.

In the old process, O’Hagan explained, staff officers would keep track of the battlefield by producing PowerPoint slides based on radio messages and other reports.

WinTAK allowed O’Hagan to project map data onto a strip of canvas in a busy command-post tent. The data is sent via WiFi—not some military-grade system that would reveal its presence to an enemy snooping the electromagnetic spectrum.

Cluster Munitions Have Changed the Course of the Ukraine War-

Daniel Rice

The prior “bad reputation” of cluster munitions has prevented the press from highlighting the significant contributions that cluster artillery munitions, supplied by the allies, have made on defeating the Russian army in Ukraine and helping to save Ukraine. There are three significant dates that stand out in the timetable of the Ukraine War in which cluster munitions have altered the fate of the war- November 2022, July 2023, and October 2023. And the data from these charts will show the meaning of these dates. The fact is that cluster munitions have caused the majority of Russian casualties in this war.

During the initial full scale invasion starting in February, Russia held a significant advantage in artillery fire superiority, firing an estimated 63,000 rounds per day vs. Ukraine firing 4,000 rounds per day. A massively disproportionate fire superiority. When considering that 70-80% of the casualties on both sides come from indirect fires, artillery, multiple launch rocket systems, and mortars, this is a large part of the war. Whereas Russia would fire large volleys indiscriminately against entire cities, Ukraine had to be much more disciplined and accurate, to make every round count. And Russian artillery systems has always been a top target of Ukraine since Russian artillery is claiming the majority of Ukrainian casualties.

Over the course of the war, Ukrainian artillery has ground down Russian artillery. Using better Western made radars to pick up every round that leaves a Russian tube, using HARM missiles to target Russian radars, to take them out and “blind” Russian artillery from firing back. Using Excalibur precision guided 155mm Howitzer artillery rounds to target precisely Russian artillery and tanks. Three charts explain the war, specifically the three dates that made a significant contribution to the artillery duel taking place in Ukraine.

The first date is November 2022, when Turkey began supplying 155mm cluster artillery shells (called Dual Purpose Improved Conventional Munitions). The first shipment of 3,500 rounds arrived just in time for the Battle of Bakhmut. This is when Russia started using human waves of convicts to attempt to overwhelm Ukrainian defenders. The previously supplied 155mm High Explosive rounds were far inferior to the DPICM cluster munition rounds, so the DPICM had arrived just in time. After this date, large scale Russian offensives would be hit with DPICM, which is an “area weapon” so much more effective than High Explosive rounds. Instead of one round equaling one explosion, one round would rain down 88 smaller submunitions, causing much more destruction and death for Russian soldiers.

Winning the 5G arms race requires full funding from Congress

Joe DiGuardo

5G is a weapon. With the mobile phone now the main source of communication, the Chinese Communist Party has targeted supplying 5G infrastructure to countries around the world, creating vulnerabilities to intelligence gathering and easy disruption of a country’s critical communications and other infrastructure.

America is behind in this wireless arms race, and to pull ahead the Department of Defense plays a critical role.

Over five years ago, the DoD recognized the military value of 5G with its ability to enable seamless communications and control of – and between – everything: devices, people, and machines. 5G moves large amounts of data quickly and securely, providing the basis for accurate, rapid actions and responses. The problem: existing 5G infrastructure equipment was geared for commercial networks and supplied by non-U.S. companies. In 2020, to spur innovation and ignite American 5G supply capabilities, Congress allocated $650 million to seed twelve 5G pilot projects at U.S. military bases.

From these test beds, two success stories stand out: the Marine Corps Logistics Base at Albany, Georgia, and Naval Air Station Whidbey Island in Washington State. At Albany, a pencil-and-clipboard process has been replaced by self-guided material movers and an automated inventory system running on 5G, increasing efficiency, inventory accuracy and freeing up military personnel for more critical tasks. At Whidbey, automated jet engine inspections and a new refueling process run on 5G, dramatically cutting down aircraft turnaround time.

AI: Democracy's Ally or Enemy?

Beth Kerley

Advances in artificial intelligence (AI) are changing the playing field for democracy. Since social media’s emergence as a tool of protest, commentators have regularly stressed how our evolving technological landscape is changing our political world. The digital tools on which we rely help to determine how people express themselves, find like-minded communities, and initiate collective action. At the same time, these technologies also affect how governments of all political stripes monitor people, administer services, and, in settings where democratic guardrails are weakened or absent, dole out repression.

Thanks to recent leaps in the development of large language models, the global proliferation of AI surveillance tools, and growing enthusiasm for the automation of governance processes, we are poised for another seismic shift in the balance of power between people and governments. Yet there remain many questions around how democratic norms and institutions can be brought to bear in shaping the trajectory of AI. Since the “liberation technology” buzz of the early 2010s, experts and publics alike have grown more skeptical of assumptions that technological development will automatically advance values such as free expression and freedom of association or sustain a level playing field for civic engagement. Digital tools that foster open communication can also make it easier for repressive regimes to surveil and harass opponents, or skew public debate by amplifying conspiracy theories and state propaganda disproportionately.

With more than enough evidence to hand that digital advances do not inevitably work to democracy’s benefit, democracy’s advocates must act to erect guardrails around AI development and deployment. The determination of authoritarian countries to integrate AI into their repressive toolkits only heightens the urgency of this task.

A new report from the National Endowment for Democracy’s International Forum for Democratic Studies highlights principles that should inform an approach to AI that is rooted in democratic values. The report emanates from a conference with tech and democracy experts, especially in the digital rights and open government communities, across a number of countries. It scrutinizes the popular narratives and social structures that are shaping the AI landscape, obstacles that stand in the way of upholding democratic norms, and the ways in which civil society can intervene to ensure that AI evolves in a way that is friendly to democracy.