13 March 2024

Gaza War Turns Palestine Into A Potential Middle Eastern Lightning Rod – Analysis

James M. Dorsey

The Gaza war has turned Palestine into a lightning rod for mounting frustration and discontent in Arab autocracies such as Egypt, Jordan, Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco.

Concerned that the war could mobilise segments of civil society, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates where any form of public protest is banned, have cracked down on expressions of solidarity with Gaza, including the sporting of keffiyehs, the chequered scarf that symbolises Palestinian nationalism.

In December, pro-Palestinian activists at the COP28 climate summit in Dubai faced unprecedented restrictions including prohibitions on flags and explicitly naming a country in news conferences, and scrutiny of their slogans.

In January, the Red Sea Film Festival in Jeddah, the biggest film event in the Middle East and North Africa, welcomed Palestinian cinema but banned the donning by attendees of keffiyehs.

Like in the second half of the 20th century, protests in the Middle East beyond the Gulf in support of Palestinians and against Israel’s assault on Gaza are as much about the war as they are about anger at governments’ faltering economic performance.

Nowhere is the anger more acute than in Egypt where the country’s currency slipped this week sharply against the US dollar after the central bank raised its main interest rate by 600 base points to 27.75 per cent and said it would allow the currency’s exchange rate to be set by market forces. It was the Egyptian pound’s fifth devaluation in two years.

Hard hit by the wars in Gaza and Ukraine, the government expected the measures to stymie Egypt’s 31 per cent inflation rate, attract desperately needed foreign investment, and tackle its staggering shortage of foreign currency.

Bibi’s Other Political Problem

David E. Rosenberg

A war stretching into its sixth month with no end in sight, more than 100 hostages still held by Hamas, nearly 120,000 evacuees from towns along the Gaza and Lebanon borders waiting to return home, and a sputtering economy. Any one of these issues should be enough to bring down Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but the greatest threat hanging over his government today is the question of whether the ultra-Orthodox should be conscripted into the military, an affair that has been simmering unresolved for more than 20 years.

Why America Isn’t Using Its Leverage with Israel

Isaac Chotiner

On Sunday, Vice-President Kamala Harris said that the Israeli government “must do more to significantly increase the flow of aid [into Gaza]. No excuses.” This marked perhaps the Biden Administration’s most forceful push to encourage Israel to allow more food and medicine into the territory, where more than thirty thousand people have been killed since the war that began after Hamas killed some twelve hundred Israelis on October 7th. The Biden Administration also announced that it had begun airdrops of food aid to the people of Gaza, but the humanitarian crisis there continues to worsen. A World Health Organization team in Gaza recently found “severe levels of malnutrition, children dying of starvation, serious shortages of fuel, food and medical supplies, hospital buildings destroyed.”

I recently spoke by phone with Senator Chris Van Hollen, the Maryland Democrat. In January, Van Hollen visited the Rafah border crossing and raised alarms about the inspection process, as well as what he said was obstruction by the Israeli government. During our conversation, which has been edited for length and clarity, we discussed the different ways that the Israeli government is preventing adequate aid from reaching civilians, whether the Biden Administration’s policy toward Israel is in the process of changing, and the scale of the current humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

Where are we right now in terms of getting aid to the people in Gaza? What is preventing that aid from reaching them in sufficient levels?

Well, we’re nowhere near where we need to be. We now have hundreds of thousands of people on the verge of starvation. We also passed the grisly marker where at least fifteen children have died of starvation, so the situation has gone from bad to worse. The primary cause has been the continued restrictions on assistance by the Netanyahu government. It’s pretty startling that we have got to the point where the United States has to provide airdrops into Gaza as a measure to try to feed some people. I support it totally, but it’s obviously inadequate to meet the needs, as the President himself has indicated.

EU and US accelerate sea corridor plan to feed Gaza

Mehul Srivastava, Alice Hancock and Eleni Varvitsioti 

The EU will speed up its attempts to set up a maritime corridor for humanitarian aid from Cyprus to Gaza, after US President Joe Biden warned Israel against using aid as “a bargaining chip”. 

A first ship could leave on a test run as soon as this weekend, said European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, without elaborating on how the aid would be unloaded. 

Details on how the corridor would be able to meet the vast needs of a besieged Palestinian population remain to be worked out, including the unloading and transporting of shipments within Gaza, where the UN and other agencies say Israel has yet to create safe routes for trucks to travel. 

The first EU shipments are expected to be limited in size until the US establishes a pier facility off the coast of Gaza to receive bigger aid deliveries, according to a European official. One US official said it could take “a number of weeks” for such a facility be planned and set up. 

The emergency corridor — the first seaborne shipments of international aid to enter Gaza in at least a decade — is a sign of the deep frustration among Israel’s allies over its failure to prevent a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, where its military campaign against the militant group Hamas has devastated civilian infrastructure. 

So little aid has entered Gaza that its 2.2mn population has endured rapidly worsening food shortages. In the northern half of the enclave, completely under the control of the Israeli military, about 300,000 civilians have been forced to the edge of famine, the UN and other international aid agencies warn. 

This week, the World Food Programme said a 40-tonne convoy of essential supplies was held up by Israeli soldiers at a checkpoint separating the north and the south, then turned away. 

Lessons Learned From India’s Struggle to Maintain the Mirage 2000

Rahul Manohar Yelwe

The Indian Air Force (IAF) operates multiple foreign-origin fighter aircraft, including Soviet-era MiG-21s and MiG-29s, French-origin Mirage 2000 and Rafale, the Anglo-French Jaguar, and Russian-origin Sukhoi-30s aircraft. Due to the variety of fighter aircraft, the IAF faces challenges in carrying out maintenance, repair, and overhaul across its fleet. In the case of aircraft that have been purchased off the shelf from an original equipment manufacturer, servicing the aircraft is tough challenge. The main reason behind this challenge is the lack of spares and components required to keep the aircraft airworthy.

Between 1982 and 1985, India procured 51 Mirage 2000 aircraft from French firm Dassault Aviation in fly-away condition. The Indian aircraft industry never produced the Mirage aircraft itself under licensed manufacturing, unlike Soviet-origin aircraft. However, India twice attempted to buy Mirage aircraft in large numbers.

In the first attempt during the 1980s, India intended to procure around 150 Mirage aircraft, 40 in fly-away condition, followed by the licensed manufacturing of 110 aircraft by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) with complete technology transfer. However, the Soviets pressured India to purchase their newly developed MiG 29 aircraft instead.

After the Kargil War in 1999, India made a second attempt to purchase more Mirage aircraft from France. Unfortunately, the production of these aircraft was eventually abandoned since Dassault Aviation, the manufacturer, was focused on the development and production of the Rafale aircraft. This was the second missed opportunity for India to acquire additional Mirage aircraft, which could have been licensed for manufacturing in India.

Throughout its active service of four decades in the IAF, the Mirage 2000 aircraft has been the mainstay fighter aircraft of the air force. The aircraft played a decisive role in the 1999 India-Pakistan Kargil War. Likewise, in Operation Bandar, India’s retaliation to the 2019 Pulwama terror attack, the Mirage aircraft was chosen to bomb targets inside Pakistan. Moreover, the aircraft has been part of India’s nuclear triad, a capability to launch nuclear weapons from sea, land, and air. Thus, the aircraft is a credible, reliable, and potent platform in the IAF’s arsenal.

New Delhi’s Balancing Act In A Chaotic Middle East

Manjari Chatterjee Miller

Last month, Prime Minister Narendra Modi embarked on a veritable love fest in West Asia (the Middle East). His first stop was the United Arab Emirates for his seventh visit to the country. There he headlined one of his famous Indian diaspora rallies, inaugurated Abu Dhabi’s first ever Hindu temple, and signed 10 bilateral agreements. The trip cemented the growing relationship between India and the UAE. The UAE is now India’s third largest trading partner, its second largest export destination, and fourth largest source of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). From the UAE, Modi travelled to Qatar where he committed to “further expanding and deepening bilateral cooperation”. The Qatar trip came on the heels of the Indian government successfully negotiating with the Qataris to release eight Indians who had been sentenced to death for allegedly spying. The two hugely successful trips were preceded by Modi strongly voicing support for Israel following the attacks by Hamas, just over four months ago. The dizzying juggling act that India seems to be perfecting in West Asia is paying off in spades. But it comes with risks.

India’s outreach to West Asian countries began shortly after Independence in 1947. India’s anti-colonial socialist leaders frowned upon Israel (a country built on religious nationalism just like Pakistan), fully supported the Palestinian cause, and, cognisant of India’s large Muslim population, tried to make common cause with Islamic nations. However, other than Israel, which was keen to court India but with whom India did not agree to establish diplomatic relations until 1992, few of the West Asian countries particularly responded to India’s overtures and indeed regularly gave Pakistan both political and military support. Today the tide has turned. Arab nations and Israel are both enthusiastic about building ties with India and Modi’s BJP government has responded in kind.

Pakistan’s Generals Fail to Fix the Election


Pakistan’s worst-kept secret is that its military dominates its government. Whether to safeguard the nation against chaos or to protect their own privileged access to power and wealth, its generals have manipulated the country’s politics for decades. Pakistan’s voters, like voters elsewhere, want change. February’s ugly election fiasco shows that it’s only getting harder for the army to prevent political disrupters from upending their plans but, unfortunately for Pakistan’s future, they have yet again managed to override public demand for a new direction.

A brief recap: The generals and popular leader Imran Khan decided some time ago they could no longer trust one another. The army then removed Khan from his post as Prime Minister and put him in jail, as it has done to many past Prime Ministers who refused to respect their dominance. He now faces more than 150 criminal charges, all of which he denies.

When the brass refused to let him contest February’s national elections, even from prison, aides in Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party created AI-generated Khan speeches that were then broadcast around Pakistan. In a nation where 40% of voters are illiterate, army-dominated courts ruled that ballots could not include the symbol of Khan’s party, a cricket bat to reference Khan’s professional sporting prowess, but the party vowed to press ahead. When the generals refused to allow PTI members to appear on ballots, many ran as independents.

Both the army and a former Prime Minister, the exiled-then-rehabilitated Nawaz Sharif, were confident that destroying Khan’s candidacy would assure a victory for Sharif. It did not. Even after manipulating courts and the media, stuffing ballot boxes, and turning off mobile phone service and social media in areas where Khan voters were setting their get-out-the-vote plans, the nation’s self-appointed overlords could not stop voters from shocking Pakistan and the world by handing victory to the independents who stood for Imran Khan’s PTI. They didn’t win a majority, but they did win more seats than any single party.

Inside Afghanistan's gender apartheid

Sahar Halaimazi, Metra Mehran, and Marika Theros

Since retaking Afghanistan in August 2021, the Taliban has issued dozens of repressive decrees designed to systematically oppress the women and girls of the country. In the interactive audio timeline below, you can hear directly from Afghans on the profound impacts of the escalating gender apartheid in Afghanistan. These first-hand stories have been collected over the past eighteen months through interviews with women inside Afghanistan.

To protect these women from the significant risks associated with speaking out against the Taliban, we’ve taken several precautions: Their names have been changed, and, in some instances, their stories have been merged. We have also not used their real voices. Instead, the audio stories you will hear were recorded by women and girls who have been evacuated from Afghanistan since 2021. These women’s stories of endurance and resistance reveal the stark realities of life under a legal system that curtails freedom, stifles potential, and erodes dignity, yet they also illuminate the unyielding spirit and strength of each woman and girl. Their voices are a reminder of the interconnected struggles of all people globally in the pursuit of dignity, rights, and equality.

Afghan women did not have a real seat at the table in the United States’ “peace” deal with the Taliban. They are now demanding the world’s help in dismantling systems of oppression and rebuilding a society where equality and human rights are realities for all.

This initiative is a joint project of the Civic Engagement Project and the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center.

The onslaught of decrees

In 2020, after nearly twenty years of war, the United States signed an agreement with the Taliban to unilaterally withdraw US forces from Afghanistan. The so-called peace process did not substantially include or account for Afghan women, whose concerns about the escalating, targeted violence against them and pushback against the myth of a reformed “Taliban 2.0” were largely ignored. By August 2021, Taliban soldiers were on the doorstep of Kabul; by August 15, they had taken over the city, signaling the collapse of the Afghan republic.

China’s defence budget boost can’t mask real pressures

Meia Nouwens & Fenella McGerty

China revealed some of the strains on its military even as Beijing used the 2024 National People's Congress (NPC) to announce a 7.2% defence-budget hike as the economy slows.

While defence is a priority even against that economic backdrop, it competes with spending in other priority areas, such as science and technology (S&T), food security, public security, and debt servicing. And Beijing's decision not to announce traditional personnel appointments at the annual event raises further questions about stability within the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) following corruption allegations that cost senior defence leaders their job in 2023.

Money matters

The 2024 NPC (also known as the Liang Hui or Two Sessions), kicked off on 5 March and will close on the afternoon of 11 March. Premier Li Qiang’s work report, the Ministry of Finance’s draft budget and personnel announcements were high on the watchlist for domestic and foreign observers.

The draft budget revealed that funding for national defence will reach a record RMB1.665 trillion (USD233 billion) this year up from RMB1.554trn (USD219bn) in 2023. The 7.2% nominal uplift matches the rate of growth seen in 2023 and is comparable to the ten-year average of 7.5%. It marks the third year since COVID-19 hit that the budget has grown by above 7% and the 30th consecutive year it will have risen.

As a proportion of GDP, the core defence budget amounts to 1.25%, well below the global average of 1.8% and the 2% target for NATO countries. However, the IISS estimates that total military expenditure – including government-funded research and development, local militia funding and central funding for the People’s Armed Police – comes to RMB2.17trn (USD304bn) in 2024. Other potential additional items include new funding mechanisms for defence investment in R&D that have emerged over the last two decades, including corporate access to capital markets and special investment initiatives. Notwithstanding these additional items, adjusted for purchasing power parity, the core 2024 defence budget would come to USD439bn, while total military expenditure would reach USD574bn.


Robert Kitchen


China and the United States see each other as the pacing challenge,1 with Taiwan the obvious potential flashpoint. Correspondingly, different governments and think tanks repeatedly featured the Taiwan conflict in wargames. However, results from these studies varied significantly, ranging from swift Taiwanese capitulation and pyrrhic United States victories to bloody Chinese failures. This review compares several studies, explaining differences in the objectives, outcomes, and implications. As such, it is the first review to collate findings from a broad sample of wargames held over eight years between 2016 and 2023. It identifies a clear, regressive trend in the United States and Taiwanese chances of victory over the period and crucial factors influencing the outcomes for the People’s Liberation Army, the Republic of China, the United States, and allied forces. It concludes with recommendations for future wargame iterations.


This review focuses on published United States military rather than economic or non-kinetic influence studies. These studies were unclassified or substantively reported in open sources and addressed a conflict in the Western Pacific, usually involving Taiwan and the United States. However, similar studies were undertaken in China, Japan, and Taiwan, which have established military wargaming capabilities.2 The United Kingdom also has wargaming and net assessment capabilities.3 While this paper looks at published studies, it also includes officially announced insights about classified ones.

For comparison purposes, this review groups studies into three discrete eras: before 2017, 2017 to before Russia’s large-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, and those conducted afterward. The timeframes were chosen as they represent three distinct trends. Pre-2018, wargames tended to end favorably for the United States, Taiwan, and allies, albeit at great cost. Between 2018 and February 2022, outcomes grew increasingly pessimistic for the United States and Taiwan, with only one victory, four losses, and two stalemates. Finally, in the two games since February 22nd, 2022, the immediate insights from the larger Russian invasion of Ukraine have tilted the outcomes towards the defender.

Tibetans targeted by China-linked supply chain attacks using malicious language translators

Jonathan Greig

Tibetans are being targeted with corrupted language translation software in a cyber espionage campaign that began last September, according to new research.

The attackers — which cybersecurity firm ESET said are part of the Chinese government hacking group Evasive Panda — targeted Tibetans living in India, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Australia and the U.S.

In addition to the corrupt Windows and macOS software, ESET said the campaign also involved the compromise of the website of an organizer of an annual religious gathering called the Monlam Festival, which takes place in India each year.

The hackers added malicious code to the website to create a watering-hole attack — where attackers target specific groups by compromising popular platforms.

“We believe that the attackers capitalized, at the time, on the upcoming Monlam festival in January and February of 2024 to compromise users when they visited the festival’s website-turned-watering-hole,” ESET said. “In addition, the attackers compromised the supply chain of a software developer of Tibetan language translation apps.”

ESET researcher Anh Ho, who discovered the attack, said the Evasive Panda hackers used several different types of malicious tools that they have spotted in other attacks on networks across East Asia.

Most notably, the group used MgBot — Evasive Panda’s flagship Windows backdoor that has existed since at least 2012 and is used to steal files and credentials and record keystrokes. In April, Evasive Panda used the malware to target a telecom company in Africa.

The majority of MgBot’s plugins are designed to steal information from popular Chinese applications such as QQ, WeChat, QQBrowser and Foxmail — all developed by Tencent.

The Houthis Are Holding The World To Ransom – OpEd

Neville Teller

The Houthis – whose flag proclaims, among other things, “Death to America, Death to Israel, a curse on the Jews” – operate from the chunk of west Yemen they have seized from Yemen’s internationally recognized government (IRG). It is a well-populated area which contains the capital Sana’a and a great length of coastline bordering the Red Sea, including the vital port of Hodeidah. For the past ten years the Houthis, intent on extending their grip to cover the whole country, have been locked in a civil war which, despite various well-intentioned peace brokering efforts, has so far resulted in a virtual stalemate.

As a result, recently their standing among the hard-pressed Yemenis had been on the slide, and they had been competing for popular support against the IRG and the other main protagonist in the contest for supremacy in Yemen – the so-called Southern Transitional Council (STC). Aidarus al-Zoubaidi, who founded the STC and is its president, has set his sights on establishing an independent state of South Yemen.

Hamas’s incursion into Israel on October 7, and the subsequent massacre, provided the Houthis with a totally unexpected political advantage.

As the news of the attack broke, the Houthis – needing little prompting from their Iranian paymasters – virtually declared war on Israel in support. It was no doubt at Iran’s behest that the Houthis went on to plan a series of assaults on Israel. Not all went according to plan. Three cruise missiles fired from Yemen on October 19 were intercepted by the US navy. A drone attack launched on October 28 apparently went off-course and resulted in explosions inside Egypt.

Since then, claiming they are acting to force the international community to halt Israel’s offensive in Gaza, the Houthis have begun a campaign of missile and armed drone attacks on commercial ships transiting the Red Sea. The maritime security coalition of more than 20 nations, Operation Prosperity Guardian, set up by the US in December has done nothing to deter them, nor has the deployment of EU and even Chinese maritime forces off the coast of Yemen.

Iranian Elections and the Future of the Regime

Kamran Bokhari

A new generation of Iranian leaders is emerging that is ideologically far more hardline than what the country has produced since the founding of the Islamic Republic 45 years ago. Their rise is the result of the regime seeking to preserve itself in the face of a public increasingly disillusioned with an order long dominated by theocrats. The unprecedented scale of engineering in the country’s 2024 elections underscores an intensifying internal power struggle ahead of the succession of a new supreme leader. The Iranian political system cannot continue to suppress the public while also waging war against itself.

Ideologues vs. Pragmatists

The 2024 parliamentary and Assembly of Experts elections held on March 1 saw the lowest turnout of any election since the founding of the regime in 1979. State media said a little more than 40 percent of the electorate cast ballots, while other reports suggested it was much lower. According to Middle East news platform Amwaj.media, the speaker of the outgoing parliament and a prominent former Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commander, Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, finished fourth in the race for seats in the capital, Tehran, where turnout was even lower at 25 percent. In the polls for the Assembly of Experts, the 88-member clerical body with the power to elect the supreme leader and remove him from office, the biggest upset was that Sadegh Larijani (who served as chief justice for a decade and hails from the powerful Larijani clan) lost his seat. That two-term former President Hassan Rouhani, who has been a top national security figure since the founding of the regime and held many key positions within its several elite institutions, was disqualified from running in the Assembly of Experts vote underscores the extent to which this year’s elections were manipulated.

What’s Wrong With The US Welfare State? – OpEd

John C. Goodman

Here are two surprising facts about welfare and poverty in the United States: (1) we are spending an enormous amount of money on people at the bottom of the income ladder and 2) all that spending does a very poor job of meeting human needs.

And here is a surprising opportunity: if we took all of the money we are currently spending on anti-poverty programs and gave it in cash to poor families, there would be no problem of poverty in this country

We might still have some homelessness—reflecting mental illness or drug abuse. But conventional poverty would be a thing of the past.

Calculating the Resources Families Have

In their book The Myth of American Inequality former senator Phil Gramm and his colleagues point out that determining who is poor and how poor they are is quite complicated. Here is how they did it.

First, they divide the population into quintiles, based on household earned income (mainly wages). They then calculate each quintile’s total income after all taxes and all transfer payments. Transfers are Medicaid, food stamps, housing subsidies, etc.; and there are 95 such programs in all. They count each dollar of transfer spending as equivalent to a dollar of earned income.

The economists were then able to determine how much is available for consumption in each of the quintiles. Because household size differs from quintile to quintile, they divided that amount by the number of people in each household to get per capita “income.”

Comparisons on the Income Ladder

The first important finding: the bottom fifth of households in 2017 had an average (after tax and after transfer) income of $33,653 per person. As I show below, almost all of this “income” is in the form of noncash welfare benefits. But if all those benefits were converted to cash, a family of four in the bottom fifth of the (earned) income distribution would have $134,652 a year to spend, after taxes!

Soaring Gold Prices And Decoupling With US Dollar – Analysis

Wei Hongxu

Gold price has been on a continuous rise recently, reaching a new record high in closing. In 2023, the international average gold price reached USD 1940.54 per ounce, breaking the historical record of USD 2135.4 per ounce set in December of the previous year.

Since the beginning of this year, it has remained stable above the USD 2000 per ounce mark. Since the end of February, the international gold price has once again risen rapidly, breaking through USD 2100 per ounce. On March 5, the London gold price reached a historic high of USD 2146 per ounce.

The price in RMB also hit a historical high, with the Shanghai Futures Exchange gold futures price closing at RMB 497.36 per gram on March 6, reaching a new high in the 16 years since its listing, approaching RMB 500 per gram. At the same time, with expectations of a possible interest rate cut by the Federal Reserve, many market institutions expect the future gold price to be even higher.

Citigroup stated that it could soar to USD 3000 per ounce in the next 12 to 18 months. It is stated that all of this depends on three possible catalytic factors: major central banks around the world significantly increasing gold purchases, global stagflation, or if there is a deep global recession, gold prices could rise by about 50%.

Chart: Changes in London’s Gold Prices (USD)

Currently, the continuous rise in gold prices is attributed to several factors. Firstly, there is a strong expectation for the relaxation of monetary policy by the Fed, prompting investors to reconsider the hedging function of gold. According to the latest data from the CFTC, as of February 27, the proportion of net long positions in gold has increased to its highest level in three weeks, helping investors to fully rebound from the recent lows and bet bullish on gold as a safe-haven asset. Secondly, the trend of “de-dollarization” driven by central banks around the world purchasing gold in recent years is still ongoing.

Sweden’s NATO Membership Will Further Intensify The Arctic Geopolitical Rivalry – Analysis

K.M. Seethi

With Sweden’s admission into NATO, after Finland, the Nordic nation’s integration into the US-led Atlantic alliance extends the military tension into the Arctic region. This escalation introduces a new dimension of geopolitical rivalry between Russia and NATO, thereby exacerbating unrest in the security landscape in the High North. Sweden’s inclusion in the Atlantic alliance means that seven out of the eight members of the Arctic Council are now NATO Allies. This configuration poses a heightened strategic threat from the alliance to Russia in the Arctic region.

On March 7, 2024, Sweden officially became the newest member of NATO by depositing its instrument of accession to the North Atlantic Treaty with the United States government in Washington, DC. With Sweden’s accession, the total number of countries within NATO has now reached 32. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg hailed Sweden’s historic accession, granting the nation an equal role in shaping policies and the protection of Article 5. Emphasizing Sweden’s capable armed forces, Stoltenberg asserted the strengthened security of both Sweden and the Alliance. The official flag-raising ceremony at NATO headquarters on March 11, 2024, symbolizes Sweden’s integration and the Alliance’s commitment to an open-door policy.

According to Mike Winnerstig, the shift in the Swedish government’s stance towards NATO membership can be attributed to some key factors. First, the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, presented a significant challenge to European security, prompting a reevaluation of Sweden’s neutral policy. Despite historical security challenges, including world wars and the Cold War, Sweden had maintained its neutrality. However, the Ukrainian conflict prompted a shift in the official stance. Another factor was the internal study initiated by the government after warming up to the idea of NATO membership, with the report indirectly recommending it as the most suitable response to Russian aggression. The strategic alignment with Finland was yet another compelling factor, where close political and military cooperation made it apparent that a Finnish NATO membership would likely lead to a Swedish one. The importance of a ‘defence deficit’ factor also played a crucial role in the Swedish decision, even though it is not often explicitly stated.

AI can be easily used to make fake election photos - report

Mike Wendling

People can easily make fake election-related images with artificial intelligence tools, despite rules designed to prevent such content.

The companies behind the most popular tools prohibit users from creating "misleading" images.

But researchers with the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) attempted to work around the rules.

Their efforts to make deceptive election-related images were successful 41% of the time.

The CCDH, a campaign group, tested four of the largest public-facing AI platforms: Midjourney, OpenAI's ChatGPT Plus, Stability.ai's DreamStudio and Microsoft's Image Creator.

All four prohibit creating misleading images as part of their terms and conditions. ChatGPT Plus expressly bars creating images featuring politicians. Several AI firms say they are working to stop their tools being used in spreading election misinformation, as well.

CCDH researchers, though, were able to create images that could confuse viewers about presidential candidates. One was of Donald Trump led away by police in handcuffs and another showed Joe Biden in a hospital bed - fictional photos alluding to Mr Trump's legal problems and questions about Mr Biden's age.

US lawmakers quiz Musk's Starlink over Russia claims

Mike Wendling

House Democrats are demanding answers from Elon Musk's SpaceX amid claims that its technology is being used by Russian forces in Ukraine.

Kyiv released intercepted communications last month indicating Russia had obtained Starlink terminals.

Mr Musk recently denied that any terminals - which are key to Ukraine's army operations - were sold to Russia.

But in a letter seen by the BBC, two senior Democrats said they were "concerned" by the recent allegations.

In the letter sent to SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell on Wednesday, Reps Robert Garcia and Jamie Raskin wrote that it was "alarming" that Russian troops might have obtained Starlink technology in violation of US sanctions.

"We are concerned that you may not have appropriate guardrails and policies in place to ensure your technology is neither acquired directly or indirectly, nor used illegally by Russia," the men, who serve on the US House Committee on Oversight and Accountability, wrote.

The oversight committee has the power to instigate investigations and hold public hearings.

Starlink's satellite system is one of the few technical solutions for providing internet access in places affected by natural disasters, very remote locations or - as in the case of Ukraine - war zones.

Use of the system requires a Starlink terminal, and SpaceX began shipping the terminals to Ukraine within hours of the start of the Russian invasion in February 2022.

The Economics of ‘Oppenheimer’

Cameron Abadi

The expected best picture winner at this year’s Oscars ceremony is Oppenheimer, a film about the making of the Manhattan Project, the U.S. government program that designed the first nuclear weapon during World War II. That program was highly secret—and quite expensive. Washington spent $2.2 billion on it in total, not adjusted for inflation. But while the film delves into the physics involved, it largely avoids questions of economics.

Biden Starkly Lays Out the Stakes for 2024

Michael Hirsh

U.S. President Joe Biden delivered one of the most political—and politically significant—State of the Union addresses in memory on Thursday night, laying out in the starkest of terms the stakes of the forthcoming election for the United States and the entire world.

Russian state-backed hackers breached Microsoft's core software systems, company says

Meredith Deliso

A Russian state-backed group that Microsoft said hacked into its corporate email accounts was able to gain access to its core software systems, the company announced on Friday.

Microsoft said its security team detected the attack in January and identified the group responsible as Midnight Blizzard, "the Russian state-sponsored actor also known as Nobelium."

"In recent weeks, we have seen evidence that Midnight Blizzard is using information initially exfiltrated from our corporate email systems to gain, or attempt to gain, unauthorized access," Microsoft said in a blog post update on Friday. "This has included access to some of the company's source code repositories and internal systems."

The company said it has found no evidence that Microsoft-hosted customer-facing systems have been compromised due to the breach.

As of Friday, the incident has "not had a material impact" on Microsoft's operations, the company stated in an SEC filing.

"The Company has not yet determined that the incident is reasonably likely to materially impact the Company's financial condition or results of operations," the filing stated.

Midnight Blizzard is apparently attempting to use "secrets" that it has found in the hack, according to Microsoft.

"Some of these secrets were shared between customers and Microsoft in email, and as we discover them in our exfiltrated email, we have been and are reaching out to these customers to assist them in taking mitigating measures," Microsoft said.

Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act: Unsung Hero Protecting Critical Infrastructure from National Security Threats

Heidi Crebo-Rediker

The Biden administration’s ambitious rebuilding of America’s infrastructure—thanks to the $1.2 trillion bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA)—brings to mind visions of politicians cutting ribbons at the reopening of a repaired bridge, or celebrating newly paved highways or transit systems. All those are crucial investments for safety, competitiveness, jobs, and growth, not to mention the improvements Americans experience personally every day. Fewer potholes mean less damage to cars and bridges that no longer require “diapers” to catch the falling chunks of concrete or risk collapsing into rivers below.

Less celebrated is the investment this legislation provides for U.S. national security, and in particular resilience against cyber threats to critical infrastructure: ports, energy grids and transmission lines, railways, and the many other means by which the United States transports goods, data, energy, and people. In November 2021 Congress allocated $50 billion of the IIJA to a category called “resilience,” to defend against the impacts of climate change, extreme weather events, and cyberattacks. Last week the Biden administration announced the largest cyber resilience-related funding to draw on the IIJA since its inception: $20 billion to protect critical infrastructure over the next five years by strengthening the cybersecurity of U.S. ports. These funds are especially important given rising geopolitical competition with a host of foreign actors, including China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea, as well as vulnerability to attacks by non-state cyber criminals.

The Department of Homeland Security and the Coast Guard Cyber Command, together with the National Security Council, disclosed last week that Chinese-manufactured ship-to-shore cranes account for nearly 80 percent of cranes at U.S. ports, amounting to over two hundred Chinese-manufactured cranes. Today’s cranes are very different from the dumb machines of the past; they include advanced software and sensors and their prevalence has been deemed to pose a real risk to American security interests. China’s potential ability to disrupt critical infrastructure thus requires the United States to revamp or replace those cranes over time.

What It Takes to Fly the F-16: Challenges for Ukraine

Kristen D. Thompson

Ukraine is set to receive U.S.-made F-16 fighter aircraft within months, an upgrade that Kyiv and its Western allies hope will help level the playing field with Russia’s formidable air force. But the F-16s will only have a meaningful impact on the war in Ukraine if Kyiv and its partners can build and maintain the extensive support and logistics infrastructure necessary to keep these world-class warplanes in the air.

What is the F-16 and what are its unique capabilities?

The F-16 Fighting Falcon (also known as the “Viper”) is a major upgrade from the Soviet-era fighters that Ukrainians currently fly. Made by U.S. manufacturer Lockheed Martin, the F-16 is a fourth-generation fighter—only one generation behind state-of-the-art stealth fighters such as the F-35 Lighting and F-22 Raptor.

Depending on the model and its upgrades, the F-16 can perform many roles, including both air-to-air and air-to-ground missions. In the cockpit, its human-machine interface is designed to enable pilots to make informed decisions quickly, while its relatively advanced radar and munitions allow pilots to engage targets at approximately one hundred kilometers (sixty-two miles).

F-16s will add an additional layer of defense to Ukraine’s current air defense artillery systems. Ukraine will likely use its F-16s to intercept inbound Russian cruise missiles and other less-advanced surface-to-air missiles. As a multi-role fighter, the F-16 can also provide air support to Ukrainian ground operations, help deter Russia from gaining control over additional airspace, and help prevent Russian aircraft from conducting close air-support operations along the front lines.

Understanding The AI Revolution – Analysis

Per Bylund

The artificial intelligence (AI) revolution is here, and it is bound to change the world as we know it—or so proclaims the hype following the release of OpenAI’s ChatGPT version 3.5 in November 2022, which was only the beginning. Indeed, much has happened since then with the release of the much-improved version 4.0, which was integrated into Microsoft’s Bing search engine, and the recent beta release of Google’s Gemini.

Lots has since been written about what AI could mean for humanity and society, from the positive extremes of soon-here Star Trek technologies and the “zero marginal cost” society to the supposedly imminent “AI takeover” that will cause mass unemployment or the enslavement (if not extermination) of mankind. However, how much of this is fiction, and what is real? In this three-part article series, I will briefly discuss the reality and fiction of AI, what it means for economics (and the economy), and what the real dangers and threats are. Is this the beginning of the end or the end of the beginning?

Most people’s prior experience of the term “artificial intelligence” is from science fiction books and movies. The AI in this type of media is a nonbiological conscious being—a machine man, of sorts. The intelligent machine is often portrayed as lacking certain human qualities such as empathy or ethics. However, it is also unencumbered by human limitations such as imperfect calculability and the lack of knowledge. Sometimes the AI is benign and a friend or even servant of mankind, such as the android Data in Star Trek: The Next Generation, but AI is often used to illuminate problems, tensions, or even an existential threat. Examples of such dystopian AI include Skynet in the Terminator movies, the machines in The Matrix, and HAL 9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The “AI” in our present real-world hype, such as OpenAI’s ChatGPT and Google’s Gemini, is nothing like these sci-fi “creatures”; they are nowhere near conscious beings. In fact, what we have today is so far from what we typically would call an intelligence that a new term has been invented to distinguish the “real thing” from the existing chatbots that are now referred to as “AI”: artificial general intelligence. The conscious, thinking, reasoning, and acting nonbiological creature-machines in sci-fi are artificial general intelligences. This raises the question: What is AI?

10 Biggest Cyber Espionage Cases: Undercover Campaigns of the Last 12 Months

Neil C. Hughes

From the SolarWinds breach in 2020 to the anticipatory defenses being raised for the 2024 Paris Olympics, the threat from AI-powered cyber espionage continues to evolve. The rise of advanced persistent threats (APTs) demonstrates how state actors can easily infiltrate the most secure networks, leaving a trail of disruption in their wake.

Governments are now waking up to the threat of a digital cold war in which cyber spies and cyber warfare occur on digital battlefields. But there are also fears around the increasingly sophisticated and targeted methods challenging national security, the fabric of global commerce, our critical infrastructure, and privacy.

This guide will explore the most extensive cyber espionage campaigns over the last 12 months and what to expect in the year ahead.

Key Takeaways
  • Cyber espionage cases have evolved to target critical infrastructures and strategic sectors globally.
  • State-sponsored actors, including those from China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea, have demonstrated sophisticated capabilities to infiltrate and disrupt networks.
  • The latest incidents reveal the growing challenge of securing cloud infrastructure against espionage efforts.
  • Advanced persistent threats (APTs) employ innovative tactics such as “MFA bombing” and forging authentication tokens to gain unauthorized access.
  • The strategic targeting of sectors outlined in national development plans, such as “Made in China 2025,” showcases the economic motivations behind cyber espionage campaigns.