18 May 2024

A Year On, Manipur in India’s Northeast Continues to Simmer

Nikita Jain

It is a year since violent clashes between the majority Meitei community and the tribal Kuki-Zo-Hmar-Mizo communities erupted in the northeast Indian state of Manipur. While violence continues and has reduced somewhat, there has been no respite for the Manipuri people.

On May 3 this year, the Kuki-Zo and Meitei communities protested at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi to demand against the government’s laxity in controlling the violence. Displaced families as well as those whose kin are missing demanded justice from the central government.

Premlatha, a Meitei woman, traveled all the way from Manipur to Delhi, a distance of 2,251 km by road, to make her voice be heard by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Her 18-year-old son Unthane has been missing for over six months. “He went missing on November 5, 2023,” she said.

Afghanistan Under the Taliban: What We Know and Don’t Know

Ronald Neumann & Andrew Watkins

The latest UN Secretary-General’s report on Afghanistan, a comprehensive snapshot of developments in the country prepared every quarter by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), took careful note of the Taliban’s outreach to the civilian population: “The leadership of the de facto authorities remained focused on outreach at the national and subnational levels, working through various de facto institutions to narrow the gap between the de facto authorities and the population.”

Since the 2021 takeover of Afghanistan, this aspect of Taliban governance has rarely featured in Western reporting, which correctly characterizes the group’s rule as repressive and exclusionary. Indeed, the same UN report acknowledged, “there has been no progress towards greater inclusivity in institutions and decision-making processes” and noted the Taliban faces increasing domestic political dissent on multiple fronts. Nonetheless, its complicated outreach efforts to the country’s disparate communities deserve more attention.

How Is Afghanistan Doing Post-U.S. Withdrawal? Well...

Spencer Brown

It will come as little surprise to anyone who followed the Biden administration's policy toward Afghanistan which culminated in the botched withdrawal of U.S. forces at the end of August 2021 that handing the country over to the Taliban has not resulted in some vibrant liberalized democracy. Instead, also unsurprisingly, Afghanistan has turned into a hotbed of terrorist activity.

After calling the Taliban "businesslike and professional" during the withdrawal, the Biden administration has seemingly been surprised to learn that the new government has not expanded rights for women and girls, religious minorities, or other groups — all while allowing terrorists to set up new training and operations centers within Afghanistan.

When he announced the withdrawal on April 14, 2021, President Biden promised Americans that the U.S. would "not take our eye off the terrorist threat" after the last soldier left Afghanistan. "We'll reorganize our counterterrorism capabilities and the substantial assets in the region to prevent reemergence of terrorists," he pledged.

PLA remains focused on the Asia-Pacific and building resilience

Meia Nouwens

When Chinese defence minister Li Shangfu took the stage at the IISS Shangri-La Dialogue last year, he argued Beijing was pursuing a path of regional stability. After an eventful year, which included the general’s ouster, such a message would be a much harder sell at this year’s gathering, which begins 31 May.

The People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) recently demonstrated its power-projection aspirations when it completed an eight-day, inaugural test cruise with its third and most capable aircraft carrier, the Fujian. Skirmishes between Chinese vessels and Philippine boats in the Spratly archipelago have demonstrated Beijing’s increasing assertiveness in the region. The PLAN has also taken maritime activity near Taiwan to new levels, and recent activity by the Chinese Coast Guard around Taiwan’s Kinmen Island and high-altitude balloon overflights of Taiwan have fuelled questions about Beijing’s intent.

Tensions between China and Western countries have also increased over other issues. China’s Coast Guard has broadened cooperation with Russia, and Beijing has rebuffed Western pressure to cut Moscow off equipment it is using to fight in Ukraine. The United States and other countries in the Asia-Pacific region also accuse the PLA of increasingly unsafe behaviour in the air and at sea.

Taiwan Is the New Berlin

Dmitri Alperovitch

American histories of the Cold War tend to depict the Berlin Wall as a symbol of the era’s worst depredations. In doing so, however, Americans forget the complexity of the 15-year crisis over the status of Berlin that preceded the wall’s 1961 construction—a nuanced story that holds powerful lessons for today’s great-power struggle. In fact, U.S. President John F. Kennedy was relieved when the wall began to go up in 1961, a stark contrast with President Ronald Reagan, who 25 years later powerfully exhorted the Soviet Union to “tear down this wall.” 

The Russia-China Relationship Is More Complicated Than You Might Think | Opinion

Daniel R. DePetris

In the West, Russian President Vladimir Putin is an outcast—a man who unjustifiably invaded a sovereignty country, kills or jails his political opponents, is wanted for war crimes, and single-handedly destroyed whatever democratic system Russia had during the Boris Yeltsin era.

In China, however, Putin is a legitimate head-of-state, a partner and a personal friend of Xi Jinping, the strongman president and head of the Chinese Communist Party. In February, after a phone conversation between Putin and Xi, the Kremlin stated that relations with Beijing were at "an unprecedentedly high level," a consequence in part of the U.S.-led sanctions regime driving Moscow into China's orbit. Ties between the two countries are perhaps the warmest they have been in modern times. Putin's state visit to China this week, where he will meet with Xi and other senior Chinese officials, is merely the icing on top of the cake.

China-Russia Axis Heralds an Ominous Future

Chels Michta

Since the end of World War II, the United States has excelled at building and maintaining stable security relationships, with NATO being the prime example.

In contrast, America’s adversaries have been largely unable to forge enduring and effective great power partnerships — the turbulent relationship between the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China during the Cold War (which sometimes descended into armed conflict) serves as a powerful reminder that a shared ideology can often divide more than unite.

Currently, a unity of purpose between the autocratic powers has created the closest relationship in decades. China and Russia are forging a partnership increasingly reminiscent of a great power alliance.

The war in Ukraine has brought out a core strategic realignment in the global power distribution that is fast redefining the world order: the Sino-Russian partnership that many thought only a few years back would not be possible is a new geopolitical reality.

New Report Sheds Light on People's Liberation Army’s Role in Escalating Indo-Pacific Tensions

Noa Ronkin

In recent years, China's military modernization and assertive actions have led to more frequent and dangerous encounters between the People's Liberation Army (PLA) and the militaries of key regional players in the Indo-Pacific. Each encounter heightens the chance of a military conflict in the region. A new report published by the National Bureau of Asian Research (NBR) assesses the PLA’s strategic thinking on escalation control, analyzing the potential for conflict in the region and exploring regional responses and implications for deterrence.

Tactics, Intentions, and Shared Threat Perceptions

As the PLA adopts a more assertive approach beyond its maritime boundaries, nations across the Indo-Pacific region have increasingly experienced perilous encounters with the Chinese military. For example, the PLA's intensifying aggression around Second Thomas Shoal in the South China Sea led to several incidents of maritime tension with the Philippines. Likewise, a Chinese fighter aircraft intercepted an Australian surveillance aircraft during its routine activity in international airspace over the South China Sea, posing a safety risk to the Australian aircraft and its crew.

Chinese Perspectives on the “Indo-Pacific” as a Geostrategic Construct

Elliot S. Ji

The geopolitical significance of the Pacific and Indian Oceans has been a prominent issue in the Chinese political and diplomatic discourse. In 2013, Xi Jinping called on leaders at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Economic Leaders’ Meeting to “firmly move toward the goal of constructing a common destiny of the Asia-Pacific,” a vision he has since advocated for repeatedly during diplomatic engagements with APEC state leaders.1 With the concept of the “Indo-Pacific,” the geopolitical chessboard of Asia is expanded to highlight the connection between the two oceans, fusing the region into a single geopolitical framework that encompasses multilateral security partnerships, economic and trade integration, and a structure of strategic competition for regional players to balance each other’s influence.

China’s strategic community of policy experts, including those closely affiliated with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) foreign policy organs and the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), have extensively analyzed the significance of the Indo-Pacific. Many leading Chinese experts at the time suspected that this concept of Indo-Pacific, which shifted from “Asia-Pacific” to highlight the geostrategic value of the Indian Ocean, would quickly gain traction in the foreign policy of its geopolitical rivals and their close allies, creating new security challenges for China. Over the past decade, the Chinese strategic community has perceived this concept as a geostrategic response to China’s rise—a foreign policy instrument through which the United States, its allies, and partners can shape the security environment around China in their favor. Given the security and economic importance of the region, examining how Chinese strategists understand the Indo-Pacific as a geopolitically competitive space lends essential insight into how China perceives its strategic priorities in the context of security competition with regional countries.

Defeating China’s ‘Great Game’ in Cold War II


Sometimes small books can have big impacts — one thinks of Machiavelli’s The Prince, Halford Mackinder’s Democratic Ideals and Reality, Norman Podhoretz’s The Present Danger, and, more recently, Robert Kaplan’s The Tragic Mind. Michael Sobolik’s Countering China’s Great Game: A Strategy for American Dominance is a mere 161 pages of text, but if policymakers in Washington read it and broadly follow its suggestions, the United States may be in a better position to ultimately prevail in our current Cold War with China.

Sobolik is a senior fellow in Indo-Pacific Studies at the American Foreign Policy Council who previously served on the staff of Sen. Ted Cruz. China’s “great game” that the United States needs to counter, he writes, is its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which he rightly describes as a geopolitical offensive to extend China’s influence throughout Eurasia and beyond. Sobolik invokes Mackinder in warning that President Xi Jinping’s goal is to supplant the U.S. as “the dominant force across the entirety of Eurasia” and to extend its political influence to Africa to achieve predominance on what Mackinder called the “World-Island” (Eurasia-Africa). The BRI, he writes, is designed to “unite[] Eurasia on China’s terms.”

A UN Trusteeship for Palestine

Lloyd Axworthy, Michael W. Manulak, and Allan Rock

The current crisis in the Middle East, sparked seven months ago by Hamas’s attack on Israel, shows worrying signs of worsening. Tit-for-tat strikes between Israel and Iran in April, unprecedented in their directness, threaten to turn the long-standing shadow war between the two countries into outright military confrontation. Now, as Israel begins its ground assault in Rafah, the situation inside Gaza is deteriorating swiftly. With more than 34,000 civilian deaths already, accusations of genocide, and indications of a manmade famine, the humanitarian imperative is enormous and urgent. 

FPVs, tethered drones could become formal Army programs in 2025


Two types of small quadcopter-type drones—first-person-view and tethered—may vault from curiosities to formal, funded Army gear next year, a service official said.

“We are aggressively seeking to have both of those” as programs of record in fiscal year 2025, said Lt. Col. Michael Brabner, who manages small-drone requirements within the Army’s Maneuver Capabilities Development and Integration Directorate. The goal would be to then field FPVs to a unit by fiscal year 2026, he added.

Infantry platoons would operate first-person view drones, or FPVs, while armored units would use tethered drones, Brabner said in a Friday interview.

FPVs rose to prominence in Ukraine after soldiers on both sides began using them to take out enemy vehicles that are far more expensive than the $400-and-up quadcopters. And U.S. Army units have experimented with tethered drones, which draw upon their wired power supply to remain aloft for long periods of time.

Building an Enduring Advantage in the Third Space Age

Todd Harrison


The past year set many records for global space activity. The number of launches was the highest ever, at 211 successful launches that orbited a record-setting 2,870 satellites in a single year, increasing the total number of satellites in space by more than 22 percent.1 These global trends were led by the United States, which accounted for nearly half of all launches and more than three-quarters of new satellites. The United States finds itself in a position of great advantage in space, notwithstanding efforts by its adversaries to develop and field counterspace weapons that threaten this advantage. The capability and capacity of the US space industrial base are the envy of the world, and the pace of innovation coming out of US space companies is unmatched.

While 2023 was busy in terms of space activity, it was not an anomaly. Rather, as this report details, it is part of a multiyear trend that is quickly defining a new era of space activity—what has become known as the third space age.

As former NASA Associate Administrator Tom Cremins has defined it, the first space age began with the launch of Sputnik in 1957 and extended through the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990.2 The first space age was a period of militarization and exploration, driven by strategic competition between the United States and the Soviet Union. It was a strongly bipolar period, with the two superpowers accounting for 96 percent of launches and 94 percent of satellites orbited from 1957 through 1990.

Brass tacks: Why Russia’s military fails to reform

Kirill Shamiev

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

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

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

The Coming North Korean Crisis

Sue Mi Terry

U.S. President Joe Biden has plenty of foreign policy crises on his hands. But unfortunately for him, as the United States heads into November’s elections there’s a high chance of yet another emergency: renewed provocations from North Korea. Pyongyang has a history of acting out during U.S. elections. Research by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, for example, found that North Korea stages more than four times as many weapons tests in U.S. election years than in other years.

The situation on the Korean Peninsula is already growing fraught. On January 10, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un declared South Korea to be an enemy state, ending all talk of peaceful reunification and setting the stage for more hostilities. Any such outburst could outstrip whatever has come before. After decades of working with Washington to control Kim and restrain his nuclear program, Beijing and Moscow have decided to embrace North Korea’s leader, allowing him to act with newfound impunity.

The Israeli Defense Establishment Revolts Against Netanyahu

Yair Rosenberg

On Tuesday, Daniel Hagari, the chief spokesperson for the Israel Defense Forces, did something extraordinary: He criticized the Israeli government. In recent days, Israeli troops have battled Hamas in parts of northern Gaza that had previously been cleared of enemy combatants. A reporter asked Hagari if the terrorist group had been able to reassert itself because the Israeli government had not set up any non-Hamas Palestinian administration for those areas.

The spokesman could have dodged the question. He did not. “There is no doubt that a governmental alternative to Hamas will create pressure on Hamas,” he replied, “but that is a question for the political echelon.”

Hagari’s polite but pointed critique of Israel’s leadership was a pebble. The avalanche came the next day. In a televised address yesterday, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant—a former general and current member of Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party—publicly rebuked the government for failing to establish a postwar plan for Gaza. He then demanded that Netanyahu personally commit to Palestinian governance for the enclave, as opposed to Israeli settlement or occupation.

The Biden Administration’s Have-It-Both-Ways Report on Gaza

Isaac Chotiner

On Friday, the State Department declared in a new report that Israel’s conduct during the war in Gaza has “raised serious questions” about whether it is “upholding established best practices for mitigating civilian harm.” At the same time, the report did not find sufficient evidence to restrict military aid to Israel, which would be required by U.S. law if American weapons and aid were not being used in accordance with international legal standards. The report is a result of National Security Memorandum 20, which the Biden Administration issued in part in response to criticism from congressional Democrats who have been arguing that Israel’s war is violating international law, and thus should trigger a reassessment of the nearly four billion dollars in annual military aid that the United States gives Israel.

Although the report found it “reasonable to assess that defense articles covered under NSM-20 have been used by Israeli security forces since October 7 in instances inconsistent with its [International Humanitarian Law] obligations,” it concludes that the Biden Administration can continue aiding Israel as it sees fit. (This is all separate from Biden’s announcement last week that he was delaying the delivering of certain bombs because of Netanyahu’s threat to launch an invasion of Rafah.)

Is Netanyahu Choosing a War of Attrition Over Biden’s Wider Plan

Bernard Avishai

Eleven days ago, the C.I.A. director, William Burns, arrived in Cairo to join the negotiations over Gaza, which have also been brokered by Qatar and Egypt. Since then, ordinary Israelis began checking their phones every couple of hours to find out the fate of the “iskah,” Israel’s never-quite-consummated ceasefire deal with Hamas. Last Tuesday, we found out, instead, that the Israel Defense Forces had conducted air strikes in part of Rafah, and gained control of the Palestinian side of the land crossing into Sinai, near the Egyptian border. As the country marks an unusually vexed Independence Day, it is not yet clear how the Rafah incursion will affect the negotiations. It is clear that, as the Biden Administration (and many Israeli security experts) conceive it, a deal would not just secure the return of hostages but gesture toward a turning point in the war and in the region—which the Netanyahu government continues to resist.

Netanyahu claims that beneath Rafah, in a network of tunnels and bunkers, four Hamas battalions remain intact, presumably joined by fighters fleeing the north and holding an unknown number of surviving hostages. (Unnamed Israeli officials suspect that many Hamas fighters, along with the leader Yahya Sinwar, have actually moved back to tunnels further north.) Above ground in Rafah, a million Gazan refugees languish in tents, with few facilities and little food. 

Ukraine troops pull back in Kharkiv after Russia offensiv

James Gregory and James Waterhouse

Ukraine has pulled back its troops from several villages in the border region of Kharkiv following continued pressure from Russian forces.

Soldiers had come under heavy fire and moved to "more advantageous positions" in two areas of the north-eastern region, a military spokesman said.

Throughout the course of the two-year war, Ukraine has typically used this type of language to signify a retreat.

President Volodymyr Zelensky has cancelled all upcoming foreign trips as troops struggle to contain the new cross-border incursion, with several towns and villages coming under heavy fire.

His press secretary, Sergiy Nykyforov, said the president had "instructed that all international events scheduled for the coming days be postponed and new dates coordinated".

Britain developing system to eliminate drone swarms

Lisa West

A new weapon that uses radio waves to disable enemy electronics and take down multiple drones at once is under development for the UK’s armed forces, and it only costs 10p per shot.

An example of a Radio Frequency Directed Energy Weapon (RFDEW), the versatile system can detect, track and engage a range of threats across land, air and sea.

The system will be able to effect targets up to 1km away, with further development in extending the range ongoing. It beams radio waves to disrupt or damage the critical electronic components of enemy vehicles causing them to stop in their tracks or fall out of the sky.

At only 10p per shot fired, the RFDEW beam is a significant cost-effective alternative to traditional missile-based, air defence systems, capable of downing dangerous drone swarms with instant effect. The high level of automation also means the system itself can be operated by a single person. This technology can offer a solution to protection and defence of critical assets and bases.

2nd Biggest Arms Supplier To Israel & Ukraine, How This EU Powerhouse Is Silently Emerging From Its Shadow

It’s Germany – a nation historically marked by its involvement in two world wars. Despite enduring significant losses in World War II and having much of its military infrastructure and defense industry dismantled after the Potsdam Conference, Germany has reemerged as a significant contributor to arms exports.

Having risen from the ashes of World War II, Germany’s defense sector has become one of the world’s largest, accounting for 5.6% of global arms exports from 2019 to 2023. It consistently ranks among the top five defense suppliers internationally.

According to a report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), Germany currently holds the position of the world’s fifth-largest defense exporter, trailing behind the US, France, Russia, and China.

Russian Attacks on Ukrainian Critical Infrastructure Become Hybrid Threat to Europe

Alla Hurska

On May 8, Russia initiated yet another assault on Ukraine by launching 55 cruise and ballistic missiles, accompanied by 21 attack drones, on Kyiv’s critical infrastructure (T.me/ComAFUA, May 8). The strike targeted energy infrastructure sites in the regions of Poltava, Kirovohrad, Zaporizhzhia, Lviv, Ivano-Frankivsk, and Vinnytsia (Pravda.com.ua, May 8). DTEK, Ukraine’s largest private investor in the energy industry, reported severe damage to its equipment. The strike marked the fifth major attack on DTEK’s facilities over the past month and a half. Russia has attacked DTEK’s thermal power plants (TPP) about 180 times, killing three and injuring 51 (T.me/dtek_ua, May 8). These targeted strikes from Russia are already leading to energy supply and environmental issues for Ukraine, and if continued, Ukraine will fall further into an energy crisis.

These targeted assaults on Ukraine’s critical infrastructure reflect one of the central tenets of Moscow’s plan to weaken and demoralize Kyiv. Since February 2022, Russia’s hybrid strategy has consistently involved the deliberate crippling of civilian infrastructure. Moscow has sought to strike public health and education facilities, agricultural sites, telecommunication hubs, dams, railways, pipelines, ports, and power plants—including the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP), the largest nuclear power plant in Europe (see EDM June 1, 2023, June 19, 2023, June 28, 2023). According to Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal, since the full-scale invasion began, Russia has destroyed or damaged approximately 250,000 residential buildings, around 4,000 schools, over a thousand hospitals, and many other civilian facilities (Kmu.gov.ua, May 3). Some estimate that Ukraine’s reconstruction would currently require $486 billion (Delo.ua, May 3).

Jews cannot afford to be divided over Israel


Jews, like elephants, tend to have long memories. We see in the past warnings of the future. As Israel marks its 76th birthday on 14 May, perhaps the most relevant and terrifying precedent comes from the days of the Roman Empire.

After the First Jewish-Roman War ended in 74 AD, the Jews lost control of Palestine. Their temple was destroyed. Following a second rebellion, they were largely expelled from their promised land. They would not return in force for almost two millennia.

The most thorough account of those times was written by Josephus Flavius, a well-born Jewish priest who first joined the insurrection against Rome, but later embraced the imperial cause. The Israel Josephus describes sounds oddly familiar: a small country with a large diaspora, deeply divided about whether to accommodate the dominant Roman Empire or embrace various strains of zealotry. Many of these zealots spent at least as much time attacking each other as they did the Roman legions. He describes them as ‘falling upon the people as upon a flock of profane animals and cutting their throats’.

Contested connectivity: cyber threats in the Asia-Pacific

Julia Voo

Asia-Pacific countries are facing increasing numbers of state-backed hacking operations serving geopolitical and economic purposes. They are also getting better at conducting them. Domestic and foreign-policy ambitions are manifesting in the information space, where state-linked actors are contesting state adversaries, political opponents and world views both overtly, through activities such as defacement (hacking a target website and replacing its content with the hackers’ own message), and covertly, via disinformation operations. While basic cyber best practice is still out of reach for the least cyber-capable states, a couple of regional states could be considered amongst the most cyber capable globally. Forging a greater range of international partnerships between governments and industry is likely to boost the region’s resilience in cyberspace. Political will and geopolitical alignments will likely shape how that unfolds.

Cyber threats to and from the Asia-PacificThe physical layer of cyberspace, which includes submarine cables and their landing points, is a target for disruption during conflict, grey-zone warfare and intelligence gathering. The Asia-Pacific’s connectivity to the rest of the world is dependent on these cables, which run across congested global shipping lanes as well as the contested waters of the South China Sea. There has been notable disruption to cables in the region. For example, Taiwan’s Matsu Island submarine cables have been damaged repeatedly since 2021, including by Chinese shipping vessels and cargo ships.

AI will hit the labor market like a ‘tsunami,’ IMF chief warns. ‘We have very little time to get people ready for it’

Artificial intelligence will hit the labor market like a “tsunami,” according to International Monetary Fund managing director Kristalina Georgieva.

Since the onset of AI, experts have debated its pros and cons for the workforce. Essentially, could a tool capable of supercharging productivity by automating scores of routine tasks put millions of people out of a job? Or will technological change find a way, as it usually does, of creating new roles to replace the ones it’s rendering obsolete? Add Georgieva to the concerned camp.

“It could bring tremendous increase in productivity if we manage it well, but it can also lead to more misinformation and, of course, more inequality in our society,” Georgieva said during an event in Zurich.

In the same speech, Georgieva addressed other problems the global economy had faced, but had nonetheless weathered. “Last year there were fears that most economies would slip into recession, that didn’t happen,” Georgieva said. “Inflation that has hit us with a very strong force is on the decline, almost everywhere.” In other words, the economy could be somewhat tsunami-proof, but still, it’s coming.