24 June 2024

Cobalt Conundrum: India’s Deep-Sea Mining Push Challenges China’s Dominance, Sparks Tensions With Sri Lanka – Analysis

Girish Linganna

India is rushing to get permission to explore a cobalt-rich underwater mountain located in the middle of the Indian Ocean. However, there are other countries interested in the same area. Sri Lanka is also looking to mine precious minerals there, adding to the competition. Cobalt is a critical mineral used in rechargeable batteries for smartphones, laptops and electric vehicles. It also plays a key role in making alloys for jet engines, gas turbines and cutting tools. Additionally, cobalt is used in medical implants and as a catalyst in the chemical industry.

The urgent application to explore the cobalt-rich underwater mountain is driven by concerns about China’s presence in the Indian Ocean. China already controls much of the world’s cobalt supply, which worries officials and analysts who shared their thoughts with Al-Jazeera. This has prompted India to react quickly.
India Eyes AN Seamount

In January, India asked the International Seabed Authority (ISA), headquartered in Jamaica, for permission to explore the cobalt-rich Afanasy Nikitin Seamount (AN Seamount). The ISA is an autonomous world body that was set up under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). A seamount is a volcanic activity-induced underwater mountain and is known to be rich in marine life. Similar to land volcanoes, seamounts can be active, extinct, or dormant.

The AN Seamount is a large underwater structure in the Central Indian Basin. It is 400 km long and 150 km wide and is situated about 3,000 km from the Indian coast. From a depth of around 4,800 metres, the AN Seamount rises around 1,200 metres high. Surveys conducted about 20 years ago show it is rich in cobalt, nickel, manganese and copper deposits.
Claiming Exclusive Rights

China’s Sri Lanka Refinery Alarms India – OpEd

Subir Bhaumik

In a move that will up alarms in India, China’s giant conglomerate Sinopec is entering Sri Lanka’s energy market with its inaugural overseas refinery at the Chinese-managed Hambantota port. Sri Lanka approved the $4.5 Bn investment in November.

Doubtlessly, this strategic move flags Sinopec’s ambition to offset declining growth in China’s oil demand and move capacity in emerging markets in developing economies. Sri Lanka figures prominently in China’s Maritime Belt & Road Initiative which is designed to give Beijing control over crucial Indian Ocean lanes.

Sinopec’s refinery project was geared more towards meeting Sri Lanka domestic needs, contrary to Sri Lanka’s export-oriented preference, intensifies the rivalry with India.

Despite India’s significant fuel supply role in Sri Lanka, Sinopec’s initiative signals a strategic contest for market dominance.

Driven by a newly launched investment arm, Sinopec is prioritizing global expansion, with Sri Lanka and Saudi Arabia as focal points. As China’s oil demand approaches saturation amid economic deceleration and rising electric vehicle adoption, Sinopec seeks to leverage its expertise and financial strength in overseas ventures.

This endeavor represents a departure from previous trends in Chinese oil investments abroad, which dwindled post-2015 due to oil price fluctuations and heightened financial scrutiny by Beijing.

Sinopec’s meticulous planning includes finalizing plant specifications and negotiating market access terms with Colombo, that was critical in influencing its investment decision.

China Targets US With Hacking Contests

Hugh Cameron

China's spy agencies are using talent competitions to recruit young hackers for cyberattacks on the US.

The revelation comes in a new report that has shed fresh light on the secretive state's "hack for hire" programme, which the authors said was "unlike anything we have ever seen."

Cyber experts have called on the government and big business to do more in the wake of the report from ETH Zurich's Center for Security Studies, which revealed how China is weaponizing the brains of its young technophiles.

Beijing has banned homegrown talent from competing in international hacking, in which contestants compete to exploit vulnerabilities in widely used software for cash prizes, and created its own events, the report said.

Chinese hackers are now forced to compete in government-sanctioned domestic events, giving spy agencies a pipeline of knowledge and manpower that can be exploited for use against the U.S. and its allies.

China and Artificial Intelligence: The Cold War We’re Not Fighting

Arthur Herman

The public and the media are right to worry about a future dominated by artificial intelligence. But the threat is not coming from Silicon Valley, Big Tech, or the Deep State. It’s coming from Beijing, and much more than the runaway development both of artificial intelligence and machine learning (ML) is at stake. The fate of societies and economies founded on Western liberal principles hangs in the balance—a future that Beijing and the Chinese Communist Party want to replace with their own totalitarian template. And that even includes a new definition of what it is to be human.

While Americans worry about whether AI and ChatGPT will enable students to cheat on their term papers or generate deep-fake videos of President Biden or Donald Trump, China has been steadily moving ahead with its own plan for this advanced digital technology. While the AI industry in this country remains focused on commercial advantage and market share and is diffused and dispersed throughout more than 67,000 companies large and small, China’s efforts in AI are centralized and regimented and entirely focused on a larger agenda.

Americans have had some exposure to China’s ruthless use of new technologies from human-rights advocates who detail how they are being used to oppress China’s Muslim Uighur minority. One of the reasons for alarm at the effectiveness of the Chinese-owned TikTok is that its algorithm owes its speed and effectiveness to AI, while TikTok’s data-gathering can provide valuable grist for the Chinese government’s AI mills.

China’s recent announcement about mass-producing humanoid robots by 2025 also raised alarms, since these are devices that will be largely driven by AI.

Putin has been diminished Story

A picture of Russia's President Vladimir Putin on a billboard is seen on a building in Pyongyang© Provided by The Telegraph

Vladimir Putin’s journey to Pyongyang to meet fellow dictator Kim Jong-un is emblematic of the Russian leader’s isolation. Just 10 years ago, he was attending meetings of the G8 (now the G7) and rubbing shoulders with the leaders of the world’s richest nations. Now he has to go cap in hand to the pariah state of North Korea to seek both support for his war in Ukraine and the weapons to pursue it.

The old Soviet Union nurtured a partnership with North Korea, but modern Russia had kept this weird dynastic despotism at arm’s length until it became one of the few allies willing to send arms, along with Iran. President Putin has not visited Pyongyang in 24 years, but is now preparing to sign a new strategic partnership.

Russia has already been supplying oil to North Korea in exchange for ballistic missiles and artillery shells to be used on the battlefield in Ukraine. But this might now go further, with suggestions that Moscow would offer Pyongyang nuclear-powered submarine and satellite technology, a possibility that has understandably alarmed South Korea.

Putin has made some major strategic blunders over the past few years, but would he be unwise enough to give Kim Jong-un the wherewithal to be more threatening than he has been already. Moreover, would China let him?

Is This Our First Look At Russia’s New Monster Glide Bomb Striking Ukraine?


Russian forces have begun employing massive 3,000-kilogram (6,600-pound) class FAB-3000 M54 bombs turned into stand-off weapons in Ukraine it has been claimed. If true, this could present a significant new challenge for Ukrainian forces given the amount of destruction power such a weapon could deliver while also helping the launch platform stay further away from Ukrainian air defenses. At the same time, questions have already been raised about what aircraft might be able to employ FAB-3000 M54s converted in this way and the size of the available stockpile of the bombs, all of which could limit their actual operational utility.

The Fighterbomber channel on Telegram, which has close connections to the Russian Aerospace Forces, shared a video, seen below, earlier today purporting to show the first combat employment of a FAB-3000 M54 fitted with a UMPK-series glide bomb kit. UMPK modules consist of a pop-out wing kit and a guidance package, as you can read more about here. The FAB-3000 is one of, if not the largest conventional general-purpose high-explosive bomb in Russian service today. There is no direct U.S. military analog, with the largest of the three most common sizes of bombs American forces employ being in the 2,000-pound (900-kilogram) class, or less than a third of the size.

Biden’s Handwringing Over the Houthis is Going to Get U.S. Navy Sailors Killed

Tim Gallaudet

This week marks the eighth month of the U.S. Navy’s combat operations against Houthi forces in Yemen. That’s four times longer than the first Gulf War. While Navy sailors have remained vigilant, fighting their ships, and eliminating a portion of their adversary’s combat capability, the Houthis and their Iranian enablers remain entirely undeterred.

Commercial mariners have gotten the message. After more than 50 attacks on shipping in the waters off Yemen, which have killed three, the marine transportation industry has all but abandoned the Red Sea. This caused one Commanding Officer of the Navy ships in the region to call the strategic sea lane a “ghost town.” One must wonder why the U.S. has a Navy in the first place.

The exodus of civilian shipping has only caused the Houthis to concentrate their kinetic effects on allied naval forces, creating the most intense combat conditions since World War II. In a sobering expose this week by the Associated Press, commanders of the U.S. Navy vessels involved described the nearly non-stop barrage of missiles and drones. In each case, the ships had only seconds to respond.

One officer said, “We only have to get it wrong once,” implying that if the Houthis succeed in executing just a single strike successfully, any of the ships could experience what occurred in 1987 when the USS Stark was struck by two Iraqi Exocet air to surface missiles during the Iran-Iraq War, which killed 37 sailors and nearly sunk the ship.

Time is not on the Navy’s side. Consider that Israel’s much-vaunted Iron Dome system has an estimated success rate of 95%, meaning that 5% of all incoming attacks strike home. In the AP article, Bryan Clark, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, said, “We’re sort of on the verge of the Houthis being able to mount the kinds of attacks that the U.S. can’t stop every time, and then we will start to see substantial damage. … If you let it fester, the Houthis are going to get to be a much more capable, competent, experienced force.”

Strength and Wisdom in the Middle East

John Nagl and Kelly Ihme

“Strength and Wisdom” is the motto of the US Army War College, Senior Service College of the United States Army. Located for the first half-century of its existence in Washington DC and for the past seventy-five years in historic Carlisle, Pennsylvania, the Army War College annually educates several hundred Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine lieutenant colonels and colonels, along with representatives of other US government agencies, in leadership, national security, and military science.

The ”superpower” of the Army War College, as in most professional military education institutions in the United States, is the presence of international officers from allied and partner nations around the globe. Each year, some 75 countries send their most talented senior officers to spend a year in Carlisle with their families studying, learning, and living among their American peers. This immersion often leads to forming lifelong personal, as well as professional, bonds that reap rewards for the entire international system for years to come.

Recently, a dozen international graduates of the War College gathered in Amman, Jordan for a reunion conference to discuss global and regional security issues with several American graduates and current War College faculty members. The event was sponsored by the United States Department of State and the range and depth of discussions were invaluable; they reinforced the critical role of the United States in the Middle East while amplifying some of the most pressing challenges the world faces today.

Those challenges are significant and increasing. The Department of Defense defines China as America’s pacing challenge, with Russia presenting an acute threat not just to Ukraine but to the entire North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Yet much of the conversation in Amman examined Iranian direct and proxy threats throughout the Middle East, the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, and the waning influence of the US in the region. This perspective, from the minds and mouths of our allies, should give us pause.

US signals that it has expanded policy to allow Ukraine to counterstrike into Russia

Haley Britzky and Natasha Bertrand

Ukrainian forces claimed they successfully hit a Russian S-300 missile system using Western-supplied weapons inside Russian territory in early June. From Iryna Vereshchuk

The US appears to have expanded its agreement with Ukraine to strike over the border inside Russian territory wherever Russian forces are engaging in cross-border attacks into Ukraine, not just in the Kharkiv region as was previously determined.

National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told PBS News on Monday that the agreement with Ukraine to fire into Russia extends wherever Russian forces are attempting to invade.

“It extends to anywhere that Russian forces are coming across the border from the Russian side to the Ukrainian side to try to take additional Ukrainian territory,” Sullivan said, adding that it’s “not about geography. It’s about common sense.”

Pentagon spokesman Maj. Charlie Dietz said in a statement that the US “has agreed to allow Ukraine to fire US-provided weapons into Russia across where Russian forces are coming to attempt to take Ukrainian territory.”

“If Russia is attacking or about to attack from its territory into Ukraine, it only makes sense to allow Ukraine to hit back against the forces that are hitting it from across the border,” Dietz said.

Pentagon press secretary Maj. Gen. Patrick Ryder insisted on Thursday that there had been no change in policy, which was always meant to allow Ukraine to conduct cross-border counterstrikes where necessary.

But Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin suggested during a press conference last week at a NATO meeting that the policy was limited to the Kharkiv region.

UN chief warns of perils of 'weaponizing digital technologies' and malicious activity in cyberspace

Edith M. Lederer

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The United Nations chief warned Thursday that “the perils of weaponizing digital technologies are growing by the year” and malicious activity in cyberspace is on the rise by governments, non-government actors and criminals.

At the same time, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said, “the misuse of digital technology is becoming more sophisticated and stealthy, malware, wipers and trojans are proliferating” and cyber operations enabled by artificial intelligence are multiplying the threat.

In addition, he warned the U.N. Security Council that “quantum computing could break down entire systems with its ability to breach encryption.”

On the positive side, Guterres said digital advances “are revolutionizing economies and societies,” not only bringing people together but delivering news, information and education and enabling citizens to access government services and institutions.

But instant connectivity that powers enormous benefits is also leaving people, institutions and governments vulnerable, he said.

Guterres said cybersecurity incidents have become “disturbingly common” from disruptions to health, banking and telecommunications services to “relentless illicit activity” including by criminal organizations and so-called “cyber-mercenaries.”

The secretary-general also pointed to “a legion of hate merchants littering the information superhighway with fear and division” and the increasing use of cyberspace as a weapon in conflicts. “And the growing integration of digital tools with weapon systems, including autonomous systems, presents new vulnerabilities,” he said.

Guterres said software vulnerabilities are being exploited and ways to achieve this are even being sold on the Internet.

The European Parliament’s New Composition

Geopolitical Futures

European Parliament elections last weekend saw mixed results for the legislature’s euroskeptic and pro-bloc parties. Populist parties had small gains with the ID and the ECR groupings winning 134 seats combined. However, the vast majority of seats went to pro-integration parties with the three biggest groupings winning 403 of 720 seats. Moderation still reigns in European institutions.

One of the most notable outcomes of the race came in France. The far-right National Rally party, part of the ID grouping, won roughly 31 percent of the French vote, more than double the support garnered by President Emmanuel Macron’s own party. This led Macron to dissolve the national assembly and call snap elections for later this month.

Harvard Expert Issues Urgent Nuclear War Warning: 'Dark Clouds Loom'

Jess Thomson

AHarvard professor has warned the world is dangerously close to nuclear war at a time when leading experts key to preventing such conflicts are "aging out," pleading with leaders to urgently seek help from a new generation of scientists and engineers.

Matthew Bunn, a professor of energy, national security and foreign policy, said "the risk of nuclear war has not been so high since the Cuban Missile Crisis" in 1962.

"Dark clouds loom on the nuclear horizon, with threats from all directions," he wrote in an editorial for the scientific journal Science, released Thursday. "The world could soon face an unrestrained arms competition for the first time in over five decades—and a more complex one involving more countries and more technologies."

In his editorial, Bunn warned the 2010 New START Treaty is the last remaining agreement limiting U.S. and Russian nuclear forces, but it expires in 2026, with Russia blocking required inspections and no new talks underway.

A Foreign Policy for the World as It Is Biden and the Search for a New American Strategy

Ben Rhodes

“America is back.” In the early days of his presidency, Joe Biden repeated those words as a starting point for his foreign policy. The phrase offered a bumper-sticker slogan to pivot away from Donald Trump’s chaotic leadership. It also suggested that the United States could reclaim its self-conception as a virtuous hegemon, that it could make the rules-based international order great again. Yet even though a return to competent normalcy was in order, the Biden administration’s mindset of restoration has occasionally struggled against the currents of our disordered times. An updated conception of U.S. leadership—one tailored to a world that has moved on from American primacy and the eccentricities of American politics—is necessary to minimize enormous risks and pursue new opportunities.

To be sure, Biden’s initial pledge was a balm to many after Trump’s presidency ended in the dual catastrophes of COVID-19 and the January 6 insurrection. Yet two challenges largely beyond the Biden administration’s control shadowed the message of superpower restoration. First was the specter of Trump’s return. Allies watched nervously as the former president maintained his grip on the Republican Party and Washington remained mired in dysfunction. Autocratic adversaries, most notably Russian President Vladimir Putin, bet on Washington’s lack of staying power. New multilateral agreements akin to the Iran nuclear deal, the Paris agreement on climate change, or the Trans-Pacific Partnership were impossible, given the vertiginous swings in U.S. foreign policy.

Xi, Putin Score Wins as More Asia Leaders Aim to Join BRICS Story

Philip J. Heijmans 

(Bloomberg) -- As Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese Premier Li Qiang wrapped up separate meetings in Southeast Asia this week, the two partners in the BRICS economic bloc encountered a region keen to join a group seen as a hedge against Western-led institutions.

During an interview with Chinese media ahead of Li’s visit to Malaysia, Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim declared his intention to apply to the bloc after it doubled in size this year by luring Global South nations — partly by offering access to financing but also by providing a political venue independent of Washington’s influence.

Thailand — a US treaty ally — last month announced its own bid to join BRICS, named after members Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. The bloc “represents a south-south cooperative framework which Thailand has long desired to be a part of,” Foreign Minister Maris Sangiampongsa told reporters last week.

For countries seeking to mitigate the economic risks of intensifying US-China competition, joining BRICS is an attempt to straddle some of those tensions. In Southeast Asia, many nations depend economically on trade with China while also simultaneously welcoming the security presence and investment Washington provides.

What’s next in Gaza after Rafah? - analysis


The 162nd Division of the IDF's Armored Brigade operating in Rafah, June 2024(photo credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)

Starting on the evening of May 6, the IDF has been operating in Rafah for six weeks now. Its first goal was to secure the Philadelphi Corridor along the border with Egypt. This was accomplished within three weeks. Now, the IDF is fanning out into Rafah city, its environs, and its neighborhoods, and when this operation is finished, there will be a large question mark regarding what will come next.

IDF chief spokesman R.-Adm. Daniel Hagari hinted at the existing challenges in an interview he gave to Channel 13 News on Wednesday. “To say that we are going to make Hamas disappear is to throw sand in people’s eyes. If we don’t provide an alternative, we will only have Hamas in the end,” he said.

The Chief of Staff, Lt.-Gen. Herzi Halevi, said something similar last month: “We are now operating once again in Jabalya. As long as there is no diplomatic process to develop a governing body in the enclave that isn’t Hamas, we’ll have to launch campaigns again and again in other places to dismantle Hamas’s infrastructure. It will be a Sisyphean task.” Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and former war cabinet minister Benny Gantz have both called for a day-after strategy for Gaza.

Hamas Is Winning Why Israel’s Failing Strategy Makes Its Enemy Stronger

Robert A. Pape

Nine months of Israeli air and ground combat operations in Gaza have not defeated Hamas, nor is Israel close to vanquishing the terrorist group. To the contrary, according to the measures that matter, Hamas is stronger today than it was on October 7.

Since Hamas’s horrific attack last October, Israel has invaded northern and southern Gaza with approximately 40,000 combat troops, forcibly displaced 80 percent of the population, killed over 37,000 people, dropped at least 70,000 tons of bombs on the territory (surpassing the combined weight of bombs dropped on London, Dresden, and Hamburg in all of World War II), destroyed or damaged over half of all buildings in Gaza, and limited the territory’s access to water, food, and electricity, leaving the entire population on the brink of famine.

Although many observers have highlighted the immorality of Israel’s conduct, Israeli leaders have consistently claimed that the goal of defeating Hamas and weakening its ability to launch new attacks against Israeli civilians must take precedence over any concerns about Palestinian lives. The punishment of the population of Gaza must be accepted as necessary to destroy the power of Hamas.

But thanks to Israel’s assault, Hamas’s power is actually growing. Just as the Viet Cong grew stronger during the massive “search and destroy” operations that ravaged much of South Vietnam in 1966 and 1967 when the United States poured troops into the country in an ultimately futile bid to turn the war in its favor, Hamas remains intractable and has evolved into a tenacious and deadly guerrilla force in Gaza—with lethal operations restarting in the northern regions that were supposedly cleared by Israel only a few months ago.

The central flaw in Israel’s strategy is not a failure of tactics or the imposition of constraints on military force—just as the failure of the United States’ military strategy in Vietnam had little to do with the technical proficiency of its troops or political and moral limits on the uses of military power. Rather, the overarching failure has been a gross misunderstanding of the sources of Hamas’s power. To its great detriment, Israel has failed to realize that the carnage and devastation it has unleashed in Gaza has only made its enemy stronger.

Russia Approaches Grim Milestone in Reported Tank Losses

Ellie Cook

Russian forces in Ukraine have lost almost 8,000 tanks since the start of Moscow's full-scale invasion, according to figures published by Ukraine's military on Thursday.

Three were lost in the past 24 hours of fighting, the update posted to social media said on Thursday, bringing Kyiv's total tally of Moscow's tank losses since February, 2022, to 7,987.

Newsweek has not independently verified these numbers, and has approached the Russian Defense Ministry for comment via email.

Although precise figures are hard to come by, Ukraine's statistics do offer some insight into the toll wrought by more than two years of bitter fighting. Neither Moscow nor Kyiv regularly offers up figures counting their own losses, and experts say any tallies put forward by one side in a conflict should be treated with caution.

How Long Can the USS Eisenhower Continue Fighting the Houthis?

Lolita C. Baldor & Jon Gambrell

ABOARD THE USS DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER IN THE RED SEA (AP) — The combat markings emblazoned on the F/A-18 fighter jet tell the story: 15 missiles and six drones, painted in black just below the cockpit windshield.

As the jet sits on the deck of the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower aircraft carrier in the Red Sea, its markings illuminate the enemy targets that it’s destroyed in recent months and underscore the intensity of the fight to protect commercial shipping from persistent missile and drone attacks by the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen.

But they also hint at the fatigue setting in, as the carrier, its strike group and about 7,000 sailors close in on their ninth month waging the most intense running sea battle since World War II. That raises difficult questions about what comes next as U.S. military and defense leaders wrangle over how they will replicate the carrier’s combat power if the ship returns home to Norfolk, Virginia.

Already, the carrier’s deployment has been extended twice, and sailors post dark memes around the ship about only getting one short break during their steadily growing tour. Some worry they could be ordered to stay out even longer as the campaign drags on to protect global trade in the vital Red Sea corridor.

At the Pentagon, leaders are wrestling with what has become a thorny but familiar debate. Do they bow to Navy pressure to bring the Eisenhower and the other three warships in its strike group home or heed U.S. Central Command’s plea to keep them there longer? And if they bring them home — what can replace them?

U.S. officials say that they’re weighing all options and that a decision is expected in the coming weeks.

How Much of a Threat Does Hamas Still Pose to Israel?

Bruce Hoffman

What do we know about Hamas’s status as a fighting force at this point in the war?

Hamas has suffered a grievous but not a crushing blow as a result of Israel’s military operations in the Gaza Strip. American officials are reported to believe that Hamas now has between 9,000 and 12,000 fighters—about half of the number at the start of the war. That means that the Palestinian militant group can field some twelve to fifteen battalions, a considerably larger number than the handful of remaining battalions that Israel said there was to justify its ongoing operations in the southern Gaza city of Rafah. For its part, Hamas claims to have lost no more than six thousand men. And, for a movement that depends on tunnels for its survival, perhaps as many as 80 percent of Hamas’s tunnels remained intact as of January 2024.

According to U.S. President Joe Biden, Hamas has been “devastated” and is “no longer capable of carrying out another October 7” attack. That is without any doubt a core requirement to fulfill Israel’s strategic objectives in waging this war. But the big question is whether it is a sufficient one. It is akin to the United States claiming, for example, in 2002 that al-Qaeda was no longer capable of launching another September 11, 2001-like attack and, therefore, that the threat from the terrorist group had receded enough that a cease-fire was possible. In Israel’s case, as long as Hamas’s senior command survives and a core of combat-seasoned fighters remain, Israel will consider the Palestinian militant group to be in a position to, at minimum, continue to lob missiles and rockets onto Israeli communities, harass Israel Defense Forces (IDF) operating in Gaza, and plot even more serious attacks.

Russia Struck a Defense Pact With North Korea. What Does It Mean?

Sue Mi Terry and Stephen Sestanovich

This Expert Brief combines interviews with Sue Mi Terry, senior fellow for Korea studies, and Stephen Sestanovich, George F. Kennan senior fellow for Russian and Eurasian Studies. Terry was a deputy national intelligence officer for East Asia at the National Intelligence Council from 2009 to 2010. Sestanovich was the U.S. State Department’s ambassador-at-large for the former Soviet Union from 1997 to 2001.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un just signed a new defense pact. Why now?

SUE MI TERRY: Putin capped off his two-day trip to North Korea today with the surprise signing of a new comprehensive strategic partnership pact. The actual text of the document has yet to be released, so the details are uncertain, but the treaty is said to include a mutual defense provision, calling for each country to provide military assistance should the other be attacked.

STEPHEN SESTANOVICH: “Why now?” This is the easy question. North Korea has been supplying Russia with arms for its war in Ukraine, and Putin is paying them off with a great big thank you.

TERRY: Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022 forced Moscow to look to North Korea for munitions—and Pyongyang has delivered, providing artillery ammunition and short-range rockets that Russia has used against Ukraine. In return, Russia is likely to provide not only economic aid, as North Korea desperately needs cheap oil from Russia, but also military aid to help improve North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD) program.

Ultrasecure comms could give special operators a leg up


Quantum computing gets a lot of attention for its potential to break encryption, but it might also make special operators’ communications more secure than ever.

Late last year, a company called Rhea Space Activity demonstrated its quantum communications prototype, QLOAK, in Norway for representatives of U.S. Special Operations Command, Norwegian Special Operations Command, and the Norwegian Defense Research Establishment.

QLOAK promises the ability to “bolt on” to existing laser communications terminals and enable quantum communications, using free-space optics to establish secure links over large distances.

In the October 2023 demonstration, the the Washington, D.C.,-based company sent a simple, highly encrypted message: “grundighet gir trygghet”—or in English, “thoroughness gives security."

Cameo Lance, the company’s co-founder and COO, said the Norway demonstration was a “pivotal step” that “showed we were capable of free-space optical communications outside of a pure laboratory environment.”

It also nodded toward a similar capability to China, which in 2016 reportedly linked two ground stations 1,000 kilometers apart.

“Interoperable communication is critical in the Arctic but is extremely difficult to implement,” a U.S. Special Operations Command spokesperson said when asked about the demonstration. “The Arctic environment presents significant challenges for military operations – harsh temperatures, a predominantly sea and ice environment, poor terrestrial data and communications infrastructure due to a lack of large population centers, and complex ongoing climate, environmental, political, economic, and cultural developments.

RSA’s prototype uses lasers instead of radio signals to bounce signals off satellites, increasing the data rate and decreasing the likelihood of interception.

How AI is turning satellite imagery into a window on the future


Satellite image providers say that new artificial intelligence tools, coupled with more and faster satellite data, will enable image providers to much better anticipate events of geopolitical significance and notify customers and operators of impending crises.

“Analysis is really great, but it's mainly retroactive, a forensic capability of looking back in time,” Planet CEO William Marshall said in an interview last week. “In principle, generative AI models…can leverage satellite data to predict what is likely to happen: ‘You're likely to have a drought here that might lead to civil unrest.’”

Today, relatively simple AI processes such as machine learning can pick out things like cars or ships, but identifying trends across large amounts of imagery remains a heavily human endeavor. Analysis of some image sets—say, to understand where an adversary force might attempt to stage an invasion—can take months.

Planet, whose satellite imagery helped the world understand the preparations for and execution of Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine, has long experimented with various artificial intelligence models. But Marshall said that recent breakthroughs in large language models promise to enable AI to do more and more complex analysis—and far faster than humans.

“We're going with these large language models, I think is more and more towards getting that sort of accuracy within minutes or so—if you've already got the imagery,” he said.

Troy Tomon, Planet’s senior vice president of product and software engineering, said models can be trained not just to make sense of a given data set but to help humans find data relevant to their problems.

TikTok confirms it offered US government a 'kill switch'

Imran Rahman-Jones, Technology reporter

TikTok says it offered the US government the power to shut the platform down in an attempt to address lawmakers' data protection and national security concerns.

It disclosed the "kill switch" offer, which it made in 2022, as it began its legal fight against legislation that will ban the app in America unless Chinese parent company ByteDance sells it.

The law has been introduced because of concerns TikTok might share US user data with the Chinese government - claims it and ByteDance have always denied.

TikTok and ByteDance are urging the courts to strike the legislation down.

"This law is a radical departure from this country’s tradition of championing an open Internet, and sets a dangerous precedent allowing the political branches to target a disfavored speech platform and force it to sell or be shut down," they argued in their legal submission.

They also claimed the US government refused to engage in any serious settlement talks after 2022, and pointed to the "kill switch" offer as evidence of the lengths they had been prepared to go.

TikTok says the mechanism would have allowed the government the "explicit authority to suspend the platform in the United States at the US government's sole discretion" if it did not follow certain rules.

How AI Might Affect Decisionmaking in a National Security Crisis

Christopher S. Chivvis and Jennifer Kavanagh

The American Statecraft Program develops and advances ideas for a more disciplined U.S. foreign policy aligned with American values and cognizant of the limits of American power in a more competitive world.

Imagine a meeting of the U.S. president’s National Security Council where a new military adviser sits in one of the chairs—virtually, at least, because this adviser is an advanced AI system. This may seem like the stuff of fantasy, but the United States could at some point in the not-too-distant future have the capability to generate and deploy this type of technology. An AI adviser is unlikely to replace traditional members of the National Security Council—currently made up of the secretaries of defense, state, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. But an AI presence at the table could have some fascinating—and challenging—implications for how decisions are made. The effects might be even more significant if the United States knew that its adversaries had similar technology at their disposal.

To get a grip on how the proliferation of artificial intelligence might affect national security decisionmaking at the highest levels of government, we designed a hypothetical crisis in which China imposed a blockade on Taiwan and then convened a group of technology and regional experts to think through the opportunities and challenges that the addition of AI would bring in such a scenario. We looked in particular at how the proliferation of advanced AI capabilities around the world could affect the speed of decisionmaking, perception and misperception, groupthink, and bureaucratic politics. Our conclusions were not always what we expected.

AI Could Slow Down Decisionmaking

Because AI systems may be able to accumulate and synthesize information more quickly than humans and identify trends in large datasets that humans might miss, it could save valuable analytic time while offering human decisionmakers better-informed grounds for their judgements. As Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks argued in November 2023, “AI-enabled systems can help accelerate the speed of commanders’ decisions and improve the quality and accuracy of those decisions.”

The Art of Irregular Warfare Campaigning: A Job for Which Headquarters or Agency?

Paul Burton

Irregular Warfare (IW) Campaigning is the art of using available resources by the Department of Defense and other Agencies in a series of linked actions, over an extended period, to eventually gain a marked advantage over your adversary, who will also be referred to as peer competitors. This long-term strategy requires continuity of desired end states through both political administrations and military command rotations. This was done by and large during the Cold War, albeit with course adjustments; the key was that the majority of America never questioned that the Soviet Union was our number one enemy. This basic common focus during the Cold War helped facilitate a unity of purpose and effort from different organizations, if not a unity of command and priority of tasks. So, the question is what agency or headquarters should take the lead in IW campaigning in the present multi-polar complex world?

Campaigning for conventional warfare is complex, but campaigning for IW is rocket science. Presently, we are without a school to teach this type of rocket science, and an organization to launch the rocket. The complexities of IW campaigning require staffs and agencies that understand IW. It necessitates that the organizations conducting the campaign design to make a mental and cultural shift from the last 30 years from what they have done. For example, there are only a couple of individuals on active duty that served in junior positions during the Cold War and the concepts of IW are not taught in sufficient breadth and depth by the Department of Defense (DOD) and the other agencies to staff the organizations that will be conducting the campaigns. It also implies that the executing organizations will underwrite risk and failures. Additionally, there is the age-old problem of different guidance and doctrine from different organizations and time periods. The new JP 1-1 published August 2023, states “Campaigning is the persistent conduct and sequencing of military activities aligned with other instruments of national power to achieve prioritized objectives over time through global campaigns, combatant command (CCMD) campaigns, and associated families of contingency plans. Combatant commanders (CCDRs) campaign to deter attacks, assure allies and partners, compete below armed conflict, prepare for and respond to threats, protect internationally agreed-upon norms, and, when necessary, prevail.” This implies that the CCMD is responsible for the regional IW campaign drawing on interagency support across the instruments of national power to win the campaign. Ultimately, the CCMD has the responsibility for their theater, but which sub-unified commander should be the main effort and in what phase? Additionally, should the DOD be a supporting agency short of armed conflict? This necessitates an agency that both understands the roles and missions of DOD resources and can appropriately assign objectives to the DOD in support of broader IW objectives.