25 September 2020

Is Pakistan’s Influence Over the Afghan Taliban Weakening?

by Abdul Basit

As the intra-Afghan talks progress, among other likely changes, Pakistan-Taliban relations would also evolve. Arguably, the road to peace in Afghanistan no longer runs through Islamabad. Ahead of the intra-Afghan negotiations, the reshuffles within the Taliban hierarchy indicate that the insurgent group is trying to emerge from Pakistan’s shadow. The Taliban leadership is doing this to bolster its political legitimacy, particularly since the signing of the U.S.-Taliban deal in February, and to remove the Pakistani proxy tag.

Pakistan is deeply unpopular in Afghanistan and continued association with it would damage the Taliban’s credibility among the Afghans. Hitherto, the Taliban, despite their desire for strategic autonomy, have remained responsive to Pakistani demands to keep their support structure. Interestingly, the proposed locations for the upcoming rounds of the intra-Afghan talks include Oslo, Norway, Tashkent, Uzbekistan, and Doha, Qatar, but not Islamabad.

Unlike Pakistan’s central role in the U.S.-Taliban deal, Islamabad’s role in the intra-Afghan negotiations would be reduced, just like other regional countries, to that of a facilitator.

Pakistan opposes to the revival of the pre-9/11 status quo in Afghanistan and wishes the Taliban’s incorporation in the current power structure. Pakistan is equally nervous about a hasty U.S. exit from Afghanistan and laments the absence of a potential peace guarantor. The Taliban’s full-scale return to power in Afghanistan would not only be a great morale booster for a plethora of jihadist groups in Pakistan, but it will trigger a fresh wave of radicalization (read Talibanization) in Deobandi madrassa networks sympathetic to the Taliban.

The Taliban, at Least, Are Striking Gold in Afghanistan

By Lynne O’Donnell, Mirwais Khan

For decades, Afghanistan’s untapped mineral wealth has been touted as the country’s trillion-dollar El Dorado. But while the Afghan government has never been able to monetize mountains of copper, iron ore, gold, and gemstones, the Taliban have—and are ramping up their mining operations as just-started peace talks aim to shape the future of a postwar Afghanistan.

In recent years, the Taliban have deliberately moved to secure control over regions of Afghanistan rich in mineral deposits, from lapis lazuli mines in northern Badakhshan to gold, lead, and zinc in Helmand and vast talc and marble deposits in southern Nangarhar. The Taliban, who already control most of the country’s mineral wealth, are banking on further developing the sector to make it the bedrock of the country’s postwar economy—or theirs, at least.

“Mining is one of the leading factors in the economic development of Afghanistan,” said Yaqoob Shah, the director of the leasing department of the Taliban’s shadow ministry of mines. He said the group is currently earning about $400 million a year from mining—a figure confirmed by independent researchers and which dwarfs Afghan government income from mining.

“Once the peace talks have been carried out, it will be of great value to the country’s welfare and development,” Shah said.

China’s Rejection of Taiwan Buffer Zone Raises Risk of Clash


China is ratcheting up the risk of military confrontation in the Taiwan Strait, as Beijing seeks to deter Taipei from continuing to deepen ties with the U.S. and other like-minded democracies.

People’s Liberation Army aircraft repeatedly breached the median line between Taiwan and the Chinese mainland last week, in the latest of a series of military exercises in the area. The Chinese pilots signaled a willingness to continue the practice, telling Taiwanese personnel who attempted to warn them away that “there is no median line,” the Taipei-based China Times newspaper reported Friday, citing unnamed military officials.

The report was widely circulated by Chinese state media, with the PLA’s Eastern Theater Command responding to one post by urging citizens to “discard any illusions and prepare to fight.” The PLA Air Force separately released a video Saturday showing H-6 bombers making a simulated strike on a runway that looked similar to one at Anderson Air Force Base on Guam, a key staging area for any U.S. support for Taiwan.

“The risks of war are rising considerably, and redrawing the map over the median line in the Taiwan Strait is a very obvious step by Beijing to not only raise the pressure, but also justify use of force,” said Malcolm Davis, a former defense adviser to the government and now a senior analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute in Canberra. “These aggressive probes are perhaps designed to provoke the Taiwanese air force to ‘shoot first’ and then Beijing has all the justification it needs.”

The China Economic Risk Matrix

Logan Wright


Analyzing China’s economy can feel like an exercise in futility. The political system presents a certain version of economic reality via official data, while media reports and market prices provide another. A glowing macroeconomic picture of stable and high rates of GDP growth contrasts with micro-level stories of bankruptcy, defaults, and redundancies. Measures of economic performance in China are often not directly comparable to those in other countries. Many aspects of China’s economy look unsustainable in the long term, but it is difficult to identify any particular problem that Beijing authorities cannot manage effectively in the short term. The potential for economic crisis in China is always present, but a crisis is never quite there. That need for better diagnostic tools of meaningful financial stress in China drove the development of the China Economic Risk Matrix, similar to a threat matrix in security parlance. The risk matrix attempts to track developments within the key areas of financial risk in China where changes in Beijing’s credibility can have an outsized impact on financial stability. It is not a predictive tool but a diagnostic one—more like a flood warning system rather than a signal that a particular dam will break.

Analysis: How Trump’s TikTok Deal Helps China

BY PATRICK TUCKER

Though the Trump administration's handling of the TikTok case has drawn criticism from a broad spectrum of American tech watchers, the editor of one state-backed Chinese newspaper, at least, thinks it should become a model for restructuring other Western tech companies. That's likely because the White House's chosen path appears to do little to restrict Beijing's ability to use the video-sharing app to collect data about its users — or practices President Trump called national-security threats.

The final details of the deal have yet to be made public, but news reports indicate that the TikTok app and its server backend will be spun off from its inventor, the Chinese company ByteDance, into a new company called TikTok Global. ByteDance would retain 80 percent ownership of the new company, U.S.-based Oracle would get 20 percent and responsibility for the app’s cloud backend, and Walmart would take over merchandising.

None of this would stop the app from collecting cell location data, keystroke patterns, device identifiers, and more data about its users. (TikTok users agree to provide these under its terms of service.) And none of it would stop the Chinese government from obtaining this data through third-party data brokers — or, depending on the sale conditions — through ByteDance itself.

This reflects a fundamental security issue at the heart of the app economy, much of whose profits flow from selling users’ data. Most Americans have little idea what happens to their data once it’s collected by apps, including how it can be sold and resold, even if they bother to read the terms-of-service agreement they consent to in order to use the app. European residents have a somewhat better understanding, thanks in part to comprehensive 2018 data privacy laws passed by the European Union. 

The end of the Saudi era

Marwan Bishara

As we approach the second anniversary of the state-sponsored assassination of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Saudi Arabia continues its retreat, losing direction and influence in the Gulf and Middle East regions.

More than 50 years after the Saudi kingdom began its rise to regional and international prominence as the leading member of OPEC and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), it now finds itself on a path of steady decline.

Home to Islam’s holiest sites and to the world’s second-largest oil reserves, Saudi Arabia’s misguided policies are wasting the religious and financial clout it has accumulated over the years.

The past five years have been especially painful and destructive. What began as a promising and ambitious drive by the rather Machiavellian Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS), soon turned into a reckless venture.

Guided primarily by his mentor, the other Machiavellian prince, Mohammed Bin Zayed (MBZ) of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), MBS is running the kingdom to the ground.

Coronavirus Has Exposed The Need To Reform The United Nations

by Rachel A. George

The twenty-first century has seen a growing malaise in trust in global governance, and for good reason. Just as COVID-19 gripped the globe, Brexit continued to embroil politics in the United Kingdom, U.S. leadership in NATO wavered, and controversy over the UN Human Rights Council’s political contours raged on. While the United States prides itself as a leader in many aspects of the global coronavirus response (including as a major funder to the World Health Organization, UN Children’s Fund, UN Refugee Agency, and the World Food Program), widespread American skepticism towards the very global institutions it helped found and fund are now commonplace across the American political spectrum.

Today’s attention has rightfully turned to the WHO, as many of its strengths and weaknesses have been exposed. The institution, and its mechanisms such as the International Health Regulations (IHR), which were established to protect against global health emergencies, failed to prevent a pandemic. The WHO now faces widespread criticism for falling victim to politics and failing to act decisively. And yet, the flaws exposed in the institution at this moment should not be viewed in isolation—they are reflective of similar constraints across a wider system of flawed international institutions. Coronavirus emerged in a world in which even the strongest proponents of international institutions have had to face their modern failings. The United Nations, founded in 1945 in the trappings of a postwar order, aimed to “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war.” Over more than fifty years, the institution has evolved, along with many of its sub-agencies, into a bureaucratic, sluggish political space marked by global gridlock and controversy, unable to thwart so much of the modern conflict and suffering of the twenty-first century.

And yet, a global health pandemic at unprecedented scale has underscored the point that perhaps now, more than ever, the world can benefit from the coordinated, structured mechanisms global institutions promise, even if they fail to deliver the whole of their lofty goals. Within the fog of war often brought on by crisis, perhaps one fact is most clear: The current system of global governance isn’t working, and, yet, we are still better off with it than without it. With today’s hyper-connected global order, America will be stronger if it works with—and strongest if it leads—the best channels we can build for global cooperation, rather than against them. 

It's Too Soon For America To Kill Its Grand Strategy

by Ionut Popescu

To paraphrase Mark Twain, rumors of the death of American grand strategy are, shall we say, grandly exaggerated. In an otherwise thought provoking and insightful recent essay, Daniel Drezner, Ronald Krebs and Randall Schweller nevertheless mistakenly argue that “grand strategy is dead,” and it should stay that way. “It is time to operate without one,” contend the three scholars, and instead rely on “decentralization and incrementalism,” as “smart corporations” are allegedly doing. This advice is not necessarily entirely wrong, but it is ultimately misleading and it greatly underestimates the benefits of grand strategy in the face of growing tensions in the international arena. As a matter of fact, the emergent strategy approach recommended by those authors is best used as a complement to grand strategy, not as a substitute for it, as I have shown at length in my recent book Emergent Strategy and Grand Strategy: How American Presidents Succeed in Foreign Policy.

Drezner, Krebs and Schweller conceptualize grand strategy narrowly as a “road map for how to match means and ends,” and subsequently based their critique on the impossibility of designing and implementing such a grand plan at this point in time. However, our understanding of grand strategy as a concept should be much broader than a specific plan to be implemented. The value of grand strategy mostly comes from setting objectives and prioritizing them, shaping US foreign policy choices in a coherent direction, and providing a useful way to explain Washington’s actions to domestic and foreign audiences.

As Yale historian John Lewis Gaddis showed in the most authoritative study of that era, the Cold-War era Containment, arguably the most successful U.S. grand strategy in history, was never one plan, but rather a broad and flexible framework guided by the ultimate goal of setting the conditions for the long-term defeat of the Soviet Union. Documents such as the Long Telegram, NSC-68 or NSDD-32 were useful distillations of the strategic principles in place during various times of the Cold War, but they were not detailed blueprints that determined future actions. Nor, for that matter, did they accurately predict the future of world politics, a forecasting limitation that Drezner, Krebs and Schweller claim makes grand strategy impossible. For example, the much praised NSC-68 expected the USSR to embark on an ideology-driven relentless quest for world domination and entirely missed the emerging fractures inside the communist bloc. The Containment grand strategy owed its success to a mix of planning and emergent adaptation, and the same must be true today.

The Question Why Would China Not Invade Taiwan Now?

Posed by Tim Willasey-Wilsey

The political arguments for an invasion of Taiwan by China have grown considerably stronger in recent weeks. The main constraint now is military. The key question is whether the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is capable of achieving a quick victory over Taiwan.

Western experts were confident that the Soviets would not go into Czechoslovakia in 1968, and Afghanistan in 1979, the Iraqis into Kuwait in 1990, and the Russians into Crimea in 2014. Even the Israelis misread the signals at the start of the Yom Kippur war in 1973. This is not an area where the West has a good record.

A key question now is whether China might risk an invasion of Taiwan. Some analysts have seized on recent clues. Chinese Prime Minister Premier Li Keqiang dropped the word “peaceful” before “reunification” when discussing Taiwan in his annual work report published in May. And President Xi Jinping, speaking to the PLA on 26 May, suggested they should “comprehensively strengthen the training of troops and prepare for war”.

This article does not argue that China will invade Taiwan. There are good reasons for the Chinese not doing so. It would be a huge gamble for armed forces which have not been employed in combat during the careers of even their most senior officers. The aircraft carriers and amphibious landing ships are still relatively new. A lot could go wrong. A very public military failure would be a humiliating and possibly career-threatening experience for President Xi Jinping and for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Many members of the leadership would doubtless argue for patience.

The Ethiopian-Egyptian Water War Has Begun

By Ayenat Mersie|

It took only a few weeks to plan the cyberattack—and a few more to abandon the world of ethical hacking for the less noble sort. But they would do anything for the Nile, the four young Egyptians agreed.

With that, the group calling themselves the Cyber_Horus Group in late June hacked more than a dozen Ethiopian government sites, replacing each page with their own creation: an image of a skeleton pharaoh, clutching a scythe in one hand and a scimitar in the other. “If the river’s level drops, let all the Pharaoh’s soldiers hurry,” warned a message underneath. “Prepare the Ethiopian people for the wrath of the Pharaohs.”

“There is more power than weapons,” one of the hackers, who asked not to be identified by name, told Foreign Policy. Also, it was a pretty easy job, the hacker added.

A few weeks later and thousands of miles away, a 21-year-old Ethiopian named Liz applied red lipstick and donned a black T-shirt and jeans. She positioned her phone on her desk and started her own kind of online influence campaign: a TikTok video. She danced to a popular Egyptian song underneath the message, “Distracting the Egyptians while we fill the dam.”

The EU Stands With the UN

JOSEP BORRELL

BRUSSELS – In any normal year, I would be in New York City now for the annual opening of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). The event represents the greatest concentration of global policymakers in one place and is the high point on the diplomatic calendar. But this year is far from normal, and “UNGA week” is going virtual with events held online – a familiar format for us all in recent months.

This is unfortunate for several reasons. It is the UN’s 75th anniversary, and one would have wished for a better way to mark the occasion. Moreover, the state of the world is such that the multilateral system, with the UN at its core, is being challenged like never before – and just when we need it the most.

Indeed, never has the supply of multilateral solutions been so scarce, and demand for them so high. Every day we see how narrow nationalism and strategic rivalries, especially between the United States and China, are paralyzing the UN Security Council and the wider international system. From climate change and arms control to maritime security, human rights, and beyond, global cooperation has been weakened, international agreements abandoned, and international law undermined or selectively applied.

For Europeans, this is deeply unsettling. But the unfolding crisis of multilateralism is not a problem only for Europeans: everyone’s security and rights are in jeopardy. Phrases like the “multilateral system” and “the rules-based international order” seem vague and lack the ring of “America First” or “Take Back Control.” But they stand for something very concrete and real: the choice between peace and war, free societies and closed ones, and an economy built on sustainable development and one that fuels widening inequalities and runaway climate change.

Trump’s Spectacular Trade Failure

ANNE O. KRUEGER

WASHINGTON, DC – Since World War II, the global economy has performed beyond the wildest dreams of its post-war architects, yielding unprecedented gains in health, education, living standards, poverty reduction, and wealth. Central to this success was the growth and liberalization of international trade, which was made possible with US leadership in the creation and stewardship of an open multilateral trading system.

That system – enshrined first through the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and then in the World Trade Organization – established international rule of law over global commerce, non-discrimination among trading partners, and a forum for negotiating tariff reductions and the removal of other trade barriers. The WTO succeeded the GATT in January 1995, and by 2000, average tariffs on manufacturers in advanced economies were about 2%, far below the levels of 1948. International trade had grown from around 20% of global GDP in the early post-war years to 39% in 1990 and 58% in 2018.

But the open multilateral trading system has been severely eroded over the past few years. The dollar value of world trade fell by 3% in 2019, even as world GDP was still rising. This reversal was largely the result of America’s shift toward bilateralism and protectionism since the beginning of US President Donald Trump’s term in January 2017. Trump seems to believe that the United States is powerful enough to secure better “deals” by negotiating (read: bullying) with trading partners one on one. But while the US is indeed a large trading country, it actually accounts for only 4% of the world’s population and less than one-fifth of global GDP. Those numbers alone justify skepticism about the effectiveness of Trumpian bilateral browbeating.

Do our generals and admirals like war too much?

Michael E. O’Hanlon

President Trump recently accused the nation’s military leaders of having a collective proclivity to want to perpetuate endless wars. Even if his degree of nastiness is uniquely Trump’ian, he is not the only one to express similar fears of late. Others worry that the real problem today in civil-military relations is that the armed forces are becoming too close to Trump, especially as seen in the Washington, D.C. protest controversy following the tragic killing of George Floyd. Still others worry that generals and admirals are becoming too powerful or too political in the modern era.

It is always important to ask such questions in a democracy built in part on the firm principle of civilian control of the military. That said, I do not believe that we have lost control of our military or that modern military leaders have become such a strong, cohesive, and tendentious group as to bias the country toward an overmilitarized foreign policy.

In understanding the military’s role in policy debates, it is crucial to recognize that, in complex wars of the type we have generally experienced in recent decades, politics and military issues are interwoven. That has been true in places including Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan where nation-building was part of the mission. In such situations, and numerous other types of wars, the relationships between acceptable military costs and preferred political outcomes must be constantly scrutinized and reevaluated. Because of these interrelationships, there is no clear bright line between technical military decisionmaking and political decisions about whether and how to fight wars. Officers and civilians will inevitably step on each other’s toes in the development, implementation, and evaluation of policy. Harvard professor Samuel Huntington’s ideal of the professional, technical soldier who is left to win the nation’s wars provided that he or she stays out of strategic decisionmaking therefore does not seem truly realistic.

Could Trump Assassinate A World Leader and Get Away With it?

BY KATIE BO WILLIAMS

If President Trump had gone through with his stated desire to assassinate Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president would have become the Trump administration’s first known victim of a targeted killing of an official of a country with which the United States is not at war.

Instead, that dubious honor went to top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, killed on Trump’s order in a January drone strike. The UN's special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings declared the Soleimani strike “unlawful” under international law. But U.S. officials dispute that, and there continues to be debate over the legality of the killing. 

The situation is clearer in Assad’s case: a presidential order to kill him would have almost certainly been forbidden under domestic policy and international law. But Trump’s startling admission on Fox & Friends earlier this month that he wanted to “take out” Assad in 2017 — and a subsequent defense of assassination by senior White House advisor Jared Kushner — has highlighted the president’s apparent embrace of a practice technically forbidden under U.S. policy since 1976.

“There’s a sense in this administration that nothing is not an available tool,” said Geoffrey Corn, a law professor at South Texas College of Law Houston and a former legal advisor to the U.S. Army. All administrations for the past 30 years “haven’t done it,” he said. “They’ve respected the constraint.”

How Congress Can Get Deterrence Right in the Asia-Pacific

by Adam Taylor

Amid legislative gridlock surrounding a new COVID-19 relief bill and the ongoing election season, one could be forgiven if they missed an important point of bipartisan agreement found in the House and Senate versions of the National Defense Authorization Act for 2021. Both chambers have included funds for an “Indo-Pacific Reassurance Initiative” and “Pacific Deterrence Initiative,” each modeled after the European Defense Initiative adopted last year. Although important distinctions between each piece of legislation exist, this consensus highlights the legislative support behind meeting U.S. military commanders' stated needs to adequately deter the threat posed by China. It also underscores the importance of deterrence as an organizing principle for U.S. defense strategy. This concept deserves further attention given its support throughout Capitol Hill and its associated implications on the utility of American military forces in the region. 

The Department of Defense defines deterrence as the “prevention of action by the existence of a credible threat of unacceptable counteraction and/or belief that the cost of action outweighs the perceived benefits.” China’s deterrence strategy is strikingly different. Beijing defines deterrence as “the display of military power or the threat of use of military power in order to compel an opponent to submit.” Chinese military writing emphasizes that deterrence has two important functions: "one is to dissuade the opponent from doing something through deterrence, the other is to persuade the opponent what ought to be done through deterrence, and both demand the opponent submit to the deterrer's volition." China's leadership pursues deterrence to dissuade rival challenges to its core interests and to compel other countries to abandon their national interests. The U.S., by contrast, uses deterrence to dissuade aggressive action that will alter the status quo.

The multilateral system: use it, or lose it


Asia’s businesses and households rely on a global system of rules and institutions to do business overseas. That global system is under attack, and Asian governments are yet to mobilise to stop it. Governments in the region weaken the system every time they preference short-term bilateral band-aids over long-term multilateral solutions; from managing US–China tensions to the response to COVID-19. Now is the time for Asian governments to show leadership on the global system and its reform. If they don’t use it, they’ll lose it.

Losing it would be a big problem for the region. Asia relies on the global system for its prosperity. Asian governments rely on the World Trade Organization to settle trade disputes and rely on the global trade rules for the majority of their trade. They rely on the Paris Agreement to address climate change, the WHO to address global health challenges and international law to bolster security. Asia relies on the US-led global financial system for investment, finance and stability.

The global system is vital to Asia’s interests. Yet, one by one, global rules and institutions have been undermined in recent years. The United States has shelved the WTO dispute settlement process, shown contempt for trade rules and trade partners, withdrawn from the Paris Agreement and cut funding to the WHO. The United Kingdom has threatened to breach international law in its Brexit negotiations. China has responded to US flouting trade rules with managed trade and shows disrespect for international human rights law in Hong Kong and in its treatment of Uighurs in Xinjiang. The United States, China, Japan and South Korea have sidelined the multilateral system in their trade disputes. During the COVID-19 crisis the cooperation and solidarity of the global financial crisis has been replaced with confrontation and suspicion.

Key Trends in the Global Economy through 2030

William Alan Reinsch


The CSIS Trade Commission on Affirming American Leadership was created in the summer of 2019 to develop a series of recommendations to cement U.S. global leadership in light of a multitude of twenty-first-century challenges, both at home and abroad. In a series of reports, the Commission lays out recommendations for the U.S. workforce, U.S. innovation policy, and U.S. engagement in the international trading system. This report, which is the first of four reports to be released from the Commission, sets the backdrop for those recommendations. For the U.S. to successfully lead in the next decade, we must first acknowledge the changes that are happening in the global economy and use that information to plan for U.S. leadership in a changing economic environment. This report outlines key trends in the global economy from now until 2030, including the rising importance of services and digital commerce, increased use of automation and AI in the workforce, a shift towards regional supply chains, and an aging workforce.

Adem: COVID-19 has shown us that science literacy is crucial to our future

Alejandro Adem

More than any six months in recent memory, the period since Canada went into pandemic lockdown mode has seemed like an intensive science lesson. We’ve all found ourselves exposed to a deluge of information about epidemiology, modelling, microbiology, hygiene, engineering, demographics and public health. We’ve had to decipher concepts such as viral loading, drug testing protocols, and even the privacy features of bluetooth-based contact-tracing apps.

The citizens of industrialized societies such as Canada exist within a dense weave of technologies created by countless science and engineering advances. Mostly, we don’t think too much about how car brakes work or why tap water is safe. The pandemic has provided a stark reminder that science not only surrounds us but demands our engagement. Indeed, it’s not a stretch to suggest that our ability to grasp all this pandemic information has been, for some, a matter of life or death.

As we think about what it means to “build back better,” one takeaway seems obvious: Let’s leverage this mass science lesson to foster a broad-based culture of science literacy. If one legacy of COVID-19 is a nation where people feel better informed and more capable of grasping scientific issues, we’ll be in a stronger position to thrive in the post-pandemic world.

Where were we before the novel coronavirus struck? Canada is renowned for its commitment to basic research through the federal granting agencies, as well as its network of excellent institutions of higher learning. Canadians also recognize the societal value of universal medicare, biomedical research and social programs that support population health.

Don’t Expect Miracles From the Multilaterals

BY OTAVIANO CANUTO

With Latin America and the Caribbean potentially facing years of difficulties due to the pandemic and related economic crises, attention has shifted to what multilateral institutions like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) might do to help. There’s no doubt they can play a crucial role in preventing another lost decade in the region. But these institutions will also face limitations because of capital constraints and other factors. 

The need is clearly acute. Latin America and the Caribbean remains the epicenter of the global pandemic, currently accounting for more than 43% of global deaths after a surge in COVID-19 fatalities in Brazil, Mexico and several other countries in the region. And GDP declines in the second quarter of 2020 have revealed how strong the impact of COVID-19 has been on the region’s economies.

As the last-resort liquidity provider, the IMF has so far doubled access to emergency funding, and provided more than $5 billion of total financing to 17 countries in the Caribbean, Central and South America mainly through its Rapid Financing Instrument (RFI).

But when it comes to full-fledged financing deals, one must distinguish between three country categories.

Preparing for a World Without the World Trade Organization

Edward Alden 

The World Trade Organization is dying. We’ll miss it when it’s gone, for many reasons. But one stands out in particular: The WTO helps keep national leaders from doing economically harmful things for domestic political reasons. Without that constraint, we can expect governments to take more and more actions that are politically popular but harmful to both their national economies and to the global economy. ...

Why the UN’s 75th general assembly could be worse than the world’s worst Zoom meeting

Julian Borger 

It has been billed as the world’s worst Zoom meeting, but the United Nations’ 75th general assembly could be even worse than that.

It is called the “general debate” but, unlike a Zoom meeting, there will be no discussion – just a week-long procession of pre-recorded video messages from the world’s leaders, stating their positions, very much with their domestic audience in mind. They were supposed to have sent their videos at the end of last week. As of Monday, only half had been turned in.

The UN secretary-general, António Guterres, is hoping to use the organisation’s 75th anniversary as an opportunity for member states to recommit to its founding principles, but the UN and multilateralism itself has never seemed so beleaguered.

“The problem is that much of the world is questioning whether the UN is still relevant at 75,” said Sherine Tadros, the head of the UN office of Amnesty International. “To use a Covid analogy, it’s a matter of whether it’s got too many underlying pre-existing conditions to make it through this next period.”

Brain-Computer Interfaces Are Coming. Will We Be Ready?


Three drones lift off, filling the air with their telltale buzz. They slowly sail upward as a fleet—evenly spaced and level—and then hover aloft.

On the ground, the pilot isn't holding a remote control. In fact, he isn't holding anything. He's just sitting there calmly, controlling the drones with his mind.

This isn't science fiction. This is a YouTube video from 2016.

In the clip, a mechanical engineering Ph.D. candidate at Arizona State University (ASU) sports an odd piece of headwear. It looks a bit like a swim cap, but with nearly 130 colorful sensors that detect the student's brain waves. These devices let him move the drones simply by thinking directional commands: up, down, left, right.

Today, this type of brain-computer interface (BCI) technology is still being developed in labs like the one at ASU in 2016, which has since moved to the University of Delaware. In the future, all kinds of BCI tech could be sold to consumers or deployed on the battlefield.

The fleet of mind-controlled drones is just one real-life example of BCI explored in an initial assessment of BCI by RAND Corporation researchers. They examined current and future developments in the world of BCI and evaluated the practical applications and potential risks of various technologies. Their study is part of RAND's Security 2040 initiative, which looks over the horizon and explores new technologies and trends that are shaping the future of global security.

The Hunt for Mobile Missiles: Nuclear Weapons, AI, and the New Arms Race

Paul Bracken

This report examines the increasing ability of major powers to destroy moving targets, in particular, land-based mobile missiles. Yet, at the same time, it analyzes something much broader and more fundamental. Technology has changed the use of force in peace and war. These changes stem from the growing importance of advanced technologies like AI, cyber, drones, cloud computing, data analytics, and hypersonic missiles.[1] These are increasingly becoming foundational technologies for new mission areas and strategies. One of these in particular is the focus of this report: locating and destroying mobile targets. The hunt for mobile missiles, seen in this broader way, is an exemplar of advanced technologies used in national security.

An exemplar is an ideal model – an outstanding example of something which shows its feasibility. Other exemplars of advanced technology include the Manhattan Project, Sputnik, and the AI win over champions in the game of Go.[2] An exemplar is important because it shows that something can be done, even if it is only on a small scale or in a limited way. Exemplars are significant because they change how people decide what is feasible. Further, they point to its potential for the future, and its wider application.

There undoubtedly are other exemplars for advanced technologies in defense. Together, these will change how the use of force in peace and war is conceived. This is the reason for the subtitle of the report: Nuclear Weapons, AI, and the New Arms Race. This subtitle is meant to capture certain key ideas related to the focus of the report: the hunt for mobile missiles is spilling over into the nuclear arena. It provides a growing ability for the United States and others to attack the nuclear deterrent forces of other states — even though they are mobile.

Avoiding a Climate Lockdown

MARIANA MAZZUCATO

LONDON – As COVID-19 spread earlier this year, governments introduced lockdowns in order to prevent a public-health emergency from spinning out of control. In the near future, the world may need to resort to lockdowns again – this time to tackle a climate emergency.

Shifting Arctic ice, raging wildfires in western US states and elsewhere, and methane leaks in the North Sea are all warning signs that we are approaching a tipping point on climate change, when protecting the future of civilization will require dramatic interventions.

Under a “climate lockdown,” governments would limit private-vehicle use, ban consumption of red meat, and impose extreme energy-saving measures, while fossil-fuel companies would have to stop drilling. To avoid such a scenario, we must overhaul our economic structures and do capitalism differently.

Many think of the climate crisis as distinct from the health and economic crises caused by the pandemic. But the three crises – and their solutions – are interconnected.

COVID-19 is itself a consequence of environmental degradation: one recent study dubbed it “the disease of the Anthropocene.” Moreover, climate change will exacerbate the social and economic problems highlighted by the pandemic. These include governments’ diminishing capacity to address public-health crises, the private sector’s limited ability to withstand sustained economic disruption, and pervasive social inequality.

Driving CO2 emissions to zero (and beyond) with carbon capture, use, and storage

By Krysta Biniek, Kimberly Henderson, Matt Rogers, and Gregory Santoni

Growing concerns about climate change are intensifying interest in advanced technologies to reduce emissions in hard-to-abate sectors, such as cement, and also to draw down CO2 levels in the atmosphere. High on the list is carbon capture, use, and storage (CCUS), the term for a family of technologies and techniques that do exactly what they say: they capture CO2 and use or store it to prevent its release into the atmosphere. Through direct air capture (DAC) or bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS), CCUS can actually draw down CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere—“negative emissions,” as this is called. In some cases, that CO2 can be used to create products ranging from cement to synthetic fuels.

To better understand the possible role of CCUS, we looked at current technologies, reviewed current developments that could accelerate CCUS adoption, and assessed the economics of a range of use and storage scenarios. The short- to medium-term technical potential for CCUS is significant (Exhibit 1). CCUS doesn’t diminish the need to continue reducing CO2 emissions in other ways—for instance, by using more renewable energy, such as wind and solar power. But it offers considerable potential for reducing emissions in particularly hard-to-abate sectors, such as cement and steel production. What’s more, CCUS, along with natural carbon capture achieved through reforestation, would be a necessary step on the pathway to limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels.

Addressing climate change in a post-pandemic world


By Dickon Pinner, Matt Rogers, and Hamid Samandari

Aferocious pandemic is sweeping the globe, threatening lives and livelihoods at an alarming rate. As infection and death rates continue to rise, resident movement is restricted, economic activity is curtailed, governments resort to extraordinary measures, and individuals and corporations scramble to adjust. In the blink of an eye, the coronavirus has upended the world’s operating assumptions. Now, all attention is focused on countering this new and extreme threat, and on blunting the force of the major recession that is likely to follow.

Amid this dislocation, it is easy to forget that just a few short months ago, the debate about climate change, the socioeconomic impacts it gives rise to, and the collective response it calls for were gaining momentum. Sustainability, indeed, was rising on the agenda of many public- and private-sector leaders—before the unsustainable, suddenly, became impossible to avoid.

Given the scope and magnitude of this sudden crisis, and the long shadow it will cast, can the world afford to pay attention to climate change and the broader sustainability agenda at this time? Our firm belief is that we simply cannot afford to do otherwise. Not only does climate action remain critical over the next decade, but investments in climate-resilient infrastructure and the transition to a lower-carbon future can drive significant near-term job creation while increasing economic and environmental resiliency. And with near-zero interest rates for the foreseeable future, there is no better time than the present for such investments.

24 September 2020

U.S.-India Insight: Time to Expand America's Footprint in India


Amid a period of heightened tensions between India and China, the United States is looking at ways to show support for India. For understandable reasons, defense cooperation comes to mind as the most obvious way to highlight the emerging U.S.-India partnership. But widening regional cooperation is crucial to building more political support for the partnership. The United States should move more quickly in establishing a new consulate in India, an idea first announced in 2016. On the heels of the United States and China closing consulates in each other’s country, the symbolism alone would be particularly significant.

People-to-people connections between the United States and India remain a fundamental element of the U.S.-India relationship. India has become the United States’ ninth-highest goods trade partner, an important services trade partner, and the second-largest source of foreign students, and Indian companies are rapidly expanding investments in the United States across a range of sectors. Indians comprised a whopping 74 percent of all H-1B visa applications in 2019.

But as outlined in the following chart, the U.S. consular presence in India is spectacularly sparse, especially when considering population. India is a sizeable source of foreign visitors to the United States. Although India is not yet a significant destination for U.S. tourists or college students, these numbers will likely continue to increase in the future.

China’s Stake in the Afghan Peace Process

By Sohrab Azad

Negotiations between the Afghan government delegation, comprising government officials and civil society leaders, and the Taliban started last week in Doha, Qatar. Representatives from the international community visited and promoted a productive peace process — showcasing the complexity of the Afghan conflict. The signing of the U.S.-Taliban agreement this past February paved the way for this direct dialogue, prompting Afghanistan’s neighbors to become more involved to prepare for an eventual U.S. withdrawal.

Even in a time of intense geopolitical competition between the United States and China, stability in Afghanistan is one of the few shared interests remaining. It is a task that requires international support. The peace talks were delayed for over six months due to argument over prisoner releases; meanwhile, the Taliban increased the severity of their attacks on Afghan security forces and civilians.

Nevertheless, the Trump administration is staying course with its initial plans to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan by mid-2021. The move toward troop withdrawal will likely not change even if President Donald Trump loses his re-election bid this November. His opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, also believes that American forces need to be dramatically reduced to under 2,000 and that the expensive war in Afghanistan needs to end.

An inevitable consequence of this U.S. retreat is that other great powers will fill the military and economic vacuum left in Afghanistan. China’s interest in Central Asia is far reaching and it will look to use Afghanistan as a corridor for its “March West.” The only uncertainty is how this will affect a future Afghan government and its development as a regional economic force.

Analysis: A ‘Tired’ Taliban talking point

BY BILL ROGGIO

For the past decade and a half, American politicians, military leaders, and reporters have claimed that the Taliban is “tired,” “desperate,” “war weary” – despite the fact the Taliban has sparked “near-record violence” in Afghanistan, according to the United Nations.

That did not stop President Donald Trump from adding to the tired narrative when he repeated the “tired” canard on Sept. 18.

“We’re dealing very well with the Taliban,” Trump said, according to Reuters. “They’re very tough, they’re very smart, they’re very sharp, but you know it’s been 19 years and even they are tired of fighting, in all fairness.”

The “even” in the last sentence is telling as it is an admission that the U.S. has exhausted itself in Afghanistan. Trump has been so desperate to leave Afghanistan that he signed a withdrawal deal with the Taliban that legitimized the group and delegitimized the Afghan government – and absolved the Taliban for its role in sheltering Al Qaeda both before and after 9/11.

Trump’s statement that the Taliban is “tired” is nothing new. He said the same thing in early Feb. 2019, and again in late Feb. 2020.

However, Trump is merely following the time-honored tradition of declaring the Taliban to be exhausted of the fight.

Reports of a “tired” Taliban can be traced back to 2004, when the Christian Science Monitor quoted Al-Hajj Mullah Abdul Samad Khaksar, the group’s former interior minister. “Most of the local ordinary Taliban are tired of fighting, they are eager to come back to the country and live here in peace,” Khaksar told CSM. Within a year, the Taliban reinvigorated its insurgency and began to take over large areas of southern and eastern Afghanistan.

Pakistan Opposition, Backed by Ex-Premier, to Protest Khan

By Munir Ahmed

Pakistan’s ailing former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif broke a nearly yearlong silence from exile in London to vow to oust Imran Khan from office, accusing him of only reaching power through a vote rigged by the country’s powerful military.

The 70-year-old former premier offered an emotional, direct attack late Sunday on Khan and the military, with which he has a long, uneasy relationship. Khan’s government on Monday dismissed his remarks, with Information Minister Shibli Faraz saying the Pakistani opposition is only united because they fear ongoing corruption cases targeting them.

Sharif thrice served as Pakistan’s prime minister, first removed by a president in 1993, then by military ruler Pervez Musharraf in 1999. A court in 2017 ousted him from power over corruption allegations. Khan, a former cricketer, came to power in 2018.

“Our struggle is not just against Imran Khan,” Sharif told an opposition rally in Islamabad via videoconference. “Our struggle is against those who installed Imran Khan and who manipulated the vote to bring an incompetent man like him to power and thus destroyed the country.”

Sharif spoke from London, where he has been since last November when he was released on bail to seek medical treatment abroad. At the time, a court permitted Sharif to leave the country for four weeks, but he did not return. A court last week issued arrest warrants for Sharif, previously sentenced to seven years in prison on corruption and money laundering charges stemming from disclosures in the Panama Papers.

The Intra-Afghan Dialogue Is Good News for Pakistan-US Relations

By Syed Ali Zia Jaffery

Earlier this month, the much-awaited, all-important intra-Afghan dialogue began in Doha, Qatar. This is the first time that the Taliban and representatives from the Afghan government are directly engaged in negotiating the future of their country. In the United States-Taliban agreement, signed in February 2020, the intra-Afghan dialogue was dubbed critical to completing the Afghan reconciliation process and bringing lasting peace and prosperity in the war-torn country. The overall peace process in Afghanistan rested on two pillars: the U.S-Taliban agreement and the intra-Afghan dialogue. With all three parties — Washington, Taliban, and Kabul — engaging with each other, the prospect of a peaceful settlement of the Afghan imbroglio has increased.

Developments in the Afghan peace process have always had a direct bearing on the trajectory of Washington’s ties with Islamabad. Relations between the two countries have improved, owing to Pakistan’s positive role in helping the United States and the Afghan Taliban strike a deal. The commencement of the intra-Afghan dialogue, coupled with United States’ acknowledgement of Pakistan’s go-between efforts, is good news for Pakistan-United States relations.

There are two concomitant factors that explain why the all-Afghan parleys in Doha are propitious for Washington-Islamabad ties.

The first factor is the robust, continuous engagement between Pakistan and the United States, ever since the signing of the Doha deal. Direct contacts between interlocutors from both sides, months ahead of the intra-Afghan dialogue, focused on discussing ways to navigate speed bumps in the peace process arising out of an impasse over prisoners’ release and continued violence. Rather than blame Pakistan for the Taliban’s recalcitrance on both issues, the United States increased deliberations with Islamabad. Moreover, after failing to cajole Afghan politicians to establish a unified government — a step deemed essential in advancing the peace process — the United States pulled the plug on the Afghan government by threatening to slash $2 billion in Afghan aid. That Washington did not label Pakistan as the party erecting roadblocks in the peace process is a healthy sign for this on-again-off-again relationship.

Beyond the Intra-Afghan Talks, Uzbekistan Sees a Bright Future

By Umida Hashimova

The start of peace negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government on September 12 sparked unprecedented enthusiasm among Uzbek officials. An eventual peace settlement means a new era of economic development opportunities for Uzbekistan. Only two days after the negotiations began, the Taliban’s top political leader made a statement assuring that they would not allow any threats to Uzbekistan to emerge in Afghanistan. He also guaranteed support to Uzbekistan’s economic projects in Afghanistan. 

The head of the Taliban movement’s political office in Qatar, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, spoke to an Uzbek media representative on the sidelines of the negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government. In the interview, he promised the safety of personnel from Uzbekistan working on infrastructure projects in Afghanistan. The statement was perhaps an indirect response to an attack against an Uzbek worker on the Hayraton-Mazar-i-Sharif railroad project in August. Although no organization claimed responsibility for the attack, a Taliban-affiliated group could have been the instigator, and Baradar’s message was aimed to assure Tashkent that his group would not target Uzbek citizens. 

The second part of Baradar’s statement was a guarantee against threatening the security of Uzbekistan and any other Central Asian states. That statement has unprecedented geopolitical implications for the region, given latent fears that the Taliban’s movement and ensuing violence could spill over into Central Asia. Such fears, unrealized as they may be, have shaped the region’s perspective on Afghanistan. The Central Asian states largely isolated themselves from Afghanistan for decades, concentrating on building up their militaries to withstand possible invasion from Afghanistan. In a way, Baradar’s statement is aimed to neutralize those fears and put the countries of the region into a cooperative mode by relaxing their security fears.

Climate risk and response in Asia: Research preview

By Jonathan Woetzel

COVID-19 is highlighting the importance of risk and resilience, and as the world focuses on recovery, it is important to not lose sight of climate risk. The Earth’s climate is changing after more than 10,000 years of relative stability, and Asia is on the front line. Climate science tells us that, absent adaptation and mitigation, the climate hazards the region faces in the future, from heat waves to flooding, are likely to be more severe, more intense, or both. The impacts in Asia in some cases could be more severe than in many other parts of the world. As Asia seeks to grow its economy—and remain a key source of growth for the world—climate is thus a critical challenge that the region will need to manage.

Asia is also well positioned to address these challenges and capture the opportunities that come from managing climate risk effectively. Infrastructure and urban areas are still being built out in many parts of Asia, which gives the region the chance to ensure that what goes up is more resilient and better able to withstand heightened risk. Like all parts of the world, Asia can also contribute to reducing emissions; climate science tells us that further warming will continue until net zero emissions are reached. If policy makers and business leaders can harness the region’s innovative spirit, talent, and flexibility, Asia could lead a global response to climate risk by adapting and by mitigating the most severe potential consequences.

This paper, part of an ongoing series about the Future of Asia, is a preview of research to be published in 2020 that examines how climate risk could play out in Asia, both in physical hazards and in the socioeconomic impacts resulting from those hazards, and what measures can be taken to manage the risk. This regional view follows the publication in January 2020 of the McKinsey Global Institute’s global report, Climate risk and response: Physical hazards and socioeconomic impacts.