21 April 2019

PAKISTAN’S ECONOMIC WOES: THE WAY FORWARD

by Shahroo Malik

Pakistan’s economic woes – dwindling foreign exchange reserves, low exports, high inflation, growing fiscal deficit, and current account deficit – are nothing new, and once again, the country finds itself knocking on the doors of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for what will be its 22nd loan. While the exact amount of this package has not been determined, Pakistan already owes the IMF billions from previous programs. Indeed, 30.7% of Pakistan’s government expenditure is earmarked for debt servicing, which cannot be supported by its decreasing revenues. Already on the Financial Action Task Force’s (FATF) grey list, and with the current Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) government enjoying internal institutional consensus on the national agenda, Pakistan must focus its attention on resolving its economic woes before it finds itself on the shores of bankruptcy.

Current State of the Economy

Pentagon crafts options to counter Russian and Chinese influence in Venezuela

By CONNOR O’BRIEN 

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QUICK FIX

— The Pentagon is crafting military options to deter Russian, Chinese and Cuban influence in Venezuela, but stopping short of military action against the embattled regime of President Nicolas Maduro.

— In an interview, the new top House Defense Appropriations Republican, Rep. Ken Calvert, argues lawmakers need to provide on-time funding to help the military match advances by Russia and China and wants to see more efficiency at the Pentagon.

— Amid a long drought in on-camera briefings by senior defense officials, the top Homeland Security spokesman is headed to the Pentagon to become the next assistant to the secretary for public affairs.

Army Secretary Reveals Weapons Wishlist for War with China & Russia

BY MARCUS WEISGERBER

Army Secretary Mark Esper says he wants to shift money away from light vehicles and cargo helicopters made for “different conflicts” of the past.

U.S. Army leaders revealed Tuesday that they are briefing top military commanders about new weapons being built specifically for “high-intensity conflict” against China and Russia, in a new effort to assure that they could provide vital firepower for those potential battlefields of the future.

Army Secretary Mark Esper said he wants to shift some money away from vehicles and aircraft more suited for conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq and into “what I need to penetrate Russian or Chinese air defenses.”

Among the new weapons and technologies he said are critical: long-range artillery, attack and reconnaissance aircraft, air and missile defenses, and command-and-control networks. Esper said the artillery — known as Long-Range Precision Fires — could be used “to hold at bay Chinese ships.”

Army Secretary Reveals Weapons Wishlist for War with China & Russia

BY MARCUS WEISGERBER

Army Secretary Mark Esper says he wants to shift money away from light vehicles and cargo helicopters made for “different conflicts” of the past.

U.S. Army leaders revealed Tuesday that they are briefing top military commanders about new weapons being built specifically for “high-intensity conflict” against China and Russia, in a new effort to assure that they could provide vital firepower for those potential battlefields of the future.

Army Secretary Mark Esper said he wants to shift some money away from vehicles and aircraft more suited for conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq and into “what I need to penetrate Russian or Chinese air defenses.”

‘Belt and Road’ Will Help the World. China? Not So Much.

Tyler Cowen

The global economic development initiative that China calls “One Belt, One Road” is considered one of Beijing’s major instruments in its geopolitical conflict with the U.S. But it’s unlikely to do much to boost Chinese power as it helps most of the world.

China is investing in fixed assets and infrastructure from southeast Asia to the Balkans and East Africa. That poses a danger to China that host countries will eventually nationalize the assets without giving China comparable value in return. It’s a lesson the U.S. learned when it lost control of the Panama Canal and Saudi Arabian oil assets.

I was struck by a recent deal between China and Montenegro that gave China the right to access land in Montenegro as collateral, in case Montenegro does not repay certain loans. This has upset people in Montenegro, and it makes China seem like an imperialist country with territorial designs. But there’s also a more benign interpretation: China is demanding land as collateral because it knows Montenegro is not creditworthy. The loan sent Montenegro’s ratio of debt to gross domestic product to almost 80 percent, from 63 percent in 2012.

The World China Wants

BY FREDERICK KEMPE

European Union leaders sat down this week in Brussels for a summit with a China it recently branded a “systemic rival,” and the United States is nearing the end game of trade talks with a China that national security documents refer to as a “strategic adversary.”

So, it’s surprising that transatlantic leaders are neither working at common cause nor asking the most crucial geopolitical questions of our age.

What sort of world does China want to create? 

With what means would it achieve its aims? 

And, what should the United States and Europe do to influence the outcome? 

The Dangerous Dregs of ISIS

By Robin Wright

Afew days before the collapse of the Islamic State’s caliphate, I visited one of the new “pop-up prisons” that had been hastily converted to hold thousands of surrendering isis fighters in Syria. The numbers wildly exceeded all expectations, including estimates by U.S. intelligence. The most striking sight at the prison entrance was a mound of human hair lying on the raw concrete floor. Clumps of it—some brown, some graying, most of it greasy or matted—had been shaved off the heads and faces of fighters before they were taken to group cells. “Lice,” one of the guards told me.

The prison at Dashisha, in eastern Deir Ezzor province, had been an oil-storage facility. In just four days, the compound of modest brick and stucco buildings had been filled with fifteen hundred fighters from countries on four continents, including France, Libya, Russia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Iraq, and the United States, the warden told me. Average-sized rooms had been fitted with metal doors; each cell had a small barred window that I had to stand on my tiptoes to peer through. Each one was crammed, wall to wall, with dozens of men squatting on the floor. The isis fighters wore new T-shirts, in army green, and whatever trousers they had on when they were captured.

Hard Truths in Syria: America Can’t Do More With Less, and It Shouldn’t Try

by Brett McGurk

Over the last four years, I helped lead the global response to the rise of the Islamic State (ISIS)—an effort that succeeded in destroying an ISIS “caliphate” in the heart of the Middle East that had served as a magnet for foreign jihadists and a base for launching terrorist attacks around the world. Working as a special envoy for U.S. Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump, I helped establish a coalition that was the largest of its kind in history: 75 countries and four international organizations, their cooperation built on a foundation of U.S. leadership and consistency across U.S. administrations. Indeed, the strategy to destroy the ISIS caliphate was developed under Obama and then carried forward, with minor modifications, under Trump; throughout, it focused on enabling local fighters to reclaim their cities from ISIS and then establish the conditions for displaced people to return.

Doing the Haka

By George Friedman

Despite the furor that rages, the world appears to be quietly moving along.

In New Zealand, the Maoris have a ceremonial dance called the haka. Today it’s performed at rugby matches and consists of the New Zealanders making stylized threatening gestures, including sticking out their tongues at their competitors, crouching, jumping and chanting. It is deeply rooted in Maori history, but for all its energy and passion, it does not do what it is intended to do, which is frighten their opponents, and the rugby match goes on.

The political history of humankind is filled with the haka and the violence that was meant to come next. Yet even at the great turning points, the deepest agonies of humanity, life went on. This was no comfort to those caught in the moment. They died but, in the end, so did everyone. That is of course too Olympian a perspective for most of us, and certainly for those of us with children and grandchildren, but there is a terrible truth to it.

On a lesser level, there are moments when the haka goes on, when all sides are determined to frighten each other and frighten the world, yet it means no more than at a rugby match. Coming back down to earth, we seem to be at a moment like that. The furor rages, but the world appears to be quietly moving along.

How global value chains open opportunities for developing countries

David Dollar

Traditional trade statistics measure the gross value of trade. When a smart phone goes from China to the United States, what is recorded as an export is the full value of the phone. It would be more accurate to say that the United States is importing different types of value added from different partners: labor-intensive assembly from China, more sophisticated manufacturing inputs from South Korea, and services from the United States, since even foreign-brand phones have a lot of U.S. technology.

In recent years, major economies have produced annual input-output tables that deconstruct production into its many constituent parts. There is a growing amount of research into the value added in trade, as well as into the stages of the value chain. These studies provide new perspectives on trade. The Global Value Chain Development Report 2019, produced by the World Trade Organization and other partners, has a wealth of findings, some of which are especially relevant to developing countries.

THE CASES OF CHINA AND VIETNAM

Advanced gene editing may mutate into WMDs

Shambhavi Naik

Last June, German police arrested a man planning a terror attack by releasing large quantities of the biological toxin ricin, said to be 6,000 times more poisonous than cyanide. The raids on a block of flats in Cologne blew the lid off our worst fears: non-state actors laying their hands on bioweapons.

Technology has always changed war and its arsenal. Scientists, security experts and diplomats are increasingly talking about biological weapons when they discuss strategies to prevent proliferation of conventional and nuclear weapons. While biological attacks have been rare since the end of World War II, isolated incidents have been reported. The ‘anthrax letters’, which killed five people in the US following 9/11, is one such incident.

The renewed attention to biological warfare also stems from advances in gene editing technologies. CRISPR-based technologies have allowed humans to edit genomes and manipulate organisms with precision at a low cost. The use of these technologies in humans, plants, animals and micro-organisms has spread rapidly. CRISPR has broken out of labs into garages and DIY kits. This ‘democratisation’ of science has triggered concerns about the misuse of technology to create pathogens that can be weaponised.

Op-Ed: A force for the final frontier


You’re enjoying a sunny afternoon stroll through White Plaza, having actually decided to attend your CS lecture, when flashy posters catch your attention. Uncle Sam mouthing, “We want you!” and wagging his patriotic finger? Not interesting. But wait, what’s he wearing? A white spacesuit in place of his navy blazer, above the slogan, “Join the Space Force, see the galaxy!”

We’re one step closer to this reality, since the signing of the Space Policy Directive-4 (or SPD-4) on February 20, 2019. According to the newly published document, “[t]he term ‘United States Space Force’ refers to a new branch of the United States Armed Forces to be initially placed by statute within the Department of the Air Force.” Translated, not only is the Space Force actually happening, it will be a subset of a larger military branch, much as the Marine Corps is part of the Navy, or the Air Force began as a component of the Army.

Alan Greenspan: Can the U.S. Economy Stay on Top?


The markets are jittery about a possible recession. The U.S. Federal Reserve’s decision earlier this year to ease off further interest rate increases in 2019 as it keeps a watchful eye on economic signals — after doing four hikes in the previous year — has only buttressed those fears.

But former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan does not see a recession on the horizon, based on an indicator his firm constructed and tracks. “Right at the moment, that particular series shows we’re still deleveraging. It’s very difficult to envisage that sort of economy going into a recession,” he said during an interview with Wharton professor Kent Smetters, faculty director of The Penn Wharton Budget Model, at a forum focused on Greenspan’s new book, Capitalism in America: A History, which he co-authored with Adrian Wooldridge of The Economist.

Greenspan’s consulting firm developed an indicator that tracks a company’s capital appropriations at the time its board authorizes an investment, instead of waiting for the decision to be reflected in the expenditures report months later. This signal has been an “extraordinarily effective leading indicator of recessions,” Greenspan noted.

The United States Will Be Shocked by Its Future

BY STEPHEN M. WALT

As a species, we seem to be in a period of considerable uncertainty, where familiar features of the political landscape are disappearing, and it is not clear what will replace them. Will NATO and the European Union be around in five or 10 years, and in anything like their present form? Will the United States still be fighting shadowy opponents in distant lands? Is China destined to dominate Asia, and maybe the world? Will artificial intelligence sweep away jobs in sector after sector of the economy? How much of the planet will be underwater or uninhabitable due to climate change, and how many millions of people will be seeking refuge from war, crime, oppression, corruption, or environmental degradation? Are the dysfunctions afflicting many wealthy democracies a momentary blip or the beginning of a slide into dictatorship?

I could go on, but you get the idea. Prediction is always hard, of course, especially about the future, but there was a time when many people thought they knew exactly where we were headed. Back in the early 1990s, plenty of American pundits, professors, and politicians were confident they knew what the future held, and many of them were pretty optimistic about it. People like Samuel Huntington and Robert Kaplan saw dark days ahead, but scholars like Francis Fukuyama, journalists like Thomas Friedman, and politicians like Bill Clinton believed a shiny new globalized world of liberal democratic capitalism was dawning and would render old-style power politics obsolete.

The Russian State’s Use of Irregular Forces and Private Military Groups: From Ivan the Terrible to the Soviet Period

by Sergey Sukhankin 

Introduction

Russia’s growing employment of non-linear forms of warfare (including private military contractors) has long historical traditions. This paper seeks to discuss the main milestones of historical evolution of Russia’s use of mercenary and irregular forces from Tsarist Russia to the final days of the Soviet Union.

Specifically, this paper will explore:

Key ideas/motivations that guided the Russian state in employing these groups prior to 1917;

The evolution of the Soviet approach toward irregular forces and their use within the scope of (para)military operations;

Participation of Soviet “military advisors” in regional conflicts and zones of instability as part of the geopolitical power play against the West (primarily the United States);

To Avoid an Iraq-Style Disaster Under Trump, Bolton Must Go

by Daniel L. Davis 

President Donald Trump’s instincts on a number of key foreign-policy issues over the past two years have not only been right, but also represent sorely needed policy course-corrections. Yet since his inauguration, some of the president’s closest advisors have consistently steered him away from his better ideas, leaving us to languish in losing wars—and unnecessarily risking getting us into new ones.

For Trump to escape the molasses pit of failed wars, he must replace some key advisors with capable people who are aligned with his views and can implement his vision. The first of those ineffectual advisors who needs to go is John Bolton.

Bolton has long served in government and the Washington think-tank establishment, but his foreign-policy prescriptions have been outright disastrous for the United States.

The longest professional baseball game is begun in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. The game is suspended at 4:00 the next morning and finally completed on June 23.

American Revolution: The British advancement by sea begins; Paul Revere and other riders warn the countryside of the troop movements.

Lowering The ‘Barr’: The Attorney General’s Disappointing And Disrespectful Dissing Of US Intelligence Community – Analysis

By George W. Croner*

(FPRI) — Last week, while testifying before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee, William Barr, the Attorney General of the United States, the nation’s chief law enforcement officer, and the executive official who sits at the apex of the national security pyramid in terms of approving applications for foreign intelligence electronic surveillance in the United States, said he would scrutinize the FBI’s investigation of the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia, including whether “‘spying’ conducted by American intelligence agencies on the campaign’s associates had been properly carried out.”

Saying that “spying on a political campaign is a big deal,” Barr promised to look into “the genesis and the conduct” of the FBI inquiry. “I think spying did occur,” Mr. Barr said. “The question is whether it was adequately predicated. And I’m not suggesting that it wasn’t adequately predicated. But I need to explore that.”[1]

Diego Garcia: The ‘Unsinkable Carrier’ Springs A Leak – OpEd

By Conn Hallinan

The recent decision by the Hague-based International Court of Justice that the Chagos Islands — with its huge U.S. military base at Diego Garcia — are being illegally occupied by the United Kingdom (UK) has the potential to upend the strategic plans of a dozen regional capitals, ranging from Beijing to Riyadh.

For a tiny speck of land measuring only 38 miles in length, Diego Garcia casts a long shadow. Sometimes called Washington’s “unsinkable aircraft carrier,” planes and warships based on the island played an essential role in the first and second Gulf wars, the invasion of Afghanistan, and the war in Libya. Its strategic location between Africa and Indonesia and 1,000 miles south of India gives the U.S. access to the Middle East, Central and South Asia, and the vast Indian Ocean. No oil tanker, no warship, no aircraft can move without its knowledge.

Most Americans have never heard of Diego Garcia for a good reason: No journalist has been allowed there for more than 30 years, and the Pentagon keeps the base wrapped in a cocoon of national security. Indeed, the UK leased the base to the Americans in 1966 without informing either the British Parliament or the U.S. Congress.

The Russian State’s Use of Irregular Forces and Private Military Groups: From Ivan the Terrible to the Soviet Period

By: Sergey Sukhankin

Introduction

Russia’s growing employment of non-linear forms of warfare (including private military contractors) has long historical traditions. This paper seeks to discuss the main milestones of historical evolution of Russia’s use of mercenary and irregular forces from Tsarist Russia to the final days of the Soviet Union.

Specifically, this paper will explore:

Key ideas/motivations that guided the Russian state in employing these groups prior to 1917;

The evolution of the Soviet approach toward irregular forces and their use within the scope of (para)military operations;

Participation of Soviet “military advisors” in regional conflicts and zones of instability as part of the geopolitical power play against the West (primarily the United States);

The phenomenon of “special forces” (Spetsnaz) as a means to achieve specific tasks.

What the Army learned from a February cyber exercise

By: Mark Pomerleau 

The Department of Defense’s cyber warriors have started using the first cyber training platform developed by the military specifically for their needs.

The Persistent Cyber Training Environment will allow the operational cyber force to conduct large scale training as well as to rehearse for specific missions. Such a capability for cyber forces does not currently exist.

In February, members of the PCTE program office, which the Army is executing on behalf of the joint force, took the first working prototype to a joint cyber exercise called Cyber Anvil. Now, with what the Army is calling prototype B, cyber mission force teams from five different time zones, seven geographic locations with over 100 participants from across the joint force can simultaneously plug in.

In addition, personnel can create training content and use virtual environments to play along with a scenario, Liz Bledsoe, deputy product manager for PCTE, told Fifth Domain in April.

The Good Life After Work

ROBERT SKIDELSKY

In order to manage the latest wave of automation, we must have ends that are more compelling than merely wanting more products and services. Without an intelligent definition of wellbeing, we will simply create more and more monsters that feed on our humanity.

LONDON – Almost all “robots are coming” stories follow a tried-and-true pattern. “Shop Direct puts 2,000 UK jobs at risk,” screams a typical headline. Then, quoting from authoritative reports from prestigious institutes and think tanks, the article in question usually alarms audiences with extravagant estimates of “jobs at risk” – that is, percentages of workers whose livelihoods are threatened by high-tech automation. To quote another representative example: “A new report suggests that the marriage of [artificial intelligence] and robotics could replace so many jobs that the era of mass employment could come to an end.”

Sometimes, this bleak outlook is softened by distinguishing between “jobs” and “tasks.” Only the routine parts of jobs, it is said, will be replaced. In these more upbeat assessments of the “future of work,” humans will complement machines, not compete with them.

Our Zero-Emission Future

JEFFREY D. SACHS

A low-cost shift to clean energy is now feasible for every region of the world, owing to the plummeting costs of solar and wind power, and breakthroughs in energy storage. The total system costs of renewable energy, including transmission and storage, are now roughly on par with fossil fuels.

NEW YORK – The solution to human-induced climate change is finally in clear view. Thanks to rapid advances in zero-carbon energy technologies, and in sustainable food systems, the world can realistically end greenhouse-gas emissions by mid-century at little or no incremental cost, and with decisive benefits for safety and health. The main obstacle is inertia: politicians continue to favor the fossil-fuel industry and traditional agriculture mainly because they don’t know better or are on the take.

Data Protection is Social Protection

MAGDALENA SEPÚLVEDA

Social-protection programs are supposed to do just what the name implies: protect those segments of society that are most in need. Demanding that beneficiaries effectively renounce their rights to personal privacy and data protection, as many governments are doing, amounts to just the opposite.

MEXICO CITY – In recent decades, social assistance programs around the world have been strengthened to the point that they now benefit more than 2.5 billion people, usually the poorest and most vulnerable. But rising pressure to apply biometric technology to verify beneficiaries’ identities, and to integrate information systems ranging from civil registries to law-enforcement databases, means that social programs could create new risks for those who depend on them.

What the Air Force learned from insurgents’ networks

By: Mark Pomerleau  

Gen. Mike Holmes, commander of Air Combat Command, meets Airmen in March. Holmes wants an Air Force network that would mimic the way commercial cell phones automatically connect to the proper cell phone network or Wi-Fi. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman First Class Andrew Kobialka)

Air Force leaders plan to experiment this summer with a mesh network that would allow military users in hard-to-reach areas to connect to the service’s top secret network and share intelligence information without the fear of losing service.

Department of Defense officials worry that in a potential conflict with China or Russia, adversaries will look to shut down friendly communications channels. As a result, soldiers will need resilient and redundant forms of communication.

To combat that possibility, Air Force officials want a system that has multiple ways to quickly connect to the Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System.

The New Revolution in Military Affairs

By Christian Brose

In 1898, a Polish banker and self-taught military expert named Jan Bloch published The Future of War, the culmination of his long obsession with the impact of modern technology on warfare. Bloch foresaw with stunning prescience how smokeless gunpowder, improved rifles, and other emerging technologies would overturn contemporary thinking about the character and conduct of war. (Bloch also got one major thing wrong: he thought the sheer carnage of modern combat would be so horrific that war would “become impossible.”)

What Bloch anticipated has come to be known as a “revolution in military affairs”—the emergence of technologies so disruptive that they overtake existing military concepts and capabilities and necessitate a rethinking of how, with what, and by whom war is waged. Such a revolution is unfolding today. Artificial intelligence, autonomous systems, ubiquitous sensors, advanced manufacturing, and quantum science will transform warfare as radically as the technologies that consumed Bloch. And yet the U.S. government’s thinking about how to employ these new technologies is not keeping pace with their development.

20 April 2019

India: Tranquillity At Risk In North East – Analysis

By M.A. Athul*

On March 30, 2019, a former District Council member, identified as Seliam Wangsa, who was campaigning for a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate, Honchun Ngandam, was killed by suspected militants at Nginu village in the Longding District of Arunachal Pradesh. Ngandam is the BJP candidate for the Arunachal Pradesh East parliamentary seat.

On March 29, 2019, suspected cadres of the Isak-Muivah faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-IM) shot dead Jaley Anna, a National People’s Party (NPP) worker, at Kheti village in the Tirap District of Arunachal Pradesh.

Seven-phase general elections are in the process across the country, scheduled to be over by May 19, with counting of votes scheduled on May 23. Polling in eight States of the Northeast is scheduled in three phases, between April 11 and May 19.

The Afghan Endgame: What, When, and How

By Daud Khattak

The two-day intra-Afghan dialogue slated to commence in Doha, Qatar, on April 19 communicates a message of both hope and despair as the leaders of the warring Taliban are going to sit face-to-face with their compatriots for the second time in less than two months to deliberate on how to put an end to the 18 years of fighting in Afghanistan.

The Taliban’s willingness for a formal sit-down with Afghan political leadership — first in Moscow and now in Doha — reveals the group’s interest in a negotiated settlement, which, no doubt, could be termed a positive sign.

But their refusal to meet President Ashraf Ghani’s representatives specifically is likely to affect the progress achieved by U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad’s shuttle diplomacy over the past several months.

Currently struggling hard to win a second term in office, Ghani feels cornered and often reacts angrily whenever his political rivals voice support for an interim government ahead of the presidential election now proposed to be held on September 28 this year. Ghani’s term in office is coming to an end next month, but the Afghan constitution lets him continue in office until the election of new president.

China’s Crackdown on Uighurs in Xinjiang

by Lindsay Maizland

Human rights organizations, UN officials, and many foreign governments are urging China to stop the crackdown. But Chinese officials maintain that what they call vocational training centers do not infringe on Uighurs’ human rights. They have refused to share information about the detention centers, however, and prevent journalists and foreign investigators from examining them.

When did mass detentions of Muslims start?

Some eight hundred thousand to two million Uighurs and other Muslims, including ethnic Kazakhs and Uzbeks, have been detained since April 2017, according to experts and government officials [PDF]. Outside of the camps, the eleven million Uighurs living in Xinjiang have continued to suffer from a decades-long crackdown by Chinese authorities.

The Closing of the Chinese Mind

MINXIN PEI

Lou Jiwei is a hard-charging reformer with an illustrious record of accomplishments. The Chinese government's decision to dismiss him from his post as chairman of the national social security fund underscores the dangerous ways in which President Xi Jinping has transformed decision-making in China.

WASHINGTON, DC – Lou Jiwei may not be a household name in the West, but the former Chinese finance minister is well known and highly respected among financiers and economic policymakers. Yet, earlier this month, China’s government announced Lou’s dismissal from his post as chairman of the country’s national social security fund. The move reflects a change in the Chinese leadership’s approach to governance that is likely to have profound implications for the country’s future.

The removal of Lou from his post represents a break from precedent: his three predecessors served 4.5 years, on average, and all retired after reaching 69. The 68-year-old Lou served for only a little over two years. China’s leaders did not provide a reason for sacking him, but a likely explanation stands out. Lou has recently emerged as an outspoken critic of China’s ambitious industrial policy agenda, Made in China 2025, calling it a waste of public money.

China Adds Coal Capacity Despite Pledge To Cut – Analysis

By Michael Lelyveld

After years of cutting overcapacity in the coal industry, China appears to be reversing course, raising environmental concerns as the government spurs economic growth.

On March 26, Reuters reported that China added 194 million metric tons of coal production capacity last year, citing a statement by the National Energy Administration (NEA).

The expansion came despite Premier Li Keqiang’s pledge to “get rid of” 150 million tons of capacity in 2018, announced in his work report to national legislators in March of last year. Li said nothing about adding new capacity to offset the cuts.

The additions may mark the end of China’s campaign for consolidation and capacity cutting in the coal industry, which was driven by overproduction and collapsing prices in 2012.

The increases may have consequences for greenhouse gas emissions and climate change if higher capacity leads to greater growth in production and consumption. China’s output of coal rose 5.2 percent last year.

Pentagon Developing Military Options to Deter Russian, Chinese Influence in Venezuela

by Barbara Starr, Ryan Browne and Zachary Cohen

The Pentagon is developing new military options for Venezuela aimed at deterring Russian, Cuban and Chinese influence inside the regime of President Nicolas Maduro, but stopping short of any kinetic military actions, according to a defense official familiar with the effort.

The deterrence options are being ordered following a White House meeting last week where national security adviser John Bolton told acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan to develop ideas on the Venezuela crisis.

The official emphasized strongly that the initial work is being done by the Pentagon's Joint Staff, which conducts planning for future military operations along with the Southern Command, which oversees any US military involvement in the southern hemisphere.

And even though Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently said that "all options" remain on the table for dealing with Venezuela, several Pentagon officials continue to say there is no appetite at the Department of Defense for using US military force against the Venezuelan regime to try to force it from power…

Recycle Your Batteries, Before China Wins That Race, Too

BY ROBERT KANGCEO 

With global demand rising for critical and rare earth materials in new tech, it's not too late for the U.S. to secure its own sources.

The advances in energy storage and the advent of the li-ion battery are fueling a new technology revolution – in our consumer products, the automotive industry, energy storage and grid management, and the internet of things. While headlines tout the newest smartphone release or advance in electric vehicle adoption, a race for the materials that power this innovation revolution has been underway for years. And as a country, we’re falling behind.

Cobalt is crucial to modern li-ion battery technology despite efforts to reduce its prevalence. But the cobalt supply chain presents numerous challenges for U.S. companies. As with many other critical minerals, China has established a near-stranglehold on the market, refining an estimated 80 percent of the world’s cobalt chemical products. Further, most cobalt is mined in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a weak state in which the mining industry has had difficulty keeping children and other laborers from hazardous “artisanal mining” — i.e., mining and washing the ore by hand. DRC is projected to supply nearly 70 percent of the world’s cobalt for the years to come.

The Belt and Road: The Good, the Bad, and the Mixed

By Angela Tritto and Alvin Camba

Much of the narrative on China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has been polarized. On the one hand, there is a hawkish countermobilization centered on the “debt-trap,” “Chinese colonialism,” and “yellow peril” narratives. The “debt-trap” conjuring was for the most part introduced by South Asian writers referring to Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port, and later adapted by some U.S. think tanks, popularized by mainstream media, and echoed by politicians across the world. The implications of indebtedness to China became a paradigm of Chinese diplomacy after a Center for Global Development report further popularized the argument. The “Chinese colonialism” dialectic evolved in parallel, often taking as example the Chinese presence in Africa, and connecting to the long-standing “yellow peril” phobia. On the other hand, Chinese official responses have been mostly on the defensive, trying to de-link the Belt and Road Initiative from geopolitical or hegemonic ambitions, arguing that BRI projects “benefit the local population” and are opportunities for “shared development.”

The U.S. Is Losing a Major Front to China in the New Cold War


A swathe of the world is adopting China’s vision for a tightly controlled internet over the unfettered American approach, a stunning ideological coup for Beijing that would have been unthinkable less than a decade ago.

Vietnam and Thailand are among the Southeast Asian nations warming to a governance model that twins sweeping content curbs with uncompromising data controls -- because it helps preserve the regime in power. A growing number of the region’s increasingly autocratic governments watched enviously the emergence of Chinese corporate titans from Tencent Holdings Ltd. to Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. -- in spite of draconian online curbs. And now they want the same.

The more free-wheeling Silicon Valley model once seemed unquestionably the best approach, with stars from Google to Facebook to vouch for its superiority. Now, a re-molding of the internet into a tightly controlled and scrubbed sphere in China’s image is taking place from Russia to India. Yet it’s Southeast Asia that’s the economic and geopolitical linchpin to Chinese ambitions and where U.S.-Chinese tensions will come to a head: a region home to more than half a billion people whose internet economy is expected to triple to $240 billion by 2025.

A Concise Guide to the Belt and Road Initiative

by Nadège Rolland

This backgrounder from NBR Senior Fellow Nadège Rolland, author of the book China’s Eurasian Century? Political and Strategic Implications of the Belt and Road Initiative, provides an overview of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) ahead of the second Belt and Road Forum on April 25–27. Read the backgrounder below.

ORIGINS

The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) was set in motion by Xi Jinping in two speeches. During his address to the Nazarbayev University in Kazakhstan in September 2013, Xi proposed the idea of a Silk Road Economic Belt, connecting China to Europe via land, in order to “forge closer ties, deepen cooperation and expand the development space in the Eurasian region.” One month later, as he was addressing the Indonesian parliament in Jakarta, Xi proposed the creation of a 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, connecting China to Europe via sea, that would increase connectivity and maritime cooperation with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Iraq's Place in the Saudi Arabian-Iranian Rivalry

by Geneive Abdo

The skeptics questioning whether Saudi Arabia’s conspicuous overtures during the last year and a half to improve bilateral relations with Iraq will bear fruits, after twenty-five years of estrangement, may now have to reconsider their doubts.

Saudi Arabia and Iraq are engaging in a flurry of activity that is proof both sides are now fully on board efforts to establish stronger ties. Saudi Arabia opened a consulate in Baghdad April 4th. Perhaps the most geopolitically significant gift to date from the Saudis is a promise, reportedly made on April 4, to hook Iraq up to the Saudi electrical grid as part of a Saudi investment project.

Trump's Foreign Policies Are Better Than They Seem

Robert D. Blackwill

Henry A. Kissinger Senior Fellow for U.S. Foreign Policy

President Donald J. Trump “is not given sufficient credit for his foreign policies,” writes Robert D. Blackwill, Henry A. Kissinger senior fellow for U.S. foreign policy at the Council on Foreign Relations. “All the chaos generated by this flawed president does produce actual policies, the substance of which in many cases is likely to be more consequential than the ways by which the policies arrived and the character of the man who formulated them,” asserts Blackwill. “What matters most is the effectiveness of U.S. policy over time and its consistency with U.S. national interests, not the personal qualities of its leaders.”

In a new Council Special Report, Trump’s Foreign Policies Are Better Than They Seem, Blackwill assesses the Trump administration’s foreign policy—including the United States’ ties with allies, relations with China and Russia, and policies toward the Middle East, North Korea, Venezuela, trade, and climate change—halfway through the president’s first term. The author assigns a letter grade to each of President Trump’s major foreign policies, as well as a final grade for his overall foreign policy, and concludes that some of Trump’s “individual foreign policies are substantially better than his opponents assert.”