16 April 2017

*** Counter-terrorism Pitfalls: What the U.S. Fight against ISIS and al-Qaeda Should Avoid

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Executive Summary

In pledging to destroy the Islamic State (ISIS), U.S. President Donald J. Trump looks set to make counter-terrorism a centrepiece of his foreign policy. His administration’s determination against groups that plot to kill Americans is understandable, but it should be careful when fighting jihadists not to play into their hands. The risks include angering local populations whose support is critical, picking untimely or counter-productive fights and neglecting the vital role diplomacy and foreign aid must play in national security policy. Most importantly, aggressive counter-terrorism operations should not inadvertently fuel other conflicts and deepen the disorder that both ISIS and al-Qaeda exploit.

** Stratfor 2017 Second Quarter Forecast

By Stratfor

Trade will be at the forefront of many leaders' minds this quarter as a new U.S. administration settles into the White House. Though U.S. President Donald Trump continues to be bogged down by congressional battles and allegations of inappropriate ties to Russia, his team will try to draw the public's attention back to its trade agenda. To that end, Washington will work to clarify its strategy for cracking down on currency manipulation abroad, tightening the enforcement of existing trade laws and preparing to renegotiate NAFTA. But the uncertainty surrounding the White House's intentions will linger, prompting the United States' biggest trade partners to look for new economic relationships elsewhere.

At the same time, some will leverage security cooperation and promises of investment to get on Washington's good side — or, at the very least, to try to fend off its punitive trade measures. China will be one of them as it uses its economic heft with Pyongyang, and the growing sense of urgency surrounding North Korea's nuclear program, to its advantage in tense trade talks with the United States. The White House will do what it can to push for secondary sanctions against China's stubborn neighbor, perhaps even threatening to step up its military aid to Taiwan to compel Beijing's buy-in. But even if Washington has its way, a heavier sanctions regime will do little to slow the progress of Pyongyang's nuclear program.

The United States will have no choice, then, but to build a credible military deterrent against North Korea — a move that will only widen the rift between Washington and Beijing. The Trump administration's attack on a Syrian air base was designed in large part to underscore to Beijing and Pyongyang that this White House is willing to take military action if so compelled. Though the attack sent a strong signal to U.S. adversaries, it also has created complications for the United States on the Syrian battlefield with Russia. Moscow will try to use the heightened risk of collisions on the Syrian battlefield and the fight against the Islamic State to bring Washington to the negotiating table, but the United States will be limited in any concessions it would give to Russia in return. The Kremlin will be even less inclined to trust in dialogue with the West as its problems pile up at home, though arms control may be one policy area in which the two can begin to negotiate without encountering much political blowback.

PCS DISCUSSION India’s Nuclear Strategy

Dr Vipin Narang

An overview of the remarks made at 'India's Nuclear Strategy', the second discussion in IPCS' 2017 series, 'Evolving Discourses of Security in International Politics'.

Mitsui Career Development Associate Professor of Political Science, MIT

There has been no change in the declaratory Indian nuclear doctrine, and there will not be any foreseeable change in it. However, Indian nuclear strategy may evolve and there are hints at a very important potential evolution in Shivshankar Menon’s book, Choices: Inside the making of India’s Foreign Policy, which are illustrated in some key paragraphs under the chapter on ‘No first Use’. What is important to understand is that there is a very important distinction between a declaratory doctrine and nuclear strategy. Strategy is about the employment of a doctrine and there are a lot of strategies in use currently that are consistent with India’s declaratory nuclear doctrine.

The declaratory doctrine has its roots in the 1999 draft which is a meandering, very long set of ideas. It is the only actual fleshing out of what India’s declaratory doctrine might have looked like. The official release in January 2003, however, comprised of only eight bullet points; the much detailed official doctrine being classified. The declaratory doctrine has several key pillars, the primary pillar being the no first use (NFU) clause.

Under the NFU clause, India declares that it will not be the first to use nuclear weapons in a conflict. There is also a "no use against non-nuclear weapons state" clause. However, the NFU pillar is already qualified in the official doctrine, which also mentions a potential nuclear retaliation against chemical or biological weapons. Thus, is the event of the use of chemical or biological weapons by an adversary, India reserves to right to retaliate with nuclear weapons.

The other key doctrinal pillar is associated with the idea of 'massive retaliation'. While the draft doctrine used the phrase "punitive retaliation," the official doctrine frames it as "nuclear retaliation to a first strike will be massive and designed to inflict unacceptable damage." It has long been presumed that this phrase meant counter-value targeting. India did not have the necessary forces or the accuracy to do anything but counter-value targeting. And in any case, India is trying to deter nuclear use against it. It doesn't need nuclear weapons to deter a conventional attack against it, like Pakistan does. In this scenario, therefore, India’s massive retaliation, counter-value strategy made a lot of sense.

However, the evolution of the South Asian security dynamic effectively neutralised India’s mainstay conventional doctrine, also known as the Sundarji Doctrine. The events leading up to Operation Parakram forced a rethink of India’s conventional options to a more usable form that could enable India to retaliate against perceived Pakistani provocations. The usable option, which eventually took the shape of the ‘Cold Start’ doctrine, formed a part of the action-reaction cycle, in which, as a response, Pakistan took to developing tactical nuclear weapons (TNWs). While the development of TNWs by Pakistan may not necessarily have been triggered by Cold Start, the doctrine did add fuel to the fire. The myth of Cold Start was even worse for India because while there was no real development of a more usable option on India’s side, the doctrine was used by Pakistan to justify the development of TNWs.

The development of TNWs created a new dilemma for Indian nuclear strategists. The threat to retaliate massively in the event of a demonstration shot by Pakistan on its own soil, on Indian forces or on logistics or bridgeheads behind it, created credibility problems for India’s strategy. This basically left India with three options - of which one was an option of no-response. The second option, which probably developed in the late 2000s, was the idea of a tit-for-tat or proportional or a tit-for-tat-plus retaliation, where India would still respond through a counter-value strike but against a military base or perhaps smaller population centres. While the advantage of this strategy is credibility, the significant disadvantage is that India would then give the nuclear initiative back to Pakistan, exposing its own cities and strategic centres to Pakistani strategic retaliation. The third option in theory is counter-force, where India moves to eliminate Pakistan’s strategic nuclear forces and removes the nuclear overhang. This was thought to be an impossible option for India because of the strategy’s destabilising effect and also the fact that it would require a massive build-up of arms and forces, which is a difficult option for regional powers with limited resources.

One of the corollaries associated with a counter-force strategy is whether a country can afford to go second with such a strategy. Counter-force has always been associated with pre-emptive use. The counter-value strategy on the other hand gives more space for a relaxed and absolute NFU policy. With counter-force, however, it becomes imperative to go first.

In India’s case, the real change in thinking has been on the grounds of this shift in strategy, which is made evident in Menon’s book. In one of his operative paragraphs, Menon uses the term "comprehensive first strike" against Pakistan. Comprehensive first strike in nuclear vocabulary means strategic counter-force. The natural corollary for that is an exemption for pre-emptive use. The statements made by Indian officials over the years, including Manohar Parrikar, BS Nagal and Shivshankar Menon, indicate that there has been at least some thinking at the highest levels of the Indian nuclear strategic community that pre-emption is consistent with NFU. Nagal talks about pre-emption as one of the four options within his recommended strategy of ambiguity. Pre-emption is in fact the operative concept in his strategy. Menon, in his book, has very clearly identified an area where the declared doctrine would not constrain India in declaring a pre-emptive strike.

Menon’s chapter on NFU is probably the most authoritative writing on the issue that has emerged since India tested nuclear weapons in 1998. It is still not known as to how far India got in moving towards strategic counter-force, or if this is just wishful thinking on Menon’s part. But, there is some evidence on the capability side that is suggestive of this shift. The development of MIRVs and BMD that have assured retaliatory logic, operative towards China, can also be used for a counter-force strike against Pakistan. This can be used as tantalising evidence of a decoupling of strategies against China and Pakistan. These are still however unconfirmed theories.

In terms of the implications, the primary question that arises is if India can do this. For India, disarming Pakistan’s sea-based leg will be far easier than eliminating its land-based strategic forces. The other question is if it is a good idea. A counter-force strategy is destabilising because of the inherent first strike instability, and therefore these elements need to be debated. While the doctrine is not expected to undergo any change, there has been authoritative thinking on the issue which cannot be easily discounted.

Col (Retd) Ajai Shukla

Columnist, Business Standard

There are some elements in India’s nuclear doctrine that lack credibility in important quarters, specifically the doctrinal threat of 'massive retaliation'. According to conventional understanding in India, the unfolding of any nuclear crisis between India and Pakistan follows a very short and reassuring narrative. This includes: a terror attack from Pakistan, Indian conventional retaliation featuring perhaps a 'Cold Start' offensive strike that makes rapid headway into Pakistani territory, Pakistan evaluating its declared option of a TNW demonstration strike on Indian military spearheads, and then being deterred by India’s doctrinal commitment of massive retaliation. In the worst case scenario, in the event of TNW use by Pakistan, India retaliates by taking out a couple of Pakistani cities, after which Pakistan folds. The discussion however fails to go beyond this. Pakistan, as per the Indian narrative, is just cultivating irrationality. In the Indian narrative, Pakistani restraint would remain in play despite huge territorial losses, large-scale destruction of its war-fighting machinery and the discrediting of the Pakistan military.

The Pakistani version is unsurprisingly a different narrative that includes: Pakistani terror attack (of course, denied), Indian conventional retaliation across the India-Pakistan border, Pakistan blocking the cold strike with its sectoral and strategic reserves without crossing the conventional threshold. In the event of Pakistani failure to halt Indian troops with conventional forces, the use of a single demonstration TNW strike in an area where damage could be limited both in terms of the civilian infrastructure and people as well as Indian forces to prevent causing undue provocation. The cautiousness of Indian decision-makers enhanced by international pressure at that stage and coupled with the moral aspect of counter-value retaliation would force India to forego that option.

Therefore, the threat of “massive counter-value retaliation” is not a credible doctrine for India against Pakistan. Menon’s interpretation however offers a different narrative. Menon provides more usable options to Indian planners in the form of comprehensive counter-force strikes; even first strikes, in a situation where the adversary’s use of nuclear weapons appears inevitable.

The crucial question however is whether India has the wherewithal, the information systems, or the capabilities to actually execute a comprehensive counter-force strike against Pakistan. The short answer to this would be 'no', the accurate answer would be ‘not yet’.

India’s doctrine and strategy have always been ahead of capability in both the conventional and strategic realms. But India is also playing catch up slowly. To turn Menon’s proposed strategy of comprehensive counterforce strikes into executionable capabilities will take more time. With Pakistan racing to put in place a nuclear triad, the possibility of a disarming first strike is receding, made more difficult by the diversification of Pakistan’s delivery means that include the MIRV trials, proliferation of TNW launchers, the Babur ground launch cruise missile, and the Ra’ad air launch cruise missile. Due to this increase in nuclear delivery platforms, taking out strategic ground launch platforms will still leave India open to a potential third strike.

Given that many Pakistani nuclear strike assets are located in the vicinity of major towns, there is difficulty in differentiating between counter-force and counter-value strikes, with one containing elements of the other. India’s ISR capabilities, missile accuracy, MIRV capability and anti-ballistic missile (ABM) capabilities are picking up. But even so, India still lacks the capability to undertake a “splendid first strike” that disarms Pakistan completely. However, Pakistan's second and third strike capabilities would be seriously eroded if an India strike were complemented by US and Israeli capabilities. As of now, this would be a pre-requisite for any viable first strike against Pakistan.

Even so, there is still merit in choosing an option of a disarming first strike against Pakistan over the option of a massive counter-value strike. Even an unsuccessful and incomplete counter-force strike would reduce the number of warheads being fired at India in the inevitable third strike, and at least some of these would be neutralised by India’s growing ABM capability.

While all of this could be debated, with valid arguments to be made from both sides, Shivshankar Menon should be given credit for enriching the moribund debate on India’s nuclear strategy by presenting a number of additional workable options. What is significant about Menon’s book is that his words reflect upon a potential marriage of the NFU doctrine with a pre-emptive counter-force strategy, such that the latter appears to be consistent with the doctrine. Menon’s new strategy represents the first indications of a remarkable shift in thinking amongst policy-makers at the highest level.

Rapporteured by Niharika Tagotra, Researcher, IPCS 

Contested Waters: Subnational Scale Water Conflict in Pakistan

BY: Daanish Mustafa; Giovanna Gioli; Milan Karner; Imran Khan 

This report reviews the evidence for, and politics around, water-related conflict at local, provincial, and interprovincial scales in Pakistan. Drawing on interviews with decision makers and communities at the provincial, municipal, and village watercourse levels, it provides insights into drivers of conflict over water; shows how water is used as a weapon in already existing conflicts; and suggests technical, institutional, and political changes that could help Pakistan negotiate its water-related conflicts. 


In Pakistan, conflict over water distribution between provinces (upper versus lower riparian) is driven by structural constraints inherent to upstream-downstream dynamics and by the specific geophysical characteristics of the Indus basin system. 

The controversy over large dams is less about water per se than about competing visions of development, and about the scale (national versus local and regional) at which politics are practiced and problems defined. 

Since the inception of the Indus basin irrigation system, what places get flooded and when has been a function of human decisions and power relations and not an inevitable act of nature. 

Early warning and flood-proofing initiatives should be directed to the most highly exposed and vulnerable populations, instead of undifferentiated administrative units, to prevent the hazard from turning into a disaster. 

** Rogue, Maybe. But The One Thing Pakistan Is Not Is A Failed State

R Jagannathan

Ideology, not territory, is the motivating factor behind the idea of the Pakistan state. As long as it holds on to its idea, Pakistan cannot be called a failed state.

To defeat a state defined by ideology, you need to defeat that ideology. Defeat in war is not good enough.

Pakistan has a knack of getting our goat, and we fall for it every time. The latest reason for Indians to work up an apoplectic fit is the Pakistani Army’s decision to pass a death sentence on Kulbhushan Jadhav, a former Indian Navy officer who was probably extracted from Iran. Reason: he is allegedly a Research & Analysis Wing agent spying for India or fomenting trouble in Balochistan.

While Parliament went ballistic on the issue yesterday (11 April), security experts and analysts speaking on TV channels were busy accusing Pakistan of disregarding international law and condemning Jadhav through a sham trial. Some Bharatiya Janata Party spokespersons worked up enough of a froth to call Pakistan a failed state.

It may give us temporary and psychic satisfaction calling Pakistan a failed state, but its leaders cannot stop smirking at our naivete. Nothing gives the Pakistanis greater pleasure than to see Indians throwing a fit over what they have done. The least we can do is not give them this kind of vicarious satisfaction by exhibiting impotence. The Jadhav case shows how, despite 70 years of being witness to Pakistan’s perfidies, we seem to understand so little about them. The only way to handle the Jadhav crisis is to speak very little about it, find leverage and get his released in exchange for someone Pakistan values (like its own armymen).

China and North Korea's Nukes

By Peter Huessy

On April 4, 2017, General John Hyten, the Commander of the United States Strategic Command, confirmed at least four key North Korean threat developments.

First, in his testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, General Hyten said the North Koreans “already have the capability to deploy an intercontinental ballistic missile” that can “range” the continental United States.

Second, General Hyten explained that North Korea might have the capability to miniaturize nuclear warheads as he assumes any missile launch could be armed with a nuclear warhead aimed at the United States.

Third, General Hyten warned that the February 11 North Korean missile launches are now utilizing solid rocket fuel, enabling their missiles to be launched with little notice, avoiding the lengthy fueling process of liquid fueled missiles.

Fourth, General Hyten noted the North Korean launch site was new, further underscoring that monitoring North Korea ballistic missile launches is becoming increasingly difficult.

Fifth, and this is the only “good news,” the General concluded it is unclear whether at this time the North Korean government can effectively “mate” a nuclear warhead with a ballistic missile.

However, as General Hyten also explained, that uncertainty gives him limited flexibility. He notes that every time the North Korean’s launch a ballistic missile, he has to ready forces to prevent a potentially nuclear-armed ballistic missile from reaching the continental United States.



When dealing with Iran, President Donald Trump aspires to make it clear that he does not adhere to the policy of his predecessor. On February 2, 2017 then-National Security Advisor Michael Flynn put Iran “on notice” in reaction to an Iranian missile test and an attack on a Saudi warship by Iranian-backed Houthi rebels. On the following day Trump tweeted, “Iran is playing with fire — they don’t appreciate how ‘kind’ President Obama was to them. Not me!”

“It’s one of the worst deals ever made.” This is how Trump repeatedly described President Barack Obama’s hallmark foreign policy achievement – the nuclear deal with Iran.

These statements indeed signal a major departure from Obama’s approach to Iran. The Obama administration’s chief objective was to reach a deal with Iran that would restrict its nuclear program and protect the deal after implementation starts. To that end, it seems Obama was willing to put up with Iran’s non-nuclear provocations in the region, as well as its support for terrorism. To shy away from Obama’s policy, though, Trump does not have to back out of the deal, but he does have to shift America’s view of the Iranian challenge. His strategy should be much more comprehensive, with the goal being to weaken Iran and its allies while bolstering America’s role and alliances in the region. Instead of subordinating American interests to an Iranian nuclear threat, Trump should advance three parallel efforts: huddle, block, and tackle.

Exploiting Disorder: al-Qaeda and the Islamic State

Executive Summary

The Islamic State (IS), al-Qaeda-linked groups, Boko Haram and other extremist movements are protagonists in today’s deadliest crises, complicating efforts to end them. They have exploited wars, state collapse and geopolitical upheaval in the Middle East, gained new footholds in Africa and pose an evolving threat elsewhere. Reversing their gains requires avoiding the mistakes that enabled their rise. This means distinguishing between groups with different goals; using force more judiciously; ousting militants only with a viable plan for what comes next; and looking to open lines of communication, even with hardliners. Vital, too, is to de-escalate the crises they feed off and prevent others erupting, by nudging leaders toward dialogue, inclusion and reform and reacting sensibly to terrorist attacks. Most important is that action against “violent extremism” not distract from or deepen graver threats, notably escalating major- and regional-power rivalries.

The reach of “jihadists” (a term Crisis Group uses reluctantly but that groups this report covers self-identify with; a fuller explanation for its use is on page 2) has expanded dramatically over the past few years. Some movements are now powerful insurgent forces, controlling territory, supplanting the state and ruling with a calibrated mix of coercion and co-option. Little suggests they can be defeated by military means alone. Yet, they espouse, to varying degrees, goals incompatible with the nation-state system, rejected by most people in areas affected and hard to accommodate in negotiated settlements. Most appear resilient, able to adapt to shifting dynamics. The geography of crisis today means similar groups will blight many of tomorrow’s wars.

EU, NATO opens center to combat info warfare

By Jussi Rosendahl and Tuomas Forsell

HELSINKI (Reuters) — Several European Union and NATO member nations on Tuesday signed up to establish a center in Helsinki to research how to tackle tactics such as cyberattacks, propaganda and disinformation.

The United States, Britain, France, Germany, Sweden, Poland, Finland, Latvia and Lithuania signed the memorandum of understanding for the membership, and more countries are due to come on board in July.

Host Finland — a militarily nonaligned EU member — has an 800-mile border with Russia, which has been accused of mounting so-called hybrid campaigns in the Ukraine conflict as well as of interfering in the U.S. presidential election.

Russia has denied interfering in the vote.

The center will be based in Helsinki and will form a network of experts for the participating countries. A steering group is due to hold its first meeting Wednesday. It is expected to have a team of 10 people working there by later this year.

Putin And Erdogan: Addicted To Power

Absolute power is both reviled and revered. Most in the West will look aghast at blatant power grabs, smirk at narcissistic acts of self-promotion and regularly admonish leaders engaging in tyrannical behavior. But many others will just as easily look in awe at a leader who embodies sheer power.

When a country's politics have been more volatile than just, people will more naturally crave a leader who oozes confidence and manifests strength. They will more willfully submit to propaganda, wanting to neither see nor hear stories of evil that can tarnish the image they hold of their protector.

Graphic Above: Not only do the pasts and motivations of the Russian and Turkish leaders have a great deal in common, but their geopolitical destinies are also deeply intertwined. (OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images)

This dichotomy defines two highly consequential leaders of our time: Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, two men who not only have pasts and motivations with a great deal in common, but whose geopolitical destinies are also deeply intertwined.

Born With a Vengeance

Men ought either to be indulged or utterly destroyed, for if you merely offend them they take vengeance, but if you injure them greatly they are unable to retaliate, so that the injury done to a man ought to be such that vengeance cannot be feared. 



More than 15 years of continuous combat has profoundly shaped the ways in which the U.S. military thinks about war. The conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have deeply colored the ways in which those who have served there now think about the very character of war — especially among the Army, Marine, and special operations forces that have borne the brunt of the fighting. Combat experience is invaluable for leaders who are responsible for fighting wars and advising policymakers on the use of force. But it also produces subconscious biases and blind spots, which may prevent them from thinking clearly and creatively about the types of wars they will fight in the future.

Predicting the future — including the character of future wars — is an incredibly difficult and often unsuccessful endeavor because there is always too much uncertainty and too little information. As Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky have extensively documented, systemic and unconscious biases affect how people process information, especially when trying to make sense of complexity. One of the most important biases is called (jargon alert!) the availability heuristic: The more easily an example comes to mind, the more likely we are to think it will represent the future. Since we typically remember recent experiences more clearly than past ones — especially very intense experiences like combat — we often subconsciously assume that the future will resemble a linear extension of those past.

As this wartime generation continues to ascend to the most senior ranks of the U.S. military, they will have two major responsibilities: to provide military advice to policymakers and to make strategic choices about weapons and force structure that will determine how the United States will fight its future wars. However, their view of the future may be deeply affected by their past experiences in ways that they may not even be aware of. We believe that there are at least six illusions drawn from the recent wars that may seriously distort how these combat-experienced leaders think about and plan for future conflicts.

U.S. military orders two more surveillance satellites to roam geosynchronous orbit

Stephen Clark

Orbital ATK started work on two more surveillance satellites for the U.S. Air Force’s geosynchronous neighborhood watch program late last year as the military aims to expand its ability to track and investigate other objects in the heavily-trafficked belt more than 22,000 miles over the equator.

Orbital ATK disclosed it started working on the GSSAP 5 and 6 satellites in a quarterly earnings call with investment analysts March 8.
The target launch date for the fifth and sixth spacecraft in the Air Force’s Geosynchronous Space Situational Awareness Program, or GSSAP, has not been released. The Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center said April 5 that the value of the satellite contract with Orbital ATK was classified.

New satellites based on existing designs typically take two or three years to build and ready for launch.

Two United Launch Alliance Delta 4 rockets deployed the first four GSSAP spacecraft in July 2014 and August 2016, hurling the satellites directly into a circular geosynchronous orbit more than 22,000 miles (nearly 36,000 kilometers) over the equator on missions lasting more than six hours and requiring three burns of the Delta 4’s upper stage RL10 engine.

Claire Leon, head of the Air Force’s launch enterprise directorate, said last month that the rights to launch the next set of GSSAP satellites will be competed between ULA and SpaceX, but she did not offer a timetable for the flight.

The GSSAP satellites lurk near the ring of geosynchronous satellites that fly around Earth at the same speed of the planet’s rotation, allowing craft to remain over a fixed geographic location. Commercial companies and defense agencies use the orbit for communications, missile warning and signals intelligence missions.

EU, NATO countries kick off center to counter 'hybrid' threats

Several EU and NATO countries on Tuesday signed up to establish a center in Helsinki to research how to tackle tactics such as cyber attacks, propaganda and disinformation. 

The United States, Britain, France, Germany, Sweden, Poland, Finland, Latvia and Lithuania signed the Memorandum of Understanding for the membership, and more countries are due to come on board in July. 

Host Finland - a militarily non-aligned EU member - has a 1,300-km (800-mile) border with Russia, which has been accused of mounting so-called hybrid campaigns in the Ukraine conflict as well as of interfering in the U.S. presidential election. 

Russia has denied interfering in the vote. 

The center will be based in Helsinki and will form a network of experts for the participating countries. A steering group is due to hold its first meeting on Wednesday. It is expected to have a team of 10 people working there by later this year. 

"The center is a real boost for the cooperation between the EU and NATO ... Hybrid activities have become a permanent part of the European security environment," Finland's Foreign Minister Timo Soini told a news conference. 

Finland last year voiced concern about what it sees as an intensifying propaganda attack against it by the Kremlin. Germany has also reported a rise in Russian disinformation campaigns and targeted cyber attacks. 


Genevieve Casagrande

The U.S strike against an Assad regime base in northern Syria on April 6, 2017 opened the door to a reorientation of American strategy in the Middle East. President Trump’s action could reset the terms of America’s confrontation of other hostile states, such as North Korea. President Trump may be shifting away from a narrow focus on the Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham (ISIS) as the strategic priority in Syria and toward a new approach. It remains unclear whether he will take additional action against the Assad regime, but his statement after the strike appeared to signal an emerging anti-Assad policy. Responses from major international powers and key regional actors indicate that these parties perceive the strike represents a possible strategic inflection rather than an isolated incident. President Trump has the opportunity to exploit the effects of his limited action to pursue America’s strategic goals.

Regional actors responded as if a wider American reorientation against Assad is possible. Traditional U.S. partners in the region like Saudi Arabia and Jordan supported the strike. Turkey also praised the strike and called for additional U.S. action against the Assad regime. These reactions indicate that the strike created an opportunity for President Trump to repair America’s relationships with traditional partners, which had begun to reorient toward Russia or to act unilaterally in dangerous ways in the absence of American leadership. European states under Russian pressure also supported the strike, indicating that the U.S. can still shape European policies toward Syria. President Trump may have an opportunity to leverage European support for counter-Assad measures to reengage Europe on the need to confront Russia in Syria. Actors deeper within the Russo-Iranian orbit, including Egypt and Iraq’s Shi’a political parties, expressed caution.



There is reason for some extremely cautious optimism about last Thursday’s U.S. missile strikes on a Syrian regime air base. America has thus far avoided some of the most obvious, dangerous pitfalls of any possible intervention in Syria. So, at a minimum, Americans should be happy not to find themselves in a worst-case scenario.

But there is certainly still reason for concern. Washington has endeavored to clearly communicate the limited objectives of its strikes, but there is nonetheless substantial ambiguity about American aims, much of it of Washington’s own making. Any reaction or counter-escalation by U.S. adversaries is now largely out of America’s control, and some opportunists are already trying to repurpose U.S. action for their own, less focused ends.

ICM Policy Paper: Weapons of Mass Destruction

While the threat of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) may seem antiquated and unlikely to materialize, the mere existence of WMD remains one of the paramount threats to mankind. Nuclear weapons present not only the biggest existential threat, but also the biggest gap in the multilateral disarmament and non-proliferation architecture. In this context, on March 27, 2017, more than 100 countries launched the first UN talks on a global nuclear weapons ban.

This policy paper explores key challenges and developments in the field of non-proliferation and disarmament of WMD, with an emphasis on nuclear arms. Based on extensive consultations with representatives of states, various UN entities, and civil society, as well as subject-matter experts, this paper details recommendations laid out in the ICM’s final report, published in September 2016. To revitalize the UN disarmament and non-proliferation machinery, it offers a number of recommendations for a secretary-general willing to lead this effort: 

Strengthen the UN disarmament machinery; 

Support the IAEA’s increasing responsibilities; 

Implement Security Council Resolution 1540 and other paths to innovative multilateralism; 

Assess the role of new technologies; and Engage civil society. 

To stand with those who are committed to working multilaterally and reforming the international community, we are asking people to use the hashtag #MultilateralismMatters. For more, including sample tweets and graphics, read IPI’s Social Media Toolkit here. For other IPI news, events, and publications about weapons of mass destruction, see here.



Three decades ago, Gen. Liu Huaqing, the military commander who modernized China’s navy declared, “Without an aircraft carrier, I will die with my eyelids open.” When he passed away in 2011, China had finally started building an aircraft carrier and it took to the seas the next year. If recent trends were to hold, it is doubtful whether the U.S. Navy could preserve its longstanding supremacy for sea control — especially within Asia’s first island chain — even a decade or two into the future.

The loss of U.S. global maritime dominance would put at risk fundamental national interests, effectively most of what we as Americans take for granted. Certainly, it would call into question the ability of the United States to command offshore lines of communication. That perceived or actual loss of sea control would undermine the movement of the U.S. armed forces in support of operational plans to counter provocation and proliferation, preserve the independence of democratic allies and partners, ensure the free flow of commerce, and keep potential adversaries on their back foot and far from our shores.

Yet by all appearances American maritime power is steadily eroding. Partly this is a natural consequence of structure: new rising centers of power resulting from a worldwide redistribution of wealth and technology. But we cannot ignore agency. China — historically a land power — has clearly and deliberately sought to challenge U.S. maritime power. The rise of China’s blue water navy is backed by a formidable precision long-range strike capability and key enablers in cyber and outer space, all in turn supported by comprehensive instruments of power. This trend, which can be likened to America overtaking British seapower, should capture the attention of U.S. officials and, to the extent they still exist, strategic planners. The United States is being outmaneuvered in China’s near seas. The resulting pressure to fall back could result in severe limits on future U.S. power projection in the world’s most consequential region — what Nicholas Spykman called the “Asiatic Mediterranean.”

Stopping the Unstoppable: How will the U.S. Defeat Missiles of the Future?

By Collin Meisel

Earlier this year, former U.S. Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan Greenert asserted that current ballistic missile defense technology would "reac[h] the asymptote of our limits” within “about ten years.” This fact stands in stark contrast to another cold reality: the offensive ballistic missile capabilities of U.S. adversaries only appear to be accelerating. Despite critics’ calls to shy away from investing in ballistic missile defense (BMD) to address this threat, the U.S. must continue to vigorously research and develop revolutionary BMD technologies. Otherwise, it risks allowing the balance of offensive and defensive ballistic missile capabilities to grow increasingly asymmetric as defensive technological progress becomes asymptotic.

As then-Commanding General of U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command Lieutenant General David L. Mann testified before the Senate Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee last April, “many foreign ballistic and cruise missile systems are progressively incorporating advanced countermeasures” to defeat present BMD systems. For example, along with integrating “maneuverable reentry vehicles, [maneuverable independent reentry vehicles], decoys, chaff, jamming, and thermal shielding” technologies into its ballistic missile arsenal, China has constructed the world’s largest hypersonic wind tunnel to realize its goal of developing a hypersonic re-entry vehicle. Russia reportedly has plans to deploy its own hypersonic glide vehicle by 2020. For context, these hypersonic weapons can travel at speeds up to Mach 10 – more than double the speed of most current BMD systems.

In light of these developments, Keith B. Payne, head of Missouri State University’s Graduate Department of Defense and Strategic Studies, has postulated that “U.S. ICBM survivability will once again become a concern” if nothing is done. Given the central role, ICBMs play in nuclear deterrence, this is a scary prospect indeed.

Defensive Deterrence is Critical to America’s Safety and Security

By Steven Bucci

One day before the summit between President Trump and President Xi of China, North Korea gave us one more reminder that they are a very real threat to American lives and interests. North Korea ensured its relevance to the two-day Trump-Xi summit by carrying out a test of what the U.S. military assessed to be a Pukguksong-2 road-mobile, solid-fuel medium-range ballistic missile. Reports indicate the missile did not go as far as intended and the test ultimately appeared unsuccessful. However, though the test failed – it should not be ignored. The range of the Pukguksong-2 is estimated at 1,200 to 3,000 kilometers. That means it could reach Americans.

At a recent Defense Conference at the Naval War College, a former U.S. Ambassador and Under Secretary of State listed North Korea as the most volatile and unpredictable major threat to the United States. This closed door event had numerous senior defense experts from the government, military, and academia nodding vigorously in agreement. 

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s statement was just 23 words: "North Korea launched yet another intermediate range ballistic missile. The United States has spoken enough about North Korea. We have "no further comment." The Secretary’s terse words are a good indication of the Administration’s growing frustration with Pyongyang.

A Real, Imminent Threat

During his five years as North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un has overseen more than twice the number of provocative missile tests than his father did during his entire 17-year rule. A senior White House official on Tuesday said: "The clock has now run out, and all options are on the table," pointing to the failure of previous administrations' efforts to stop the country's nuclear program. There is little reason to be confident that negotiations will stop North Korea in their quest for a delivery vehicle. 

Preserving the downturn’s upside

Plummeting prices forced oil and gas companies to get serious about rising production costs. They have. Now the challenge is to preserve those gains. 
Since the downturn, production costs and operational losses are down sharply—but can it last? 

The fall in oil prices has driven oil and gas companies around the world to focus on reducing production costs. In this article, the first of a regular series providing our perspective on upstream oil and gas operations, we look at global trends in production costs, and how at the same time the reliability and safety of assets have improved. We will use a recent analysis from the UK North Sea to understand the changes and assess their sustainability, along with the key internal and external factors that influence them. The upcoming series will draw from public and proprietary data sources, and recent interviews with senior executives representing both operators and contractors. 

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Improvements drive costs down as the industry responds to the downturn 

Over the last two-and-a-half years, oil prices have fallen from more than $100 per barrel to less than $35 per barrel, before a recent recovery pushed them back up to $50 per barrel. This drop has been reflected in company spending. While our quarterly perspective on oil field services and equipment provided detailed commentary and insight on the 45 percent reduction in global capex spend since 2013, here, for the first time, we perform the same analysis for global production cost, examining the reported cost for a group of 37 oil and gas companies producing close to 40 million barrels per day (Exhibit 1). 

India’s Education Is At A Crossroads: Time For Some Hard Decisions

Gautam Desiraju

Corruption, chronic shortage of funds and caste reservations are endemic to our institutions.

Unless we train young men and women in an enlightened, holistic manner, we are in trouble.

Modern India urgently needs to create educational opportunities for its people at all levels. Education is like defence, national security, finance and health, with the responsibility to disseminate it, shared by the centre and the states.

Any modern country needs one decent university for per million population. By this token, India needs 1,200 good universities. We have around 400 universities that exist perfunctorily, with many of them languishing, practically lifeless. The large majority of them are state universities.

The solution to this huge imbalance between demand and supply with regard to employment cannot be solved by opening new universities in remote places, or by handing over the whole education enterprise to the private sector, but rather by a total cleansing, of what I would term, the salvageable state universities.

Our education policies, at both the central and state levels have failed. At the central level, our efforts have probably been well meaning, but insufficient. At the state level, they have been unsatisfactory.

Tired: Stealing Data. Wired: Holding a Dam for Ransom


The spread of ransomware means government and critical infrastructure providers need to start gaming out responses, cyber watchers say.

A cadre of shadowy criminal hackers seizes control of an energy plant. They give themselves administrator privileges and lock the genuine administrators out along with everyone else. Then, they threaten to trigger a major leak or explosion if the plant owners don’t pay up: $50 million in bitcoin.

The story sounds like a fantastical Hollywood plot. It’s basically a digital-age riff on the 1965 James Bond Film “Thunderball” and the 1997 spoof “Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery.”

Yet, following a surge in ransomware attacks—in which hackers seize and lock an organization’s data and networks and only unlock them for a hefty fee—cyber watchers are beginning to fear this plot could become reality.

“What ransomware does is it creates a business model [in which] anybody who has money can potentially be extorted to pay,” McAfee Chief Technology Officer Steve Grobman told reporters during a roundtable discussion Thursday at McAfee’s Security Through Innovation Summit.

“There’s no reason not to think that criminals will see government assets like critical infrastructure as a target they can hold for ransom,” Grobman added.

If hackers were able to seize the controls of a critical infrastructure asset such as a dam or airport where they could cause major property destruction and loss of life, the ransom demand could be huge, Grobman said, and there’s a good chance the asset owner or the government would have to pay up.

2 Common Barriers to Effective Threat Intelligence

by Monica Todros

When it comes to generating useful threat reports, it can be exhausting to wade through the noise of network activity. But don’t be deterred.

With a combination of advanced threat intelligence, and a team of analysts who know how to use it, you can convert the massive amounts of available data into actionable insights.

Of course, building a mature threat intelligence capability is far from easy.

In a recent webinar with SC Media titled “Implementing Threat Intelligence,” Bryan Spano, Founder and General Manager of KSA Cyber, explained what threat intelligence really is, and broke down the most common barriers companies face when building it into their security operations.

Barrier 1: Using Threat Intelligence in Isolation

To properly understand the definition of threat intelligence, and its role in the cybersphere, it’s important to recognize what threat intelligence is not.

Threat intelligence is not technology that you “plug and play,” nor is it simply a vendor-bought product to be used by “the security guys.” Threat intelligence, when implemented correctly, should be right at the center of your security strategy, and must permeate the entire security function.

Quite simply, it’s ineffective when used in isolation.

Of course, it isn’t enough to know what threat intelligence isn’t, we need to know what it is. 

During the webinar, Spano defined cyber threat intelligence as follows:

Cyber threat intelligence is knowledge about adversaries and their motivations, intentions, and methods that is collected, analyzed, and disseminated in ways that help security and business staff at all levels protect the critical assets of the enterprise.

Confronting Transatlantic Cybersecurity Challenges in the Internet of Things


In 2016, a series of highly impactful and publicized disruptions provided a wake-up call to societies on both sides of the Atlantic making obvious their dependence on inherently unpredictable technology. Just before the year began, a targeted attack disrupted the Ukrainian energy grid, forcing its operators to fall back on decades-old manual processes, and a similar attack followed late in the year. The Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital in Los Angeles was forced to shut down for weeks as a critical patient-care system was unintentionally disrupted by ransomware—a common plague that impacted many other parts of societal infrastructure through the year, including San Francisco’s Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), US electricity providers, and hospitals in the United States and across Europe. At the same time, a botnet of poorly secured devices disrupted large portions of the US Internet and knocked more than one million German households offline. And while the Russian breach of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the associated influence campaign continue to shock many in the United States and beyond, the specter of hackable voting computers also cast doubt on the US electoral system in the lead-up to and aftermath of the presidential election.

Beau Woods authors 'Confronting Transatlantic Cybersecurity Challenges in the Internet of Things,' in which he explains how the society is only one cyber crisis away from proving how unimaginative policy makers have been. The issue brief and its recommendations are based on a series of discussions around Europe with policy makers, private sector leaders, academics, and cybersecurity researchers identifying ways to confront cybersecurity challenges facing the transatlantic community in 2017 and beyond.

2017 US Cyber 9/12 Student Challenge


Participants from American University debrief with coaches after their presentation

At what point does a cyberattack become an act of war? Should the government react to a cyber-attack on the private sector? Is cyber privateering the answer to the government’s woes? These were some of the questions students (including this author) contended with at the Atlantic Council’s 2017 Cyber 9/12 student challenge on March 17 and 18. 

Held at American University’s Washington College of Law, this was the fifth and biggest iteration of the annual student competition. Forty-five teams from 32 universities from across the United States took on the roles of cyber policy experts advising the National Security Council on how to react to a fictional cyber catastrophe. 

The year is 2018 and China and the United States are on the brink of an all-out trade war. There is eroding trust in the US government after media reports emerge of the NSA using planted vulnerabilities in Internet-of-Things devices to create cyberweapons. Following a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack on a Chinese bank using an IoT botnet, President Xi Jinping publicly accuses the US of conducting the cyber-attack to cover up economic espionage. Following this is a near identical attack on an American bank using hacked devices from the bank’s network infrastructure. Complicating the whole situation is the Cyber Marque and Reprisal Act of 2018 which allows the President to issue a Letter of Marque to private companies that authorizes them to essentially hack back into the attackers’ systems. An ominous e-mail from the Vice-President of the US bank to DHS Secretary Kelly promises action under this act but leaves the nature of this action purposefully vague.