12 February 2018

A Requiem for Vietnam


A friend recently called my attention to a symposium on “The Meaning of Vietnam” that appeared in the June 12, 1975 issue of the New York Review of Books. Just weeks before, Saigon had fallen and the Republic of Vietnam had passed out of existence. The editors of the NYRB considered the moment opportune for some of the paper’s regular contributors—leading lights of the East Coast intelligentsia—to assess the war’s significance and implications. 

In retrospect, we may judge the effort both presumptuous and wildly premature. True, President Gerald Ford had already declared the war “finished as far as America is concerned” and was urging his countrymen to move on. It was past time, Ford insisted, for Americans to “stop refighting the battles and the recriminations of the past.” 

11 February 2018

Afghanistan Cannot Be Resolved in Isolation from Its Neighborhood

Mohammed Ayoob

Washington’s attempt to find a resolution to the Afghan conflict militarily while continuously antagonizing Iran and chastising Pakistan is bound to end in failure.

The most recent carnage in Afghanistan last Saturday that left over one hundred people dead has once again made clear that the threatfrom the Taliban, and now increasingly from ISIS as well, is not likely to disappear any time soon. Indeed the menace seems to be growing as the Afghan regime is increasingly immobilized because of the standoff between President Ashraf Ghani and his rival Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah. Instead of providing stability the agreement between the two contenders for the presidency to share power has left the government paralyzed.

U.S. Launches Airstrikes on Taliban Training Camps

By Bill Roggio

The U.S. military launched a series of airstrikes on Taliban training camps located in Afghanistan’s remote northeastern province of Badakhshan, which borders Tajikistan. The camps were used by the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) and other terrorist groups.

“Over the past 96 hours, U.S. forces conducted air operations to strike Taliban training facilities in Badakhshan province, preventing the planning and rehearsal of terrorist acts near the border with China and Tajikistan by such organizations as the East Turkistan Islamic Movement and others,” Resolute Support announced in a press release.

U.S. Shifts More Air Assets To Afghanistan, Calls It 'Main Effort'

The United States has started shifting combat and intelligence-gathering air assets to Afghanistan as the battle against the Islamic State (IS) extremist group is winding down in Iraq and Syria, a top commander in Afghanistan says.

U.S. Air Force Major General James Hecker, speaking to reporters in a video teleconference from Kabul, said on February 7 that U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) at the start of this month officially designated Afghanistan and the fight against the Taliban as its "main effort."

The U.S. Needs to Rethink What Winning in Afghanistan Looks Like


American Wars, Past and Present 

For many Americans, especially older ones, the win–loss dichotomy boils down to World War II vs. Vietnam.

World War II was the good war: well-defined, righteous goals, ending in clear, unambiguous victory. After winning, most Americans came home. Those who stayed to oversee reconstruction in Germany and Japan faced minimal violence. 

Vietnam was the bad war: ambiguous goals of uncertain importance, dragging on at considerable cost before withdrawal. The United States sacrificed immense blood and treasure, but the Communists took over anyway. 

What’s Behind Myanmar’s Big New Military Exercise?

By Prashanth Parameswaran

What’s Behind Myanmar’s Big New Military Exercise?

The holding of the first tri-service exercise in over two decades needs to be viewed from a broader perspective. 

From February 2 to 4, Myanmar’s military carried out their first tri-service exercise in over two decades. The drills reinforce the military’s determination to advance its modernization even amid continued international scrutiny over its behavior.

On Northern Syria Front Line, U.S. and Turkey Head Into Tense Face-off


MANBIJ, Syria — Two senior American generals came to the front line outside the Syrian city of Manbij on Wednesday flying outsized American flags on their vehicles, in case pro-Turkish forces just the other side of the no man’s land, 20 yards away, did not realize who they were.

“We’re very proud of our positions here, and we want to make sure everybody knows it,” said Maj. Gen. Jamie Jarrard, the Special Operations commander for the American-led coalition in Iraq and Syria.

If the message to Turkey was not clear already, the overall coalition commander accompanying General Jarrard, Lt. Gen. Paul Funk, elaborated. “You hit us, we will respond aggressively. We will defend ourselves.”

17 reasons why we should love Brexit Imagine all we can do once we’ve left the EU

Anthony Browne
‘But what are you going to do with the powers?’ the minister asked, while I negotiated devolution of powers to London when Boris was mayor. The government wouldn’t grant powers unless we explained how we would use them.

And that is what is missing in the Brexit non-debate. We are ‘taking back control’ — but we haven’t really thought what we will do with that control once we have it. It is true there has been discussion of trade deals, transforming the Common Agricultural Policy and the colour of our passports. But if that was all we could do, even most Brexiteers wouldn’t have considered it worth it.

Merkel Makes Painful Concessions to Form New Government

Despite extremely tough talks, Angela Merkel's conservatives and the center-left Social Democrats reached an agreement to form a coalition on Wednesday. If the SPD doesn't veto the deal in a vote of the party base, a new German government could be in place before Easter.

Late Wednesday morning, Peter Altmaier stood in front of the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party's national headquarters in Berlin with his blazer thrown over his shoulder and his long sleeves rolled up. Temperatures were at the freezing point, but the winter sun appeared to have kept the Chancellery chief warm. "There is a good chance that we are going to get a new government," said Altmaier, who is Angela Merkel's chief of staff.

Turkey Invades, NATO Benefits

By Xander Snyder

Less than a week after Turkey began its invasion of Afrin – the northwestern pocket of Syria that borders Turkey and is controlled by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG – NATO has voiced its consent of the operation. On a visit to Istanbul, NATO Deputy Secretary General Rose Gottemoeller told a Turkish newspaper that NATO recognizes the threat terrorism poses to Turkey. While the language Gottemoeller used wasn’t highly specific, she was referring to the threat posed to Turkey by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, an internationally recognized terrorist group. Over the past three decades, the PKK has led an insurgency that has caused the deaths of roughly 40,000 people.

Admiral Stavridis: Our Troops Deserve Better Than Trump's Big Parade An unidentified rocket is displayed during a military parade marking the 105th anniversary of the birth of late North Korean leader Kim Il-Sung in Pyongyang on April 15, 2017. An unidentified rocket is displayed during a military parade marking the 105th anniversary of the birth of late North Korean leader Kim Il-Sung in Pyongyang on April 15, 2017. Ed Jones—AFP/Getty Images By JAMES STAVRIDIS February 7, 2018 IDEAS Admiral Stavridis was the 16th Supreme Allied Commander at NATO and is Dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University When I showed up at the Naval Academy, the first thing they did after shaving my head was to teach me to march. Over the next four years as a Midshipman, I marched in countless parades, generally a couple every week. Like every other Midshipman to pass through the gates of Annapolis, I hated it. They are a lot of work to rehearse, don’t do anything for morale, and are expensive in terms both of time and preparation. Every time there was a parade scheduled, the entire Brigade of Midshipmen literally prayed to the rain gods to send a downpour and thus cancel the parade. And those were for relatively simple parades of 4,000 Midshipman who were already living within a five-minute march of the parade field — no missiles, tanks, trucks or jet aircraft being towed around. I thought after I was commissioned I had left serious marching behind, and I was glad to do so. But now we have a President who evidently wants a military parade “like the one in France” — meaning their Bastille Day celebrations. I am very respectful of French culture and the French military, but the idea of a big, showy, expensive parade reminds me less of our French allies and more of the old Soviet Union “Who has the biggest missile?” extravaganzas, or the truly creepy North Korean jitterbug marching style galas, with the even creepier “young leader,” Kim Jung Un, urging his nation of sycophants on in wildly over-the-top applause, which has a clap-hard-or-die feel to it. Now let me be honest – the Navy is no doubt the service that is least attuned to the idea of marching. And I am all for doing things that honor our brave troops, especially those who have fought so bravely in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Horn of Africa. But I would respectfully submit that ordering a spectacle down Pennsylvania Avenue is not the best option. The last time we did a big parade like this was several decades ago and it cost over $10 million. Some estimates have the cost of a big one today topping $20 million, which would include moving all the tanks, missiles, jets, helicopters and military bands to Washington. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis has correctly stopped handing out little “challenge coins” from his office — symbolic tokens that officers in our armed forces give to troops. As he told me, they don’t contribute to readiness or combat capability — why waste the money? That is the Jim Mattis I know, and I’d say he’s got it right on the challenge coins. I’d recommend we apply the same logic to this kind of parade. For the men and women who have to put in the time planning, rehearsing, creating a security plan (a parade would be an extraordinarily juicy target for the Islamic State or Al Qaeda, by the way), setting up the stands, cleaning up, taking down the stands, and getting all their gear back home would, frankly, not be having a lot of fun. This would no doubt fall on a holiday weekend (Memorial Day, Fourth of July or Veteran’s Day, of course) so there goes their hoped-for and much deserved weekend break. Would they enjoy walking down Pennsylvania Avenue and hearing the applause? I guess. Would they enjoy a nice weekend off at the lake, among their friends and families, even more? That’s my bet. We know that we have the best-funded, most war-experienced, highest morale military in the world. That is not a threat or a boast — it is a fact. We don’t need a puffy parade to show the world we can fight. Believe me, the world knows that already. I know this isn’t an either/or situation, but I’d prefer to see our Department of Defense, which is so well led by Jim Mattis, focus on planning for war, pushing the VA to improve, funding military families with good medical and childcare benefits, and honoring our fallen with ceremonies as they are laid to rest. Those are the best ways we can honor them. On a smaller scale, local parades make a lot more sense — they connect to communities and help recruiting. Or here’s an idea: instead of the big parade, how about a cookout honoring the troops? With rib-eye steaks, BBQ chicken, ribs and cold beer, civilians buying, cooking and cleaning up afterward? Or just continue to say, sincerely, “Thank you for your service,” when you meet active duty troops or veterans? Let’s leave the missiles in the silos where they belong, and be quietly confident in the lethality, professionalism, and integrity of our military — no parade necessary.


When I showed up at the Naval Academy, the first thing they did after shaving my head was to teach me to march. Over the next four years as a Midshipman, I marched in countless parades, generally a couple every week. Like every other Midshipman to pass through the gates of Annapolis, I hated it. They are a lot of work to rehearse, don’t do anything for morale, and are expensive in terms both of time and preparation.

Every time there was a parade scheduled, the entire Brigade of Midshipmen literally prayed to the rain gods to send a downpour and thus cancel the parade. And those were for relatively simple parades of 4,000 Midshipman who were already living within a five-minute march of the parade field — no missiles, tanks, trucks or jet aircraft being towed around. I thought after I was commissioned I had left serious marching behind, and I was glad to do so.

12 Depressing Previews of America’s Next War


The excellent new book by Lawrence Freedman, The Future of War: A History, demonstrates that military futurists, like political pundits, have a terrible track record of predicting the future in their field of expertise. Freedman notably warns to avoid those who proclaim, “the ease and speed with which victory can be achieved while underestimating the resourcefulness of adversaries.”

Despite futurists’ long, poor track record, writing about the future of war is a well-resourced industry, within the military, in academia, and at think tanks. Because futurists are not evaluating or making judgments about contemporary events, they avoid critiquing those who hold power today, which prevents them from losing access to officials, being retaliated against, and generally harming their career advancement. Moreover, the penalties for making unsound or incorrect predictions are rarely incurred, and if they are at all, it is only in the distant future.

The Lament of the U.S. National Defence Strategy

By Mike Scrafton

The U.S. national defence strategy exudes more than a wistful sense of loss and more than regret at the inability of U.S. economic and military power to sustain its hegemony. It’s a lashing out at and resentment of the fact that, perversely, the preponderant power it wielded over the past six decades has led to the rise of strategic rivals.

A longing for what is irreversibly passing isn’t a sound basis for strategic assessment. Building a policy on an attempt to regain lost influence is a mistake. Halting the retreat from postwar primacy is at the heart of the strategy. ‘Failure to meet our defense objectives will result in decreasing U.S. global influence, eroding cohesion among allies and partners.’

National Defense Strategy Downplays Democracy

The new National Defense Strategy (NDS) correctly focuses on U.S. strategic competitors China and Russia. The strategy is excellent in many other ways, as well. One weakness, however, is that it downplays the importance of promoting and supporting democracy more broadly around the world. As the NDS is written, democracy is something the United States stands for but does not “impose” on anyone. This type of language signals that democracy is a cultural rather than a universal phenomenon, something that works for some peoples but not others.

The Nuclear Posture Review and the US nuclear arsenal

The entering into effect of the New START treaty coincided with the completion of the Trump administration’s Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), after a year of preparation. The review is the first opportunity for the Trump administration to make its mark on US nuclear policy and includes several important changes from the Obama administration’s NPR of 2010.

The most significant change is what appears to be a shift away from seeking to reduce the number and role of nuclear weapons in US military strategy. Instead, the Trump NPR has a more confrontational tone and presents an assertive posture that seeks to increase reliance on nuclear weapons. This includes plans to develop new nuclear weapons, modify others, and to back away from the goal of a “sole purpose” nuclear role of deterring only nuclear attacks to more forcefully emphasizing a role to also deter “non-nuclear strategic attacks,” even cyber attacks. To achieve that, the NPR declares that “the United States will enhance the flexibility and range of its tailored deterrence options… Expanding flexible U.S. nuclear options now, to include low-yield options, is important for the preservation of credible deterrence against regional aggression,” the NPR claims.

We All Contribute to a Nation's Soft Power

By Irene Wu

North Korea so wants to be unified with South Korea on the international stage that for a few weeks they hit the “pause” button on nuclear war. There could be no better example of the Olympics as a symbol of peace and no better illustration of the importance of soft power. 

Soft power in the international system usually contrasts with military power or economic power. Soft power is about influence and attraction, not about economic leverage and military force. Who stands with us in a crisis? When disasters hit others, whom do we help? 

Wasteful old thinking for a dangerous new age

There is a rich irony in the administration releasing its Nuclear Posture Review on Groundhog Day. We’ve seen this movie before. Much of the security landscape described in the pages of the review and, more dishearteningly, the investments it puts forward to address growing challenges are strikingly familiar to the bygone days of the Cold War, days that many of us hoped we had left behind.

When the Bulletin released its 2018 Doomsday Clock time and statement, some critics on the right howled that it overstated today’s geopolitical dangers. But today’s NPR, which follows on the heels of the National Defense Strategy the Defense Department issued late last month, lays out a similarly grim picture. Like the Bulletin’s Clock statement, the National Defense Strategy argues that “we are facing increased global disorder, characterized by decline in the long-standing rules-based international order—creating a security environment more complex and volatile than any we have experienced in recent memory” and that “this increasingly complex security environment is defined by rapid technological change, challenges from adversaries in every operating domain.”

The World Doesn’t Need Any More Nuclear Strategies


The Trump administration’s Nuclear Posture Review answers questions nobody should be asking.

The non-use of nuclear weapons since 1945 is a great achievement that we take for granted all too often. Although the number of states possessing nuclear weapons has slowly increased over the past seven decades, no country has used a nuclear weapon since 1945, and despite some worrisome incidents, I know of no case where a nuclear-armed state ever came really close to firing a nuclear bomb at another country. Continuing this lucky streak for as long as possible — ideally, forever — should be a paramount goal for all human beings.

CYBERSECURITY Pentagon Could Impose New Cyber Regulations on Industry

By Vivienne Machi

SAN DIEGO — The Defense Department may take larger steps to ensure industry partners and their suppliers practice proper cyber hygiene as it looks to better secure its information and data assets, Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said Feb. 6.

“We want the bar to be set so high, it will become the condition of doing business” with the Pentagon, he said at the annual WEST Conference co-hosted by the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association and U.S. Naval Institute in San Diego.

Too Busy To Train? The Navy’s Cyber Dilemma


SAN DIEGO: The Navy’s overworked IT teams need new “virtual training tools” and more time to train, especially for all-out cyber/electronic warfare against a high-end adversary, the commander of Naval Information Forces said here Tuesday.

As the new National Defense Strategy refocuses the entire military from counterinsurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan to great-power warfare against Russia or China, cyber warriors have one advantage: They’re already there. It’s Russian and Chinese hackers, not the Taliban or ISIS, who are probing Defense Department networks every day — what insiders call the Advanced Persistent Threat (APT). But just because you face an adversary every day, that doesn’t mean you’re trained for everything they could do the day they decide to go all-out. Think of submariners: They shadow Russian and Chinese subs all the time, but they aren’t doing torpedo runs. The same holds true in cyber/electronic warfare, where an enemy may save his most powerful software exploits or radio jamming for a major crisis.

Cyberwarfare Is Worse Than Ever


America is vulnerable to cyberattacks. You’re probably not surprised by that. But you may be surprised by just how vulnerable. In 2017, nearly twice the number of cybercrimes in America were reported compared to the year before. From 2015 to 2016, the number of ransomware attacks (in which hackers hold a victim’s data to ransom) increased not by 100 percent, 200 percent or 300 percent—but by 16,700 percent, according to one estimate.

This may be termed “cybercrime,” but it is often not only shady criminals behind these attacks but foreign governments.

Guarding maritime chokepoints against worldwide disruption

By John Sitilides

Returning to Washington recently after consecutive keynote presentations at several major investor events, before hundreds of highly-educated and well-informed finance executives, I was struck by their focus on the turbulent shifts in geopolitical relations on a global scale of recent decades.

In 1988, the U.S. and the Soviet Union were still locked in the Cold War, with most nations siding with liberty or totalitarianism. The 1990s were marked by America’s unipolar moment, with Russia rendered relatively meaningless in world affairs and China just beginning to rise from Mao’s domestic ruins. The first decade of the 21st century literally exploded into being, unleashing American military power in Afghanistan, Iraq, and globally against a vast radical Islamist terror network.

Drones Will Surpass IED Threat in Future Conflicts

By Daniel Gouré

The weapon system that personified the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and shaped the behavior of the U.S. military for almost fifteen years was the Improvised Explosive Device (IED). IEDs were responsible for approximately two-thirds of U.S. and Coalition casualties suffered in Iraq and Afghanistan. Civilian casualties from IEDs number in the tens of thousands.

The important lesson to draw from the experience dealing with IEDs in Southwest Asia is the way a single instrument of war, no matter how simple, can have profound organizational, operational and strategic impacts. The IED allowed insurgents to regain the strategic initiative and set the operating conditions for U.S. and Coalition forces.

Navy’s new weapon of choice? Information

By: Amber Corrin 

The the decision to include cyber elements in the investigation into two collisions at sea (at one point speculated to involve a network-based attack) was evident of the Navy's new approach to take on emerging threats and a changing threat landscape. 

In 2017, the Navy saw two deadly ship collisions at sea. First, the destroyer Fitzgerald collided with a container ship near Japan in June, and then again two months later the destroyer John S. McCain collided with an oil tanker near Singapore.

Drones, Ro-Boats, & F-35 On Wheels: Marines Seek Tech For Major War


SAN DIEGO: Before the first human Marine hits the beach in the next war, long-range MUX drones will launch from ships to scout for threats. Next comes a wave of robotic small craft, Rigid-Hulled Inflatable Boats (RHIBs) converted to carry sensors, jammers, missile launchers, even racks of mini-drones they can dump into the water to search for hidden obstacles and mines. Once the Marines come ashore intheir Amphibious Combat Vehicles and Ship-To-Shore Connector hovercraft, recon units will scout far ahead in Armored Reconnaissance Vehicles that bring the long-range sensors and data fusion of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to the ground force.

Number of Armed Conflicts Worldwide by Type, 1975-2015

By the Center for Security Studies

This graphic presents a breakdown of different types of armed conflict occurring worldwide from 1975-2015. To find out more about the role of religion in armed conflict, check out Jonas Baumann, Daniel Finnbogason and Isak Svensson’s newest addition to our CSS Policy Perspectives here. For more graphics on peace and conflict, check out the CSS’ collection of graphs and charts on the subject here.

10 February 2018

Time for a New US-India Democracy Partnership

By Yamini Aiyar and Lisa Gilbert

Both countries need to work together to improve trust in democratic institutions.

Though democracy still flourishes around the globe, it is coming under renewed strain worldwide. Established democracies have been facing new populist and nationalist challenges, while others have slid rapidly backward into varying levels of autocracy. Governments of all stripes are attacking freedom of the press, reducing transparency and closing space for civic engagement and civil society.

The success of democracy in the future will require strong democratic models and champions to help others build and solidify democracy in their home countries. It also will require a concerted effort to rebuild trust between citizens and their governments. The United States and India – as the world’s two largest democracies – must build a strong partnership that can help bolster the prospects of democracy not only in each country, but around the world.

We’re Still Paying for Kargil and Bangladesh

Pavan Srinath

Defence pensions and salaries have become too bloated. We need to downsize the army.

We can never tell the true cost of war. Or the true cost of peace. But we can get an accounting cost of both war and peace. It is 2018, and the Government of India is still paying for the 1971 war and for the Kargil war. And for everything in between. Not in some convoluted manner – but as pensions to retired soldiers.

A New China Military Base in Pakistan?

By Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan

Reports about Beijing trying to acquire another facility there could have significant consequences for the region.

A recent report about China trying to acquire a military base in Pakistan has created new concerns about Beijing’s long-term strategic plans in the Indian Ocean. The new base is supposed to go up in Jiwani, about 80 kilometers to the west of the better-known Gwadar port.

If China does establish a military base here, it will be its second foreign military base, after Djibouti, which was set up in August 2017. The Hambantota port in Sri Lanka given to China on a 99-year lease could possibly be added to the facilities available to China, though Sri Lanka has reportedly promised India that it will not allow the port to be used for military purposes.

Why the Taliban Should Fear the Afghan Air Force

Dave Majumdar

While the war in Afghanistan continues to fester unabated, one of the brighter spots in that ongoing conflict is the Afghan Air Force. The nascent air service is starting to mature and is starting to be able to employ airpower against its Taliban foe effectively using its own aircraft with the guidance of Western advisors.

“One of the most important things I want to talk about is the Afghan Air Force growth,” Maj. Gen. James ‘Scorch’ Hecker, commander of the 9th Air and Space Expeditionary Task Force-Afghanistan and NATO Air Command-Afghanistan—also a F-22 Raptor pilot—told reporters at the Pentagon on Feb. 7. “It continues to grow in size and capability. While U.S. air power is destroying Taliban support elements in the deep fight, Afghan A-29s and MD-530 helicopters provide quick, lethal support to Afghan forces in the close fight.”

America’s Dispute With Pakistan Over Terrorist Sanctuaries Is as Intractable as Ever

Earlier this month, the United States suspended security assistance to Pakistan, following through on a threat from President Donald Trump. The move was meant to signify Washington’s frustration with what it describes as Islamabad’s refusal to crack down on sanctuaries used by terrorists that target American soldiers across the border in Afghanistan.

Current tensions in U.S.-Pakistan relations—which flow from the aid freeze and from the Trump administration’s new Afghanistan strategy, and which have spawned increasingly angry rhetoric on both sides—all boil down to a fundamental dispute over this sanctuary issue. It’s a dispute unlikely to be resolved anytime soon. That’s bad news for a relationship already on shaky ground. ...

How China Plans to Feed 1.4 Billion Growing Appetites

Watching Jiang Wannian and Ping Cuixiang harvest a sixth of an acre of daikon seed in the north-central province of Gansu feels a little like traveling back in time.

In a dry valley ringed by dusky mountains, on a brick-paved lot, Jiang drives a rusted tractor over a hip-deep mound of dried plants. As they crush down, Ping, Jiang’s wife, plunges a homemade pitchfork into the straw and arranges it for another pass. Eventually Jiang and Ping work side by side, wiry figures with tawny skin. It’s hot, but they are swaddled in clothes to protect themselves from the dust and the sun. They have handsome faces, taut and lined from years of laboring outdoors, and they turn them skyward as they throw fine chaff up and watch ruddy seed rain down. This rhythm continues for hours. In a singsong voice Ping encourages the wind, murmuring, “Blow, blow!” Machines can do this work in minutes, but they are too expensive for Jiang and Ping. Instead they still thresh the daikon by hand, just as farmers did centuries ago.

US Air Campaign in Afghanistan Hits Targets Near Tajik and Chinese Border

By Catherine Putz

The U.S. airstrikes in Badakhshan are likely to please China, which may be helping the Afghans build a base in the region.

Earlier this week, U.S. forces in Afghanistan carried out airstrikes on Taliban and East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) targets in Afghanistan’s northeastern province, Badakhshan. The region, mountainous and remote, is often characterized as difficult to cement control over. It is also the rumored site of a future military base, to be built for the Afghan army with Chinese assistance — a plan which some Afghan officials confirm and Chinese officials deny.

China’s plan to use artificial intelligence to boost the thinking skills of nuclear submarine commanders

Stephen Chen

Equipping nuclear submarines with AI would give China an upper hand in undersea battles while pushing applications of the technology to a new level

A submarine with AI-augmented brainpower not only would give China’s large navy an upper hand in battle under the world’s oceans but would push applications of AI technology to a new level, according to the researcher, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the project’s sensitivity.

“Though a submarine has enormous power of destruction, its brain is actually quite small,” the researcher said.

India’s Response to the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative New Partners and New Formats

Christian Wagner, Siddharth Tripathi

India has been exploring the response to China’s growing influence and its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) for long. The contours to find viable alternatives to this challenge are now becoming visible. India is slowly transitioning to increased – and previously unthinkable – cooperation with other states in South Asia. Within its extended neighbourhood, India has developed new formats of cooperation with Japan, the USA and Australia that are directly or indirectly positioned against China. For Germany and Europe, this shift in Indian foreign policy opens new avenues for cooperation. Download (PDF)

Lebanon: About to Blow?

Janine di Giovanni

Lebanon is a tiny country, with a population of around six million; it could fit neatly between Philadelphia and Danbury, Connecticut. It has survived many crises over the past several decades: a brutal civil war from 1975 to 1990 that left 100,000 dead, a string of political assassinations since 2004 whose perpetrators have gone unpunished, and occupations by Israel and Syria. But Lebanon’s resilience is fraying. Its infrastructure is badly damaged and unemployment is high. It is also struggling to accommodate a large refugee population—500,000 Palestinians, many descended from those who fled the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, and nearly 1.5 million Syrians, a majority of them Sunni Muslims. 

Turkey's permanent state of emergency is crippling its chances of development

Faisal Al Yafai

To no-one's surprise – but to considerable alarm – Ankara last week extended the state of emergency that has been in place since a failed coup attempt in July 2016. That makes the sixth extension since the coup; 18 months in which more than 50,000 people have been arrested and an estimated 100,000 civil servants removed from their positions.

The ostensible reason for these arrests has been an attempt to root out followers of a US-based cleric called Fethullah Gulen, whom Turkey blames for the attempted coup. But with the state of emergency dragging up government opponents and politicians and forcing the closure of media groups, critics within and without Turkey have asked how proportionate president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been.

Trump’s Favorite General: Can Mattis Check an Impulsive President and Still Retain His Trust?

By Greg Jaffe and Missy Ryan 

Throughout his 40-year career as a Marine, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis built a reputation as an aggressive warrior, leading a blitz on Baghdad and pushing a reluctant Obama administration to hit back against Iran.

Over the past year, he has learned to play a different role: acting as a check on an impulsive president.

The big question is how long Mattis can continue to act as a force for continuity and caution and still retain influence with a president impatient to hit back at America’s enemies and swiftly win wars.

Muslim Voters and the European Left

By Rafaela M. Dancygier

Over the last few years, well over two million mostly Muslim refugees have arrived in Europe, a fact that has come to dominate headlines and elections across the continent. This large-scale inflow has bolstered right-wing populism and pushed some mainstream conservative parties to the right on migration in order to protect their share of the vote. But while the refugee crisis has led to shifts on the right, it has also highlighted a strategic problem for the left: how to approach immigration and immigrant voters without driving away their working-class base.

The Chance of Accidental Nuclear War Is Growing


Recapitalizing the U.S. nuclear deterrent won't help. What's missing is a strategy and resources to reduce risks of cataclysmic accidents, miscalculation, and human error. 

The Trump administration’s nuclear posture statement comes at a particularly rough time, reminiscent of the transition from President Jimmy Carter to Ronald Reagan. Back then, an outgoing president had watched his ambitious arms control agenda fall to tatters. Negotiations on nuclear testing and space warfare had gone nowhere, while the prospect of a second Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty had been shredded by Soviet tanks rumbling into Afghanistan.

Third Generation Gangs Strategic Note No. 9

John P. Sullivan, José de Arimatéia da Cruz and Robert J. Bunker

Brazil’s gangs are challenging the state and each other in a contest for power. The powerful Primeiro Comando da Capital (First Command of the Capital or PCC) is at war with the Comando Vermelho (Red Command or CV) and its allies for control of the nation’s prisons, favelas, and lucrative criminal enterprises—including drug trafficking. As part of this deadly competition, the gangs are alleged to wield corrupt influence over politics—funding elections and bribing political officials. In the latest accusations, Wálter Maierovitch, a retired São Paulo judge and mafia scholar, raises concerns that the PCC is infiltrating political processes to elude state interference. He is concerned that this mafia-or narco-politics (narcopolitica) will extend to interference in Brazil’s upcoming national elections in October.

What Would Happen if Terrorists Attacked the Super Bowl With Drones?


Small unmanned aircraft are a threat to high-profile events, but taking them down safely is almost impossible. Drones could present a potential major threat to Sunday’s Super Bowl, but there’s no way to disable or shoot them down without endangering the people below, according to U.S. law enforcement documents and interviews with security officials on the ground.

Vast resources have been deployed to identify, track, and intercept unmanned aircraft deemed a threat, but drones “continue to provide a significant challenge to special event security in the U.S.,” a Department of Homeland Security official, who asked not to be named, told Foreign Policy. “In the civilian special event environment, there are no safe mitigation technologies available at this time.”

When Open Source Info On Fitbit, Twitter Jeopardize US Security

Elizabeth Balboa 

The U.S. military, formerly an unabashed advocate of Fitbit Inc FIT 0.38% devices, is reviewing its policy on the use of fitness trackers at operational sites after a workout app inadvertently exposed the whereabouts of secret army bases.

Since November, Strava, “the social network for athletes,” has published the static locations, routes and movements of public accounts in a global, interactive “heatmap.”

Experts say the public data makes connected military personnel in conflict zones literal moving targets and, in some cases, betrays the coordinates of their confidential bases.

Strava is "committed" to working with military and government officials to address sensitive data; reviewing features that could be compromised; increasing awareness of privacy and safety tools; and simplifying those tools, CEO James Quarles said in a Monday statement

A New Smartphone for Every Fifth Person on Earth: Quantifying the New Tech Cycle

Benjamin Carton ; Joannes Mongardini ; Yiqun Li
Free Full Text (PDF file size is 801 KB)

Disclaimer: IMF Working Papers describe research in progress by the author(s) and are published to elicit comments and to encourage debate. The views expressed in IMF Working Papers are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of the IMF, its Executive Board, or IMF management. 


The enormous global demand for smartphones in recent years has created a new global tech cycle. In 2016 alone, global smartphone sales reached close to 1.5 billion, one for every fifth person on earth. In turn, this has engendered complex and evolving supply chains across Asia. We show that the new tech cycle cannot be captured by standard seasonality, but depends on smartphone product release dates. Decomposing cycle from trend, we also show that the sale of smartphones may have peaked in late 2015. Asia, however, continues to gain in importance as the global tech manufacturer. 

The Future of War: a review


Professor Lawrence Freedman and Sam Goldwyn have at least one thing in common: neither much likes making predictions, particularly about the future.

Paradoxically, Professor Freedman’s reluctance to prophesy is entirely sensible in a book entitled ‘The Future of War.’ On the penultimate page he says: ‘It would be against the spirit of this book predict the incidence and form of future wars’. Indeed, he quotes at the beginning of his final chapter, and with approval, Major General Bob Scales: ‘The least successful enterprise in Washington DC (was) the one that places bets on the nature and character of tomorrow’s wars. Virtually without exception, they get it wrong.’ And as Professor Freedman says, the task of prediction is today more difficult than ever: ‘There is no longer a dominant model for future war, but instead a blurred concept and a range of speculative possibilities.’

The Overburdened Infantry Soldier

Since there were first soldiers the weight they have carried has been subject to cyclical variation and much discussion. The upward trend that saw its zenith during operations in Afghanistan is now subject to a realisation that it is both unsustainable and undesirable.

The Recurring Problem of Overburdened Soldiers

None of this is new, the Athenian General Iphicrates was widely credited with introducing a light force (Peltasts) that enabled them to overcome the much heavier armed and armoured Spartans at the Battle of Lechaeum. Increasing the length of their weapons and reducing the weight of their armour resulted in a force with increased mobility and firepower at the cost of protection. During the Thirty Years War, Gustav Adolphus of Sweden (often called the Father of Modern Warfare) favoured the use of combined arms where mobility was emphasised.

Today’s Wars Are Based on a Fundamental Misunderstanding of History Until we correct it, we can count on ceaseless, tragic war.

By Danny Sjursen

Vietnam: It’s always there. Looming in the past, informing American futures.

A 50-year-old war, once labeled the longest in our history, is still alive and well and still being refought by one group of Americans: the military high command. And almost half a century later, they’re still losing it and blaming others for doing so.

Of course, the US military and Washington policymakers lost the war in Vietnam in the previous century and perhaps it’s well that they did. The United States really had no business intervening in that anti-colonial civil war in the first place, supporting a South Vietnamese government of questionable legitimacy, and stifling promised nationwide elections on both sides of that country’s artificial border. In doing so, Washington presented an easy villain for a North Vietnamese-backed National Liberation Front (NLF) insurgency, a group known to Americans in those years as the Vietcong.

Distributed Defense

Despite the rising salience of missile threats, current air and missile defense forces are far too susceptible to suppression. Today’s U.S. air and missile defense (AMD) force lacks the depth, capacity, and operational flexibility to simultaneously perform both missions. Discussions about improving AMD usually revolve around improvements to the capability and capacity of interceptors or sensors. Rather than simply doing more of the same, the joint integrated air and missile defense (IAMD) efforts might be well served by new or reinvigorated operational concepts, here discussed collectively as “Distributed Defense.” By leveraging networked integration, Distributed Defense envisions a more flexible and more dispersible air and missile defense force capable of imposing costs and dilemmas on an adversary, complicating the suppression of U.S. air and missile defenses. Although capability and capacity improvements remain essential to the high-end threats, the Distributed Defense concept focuses on creating a new architecture for today’s fielded or soon-to-be fielded IAMD force to boost flexibility and resilience.

Navy Wants Congress to Change Laws to Make a More Flexible Personnel System

By: John Grady

U.S. Navy Sailors aboard Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) man the rails as the ship departs its homeport of San Diego on Jan. 5, 2017. US Navy Photo

The Navy is asking Congress for more flexibility to recruit rewards for talent and promote to higher rank its officers to better compete in the career marketplace, the service’s personnel chief said Wednesday.

Opinion Forget Britain’s nuclear deterrent – here’s what Russia is really afraid of

Mark Galeotti

British defence spending and capabilities are in the middle of a bitter review in which the potential threat from Russia is frequently invoked, whether that means cutting ocean-bottom internet cables, flying bombers into our airspace, or invading Nato territory.

Russia is – to use a word of the day – being weaponised in the name of particular service interests and justifying big-ticket new systems. Nonetheless, given that Russia is the most serious aggressor the UK might have to face, it is striking how little discussion there has been about what kind of British military capabilities genuinely concern Russian soldiers and planners.

9 February 2018

Crises Between India and Pakistan: The Basics

By Michael Krepon

Crises on the subcontinent are man-made and not accidental. The instigators have grievances and want to change the status quo. Crisis-triggering events usually do not come as a bolt out of the blue. Instead they are preceded by a series of events leading up to a big explosion. When a crisis comes as a surprise, someone important has been asleep at the switch.

There are indicators to the run-up of a crisis. Some are now very much evident. Firing along the Line of Control (LoC) dividing Kashmir is the highest in seven years, according to Indian accounts. Pakistan has accused India of over 1,300 cease-fire violations in 2017. Crossings by militant cadres into Kashmir are up. Public disaffection among Kashmiri Muslims under Indian governance is very high and combustible. Military posts along the LoC are being overrun.