22 May 2019

Increasing U.S. Sanctions Pressure Raises the Risks of Iranian Retaliation

Iranian retaliation against sanctions pressure would most like consist of cyberattacks. While a direct military response by Iran is less likely, U.S. companies and civilians in the region must still take the possibility into account. Iran's embassies, intelligence networks and proxies give it a global reach, though retaliation is more likely in the Middle East.

Editor's Note: This security-focused assessment is one of many such analyses found at Stratfor Threat Lens, a unique protective intelligence product designed with corporate security leaders in mind. Threat Lens enables industry professionals and organizations to anticipate, identify, measure and mitigate emerging threats to people, assets and intellectual property the world over. Threat Lens is the only unified solution that analyzes and forecasts security risk from a holistic perspective, bringing all the most relevant global insights into a single, interactive threat dashboard.

How Turkey Defied the U.S. and Became a Killer Drone Power

Umar Farooq

FINDING ONESELF IN the crosshairs of a military drone is, for most people, not the most comforting situation. Yet at an air show last fall, tens of thousands of people had a different reaction.

A military drone took off from a runway, and moments later it began transmitting its view to a giant screen on stage. The video from the drone was clear enough to pick out your own face among the crowd. It was exactly what the drone’s pilot, seated in a trailer not far from the stage, was seeing. The crowd was in the crosshairs, and you could see the data about the aircraft’s pitch, roll, and altitude. In the bottom right corner of the screen, the words “Bore Invalid” indicated the drone was currently unarmed.

It’s the kind of video that, in a war zone, can end with a giant plume of smoke and the tattered remains of whatever the drone has just obliterated. Yet for this crowd, it was like catching a glimpse of themselves on the Jumbotron at a football game. When an announcer shouted out, “We see you, wave your hands!” they erupted in excitement.

A Saudi Pipeline Attack Amps Up Suspicions on the Arabian Peninsula

An attack against a Saudi pipeline following on the heels of alleged sabotage of four oil tankers in the Persian Gulf has raised both concerns and questions on the Arabian Peninsula. While other explanations for the timing and targets of the two incidents are possible, the attacks could herald the beginning of a broader campaign of disruption directed by Iran, whose oil exports are being squeezed off by U.S. sanctions, that would put nearly a quarter of the world's crude oil supply at risk of being attacked.

What Happened

For the second time in three days, attackers have targeted oil and natural gas operations on the Arabian Peninsula. On May 14, Khalid al-Falih, Saudi Arabia's energy minister, confirmed that two drones launched by the Yemen-based Houthis had targeted two pumping stations along Saudi Arabia's East-West pipeline, which carries oil from fields in Eastern province to the Red Sea. The resulting fire at one of the stations prompted the pipeline, which has a capacity of 5 million barrels per day of crude oil, to suspend operations as damage assessments are made.

US influence on Europe failing as France resists Huawei ban

by Jamie Davies

The White House might have felt banning Huawei was an appropriate measure for national security, but France does not agree with the drastic action.

Speaking at a conference in Paris, French President Emmanuel Macron has confirmed the country will not ban Huawei. This is not to say it won’t in the future, but it appears Europe is remaining resolute against the demands of the US. The burden of proof might be a concept easily ignored in the US, but Europe stands for more.

“Our perspective is not to block Huawei or any company,” Macron said. “France and Europe are pragmatic and realistic. We do believe in cooperation and multilateralism. At the same time, we are extremely careful about access to good technology and to preserve our national security and all the safety rules.”

President Donald Trump is most likely a man who is used to getting his own way, and upon assuming office as head of the most powerful government worldwide, he might have thought this position of privilege would continue. However, Europe is being anything but compliant.

Huawei poses security threat to UK, says former MI6 chief

Dan Sabbagh 

Huawei should be completely banned from supplying 5G mobile networks in the UK because its operations are “subject to influence by the Chinese state”, according to a report by a Conservative MP and two academics.

They argue that a decision announced by Theresa May last month, after a fraught meeting of the National Security Council (NSC), to allow Huawei to supply “non-core” equipment should be overturned because using the company’s technology presents “risks”.

In a report from the Henry Jackson Society (HJS), the authors claimed Huawei “has long been accused of espionage” – a claim denied repeatedly by the firm – and notes that “while there are no definitely proven cases”, a precautionary principle should be adopted.

Trump Vs. Huawei: The World Is Watching


WASHINGTON: President Trump’s new Executive Order on imported technology bares sharp teeth at Huawei and other Chinese companies, but it doesn’t have any teeth yet. The actual impact will depend on how the order is implemented over the next 150 days, giving the administration plenty of leverage. That timeline, combined with the wide discretion the order allows — it doesn’t actually mention Huawei or any company by name — gives Trump plenty of leeway. He can use the order as a launchpad for a strict crackdown on suspect tech, or he can use it as a bargaining chip in his larger trade war with China.

But the more cybersecurity gets entangled with protectionism, some experts warned, the less seriously US allies will take American exhortations to keep Chinese tech out of their networks. And what really matters is not how the order impacts the US market — where Huawei is already weak — but the signal it sends to the rest of the world — where the Chinese company has a shot at 5G dominance. This White House’s tendency to sudden reversals that catch its own senior officials by surprise (on nuclear weapons, aircraft carriers, defense spending, Syrian withdrawal, and so on) doesn’t exactly instill confidence abroad.

Populists Have Their Sights on the European Parliament, Despite Their Own Divisions

Andrew MacDowall 

Could next week’s European Parliament elections lead to a grand realignment of the continent’s politics, with the populist right wielding unprecedented influence? Hungary’s pugnacious and controversial prime minister, Viktor Orban, certainly hopes so. Poland’s de factor leader, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the head of the ruling, arch-conservative Law and Justice party, PiS, is also eyeing the leadership of an invigorated right. So too Italy’s deputy prime minister, Matteo Salvini, the figurehead for a potential new bloc of hard-right populist parties and governments opposed to immigration and aiming to reconstitute European politics.

But even if they all do as well as predicted next week, with far-right, populist and other euroskeptic parties projected to win around a quarter to a third of the seats in the European Parliament, the question remains: Can the disparate forces of Europe’s populist right coalesce into a coherent whole and put their plans into action? .

Anatomy of a Taiwan Invasion, Part 3: Taiwan's Countermeasures

By Rick Joe

This is part 3 of a three-part series considering the methods that may be used in a PLA invasion of Taiwan. Part 1 and part 2 set the political and military parameters relevant for the situation, and examined the PLA assets that would be deployed in the air, naval, and missile domains. These pieces concluded that the success of the eventual amphibious landing phase would be dependent on how the preceding contest in the other domains play out.

Part 3 will review the handicaps that the Taiwan’s own military, the Republic of China Armed Forces (ROCArF), currently suffers, and how future defense postures and procurement can be adjusted to maximize Taiwan’s military lethality and survivability. This piece will also review the consequences of likely PLA advances that are expected on the horizon. (Editor’s note: a full list of the acronyms used in this piece is found at the end of Part 1.)

Strategic Depth


THE WEEK STARTED out with a bang, or several of them really. Remember Meltdown and Spectre, the vulnerabilities that affected basically every Intel processor from the last decade? There’s a related attack called ZombieLoad—yes, ZombieLoad—with similarly broad and bad impact. Serious stuff! But honestly not even the worst disclosure of the week.

That distinction probably goes to Cisco. Researchers at security firm Red Balloon found that they could hack the company’s ubiquitous enterprise router, meaning they could listen in on whatever traffic goes to and from those networks. Cisco then acknowledged that dozens of its products were susceptible to the attack, likely comprising millions of devices, and that a fix would require an on-site visit.

Hacktivist attacks dropped by 95% since 2015

A new report by IBM X-Force sheds light on the dramatic decline of hacktivism over the last few years. Since 2015, the number of hacktivism-related security breaches has dropped by a whopping 95%. In 2017 there were only five such incidents, down from 35 in 2015. The number dropped further to two incidents in 2018 and so far this year, not a single breach has been attributed to hacktivists.

This doesn’t mean that hacktivists no longer carry out attacks. For instance, when the Ecuadorian government terminated Julian Assange’s political asylum last month, leading to the Wikileaks founder’s arrest by UK police, hacktivists launched 40 million cyberattacks against Ecuadorian government websites in a week.

Two complementary explanations for why hacktivism is becoming an increasingly insignificant phenomenon, are the decline of the notorious hacktivist group Anonymous and increased efforts by law enforcement to take down hacktivist networks.


by Gordon Gottsegen

In May of 2017, a nasty cyber attack hit more than 200,000 computers in 150 countries over the course of just a few days. Dubbed “WannaCry,” it exploited a vulnerability that was first discovered by the National Security Agency (NSA) and later stolen and disseminated online.

It worked like this: After successfully breaching a computer, WannaCry encrypted that computer's files and rendered them unreadable. In order to recover their imprisoned material, targets of the attack were told they needed to purchase special decryption software. Guess who sold that software? That's right, the attackers. 

The so-called “ransomware” siege affected individuals as well as large organizations, including the U.K.'s National Health Service, Russian banks, Chinese schools, Spanish telecom giant Telefonica and the U.S.-based delivery service FedEx. By some estimates, total losses approached $4 billion.Jarretera / Shutterstock

Spies, Lies, and Algorithms Why U.S. Intelligence Agencies Must Adapt or Fail

By Amy Zegart and Michael Morell

For U.S. intelligence agencies, the twenty-first century began with a shock, when 19 al Qaeda operatives hijacked four planes and perpetrated the deadliest attack ever on U.S. soil. In the wake of the attack, the intelligence community mobilized with one overriding goal: preventing another 9/11. The CIA, the National Security Agency, and the 15 other components of the U.S. intelligence community restructured, reformed, and retooled. Congress appropriated billions of dollars to support the transformation.

That effort paid off. In the nearly two decades that U.S. intelligence agencies have been focused on fighting terrorists, they have foiled numerous plots to attack the U.S. homeland, tracked down Osama bin Laden, helped eliminate the Islamic State’s caliphate, and found terrorists hiding everywhere from Afghan caves to Brussels apartment complexes. This has arguably been one of the most successful periods in the history of American intelligence.

But today, confronted with new threats that go well beyond terrorism, U.S. intelligence agencies face another moment of reckoning. From biotechnology and nanotechnology to quantum computing and artificial intelligence (AI), rapid technological change is giving U.S. adversaries new capabilities and eroding traditional U.S. intelligence advantages. The U.S. intelligence community must adapt to these shifts or risk failure as the nation’s first line of defense.

Information Warfare Is Here To Stay

By Heidi Tworek

We often forget that the Internet is not as wireless as it seems. Most online data still flow through physical fiber-optic cables laid out across several hundred thousand miles of ocean floor. If a shark were to bite through a cable (which has happened before), some or all of the Internet could come to a standstill.

These days, however, observers spend less time worrying about underwater fauna than about Russia’s submarines, which have been taking a special interest in ocean-bed cables in recent years. Since 2017, Russian submarines in the North Atlantic have reportedly been unusually active in the vicinity of undersea fiber-optic cables that carry most European and U.S. Internet traffic. It remains unclear what exactly Russia is planning or doing. The Russian activity may indicate an attempt to surveil the Pentagon’s secret cable network or plans to tamper with certain connections. But the reports also fit in with Russia’s global push to shape political outcomes and public opinion through the Internet, whether through Russian-funded news websites or social media meddling.

21 May 2019

India concerned over delay in reimbursement of 265 million dollars to peacekeeping contributing countries

UNITED NATIONS: India, which is owed USD 38 million by the UN for peacekeeping operations, has voiced concern over the "unjustifiable and inexplicable" delays in reimbursement to countries providing peacekeeping troops and police for UN missions.

It underlined that recurrent delays in payments have turned the Troop Contributing Countries (TCCs) as "de facto financers" of UN peacekeeping.

"Reimbursement on time for peacekeeping is a genuine expectation," First Secretary in India's Permanent Mission to the UN Mahesh Kumar said Thursday at a Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) session on 'Improving the Financial Situation of the United Nations.' Kumar noted that total arrears currently stand at a whopping USD 3.6 billion, nearly one-third of the annual assessment of the United Nations, adding that UN peacekeeping also suffers from delay in reimbursements.

U.S. Raises the Stakes in Afghanistan From the Air


KUNDUZ, Afghanistan—Capt. Safdar Mohammad Andarabi sits with his elbows resting on his knees inside one of the three ramshackle buildings he and his 200 Afghan National Army soldiers tentatively hold in the center of a village in Qala-i-Zal, a rural district only 90 minutes from Kunduz city. Unlike many Afghan commanders, the grim-faced Andarabi doesn’t joke much. What is there to laugh about? He and his men are isolated on a tiny island in a Taliban sea.

“This is a safe area for the Taliban,” Andarabi said. “They can have picnics in Qala-i-Zal, because the government doesn’t do any operations here.”

Accompanied by the district’s exiled governor, Ahmad Fahim Qarluq, I recently drove to Qala-i-Zal, a vast expanse of desert with a belt of lush agricultural land on either side of the Kunduz River. Of the district’s 107 villages, Qarluq told me while steering a Toyota Corolla through sand drifts at high speed—at one point pointing a Kalashnikov out the window to ward off an oncoming vehicle he didn’t recognize—the Afghan government controls just two of them.

Will Russia sell the Pantsir missile system and T-90 tanks to Pakistan?

By Krzysztof Iwanek

On the heels of the recent tensions between New Delhi and Islamabad, news broke out that Pakistan is set to purchase the Pantsir surface-to-air missile system and T-90 tanks from Russia. If true, this deal would be Russian industry’s biggest ever in its (to-date minuscule) arms trade with Pakistan and would have the potential to shift the balance of Moscow’s relations with the two South Asian neighbors and rivals.

One should be very careful with jumping to conclusions on such deals, however. First, the media narrative often presents such agreements as if they were destined to be finalized, ignoring the complex reality of negotiations. In the media, memoranda of understanding may be confused with final deals, and any stage of talks can be presented as if the ink was already drying down on the paper. In this case, the Times of Islamabad storyactually mentioned that Islamabad “is now planning to send a delegation to Moscow to finalize the deal” — and an awful lot of deals have died on the way to finalization, often after years of protracted and delayed negotiations. As for the tanks, the news is that “Pakistan has drawn up a plan to also procure 360 T-90 tanks” from Russia; there is an even longer and torturous way from here to getting the tanks rolling on the plains of Punjab or Sindh by Pakistan’s border with India.

You Can’t Defeat Tomorrow’s Terrorists by Fighting Yesterday’s Enemy


As the dust settles on the jihadi terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka that killed more than 250 people, mostly Christian worshippers, on Easter Sunday last month, one of the most painful details emerging is that, in contrast to most terrorist attacks, the government received clear and precise warnings well in advance. The New York Times reports that the chief of Sri Lanka’s intelligence warned the police chief that, “Sri Lanka based Zahran Hashmi of National Thowheeth Jama’ath and his associates are planning to carry out a suicide terrorist attack in Sri Lanka shortly.” Specific warnings were issued about attacks on churches as well as the names and addresses of those suspected in the attack. Law enforcement officials rarely get better intelligence than that.

We still don’t know why Sri Lankan security forces did not act on this detailed warning. Bureaucratic incompetence and political rivalries are possible explanations. Another, ironically, is that Sri Lanka did not act on this terrorism warning because it was too focused on other terrorism problems. 

Digital Cold War

By Marc Champion

Here’s one vision of the future: In half the world, driverless cars built by Baidu and connected by Huawei’s 5G wireless service carry residents who shop online with Alibaba and post selfies with WeChat. In the other half, those activities are dominated by companies like Amazon, Google, Facebook, Tesla and Ericsson. On one side, the internet is tightly controlled;on the other, it’s far freer. For some policy makers and academics, the escalating tensions between the U.S. and China are pointing toward a “Cold War 2.0,” one fought for technological, rather than nuclear or ideological, dominance. It’s a prospect fraught with danger, fueled by hawks on both sides. Yet it would require so complete a dismantling of the global supply chains and networks that have underpinned China’s astounding growth in particular, that many believe any new Cold War won’t end up looking like the last. 
The Situation 

This is Truly a Trade War

By William R. Hawkins

The trade negotiations between the Trump administration and the People's Republic of China (PRC) are not rooted in commercial disputes. Though media discussions are dominated by issues about opening markets for U.S. exports limited by Chinese policy, the real issue is national security and the need to keep the balance of power tilted in America's favor. Business is the means, not the end. Comparative national capabilities in industry and technology determine military potential, and financial strength supports economic development and diplomatic influence. China's rapid growth has moved the country from the seventh largest GDP in 1980 to the second largest today with the world's largest manufacturing capacity. Beijing's rise threatens to overturn world politics in the same way Germany did when it overtook Great Britain at the end of the 19th century. It was only because the U.S. economy surpassed the industrial might of Germany that the world wars turned out as they did.

Though China's growth rate has slowed from 10% to about 7%, it is still moving at twice the rate of the U.S. economy even with the boost given to it by President Donald Trump. China needs to be slowed down, which means ending the massive flow of capital and technology that has built Beijing's capabilities and which have then been supported by the trade deficit. Americans sent a net $419 billion to China last year by buying their goods, keeping their factories open and their workers employed. Americans bought almost five times the value of goods from China as American-based producers sold to China. Over the last ten years, Americans have sent to China over $3 trillion net via the deficit in goods. Yet this is only the tip of the iceberg. It has been the transfer of technology and its diffusion across the Chinese economy that has empowered the regime, giving it the resources to build military strength and the confidence to adopt an aggressive foreign policy.



IN THE SPRING of 2016, an artificial intelligence system called AlphaGo defeated a world champion Go player in a match at the Four Seasons hotel in Seoul. In the US, this momentous news required some unpacking. Most Americans were unfamiliar with Go, an ancient Asian game that involves placing black and white stones on a wooden board. And the technology that had emerged victorious was even more foreign: a form of AI called machine learning, which uses large data sets to train a computer to recognize patterns and make its own strategic choices.

Still, the gist of the story was familiar enough. Computers had already mastered checkers and chess; now they had learned to dominate a still more complex game. Geeks cared, but most people didn’t. In the White House, Terah Lyons, one of Barack Obama’s science and technology policy advisers, remembers her team cheering on the fourth floor of the Eisenhower Executive Building. “We saw it as a win for technology,” she says. “The next day the rest of the White House forgot about it.”

America’s military relationship with China needs rules

Beep, beep, beep went the first satellite to orbit Earth, the primitive Sputnik 1, launched in 1957. No matter that it could do little else. That Soviet communists had won the first space race sparked an American crisis of confidence. This had useful effects. Abroad, America strengthened such alliances as nato. At home, vast sums were poured into science. The Sputnik crisis felt like a loss of innocence—the enemy was overhead. But the actual Soviet threat had not changed much. The Soviet Union was, as before, a nuclear-armed foe, bent on spreading a rival ideology.

Now America is having a crisis of confidence about China, and the cause is not one Sputnik moment but many smaller ones in a row. Talk to strategists in America and China—military officers, politicians, business bosses and scholars—and it is shocking how many say the chances of a limited conflict are underestimated.

Anatomy of a Taiwan Invasion, Part 3: Taiwan's Countermeasures

By Rick Joe

This is part 3 of a three-part series considering the methods that may be used in a PLA invasion of Taiwan. Part 1 and part 2 set the political and military parameters relevant for the situation, and examined the PLA assets that would be deployed in the air, naval, and missile domains. These pieces concluded that the success of the eventual amphibious landing phase would be dependent on how the preceding contest in the other domains play out.

Part 3 will review the handicaps that the Taiwan’s own military, the Republic of China Armed Forces (ROCArF), currently suffers, and how future defense postures and procurement can be adjusted to maximize Taiwan’s military lethality and survivability. This piece will also review the consequences of likely PLA advances that are expected on the horizon. (Editor’s note: a full list of the acronyms used in this piece is found at the end of Part 1.)

Strategic Depth

Belt and Road Brings Chinese Finance to the Gulf

By Muhammad Zulfikar Rakhmat

During his meeting with the King of Bahrain, Sheikh Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, in 2013, Xi Jinping statedthat China would deepen financial cooperation with Gulf countries. In recent years, this intention has been realized. With the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), China has been expanding its financial foothold in the Gulf region, which is positioned as one of the most crucial financial hubs in the world.

While Chinese finance has been present in the Gulf since the early days of China-Gulf relations, Xi, with his assertive financial reforms, including greater integration in the global financial economy, aims to reinforce this process through the BRI.

Growing Presence and Bond Markets

Corresponding to the BRI’s official “Vision and Action” document, which states that “financial integration is an important underpinning for implementing the Belt and Road Initiative,” Chinese banks and financial institutions have increased their cross-border financial transactions, presences, and activities in the Gulf region.

Huawei in the Trump Administration’s Crosshairs as US-China Economic Warfare Escalates

By Ankit Panda

The Trump administration has served up a side-helping of serious economic decoupling alongside this month’s main course: the escalating trade war. On Wednesday, the administration announced that it would blacklist China’s Huawei Technologies Co. by blocking American firms from serving as suppliers for Huawei products. A long-rumored executive order signed by U.S. President Donald J. Trump was followed by a U.S. Commerce Department listing of Huawei and 70 affiliates to an “Entity List,” barring the company from sourcing U.S. components for its products and services.

Given the assumptions that had underlaid globalization and U.S.-China interdependence in the technology sector, the move will hit Huawei, China’s largest technology company and a source of national pride, where it’ll hurt.

Huawei, Tech Decoupling, and Great Power Competition

By Ankit Panda and Prashanth Parameswaran

The Diplomat‘s Ankit Panda (@nktpnd) and Prashanth Parameswaran (@TheAsianist) discuss the Trump administration’s challenge to Chinese tech giant Huawei, great power competition, and the findings of the 2019 U.S. Department of Defense report on Chinese military power. The discussion also considers prospects for strategic arms control involving China alongside the United States and Russia.

Click the arrow to the right to listen. If you’re an iOS or Mac user, you can also subscribe to The Diplomat’s Asia Geopolitics podcast on iTunes here. If you use Android, you can subscribe on TuneIn here. If you like the podcast and have suggestions for content, please leave a review and rating on iTunes and TuneIn.

Why China Will Steer Clear of a New START on Arms Control

With time ticking on the New START agreement to limit nuclear arms, the United States will continue its efforts to create a successor treaty that would include China for the first time. While controls on strategic nuclear weapons would have little immediate impact on Beijing at this time, any given treaty opens the door to possible oversight and compliance screening, which is unpalatable to Beijing. Given the significant mistrust among the world's great powers, China is unlikely to agree to any nuclear limitation deal. 

The United States never managed to draw China into the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, but Washington still harbors hopes that it can lean on Beijing — and also Moscow — to sign up for a new strategic nuclear arms control agreement. Naturally, such a deal could significantly curb the wider arms race among global powers by building on the primary existing agreement, New START, which restricts the number of strategic nuclear weapons and delivery systems that each signatory can have.

Agriculture as an Important Factor in Nigeria-China Relations

By Efem Nkam Ubi 

At the early stages of political independence, many countries in Africa were major exporters of agricultural products. With particular reference to Nigeria, agriculture was the main source of revenue before the discovery of oil in 1956 and two years later when Nigeria became an oil producer. Ever since, Nigeria has witnessed a continuous decline of the agricultural sector.

But the importance of the sector is seen in the efforts by different administrations to implement various policies and programs aimed at increasing the productivity of the sector, albeit without much success. Agriculture has also been the favorite sector to drive the economic diversification agenda of various administrations. Many of the initiatives failed for different reasons, including lack of commitment and corruption.

Nuclear Weapons Are Getting Less Predictable, and More Dangerous


Facing steerable ICBMs and smaller warheads, the Pentagon seeks better tracking as the White House pursues an unlikely arms-control treaty. 

On Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met his counterpart, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, to discuss, among many things, the prospect of a new, comprehensive nuclear-weapons treaty with Russia and China. At the same time, the Pentagon is developing a new generation of nuclear weapons to keep up with cutting-edge missiles and warheads coming out of Moscow. If the administration fails in its ambitious renegotiation, the world is headed toward a new era of heightened nuclear tension not seen in decades.

That’s because these new weapons are eroding the idea of nuclear predictability.

The Hidden Sources of Iranian Strength


“What Americans don’t understand is that the groups that we support in the region are not our mercenaries,” Ali, a high-ranking member of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), said when I recently asked him about one of the stated goals of the Trump administration’s sanctions against Iran: to curtail the country’s ability to financially support militias in the region. He continued, “The Americans think everything is about money. They think we buy loyalty in the region, because that’s how they buy loyalty.”

In the decade that I did research with cultural producers in Iran’s preeminent military force, the IRGC, I saw a steady flow of filmmakers loyal to Hezbollah and Iraqi Shiite and Kurdish groups travel through regime cultural centers in Tehran. (They all agreed to speak with me on the condition of anonymity. The first names used here are pseudonyms.) Mehdi, an Iranian pro-regime filmmaker, had lived in Lebanon to make films with Hezbollah media producers. When they visited him in Tehran, they spoke fluent Persian and navigated the city with familiar ease. Iraqi filmmakers would regularly come to spend time in Tehran at editing studios tied to the paramilitary Basij organization.



As tensions rose between the U.S. and Iran this week, it was reported that the White House had considered a revised military plan to deploy 120,000 American troops to the Middle East in the event of an Iranian attack or acceleration of the country’s nuclear program.

President Donald Trump is reportedly still hoping for a diplomatic solution to the face-off, though some of his most senior advisers are apparently not of the same mind. An aircraft carrier strike group has been sent to the Arabian Sea, with B-52 bombers and a Patriot missile system also deployed to the region.

Both Iranian and American officials have said they do not seek war. But as tensions rise and in the absence of effective dialogue, the risk of a confrontation—whether intentional or accidental—increases.

On Thursday, Democratic presidential candidate and Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard suggested Trump and National Security Adviser John Bolton are “on the brink of launching us into a very stupid and costly war with Iran.” She urged supporters “to join her in sending a strong message to President Trump: The US must NOT go to war with Iran.”

Escalating U.S.-Iran Tensions

Last week, the Trump White House reportedly reviewed a plan that called for sending 120,000 U.S. troops to the Middle East to counter Iran. U.S. Central Command has stated that U.S. troops in Iraq are on high alert due to an increased threat from Iran-backed militias, and the State Department has called for all non-essential personnel to evacuate both Baghdad and Erbil. These are all signs of the ratcheting tensions between the United States and Iran.

Q1: Why are tensions between the United States and Iran escalating now?

A1: Last week was the one-year anniversary of the United States leaving the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The Trump administration wants to demonstrate its resolve on the issue of Iran’s behavior in the region and is looking to show the Iranians that it can tighten the screws still further. The United States also wants to demonstrate that it can act and bring the world along with it. Iran wants to demonstrate that it is not about to surrender to U.S. pressure. The Iranian government is looking to assert that it will survive and that it will be able to rally its population. I don't think either side wants a conflict, but neither side wants the other to think it fears conflict. The real challenge of this situation is how to get each side to back away while saving face.

Is a Geostrategic Shift in the Middle East in the Offing?

by Mohammed Ayoob

On the eve of the short-lived Arab Spring in January 2011 I wrote a story which argued that the “center of gravity in the Middle East has shifted dramatically in the past few decades from the Arab heartland comprising Egypt and the Fertile Crescent to what was once considered the non-Arab periphery—Turkey and Iran.” That statement has continued to hold true despite the ups and downs in the regional politics of the Middle East. The moribund nature of Arab politics and the perpetuation of autocratic and kleptocratic rule have contributed in large measure to the diminution in the regional role of major Arab states such as Egypt. The civil wars following the Arab Spring have torn several Arab countries apart and even created failed states such as Syria, Libya, and Yemen. These wars have further marginalized the Arab world. Even Saudi Arabia, despite its fabulous oil wealth, is unable to exert adequate influence in the region because of its manifest dependence for security on the United States and the arrogant and eccentric nature of its regime.

The US Should Be Strengthening Deterrence. The Opposite Is Happening.


Instead of debating no-first-use policies and other potential advancements, Trump is undermining an alliance system built over decades. 

Trust – real, solid trust – takes a long time to build, but it can be lost in an instant. The American public is now getting a real-time demonstration of how that concept applies to our hard won and carefully-constructed alliance system, especially as it applies to extended deterrence.

At a rally in Florida last week, President Trump told an audience, “We lose four and a half billion dollars to defend a country that’s rich as hell and probably doesn’t like us too much.” He was almost certainly alluding to the ongoing negotiations between the United States and South Korea about cost-sharing for U.S. troops in the country. These remarks were not only undiplomatic, they were completely misleading

The China challenge and critical next steps for the United States

Mark Warner (D-VA)

The following is a light adaptation of a speech delivered at Brookings on May 9, 2019 by Senator Mark Warner (D-VA). In conversation with Brookings Nonresident Senior Fellow Victoria Nuland, Sen. Warner offered his view of China’s overseas activities and footprint. These are issues that Brookings scholars will be researching closely over the coming year as part of a new Foreign Policy initiative: “Global China: Assessing China’s growing role in the world.” This piece reflects only the view of Sen. Warner.

Until a few years ago, my views of China were pretty similar to a lot of people in the business world. As a former entrepreneur and venture capitalist, I looked at China—a rapidly modernizing country of 1.3 billion people with rising incomes and expectations—and saw mostly opportunity. At the time, I believed what a lot of people believed: that a rising China could be good for the world, and that our two countries—one a true democracy, and one inevitably headed, at least, in a less authoritarian, more open direction—could co-exist peacefully. That we could rise together as competitors, but partners nonetheless.

But a few years and many, many classified briefings later, a lot has happened to fundamentally shift my viewpoint.


Finland is becoming Europe’s Japan

Antti Rinne

Antti Rinne won a general election promising to fix Finland's welfare state. The big challenge now facing the prime minister-elect is how to defuse the demographic time bomb that's ticking underneath it.

Finland has one of the most comprehensive welfare states in Europe. As in Nordic neighbor Sweden, taxpayer-funded health and social care and schooling are the norm.

But its population is aging faster than most of Europe. Official projections show that Finland’s falling birth rate means the proportion of citizens of working age, 15 to 64, will fall from its current 62 percent to 60 percent by 2030, and to 58 percent by 2050.

By 2050, the working-age population will have decreased by 200,000 compared with today in a country of around 5.5 million.

Analytic Superiority, Public-Private Cooperation and the Future of U.S. Foreign Intelligence

By David Kris 

After years of focusing on counterterrorism, a mainly kinetic threat, the U.S. intelligence community must now adapt to a long-term cyber struggle with nation-state adversaries. This struggle includes election interference and other socio-political disruption, cyber sabotage, theft of secrets, and competition in emerging technologies such as quantum computing and 5G wireless communications. To succeed against these threats, the intelligence community must shift its approach in two related ways. First, it must focus on analytic superiority as well as cryptographic superiority—terms that I explain below but that basically require a shift in emphasis from accessing data to managing and using data. Second, to achieve analytic superiority, the intelligence community must develop stronger partnerships with the private sector and academia, and a broader base of external support with the American people.

Analytic Superiority

US: We’ll Pay Countries to Ditch Russian, Chinese Arms


The State Department wants to go global with a program originally aimed at ex-Warsaw Pact members. 

The U.S. State Department wants to expand a little-known effort that offers countries cash to buy American-made weapons if they give up Russian-made arms.

The year-old initiative, called the European Recapitalization Incentive Program, is already helping six eastern European countries buy new helicopters or armored vehicles. Now, State Department officials are looking to take the effort global to get allies and partners to abandon not only Russian weapons, but Chinese ones too.

“The goal is to help our partners break away from the Russian supply chain [and] logistics chain that allows Russian contractors and service personnel and Russian-manufactured spare parts onto either NATO allied bases or partner military bases,” a State Department official said this week.

Spies, Stealth and Threats: How Militants Infiltrated a Vital Army Base

by Rod Nordland and Thomas Gibbons

Some Taliban fighters hid inside a sewage tanker truck, hoping the smelly interior would prevent a close inspection — as it did. They rode it into one of the most important military bases in Afghanistan and then hid in an empty warehouse.

Other insurgents used ladders to climb the fences, scaling two sets of them, to cross a no man’s land that had once been protected by motion detectors and infrared cameras but now had only sleepy guards in watchtowers.

The infiltrators had friends in high places, as well, according to Afghan and American military officials: an Afghan lieutenant colonel and a sergeant major who made sure they knew where to go, and where to hide on the sprawling base.

The ensuing attack on Camp Bastion in Helmand Province, on March 1, was not one of the country’s deadliest, but it may well have been its most embarrassing. It was the third time the Taliban had infiltrated that base, the headquarters for the Afghan Army’s 215th Corps…