6 April 2020

How to Maximize the Impact of Cash Transfers, During and After COVID-19

Saugato Datta, Jessica Jean-Francois, Josh Martin, Meghann Perez 

Editor’s Note: WPR has made this article, as well as a selection of others from our COVID-19 coverage that we consider to be in the public interest, freely available. You can find all of our coverage of the coronavirus pandemic here. If you would like to help support our work, please consider taking advantage of our subscription offer here.

With a third of the global population on lockdown amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, which has killed nearly 40,000 people as of March 31, governments are rightfully thinking about how to make it easier for their citizens to stay home and reduce activities that are likely to further spread the disease. The restrictions on movement, while important for public health reasons, mean that millions of workers are losing jobs and income necessary to cover their basic needs—including the housing that allows them to stay at home to begin with—not to mention investments in their future. Those who toil in the informal sector across the developing world, workers on renewable contracts and people who work in the “gig economy” are particularly vulnerable. COVID-19 also threatens to exacerbate already dire conditions for low-income communities, as well as in humanitarian settings.

Beyond Covid, Australia’s big stake in India’s military reorganisation

DAVID BREWSTER

Covid-19 will no doubt have many long-term consequences for our region that we can now only begin to imagine. One consequence that is easy to imagine in the face of a distracted and internally focused United States will be Australia’s greater reliance on regional security partners, such as Japan and India. This includes an ever-greater stake in the effectiveness of the Indian military, and especially its Navy.

India has just started to reorganise its outdated and highly inefficient structures. There have been positive developments, but a lot of problems ahead. Rhetoric aside, Australia will need a sober understanding of India’s likely future abilities to act as a regional security provider across our shared oceanic space.

First the good news. Last December, after decades of inaction, the Modi government appointed General Bipin Rawat as India’s first Chief of Defence Staff, theoretically bringing India’s three armed services under unified command for the first time. The CDS supposedly provides a single point of advisor to the government on military affairs. But Rawat will still only be regarded as the “first among equals” with the other service chiefs and the extent of his powers is not yet clear.

Taliban Fragmentation: Fact, Fiction, and Future

BY: Andrew Watkins 

For years, the U.S. military pursued a "divide and defeat" strategy against the Afghan Taliban, attempting to exploit the supposedly fragmented nature of the group. Drawing on the academic literature on insurgency, civil war, and negotiated peace, this report finds that the Taliban is a far more cohesive organization than a fragmented one. Moreover, Taliban cohesion may bode well for enforcing the terms of its February 29 agreement with the United States, and any eventual settlement arising from intra-Afghan negotiations. A soldier walks among a group of alleged Taliban fighters at a National Directorate of Security facility in Faizabad, September 2019. The status of prisoners will be a critical issue in future negotiations with the Taliban. 

The U.S. and Afghan governments have, at various times, intentionally pursued strategies of “divide and defeat” in an attempt to fragment and weaken the Taliban. These approaches have proved ineffective and, as long as peace efforts are being pursued, should be discontinued. Contrary to lingering narratives from earlier eras of the Afghan conflict, the Taliban today are a relatively cohesive insurgent group and are unlikely to fragment in the near term. This has not happened by accident: the Taliban’s leadership has consistently, at times ruthlessly, worked to retain and strengthen its organizational cohesion. To this day, the group is unwilling to cross internal “red lines” that might threaten that cohesion. 

The Geopolitics of Southeast Asia’s Coronavirus Challenge

By Prashanth Parameswaran

After months of speculation about an understated coronavirus challenge in Southeast Asia, COVID-19 finally gone regional in Southeast Asia as expected over the past week: with all eleven countries finally registering at least one case. While evaluating COVID-19’s specific impacts on the region or assessing government performance is premature given the evolving nature of a global pandemic, it is nonetheless worth setting out what geopolitical impacts we should watch in the region in the coming months.

While there have been anxieties about how COVID-19 would affect Southeast Asia, the fact is that apart from Singapore and Vietnam, where cases were detected early and governments acted quickly, the region is now only waking up to the severity of the challenge, and it has affected countries to different degrees thus far. Though numbers tend to quickly change, as of this week, while eleven Southeast Asian countries have at least one case, the distribution of cases vary from a few to a few thousand: per ongoing data collected by CSIS Southeast Asia’s COVID-19 tracker, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Indonesia have cases in the thousands; Singapore, Vietnam, and Brunei and Cambodia are in the hundreds, while Myanmar and Laos (and Timor-Leste, not included in the tracker) have a few cases.

The US, China and Asia after the pandemic: more, not less, tension

Ryan Hass and Kevin Dong

The world’s two most powerful countries are mired in a narrative war over the causes of the COVID-19 pandemic and the apportionment of blame for the global destruction it is causing, writes Ryan Hass and Kevin Dong. These arguments are likely to lead to negative-sum outcomes for the United States and China and could lead to heightened tensions across the region. This piece originally appeared in the East Asia Forum.

Few events of the past century have emphasised the need for global and regional leadership as clearly as the spread of COVID-19. This has shown immunity to all barriers – national, cultural, ideological, and individual. It has attacked the rich as well as the poor, the strong and the weak. It has made virtually every person on the planet feel vulnerable.

Traditionally in such circumstances, the United States would step forward to offer leadership, using its unique convening power and its unmatched economic, political and military might to mobilise resources and spur international efforts in a common direction. Such was the case following the Southeast Asian tsunami, the global financial crisis and the outbreak of Ebola in East Africa. The United States has generally viewed it as a positive-sum game to navigate these global challenges with China. That is no longer the case.

How to protect essential workers during COVID-19

Adie Tomer and Joseph W. Kane

Even with COVID-19 requiring social distancing for the weeks or months to come, the United States still requires an enormous class of workers to keep essential services online. The Department of Homeland Security uses a sweeping definition of such essential industries, which collectively employed anywhere from 49 to 62 million workers prior to the COVID-19 outbreak according to our highest estimates. Many of these essential industries will see continued demand for their products and services, the inverse of other industries that cannot operate during a period of social distancing.

A portion of these essential workers will continue to report to their jobs at health care facilities, grocery stores, water utilities, and other work sites—all to ensure the rest of the country can maintain some semblance of a typical life during this health crisis. Yet many of the same workers were already at an economic disadvantage—generally earning lower wages and carrying less health-related insurance—before the crisis hit. In other words, it’s not just the total number of jobs that matters, but a better understanding of who these workers are and the risks they face.

Competing in Artificial Intelligence Chips: China’s Challenge amid Technology War

Dieter Ernst

This special report assesses the challenges that China is facing in developing its artificial intelligence (AI) industry due to unprecedented US technology export restrictions. A central proposition is that China’s achievements in AI lack a robust foundation in leading-edge AI chips, and thus the country is vulnerable to externally imposed supply disruptions. The COVID-19 pandemic has further decoupled China from international trade and technology flows. Success in AI requires mastery of data, algorithms and computing power, which, in turn, is determined by the performance of AI chips. Increasing computing power that is cost-effective and energy-saving is the indispensable third component of this magic AI triangle. Research on China’s AI strategy has emphasized China’s huge data sets as a primary advantage. It was assumed that China could always purchase the necessary AI chips from global semiconductor industry leaders. Until recently, AI applications run by leading-edge major Chinese technology firms were powered by foreign chips, mostly designed by a small group of top US semiconductor firms. The outbreak of the technology war, however, is disrupting China’s access to advanced AI chips from the United States. Drawing on field research conducted in 2019, this report contributes to the literature by addressing China’s arguably most immediate and difficult AI challenges. The report highlights China’s challenge of competing in AI, and contrasts America’s and China’s different AI development trajectories. Capabilities and challenges are assessed, both for the large players (Huawei, Alibaba and Baidu) and for a small group of AI chip “unicorns.” The report concludes with implications for China’s future AI chip development. 

Dieter Ernst is a senior fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI), focusing on unresolved challenges for the global governance of trade, intellectual property and innovation. 

The U.S.-China Clash Question We Need to Ask: “How Does This End?”

by Michael Hall

The coronavirus fever gripping America will eventually subside, but its effects will linger. Though China and the U.S. have both responded poorly to the disease, many Americans are calling for China to be held accountable for not taking actions early on that would have mitigated this pandemic. In other words, coronavirus has put deteriorating U.S.-China relations on the fast track. What happens now? 

The coronavirus fever gripping America will eventually subside, but its effects will linger. Though China and the U.S. have both responded poorly to the disease, many Americans are calling for China to be held accountable for not taking actions early on that would have mitigated this pandemic. In other words, coronavirus has put deteriorating U.S.-China relations on the fast track. In this emotionally charged environment, China hawks have found ample space to stretch their wings. But hawkishness has done much to weaken the U.S. and distract from our legitimate priorities at home—the growing consensus around this approach must be more closely examined.

Before having their way, these China hawks should answer some critical questions, not the least of which is, “How does this end?”

U.S. spies find coronavirus spread is hard to chart in China, Russia and North Korea


US spy agencies are seeking to assemble a precise picture of world's coronavirus outbreaks, but they're finding gaps in China, Russia and North Korea 

North Korea claims to have not had a single case even though it borders China, but has asked international aid agencies for supplies like masks and testing kits 

China, which has reported more than 81,000 cases and more than 3,300 deaths, says no new cases are originating at home 

Russia is considering nationwide lockdown after recording biggest one-day rise in COVID-19 cases for sixth day in a row, for total of 1,836 cases and nine deaths 

As US spy agencies seek to assemble a precise picture of the world's coronavirus outbreaks, they are finding serious gaps in their ability to assess the situation in China, Russia and North Korea, according to five US government sources familiar with the intelligence reporting.

The agencies also have limited insight into the full impact of the pandemic in Iran, although information on infections and deaths among the ruling class and public is becoming more available on official and social media, two sources said.

China and COVID-19: From Crisis to Opportunity

Oded Eran, Galia Lavi

The Chinese response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been reflected in varying intensities in medical, economic, and public relations terms in accordance with the spread of the virus. After China managed to gain control over the domestic outbreak, the Chinese government directed significant attention to the international arena in an effort to bolster China's image as a responsible global power, and to take advantage of the infection's outbreak around the world in order to promote its ideas and influence. However, in the process of recovery from the crisis and particularly in coping with the economic ramifications, China's economic and financial capabilities were harmed and are likely to contract. In light of these constraints, a sober analysis must be made of the opportunities and risks in relations with China, on the global level and on the bilateral Israel-China level.

The Chinese response to the COVID-19 outbreak has been reflected in varying intensities in medical, economic, and public relations terms in accordance with the spread of the virus. In early January 2020, local government officials in Wuhan apparently downplayed the severity of the situation. In this stage of the outbreak, the local government was primarily occupied with preparations for the Chinese New Year and preferred to avoid drastic measures.

The Coronavirus Pandemic Should Be NATO’s Moment

BY ELISABETH BRAW

There’s one multinational organization that has command-and-control for contingencies, the staff to execute operations, and exists to defend its member states.

NATO is not a humanitarian relief agency. COVID-19 is, however, the worst national security crisis to hit any of its member states since the alliance was founded. The EU bungled its initial response when Italy succumbed to the vicious virus and seems unable to recover in the court of public opinion. This is instead the moment for NATO to act, and to show the world that it will protect its member states. This is, in fact, NATO’s moment.

When Italian authorities realized their country was heading towards a massive COVID-19 outbreak, they quickly appealed to fellow EU member states for medical supplies. None materialized. Despite entreaties by the European Commission, many weeks later the Italians were still waiting. That allowed China and Russia to step in and send a combination of some supplies, a few Chinese medics, and around 100 Russian military doctors. Now EU member states have belatedly woken up to the fact that their lack of solidarity with a fellow member state that has lost nearly 12,000 citizens to coronavirus and is fighting to save the lives of more than 100,000 others presents a golden opportunity for the West’s rivals. Germany’s Bundeswehr has airlifted Italian and French patients to German hospitals. Germany, France, and Austria have sent facemasks to Italy and Spain, and the Czech Republic has sent 10,000 protective suits. Poland has sent 15 doctors.

How China's Rise Has Remade Global Politics


As much as any other single development, China’s rise over the past two decades has remade the landscape of global politics. Beginning with its entry into the World Trade Organization in December 2001, China rapidly transformed its economy from a low-cost “factory to the world” to a global leader in advanced technologies. Along the way, it has transformed global supply chains, but also international diplomacy, leveraging its success to become the primary trading and development partner for emerging economies across Asia, Africa and Latin America.

But Beijing’s emergence as a global power has also created tensions. Early expectations that China’s integration into the global economy would lead to liberalization at home and moderation abroad have proven overly optimistic, especially since President Xi Jinping rose to power in 2012. Instead, Xi has overseen a domestic crackdown on dissent, in order to shore up and expand the Chinese Communist Party’s control over every aspect of Chinese society. Needed economic reforms have been put on the backburner, while unfair trade practices, such as forced technology transfers and other restrictions for foreign corporations operating in China, have resulted in a trade war with the U.S. and increasing criticism from Europe.

Operating in the Gray Zone: Countering Iran's Asymmetric Way of War

Michael Eisenstadt

The targeted killing of IRGC Qods Force commander Qasem Soleimani marked the dramatic culmination of several months of U.S. tensions with Iran. It has raised the urgent question of how Tehran will respond, and stoked fears of a broader conflict. Since 1979, the Islamic Republic has distinguished itself as perhaps the foremost practitioner of “gray zone” activities, and for nearly four decades the United States has struggled to respond effectively to this asymmetric way of war. For this reason, it is more important than ever for Washington to understand Tehran’s strategy and devise its own gray zone strategy to counter it.

In this timely Policy Focus, military analyst Michael Eisenstadt details how the Islamic Republic operates in the gray zone between war and peace to manage escalation, leverages asymmetries to achieve disproportionate effects, and employs its hybrid force structure for maximum effect. The current U.S. approach, he explains, is based on overt action, blunt force, and emphatic messaging, all of which entail a heightened potential for escalation. But an alternative approach—one focused on unacknowledged activities, indirection, subtlety, and discreet messaging—could more effectively deter Iran while reducing the risk of further escalation and broader conflict.

Coronavirus in the Eyes of Muslim Clerics

By Dr. Edy Cohen

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: The devastating onslaught of the coronavirus is being exploited by some Muslim clerics to instill fear in their followers and compel stricter religious observance. At the same time, parts of the Arab world are looking to Israel and the Jews to find a cure.

On hearing initial reports of the deadly spread of coronavirus in China, many in the Arab world rejoiced. Arab social media threads called the virus Allah’s will to punish the Chinese for their cruel treatment of the Uighur Muslims of western China.

When the virus broke through China’s borders and landed in Iran, the Arab world was even happier. Images of Iran’s suffering as a result of coronavirus, and discussion of its rapid spread throughout the country, went viral on social media. Again, many Arabs claimed this was Allah’s wrath, this time over Iran’s heinous treatment of Sunni Muslims in Iraq, Yemen, and Syria.

The Real Impact of Dirt-Cheap Oil Prices

by Nikolas K. Gvosdev

The main priority for the Trump administration over the past weeks has been coping with the coronavirus pandemic. Still, the U.S. government is also engaged in efforts to stabilize global energy markets in the wake of the breakdown of the OPEC-Plus process and the start of a major oil price war between two of the world’s largest producers, Russia and Saudi Arabia. This was a major topic of discussion in the phone exchange between President Donald Trump and Russian president Vladimir Putin on March 30, while the administration has dispatched former deputy national security advisor Victoria Coates to Riyadh to serve as a special envoy for energy issues and to liaise directly with the Saudis in the hopes of ending this crisis.

The American position is complicated by the fact that there is no agreement across both the national security and business communities as to whether the dramatic drop in prices (and the corresponding glut in supply) is, on the whole, good or bad for the United States. Historically, low energy prices have acted as a massive stimulus for the United States and other advanced economies by lowering energy costs—not only making power and fuel cheaper (and thus lowering transport and generation costs) but reducing prices for the raw input into the petrochemical and plastics sectors. Even if Americans are staying home (and thus driving and flying less), these savings are still manifested in food and goods prices. Low energy prices also may have the impact that years of U.S. sanctions and pressure have not. They may have the ability to seriously erode the bases of power of less-than-friendly governments, such as those led by Venezuela to Iran. They may be able to create conditions for regime change or behavior modification. Low oil prices—especially below budgetary break-even points—also impact Russia’s ability to fund its defense spending and its interventions around the world while creating additional strains on a domestic economy already coping with Western sanctions.

Special Issue: How We Will All Solve the Climate Crisis


NOT LONG AGO, in more innocent times, I was driving with my three sons back from trying to ski on a mountain that doesn't really have snow anymore, and we were talking about climate change. This was before the pandemic, and before our conversations shifted to discussions of what viruses are and why soap, miraculously, can kill them. 

The kids are 11, 9, and 6, and they're worried about the present and upset about the future, as they should be. They know that their adult years will be spent in a world of raging fires, flash floods, and mass extinction. They love Greta and resent their elders. The future feels different and vaster when the actuarial tables give you 80 years to go, not 40.

We talked about turning our thermostats down, eating less meat, and putting the cable box on a smart plug. I promised to install solar panels. I tried futilely to explain what capitalism is and why it was still a reasonable way to organize human affairs, despite CO2 levels now reaching 415 ppm. I told them there was still time. They found my explications unpersuasive and mostly shared each other's anger (except when the older boys reported that some environmentalists argue against having three children; that didn't go over well with their little brother). Gradually, though, their rage turned to pragmatism. That's when my oldest son asked: “If there's one thing that I could invent that would help, what would it be?”

National coronavirus response: A road map to reopening


Key Points 

This report provides a road map for navigating through the current COVID-19 pandemic in the United States. It outlines specific directions for adapting our public-health approach away from sweeping mitigation strategies as we limit the epidemic spread of COVID-19, such that we can transition to new tools and approaches to prevent further spread of the disease. 

The authors outline the steps that can be taken as epidemic transmission is brought under control in different regions. They also suggest measurable milestones for identifying when we can make these transitions and start reopening America for businesses and families. 

In each phase, the authors outline the steps that the federal government, working with the states and public-health and health care partners, should take to inform the response. This will take time, but planning for each phase should begin now so the infrastructure is in place when it is time to transition. 

This report provides a road map for navigating through the current COVID-19 pandemic in the United States. It outlines specific directions for adapting our public-health strategy as we limit the epidemic spread of COVID-19 and are able to transition to new tools and approaches to prevent further spread of the disease. We outline the steps that can be taken as epidemic transmission is brought under control in different regions. These steps can transition to tools and approaches that target those with infection rather than mitigation tactics that target entire populations in regions where transmission is widespread and not controlled. We suggest measurable milestones for identifying when we can make these transitions and start reopening America for businesses and families.

French Nuclear Deterrence Policy, Forces, And Future: A Handbook


Author’s note: this monograph was designed as an unclassified and factual summary of French nuclear policy. It was originally written in French at the request of and with support from the French Ministry of the Armed Forces, and published as La France et la dissuasion nucléaire: concept, moyens, avenir (La Documentation française, new edition 2017). Translated, adapted and updated by the author with support from the French Ministry for the Armed Forces. The author remains solely responsible for its content.

The author would like to extend a particular word of thanks to Sylvie Le Sage (Ministry of the Armed Forces), who diligently and carefully reviewed this English translation. Any errors, however, remain his.


The Effect of COVID-19 on the U.S. Economy


As the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) rips through America’s biggest cities, its effect is being felt far beyond the over 140,000 Americans who are confirmed infected. The quarantines and lockdowns that are needed to fight the virus’s spread are freezing the economy, too, with unprecedented force and speed. The stock market has sunk a quarter from its peak last month, wiping out three years of gains. Last week, meanwhile, brought news that a record 3.28 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits, the highest number ever recorded. Unemployment is shooting up far faster than it did during the 2008 recession, a sign the economy is headed toward recession. How long is the COVID-19 slump likely to last?

To understand COVID-19’s hit on the economy, consider its effect on different industries. Consumption makes up 70% of America’s gross domestic product (GDP), but consumption has slumped as businesses close and as households hold off on major purchases as they worry about their finances and their jobs. Investment makes up 20% of GDP, but businesses are putting off investment as they wait for clarity on the full cost of COVID-19. Arts, entertainment, recreation, and restaurants constitute 4.2% of GDP. With restaurants and movie theaters closed, this figure will now be closer to zero until the quarantines are lifted. Manufacturing makes up 11% of U.S. GDP, but much of this will be disrupted, too, because global supply chains have been obstructed by factory closures and because companies are shutting down factories in anticipation of reduced demand. Ford and GM, for example, have announced temporary closures of car factories.

Oil Price Dynamics Report


Over the past week, an increase in anticipated supply offset higher anticipated demand, resulting in lower oil prices. In 2019:Q4, oil prices rose owing to an increase in demand. 

In 2018, strengthening global demand expectations drove oil prices higher. This trend reversed in 2018:Q4, when weaker expected demand and higher anticipated supply lowered prices. In 2019:Q1, oil prices rose due to increasing demand expectations, whereas in 2019:Q2-Q3 higher anticipated supply drove prices down. 

Overall, between 2014 and 2017, both lower global demand expectations and higher anticipated supply held oil prices down. Since mid-2017, this trend has reversed as stronger demand expectations and stabilizing anticipated supply have driven oil prices higher.