12 May 2021

China’s Nuclear and Missile Capabilities: An Overview

Maj Gen PK Mallick, VSM (Retd)

Since China first conducted a nuclear weapon test in 1964, its nuclear doctrine has remained unchanged and is underpinned by two principles: a minimum deterrent doctrine and a No First Use (NFU) policy. China’s 2019 defence white paper states, “China is always committed to a nuclear policy of NFU of nuclear weapons at any time and under any circumstances, and not using or threatening to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states or nuclear-weapon-free zones unconditionally.”

However, a recent U.S. Department of Defence (DoD) report claims that the scope of China’s nuclear modernisation and its lack of transparency “raise concern that China is not only shifting its requirements for what constitutes a minimal deterrence but that it could shift away from its longstanding minimalist force posture.” The data available show that China is modernising and expanding virtually every element of its nuclear forces, including each aspect of its nuclear weapons and missile, sea, and air delivery systems. What is not clear are China’s current and planned holdings of nuclear weapons, China’s future plans for deploying additional delivery systems, its commitment to some form of NFU, first preemption, or launch on warning, and the extent to which it will accept what might be called a form of ‘minimum assured destruction.

Afghanistan could face 'bad possible outcomes' as US withdraws, says top US general, but negotiated peace still possible

By Oren Liebermann

(CNN)As the US began turning over military bases to the Afghan security forces Saturday, the top US general warned of the potential for "bad possible outcomes" in Afghanistan, while adding that "the intent of many of the parties is still to have a negotiated settlement."

Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley pointed to an Afghan military that numbers more than 300,000 and "has been leading the fight for quite a few years now" as a crucial element in determining the future of the country as the final US withdrawal officially commences.

"On the one hand you get some really dramatic, bad possible outcomes, and on the other hand you get a military that stays together and a government that stays together," Milley said. "Which one of these options becomes reality at the end of the day, we frankly don't know yet and we have to wait and see how things develop over the summer. There's a lot of variables to this, and it's not 100% predictable."

Speaking to a small group of reporters, including from CNN, during a return trip from Hawaii Saturday, Milley said the US provides "some limited intelligence and some limited air strike support," but the Afghan security forces have operated with increasing independence, even if they still rely heavily on US contractors for support, maintenance, and more.

Could China send peacekeeping troops to Afghanistan?

By Ma Haiyun

The US may implicitly have been targeting China when it indicated its plans to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan completely by 11 September 2021, thereby necessitating regional players to get more involved. If there is a UN peacekeeping mission, China may well join in to guard against spillover security threats to Xinjiang, but its precise involvement may complicate matters.

This handout photograph taken on 2 May 2021 and released by Afghanistan's Ministry of Defense shows US soldiers and Afghan National Army soldiers raising Afghanistan's national flag during a handover ceremony to the Afghan National Army army 215 Maiwand corps at Antonik camp in Helmand province, Afghanistan. (Afghanistan Ministry of Defense/AFP)

A South China Morning Post report recently hinted that China may send a peacekeeping force to Afghanistan after the final withdrawal of US troops there. Although the possibility was attributed to “analysts”, the news quickly attracted considerable attention in China, Afghanistan, and the US. Such speculation over Chinese peacekeeping troops in Afghanistan raises several issues regarding the peace process. First, the United Nations (UN)’s role in the Afghan peace process will be central after the US exit. Second, a future interim government of Afghanistan, which may be formed after the Istanbul conference, could possibly request the UN to send peacekeepers to its country. Finally, China may seek to play a role in advancing the intra-Afghan peace process by deploying a peacekeeping force to Afghanistan.
The UN’s likely central role

A wider war coming to Myanmar


CHIANG MAI – No group has yet claimed responsibility for several, almost simultaneous attacks on military targets in central Myanmar, including air bases recently used to target ethnic armed groups in the nation’s frontier areas.

Security analysts, however, believe the shadowy attacks are likely the work of an alliance between ethnic rebels and urban-based pro-democracy dissidents, with the former providing the explosives and the latter knowledge of local conditions in the Myanmar heartland.

If that assessment is accurate and the hits were not isolated incidents, it could mean that Myanmar’s long-running, low-intensity civil wars are spreading from ethnic minority areas in the nation’s periphery to major cities and towns.

Three months after top generals seized power from a popularly elected government and despite the fact that military and police have gunned down over 750 and arrested well over 4,000 protesters, people are still bravely taking to the streets to vent their anger with the coup.

The ongoing popular resistance underscores what is by now widely seen as perhaps the most unsuccessful coup in modern Asian history. That could yet spell ill for coup leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, who has stuck stubbornly to his guns amid rising international condemnation that is deeply isolating the country.

Opinion – The Fragile Power of Populist Leaders in a Pandemic

Mark Juergensmeyer

The American populist president, Donald Trump, came to his downfall largely due to the ineptitude of his administration’s ability to handle, or perhaps more correctly, mishandle the country’s response to the covid pandemic. What angered voters was not just his apparent inability to take the situation seriously, but also his cheerful optimism that consistently belied the facts of the growing crisis. In the beginning months of the pandemic crisis, Trump assured the American public that the disease was no worse than the common flu and that it would quickly vanish away. When it didn’t, rather than double down on mitigating factors that might control it, he consistently promised that things were getting better.

In September 2020, at an election rally in North Carolina when he stood maskless before a packed and largely mask-free crowd, Trump proclaimed that “we are rounding the corner of the pandemic.” Unfortunately for him, the crisis was simply getting worse. That is a problem with populists. They gain their following by weaving hopeful though often fictitious images of the future and promoting vaunted characterizations of their ability to handle crises. This was the peril of America’s Trump, and to some extent also of Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Brazil’s Jair Bolsanaro, the UK’s Boris Johnson, the Philippine’s Rodrigo Roa Duterte, and India’s Narendra Modi.

Strengthening the G-20 in an era of great power geopolitical competition

Colin I. Bradford

Now that it is clear that geopolitical confrontation is part of the repertoire of U.S.-China relations, there is a danger that this bilateral relationship could divide the world, ushering in another bipolar competitive era.

But there are alternative dynamics that could pluralize U.S.-China relations by involving other actors, dynamics that could channel the relationship toward more international cooperation at a time when such cooperation is sorely needed. Within the G-20 grouping — which brings together the world’s major economies, which are also the major carbon emitters — there are opportunities for change. The G-20 could become a vehicle for more ambitious concerted global actions and a platform for addressing and managing geopolitical tensions.


Throughout the 14 years that the G-20 has been meeting at leaders level, a handful of leaders have generated strong policy outcomes for the whole group. The composition of that relatively small group of leaders has varied from year to year. The G-20 is large enough to prompt shifts in these coalitions over time, as countries rotate in and out of the plurilateral leadership group.

This dynamic has increased the flexibility for officials to negotiate complex outcomes, avoiding rigid blocs that stifle innovation and reduce policy space. Plurilateral dynamics provide momentum and reward creativity, as well as generate buffers for managing U.S.-China geopolitical tensions as other significant countries assert their interests, presence, and influence.

Advancing Fast While Russia Falls Behind

By John A. Tirpak

China and Russia are the key adversaries when it comes to developing high-tech weaponry over the next 20 years, but while China’s rate of progress is accelerating, Russia is stymied by multiple factors, the Defense Intelligence Agency told Congress.

DIA Director Lt. Gen. Scott D. Berrier said China will have “basically modernized” its military in just six years and aims to introduce the most “disruptive” military technologies by 2030-2035, according to prepared testimony for the Senate Armed Services Committee provided April 29.

During the next two decades, any of the three main powers—China, Russia, or the U.S.—may steal the lead “in one or more fields and seek to develop military capabilities and concepts to capitalize on perceived advantages,” Berrier said. Any one of the three could come up with new weapons or concepts that “will change the character of warfare.”

But China’s whole-of-government approach—which Berrier called “military-civil-fusion”—intentionally blurs the lines between civilian and military technology efforts, and China’s greater investment in these presents “the greatest threat to U.S. technological superiority.” In fact, Berrier said China has “already achieved peer or near-peer levels in many research areas” and has targeted 57 specific technologies in which to outpace and out-field the U.S. military.

Soon, China will “almost certainly be able to hold U.S. and allied forces at risk at far greater distances from the Chinese mainland,” the DIA said, while it enhances its power projection forces. By 2027, China expects to be able to win a small number of brief but high-level military conflicts—“including the forcible unification of Taiwan”—while deterring, dissuading, or defeating any third-party military intervention. By 2050, China plans to be the dominant world military power.

China: Totalitarianism’s Long Shadow

Minxin Pei

Rapid economic growth in China over the last four decades has failed to bring about democratization. Instead of undergoing evolutionary liberalization, the Leninist party-state has in recent years reverted to a form of neo-Stalinist rule. China’s experience may appear to contradict modernization theory, which links economic development with democracy. A closer look at this experience, however, shows that democratizing a post-totalitarian regime is far more difficult than democratizing an authoritarian regime because post-totalitarian regimes, such as the one dominated by the Chinese Communist Party, possess far greater capacity and resources to resist and neutralize the liberalizing effects of modernization. However, the medium-term success of these regimes may only ensure their eventual demise through revolution. The socioeconomic transformation of societies under post-totalitarian rule empowers social forces and greatly increase the odds of revolutionary change when these regimes undergo liberalization, as shown in the former Soviet bloc.

Seymour Martin Lipset’s insight that economic modernization creates favorable conditions for stable democracy is one of the most influential, robust, and time-tested theories in social science. More than six decades after “Some Social Requisites of Democracy: Economic Development and Political Legitimacy”1 first appeared in print, Lipset’s work continues to frame scholarly debates and inspire new research. As with any established theory in social science, Lipset’s thesis has also been constantly tested against real-world experience. Today, the case of China, where one-party rule has persisted despite four decades of rapid economic modernization, challenges the validity of the Lipset thesis. In 2007, China’s economic miracle occasioned a forecast that the country could become partly democratic by 2015 and completely free a decade later.2 Unfortunately, the regime dominated by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has not merely endured, but grown more repressive at home and aggressive abroad.

China already ‘engaging in irregular war’ with US in the ‘grey zone’

Jamie Seidel

“National security leaders should look closely at what Chinese officials’ words and China’s military actions say about how the People’s Liberation Army might actually fight a war,” a US military academy analysis warns.

They say it’s a war already well under way. That means the start of any ‘conventional’ conflict will be murky and confused. And, even once the shooting starts, sowing doubt and disbelief will be a significant weapon in its arsenal.

It will involve police.

It will involve militias.

It will involve civilians.

And all will serve to pave the way for the People’s Liberation Army’s more traditional weapons to find its target.

It’s called the “Grey Zone”.

It’s the space between peace and war.

It’s where coercion, intimidation, propaganda and manipulation are at play.

China Features Heavily in the Army’s Next Big Emerging Tech Experiment


The Army will expand its emerging technology experiment this fall, bringing in more operators, more stealth aircraft, Navy standard missiles and new AI tools, and will focus heavily on defeating a high-tech adversary with a striking resemblance to China.

The Army will hold its second Project Convergence experiment at Yuma Proving Grounds in Arizona, and simultaneously at several other locations, from October 12 to November 9, Col. Tobin Magsig, the head of the Army’s Joint Modernization Command, told Defense One. First established last year, Project Convergence has become the Army’s largest technology combat experiment to test out new artificial intelligence, autonomy and software tools even rapid software development under battlefield conditions.

It’s also emerged as the most important U.S. military experiment to test out new concepts for interconnecting planes, drones, ships and operators across the battlefield and across the services, a broad effort called Joint-All Domain Command and Control, or JADC2. Unlike other experiments or military wargames that test current readiness levels, Project Convergence is aimed at rapidly accelerating the Army’s ability to find and take out targets by connecting people, vehicles and weapons through a massive, interconnected sensing and shooting kill web.

Does Terrorism Work?

Olusola Samuel Oyetunde

This content was originally written for an undergraduate or Master's program. It is published as part of our mission to showcase peer-leading papers written by students during their studies. This work can be used for background reading and research, but should not be cited as an expert source or used in place of scholarly articles/books.

Terrorism is one of the most widely discussed issues in the twenty-first century due to the increasing terrorist occurrences and its destructive impacts, especially since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Terrorist incidences in the world reached its peak in 2014 with about 16,903 attacks leading to 32,658 fatalities (Global Terrorism Index, 2015). However, there was a fifty-two per cent reduction in the number of deaths associated with terrorist incidences in 2018 compared to 2014 (Global Terrorism Index, 2019). While there is a decline in the number of deaths attributed to terrorism, its impact remains prevalent. For instance, there is an upsurge in the number of countries that experienced terrorism in 2018 with at least one causality from seventy-one countries, which is the second highest in the past twenty years (Global Terrorism Index, 2019). The increasing nature of terrorist attacks has led to the intensification of scholarly interest in terrorism and terrorism-related issues. To this end, prior research has examined the definitions, causes, effects and strategies used by terrorist groups (Halliday, 2001; John, 2014; Elu and Gregory, 2015). However, it seems that the few studies that have examined the effectiveness of terrorism as a means of political struggle have been inconclusive.

In order to understand the reason for the continued existence of terrorism and its proliferation, it is crucial to examine if terrorism works, that is, if it achieves its stated objectives. This essay will contribute to the ongoing discussion on the effectiveness of terrorism by arguing that the answer to the question “Does terrorism work?” depends on our definition of “terrorism” and “work”. These concepts are a subject of debate, and as a result, there may not be one formula for measuring whether terrorism is effective. Thus, the success-level of terrorism is determined by various factors, especially by how it is evaluated. For example, while Dershowitz (2002:13) understands success in terms of attracting media attention and securing temporal concessions, Abrahms (2006:51) perceives it as the achievement the organisation’s central strategic objectives. Consequently, this essay will contend that although terrorist organisations rarely achieve their strategic goals, they often succeed in the achievement of other objectives.

The U.S. is trying to reclaim its rare-earth mantle

Sabri Ben-Achour

The U.S. used to be a leader in mining and refining rare-earth elements into finished products. Above, a geologist points to monazite, which contains rare-earth minerals, in a South African mine.

“Is your right arm OK?” asks the radiology nurse as she tapes an IV to my arm. “Yes,” I say through clenched teeth, bracing for the needle.

I’m about to get an MRI of my brain as part of a study I volunteered for, but first they have to inject me with something.

“So we are about to give you gadolinium contrast, which kind of makes the arteries pop up better in the image so we see smaller veins and arteries as well,” I’m told. Around 30 million doses of this agent are administered each year worldwide.

Gadolinium is one of 17 so-called rare-earth elements. They have their own separate section in the periodic table and have names like neodymium, praseodymium, europium, promethium.

“They are so special because they have chemical and physical properties that are very useful for a very wide range of technologies,” explained Rebecca Abergel, assistant professor of nuclear engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, and a faculty scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab.
How we use rare-earth elements

Is the U.S. Military Ready for a Hypersonic Weapons War?

by Kris Osborn

Skimming and bouncing along the upper boundaries of the earth’s atmosphere, just prior to descending upon targets while traveling more than five times the speed of sound, hypersonic weapons can travel thousands of miles to a point of attack in a matter of minutes.

The technology is almost paradoxical to a degree, as the unprecedented advantage it brings to offensive warfare is matched if not outweighed by a corresponding disadvantage: defending against hypersonics. If an attacking weapon transits too quickly from one radar aperture or field of view to another too quickly, then how can defenders establish any kind of continuous track on the target?

Unsurprisingly, the Pentagon’s emerging Space Force is working quickly to address this predicament, a circumstance not made easier by the fact that both Russia and China are currently testing and operating hypersonic weapons.

There are clearly a lot of aspects of the big challenge to defend against hypersonic weapons. From a space perspective, probably the biggest one is being able to identify and detect and track these things from space, in a timely manner and effective way, U.S. Space Force Chief Scientist Dr. Joel Mozer recently told reporters.

America’s Military Risks Losing Its Edge

By Michèle A. Flournoy

For almost a decade, U.S. defense officials have deemed the return of great-power competition to be the most consequential challenge to U.S. national security. In 2012, during the Obama administration, the Defense Department announced that “U.S. forces will no longer be sized to conduct large-scale, prolonged stability operations,” such as those in Afghanistan and Iraq, marking a sharp departure from the United States’ post-9/11 defense strategy. In 2016, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter highlighted a “return to great-power of competition.” And in 2018, the Trump administration’s National Defense Strategy crystallized this shift: “Inter-state strategic competition, not terrorism, is now the primary concern in U.S. national security,” it declared, with a particular focus on China as the pacing threat.

Yet despite such a widespread and bipartisan acknowledgment of the challenge, the U.S. military has changed far too little to meet it. Although strategy has shifted at a high level, much about the way the Pentagon operates continues to reflect business as usual, which is inadequate to meet the growing threats posed by a rising China and a revisionist Russia. That disconnect is evident in everything from the military’s ongoing struggle to reorient its concepts of operations (that is, how it would actually fight in the future) to its training, technology acquisition, talent management, and overseas posture. Some important steps have been taken to foster defense innovation, but bureaucratic inertia has prevented new capabilities and practices from being adopted with speed and at scale.

The Biden administration has inherited a U.S. military at an inflection point. The Pentagon’s own war games reportedly show that current force plans would leave the military unable to deter and defeat Chinese aggression in the future. The Defense Department’s leadership, accordingly, must take much bigger and bolder steps to maintain the United States’ military and technological edge over great-power competitors. Otherwise, the U.S. military risks losing that edge within a decade, with profound and unsettling implications for the United States, for its allies and partners, and for the world. At stake is the United States’ ability to deter coercion, aggression, and even war in the coming decades.

From the Past, a Chilling Warning About the Extremists of the Present

By Neil MacFarquhar

They robbed an armored car outside a sprawling Seattle shopping mall.

They bombed a synagogue in Boise, Idaho, and within weeks assassinated a Jewish talk radio host in Denver.

Then a month later, they plundered another armored car on a California highway in a spectacular daylight heist that netted more than $3.6 million.

What initially seemed to F.B.I. agents like distant, disparate crimes turned out to be the opening salvos in a war against the federal government by members of a violent extremist group called the Order, who sought to establish a whites-only homeland out West.

Their crime spree played out in 1984. Fast forward to 2021. Federal agents and prosecutors who dismantled the Order see troubling echoes of its threat to democracy in the Capitol riot and the growing extremist activity across the country.

“When you see the country as politically and philosophically divided as it is today, that makes it more likely that somebody could take advantage of these times to bring about another revolutionary concept like the Order,” said Wayne F. Manis, the main F.B.I. agent on the case. “We stopped the Order. We did not stop the ideology.”

Inside Russia’s Robot Army: Rhetoric vs. Reality


WASHINGTON: Russia has created a new robotic combat unit of Uran-9 unmanned ground vehicles, which have been battle-tested in Syria, though with mixed results. It’s also developing an experimental unmanned version of its T-14 Armata tank, unmanned derivatives of the Cold War T-72 and BMP-3, and new long-range drones called Okhotnik and Altius.

But Russia’s quest for battle robots faces many of the same technical and policy problems as the US, said CNA and CNAS scholar Samuel Bendett, and Vladimir Putin is on a much tighter budget. Russia isn’t manufacturing useless Potemkin robots for propaganda purposes, but they’re not building the Terminator, either.

In many ways, Bendett told me in an interview, the US and Russian military robotics programs are much alike. Both have grand ambitions for highly autonomous war machines; both struggle with the limits of current unmanned systems that require constant human supervision; both worry that future AI might undermine human control.

US officials warn that Russia and China lack the ethical self-restraint of Western nations when it comes to battlefield automation. But, Bendett said, Russian leaders at least sound a lot like Americans in their insistence that a human, not a computer, must make the decision to use lethal force – at least for now.

Review – Paramilitarism: Mass Violence in the Shadow of the State

By Uğur Ümit Üngör

Paramilitarism is both a continuous and insufficiently understood presence in world history. Those two qualities are connected: because of the ubiquity of paramilitarism in such a wide-range of historical and geographical settings, it has been hard to formulate a common language and set of principles through which scholars of different backgrounds might communicate its common features. Additional problems of interpretation have to do with a tendency to condescend to paramilitarism as a peripheral or residual mode of violence in comparison to state institutions such as regular armed or security forces. And there is the tendency to romanticize paramilitary traditions and actors, often a process conducted first and foremost by former or present paramilitaries themselves, who are wont to exaggerate their own roles in national-liberation struggles and (importantly) exaggerate their appeal to the societies and states from which they emerged. These inter-connected problems have made the study of paramilitarism more difficult at virtually every level of analysis, local, national, regional, and of course global. Uğur Ümit Üngör’s impressive synthesis does much to confront and overcome these problems. The author has conducted a considerable amount of research into paramilitarism in its many guises across space and time, and he has distilled his work into this remarkably compressed and insightful short study. Anyone who has worked on paramilitarism in any context will want to read this, and future scholars wishing to broach this topic would be unwise to ignore its insights and its ideas.

The author takes an historical-sociological perspective, combining empirical observation of paramilitary case studies with existing theoretical reflection. The emphasis here is on the former, or rather, Üngör’s theoretical and analytical insights derive from his impressive survey of paramilitarism across the globe in the modern period. This account is the most comprehensive that I have read on the topic, encompassing all the relevant case studies and their historiographies with impressive linguistic scope. The sections that deal with ex-Yugoslavia and the contemporary Middle East (especially Iraq and Syria, the latter to be a topic of a forthcoming book by the same author) are particularly detailed. Üngör concludes that the most important relationship for paramilitaries is that with the state. This relationship is not understood in the traditional sense of an asymmetrical hierarchy in which paramilitaries feature as an appendage to a more powerful and better-organised state and its institutions (although this is surely sometimes the case). The relationship is rather dynamic, paramilitarism is often present and active at the birth of state projects (e.g., in modern Turkey, the Balkan national states of the nineteenth century) and remains entangled in its institutions and leadership (Üngör’s examples here are contemporary Kosovo and Northern Ireland). Paramilitaries can provide states with additional resources of military power, or they can expand their capacities for violence beyond legal and moral strictures by offering ‘plausible deniability’ to civilian leaders or regular military forces (sections on ex-Yugoslavia and the difficulties of overcoming the burden of proof against perpetrators of violence there highlight this phenomenon).

Peace in Libya Will Require More Than Elections

Mary Fitzgerald 

This time last year, the Libyan capital was caught up in a year-old military campaign that had further internationalized the country’s dangerous divisions. Today, there is a new mood of cautious optimism in Tripoli. In October, negotiators from the two main warring sides—the United Nations-backed Government of National Accord and forces led by Khalifa Haftar, a commander based in eastern Libya—reached a cease-fire agreement that allowed for the resumption of a U.N.-led dialogue process. This in turn paved the way to the formation of Libya’s first unified government since the country slid into civil war in 2014.

The new Government of National Unity, or GNU, offers hope that oil-rich Libya can move on from seven years of bloody power struggles. It took office in mid-March, and has already made history with the inclusion of the country’s first female foreign minister and justice minister. However, the underlying military-political and economic tensions that fueled the civil war persist and could yet derail what remains a fragile reunification process. ...

The Blocking of the Suez Canal: Lessons and Challenges

Tomer Fadlon, Ofir Winter, Shmuel Even

In late March 2021, maritime traffic in the Suez Canal was blocked in both directions, after a ship ran aground in the canal. The event exposed the vulnerability of the global trading system, and highlighted the medium and long-term challenges to international transportation of marine cargo in general, and for Egypt in particular. For Israel, the crisis resulting from the obstruction of the Suez Canal showcases its potential for serving as a land bridge between Eilat and the Mediterranean Sea. The Europe Asia Pipeline Company has pursued this idea in the energy sector for many years, even if only to a limited extent, and there is an initiative to use the route in order to transport oil and refined oil products from United Arab Emirates to Europe. Any future Israeli project, however, must take into account the concerns of Egypt, for whom the Suez Canal constitutes not only an important source of revenue, but also a national symbol. Jerusalem should coordinate plans with Cairo, act transparently, and strive to avoid implementation of these plans at Egypt's expense, if possible. In addition, Israel should assess the environmental risks of these projects to the land and marine nature reserves in the south of the country, and seek to contain ensuing environmental damage.

In March 2021, for the first time since the Suez Canal was reopened in 1975, traffic was blocked by the huge cargo ship Ever Given, which in turn left stranded hundreds of ships carrying cargo worth billions of dollars. Dislodging the ship, which took six days, was compared in Egypt to the Six Day War and breaking through the Bar Lev line in the Yom Kippur War. The Ever Given, en route from Yantian in China to Rotterdam, is one of the longest ships in the world (400 meters) and one of the heaviest (224,000 tons). The ship's capacity is 20,000 containers, and when it went through the Suez Canal, was filled almost to capacity.

The Suez Canal is a vital passage for world trade, through which over 12 percent of total global trade passes annually. Its strategic location provides a rapid connection between Eastern and European markets. For example, a ship traveling from Taiwan to the Netherlands at 30 kilometers per hour through the alternative route around the Cape of Good Hope will have to travel 13,500 nautical miles in 34 days before it anchors at Rotterdam Port, compared with 10,000 nautical miles in 25.5 days through the Suez Canal.

State of Defense 2021


Administration message-makers have spun the Afghanistan pullout as a major shift in resources to free up personnel and power to fight terrorism elsewhere and gird for a great-power showdown with China and Russia. But it’s really not. No major line-item changes — from end strength to the nuclear modernization plan — are expected in the White House’s first budget request, due next month. So where does that leave the military services? We answer that, and more, in Defense One's annual State of Defense 2021.

Sun Tzu Versus AI: Why Artificial Intelligence Can Fail in Great Power Conflict

By Captain Sam J. Tangredi, U.S. Navy (Retired)

In today’s Pentagon, the promise of artificial intelligence (AI) has become the equivalent of what logistics was to Admiral Ernest King, U.S. Fleet Commander and Chief of Naval Operations during World War II. Early in the war, King reportedly stated, “I don’t know what the hell this ‘logistics’ is that [Army Chief of Staff General George] Marshall is talking about, but I want some of it.”1 Recent Department of Defense (DoD) officials—following the thinking of political and corporate leaders—appear uniformly to perceive (or at least state rhetorically) that AI is making fundamental and historic changes to warfare. Even if they do not know all it can and cannot do, they “want more of it.”

While this desire to expand military applications of AI as a means of managing information is laudable, the underlying belief that AI is a game-changer is dangerous, because it blinds DoD to the reality that today’s battle between information and deception in war is not fundamentally, naturally, or characteristically different from what it was in the past. It may be faster; it may be conducted in the binary computer language of 1s and 0s; it may involve an exponentially increasing amount of raw data; but what remains most critical to victory is not the means by which information is processed, but the validity of the information.

That is why a rush to invest in military AI capabilities—hastened by the ultrahype of technology pundits, military “transformationists,” or hopeful investors—courts potential failure if DoD loses the perspective that, as a processing tool for military information, AI is but a data spotlight in a world full of mirrors. Despite doctrinal speculation, it changes neither the character nor the nature of war. Assuming it does, primarily because Defense leaders would like it to, puts both U.S. investment and defenses at risk—particularly if DoD relies on adaptation from commercial AI.

11 May 2021

China’s Nuclear and Missile Capabilities: An Overview

Maj Gen PK Mallick, VSM (Retd)

Since China first conducted a nuclear weapon test in 1964, its nuclear doctrine has remained unchanged and is underpinned by two principles: a minimum deterrent doctrine and a No First Use (NFU) policy. China’s 2019 defence white paper states, “China is always committed to a nuclear policy of NFU of nuclear weapons at any time and under any circumstances, and not using or threatening to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states or nuclear-weapon-free zones unconditionally.”

However, a recent U.S. Department of Defence (DoD) report claims that the scope of China’s nuclear modernisation and its lack of transparency “raise concern that China is not only shifting its requirements for what constitutes a minimal deterrence but that it could shift away from its longstanding minimalist force posture.” The data available show that China is modernising and expanding virtually every element of its nuclear forces, including each aspect of its nuclear weapons and missile, sea, and air delivery systems. What is not clear are China’s current and planned holdings of nuclear weapons, China’s future plans for deploying additional delivery systems, its commitment to some form of NFU, first preemption, or launch on warning, and the extent to which it will accept what might be called a form of ‘minimum assured destruction.

Ten Years After Bin Laden, We Still Need Better Intelligence Sharing


It was a typical Sunday afternoon at U.S. Central Command headquarters in Tampa, Florida. As the senior intelligence officer for the command, I was at work and we were monitoring the conclusion of an operation in Yemen. As I left the small operations room, I saw Gen. Jim Mattis, the CENTCOM commander, and our operations officer, Vice Adm. Kevin “Kid” Donegan, at the end of the hallway. As I approached General Mattis, he looked at me in a very factual and unemotional way, and said, “We just got bin Laden.”

While we all felt a sense of justice for the nation, we knew the aftermath meant increased risk to Americans globally, our deployed troops, and our partners and allies. Where would al Qaeda strike next? How would they strike? What force protection measures needed to be increased, and where?

As a career Army intelligence officer, with years working in CENTCOM and Joint Special Operations Command, or JSOC, and nearly a decade after 9/11, I knew immediately our ‘indications and warning’ network would be flooded with data in aftermath of the operation. No high-fives — it was time to focus on the task at hand.

That was then. Today, we constantly discuss how harnessing data and applying artificial intelligence will be integral to great power competition. Fortunately, we have a solid foundation to build upon. The last two decades of counterterrorism operations were built on a high-speed, data-driven ecosystem. Initially and largely built under the leadership and vision of Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who led JSOC before serving as commanding general of the Afghanistan War, the fusion of intelligence and operations provided a base model for the new era of competition and confrontation.

Teamwork Led Us to Bin Laden and Can Keep America Safe


Osama bin Laden didn’t have time to react. At 12:30 a.m. local time on May 2, 2011, bin Laden and his family were sound asleep when two dozen operators from America’s elite counterterrorism teams swooped into his compound and made their way up to his bedroom on the third floor of a large villa in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Within moments, America’s most wanted terrorist was dead, the culmination of a 10-year manhunt by U.S. intelligence that pinpointed his precise location on that moonless night.

CIA had converted the director’s Seventh Floor conference room into a command center where we watched the raid unfold. When the initial helicopter lost lift and crash landed into the compound, our hearts were in our throats. The conference room fell dead silent. But the professionals of the teams working for Joint Special Operations Command’s Adm. Bill McRaven didn’t hesitate, carrying out the mission as if nothing had gone wrong. A backup helicopter was called in and the mission was carried out successfully.

As we look back on the events of late April and early May a decade ago, three lessons stand out.

First, the operation was the result of unprecedented cooperation between our military and intelligence agencies. We have had the honor of helping to lead at both CIA and the Pentagon, and we can vouch for the fact that they are very different organizations — one is small and tightknit; the other is huge with 3 million people and thousands of offices under one department. They are different culturally, organizationally, bureaucratically, and operate under differing authorities, policies, and rules of engagement.

ISIS and Al-Qaeda’s Sub-Saharan Affiliates Are Poised for Growth in 2021


Once considered a backwater for jihadists, sub-Saharan Africa is now at the forefront of the counterterrorism landscape. With core ISIS and al-Qaeda reeling from sustained Western counterterrorism campaigns, attention has shifted from former jihadist bases in the Middle East and south Asia, respectively, to the Sahel and Nigeria, the Horn of Africa, and, most recently, the continent’s southeastern Swahili coast. ISIS and al-Qaeda affiliates throughout sub-Saharan Africa are well-positioned to expand their influence, garner new recruits, spread propaganda, and in some cases, capture territory.

As weak states give way to weak regions, overmatched security forces are being upstaged by well-armed jihadists capable of mounting complex and coordinated operations that increasingly resemble those of core ISIS and al-Qaeda themselves. These terrorists have taken advantage of porous borders throughout Africa and, in opportunistic fashion, have capitalized on fraught political transitions and lack of security sector accountability in countries like Mali and Mozambique, working to further destabilize already fragile states.

No ‘Boogeyman’: Why the Bin Laden Raid Might be the Last Unifying Moment for US Foreign Policy


When Osama bin Laden was killed on May 2, 2011, crowds gathered at the White House with American flags, chanting “U-S-A!” to celebrate the successful Navy SEAL raid that killed the leader of al Qaeda and mastermind behind the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Ten years later, America and the threats it faces are fundamentally different. Some of the greatest dangers to the country, such as cyber security attacks from China or election interference from Russia, don’t have a face and a name that people see every night on the evening news, analysts say. And with a country that’s more divided than ever, it can be difficult to get Americans of different backgrounds to agree on who the enemy even is.

Because of this, analysts predict, it’s unlikely America will pursue another foreign policy goal that the entire nation can get behind, that, like the capture of bin Laden, unites the country and sends people flooding into the streets.

“We don’t have a single boogeyman in the way that bin Laden really became this FBI most wanted figure,” said Jenna Ben-Yehuda, a former State Department official who is president of the Truman National Security Project. “It becomes harder to unify around a single threat, because the nature of the threat has changed and is more diffuse. We have this low-level warfare really playing out through disinformation and persistent hacking that just doesn’t look like kinetic action in war as we know it.”

Is Pakistan’s cyber security strong enough to protect the country?

By Amna Tauhidi

With the growth and spread of connected digital technologies, cyber threats have become an inescapable reality. According to the World Economic Global Risk Report 2019, massive data fraud and theft were ranked the number four global risk in terms of likelihood, with cyber-attacks at number five.

The same report published in 2020, listed cyber-attacks on critical infrastructures as the fifth top risk. This elucidates the growing potential of the cyber realm where governments, political groups, non-state actors, and corporations can engage in espionage, warfare, and terrorism using this domain.

According to multiple governments as well as privately documented reports, there is an ever-growing threat of cyber-based attacks on crucial infrastructure systems.

Critical infrastructure systems, being the lifeline of the modern world, hold paramount importance for both national and economic security as their reliable and secure operation is crucial for the smooth working of a state. Recognizing it as a global and national security concern, all modern states undertook emergency measures to consolidate their cybersecurity.

The cyber-attack on K-Electric

Western Amnesia and the Trauma of Taliban Rule

By Lauryn Oates

In the 1990s, Afghanistan became one of the most isolated countries in the world. Millions of people had fled. With virtually no functioning telecommunications, severe restrictions on the few remaining NGOs that had stayed behind, and being difficult and dangerous to access for journalists, information was escaping the country only in small snippets. But in 1998, Physicians for Human Rights managed to get a team of researchers into the country, and published a carefully documented report based on a survey of over 1,000 Afghans living in Afghanistan and in Afghan refugee camps, giving the world a small glimpse of what was going on within Afghan borders.

The survey responses, collected from ordinary Afghans, painted a bleak picture of life in a place where people had been stripped of their most basic rights, with a special emphasis on relegating women and girls to the margins of a society so under duress, life itself was becoming increasingly untenable. The dense web of rules under which Afghans lived were being imposed by a regime that only properly described as totalitarian. That regime was the Taliban.

The consequences, as found by PHR’s survey, were a population living through a mental health crisis, where it had become the norm for people to be experiencing severe levels of depression and anxiety, and where an alarming number of people reported having suicidal thoughts. The overwhelming majority of women living in Afghanistan indicated that their declining physical and mental health was directly attributable to Taliban policies.

When life imitates art: US, China & a geo-political war

by Thomas L. Friedman 

What has made this even more dangerous is that, in each country, it is married to state-led industries — particularly military industries — and it’s emerging at a time when America’s democracy is weakening.

If you are looking for a compelling read, I recommend 2034 by James Stavridis, a retired admiral, and Elliot Ackerman, a former Marine. The book is about how China and America go to war in 2034, beginning with a naval battle near Taiwan and with China acting in a tacit alliance with Iran and Russia.

I’m not giving it all away to say China and the US end up in a nuclear shootout and incinerate a few of each other’s cities, and the result is that neutral India becomes the dominant world power. (Hey, it’s a novel!)

What made the book unnerving, though, was that when I’d put it down and picked up the day’s newspaper, I read much of what it was predicting 13 years from now: Iran and China just signed a 25-year cooperation agreement. Vladimir Putin just massed troops on the border of Ukraine warning the US that anyone who threatens Russia “will regret their deeds.” As fleets of Chinese fighter jets, armed with electronic warfare technology, now regularly buzz Taiwan, China’s top foreign affairs policymaker just declared that the US “does not have the qualification … to speak to China from a position of strength.”

Yikes, that’s life imitating art a little too closely for comfort. Why now?

Taiwan accuses Beijing of waging economic war against tech sector

Taiwan’s government has accused China of waging economic warfare against the Chinese-claimed island’s technology sector by stealing intellectual property and enticing away engineers, as its parliament considers strengthening legislation to prevent such alleged activity.

Taiwan is home to a thriving and world-leading semiconductor industry, used in everything from fighter jets and cars to smartphones, and the government has long been worried about China’s alleged efforts to copy that success, including by industrial espionage.

Four Taiwanese policymakers from the ruling Democratic Progressive Party are leading a proposal to amend the commercial secrets law to widen the scope of what is considered a secret and toughen penalties.

In a report to Parliament published on Wednesday about the proposed amendments, Taiwan’s National Security Bureau blamed China for most cases of industrial espionage by foreign forces discovered in recent years.

“The Chinese Communists’ orchestrated theft of technology from other countries poses a major threat to democracies,” it said.

“The aim of the Chinese Communists’ infiltration into our technology is not only about economic interests, but also has a political intention to make Taiwan poorer and weaker.”
Claims and counter-claims

China Moves Toward a Permanent Space Presence

By Namrata Goswami

In this November 24, 2020, file photo, a Long March-5 rocket carrying the Chang’e 5 lunar mission lifts off at the Wenchang Space Launch Center in Wenchang in southern China’s Hainan Province.Credit: AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein, File

On April 29, China launched the first piece of its space station’s core module, Tianhe (heavenly harmony), on its Long March 5B rocket from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site in south China’s Hainan Province. This is the first of 11 such launches planned, to complete construction of China’s permanent space station by end of 2022.

This year, there will be four more launches for construction of China’s space station. The next one is scheduled for May with the launch of the Tianzhou 2 cargo space craft once the Tianhe core module is in place, followed by the launch of three astronauts to study life support systems during a stay of three months in low Earth orbit (LEO). This will be followed by the launch of the Tianzhou 3 cargo spacecraft and the Shenzou 13 spacecraft later this year, with three astronauts who will stay six months in LEO – by far the longest stay in space by Chinese astronauts. Space station construction will be complete by the end of 2022 with six other launches scheduled that year.

Bai Linhou, the deputy chief designer of the planned Tiangong space station at the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST), explains:

As Drought Worsens Chip Shortage, Taiwan Fights Brain Drain to China

By Nick Aspinwall

Taiwan’s labor ministry has ordered online job boards to remove all listings by Chinese employers attempting to recruit Taiwanese engineers to their semiconductor firms, an escalation in an intensifying technology standoff as the world looks to Taiwan to alleviate a global chip shortage.

The move comes as Taiwan continues to withstand a historic drought that has threatened the speed of chip production, which requires lots of water.

In an official notice, the Ministry of Labor said it would increase the enforcement of existing laws that prevent Taiwanese job sites from listing advertisements from Chinese firms.

The ministry, in the notice, accused China of stealing Taiwan’s chipmaking technology and poaching its talent, according to the job recruiting website 104 Job Bank.

104 Job Bank told Nikkei Asia it was asking clients individually to close their job vacancies in China. The platform said job listings in China had already fallen by half by Thursday night, from 3,774 listings to 1,872, Nikkei Asia reported.

Taiwan’s semiconductor supply chain manufactures the chips used in iPhones, cars and laptops, and the world is heavily dependent on Taiwanese chip production.

Raffaello Pantucci on China’s Presence in South Asia

By Catherine Putz

As the United States embarks on its withdrawal from Afghanistan, some wonder what China will do given the country’s critical interests in South and Central Asia. Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative is merely the latest articulation of a strategic narrative that imbues the South and Central Asian region with critical importance to China. As Raffaello Pantucci, a senior fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), explains in the following interview, China has long-running interests in the wider region. While Beijing is not poised to follow the Soviet Union and now, the United States, into the “graveyard of empires,” those interests remain important to China.

What interests in the wider South and Central Asia region most draw Beijing’s attention?

China is most worried about security problems it perceives as being based in South and Central Asia which might threaten domestic stability. Principal amongst these is a fear that the region might become a staging ground for Uyghur dissidents or militants to create instability in Xinjiang. A secondary group of concerns emanates from a fear of threats to Chinese economic investments and interests in the region. In Beijing’s conception these investments are also linked to Xinjiang as well, as their success is in part linked to prosperity and growth in Xinjiang, which China sees as the key to longer-term stability within its borders.

China urges U.S. to restrain frontline forces in nearby seas

The Chinese defence ministry urged the United States on Thursday to rein in its frontline forces which Beijing has said have become more active in the air and seas near China this year.

China has frequently maintained that a U.S. military presence in the South China Sea, East China Sea and Taiwan Strait is the main destabilising factor in the region. The United States has said it has freedom of navigation in these areas, which China regards as its geo-strategic backyard.

Since U.S. President Joe Biden U.S. took office in January, operations of U.S. warships in the seas around China have risen by 20%, while the activity of U.S. reconnaissance aircraft has risen by 40% compared with last year, Chinese defence ministry spokesman Wu Qian told a press briefing on Thursday.

"We urge the U.S. side to strictly restrain its frontline forces, abide by regulations including the Rules of Behaviour for Safety of Air and Maritime Encounters and International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea, and prevent similar dangerous incidents from happening again," Wu said.

An Asymmetric Defense of Taiwan

by Michael O'Hanlon 

In recent months, as China’s threats against Taiwan have mounted, strategists and policymakers have been debating whether it is time for a change to the somewhat tortured method by which the United States has sought to preserve stability across the Taiwan Strait since the late 1970s. The current policy of “strategic ambiguity” seeks to keep everyone guessing as to whether America would militarily counter a Chinese attack on its much smaller neighbor. Washington’s specific response would depend on how a crisis began and unfolded. That is because America has had multiple, sometimes conflicting goals—to deter China from attack, to preserve good U.S.-China relations, and to discourage pro-independence forces within Taiwan all at once. Some now favor discarding this elaborate balancing act in favor of an unambiguous commitment to Taiwan’s security.

There is just one problem with this way of thinking. A promise by America to defend Taiwan does not mean that it could defend it. That is especially the case if one considers a protracted Chinese blockade of the island, and imagines that the United States would try to break the blockade directly. Such an attack would employ China’s quiet submarine fleet and perhaps some use of precision missiles. The goal would likely be to strangle Taiwan into capitulation, as Germany almost did twice against Britain in the world wars. Taiwan has just increased its military budget 10 percent, to about $15 billion a year, but it is dwarfed by China’s total, which is more than fifteen times as great. At that level of investment, Taiwan may be able to fend off an outright Chinese invasion attempt with a “porcupine” defense featuring sea mines, anti-ship missiles launched from shore batteries and helicopters, and concentrated resistance wherever China tries to come ashore. But it would likely fare less well against a more indirect Chinese strategy.

Illegal Fishing Is a National Security Problem


According to UN estimates, 90 percent of global fish stocks are fully exploited, overexploited or depleted, meaning that fish are being caught faster than they can reproduce. As global demand for fish continues to draw from an already dwindling supply, recent reports demonstrate that nearly a third of ocean fishing is illegal, unregulated, or unreported, which has devastating effects on global fish stocks and long-term economic ramifications for coastal nations. The UN estimates that one in ten people worldwide rely on fishing or aquaculture for their livelihoods – a collapse of worldwide fisheries would be disastrous to them and the estimated three billion people who rely on seafood as their primary source of protein. But combating illegal, unregulated and unreported, or IUU, fishing isn’t just about saving fish, it’s also a security issue. Chinese fishing fleets have been a trojan horse for the de facto seizure of territories in the South China Sea and have engaged in “systemic violati[ons] of sovereign nation rights” off the coast of Latin America and Africa. As the Biden administration sets its national security priorities, it should include combating IUU fishing among them.

China is the largest contributor to IUU fishing worldwide and poses a geopolitical threat to economic stability in the Indo-Pacific and abroad. As Chinese fleets deplete fisheries in Northeast Asia and the South China Sea, they venture further afield in search of fresh fish stocks and ultimately infringe on the exclusive economic zones of coastal countries around the world. While Beijing officially acknowledges a distant-waters fishing fleet of 2,500 vessels, independent researchers estimate it could be as large as 17,000 vessels. Smaller African nations such as Ghana are a primary target for the large Chinese fleets because they have weak maritime law enforcement abilities and lack the resources to adequately defend against these incursions. In some cases, vulnerable countries like Gambia have turned to non-governmental organizations like Sea Shepherd to help them police their fisheries against Chinese exploitation. But despite some success, these organizations are simply too small to effectively combat IUU fishing at scale.