1 January 2020

Afghanistan's Taliban ruling council ready for ceasefire with US

The Taliban’s ruling council has agreed to a temporary ceasefire in Afghanistan, providing a window in which a peace agreement with the United States can be signed, officials from the militant group have said. They did not say when it would begin and there was no immediate response from Washington.

A ceasefire had been demanded by Washington before any peace agreement could be signed. A peace deal would allow the US to bring home its troops from Afghanistan and end its 18-year military engagement there, America’s longest.

The US wants any deal to include a promise from the Taliban that Afghanistan would not be used as a base by terrorist groups. The US has an estimated 12,000 troops in Afghanistan.

The Taliban chief must approve the ceasefire decision but that was expected. The duration of the ceasefire was not specified but it was suggested it would last for 10 days.

Four members of the Taliban negotiating team met for a week with the ruling council before they agreed on the brief ceasefire. The negotiating team returned on Sunday to Qatar where the Taliban maintain their political office and where US special peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has been holding peace talks with the religious militia since September 2018.

The Afghan Peace Talks, China, and the Afghan Elections


After more than a year of negotiations it appeared in the fall of 2019 that an agreement had been reached between the United States and the Afghan Taliban. Yet before the agreement could be formally signed, the United States backed away from the agreement citing the death of an American serviceman as a result of a Taliban bomb. The negotiations are now officially on hold, although Zalmay Khalilzad, the United States Special Representative, continues to talk to the Taliban through other channels. The failure, at least so far, of an agreement between the United States and Taliban has numerous consequences, including the chaotic Afghan elections, the continuation of the fighting, the halt to the release of prisoners, and the dramatic increase in civilian deaths. In addition, China has shown that it would like to be a player in Afghanistan. With the peace talks between the United States and the Taliban on hold, China, which has economic and political interests in Afghanistan, is attempting to inject itself into the Afghan peace process by offering to hold the next round of negotiations in Beijing. The failure of the peace talks has also affected the Afghan presidential election, which had been long postponed. The election finally took place on September 28, 2019, but not without considerable controversy and conflict. The election might not have taken place at all had the peace agreement been ratified. While just holding the election can be seen as an accomplishment, the election was so flawed that that the results, should they ever be announced, may cause more conflict than had the elections not been held.

The Peace Talks

The US-China Tech Wars: China’s Immigration Disadvantage

By Remco Zwetsloot and Dahlia Peterson

Earlier this year, a Chinese technology executive published an opinion piece arguing that size is China’s greatest asset in technology competition with the United States today. His argument was simple: Innovation in emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence is partly a function of absolute numbers of scientists and engineers, and, as China continues to expand its domestic talent pipeline, its strength in numbers will soon far exceed that of the United States.

Many in Washington seem to agree. The White House’s education strategy draws motivation from China’s rapidly increasing number of university graduates. Experts lament the United States’ dependence on international talent and draw analogies with Sputnik to call for crisis-level educational spending levels similar to those in the post-Sputnik era.

But while a predominantly internal-facing workforce strategy worked for the United States during the Cold War, when it roughly equaled the Soviet Union in population, today it faces a rival four times its size. Domestic investments are absolutely necessary, but they are not sufficient.

Huawei assures Chinese people after a long trade war

By Wen Sheng 

File photoThis year will pull down its curtain without much fanfare for the divisive tariffs war initiated by the US government, which has put global economic growth on the precipice. The tumult of the trade tussle is driving many people to shudder. 

However, Huawei, a star technology company, bears the brunt of the US' ferocious assault, but refuses to surrender, and is now gaining even broader support from the world, which is all the more reassuring to the people who believe in impartiality and justice. 

In May 2019, when the Trump administration accelerated the trade war against China by adding the company to a trade ban blacklist, the Chinese people were aghast and angry, as many disbelieved the company could survive the US attack. 

However, the company is not only a Chinese company but also the world's Huawei. 

Having started from scratch in the 1980s, Huawei is currently the global leader in information and telecommunications technology in both 4G and 5G, hardware and software, cloud computing and artificial intelligence, and many other hi-tech frontiers.

These are the threats we face in a dangerous decade ahead, says MARCO GIANNANGELI


Harold Wilson had withdrawn troops from "east of Suez". Western Europe was blue, the Soviet Union red, and the border between clear. Our generals knew our enemy, where he was, what he wanted and how to stop him.

We thought those days had gone when Jihadism replaced Communism as the doctrine that most threatened our way of life. Military planners shed conventional strategies to fight a new kind of war; one without defined boundaries where enemies hid in the shadows. Two decades later, we once again face great power competitors. In truth, they never went away. While we scrambled in deserts and fended off terror attacks at home, Russia, China and Iran spurned overtures by the West and expanded nationalistic strategies. Steadily, they redrew the battle map.

But this is more than a return to bygone days.

In 1975 we fought wars on land, sea and air. Now we need to add cyberspace and, soon, actual space. And our defence chiefs don't have the luxury of time to tackle each separately.

When it comes to conventional threats, Iran is arguably the most containable while Russia, still unrepentant over its 2014 territorial annexation in Ukraine, presents the biggest risk of military engagement.

Trade War and Peace


Gen. Joseph Dunford, the then-chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, and then-Chief of the General Staff of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Fang Fenghui shake hands after signing an agreement n Beijing on Aug. 15, 2017. 

“We have agreed to a very large Phase One Deal with China,” U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted on Dec. 13. “This is an amazing deal for all. Thank you!” he concluded. In a single moment, it seemed like the U.S.-Chinese relationship might be salvageable, after all. So will 2020 be a year of improvement in relations between Washington and Beijing? Don’t count on it.

Trump’s Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer declared the U.S.-Chinese deal “the most momentous day in trade history ever.” But 2019 is likely to be remembered not as a period of reconciliation in U.S.-Chinese economic relations but as the year when the Chinese-U.S. antagonism spun out of Trump’s control. His tweets can still roil the relationship like a missile test over the Taiwan Straits. At this point, even if Trump wanted to put this year’s antagonism behind him, it is not clear that he could succeed.

Sink Feeling: China Is Slowing Its Plans To Build More Aircraft Carriers

David Axe

China reportedly is slowing its plan to acquire two aircraft carriers for each of its regional fleets.

Instead of speeding ahead with the development of a six-carrier fleet -- two each for the northern, eastern and southern fleets -- the Chinese navy could stop after acquiring flattop number four.

“Plans for a fifth [carrier] have been put on hold for now, according to military insiders,” the Hong Kong South China Morning Post reported. “They said that technical challenges and high costs had put the brakes on the program.”

The possible pause in carrier-production could cement the yawning capability gap between the U.S. and Chinese fleets.

Pittsburgh Penguins' Mario Lemieux becomes the only National Hockey League player to score goals in five ways with 8–6 win over the New Jersey Devils.

Thomas Edison demonstrates incandescent lighting to the public for the first time, in Menlo Park, New Jersey.

In China’s Crackdown on Muslims, Children Have Not Been Spared

By Amy Qin
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HOTAN, China — The first grader was a good student and beloved by her classmates, but she was inconsolable, and it was no mystery to her teacher why.

“The most heartbreaking thing is that the girl is often slumped over on the table alone and crying,” he wrote on his blog. “When I asked around, I learned that it was because she missed her mother.”

The mother, he noted, had been sent to a detention camp for Muslim ethnic minorities. The girl’s father had passed away, he added. But instead of letting other relatives raise her, the authorities put her in a state-run boarding school — one of hundreds of such facilities that have opened in China’s far western Xinjiang region.

As many as a million ethnic Uighurs, Kazakhs and others have been sent to internment camps and prisons in Xinjiang over the past three years, an indiscriminate clampdown aimed at weakening the population’s devotion to Islam. Even as these mass detentions have provoked global outrage, though, the Chinese government is pressing ahead with a parallel effort targeting the region’s children.

Nearly a half million children have been separated from their families and placed in boarding schools so far, according to a planning document published on a government website, and the ruling Communist Party has set a goal of operating one to two such schools in each of Xinjiang’s 800-plus townships by the end of next year.

China’s Space Force Is Way Ahead of Trump’s

Brendon Hong

HONG KONG—Nearly a year and a half after Donald J. Trump ordered the Pentagon to establish the U.S. Space Force—a whole new sixth branch of the American armed forces—he signed the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act on Dec. 20. At least on paper, the U.S. Space Force is now a reality. 

But the United States is late to this game. The Russians have been organizing and reorganizing space force variants since the 1990s. And more importantly, the Chinese Communist Party’s People’s Liberation Army has had such an organization up and running for the last four years. It’s called the PLA Strategic Support Force, and it is something of a technological juggernaut responsible for space, cyber, electronic, and psychological warfare.

“Outer space has become the new commanding heights in international strategic competition,” declared a document published by the State Council in Beijing in 2015. “Countries concerned are developing their space forces and instruments, and the first signs of weaponization of outer space have appeared.” 

To What Extent Has China’s Security Policy Evolved in Sub-saharan Africa?


As former Chinese Ambassador to UN Chen Jian stated, “in the past, unrest, civil war, military coups and so on, which took place far in the other side of the earth, have no direct association with Chinese interest, China can hold detached attitude towards them” (Xuejun, 2017), however, as China’s economic involvement and global role in Africa have deepened, the country has become increasingly entangled in African domestic affairs and conflicts (Stahl, 2016).

The social, economic and political instability of many African countries hinders their ability to supply natural resources to China. Furthermore, Chinese migration in Africa, accelerated in the late 1990s, has added a new complexity factor to Chinese-African relations as Chinese citizens living in Africa have increasingly been exposed to crime (Alden, 2014). Although traditionally China’s engagement in Africa has been mainly visible in the economic area due to the country’s search for natural resources, over the recent years China has understood that in order to develop a long-lasting and profitable relationship with Africa it also needs to direly take action in Africa’s unstable security environment.

With this aim, this paper provides an overview of the evolution of China’s security policy in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), an area of the African continent with a high concentration of Chinese nationals. First, the paper analyses China’s global foreign policy in order to understand China’s security policy in SSA. Later on, the study presents an overview of the security threats that China has faced over the last years in SSA to then show how, as a consequence of these security threats, China had no other choice but to adapt gradually its security policy in SSA. Finally, the essay concludes by assessing the current Chinese security approach in the region and envisaging its evolution in the future.

China in 2019: Celebrating the armed forces

The Chinese People's Liberation Army and the People's Armed Police Force should always preserve their nature, purpose and character as the forces of the people, resolutely safeguard China's sovereignty, security, and development interests, and firmly uphold world peace.

- Xi Jinping

2019 was a big year for the Chinese military, with a new national defense white paper released and the 70th anniversaries of the founding of the PLA Navy and Air Force celebrated.

Reasonable defense spending

The white paper is notable for what it represented in terms of the changes to the country's overall defense strategy and what remained consistent.

Graphics: Reform in China's national defense and armed forces

By Liu Hui
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Deepening national defense and military reforms are in line with the requirements of the times to realize the Chinese dream of national rejuvenation and China's strong-military dream.
- Chinese President Xi Jinping

Four years ago, the Central Military Commission (CMC) released an official guideline on deepening the national defense and military reform. Carried out boldly and resolutely, national defense and military reforms took historic steps, and achievements in major fields were attained.

Regarded as one of the biggest military reforms in modern China, the latest military reform has been on the agenda for China's rejuvenation in the new era since the 18th Communist Party of China (CPC) National Congress, in 2012.

UN Secretary-General: US-China Tech Divide Could Cause More Havoc Than the Cold War

On Friday, WIRED spoke with António Guterres, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, about a topic of increasingly grave concern to him: the fracturing of the internet and the possibility that a technology meant to bring nations together might drive them apart. The conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.

Nicholas Thompson: It's an honor to get the opportunity to conduct this interview. Recently you gave a speech in Paris, where you talked about five great threats to the world. And you talked about the technological break. What did you mean? Why is it so in your mind right now?

António Guterres: I think we have three risks of divides: a geostrategic divide, a social divide, and a technological divide. Geostrategically, if you look at today's world, with the two largest economies, the Chinese economy and the American economy, and with the trade and technology confrontation that exists, there is a risk—I'm not saying it will happen—there is a risk of a decoupling in which all of a sudden each of these two areas will have its own market, its own currency, its own rules, its own internet, its own strategy in artificial intelligence. And that inevitably, when that happens, its own military and geostrategic strategies. And then the risks of confrontation increase dramatically.

Navy Confirms Boat Swarm Seen Alongside Carrier Group In This Satellite Image Was Iranian


The U.S. Navy has confirmed that "multiple" small Iranian boats running alongside the Nimitz class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln and other ships from her strike group as she sailed through Strait of Hormuz into the Gulf of Oman earlier this month, as seen in commercial satellite imagery. The service has rejected reports that any of the Iranian craft harassed or otherwise acted provocatively toward the carrier, saying the activity was within "normal behavior patterns." Still, the image of 18 small boats in very close proximity to Lincoln and her escorts is eye-opening and a stark reminder of the inherent risks of each transit through the Strait.

A PlanetScope satellite belonging to private satellite imagery firm Planet Labs, part of a constellation that takes images of much of the Earth every day, caught Lincoln making the transit out of the Persian Gulf by way of the Strait of Hormuz on Dec. 4, 2019. The image circulated for days in various formats on social media, causing considerable debate within the open-source intelligence community about what exactly was going on in the frame. Some media outlets, including in Iran, picked up on the narrative that the IRGC had "harassed," or at least "escorted," the Carrier Strike Group out of the Strait in a successful challenge to the United States amid a new spike in tensions between the two countries. We can now put this debate to rest.

The Year the Islamic State Lost Its Last Strongholds

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A member of the Iraqi forces walks past a mural bearing the logo of the Islamic State near Mosul, Iraq, on March 1, 2017. 

At the start of 2019, the Islamic State lost its last territory in Syria, and tens of thousands of its remaining members were imprisoned. Behind bars, they added to the ranks of terrorists already jailed in Iraq, Syria, and even in Western countries.

The year was bookended by another extremist event: Usman Khan’s stabbing attack in which two people were murdered in London while he was on parole after being sentenced on terrorism charges related to a 2012 attack plot. In the coming years, thousands more Islamic State and other terrorist prisoners will be released. And if what happened in the jails before that group’s rise is any guide, the consequences will be deadly.

Before 2013, when the Islamic State first started its expansion and took control of some land in Syria, the majority of Islamic State leaders had already spent time in the United States-run Bucca prison camp in Iraq. Many among the group’s rank-and-file had, too. Some Russian-language Islamic State recruitment videos used such heavy prison slang that they were hard for the average person to even understand.

America's Iraq War May Escalate After Airstrikes On Iranian-Backed Groups

by Seth J. Frantzman

Forty-eight tense hours separated an attack that killed a U.S. contractor at a base near Kirkuk on Friday, December 27, and U.S. attacks against the Kataib Hezbollah militia in Iraq and Syria on Sunday. It is a serious response that backs up six months of Washington’s rhetoric which has warned Iran of a strong and decisive response to any attacks by Tehran or its proxies. 

The United States opened a new chapter in Iraq on Sunday with its airstrikes. The strikes, carried out by F-15s and other aircraft, hit five targets, three in Iraq and two in Syria. The largest strike hit a headquarters of Kataib Hezbollah in Al-Qaim and killed several members of the militia. According to local reports Abu Al-Khazali, a commander of Brigade 45 of the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), was killed. Brigade 45 is made up of Kataib Hezbollah members and is officially a paramilitary unit within the Iraqi Security Forces.

The airstrike is a response to rocket fire that killed a U.S. contractor and wounded four U.S. personnel at the K-1 base northwest of Kirkuk. It was the latest of at least ten attacks since October 2019. These attacks actually began earlier this year when rockets were aimed at U.S. bases in February and May. When U.S.-Iran tensions skyrocketed in May the attacks increased. In May, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo flew to Iraq to warn of Iranian attacks. The attacks did come, but in the form of mining oil tankers in the Gulf and then the downing of a U.S. drone in June. Then Iran shifted tactics a bit, targeting Saudi Arabia’s Abqaiq facility and also targeting Israel. There were Iranian rocket attacks on Israel in May of 2018 and in January, September and November this year.

Surprise! When U.S. Fighters Approach Iran, Russia Jams Their Signal

by David Axe 

Russian forces have been jamming GPS systems in the Middle East. The electronic-warfare campaign could affect U.S. forces gathering in the region in advance of potential strikes on Iran.

“Since last spring, pilots flying through the Middle East, specifically around Syria, have noted that their GPS systems have displayed the wrong location or stopped working entirely,” The Times of Israel reported in late June 2019.

The signal that has been disrupting satellite navigation for planes flying through Israeli airspace in recent weeks originates inside a Russian air base inside Syria, according to data collected by a U.S.-based researcher.

This interference to the Global Positioning System reception does not appear to be specifically directed at Israel, but rather the Jewish state is likely collateral damage in an effort by Moscow both to protect its troops from drone attacks and to assert its dominance in the field of electronic warfare, Todd Humphreys, a professor at the University of Texas, told The Times of Israel.

What Kissinger Teaches Us about Negotiating with Russia

by Bruce Allyn
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WE NOW face a risk of a nuclear catastrophe arguably greater than at any point in the nuclear era, except perhaps during “Black Saturday,” the peak of the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962. Two years later, popular films such as Fail Safe and Dr. Strangelove dramatized the risks of an inadvertent nuclear conflict. If we look at the past fifty years, there were two times of heightened nuclear risk when the United States and the Soviet Union successfully negotiated breakthrough measures to reduce nuclear danger. On the U.S. side, the negotiations were led in the early 1970s by Henry Kissinger, producing détente and the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) arms control agreements at the Nixon-Brezhnev Summit of 1972, and then in the 1980s by Ronald Reagan when, at the very first summit meeting with Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985, they agreed to create Nuclear Risk Reduction Centers (NRRCs). An examination of these two key historical moments suggests lessons for U.S.-Russian negotiations on nuclear risk reduction that arguably are as applicable today as they were then. These include specific steps to reduce the risk of unintended, accidental nuclear war; build a working relationship on nuclear issues insulated from political differences; and specific recommendations for current negotiations.

BY 1972, the nuclear risk arguably decreased significantly, and tensions eased. There had been major steps to that point—the Limited Test Ban Treaty in 1963 and the Nonproliferation Treaty in 1968—but after Kissinger negotiated détente, there was a dramatic improvement of relations with the Soviet Union that yielded SALT I, the first arms control deal between the superpowers that put a cap on numbers of strategic ballistic missile launchers. The Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty was signed at the same time.

Infographic Of The Day: How Violence Is Disrupting The Global Economy

Today's infographic uses data estimates from the Global Peace Index 2019 on the global cost of violence, and its geographical spread.

Taiwan’s Presidential Election: What to Know

By Joshua Kurlantzick

Taiwan’s voters will go to the polls on January 11 in one of the most consequential presidential elections in the island’s history. The two major candidates—incumbent Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and challenger Han Kuo-yu of the Kuomintang (KMT)—provide stark contrasts on the most significant economic, security, and social issues.

The biggest difference is over China policy. Han favors closer ties to China and essentially agrees with Beijing’s view that Taiwan and China are part of the same country. Beijing has allegedly used disinformation and its media allies to back Han. Tsai, whose party favors Taiwanese independence, has become increasingly outspoken about the dangers China poses to the island as well as to democracy worldwide.

China. Relations with China remain the primary campaign issue, especially in the wake of mass protests in Hong Kong; the protest movement has heightened concerns in Taiwan about how Beijing’s mishandling of promises to respect Hong Kong’s political and economic freedoms. Han has recently modulated his tone on Beijing, saying that he would never agree to a “one country, two systems” reunification plan for Taiwan. Still, he has called Taiwan and China “one family,” and he has met with top Chinese officials. Han’s campaign has been roiled by reports that an alleged Chinese spy helped funnel nearly $3 million in donations from China to Han in 2018; Han denies the claims.

Russia Is Capitalizing on the West's Failures in Libya

By Emadeddin Badi
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Kremlin’s support toward Haftar’s botched blitzkrieg on Tripoli may once again successfully capitalize on the U.S. and European powers’ collective abandonment of credible diplomacy. While the U.S. is most concerned about Russian military involvement in Libya, the impact of this intervention may actually be reflected in the diplomatic track. Europe’s passivity and disunity — along with the Trump administration’s failure to develop a coherent strategy — have already allowed far less influential players to project influence in Libya. The UAE and Turkey, for instance, have proven to be instrumental actors on the ground. While Russia may lack the political capital to launch an Astana-like process in Libya, its gamble on the inaction of its counterparts may still position it as a power broker. 

Russia has deployed a large number of Wagner mercenaries and regular uniformed personnel in support of Haftar’s offensive. This intervention coincided with Germany and UN Special Representative Ghassan Salamé’s launch of the Berlin Process in September 2019. The German Foreign Office initially conceptualized this initiative as a summit for intervening states to unconditionally halt their support to the warring parties in Libya.

What the Pentagon needs before it makes a decision on satellite communications

By: Nathan Strout 

The U.S. military will likely take a hybrid approach to meet its satellite communications needs in the future, relying on bandwidth from commercial services and government-owned systems. But the mechanics of how the Pentagon will get there isn’t exactly clear.

According to a Government Accountability Office report released Dec. 19, an analysis of alternatives for wideband satellite communications conducted by the Department of Defense more than two years ago determined the military should depend on a mix of government-owned and commercial satellites for satellite communications. What the report lacked, however, were recommendations on how to get there.

The analysis instead determined the department needed more information to make any recommendations, although the GAO warned the Pentagon does not have a formal plan to gather that information. As a result, Congress’ watchdog agency recommended the Secretary of Defense ensure military leaders develop such a plan.

The Cyberwar Decade: How an Invisible Battlefield Came of Age in the 2010s

By David Hambling

The Decade, Reviewed looks back at the 2010s and how it changed human society forever. From 2010 to 2019, our species experienced seismic shifts in science, technology, entertainment, transportation, and even the very planet we call home. This is how the past ten years have changed us.

The 2010’s saw a step change in cyber warfare, defined as attacks against a nation by a computer. Rather than just being used for spying, this was the decade the digital world was weaponized to break through to the physical.

Analysts had long warned about the potential for cyber operations. Now, malware has attacked machinery, power grids, and military control systems and brought a new dimension to warfare.

In 2010, the Stuxnet worm targeted Iranian nuclear facilities. This was no ordinary piece of malware, but the product of what political scientist P.W. Singer called “a Manhattan Project-like” effort, by unknown actors.

Review – Violence and Civilization

By Andrew Linklater

Andrew Linklater’s most recent contribution to his Harm trilogy, Violence and Civilization (2016), which is the second book in the series following from The Problem of Harm in World Politics (2007), looks at the historical processes by which modern states drew on historical progenitors to develop their supposedly superior approaches to violence and civilization. As such, it is a work of historical sociology and international relations; but it is much more than just that. This review is motivated by two related concerns that go well-beyond the manifest quality of Linklater’s newest work as contributions to the fields of sociology and IR: first, given the ample references to this tradition, and Linklater’s intellectual legacy within it, what makes this book a contribution to Critical Theory? And second, what is the ethical argument presented in the book? The answer to the first provides the basis for the answer for the second.

First, if scholarly work in the tradition of Critical Theory does one thing (and it never does just one thing, but if it did) it would be dereification, and Violence and Civilization is at its core a work of dereification. Linklater’s book dereifies (by historicizing) the development of civilizational narratives in connection to norms of self-restraint and non-violence (as well as their opposites). Though the concept of civilization is itself insufficiently criticized in this book, dereification here is generally carried out successfully to provide a deeper historical contextualization and denaturalization of our present imagination about the differences (and similarities) between various “civilizations” with respect to norms, practices, and beliefs about war and harm.

Forget Nuclear Weapons, Cutting Undersea Cables Could Decisively End A War

by Steve Weintz
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When a July 2015 undersea tremor triggered a rockslide between the islands of Saipan and Tinian in the Northern Marianas Islands, it cut the only fiber-optic cable connecting the archipelago to the global network. Air traffic control grounded flights, automated teller machines shut down, web and phone connections broke.

All the feared impacts of a cyber attack became real for the islanders. A Taiwan-based cable repair ship eventually restored the link, but that was a single break from one natural occurrence. How much more disruption could a deep-sea-faring nation cause its rivals through malicious intent?

Though often mentioned in passing, the fact that the overwhelming bulk of Internet activity travels along submarine cables fails to register with the public. High-flying satellites orbiting the crowded skies, continent-spanning microwave towers and million miles of old 20th Century copper phone wire all carry but a fraction of the Earth's Internet traffic compared with deep-sea fiber-optic cables.

31 December 2019

Good news for climate change: India gets out of coal and into renewable energy

By Tim Buckley

In the often grim world of climate reporting, there is at least one upbeat story: India has been aggressively pivoting away from coal-fired power plants and towards electricity generated by solar, wind, and hydroelectric power. This means that the amount of carbon dioxide the country emits into the atmosphere should come down dramatically.

The reasons for this change are complex and interlocking, but one aspect in particular seems to stand out: The price for solar electricity has been in freefall, to levels so low they were once thought impossible. For example, since 2017, one solar energy company has been generating electricity in the Indian state of Rajasthan at the unheard-of, guaranteed wholesale price of 2.44 rupees per kilowatt-hour, or 3 US cents. (In comparison, the average price for electricity in the United States is presently about 13.19 cents per kilowatt-hour, and some locations in the country pay far more. As recently as 2008, the average homeowner on Block Island, Rhode Island, paid a staggering 61 cents per kilowatt-hour for electricity, before any other fees or charges—which can nearly double the price. And businesses had it even worse, with some business owners reporting electric bills of as much as $30,000 per month.)


John Ciorciari, Phil Potter, Javed Ali and Ryan Van Wie 

Historical analogies, particularly to Vietnam, are risky and imperfect, but there are elements of the United States’ drawdown in Afghanistan that feel like a redux of Saigon in 1975. As the United States explores options to bring an end to its nearly two-decade military presence in the country, there is a mounting danger that domestic political considerations will supersede national security. Particularly in light of the recent revelations in the “Afghanistan Papers,” published by the Washington Post, this deserves critical attention, lest we see a parallel to 1975, with the Taliban sweeping into Kabul close on the heels of a US withdrawal. Such an outcome would be calamitous for both the people of Afghanistan and US interests in the short term. Even over the much longer term, a Taliban-dominated Afghanistan is unlikely to evolve into a stable country and potential US strategic partner in the way that Vietnam has.

While a settlement with the Taliban that avoids this outcome is possible, a US/NATO military withdrawal must be managed responsibly to conserve the hard-earned gains on issues like civil liberties and women’s rights made over the past eighteen years. This is not only right, but is also crucial for preserving America’s reputation in the international system. To accomplish this, US officials need to focus now on cultivating diplomatic and economic levers of influence to help enforce a settlement and promote long-term stability in Afghanistan.

The Pressure to Withdraw

Four Scenarios for Belarus in 2025–2030

By: Artyom Shraibman

At least three trends will define the future of Belarus until 2025. The role of the state in the economy will continue to decrease. Belarusian foreign policy will continue to become more sovereign. And, unless he drops his widely announced plans, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka will amend Belarus’s constitutional framework so as to prepare for a smooth transition of power. However, in the long run (2030 onward), a lot may depend on two key factors, the development of which is hard to predict today: Russia’s policy toward Belarus, and the Belarusian regime’s capability to weather economic woes while avoiding domestic political turbulence and serious repressions. This study considers four possible future scenarios, examining various combinations of these two variables.

Introduction: The Kingdom of Stability?

Starting from the early 21st century, most of the former Soviet republics of Eastern Europe and the Caucasus have experienced a series of headwinds—pivots of foreign policy, revolutions and even wars—all of which have changed the face of the region. Seemingly, only Belarus, according to its own strong truism, could boast a level of enduring stability. However, this impression is only partly true.

China in the 2020 Campaign: Missing in Action

It has long been a truism in American politics that elections focus almost entirely on issues of domestic policy while foreign policy is barely mentioned. As a result, we elect presidents with hardly a clue as to how they will handle their international portfolio. It is remarkable when you think about it because the US has long had the largest influence, the heaviest responsibilities (and costs), and the most complex policy agenda of any country in the world. There is an obvious risk associated with putting an unknown quantity in charge of the most powerful foreign/security policy apparatus the world has ever known. For most of our history, one could say we have been lucky — many of the strategic amateurs turned out to be quite capable. In the last election, however, our luck ran out — in spades.

These thoughts come to mind watching the ongoing contest among Democrats seeking their party’s nomination. Once again, domestic issues (health care, income distribution, etc.) dominate the campaign, and foreign affairs often go unmentioned except in passing. This is more than a little disturbing given the extraordinary and growing challenges that will face this country during the next presidential term. The list of threats (current and potential) is a long one but at the top (with the singular exception of climate change) lies China. Yet, listen to the candidates talk to voters or the press and China is seldom mentioned. A colleague of mine recently asked in exasperation, “I cannot understand why at least one of the candidates has not made China, and what to do about it, a centerpiece of their campaign.” 

China's Air Force Is Completely Enormous (But Can it Beat America?

by Sebastien Roblin
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The People’s Liberation Army Air Force of China and its sister branch, the PLA Naval Air Force, operate a huge fleet of around 1,700 combat aircraft—defined here as fighters, bombers and attack planes. This force is exceeded only by the 3,400 active combat aircraft of the U.S. military. Moreover, China operates a lot of different aircraft types that are not well known in the West.

However, most Chinese military aircraft are inspired by or copied from Russian or American designs, so it’s not too hard to grasp their capabilities if you know their origins.

The Soviet-Era Clones

The Soviet Union and Communist China were best buddies during the 1950s, so Moscow transferred plenty of technology including tanks and jet fighters. One of the early Chinese-manufactured types was the J-6, a clone of the supersonic MiG-19, which has a jet intake in the nose. Though China built thousands of J-6s, all but a few have been retired. However, about 150 of a pointy-nosed ground-attack version, the Nanchang Q-5, remain in service, upgraded to employ precision-guided munitions.

China Commissions Its Second Aircraft Carrier

by Felix Richter

China officially commissioned its first domestically-built aircraft carrier, the Shandong, in Hainan last week. The 55,000 ton vessel marks a significant evolution in the People Liberation Army Navy's (PLAN) ambitions and it has become the country's second carrier after the Liaoning. That vessel was originally built in the USSR in the mid-1980s before eventually being rebuilt in Dalian and commissioned into the PLAN as a training ship in 2012.

Only four countries can now boast navies operating two or more aircraft carriers and the others are the United States, the United Kingdom and Italy. The Royal Navy recently made a big leap itself by commissioning HMS Prince of Wales into the fleet. That 65,000 ton ship joins HMS Queen Elizabeth and each will be capable of carrying up to 40 F-35B Lightning II stealth fighters.

Iran Prevailing in Iraq and Lebanon

Iran is pursuing a variety of methods in an effort to preserve its influence in Iraq and Lebanon in the face of protests against existing power structures.

Iran’s allies in both countries include technocrats who might satisfy popular demands for competent governance while maintaining ties to Tehran.
Iran’s Lebanese and Iraqi allies have also accepted Iran’s playbook of confronting protesters with violence and intimidation.

Preserving influence abroad is pivotal to Iran’s grand strategy, explaining why Washington seeks to thwart Tehran from benefitting from the unrest.

Sustained protests that erupted in Iraq and Lebanon in the fall of 2019 present Iran with an unprecedented challenge in two countries that Iran depends on to accomplish its core national security objectives. Methodically, over the course of several decades, Iran has built pro-Iranian Shia movements in both Iraq and Lebanon into powerful politico-military forces that orient their countries’ policies toward Tehran and enable Iran to project power throughout the region. Iran’s regional reach now allows it to threaten the United States and Washington’s regional allies with an unacceptable kinetic capability and to deter these adversaries from attacking Iran. However, because Iran’s allies in Iraq and Lebanon have become part of entrenched power structures, these pro-Iranian movements are now associated with the widespread corruption and mismanagement that has animated protesters. The demonstrators demand fundamental change that, if implemented, would require the ceding of power by Iran’s allies – Shia factions and their militias in Iraq and Hezbollah in Lebanon – and limitations on Iran’s ability to operate militarily in both countries.