Hong Kong Under Siege

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Many were shocked by the brutal way that authorities put down – and are still putting down – the protests in Hong Kong.

But many others were not. Li Yuan is one of them. Here is how he began his recent piece, “One Country, No Arguments.”

Hong Kong’s protests have disrupted Yang Yang’s family life. Though the 29-year-old lives in mainland China, he was inspired by the demonstrations to write a song about freedom and upload it to the internet. When censors deleted it, he complained to his family.

They weren’t sympathetic. “How can you support Hong Kong separatists?” they asked. “How can you be anti-China?” His mother threatened to disown him. Before Mr. Yang left on a trip to Japan in August, his father said he hoped his son would die there.

Hong Kong’s protests have inflamed tensions in the semiautonomous Chinese city, but passions in the mainland have been just as heated — and, seemingly, almost exclusively against the demonstrators.

A pro-protest tweet by a Houston Rockets executive, Daryl Morey, ignited a firestorm of anger against the N.B.A., demonstrating the depth of feeling. Joe Tsai, the only N.B.A. owner of Chinese descent, said all of China — yes, more than one billion people — felt the same way.

“The one thing that is terribly misunderstood, and often ignored, by the western press and those critical of China is that 1.4 billion Chinese citizens stand united when it comes to the territorial integrity of China and the country’s sovereignty over her homeland,” he wrote. “This issue is non-negotiable.”

For Westerners, this is strange language. You don’t hear about the common feelings of 300 million Americans or 60 million Brits, especially in the era of Donald Trump and Brexit.

Yet, in China, there is some truth to it. Of course, it’s a vast country brimming with opinions. But the Communist Party has spent decades preparing the Chinese people for a moment like this. The stir over Hong Kong shows, in dramatic fashion, how successful it has been, and how the world could be shaped by it.

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Rolling the Dice on AI

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There are no bombs falling on our cities, but America is at war. And the battlespace is artificial intelligence.

Our peer adversaries get this and are investing hundreds of billions of dollars to dominate the world of AI – and yes – dominate the world.

Sadly, our approach to winning this war is to let someone else – in this case, Silicon Valley – worry about it.

Tim Wu nailed it in his piece, “America’s Risky Approach to AI.” Here’s how he begins:

The brilliant 2014 science fiction novel “The Three-Body Problem,” by the Chinese writer Liu Cixin, depicts the fate of civilizations as almost entirely dependent on winning grand races to scientific milestones. Someone in China’s leadership must have read that book, for Beijing has made winning the race to artificial intelligence a national obsession, devoting billions of dollars to the cause and setting 2030 as the target year for world dominance. Not to be outdone, President Vladimir Putin of Russia recently declared that whoever masters A.I. “will become the ruler of the world.”

To be sure, the bold promises made by A.I.’s true believers can seem excessive; today’s A.I. technologies are useful only in narrow situations. But if there is even a slim chance that the race to build stronger A.I. will determine the future of the world — and that does appear to be at least a possibility — the United States and the rest of the West are taking a surprisingly lackadaisical and alarmingly risky approach to the technology.

The plan seems to be for the American tech industry, which makes most of its money in advertising and selling personal gadgets, to serve as champions of the West. Those businesses, it is hoped, will research, develop and disseminate the most important basic technologies of the future. Companies like Google, Apple and Microsoft are formidable entities, with great talent and resources that approximate those of small countries. But they don’t have the resources of large countries, nor do they have incentives that fully align with the public interest.

To exaggerate slightly: If this were 1957, we might as well be hoping that the commercial airlines would take us to the moon.

If the race for powerful A.I. is indeed a race among civilizations for control of the future, the United States and European nations should be spending at least 50 times the amount they do on public funding of basic A.I. research. Their model should be the research that led to the internet, funded by the Advanced Research Projects Agency, created by the Eisenhower administration and arguably the most successful publicly funded science project in American history.

You can read the full article here

Tech and Defense

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I served in the U.S. military at a time when we were in a technological arms race with the Soviet Union. Back then, the Department of Defense was THE leader of technological development.

That is no longer the case. It is now widely recognized that large technology companies—represented most prominently by the so-called “FAANG Five” (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Alphabet’s Google)—are dominating the development of technology.

I work in a U.S. Navy laboratory where we work to harness these kind of technologies to put better tools in the hands of America’s service men and women. We recognize that it is not just hardware – planes, ships, tanks and the like – that will give our warfighters the edge – but the same kind of technologies – the software – that FAANG companies and others like them develop.

To understand where we are today and fashion a way ahead, it is worth looking at where we were “back in the day” when the Department of Defense led technology development.

That is why I was drawn to read a review of a recent book: THE CODE
Silicon Valley and the Remaking of America. Here is how the review begins:

By the early 1970s, Don Hoefler, a writer for Electronic News, was spending after-hours at his “field office” — a faux-Western tavern known as Walker’s Wagon Wheel, in Mountain View, Calif. In a town with few nightspots, this was the bar of choice for engineers from the growing number of electronic and semiconductor chip firms clustered nearby.

Hoefler had a knack for slogans, having worked as a corporate publicist. In a piece published in 1971, he christened the region — better known for its prune orchards, bland buildings and cookie-cutter subdivisions — “Silicon Valley.” The name stuck, Hoefler became a legend and the region became a metonym for the entire tech sector. Today its five largest companies have a market valuation greater than the economy of the United Kingdom.

How an otherwise unexceptional swath of suburbia came to rule the world is the central question animating “The Code,” Margaret O’Mara’s accessible yet sophisticated chronicle of Silicon Valley. An academic historian blessed with a journalist’s prose, O’Mara focuses less on the actual technology than on the people and policies that ensured its success.

She digs deep into the region’s past, highlighting the critical role of Stanford University. In the immediate postwar era, Fred Terman, an electrical engineer who became Stanford’s provost, remade the school in his own image. He elevated science and engineering disciplines, enabling the university to capture federal defense dollars that helped to fuel the Cold War.

Want more? You can read the full review here

Endless War

Opinion The Only Way to End ‘Endless War’ - The New York Times

America’s longest war – Afghanistan – has been going on for almost two decades.

Ask any American if they want their nation to engage in endless wars and the answer is likely to be, “Of course not.”

But if you ask, “How can we do that?” not many people have an answer or even an idea.

As someone who has worked for the U.S. military for my entire adult life, I confess that I don’t have a cogent answer to that question.

That’s why I was drawn to a recent piece, “The Only Way to End Endless War.” Here is how it begins:

“We have got to put an end to endless war,” declared Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., during the Democratic presidential primary debate on Thursday. It was a surefire applause line: Many people consider “endless war” to be the central problem for American foreign policy.

Even President Trump, the target of Mr. Buttigieg’s attack, seems to agree. “Great nations do not fight endless wars,” he announced in his latest State of the Union.

But vowing to end America’s interminable military adventures doesn’t make it so. Four years ago, President Barack Obama denounced “the idea of endless war” even as he announced that ground troops would remain in Afghanistan. In his last year in office, the United States dropped an estimated 26,172 bombs on seven countries.

President Trump, despite criticizing Middle East wars, has intensified existing interventions and threatened to start new ones. He has abetted the Saudi-led war in Yemen, in defiance of Congress. He has put America perpetually on the brink with Iran. And he has lavished billions extra on a Pentagon that already outspends the world’s seven next largest militaries combined.

What would it mean to actually bring endless war to a close?

Like the demand to tame the 1 percent, or the insistence that black lives matter, ending endless war sounds commonsensical but its implications are transformational. It requires more than bringing ground troops home from Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. American war-making will persist so long as the United States continues to seek military dominance across the globe. Dominance, assumed to ensure peace, in fact guarantees war. To get serious about stopping endless war, American leaders must do what they most resist: end America’s commitment to armed supremacy and embrace a world of pluralism and peace.

You can read the full article here

Cyber-War

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One of the most cutting-edge military technologies is generally called “cyber.” Most people struggle with this concept and with what “cyber-warfare” actually means.

That’s why I was intrigued by a recent book review of David Sanger’s book: “THE PERFECT WEAPON: War, Sabotage, and Fear in the Cyber Age.” Here’s how the reviewer begins:

New technologies of destruction have appeared throughout history, from the trireme and gunpowder in past centuries to biological and nuclear weapons in more modern times. Each technology goes through a cycle of development and weaponization, followed only later by the formulation of doctrine and occasionally by efforts to control the weapon’s use. The newest technological means of mayhem are cyber, meaning anything involving the electronic transmission of ones and zeros. The development of cyber capabilities has been rapid and is continuing; doctrine is largely yet to be written; and ideas about control are only beginning to emerge.

David E. Sanger’s “The Perfect Weapon” is an encyclopedic account of policy-relevant happenings in the cyberworld. Sanger, a national security correspondent for The New York Times, stays firmly grounded in real events, including communication systems getting hacked and servers being disabled. He avoids the tendency, all too common in futuristic discussions of cyber issues, to spin out elaborate and scary hypothetical scenarios. The book flows from reporting for The Times by Sanger and his colleagues, who have had access, and volunteer informants, that lesser publications rarely enjoy. The text frequently shifts to the first-person singular, along with excerpts from interviews Sanger has had with officials up to and including the president of the United States.

The principal focus of the book is cyberwarfare — the use of techniques to sabotage the electronic or physical assets of an adversary — but its scope extends as well to other controversies that flow from advances in information technology. Sanger touches on privacy issues related to the collection of signals intelligence — a business that has been around since before Franklin Roosevelt’s secretary of war, Henry Stimson, talked about gentlemen not reading each other’s mail. He also addresses social media and the problems of misuse that have bedeviled Facebook, including usage by foreign governments for political purposes. These other topics are to some extent a digression from the main topic of cyberwarfare. Intelligence collection and electronic sabotage are different phenomena, which in the United States involve very different legal principles and policy procedures. But Sanger takes note of such differences, and the book’s inclusiveness makes it useful as a one-stop reference for citizens who want to think intelligently about all issues of public policy having a cyber dimension.

You can read the full review here

Leading Technology

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Much ink has been spilled regarding the challenges the United States faces in our military technology race with potential adversaries like China and Russia.

One of the best analysts regarding this issue is Mackenzie Eaglen. Here is part of what she said in a receipt op-ed:

In the global arms race, a moment’s hesitation is enough to lose your lead. The Pentagon pioneered research 15 years ago into hypersonic missiles that can cruise at Mach 5. The U.S. then chose not to develop the technology—but China and Russia developed it. Now Beijing and Moscow have hypersonics at the ready and, according to Pentagon research chief Michael D. Griffin, no number of current U.S. ships or ground-based antimissile systems would be enough to counter a massive attack.

The problem stems in part from the Pentagon’s increasing dependence on outside firms. For decades after World War II, the Defense Department was a producer of cutting-edge research and technology, but today it contracts more and more out to Silicon Valley. No longer setting its own course for development, the Pentagon is unable to take the major leaps that once kept U.S. military technology racing ahead.

The Pentagon still acquires its systems in accordance with decades-old protocols that value compliance over nimbleness and usefulness. It has doubled down on unreasonable demands to own intellectual property in perpetuity, a nonstarter for many software companies with which it contracts. Now defense leaders are stuck having to sort out which software systems might pose a security risk because the developers often also sell to America’s rivals.

This shift from calling the shots to negotiating with ever-more-private interests is new for the defense bureaucracy. For generations, influence flowed in the other direction. The buildup in defense research-and-development spending that began in the late 1940s and continued through the ’80s was responsible for propelling many of the tech breakthroughs of the past century: cellphones, jet engines, integrated circuits, weather satellites and the Global Positioning System. A recent example is Apple ’s Siri artificial-intelligence system, which it purchased from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

You can read the full article here

Harnessing Technology to Make War Safer

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Few subjects inspire more furious debate than the terms “war” and “drones.” There is vastly more heat than light on this subject.

That is why I was impressed by the reasoned arguments of a U.S. Marine who wrote an article entitled, “How Tech Can Make War Safer.”

Amidst all the shrill debate on the subject, Lucas Kunce explained how when the tech industry refuses to work on defense-related projects, war becomes less safe Here’s how he begins:

Last year, more than 4,600 Google employees signed a petition urging the company to commit to refusing to build weapons technology. A response to Google’s work with the military on an artificial intelligence-based targeting system, the petition made a powerful and seemingly simple moral statement: “We believe that Google should not be in the business of war.” Similarly, Microsoft employees in February demanded that their company withhold its augmented reality HoloLens headset technology from the Army, saying they did not want to become “war profiteers.”

As a Marine who has been in harm’s way a few times, I am glad that my peers in the tech industry have initiated this discussion. America is long overdue for a conversation about how we engage in war and peace; the difference between the decision to go to war and decisions about what happens on the battlefield during warfare; and what it means to fight, die and kill for our country.

My job has put me in places where I have witnessed and taken part in significant battlefield decisions. From my experience, I have learned that working with the military to develop systems would actually support the tech workers’ goal to reduce harm in warfare. (I need to note here that I am speaking for myself, and my views do not necessarily reflect those of the Department of Defense.)

Tech workers might not realize that their opposition to the work their companies do on military technology does not change the decision-making of the American leaders who choose to go to war, and therefore is unlikely to prevent any harm caused by war. Instead, it has the unintended effect of imperiling not only the lives of service members, but also the lives of innocent civilians whom I believe these workers want to protect.

You can read the full article here

Look Range Threats

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Earlier this year, one of the giants in U.S. national security passed away. Few individuals have made more of an impact on the way the U.S. military – and indeed all the levers of U.S. national power – perceive, analyze and understand the threats our nation faces.

Many obits tried to sum up his manifest contributions. Julian Barnes piece in the New York Times perhaps did it best. Here’s how he began:

Andrew Marshall, a Pentagon strategist who helped shape American military thinking on the Soviet Union, China and other global competitors for more than four decades, died in Alexandria, Va. He was 97.

Mr. Marshall, as director of the Office of Net Assessment, was the secretive futurist of the Pentagon, a long-range thinker who both prodded and inspired secretaries of defense and high-level policymakers. Virtually unknown among the wider public, he came to be revered inside the Defense Department as a mysterious Yoda-like figure who embodied an exceptionally long institutional memory.

In the early 2000s, at a time when the Pentagon was focused on counterinsurgency and wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Mr. Marshall urged officials to focus on the challenge of China — a view that many considered outdated. But today, national security officials are increasingly adopting Mr. Marshall’s view of China as a potential strategic adversary, an idea now at the heart of national defense strategy.

Through his many hires and generous Pentagon grants, estimated to total more than $400 million over four decades, Mr. Marshall trained a coterie of experts and strategists in Washington and beyond. One veteran of the office, Air Force Gen. Paul Selva, is now the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Another, Robert O. Work, was the deputy secretary of defense from 2014 to 2017.

The exact nature of Mr. Marshall’s office was poorly understood. But he cultivated thinking that looked beyond the nation’s immediate problems and sought to press military leaders to approach long-term challenges differently.

“His gift was the framing of the question, the discovery of the critical question,” said Michael Pillsbury, a China expert who advised and worked with Mr. Marshall throughout his career. “He would always pick the least studied and most strategically significant subjects.”

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More Nukes? Really?

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The world in 2019 is a volatile place, and the news is full of reports of conflicts around the globe.

Little of that reporting involves nuclear weapons – and there hasn’t been a nuclear weapon fired in anger since 1945. That is a very good thing.

But just because the issue of nuclear arsenals is out of the news, we shouldn’t ignore it. That’s why I think that Bret Stephens recent op-ed is important for all Americans to read. Here’s how he begins:

“In the capitals of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, there is a clear lack of confidence in the United States’ reliability as a military ally.”

Sound familiar? It’s from a report in The Times dated October 7, 1979. Donald Trump isn’t the first American president about whom U.S. allies took a decidedly skeptical view.

Back then, the question was whether, and how, Jimmy Carter would respond to the Soviet Union’s deployment of the SS-20, a medium-range nuclear missile that threatened military installations in Western Europe and against which the Atlantic alliance had no equivalent. Later that year, Carter agreed that the U.S. would deploy hundreds of intermediate-range Pershing II and cruise missiles to Europe in response, a policy the Reagan administration completed in the early 1980s.

The history is worth remembering now that the U.S. has formally exited the 1987 Intermediate Nuclear Forces (I.N.F.) treaty, following many years of cheating by Russia and failed diplomatic efforts to bring it into compliance. Moscow has secretly fielded an estimated 100 ground-launched cruise missiles “designed to target critical European military and economic infrastructure, and thereby be in position to coerce NATO allies,” according to Dan Coats, the former director of national intelligence. Russia is also believed to be violating the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.

You can read the full article here

Tiananmen Square Remembered

Last month, we marked the 30th anniversary of China’s crackdown on student protestors in Tiananmen Square.

Much ink has been spilled about this event, but less has been written about how that day shaped China today. Orville Schell’s excellent article begins by noting:

“In the spring of 1989, a democratic future for China seemed possible. Then came Tiananmen. The U.S.-China relationship still hasn’t recovered.” He goes on to say:

China was indeed experiencing a springtime. At last, its halting tradition of democratic activism and cosmopolitan aspiration seemed on the verge of triumphing over the rival traditions of imperial rule and Leninism. Here was definitive proof that ideas of freedom were not just a foreign import or imposition. For the first time since 1949, one could suddenly imagine a China that was both more democratic and more fully integrated into the outside world.

But the moment didn’t last, as we know in marking this week’s melancholy 30th anniversary. Whatever the power of China’s long-suppressed democratic hopes, they could not withstand the ideological determination and brutal might of the Chinese Communist Party. The crushing of the Tiananmen protest movement was a shock not just to all those intoxicated, idealistic Chinese demonstrators but also to Westerners like myself who believed that, with our help, China was starting to find its way to being a more modern and open society.

The tragedy of that possibly misplaced faith weighs especially heavily today. Under President Xi Jinping, a newly assertive authoritarian China now strikes many in the U.S. not just as a disappointment but as a threat. In retrospect, through the ups and downs of decades of diplomatic engagement and growing economic connection, the Tiananmen crackdown of 1989 now appears to be the moment when the regime most fully revealed the fundamental principles that now guide Mr. Xi and a rising China.

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