Friday News Roundup — July 23, 2021

The Data Panopticon; Loitering Munitions on the Modern Battlefield; Russia’s Export Fighter Jet; An Intentional Policy for the Caribbean


Happy Friday from Washington, DC. Here in the nation’s capital, there are only two more weeks of work before the Senate goes on summer recess, and the temperature on the Senate’s bipartisan infrastructure bill has reached boiling. In a procedural vote this week, Senate Republicans voted down a move to begin consideration of the bill before final language had been drafted; that language is expected some time next week, but the days are ticking down.

Halfway around the world, the 2020 Summer Olympics have begun in Japan. The Olympics are a Policy Team favorite — obscure sports at all hours of the day and night, enhanced with a healthy dollop of geopolitics — and everyone needs a little pick-me-up after a very long year. Putting on the Olympic Games is always absolute madness, with chaos reported in every facet of the process … up until the first moment that someone pushes the bounds of human achievement with the whole world watching. In the coming weeks, people will run faster, jump higher, row harder than anyone else in world history. It’s awesome and we are here for it.

This week, Joshua reviewed Rush Doshi’s new book The Long Game: China’s Grand Strategy to Displace American Order for Diplomatic Courier. Considering Dr. Doshi’s unique credentials, this one might be on all our reading lists this summer. CSPC Senior Fellow James Kitfield also wrote in Politico about the last chapter of the War in Afghanistan through the lens of its last commanding general, GEN Austin “Scott” Miller, who stepped down last week.

Next week at the Center, we are hosting a conversation with experts from government and the private sector about not just what is next in space capabilities, but what comes after that. You can register for that event here.

This week in the Roundup, Dan writes about how the prevalence of data has created a globalized network of surveillance. Ethan looks back on last year’s conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan and particularly the role of armed drones (though don’t call them drones). Joshua covers the unveiling of the Su-75 “Checkmate”, Russia’s newest single-engine fighter. CSPC intern Liam Miller argues that the United States needs to pay more attention to the Caribbean region, before it becomes a battleground for influence. As always, we end with some news you may have missed.

Dispatches from the Data Panopticon

Dan Mahaffee

Normally, one would be at sea trying to find a common thread between regulators in Beijing cracking down on foreign IPOs and scandals in the U.S. Catholic Church, but this week, such a thread can indeed be spun into a yarn — one about our data driven world and lessons on privacy and security.

First, as we’ve covered in these “pages” before, Beijing’s regulatory bodies, mainly the Cybersecurity Administration of China, have been cracking down on tech companies listing overseas and their data management practices. The most notable example has been Didi Chuxing, the “Uber of China”, where Chinese regulators are considering some of the most severe penalties so far — including whether to force a delisting. While one of Didi’s “sins” was the rush to IPO overseas despite Beijing’s qualms, another was that Didi was specifically tracking the rideshare journeys of government officials as part of their data operations.

Half a world away, Monsignor Jeffrey Burrill resigned from his position of general secretary of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), with a statement from the conference referring to yet unpublished media stories into his personal life. The story referenced was eventually broken by the Catholic news blog The Pillar. In investigating Msgr. Burrill, the blog purchased commercially-available, anonymized user data from the gay dating app Grindr, cross-referenced it with public location data and other data about the Monsignor, and determined he was engaged in behavior inconsistent with his priestly vows.

For the Chinese Communist Party, the concern is not so much the gathering of the data, but who controls and sees the “data dashboards”. Didi can tell Beijing much about how its citizens are traveling, while AntPay can deliver the details on their financial health. Combined with facial recognition technologies, tracking of telecom and social media communications, and other tools, Beijing is building its data-driven panopticon. Companies from overseas must meet its standards to do business in the Chinese market, while it exports the technical foundation of this to other despots, and hacks foreign networks for the other data needed to learn about overseas individuals — e.g. how the hacking of the U.S. government Office of Personnel Management and the user records of hotels and airlines can help to penetrate potential U.S. intelligence cover identities or identify other targets for Chinese espionage.

Here in the United States, the data economy is not driven towards the interests of the party, thank goodness, but within Msgr. Burrill’s scandal is a cautionary tale of its own. “If the service is free, you’re the product,” is the golden rule of the digital economy. Despite the claims of anonymization of data, it is not hard to cross-reference multiple sets of anonymized data to identify specific individuals. As data and computing power become more plentiful, the data anyone broadcasts from their daily life could be used to track them skipping work, cheating on a spouse, or all other manner of secrets, preferences, and details that we would rather keep in our gray matter than on the World Wide Web. And if you think it is just advertisers or investigative journalists that are buying this data, U.S. police departments and other law enforcement agencies are buying from data-brokers and bypassing court-issued warrants — although a legislative proposal from Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Rand Paul (R-KY) would ban such purchases without court approval.

What both these stories demonstrate is the growing power of the data we generate throughout our digital lives — data points that can give away state secrets as well as secrets of the heart. With the convenience of many of these services — and the future networking of internet of things technologies, connected cars, smart agriculture, networked manufacturing, and so-on — the data driven economy can grant many wishes, the more we learn about it, however, the less clear it is whether the wishes are granted by a kindly genie or a cursed monkey’s paw.

Lessons from Nagorno-Karabakh: Loitering Munitions

Ethan Brown

Two Azerbaijani LM’s over Armenia, one with deadly effect and one watching (Azerbaijan Ministry of Defense photo)

We have been watching the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict here with great interest, ever since the most recent hostilities broke out less than a year ago. It’s of a particular interest for me, because of my affinity for the region and the geopolitical/military significance of the Southern Caucasus. The conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan hearkens back to antiquity, but this more recent occurrence touches on an issue closer to home for me — advanced experimental aerial-delivered munitions. Specifically, Loitering munitions with intelligent targeting capabilities. Israel has been the main champion for developing small, light throwaway munitions of the loitering kind, and the vaunted Hero-20/30 line-ups emphatically made its mark in the climes of Nagorno-Karabakh, a point that Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) is keen to point out as it seeks inroads to U.S. military procurement ahead of a proving exercise in October.

Loitering munitions (LM) do carry a bit of a stigma, as the 1980’s manifestation were colloquially dubbed “suicide drones” — intended to be fired and forgotten and presumed to have neutralized…something; preventing infrastructure and civilian casualties weren’t precisely in vogue before the advance precision munitions of Afghanistan in recent decades. For reference, loitering munitions have been around for as long as there have been aircraft in combat, but those earliest iterations of guided strike vehicles unfortunately happened to be manned, one-way flights in beginning with the Battle of Leyte in the Pacific, circa 1944.

These weapons are a unique animal, if little more than a blend of air brakes, whimsical little winged canisters, and gimbal-steered cameras. But the truth of their efficacy is irrefutable and deadly. As part of the pitch to U.S. military officials, Avi Mizrachi, a retired Israeli officer and now CEO of UVision (another big fish in the loitering munitions pond) told Breaking Defense that “the systems are combat proven. I can’t be specific, but the operational results will be provided to the Americans’’. Maj. Gen. Mizrachi was all but certainly referring to the Nagorno-Karabakh, where for the first time in the history of conflict, a war was won almost exclusively on the performance of unmanned and semi-autonomous systems.

What are loitering munitions?

In modern defense tech, “unmanned” gets bandied about far too carelessly, and I take issue with this labeling on a repeated basis. The infamous MQ-1’s and -9’s of GWOT notoriety are not unmanned, they are very much supported by a full flight crew, ground crew, and have an absurd amount of oversight into their every flying moment. Notably, they have to be flown by an operator (“pilot”, for lack of a better term). Thus, I emphatically overuse the term “Remotely Piloted Aircraft”, as the DoD made efforts to codify several years back, to carefully distinguish between a modern drone and the more science-fiction-y platforms…such as loitering munitions.

Loitering platforms deserve the ‘unmanned’ moniker far more than their remotely piloted progenitors, largely owing to their terminal application. Unlike your run-of-the-mill RPAs, Loitering Munitions are launched in a variety of methods, more commonly from ground-rails mounted on up-armored vehicles, like this one that UVision is building for American USMC assault vehicles, or this one, which touts hypersonic engagement capability, making it nearly impossible to intercept. These are much smaller and easier to haul about than the rangier, bulkier ranged weapons of yesteryear, with IAI’s HERO-20 clocking in with a dainty 1.2lb warhead on a carrier totalling 6.5lbs. Some of these systems pulled a page right out of the GBU-39 playbook (a previous-generation free-fall glide munition for standoff range capability) and can remain aloft anywhere from 15 minutes to Six hours before needing to terminate or self-destruct; although the longest flight I ever managed from a GBU-39 was about 12 minutes from release to impact.

These systems are guided by a smart-camera, one that can pipe video feed back over varying distances, for battle-tracking and launch-authority situational awareness. However, once the platform is launched, that is it, it is gone to execute a fiery death somewhere in the battlespace. Before hairs are raised about the negligent notion of genuine fire-and-forget weapons, which these are not, note that these smart-systems as well as doctrinal TTPs (tactics, techniques and procedures) account for a last-second change in flight paths to avoid an unforeseen circumstance — like a previously-unseen civilian entering the FOV (field of view). In doctrinal terms, we used to call this a “SHIFT COLD”, where if I had been directing a guided weapon onto a target from an aerial platform (typically laser-guided), a predetermined point somewhere farther away than the probability of incapacitation distance would be programmed for the guidance host (usually an aircraft, although I rarely ground-designated laser munitions), and if anyone in the control net passed the “SHIFT COLD” brevity term for safety reasons, the designator was forced to alter the guidance in the final seconds to avoid the risk event.

These LM’s are equipped with smart-technology and augmented targeting parameters to only find/fix/finish profiles that match very restricted and specific inputs — armored vehicles that meet dimension, heat, and anchor-point areas typified by ‘known, likely, or suspected’ enemy activity. In short, as exhibited by Azerbaijan’s absolutely flawless execution with UCAV’s fielding an array of HERO-20s and 30s, these semi-autonomous and ridiculously cheap weapons can be sortied at the edge of a battlefield, tilted towards known enemy lines of advance, and launched with near-absolute confidence that they will either find and finish adversary targets, or terminate themselves in open terrain, reducing any potential for civilian casualties.

Modern Conflict after Nagorno-Karabakh

If there is one thing we do take pride in here at the CSPC, as much if not more so than the critical programs to which we commit ourselves, it is nerding out over war strategy and history, conflict, and the gadgetry that enables and alters how military matters are executed in both todays and future conflicts. No one descends further into the imagination of future combat that yours truly, which is why I opted to bring up the topic of LMs, Nagorno-Karabakh (an increasingly critical lynchpin topic in some future working groups we will be hosting in the future) and the U.S. procurement of these weapons.

Israel has been leading the development of this technology for years, and it’s a rare chance for the United States to take advantage of the test and validation of systems without the risks inherent in new technologies. The tragic reality is that the validation of these systems was proven under the most rigorous of circumstances — actual combat — which makes the acquisition of these systems much more intriguing. It also portends a change in the modern conflict paradigm, notably, the automation of war and the autonomy of fighting systems designed to destroy an adversary’s systems, personnel, and facilities.

To suggest that the 44-day conflict has reshaped warfare may seem a little tongue-in-cheek, but the cost-benefits alone are worth factoring as it relates to how Nagorno-Karabakh has impacted the next fight. The vaunted HERO-20 price tag is a mere $70,000, much more palatable than say…this $820k guided artillery round, or a $1.4 million Tomahawk cruise missile. Admittedly, the price tag seems prohibitive when stacked against the $40–70k average of the GBU-39s and JDAM assortments, however, the footprint of a HERO-20 at 6.5 lbs versus those more iconic brutes ranging from 250–2000lbs makes the smaller LM’s considerably more appealing for decision-makers charged with fighting in a battlespace fraught with non-military dynamics, a la Afghanistan/Iraq/Africa/wherever rivals might try to engage in limited confrontation.

The only drawback to LMs lies in the challenge of incorporating a new tool into a diversified battlespace, one that is bursting at the seams with legacy systems whose role in a hyper-connected war environment isn’t fully understood. The headlines were garnered by hypersonic glide vehicles, the big scary ones that sell views on mainstream channels, while these nefarious little gnats of death validated themselves in a quiet corner of the world with almost no fuss. he question then, is where does the DoD think it will integrate these futuristic systems into the defense panoply? Can a 1950s-era B-52 conduct a high-altitude release of several hundred LMs over enemy terrain? Sure. Should it? Can a Ranger platoon conduct an overland vehicle insertion with a dozen up-armored MTV’s and do the same thing from a ground-rail launch system? Absolutely. Further, how does the defense enterprise intend to harden/defend against what is undoubtedly concentrated adversary efforts to adopt the same lessons of Nagorno-Karabakh into their strategies.

After all, these proving grounds were in Russia’s back 40, and we can be certain they took copious notes on these developments.

Russia Unveils New Fighter for Export Market

Joshua C. Huminski

This week, Russia’s state-owned Rostec unveiled a mock-up of a single-engine fighter called Su-75 “Checkmate” at its annual Moscow Aviation and Space (MAKS) Expo. The fifth-generation low-profile fighter promises to compete with the United States’ F-35, but that’s only if it gets off the ground, meets the high claims of its manufacturer, and gets the foreign funded needed to build the aircraft at all.

Expected to first fly in 2023, the Checkmate is intended primarily for the export markets, markets to which sales of the F-35 are banned. In the lead up to the unveiling of the Checkmate, Rostec released a teaser video featuring pilots from Vietnam, India, Argentina and the United Arab Emirates ahead of the official unveiling.

This, the name, and the specifications of the aircraft clearly indicate its export-focused nature. As John Tripak of Air Force Magazine notes, Checkmate is not a natural word in Russian: “the term “shakh” is used in chess to put a player in “check,” and “mat” is declared after making the final, winning move. “Mat,” pronounced “maht,” is also used to refer to vulgar or obscene language.”

The Checkmate is a curious plane. While it fits with Russia’s apparent desire to counter any American design, it doesn’t naturally have a home within the existing Air Force. Russia’s Air Force prefers larger, heavier, and twin-engine aircraft almost exclusively due to the increased range necessary to patrol the country’s vast territory, particularly in the Far East. The smaller nature of the Checkmate would make it attractive to smaller countries where range is less of an issue, but speed and operating altitude are a greater priority. The smaller radar cross section afforded by the design (at least speculated) could make it a competitor for the F-35, to which it bears many similarities.

The Su-75 could well compete with the F-35, but also China’s J-31, or South Korea’s KF-21, both designed as single-engine light-weight fighters, but it does not appear that there is much demand for either of the latter two (and the F-35 is a battered program to say the least — read Valerie Insinna’s amazing New York Time essay for a full rundown). At the same time, most of the export markets potentially targeted by the Su-75 are not exactly inclined to go toe-to-toe with the United States and the F-35 — Vietnam, India, Argentina, and the UAE are not at loggerheads with Washington and this is unlikely to change in the near future.

Could the Russian Air Force fold in the Su-75 as a partner airframe to the larger twin-engine Su-57? Certainly. This is very much in the model of the F-35 and F-22 with the former outnumbering the latter and augmenting its capabilities. Will it adopt this high-low mix of fighters? That remains to be seen. The Russian Air Force will take all of the Su-57s when and if they are manufactured, and it also assumes the Su-75 will actually be produced.

The Su-57 has only been produced in limited numbers despite 78 being on order by the Russian Aerospace Forces (RVF) (of which the Russian Air Force and Air Defense Forces are both a part). The Su-57 has proven extremely complex and increasingly expensive (the full cost of the aircraft remains unclear), but this is not out of the ordinary with next generation aircraft: the beleaguered F-35 costs some $100 million including the engine.

The Checkmate is said to have a range of 930 miles (on internal fuel alone), more than the F-35’s 770, and be capable of short take-off and landing (STOL). Rostec says it will have active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar capable of engaging six targets at the same time with weapons from ventral and undercarriage internal weapons bays. It is unclear at this point whether it will have wing-affixed hard points, but it would be surprising if it does not have that as an option (though it would dramatically reduce the Checkmate’s stealth capability by increasing its radar cross section).

Moreover, it will almost certainly not get built without the foreign funding the roll-out and specifications are clearly designed to attract. Rostec plans to manufacture 300 airframes over 15 years once serial production begins in 2026 at a cost of $25 to $30 million. Yury Slyusar, the head of the United Aircraft Corporation (which is part of Rostec) said, “Our aim is to make the cost per flight hour as low as possible, to make it economical not only to buy but also to operate”, which would make it attractive to markets in the Middle East, Asia Pacific region and Latin America. Again, it is unclear whether it will be able to do so on its own without foreign funding or support, to say nothing of finding ways to export the aircraft around the U.S.’s Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act and compete successfully with foreign-made single engine fighters.

Indeed, in 2017, Russia proposed a development cooperation agreement with the UAE on the Su-75, hoping to secure necessary funding in advance and to avoid the issues it ran into with the development of the Su-57 with India. New Delhi was seen as a possible partner on the development of the twin-engine fifth-generation fighter, but ultimately declined on being either a research or development, or production partner.

It is easy to forget that Russia has had and retains a very healthy export market for arms and munitions. It remains the world’s second largest exporter of weapons despite five years of declining sales. It is also easy to assume that Russia’s military is incapable of innovation or development, especially after the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union. This is erroneous and dangerous thinking. While there is an element of vaporware in Moscow’s pronouncements on hypersonic weapons, nuclear cruise missiles, artificially intelligent weapons systems etc… Russia continues a fairly substantial modernization program. The K-329 Belgorod submarine recently undertook sea trials and just this week the Tsirkon hypersonic cruise missile was tested in the White Sea.

While the not-so Red Bear may not be what it once was in terms of size and capability, it retains considerably sharp conventional teeth and claws, to say nothing of its unconventional capabilities.

Caribbean Diplomacy Needs To Be Intentional

Liam J. Miller

( Courtesy of The Caribbean Council)

If you have been paying attention to the news lately you probably have heard a lot about the Caribbean and might surmise that there is trouble in paradise. Ongoing political unrest in Haiti and Cuba have dominated headlines and have even led to talks of potential U.S. military intervention. Increased attention on the Caribbean has underscored the often-overlooked strategic significance of the region. While Washington’s attention has been focused elsewhere, China has been expanding its global influence into the Caribbean, where it aims to replace American influence. The United States needs to take this opportunity to engage with Caribbean states, not just to advance development, but to protect its interests.

From 2002 to 2018, trade among Caribbean states and China rose sharply, and China has allocated around $70 billion of development funding to Caribbean states. In 2016, the China Harbor Engineering Company allocated $730 million to transit infrastructure in Jamaica. The Bahamas also partnered with China on tourism sector investments. China’s Export-Import Bank provided a $2.5 billion loan to help develop the Baha Mar resort, which opened in 2016 in that country.

Similarly, China has dramatically expanded investment in Cuba despite their obvious lack of relationship during the Cold War. Trade between the two has increased since 2015, and China now trails only Venezuela as the largest exporter to Cuba.

More recently during the pandemic, China has been making diplomatic inroads through personal protection equipment donations and the establishment of several Confucius Institutes in Caribbean countries where the U.S. currently lacks a solid diplomatic presence. As China continues to expand its influence in what has been called the U.S.’s “ third border,” there are two options: The U.S. can neglect the region, or it can proactively revamp its relationship with the Caribbean through intentional diplomatic engagement efforts.

The Caribbean’s economically vital tourist industries have been battered by COVID-19, so being aware of the region’s needs is more pressing than ever before. President Biden ought to take a page from Ronald Reagan and the Caribbean Basin Initiative, which was launched in 1983 and gave Caribbean nations duty-free access to U.S. markets for many types of goods. American willingness to open their markets to Caribbean producers played a role in weakening the appeal of Soviet Communism in the region and contributed to the U.S. winning the Cold War. Caribbean participation in these bilateral trade agreements also led to the development and prosperity in their economies.

With an average annual GDP growth of 4 % per year, general development throughout Caribbean countries has substantially outperformed Latin American countries since 2002. Since the 1980s’ social indicators have improved as literacy rates in Caribbean countries have risen by approximately 10%, and infant mortality has fallen 50%. The Caribbean Basin Initiative stands as a successful example of positive U.S. diplomacy.

However, recent U.S. engagement or disengagement has not generated the momentum needed to maintain the attractiveness and beneficial longevity of U.S-Caribbean relations. U.S. engagement should focus on advocating far reaching, significant economic and social change in the region.

Firstly, the U.S. should immediately provide humanitarian assistance through prioritizing the Caribbean for vaccine distribution and additional COVID-19 assistance. Given that many Caribbean states lack the necessary human capital and financial resources to combat the devastating consequences of COVID-19, the continued allocation of vaccines and medical supplies would demonstrate goodwill and signal a valuable investment into strengthening the Caribbean’s healthcare infrastructure.

Secondly, the U.S should encourage Caribbean states to carry out bureaucratic reform within their governments. For decades, the Caribbean has been a haven for corruption and kleptocratic practices that have permeated local and national governments. Aligning with President Biden’s vigorous call to combat corruption both domestically and internationally, the U.S. should continue to collaborate with Caribbean governments towards eliminating corrupt practices. The State Department can do this by collaborating with regional NGOs and civil society anti-corruption organizations to create comprehensive education training programs focused on spreading awareness on corruption practices within Caribbean governments. The promotion of good governance would lay the groundwork for Caribbean states to function better as democratic societies and likewise reaffirm the U.S.’s position as a bulwark of democracy.

Thirdly, the U.S. should address regional economic stagnation. COVID-19 has required widespread deficit spending throughout the region, and climate-associated financial harm is projected to reach 10% of regional GDP by 2050, further damaging hopes of a sustainable economic environment. The Biden administration can modernize the Caribbean Basin Economic Recovery Act by ensuring that it allocates more funding towards industries such as local food production, digital technology and small business entrepreneurship. All of this would encourage Carribean countries to become more self-sufficient in their own right and fully participate in the global economy. Extra focus can also be given towards preserving the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative Act, which aims to distribute $75 million towards regional security, particularly in the areas of disaster mitigation, rule of law and climate resilience.

In March 2019, President Trump met with several Caribbean leaders in the U.S, and in October 2020, signed into law an extension of the Caribbean Basin Economic Recovery Act. However, regional diplomacy under the Trump administration faltered due to the failure to promptly appoint ambassadors to Caribbean states, which betrayed a lack of interest in Caribbean affairs. The Biden administration must not make the same mistake and personally meet and develop mutual bonds of trust with Caribbean leaders. Perhaps even a visit by President Biden or Vice President Harris (who also has Jamaican ancestry) to the region can go a long way in showing that the U.S. genuinely prioritizes its relationship with these countries.

If the U.S. does not reprioritize its relationship with the Caribbean, China will continue to build its influence in the region. As the Caribbean continues to succumb to Chinese influence, American strategic influence will continue to decline and risk losing its sphere of influence. However it looks, the U.S. ought to interact with the Caribbean with intentional diplomatic engagement that recognizes its value and worth.

News You May Have Missed

The United States Attribute Microsoft Cyberattack to Chinese-Linked Hackers

Liam Miller

On Monday, the U.S. government publicly blamed hackers affiliated with the Chinese government for the recent hack of the Microsoft Exchange Server that left thousands of organizations vulnerable to potential cyberattacks. The U.S., along with the European Union, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Japan and NATO, collectively criticized the Chinese Ministry of State Security (MSS) for using criminal contract hackers to carry out various cybercrimes. In March, Microsoft speculated that the Chinese-backed hacking group “HAFNIUM” was exploiting vulnerabilities in versions of its application. At the time the Biden administration indicated that it would work to attribute the cyberattack to the perpetrators but that the attribution process would be prolonged due to both the scale of compromises and desire needed to work with American allies to formally declare the charge. This was seen when the FBI, National Security Agency (NSA) and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency (CISA) collectively provided more than fifty tactics, techniques and procedures that are used by Chinese-backed hackers when staging ransomware attacks on international networks along with countermeasures that can be used against them. A U.S. official said that, “The U.S. and our allies and partners are not ruling out further actions to hold the PRC accountable. We are putting forward a common cyber approach with our allies and laying down expectations on how responsible nations behave in cyberspace”, a clear indication that though the U.S. government is not expected to take direct retaliatory action against the Chinese government, it is open to taking action in the future. Already in heated great power competition, these developments are expected to increase tensions between the U.S. and China.

Orban announces referendum on Hungarian anti-LGBTQ+ law

Maria Ruiz Del Monte

This week, Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán announced a referendum over the controversial child protection legislation, which targets LGBTQ+ expression in the name of protecting children. The referendum will consist of five questions, including whether Hungarians support the holding of talks on sexual orientation in public education centers without parental consent or whether media programs that influence children’s development shall be aired without restriction. Orban’s initiative seems to directly challenge the EU, considering that the announcement took place after the EU commission launched two infringement procedures. In addition, the leaders of 17 EU member states condemned the Hungarian law in a joint letter, arguing it undermined fundamental rights, using “the protection of children as an excuse to discriminate against people because of their sexual orientation.”

Orbán has not clarified whether the referendum’s result could mean an amendment to the law, approved last June with the absolute majority and his party’s support, which has governed for more than ten years.

U.S. Military Conducts a Drone Strike Against Shabab Fighters in Somalia

Annmarie Youtt

The U.S. military carried out airstrikes against al-Shabab leaders in Somalia for the first time in the Biden administration. When President Biden took office in January, he placed limitations on airstrikes outside of warzones. This was a step away from the previous administration’s broader rules of airstrikes. The strike took place near the town of Galkayo as the Qaeda affiliates attacked members of Danab, a U.S.-trained Somali commando force. This strike takes place as discussions are held on whether to reverse the Trump administration’s decision to remove US troops from the region. If this decision came to fruition, the U.S. would deploy a small amount of troops to southern bases where the al-Shabab hold is the strongest. The airstrike leaves open the possibility of the president taking a hard stand against these terrorist forces. It is a crossroads at which the U.S. has the daunting choice of how to respond to these threats in Somalia. President Biden will have to choose whether to reassemble or leave Somalia to its own devices.

The views of authors are their own and not that of CSPC.



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