Friday News Roundup — June 3, 2022

Welcome to this week’s Friday news roundup at the end of the first week of June. While those of us who live in DC have been sweltering in a heat wave this week, there is still plenty of news to discuss.

This week, the debate on gun control continues to dominate the national conversation. Mass shootings in Uvalde, Texas and Buffalo, New York last month were tragically joined this week by several high profile shootings in California, Iowa, Michigan, Oklahoma, and Tennessee, adding more impetus to the debate. On June 2, President Biden delivered a speech to urge a renewed ban on assault weapons, raising the minimum age to purchase a firearm, and a ban on high-capacity magazines. Those proposals have been deemed non-starters by Republicans in Congress and have expressed skepticism that limits on firearm purchases would prevent gun violence.

Elsewhere in DC and the world, the Biden administration unveiled a new package of sanctions on Russia in response to its invasion of Ukraine. These sanctions target a new set of Russian individuals closely affiliated with the Kremlin, including managers of Putin and his inner circle’s offshore wealth, as well as leading figures in Russia’s foreign ministry and state-run companies. Most notable among them are Maria Zakharova, the spokeswoman of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Severstal Chairman Alexei Mordashov, and Yuri Slyusar, the head of Russia’s United Aircraft Corporation. The new round of sanctions even targets the head of the yacht company which services the yachts of the Kremlin inner circle.

On the economic front, headlines about gas prices and baby formula contrast with continuing good news on jobs and wages. President Biden sat down with Fed Chair Jerome Powell in the Oval Office to discuss combatting inflation, but, to be fair, what is the inflation playbook coming out of a historic pandemic, massive government spending, and now a war between a major oil producer and a major grain producer?

For the Diplomatic Courier this week, the Mike Rogers Center for Intelligence & Global Affairs Director, Joshua C. Huminski reviewed Nelly Lahoud’s “The Bin Laden Papers”. Surveying some 6,000 pages of documents obtained during the raid that killed the leader of al-Qa’ida, Lahoud shows that there is still much to learn about the man, his organization, and the legacy of his movement–one with which we are still dealing today.

On May 31, CSPC Senior Fellow James Kitfield published an op-ed in The Hill on gun violence in America. In his piece entitled “America is drowning in a rising tide of mass gun violence,” Kitfield discusses the epidemic of gun violence in the United States and what can be done to counter it.

Friday, June 3 saw CSPC Senior Fellow Ethan Brown’s most recent op-ed “How Russia’s war with Ukraine has changed the face of military reconnaissance” be published by Task & Purpose. In it, Ethan discusses how military reconnaissance may look in the future based on the lessons we can draw from fighting in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Today’s roundup also includes our first contribution from our summer intern Yazmine-Gizelle Ali. Yazmine-Gizelle is a rising junior at Sewanee, majoring in Political Science with a minor in Women and Gender Studies. She is interested in researching and analyzing policy reform, especially concerning public health, maternal health and reproductive rights.

In this week’s roundup, Wes discusses NSA and U.S. Cyber Command head General Paul Nakasone’s admission that the United States has been conducting offensive cyber operations against Russia, Dan discusses the state of U.S. policy in the Indo-Pacific, Ethan analyzes Defense Department connectivity efforts, Hidetoshi examines how Japan has factored into U.S. Pacific policy historically and today; and Yazmine-Gizelle takes a look at how Africa opposes U.S. efforts to reform the IHR.

US Hints that it has Conducted Offensive Cyber Operations Against Russia

Wesley Culp

General Nakasone speaks at the 2017 Billington Cybersecurity Summit. (Wikimedia Commons)

Prior to this week, public and expert opinion on cyberwarfare surrounding Russia’s invasion of Ukraine seemed to be coalesced around the belief that these online operations had been much more muted than some expected before Russia had kicked off its invasion. However, an appearance in a Tallinn cybersecurity conference and interview given to Sky News by the Director of the U.S. National Security Agency and Commander of Cyber Command General Paul Nakasone revealed that the cyberwar around Ukraine could be much, much larger.

In his interview, General Nakasone confirmed that the United States has been engaged in offensive hacking operations in support of Ukraine defending itself from invasion by Russia, which he referred to as “hunt forward” operations. The NSA and Cyber Command head also praised Ukraine’s cyber resilience, which he pointed to as a reason why many outside observers may see Russia as relatively inactive in the sphere, despite having launched a variety of “attack[s] on [Ukrainian] satellite systems, wiper attacks […], and disruptive attacks against their government processes,” in the words of General Nakasone.

According to the Department of Defense and Cyber Command, “Hunt Forward” are those which see trained teams of cyber specialists deploy abroad in partnership with the host country in question to search for adversary cyber activity on their networks. In particular, these operations are designed to identify the cyber technologies and techniques of foreign adversaries such as Russia already at play in partner countries, thereby helping to insulate U.S. networks and cyber infrastructure from those same attacks. In his interview with Sky News, General Nakasone acknowledged that a U.S. “Hunt Forward” team had been present in Ukraine on the invitation of the Ukrainian government practically up until Russia’s invasion but were pulled out shortly beforehand.

In addition to “hunt forward” operations in Ukraine, the Department of Defense acknowledged that the first “hunt forward” operation in Lithuania had been conducted and concluded in May 2022. The Pentagon had also claimed that the US had conducted similar operations in 2020 in Estonia. According to General Nakasone, Cyber Command specialists have participated in “Hunt Forward” operations in as many as sixteen countries in total, which shows the wide reach of such operations.

Nakasone’s impactful interview is the latest iteration of a building debate on how aggressive U.S. cyber operators should be in countering Russia’s Ukraine invasion as well as in a broad, general sense. Significant debate between U.S. government agencies, the White House, and Congress exists on the appropriate level of freedom of action which should be afforded to the Department of Defense in conducting its cyber operations. The most recent articulation of this balance was promulgated by the Trump administration’s National Security Presidential Memorandum in 2018. Designated as NSPM-13, the memorandum delegates wide operational powers to the Department of Defense to conduct cyber operations with minimal oversight from the White House or other executive agencies like the Department of State. The Biden Administration has reportedly been considering an update of its own to American cyber doctrine, particularly that which would return a higher level State Department and White House operational control or oversight to Cyber Command’s operations. However, such rumors have sparked significant bipartisan rebuke from legislators such as Senator Angus King (I-ME) and Representative Mike Gallagher (R-WI), who advocate that the Department of Defense (and Cyber Command more specifically) have significant flexibility in launching cyber operations.

As of May, Russia has launched hundreds of cyber operations in its invasion of Ukraine, including around 40 which were destructive attacks on Ukrainian government websites and important sectors according to estimates by Microsoft. In addition to General Nakasone’s warning that the tempo of Russian cyber operations in Ukraine have been very high despite speculation to the contrary at the beginning of the invasion, others at NSA have attempted to strike a similar message. Speaking in May, NSA Director of Cybersecurity Rob Joyce conveyed his concern that Russia has been able to dial up pressure on Ukraine through a sustained cyber campaign that he worries could have ripple effects elsewhere in cyberspace. Joyce also raised concerns that vigilante hackers both supporting and opposing Russia’s invasion could expand violence in cyberspace to unwanted proportions.

General Nakasone’s surprising comments raise questions on the scope of U.S. Cyber Command’s operations in support of Ukraine. In particular, additional information will be needed to discern whether the U.S. role in the Russia-Ukraine cyberwar exceeds its support for Ukraine across other domains.

Walking an Indo-Pacific Tightrope

Dan Mahaffee

An early concern when Russia invaded Ukraine was that, once again, an administration’s emphasis on the Indo-Pacific’s strategic importance would be overshadowed. In this case the fear was Europe, but it is often the Middle East that has also served as the distraction. This time, however, the Biden Administration has continued to pursue strengthening our Indo-Pacific ties. The Quad has served as the cornerstones of this, deepening ties with Australia, India, and Japan. While this has been most important and apparent in the diplomatic and military discussions between the countries, there is also a need to strengthen economic ties.

That was much of the emphasis by President Biden during his trip to the region, and furthering the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) that is the crux of their economic approach to the region. Following the self-inflicted wound of withdrawing from the Transpacific Partnership, the United States has ceded trade leadership as China has become the region’s economic center of gravity. The nations in the TPP moved on with their own Comprehensive & Progressive Transpacific Partnership (CPTPP), while China joined with ASEAN and other regional players to create the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).

For the Biden administration, the challenge for their Indo-Pacific diplomacy — and specifically the IPEF — is that he is dealing with three adversaries: Russia, China, and Congress. Regarding Russia, measures in the Indo-Pacific have to reflect India’s continued, though shifting, alignment towards Moscow. While the aim is to counter China’s economic influence in the region, any deal with the ASEAN nations or even South Korea cannot go too far in needling China — hence why Taiwan was not included in the IPEF and separate bilateral discussions are underway. Finally, in Congress, progressives’ and populists’ misguided and backward thinking on trade means that any deal will lack the carrots of a trade deal like market access.

While the limitations of the IPEF came into focus, so too are the contours of the challenges and opportunities of strengthening the U.S.-India bilateral relationship as well as its role in the Quad/IPEF. India has long had a close relationship with Moscow, and we cannot assume that India will immediately align with our interests or be hectored into alignment. At the GLOBESEC forum in Bratislava today, Indian Foreign Minister Subramaniam Jaishankar called out Europe for staying silent when China raised tensions with India, as well as a mindset that “Europe’s problems are the world’s problem but the world’s problems are not Europe’s problems.” Yes, there are alignments with India in terms of shared democracy, but we cannot base policy on that alone. Demonstrating that our interests are aligned with India’s — and that India’s prospects are better aligned with us — will be the long-term play for strengthening the Quad and partnerships with India.

Similarly, the same is to be said for much of the broader Pacific, where China has made inroads influencing the Solomon Islands, Fiji, and elsewhere. How the IPEF can help with the development of these countries and provide meaningful investments in real and digital infrastructure is vital to countering China’s influence in the region — where frankly we are behind and losing the competition for influence.

The Biden administration has sought to put this together into a strategy, but too often the rhetoric has more to do with democracy and values than the cold realism of regional interests. That is not to say that we cannot champion our values. The region should never forget, especially with tomorrow’s anniversary of the massacre at Tiananmen Square, just what brutality upholds the Chinese Communist Party. Still, competence, consistency, and a demonstrated investment in the region are what is needed, and while the IPEF is a good step forward, it is only one step forward. Future influence will require a continued emphasis on making it easy to do business with the United States, to benefit from our economic system and technological innovations, and wielding these economic tools of influence along those of diplomatic, cultural, and military power.

What’s missing from DoD’s focus on connectivity

Ethan Brown

German, Italian, and American Soldiers plugged into EDGE ’22 exercise vignettes (U.S. Army photo via Defense News)

Heading into the Memorial Day weekend, the Army tried a proof of concept for its ambitious endeavors in connecting its fighting units into the DoD’s AlRGENCl-Domain Operations concept, dubbed “EDGE 22”, which is part of the PROJECT CONVERGENCE (PC) program. “PC” is the Joint All-Domain command and control concept which aims to fuse battlefield data across the entirety of the DoD, where the Air Force is pushing (and frankly, is light years ahead of the Army and Navy) it’s JADC2, and the Navy has offered “PROJECT OVERMATCH”. All three lines of effort, using service-branch allocated and discretionary funds, seek unprecedented connectivity at the lowest tactical levels of warfighting while also plugging higher echelons into the data-sharing architecture.

These programs, while critical for ensuring that the data-driven next war remains a capability gap which the United States military and its allies have the advantage in, still misses one key component of ensuring an advantage against a peer or near-peer adversary: the ability to function without connection. To be blunt, low-tech supremacy in a high-tech environment is how the greatest military in human history (us, no big deal) was…defeated is the wrong term…’outlasted’ by an adversary we didn’t understand — insurgencies and terror networks in Afghanistan, the Levant, across the expanse of the South Pacific and Africa.

That is certainly a controversial assertion, that we were defeated or out-lasted by an inferior force, but it remains the irrefutable reality that — despite our technological supremacy in both Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan — our dependence on weapons superiority proved to be a conceptual roadblock on the uphill road to fighting and winning modern warfare. I’ve penned thoughts on this controversial theory before, albeit a while ago and under a slightly different context. But as the big DoD machine continues to move towards connecting itself more deeply and dependently on signals, I grow concerned about the defense enterprises’ addiction to information and screens. I and the better minds than mine whom I’ve engaged on the topic will continue to refine the concept in detail (consider this column a teaser to a much more comprehensive strategy offering in the future), but the gist is simple: speed is based on simplicity. More moving parts means more pieces, all of which become invariably ‘critical’ to the simplest functions of the system writ large, which means more vulnerabilities…i.e. Fail points. People and their individual competencies are more important than the tech they use to do the job, something USSOCOM’s “SOF Truths” states ‘humans are more important than hardware’.

Let’s turn our attention back to the Experimental Demonstration Gateway Exercise (EDGE) ’22 and its part in Project Convergence. This particular exercise, which occurred at Dugway Proving Ground, Utah, was an aviation-centric exercise of the Army’s futures command and control architecture. Notably, this second iteration of the EDGE wargame included ground operators from German, Italian, and Dutch partner forces, operating on wavelengths of their own national sourcing to communicate with multiple aviation components from the U.S. Army inventory, as well as an entire maneuver unit from the 82nd Airborne Division (Fort Bragg). This year’s rendition was built around a European-theater scenario which included a “wet-gap” crossing, not-so-cleverly disguised preparation for ongoing aggression in and around the NATO neighborhood.

Several signals platforms were in play during the event, with the ‘gateway’ itself, the hub/domain for all connectivity as it were, being hosted by the Netherlands Joint Air-Ground Gateway. The Dutch hub was able to integrate with the American WINTAK (Windows Tactical Assault Kit — a super-refined Google Earth imagery suite which can stream full-motion aircraft sensor video and queue targeting data from a smart-phone) kits, which is a great leap forward as the biggest problem with defense tech — proprietary systems — transmitted across alliance barriers. Several roadblocks were smashed as well: during multiple coalition vignettes, unclassified security data from maneuver teams was streamed into the classified portal, parsed for relevance, and reshared in another unclassified end-user destination without compromise of the classified portal. This may not seem so triumphant, but it’s a huge deal when the volume of devices connecting to domain hubs — many of which receive different classification ratings — can degrade the latency and slow down the system as a whole. Moving through classification walls can slow this process even more (read, back in my day as a JTAC…we didn’t have systems that could jump from red to green and back, it was all one way traffic up the classification ladder).

Aviation is an important facet to note regarding EDGE ’22, because as my part of the roundup has explored in detail in previous entries, what the Army does with its future rotary wing (helicopters/vertical lift) is of immense significance with regards to everyone’s national defense worries: the Indo-Pacific and it’s daunting expanse. The ability to move personnel around a battlefield rose to new heights in GWOT, we rode helicopters pretty much everywhere. Helicopters are terrific vehicles for that kind of personnel mobility, but they present extremely vulnerable targets to a technologically-advanced adversary, and even in the dominated GWOT battle spaces, no shortage of helicopter assault forces dealt with adversary effects even when the HLZ was pronounced clean. EDGE ’22 sought to change how information was disseminated to Army aviation in real time, by streamlining data available to all affected units, regardless of uniform or nationality, airborne or rooted to the dirt.

So yes, the progress made in just one years time is impressive and worth praising, because technology is almost always going to portend warfighting advantages for any military. Artillery and camouflage had their impact on the First World War, logistics and air power impacted the Second World War, rapid mobility defined Korea, helicopters were Vietnam’s iconography, and precision weapons were the lynch-pin of the early 21st centuries wars. So the future war must have some new trinkets (or network of trinkets) to rebrand warfighting, right? Looking at what potential adversaries are queuing up — hybrid domains, information dominance, and most importantly, signals interference — the continued push to network the force should give some consideration for that vulnerability.

I’ve spent many contributions to this column praising the potential for All-Domain networks and capabilities, so admittedly, when I cover EDGE ’22 and then warn about over-dependence on connectivity, it seems a little counter-intuitive. There is a common thread though, and it is more about the human hardware than the technical gadgetry and whiz-gizmos of these exercises. The warning I would offer to defense strategists is that the JADC2 efforts remain (arguably) the most important investment the DoD can make to its inventory in the coming decades, making the operators of this hardware capable of performing their tactical responsibilities with and without these new systems is of the utmost importance. Simply, the gadgets are great, and they are certain to provide a kill-chain EDGE (pardon the pun), overreliance on technology has doomed more warfighting strategies than any other tactical blunder.

Enter the Washington System 4.0

Hidetoshi Azuma

(Wikimedia Commons)

US president Joe Biden’s first tour to Japan last week signified the consolidation of Washington’s new rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific based on the Free and Open Indo-Pacific vision. It also confirmed the onset of a new historical cycle of the US-led regional rules-based order, which first emerged as the Washington System after the Washington Naval Conference in 1922. For the last 100 years, Washington’s perennial geopolitical imperative for Asia, or most recently the Indo-Pacific has been the command of the sea, which served the dual purpose of ensuring US naval supremacy and exploiting China’s economic frontier. The original Washington System thus evolved in response to the changing character of US regional engagement. Against this backdrop, Biden’s three major accomplishments in Tokyo, namely the launch of the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF), the enhancement of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD), and Japan’s accelerating military normalization provided the contours of an emerging Washington System 4.0 designed to defend US command of the sea against China’s rise.

US geopolitical imperatives for the Indo-Pacific has invariably been the command of the sea in the region throughout its history. Although Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan famously preached the significance of the command of the sea for national wealth and global commerce in the late 19th century, the US had already been practicing the Mahanian naval doctrine in Asia. Indeed, US president Millard Fillmore’s 1853 naval mission to Japan led by Commodore Matthew Perry ultimately aimed to lay the foundation for gaining access to the Chinese market, which the British Empire had recently opened. The opening of feudal Japan was therefore a necessary strategic step to transform the Far Eastern archipelago into America’s regional anchor from which to extend geopolitical influence into Eurasia, particularly China. By the mid-19 century, the US had virtually achieved the command of the sea in Asia where its only naval rival was the British Empire. Yet, the outbreak of the Civil War at home led to the de facto absence of American power in Asia for decades until the US acquired the Philippines and Hawaii on president William McKinley’s watch in 1898 in its inexorable pursuit of the Open Door Policy for China.

The return of American power in Asia at the turn of the 20th century coincided with the unexpected rise of Imperial Japan’s naval might. Indeed, while the US retrenched from Asia during the second half of the 19th century, Imperial Japan had modernized its navy and defeated Qing Dynasty China in the decisive naval battle of Weihaiwei in 1895, acquiring Taiwan after the war. Imperial Japan continued to boost its naval power and defeated Russia in 1905 and Germany in 1919, leading to the sudden emergence of a vast maritime empire spanning across the Western Pacific. In particular, Imperial Japan’s designation as the South Seas Mandate by the League of Nations directly challenged US regional command of the sea by essentially severing the American naval line of communications between Hawaii and Guam. Moreover, post-WWI Imperial Japan’s maritime clout now extended into significant parts of both the first and second island chains simultaneously, increasingly threatening the Philippines, Guam, and, by extension, Hawaii.

Washington’s solution was the launch of a rules-based order in Asia under the banner of naval disarmament. US president Warren G Harding hosted the Washington Naval Conference with the express aim of countering Imperial Japan’s growing maritime ambitions and defending the US Open Door Policy for China. Harding’s brilliance lay in his shrewd use of international law to undermine Imperial Japan’s naval power with the uneven naval tonnage ratio and even the abrogation of the Anglo-Japanese alliance while simultaneously offering the rising Asian empire access to the emerging regional economy led by the club of the world’s foremost sea powers, including the US and the British Empire. Imperial Japan’s acceptance of Harding’s offer led to the birth of the Washington System, the first US-led rules-based order in Asia.

While Harding’s Washington System aimed to ensure US regional command of the sea with a rules-based order, its fundamental weakness lay in the total absence of enforcement mechanisms. In fact, after shaking hands with Washington in 1922, Tokyo immediately turned to China to recover the perceived economic loss incurred by naval disarmament. What followed was Imperial Japan’s growing thrust into Eurasia for strategic depth and concomitant economic gains, even leading to the normalization of diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union in 1922. Imperial Japan’s geopolitical adventurism in China directly challenged Washington’s Open Door Policy and undid the very foundation of the Washington System. Moreover, as the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) marched into China in earnest, the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) began preparing for an imaginary decisive battle with the US as early as 1923. Despite these ominous developments, the US failed to back its treaty commitments with its hard power. When the Washington Naval Treaty expired in 1936, Harding’s rules-based order effectively vanished without a trace, allowing Imperial Japan to roam across China and later assault the US command of the sea in Asia in 1941.

The emergence of the second Washington System occurred against the backdrop of Imperial Japan’s unconditional surrender. Washington’s solution to Imperial Japan’s naval challenges was to subdue the country into total submission followed by a regime change. A democratized and demilitarized Japan under American protection would serve as the foundation for the US-led post-WWII rules-based order in Asia. In other words, American power in Asia was now firmly anchored in Japan, extending its command of the sea throughout the region. Such near total control of Japan and the Pacific as a whole allowed the US to resist the Soviet Union’s incessant geopolitical thrusts into Asia despite the obvious divergence in the lengths of their lines of communications. Moreover, it also enabled the US to incorporate Japan into the Bretton Woods System and effectively underwrote the country’s postwar reconstruction and subsequent economic miracle. Postwar Japan’s economic ascendancy allowed Tokyo to regain its regional clout, albeit minus its military component, and provided a significant boost to the US-led ruled based order in Asia via its official development aid (ODA) programs. US control of Japan thus ensured its command of the sea during the Cold War while simultaneously de facto incorporating much of Asia into the Bretton Woods System.

Despite the astonishing success of the second Washington System in Asia’s postwar reconstruction, the system’s inherent contradictions ironically threatened the domestic economy of the US. One of such contradictions was the very nature of the US-Japan alliance in which Japan could focus entirely on its economy in exchange for yielding its sovereignty. As a result, the US increasingly found itself embroiled in regional wars while continuing to underwrite Japan’s economic miracle for no immediate benefit to its military operations or its economy at home. In other words, Washington’s near exclusive focus on Japan in its Cold War strategy paradoxically led it to disregard its unfinished geopolitical imperative of gaining access to the Chinese market. The solution was to bypass Japan and deal directly with China. President Richard Nixon’s historic opening of China was therefore a watershed moment in which the US finally thrusted its regional influence beyond Japan and fulfilled its century-old ambition for gaining access to the Middle Kingdom.

The third Washington System thus emerged in response to the opening of China. The new system adopted neoliberal economics and applied it first to Japan by seeking to offset trade imbalances. Indeed, the US and Japan found themselves in a fierce trade war in the 1980s and early 1990s, despite their robust military alliance. The collapse of the Soviet Union led Washington to mount additional economic pressure on Japan by seeking to fundamentally undo its postwar economic foundation through various neoliberal reforms. Washington’s ultimate prize, however, was China, which presented the foremost economic potential in the post-Cold War world. Indeed, Washington’s weakening of Japan’s economy went hand in hand with strengthening China’s by spurring the relocation of American industrial bases to leading Chinese cities. The significance of the third Washington System is that it appeared almost as if it totally lacked the military dimension. In other words, US command of the sea was so absolute that Washington could even toy with neoliberal ideals for Asia’s two leading powers virtually without any regard for geopolitical consequences. Indeed, both Japan and China were beneficiaries of US command of the sea which provided them with access to the global economy.

Yet, this very absence of the military dimension increasingly emerged to challenge the foundation of the third Washington System. China’s rise, especially its growing maritime ambitions, began to pose a serious threat to US command of the sea. Indeed, Beijing’s anti-access/area-denial (A2AD) capabilities in particular emerged to challenge the Mahanian focus on decisive naval battles at sea. Moreover, China’s unrestricted warfare ranging from financial warfare to mass economic espionage presented novel threats to US command of the sea, whose underlying assumption had always been naval preponderance. In other words, China’s rise categorically exposed the fundamental contradiction of the neoliberal third Washington System, which emerged as a rules-based order but paradoxically aimed to eliminate rules themselves for the sake of gaining market access.

Biden’s emerging Free and Open Indo-Pacific agenda looks to remedy such a structural flaw inherent in the third Washington System. His IPEF initiative, in particular, is therefore understandably loaded with various rules ranging from human rights to supply chain regulations. IPEF is a radical departure from the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement which Biden himself once promoted during the Obama years only a decade ago. Moreover, the other side of the coin in Biden’s regional strategy is the consolidation of QUAD, whose members are also party to IPEF. Notably, Japan is reemerging as a regional military power for the first time since WWII. Indeed, the Japanese prime minister Fumio Kishida echoed Biden’s pledge to defend Taiwan militarily at the US-Japan summit in Tokyo last week. The significance of Kishida’s statement is that Tokyo is increasingly finalizing its military normalization toward achieving offensive and even expeditionary capabilities. Moreover, such audacious political development is occurring on Wasington’s watch, thereby effectively removing the need for appeasing the domestic Japanese constituents. Therefore, Biden’s single most consequential achievement in Tokyo was the launch of a new US regional strategy confronting China by seamlessly interweaving economic and military dimensions for its emerging rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific. The measure of success of Biden’s agenda must be the prevention of China from becoming a sea power, a crucial geopolitical imperative the president’s predecessors in the 1920s and 30s failed to fulfill in their engagement with Imperial Japan.

What transpired in Tokyo last week was the revelation of the emerging contours of a fourth Washington System. It is the beginning of a new cycle in US grand strategy for the Indo-Pacific. The US geopolitical imperative for the region has been the command of the sea and remains unchanged since its first entry in the mid-19th century. Japan was once upset by US command of the sea but is now its indispensable ally in the region. Having fulfilled its abiding ambition for opening up China, the US is now confronting the rising China, which is ironically a product of the third Washington System. The chief imperative for Biden and his successors in the new cycle is the prevention of China from becoming a sea power challenging US command of the sea as Imperial Japan did almost 100 years ago. A fourth Washington System remains to be seen at this point, but Biden’s regional agenda looks to lay the foundation for a new US-led regional rules-based order in a new era.

Africa opposes US efforts to reform the IHR at the 75th WHA

Yazmine-Gizelle Ali

(Wikimedia Commons)

On Sunday, delegates from global health ministries gathered in Geneva, Switzerland for the 75th World Health Assembly (WHA) to discuss fundamental health issues. All 194 WHO member nations attended this week-long conference, which is the first in-person assembly following two years of virtual meetings due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

One of the most important topics that was discussed during the World Health Assembly (WHA) was the update to the International Health Regulations (IHR) from 2005. The IHR mandates that all nations must comply with a certain set of rules and regulations in order to detect threats to public health, take preventative measures, and act upon them. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the World Health Organization (WHO) and other states realized that the IHR from 2005 was not able to provide meaningful assistance to other nations. The United States took the initiative to lead the campaign to reform the IHR and proposed thirteen changes to the document. If accepted, these changes would allow for the establishment of a committee to monitor the implementation of regulations and the dispatch of expert teams to contaminated sites in the event of an emergency. Their major purpose was to reduce the time it would take to execute future modifications from 24 months to only 12 months. One of the many countries that stood in opposition to the goals the U.S. had set for the IHR was Africa.

Representatives from Africa voiced worries about these “limited” modifications. Moses Keetile, a Botswana health ministry delegate, stated on behalf of the African area at the meeting, “The African region shares the view that the process should not be fast tracked…” (Reuters). The U.S. strategy to expedite changes would result in members not taking the time to ensure that the reform is accessible and necessary to all, and would also prevent more member states from making provisions. Reforms to the IHR that are expedited would not be able to express clearly that every state must recognize dangers to public health, take preventative measures, and how to act accordingly. Africa opposes the U.S. intentions because they want to ensure that not only their nation is included, but that the laws and regulations may be applied to everyone.

Many leaders thought there was more behind Africa’s protests. They saw it as a ploy to get incentives on vaccines and drug-sharing from affluent countries. In January 2022, almost 96 million vaccine doses were transported to Africa.

To date, Africa has received more than 587 million vaccine doses, 58% through the COVAX Facility, 36% from bilateral deals and 6% through Africa Vaccines Acquisition Trust (AVAT) of the African Union…The slow uptake in COVID-19 vaccines in Africa requires global partners and countries to reset their programs. WHO, UNICEF, IFRC and other partners are scaling up efforts to overcome hurdles, improve coordination and speed up vaccination drives…”

The primary reason for Africa’s objection to the US plan to modify the IHR is not simply vaccination incentives, but also vaccine equity. African leaders have urged for vaccination parity across all states, referring to the fact that Africa has administered the fewest vaccines of any continent, relying mostly on bi-lateral and multilateral donations. Only 6% of the 587 million vaccinations obtained by Africa via AVAT, which operates as a centralized buying agency on behalf of African Union (AU) Member States to procure vaccines. At the Berlin Summit in 2021, German Chancellor Angela Merkel stated, “The availability as well as the production of the vaccines is linked to the economic wellbeing of the African continent and when we see today that we have vaccinated more than 60% of our population and that it is 2% in Africa, it is of course a dramatic injustice which we which we need to overcome’’. Since the beginning of their independence, Africa has been receiving assistance and aid from other affluent countries. As any nation would like to be able to rely completely on itself, Africa is striving to repair its reputation of being impoverished by getting more active in vaccine procurement.

During his remarks, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus declared ​​”It’s certainly not over. I know it’s not the message you want to hear, it’s not the message I want to give, (…) but it’s not over until it’s over in every country (…) not over before vaccines reach the poorest countries”. For the globe to recover fully from the impacts of COVID, all nations must engage in globalization, which promotes international engagement, communication, and commerce. This would entail nations communicating their COVID test, vaccination, and mortality rate surveillance. It would encourage nations to exchange COVID-eradicating vaccines.

The elimination of smallpox in 1980 illustrates that globalization is essential for decreasing health inequities. Despite the height of the Cold War, the U.S. CDC and the Soviet Union’s Institute of Virus Preparations collaborated to disseminate a smallpox vaccine to underdeveloped nations. Demonstrating that it is feasible for countries to engage in globalization while yet prioritizing their own desires. Africa’s objection to the U.S. plan was not only intended to illustrate that you cannot fast track the IHR reform, but also to demonstrate that vaccination disparity is a relevant problem.

News You May Have Missed

Sweden to Supply Additional Military Aid to Ukraine

In a June 2 announcement, Swedish Finance Minister Mikael Damberg and Defence Minister Peter Hultqvist announced a new package of military and economic aid which Russia planned to give to Ukraine. The military aid package is slated to include deliveries of anti-ship missiles, anti-tank weapons, and rifles. Previous Swedish aid deliveries to Ukraine announced in February and March were mostly made up of body armor and helmets, as well as anti-tank rifles which will again be delivered in the next package. The fund allocation proposal submitted to the Swedish Parliaments to facilitate the transfer of aid is slated to add an additional $102 million in spending if approved. Sweden joined Finland in officially applying to join NATO following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which radically changed Sweden’s domestic discourse on defense and international security.

Estonian Government Coalition Collapses

Estonia’s government collapsed on June 3 after Prime Minister Kaja Kallas asked President Alar Karis to dismiss the seven ministers in her governing coalition from the Centre Party. The immediate trigger for the decision appears to have been the Centre Party’s opposition to a preschool education bill proposed by her Reform Party. However, tensions between the two members of the governing coalition appear have been simmering for some time, as Prime Minister Kallas has pointedly criticized Centre for what Reform claims as working with the right-wing EKRE party in parliament to soften Estonia’s support for Ukraine and opposition to Russia in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

UN reports drought threatens starvation in the Horn in Africa

On May 31, the United Nations and many humanitarian organizations reported that the Horn of Africa, which encompasses Ethiopia, Somalia, and Kenya, is facing the worst drought in 40 years. According to the UN, this drought might result in a fifth consecutive failed rainy season, threatening those nations’ food supplies and taking lives, as famine did a decade ago. The UN and other organizations have declared that immediate action is required to save lives, prevent famine, and death. Current pleas and changes to help end the drought in the Horn of Africa, however, are severely underfunded.

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



CSPC is a 501(c)3, non-partisan organization that seeks to apply lessons of history and leadership to today's challenges

Love podcasts or audiobooks? Learn on the go with our new app.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store