Friday News Roundup–September 11, 2020

Greetings to you this Friday morning, on one of the most solemn days in American history. The scenes of September 11th define the memories of a generation with stories of sacrifice, bravery, and heroism. We honor the memory of all who were lost that day, and all those who served and sacrificed in the wars that followed. We also harken back to the memory of legislators of all parties gathered together — even if just for a moment — and recognize that America is strongest when united.

There are little signs of such unity today. Drumbeats of scandals, mudslinging, election interference, and a Woodward book are increasing in tempo, and the post-Labor Day “official campaign season” has only just begun. Polls will be dissected as soon as they’re released, though legitimate questions can be asked whether anything will swing the needle.

Perhaps the surest sign that the campaign season has replaced the governance season is the fate of the “skinny” Covid-19 relief bill. Since the bipartisan CARES Act passed in March, both parties have postured and waited. Democrats insisted on a $2.2 trillion plan, Republicans insisted on a $1 trillion plan, and the White House could not help them bridge the gap. This way, everyone gets to go to their constituents before the election and say that they tried to help but their rivals were the roadblock. Those constituents would probably rather that they had actually helped instead.

This week, in the Diplomatic Courier, Joshua reviewed Alan Feuer’s recounting of the epic saga of Chapo Guzmán from the height of his power to his new home in the Federal supermax prison in Colorado.

In this week’s roundup, Dan breaks down the ancient Chinese concept of the Mandate of Heaven and finds that it has lessons for governance today. Michael covers the latest uproar as Brexit is back in the headlines. Ethan looks at the intersection of space, cyberspace, and new 5G technology — and the security ramifications. As always, we wrap with news you may have missed.

The Mandate of Heaven

Dan Mahaffee

Flickr User Christopher Michel

Through centuries of Chinese imperial dynasties, the concept of a “Mandate of Heaven” was a cornerstone of Chinese political thought. Imperial ideology claimed that the emperor was the intermediary between the people and the divine, so chaos, famine, and rebellion indicated that divine favor had been withdrawn and the emperor had to be replaced. While western concepts similarly espoused the idea of the divine right of kings, the Mandate of Heaven accommodated the need for transitions if imperial leadership was found wanting.

In a modern democratic system — with elections, the rule of law, and institutional frameworks — the idea that an individual leader enjoys some natural, or supernatural, mandate seems outdated and superstitious. While the concept was couched in the terms of balance and natural order, the Mandate of Heaven also reflected a fundamental understanding of governance and how crises test both leaders and systems of government. In imperial China, where there was no concept of democracy or the peaceful transition of power, the collapse of dynasties in times of crisis or revolt represented such a transition afforded by the loss of the Mandate of Heaven. When a dynasty became too corrupt, sclerotic, and incapable of reform, it would be overtaken by the events for which it could no longer cope. It was less about the emperor, but the entire dynastic system and its bureaucrats and mandarins.

Today, from the Covid pandemic, to the unrest on American streets, to the fires engulfing the American west, the American system has faced challenges and has been found wanting. Looking at the lines at food banks or the dark, sooty, burnt orange morning skies of the Bay Area, the magnitude of the crises this nation faces are visible. At the same time, there are many other longer-term trends, some accelerated by the pandemic, that threaten to upend our concepts of work, leisure, interaction, and citizenship.

The 2020 campaign, reflecting the current state of our politics, is a referendum on President Trump and his leadership. To invoke the concept of the Mandate of Heaven in an election year invites the critique that this concept is being leveled solely against the current occupant of the White House. To do so fails to understand the systemic nature of the challenges we face. To use it to justify rebellion misses entirely that we have advanced from dynastic autocracy to rule by the ballot box. Rather, it should force us to think about how our politics effects our ability to deal with near-term crises—like a pandemic—or longer-term challenges ranging from climate change and inequality to a bloated, inefficient public sector and over-consolidation in key economic sectors.

The American political system has long demonstrated its ability to adapt and reform. While no system, nor human creators, could ever be considered perfect, the U.S. Constitution has served to balance powers, foster a system where “ambition counteracts ambition,” and expand the concepts and franchises of liberty to reflect the evolution and progression of our values. While imperfect, it allows us to be better. It cannot function when our politics become less about the management and maintenance of this system, and more about maintaining our partisan tribes. How can we address the challenges of the future when we continually relitigate decades-old cultural and political battles?

In this current election and its referendum-like nature, there is little oxygen for genuine debates about policy — let alone visions for wholesale reform. During the primary, candidates Pete Buttigieg and Elizabeth Warren seemed to have boldest and most thorough proposals for reform, yet ones that could also be criticized for an over-reliance upon and reverence for the regulatory state. Bloomberg News editor-in-chief John Micklethwait and The Economist political editor Adrian Woolridge took a different approach, looking back at two great 19th-century reformers: William Gladstone and Abraham Lincoln. They argue that a “President Bill Lincoln” would combine the visions, small-L liberal approaches, and reformist politics of the great Prime Minister and President to shake up and reinvigorate America. At the same time, not only are we absent Bill Lincoln, our current politics cannot achieve consensus on which challenges we face, let alone how to solve them.

The crises we see are the result of a system that found itself tested and failing. Short-termism, tribalism, and other malincentives warped our political system and our perception of politics. Even when we are most focused on politics, we are furthest from the answers of what is needed in governance. Messrs. Micklethwait and Woolridge point this out as they demonstrate how the governments of East Asia have become more dynamic and responsive while those of the west have ossified. If 2020 is a referendum on the individual to hold the Oval Office, the victor will face decisions that will define our future competitiveness, prosperity, and security.

In the Autumn, a Young Man’s Fancy Lightly Turns to Thoughts of Leaving the European Union without a Deal

Michael Stecher

Wikimedia Commons

Stop me if you have heard this one before. The United Kingdom is flirting with the idea of abandoning its Brexit negotiations with the European Union. Both sides are claiming that the other side has refused to make any relevant concessions, and it is time to figure out how to move forward without a deal. On both sides of the Channel, senior officials are making scary noises about a near-term future in which there is a meaningful international border between Northern Ireland (part of the UK) and the Republic of Ireland (part of the EU) and the parties only interact at an arm’s length.

In September 2018, Prime Minister Theresa May began to ratchet up the pressure on the European Union, threatening to crash the United Kingdom out of the European Union without a withdrawal agreement. It did not work. She came back to Parliament with a negotiated agreement that was too much for her minority government to take. She tried to pressure Parliament and they resisted. Her ministers demurred and she resigned.

In September 2019, Prime Minister Boris Johnson dialled up the pressure on the European Union, threatening to crash the United Kingdom out of the European Union without a withdrawal agreement. He went eyeball-to-eyeball with Brussels and both sides made some mealy-mouthed changes. Parliament was not thrilled, but Johnson held a trump card. He called for new elections and was returned to office with a substantial majority. The United Kingdom left the European Union at the end of January and the parties set a deadline of December 31, 2020, to finalize the outlines of a trade agreement that would govern the future relationship and trade in goods and services.

That was supposed to be the end of it! They were supposed to focus on dry-as-dirt technical topics and we were supposed to get on with the rest of our lives! COVID-19 happened and nobody had to care about Brexit anymore!

But no, here we are again.

This week, the UK government said that they were prepared to break international law — but only in a teensy weensy way. The European Union threatened to sue to stop them. The UK Attorney General, the top legal civil servant in government, resigned over it. Even Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi (D-Cal.) weighed in.

It feels like déjà vu, but there is less here than meets the eye. There are good reasons to believe that both sides are jockeying for position for the final deal that will require a few weeks of leader-level diplomacy to get done. The risk of miscalculation remains, but the winds are still blowing towards cooperation.

The largest outstanding economic issues are fishing rights — a very traditional trade negotiation topic — and state aid for industries. Earlier in the negotiations, the EU demanded that the UK abide by EU rules for subsidies for domestic businesses. They have since softened and merely wanted “common high standards” and a pledge that the UK would not act unilaterally to change its policy. The UK said no.

From Prime Minister Johnson’s perspective, this debate is over whether the UK has the freedom to develop a 21st Century industrial policy. The way they put it, the EU’s subsidy rules are locked in the 1970s when government policy was “picking winners and bailing out unsustainable companies with taxpayers’ money,” while the UK wants to “support new and emerging industries now and into the future.” The EU, by contrast, thinks that the UK will subsidize exporters to undercut European-based companies within the Single Market.

As a way to raise the pressure on this part of the negotiation, the UK government introduced a new bill to govern the rules of the country’s internal market, including the authorization for state aid to industries. Critically, however, this bill also adjusted the rules for Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland was The Big Issue that flummoxed years of Brexit negotiations for former Prime Minister May before the aforementioned mealy-mouthed compromise moved it off the agenda.

Northern Ireland is a big deal because, as part of the Good Friday Accords that ended the strife between Protestants and Catholics, the UK pledged to prevent the establishment of a meaningful border in Ireland. Brexit complicated that, but a compromise was reached where the territory would be sort of governed by both sets of rules. This new bill would reduce the extent to which goods shipped to Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK would be subject to inspection, making it harder for EU rules to be applied there. This might force the EU to undertake more screening at the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, exactly the kind of thing that is not supposed to happen under the Good Friday Accords.

Unilaterally changing the terms of an international agreement is the height of bad faith (as Prime Minister Johnson will remind you in other circumstances) and everyone — the EU negotiators, foreign exchange market traders, members of Johnson’s own party in Parliament, Nancy Pelosi — cried foul. As of yet, though, no Rubicon has been crossed and there is still at least a month for all of this to be walked back.

Last fall when Prime Minister Johnson played hardball with Brussels and Parliament, he held a strong hand. The leader of the opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, was historically unpopular, and Johnson appealed to traditional Conservative voters and disaffected Brexiteers of all parties. Now, however, the Labour Party has a new leader who is polling about even with Johnson. The economy was hit hard by COVID-19 and they are reinstituting restrictions because of new outbreaks. If he pushes domestic constituencies too hard, he will face an election that he very well might lose.

The Prime Minister has also been trying for months to demonstrate to EU negotiators that the UK can get along fine without them. Maybe they can create a light version of a political union with Canada, New Zealand, and Australia. Maybe they can sign a bunch of new trade deals to replace the lost export markets. But none of it really seems to have stuck. So now, with only a few weeks left, he has gone after an issue that will be explosive for internal constituencies and where the European Union has been in complete lock-step, where he is weakest and his adversaries are strongest. This sounds exactly like a bluff; in four weeks, the UK government can “trade away” this plan in exchange for some similarly half-hearted concessions from the EU and everyone can go along to get along. “Common high standards” sounds like exactly the kind of agreement that can mean whatever each side wants it to mean.

The risk here is that everyone is being a bit too clever this ime. If Johnson’s position weakens, he might fear that even this concession would weaken him too much with the hard-Brexit voters and stick to it. COVID-19 could continue to get worse in the UK and there might not be enough governmental bandwidth to get the deal done. If that happens, the UK will have poisoned its most important strategic relationships for absolutely no gain. Since that is a pretty good summary of the entire Brexit process to-date, we just cannot overlook that possibility.

5G and Space/Cybersecurity under SPD-5

Ethan Brown

An airman from the 707th Communications Squadron participates in a cybersecurity for space platforms contest–US Air Force Photo

Space Policy Directive-5 was released by the White House last week, and has been churning through the commercial and public sectors of cyber security since. Boldly, the directive does not establish regulatory parameters, but rather pressures commercial satellite operators to enable and facilitate hardened networks against 5G rivals capable of jamming and spoofing. Simply, the executive branch is pushing public (DoD) and private (Space-X, One-Web, Amazon) 5G players to integrate and collectively adopt stronger protection and security norms ahead of the Internet of Things (IoT) becoming more and more prevalent. The directive also recognizes the role of space infrastructure as an arena vulnerable to cyber doom — an idea for which I discussed options earlier this summer, which appears to have born viable fruit.

Cyber security and the IoT touches on a vast assortment of national security enterprises, which is why SPD-5’s standardization of best practices, aimed at public and private actors in the U.S. cyber industries alike, is a positive indicator in light of the seriousness for this domain. 5G will co-opt the cyber domain with existing communications architecture (secure and open source) and new gateways of communications for the defense department. Of course, this would be my obligatory Advanced Battle Management System tie-in, which the SPD-5 affects as the ABMS network will be hosted on whatever the DoD creates for its IoT infrastructure. The satellites that host the assortment of gateways and transit relays for secure ABMS command and control are a huge consideration under SPD-5, as both public (NSA/SDA) and private (Space-X Starlink) actors are heavily invested in bringing ABMS online and actualizing its potential.

This executive policy continues a positive trend towards hardening the rising 5G infrastructure against threats such as Huawei, among other efforts and calls for action regarding the Chinese tech threat and other malicious cyber and network actors. 5G is becoming increasingly embedded in the present systems chain, and both commercial enterprises as well as the Defense Department. Again, SPD-5 does not fill the regulatory gaps left by the FCC and Department of Commerce on communication nodes and remote sensing, it chiefly pushes private and public entities closer together in protecting the broader architecture.

The policy was applauded by the Space Force/NSA-Commercial Space INFOSEC Working Group (CSIWG), who emphasized that the new policy is a ‘wake up call’ across the industry where some players have been seemingly laissez-faire on securing network vulnerabilities. The Information and Analysis Sharing Center (Space-ISAC), an industry-led working group behind theorizing the policy, has identified 16 key areas of vulnerability. Many of these are space-related, cyber-dependent organizations and institutions whose openness to hostile actors was an untenable status quo.

SPD-5 outlines some best practices guidelines, some of which seem on-the-nose for anyone with a discerning concept of cybersecurity, but as with any common denominator, these were spelled out to the lowest order for mass consumption. These practices include:

Supply Chain Risk Management: sourcing from trusted suppliers; physical security of automated systems and nodes; identifying counterfeit, fraudulent or malicious equipment (fans of Ghost Fleet will applaud this practice).

Physical Security: hardening infrastructure nodes (satellites, ground stations, other space vehicles) against jamming/spoofing/signals manipulation; securing, authenticating and updating encryptions across enterprises

Risk Management: enabling mission execution up to entity risk-tolerance (thus avoiding risk aversion of previous space/cyber generations); mission tailoring and burden minimization

Information sharing: collaboration between entities on threats, warnings, attack profiles, and other malicious activity; coordination and incident reporting to the Information Sharing and Analysis Center; hygiene practices for reporting and information dissemination on emerging threats or threat activity.

So while SPD-5 is not yet an actualization of the telecommunications domain as a warfighting or national defense tool (frankly, space and cyber are much more complicated than that) it is a collaborative step in the right direction. The policy finally unifies the industry under a single good ideas banner that puts public and private players on the same sheet of music, which should streamline those counter-Huawei/CCP efforts to undermine our telecommunications systems going forward.

News You May Have Missed

In Dispute with City, Administration withholds FDNY 9/11 Health Money

Over the past four years, according to New York City officials, funds have been withheld from a Federally-funded program for the health of firefighters and EMTs with long-term health effects from the September 11th attacks. Citing a dispute with the city over other Federal funding, the U.S. Treasury has withheld $4 million from this account for FDNY first responders, even as members of New York’s Congressional delegation—including GOP Rep. Peter King—have unsuccessfully sought answers from the administration.

Carbon Emissions from Arctic Wildfires Greater than Malaysia’s

While fires in the American west have drawn our immediate attention, fires raging in the arctic and Siberia have raised even greater concerns from climate scientists given that northern woods and permafrost — now aflame — has served as a large carbon sink, trapping the greenhouse gas. Now, with the arctic on fire, that carbon is being released, and scientists now estimate that the emissions of the fires have already outpaced the carbon emissions of entire countries, and would rank higher than those of Malaysia or Spain on a global list.

Halt to Covid-19 Vaccine Trial

Oscar Bellsolell

The way towards finding an effective vaccine for COVID-19 will be no picnic. AstraZeneca, the world’s fifth-largest pharmaceutical company announced on Wednesday that they were suspending the clinical tests of their coronavirus vaccine prototype. A suspected adverse reaction in a participant has paused the trial for what many consider to be the most promising vaccine project. An investigation will now determine whether the vaccine is responsible for this unexplained reaction. Investigators have come forward to affirm that these test interruptions are ordinary in cases of suspected adverse reactions to guarantee the safety of the drug. The question now is how long will this delay the clinical trial tempo.

India & China Attempt to Lower Border Tensions

Following further tensions on the disputed Line of Actual Control, including the live gunfire in a zone where patrols are to be unarmed, Foreign Ministers from Beijing and Delhi met on the sidelines of a summit in Moscow. Tensions have continued as Chinese forces have pushed further along the disputed border, raising alarms about India’s military preparedness. India has retaliated by banning Chinese digital apps and exploring further economic restrictions.

Europe Seeks to Settle Migrants Displaced by Lesbos Fire

Over 13,000 people were living in squalor and a Covid-19 lockdown when fire broke out Wednesday in the Moria refugee camp on the Greek isle of Lesbos. The cause of the fire is under investigation, with some suspecting an accident from inside the camp and others questioning whether it was arson by those opposed to the migrants’ presence. Locals have blocked aid groups attempting to provide relief to those displaced by the flames, but European governments have announced that they will take an initial step by resettling 400 displaced and unaccompanied minors who are without shelter due to the conflagration.

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

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