PRISM  Volume 9, no 1

PRISM Vol. 9, No. 1

(October 2020)

Though Great Power Competition (or GPC) dominates the current national security discourse, the United States is a global power with global interests. In addition to GPC, PRISM V.9,N.1 offers insight on the future of NATO, on U.S. engagement in Africa, and on emerging technology domains of competition such as quantum computing, 5G technology, and influence operations. Read American and South East Asian perspectives on competition with China, as well as Huawei’s rejoinder to "The Worst Possible Day: U.S. Telecommunications and Huawei," from PRISM V.8,N.3.

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“A geopolitical competition between free and repressive visions of world order is taking place in the Indo-Pacific region.”
National Security Strategy of the United States of America, 2017. (Staff Sgt. D. Myles Cullen (USAF), 22 March 2007)

The Essence of the Strategic Competition with China

By Michael J. Mazarr

U.S. national security strategy and defense policy have come to focus on China as the primary emphasis in the “strategic competition” outlined by recent U.S. strategy documents. Outside government, an avalanche of recent reports and essays lays out the China challenge in sometimes fervent terms, depicting an ideologically threatening revisionist state with malign intentions. As the Financial Times columnist Martin Wolf put it recently, “Across-the-board rivalry with China is becoming an organizing principle of U.S. economic, foreign and security policies.

2019 NATO Days strengthen alliances, partnerships; Ostrava, Czech Republic, 21 September 2019, attended by over
200,000 thousand visitors. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Alexandria Lee)

Rediscovering a Strategic Purpose for NATO

By Peter Ricketts

Watford is at first sight an unlikely place for a gathering of world leaders. This nondescript suburb to the north of London found itself briefly in the media spotlight one chilly afternoon in December 2019. Boris Johnson had taken time out from his election campaign just before polling day to host a meeting of NATO leaders. It was intended to be a signal of allied unity in the 70th anniversary year of the 1949 Washington Treaty.

(Eduard Muzhevsky)

The Evolution of Authoritarian Digital Influence: Grappling with the New Normal

By Shanthi Kalathil

As the world contends with the wide-ranging ramifications of the global COVID-19 pandemic, it has been simultaneously beset by the global information crisis, which mimics the shape of the pandemic itself in its viral effects across huge segments of the global population.

Mozi, or Micius, named after the famous 5th century BCE Chinese scientist, is the first quantum communications satellite
launched by China on August 16th, 2016; Illustration of the three cooperating ground stations (Graz, Nanshan, and
Xinglong). (University of Science and Technology of China)

Quantum Computing’s Cyber-Threat to National Security

By Steve Grobman

Quantum computing has the potential to bring tremendous advancements to science, including biology, chemistry, physics, and many other disciplines. The practical application will empower a stronger defense against future pandemics similar to COVID-19, not only in the acceleration of the development of vaccines and treatments, but also in optimizing currently unsolvable logistics problems such as how to deliver and route vaccines. In computer science, the “traveling salesman problem” shows it is impractical to find the optimal shortest path to visit cities once the list grows to even a few dozen. This same challenge in delivering vaccines to rural areas during a pandemic is exactly the type of problem that quantum computing will be well suited to solve.

Airmen stationed at Nigerien Air Base 101 in Niamey, Niger, and Nigerien Air Base 201 in Agadez, support partner forces and international efforts to counter violent extremist organizations. (USAFRICOM)

No Competition Without Presence: Should the U.S. Leave Africa?

By Katherine Zimmerman

American blood and treasure should be prioritized to secure U.S. national interests. The United States military is not the world’s police force, and where others can share the burden, the United States should add only its unique capabilities. But defending U.S. interests extends even into faraway lands, including Africa. While Africa may never be a top national security concern for the United States, a convergence of gains by state and nonstate actors alike there affect U.S. security and economic interests globally. Yet the Pentagon’s recent effort to rebalance its resources against great power competitors—especially China and Russia—after almost two decades of counterterrorism dominance places the commitment of U.S. military resources to Africa in question. Drawing down too far militarily in Africa risks losing influence on the continent to those very same state actors, erasing hard–fought counterterrorism gains, and compromising U.S. global interests.

People’s Liberation Army troops prepare for a parade in September 2017 commemorating the PLA’s 90th anniversary. (Defense Intelligence Agency 2019)

China’s Strategic Objectives in a Post-COVID-19 World

By Benjamin Tze Ern Ho

On 1 October 2019, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) celebrated its 70th birthday, thus marking another important landmark of modern China under the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). In commemorating the event, the Chinese government held a grand military parade with some 15,000 troops, more than 160 aircraft, and 580 active weapon systems during the event, including the latest generation nuclear missile systems such as the Dongfeng-41 mobile intercontinental ballistic missile. As the South China Morning Post reported, citing one insider, “the parade, which aims to showcase President Xi’s achievement in military modernization and reforms in both hardware and software will carry a lot of political meaning.” Given ongoing social protests in Hong Kong and problems in western societies at that time (such as Brexit talks in the UK and political opposition to President Trump in the United States) the contrast could not have been more stark: A powerful and prosperous China celebrates its international success while many western societies fail and flounder amidst their own domestic problems.

ZAMBATT V, the fifth iteration of troops from the country of Zambia to go in support of the United Nation’s Multidimensional Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA), spent more than six weeks working with U.S., U.K., and French partners training and preparing for their mission to CAR.” (MC2 (SW/AW) Evan Parker)

International Competition to Provide Security Force Assistance in Africa: Civil-Military Relations Matter

By Jahara Matisek

Western states increasingly tackle the problem of state fragility in Africa through the delivery of security force assistance (SFA). What is SFA and why does it matter?  Broadly speaking, SFA is a term used to describe the provision of military aid, advisors, and resources to a fragile state, so that the armed forces of that state can provide security in support of stability. SFA typically consists of the deployment of small numbers of military advisors and resources to a fragile or weak state to build effective armed forces. However, such efforts are often overly technical and rarely address the political and institutional problems that create insecurity and the fragmented security organizations of that state (e.g. police, military, intelligence, etc.). Worse, in some cases, such SFA has only created the veneer of military effectiveness, known as the Fabergé Egg army problem; an expensively built military, but easily broken by insurgents.

By 2035, 5G will enable $13.2 trillion in global economic output, or the equivalent of adding 5 percent to global GDP. (Bill Oxford)

Don’t Trust Anyone: The ABCs of Building Resilient Telecommunications Networks

By Andy Purdy, Vladimir M. Yordanov, and Yair Kler

The January issue of Prism carried an article titled “The Worst Possible Day”1 that included a discussion of the implications for the United States of banning Chinese company Huawei from networks that the United States and its allies rely on for national security-related communications. A supporter of the ban, the author, Thomas Donahue, emphasized the critical importance of using equipment from trusted sources in U.S. telecom infrastructure and that of its allies. He argued that the consequences of not doing so could be catastrophic when the United States needs to project power, or convincingly threaten the use of force, such as during a military conflict. The article concluded that the United States needs to seriously consider how to assure the use of trusted alternatives to Huawei equipment, whether by supporting the development of a U.S.-based manufacturer or consortium, or spending tens of billions of dollars to acquire either or both the manufacturers Nokia and Ericsson, or investing significantly in the two Nordic firms.

Zheng He’s fleet (Bruno Zaffani via Flickr)

Is China Expansionist?

By Kishore Mahbubani

The Chinese soldier who pushed the Indian Colonel Santosh Babu (who tragically died) and thereby triggered the violent clash between Chinese and Indian soldiers in mid-June 2020 should be court-martialed. Both sides suffered casualties, the worst since 1975. This one push by one Chinese soldier has set back China-India relations severely, undermining all the good work that had been done over several years by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Premier Wen Jiabao, as well as by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping. Equally importantly, it has reinforced a growing belief, especially in the western world, that as China’s economy becomes stronger and stronger, China will abandon its “peaceful rise” and behave as a militarily expansionist power. This could well happen. It would be naive to believe otherwise. However, a deep study of Chinese history and culture would also show that the continuation of a peaceful rise is equally plausible.


An Interview with General Joseph Votel, USA (Ret)

Reviewed by Michael Miklaucic

First and foremost, we have largely blunted the platform that was used to attack our country on 9/11, and our military operations there have ensured that the area cannot be used as a location from which to attack our citizens or our homeland. We certainly have accomplished that. I think we have also provided the opportunity for the Afghan people to move forward in their own way; to exercise self-rule, for example. It has certainly been a very difficult path and it will continue to be as we move forward. It is not an easy situation, but I think we have provided the opportunity for them to become a more stable part of the Central Asian scene, and hopefully not be a platform from which terrorist organizations or other elements of instability can continue to impact the people of Afghanistan or others in the region.

Book Review

Exercise of Power

Exercise of Power

Reviewed by James Stavridis

I first met Secretary Gates in the summer of 2006, when he was President of Texas A&M and had been invited to the Pentagon to meet with my boss, Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld. I was a newly selected 3-star Vice Admiral, and knew all about him, of course, as a career CIA officer who went on to lead the Agency before retiring and heading into academe, first as Dean of the Bush School and then as President at Texas A&M. When he came into my small office outside the vast Secretary of Defense office, I started to usher him in immediately, but he spent several minutes asking me about myself, how long I had been with Secretary Rumsfeld, where I had been before my current job. It was friendly and engaging conversation, but you could feel that spymaster’s gaze sizing you up and filing the conversation away. I thought to myself, I would like to work for him someday—never considering it would happen. I sure wasn’t going to get out of the Navy and move to Texas.

The Return of the Russian Leviathan

The Return of the Russian Leviathan

Reviewed by

Sergei Medvedev, Professor in the Faculty of Social Sciences at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics, is a fox; a thoroughly modern, or perhaps I should say, post-modern fox. Isaiah Berlin would understand. The British historian of ideas wrote a paradigmatic essay on Russian literature, “The Hedgehog and the Fox,” in which he contrasted Tolstoy the fox, with Dostoevsky the hedgehog. As Berlin explained, the hedgehog knows one big thing, but the fox knows many things.

The Dragons and the Snakes

The Dragons and the Snakes

Reviewed by Carter Malkasian

Every few years David Kilcullen publishes an insightful book that inspires new thinking in the U.S. armed forces and becomes a standard reference for all manner of strategies, operational plans, and concepts. The Australian anthropologist, former army officer, and conflict zone observer has a unique talent for capturing global dynamics in warfare and explaining them to a wide audience. In 2009, it was The Accidental Guerrilla: Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One. In 2013, it was Out of the Mountains: The Coming Age of the Urban Guerrilla. His newest, The Dragons and the Snakes: How the Rest Learned to Fight the West, repeats the feat in a timely book for the re-emerging multipolar world.