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War in a Time of Global Upheaval
Russia collapses. China decides.
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The Institute for the Study of War isn’t a newsletter, but they put out daily updates on the Russo-Ukraine war.
Here’s what they had to say for March 18:
Ukrainian forces conducted a major successful counterattack around Mykolayiv in the past several days, and Russian forces continued to secure territorial gains only around Mariupol on March 18. Russian forces face growing morale and supply problems, including growing reports of self-mutilation among Russian troops to avoid deployment to Ukraine and shortages of key guided munitions. . . .
Ukrainian forces likely conducted a successful counteroffensive against Russian forces around Mykolayiv in the past several days.
The ability of Ukrainian forces to conduct a successful major counterattack indicates Russian forces attempting to encircle Mykolayiv likely overstretched, and Russian forces are unlikely to have the capability to resume offensive operations toward Odesa in the near term.
Russian forces did not conduct any offensive operations northwest or northeast of Kyiv on March 18.
Russian forces continue to make steady progress reducing the Mariupol pocket.
Ukrainian forces halted a Russian attempt to advance southeast of Kharkiv, through the city of Izyum, in the past 24 hours. Russia is deploying additional reserves to reinforce the Kharkiv axis of advance.
Russian and proxy forces made minor territorial gains north of the city of Severodonetsk in Luhansk Oblast and will likely assault the city itself in the next 24-48 hours.
I find most of the territory-control maps that are passed around to be unhelpful—pink shading does not convey what “control” means on the ground. But ISW does detailed map insets, which help give a sense of the macro state of play in various local theaters. For instance:
Read the whole thing and bookmark ISW for daily check-ins.
2. Noah Smith
Last week he did a long post about the series of consequential choices China is facing, all at once:
China’s stock market is in absolute chaos, suffering its worst crash since 2008. . . .
As the ever-excellent Shuli Ren reports, many Western investors are questioning the value of being exposed to a country whose economic policy seems to lurch wildly and unpredictably. U.S. institutional investors have drawn down their holdings of Chinese stocks by almost a third, while some people in the finance industry are calling the country “uninvestable”. Marc Andreessen wondered aloud whether Westerners who hold Chinese shares really own anything at all:American investor in Chinese company: $ -> VIE -> contract in the Cayman islands -> theoretical economic claim in China -> Chinese company -> Chinese securities regulator -> Chinese courts -> CCP controls everything in China. What do you own, exactly?
In fact, I think all of these factors are likely to be part of the story, but each only grabs one piece of the proverbial elephant. More fundamentally, I see China at a crossroads, facing a basic choice about what kind of country to be. Economic upheavals, investor concerns, and geopolitical uncertainties all really radiate from the bifurcation of China’s future into two possible paths.
This bifurcation is the result of four crises facing the Chinese: “Russia, industrial crackdowns, Covid, and real estate.”
And these crises have accelerated the timetable for China having to decide which way it wants to roll:
The liberal global order involves things like universal human rights, the inviolability of national borders, freedom of the seas, a taboo against wars of choice, a preference for democracy as a system of government, and the right of small nations not to be dominated by big ones. This system of values and the accompanying institutions that protect it have served the world very well since its creation in the wake of the Second World War, bringing about an era of relative peace and an unprecedented period of broadly shared economic development.
This order is not a euphemism for American power (or American/European power, or Anglosphere power). There’s no reason China can’t be the world’s most powerful country under a liberal global order. But the order does restrain China from doing certain things that its leaders and its nationalists desire — conquering Taiwan, claiming the whole of the South China Sea, and so on. And it does make it harder for Xi Jinping and Chinese nationalists to build the kind of society they seem to want — one where obstreperous minorities and dissidents are crushed with the heavy hand of the state, and where the activities and lifestyles of the broad populace are carefully policed.
So China has to decide if it wants to become the most powerful nation in the world under a liberal world order? Or if it wants to overthrow the liberal world order.
Jeff Stein runs a newsletter crowdsources by a crew of veteran reporters from old-school media outlets. I say that to establish some bona fides in the hopes that this dispatch about how compromised the U.S. intel community may be scares the crap out of you:
An internal U.S. intelligence messaging system became a “dumpster fire” of hate speech during the Trump administration, a veteran National Security Agency contractor says. And it’s “ongoing,” another Defense Department contractor tells SpyTalk.
Dan Gilmore, who was part of a group overseeing internal chat rooms for the Intelink system for over a decade starting in 2011, says that by late 2020 the system was afire with incendiary hate-filled commentary, especially on “eChirp,” the intelligence community’s clone of Twitter.
“I was the admin of this application and after a couple years, it became a dumpster fire,” Gilmore, a 30-year veteran of Navy and NSA cryptologic systems, wrote Thursday in an extraordinary public post on his own web site. “Professionalism was thrown out the window, and flame wars became routine.” . . .
Another NSA contractor told SpyTalk that the hate speech started in 2016 after Trump’s election and is “ongoing.” Trump’s followers in the agency get away with professional indiscretions, some of them serious, while others get dismissed for minor infractions, this person said on condition of anonymity.
“We literally had folks get their clearances burned for time card discrepancies while pro-MAGA types might have multiple DUIs, foreign contacts, and (in one case) vehicular homicide,” the source said. “They were kept working while others were let go.”
Extremist groups have made inroads in U.S. military and police units, experts say. Intelligence sources have told SpyTalk over the past several months that pro-Trump fervor is centered in special operations and hostage rescue units.
And then think about how a second insurrection might go with better planning and more coordination at the lower levels of government.
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