China, Russia Building Attack Satellites and Space Lasers: Pentagon Report

By Patrick Tucker
Technology Editor
February 12, 2019

The DIA says Chinese lasers could be ready to disable U.S. satellites in low Earth orbit by next year.

China and Russia are developing lasers and a host of other anti-satellite weapons, according to a new Defense Intelligence Agency report that fleshes out concerns that Pentagon leaders have been highlighting for years.

“Both states are developing jamming and cyberspace capabilities, directed energy weapons, on-orbit capabilities, and ground-based anti satellite missiles that can achieve a range of reversible to nonreversible effects,” the report said.

Both also maintain networks of telescopes, radars, and satellites to track, characterize — and perhaps even target — U.S. satellites that watch enemy movements and missile launches, the report said.

It also includes a helpful graphic of various anti-satellite satellites that may one day exist.

An illustration of potential satellite threats, from the Defense Intelligence Agency

China is “likely” building anti-satellite laser weapons and may already have a “limited capability to employ laser systems against satellite sensors,” says the report. DIA estimates that China will deploy a terrestrial laser that can shoot down satellites in low Earth orbit by 2020 and may be able to hit targets in geostationary orbit “by the mid-2020s.”

China is also developing satellites that can perform on-orbit inspection — basically satellites that can repair other satellites, which is cheaper than replacing them. The United States is also developing on-orbit repair capabilities. But the report notes that “at least some [repair satellites] could also function as a weapon. China has launched multiple satellites to conduct scientific experiments on space maintenance technologies and it is conducting space debris cleanup research.”

Russia is also developing laser weapons to target adversary satellites. The DIA report said, “Russia began delivering a laser weapon system to the Aerospace Forces that likely is intended for an [anti-satellite] mission.”

Russia, too, is heavily invested in space-based attack satellites, the report said. “In 2017, Russia deployed what it described as an ‘inspector satellite capable of diagnosing the technical condition of a Russian satellite from the closest possible distance’; however, its behavior is inconsistent with on-orbit inspection activities or space situational awareness capabilities.”

In many ways, Russia’s space prowess has been overhyped, according to Mikhail Kokorich, a Russian ex-patriot and space entrepreneur who lives in California. But the threat from Russian space weapons is very real, he says.

“For sure, they are developing” space-based attack satellites Kokorich told congressional staffers at a lunch on Capitol Hill on Monday. He said that while Russia can afford to spend only a fraction of what the United States spends on space research, attack satellites are well within their current capabilities, as Russia has deep, technical knowledge on space-based propulsion.

“Technically, Russia has all it needs,” he said.

Kokorich speculated that Russian and Chinese might join forces to build space weaponry, bringing complementary assets and deficiencies. Russia, for instance, inherited from the Soviet Union a deep expertise in life support systems for manned space flight, staged combustion rocket engines, and even nuclear fission power systems. However, it has largely lost any ability to produce space avionics or electronic systems, which China could help with.

Kokorich said this is unlikely, as Russia regards China even more warily than it does the United States.

Patrick Tucker is technology editor for Defense One. He’s also the author of The Naked Future: What Happens in a World That Anticipates Your Every Move? (Current, 2014). Previously, Tucker was deputy editor for The Futurist for nine years. Tucker has written about emerging technology in Slate, The Sun, MIT Technology Review, Wilson Quarterly, The American Legion Magazine, BBC News Magazine, Utne Reader, and elsewhere.

Source: Defense One “China, Russia Building Attack Satellites and Space Lasers: Pentagon Report”

Note: This is Defense One’s article I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the article’s views.


Russian, Chinese lasers threaten US satellites: Pentagon

Washington: February 12, 2019 11:16 IST
Updated: February 12, 2019 12:19 IST

The report titled, “Challenges to Security in Space”, examines Russian, Chinese, Iranian and North Korean space capabilities, CNN reported.

A new Pentagon report has warned that China and Russia were both developing space capabilities to threaten the US, including lasers that could target and destroy American satellites.

“China and Russia, in particular, are developing a variety of means to exploit perceived US reliance on space-based systems and challenge the US position in space,” the Defence Intelligence Agency report said on Monday.

The report titled, “Challenges to Security in Space”, examines Russian, Chinese, Iranian and North Korean space capabilities, CNN reported.

US satellites play a critical role in everything from navigation, weapons targeting and intelligence gathering, including keeping tabs on North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme and monitoring Russian and Chinese military activity.

They also house sensors involved in detecting enemy missile launches.

The report has detailed a variety of Russian and Chinese anti-satellite weapons, including electronic warfare systems, directed-energy weapons and “kinetic” anti-satellite missiles.

It said both Beijing and Moscow were “likely” pursuing “laser weapons to disrupt, degrade, or damage satellites and their sensors”.

“China likely will field a ground-based laser weapon that can counter low-orbit space-based sensors by 2020, and by the mid-to-late 2020s, it may field higher power systems that extend the threat to the structures of non-optical satellites,” the report said.

President Donald Trump’s administration is actively considering placing advanced sensors in space as part of its recent Missile Defence Review, which was unveiled last month.

The report warned that China also has an operational missile capable of hitting satellites in low-Earth orbit while Russia is in the process of developing one.

Source: The Hindu “Russian, Chinese lasers threaten US satellites: Pentagon”

Note: This is The Hindu’s report I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the report’ views.

Russia seals position as top crude oil supplier to China, holds off Saudi Arabia

January 25, 2019

BEIJING/SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Russia came in as China’s largest crude oil supplier in December, cementing the top spot for all of 2018 for a third year in a row ahead of rival Saudi Arabia, customs data showed on Friday.

Imports from Russia reached 7.04 million tons, or 1.658 million barrels per day, in December, up 40 percent from 5.03 million tons a year earlier, according to the data from the General Administration of Customs.

For the full year, Russian imports rose to 71.49 million tons, or 1.43 million bpd, up 19.7 percent from 59.7 million tons in 2017.

Demand for Russian crude was supported by a rise in throughput by China’s private refiners, who favor Russian grades such as ESPO, while geopolitical uncertainties also forced China to import less from countries such as Iran and Venezuela.

Russian oil giant Rosneft has also marketed its ESPO grade more aggressively, signing new long term supply deals with state oil companies such as ChemChina and PetroChina.

Saudi Arabia supplied China with 6.97 million tons in December, or 1.64 million bpd, up 48 percent from 4.71 million tons a year earlier.

For 2018, OPEC’s top supplier boosted shipments to China by 8.7 percent to 56.73 million tons, or 1.135 million bpd.

That means Russia’s lead over Saudi Arabia in supplying China almost doubled to 295,000 bpd in 2018 from 150,000 bpd a year earlier.

U.S. shipments to China – which have been hit by a trade war between the two nations – came in at zero in December. Imports for 2018 were up 24.8 percent from 2017 at 245,616 bpd.

Chinese oil trader Unipec plans to resume U.S. crude shipments to China by March, Reuters reported in December.

Venezuelan supplies to China tumbled 24 percent in 2018 to 16.63 million tons, or 332,600 bpd, after the OPEC member’s production fell to a seven-decade low amid a lack of investment, mismanagement and fleeing workers.

Iranian imports were at 2.14 million tons in December, or 503,896 bpd, down 12 percent from a year earlier.

Full year Iranian imports dropped to 29.274 million tons, or 585,475 bpd, down 20 percent from 2017 after the United States imposed sanction on Tehran over its disputed nuclear program.

China is among the countries that were granted a waiver from sanctions on Iranian oil imports, allowed to buy 360,000 bpd of oil for 180 days until May.

Reporting by Meng Meng and Chen Aizhu; Additional writing by Tom Daly; Editing by Joseph Radford

Source: Reuters “Russia seals position as top crude oil supplier to China, holds off Saudi Arabia”

Note: This is Reuters’ report I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the report’ views.

China, Russia Building Super-EMP Bombs for ‘Blackout Warfare’

Report reveals electromagnetic war scenarios

BY: Bill Gertz
January 24, 2019 5:00 am

Several nations, including China and Russia, are building powerful nuclear bombs designed to produce super-electromagnetic pulse (EMP) waves capable of devastating all electronics—from computers to electric grids—for hundreds of miles, according to a newly-released congressional study.

A report by the now-defunct Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from EMP Attack, for the first time reveals details on how nuclear EMP weapons are integrated into the military doctrines of China, Russia, North Korea, and Iran.

The report discloses how those states could use EMP attacks in theaters of battle in the Middle East, Far East, Europe, and North America.

“Nuclear EMP attack is part of the military doctrines, plans, and exercises of Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran for a revolutionary new way of warfare against military forces and civilian critical infrastructures by cyber, sabotage, and EMP,” the report states.

“This new way of warfare is called many things by many nations: In Russia, China, and Iran it is called Sixth Generation Warfare, Non-Contact Warfare, Electronic Warfare, Total Information Warfare, and Cyber Warfare.”

Nuclear-electronic warfare also is called “Blackout War” because of its effects on all electronic devices.

EMP attacks will be carried out at such high altitudes they will produce no blast or other immediate effects harmful to humans. Instead, three types of EMP waves in seconds damage electronics and the strikes are regarded by adversaries as not an act of nuclear war.

“Potential adversaries understand that millions could die from the long-term collateral effects of EMP and cyber-attacks that cause protracted black-out of national electric grids and other life-sustaining critical infrastructures,” the report said.

The attacks are regarded by enemy military planners as a relatively easy, potentially unattributable means of inflicting mass destruction and forcing opponents to capitulate.

EMP strikes can be adjusted in the size of the area and the intensity of the wave by detonating at different altitudes. The closer to the earth the more powerful is the pulse. The higher the altitude, the wider the area of impact.

“A single nuclear weapon can potentially make an EMP attack against a target the size of North America,” the report said. “Any nuclear weapon detonated at an altitude of 30 kilometers [18.6 miles] or higher will generate a potentially catastrophic EMP.”

Super-EMP bombs produce gamma rays that generate a peak EMP field of 200,000 volts per meter—enough to fry strategic communications and intelligence systems. China, Russia, and probably North Korea are said to have these arms, according to the commission. The United States has no super-EMP weapons in its nuclear arsenal.

The bombs do not require accuracy and the weapons do not require a re-entry vehicle, heat shield, and shock absorbers required for nuclear warheads detonated in the atmosphere above targets.

The weapons can be delivered through a variety of means including satellites, long- or medium-range missile; short-range missiles launched from a freighter; from some cruise missiles and anti-ship missiles; from jets or a commercial jetliner; or a meteorological balloon.

The declassified report was cleared for release by the Pentagon after a security review and provides graphics showing for the first time in an official government publication how nuclear detonations triggered 18.6 miles to 248 miles above the earth will produce targeted electronic waves stretching up to 1,500 miles.

Portions of the report are redacted in order to prevent adversaries from learning U.S. electronic vulnerabilities.

The report shows how Iran—a state U.S. intelligence agencies have assessed is one year away from building a nuclear weapon—could use a single nuclear weapon fired on a medium-range missile to black out Israel, Egypt and Israel together, or Saudi Arabia without creating blast damage.

China also could use EMP weapons to plunge the island of Taiwan into electronic darkness and disable aircraft carrier strike groups sailing to defend Taiwan from a mainland attack.


North Korea could set off a nuclear bomb in space over Japan. Both Japan and Taiwan are heavily reliant on electronics that are vulnerable to EMP.

Russia could fire off one of its super-EMP bombs over Europe to throw NATO and the continent into darkness and create chaos as well, according to the report.

The Islamic State might acquire a nuclear weapon from North Korea or Iran along with a short-range missile that could loft it into space and detonate over Italy.

For the United States, an EMP war scenario is shown as the result of conflicts involving Russian strikes on Canada and U.S. retaliation using conventional precision strikes.

In a major conflict with either China or Russia, the first shot in the war could be a space burst of a super EMP weapon designed to knock out U.S. nuclear command and control and weapons.

“A super-EMP warhead, in the possession of Russia or North Korea, could put at risk the best protected U.S. assets, even threatening the survival of the U.S. nuclear deterrent,” the report said.

Moscow has adopted a new nuclear strategy called escalate to de-escalate a conflict with nuclear arms that the report suggests is tailored to space-based EMP attacks.

Russian nuclear missile submarines could use super-EMP warhead to paralyze U.S. strategic and conventional forces and blackout the national grid.

The report states that 14 EMP bursts up to 60 miles would create powerful electronic waves for key facilities, including national missile defenses at Alaska and California; the command center at the Pentagon outside Washington; and the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) in Colorado.

Other EMP strikes would shut down missile and bomber wings in Minot, North Dakota, F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyoming and Malmstrom Air Force Base, Montana.

Bomber wings in Missouri, Louisiana, South Dakota, and Texas also could be blacked out along with nuclear missile submarine bases in Washington and Georgia.

A U.S.-China conflict over Taiwan could lead to Beijing conducting a black-out EMP strike on the lower 48 states that it hopes would disrupt military command and control and communications and knock the United States out of the regional Asian conflict.

EMP area coverage

Iran, too, could launch a long-range missile nuclear attack in space over the United States as a way for the Islamic regime in Tehran to destroy what its leaders regard as the “Great Satan.”


If North Korea or Iran covertly supplies the al Qaeda terrorist group with a nuclear weapon, the terrorist group that attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon could obtain a short-range mobile missile and fire the nuclear warhead into space above the country as part of its war against the United States.

North Korea, which several years ago covertly transferred SA-10 surface-to-air missiles on a ship after repairs in Cuba, could use a short-range missile with a nuclear warhead to black out the Texas electric grid in a bid to force the United States to halt military exercises in South Korea.

“The United States is particularly vulnerable to this new type of warfare, because we have come to rely on information systems and computerized technologies,” said Peter Pry, a former CIA officer, commission member, and author of the new report.

“Much of the administrative information in the armed forces goes through the civilian internet,” he said. “Ours is the most technologically advanced society, and therefore the most susceptible to attack. What is surprising is that our enemies do not consider an EMP attack to be an act of nuclear war.”

The report makes clear that the potential use of EMP attacks is a real danger and one openly discussed in military doctrine writings.

Russian Gen. Vladimir Slipchenko first disclosed Moscow’s intentions for using EMP in his book “Non-Contact Wars” in 2000. “A single low-yield nuclear weapon exploded for this purpose high above the area of combat operations can generate an electromagnetic pulse covering a large area and destroying electronic equipment without loss of life that is caused by the blast or radiation,” he stated.

China’s military doctrine is similar and was outlined in a book on “Total Information Warfare.”

“As soon as its computer networks come under attack and are destroyed, the country will slip into a state of paralysis and the lives of its people will ground to a halt,” the author Shen Weiguang wrote.

Shen urged China to build “nuclear electromagnetic pulse” along with cyber weapons that will “enable it to stand up to the military powers in the information age and neutralize and check the deterrence of Western powers, including the United States.”

Iran’s doctrine is contained in a military textbook “Passive Defense” that calls for EMP attacks. “As a result of not having the other destructive effects that nuclear weapons possess, among them the loss of human life, weapons derived from electromagnetic pulses have attracted attention with regard to their use in future wars,” the book states.

North Korea has threatened to use nuclear EMP attacks following its most recently underground nuclear test. State-run North Korean media said the thermonuclear test blast involved tests for EMP strikes.

The latest EMP commission report, “Nuclear EMP Attack Scenarios and Combined-Arms Cyber Warfare,” is the 13th and final report of the commission. It is dated July 2017. However, as a result of a lengthy security review the report was made public last week.

Source: Washington Free Beacon “China, Russia Building Super-EMP Bombs for ‘Blackout Warfare’”

Note: This is Washington Free Beacon’s report I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the report’ views.

China-Russia Alliance Add Wings to Chinese Military

It is common sense that Russia and China military cooperation will add wings to two tigers; therefore, Trump has tried in vain to improve relations with Russia in order to drive a wedge into the Russia-China alliance which has been made possible by the stupid strategy of his predecessor.

SCMP has two reports today on Russian technologies greatly enhancing Chinese military’s capabilities.

First, it says that China’s test of S400 air defense system imported from Russia proves the system’s ability to hit a supersonic ballistic missile at the speed of 3km per second in its report “Chinese missile force puts new Russian S-400 air defence system to the test” (at

Second, according to its report “China makes turbine blade breakthrough that could give Type 055 guided-missile destroyers an edge” (at with Russian help, China has achieved “Milestone” advance in turbine blade development to “give Type 055 guided-missile destroyer an edge”.

The blade is “the core component of 330-megawatt gas turbines”. With such powerful turbines the destroyers may be equipped with super efficient integrated electric propulsion systems (IEPS) that would allow it to operate high-energy, hi-tech weapons such as laser guns and rail guns much more powerful than conventional weapons.

If such blade is used in the gas turbines of China’s new aircraft carriers, there will be sufficient energy for electromagnetic catapults.

Comment by Chan Kai Yee on SCMP’s reports.

The End of the Democratic Century

Autocracy’s Global Ascendance

By Yascha Mounk and Roberto Stefan Foa

At the height of World War II, Henry Luce, the founder of Time magazine, argued that the United States had amassed such wealth and power that the twentieth century would come to be known simply as “the American Century.” His prediction proved prescient: despite being challenged for supremacy by Nazi Germany and, later, the Soviet Union, the United States prevailed against its adversaries. By the turn of the millennium, its position as the most powerful and influential state in the world appeared unimpeachable. As a result, the twentieth century was marked by the dominance not just of a particular country but also of the political system it helped spread: liberal democracy.

As democracy flourished across the world, it was tempting to ascribe its dominance to its inherent appeal. If citizens in India, Italy, or Venezuela seemed loyal to their political system, it must have been because they had developed a deep commitment to both individual rights and collective self-determination. And if Poles and Filipinos began to make the transition from dictatorship to democracy, it must have been because they, too, shared in the universal human desire for liberal democracy.

But the events of the second half of the twentieth century can also be interpreted in a very different way. Citizens across the world were attracted to liberal democracy not simply because of its norms and values but also because it offered the most salient model of economic and geopolitical success. Civic ideals may have played their part in converting the citizens of formerly authoritarian regimes into convinced democrats, but the astounding economic growth of western Europe in the 1950s and 1960s, the victory of democratic countries in the Cold War, and the defeat or collapse of democracy’s most powerful autocratic rivals were just as important.

Taking the material foundations of democratic hegemony seriously casts the story of democracy’s greatest successes in a different light, and it also changes how one thinks about its current crisis. As liberal democracies have become worse at improving their citizens’ living standards, populist movements that disavow liberalism are emerging from Brussels to Brasília and from Warsaw to Washington. A striking number of citizens have started to ascribe less importance to living in a democracy: whereas two-thirds of Americans above the age of 65 say it is absolutely important to them to live in a democracy, for example, less than one-third of those below the age of 35 say the same thing. A growing minority is even open to authoritarian alternatives: from 1995 to 2017, the share of French, Germans, and Italians who favored military rule more than tripled.

As recent elections around the world indicate, these opinions aren’t just abstract preferences; they reflect a deep groundswell of antiestablishment sentiment that can be easily mobilized by extremist political parties and candidates. As a result, authoritarian populists who disrespect some of the most basic rules and norms of the democratic system have made rapid advances across western Europe and North America over the past two decades. Meanwhile, authoritarian strongmen are rolling back democratic advances across much of Asia and eastern Europe. Could the changing balance of economic and military power in the world help explain these unforeseen developments?

That question is all the more pressing today, as the long-standing dominance of a set of consolidated democracies with developed economies and a common alliance structure is coming to an end. Ever since the last decade of the nineteenth century, the democracies that formed the West’s Cold War alliance against the Soviet Union—in North America, western Europe, Australasia, and postwar Japan—have commanded a majority of the world’s income. In the late nineteenth century, established democracies such as the United Kingdom and the United States made up the bulk of global GDP. In the second half of the twentieth century, as the geographic span of both democratic rule and the alliance structure headed by the United States expanded to include Japan and Germany, the power of this liberal democratic alliance became even more crushing. But now, for the first time in over a hundred years, its share of global GDP has fallen below half. According to forecasts by the International Monetary Fund, it will slump to a third within the next decade.

At the same time that the dominance of democracies has faded, the share of economic output coming from authoritarian states has grown rapidly. In 1990, countries rated “not free” by Freedom House (the lowest category, which excludes “partially free” countries such as Singapore) accounted for just 12 percent of global income. Now, they are responsible for 33 percent, matching the level they achieved in the early 1930s, during the rise of fascism in Europe, and surpassing the heights they reached in the Cold War when Soviet power was at its apex.

As a result, the world is now approaching a striking milestone: within the next five years, the share of global income held by countries considered “not free”—such as China, Russia, and Saudi Arabia—will surpass the share held by Western liberal democracies. In the span of a quarter century, liberal democracies have gone from a position of unprecedented economic strength to a position of unprecedented economic weakness.

It is looking less and less likely that the countries in North America and western Europe that made up the traditional heartland of liberal democracy can regain their erstwhile supremacy, with their democratic systems embattled at home and their share of the world economy continuing to shrink. So the future promises two realistic scenarios: either some of the most powerful autocratic countries in the world will transition to liberal democracy, or the period of democratic dominance that was expected to last forever will prove no more than an interlude before a new era of struggle between mutually hostile political systems.


Of all the ways in which economic prosperity buys a country power and influence, perhaps the most important is that it creates stability at home. As the political scientists Adam Przeworski and Fernando Limongi have shown, poor democracies often collapse. It is only rich democracies—those with a GDP per capita above $14,000 in today’s terms, according to their findings—that are reliably secure. Since the formation of the postwar alliance binding the United States to its allies in western Europe, no affluent member has experienced a breakdown of democratic rule.

Beyond keeping democracies stable, economic might also endows them with a number of tools to influence the development of other countries. Chief among these is cultural clout. During the apogee of Western liberal democracy, the United States—and, to a lesser extent, western Europe—was home to the most famous writers and musicians, the most watched television shows and movies, the most advanced industries, and the most prestigious universities. In the minds of many young people coming of age in Africa or Asia in the 1990s, all these things seemed to be of a piece: the desire to share in the unfathomable wealth of the West was also a desire to adopt its lifestyle, and the desire to adopt its lifestyle seemed to require emulating its political system.

This combination of economic power and cultural prestige facilitated a great degree of political influence. When the American soap opera Dallas began airing in the Soviet Union in the 1980s, for example, Soviet citizens naturally contrasted the impossible wealth of suburban America with their own material deprivation and wondered why their economic system had fallen so far behind. “We were directly or indirectly responsible for the fall of the [Soviet] empire,” Larry Hagman, one of its leading stars, boasted years later. It was, he claimed, not Soviet citizens’ idealism but rather “good old-fashioned greed” that “got them to question their authority.”

The economic prowess of Western democracies could also take on a harder edge. They could influence political events in other countries by promising to include them in the global economic system or threatening to exclude them from it. In the 1990s and the first decade of this century, the prospect of membership in organizations from the European Union to the World Trade Organization provided powerful incentives for democratic reforms in eastern Europe, Turkey, and parts of Asia, including Thailand and South Korea. Meanwhile, Western sanctions that prevented countries from participating in the global economy may have helped contain Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in the years following the Gulf War, and they were arguably instrumental in bringing about the fall of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic after the war in Kosovo.

Finally, economic power could easily be converted into military might. This, too, did much to enhance the global standing of liberal democracies. It ensured that other countries could not topple democratic regimes by force and raised the domestic legitimacy of such regimes by making military humiliation a rarity. At the same time, it encouraged the spread of democracy though diplomatic leverage and the presence of boots on the ground. Countries that were physically located between a major democratic power and a major authoritarian power, such as Poland and Ukraine, were deeply influenced by the greater material and military benefits offered by an alliance with the West. Former colonies emulated the political systems of their erstwhile rulers when they gained independence, leaving parliamentary democracies from the islands of the Caribbean to the highlands of East Africa. And in at least two major cases—Germany and Japan—Western military occupation paved the way for the introduction of a model democratic constitution.

In short, it is impossible to understand the story of the democratic century without taking seriously the role that economic power played in spreading the ideals of liberal democracy around the world. This also means that it is impossible to make informed predictions about the future of liberal democracy without reflecting on the effects that the decline in the relative economic clout of the democratic alliance might have in the years and decades to come.


At first glance, the conclusion that affluence breeds stability seems to bode well for the future of North America and western Europe, where the institutions of liberal democracy have traditionally been most firmly established. After all, even if their relative power declines, the absolute level of wealth in Canada or France is very unlikely to fall below the threshold at which democracies tend to fail. But absolute levels of wealth may have been just one of many economic features that kept Western democracies stable after World War II. Indeed, the stable democracies of that period also shared three other economic attributes that can plausibly help explain their past success: relative equality, rapidly growing incomes for most citizens, and the fact that authoritarian rivals to democracy were much less wealthy.

All these factors have begun to erode in recent years. Consider what has happened in the United States. In the 1970s, the top one percent of income earners commanded eight percent of pretax income; now, they command over 20 percent. For much of the twentieth century, inflation-adjusted wages roughly doubled from generation to generation; for the past 30 years, they have essentially remained flat. And throughout the Cold War, the U.S. economy, as measured by GDP based on purchasing power parity, remained two to three times as large as the Soviet economy; today, it is one-sixth smaller than China’s.

Of the 15 countries in the world with the highest per capita incomes, almost two-thirds are nondemocracies.

The ability of autocratic regimes to compete with the economic performance of liberal democracies is a particularly important and novel development. At the height of its influence, communism managed to rival the ideological appeal of liberal democracy across large parts of the developing world. But even then, it offered a weak economic alternative to capitalism. Indeed, the share of global income produced by the Soviet Union and its satellite states peaked at 13 percent in the mid-1950s. Over the following decades, it declined steadily, falling to ten percent by 1989. Communist countries also could not provide their citizens with a lifestyle that would rival the comfort of the capitalist West. From 1950 to 1989, per capita income in the Soviet Union fell from two-thirds to less than half of the western European level. As the German writer Hans Magnus Enzensberger put it, playing off the title of an essay by Lenin, Soviet socialism proved to be “the highest stage of underdevelopment.”

New forms of authoritarian capitalism may eventually suffer similar types of economic stagnation. So far, however, the form of authoritarian capitalism that has emerged in Arab Gulf states and East Asia—combining a strong state with relatively free markets and reasonably secure property rights—is having a good run. Of the 15 countries in the world with the highest per capita incomes, almost two-thirds are nondemocracies. Even comparatively unsuccessful authoritarian states, such as Iran, Kazakhstan, and Russia, can boast per capita incomes above $20,000. China, whose per capita income was vastly lower as recently as two decades ago, is rapidly starting to catch up. Although average incomes in its rural hinterlands remain low, the country has proved that it can offer a higher level of wealth in its more urban areas: the coastal region of China now comprises some 420 million people, with an average income of $23,000 and growing. In other words, hundreds of millions of people can now be said to live under conditions of “authoritarian modernity.” In the eyes of their less affluent imitators around the world, their remarkable prosperity serves as a testament to the fact that the road to prosperity no longer needs to run through liberal democracy.


One of the results of this transformation has been a much greater degree of ideological self-confidence among autocratic regimes—and, along with it, a willingness to meddle in Western democracies. Russia’s attempts to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election have understandably drawn the most attention over the past two years. But the country has long had an even greater influence on politics across western Europe. In Italy and France, for example, Russia has helped finance extremist parties on both sides of the political divide for decades. In other European countries, Russia has enjoyed even more remarkable success in recruiting retired political leaders to lobby on its behalf, including former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and former Austrian Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer.

The big question now is whether Russia will remain alone in its attempt to influence the politics of liberal democracies. The answer is almost certainly no: its campaigns have proved that outside meddling by authoritarian powers in deeply divided democracies is relatively easy and strikingly effective, making it very tempting for Russia’s authoritarian peers to follow suit. Indeed, China is already stepping up ideological pressure on its overseas residents and establishing influential Confucius Institutes in major centers of learning. And over the past two years, Saudi Arabia has dramatically upped its payments to registered U.S. lobbyists, increasing the number of registered foreign agents working on its behalf from 25 to 145.

If the changing balance of economic and technological power between Western democracies and authoritarian countries makes the former more susceptible to outside interference, it also makes it easier for the latter to spread their values. Indeed, the rise of authoritarian soft power is already apparent across a variety of domains, including academia, popular culture, foreign investment, and development aid. Until a few years ago, for example, all of the world’s leading universities were situated in liberal democracies, but authoritarian countries are starting to close the gap. According to the latest Times Higher Education survey, 16 of the world’s top 250 institutions can be found in nondemocracies, including China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Singapore.

Perhaps the most important form of authoritarian soft power, however, may be the growing ability of dictatorial regimes to soften the hold that democracies once enjoyed over the reporting and dissemination of news. Whereas the Soviet mouthpiece Pravda could never have dreamed of attracting a mass readership in the United States, the clips produced today by state-funded news channels, including Qatar’s Al Jazeera, China’s CCTV, and Russia’s RT, regularly find millions of American viewers. The result is the end of the West’s monopoly over media narratives, as well as an end to its ability to maintain a civic space untainted by foreign governments.


During the long period of democratic stability, the United States was the dominant superpower, both culturally and economically. Authoritarian competitors such as the Soviet Union quickly stagnated economically and became discredited ideologically. As a result, democracy seemed to promise not only a greater degree of individual freedom and collective self-determination but also the more prosaic prospect of a vastly wealthier life. As long as these background conditions held, there seemed to be good reason to assume that democracy would continue to be safe in its traditional strongholds. There were even plausible grounds to hope that an ever-growing number of autocratic countries would join the democratic column.

But the era in which Western liberal democracies were the world’s top cultural and economic powers may now be drawing to a close. At the same time that liberal democracies are showing strong signs of institutional decay, authoritarian populists are starting to develop an ideological alternative in the form of illiberal democracy, and outright autocrats are offering their citizens a standard of living that increasingly rivals that of the richest countries in the West.

It is tempting to hope that Western liberal democracies could regain their dominance. One path toward that end would be economic. The recent economic success of authoritarian countries could prove to be short lived. Russia and Saudi Arabia remain overly reliant on income from fossil fuels. China’s recent growth has been fueled by a soaring debt bubble and favorable demographics, and it may end up being difficult to sustain once the country is forced to deleverage and the effects of an aging population hit home. At the same time, the economic performance of developed Western economies could improve. As the residual effects of the Great Recession wear off and European and North American economies roar back to life, these bastions of liberal democracy could once again outpace the modernized autocracies.

Projections about the exact speed and degree of the shifting power balance between democratic and authoritarian countries should therefore be taken with a large grain of salt. And yet a cursory glance at Western GDP growth rates for the past three to four decades shows that, due to demographic decline and low productivity growth, Western economies were stagnating long before the financial crisis. Meanwhile, China and many other emerging economies have large hinterlands that have yet to experience catch-up development, which suggests that these countries can continue to make considerable gains by following their current growth model.

The era in which Western liberal democracies were the world’s top cultural and economic powers may be drawing to a close.

Another hope is that emerging democracies such as Brazil, India, and Indonesia may come to play a more active role in upholding an alliance of liberal democracies and diffusing their values around the world. But this would require a radical change in course. As the political scientist Marc Plattner has argued, these countries have not historically thought of “the defense of liberal democracy as a significant component of their foreign policies.” Following the Russian annexation of Crimea, for example, Brazil, India, and South Africa abstained from voting on a resolution in the UN General Assembly that condemned the move. They have also opposed sanctions against Russia. And they have tended to side with autocratic regimes in seeking a greater role for states in regulating the Internet.

To make things worse, emerging democracies have historically been much less stable than the supposedly consolidated democracies of North America, western Europe, and parts of East Asia. Indeed, recent democratic backsliding in Turkey, as well as signs of democratic slippage in Argentina, Indonesia, Mexico, and the Philippines, raises the possibility that some of these countries may become flawed democracies—or revert to outright authoritarian rule—in the coming decades. Instead of shoring up the dwindling forces of democracy, some of these countries may choose to align with autocratic powers.

Hopes that the current set of democratic countries could somehow regain their erstwhile global position are probably vain. The most likely scenario, then, is that democracies will come to look less and less attractive as they cease to be associated with wealth and power and fail to address their own challenges.

It’s conceivable, however, that the animating principles of liberal democracy will prove deeply appealing to the inhabitants of authoritarian countries even once those peoples enjoy a comparable standard of living. If large authoritarian countries such as Iran, Russia, and Saudi Arabia undertook democratic reforms, the aggregate power of democracies would be boosted significantly. If China were to do so, it would end the era of authoritarian resurgence in a single stroke.

But that is just another way of saying that the long century during which Western liberal democracies dominated the globe has ended for good. The only remaining question now is whether democracy will transcend its once firm anchoring in the West, a shift that would create the conditions for a truly global democratic century—or whether democracy will become, at best, the lingering form of government in an economically and demographically declining corner of the world.

Source: Foreign Affairs Today “The End of the Democratic Century”

Note: This is Foreign Affairs Today’s article I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the article’s views.

The U.S. Army Has a Vision for the Future. Is It the Right One?

Steven Metz |Friday, Dec. 14, 2018

Last week the U.S. Army’s Training and Doctrine Command released a new report entitled, “The U.S. Army in Multi-Domain Operations 2028.” The title might seem to suggest that the document would only interest die-hard military geeks. But despite its complex and arcane phrasing, the report is actually a fascinating window into how the Army sees future armed conflict and how it intends to prepare for it.

The report expands on the National Defense Strategy, which the Pentagon unveiled in early 2018. That document identified America’s primary security threat as “revisionist powers,” particularly Russia and China. The Army’s new report expands on this idea, labeling Russia the “pacing threat” that will shape capability development over the next few years, while flagging China as the more pressing long-term adversary. While very different in national objectives and capabilities, the report notes, Russia and China “operate in a sufficiently similar manner to orient on their capabilities collectively.” What works to deter or defeat one of them, the Army believes, will also work against the other.

According to the report, China and Russia “believe they can achieve objectives below the threshold of armed conflict … fracturing the U.S.’s alliances, partnerships, and resolve” using diplomatic and economic actions; unconventional operations; information warfare such as weaponized social media, false narratives and cyber attacks; and conventional military forces. This is what security experts call “gray zone” aggression.

While the Army sees a role for itself in the gray zone, most of the new report focuses on how it would respond if China and Russia resorted to war “by employing layers of anti-access and area denial systems designed to rapidly inflict unacceptable losses on U.S. and partner military forces,” forcing Washington to either accept aggression or pay a high price to reverse it.

If this sounds like what Saddam Hussein tried to do when he invaded Kuwait in 1990, it is. The difference is that the U.S. military of 1990 was so superior to the Iraqi armed forces that it could reverse Saddam’s aggression at a politically acceptable cost. The Army and the other services believe that without augmented capabilities, they might not be able to do that in the future against the technologically advanced Russian and Chinese militaries. The way to regain clear superiority over potential opponents is by developing “multi-domain operations” that tightly integrate military formations and operations across all of the domains of warfighting: land, air, sea, space and cyber. Once this integrated approach is in place, the Army will be able to “overmatch the enemy through cross-domain synergy and multiple forms of attack all enabled by mission command and disciplined initiative.”

The Army’s vision is based on strategic and political assumptions that may or may not hold.

In a sense this, too, is similar to what the U.S. military did to Iraqi forces in 1991, except faster, more complex, more tightly integrated and generally better. But this makes sense only if Russia and China actually plan to attack nearby nations, and if American policymakers would be willing to go to war to throw them out. Therein lies the rub: The new Army report and, more broadly, the U.S. military’s vision of the future are based on strategic and political assumptions that may or may not hold. As is always the case, assumptions are the foundation of any vision of the future but also its greatest potential weakness.

The Army’s vision, for instance, assumes that Russia and China would gobble up weaker nations unless the United States prevents them from doing so, and that Americans are willing to pay any price for a military to deter or reverse their gains. But it is equally plausible that Russia and China are self-deterred by the political and economic costs of invading and ruling nearby nations. If that is true, the United States might spend trillions of dollars on unnecessary military capabilities to prevent something that wasn’t going to happen anyway. Al-Qaida tried to goad the United States into spending itself into weakness and failed. Russia and China might pull it off.

The vision also assumes that Americans will continue to consider armed aggression by adversaries intolerable, and that they will be willing to bear the cascading economic costs of war to prevent or reverse it. This might have been true in 1991, when the United States stood atop a global economy not as interconnected as it is today. Whether it will still enjoy this paramount position in the future is an open question. Would a U.S. president and Congress truly risk a catastrophic global economic crisis to save a nation invaded by Russia or China?

Throughout history, militaries often have prepared to fight the previous war rather than the one they were eventually confronted with. Could this be happening again? The U.S. military’s vision of the future as described in the new Army report is astute from an operational perspective, but its underlying strategic and political assumptions are straight out of 1991. But this is not a slam on the Army. As it should, America’s land force is thinking about how it might fight in the future. It cannot decide why it might fight.

To make the Army’s future vision even more effective, America’s political leaders and security intellectuals need to reach a working agreement on the purpose of U.S. military power. The Army and the other services need to be told by the civilian leadership what they should prepare to do rather than having to invent their own predictions of the future strategic environment. In lieu of that, the best the Army can do is prepare for a replay of Operation Desert Storm and hope that this is what America asks it to do.

Steven Metz is the author of “Iraq and the Evolution of American Strategy.” His WPR column appears every Friday. You can follow him on Twitter @steven_metz.

Source: World Politic Review “The U.S. Army Has a Vision for the Future. Is It the Right One?”

Note: This is World Politic Review’s article I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the article’s views.