The inter-connectivity of the internet means cyber-war is a reality. Since the Pentagon’s reaction to this revolution is confidential, one can only hope it is being taken seriously.
Throughout history humans have conducted warfare. During most of this time military force could only be projected from two domains, land and sea. With the advent of the modern air force, force could be projected from a third domain – the air. The Cold War added a fourth – space. Today’s digital revolution is adding a fifth – cyberspace. Modern power plants, satellites, airports, railways, financial systems, and even military communications are all reliant on the internet. Let us not forget modern missiles are controlled by GPS, and drones are operated from CIA headquarters half a world away. This leaves these networks open for infiltration.
There has been much discussion of China’s ability to conduct cyber-espionage. China has been openly accused of infiltrating the databases of Western defence contractors such as Lockheed Martin. In The Dragon’s Navy – Chinese Capabilities and American Policy, I pointed to Chinese cyber-capabilities as a part of its anti-access/area-denial program in the Western Pacific. These capabilities could disrupt American military command and communication during a conflict.
Western cyber-experts infer China may have the most ostentatious cyber-aggression program, but Russia is probably both more skilled and subtle at the new paradigm of modern warfare. Estonia’s 2007 decision to move a Soviet-era statue from central Tallinn was followed by a suspicious and complete denial-of-serve attack on Estonian government, media, and bank servers. Although many believe the Kremlin was involved in this attack, it has only been tracked to individual Russian hackers and botnets. In 2008 the connection to the Kremlin appears more well-founded. Georgia’s government and media websites crashed and telephone lines were jammed, this crippled Georgia’s ability to appeal for support as Russian tanks invaded. After the incident in Estonia, NATO opened a new Center of Excellence; this one would be based in Estonia and would focus on cyber-defence. Experts from this centre were deployed to Georgia the following year. These developments raise broader questions. Did the cyber-attack on Estonia constitute an attack by Russia on a NATO member? Would NATO have to respond to this action? Did the assistance provided to Georgia constitute the defense by NATO of a non-member? These questions highlight the fact that cyber-war still exists in a grey-area of international law.
America too has (at least probably) committed cyber-aggression. 2010’s Stuxnet worm infected and sabotaged Iranian nuclear centrifuges, damaging its ability to enrich uranium and build a nuclear weapon. The precision of the attack has led commentators to characterize it as a cyber-missile. The complexity of this type of aggression means it was almost certainly financed by a state. The target, Iran, infers the attacker was either the United States, or Israel, or both. The earlier Conficker worm has been linked to the Stuxnet attack as well, but of course none of this has been proven. Such is the reality of modern ‘plausible-deniability.’
The Bigger Picture
Analyzing cases of state-sponsored cyber-war alone misses the bigger picture. State-sponsored cyber-war is essentially only another tool with which states conduct warfare. Cyber-war has the potential to fundamentally shift the world’s balance of power. I argued in The Era of the Eagle – American Hegemony is Here to Stay that America will remain the world’s only great-power for the near future. However this does not mean the security of America, and indeed all states, is not increasingly being threatened by non-state actors. There has been an ongoing trend in recent international relations wherein non-state actors are gaining power. America’s entire War on Terror lends credit to this assertion. In The Utility of the War on Terror, I outline how America is engaged in a new paradigm of warfare – ‘war amongst the people.’ The state has been the dominant actor in international relations since the Peace of Westphalia in 1648; however this dominance is now being threatened by new networks and organizations rather than states. For example, the ‘hacktivist’ group Anonymous has infiltrated various targets, some governmental, in the pursuit of political power. The fact that modern infrastructure relies on the internet means cyber-terrorists could attack a nuclear power plant, or an airport, remotely. The reality of cyber-war means non-state actors are likely to continue to gain international power and influence, meaning the global power-balance will shift. As of yet, al-Qaeda and other terrorist networks have used the internet primarily for propaganda, however this may change at any time.
Recent policy to address the new reality
The United States Department of Defense Joint Operational Access Concept, a public release, argues that America must maintain an assured operational access to the ‘global commons,’ or areas of air, sea, space, and cyberspace that belong to no single state. This is the direct opposite of China’s anti-access/area-denial aspirations, and requires robust cyber-defense capabilities. Obama has done much to combat the reality that America is vulnerable to cyber-attacks; in May 2009 he accepted the recommendations of the Cyberspace Policy Review and selected an Executive Branch Cybersecurity Coordinator. Howard Schmidt, the former head of security at Microsoft, occupied the position until his retirement in May of 2012. Michael Daniel succeeded Schmidt, both having been overshadowed by the military’s Cyber Command headed by General Keith Alexander. The strategies implemented by both these government branches are confidential. The fact remains that cyber-war has become a modern reality and must be taken seriously.
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“Joint Operational Access Concept,” United States of America Department of Defense, 17 January 2012. http://www.defense.gov/pubs/pdfs/JOAC_Jan%202012_Signed.pdf
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North Korea is a state that has made it clear it does not intend to act according to international standards; it fulfills the definition of ‘rogue state’ perfectly. It also threatens the security of its neighbours. China, North Korea’s only ally, holds the key to resolving this dangerous situation. However China is caught in a precarious position. I argue that China and America can work through the North Korean dilemma together. To do this I present a past example of compromise.
To understand the nature of the Kim dynasty and North Korea’s foreign policy today, one must first understand history. The United States and the Soviet Union divided Korea, a colonial possession of a defeated Japan, in 1945. North Korea fell into the Soviet sphere of influence, while Japan and South Korea would remain allied with the United States. In June of 1950 North Korea invaded South Korea. The world’s Cold War-era balance of power meant a civil war between communist and democratic factions would lead to foreign intervention. A UN sanctioned ‘police action’ meant a US led coalition would act to defend democratic South Korea.
Initial North Korean victories meant United States and South Korean forces were pushed back to the Pusan Perimeter, on the southernmost tip of the peninsula. Meanwhile China acted to secure the Korean border, fearing the potential consequences of an American victory. During the Battle of the Pusan Perimeter, UN forces led by General Douglas MacArthur repelled the Korean People’s Army forces and turned the tide of the war. Subsequent campaigns saw US and South Korean forces push the Korean People’s Army forces past the 38th parallel: the North-South Korean border. When US forces neared the Chinese-Korean border, China intervened. Chinese and North Korean forces would push the United States back to the border area. Negotiations would bring about an armistice however the war would never officially end; the border between North and South Korea remains the world’s most heavily defended. To this day North Korea remains both allied to China and an enemy of South Korea and the United States.
All in the family
Kim Il-sung ruled North Korea from 1948 – 1994, his son Kim Jong-il would secede him and his grandson Kim Jong-un embodies the dynastic chain today. The Jong-il and Jong-un governments have made provocative military actions a cornerstone of the regime’s foreign policy. In March of 2010 the North Korean navy is believed to have sunk the South Korean vessel Cheonan with a torpedo. In November North Korea shelled the South Korean border island of Yeonpyeong. North Korea’s 2006 and 2009 nuclear tests lead most to assume the nation possesses limited nuclear capabilities. However nuclear capabilities are not enough to threaten the security of neighbouring state, the Korean People’s army must possess a way of launching a nuclear warhead.
The security threat North Korea’s ‘space program’ presents
Even if North Korea were able to mount a nuclear weapon to one of its existing military rockets (a technology it has yet to master) its nuclear capabilities would only threaten South Korea and Japan. The only North Korean military rocket to have been successfully launched is its Nodong missile, an improved version of the Russian ‘scud’ chain of missiles. This missile’s range is limited, only South Korea, Japan, China, Russia, and Mongolia fall in its potential trajectory. Although China, Russia, and Mongolia all fall within this range, Pyongyang is not likely to attack these states. North Korea is still ‘at war’ with South Korea and the United States.
Although North Korea possesses military rockets with further range, it has yet to successfully test them as tests like these are extremely provocative. However last Wednesday North Korea launched a satellite into space. Not surprisingly mastering this feat and the feat of successfully launching an intercontinental ballistic missile with much further range than a Nodong missile takes transferable technology. After all, both techniques are considered rocket science. Therefore North Korea’s 12 December launch can be seen as a step in the direction of launching a missile at farther targets. The Unha-3 rocket that carried the regime’s satellite into space in effect extends the potential range in which existing Korean missiles reach. With further technological advances North Korea could threaten the United States‘ security, its enemy since 1950.
A call for action
There have been repeated rounds of sanctions and condemnation from the international community, however North Korea’s complete disregard for international peace warrants a stronger response. Should Kim Jong-un become further emboldened, the violence will surely escalate. It is likely Pyongyang will continue to push the limits. Past incidents of North Korean military aggression prove South Korea already faces major security threats. Therefore the time to act on North Korea is now, before the situation deteriorates further.
China’ precarious position
China hopes to gain great-power status in the international state system, but its ally in Pyongyang continues to put the region’s security in jeopardy. By being allied to a state that makes no attempt to abide by international norms China risks its legitimacy and thus its acceptance as a great-power in the region and the international community. Although China has expressed regret over North Korea’s nuclear testing and rocket launches, and the two regimes have often clashed, Beijing has yet to fully abandon its ally. This is because Beijing fears that should it attempt to forcefully influence North Korea, a spurned Kim Jong-un would lash out violently, provoking South Korea and subsequently America. A war against a Chinese ally on the Chinese border in which US forces are involved would be anathema to Beijing, it would mean China was losing influence in its region. A unified Korea would likely be an American ally, and could be used to check China’s rise. Thus China believes its only hope is that the situation remains as it appears today, it hopes for stability on the Korean Peninsula above all else.
The ticking time bomb
Although the above call for action is certainly warranted, the United States will not become involved militarily on the Korean Peninsula today because North Korea is China’s ally and falls in China’s sphere of influence. But should North Korea continue to act violently (a likely development) it could cause a war with America. This seems especially likely when one considers the North Korea’s satellite launch, as previously mentioned this is a step in the direction of endangering US security. The Pentagon constantly stations around 30,000 troops in both South Korea and Japan and as I argued in the Dragon’s Navy – Chinese Capabilities and American Policy, the United States must remain the dominant naval power in the Western Pacific. Therefore assuming the situation continues to grow more dangerous, the United States will eventually become involved. North Korea thus represents a ticking time bomb to Beijing.
The obvious question
What if China were to both act to remove Kim Jong-un from power and seek to maintain a strong relationship with a unified Korea? China already does more trade with South Korea, maybe it is time for China to force the two to unify. Perhaps America could agree Seoul’s new government would remain neutral, and would remove its troops from a unified Korea. China would likely agree to reunification on these terms.
Unfortunately there are many problems with this scenario. First of all, Chinese foreign policy rests on a doctrine of non-intervention. China has thus far not exported an ideology or colonized land, it would be simply hypocritical to start now. Secondly, America would want to ensure China was not simply throwing its weight around, it may act to either counter China’s aggression towards North Korea, or act vengefully after. Thirdly, even if China were to ‘ok’ its actions with Washington, the Pentagon would at the very least insist US Special Forces secured North Korea’s nuclear-program sites. As mentioned above, US forces acting within China’s sphere of influence would be seen as a foreign policy failure to Beijing.
But what if China and the United States could overcome their differences on North Korea? Perhaps Xi Jinping and Barack Obama could strike a deal wherein a mixture of covert and non-covert actions would see the Kim dynasty removed and Korea unified. There must be a compromise in which a conflict between the two is avoided while both save-face. The deal would have to specify that a unified Korea would remain neutral, and the US would likely have to withdraw its troops. Although 1950 saw war between Cold War rivals China and America, 1962 saw a compromise between the US and the USSR. John F. Kennedy worked out a secret deal with Nikita Khrushchev during the Cuban Missile Crisis. This deal saw both super-powers compromise. The USSR removed its missiles from Cuba while the US promised not to invade Cuba and removed its missiles from Turkey. To retain his image as a ‘cold warrior,’ the second part of Kennedy’s deal was kept secret. I argue the situation today can also be overcome, but China and America must first make some back-room deals similar to those made 50 years ago.
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Although there exists much discussion on ‘American decline’ and the rise of a multipolar power-balance within the international state system, the truth is the globe will remain unipolar and dominated by the United States – the world’s single great-power – for some time to come. To prove this, I will examine America’s potential competitors in the international state system (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and a unified Europe) and display none will be able to reach American-level global influence. Thus none will truly reach ‘great-power’ status in the near future.
For centuries leading up to 1900 the international state system was dominated by a multitude of European great powers. The world wars of the early 20th century were the culmination of this power-balance. The end of the Second World War marked the beginning of a bipolar global order; the Cold War would last for almost 50 years and see two great-powers vie for dominance. The fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union ended the bipolar world order and began a period of unipolar American dominance. Many believe the international state system is entering another multipolar period of power-sharing wherein the United States constitutes one ‘pole’ while other nations hold a similar level of global influence. However the fact is Washington will continue to dominate the global order for some time to come, although some nation-states may grow more powerful in their respective regions.
‘Great-Power’ and Multipolar Defined
The world is certainly already multipolar economically, as a single entity Europe’s economy is the world’s largest, and the world is seen to have three economic poles – the US, Europe, and China. However ‘great-power’ is not an economic turn. In the modern globalized economy many countries can have economic growth simultaneously and benefit one another’s economies. In the anarchic environment that is international state system the security of one state almost always come at the expense of another. Thus ‘great-power’ constitutes more than economic power alone, it must constitute the projection of military power on the world stage. This definition works throughout history, the pre 1900 great-powers projected military influence globally. Britain, France, Russia, Spain, Prussia/Germany, Austria, and the Ottoman Empire possessed economic and military influence, not economic influence alone. When these countries industrialized, Japan and the United States became great-powers as well. The United States and the Soviet Union possessed both economic and military influence during the bipolar world order. But keep in mind, economic strength can allow a nation-state to buy military capability; money is power.
The Current Unipolar Power Structure
Today only one nation-state can truly project force globally, the United States. America almost invests the same amount in its military manpower and equipment as the rest of the world combined. Its massive naval fleet contains an unprecedented eleven carriers strike groups, this allows America to control the world’s oceans in their entirety, not just its territorial water. America’s air force is also truly unrivaled and highly mobile as it can be focused from both sea or any of America’s worldwide military bases. Its dominance of outer space and cyberspace is nearly as impressive. Therefore the world is currently unipolar. To become truly multipolar the United States must have several equals that rival its hegemony, these states do not need to be exactly as capable militarily as the United States, but they must achieve true great-power status and be capable of projecting military force globally. This will be the essential point when proving the world will remain unipolar for some time to come.
The Potential ‘Poles’ of a Multipolar Global Order
BRIC – although mainly an economic term – has come to resemble to nation-states that are seen to be emerging contenders in the world order. I will label these states and a unified Europe as possible ‘poles’ in the new multipolar world order. The BRIC nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China) could potentially join the United States as equal powers on the international state system. Europe too is often seen as a contender to become a single ‘pole’ in the global order, it certainly already is economically, but it has yet to be able to project a true unified influence on the world stage and thus cannot yet be deemed a single great-power. To refute the notion that the world order is on the verge of becoming multipolar, I will examine each of these potential ‘poles.’ Keep in mind that to become truly multipolar each of these ‘poles’ must constitute a similar degree of international power. I will not refute the fact that some if not all of these nations are gaining influence.
BRIC Forecasts are Fundamentally Overrated
There currently exists a misconception that the BRIC nations are on course to surpass or match the US economy in the near future. This notion is fundamentally flawed. Forecasting the future is near impossible. The typical business cycles last around five years, forecasting beyond two or three of these cycles is useless. Thus predicting change beyond a decade in the future is unwise. Furthermore, the emerging markets’ economies took off during the 1990s due to a global flood of foreign money. This money is drying up, the BRICs are unlikely to maintain the growth they enjoyed during the last decade into the next. Nonetheless, I will examine each BRIC nation in detail.
Brazil’s Economic Challenges
Brazil is probably the BRIC nation that is least likely to make up a ‘pole’ in the new global order of great-powers. Its economy is over dependent on surging demand for its resources, mainly oil, copper, and iron ore. While China has invested heavily in infrastructure to accommodate future economic growth, Brazil has invested heavily in creating a welfare-state. Socially a welfare-state is certainly a good thing, but this also means Brazil is unlikely to see substantial growth in the decades to come. Without substantial growth Brazil will be unable to field a military capable of projecting power on the global stage, and its current military expenditure is below that of any of the other BRIC nations. It is also the only BRIC nation to not possess nuclear weapons, a near prerequisite to great-power status. Furthermore Brazil is located in South America , often considered America’s ‘back-yard.’ It has little to benefit developing a military capable of rivaling Washington, and indeed a lot to lose. Brazil does have great potential to become a leader in South America, but as to becoming great-power its prospects are nil.
Russia’s Fundamental Problems
Unlike Brazil, Russia inherited a massive collection of military hardware from the Soviet Union, has a massive nuclear arsenal. and is a member of the Security Council, however Russia’s economic problems are much more troubling. Post-Soviet Russia has steadily registered more deaths than births. In fact Russia’s federal statistics agency lists about 12.5 million more burials than deliveries for 20 years. Only Mao’s Great Leap Forward has caused a larger death to birth ratio globally since World War 2. But depopulation is not the only thing challenging the Russian economy, although many Russians are educated, patent applications and the output of scientific papers is surprisingly low. This does not bode well for innovation. Furthermore the Russian economy depends far too heavily on oil and gas exports. All of this points to future stagnation. Russia’s economic outlook is so poor, The Economist declares Russia should have never been included in the BRIC foursome, it owes its status to an “accident of geology – those oil and gas deposits” rather than “creativity or innovation.” Sharma infers Russia only gained BRIC statues because the acronym sounds better with a R. Without a strong economy, Russia will be unable to compete with the United States, Europe, or the other BRIC nations. Barring economic challenges, Russia’s resource-poor neighbor is a rising China. It is thus more likely that Russia will continue to secure its own borders than attempt to project its power on the world stage.
Russia will continue jeopardise the security of its neighbours. In The Wiley Bear – Russian Motives for the Nord Stream Pipeline I argued it was using Europe’s gas dependency to gain influence over Eastern Europe. However this alone does not constitute great-power status.
India – Cursed by Geography
India’s economic growth is set to outpace China’s, however its ability to project itself globally will not happen before it overcomes some fundamental challenges. I argue India is cursed by its geography. It is caught in two unresolved border conflicts, one with Pakistan (India’s bitter rival), and one with China (the regions other great-power contender). Since India and Pakistan were partitioned in 1947 they have fought three wars (1947-48, 1965, 1999) over Kashmir. These disputes create political opportunity costs for India’s foreign power. India is more likely to focus on regional power-games, worldly aspirations will likely be put on the back-burner for the near future. Furthermore, India’s extreme economic growth rates are probably overrated. Pessimists point to India’s lousy infrastructure and a shortage of skilled workers as serious economic restraints.
China’s Demographic Challenges
I do not argue that China is not going to gain power in the international state system. China is almost certainly the contender most likely to match American great-power status in the near future (I would rank India as a close second). But it is unnecessary to assume China will somehow be able to match the United States as a great-power. China faces fundamental economic challenges. China’s one-child policy means in a few years China’s workforce will begin to shrink, and a larger percentage of the population will need to be supported by the working age population. Furthermore, China has been experiencing an economic ‘sugar-rush’ in recent years. It is now reaching what economists call “‘the Lewis turning point.’” The rural population has been moving to urban areas and this surplus workforce benefits the economy. However when this surplus labor is exhausted – when roughly half the population is urbanized – the country reach its ‘Lewis turning point,’ and the economic boost is exhausted.
China does seem to be acquiring capabilities to rival the United States militarily. In The Dragon’s Navy – Chinese Capabilities and American Policy, I argued China’s Anti-Access/Area Denial capabilities are being constructed with the purpose of rivaling American naval dominance. However this dominance was restricted to Western Pacific. Even if China does come to dominate the region (a notion that is hardly certain) this hardly constitutes great-power status. I also argued America must maintain hegemony in the region, this fact has probably also dawned on the Pentagon. Moreover China’s military still has hurdles to leap. One retired American admiral admits most of the military hardware China has bought from Russia is “junk.” It also takes many years of investment to master complex submarine and aircraft carrier warfare. Although no longer a peasant army, the People’s Liberation Army lacks experience fighting in the modern theater of war. Meanwhile the United States armed forces have been hardened by over 10 years of conflict. The PLA funding is still nowhere near that of the United States’ industrial-military complex, and as previously discussed China’s economy is unlikely to continue to grow at past rates. Furthermore China is checked by other powers in the region, India certainly will rival it in the near future and Japan is still considered Asia’s other ‘giant.’
Europe, The ‘Retired-Power’
While ‘American decline’ may well turn out to be false, ‘European decline’ will almost certainly occur. Although Europe contains two permanent security council members with large defence budgets, the region will be restrained from projecting global military influence because of continental infighting. The underlying problem with the European Union is that it has a monetary union but no fiscal union, to solve the situation more integration is needed.
The argument that each time Europe has faced a crisis it has moved towards more unification, rather than less, rings hollow. Although the European Coal and Steel Community (the beginning of European integration) was established in the wake of World War 2 as a means to keep peace, and the 1992 Maastricht (which brought the EU into existence) was signed during the Bosnian war to bring peace to the region, the EU now faces a crisis unlike it has in the past. Past crises were wars and could be solved by integration, today’s crisis is one that has been brought about by integration.
Furthermore, Europe’s main military powers (Britain and France) are allied to the United States and dependent on American defense spending. Yugoslavia and Libya saw recent European-led conflicts, but American firepower is what made the campaign a reality. Although the EU or even the Euro are unlikely to disappear, I do not see Europe as becoming a ‘pole’ equal to American power. I stand by my assertion in NATO at a Crossroads – The Case for European Defense Cooperation that should Europe cooperate it could better project itself globally, however I do not see that cooperation happening in the near future. Although the EU might be an economic-superpower “it is a political dwarf when it comes to the rough-and-tumble world of global geopolitics.” (Rifkin) Despite the late 1990s launch of the European Security and Defense Policy, it has yet to develop into a ‘counterweight’ to the United States in global politics. Fundamentally Europe is too divided to possess a single foreign policy. In the terms of great-power status it is ‘retired,’ relying on the American military.
Thus American Hegemony and Unipolarity are Here to Stay
Finally, a critic of my argument could infer the presence on several ‘lesser-powers’ could make up a single ‘great-power,’ making the world multipolar. But this overlooks the fact that states gain power at the expense of others. It is inevitable that China and India will check one another’s power to a degree, given the mutual access to the region’s sea-lanes.
Many have begun to recognize the fact America will remain hegemonic for the near future. Thus the term ‘hierarchical multiporality’ has come to describe the new state-system. However this definition is essentially the same as unipolar. A single great-power exists, while several lesser-powers do as well – but the existence of a single great power is unipolarity.
American military force dominates the world stage, and it is likely to do this for some time. Any predictions that the world will soon be multipolar are fundamentally flawed. American hegemony is here to stay for the predictable future.
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