2021 Year-end Review: Geopolitical Risk and Technology
This year was all about long-term geopolitical strategy propelled by technology-driven innovation and tactics. In 2021, geopolitical risk and technology intersected in what feels like (forgive the overused descriptor but it is apropos here) an inflection point. Geopolitics is already operating in a future state: technology is now the clear exponential driver of tactical maneuvers for military and geographic competitive advantage – all the while referencing nationalistic, technology-focused strategic blueprints. The goal? The strategic geopolitical and technological domination of:
- Newly Contested Arenas (space and climate change-driven resources).
- Information Warfare (cyberattacks, ransomware, and influence campaigns); and
- Gray Zone/Hybrid Warfare (kinetic maneuvers in service of larger influence campaigns and cyberwar strategy)
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Newly Contested Arenas (Space and Climate Resources)
OODA Network Member Chris Ward began the year breaking down the National Space Policy, which was announced by the White House in January. The policy laid out six guiding principles:
- Space is of “shared interest” to all Nations, who must operate openly, transparently, and predictably.
- A robust domestic commercial space sector is critical to our national interests.
- The United States will partner with other nations that share our democratic values to advance space exploration.
- Space is NOT subject to sovereignty, and the United States will play a large role in enforcing that.
- The United States will continue to use space for national security activities, which include self-defense.
- All nations have the right to “pass-through and conduct operations in space without interference”.
It is unclear whether the rest of the world is on board with these guiding principles, but the fledging American commercial space industry certainly is: In January, Blue Origin launched and landed its first space tourism rocket of the year, with human flights in sight. Between May and September of this year, Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin, and SpaceX, respectively, achieved inaugural commercial human space flights. In December, the Russian Soyuz MS-20 spacecraft began a 12-day space tourism mission to the International Space Station.
In July, commercial space activity also included the SpaceX launch of 88 satellites in a rideshare mission. A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carried 88 satellites into orbit, marking the company’s second dedicated rideshare mission. The Falcon 9 rocket took off from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. The satellites were from a range of government and commercial customers. In November, we highlighted the work of Leo Labs – The Mapping Platform for Space – in the context of the recent Russian anti-satellite [ASAT] test which broke up their Cosmos 1408 satellite, resulting in “an in orbit, debris-generating event that now has the International Space Station at risk. DARPA is also exploring biomanufacturing in cislunar space. CalTech and NASA are approaching significant benchmarks in Space-based solar power efforts.
Space has many strategic vectors: economic, military, cyber, and information warfare. It will play a vital role in the future of U.S. collaboration with its allies. Space is also on the list of domains that are part of The Chinese Dream for supremacy in areas like quantum computing and artificial intelligence. As China sees it, the U.S. could stand in the way of achieving its strategic aims in space. Space is already seen by some as such a clear zero-sum game militarily with the Chinese. in December, Rand researchers called for the application of the deterrence model developed during the Cold War to U.S. national security and space-based capabilities, tailoring deterrence for China in space. According to the Rand authors, classic deterrence theory (i.e., nuclear proliferation and deterrence) should be applied to these space-based challenges.
Climate change and climate-induced emergencies and crises are also creating contested arenas. In February, OODA CTO Bob Gourley reported on the Blueprint for a Blue Ocean:
“In January 2021, the Department of Navy released their Strategic Blueprint for a Blue Arctic. The document outlines their plan to prepare for an increasingly available and navigable Arctic Region. Signed by the Chief of Naval Operations, the Secretary of the Navy, and the Commandant of the Marine Corps, it looks forward twenty years and envisions the requirements to protect American interests in the Arctic.
The Arctic Region has one of the world’s smallest oceans, but because of where it is situated, it has the potential for connecting nearly 75% of the world’s population. When you consider that 90% of all trade travels across the world’s oceans, this can be either a tremendous opportunity or an emerging vulnerability. Additionally, the Arctic is home to 30% of the world’s undiscovered natural gas reserves, 13% of the global conventional oil reserves, and one trillion dollars’ worth of rare earth minerals. And tons of FISH! There is a lot at stake here.
Russia is WAY ahead, with decades of experience in this environment. They are investing heavily in their northern flank through modernization and infrastructure improvements. China considers the Arctic a critical link in its One Belt One Road initiative and is building polar-capable cargo vessels, liquefied natural gas tankers, and nuclear-powered icebreakers. Both China and Russia have increased their military activity in the region and have made numerous attempts to alter the existing Arctic governance.”
Gray Zone/Hybrid Warfare
Activities this year in the South China Sea and the NATO/Russia conflict in Europe are causing concern for conflict breaking out in both regions. While Europe and Russia may appear to be on the brink of conventional warfare, we are really in a gray zone of Putin’s design. We tracked the events in Europe in 2021 as hybrid warfare, aka Gray-zone tactics and conflict. Frank Hoffman, a professor at the National Defense University, defines hybrid warfare as “transcending traditional notions of one military confronting another by incorporating conventional and unconventional forces, information warfare such as propaganda, as well as economic measures to undermine an enemy.”[v] Gray-zone tactics are best exemplified by the recent Chinese activities in the South China Sea – and Russia in Ukraine.
Ukraine in particular reveals itself as a model for gray zone/hybrid warfare activity. There is an argument that in as much as totalitarian states have started to formally collaborate to achieve autocratic network effects globally (as Anne Appelbaum argues in her recent article in The Atlantic “Autocracy Is Winning“), Ukraine is a Russian beta-test, a “minimum viable product” extension of their Gray-zone tactics in the American Election of 2016 and the annexation of Crimea, all of which ports over to ongoing Chinese activities vis a vis the South China Sea, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. Hungary too will apply some of the learnings. Valery Gerasimov provided the template. No one ever said that Gerasimov Doctrine would not become a Russian export. It is – and is central to what Prof. Hoffman defines as Hybrid Warfare, of which cyber war is an integral part. In 2021, Gray Zones proved a proxy for a larger information warfare threat vector, as Bob Gourley laid out in his recent C-Suite Guide To Improving Your Cybersecurity Posture Before Russia Invades Ukraine.
In 2021, information felt like a ‘hot war’ or an implicit ‘state of war’ between nation-states and non-state actors on a global scale. Following is a chronological list of cyber incidents, ransomware, and influence campaign activities (along with regional news events and technology-driven geopolitical developments) from 2021.
Together, these information threat vectors, technology strategies, real-world international conflicts, and internal political struggles gave 2021 the feel of a prologue to a broader, strategic geopolitical techno-restructuring of power, society, and individual rights. John Robb, in his OODAcast conversation with Matt Devost, calls it “The Long Night” – and argues there is still time to avoid the worst-case scenarios.
And we have not even priced in “Vaccine Diplomacy” and the end of the Covid-19 pandemic into this equation.
- What Executive’s Need To Know About The White House’s New Space Policy
- China CCP to Nationalize Jack Ma’s Alibaba and Ant Group
- Iran ramps up uranium enrichment and seizes tanker as tensions rise with the US
- Russian Government Agency Warns Firms of US Attack
- Blue Origin Launches And Lands Its First Space Tourism Rocket Of The Year, With Human Flights In Sight
- China flies warplanes close to Taiwan in an early test of Biden
- U.S. B-52 Bomber Flies Over Persian Gulf, in Show of Force Against Iran
- Russia’s Putin Faces Rising Discontent Amid Alexei Navalny Protests
- Alphabet Shuts Down Loon
- Alexey Navalny was detained on return to Moscow five months after being poisoned
- China Steals Personal Data of 80% of US Adults
- Iran Launches New Rocket, Showing Advances in Potential Missile Technology
- China’s Coal War With Australia Fuels Shortage at Home
- Coup Puts Myanmar at the Center of U.S.-China Clash
- China targets Uighurs with more prosecutions, prison terms: HRW
- Blueprint for a Blue Ocean
- China’s Plan for Countering Weaponized Interdependence
- As Their Ties Strengthen, Will Iran and Russia Coordinate Their Influence Campaigns?
- Experts Explore the Need for a National Technology Strategy
- China’s tech giants fall under regulator’s pressure
- U.S. Outreach to North Korea Has Gone Unanswered, White House Says
- A Breakthrough for U.N. Governance of Cyberspace
- OODA On Corporate Intelligence In The New Age
- In Continued Escalation of Crisis: China flanks Taiwan with military exercises in air and sea
- When It Comes to Political Warfare, China is at the Head of the Class
- C-Suite Considerations Regarding Current Geopolitical Tensions
- Armed Conflict Draws Closer as State-Backed Cyber-Attacks Intensify
- With Swarms of Ships, Beijing Tightens Its Grip on the South China Sea
- Iranian ‘spy ship’ damaged by an explosion in Red Sea
- China could ‘control the global operating system’ of tech, warns UK spy chief
- Putin Warns Against Crossing Russia’s ‘Red Line’ Amid Military Buildup Near Ukraine
- Recent Iranian Cyber Attacks Show How Geopolitics Drive Cyber Activity
- Dozens of Mexican Candidates Have Been Killed in a Bloody Election Season
- The Cyber Moscow Rules: Trust no one. Trust no device.
- NIST Wants Help Assessing China’s Influence on Emerging Technology Standards
- Chinese Phishing Attack Targets High-Profile Uyghurs
- NATO Warns it Will Consider a Military Response to Cyber-Attacks
- Potential Future Opportunities, Risks and Mitigation Strategies in the Age of Continuous Crisis
- REvil Hits US Nuclear Weapons Contractor
- Biden Tells Putin Critical Infrastructure Sectors ‘Off Limits’ to Russian Hacking
- World Bank rejects El Salvador request for Bitcoin help
- Navy Drone Refuels Fighter Jet, a Key Step Toward Adding UAVs to Carrier Wings
- China says its fighter pilots are battling AI aircraft in simulated dogfights, and humans aren’t the only ones learning
- El Salvador is the first country to adopt bitcoin as legal tender
- Air Force, Space Force Projects Will Speed Object Identification, Security Implementation
- Microsoft Joins Space-Focused Threat Intelligence Sharing Community
- China has created a dystopian hellscape in Xinjiang, Amnesty report says
- What The C-Suite Needs To Know About The USG Advisory on Risks and Considerations for Businesses Operating in Hong Kong
- OODA Special Report: US Drought Requires Use Of Best Practices in Scenario Planning
- Russia’s Putin Challenges U.S. Leadership, Asserts Military Might
- Russia Holds Military Drills Off Japan’s Mainland During Tokyo Olympics
- SpaceX launches 88 satellites in rideshare mission
- The Everyday Astronaut, Elon Musk and his five-step engineering process
- Will Cyber Breaches Start a Shooting War?
- Checkers, Chess and 围棋 (Wéiqí – aka Go): When It Comes to Games in Cyberspace, China May Be the Master
- Chinese and Russian militaries link up, but analysts say both sides have differing objectives
- The People’s Liberation Army (PLA), Global Supply Chains and Chinese Military-Civil Fusion (MCF)
- Cyber Espionage Likely Supporting China’s Arctic Aspirations
- Smart Voting App, Removed by U.S. Tech Giants, Threatens Putin’s United Russia Party in Recent Duma Election
- Disaster Response Applications: New Lessons From The Fall of Kabul and Severe Weather Events
- AI-Based Ambient Intelligence Innovation in Healthcare and the Future of Public Safety
- The Information Threat Vector(s): Why Facebook Regulation and Accountability Matters
- What the C-Suite Needs to Know About the Potential Political Instability of Xi Jinping, the CPC and the PLA
- US Government Warns of Insider and Ransomware Threat to Water Plants
- Russia Dominates State-Sponsored Attacks, says Microsoft
- Kim Jong-un vows to build ‘invincible military’
- The powerful gang behind the kidnapping of 17 US and Canadian missionaries in Haiti
- Russians and Chinese using human targeting – amongst other tools- to achieve security advantage in key emerging technologies by 2030
- NATO and US DoD AI Strategies Align with over 80 International Declarations on AI Ethics
- NASA and High-Performance Computing Reveal Climate Impacts on Global Crops in the Next Ten Years
- Meta Platforms’ Facebook will Remove Detailed Ad Targeting Options; The Filter Bubble Transparency Act Pending in Congress
- Social Media Platforms Operate More As Independent States, Not Their Proxies
- A Better Understanding of the Size and Strength of China’s Great Firewall
- Inspired by COVID-19 HPC Consortium, Cabinet-level National Science and Technology Council’s Blueprint for a National Strategic Computing Reserve
- China’s Continued Rise Hinges on Information Control
- India Blocks YouTube Channels In First Deployment Of New IT Rules
- UAE suspends multi-billion dollar weapons deal in a sign of growing frustration with US-China showdown
- Independent Hong Kong news outlet to close after senior staff arrested
- Russia Fines Google $100m Over “Illegal” Content
- China hoards over half the world’s grain, pushing up global prices
Black Swans and Gray Rhinos
Now more than ever, organizations need to apply rigorous thought to business risks and opportunities. In doing so it is useful to understand the concepts embodied in the terms Black Swan and Gray Rhino. See: Potential Future Opportunities, Risks and Mitigation Strategies in the Age of Continuous Crisis
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Space Sensemaking: What does your business need to know now
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Quantum Computing Sensemaking
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