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So You Want To Arm A Proxy Group?

So You Want To Arm A Proxy Group?

Say you're a government that employs a variety group of rebels, insurgents, terrorists, or freedom fighters to advance your national goals. Like any crafty strategist, you want to inflict maximal damage on your enemies while minimizing the potential blowback to yourself – while ideally avoiding excess costs and casualties among the people on your payroll.


What a time to be alive, because new technologies are vastly expanding the ability of so-called "non-state actors" (nerd term, but that's who we are) to bloody the noses of their enemies, in particular leveling the playing field between militants and nation states. What the Kalashnikov rifle did for militants of the 20th century (hat tip to Moises Naim on this), new technologies are doing for non-state actors of the 21st.

Consider, first of all, drones, which were in the news again after Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen claimed (now disputedly) to have used them to hit Saudi Arabia's oil facilities over the weekend. Drones are many desirable things at once: They are cheap – experts estimate some early models used in Yemen's civil war cost as little as $10,000 a pop to put together from basic parts. They're lethal. And, thanks to big improvements in range in 2018, the Houthis' drones are now capable of striking targets nearly a thousand miles away.

Drones aren't your thing? Let us show you into the cyberattacks aisle, because those also fit the mold: bad actors in cyberspace today have access to more powerful malware and a wider array of targets than ever before. The biggest cyberattacks have typically been state-sponsored – think Russia's NotPetya or the WannaCry ransomware attack launched by North Korea, which caused billions of dollars of damage around the world in 2017. But non-state actors are increasingly stepping up their game: criminal gangs have already paralyzed the computer systems of entire cities, like Atlanta and Baltimore, to try to extract ransom. Russia routinely uses proxies in its disinformation campaigns and other cyber campaigns. Meanwhile, critical infrastructure may only grow more vulnerable as 5G networks wire together everything from water plants to refrigerators to self-driving cars to pacemakers.

Into more of a SciFi look, you say? If you can hire a good rogue scientist, consider that some influential voices in the US intelligence community are already warning that new precision gene-editing techniques could become widespread enough to be weaponized, creating new pathogens or pests that wreak havoc on populations and ecosystems. Examples: modifying anthrax's genetic code to make it much more potent, or perhaps even altering a virus to make it disproportionally target carriers of a certain gene.

All of these technologies are complicating the ability of nation states to defend themselves. And unlike the Kalashnikov or other low-tech methods typically favored by non-state actors, they don't usually require putting people directly in harm's way. We've only just begun to understand how that's going to change the global balance of power between individuals, groups, and nation states.

So, what was it that you wanted to buy again?

Khant Thaw Htoo is a young engineer who works in Eni's Sakura Tower office in the heart of Yangon. As an HSE engineer, he monitors the safety and environmental impact of onshore and offshore operations. He also looks out for his parents' well-being, in keeping with Myanmar's traditions.

Learn more about Khant in the final episode of the Faces of Eni series, which focuses on Eni's employees around the world.

On his first day as president, Joe Biden signed a remarkable series of executive orders. Boom! The US rejoins the Paris Climate Accord. Bang! The United States rejoins the World Health Organization. Pow! No more ban on immigration from many Muslim-majority countries. Biden's press secretary reminded reporters later in the day that all these orders merely begin complex processes that take time, but the impact is still dramatic.

If you lead a country allied with the US, or you're simply hoping for some specific commitment or clear and credible statement of purpose from the US government, you might feel a little dizzy today. The sight of an American president (Barack Obama) signing his name, of the next president (Donald Trump) erasing that name from the same legislation/bill, and then the following president (Biden) signing it back into law again will raise deep concerns over the long-term reliability of the world's still-most-powerful nation.

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Kevin Sneader, Global Managing Partner at McKinsey & Company, provides perspective on what corporate business leaders are thinking during the global coronavirus crisis:

Should businesses be pessimistic or optimistic about 2021?

It's easy to be gloomy about the year ahead when faced with the realities of a cold, bleak winter in much of the world. Add to that lockdowns across Europe, surging case numbers and hospitalizations, and dreadful events in the Capitol in the US to name a few reasons for pessimism. But I think there is a case for optimism when it comes to this year. After all, it's true to say that it's always darkest before the dawn, and my conversations with business leaders suggest there are reasons to be positive by 2021.

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Renowned tech journalist Kara Swisher has no qualms about saying that many of the country's social media companies need to be held accountable for their negative role in our current national discourse. Swisher calls for "a less friendly relationship with tech" by the Biden administration, an "internet bill of rights" around privacy, and an investigation into antitrust issues.

Swisher, who hosts the New York Times podcast Sway, joins Ian Bremmer for the latest episode of GZERO World, airing on public television nationwide beginning this Friday, January 22th. Check local listings.

Brexit pettiness lingers: Here we were naively thinking the Brexit shenanigans were over after the EU and UK agreed to an eleventh-hour post-Brexit trade deal last month. We were wrong — the saga continues. Now, a new row has erupted after the Johnson government said it will not give the EU ambassador in London the same diplomatic status awarded to other representatives of nation states. Unsurprisingly, this announcement peeved Brussels, whose delegates enjoy full diplomatic status in at least 142 other countries. The UK says it will give the EU envoy the same privileges as those given to international organizations, which are subject to change and do not include immunity from detention and taxation given to diplomats under the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations. EU members are furious, with officials accusing London of simply trying to flex its muscles and engaging in "petty" behavior. The two sides will discuss the matter further when UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson meets EU representatives next week, their first face-to-face since the two sides settled the Brexit quagmire on December 31. Alas, the Brexit nightmare continues.

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The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

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