Ukraine’s crumbling strategic position

Quantitative and qualitative polarization trends David Woo and David Goldman take stock of polarization trends across economic, market, and political arenas, including how Ukraine is running short of men and materiel and is facing steadily increasing Russian pressure across the frontlines. Military conflict risks: Is Beijing resigned to another DPP victory? David Woo analyses the […]

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Freed Thai national recounts his 50 days in Gaza as a hostage

It was news his father Chumporn Jirachart, who was himself once a migrant worker in Israel a decade ago, had been hoping for since his son was taken.

Mr Chumporn said: “That morning, a friend in Israel called me and said: ‘They are releasing the hostages, and your son is one of them.’ I didn’t believe him, so I said: ‘Send me proof’. So, he sent me a screenshot from the news – and there was my son! I felt really glad.”

At the time of his abduction, Mr Manee was in the final few months of his five-year contract in Israel, where he was working on a farm near Gaza.

He returned with the first batch of released hostages to Thailand earlier this month, and has since reunited with his family in his rural hometown of Ban Dung, in the northeastern Udon Thani province.


Udon Thani is about 7,000km away from Israel but it is very connected to the Middle Eastern nation, with over 4,000 locals working there as migrant workers. 

Nationwide, about 30,000 workers were in Israel before the war broke out, working mostly in agriculture. Thai nationals make up Israel’s largest migrant worker groups.

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Israel's Gaza assault is the future of AI-decided war

Last week, reports emerged that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) are using an artificial intelligence (AI) system called Habsora (Hebrew for “The Gospel”) to select targets in the war on Hamas in Gaza. The system has reportedly been used to find more targets for bombing, to link locations to Hamas operatives and to estimate likely numbers of civilian deaths in advance.

What does it mean for AI targeting systems like this to be used in conflict? My research into the social, political and ethical implications of military use of remote and autonomous systems shows AI is already altering the character of war.

Militaries use remote and autonomous systems as “force multipliers” to increase the impact of their troops and protect their soldiers’ lives. AI systems can make soldiers more efficient, and are likely to enhance the speed and lethality of warfare – even as humans become less visible on the battlefield, instead gathering intelligence and targeting from afar.

When militaries can kill at will, with little risk to their own soldiers, will the current ethical thinking about war prevail? Or will the increasing use of AI also increase the dehumanization of adversaries and the disconnect between wars and the societies in whose names they are fought?

AI is having an impact at all levels of war, from “intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance” support, like the IDF’s Habsora system, through to “lethal autonomous weapons systems” that can choose and attack targets without human intervention.

These systems have the potential to reshape the character of war, making it easier to enter into a conflict. As complex and distributed systems, they may also make it more difficult to signal one’s intentions – or interpret those of an adversary – in the context of an escalating conflict.

To this end, AI can contribute to mis- or disinformation, creating and amplifying dangerous misunderstandings in times of war.

AI systems may increase the human tendency to trust suggestions from machines (this is highlighted by the Habsora system, named after the infallible word of God), opening up uncertainty over how far to trust autonomous systems.

The boundaries of an AI system that interacts with other technologies and with people may not be clear, and there may be no way to know who or what has “authored” its outputs, no matter how objective and rational they may seem.

High-speed machine learning

Perhaps one of the most basic and important changes we are likely to see driven by AI is an increase in the speed of warfare. This may change how we understand military deterrence, which assumes humans are the primary actors and sources of intelligence and interaction in war.

Militaries and soldiers frame their decision-making through what is called the “OODA loop” (for observe, orient, decide, act). A faster OODA loop can help you outmaneuver your enemy. The goal is to avoid slowing down decisions through excessive deliberation, and instead to match the accelerating tempo of war.

So the use of AI is potentially justified on the basis it can interpret and synthesize huge amounts of data, processing it and delivering outputs at rates that far surpass human cognition.

But where is the space for ethical deliberation in an increasingly fast and data-centric OODA loop cycle happening at a safe distance from battle?

Destruction of the Palestine Tower in Gaza after an Israeli strike in October 2023. Photo: Palestinian News & Information Agency (Wafa) in contract with APAimages / Wikipedia

Israel’s targeting software is an example of this acceleration. A former head of the IDF has said that human intelligence analysts might produce 50 bombing targets in Gaza each year, but the Habsora system can produce 100 targets a day, along with real-time recommendations for which ones to attack.

How does the system produce these targets? It does so through probabilistic reasoning offered by machine learning algorithms.

Machine learning algorithms learn through data. They learn by seeking patterns in huge piles of data, and their success is contingent on the data’s quality and quantity. They make recommendations based on probabilities.

The probabilities are based on pattern-matching. If a person has enough similarities to other people labeled as an enemy combatant, they too may be labeled a combatant themselves.

Some claim machine learning enables greater precision in targeting, which makes it easier to avoid harming innocent people and using a proportional amount of force. However, the idea of more precise targeting of airstrikes has not been successful in the past, as the high toll of declared and undeclared civilian casualties from the global war on terror shows.

Moreover, the difference between a combatant and a civilian is rarely self-evident. Even humans frequently cannot tell who is and is not a combatant.

Technology does not change this fundamental truth. Often social categories and concepts are not objective, but are contested or specific to time and place. But computer vision together with algorithms are more effective in predictable environments where concepts are objective, reasonably stable, and internally consistent.

Will AI make war worse?

We live in a time of unjust wars and military occupations, egregious violations of the rules of engagement, and an incipient arms race in the face of US-China rivalry. In this context, the inclusion of AI in war may add new complexities that exacerbate, rather than prevent, harm.

AI systems make it easier for actors in war to remain anonymous and can render invisible the source of violence or the decisions that lead to it. In turn, we may see increasing disconnection between militaries, soldiers, and civilians, and the wars being fought in the name of the nation they serve.

And as AI grows more common in war, militaries will develop countermeasures to undermine it, creating a loop of escalating militarisation.

Can we control AI systems to head off a future in which warfare is driven by increasing reliance on technology underpinned by learning algorithms? Controlling AI development in any area, particularly via laws and regulations, has proven difficult.

Many suggest we need better laws to account for systems underpinned by machine learning, but even this is not straightforward. Machine learning algorithms are difficult to regulate.

AI-enabled weapons may program and update themselves, evading legal requirements for certainty. The engineering maxim “software is never done” implies that the law may never match the speed of technological change.

An Israeli army self-propelled howitzer fires rounds near the border with Gaza in southern Israel in October 2023. Image: Youtube Screengrab

The quantitative act of estimating likely numbers of civilian deaths in advance, which the Habsora system does, does not tell us much about the qualitative dimensions of targeting. Systems like Habsora in isolation cannot really tell us much about whether a strike would be ethical or legal (that is, whether it is proportionate, discriminate and necessary, among other considerations).

AI should support democratic ideals, not undermine them. Trust in governments, institutions, and militaries is eroding and needs to be restored if we plan to apply AI across a range of military practices.

We need to deploy critical ethical and political analysis to interrogate emerging technologies and their effects so any form of military violence is considered to be the last resort. Until then, machine learning algorithms are best kept separate from targeting practices. Unfortunately, the world’s armies are heading in the opposite direction.

Bianca Baggiarini is Lecturer, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Marcos Jr in a delicate and dangerous three-front war

MANILA – “History has proven that they are not serious and have no sincerity when it comes to peace negotiations,” declared Philippine Vice President Sara Duterte in a spirited speech castigating the Marcos Jr administration’s plan to renew long-stalled peace negotiations with communist rebels.

“They will use this peace negotiation to betray the government and fool the people,” she said while claiming any deal with the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its National People’s Army (NPA) armed wing would be an “agreement with the devil.”

For months, former president Rodrigo Duterte and his supporters have been lambasting many of Ferdinand Marcos Jr’s key policies, including his administration’s rapid expansion of defense ties with Western allies, a break from Duterte’s often heated antagonism toward the US and EU.

Earlier this year, Duterte personally visited Beijing to discuss ways to de-escalate bilateral tensions in the South China Sea without any coordination with the Philippine government.

For the first time, however, Sara has effectively joined her father’s camp by openly criticizing a major pillar of Marcos Jr’s national security policy. As such, there is growing speculation of an impending conflict between the two powerful political dynasties ahead of 2025 midterm elections.

If that weren’t enough, Marcos Jr is now also grappling with the potential resurgence of the Islamic State to the country’s restive southern island of Mindanao.

Last week, suspected terrorists reportedly belonging to the militant Dawla Islamiyah and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) groups targeted a Catholic mass in a major public university in the city of Marawi, the site of a months-long devastating siege by IS-affiliated militants in 2017.

A Filipino soldier uses binoculars during the siege of Marawi City by Islamic State-aligned militants, July 1, 2017. Photo: Twitter

All of a sudden, Marcos Jr is confronting multiple challenges at home just as Philippine-China maritime spats in the South China Sea intensify to what some fear could be a tipping point.

Deepening crises on the home front could undermine Manila’s efforts to reorient its defense posture to focus on external security threats led by China’s assertiveness over Philippine-claimed waters and maritime features.

At the dawn of the Cold War, the Armed Forces of the Philippines was among the most formidable in the region. Trained and armed with advanced American weapons systems, and hosting the largest overseas US bases, the Southeast Asian nation was a major bulwark against the expansion of communism in Asia.

In fact, the Philippines’ own successful struggle against communist insurgencies in the 1950s served as a role model for America’s modern counter-insurgency strategy. In both the Korean and Indochina Wars, the Philippines served as a vital ally for the US, which faced a twin communist challenge from both the Soviet Union and China.

The declaration of martial law by Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Sr, however, was both a response to as well as an accelerant of a new wave of insurgencies in the Philippines.

The notoriously corrupt and brutal Filipino dictator effectively triggered a half-a-century-long double insurgency, as both Moro Islamists as well as Maoist rebels began to mobilize across the country’s impoverished provinces.

The upshot was the complete reorientation of the AFP toward domestic security, with the Philippine Army dominating strategic decision-making as well as budgetary allocations.

To make matters worse, Marcos-era corruption began to emaciate the Philippine bureaucracy, including the country’s armed forces, which came under the control of the dictator’s favorites and cousins.

Saddled by Marcos-era debt and a deep legacy of institutional corruption, multiple Filipino presidents struggled to end insurgencies and revamp the country’s armed forces.

Throughout the second half of the 20th century, the Philippines effectively outsourced its external security needs to the Americans under the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) and through the Excess Defense Articles, the Military Assistance and the Foreign Military Sales programs.

The sudden closure of American bases in the early 1990s left the Philippine military in dire straits. China’s growing maritime assertiveness, culminating in Beijing’s occupation of the Philippine-claimed Mischief Reef in the mid-1990s, served as a wake-up call for the Filipino defense establishment.

Philippine and US Marines during a surface-to-air missile simulation as part of exercise Kamandag joint exercises on October 10, 2019. Photo: Lance Cpl. Brienna Tuck / US Marine Corps

President Fidel Ramos, a top general during the Marcos dictatorship, was the first post-Cold War Filipino leader to seek to address the issue. Under his watch, the Philippines passed the 1995 AFP Modernization Act, which sought to modernize the country’s military.

The advent of the devastating 1997-98 Asian financial crisis, however, undermined those efforts. It didn’t take long, however, before domestic security issues began to dominate Philippine national security strategy.

Following the 9/11 attacks, the US enlisted the Philippines as a major non-NATO ally in its “Global War on Terror”, thus making counterterrorism a centerpiece of the alliance. 

Over the next decade, the Philippine military largely focused on domestic insurgencies, both communist and Islamist. But China’s maritime assertiveness, culminating in the eventual seizure of the Philippine-claimed Scarborough Shoal in 2012, triggered another round of defense buildup in the Southeast Asian nation.

In December 2012, Philippine President Benigno Aquino III oversaw the passage of the Revised AFP Modernization Act, amending the 1995 AFP Modernization Act, which extended the AFP’s modernization for another 15 years.

During his first three years in office, the Aquino administration allocated US$648.44 million to modernizing the AFP, with the year 2013 seeing a 17% increase in defense spending. 

For the 2013-2017 period, it allocated $1.73 billion for defense procurement alone. The modernization effort, spread across three five-year “horizons”, continued under the Duterte administration, which sought to allocate as much as $5.6 billion (300 billion pesos) for the acquisition of modern fighters, submarines, frigates and strategic weapons systems.

Despite acquiring modern fighter jets, frigates and missile systems, the Philippines has still fallen well short of its initial targets. Aside from bureaucratic red tape and a lack of consensus on arms acquisitions, the Covid-19 pandemic also heavily undermined the Philippine economy, which posted five quarters of recession over the 2020-2021 period.

According to Philippine Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro, the AFP only completed 10% of its first five-year acquisition target (Horizon 1) and about 53% of its second five-year acquisition target (Horizon 2).

The third phase (Horizon 3), from 2023 to 2028, is supposed to culminate in the acquisition of modern multirole fighter jets, radars, frigates, High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems and a submarine fleet.

A Philippine Marine after fast-roping out of an MV-22B Osprey tiltrotor aircraft at Basa Air Field, January 22, 2016. Photo: US Marine Corps via Twitter

The Philippine legislature has allocated 45 billion pesos ($793 million) in defense spending next year, but this is unlikely to fill in the gaps. The sheer speed and scale of China’s defense build-up dwarfs all neighbors combined and the Asian superpower is expected even to surpass America’s spending in coming decades.

“[W]e have to re-strategize,” Teodoro told lawmakers earlier this year when asked about the Philippine military’s modernization program. Indeed, amid deepening and increasingly volatile maritime disputes with China, the Philippines can ill afford a resurgence of domestic security distractions.

But with insurgent threats rising, China tensions escalating and political allies turning foe in the Dutertes, Marcos Jr suddenly faces what could be characterized as a three-front war.

Follow Richard Javad Heydarian on X, formerly Twitter, at @Richeydarian

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Artificial intelligence now decides who lives and dies

Let’s start with the uncomfortable truth. We have lost control of artificial intelligence.

This shouldn’t be too surprising, considering we likely never had any control over it. The maelstrom at OpenAI over the abrupt dismissal of its chief executive, Sam Altman, raised accountability questions inside one of the world’s most powerful AI companies. Yet even before that boardroom drama, our understanding of how AI is created and used was limited. 

Lawmakers worldwide are struggling to keep up with the pace of AI innovation and thus can’t provide basic frameworks of regulations and oversight. The conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza has raised the stakes even further. AI systems are currently being used to determine who lives and dies in Gaza. The results, as anyone can see, are terrifying. 

In a widespread investigation carried out by Israeli publication +972 Magazine, journalist Yuval Abraham spoke with several current and former officials about the Israeli military’s advanced AI war program called “The Gospel.”

According to the officials, The Gospel produces AI-generated targeting recommendations through “the rapid and automatic extraction of intelligence.” Recommendations are matched with identifications carried out by a human soldier. The system relies on a matrix of data points with checkered misidentification histories, such as facial recognition technology

The result is the production of “military” targets in Gaza at an astonishingly high rate. In previous Israeli operations, the military was slowed by a lack of targets because humans took time to identify targets and determine the potential of civilian casualties. The Gospel has sped up this process with dramatic effect. 

Thanks to The Gospel, Israeli fighter jets can’t keep up with the number of targets these automotive systems provide. The sheer gravity of the death toll over the past six weeks of fighting speaks to the deadly nature of this new technology of war.

According to Gaza officials, more than 17,000 people have been killed, including at least 6,000 children. Citing several reports, American journalist Nicholas Kristof said that “a woman or child has been killed on average about every seven minutes around the clock since the war began in Gaza.” 

“Look at the physical landscape of Gaza,” Richard Moyes, a researcher who heads Article 36, a group that campaigns to reduce harm from weapons, told The Guardian. “We’re seeing the widespread flattening of an urban area with heavy explosive weapons, so to claim there’s precision and narrowness of force being exerted is not borne out by the facts.”

Eyes on Gaza

Militaries around the world with similar AI capabilities are closely watching Israel’s assault on Gaza. The lessons learned in Gaza will be used to refine other AI platforms for use in future conflicts. The genie is out of the bottle. The automated war of the future will use computer programs to decide who lives and who dies. 

While Israel continues to pound Gaza with AI-directed missiles, governments and regulators worldwide need help to keep up with the pace of AI innovation taking place in private companies. Lawmakers and regulators can’t keep up with the new programs and the programs being created.

The New York Times notes that “that gap has been compounded by an AI knowledge deficit in governments, labyrinthine bureaucracies, and fears that too many rules may inadvertently limit the technology’s benefits.”

The net result is that AI companies can develop with little or no oversight. This situation is so dramatic that we don’t even know what these companies are working on. 

Consider the fiasco over the management of OpenAI, the company behind the popular AI platform ChatGPT. When CEO Sam Altman was unexpectedly fired, the Internet rumor mill began fixating on unconfirmed reports that OpenAI had developed a secret and mighty AI that could change the world in unforeseen ways. Internal disagreement over its usage led to a leadership crisis at the company.

We might never know if this rumor is true, but given the trajectory of AI and the fact that we cannot understand what OpenAI is doing, it seems plausible. The general public and lawmakers can’t get a straight answer about the potential of a super-powerful AI platform, and that is the problem. 

Israel’s Gospel and the chaos at OpenAI mark a turning point in AI. It’s time to move beyond the hollow elevator pitches that AI will deliver a brave new world.

AI might help humanity achieve new goals, but it won’t be a force for good if it is developed in the shadows and used to kill people on battlefields. Regulators and lawmakers can’t keep up with the pace of the technology and don’t have the tools to practice sound oversight. 

While powerful governments around the world watch Israel test AI algorithms on Palestinians, we can’t harbor false hopes that this technology will only be used for good. Given the failure of our regulators to establish guardrails on the technology, we can hope that the narrow interests of consumer capitalism will serve as a governor on the true reach of AI to transform society.

It’s a vain hope, but it is likely all we have at this stage.

This article was provided by Syndication Bureau, which holds copyright.

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Truman 1945 vs Kamala Harris' principles of peace

In her recent stop in Dubai, US Vice-President Kamala Harris outlined five principles for postwar Gaza, after emphases on Palestinian civilian casualties. 

True, she gave passing lip service to the terrorist attacks of October 7 that started the war and the casualties, though without emphasizing the difference: that civilian casualties on October 7 were by design, whereas in Gaza casualties to Israel’s actions were consequence of the war – which Hamas could have avoided.

I must guess that the vice-president never read late president Harry Truman’s letter of August 11, 1945, responding to Samuel Cavert, general secretary of the Federal Churches of Christ in America, reprinted below:

Substitute “Israel” for “the United States” and “Hamas” (or Hezbollah, ISIS, or any other Islamist group) for “Japan” and Truman’s points stay as valid now as then. This letter may also help close debates about “proportionality.”   

One difference between the situation Truman faced then and Israel now is that Japan was a “state” with which the United States could negotiate and responsible and accountable for respecting treaties, having one government and one army.   

Gaza is not a state, and Hamas is just one of a number of armed units operating within the territory. Although countries around the world have recognized Palestine as a “state” – on paper –  it is not a state either. It does not have a government willing and able to disarm the many armed cells even in the West Bank, never mind disarming Hamas and other armed units. 

This situation also suggests that discussion of using the 1967 borders cannot be a starting point in negotiations. Egypt, which ruled Gaza until 1967, does not want anything to do with it, and is building a wall to ensure that. 

Jordan does not want the West Bank, and Syria is a failed state with dozens of armed groups operating and controlling territories within the pre-1967 borders. Same with Lebanon: Hezbollah has a massive army within it, its declared goal being the destruction of Israel. Thus the discussion of a Palestinian state and borders at present appears little more than hallucination on paper.  

Once a Palestinian government emerges willing and able to disarm all the various armed units, then there will be meaning to negotiating borders and treatise. Israel did just that back in 1948: After the creation of the Israel Defense Forces, there were Jewish armed units within Israel that did not want to put down the arms and continued importing them.

Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, understood that you cannot create a state while allowing armed units running around, and ordered the IDF to shoot at a ship (the Altalena) that was smuggling arms to these units, killing some 16 Jews on board.

This was a shocking act, happening just a few years after the Holocaust. However, the rebellious cells put down their arms. No such political will and ability exist among Israel’s neighbors with whom it is supposed to negotiate.          

Kamala Harris, though, outlined in her speedy Middle East tour the present US administration’s thinking about what to do after fighting ceases that would pave the way toward a Palestinian state. 

She outlined the following: “Five principles guide our approach for post-conflict Gaza: no forcible displacement, no reoccupation, no siege or blockade, no reduction in territory and no use of Gaza as a platform for terrorism.”

Nice, but irrelevant. It does not appear that Israel wants or can displace some 2 million people living in Gaza. It does not want to occupy it: Actually, it left it in 2005, leaving behind thriving innovative agricultural hothouses that the World Bank donated to Gaza, and which the locals destroyed in no time.  

Israel imposed no siege: In contrast to Egypt, it supplied water, fuel and, when Gaza did not export terror to Israel, it allowed Gazans to come and work in Israel. For few months before October 7, some 20,000 Gazans were passing the border. As to Gaza not becoming a platform for terrorism, sounds nice on paper, but who will enforce it? Who will prevent the import of arms?  

Probably the best strategy Israel could pursue after the war is to emulate Egypt. If Egypt can build a wall and strictly control movement of people and goods across the border, so can Israel. Since some 70% of Gazans still support Hamas after the October 7 events, Israel has no obligation to assist it in any way. 

Truman’s sharply worded reasoning applies. Moreover, the fact that Gaza would then be closed on the south by Egypt, and east and north by Israel, walled in – has precedent in the Middle East, and it does not imply inability to prosper.

The precedent is … Israel. Before 1967, it was closed by Egypt on the south (at one point Gamel Abdel Nasser, Egypt’s late president, also closed the straits preventing ships to get to Eilat), on the east Syria and Jordan closed it, and Lebanon in the north. 

Since the Gazans still do not want anything to do with Israelis except kill them, Israel has no obligation to assist them.

Perhaps Egypt’s and Israel’s walls – like fences – can eventually, gradually make for better neighbors.

Reuven Brenner is the author of History: The Human Gamble, Force of Finance, and series of analyses about the Middle East and anti-Semitism.

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Philippines, China trade blame for collision in disputed waters

The China Coast Guard, however, accused the Philippine boat of “deliberately colliding” with the Chinese vessel after “disregarding our multiple stern warnings”. The Philippine boat “changed direction suddenly in an unprofessional, dangerous manner, deliberately colliding with our Coast Guard Vessel 21556, which was on a normal law enforcement route, andContinue Reading

Hong Kong holds first 'patriots only' local elections

“ONE SIDED” The councillors for Hong Kong’s 18 districts handle mostly local-level issues – like sanitation, transport routes, or the adequacy of public facilities. But after Sunday’s election, they will “behave as local consultative bodies in name, and as the government’s echo chamber in practice”, said Kenneth Chan, a politicalContinue Reading