Imagining Deterrence without Nuclear Weapons | Far Right’s Ties to Russia Sow Rising Alarm in Germany | America Fueled the Fire in the Middle East, and more

But until there’s a more fundamental shift in U.S. policy toward the Middle East, those hopeful possibilities will remain out of reach, and the errors that got us here are likely to be repeated.

Chinese Security Presence in the Pacific Comes into Focus Ahead of Major Political Events  (William Yang, VOa News)
China’s growing security presence in the Pacific will be scrutinized this week as the Solomon Islands holds its national election on Wednesday. While the Pacific island nation has been plagued by a slew of domestic issues such as youth unemployment and weakening health and education systems, some analysts say the election is a “de-facto referendum”on its relationship with China.
The results will determine whether the Solomon Islands continues growing its relationship with China or changes course in favor of a different approach,”Parker Novak, a nonresident fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Global China Hub, told VOA in a written response.
Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, who seeks an unprecedented second consecutive term, has focused on deepening the country’s ties with China since he returned to power in 2019.

John Bolton Says Growing U.S. Isolationism Threatens Ukraine’s War Effort  (RFE/RL)
Ukraine faces “danger” if the United States does not quickly pass much-needed military aid, former U.S. national-security adviser John Bolton told Current Time, as Russia’s advantages in troops and weaponry help the Kremlin edge deeper into its neighbor more than two years into the war.
Speaking in an exclusive interview with Current Time, the Russian-language network run by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA, Bolton noted that Russia is currently firing five or six artillery shells for each one fired by Ukraine, a rate he said is “not sustainable over a long period of time.”
“I think the best we can hope for until the [November U.S. presidential election] is a stalemate,” Bolton added, highlighting the growing isolationism inside the U.S. Republican Party “due to the effect of Donald Trump,” the party’s presumptive nominee for the upcoming vote.
If Trump, as expected, is the Republican candidate in November and if he wins the election, Bolton warned he thinks Trump “will try to withdraw from NATO.”
“It would be a catastrophic mistake for the United States all around the world if he did,” he said.
“The withdrawal of the United States would render NATO essentially ineffective, not just for Ukraine, but for the entire alliance.”

The U.S.-Japan-Philippines Trilateral Was a Success, but Other Southeast Asian States Are Unlikely to Follow  (Joshua Kurlantzick, CFR)
The recently concluded U.S.-Japan-Philippines trilateral White House joint meeting, the first of its kind, was a success for its purposes. Under President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the Philippines has dramatically changed course from its previous administration and has clearly aligned with the United States. It committed to strengthening ties with both Tokyo and Washington. President Biden, building on a point previously made by Mike Pompeo when he was Secretary of State, reaffirmed the United States’ “ironclad” commitment to defending its treaty ally, the Philippines—a declaration signaling U.S. readiness to defend Manila in a potential South China Sea conflict. The meeting also drew Japan further into regional security, particularly in the South China Sea, as Tokyo has become increasingly assertive in enhancing its security relationships with Southeast Asian states and other partners in the Indo-Pacific. 
As the New York Times reported, this meeting appeared to be a direct challenge to China, indicating that the White House was coordinating a region-wide effort in response to Beijing’s growing assertiveness. The Times noted, “President Biden used a first-ever joint meeting with the leaders of Japan and the Philippines on Thursday to expand a web of security and economic alliances in the Indo-Pacific that American officials believe will serve as a shield against Chinese aggression.” 
Indeed, as Time magazine has noted, the Biden administration has sought to strengthen a network of partnerships across the Indo-Pacific with China in mind, encouraging its allies and partners in the region to fortify bilateral and trilateral ties. Time reported, “In just the last three years, the United States has solidified individual ties with Japan, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Singapore, among others, while also fostering new collective relationships between nations such as Japan and South Korea, Australia, and the UK, and now Japan and the Philippines.” 
However, the belief held by many U.S. officials—and some U.S. partners—that other Southeast Asian countries will take as definitive a stance as Manila in aligning with Washington (and partners like Tokyo) is almost certainly not going to happen. According to the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute State of Southeast Asia 2024 survey, while countries in Southeast Asia are concerned about China’s long-term security intentions, other than the Philippines, all are likely to continue their strategy of hedging between the United States and China, their most dominant trade partner and often a major investor—especially during times of growing political uncertainty in the United States. Countries like Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar (under the junta) have already aligned more clearly with China.

Imagining Deterrence without Nuclear Weapons (Ngo Di Lan, The Streategist)
Nuclear deterrence, with its inherent risk of annihilation, cannot remain the bedrock of international security. Nuclear states, particularly great powers, can and should work on new conventional strategic options that can effectively deter aggression without posing an existential threat to humankind. Developing viable alternatives is necessary if we’re ever to move towards global nuclear disarmament. 
One possibility is a disarming strike—the use of strategic non-nuclear capabilities calibrated to swiftly degrade an adversary’s ability to wage offensive war. Unlike a nuclear counterforce strike, which would involve a pre–emptive nuclear attack against an enemy’s nuclear arsenal, a disarming strike would rely on conventional and cyber capabilities to target critical military systems and infrastructure. It would hold at risk the key sinews of enemy military power—leadership, communications, logistics and major war–fighting systems—through a combination of massive cyberattacks, electromagnetic pulse weapons and other conventional capabilities. The goal would be to deter aggression by threatening to render a significant portion of the enemy’s military machine inoperable, rather than by threatening massive loss of life. 
The increasing integration of artificial intelligence into defense capabilities can exponentially increase the accuracy, speed and power of non-nuclear disarming strikes, thereby strengthening their deterrence potential. AI-powered systems can process vast amounts of real-time data from a wide array of sensors and intelligence sources to identify, track and target an adversary’s critical military assets with unprecedented precision. They can optimize the timing and coordination of strikes to maximize their disruptive impact on the enemy while minimizing collateral damage. For example, swarms of AI-guided drones and missiles could autonomously locate and neutralize an adversary’s key leadership nodes, communication hubs, supply lines and offensive forces in a matter of minutes. The prospect of having its military infrastructure paralyzed before it could even launch an attack would give any aggressor serious pause. 
Furthermore, AI-enhanced systems can ensure the robustness of second-strike capabilities by making them more resilient, dispersed and autonomous. AI could enable a dense, multi-layered web of early–warning sensors and interceptors to shoot down incoming missiles. Drone swarms and uncrewed vehicles could be pre-deployed in hidden locations, guided by AI to survive initial attacks and retaliate when ordered. With AI, states could credibly threaten precise, certain and devastating retaliation to aggression without necessarily revealing the full scope of their capabilities in advance. 
If harnessed responsibly and effectively, AI has the potential to bolster strategic stability by ushering in a new era of ‘mutually assured debilitation’. By convincingly holding each side’s military infrastructure at risk of severe debilitation while being less destructive and more discriminating than nuclear bombs, AI-driven non-nuclear deterrence could prove to be a compelling alternative to the grim doctrine of nuclear MAD. The knowledge that an adversary possesses AI-empowered, always-ready counterstrike abilities that can’t be easily discovered and neutralized would significantly enhance deterrence, reducing the temptation for pre–emptive attacks or provocations. It may offer a viable path for nuclear powers to eventually move away from relying on doomsday weapon systems for their security, making the world a safer place. 
This vision of AI-driven non-nuclear deterrence is not without its potential pitfalls. An increasing reliance on AI and complex cyber capabilities introduces new vulnerabilities, including susceptibility to hacking, algorithmic biases and unforeseen errors in autonomous decision-making processes. Such systems could potentially lower the threshold for conflict initiation, as some states could possibly engage in cyberwarfare and strategic strikes with less forethought than they would otherwise with nuclear weapons. The ambiguity in international law concerning cyberattacks and AI warfare complicates matters, potentially leading to miscalculations or unintended escalations. Additionally, there remains the moral quandary of increasingly automated warfare in which the human element is progressively distanced from the act of war, potentially eroding accountability. 

Why Israel-Iran War Is a Lifeline for Netanyahu  (Mairav Zonszein, Foreign Policy)
Direct conflict between Israel and Iran could bolster Netanyahu at a time when he has lost the trust of Biden, his fellow cabinet ministers, and much of the Israeli public. The U.S. government is not going to seriously consider conditioning aid to Israel in the middle of this debacle. Instead of isolating and alienating Netanyahu, which seemed to be the trend, Washington must now engage and deepen cooperation with him.
With more world leaders publicly backing him against Iran, Netanyahu may be able to draw out the Gaza operation—continuing to dangle the threat of a Rafah invasion and keep up the appearance of negotiations for a cease-fire, when it has become evident to many that he is not interested in one. Meanwhile, he can stall any push for elections that might replace him—all while the world’s attention turns to uncharted territory in the Middle East and the danger of a wider regional war.

Far Right’s Ties to Russia Sow Rising Alarm in Germany  (Erika Solomon, New York Times)
To enter a secret session of Germany’s Parliament, lawmakers must lock their phones and leave them outside. Inside, they are not even allowed to take notes. Yet to many politicians, these precautions against espionage now feel like something of a farce.
Because seated alongside them in those classified meetings are members of the Alternative for Germany, the far-right party known by its German abbreviation, AfD.
In the past few months alone, a leading AfD politician was accused of taking money from pro-Kremlin strategists. One of the party’s parliamentary aides was exposed as having links to a Russian intelligence operative. And some of its state lawmakers flew to Moscow to observe Russia’s stage-managed elections.
“To know with certainty that sitting there, while these sensitive issues are discussed, are lawmakers with proven connections to Moscow — it doesn’t just make me uncomfortable. It worries me,” said Erhard Grundl, a Green party member of the Parliament’s foreign affairs committee.
The AfD called such comments “baseless.”
While some of the accusations against the AfD may be attempts at point-scoring by political rivals, the security concerns are real. As evidence of the party’s links to Moscow accumulate, suspicions are being expressed across the spectrum of mainstream German politics.
“The AfD keeps acting like the long arm of the terrorist state Russia,” Roderich Kiesewetter, the deputy head of the Parliament’s intelligence committee and a member of the center-right Christian Democrats, wrote on social media.
Since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine began in February 2022, Europe has struggled to fend off influence operations by Moscow aimed at weakening Western unity and resolve. The worries extend beyond eavesdropping and spying to include Moscow’s ties to political parties, especially on the far right, which are proving to be useful tools for the Kremlin.
In Germany and elsewhere, that alarm is only growing ahead of elections for the European Parliament in June, as many of these parties are expected to have their best showings ever.