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Putin acted 'irrationally' in invading Ukraine, expert says

September 15, 2022

Taliban rule, Ukraine conflict among topics discussed in Future Security Forum

The war in Ukraine, the Taliban’s rule in Afghanistan and the future of cybersecurity were among the topics discussed at Tuesday’s Future Security Forum, presented by New America and the McCain Institute at Arizona State University.

The forum is an annual event of the Future Security Project, a research, education and policy partnership aimed at understanding and addressing global challenges.

“What we basically do is boldly advance democracy, human dignity and security,” said Evelyn Farkas, the executive director of the McCain Institute. “We are committed to serving causes greater than ourselves and a vision of the world that is free, safe and just for all people.”

Farkas said one of the most pressing issues today is the “rising influence and power of authoritarianism regime alongside subsequent threats to democratic rule.”

“Institutions like ours are crucial to redefining national and global security,” Farkas said. “We are committed … to advancing our learning and thinking and solving problems on all of this.”

Taliban rule in Afghanistan

In a panel discussion moderated by ASU Professor of Practice and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Azmat Khan, Oayoom Suroush, an Afghanistan Observatory scholar for New America, said it’s clear a year into the Taliban’s regime that the government has no interest in providing public services for the Afghan people.

“In practice, the Taliban regime is what scholars call religiously justified totalitarianism, whose main (goal) is to control Afghan people,” Suroush said. “They are interfering in all aspects of social and individual lives. You also see a dictatorship, a one-man rule (Taliban head Hibatullah Akhundzada). What he says will be law. That’s why we see violations of human rights.”

Summia Tora, Afghanistan’s first Rhodes Scholar and an Afghanistan Observatory scholar for New America, said that when government officials are asked about humanitarian crises that have occurred, such as the July 19 earthquake and the failure of the government to give aid to its citizens, their response is that “God will resolve that problem eventually.”

“I don’t think that’s the response people expect,” Tora said. “When the earthquake happened, there were people who needed humanitarian assistance and it was very difficult to provide access and services because the government was not capable of creating a system that could deliver quickly.”

Tora said the effects of Taliban rule also are seen on the streets in the capital of Kabul, where women and young girls are begging for a piece of bread.

“People are saying they’ve never had to do this before,” Khan said. “It’s hard not to overestimate what (effect) this kind of food insecurity will have over the long term.”

Tora said those images are symptomatic of the “marginalization of women,” pointing out that the Taliban has banned girls from going to secondary schools in 24 of 34 provinces and that 84% of women have lost their jobs in the past year.

“Women are at the forefront of being erased within Afghan society,” she said. “They do see women as really second-class citizens.”

War crimes in Ukraine

In a session titled "How Should the International Community Address War Crimes in Ukraine and Beyond?", David Scheffer, professor of practice in ASU’s School of Politics and Global Studies, said four war crimes have been committed by Russia: violations of the laws or customs of wars, crimes against humanity, crimes of aggression and genocide.

“People may think (genocide) is too large of a crime, but many of us argue that red line has actually been crossed in Ukraine,” Scheffer said.

Scheffer said the investigative effort on the ground in Ukraine exceeds any conflict in world history.

“It’s a truly unprecedented heavy hit,” Scheffer said, saying investigative teams from the International Criminal Court, the European Union, the United States and the Ukranian government are looking into Russian atrocities that have occurred during the war.

That said, Scheffer does not expect top Russian officials, including president Vladimir Putin, to wind up in court facing charges.

“It’s very problematic that we’ll ... not see Putin and senior Russian leadership actually be seized into custody, arrested and brought into a courtroom,” he said. “Frankly, they will have indictments hanging over them, but they can remain in Russia to avoid apprehension. They will not be able to travel but they will be ostracized internationally.”

Lessons of war in Ukraine

Peter Singer, a strategist and senior fellow at New America and professor of practice at ASU, asked his panelists a simple but complicated question: What’s the one key lesson strategists will take from the war in Ukraine?

“It’s a new lesson that’s a pretty old lesson,” said Sir Lawrence Freedman, emeritus professor of war studies at King’s College in London. “Don’t invade countries where you’re not welcomed.”

“I thought it was an irrational thing to do,” Freedman added. “As soon as they didn’t get (Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky), you could see this was going to fail."

Candace Rondeaux, director of Future Frontlines at New America and professor of practice at ASU, said one lesson learned is that “strategic autonomy for European people now is a distant dream. There’s a great deal of importance for the U.S. to play in pushing NATO.”

ASU Professor of Practice David Kilcullen said the mistake many analysts made was thinking Putin would act rationally. He also said the war has proven that international sanctions are not the deterrent everyone, including U.S. President Joe Biden, thought they would be.

“We need to rethink from a strategy standpoint what we think the impact of sanctions will be on an adversary determined to engage in conflict,” Kilcullen said.

All of the panelists said in light of Ukraine’s recent counteroffensives, it’s clear that Putin did not understand the type of war he was getting into or refused to listen to his military experts.

“I thought if Russia was going to invade it would be with a plan developed by the military,” said Rob Lee, senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute think tank. “That didn’t happen. The plan was developed by Putin and senior officers who didn’t have a military background.

“Russian soldiers found out on the first day of the war they were going to war. They had no preparation.”

As to what happens next in Ukraine, Freedman said he’s confident that the Russians are losing and “we’re in the end game now.”

Kilcullen wasn’t as confident, saying, “We don’t know what happens on a battlefield. We should not be too hasty in writing the Russians off.”

Rondeaux said her concerns are the political outcomes after the war is over, including the political fractures arising in Russia, where some leaders have called for Putin’s resignation.

“They are signals that Putin does not have what he needs long-term to prosecute this war,” Rondeaux said.

And, Rondeaux wondered, will the U.S. be prepared for whatever comes next if Putin’s regime crumbles?

What is the future of cybersecurity?

Jen Easterly, director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, told moderator Peter Bergen, a professor of practice at ASU, that her organization’s “priority mission” is election security, given the “hacking we saw from the Russian government in 2016.”

“Now that threat is greater,” Easterly said. “Not just state actors but criminal groups, ransomware, threats to election officials, which is a worrying thing in our democracy, threats from foreign disinformation. Our job is to make sure state and local election officials have all the resources they need to run their elections. We’re doing everything we can to ensure the elections coming up in 2022 and then in 2024 are as secure as possible.”

Easterly said the biggest problem in cybersecurity today is ransomware, which she attributes “very largely to criminals looking for money.”

“It’s important for people to understand the threat but even more so how to mitigate the threat,” she said.

How to do that?

Easterly said multi-factor authentication is the most important thing individuals and businesses can do. She also encouraged companies to deal with cybersecurity threats from the top down.

“If anyone is in position out there to be a business leader or a CEO, when we say cybersecurity, that’s not the responsibility of the chief information or security officer,” Easterly said. “It’s the responsibility of the CEO and the leaders and the board. It’s really important we understand that.”

Top photo courtesy Pexels

Scott Bordow

Reporter , ASU News

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Materials matter

September 15, 2022

ASU celebrates opening of Navrotsky Eyring Center for Materials of the Universe with presentations, lab tour

In the world of Alexandra Navrotsky, it’s all about materials. 

Materials both seen and invisible to the naked eye. Materials on the Earth’s surface and deep within its mantle. Materials mined from the moon and from other planets in the solar system. Even materials from galaxies far beyond our own.  

The study of materials continues to change lives — from making cars more efficient, to reducing the greenhouse effect, to allowing rockets to soar in a safer way. And maybe one day, it will help us find another planet to inhabit. 

Ongoing materials research is essential for advancing technology. 

This is what excites Navrotsky, a professor in Arizona State University's School of Molecular Sciences and School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy. So much so that she leads the Navrotsky Eyring Center for Materials of the Universe and has invested $10 million to support the future of materials science at ASU. 

On Tuesday, Sept. 13, the center had its pandemic-delayed grand opening, with deans, colleagues and students from a range of disciplines gathered on the Tempe campus to mark the occasion. The event featured an overview of the center's achievements and plans, tours of lab spaces where work is being conducted, and lectures on a range of topics by researchersHongwu Xu is a professor in the School of Molecular Sciences; Qi-Jun Hong, assistant professor of materials science and engineering in the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy; Jie Xu, associate professor at the School of Molecular Sciences; Dan Shim, professor at School of Earth and Space Exploration; and Candace K. Chan, associate professor in the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy Hongwu Xu, Qijun Hong, Jie Xu, Dan Shim and Candace Chan, among other speakers. Shim and Chan are the first-ever Navrotsky Professors of Materials Research, and Hongwu Xu and Jie Xu (not related) are newly hired for the Center for the Materials of the Universe.

It was a chance for event goers to learn more about the center and peek inside its work.

How it began

In 1969, ASU hired Navrotsky at a time when it was difficult for women working in the sciences to get faculty positions. After ASU, she worked at Princeton University and the University of California, Davis. Over time, she was recognized as a world-renowned geochemist and received countless honors, medals and awards, including the prestigious V.M. Goldschmidt Award. 

But in the end, Navrotsky wanted to come back to ASU, a place she calls home. With her return in 2019 came some soul-searching.

“I asked myself a question,” Navrotsky said Tuesday as she kicked off the celebration. “What can ASU do now that would be as exciting as those early days?”

The answer to that question became the Navrotsky Eyring Center for Materials of the Universe.

And what does “materials of the universe” mean? Everything, Navrotsky said.

“It's an all-encompassing term, but really in a way, the Center for Materials of the Universe effectively has several parts to it,” she said.

“The idea of materials of the universe is that there's a natural confluence of materials science and geological and planetary science. Planets, after all, are made of materials. So in order to understand the variety of planets that one has in the universe, one has to have a great knowledge of the materials that they might be made of. 

“... So setting up an interdisciplinary collaboration, the strength of this materials problem and its application to planets, was one of the goals of of MotU, Materials of the Universe. The second goal of course, is you need better material. If you're going to do space exploration, you need to go to space. You need to have resources. You need to build things in space. ... So basically MotU explores this commonality between materials science and earth and space science.”

Collaboration has been key for the center, Navrotsky said, and it will continue to be so.

“We want to be inclusive, not exclusive.” 

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Alexandra Navrotsky, director of the Navrotsky Eyring Center for Materials of the Universe, speaks during the center's grand opening celebration on Sept. 13. Photo by Samantha Chow/ASU

Present successes and future plans

The celebration included a showcase of some of the center’s successes since its opening, as well as future plans. Among those speaking was Qijun Hong, assistant professor in the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy.

Hong talked about his database and models for melting-temperature prediction, which are the culmination of 10 years of research. The models allow scientists to rapidly screen, design and discover new materials that will survive extremely high temperatures and high-pressure conditions, with such applications as protective barriers for gas turbines and heat shields on aircrafts. The future of his work will focus on creating a model that can determine the physical properties of any combination of elements in just three seconds. 

The center has also received funds from the National Science Foundation for a new lab that is “unlike any in the Western Hemisphere,” said Kurt Leinenweber, associate research professional in the School of Molecular Sciences. 

The lab, called FORCE — Facility for Open Research in a Compressed Environment — will be a one-of-a-kind, high-pressure facility where researchers can observe the impact of extreme pressures and discover new materials. Expected to draw scientists from around the world, the facility is scheduled to be completed by 2023 thanks to a $13.7 million grant from the National Science Foundation. 

After the morning presentations at the Biodesign Auditorium, attendees had the opportunity to tour the center’s lab facilities, and the celebration wrapped up with a reception at ASU’s ISTB4 building featuring university leaders including Chief Science and Technology Officer Neal Woodbury and Sally C. Morton, executive vice president of Knowledge Enterprise. President Michael M. Crow, who spoke via video, praised the work being done at the center.

“I think the exciting thing here is that Alex has brought together scientists and engineers and conceptualizers,'' Crow said. “And, in my mind … dreamers.”

He said that the work being done by the center is at the heart of where we are as a species.

“We've gotten to this point where our understanding of the universe, our understanding of the chemistry and of the physics, our understanding of the matter-energy relationships are such that we're just leaping ahead in gaining a fundamental understanding of who we are, where we are, why we're here, how things work now and how they will work in the future.” 

Top photo: Pieces of cubic boron nitride, the world’s second-hardest material, sit on a table at the Physical Sciences Building B on the Tempe campus during a lab tour, part of the Sept. 13 grand opening celebration of ASU’s Center for Materials of the Universe. Photo by Samantha Chow/Arizona State University

Dolores Tropiano

Reporter , ASU News