China, global mediator; Afghan-war commander says Trump’s plan is working; DOD R&D, detailed; DEFCON vote-hacker speaks out; And a bit more...

China’s global profile is rising quickly. “In 2017 Beijing was mediating in nine conflicts, a visible increase compared to only three in 2012, the year when Xi Jinping took power as General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party,” according to a new report from the Mercator Institute for China Studies.

Conflicts where today? "the civil war in Syria, the Israel-Palestine conflict or the Bangladesh-Myanmar dispute over the Rohingya people,” as well as in North Korea and South Sudan.

Contrast that with "the lower-profile approach China took in the late 2000s, when it attempted to mediate in mostly domestic political conflicts in Nepal or Zimbabwe."

Contributing factor behind a lot of this: “The increase in Chinese mediation activities began in 2013, the year that the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) was launched. Before that, Beijing was relatively reluctant to engage in conflict resolution abroad… Beijing is aware that, without some measure of stability in key countries along the BRI, the initiative is likely to fail.”

Worth flagging: “China’s growing involvement in conflict mediation, along with the increased attention these activities are receiving, helps play up the country’s self-crafted image as a responsible global power.” Read on, here.

We also learned a little bit more about a new ICBM silo in China this week, thanks to the work of Catherine Dill — aka “Atomic Pickles” — of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies.

Why she started: Working off the Pentagon’s latest annual China Military Power Report, she noticed mention of Beijing "enhancing its silo-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs)," including "Development of the CSS-X-20 (DF-41), a new MIRV-capable and road-mobile ICBM."

What she learned: Working off Planet Labs imagery, she located “a new silo at Wuzhai... where China tests multiple missile systems in various basing modes, including the DF-41.”

Writes Catherine: “It is very rare to get imagery of an open silo in commercial satellite imagery, especially in China.” Read on for the implications, photos, and more details, here.

From Defense One

How the US Is Preparing to Match Chinese and Russian Technology Development // Patrick Tucker: The Pentagon’s R&D chief adds some numbers and details to the laundry list of priorities.

Trump’s Afghanistan War Plan Is Working Despite Recent Attacks, Outgoing Commander Says // Katie Bo Williams: Facing renewed criticism, Gen. John Nicholson said the president’s year-old South Asia strategy was bringing Afghanistan closer to peace.

This Is the Political Moment to Stop Supporting the Saudi War in Yemen // Bonnie Kristian: The deadly attack on a school bus with a U.S. laser-guided bomb should, at last, end Washington's backing.

A Year On, Pakistan Still the Weak Link in US South Asia Strategy // Alyssa Ayres, Council on Foreign Relations: The Trump administration's strategy has produced no definitive improvements along its pillars. Pakistan remains a safe haven for terrorist groups.

How Rocket-Makers Ensure 3D-Printed Parts Are Strong Enough for Space // Tim Fernholz, Quartz: Measure them against an industrial standard for welding called AWS D17.1 Class A.

Even Trump’s Own Adviser Is Warning About ‘Politicizing’ the Threat From Russia // Uri Friedman, The Atlantic: But the danger he sees is already here.

Welcome to this Thursday edition of The D Brief  by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. And if you find this useful, consider forwarding it to a friend or colleague. On this day in 1899, the first ship-to-shore wireless message in U.S. history was transmitted near San Francisco when troopship Sherman returned a regiment from the Spanish-American War.

From the Joint Staff to CENTCOM? Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr. was officially nominated by the president on Wednesday to take charge of U.S. Central Command, replacing Gen. Joseph Votel, if confirmed by the Senate. The nomination was first reported last week by The Wall Street Journal. Now it’s official — with few obstacles in the way of that plan so far.

What really happened during the Taliban siege of Ghazni, Afghanistan? Time’s Bill Hennigan was on location when much of the action unfolded, and this morning he’s published his exclusive.
Hennigan’s report focuses on Green Beret Operational Detachment Alpha (ODA) Team 1333 — one of many “units converging on Ghazni to save it from the Taliban, which had laid siege to the city over the previous 24 hours in a surprise attack.”
Some takeaways: “U.S. forces still routinely rush to save Afghan forces struggling to contain a resurgent Taliban. That hard truth suggests the plan to train, advise and assist Afghans so they may one day defend themselves masks the costs the U.S. is still paying nearly two decades into the war… As Ghazni shows, the ‘assist’ part is often difficult to distinguish from a traditional American combat mission.” Worth the click, here.

ISIS wants militants to join its cause and carry out more attacks on the West using knives, vehicles or bombs, The Wall Street Journal (paywall alert) reports from allegedly new audio of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi — the first in nearly 11 months.
SITE Intel Group’s Ritz Katz breaks down Baghdadi’s messaging in a Twitter thread you can read, here.

That Russian nuclear-powered cruise missile that’s gone missing? The Diplomat’s Ankit Panda spoke with a U.S. government source to tell us all a bit more about the launch site and supposed location of the missing missile, the success rate of Russia’s tests of this particular kind of missile — which Vladimir Putin says has “unlimited range” — and what the U.S. intelligence community calls the thing. Get all that and more, here.

ICYMI: President Trump said he threatened to withdraw from NATO. At his Tuesday evening rally in West Virginia, POTUS45 told the audience he “threatened to withdraw from [NATO] at a summit meeting in Brussels last month.” According to his own account, he then said to the folks in Brussels, “Yes! I will leave you if you don’t pay your bills,” The New York Times reports.
What lies ahead: More of Trump’s particular brand of rhetoric — the president has at least eight rallies scheduled over the next six weeks, with stops planned for North and South Dakota, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, Kentucky and Tennessee. That doesn’t include another 16 possible fundraisers or eight other possible states he could visit ahead of the midterm elections.

#LongRead: “The Code that Crashed the World”: Wired delves into NotPetya, the malware unleashed by Russian hackers in July 2017 that paralyzed, among many, many other institutions, the world’s largest shipping company. “The code that the hackers pushed out was honed to spread automatically, rapidly, and indiscriminately. ‘To date, it was simply the fastest-propagating piece of malware we’ve ever seen,’ says Craig Williams, director of outreach at Cisco’s Talos division, one of the first security companies to reverse engineer and analyze Not­Petya. ‘By the second you saw it, your data center was already gone.’” Read on, here.

First-person report from the vote-hacking contest at DEFCON: “I Just Hacked a State Election. I’m 17. And I’m Not Even a Very Good Hacker.” Via Politico: “I didn’t quite know what to expect when I started the competition, but I know it shouldn’t have been that easy. Someone with my skills wouldn’t have stood a chance against a professionally protected website. Anyone with a Wi-Fi-enabled device could theoretically have done what I did to the mock election database. Unfortunately, the people who have the power to do something about this issue are in denial.” Read, here.

Verizon choked off a fire department’s “unlimited” internet service as it fought a wildfire. “This throttling has had a significant impact on our ability to provide emergency services,” wrote Santa Clara County Fire Chief Anthony Bowden. “Verizon imposed these limitations despite being informed that throttling was actively impeding County Fire's ability to provide crisis-response and essential emergency services."
More money, please: The internet came back on only after the fire department agreed to pay for a more expensive data plan.
Bring back net neutrality: The episode led Santa Clara County officials to sign on to a multistate suit against the Federal Communications Commission in the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Read, here.

And finally this morning: Let’s turn back the clock now so you can “Meet the only Air Force wing that flies nuclear weapons around the world,” according to Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists. The story he’s referencing: this 11-year-old report from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer about the USAF’s 4th Airlift Squadron. “If US decided to withdraw B61 nukes from Turkey, this would be the guys who would do it,” says Kristensen.