Explaining Violence in the Middle East: Is it Religion or Politics?

September 16, 2014

Host: The Stimson Center

Speakers:

Hisham Melhem, Washington Bureau Chief, Al Arabiya

Joyce Karam, Washington Bureau Chief, Al Hayat

Like any major world religion, Islam has a long history of theological divisions and arguments, which have in turn given rise to a wide variety of beliefs and outlooks regarding a single, unified definition of what “Islam” is. However, according to Mr. Melhem, the Sunni-Shi’a divide that is currently being exacerbated in Iraq, Syria, and throughout the Middle East, is not one of those ancient divisions. Instead, he believes that is a purely modern phenomenon, something that has only developed and grown steadily worse over the past few decades. The past failures of Arab nationalist leaders has given rise to ideologically based states, such as Iran and Saudi Arabia, which have in turn given rise to religiously oriented militant groups like the Islamic State (IS) and Hezbollah. Although these groups and their supporters typically act out in the name of religion, it is important to realize that their actions are usually oriented towards very practical social, economic, and political goals. Despite their religious overtones, the divide between Sunni and Shi;a communities has never centered on theological doctrine but rather on very earthly and immediate gripes.

In recent years, the world has seen in Syria how demands for political and social rights quickly evolved into a sectarian conflict, due in large part because of the involvement of ideologically aligned third parties such as Iran, Hezbollah, Saudi Arabia, IS, and others. As the crisis has worsened, experts have been able to see how the outpouring of refugees have destabilized neighboring countries, hurt their economies, and given rise to sectarian clashes in what were previously peaceful locales.

Prior to the civil war in Syria, Lebanon – a country that is roughly 27% Shi;a, 27% Sunni – was relatively peaceful. However, since the war began and refugees began flocking to Lebanese cities, Ms. Karam and others have noted an uptick in Sunni-Shi’a conflicts. She does not however see these clashes as being religiously motivated. In Tripoli, the most restless and dangerous areas are also the poorest – in the most restive area, Bob al-Tabbaneh, 87% of the inhabitants are living in poverty. This reality, when coupled with the polarizing and more vocal rhetoric coming from Hezbollah – a Shi’ite group – and various Salafist groups, explains why levels of violence are rising. As those who are powerless and in poverty see these groups act unilaterally, and in pursuit of their own personal agendas, in Syria, they respond through the most basic means available to them, violence. In such cases, it is not so much religion that is driving conflict; it is the peoples’ political and economic frustrations that are driving them to action.

Although it is easier to point to religious differences as the sole cause of conflict, it is doing a disservice to the region to look at it so one dimensionally. Further, for years, prior to the war in Syria and prior to the rise of Hezbollah, IS, and other extremist groups, Muslims, Christians, Jews, Kurds, and many other different religions and cultures throughout the Middle East were able to coexist peacefully and prosperously. To suggest that there are long-standing and historical divides that keep the people apart detracts from the real issues at hand, such as poverty, corruption, lack of political representation, etc. In order to achieve positive change, citizens and leaders, both in the Middle East and around the world, need to address their problems directly. Already, in the past, the region’s tolerance and potential have been demonstrated. The people now need to remember that, acknowledged their current challenges, and move towards a unified and prosperous future.

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18. September 2014 by Will Houstoun
Categories: Middle East | Comments Off

The Pivot Within Asia: Japan – India Relations

September 11, 2014

Host: The Woodrow Wilson Center

Speakers:

Dr. Makoto Kojima, Professor, Takushoku University

Dr. Pratap Mehta, President, Centre for Policy Research

Dr. Satoru Nagao, Associate, Gakushuin University

History has always been an important part of East Asian politics and culture. However, now that China and the Republic of Korea have risen to become global economic powers, history is having a negative impact on Japan’s future economic and diplomatic potential. Buoyed in part by territorial disputes and historical slights dating back to WWII, relations between Japan and its neighbors have soured dramatically in recent years. The need for collaboration and cooperation in East Asia is becoming ever more apparent as China continues to emerge as the region’s leading military power, and use its power to unilaterally change the status-quo. Although historical disputes have thus far kept Japan and the ROK apart, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe seems intent on exercising Japan’s diplomatic muscle to attract regional partners that can boost Japan’s economic and strategic potential.

Of those options, Dr. Kojima believes that India is Japan’s best potential, labeling the two as “natural economic partners.” Beyond the fact that they are Asia’s two biggest democracies, both countries have very similar, complimentary security and economic concerns. Highlighting that the Japanese economy is defined largely by its technological prowess and capital, Dr. Kojima argues that it is a perfect fit to India, which has a huge workforce and, under PM Narendra Modi, has made domestic infrastructure development a top priority for the country.

Since 2003 India has been the largest recipient of official development assistance (ODA) from Japan. These funds were crucial in building the Delhi metro system, which Dr. Kojima claims was “instrumental in improving Indian infrastructure” and also set a standard for safety and efficiency for development projects throughout in India. In addition, Japanese firms are now leading the construction of the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor and the Dedicated Freight Corridor, two initiatives that are providing high skill labor jobs and promise to cut future costs and transportation times.

Outside of state sponsored assistance, Japanese interest in India has grown drastically over the past five years. In 2007, only 438 Japanese businesses were invested in India; today Japan is India’s fourth largest outside investor with approximately 1100 businesses invested in Indian companies. This economic bond was only strengthened when PM Abe, while meeting with PM Modi in Tokyo two weeks ago, pledged 3.3 trillion yen to public and private financing in India and also pledged to double Japan’s foreign direct investment (FDI) in the country over the next five years.

In addition to converging economic interests and goals, Dr.’s Nagao and Mehta also see the two countries coming together on a variety of security fronts. Notably, both countries are engaged in territorial disputes with China – Japan over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, and India over Kashmir and its mountainous Northern border. In addition, unilateral moves by China, such as its declared “9-Dash-Line” or the creation of its Air Defense Identification Zone, should be of concern to both countries. Both benefit greatly from maritime trade and have a vested interest in maintaining free and open trade routes. Both countries participation in the U.S. led Malabar naval exercises this year should be a step towards greater security cooperation and collaboration.

Unfortunately, despite these shared interests, there are challenges facing this developing relationship. The first is the pre-established power of China, which is the number one trading partner of both Japan and India. Although greater economic and military cooperation could serve as a hedge to Chinese unilateralism, both countries will need to strike a fine balance between their domestic interests, which are dependent on trade with China, and their regional interests and goals. Another potential obstacle is India’s own economy, and whether it can maintain its high growth rate. If regulations and red tape stall development and slow growth, international investments will decline and potentially hurt diplomatic ties.

There are no guarantees that this partnership will live up to its potential and succeed. However, as the region continues to rapidly change, it is important the countries identify common interests, collaborate, and work to bring about greater prosperity and security.

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12. September 2014 by Will Houstoun
Categories: East Asia, Economics | Comments Off

Tokyo’s Challenge: Striking a Balance Between East and West

September 9,2014

Host: The Stimson Center

Speaker:

Dr. Yoko Hirose, Faculty of Policy Management, Keio University

It is no secret that the balance of power is quickly changing in Asia. Over the past decade, China, the Republic of Korea (ROK), and other Southeast Asian countries have experienced strong economic growth, while old regional powers like Russia have seen their influence diminish. Unfortunately, and perhaps surprisingly, Japan – the premier U.S. ally in the region – would fall into this latter category. In recent years, in addition to managing an aging and declining population, Japan’s economy has been shrinking, it has experienced heightened tensions with both China and the ROK, and has also been forced to rethink its energy sector following the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in 2011.

In order to tackle these challenges and reassert Japan’s power in the region, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been working to expand diplomatic ties throughout the region, with Russia being one of his key targets for partnership. Since taking office in 2012, PM Abe has met with Russian President Vladimir Putin five times. The focus of these meetings were, according to Dr. Hirose, to build trust and confidence between the two leaders and kick-start a process that would eventually settle a long-standing territorial dispute involving four islands, dubbed the “Northern Territory” by Japan, which are currently occupied by Russia. It was Abe’s hope that, by strengthening diplomatic and economic ties with Putin and Russia, the islands would be re-administered to Japan as a token of good will and confidence building.

As Dr. Hirose explained, such a move would have significant domestic, regional, and economic implications. Domestically, it would strengthen Abe’s support at a time when he is struggling to reinforce the country’s economy. Regionally, a stronger partnership with Russia would bolster Japan as it endures heightened tensions with the ROK and China, while also giving Japan greater representation with North Korea – with which Japan still has unresolved issues regarding the DPRK abducting its citizens. It would also set a strong precedent for Japan’s other territorial disputes – namely with China over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands.

However, according to Dr. Hirose, now that Japan’s Western partners – notably its U.S. ally – are struggling with Russia to end the conflict in Ukraine, years of Japanese diplomacy and policy are being threatened; for a country that notably has very little significance to Japan. Thus far, Japan has slowly and begrudgingly moved in line with the U.S. and enacted some sanctions against Russia. On March 18, following Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Japan froze negotiations on a new investment agreement – which Dr. Hirose explained could have brought Japan a necessary new source of energy – in addition to freezing an outer space cooperation agreement and an agreement for the “prevention of dangerous military activities.” This first round of sanctions was met with little condemnation from Russia. However, as the conflict in Ukraine has intensified and been marred by the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, Japan has broadened its list of sanctions, suspending visas and freezing funds of individuals thought to be influencing Russian policy and also freezing all funds dedicated to new projects in Russia. These later sanctions have invoked a Russian response, banning some Japanese citizens form entering Russia while also accusing Japan of being coerced by foreign powers and calling into question Japan’s willingness to negotiate over the Northern Territories.

As of now, Dr. Hirose does not believe that the tensions between Russia and Japan are irreversible; she believes that Russia realizes that Japan is being pushed into action largely due to its alliance with the U.S. It is for that reason that Russia has not enforced counter sanctions against Japan to the same degree it has against the EU and U.S. She believes that, like Japan, Russia is also wary of China’s growing strength and – in light of its damaged European relations – Russia is in need of new, Asian, partners. Despite Japan’s shrinking economy, it is still the third largest economy in the world and is in need of new sources of energy, which Russia has in abundance. Both countries would benefit from improved ties. However, in order to achieve its needs Japan will need to tread carefully and strike a delicate balance between its domestic, regional, and global priorities.

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10. September 2014 by Will Houstoun
Categories: East Asia, Economics, Energy | Comments Off

Reaching New Levels of Cooperation, Coordination, and Capabilities in Asia

September 8, 2014

Host: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Speaker:

Admiral Jonathan W. Greenert, Chief of Naval Operations, United States Navy

In the words of Admiral Jonathan Greenert, the U.S. Navy is dictated by a “presence mandate;” that is a duty to be present “where it matters, when it matters.” Today, with over half of the worlds tonnage passing through the Straits of Lombok, Malacca, and Sula, a third of the world’s crude oil and half of the liquid natural gas trade flowing through the East China Sea, and five of the U.S.’ top fifteen trading partners located along the Pacific and Indian Oceans, there is arguably no region in the world with more economic and strategic significance than East Asia. It is for these reasons that the U.S. “rebalance” is so significant. As China’s maritime strength continues to grow, and as economies throughout the region develop and flourish, Adm. Greenert believes that the U.S. has a political and economic duty to not only strengthen ties with its existing allies in the region but to also engage and assists emerging powers while working to form new and prosperous partnerships.

In order to effectively act out the “rebalance” to East Asia, Adm. Greenert plans to develop and enhance the U.S. presence along three core categories: “forces, capabilities, and understanding.” In this plan the U.S. will send new and modern ships to the Western Pacific – there are plans to send two new Destroyers and a new submarine to the region in 2015 – while also developing its air and cyber capabilities. However, in addition to these traditional means of building power, Adm. Greenert is determined to protect U.S. interests and develop regional stability by building multilateral partnerships and fostering regional cohesiveness. In an area where the world’s three largest economies – the U.S., China, and Japan – interact on a regular basis, it is crucial that minor altercations and misunderstandings don’t damage mutual long-term interests. It is his view that communication, cooperation, and transparency are key to building lasting and prosperous stability.

Already, positive steps have been taken to procure this goal. In addition to the strong military-military connections Adm. Greenert claims to enjoy with commanders throughout the region, the U.S. joined more than 20 other regional powers in voluntarily signing the regional Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea (CUES) in April of this year. This foundational agreement was put into practice in June of this year at the biannual RIMPAC exercises. Through these exercises, which this year included Brunei, Indonesia, Singapore, China, and other regional powers, a basic communication and protocol and cooperation framework has been agreed upon and practiced in action.

In addition to RIMPAC, Adm. Greenert and the U.S. Navy have carried out several other bilateral, trilateral, and multilateral exercises in order to build trust and minimize miscalculations. In partnership with Japan and the Republic of Korea, the U.S. hosted the Pacific Dragon exercises, in which the naval powers actively shared and tracked ballistic missile launches. In Southeast Asia, in partnership with Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, and Singapore, the U.S. has hosted a series of Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training exercises, designed in order to strengthen skills and regional cooperation in the event of a natural disaster or search and rescue, such as that seen with Malaysian Airlines flight 370.

Lastly, Adm. Greenert sees a “golden opportunity” to strengthen ties with India through its Malabar exercises – which were expanded this year to include the USS George Washington and Japan.

However, even with all these developing partnerships, it can be argued that the major focus of the “rebalance” is to ensure stable and amicable ties with China. As the U.S.’ second largest trading partner, its third largest export market, and largest import market, it is crucial that a clear understanding and balance of power is achieved. In signing CUES and partaking in this year’s RIMPAC exercises, the U.S. and China have made significant steps in building normalized relations. In addition to these measures, Adm. Greenert laid out several additional initiatives – such as increasing the number of official port visits and personnel exchanges – through which he believes greater U.S.-China cooperation can be achieved.

With an increasing amount of economic, strategic, and political interests tied to the region, it is crucial that the U.S. continue to develop an array of capable and coordinated partnerships throughout South and East Asia. As the region develops and becomes increasingly interconnected, no country can thrive unilaterally. For the U.S., and all countries in the region, stability and prosperity can only be achieved through cooperation and transparency. Even in the military, force alone is not enough.

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08. September 2014 by Will Houstoun
Categories: Defense, East Asia, Economics | Comments Off

How the Budget Battle is Hurting U.S. Security

September 4, 2014

Host: The United States Institute of Peace

Speakers:

Ms. Michele Flournoy, Chief Executive, Center for a New American Security

With the advent of nuclear weapons, drones, intercontinental missiles, and other significant military advancements, many experts have posited that the nature of war has fundamentally changed. Gone are the days of prolonged military ground campaigns; the U.S.’s future battles will be fought with precise and tactical strikes – either preformed through small special forces/counter terrorism teams or carried out through unmanned and cyber warfare.

Unfortunately, the events of this past year have shown these expectations to be somewhat premature, as means of conventional warfare have rapidly popped up around the globe. In Syria, the U.S. threatened the use of cruise missiles; in Iraq, a conventional air campaign has proven instrumental in pushing back the Islamic State; in the East China Sea, U.S. destroyers have been positioned off the coast of China in order to deter any regional aggression. With these and other events in mind – such as the rising terrorist threats throughout Africa – Ms. Flournoy believes the U.S. (from a security standpoint) is experiencing its “most complex and volatile period” since WWII.

It is therefore no wonder that the panel of experts who reviewed the 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review is now concerned that, largely due to the 2013 sequester and mandatory budget cuts, U.S. military capabilities are being drastically diminished now, and will be hurt even worse in years to come. In the near-term, Ms. Flournoy pointed out that budget cuts have reduced the armed forces readiness capacity by reducing the number of active duty army brigades, limiting the number of combat capable pilots, and canceling preplanned shipping expeditions – many of which she noted would’ve been heading to Persian Gulf and East China Sea. In addition to the immediate damages, budget cuts also threaten to cut funding for important research and development projects revolving around cyber security, long range strike capabilities, and other crucial fields.

This security threat is almost entirely outside of the hands of security experts. Instead, it is up to a Congress that, as Ms. Flournoy noted, is committed to playing politics and is unable to find a balance between security needs and fiscal needs. So far, Congress has been unwilling to grant Defense Secretary Hagel greater powers and flexibility to stagger cuts and appoint them where he sees appropriate. On the other hand, Congress has also rejected his proposed defense cuts, like those made to the A-10’s. This, in Ms. Flournoy’s eyes, is the most damaging predicament the U.S. could be in, where officials are “under-resourcing defense” and “tying our own hands” when it comes to dealing with tough decisions.

Fortunately, it seems that influential member of Congress are beginning to see the dangers when certain policies are put into action. Over the past year, some notable deficit hawks like Congressman Paul Ryan and Senator Rand Paul have changed their stances, and are looking for fiscal solutions to alleviate the burden on the armed forces. However, in Ms. Flournoy’s opinion, this cannot be a piecemeal project and a grand budget deal is needed to fully right things. Although it is a politically tough decision, politicians must be willing to support benefits and entitlement reform. In order to be an effective fighting force and ensure national security, the U.S. does not need to adhere to the “two-war construct,” but it must ensure that it can deploy well-trained men and women whenever is needed to protect the nation’s interests. 

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05. September 2014 by Will Houstoun
Categories: Defense, Economics | Comments Off

A New Face to Terrorism: Assessing the ISIL Threat

September 3, 2014

Host: The Brookings Institution

Speaker:

Matthew G. Olsen, Director, National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC)

Over the course of the summer, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, aka. Islamic State (IS) or the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS)) has emerged as the new face of Jihadist movements in the Middle East. Led by the reclusive leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi – a man who claims to be a direct descendent of the Prophet Muhammad – ISIL has managed to use a combination of religious ideology, social media prowess, and brutal military tactics in order to garner local and foreign support and seize control of a large swathe of land in Iraq and Syria. As ISIL fighters moved into Iraq in June, and captured Mosul, it gained advanced weaponry, additional funds, and further global notoriety.  Although the group has stated that its goal is to establish an Islamic caliphate in the Middle East, many world leaders fear that, should ISIL continue to go unchecked and attract foreign fighters, it will eventually develop global aspirations and begin to export terrorism abroad.

Despite being severely beaten and rejected by the Iraqi people during the “Sunni Awakening” in 2007 – at this time ISIL was still operating as al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) – the group has succeeded in making a strong, rapid resurgence. By drawing attention to the group’s brutal military tactics, its sophisticated propaganda regime, and its ability to capitalize on the failures of local leaders, Mr. Olsen explained how ISIL is succeeding in attracting both domestic and foreign support. ISIL, Mr. Olsen believes, is providing protection and resources to disenfranchised Sunnis in both Iraq and Syria; people who have had no one else to turn to. Additionally, the group is frequently turning to social media to advertise its victories, showoff its captives and newly won resources, and garner foreign support by speaking out against the U.S. and its allies.

What is most alarming to Mr. Olsen is the degree of success ISIL has had in using propaganda to spread its cause and attract foreign fighters. Currently, the group numbers approximately 10,000 fighters – approximately 100 of which come from the U.S. and 500 come from the UK – and that number is growing. Buoyed by illicit oil sales, smuggling fees, and ransom, Mr. Olsen estimates that ISIL is earning at least $1 million dollars per day, which in turn is being used to attract new fighters and sponsor an increasing number of terrorist operations. Mr. Olsen noted that in 2012 ISIL carried out between 5-10 suicide attacks in Syria per month; now, he estimates that the group is carrying between 30-40 attacks per month. As its numbers and funding grow, it is only reasonable to assume that the number of attacks within Syria, Iraq, and abroad will grow accordingly.

Although Mr. Olsen assured the audience that officials at the NCTC and CIA were doing all they could to monitor individuals entering and leaving Syria, there is little they can do to stop rogue individuals and other small scale attacks, like what was seen at the Jewish Museum in Brussels. It is therefore essential that the U.S. develop a coalition of regional actors who can effectively dislodge ISIL from the region. In Iraq, U.S. airstrikes have been effective when coordinated with Kurdish and Iraqi ground support. Efforts such as this need to be replicated in Syria as well, however Mr. Olsen also stressed the need for a political solution as well. Following a the NATO summit in Wales, it is important that Secretaries Kerry and Hagel travel to the Middle East and garner regional support and cooperation. When facing such a brutal foe, time is of the essence.

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03. September 2014 by Will Houstoun
Categories: Middle East | Comments Off

Balancing Nuclear Ambitions on the Korean Peninsula

July 29, 2014

Host: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace & the Korean Economic Institute

Speaker:

Dr. Park Jin, Executive President, Asia Future Institute

In a somewhat ironic twist, it is the Republic of Korea (the ROK, aka. South Korea), not the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (the DPRK, aka. North Korea), that has drastically increased its nuclear capacity over the past decade. However, unlike its belligerent and hostile neighbor, the DPRK the ROK has been developing its nuclear program for primarily civilian purposes (to increase its nuclear energy production and further diversify the country’s energy portfolio). Regardless of the ROK’s intent, the development of its nuclear program signals that the balance of power on the Korean Peninsula is changing, shifting from a conventional balance to a nuclear one. With this development comes a new level of tension – as the DPRK has increased its confrontational rhetoric towards both the ROK and the U.S. – and also risks, as the possibility for further proliferation throughout the region and also for nuclear conflicts intensifies.

With 23 nuclear reactors already competed and online, the ROK has quickly become one of the largest nuclear powers in the world. Unlike the DPRK, the U.S., and other nuclear powers around the world, the ROK’s nuclear program has, thus far, been used solely for civilian and commercial purposes. However, as Dr. Park explained, the ROK is in a tough spot. Having already invested heavily in its nuclear infrastructure, the ROK has a duty to its citizens to further advance its nuclear program. Nevertheless, as its capabilities grow, the ROK also wants to generate revenue by exporting its civil nuclear technology around the world. It has already signed a deal with the UAE to help develop its own nuclear program, for example. Moves such as this have drawn concern and criticism from the DPRK, the U.S., and other countries around the world. Dr. Park believes that this move is setting a dangerous precedent for the rest of the world and therefore urges the U.S. and ROK to engage in new levels of cooperation. The only way the ROK can further advance its nuclear program and export its technology is by working with the U.S. through a transparent framework.

What is need most on the Korean Peninsula, according to Dr. Park, is earnest dialogue. In order to achieve greater security the ROK needs to develop stronger ties with the U.S., DPRK, and China so that it may be as transparent as possible about its civil nuclear program. Dr. Park called on President Park Geun-hye and other ROK leaders to be more assertive in demanding that China, the North’s strongest ally, play a more active role in the Korean conflict. Although President Xi Jinping has said he opposes the DPRK’s nuclear advances, China’s policy towards the DPRK has gone largely unchanged and is working only to maintain the status quo. Given the recent execution of Jang Sung-Thaek, who was described as having close ties to Chinese leaders, and also President Xi’s recent slight against the DPRK, Dr. Park argues that China could be rethinking its policies toward the DPRK. Now is as good a time as ever for the ROK to push China and have it utilize its influence to bring about a more cooperative North Korea.

Regardless whether strong outside actions are taken, dynamics on the Korean Peninsula are changing. In the midst of an economic crisis, the DPRK is forming lasting business and energy ties with Russia, signaling that it has recognized the need to open up to the outside world in order for the country to survive. Should the ROK and China take similar approaches and demonstrate the benefits that come with cooperation, there is a chance for lasting stability and demilitarization on the Peninsula. With such objectives potentially on the horizon, the U.S. and ROK should do all they can to expand communication, increase cooperation, and further secure peace and prosperity throughout the region.

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31. July 2014 by Will Houstoun
Categories: East Asia | Comments Off

Among Differing Perspectives, can a Strategic Partnership Flourish?

July 30, 2014

Host: The East-West Center

Speakers:

Dr. Dinshaw Mistry, Associate Professor, University of Cincinnati

Dr. Stephen Cohen, Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution

In the early 2000’s, as scholars and policymakers watched development come quickly to East Asia, there was a hope amongst some leaders that India would be able to match and balance out China’s rapid growth, while also providing stability and leadership to restive countries in the region such as Pakistan. Unfortunately, as of today, these optimistic expectations have not been fully met. Although the country has become in many ways more strategically aligned with the U.S., there are still several challenges stemming from India’s own strategic and diplomatic interests.

As Dr. Mistry signaled in a recent report, although India and the U.S. have experienced high levels of convergence in UN peacekeeping missions and export control initiatives, cooperation has faltered when it comes to issues regarding the India’s own nuclear commerce and its diplomatic ties with Iran.

After three years of negotiations, the U.S. and India signed a civil nuclear agreement in 2005, placing India’s civil nuclear facilities within IAEA network. However, despite the hopes of many U.S. policymakers, India did not hire any U.S. firms to help with modernize its nuclear framework. Although Dr. Minsky interpreted this move as a sign of independence from the Indian government, demonstrating it is not dictated by U.S. interests, some policymakers in the U.S. interpreted the move as a snub.

In addition, although India has complied with U.S. led sanctions against Iran – India has, according to Dr. Mistry, dropped its import of Iranian oil by about 15% per year over the last three years – there are still strong political ties between India and Iran. However, as Dr. Cohen pointed out, India has strategic reasons for maintaining close ties with Iran. Firstly, India holds second largest Shiite population in the world – second only to Iran – and therefore Iran has strong public support in the country. Second, with the U.S. withdrawing from Afghanistan at the end of the year, India will likely have to work more closely with Iran, Pakistan, and other regional powers in order to protect their investments in Afghanistan.

Outside of these two areas though, U.S. and Indian policy are increasingly converging along strategic lines. Over the past decade, India has drastically increased the amount of arms it buys from the U.S. – from 2001-04 it spent less than $1 billion and from 2009 to today, it has spent over $11 billion. India is using these acquisitions to not only upgrade its navy, aircraft, and missile technology, all of which Dr. Mistry sees as complimenting U.S. efforts to limit Chinese aggression, but to also play a larger role in international monitoring groups. As of 2010, the U.S. and it allies have supported India’s membership in the Nuclear Suppliers Group, the Missile Technology Control Regime, the Australia Group, and other export control groups aimed at limiting nuclear proliferation. In addition to this, the U.S. has invited India to participate in military exercises with itself, Japan, and other Southeast Asian countries which, although Dr. Mistry labels these exercises as simply symbolic, illustrates the U.S.’ desire for India to play a new role in the pivot to Asia. Whether or not India wants or will continue to play a role though remains to be seen.

For the country that still hasn’t lived up to the high expectations put before it at the beginning of the century, Dr. Mistry and Dr. Cohen both believe that India’s primary focus in the coming will be on its own domestic development. They both see India’s participation in international export control groups as an important step, as it signals increased integration with the international community, but is largely driven by Western concerns regarding nuclear proliferation. In India, the idea that these international efforts are limiting India’s own development and capabilities. From an Indian view, nuclear weapons are the one thing that assured the country that it would never have a war with Pakistan, as neither country will risk nuclear war. With such different perspectives, it is hard to say whether the U.S. and India will be able to maintain a strong and long-term strategic partnership. India has the necessary tools, but whether it can live up to its expectations remains to be seen.

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31. July 2014 by Will Houstoun
Categories: Foreign Policy, South Asia, Technology | Comments Off

The Political Aspects of an Iranian Nuclear Deal

July 21, 2014

Host: The Woodrow Wilson Center

Speakers:

Robert S. Litwak, Director, International Security Studies, Woodrow Wilson Center

In theory, it should be easy for Iran, the U.S., and other member of the P5+1 to reach a nuclear deal. When negotiations began in Vienna late last year, both sides entered the talks with clear objectives; Iran participated in order to gain sanctions relief; the U.S. demanded greater Iranian transparency and technological restraint regarding its nuclear capabilities. However as of July 21 – the  day after the initial deadline and the passing of a four-month extension – a final deal still remains elusive.

This impasse, according to Mr. Litwak, is not so much due to technical disagreements between negotiators but rather, “the historical juxtaposition” that exists between Iran and the U.S. Although both sides have made unprecedented levels of compromises regarding the technical aspects of the nuclear deal – the U.S. conceding that Iran will ultimately maintain enrichment capabilities and Iran expressing a willingness to convert and modify its Arak and Fordow facilities – the nuclear debate has become in both countries, larger than the nuclear issue itself.

In Iran, the nuclear issue is not so much about energy production, but rather about Iran’s universal rights, its right to self-determination, and the country’s relationship with the rest of the world. President Rouhani was elected by running on a platform that promised social reforms, to ease international sanctions, and to also reestablish ties with the international community, while also continuing to tout Iran’s natural right to enrichment. In doing so, Rouhani is keeping in line with Supreme Leader Khamenei, and becoming involved in Iran’s crisis of identity, what Mr. Litwak defines as “whether Iran is a revolutionary state or an ordinary country.” There is recognition in Iran that it needs to revive its economy, as this is what brought it to the negotiating table in the first place. However, the thought that a nuclear deal could open Iran to further strategic and economic partnerships is, Mr. Litwak believes, a threat to the regime’s longevity.

With that said, Iran has in the past demonstrated an ability to compromise its longstanding values in order to seize its immediate security needs; it bought weapons from Israel and the U.S. in 1985 and also welcomed a UN brokered deal to end the Iran-Iraq War.

Come October, the Supreme Leader may just make another concession. The U.S. has already softened its requirements and broken from its longstanding ally Israel, by acknowledging that Iran will always maintain some nuclear capability. As one negotiator put it, “you can’t bomb knowledge.” Iranian scientists have the knowledge and skills to build a nuclear weapon should they want to; that cannot be reversed. Now, U.S. negotiators are working to prolong Iran’s breakout time, not eliminate its capabilities entirely.

A final deal will be one in which leaders from both Iran and the U.S. can say that they stuck to their principles and maintained their key interests. These negotiations are not just about achieving results, but also shaping how those results are perceived. At a time when neither leader wants to give up too much, further compromise and problem solving is needed.

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21. July 2014 by Will Houstoun
Categories: Economics, Middle East | Comments Off

In Pursuit of a Nuclear Deal, Who Will Pay the Highest Price?

July 8, 2014

Host: The United States Institute of Peace

Speakers:

Dr. Suzanne Maloney, Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution

Dr. Kenneth Katzman, Congressional Research Service

Ms. Elizabeth Rosenberg, Senior Fellow, Center for New American Security

After three decades of tension, it seems that the U.S. may be close to curtailing Iran’s nuclear program, thus addressing what it sees as a global security threat. Through a coordinated and multidimensional approach, the U.S. and its partners in the P5+1 have managed to drag Iran to the negotiating table. However, now that negotiators have entered the final round of negotiations in Vienna, the challenges associated with implementing any final agreement are beginning to be discussed.

By working together with governments, businesses, and financial institutions around the world, the U.S. has helped construct a vast and interlocked web of restrictions on Iran. In the U.S. sanctions are comprised of 16 different executive orders and 10 congressional laws, and by partnering these measures with other international efforts, the U.S. has succeeded in severely limiting Iran’s economic capabilities. Since 2011, Iran has lost approximately $100 billion dollars, its oil revenues have shrunk by 60%, its currency value has decreased by 60%, and, according to a recent IMF report, Iran’s economy “contracted by almost 6% in 2013.” In Tehran, Dr. Maloney has seen evidence that unemployment rate is rising while medicine and foreign goods have become increasingly scarce. Further, with Iran becoming increasingly involved in the conflicts in both Iraq and Syria, there is now an even greater need to generate revenue and growth.

In order to avoid a complete economic free fall, Iran needs to normalize its relations with the rest of the world. The country needs to access its assets currently frozen in foreign banks; t needs to be able to freely export its oil and petrochemicals; it needs to regain access to SWIFT and other electronic wiring services. Dr. Katzman therefore thinks that Iran will demand that all sanctions associated with resolution 1929 be waived and eventually terminated. This process of waiving and terminating sanctions will, according to Dr. Katzman, take several years to fully implement and will be introduced in staggered steps, so as to ensure Iran fully complies with its obligations.

However, as the process of lifting sanction will evidently take time, Ms. Rosenberg is concerned that the staggered approach may discourage foreign businesses from reengaging with Iran. This in turn will weaken the economic recovery that many Iranians on the streets are expecting to come with a nuclear deal and left Ms. Rosenberg claiming “the sanctions economy will not disappear overnight.” Following the record-setting $8.9 billion dollar fine that BNP Paribas received for violating sanctions, Ms. Rosenberg believes many businesses will hold off on reengaging Iran in order to ensure that it will comply with any final deal and that it will not fall under new sanctions in the immediate future. Although Iran may want, and desperately need, to attract foreign enterprises in order to better manage its energy reserves, it may have to wait until international companies feel comfortable enough to do business with Iran.

In such a young and educated country such as Iran, continued economic stagnation could come at a high political cost. President Rouhani ran as a reformist who could broker ties with the West and has promised to procure Iranian growth and prosperity. In order to survive politically and maintain leverage over Iran’s vocal conservative groups, Dr. Maloney believes that Rouhani and Mohammad Zarif, his Foreign Minister, need to reach a deal in Vienna. Without it, there is a potential for instability to erupt. For this reason, Dr. Maloney believes that Ali Khamenei, the country’s Supreme Leader, cannot allow the talks to fail. Despite his conservative rhetoric, he cannot risk the political instability that could be potentially brought on should talks fail. With billions of dollars in assets frozen and their credibility at stake, leaders in Iran must hope for success in Vienna. Without a final deal, there is no hope for future development; there will only be further poverty and discontent.

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09. July 2014 by Will Houstoun
Categories: Middle East | Comments Off

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