Posts Tagged ‘Conflict & Security’

Interview with Hamid Karzai

December 24, 2009 Leave a comment

Newsweek has posted its interview with Afghan president Hamid Karzai.

Excerpts below:

Q: But reportedly, the Pakistani Army will only take on the Pakistani Taliban, not the extremists in Pakistan who are the enemies of the United States. A: There is speculation [to this effect], but I think we should give Pakistan time to show that it will go in that direction as well. At this point we have no reason to be negative.

Q: Is a lot of what is going on in Afghanistan a Pashtun rebellion, in the sense that the Pashtuns, who used to rule Afghanistan, feel left out as power has been ceded to the Tajiks and other groups? A: It is not that. The Pashtuns have been victims of terrorism all along for the past 30 years—just like the rest of Afghanistan and the rest of Pakistan. What we must do is provide the Pashtuns with protection, with resources, with reconstruction, and an environment in which they can send their children to school and educate them. They are actually victims.


Escalation’s human cost: Iran’s nuclear program and rockets in the face of proposed US sanctions

December 16, 2009 Leave a comment
Iran's pretroleum sector facilities

Iran's pretroleum sector facilities -- Source: CIA

Iran is said to have arrested an alleged Western spy in one of its nuclear enrichment facilities, the Fordo plant. This is to have taken place some two months ago, though the government has not spoken of this incident. News of this was released by Israel’s Channel 2 and elaborated by Hebrew Radio.

Times of London, on Monday, released a report based on its obtaining intelligence documents that claim strong evidence of nuclear weapon development. “The notes, from Iran’s most sensitive military nuclear project, describe a four-year plan to test a neutron initiator, the component of a nuclear bomb that triggers an explosion. Foreign intelligence agencies date them to early 2007, four years after Iran was thought to have suspended its weapons programme.”

From the same Times report: “A 2007 US National Intelligence Estimate concluded that weapons work was suspended in 2003 and officials said with “moderate confidence” that it had not resumed by mid-2007. Britain, Germany and France, however, believe that weapons work had already resumed by then.”

The publication of these documents coincide with increased pressure on Iran from Western governments, led by the US.

Iran’s foreign ministry spokesperson, Ramin Mehmanparast, has responded to the Times story, reaffirming the country’s claim that the nuclear program is purely civilian. “This claim has political aims, and it is psychological warfare,” he said. Tehran Times has more on this. Beyond the Times report, the claims of a weapons program have not been confirmed, and though the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has confirmed receipt of the intelligence documents it has made no ruling on their accuracy.

Middle East historian and expert on Middle East politics, Juan Cole, had in October written a salient article, Top Things you Think You Know about Iran that are not True, that addresses many of the assumptions made by the media. Cole’s article is good to keep in mind when assessing the political and security situation in relation to Iran, and it can help the reader sift through the many allegations and counter-claims between the West and Iran.

Some key points from Cole’s article:

Iran’s military budget is a little over $6 billion annually. Sweden, Singapore and Greece all have larger military budgets. Moreover, Iran is a country of 70 million, so that its per capita spending on defense is tiny compared to these others, since they are much smaller countries with regard to population. Iran spends less per capita on its military than any other country in the Persian Gulf region with the exception of the United Arab Emirates.

…Iran has a nuclear enrichment site at Natanz near Isfahan where it says it is trying to produce fuel for future civilian nuclear reactors to generate electricity. All Iranian leaders deny that this site is for weapons production, and the International Atomic Energy Agency has repeatedly inspected it and found no weapons program. Iran is not being completely transparent, generating some doubts, but all the evidence the IAEA and the CIA can gather points to there not being a weapons program… While Germany, Israel and recently the UK intelligence is more suspicious of Iranian intentions, all of them were badly wrong about Iraq’s alleged Weapons of Mass Destruction and Germany in particular was taken in by Curveball, a drunk Iraqi braggart.

…Iranian politicians are rational actors. If they were madmen, why haven’t they invaded any of their neighbors? Saddam Hussein of Iraq invaded both Iran and Kuwait. Israel invaded its neighbors more than once. In contrast, Iran has not started any wars. Demonizing people by calling them unbalanced is an old propaganda trick. The US elite was once unalterably opposed to China having nuclear science because they believed the Chinese are intrinsically irrational. This kind of talk is a form of racism.

Xinhua reports that the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council has called for a peaceful political solution to the issue of Iran’s nuclear program. The PGCC consists of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. According to the news report, “the PGCC emphasized the right of all countries in the region to have peaceful nuclear energy within the framework of international agreements, based on regulations of the International Atomic Energy Agency and under its supervision.”

These same Gulf countries have together, and individually, reiterated the same point on countries’ rights to a peaceful civilian nuclear program. This may well underscore their own nuclear ambitions. Many countries in the Middle East, Central Asia, South Asia, and North Africa already have nuclear programs or are planning to set up new ones with the help of the US, Russia, Europe, or China.

The Council officially expressed its desire to seek a civilian nuclear program after its December 2006 summit.

In 2007, the Council asked for help from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in developing a civilian nuclear program and has since had some positive response from the energy agency.

The US, under president George W. Bush, has signed nuclear cooperation agreement with a number of Council members: with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Bahrain (click on each country name to read the agreement). All of these agreements were signed in 2008, save one with the UAE in 2009.

You can read more about the nuclear programs of other regional actors in an earlier report: A swarm of nuclear deals in the Middle East and Asia

A day after the Times of London story, The US House of Representatives on Tuesday approved a sanctions bill against Iran, as a response to the nuclear program. The US Senate has still to review the legislation. According to Dawn news, “The measure would empower US President Barack Obama to effectively block firms that supply Iran with refined petroleum products, or the ability to import or produce them at home, from doing business in the United States… Because of a lack of domestic refining capacity, oil-rich Iran is dependent on gasoline imports to meet about 40 per cent of domestic consumption. Iran gets most of those imports from the Swiss firm Vitol, the Swiss/Dutch firm Trafigura, France’s Total, the Swiss firm Glencore and British Petroleum, as well as the Indian firm Reliance.”

Al Jazeera on the US sanctions bill:

Asia Times reports on the sanctions:

Americans for Peace Now (APN), which advocates for a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, opposed the sanctions legislation because ”it is about sanctions that target the Iranian people, in the hope that if the people become miserable enough they will pressure their government to change course. This is a strategy that few experts believe will work, and a strategy that has a very poor track record in other contexts (Iraq, Cuba, Gaza).”

”Indeed, experience has demonstrated with sanctions like these, the most likely and immediate result will be a backlash by the people of Iran against the United States, not against the Iranian regime,” APN concluded.”

I would argue that, in general, economic sanctions have some strong similarities with blockages and sieges. During the long history of blockades and sieges, non-combatants have always been the first to suffer. This is because the defending ruling forces will always reserve the most secure position for themselves, and have first access to necessary supplies. This is simple strategic logic. Proponents of a siege often argue their innocence by claiming that the enemy has forced civilians into the front lines by taking the best for themselves. This assumes that the attacking force did not intend to gain from the economic hardship and strangulation that provides military and psychological benefits in military, economic, and political warfare. The political philosopher, Michael Walzer, references the British military historian B.H. Liddell Hart’s assertion that in the First World War the British blockade was a decisive factor in Germany’s defeat. Hart argues that “the spectre of slow enfeeblement ending in eventual collapse,” drove the enemy military to make desperate and disastrous military decisions. (Michael Walzer, 2000. ‘Just and Unjust Wars’, Basic Books, p. 160.)

On Wednesday, Iran claims to have successfully test-fired an upgraded medium-range ground-to-ground missile. Iran’s PressTV has more on the test of the Sejjil-2 missile. It claims that the “new version of the Sejjil-2 is faster during the powered flight portion of its trajectory and also during the re-entry phase. It is also harder to detect for anti-missile systems, as it is covered with anti-radar material.” It is designed to be “more efficient as it requires less amount of time for prelaunch preparations. This quality reduces the possibility of it being targeted prior to take off. According to comments made by Iran’s defense minister, Brigadier Ahmad Vahidi, the missile-launch is part of Iran’s efforts to boost deterrence capabilities.”

The announcement was made only hours after US House approved the sanctions bill, in a time of increased tension regarding Iran’s nuclear program.

AP on the missile test:

Military deployment details in Iraq

December 10, 2009 Leave a comment

DJ Elliott maintains a site with a full breakdown of military deployment in Iraq, maps included. This ‘Order of Battle,’ as he states, contains “regular Army, Special Forces, Navy, Air Force, and Paramilitary Police.” The site, Montrose Toast, is regularly updated, one of the recent points of interest being a detailed map of Iraqi and US armed forces updated on 30 November 2009. This resource is very useful for those interested in learning about the details of military presence in Iraq.

John Pilger’s Syndey Peace Prize speech

December 10, 2009 Leave a comment

Excerpt from Pulse, with video of the speech available on their website:

Pilger covers issues of both Australian and international import, from Iraq to Palestine and US foreign policy, to the Australian federal government’s racist intervention into remote Aboriginal communities. He calls for a breaking of media and public silence and for a peoples fifth estate as an alternative to our corporatist Murdochracies.

US president Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech

December 10, 2009 Leave a comment

From the White House release:

Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, Distinguished Members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, citizens of America, and citizens of the world:

I receive this honor with deep gratitude and great humility. It is an award that speaks to our highest aspirations that for all the cruelty and hardship of our world, we are not mere prisoners of fate. Our actions matter, and can bend history in the direction of justice.

And yet I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the considerable controversy that your generous decision has generated. In part, this is because I am at the beginning, and not the end, of my labors on the world stage. Compared to some of the giants of history who have received this prize Schweitzer and King; Marshall and Mandela my accomplishments are slight. And then there are the men and women around the world who have been jailed and beaten in the pursuit of justice; those who toil in humanitarian organizations to relieve suffering; the unrecognized millions whose quiet acts of courage and compassion inspire even the most hardened of cynics. I cannot argue with those who find these men and women some known, some obscure to all but those they help to be far more deserving of this honor than I.
Read more…

Sri Lanka sits atop a strategic nexus

December 8, 2009 Leave a comment

Indian Ocean

Indian Ocean

The US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations has recently released a report on the need for a policy in regards to Sri Lanka. The report, “Sri Lanka: Recharting US Strategy After the War,” indicates that the island nation is key to US strategic interests in the region.

“As Western countries became increasingly critical of the Sri Lankan Government’s handling of the war and human rights record, the Rajapaksa leadership cultivated ties with such countries as Burma, China, Iran, and Libya. The Chinese have invested billions of dollars in Sri Lanka through military loans, infrastructure loans, and port development, with none of the strings attached by Western nations. While the United States shares with the Indians and the Chinese a common interest in securing maritime trade routes through the Indian Ocean, the U.S. Government has invested relatively little in the economy or the security sector in Sri Lanka, instead focusing more on IDPs [Internally Displaced Persons] and civil society. As a result, Sri Lanka has grown politically and economically isolated from the West,” states the US Senate report.

The report’s writers make a case for a shift in US policy by emphasizing the geostrategic importance of the island: “Sri Lanka is located at the nexus of crucial maritime trading routes in the Indian Ocean connecting Europe and the Middle East to China and the rest of Asia.

“[…]A more multifaceted U.S. strategy would capitalize on the economic, trade, and security aspects of the relationship. This approach in turn could catalyze much-needed political reforms that will ultimately help secure longer term U.S. strategic interests in the Indian Ocean. U.S. strategy should also invest in Sinhalese parts of the country, instead of just focusing aid on the Tamil-dominated North and East.”

About 80 percent of China’s oil passes through the waterways near Sri Lanka, most of India’s imports of oil pass through the Indian Ocean, and “three-quarters of all Japan’s oil needs pass through [the Straight of Hormuz],” one of the chokepoints into the region’s open seas.

Robert D. Kaplan has written a noted article in the Foreign Affairs journal indicating that “India’s and China’s great-power aspirations, as well as their quests for energy security, have compelled the two countries ‘to redirect their gazes from land to the seas,’ according to James Holmes and Toshi Yoshihara, associate professors of strategy at the U.S. Naval War College. And the very fact that they are focusing on their sea power indicates how much more self-confident they feel on land. And so a map of the Indian Ocean exposes the contours of power politics in the twenty-first century.” Furthermore, “Already the world’s preeminent energy and trade interstate seaway, the Indian Ocean will matter even more in the future. One reason is that India and China, major trading partners locked in an uncomfortable embrace, are entering into a dynamic great-power rivalry in these waters—a competition that the United States, although now a declining hegemon, can keep in check by using its navy to act as a sea-based balancer.”

India continues to secure its naval presence by increasing its surveillance capability. A new listening post has reportedly begun to operate in Madagascar, linked with two other similar listening posts off of India’s west coast. The system will allow for surveillance of navies in large swaths of ocean from Africa’s east coast to India’s west coast. New Delhi considers the security of these lanes as vital to its economic health. Asia Times reports that “most of India’s trade is by sea,” and that, “nearly 89% of India’s oil imports arrive by sea.”

Another report released by the US, this one by Naval Intelligence, reviews Iran’s naval history and strategy: “Iran uses its naval forces for political ends such as naval diplomacy and strategic messaging. Most of all, Iranian naval forces are equipped to defend against perceived external threats. Public statements by Iranian leaders indicate that they would consider closing or controlling the Strait of Hormuz if provoked, thereby cutting off almost 30 percent of the world’s oil supply.” The document is titled ‘Iran’s Naval Forces‘.

The growing importance of the Asia-Pacific region: video talk by former head of the US Pacific Command

December 2, 2009 Leave a comment

Retired admiral Timothy J. Keating, former head of the US Pacific Command (from 26 March 2007 to 19 October 2009) outlines the US alliance with Japan, the Republic of Korea, Australia, New Zealand, India, and the Philippines in maintaining its strategic interest in what he identifies as an increasingly important region to the US and to the world: the Asia-Pacific region. The US has over US$1 trillion of trade with the region annually, and the Asia-Pacific contains 15 of the 20 largest ports globally, 9 of which are in China. Admiral Keating also outlines the importance of US troops stationed in Japan (about 50,000), South Korea (about 28,000), and the Philippines (about 600 special operations forces).

View the video at the Center for Strategic & International Studies.

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