Regional Security

Iranian and Saudi Perspectives on the Risks of Climate Change and Ecological Deterioration

BY: Wael Abdul-Shafi and Jan Hanrath

The repercussions of climate change and environmental challenges pose enormous risks to Iran and Saudi Arabia alike. While there are differences in geography and climate in  both countries, they also have many environmental challenges in common. Problems such as sand and dust storms or diminishing water resources are border-crossing phenomena that no country can deal with alone; therefore, cooperation is key. At this point in time, however, willingness to cooperate is utterly lacking in a region marked by geo-strategic rivalries, ongoing military conflicts and deep-rooted mutual distrust between regional rivals, and between Saudi Arabia and Iran in particular.

CARPO and the EastWest Institute initiated a meeting of experts from Saudi Arabia and Iran as part of their "Iran-Saudi Track 2 Initiative." The participants discussed environmental challenges to reach a better understanding of the political context and to identify opportunities and limits for Iranian-Saudi cooperation in the field of regional environmental policy. Participants agreed that climate change and ecological deterioration pose a major challenge to their countries and the region. 

Fully aware that the current political situation makes cooperation very difficult, participants discussed potential avenues of exchange below the level of national governments and proposed initiatives for cooperation on a regional and international level.

The "Iran-Saudi Dialogue" project is funded by ifa (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen) with resources provided by the German Federal Foreign Office. This latest brief follows three previous ones: Iranian and Saudi Perspectives on the Refugee CrisisKnow Your Enemy — Iranian and Saudi Perspectives on ISIL, and Envisioning the Future: Iranian and Saudi Perspectives on the Post-Oil Economy.

Please click here for the full report.

Photo credit: "Climate Change Pffft." (CC BY-NC 2.0) by Un-Alien-able

Japan's Delicate Balancing Act in the South China Sea

Tokyo knows that any acceleration of its moves in the South China Sea will likely be reciprocated by Beijing’s tightening of the screws in the East China Sea, writes EWI Senior Fellow J. Berkshire Miller in the National Interest.

Sino-Japanese relations have long been marred by a maritime and territorial row in the East China Sea as well as a historical dispute over Japan's wartime memory, which has prevented sustainable rapprochement. Further complicating the situation, bilateral ties are now increasingly strained by Japan’s growing presence in the South China Sea, where overlapping territorial and maritime disputes have pitted China against several Southeast Asian neighbors.

At the recent Shangri-La Dialogue, Asia’s most important defense and security summit, Japanese defense minister Tomomi Inada delivered pointed criticisms of China, deploring its attempts to “upend the rules-based order” and “alter the status quo based on assertions incompatible with existing international norms.” While never directly referring to China, Inada’s remarks were some of the most vivid official expressions in recent years of Japan’s concerns regarding China’s foreign policy. The following day, Beijing issued a rebuttal, expressing its “strong dissatisfaction and firm opposition” to what it deemed “irresponsible remarks.”

The JS Izumo, the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force’s largest warship, is currently sailing through the South China Sea for three months, making port calls to Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines and Sri Lanka. The cross-ocean trek comes just as the warship is preparing to take part in a multilateral naval exercise in the Indian Ocean in July, along with India and the United States. Izumo’s itinerary is meant to serve as a sign of Japan’s commitment to its Southeast Asian partners and is a clear response to what it perceives as China’s overbearing approach to the South China Sea. Notably, the trip also comes on the heels of Tokyo’s November 2016 announcement of the so-called Vientiane Vision, which lays out Japan’s plans for increased defense cooperation with members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Read the full article here.

When the Battle for Mosul Ends, the Fight for Iraq Begins

Kawa Hassan, the director of the EastWest Institute's Middle East and North Africa program, breaks down the vital requirements to develop Iraq after the imminent military defeat of the Islamic State terrorists. Writing for the National Interest, Hassan advocates for transforming the global coalition to defeat ISIS into the global coalition to rebuild Iraq.

Iraq is at a crucial crossroads. The Iraqi government, backed by the United States and its coalition partners, is on the brink of retaking all major urban territories once occupied by ISIS. While very encouraging, the global coalition’s focus on militarily defeating ISIS obscures the fact that Iraq is beset by worsening sectarian tensions and proxy wars, political dysfunction and growing humanitarian crises. These perils, left unaddressed, will not only cripple international and diplomatic efforts, but also plunge Iraq further into instability and conflict long after ISIS is defeated on the battlefield.

The future of Iraq is important, not just for Iraqis but for the region and the international community. What the international community and regional states do or do not do will have a significant impact on that future. Today, by consolidating and capitalizing on the gains that the Iraqis, United States and international community have made in this second war against violent extremism in Iraq, the hope is that the same global coalition can avoid becoming entangled in a third and fourth and finally pave the way for rebuilding Iraq politically and economically.

In brief, the reality on the ground is as follows: the loosely held anti-ISIS alliance—which includes the Iraqi army, Shia militias, Sunni tribal units and Kurdish peshmerga forces—will likely dissolve; Iraqi-Kurdish contention over oil and gas revenues, budgets and land disputes is growing; and intra- and inter-Iraqi competition between and within communities over power and influence is flaring.

Additionally, corruption, falling oil prices, a declining economy, and high levels of devastation from cycles of ravaging war against the Islamic State will not only continue to undermine Iraq’s recovery and stability but will also be a key factor in disenfranchising Iraqi society, particularly the youth. This point is critical. Violent extremism flourishes in societies where state institutions are seen as oppressive, corrupt, ineffective and illegitimate. Unfortunately, all these factors are present in today’s Iraq.

Click here to access the full analysis.

Munter Analyzes Trump's "America First" Policy

On June 12, EWI President and CEO Cameron Munter talked to Voice of America’s International Edition to discuss the role of the U.S. on the world stage under President Donald Trump. 

Asked about his take on other foreign leaders pursuing a more globalist foreign policy in the wake of Trump’s ‘America First’ vision, Munter replied that "There are two ways to look at this. One way is you can’t rely on the United States implies we can’t trust the United States. That’s very negative and very harsh way of looking at it. There’s another interpretation of [what Merkel said] that I think is a little less apocalyptic…and that’s that Europe must pull its weight in defense…[Europe] can’t just be an economic  superpower and not be a military and political security superpower." 

Commenting on Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris Climate Accords, Munter stated that although the decision shows clarity within the Administration’s policy objectives, it does constitute "a huge symbolic blow that the world’s biggest country, which has been a leader in this area, is now the outlier. It is a symbolic blow to the idea of solidarity. It is a symbolic blow to the image of the United States as a leader."

Munter went on to say that "if we are to ignore the way in which multilateral institutions have worked, we will be leaving a world that we’ve used very much to our advantage in my opinion for the past 70 years."

Listen to his discussion below, beginning around the 6:20 minute mark. 

The Balkans Continue to Face Numerous Challenges

Maja Piscevic, a Senior Fellow at EWI, talks to the European Western Balkans about the region's challenges and how the institute expects to play a role in addressing them.

European Western Balkans: The opening of the EastWest Institute office in Belgrade has been recently announced, when you, together with the CEO of the Institute, Cameron Munter, met with the President of Serbia, Aleksandar Vučić, the Prime Minister, Ana Brnabić, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ivica Dačić. When will the office be put in motion?

Maja Piščević: At its spring meeting in London, the Board of Directors of the EastWest Institute supported the proposal of Ambassador Munter that the Institute, after more than a decade, ought to return to the Balkans and to support, from Belgrade, the economic integration processes and the prevention of future conflicts in the region.

The aim of the meetings with the President of Serbia, the Prime Minister, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs was to familiarize them with the mission and the specific way the EWI works, as well as concrete talks on possible ways of engaging EWI through its wide network of diplomatic and expert contacts around the world. EastWest Balkans has been operational since the beginning of July and I hope that we will soon be able to announce the first projects.

EWB: Since the office in Belgrade will be the third office of the East-West Institute beyond the borders of the United States, after Moscow and Brussels, should this be understood as a signal of the importance of this region for global security?

MP: Absolutely! The wars that occurred in this region as a result of the disintegration of Yugoslavia are today a past, but the region continues to face numerous challenges, regardless of the fact that they are rarely written on the front pages of the Western media. The Dayton Agreement that ended the war in Bosnia represents today a fragile and often inefficient structure for managing the country. The agreement between Serbia and Kosovo has not yet been reached, and it is a prerequisite for the European future of both actors. Macedonia continues to face internal challenges, and the same can be said for Croatia, although it is a member state of the European Union.

Click here for the full interview.

A Vote for Stability Steers Southerner to Success in Kyrgyzstan's Presidential Election

The October 15 referendum raises expectations of policy continuity in a country that has to balance regional, strategic interests.

Former Prime Minister Sooronbay Jeenbekov—from the pro-presidential Social Democratic Party—has won the Kyrgyzstan presidential election, with 54.81 percent of the vote. His main opponent, Ömürbek Babanov, leader of Respublika–Ata Jurt—the second-largest party in parliament—received 33.74 percent of the votes. 

Jeenbekov’s ascent to power indicates voters’ clear preference for stability over any potential risk of a radical, yet uncertain shakeup of the country’s socioeconomic policies—as advocated by Babanov. Speaking to Interfax, Babanov stated that his role in the election was to “provide an alternative vision for the country's development of the state." Babanov added that "success lies in the fact that we have managed to change people's thinking."

The outgoing president, Almazbek Atambayev, pursued a coalition aimed at maintaining a balance of interests between the affluent, trade based communities in the country's north, and the primarily agricultural based majority in the south. Jeenbekov, a southerner himself, is recognized as “a son of the soil,” having served as Agriculture Minister and Governor of Osh, a populous province bordering Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Effectively, the election outcome reflects Kyrgyz politicians’ inclination towards an arrangement that falls short of taking any far-reaching measures would address the existing economic and wealth disparities, reflected by the north-south divide.  

The succession from Atambayev to Jeenbekov also appears to be a result of the country’s leadership pursuing a skillful balancing of Kyrgyzstan's regional relations, especially with Kazakhstan—the country's largest neighbor to the north—and Uzbekistan, the country with the largest population among all Central Asian states, to the south.

Both Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan are part of the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU)—a trade bloc that also includes Belarus and Armenia. Just this week, however, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan agreed on steps to ease checks on the movement of people and goods along the 1,212 km border between the two countries. The border issue arose amid accusations of Kazakhstan potentially interfering in the Kyrgyz presidential campaign.

On its other border, Uzbekistan, with a population of 29 million—projected to exceed over 33 million by 2025—has growing water needs but is increasingly wary of Kyrgyzstan’s plans to dam rivers for hydropower projects.

Russia, another regional neighbor, also has a direct interest in the results of the election. Sharing a common past—Kyrgyzstan was under Soviet rule for seven decades—and close economic and security interests, commentators in Russia have voiced their expectations about the results of Kyrgyzstan’s presidential polls. Speaking from Moscow, Dmitry Alexandrov—an analyst with the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies—expressed that the vote affirmed Kyrgyzstan’s desire for stability, while recognizing that a top priority for the new president will be to "conduct a dialogue with the constituencies in the country's northern districts, including Talas and Chuy.” Alexandrov, like many Russian commentators, also wishes to see Kyrgyzstan continue to maintain close bilateral ties to Russia including a Moscow-led economic and security alliance and a deepening integration with the Eurasian Economic Union.  

Nevertheless, while the relationship with Russia may remain strong, it is important to remember that Kyrgyzstan shares a 1,063 km border with China, a neighbor whose foreign direct investments continue to rise. The Chinese Petroleum Company funded 300 million USD for building a refinery, operating since 2013. It was envisaged that the refinery would help reduce Kyrgyzstan’s dependence on the supply of processed fuel and lubricants from Russia. Plans for ​​building a China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan railway are under discussion. When launched, Kyrgyzstan will receive a portion of the projected investment, estimated to be up to three billion USD. Moreover, Kyrgyzstan is looking for China to invest in the construction of energy facilities, especially the Upper Naryn and Kambarata-1 hydroelectric power stations in Kyrgyzstan. Hence, Bishkek will very likely, and wisely, leverage the shared economic interests of Russia and China, maintaining parallel arrangements and engaging on Beijing’s One Belt and One Road Initiative and in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. 

The new administration will to need allay long-running misgivings in order to win the public’s confidence on numerous domestic and international issues. This includes addressing ethnic and regional divides, criminal activity as well as expanding commercial interests and good governance—the lack of which, at times, poses a power vacuum. 

Above all, Kyrgyzstan’s ruling Social Democratic Party (SDPK) made a commendable choice to seek wider endorsement from the public, thus, marking a clear departure from previous practices where a narrow but powerful circle selected their favorite candidate to rule. The intending message is clear: among all Central Asian states, Kyrgyzstan has pursued the path to democratic transition—a commitment which merits further consolidation. The onus now rests on the tri-partite ruling coalition to rise decisively above petty politics to ensure much needed stability.   

The views expressed in this post reflect those of the author and not that of the EastWest Institute.

Munter Talks the Balkans on Voice of America

Ambassador Cameron Munter spoke to Voice of America (VOA) about how new conflicts could be emerging in the Balkans due to a number of unresolved issues from the past.

In the interview, published on September 26, Munter also posed the question if Europe still had "the magnetic charm it had" for countries in that region.

Click here to listen to Munter's remarks, beginning around the 9:00 mark.


As Crisis Brews in the Balkans, the West Looks On

Moral Obligations and Military Intervention

Moral obligation plays an important and overlooked role in U.S. public attitudes towards military action.


In his speech outlining U.S. policy towards Afghanistan, Donald Trump assured the public that he shared their frustration with a foreign policy that did not pursue U.S. “security interests over all other considerations.” This laser-focus on achieving U.S. security at all costs echoes realists from Thucydides to Thomas Hobbes to George Kennan, who have long represented the conventional wisdom when it comes to the way that states should or do interact with other states. From this view, political reality must be intertwined with power and self-interest—morality is simply a sideshow against this theoretical backdrop.

Trump’s ends-justify-the-means rhetoric and concern with public opinion date back to campaign promises that his policy towards the use of torture would depend on whether “Americans feel strongly about bringing back waterboarding and other tactics.” But, is President Trump right to assume the public shares his frustration with a foreign policy focused on anything other than the narrowly defined promotion of U.S. security interests? Our research, published in the Journal of Conflict Resolution, suggests the opposite is the case. Moral obligation plays an important and overlooked role in U.S. public attitudes towards military action.

In this research, we recruited a national sample of U.S. adults to participate in a survey experiment that examined whether support for humanitarian interventions is grounded in moral concerns about protecting foreign civilians or more instrumental, national interest-focused concerns about costs and consequences. In the post-Cold War period, half of the United States’ military interventions have taken the form of humanitarian interventions, the use of force across borders for the primary purpose of saving foreign civilians. The 1990s were the heyday of U.S.-led humanitarian interventions, referred to by critics as a foreign policy of “social work.” Examples from this period include the Somalia intervention in 1992-1993, Bosnia in 1995, and Kosovo in 1999. However, more recent interventions in Libya and Syria also carried humanitarian overtones, suggesting that the practice is alive and well in this decade.

Findings show that these humanitarian overtones actually increased public support for humanitarian intervention scenarios compared to “realpolitik”-style operations such as restraining an aggressive state. However, higher levels of support for these interventions derived not from the assumptions about costs in blood and treasure that shape responses to security interventions but from moral motives. Faced with the prospect of a humanitarian crisis, individuals were drawn to support military action out of a sense of moral obligation and belief that the US and its allies “ought” to intervene on behalf of foreign civilians.

Today, in an increasingly polarized political context where partisanship pervades every aspect of public life, a follow-up analysis was conducted to investigate whether individuals’ party identification plays a role in the types of interventions they support and why. Results drawn from our 2015-2016 study indicate that Republicans offer high and consistent levels of support for all forms of military intervention and the prospect of humanitarian motives does little to boost their support for the use of force—in other words, there is a ceiling effect that makes additional upward movement more difficult. Republicans also felt a sense of moral responsibility for intervention of all kinds, whether humanitarian or ejecting an authoritarian leader who invaded another country. On the other hand, Democrats were more leery of the use of force in response to foreign aggression but were animated by the prospect of humanitarian motives because they were concerned about harm done to foreign civilians and felt a sense of moral obligation for U.S. action. While the content of their moral concerns varied, across the board moral considerations loom large for both Republicans and Democrats.

Our research has focused primarily on attitudes of Americans because the United States has tended to assume a dominant international role when it comes to the use of force. Previous studies suggest, however, that other democratic publics, especially the United Kingdom, often converge with American attitudes when it comes to support for military force, suggesting that these attitudes likely travel to other democratic populaces as well.

Several years ago, the political scientist John Mearsheimer reported that “realism is a hard sell.” Realist compatriot Henry Kissinger similarly lamented that “Americans cannot sustain major international obligations that are not justified by their moral faith.” Despite efforts aimed at offering a more self-serving perspective of the public, our research indicates that the realist lament largely rests on firm ground. Americans are not simply moved to expend resources for self-interest or for violations of state sovereignty. They value the prospect of saving strangers in distant lands, and do so exactly on the basis of moral faith. Leaders who dismiss these moral mechanisms undermine not only the international legitimacy of military action, but their own domestic basis of support.


Sarah Kreps is an associate professor of government and adjunct professor of law at Cornell University. Sarah Maxey is a postdoctoral fellow at Perry World House at the University of Pennsylvania. This article outlines the findings of a recent article in the Journal of Conflict Resolution.  


The views expressed in this post reflect those of the author and not that of the EastWest Institute.


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