Regional Security

Israel, Iran and History Lessons

"The year is 1938 and Iran is Germany," Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly warned -- and is likely to warn again during his visit to Washington on Monday.

The Israeli prime minister is invoking the lessons of history to make the strongest possible case against Iran, even if that means deliberately overstating the putative equivalency between that country and Nazi Germany. With President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's regime steadily moving closer to acquiring nuclear weapons while continuing to encourage its followers to chant "Death to Israel," Netanyahu can hardly be blamed for taking those threats seriously.

But what are the real lessons of history -- and what do they tell us about how we need to conduct ourselves today?

On that score, there's strong supporting evidence for Netanyahu's broader point about the dangers of underestimating the threat from regimes spouting radical rhetoric, but less than convincing evidence that history offers a clear guide to what constitutes a sensible course of action.

Although it seems incredible now, many people initially saw Hitler as a bizarre, effeminate politician who would never be in a position to inflict real harm -- or, later, as a pragmatic leader we could deal with.

This was true not just of the British and French leaders who signed the infamous Munich Pact of 1938, which led to the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia. As I point out in my new bookHitlerland: American Eyewitnesses to the Nazi Rise to Power, it was also true of many Americans who lived and worked in Germany.

Dorothy Thompson, America's most famous woman foreign correspondent of that era, interviewed Hitler in November 1931, fourteen months before he became chancellor. She entered the room expecting to meet the future dictator of Germany, but "in something less than fifty seconds I was quite sure I was not," she wrote. Struck by the "startling insignificance of the man" who is "inconsequent and voluble, ill-poised, insecure," she predicted: "If Hitler comes into power, he will smite only the weakest of his enemies."

German politicians often made the same mistake. Franz von Papen, the vice chancellor who helped engineer Hitler's appointment to the top job, told his friends: "We have hired Hitler" -- in other words, he would be easily manipulated.

In many cases, even German Jews refused to take Hitler seriously. Paul Drey, a Bavarian from a distinguished Bavarian Jewish family who worked for the U.S. Consulate in Munich, wrote off the Nazis' early successes as "a temporary madness," insisting that Germans were "too intelligent to be taken in by such scamps." Drey would die in Dachau.

To be sure, there were those who sensed Hitler's dangerous potential right from the start. Captain Truman Smith, a junior U.S. military attaché, first met the little known Nazi leader in 1922, immediately warning that he was "a marvelous demagogue" who could go far. And along with many of her journalistic and diplomatic colleagues, Thompson radically revised her view of Hitler as soon as he seized dictatorial powers.

Still, when it came to resisting Hitler's expansionist aims, there was plenty of disagreement. Perceptive journalists like William Shirer of CBS despaired that visitors from Paris, London and New York took at face value Hitler's protestations that his intentions were peaceful. "Peace?" he wrote in his diary in 1937. "Read Mein Kampf, brothers."

But most outsiders didn't read Mein Kampf, and even among those who did there was no consensus on whether its vitriolic attacks on Jews, democracy and bolshevism, along with Hitler's stated ambitions to conquer vast territories in the east, should be taken literally or viewed as merely a cynical electoral ploy.

All of which, Netanyahu argues, stands as proof that the greatest danger is to discount the new threats of our era. But 1938 has been invoked before as justification for military action, at times with tragic results. As President Lyndon Johnson escalated the war in Vietnam, he claimed that he was seeking to avert another Munich. To this day, the country is split over whether the ensuing loss of American lives and treasure was justified at any point or a disaster from start to finish.

It isn't easy to determine which situations demand the kind of forceful action to stop a potential aggressor that was so woefully lacking in the 1930s. Netanyahu is right that history teaches us that we ignore the fiery rhetoric of radical regimes at our own peril. Unfortunately, though, history -- especially the history of the Nazi era -- doesn't offer many immediate lessons beyond that.

It certainly doesn't tell us what we really want to know: whether we are making the same mistake today with Iran -- or is the situation so different that a bigger mistake would be to overreact.

Andrew Nagorski, vice president and director of public policy at the EastWest Institute, is author of the forthcoming Hitlerland: American Eyewitnesses to the Nazi Rise to Power.

Click here to visit his website.

Click here to read this piece in The Huffington Post.

Imagining Pakistan in 2020

What will Pakistani politics and security look like in 2020? That question was the topic of a Feb. 24 presentation at the EastWest Institute’s New York Center by a team of experts convened by New York University’s Center for Global Affairs.

Led by Prof. Michael F. Oppenheimer, the team presented its Pakistan 2020 report, which explores three possible future scenarios for the country.

The event connected participants in the United States, Belgium, the United Kingdom, and Pakistan to weigh in on prospects for Pakistan’s future over the course of the next decade.

Oppenheimer’s colleagues included: Shamila Chaudhary, an analyst for Eurasia Group who served as the director for Pakistan and Afghanistan at the National Security Council from 2010-2011; Pakistan 2020 team lead for the CGA Scenarios Initiative Rorry Daniels; and Regina Joseph, who wrote up one of the scenarios for the report. The Carnegie Corporation-funded project was the result of NYU’s Pakistan Scenarios workshop held on April 29, 2011, which brought together 15 expert participants to develop three “plausible, distinct and consequential scenarios that merit the attention of U.S. foreign policy makers.”

Each scenario for Pakistan in 2020, though hypothetical, was designed to produce policy insights through considering potential futures.

The first hypothetical scenario, “radicalization,” envisions a Pakistan consumed by populist fervor as a result of “perceived military threats, spiraling economic losses and political infighting.” This results in the rise of a democratically elected conservative military officer who pursue a radical Islamic agenda for the country.

The second scenario, “fragmentation,” foresees economic instability as crippling the capacity of the state to govern, leading to a federally and regionally unstable Pakistan rife with insecure nuclear materials.

The third and most optimistic scenario, “reform,” sees a growing middle class fostering a centrist, economically oriented political movement. A political party born out of this movement then serves to displace much of the power currently held by political and military elites.

While the third scenario may be the least likely to occur, Oppenheimer said, “it is sufficiently plausible for the U.S. to try to work toward that scenario, in part because the other two … involve significant risks and damage to American interests and American security.”

Chaudhary argued that balkanization in Pakistan was unlikely. She maintained that Pakistan should instead be expected to “muddle through” current challenges. The first and third scenarios, both of which heavily rely upon the democratic process, would seem to support her view that Pakistan’s military, media, political parties and religious organizations are an example of “democracy at its best and at its worst.”

Najam Abbas, a senior fellow at the EastWest Institute who called in from London, commented that the situation requires a “macro-layer of analysis to probe the implications of Pakistan's 64-year-long [history of] a chaotic polity and shaky economy,” and aspects that “lead us to triggers that perpetuated strong individuals but weaker institutions.”

EWI Board Member Ikram Sehgal, speaking from Pakistan where he is chairman of a private security company, said pervasive corruption in Pakistan’s institutions was “the most important issue to the people of Pakistan” and a major cause of current instability.

German Ambassador Guenter Overfeld, EWI’s Vice President for Regional Security, calling in from Brussels, argued that corruption in Pakistan was in fact “a symptom of poor governance, not a cause.”

Pakistan 2020 is the seventh such report on potential futures for key countries conducted by the GCA Scenarios Initiative. Past reports have covered Iran, Iraq, China, Russia, Turkey and Ukraine.

Click here to read the report in full.

Click here to access the CGA Scenarios blog.

Lebanon Eyes Unrest in Syria

As the Syrian uprising approaches its one year anniversary, Syria’s downward spiral toward civil war is weighing heavily on Lebanon, and although most political and sectarian groups have a clear interest in stability in Syria, there is no consensus on how to encourage security and handle relations with Syria’s regime and its opposition.

Rights groups are estimating that some 7,000 civilians have been killed in Syria since March 2011, and the regime’s military response has intensified even further following the Russian and Chinese veto in the U.N. Security Council of a resolution that backed an Arab peace plan aimed at stopping the violence. Assad’s latest call for a Feb. 26 national referendum on a new draft constitution that would end the Baath party’s monopoly on power was quickly dismissed by the Syrian opposition and Western powers alike. The window for a political settlement seems to be quickly closing, bringing Syria even deeper into a civil war and threatening to enflame an already tense neighborhood.

Fifty-two miles west of Damascus, the Lebanese government in Beirut is following these developments with interest and worry but has not joined the Arab League or Western states in calling for Assad to step down. Lebanese officials have made it clear that Lebanon could never support a U.N. resolution that would allow the international community to intervene to resolve the crisis in Syria, mostly for fear of negative repercussions this might have on Lebanon. In fact, when the Syrian question first came to the Security Council last year, Lebanon dissociated itself from the presidential statement condemning Syria and has followed suit in the Arab League as well.

Most recently, Lebanese Foreign Affairs Minister Adnan Mansour announced that Lebanon would not attend the “Friends of Syria” conference due to be held in the Tunisian capital Tunis on Feb. 24, stating: “in harmony with our decision to disassociate Lebanon from developments in Syria, we will not join the conference in Tunis.”

Long-standing, polarizing divisions between supporters and opponents of the Syrian regime have forced the government in Beirut to pursue this policy of “dissociation” from the turmoil next door. But as refugees cross the border to escape the violence and weapons and fighters pour freely through the smuggling routes that have long connected Lebanon with Syrian towns now at the center of conflict—such as Homs and Zabadani—the idea that Lebanon can dissociate itself from what is happening next door looks increasingly like wishful thinking.

What all political parties in Lebanon seem to agree on is that widespread instability in Syria—or worse, a sectarian civil war—poses the most significant threat to Lebanon. Lebanese actors across the sectarian spectrum share the perception that Syria’s potential descent into chaos would not be in their strategic interest and, by dissociating the country from the Syrian unrest, are seeking to insulate Lebanon from its neighbor’s instability. This view stems from the concern that massive unrest in Syria could spill over into Lebanon, disrupting the country’s fragile status quo by provoking widespread sectarian strife.

However, Lebanese consensus on core national interests vis-a-vis Syria does not go much further. As with most issues in Lebanon, Syria’s unrest is viewed through a sectarian lens, and significant differences characterize Lebanon’s key political actors and religious communities.

Relations With the Syrian Opposition

The differences were most visible on Jan. 25 when the opposition Syrian National Council issued an open letter to the Lebanese people, stressing that it seeks to establish strong ties between Syria and Lebanon that respect the sovereignty and independence of each country. In the letter, the group pledged to end the “security-intelligence role that has meddled in Lebanese affairs and to thwart the smuggling of arms across the border.” It also proposed the formation of a joint investigation committee that would tackle the case of Lebanese prisoners in Syrian jails, adding that “the Lebanese–Syrian Higher Council would be dissolved and agreements between the two countries would be revised.” The letter continued: “Democracy in Syria is the best support for Lebanon’s independence; it is an opportunity to put an end to the dark chapter of Lebanese–Syrian ties that have been marred by Syria’s dictatorial regime that has practiced the ugliest forms of meddling and hegemony.”

The letter addressed some of the most important issues that have plagued Syrian–Lebanese relations for decades and pledged to end the special relationship that has heavily favored Syria since the conclusion of the Taif Accord that ended the Lebanese civil war in 1989. It did not, however, generate the response that the Syrian National Council was hoping for. The Lebanese response predictably followed the lines of Lebanese politics set by the March 8 Alliance and the March 14 Alliance, respectively named after the dates of pro- and anti-Syrian demonstrations that followed the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, blamed by some on Damascus.

The opposition March 14 Alliance—led by former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, son of the slain former Premier Rafik Hariri and comprised of both Sunni and Christian elements—has reacted favorably to the council’s letter, calling it a “courageous step… that puts Lebanese–Syrian relations on the right political track.” The March 14 Alliance has also supported Syrian protestors’ calls for Assad to leave, though Saad Hariri’s Sunni Future Movement has carefully calibrated its opposition to Assad so as not to provoke retaliation should the regime survive.

However, while the Sunni elements of March 14 unequivocally support Assad’s ouster, their Christian allies are less certain about post-Assad Syria. Lebanon’s Maronite patriarch recently cited “transition” in Syria as a potential threat to Arab Christians across the region. He called for Assad to be given more leeway to implement reforms, sparking significant controversy within the Christian community.

The Role of Hezbollah

Hezbollah, on the other hand, maintains a key strategic alliance with Damascus, as its core interests lie in the Assad regime’s survival. Aside from the potential loss of a strategic ally, Hezbollah’s concerns over Syrian unrest also reflect the mounting threat to the organization’s credibility, both in Lebanon and the region. Increasingly, Hezbollah has been placed in the seemingly contradictory position of stridently supporting Arab uprisings elsewhere, but remaining conspicuously quiet on Syria. In recent speeches, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has tempered his support for the Syrian regime with tepid calls for reform and a peaceful resolution to the crisis. Nonetheless, Hezbollah’s double standard threatens real damage to its regional standing.

Hezbollah’s allies, including its Christian partners in the March 8 bloc, thus far share Hezbollah’s position on Syria. Indeed, Amal leader and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, has staked out an even tougher position than Hezbollah in support of Syria. Meanwhile, Hezbollah’s Christian allies—namely General Michel Aoun—reflect deepening disquiet within the Christian community over the potential threat to their Syrian co-religionists posed by a post-Assad Syria.

The conflict in Syria can inflame inter-communal tensions in Lebanon, visible almost daily in pro- and anti-Assad rallies throughout the country. That was recently highlighted when two people were killed in the northern city of Tripoli during clashes between Jabal Mohsen, a predominantly Alawite neighborhood like the regime in Damascus, and Bab al-Tabbaneh, one which is Sunni Muslim, like the majority of Syria’s protest movement.

Lebanon’s fate is deeply intertwined with Syria’s ultimate destiny, and Syria’s endgame will have a decisive impact on Lebanon, potentially reconfiguring the balance of power between the two countries and reshaping the Lebanese political arena. For now, the Lebanese army has been quick to take action to prevent incidents like the Tripoli clashes from escalating further, reflecting a widespread desire inside the country to ensure security and stability. But, as Michael Williams, a fellow at Chatham House and former U.N. Special Coordinator for Lebanon recently put it: “The situation in Syria is deteriorating all the time, and there’s no way that Lebanon can be immune from that.” If Lebanese politicians want to ensure long term stability in the country, they urgently need to reach a consensus on how to deal with the Assad regime and the Syrian opposition going forward.

Raymond Karam is a program assistant for EWI's Regional Security Initiative.

International Voices on Syria: A Roundup

Governments and organizations have spoken out about the violence in Syria and the U.N. Security Council process that ended Feb. 4 with Russia and China exercising their veto rights on a resolution to work with the Arab League. Here are a few of the diverse views expressed this week.

Russia and China Defend Their Vetoes


“[F]rom the very beginning of the Syrian crisis some influential members of the international community, including some sitting at this table, have undermined any possibility of a political settlement, calling for regime change, encouraging the opposition towards power, indulging in provocation and nurturing the armed struggle.” –U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, at the U.N. Security Council, Feb. 4.

 "A cult of violence has been coming to the fore in international affairs ... This cannot fail to cause concern…We of course condemn all violence regardless of its source, but one cannot act like an elephant in a china shop…Help them, advise them, limit, for instance, their ability to use weapons but not interfere under any circumstances." –Prime Minsiter Vladimir Putin,  Feb. 8.

For EWI's take on Russia's veto, click here.


“The international community should provide constructive assistance to help achieve these goals. At the same time, the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Syria should be fully respected. … To put through a vote when parties are still seriously divided over the issue does not help maintain the unity and authority of the Security Council nor help to properly resolve the issue. In this context, China voted against the draft resolution.” –U.N. Ambassador Li Baodong, UNSC, Feb. 4.

“We will always safeguard the fundamental and long-term interests of the Syrian people…China's voting position in the Security Council is based on the U.N. Charter and principles, China's longstanding foreign policy and also to safeguard the country's fundamental and long-term interests. … We will make unremitting efforts for the peaceful resolution of the Syrian crisis." –Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin, Feb. 8.

Other States Express Outrage

United States

“The United States is disgusted that a couple of members of this Council continue to prevent us from fulfilling our sole purpose here, which is to address an ever-deepening crisis in Syria and a growing threat to regional peace and security. … That intransigence is even more shameful when we consider that at least one of those members continues to deliver weapons to Al-Assad.” –U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, UNSC, Feb. 4


“We cannot and must not overlook the harrowing conclusion that two permanent members of the Council have systematically obstructed all its action. They do so in the full knowledge of the tragic consequences of their decisions for the Syrian people. And in so doing, they are making themselves complicit in the policy of repression being implemented by the Damascus regime. Whatever they may claim, they have de facto taken the side of the Al-Assad regime against the Syrian people.” –U.N. Ambassador Gérard Araud, UNSC, Feb. 4.

United Kingdom

“The United Kingdom is appalled by the decision of Russia and China to veto an otherwise consensus resolution, submitted by Morocco, the United Kingdom, the United States, France, Germany, Portugal, Colombia, Togo, Libya, Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Tunisia, Oman and Turkey.” –U.N. Ambassador Sir Mark Lyall Grant, UNSC, Feb. 4.

Security Council Members Weigh In

South Africa

“Any solution must preserve the unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria. We are also satisfied that the final draft resolution (S/2012/77) was not aimed at imposing regime change on Syria, which would be against the purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter.” –U.N. Ambassador Baso Sangqu, UNSC, Feb. 4.


“Pakistan had some serious concerns, mainly against killings, the massacre of innocents. But also, on a point of principle of the Charter, we were not happy about any infringement on the sovereignty or integrity of Syria. …  It is easy for those of us who today voted in the majority to sit back and say, ‘Well, we have done our bit.’ No, we have not. We cannot wash our hands of this. We must continue and seek — as the Russians and the Chinese have stated that they will continue to seek — the way forward. I believe that the best vehicle is the Arab League plan and the very substantial moves that have been accepted over the last few days. I believe that the offer of no regime change, of plurality, and the promotion of democracy are important aspects of this situation.” –U.N. Ambassador Hussain Haroon, UNSC, Feb. 4.


“In short, the people of Syria and the region have been let down again, and that is a crying shame — even more so in the light of the recent massacres in Homs; even more so in the light of one the bloodiest days of the Arab Spring; and even more so on the tragic thirtieth anniversary of the Hama massacre. And that is the real scandal.” –U.N. Ambassador Peter Wittig, UNSC, Feb. 4.


“Our support for today’s draft resolution is in accordance with our support for the efforts of the Arab League for a peaceful resolution of the crisis through a Syrian-led inclusive political process. We note that the  draft resolution expressly rules out any measures under Article 42 of the Charter and calls for a serious  political dialogue between the Syrian Government and  the whole spectrum of the opposition under the auspices of the League of Arab States.” –U.N. Ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri, UNSC, Feb. 4.

Multilateral Organizations

Arab League

"There was no need for the veto, We were about to reach a conclusion on the resolution that would have been supported by everyone. The [Syrian] government, definitely, may have interpreted this as the international community unable to do anything and [so] we can do whatever we want." "If we are going to send another mission, and we are contemplating that, it has to be stronger in numbers and in equipment. The mandate has to be different…The real problem here is you cannot force your way in. You have to do this in agreement with the authorities in Syria. The authorities in Syria by now realize they have a serious problem and cannot go on with the way they are."  –Arab League Secretary General Nabil el-Araby, Feb. 6.

Gulf Cooperation Council

“It is necessary for the Arab states … to take every decisive measure faced with this dangerous escalation against the Syrian people. … Nearly a year into the crisis, there is no glint of hope in a solution.” –Official Statement, Feb. 8.

Key Regional States Express Concern


"We are going to start a new initiative with those countries that stand by the people, not the Syrian government. We are preparing this. … The process that occurred at the United Nations in relation to Syria is a fiasco for the civilized world. … The U.N. Security Council has once again held captive the conscience of the international community. Possessing the power to veto is a great responsibility. Using this power gives a green light for the persecution to continue" –Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Feb. 7.


"If any vacuum happens suddenly in Syria, nobody can anticipate the outcomes ... the consequences could be even worse because there may be internal wars, internal clashes between people.” "We have to avoid the worst and give enough chance to the government of Syria to carry on with its reforms. … We cannot deny that some people in Syria, a portion of people in Syria are looking for their legitimate rights just like any other people in any other country … but we also cannot deny the outside interferences in Syria." –Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, Jan. 29.

What's Behind Russia's Syria Veto?

The world's eyes are on Syria as the regime of strongman Bashar al Assad continues to disregard widespread international condemnation in a desperate bid to maintain power—a bid that many are betting will fail. Despite thousands of Syrian civilian deaths, Russia and China vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution on the crisis, even though it had been watered down already to eliminate language about the need for Assad to step down and for new elections to be scheduled.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the veto a "travesty"; U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice tweeted that she was "disgusted" by the dual veto. And 2011 Nobel Peace Prize recipient Tawakkul Karman said China and Russia "bear the moral and human responsibility for these massacres." But Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov dismissed all such criticism as "hysterical."

Russia's veto may have been a disappointment, but it certainly wasn't a surprise. Russia's internal and external politics, over the short and long term, made the veto hard to avoid. For Moscow, the following factors were critical considerations:

Internal Stability

Some Russians may be concerned with the potential for renewed unrest in the Caucasus. Lavrov has labeled the opposition in Syria as "militants and extremists," much the same language used to describe separatists in the Caucasus, who many in Russia see as a threat to national stability. Russia's stand in Syria further reflects its general misgivings about the Arab Spring—and the fear that the Arab Spring could provide sustenance and inspiration to the Caucasus.

Russia is also facing a surprising and large domestic opposition movement (or, perhaps more accurately, several movements) in response to the recent parliamentary elections, where charges of vote-rigging abounded, and Putin's decision to return to the presidency. These large-scale protests have clearly rattled the Russian government. Although no one seriously doubts that Putin will win the presidential election next month, he is ratcheting up anti-American rhetoric. This allows him to blame outsiders for his troubles while deflecting critics from the right who think Russia has given too much to the United States under the "reset."

Arms Sales

Russia's arms sales to Syria are big business. Just last month, Russia signed a deal to sell Syria 36 Yakovlev Yak-130 jets worth some $550 million.

Syria's annual arms purchases from Russia are estimated to be about $700 million (anywhere from seven to ten percent of Russia's total revenue from arms sales). If Assad is overthrown, the contract could be canceled. But growing international frustration with Russia would be an extremely high price to pay to maintain a client—especially when Russia has already forgiven about $10 billion in Syrian debt.

Playing the Long Game

Russia's relationship with Assad also has a broader economic dimension. Russia is investing heavily in Syria, to the tune of some $20 billion in infrastructure, energy, and tourism. For years, Russia has helped to prop up a regime that now has little legitimacy internationally.

So why is Russia willing to bear the brunt of international condemnation?

All these practical economic and regional strategic concerns in Syria point to what Russia is actually concerned about and why it is willing to pay a high-price to maintain its relationship with Assad: the United States. Russia's fundamental motivations in Syria seem reminiscent of Cold War great power politics, where Russia seeks to prevent the United States from increasing its influence in the region.

Russia still believes that a limited mandate from the U.N. no-fly resolution on Libya was turned into a push for regime change by Western powers, and it may not wish to trust the same countries to restrain themselves. Russia abstained from the Libya resolution, allowing it to pass. With Syria, it exercised its veto to protect one of the few proxies Russia can turn to in the region in the wake of the Arab Spring.

Russia is, in short, trying to balance short- and long-term interests in the region and it needs Assad in power to realize those interests. But as the brutality of the Syrian regime dominates headlines, Russia's painfully close association with Assad is what people will remember.

Jacqueline McLaren Miller is a Senior Associate in EWI's Strategic Trust-Building Initiative, where she runs the U.S. and WMD programs.

Click here to read a round-up of statements by governments and organizations concerning the crisis in Syria.

EU Oil Embargo and Sanctions Against Iran

EWI’s Raymond Karam spells out the decisions taken in Brussels that have upped the pressure on Tehran.

At a meeting in Brussels on Jan. 23, EU foreign ministers, agreed on a ban on the transport, purchase and import into Europe of Iranian crude oil, petroleum products, and related finance and insurance. In a joint statement, British Prime Minister David Cameron, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Iran had “failed to restore international confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of its nuclear program.”

In order to provide struggling European economies enough time to find alternative suppliers, the agreement allows already concluded contracts to be executed until July 1, 2012. The measures will also be reviewed before May 1 to assess the impact of the embargo on countries such as Greece, which is facing financial collapse and has sought compensatory measures from the rest of the EU before agreeing to the embargo.

The sanctions ban the export of key technology for the energy sector and new investment in Iranian petrochemical firms and their joint ventures.

The EU also froze the assets of the Iran's central bank in the EU and banned trade in gold, precious metals and diamonds with Iranian public bodies and the central bank.

In addition, the sanctions bar the sale to Iran of more “sensitive dual use” goods—those that can have a military or security application. They add three people to a list of people targeted by asset freezes and visa bans, and freeze the assets of eight more companies. Details of the sanctions were published in the EU's Official Journal.

Reacting to the agreement, Mohammad Kossari, deputy head of the Iranian parliament's Foreign Affairs and National Security Committee, warned that “if any disruption happens regarding the sale of Iranian oil, the Strait of Hormuz will definitely be closed.” Ramin Mehmanparast, Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman, told the state broadcaster that the “European Union sanctions on Iranian oil is psychological warfare.” He added, “imposing economic sanctions is illogical and unfair but will not stop our nation from obtaining its rights.”

In response, Ivo Daalder, the U.S. ambassador to NATO in Brussels, pledged that the United States and its allies would keep the waterway open to international shipping and the oil business. “The Strait of Hormuz needs to remain open and we need to maintain this as an international passageway. We will do what needs to be done to ensure that is the case.”

Oil prices reached nearly $100 per barrel on Jan. 23, reacting to the renewed Iranian threat.

Existing Sanctions

The oil embargo represents a leap in the sanctions regime against Iran, following four earlier rounds of escalating penalties. The EU had gradually imposed sanctions on Iran starting in 2007 as part of Western efforts to put pressure on Tehran over its nuclear work. Sanctions include those agreed upon by the United Nations and autonomous EU measures. Current EU sanctions include:

  • A trade ban on arms and equipment that can be used for repression, and a ban on goods and technology related to nuclear enrichment or nuclear weapons systems, including nuclear materials and facilities, certain chemicals, electronics, sensors, lasers, navigation and avionics;
  • A ban on investment by Iranian nationals and entities in uranium mining and production of nuclear material and technology within the EU;
  • A ban on trade in dual-use goods and technology, for instance telecommunication systems and equipment; information security systems and equipment; and nuclear technology and low-enriched uranium;
  • An export ban on key equipment and technology for the oil and gas industries (i.e. exploration and production of oil and natural gas, and refining and liquefaction of natural gas). There is also a ban on financial and technical assistance for such transactions. This includes geophysical survey equipment, drilling and production platforms for crude oil and natural gas, equipment for shipping terminals of liquefied gas, petrol pumps and storage tanks;
  • A ban on investment in the Iranian oil and gas industries (exploration and production of oil and gas, refining and liquefaction of natural gas), meaning no credits, loans, new investment in and joint ventures with such companies in Iran;
  • A ban on new medium- or long-term commitments by EU member states to offer financial support for trade with Iran, and restrictions on short-term commitments;
  • A ban on EU governments extending grants and concessional loans to the Iranian government, or providing insurance and re-insurance to the Iranian government and Iranian entities (except health and travel insurance);
  • A requirement for EU financial institutions to report to national authorities any transactions with Iranian banks they suspect could be financing nuclear activities, to report transfers above 10,000 Euros to national authorities, and to request prior authorization for transactions above 40,000 Euros (with humanitarian exemptions);
  • A ban on Iranian banks opening branches and creating joint ventures in the EU, and on EU financial institutions opening branches or bank accounts in Iran;
  • A ban on the issuance of and trade in Iranian government or public bonds with the Iranian government, central bank and Iranian banks;
  • EU governments must require their nationals to exercise vigilance over businesses with entities incorporated in Iran, including those of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and of the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL);
  • A declaration that national customs authorities must require prior information about all cargo to and from Iran and may inspect such cargo to ensure trade restrictions are respected;
  • Cargo flights operated by Iranian carriers or coming from Iran may not have access to EU airports (except flights with both passengers and cargo). No maintenance services to Iranian cargo aircraft or servicing to Iranian vessels may be provided if there are suspicions that they carry prohibited goods;
  • Visa bans are imposed on persons designated by the United Nations, associated with or providing support for Iran's proliferation-sensitive nuclear activities or development of nuclear weapon delivery systems, and senior members of the IRGC. As of Jan. 22, visa bans and asset freezes apply to 113 people (41 designated by the United Nations and the rest by the EU); and
  • An asset freeze on 433 entities associated with Iran's proliferation-sensitive nuclear activities or the development of nuclear weapon delivery systems and on senior members and entities of IRGC and the IRISL. U.N. designations cover 75 entities, including companies in banking and insurance sectors, the nuclear technology industry and in the fields of aviation, armament, electronics, shipping, chemical industry, metallurgy, oil and gas, and branches and subsidiaries of IRGC and IRISL.

Human Rights

In addition to the nuclear track, the EU has imposed travel bans and asset freezes on 61 Iranians seen as responsible for human rights violations.

Economic Relations

The EU had a free-trade agreement with Iran until 2005. Europe remains an important trade partner. Ninety percent of EU imports from Iran are either oil or oil-related products. In 2010, the EU imported 14.5 billion Euros worth of goods from Iran while exporting 11.3 billion Euros of goods to the country.

Raymond Karam is a program assistant for EWI's Regional Security Initiative.

What to watch for in Iran’s parliamentary elections

EWI’s Raymond E. Karam examines politics in Iran as its March 2 elections draw near. The elections for Iran’s parliament, known as the National Consultative Assembly of Iran or the Majles, make for a lively political season amidst Iran’s confrontation with the United States and the European Union over sanctions and the Strait of Hormuz.

Election activities began in December as Iran's Election Commission announced that the Ministry of Interior established election headquarters in all 31 provinces. The key dates for the elections are:

  • December 24, 2011: The candidate registration period began.
  • December 30, 2011: The registration period ended.
  • January 2012: The Guardian Council reviews the credentials of all candidates, a process that usually takes about a month.
  • Late January or early February, 2012: The final list of eligible candidates—and disqualified candidates—should be released. In the past, the majority of candidates have been disqualified for failing to meet vague criteria.
  • February 22, 2012: The official campaign period begins and lasts eight days.
  • February 29, 2012: The official campaign ends.
  • March 2, 2012: Election Day.

‘Sensitive’ elections

Iran is set for what its senior officials have described as "the most sensitive" elections in the history of the Islamic Republic, amid economic and political discontent at home and fears of a major confrontation with the ‘West’ over its nuclear program.

The authorities have publicly acknowledged the challenges they face. The supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has warned that the elections could pose a risk to the country's security, and he has appealed for national unity. “To some extent, elections have always been a challenging issue for our country,” he admitted. He asked people “to be careful that this challenge does not hurt the country's security.”

More than 5,000 candidates have put their names forward for parliamentary elections in March, the first national vote since the 2009 disputed presidential poll when popular uprisings known as the Green Movement challenged the results.

Managing the elections

Two bodies are charged with managing and administering election-related activities in Iran:

The Guardian Council has a broad supervisory role. It vets all candidates, monitors the voting process and certifies the election results.

The Ministry of Interior implements election operations under the council's authority. It is responsible for the conduct of elections, including establishing and operating polling stations, administering the vote and tabulating the results.

Iran's electoral infrastructure has technically not changed much since the 1979 revolution, but in practice the role of the Guardian Council has increasingly marginalized the Ministry of Interior. The 12-man council, composed of religious and legal experts, has emerged as the main arbiter of election outcomes in two ways:

First, the council has extended its powers to interpret the constitution to include supervising all stages of the elections, including the approval and rejection of candidates.

Second, the council has transformed its temporary supervisory offices staffed with volunteers into permanent offices in every county across the country. Today, Iran has more than 384 Guardian Council supervisory offices operating year-round with full-time staff members. Concurrently, the council has enjoyed an astronomical budget growth from $480,000 in 2000 to $25 million in 2011. The Guardian Council, dominated by conservatives, has thus morphed into the most powerful and far-reaching electoral management body in Iran.

Conservative infighting and competing factions

Over the past three decades, relations between the Guardian Council and the Ministry of Interior have fluctuated. Occasionally, the two bodies have had common interests, but at other times they have been controlled by competing factions. Since its inception, the council has been tied to conservative factions. The Interior Ministry, however, has changed hands as part of the executive branch of government.

During the 2004 Majles elections, the conservative-dominated Guardian Council and the reformist-controlled Ministry of Interior were at daggers drawn, however the 2008 Majles elections took place at a time that both institutions were under conservative control. The upcoming 2012 Majles elections are different: Although conservative factions control both the ministry and the council, their rivalries have turned the process into political fratricide.

Conservative factions with significant differences have generally melded into broad coalitions during electoral events to maximize their share of the votes. At the onset of the 2009 presidential election, competing conservative factions united against the reformists. But following the election, brewing tensions over President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's long-term political agenda re-emerged. A public rift between Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and Ahmadinejad erupted in the spring of 2011 and deepened conflict among conservatives. The president's staunchest conservative supporters quickly turned into vocal critics. The president's associates were charged with corruption and embezzlement and publicly dubbed political “deviants.”

Revelations about Iran's largest incidents of bank embezzlement, scandals over corruption in the automotive industry, and the alleged plundering of social security pensions fueled the conservatives' war against Ahmadinejad. Members of parliament have repeatedly threatened to summon the president for questioning, and some have even proposed to impeach him.

In late 2011, Ahmadinejad, seeking to solidify his own political constituency, fought back by threatening opponents with revelations about their own misconduct, and so far, the Interior Ministry, headed by Mostafa Mohammad Najjar, a former Revolutionary Guard close to Ahmadinejad, has blocked at least 33 MPs from running in the elections, although many of them are currently serving in the parliament. Ali Motahari, a conservative MP whose father, Ayatollah Morteza Motahari, was among the key founders of the Islamic Republic, is among those on the blacklist. As an outspoken critic of the government's political and economic policies, Motahari was the driving force behind an impeachment motion against Ahmadinejad.

The role of reformists

As the election date approaches, the issue of participation is also gaining prominence. While in the past, calls to boycott elections were mainly led by the Iranian diaspora community, now, for the first time in the history of the Islamic Republic, the leaders of the reformist groups, including former president Mohammad Khatami, 2009 presidential challengers Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, and Mohammad Mousavi Khoeiniha, the secretary general of the reformist Association of Combatant Clerics, are emphasizing the ineffectiveness of participation in the polls.

The opposition Green Movement had announced earlier that it would only consider participating if its leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi were released from house arrest, but the authorities have remained reluctant to do so. The Fars News Agency, which is close to the Revolutionary Guard, announced that more than 1,200 reformists had put their names forward for the elections. Independent observers, however, questioned the claims, arguing that the regime has encouraged many of its own candidates to register as reformists in an attempt to undermine any boycott.

The issue of participation, along with the competition among disparate conservative factions is likely to make these elections more interesting or contentious than originally expected.

Raymond Karam is a program assistant for EWI's Regional Security Initiative.

The Future of the U.S. Military

The Obama administration recently announced a revision of U.S. military strategy (click here to read the official summary). The strategy, which will not be finalized until the national budget is submitted in February 2012, is set to de-emphasize the role of the Army and Marines and rely more heavily on the Navy and Air Force. Regionally, the strategy will result in a reduction of forces in Europe and an increase in the Middle East and China.

Former U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff General (ret.) T. Michael Moseley spoke with EWI’s Thomas Lynch about the history of defense spending and the possible impact of spending cuts. Excerpts from his remarks:


On the Precedent for U.S. Defense Cuts:

Let’s think back and get some context. During the Kennedy administration, the percentage of the Department of Defense budget in U.S. GDP was between 10% and 15 %. After Saigon fell in April 1975, we went through a very interesting period of adjustments of defense budgets up through the Carter administration. During this period, the U.S. government was struggling with a containment policy of the Soviet Union and to a lesser extent China. Massive amounts of defense capabilities began to dwindle during the Carter administration. While I was at Holloman Air Force Base in the ‘70s, we would have an entire wing of airplanes but only one squadron—typically 12-24 aircraft—would have engines in them; that is a hollow force. During that period, the Army, Navy, and Marines rarely went out to practice.

The Reagan administration, recognizing the fact of a hollow military after Vietnam, initiated a defense build-up which led to the force structure in place during operation Desert Storm/Desert Shield. The George H.W. Bush administration maintained a similar defense budget, but then almost zero new aircraft were bought under the Clinton administration; this is all despite major campaigns (Bosnia, Kosovo, Somalia, Haiti, etc) while still sitting in Korea and Europe. From the beginning of the George W. Bush administration until 9/11, there was a serious discussion on transforming the Department of Defense to being smaller, lighter and more lethal, which was and still is a good discussion to have.


On U.S. Military Capabilities and Expenditures:

Since 1942, the stated mission of the U. S. military has been to be able to conduct full spectrum operations in multiple operations in multiple places simultaneously. The American leadership, since August 1945, has had a zero percent success rate in predicting where we’re going to go next. As a result, most U.S. national security players hold that we need to provide a capability-based assessment of what we might need, not a threat-based assessment; this gets to fighting multiple combat operations in multiple locations.

If I were still a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, I would ask the president “what do you want us to do?” That is the grand strategy question. It is a laughable fallacy for people to criticize the fact that the next 12 militaries in line don’t spend as much as the United States. The next 12 militaries in line are not tasked by their leadership to maintain strategic order on a global scale. Number eight or nine does not have to maintain high-end technologies or maintain the ability for global reach or global power. Whether we want to or not, the United States is looked at as that global power. “Policeman” or “sheriff” is not the right metaphor. The world looks at the United States to be a keeper of order, to be able to deter, dissuade, or persuade—all activities that end up, hopefully, non-kinetic.


On the report’s conclusion that “U.S. forces will no longer be sized to conduct large-scale, prolonged stability operations:” 

From 2001 to today we have spent a significant amount of money that has not been spent on our people, our infrastructure, our operation and maintenance accounts, or on our investment accounts for new equipment.

We can now say we are not looking to be able to conduct major combat operations in multiple locations, but we still want to be able to focus on counterinsurgency, on terrorism, etc and still have some measure of full spectrum capabilities. If you look at the amplitude of the demand on the military throughout recent history, I believe this question will play out interestingly from now through November 2012.

The reason the Army and the Marine Corps were grown to their current strengths was to support the “surge” policy and a larger footprint of the land component in Southwest Asia. With our forces coming out of Iraq and Afghanistan, our priorities now are not necessarily large numbers of land forces.That’s especially true when each individual in the American military can cost, before training or equipment, upward to $250,000 per year to maintain. What we have seen is a realization that the Army and Marine Corps cannot be maintained at those levels.


On cyber conflicts:

There are four strategic commons on which all nations operate. International air space, outer space, international waters, and cyberspace are the strategic commons that all activities flow through; this means commercial, travel, banking, banking, etc. Land, being sovereign, does not count. The law of the sea has 300-400 years of precedence, the International Civil Aviation Organization started in the 1940s, and with the modalities of operating in space, there are templates and operating agreements in three of the four strategic commons. What you don’t have is something similar for cybersecurity. That is what EastWest Institute President John Edwin Mroz, I, and others have been banging the drums for: we need to formally address the notion of the rules for that common.

Activities within that cyber common move at the speed of light and are almost infinite in their applicability. Cyber is not a substitute or surrogate for other forms of warfare; it is rather a parallel activity that is interconnected and integrated. The issue is that when a nation is attacked by a non-nation state player within that domain you don’t have the same legalities as when country x and y attack each other on land and sea. There is a real global need for a body of work to get our arms around it.


On the role of nuclear disarmament in modern defense:

There is a desire to find the path to zero nuclear weapons. You won’t find too many senior military officers who would disagree with having a conversation about what it would look like if the major powers would give up nuclear weapons. Is it likely that others would give up existing or developing nuclear weapons? That’s a different question.

Budget realities confront the military with the choice of either spending money on new warheads, upgrading existing systems for warhead and launcher systems, or saving money by not doing any of that. The deficit and debt realities may offer an opportunity to begin those discussions in a more robust manner.


On military pensions:

There is an expectation with the military that if something happens to me the country will take care of my family. That’s a reasonable expectation because we don’t pay soldiers a lot of money. However, there is space to do some work. Most people retire from the military before they are 65. At 65, soldiers enter the funding line for veterans; prior to that they are in the Department of Defense funding line.

There is a window here to have a discussion on payments and benefits.  Is there an expectation that retirement benefits are absolutely free? Some think that, but I do not. Is there an expectation that you will be thrown out on the street when it comes to health care? I don’t believe that for a second, not with what we ask these people to do. I think what you’re seeing in the debate about the expensive military part of the budget is an attempt to see if there is a reasonable way to go forward without breaking the national budget. That’s a good conversation to have.

Afghanistan: The Obstacles to Peace

The announcement that the Taliban will be opening an office in Qatar should be a cause for some reflection. The US and its allies are politically exhausted and economically drained by the war in Afghanistan. They no longer seek a clear victory; they want to avoid the impression of defeat. The policy of "reconciliation" obfuscates the reality of their political and military failure in Afghanistan.

Reconciliation means restoring friendly relations, causing to co- exist in harmony or making someone accept a disagreeable or unwelcome thing. But then, the issue is not one of ending the estrangement between the Taliban and its opponents, whether inside or outside the country, as they did not have friendly relations in the first place.
Co-existence means existing in mutual tolerance despite different ideologies and interests. In the case of the Taliban is it the intention to accept the Taliban as they are, without seeking any change in their political and social conduct? Are the Taliban, in turn, willing to tolerate the existence of a polity in Afghanistan that is politically, legally and socially structured on relatively secular ideas?
And, finally, accepting a disagreeable and unwelcome thing connotes an absence of any other viable option, not freely choosing one out of several alternatives. Therefore, how can the strategy of "reconciliation" be projected as a positive political initiative, as is being done at present?
Our thinking should not be affected by misleading terminology. The spin of "reconciliation" allows the West to conceal the reality of fatigue in fighting the rising insurgency in Afghanistan and wanting to extract itself from the quagmire there with a reduced stigma of failure by projecting the conflict as one essentially between opposing Afghan factions, with the solution lying in creating conditions in which differences between them can be bridged and peace restored in the country.
The idea is to distract attention away from western intervention being principally responsible for the conflict in Afghanistan and transfer the main responsibility for war and peace in the country on to the quarrelling Afghan factions. This would explain the accent on the process of reconciliation being supposedly Afghan-led. 
However, understanding the motives behind the "reconciliation" policy does not make it any the less confusing in some of its essential aspects. While the British and the Germans have pressed for "reconciliation" as a necessary ingredient of any political solution to the Afghanistan conflict, the US, with greater political and military stakes in it and more division in thinking between the military and the diplomats on strategy, has been more ambivalent.
Today, however, the Americans seem more on board, with a clear message emanating from Washington that while "reconciliation" may neither be the most desirable policy nor one that will necessarily work, there is no better alternative in view. This only confirms how thin and uncertain is the basis of the reconciliation strategy. The US President apparently is determined to bring down the expenditure on the Afghanistan war from the present US $ 110 billion annually to US $ 4 to 5 billion that the US spends on aid to Egypt and Israel for the maintenance of peace in that volatile region.
Sensing the obvious danger to his own position of western overtures to the Taliban and distrustful of his western allies, President Karzai has wanted to remain central to the reconciliation process by taking ownership of it and appointing Burhanuddin Rabbani to lead it from his side. With Rabbani's assassination, Karzai has lost the initiative in directing the process. His first reaction was to call the process off and propose direct talks with Pakistan as he held the latter responsible for Rabbani's elimination. He has, as was to be expected, protested against the opening of the Taliban office in Qatar as, apart from granting a form of international recognition to this group and raising its negotiating status vis a vis the legitimate government of Afghanistan, it removes the reconciliation process from Karzai's control all the more. He has, of course, been compelled to give his assent eventually, but the earlier claim that the process has to be Afghan- led, a stipulation that has figured in the declarations of various international conferences on Afghanistan, including the last one at Bonn, will now seem less tenable.
With the on-going manoeuvrings on giving the Taliban an address outside Pakistan, how the Pakistanis conduct themselves on the issue will need watching.
The top leaders of the Taliban are in Pakistan, and so long as they operate from its territory and their movements, contacts and communications are monitored locally, and their security assured by Pakistani agencies, the end- game in Afghanistan cannot be played behind Pakistan's back or to its exclusion.
US-Pakistani relations have, however, deteriorated very sharply after the recent killing of 24 Pakistani soldiers by a NATO attack on a border post inside Pakistan. NATO convoys through Pakistani territory remain suspended, the US has lost the use of the Shamshi air base and the Pakistani government is drawing up new and tighter rules of engagement for a reduced number of US operatives in the country. Intense public anger has been whipped up against the US through the media by the Pakistani establishment.
In this situation of mounting distrust between the US and Pakistan, Pakistan is likely to become more intent on pursuing its strategic goals in Afghanistan and less accommodating vis a vis the US which is seen to be drawing closer to India.
Indeed, the contradictions between the US and Pakistan interests and policies in Afghanistan are likely to become more pronounced. In this context, the newly declared India- Afghanistan strategic partnership is bound to have goaded Pakistan into thinking of a countervailing strategy, even if it has reacted officially to this development with uncharacteristic self- control publicly.
If there is need for a coherent and constructive Pakistani approach to the Afghan problem, in addition to the complicating factor of a down slide in US- Pakistan relations, there is mounting political disarray in Pakistan itself, with mounting confrontation between the civilian government and the armed forces. The political turmoil in the country is not likely to end soon because of its structural roots.
In this background, the "reconciliation" strategy that the West wants to pursue is short term in scope. Over the longer term, for the strategy to succeed, it has to be accompanied by reconciliation of several other differences. The mounting differences between the US and Pakistan would have to be reconciled; those in the Pakistani polity that are pitching the Army and the Judiciary against the President would need reconciliation; Pakistan's strategic goals in Afghanistan would need reconciling with Afghan independence and sovereignty; an intra- Afghan reconciliation has to occur on the basis of adherence to some minimum rules of civilised conduct by all parties; the divergent interests of Afghanistan's neighbours would have to be reconciled in specific areas; and, finally, US interests in the region need to be reconciled with the legitimate interests of others, including those of Iran, Russia and China.
The quick-fix "reconciliation" being attempted at Qatar can become unglued unless it is bound together by a more transparent effort to reconcile differences and promote commonalities of interests across the region as a whole.
- Author is a former Foreign Secretary of India


Photo: "Afghan women voice concerns to coalition" (CC BY 2.0) by DVIDSHUB


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