Asia Studies Discussion Group- Semester 1 2013


For Australia: Looking North for the Future

Public discourse in Australia now heavily favours an Asian-centric worldview. Gone are the days we looked across the Atlantic for leadership and inspiration. A look at our head of state or the once mighty Europe that Britain is tied to (rather reluctantly might I add), and it is clear that we are unlikely to gain much from the continent. Both Washington and the European Union face their own uphill fiscal battles, in the process holding the world economy recovery hostage. It is no myth that the Asian giants in the East (bar Japan) have largely helped carry the global economy following the global financial crisis, though the largest of the economies- China and India are experiencing slower than forecasted growth. For example, last week The Economist reported that China grew at 7.4% in the third quarter of this year whilst the other comparable economies- India and Indonesia, grew at 5.3% and 6.2% respectively. These are truly impressive figures given the times.


On current economic trends, it is clear that a global economic power shift from West to East is happening and will continue for some time. In fact, a recent study by the National Intelligence Council has projected that China will overtake the United States as the largest economy in the world before 2030, the previously projected timeline for that change. This is the radical transformation in economic power that is now predicted by mainstream economists and policy makers. That is a world we must all prepare for. From investment decisions, to developing emerging markets and developing sophisticated networks of value-adding chains will all be affected by the economic trends that have the ability to predict the future. Australia’s future is inextricably tied to the wealth, prosperity and stability of our Asian neighbours.


On security matters, that distinction is less clear and the United States army, navy and air force are far superior than the rest of the world put together. The balance of power will still heavily favour the West, but China has shown that it too seeks to leverage some of its newly found economic prosperity into military strength. If that trend continues, we are likely to see more clashes over maritime areas and islands territories between various countries in the region. China has taken a more aggressive posture in securing its energy resources, particularly in response to the chokepoints of Malacca. It has simultaneously built strong relationships with countries with close proximity to the Indian Ocean to that end (much to the dislike of India of course). The projected scarcity in resources in the near future and the continuing demand for electricity in China’s hubs will see the demand for power double in China’s cities by 2030 according to the McKinsey Global Institute. Such domestic pressure to deliver a stable energy supply will only exacerbate the chance of conflict in the Indian Ocean between China and some of her neighbours.

My own minor thesis explores the potential chance for conflict between China and India, two of the biggest players in Asia. There are two strong reasons to believe that though conflict between them is unlikely, it is not a foregone conclusion. The first is that China and India have failed to resolve their border dispute since partition, culminating in a short but full-scale war between the two countries in 1962. The second is that, whilst China has been building strong alliances with India’s neighbours, India has moved more forcefully on its ‘Look East’ approach. That policy, often termed ‘counter-encirclement’ by military strategists mean both countries are lurking in each other’s traditional areas of influence. C. Raja Mohan looks at these two areas in some detail in his latest book Samudra Manthan: Sino-Indian Rivalry in the Indo-Pacific. All point to either a security dilemma or an element of strategic calculus played by most powers in the region. The U.S. pivot toward the Asia-Pacific, however insignificant on the ground (as most of the proposed re-orientation of forces won’t be complete till 2020) demonstrates further why Asia is, and will remain a complex geographical hotspot for some time. To further complicate matters, the election of the nationalist Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Japan, mean that her territorial spats with China are unlikely to don’t recede any time soon.

As we Australians begin to grasp some of the complex realities of the region and the rich cultural tapestry and economic opportunities it has to offer, we must move beyond the government’s ‘Asian Century’ rhetoric and truly integrate ourselves with Asia. As former Australia Prime Minister stated in his Keith Murdoch Oration in November last year, “Australia is front and centre in the fastest growing part of the world as never before”. Whilst simultaneously recognising that Asia faces its own challenges during this hyper-economic expansionary period, Australia is faced with a great historic opportunity to open our doors and embrace the future. We’ve done it before, and we can do it again today.

It is to this end, that I hope to launch a study group that will bring together the brightest students from diverse areas as politics, business particularly finance and economics students, energy and environmental sustainability. The discussion group would meet for 2 hours each week, beginning week 1 of Semester 1, 2013 to discuss latest reports, studies, polls and research on Asia. The criteria to apply to join this study group is below:

–       Expertise in a particular field- in economics, politics, energy & environment, finance.

–       Interest in Asia: Japan, South Korea and emerging powers like China, India and Indonesia.

–       Able to commit 2 hours each week to discussion groups with key readings to be completed each week. Participants can suggest readings for upcoming sessions.

If this study group interests you, email me at:


Power to the East? Sort of..

A global power shift has been occurring over the last decade from West to East, that fact is undeniable. To calculate this arithmetically in a hypothetical case study, let us assign total world power a numeric value of 1000. In the 18th century, Asia held roughly half the percentage of global output, that is roughly 500 units. One could reasonably claim then that Asia had a strong hold on global power in the mid 1700’s. However, Asia missed the great industrialization period that led to booming economies in both Western Europe and the United States. By the end of the 20th century, Asia’s share of global power had been reduced to the equivalent of 200 units.

Over the last two decades, as Asian economies have prospered and their cultures have spread rapidly across the globe, thanks to a globalized world with low information barriers, Asia looks to reclaim its historic share of global power, say 500 units, a point Joseph Nye illustrates well in The Future of Power. So what does this shift of power mean for the future of world politics given the European Union’s dire straits today? Where does its current trajectory lie? There are two important things to note here: Firstly, financial crises are cyclical and it’s only a matter of time before Europe gets back on its feet. Asia went through its own financial crisis in 1997/’98, and today all those East Asian economies have recovered and are thriving. The American political scientist John Mearsheimer wrote in The Tragedy of Great Power Politics that the 1997/’98 Asian financial crisis brought out a stronger, more united region by fostering a “new geopolitics” in the region. In the aftermath of the crisis, the European Union may come to a similar result.

Secondly, those who suggest the European Union’s demise is inevitable should be weary of making such overarching judgements so soon. As Paul Krugman noted in the New York Times the other day, Europeans are increasingly rejecting the austerity measures forced on them by the Merkel-Sarkozy duo (the latter no longer holds the Presidency). First the Greeks and now the French. It’s simply a matter of time before Europe favors pro-growth policies and recovers from its slump.

The European Union, despite its current setbacks, continues to be viewed much more favorably as an intermediary actor to solve international disputes than any other international actor. Europe’s embrace of soft power tools and strategic culture of public diplomacy over hard power mechanisms has increased its global appeal over the last four decades. One financial crisis may damage its reputation in the short term, but will hardly tarnish it, as some commentators claim.

Meanwhile, in China, the region’s economic power house, the country continues to face its own internal challenges; from human rights and democratic protests to wide scale corruption and internal party struggles within the Community Party. In the last year alone, we’ve watched the unfolding of the high-speed train crash scandal, the case of the ruthless and corrupt Communist Party Chief Bo Xillai caught out and most recently, the blind dissident Chen Guangcheng made international news for speaking out against false imprisonment and persecution. Hardly, a country running smoothly. China’s retreat from the Indian Ocean after a more aggressive posture in early 2009 is proof that China is not ready to lead nor play the role of a serious global power.

Japan, another major economy in the region has little interest in playing a more serious role in global politics, not to mention its domestic focus on recovery after the Fukashima nuclear disaster.

My point is that the so called ‘old-world order’ still matters. And Europe will be back.

My interview with Joseph Cirincione- Nuclear expert, President of PloughShares Fund and Advisor to U.S State Dept.

(Interview originally in Monthly Access, AIIA

Joseph Cirincione is President of Ploughshares Fund, a global security foundation. He is the author of Bomb Scare: The History and Future of Nuclear Weapons and Deadly Arsenals: Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Threats. He is a member of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s International Security Advisory Board, the Council on Foreign Relations, and the World Economic Forum Global Council on Catastrophic Risks.

Cirincione worked for nine years in the U.S. House of Representatives on the professional staff of the Committee on Armed Services and the Committee on Government Operations. He previously served as Vice President for National Security and International Policy at the Center for American Progress and Director for Nonproliferation at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.  He teaches at the Graduate School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University.

You appeared on CBS a few days ago and you spoke about the possibility of an Israeli attack within three months, before Iran enters the so called “Zone of Immunity” as Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak has stated. What do you think the possibility of such an attack is and can you really put a number on it?

You can put numbers on anything. The odds makers at Las Vegas who put their money where their estimates are, place the odds of an attack on Iran at 50/50 currently. That’s pretty high. These are people who are waging money on their estimate. They’re not just speculating for fun. So the question is why? Why is the risk of war with Iran so high? It’s not because Iran is close to a bomb; they’re not.

Predictions about the end of the world have only a slightly worse track record than predictions about Iran getting a nuclear bomb. Every year, for the last twenty years, some fool has been saying that Iran is going to get a bomb within six months or a year. You hear people talking about that now, but it’s not true. The best intelligence, according to the US intelligence community and our top military officials, concludes that Iran has not yet decided to make a bomb. If Iran did decide to make a bomb and went all out, it would take them about six months to a year to make the material for one bomb the highly enriched uranium. It would take them another six months or so to fashion that into a crude devise, and it would take them another year or two to be able to fashion that into a warhead to put on a missile for delivery. They are somewhere between eighteen months and three years from having a weapon that could be delivered by missile, and at least a year, maybe three, from having any kind of weapon at all if they decide to do so.

Since we have very good intelligence on their centrifuge facilities, including UN inspectors in the facilities, we would see them doing this. They would have to kick out inspectors, convert the centrifuges to enriched uranium to 90% from the current 3 to 20% that they use, –the enriched uranium of 3% and 20% is for fuel rods, but you have to enrich it to 90% for a weapon– and we would have ample time to make decisions about anything we wanted to do to stop them.

It’s not the Iranian program that’s driving this push for war, it’s really Israel, more specifically, some politicians in Israel, including the Prime Minister, who are saying that Iran must be stopped and they must be stopped now. They say that Israel can’t afford to wait, can’t afford to take the risk. It’s Israel’s view of the threat that’s driving the push for war right now.

If Prime Minister Netanyahu makes a decision to launch a strike, do you think he will consult Washington prior to such an attack? Will he request additional military assistance, given that it would be a very complex operation and Washington has a superior air force capacity? Would the U.S. be able to handle the operation much more efficiently than Israel would ever be able to?

I don’t know, I honestly don’t know. U.S. Officials are trying to convince Israel not to go to war. Israeli leaders don’t seem to be willing to listen to the U.S. advice. It’s a very worrisome situation. Despite the fact that the U.S. gives Israel US$3 billion a year and defends Israel in the U.N. Security Council and forums around the world, Israel’s current leadership seems to believe that they can decide to start a war with Iran and that the U.S. will be forced to go along. It’s not clear whether the U.S. would, in fact, come to Israel’s aid. The U.S. has not intervened in Israel’s other wars. It didn’t help Israel in the war with Lebanon or the bombardments of Gaza or even in the 1967 or 1973 wars. The risk is that Israel attacks, Iran responds, and that response includes attacks on U.S. forces, which would force the U.S. to respond and get involved in the war. If the Iranian response did not include attacks against U.S. forces, it’s not clear whether the U.S. would jump in. The US military does not want a war with Iran, and if we came in, it’d be a much bigger, much more involved war than if Israel and Iran exchanged airstrikes.

What lessons do you think we can learn from the Iraq experience? That was obviously a blunder on U.S. supremacy and a major political embarrassment for the coalition. The U.S. and the U.K, in particular, are witnessing many of the same trends. With regard to IAEA inspectors are we not giving them enough time to give an independent report that will confirm whether Iran has a nuclear program underway or not?

It’s not quite the same. I think the IAEA, the board of the governors, and the U.S. are in close agreement on this. There is strong evidence that Iran has engaged in activity in the past. The IAEA doesn’t know whether Iran is engaging in such activities currently, and the U.S. intelligence is in agreement. Iran did engage in these activities in the past, and we can’t be certain that they’re not doing it now. However, both the IAEA and the U.S. intelligence agree that the Iranian program is not currently a weapons program. I think I would put it and many experts would put it as: Iran is engaging in a hedging exercise. It is acquiring the capability to produce a nuclear weapon should it decide to do so at some point in the future.

Some people call this the “Japan Strategy.” Japan has the ability to make a nuclear weapon within six months to two years. That’s a hedge. Iran, for its own security reasons, may decide that it doesn’t want to cross the nuclear threshold, that the hedge works just fine for it, that its security goes down if it acquires a nuclear device. For example; if its regional rivals could get nuclear weapons, it would face heavier sanctions, isolation, it would lose influence in the region. Its economy would be crippled. It’s a very dismal scenario for Iran should it actually test or build a nuclear weapon.

So, what happened in Iraq? The executive branch manipulated the intelligence to present a worst case situation, that ,in fact, many officials in the intelligence community did not support. Because The Bush Administration wanted to go to war with Iraq in order to overthrow Saddam Hussein, they used the nuclear weapons issue as justification for war. We’re seeing some of that play out here. But not by the U.S. Administration. U.S. military officials do not want to go to war with Iran. They do not want a fourth war in the Middle East for many of reasons; not the least of which is that it wouldn’t stop an Iranian program. It would accelerate it.

What you have here is some people, some political factions in Israel and the United States, who want to overthrow the Iranian regime and are using the nuclear program as the justification. They want to eliminate that regime for lots of reasons.  In that sense, we’re seeing certain political figures use the playbook from the Iraq war again. This time they don’t have the U.S. military or the Administration on their side, which makes it a lot harder to do.

One of the things that the former Defence Secretary Robert Gates said in 2010 was that such a strike on those facilities would only set its program back by 1-3 years, and it would only be a temporary fix. Do you agree with Robert Gates assessment if Washington or Israel launched a strike?

I do agree with him. He’s talking about a U.S. strike, which would be massive. It would involve many more capable weapons than Israel could use. An Israeli strike would harm the facilities, particularly the Iranian conversion facility at Isfahan and some of the facilities at Natanz, but the day after the strikes ended, Iran would evaluate what sites had the least damage, and they would be rushing new equipment into those sites, most likely digging tunnels even deeper into the mountains around Qom. It would become a point of national pride to rebuild those facilities as quickly as possible, and to declare that they now had no choice but to develop a weapon. Iran, under those circumstances, might be able to get a weapon very quickly. So an Israeli strike would most likely produce the very outcome they’re trying to prevent.

What are your thoughts about Matthew Kroenig’s statements that the best time to attack Iran is now? He argues in a paper in Foreign Affairs that the Obama Administration’s policy of tightening sanctions has been ineffective and that the only viable policy left for Washington to do is to bomb Iran. Is this not a far-fetched argument that is really crying more for attention rather than a well thought-out policy recommendation? Do you agree?

The article in response to Matthew Kroenig’s from his former boss, Colin H. Kahl, was devastating to Kroenig’s argument. Kroenig’s article does not stand up to any serious scrutiny but it’s the kind of political arguments that are being made that overestimate Iran’s current capability, underestimate the consequences of war and present in one flawed concept, the worst case for Iran with the bomb and the best case for a military strike to stop it. It really is a terrible analysis.

In recent days, we’ve seen a slight embrace of talks, of some sort of cooperation from Iran’s side, trying to welcome the International community to talk. What are the chances now if Washington takes this seriously? And, is it possible to convince Netanyahu as well, to bring Iran to the negotiating table and try to work out a diplomatic solution to this rather launching a full out war?

As the President has said, “All options are on the table.” We want to stop Iran from getting a bomb, but the best way to do that is diplomatically; to convince Iran that it is in its own interests not to build the bomb. No country has ever been coerced into giving up its nuclear weapons program or nuclear weapons, but lots of countries have been convinced to do so. We know how to do this. We at least have to try to do this with Iran. The diplomatic option has not been given enough of a chance. The U.S. is not talking to Iran right now and hasn’t talked to Iran for over a year. There’s absolutely no communication with Iran right now. Before Iran’s program continues even further and way before we contemplate using military strikes to stop it, you owe it to the country and the people who would give their lives in a war to seriously attempt a diplomatic solution. We haven’t done so. This administration hasn’t done so. The President said in his inaugural address that he was extending a hand of friendship to Iran. That showed a willingness to do diplomacy, but that’s not diplomacy. That’s not actually engaging in negotiation. Diplomacy is hard work. It’s frustrating. It’s persistent. It’s continuous. I understand the frustration of some of these officials in this administration when Iran did not respond to that offer, and I understand why they might be frustrated and disillusioned, but that’s not the same as saying we tried diplomacy and it didn’t work. We didn’t try. We just said we wanted to try.

If Obama’s administration somehow convinced Iran to give up its nuclear ambitions, at least in the short term, for real talks, and to abide by the NPT wholeheartedly, allowing IAEA inspectors access to all of its sites, even those that are undeclared, on a political side, how will Obama convince Congress to eliminate a lot of these sanctions that have been applied on Iran, especially the harsh sanctions that have been applied in the last year? For example, Iran’s restricted access to the international financial capital to the world market. How will he convince Republicans, in an election year, who control the lower house to take such actions in a show of good faith?

I don’t know. Putting sanctions on is easy, but taking them off is hard. The best case scenario is that the U.S. promises Iran that it will delay implementation of new sanctions. That’s the concession the U.S. makes for Iran’s concessions by saying, “halt the enrichment of your Uranium above 5%.” The key thing you want right here is to extend the break out time. If Iran continues to enrich uranium at 20%, it will build up a stockpile of Low Enriched Uranium (LEU), that it could quickly, in a matter of a few months, convert to bomb grade uranium. You want to stop them from getting a large stockpile of 20% Uranium. That is a real confidence building measure, that’s a concession Iran could make.

Here’s the deal- Iran stops enrichment of Uranium to 20% and the U.S. and the great powers agree to supply Iran with 20% enriched Uranium for fuel rods for its research reactor. Iran agrees to more intrusive inspections of its facilities so we can be assured there are no secret facilities; in exchange, some of the sanctions are lifted. You could see the Europeans lifting some of those sanctions, buying oil from Iran again, for example, or lifting some of the travel curbs. It’s harder for the U.S. to lift those sanctions, but you can see those sanctions being lifted in the course of several years if relations with Iran overall improve, if these confidence building steps form the basis for a more comprehensive deal. The President has the authority to waive sanctions under certain security conditions, the U.S. has power to stop pushing for new sanctions and the U.S. has the power to get its allies to lift sanctions. There are ways to do this short of going through the long process of getting congress to lift these sanctions.

Lessons from Iraq

U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Jeremy Todd

NEW YORK- Washington seems geared towards its third war in just eleven years. War Propaganda is in no deficit on Capitol Hill, reminiscent of what we witnessed pre-March 2003 when U.S troops marched into Baghdad under the “Coalition of the willing” umbrella, toppling Saddam Hussein’s regime in just four weeks. Since then, we’ve watched Maliki’s Iraq plunge into sectarian warfare, deep corruption, and chaos.  Hardly a ‘mission accomplished’.

By characterizing Iran as an armed, existential threat, like it did with Iraq in 2003, and drawing arbitrary distinctions between ‘good’ and ‘evil’ regimes characteristic of the Bush years (think ‘Axis of Evil’ speech), Washington is leaving little wiggle room for any effective diplomacy. Former Australian Foreign Minister, Gareth Evans rightly pointed out that “the real world is a place of gray shades, not black or white”.  The ongoing aggressive war campaign on Capitol Hill should be viewed with deep suspicion and should be subject to rigorous public scrutiny to ensure Washington does not stumble into Iraq 2.0.

Following, America’s unilateral launch of the Iraq war, under the “Coalition of the Willing” umbrella, the international community began to seriously question the precedent being set in U.S foreign policy and whether Iraq was the first in a string of pre-emptive attacks to come. The contradictions were clear from the beginning. In February 2001, Colin Powell stated that Saddam Hussein was not a threat, nor did Iraq develop any significant capabilities with respect to weapons of mass destruction. Yet only twenty-four months later, he infamously addressed the United Nations General Assembly asserting that Iraq was aggressively rebuilding its WMD program and would likely share its technology with Al-Qaeda.  Today we hear a similar argument, that is, a nuclear Iran would likely be aggressive and contribute towards destabilising the region’s relative harmony in the last two decades.  Members of the GOP itching to go to war against the Persian state claim that Iran, like Iraq (pre-2003), would transfer nuclear materials and technology to notorious terrorist groups like Hezbollah.

Washington is unlikely to muster international support for a war against Iran, given its track record in Iraq.  Further, the moral wounds and bruises of Abu Ghraib have not yet healed. Unable to muster international support for a military intervention, like Iraq in 2003, America and its staunch ally in the Middle East, Israel, are likely to stumble into a full blown war with Iran without mapping a comprehensive policy outlining the goals of the mission and a clear exit-strategy from the Persian Gulf. America would find itself embroiled in another conflict in the Muslim world marred by deep antagonism towards the West and a hostile international community, in the midst of an economic downturn at home. It would also likely deal a severe blow to the wave of democratisation movements across the region, particularly in neighbouring Syria, as Assad’s brutal regime continues to massacre its own people and seems unlikely to cede power anytime soon. Waging a war on another Muslim country in the region would likely shift momentum away from pro-democracy movements and further strengthen Arab despots who, as a result, could justify state repression as a tool to keep the West out.

Furthermore, as Colin Kahl, former U.S Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Middle East pointed out, “any war with Iran would be a messy and extraordinarily violent affair, with significant casualties and consequences”, and unlike Iraq, Iran has developed strong proxy relationships capable of inflicting disproportionate destruction.

A more limited military approach; a surgical strike to take out several Iranian facilities as Israel did on the Iraqi Osirak reactor in 1981 will likely backfire as it could spur strong domestic support for an Iranian nuclear weapon at a time when the regime itself is vulnerable to the forces of the Arab Spring. The Israeli strike that took out the suspected Syrian nuclear site Al Kibar relatively successfully in 2007 cannot be used as precedent to strike the Natanz or Qom nuclear sites in Iran. In contrast to Syria, the Iranian nuclear program is far more advanced, dispersed and beneath ground, making it difficult to wipe out its program entirely through airstrikes. Should Washington consider conventional war as it did in Iraq, it would be useful to understand that, while it would likely “win” a conventional war against Iran, Tehran is unlikely to play by the rules and would most likely use tactics like guerrilla warfare and air strikes on Israel through its proxy in Lebanon, Hezbollah to launch a strong offensive. Moreover, any disruptions or minor conflicts on the  Strait of Hormuz, would be economically disastrous for the West given that about a fifth of the world’s oil passes through the strait.

Objectively speaking, it is highly unlikely that Iran will abandon its pursuit of developing a nuclear capability owing to a fragile geopolitical neighbourhood and  a nuclear armed Israel on its periphery. Add to that the wide belief in the U.S defence community that Israel is preparing to launch a pre-emptive attack on Iran and you have a recipe for disaster as the seeds of mistrust on both sides spiral out of control.

The Republican presidential candidates have so far condemned President Obama’s more cautionary approach in dealing with Iran, pledging a tougher approach upon ceasing the high throne. The GOP’s portrayal of the Islamic Republic as an irrational, radical Anti-west regime shifts international public debate away from smart policy options, towards the “us” versus “them” mantra Bush and Blair espoused after 9/11.

There are indeed lessons to be learnt from the Iraq experience. Firstly; intelligence to justify the Iraq invasion was skewed, highly politicized, and taken out of context. Repeated warnings from the intelligence community not to use flawed intelligence were ignored by the Bush administration, according to Paul R. Pillar, who served as National Intelligence Officer for the Near East and South Asia from 2000 to 2005. Policy makers in Washington should heed the lessons from Iraq and pay more attention to intelligence officers this time around. There is little evidence to suggest that Iran has made the decision to develop a nuclear weapon capacity. The IAEA Report on Iran released in November 2011 should not be conflated, as there is little reliable evidence to suggest definitively, that Iran has recently resumed operations at its nuclear sites, though admittedly if it was weaponizing its behaviour might be indistinguishable from its present course. Joseph Cirincione and Elise Connor at the Ploughshares Fund estimate that it would take Iran at least three to five years to weaponize. Though the real concern with Iran’s nuclear program is that it may continue to enriching uranium up to twenty percent, thereby reducing the breakout threshold, should Ayatollah Khomeini and Ahmadinejad decide to given an order to weaponize in the near future.

So far, the preferred method in dealing with Iran has been tightening sanctions on the regime. In an effort to choke the regime and force them to come to the negotiating table, the Obama administration placed an executive order to restrict Iran’s access to international financial institutions.

For now, the Obama administration is likely to tighten sanctions and continue covert operations against specific targets and sites, according to Shashank Joshi, an Associate Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute. Tighter sanctions will continue to place strain on Iran’s economy, given its heavy dependence on oil exports in the international market. Playing the waiting game will have two desirable effects: firstly, it gives Washington’s dual-track policy of diplomacy and sanctions enough time to work, and secondly, it gives military planners additional time to develop comprehensive policy options, should Iran pursue its nuclear weapon ambitions aggressively.

At this stage, however, Iran like Iraq in 2003, has agreed to the partial admission of IAEA inspectors. Last time however, they were not given legitimate opportunity to verify Saddam’s nuclear ambitions. We can ill-afford another Iraq, not with the knowledge we have today.

If Washington does not heed the lessons from war-torn Iraq, and decides to unilaterally attack Tehran tomorrow, history will not be too kind to America.

A follow up: The Dangers of Launching a War on Iraq

After some comments and thoughts from a few colleagues and friends, I felt I should add a few more points to my original article on Iran’s nuclear program titled ” The Dangers of Launching a War on Iraq”.

What’s most concerning at this stage is that Israel is putting serious pressure on Washington to launch such a war, or at the very least, to support a war against Iran. To date, the Obama administration has shown some restraint in the war mongering department but it may have no choice but to support a limited military air strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities in the near future. Another point my colleague pointed out on which I thought I should address; is whether Israel would unilaterally strike Iran’s nuclear facilities. On this point, it is important to remember that Israeli air force capability is no where nearly as proficient as that of the Pentagon, and it is more likely than not that following such an operation, Iran would aggressively move to building a nuclear weapon; moving its operations further beneath ground and into more secret locations.

Perhaps this is the only place Washington has some leverage at this stage, especially given its possession of the 30,000-pound Massive Ordnance Penetrator, capable of penetrating up to 200 feet of reinforced concrete and therefore the only military tool capable of destroying the Natanz facility and potentially even the less active nuclear site in Qom.

On the Israeli side, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s insists that Iran is an existential threat to its survival as a state; and on the other,  Ayatollah Khomeini, the Supreme leader of Iran who continues to maintain unequivocally that his country is NOT pursuing a nuclear weapons program.

A chance of such a strike in numbers? When I asked Joseph Cirincione, an advisor to the State Dept and President of Plough Shares Fund, a nuclear security group in Washington, he gave it a 50/50 chance that Israel will launch such a strike in the next few months, before Iran supposedly enters the “Zone of Immunity”.

What would such a strike look like? I recommend this article by Ehud Eiran ” What Happens After Israel Attacks Iran”.

For those who are curious as to whether containment is possible if Washington or Israel strike Iran’s facilities, I would also recommend the article above.

Containment strategies would be unlikely to work given Iran’s strong ties to proxy networks that would disproportionately harm U.S and Israeli interests in the region, given the decentralized nature of the regime’s affilitations with Hezbollah for example. A conventional war is unlikely, and though Washington would “win” such a war, it would come at an enormous cost to both American and Israeli interests in the region. Iran is a sovereign country that is still a party to the NPT and since 2004, there has been little material evidence to suggest that it is pursuing such a program.

Don’t forget they’re legally entitled to enriching their uranium upto 20% under the treaty. Some argue that Iran is following a Japan strategy, that is developing a strong nuclear capability and thereby reducing the break out period, if a decision were ever made to build an actual weapon. Perhaps this is true, even then, Iran as a sovereign country is not partaking in any illegal activity. Israel and Washington’s policies may further drive Iranian leader’s over the edge with their constant war threats. Every possible pressure must be applied on both countries to restrain from such a result.

Other articles to look out for: Matthew Kroenig’s article: “Best Time to Attack Iran” and Colin H. Kahl “Not Time to Attack Iran”.

The ‘Responsibility to Protect’: a neo-colonial project?

The Responsibility to Protect (RtoP) represents a dramatic shift in the post Westphalian nation-state. States have voluntarily accepted the right of the international community to intervene in cases where governments are unable or are the perpetrators of crimes against humanity, war crimes, mass atrocities and genocide. Sceptics of the doctrine like Mahmood Mamdani argue that the doctrine will be abused by the big powers for their own self-interest in continental Africa. The premise of this argument exploits the past wretched colonial history that most African nations are still battling with today. This paper will negate the argument that RtoP and international justice are merely facades for a larger western agenda to recolonise Africa in three parts. Firstly, RtoP represents a significant movement away from the traditional notion of sovereignty. Mamdani’s assertion that the concept was born out of Western capitals and forced down the throats of Africans is a lie. Secondly, RtoP has advanced the norms of international justice, particularly the International Criminal Court. Mamdani and his colleagues argue that the ICC is a Western court designed to try Africans. Nothing could be further from the truth, Africans were heavily involved in the creation of the court and the subsequent operations of the court, both administratively and referring cases to the ICC. Thirdly, Mamdani misrepresents the Darfur conflict in his book Saviors and Survivors as a conflict between Arabs and Africans and argues that calls intervention by the international community in Darfur were unwarranted as the situation did not meet the criteria of a ‘genocide’. This paper argues that Mamdani and his colleagues have oversimplified the RtoP doctrine as a ‘neo-colonial’ project that will give credibility to African dictators who will continually evade justice and commit crimes against humanity.

In 2001, the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) coined the phrase ‘The ‘Responsibility to Protect’. This linguistic shift radically altered the traditional notion of sovereignty. By adopting the principle in 2005, the United Nations General Assembly accepted that states were responsible for the protection of their populations, and if they failed to do so adequately in the face of mass atrocities, the international community had a duty to intervene (UNGA Resolution 1674, World Summit 2005). The shift had begun in 2000 when Kofi Annan had made a powerful statement in the Millennium Report of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, “If humanitarian intervention is indeed an unacceptable assault on sovereignty, how should we respond to a Rwanda, to a Srebrenica- to gross and systematic violations of human rights that offend every precept of our common humanity?”(Annan, 2000). The RtoP doctrine was introduced to bridge that traditional gap between two contradicting norms of international law, that of state sovereignty and humanitarian intervention. The doctrine was mildly successful in negating the old arguments that RtoP would be misused by the West to legitimise their military and opportunistic interventions, often branded ‘old militarism in a new bottle’ (Bellamy, 2009).

Humanitarian interventions’ were not uncommon through the 20th century, take for example India’s intervention in the Pakistan civil war in response to atrocities taking place in Bengal, Tanzania’s attack on Uganda to bring down its leader Ida Amen or Vietnam’s invasion of Kampuchea to allegedly end the inhumane policies of the Poll Pot regime (Soroos,1985). It is clear that Mamdani’s claim that great powers would abuse the RtoP doctrine as premise to cover their unilateral interventions in smaller, weaker states in Africa is farfetched.(Luck, 2010; Newman, 2009; Mamdani, 2008). Mamdani cites Russia’s unilateral intervention into Georgia in 2008 or Kouchner’s advocacy that RtoP was applicable when Myanmar refused entry to emergency relief after cycle Nargis (Serena, 2010). For Mamdani and his supporters RtoP is simply the ‘humanitarian intervention’ characteristic of the Cold War era world order (Bellamy, 2009). Even Evans acknowledges this danger. Mamdani however fails to engage more deeply with the doctrine’s benefits in tackling the humanitarian challenges of the 21st century. Notably, whilst he criticises the doctrine and makes the argument that RtoP should be abandoned in its African ambitions, he fails to adequately give an alternative. Perhaps the best one can draw from his argument is that the African Union should be responsible for ensuring mass atrocities and human suffering are averted. This argument has little credit, given the African Union is severely underfunded and under-resourced, lacks adequate technical and technological expertise in interventions and is still in its youth, combating problems of corruption and legitimacy (Cohen, 2006). In rebuttal that RtoP tends to be overly militaristic and interventionist, supporters of RtoP such as Evans can point to the Kenyan case, where the principle was invoked and diplomatic measures were pursued to bring an end to the violence that took over the country in the aftermath of the 2008 elections (Bellamy, 2010).

Alex de Waal, a supporter of Mamdani’s position on RtoP and humanitarian intervention argued in the immediate aftermath of the doctrine being accepted by the international community that the Global South would soon realize its fatal mistake in accepting the doctrine because it was simply the old humanitarian intervention repackaged (De Waal, 2007). What both Mamdani and de Waal both miss is that RtoP was a moving away from the ‘right to intervene’ towards embracing more soft power mechanisms of preventing atrocities and suffering on a mass scale. Both fail to acknowledge the strong Global South support for the doctrine, take for example African National Congress (ANC) member and liberation fighter, Cyril Ramaphosa or former Filiopeno President Fidel Ramos who were strong advocates of RtoP and party to the Canadian government backed Commission (Just, 2009). Furthermore, to prove that there is strong support for the doctrine in Africa, I will point to the African Union Constitutive Act which has at its core, the right for the African Union (AU) to “intervene in a member state in the presence of grave circumstances such as war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity (Constitutive Act of the African Union, July 2002).

Take the Southern African Development Community (SADC) for example, in recent times has meaningfully engaged with human rights discussions and pushed forward human rights discourse in the continent (Schabas, 2007). To suggest that these initiatives are not those of Africans but of Western imperialists are to ignore how far Africans have come in their battle to fight human rights abuses. There has also been strong initiative and cooperation between Africa and Europe, most notably the EU-Africa Summit in 2007, which aimed at combating crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide, including the punishment of those crimes under international law (Max Du Plessis, 2008). Scholars such as Mamdani have chosen to ignore the normative developments in Africa in their fight against human rights abuse.

This is not to ignore the humiliation, pain and subordination Africans suffered under colonialism (Obadina, 2008). Europeans had exploited Africa for its vast mineral resources and cheap labour for most of the 20th century and upon independence, most of these states were left with poor institutional capacities, arbitrarily constructed societies and political hierarchy. Few will forget their experience under colonialism. However Mamdani and those who support his argument that RtoP will be misused by Western powers to force-feed their agenda onto Africa are merely exploiting these sentiments. There is also a tendency for many educated Africans to portray Westerners for their woes, blaming their current political, economic social turmoil on the West (Obadina, 2008). This populist sentiment has allowed many African leaders and dictators to cling onto power as they fight the imaginary white man (Obadina, 2008).

Another major criticism surrounding RtoP has been the emphasis on pursuing international justice; that is, the persecution of those responsible for committing mass atrocities. Most notable in this routine criticism is that the ICC is a creation of western powers designed to target Africans (Obadina, 2008). Mamdani’s arguments that the ICC is out to get Africans rests on two pillars: firstly, that the ICC was created solely by Western imperial powers, and secondly, that it was forced down the throats of African leaders who were forced to choose between accepting the court or bidding goodbye to development aid (Pheku, 2008).

In rebuttal, African leaders have embraced the ideals and objectives of the ICC, as embodied in the African Union’s core principles including the ratification of the Rome Statute by thirty African countries (Max Du Plessis, 2008).  African states were also very active in the formation of the court. Consider that 4 of the 18 judges of the Court are African, the Deputy Prosecutor, Fatou  Bensouda is Gambian and the Vice President of the Court, Akua Kuenyehia is Ghanaian. The Court itself represents the ICC even better than the UN Security Council does. The arguments by Mamdani and those in his side of the court would have you believe otherwise. Furthermore, in recent years, African leaders have spent significant political capital tackling the culture of impunity that is prevalent across the continent, particularly crimes against humanity and mass atrocities. (Mochochoko, 2005).

Add to that the growing support for the International Criminal Court within African civil society, including over 90 NGOs scattered around the continent in Kenya, South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, Uganda, Rwanda and Ethiopia and claims that the ICC is not in the best interests of Africans is an overly exaggerated and artificially constructed concept for those seeking fame (as in scholars such as Mamdani) or the cosiness of some African dictators (Mochochoko, 2005). The Responsibility to Protect and the pursuit of international justice is intrinsic to changing the culture of impunity in the continent. The large amount of public pressure within African states has also translated into added support for the doctrine and the pursuit of justice.

Mamdani does have a valid concern in that the four countries standing before the ICC currently are African countries namely, Uganda, Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic and Darfur. However upon closer examination, it is clear that the first three were self-referrals and the last, was referred to by the United Nations Security Council. Mamdani overlooks this pivotal point as it would inconvenient his argument that Westerns are using the ICC as a mask to pursue their colonial interests (Fritz, 2008).  Perhaps what is most frustrating about radicalists like Mamdani who ruin the good work of the ICC and the justice element of the Responsibility to Protect is that they fail to propose any meaningful measures to combat the current humanitarian crisis we face, whether it be human rights abuses in Damascus or it mass atrocities in the weakly governed areas of the eastern Congo. Mamdani’s argument that the ICC is part of some new ‘international humanitarian order’ in which big powers have unilaterally given themselves the power to be  arbitrars of justice rests on little or no empirical evidence. It rests on the oversimplification of Africa’s problems on its wretched colonial history. It is easy to see why approaching that line of argument can be tempting, however as an intellectual argument it has gained little traction (Mamdani, 2008).

In fact I would argue that Africa has more to gain from the work of the International Criminal Court than any other continent. A senior African legal adviser in the ICC’s Registrary agreed on this point, stating that no other continent had fallen prey to the widespread culture of impunity than Africa (Mochochoko, 2005). It is no surprise that African leaders have decided to tackle this culture head on by first assisting in the creation of the Court and later, would refer multiple cases to the Prosecutor, including the famous Ugandan case in 2003 when it referred its situation to the Court which ultimately resulted in the arrest warrants for five senior commanders of the Lord’s Revolution Army and its leader Joseph Kony (Max Du Plessis, 2008). In this case, like the other African cases, the Court has not undermined state sovereignty; rather it has strengthened their legitimacy and pursuit of criminals (Slaughter, 2003). The Responsibility to Protect doctrine has strengthened the mandate of the International Criminal Court.

Richard Just points out that Mamdani’s book Saviors and Survivors fails to correctly define genocide correctly. Mamdani’s defines genocide as “killing with intent to eliminate an entire group”(Mamdani, 2009). Yet the Genocide Convention adopted in 1948 defines genocide as”an attempt to eliminate a group in whole or in part” (Just, 2009). The factual and definitional mistakes only begin here and there many more that could be listed. What’s more important however is that this misstep by Mamdani undermines his credibility, he ignores facts that are inconvenient to his argument and most of all he is out of touch with humanity. His book fails to provide a serious alternative to RtoP on what the international community should do in the event that we are faced with mass atrocities, crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide.

Instead his book advocates overly simplistic and naive proposals to solve Africa’s human rights woes. He ignores comments such as those made by Jandaweed leader Musa Hilal who said “We should change the demography of Darfur and it of African tribes” (Just, 2009). If that does not constitute genocide, it’s hard to find a conflict that fits his definition of the term. Either way, even those who don’t refer to Darfur as a genocide agree that the loss of 300,000 lives in conflict in the region constitutes mass human suffering that warrants a response from the international community. By characterizing the Save Darfur movement as one that begged the U.S. government to invoke RtoP together together with neoconservatives of the Bush administration, the author lost all credibility in his advocacy of non-intervention in the Darfur conflict (Just, 2009). Mamdani’s mischaracterization of the human rights activists as intellectual descendents of European colonialists proves this point.

Mamdani and his colleagues have failed to keep up with the transformation of human rights and justice at the international level, ignoring the acceptance by the international community of the RtoP doctrine and holding onto sovereignty as if Africa’s main security threats are western military adventures (Murray, 2004). The African Union has moved much further to promoting human rights, support for democratic institutions and culture and good governance (Max Du Plessis, 2008). If the AU is a strong supporter of these international norms, what motives lie behind Mamdani and his colleagues’ assertion that these norms are Western values forced onto Africans? Mamdani’s solution to combat humanitarian abuses and injustice in the continent is to allow the African Union to deal with these problems. Yet, it is fatal to ignore that the AU is severely under-resourced and cannot adequately enforce these values on the continent (Mills, 2008).

In conclusion, this paper has argued that the RtoP doctrine has been misrepresented by Mamdani and colleagues as a neo-colonial project forced down the throats of Africans. Instead this paper has shown that African leaders and civil society were strong in their support for such a doctrine, including the adoption of the principle in the charter of the African Union. Furthermore, arguments that Mamdani’s oversimplification of RtoP and the establishment of the International Criminal Court as western ideals in his book Saviors and Survivors is a gross misrepresentation of the continent’s views. In contrast, Africa has embraced the RtoP principle and has shown strong support for the pursuit of international justice through multiple self-referrals of situations to the ICC. Lastly, this essay has demonstrated the weakness in Mamdani’s arguments that human rights activists who argued for intervention in Darfur were not in fact neoconservatives tied to the Bush administration nor European colonialists; rather they were genuine activists who wished to stop the bloodshed in Sudan. It is clear that the only beneficiary to Mamdani’s claims that RtoP and international justice are simply neo-colonial projects have been the anti-West, ruthless dictators club that include Mugabe, Gaddafi and others.

The European Union’s failed approach to Arab Spring

Few predicted that an act of self-immolation in Tunis by a desperate street-vendor would lead to a contagion that would spread across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, toppling many a dictator in the process. In certain respects, the geo-political and strategic structures of the region are now changing, though few can accurately predict what the final outcomes will be.

Western capitals were certainly taken by surprise at the rate the revolutions spread across the region, and consequently, were placed under pressure to take a stance on the protest movements in each country, particularly given that many were Western-friendly regimes. Their most shamefully delayed response was reflected in the European Union’s approach to the Arab Spring. The EU’s behaviour was characteristic of a decade old policy; the European-Mediterranean Partnership (EMP) agreement, that has been rendered obsolete by the sudden shift in the narrative of the region. Therefore the EU was ill-equipped to deal with the sudden crises and revision of the status quo and its policy proved to be ineffective and irrelevant.

In addition, the double-standards that were being applied to different countries has proventhat the EU has lost all legitimacy as a coherent and effective international actor. For instance, the EU chose to extend its support only towards opposition movements that it considered to have a high chance of success. In Egypt, there was much hesitation from Brussels, Paris and Berlin, culminating in a series of spontaneous and weak demands for an end to the bloodshed. It was only on 4 February 2011, when Hosni Mubarak was forced to resign, that the European Council released a statement condemning the acts of violence and those who encouraged it. Furthermore, only a few weeks before Mubarak’s resignation, French Prime Minister Francois Fillon was on holiday in Egypt courtesy of Mubarak’s regime, including a luxury cruise on the Nile. The revelation of this strikes a severe blow to the legitimacy of the EU and its member-states.

In Tunisia, the EU was a fragmented and heterogeneous spectator as the majority of EU states opted for a ‘wait and see’ approach so as not to offend the regime, in case the protestors were unsuccessful in overthrowing the government. This approach proved to be futile as support for the protestors only came once Zane El Abiding had been overthrown, undermining the legitimacy of the EU. It is clear that the EU has failed to formulate a blueprint, comprehensive policy direction for the region. Rather, its responses have been a string of reactive policies towards the events in the region.

The failures of the more recent European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) also weaken its credibility towards the MENA region. EU member states’ were concerned that a change in leadership in capitals such as Cairo and Tunis would have serious geopolitical implications. Those feelings were not completely unwarranted given Egypt’s frosty relationship with Israel in recent times. In fact, the European Commissioner for Enlargement and the ENP, admitted this sentiment, “too many of us fell petty to the assumption that authoritarian regimes were a guarantee of stability in the region”. Many EU states were reluctant to cut ties with repressive, authoritarian regimes that were quashing protestors because of deep economic ties with many of these autocracies.

Additionally, under the most recent initiative, the ‘Partnership for Democracy and Shared Prosperity with the Southern Mediterranean’, a series of humanitarian aid and other funding was provided by the EU to deal with the immediate humanitarian calamities and unstable political landscape in the MENA region. Through this scheme, Morocco will be given €139 million to raise living standards in rural areas and to support gender equality as a result of a new constitution that will curb the powers of the King. Similarly, Algeria would receive €35 million for its cultural and transport sector. The decision to support these semi-authoritarian regimes on a ‘more for more’ approach questions the legitimacy of the EU as an international actor, especially as pledges for constitution reform in both Algeria and Morocco appear farcical.

Whilst optimists within the EU envision a Euro-Mediterranean community of democracies, it is highly unlikely that such a union will come about, given the fragile nature of many MENA countries. The EMP, the ENP and the Partnership for Democracy and Shared Prosperity with the Southern Mediterranean initiatives constitute as proof that the EU has failed in its approaches towards dealing with the Arab Spring and subsequently emphasises that it should not be regarded asa serious international actor in the foreign policy arena.