The long goodbye to Okinawa

US military bases on OkinawaBy Christian Le Miere, Research Fellow for Naval Forces and Maritime Security

Just before Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda arrived in Washington this week to meet US President Barack Obama, the two countries announced that nearly 9,000 US Marines would be shipped off the Japanese island of Okinawa. The continuing US military presence there, more than 60 years after the end of the Second World War, has been increasingly controversial, especially after a local schoolgirl was raped by US troops in 1995.

Last Thursdays’s announcement was the latest twist in a long-running saga over how to manage a withdrawal and relocation of Marines from and within Okinawa (click on map, left). Faced with local residents’ resistance to a continuing US presence on Okinawa, the new US-Japanese agreement has slightly upped the number of US troops to be removed from the island and makes no mention of any internal relocation there.

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All change in Korean politics

A screenshot from Park Geun-hye's Smartphone AppBy Jens Wardenaer, Research Analyst and Editorial Assistant

This is a year of political flux on the Korean Peninsula. In the final days of 2011, Kim Jong-un succeeded his father as North Korean leader; now new MPs are in place in Seoul after parliamentary elections this month. In December, South Koreans will chose a successor to their current president, Lee Myung-bak.

Analysts have been surprised by the new type of regime in North Korea, delegates at this week’s Asan Plenum in Seoul were told. Experts had anticipated three main scenarios: a new, unchallenged supreme leader; the emergence of a collective leadership; or a fractured, unstable leadership following the loss of the strongman who held it together. In fact, speakers said, Kim Jong-un seemed to have consolidated his power, while also relying on a support network of Kim family members and close supporters.

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Britain looks towards Asia

By Dr Tim Huxley, Executive Director, IISS-Asia

Britain is to end its policy of discouraging trade with Burma, the UK Foreign Security William Hague announced in the second IISS Fullerton Lecture in Singapore on 26 April. He said that in response to the ‘remarkable changes’ taking place in the country – which have included opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s election to a parliamentary seat – London would be promoting ‘responsible investment that will benefit local communities and respect the local environment’.

The move followed the European Union temporary removal of sanctions on Burma and was accompanied by a greater UK ambition to deepen ties with Asia, ‘the engine of the world’s growth today’. In a speech delivered with flair and enthusiasm, Hague said the British government wanted to be ‘a leading partner with Asian countries… on trade and commerce, in culture, education and development, and in foreign policy and security’.

In a lively Q&A session, in which he took queries via Twitter as well as from the audience in the room, the foreign secretary tackled topics ranging from territorial disputes in the South China Sea, and possible free-trade agreements between Asia and Europe to cyber security and controversial arms sales to Indonesia. He revealed that before his first official visit in 2011 no British foreign secretary had visited Australia for 17 years – ‘something we are putting right in spectacular terms’, he promised.

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Can Iranian nuclear talks progress at Baghdad?

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton addresses the press following of a P5+1 meeting at the UN headquarters during the 64th Session of the UN General Assembly in New York City, New York September 23, 2009. [State Department photo / Public Domain]

By Dina Esfandiary, Research Analyst and Project Coordinator, Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Programme

The positive atmosphere  surrounding the nuclear talks between Iran and the P5+1 in Istanbul this month will be tested just over three weeks from now in a further meeting in Baghdad. Both sides seem to have embarked on an intensive PR campaign to lighten the mood, dampen the calls for war and demonstrate the willingness to compromise in the upcoming talks over Iran’s controversial nuclear programme and uranium enrichment.

Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi recently said the Istanbul talks had produced ‘results that satisfied both sides’. ‘At the Baghdad meeting, I see more progress,’ he predicted.

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More trouble brewing in Asian waters?

US navy ships in the South China Sea. US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Kenneth Abbate/Released

By Christian Le Miere, Research Fellow for Naval Forces and Maritime Security

There surely can’t be anything aggressive about military exercises dubbed Naval Cooperation 2012, can there? And yet this month’s Sino-Russian exercises, involving a substantial fleet of Chinese vessels (five destroyers, five frigates, four Type 022 fast attack craft and two Song-class submarines), has highlighted the increasingly fractious relationships between naval powers in the region.

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Going ballistic: Asia’s missile-happy week

North Korean Security Challenges: a net assessmentBy Douglas Barrie, Senior Fellow for Military Aerospace

It has been a rough week for the Missile Technology Control Regime. On the MTCR’s twenty-fifth birthday, on 16 April, North Korea paraded a previously unseen long-range ballistic missile through the streets of Pyongyang and showed off some kind of unmanned system. Days later, South Korea was saying it had deployed an extended-range variant of its ground-launched cruise missile, and India had successfully test-fired an Agni-V intercontinental ballistic missile. Perhaps the MTCR’s only lucky day recently has been Friday the thirteenth, when North Korea’s Unha-3 satellite launch vehicle failed shortly after launch.

The MTCR keeps a low profile and so far hasn’t publicly marked its twenty-fifth. It was set up in 1987 by the United States and six other countries to try to curtail the proliferation of rocket, missile, unmanned aerial vehicle systems (UAVs or ‘drones’) and technology capable of delivering a 500 kilogram payload at a range greater than 300 kilometres. If events on the Asian continent were inauspicious markers of the MTCR’s quarter-century, they were a reminder of the rationale for establishing the non-proliferation regime.

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‘Time for an open, informed drugs debate’

Rising prices of cocaine and heroin through the distribution system
Latin American leaders have said recently that the West’s ‘war on drugs’ has failed, and a new book from the IISS agrees. At this week’s launch of Drugs, insecurity and failed states: The problems of prohibition, IISS expert and former MI6 deputy director Nigel Inkster said a new approach was needed in which drugs were treated as an issue to be managed rather than as a problem to be solved. Co-author Virginia Comolli pointed out that since the ‘war on drugs’ began in 1961 with the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs to deter trafficking and possession, none of the international treaty’s objectives had been achieved.

Worse, both authors said, banning drugs had fuelled violence and instability in the developing world, through the creation of a global black market dominated by powerful criminal groups. In some countries there had been ‘state capture’, or subversion of institutions, by criminal networks. Other nations, where drugs now overshadowed legitimate businesses, were surviving on ‘junkie economies’.

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Keeping the World Bank relevant

Jim Yong Kim meets India's finance minister

By Dr Sanjaya Baru, Director for Geo-Economics and Strategy

Asian-American physician Jim Yong Kim was US President Barack Obama’s surprise nominee for the presidency of the World Bank last month. However, it was less surprising earlier this week when the bank’s executive directors formally chose him for the role.

Although this was the first time in the bank’s history that there were multiple nominees – including Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala – Kim was always expected to win. Since the creation of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) at the 1944 Bretton Woods conference, the US and Europe have kept the management of both institutions firmly in their hands. The make-up of the bank’s board meant a much-lobbied-for shift in favour of an emerging-market candidate was unlikely this year.

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Why Pakistan is on the brink

Ahmed Rashid

By Antonio Sampaio, Research Assistant, Survival and the Armed Conflict Database, IISS

The supply of gas to the Lahore home of renowned Pakistani journalist and author Ahmed Rashid was cut off six months ago. While hardly one of the most severe problems faced by Pakistanis today, regular energy shortages are but one element of the multidimensional crisis afflicting their country. As Rashid explained during his address to the IISS, behind the international headlines on security and strategic issues lies ‘a dire economic situation’ that is exacerbating regional instability.

According to Rashid, ‘Pakistan’s foreign policy has undermined the state itself, it has created even more splits in the ethnic makeup, it has divided the country.’ Its political and military leadership had failed to implement economic and foreign-policy reform after the Cold War. Instead Pakistan had continued to support proxy armed groups in Kashmir, as well as aiding elements of the Taliban – despite its ongoing fight against different elements of the same group on its territory.

Both the security threat from Islamic militants and the poor outlook for the economy were ‘symptoms of things going very wrong’, stated the author of Pakistan on the Brink: The future of Pakistan, Afghanistan and the West. His bleak assessment of the situation on the ground both in Afghanistan and Pakistan came in the aftermath of two bold moves by the Taliban: a series of coordinated attacks across Kabul and three eastern Afghan provinces and ‘the biggest jailbreak’ in Pakistan’s history, in which almost 400 prisoners were released from a prison in the northwestern town of Bannu.

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Dubai row escalates into diplomatic headache for UAE

Dubai Police chief Lt General Dahi Khalfan Tamim (Photo: Arabian Business)

By Dr Alanoud Al Sharekh, Corresponding Senior Fellow for Regional Politics, IISS-Middle East

A recent decision by the United Arab Emirates to withdraw the residence permits of 30 Syrian men who took part in an unlicensed protest against the regime of Bashar al-Assad outside the Syrian consulate in Dubai in February has provoked a war of words between a controversial Muslim Brotherhood figurehead and Dubai’s police chief. The dispute between Sheikh Yousef al-Qaradawi and Lieutenant-General Dahi al-Khalfan risks spiralling into a diplomatic confrontation between the UAE and its neighbours.

Speaking during an episode of his long-running popular al-Jazeera show ‘Shari’a and Life’ in early March, Qaradawi denounced UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahyan and his brother Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan. Having previously been banned from entering the UAE himself for inciting dissent, the extremist cleric asserted that 100 Syrian families had in fact had their residence permits withdrawn and also attacked the UAE for revoking the citizenships of some Islamists in the country. Claiming to speak on behalf of Syrian National Council leader Burhan Ghalioun, Qaradawi threatened to incite Muslim rage against the UAE both on his show and during his Friday sermons.

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