Singapore: potential dilemmas over US links

Marina Bay in Singapore.

The United States will deploy up to four littoral combat ships to Singapore from 2013, Washington announced at the 2012 Shangri-La Dialogue. Against this backdrop, part of the Pentagon’s much-vaunted ‘rebalance to Asia-Pacific’, IISS-Asia Executive Director Dr Tim Huxley has been analysing the relationship between Singapore (above) and the US from the late 1960s. Writing in The Strategist, he points out that while casual onlookers may assume that the city-state is a US ally, in fact successive governments have preferred a slightly less formal, autonomous status.

Singapore appreciates the value of the United States’ presence in Asia. However, it is also aware of the need to display a degree of sensitivity towards its immediate neighbours. Its close defence relationship with the Pentagon ‘doesn’t imply that it would support any future US strategy aimed at containing China’.

Read more: The Strategist – Singapore and the US: not quite allies


Sectarian narrative simplifies and obscures

Lebanese protesters warn of the dangers of sectarianism.. Photo from the Lebanese Laique Pride Group
By Emile Hokayem, Senior Fellow for Regional Security, IISS-Middle East

These days, there is a dark meta-narrative spreading in parts of the Arab world and beyond: if the previous decade was that of Shia ascendancy, this one will be about the revenge of the Sunnis.

The chasm between Islam’s two main branches, many believe, already shapes internal Arab politics and mirrors a great regional competition that pits Iran against the Gulf states, in particular Saudi Arabia.

The story reads this way: Iran won the first rounds, when it helped Shia parties grab Iraq from Sunni clutches, groomed Hizbollah into a powerful force in Lebanon, and consolidated its alliance with the Alawite House of Assad in Syria. This drive has now been stopped and is being reversed, starting in Syria.

This view, as narrow, simplistic and offensive as it may be, has come to colour the perception of the uprisings that have shaken heterogeneous Arab societies. It helps some people to find a pattern amid the chaotic uncertainty brought about by the massive changes unfolding in the region. It is also circular and self-serving: the more sectarian one is, the more one is likely to subscribe to this reading. Interestingly, many Arabs on both sides of that divide propagate it to mobilise their allies.

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Mitt Romney’s big London adventure

© Mitt Romney

By Dr Dana Allin, Senior Fellow for US Foreign Policy and Transatlantic Affairs; Editor of Survival

Mitt Romney’s now infamous gaffes during a day in London, awkward though they have been, are not the stuff of huge diplomatic significance. His problem is that the whole trip – with stops in Israel and Poland as well as London – was premised on the alleged problem of the incumbent president’s incompetence and indifference in nurturing important alliances. As New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait puts it, the UK visit ‘was supposed to have been a restoration of the “special relationship,” a goal that nestled comfortably into the general right-wing accusation that Obama spits in the faces of our friends even as he comforts our enemies.’

Instead, Romney ran into the buzz-saw of the British press, which Chait describes as ‘an outrage-generating machine the likes of which we American reporters can only gaze upon with awe’. As an American in London, I know what he’s talking about. In September 2009, a BBC producer called me at home asking if I could go on camera to talk about President Barack Obama’s ‘snub’, in New York the previous day, to then UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

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The political price of health care

Anti-Obamacare rally. Photo courtesy of Flickr user Pittsburgh Patriot

By Andrew Parasiliti, Executive Director, IISS-US; Corresponding Director IISS-Middle East

My colleague Dana Allin wrote a compelling essay earlier this month on health care and the American state from his perspective as a self-described ‘American liberal’. Following the US Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the legality of most of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), and in response to Dana’s essay, I thought it worth taking stock of the politics of health care as we head into the US elections in November.

The ACA is among the most partisan and divisive of any major legislation in recent memory. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll this week revealed that 44% of Americans believe that President Obama’s health care plan was a bad idea, while only 40% think it was a good idea. This latest poll is consistent with previous surveys regarding the ACA.

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It’s Time to Engage Iran, Russia on Syria

Syrian soldiers patrolling a destroyed Homs neighbourhood. Photo FreedomHouse on FlickrThe battle for Syria is best understood as the epicenter and early stages of a regional sectarian conflict, rather than the last days of President Bashar al-Assad, writes IISS-US Director Andrew Parasiliti  in his latest piece for Al-Monitor. The Syrian president has taken some hits in the past week but has settled in for a no-holds-barred fight to hold onto power. Syria’s civil war is inseparable from the broader regional conflict – ‘many in the Gulf Cooperation Council states consider Syria a sectarian battlefield to check Iranian and Shiite power and influence,’ he explains.

The US has no easy options or answers in Syria, but if it seeks to prevent Syria’s collapse, reduce the prospects for further bloodshed and facilitate as stable a transition as possible, then Washington needs to open an urgent new diplomatic front with Russia and Iran, the two countries that retain the most leverage with Assad.

Read the full article


History repeats with East Congo mutiny

While Thomas Lubanga, above, was convicted at the ICC in March, his co-accused, Bosco Ntaganda, continues to create havoc in Congo

By Hanna Ucko Neill, Global Conflicts Analyst

This past weekend the United States announced that it was cutting military aid to Rwanda over concerns that Kigali was backing rebel movements in neighbouring Congo. The $200,000 involved is not that significant, but Washington’s move is. Despite Rwanda’s vehement denials, and a delay in publication, its staunchest ally and international defender is acknowledging  a controversial UN report linking Kigali to the new M23 rebel movement.

After the fierce inter-ethnic wars of the 1990s and years of instability, the last thing the citizens of strife-torn Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) needed was increased violence. But that is exactly what they have faced since April this year, when Congolese soldiers led by General Bosco Ntaganda – ‘the Terminator’ – deserted. The hundreds of soldiers who exited the army during the mutiny were former members of the rebel CNDP (Congrès National Pour la Défense du Peuple) who had only joined the force three years earlier, as part of a peace deal in 2009. Like the government in Rwanda, they are mainly ethnic Tutsis. Read the rest of this entry »


Another (small) leap forward for the yuan

One Yuan Renminbi. Picture from Flicker user upton

By Suvi Dogra, Research and Liaison Officer, Geo-economics and Strategy Programme

China’s yuan renminbi took another small step towards becoming a staple global currency earlier this week, when the directors of the Asian Development Bank decided to include the RMB and the Indian rupee in its programme for providing trade finance. The ADB has agreed to support deals denominated in these local currencies under its Trade Finance Programme (TFP), primarily to support growing intra-regional trade.

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Pakistan’s neighbourhood watch

By Mona Moussavi, Editorial Assistant

‘A country can choose its friends but not its neighbours’: that is the root of Pakistan’s security dilemma, according to Zamir Akram, Pakistan’s ambassador to the UN.

At the IISS recently, Akram said that his country’s security was shaped by its hostile geography – a legacy of disputes with neighbouring India and Afghanistan, internal Afghan instability, US-China relations and most recently, the Iranian nuclear problem.

Unless there was a ‘peaceful transition’ in Afghanistan, which could only come from dialogue with the opposition – the National Coalition of Afghanistan – Pakistan’s security would remain under threat.

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Reading tea leaves in North Korea

Pyongyang (Photo: Korean Friendship Association)

By Mark Fitzpatrick, Director, Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Programme

The sudden departure of its top military official has given a boost to the art of tea-leaf reading on North Korea. ‘Illness’, as announced, surely was not the reason the now ex-Vice Marshal Ri Yong-ho gave up all his positions. At age 69, Ri was young by the geriatric norms of the North Korean senior ranks, and he looked healthy enough just a week earlier. This past half year he frequently was pictured next to new leader Kim Jong-un in ceremonies and ‘guidance visits’ to military and industrial units.

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Deng’s grandchildren

Shanghai skyline (Photo: Keith Marshall [CC BY-NC-SA 2.0])

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

Impatient with Beijing, Shanghai sets the pace for reform. It has lessons for India

In India, it is called “policy paralysis”. In Washington DC, they crib about a “political gridlock”. In Europe, they lament a lack of “political will”. In China, the concern now is with growing “political risk-aversion”.

Last week, a young official in Shanghai told me that Beijing had become too cautious on the economic policy front, so provinces seeking speedier economic growth must take their own initiative. “We will not have much reform from above,” he said to me, “but we can have reform from below.”

 

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