Iran’s nuclear programme: situation not yet hopeless

Senior Iranian leaders at the 16th Non-Aligned Movement Summit in Tehran

As predicted, the latest report on Iran’s nuclear programme by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has contributed to a push in Israel and parts of the US for preventive military action. Since May, Iran has installed more than a thousand new centrifuges in the underground facility at Fordow, doubling the number there since the last IAEA report in May.

In a pre-emptive move of their own, White House officials gave their own spin to the latest developments several days before the IAEA released the report. While not underplaying their concern over Iran’s continued defiance, the Obama team noted that the new numbers are not a ‘game changer’. The new centrifuges are not (yet) being used for enrichment and the stockpile of 20% enriched uranium has not grown since May because half of it has been converted to an oxide form for use in fuel plates.

The danger posed by Iran’s nuclear programme is heightening incrementally: the numbers grow arithmetically, not by orders of magnitude. Mark Fitzpatrick, in a new article for Al-Monitor questions the wisdom of a war over a 10% increase in centrifuges. A proportionate response would be to increase the sanctions pressure on Iran, which has so far not made good use of diplomacy.

Read the full article at Al-Monitor


Somalia: a long road ahead

New MPs pray during the inauguration ceremony for members of Somalia's first parliament in twenty years. (Photo: AU-UN IST/Stuart Price)

New MPs pray during the inauguration ceremony for members of Somalia’s first parliament in twenty years. (Photo: AU-UN IST/Stuart Price)

By Hanna Ucko Neill, Global Conflicts Analyst

Somalia: a long road ahead

Somalia marked an important milestone last week, as it swore in its new and first formal parliament in 20 years, but another key measure of its progress – the selection of a new president – has failed to materialise. Some real progress on its political transition, women’s rights and security has given Somalia an undeniable feeling of optimism and forward momentum. But each area of progress faces old realities: the ‘roadmap’ to transition and the parliament itself are marred by corruption and intimidation, women’s rights face huge challenges from the prevalent political culture, and the al-Shabaab insurgency remains a security threat despite some significant military gains by African Union forces. Somalia’s ability to leave these problems behind decisively depends on the new government – which may not be fully formed for some time. Read the rest of this entry »


‘The euro is irreversible’

By Alexa van Sickle, Assistant Editor

Klaus Regling, head of the European Union’s bailout fund, says the EU is moving in the right direction after its debt crisis, but that Greece’s future in the eurozone depends on its progress in meeting the terms of its bailout.

Speaking at the fifth IISS Fullerton lecture in Singapore, Regling, the CEO of the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF), was cautiously optimistic about the future of the euro and of the EU. Regling said structural reforms and action taken by EU governments to address the sovereign debt crisis were beginning to show signs of success:  ‘Ireland shows now a current account surplus after sizable deficits in earlier years, Spain is getting very close to a current account balance [and] Greece and Portugal have reduced their current account deficits by two thirds,’ he said. Read the rest of this entry »


Merkel in China

Bilateral meeting between Angela Merkel and Chinese President Hu Jintao on the sidelines of the G-20 Summit in Mexico (photo: Bundesregierung/Denzel)

Bilateral meeting between Angela Merkel and Chinese President Hu Jintao on the sidelines of the G-20 Summit in Mexico (photo: Bundesregierung/Denzel)

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

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s second visit to China in a year comes against the backdrop of dire forecasts of a difficult September for the eurozone. Mindful of such concerns and persistent pessimism in global financial markets, Merkel is now taking bold political initiatives at home and overseas. Indeed, her China trip should be seen as an effort to assert leadership across the eurozone.

At home, Merkel recently sent out a clear message to her critics that Germany must pay a price for eurozone leadership. She cautioned her colleagues against loose talk about a ‘Grexit’ – Greece’s exit from the eurozone – and assured visiting Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras that Germany remained committed to his country’s membership of the eurozone.

While it required courage to take such a tough stance, doing so helped to bolster her position at home and throughout the eurozone. There is now no doubt that Merkel is willing to commit Germany to the cause of preserving both the European Union and the eurozone, and that she will work to achieve that goal. If she succeeds, she will emerge as the first great European leader of the twenty-first century.  Read the rest of this entry »


A movement aligns its sights in Tehran

Nuclear Politics and the Non-Aligned MovementAs the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) prepares to open its 16th conference in Tehran this Sunday, attention has focused on who will be attending (UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and new Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi ), who’s not attending (new North Korean leader Kim Jong-un) and what the implications will be for Iran, as the host country, in avoiding isolation over its nuclear programme.

Yet there is more to the movement.
Read the rest of this entry »


An opportunist knocks: Malema at Lonmin

Former ANCYL leader Julius Malema. Photo Gary van der Merwe
By Alexa van Sickle, Assistant Editor

Julius Malema, the expelled youth leader of the ruling African National Congress (ANC), is using South Africa’s mine tragedy to try to propel himself back into the political arena. After police killed 34 and injured 78 in a shootout with striking workers at the Lonmin platinum mine outside Rustenburg last week, Malema travelled to the region and, speaking to a 3,000-strong crowd, called on President Jacob Zuma to step down over the ‘massacre’.

The firebrand political organiser wants mines nationalised. He has remained involved with the dispute this week, accompanying striking miners when they opened murder cases against the police and addressing a memorial service for the dead miners earlier today.

Read the rest of this entry »


The risk of Syria’s chemical weapons

US military personnel train in CW suits. Photo  DoD/Benjamin Kittleson
By Mark Fitzpatrick, Director, Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Programme

The dangers associated with Syria’s chemical weapons (CW) are a dire example of why non-proliferation of unconventional weapons must be a top international priority. Up until a few short months ago, Syria’s chemical weapons were typically seen as for deterrence purposes only. Offensive use of the weapons was deemed suicidal and hence unlikely.

There is now a real alarm that Syria’s chemical weapons might be used, and not just in response to nuclear threats or foreign invasion. The worry, rather, is that the Assad regime might deploy the weapons against his Syrian opponents or that the weapons could be seized by radical forces aligned with al-Qaeda or other groups that might seek to use them in terrorist attacks elsewhere. Hence President Obama’s stern warning on Monday that Syria would face American military intervention in the event that chemical weapons are moved or prepared for use. An aide later clarified that Obama’s warning about ‘moving’ the weapons meant movement that would make the arsenal more vulnerable to seizure, not movement intended to secure the arsenal.

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Al-Shabaab branches out into Kenya

Amison vehicle in Mogadishu. Photo AU UN IST, Stuart Price

By Randolph Bell, Managing Director, IISS-US

Al-Shabaab has been spotted in Kenya more often recently. It has been just over a year since the Somali Islamist group was ousted from Mogadishu by African Union and Somali troops. The city is relatively peaceful for the first time in years (above), and although presidential elections due on 20 August have been postponed, its first official parliament in two decades was sworn in this week. After a ten-month campaign, Kenyan troops are poised to take the port city of Kismayo, al-Shabaab’s last stronghold in Somalia.

However, in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, al-Shabaab launched two new attacks recently, killing four and injuring eleven. That brings to around 30 the number of attacks it has been implicated in, or suspected of, in Kenya in the past year, since the high-profile kidnappings of first a British and then a French tourist in September and October 2011 respectively.

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Iran’s Syrian endgame

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad granting the Grand National Order of the Islamic Republic of Iran to Bashar al-Assad in October 2010.

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

Last week, 48 Iranian ‘pilgrims’ were kidnapped by the opposition in Syria. The circumstances surrounding their capture led many to allege that they were in fact members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) sent to assist Syrian government forces in crushing the rebellion. This brought Iran’s assistance to its long-standing ally to the forefront of international attention.

Many argue that the stakes for Iran are high because the fall of Assad will dramatically curtail Iran’s ability to project its power in the region. Although the collapse of the current Syrian regime will certainly hinder Iran, its impact will not be nearly as severe as many would have you believe. Indeed, Iran is likely to adapt to these changing regional dynamics just as it has always done in the past.

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Boko Haram is no African al-Qaeda

Still from a Boko Haram video. Source YouTube

By Virginia Comolli, Research Associate, Transnational Threats

Earlier this year, Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan described Boko Haram, the Islamist group responsible for a series of terrorist attacks in his country, as having global ambitions. A senior Nigerian military commander has put it more starkly: ‘Boko Haram is al-Qaeda’. Many US and UK politicians have called for the group to be proscribed as a terrorist group; the US Department of State recently designated leader Abubakr Shekau – and two others with ties to the group – as terrorists.

In truth, however, it is difficult to quantify the risk that Boko Haram presents outside Nigeria or to say for certain that it is on the verge of becoming an international – rather than a local – threat.

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