By Emile Hokayem, Senior Fellow for Regional Security, IISS–Middle East
International lethargy has allowed the once-upbeat Syrian uprising to morph in profoundly dangerous ways. The picture is grim. The humanitarian toll is increasing, with a monthly death count now on par with the worst months of the sectarian war in Iraq. Syria’s civil war has spilt across the region in ways that Iraq’s never did. The long-feared radicalisation of segments of the Syrian opposition is happening.
The debate over the merits and costs of direct intervention may gain new momentum after the US presidential election, but in truth there is little appetite for it. This is not for a lack of imagination: a proposal put forward by the French strategic expert François Heisbourg calls for a no fly-zone over an 80-kilometre area stretching from the Turkish border to Aleppo, enforced solely by air-to-air and surface-to-air missiles and not necessitating deployment of air power over Syrian territory. But even such a limited intervention is proving too much for risk-averse western and Turkish policymakers.
By Christian Le Miere, Research Fellow for Naval Forces and Maritime Security
When I spoke at Chatham House last week on the topic of the South China Sea (above from 3:28 mins), I attempted to outline military procurement developments in the region. Certainly, if one were to view just the purchases of arms around the sea, the obvious conclusion would be that littoral states and their allies were preparing for conflict. But perhaps more importantly, I also highlighted the symbolic aspect of the use of maritime paramilitaries. By sending unarmed vessels, countries such as China are not just reinforcing their claims to sovereignty, but avoiding any possible military escalation that would be beyond the control and goals of the politicians back home.
This factor makes it likely that conflict can be avoided, and avenues of diplomacy remain open. Certainly, Southeast Asian nations appear keen to pursue negotiation to reach an acceptable conclusion to the dispute, perhaps seeing the current situation as a window of opportunity before China becomes too powerful. Whether they succeed in reaching an agreement to lessen tension in time is the question that remains unanswered.
By Sarah Johnstone, Assistant editor, online
The United States’ much-vaunted strategic ‘pivot’ to the Asia-Pacific is a ‘massive triumph of labelling over substance’, says Australian MP and former foreign minister Kevin Rudd, and what the Asian region really needs is a more defined institutional framework for resolving potential conflicts.
Looking ahead to the once-in-a-decade change of leadership taking place in China next month, Rudd urged the international community to engage positively with Beijing’s incoming leaders on regional security issues. He underlined the ‘profound’ global transition occurring as China began to emerge as the world’s largest economy, and suggested that the winner of next week’s US presidential election should make it a priority to devise a five-year strategic roadmap for US–China relations.
As his country’s prime minister between 2007 and 2010, Rudd promoted the idea of a formal Asia-Pacific Community, akin to a nascent EU or NATO-lite. He was less prescriptive about the formula for building Asia’s security when returning to the theme during a speech at the IISS last week, but he suggested that measures should be taken through the East Asia Summit to build confidence among all 18 member states (including the US and Russia).
The IISS’s Suvi Dogra has a piece in the Financial Express today looking at the United States’ wish for closer engagement with countries around the Indian Ocean. She reports that Washington has asked to become more closely involved with the 19-member Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Co-operation (IOR-ARC). The move seems to be part of the US’ renewed engagement with Asia and the Indian Ocean, but it also underlines the IOC-ARC’s growing relevance in the region, where it could play a key role not only in trade and economic cooperation, but in security matters.
The IOR-ARC, launched in 1997 as an international organisation focusing on regional trade cooperation and development, began its 12th Council of Ministers meeting today in Gurgaon, India, where it will consider the US request, among other issues such as trade in the food processing industry and piracy in the Indian Ocean.
The US’ request to become a ‘dialogue partner’ is likely to be approved, even though Iran is part of the association and is expected to oppose it. News reports suggest that India welcomes the move, while the US will find strong endorsements for its request from African member states, as well as from other Indian Ocean states such as Australia, Singapore and Indonesia. The IOR-ARC already has five dialogue partners – China, Japan, Egypt, France and the UK – who sit in on open discussions but are not part of the body’s decision-making.
Read the full article.
How do you reduce the high levels of youth unemployment in the Arab world? On average one-quarter of the eligible under-24s in the region remain jobless, a factor widely recognised as having contributed to the uprisings known as the Arab Spring. Many believe the Middle East faces further instability if the situation does not change soon.
An IISS-US panel this week discussed ways of creating more jobs for Arab youths in the post-revolutionary era. However, speakers said that new governments had often lacked the capacity to meet their young citizens’ high expectations, and frustrations remained. IISS senior fellow Alanoud Al-Sharekh added that the crisis in the eurozone was having a negative impact in some nearby North African countries.
The car-bombing that killed intelligence chief Wissam al-Hassan last week has shaken Lebanon. Shortly beforehand, Hassan had warned that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would try to spread his country’s sectarian conflict, and neighbouring Lebanon had already been experiencing gun battles and running clashes. We asked our Middle East expert, Emile Hokayem, what Hassan’s death means for his homeland’s immediate future.
By Alanoud Al-Sharekh, Corresponding Senior Fellow for Regional Politics, Middle East
The unrest that erupted in Kuwait on Sunday was the largest and most violent in the oil-rich emirate’s recent history. Thousands of protesters took to the streets after emir Sheikh Sabah al-Sabah announced changes to Kuwait’s voting system on Friday. Less than a fortnight earlier, the emir had paved the way for snap elections in December by dissolving parliament.
The majority of Sunday’s demonstrators came from Kuwait’s Islamist and tribal opposition, who suspect the measures are an attempt to marginalise them in parliament. Special Forces used tear gas and stun grenades to disperse the rally. I watched from my window as crowds attempted to bait the forces by throwing rocks and chanting ‘We will not allow you’ – a reference to one opposition politician’s warning to the emir not to make changes to Kuwaiti legislation. Several demonstrators arrested for participating in an illegal march and for damaging property were released the next day.
By Suvi Dogra, Research and Liaison Officer, Geo-economics and Strategy Programme
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s first state visit to India last week resulted in an agreement to launch a nuclear-energy pact and a renewed commitment to bilateral trade, along with plans for other areas of increased cooperation. While there may be some challenges ahead, the agreements signify something of a watershed in the two countries’ relationship.
A key outcome of Gillard’s 15-17 October visit was that she and her Indian counterpart, Manmohan Singh, agreed to launch negotiations for an Agreement on Civil Nuclear Energy Cooperation. Closer cooperation on nuclear energy under this agreement would also make provisions to allow Australia to export uranium to India – a significant development for both their trade and foreign policy relationship.
By Alexa van Sickle, Assistant Editor
Iran has seen its nuclear programme as a route to modernity since the time of the Shah, journalist and author David Patrikarakos says. Appreciating this attitude towards nuclear technology is essential to understanding modern Iran and its current diplomatic clash with the West.
Patrikarakos is the author of Nuclear Iran: The Birth of an Atomic State, and speaking on a IISS panel this week, he painted the country as one preoccupied with strengthening its geopolitical position after decades of perceived weakness and Western hostility. As in other developing nations, nuclear technology was perceived as a way to address a ‘prestige deficit’ in relation to the West.
Major Western powers and Israel have been concerned in recent years by Tehran’s high level of unnecessary uranium enrichment and other activity pointing to its possible development of nuclear weapons. Fellow panellist Siavush Randjbar-Daemi, a lecturer on Contemporary Middle East and Iran at the University of Manchester, said it was hard to assess Iran’s real intentions for its nuclear programme – whether it planned to produce nuclear weapons or not – because the programme had been ‘jostled’ around by different governments and state organisations, which lacked a cohesive strategy.
In the run-up to the second presidential debate, to be held in a town-hall-debate format in New York state this evening, we thought it worthwhile drawing attention to a contribution by the IISS’s Mark Fitzpatrick to a piece in Canada’s Global Brief magazine. Asked what key question he would put to the candidates, the director of the institute’s non-proliferation and disarmament programme queried whether they would ‘launch another war in the Middle East in order to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons’.
Tehran’s ‘actual production of nuclear weapons can be deterred’, Fitzpatrick believed, but the potential for diplomatic miscalculation was rife.
Read more of his thoughts on the judgement calls the next president might have to make on Iran, including ‘whether to join an Israeli attack, despite the huge drawbacks – including that it may not set back the timelines more than two to three years’.