The conflict in Syria will be one of the main themes of the 8th IISS Regional Security Summit, which is taking place in Manama this weekend (Friday 7 to Sunday 9 December 2012). Members of the Syrian National Coalition, the new unified opposition group, will be at the Manama Dialogue for a special debate on the civil war engulfing their homeland. Other sessions will explore the US role in the region, security in the Strait of Hormuz between Iran and countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council, and increasing sectarianism.
Delegations from more than 30 countries will attend the Manama Dialogue. ‘While we bring together a huge amount of government delegations and very senior government officials’, says IISS Director-General and CEO Dr John Chipman in the above welcome video, ‘we also bring together leading strategists, academics and leaders of NGOs to engage and challenge the political leaders on the points they make.’
Stay tuned to this blog for more this week. News relating to Middle East security will be covered in the run-up to the conference; during the proceedings we will have reports, video clips and commentary from all of the sessions.
By Mark Fitzpatrick, Director, Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Programme
In the run-up to presidential visits aides look for achievements that can be announced, typically agreements on trade and the like. Called ‘deliverables’ in the diplomatic argot, they are often the currency of exchange for deciding on travel destinations.
So when it was announced that US President Barack Obama would include Burma in his mid-November trip to Southeast Asia, there were concerns and questions, including from Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, about whether Myanmar deserved the honour. What ‘deliverable’ would warrant bestowing a presidential visit on a country that had not yet fully emerged from its decades of authoritarianism and human-rights abuses?
But as it turned out, the quid pro quo for Obama’s visit was significant indeed. To the delight of the
non-proliferation community, Myanmar said it would accept the global standard for nuclear inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), known by the catchy name of the ‘Additional Protocol’.
By Mark Fitzpatrick, Director, Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Programme
The US electorate has spoken, and most of the international diplomats, academics, and others with whom I spoke on the day after our presidential election on 6 November breathed a sigh of relief that the stewardship of the world’s (still) sole superpower will remain in safe hands for another four years. The rest of the world famously backed Barack Obama, so while much of the satisfaction I heard about the Democrat’s re-election pertained particularly to the nuclear-policy matters being addressed in my various meetings, I also found myself, as an American citizen abroad, congratulated more broadly.
The election turned on domestic issues, and even the presidential debate that was supposed to be dedicated to foreign policy pivoted back to the American economy and education system. Nevertheless, the question that I have been asked most is how Obama will use his renewed lease on the White House to address global issues. In my area of specialisation on arms control and non-proliferation, everyone agrees there is much to be done. Unfortunately, there seems little scope for Obama to do it. And, of course, Iran looms large on his agenda.
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’.
By Mona Moussavi, Editorial Assistant
In July, Iran’s Ministry of Health announced that all family-planning programmes and procedures would be suspended. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called on women to have more children to boost the country’s population to 150-200 million. Contraceptive policy made sense 20 years ago, he said, but its continuation in later years was wrong.
Numerous explanations have been given for this change in policy: that it was an attempt to show the world that Iran is not suffering from sanctions; to avoid an aging population with rising medical and social-security costs; or to return to Iran’s ‘genuine culture’. Some speculate that the new policy seeks to address the Supreme Leader’s concerns that Iran’s Sunni population is growing much faster than its Shia one (7% growth in Sunni areas compared to 1-1.3% in Shia areas).
Such concerns are not new. While Iran’s Sunnis – currently 9% of the population – are a long way from outnumbering the Shia majority, a growing Sunni population has serious implications for Iran’s domestic and regional politics.
Mark Fitzpatrick, Director of Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Programme, wrote an op-ed in The National published on 10 October examining how a prolonged stalemate in negotiations over Iran’s nuclear programme could lead to a strike.
Iran is ‘so far from making concessions’, writes Fitzpatrick, that there has not yet been any need for the E3+3 (France, Germany and the UK plus Russia, China and the US) to grapple with the issue of sanctions relief.
As a confidence-building measure, the E3+3 asked Iran to stop production of 20% enriched uranium, ship out the accumulated 20 per cent product and shut down its enrichment facility at Fordow. Iran is only willing to consider stopping 20% enrichment, in exchange for the lifting of all sanctions. The trade from Iran’s point of view has been characterised by former Iranian negotiator Hossein Mousavian as amounting to ‘diamonds for peanuts‘. But for the E3+3, what Iran is offering is similarly unpalatable: ‘With the lower level of enrichment, Iran could get to the bomb in only a slightly longer time than if it started with a 20 per cent product,’ writes Fitzpatrick.
A change in Iran’s position could be ‘too little, too late’. Sanctions are having a devastating effect on Iran’s economy, but there is not likely to be another meaningful meeting between the negotiating powers until after the US election – and it is possible concessions won’t be made until after Iran’s own presidential elections in June 2013, and even then, these may merely be tactical. If a new Iranian president isn’t ready to make a deal next year, Israel may attack.
Read the full article.
By Dina Esfandiary, Research Associate and Project Coordinator, Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Programme
Protests erupted in Tehran on Wednesday after Iran’s currency, the rial, lost about 60% of its value over just eight days. Although the protests are unlikely to be the ‘beginning of the end’ for the Iranian regime, they demonstrate that discontent is rife, and will put the government on edge in the run-up to the 2013 presidential elections.
The currency crisis
The rial’s downward trend is not new: the currency fell gradually from 10,000 rials to the dollar in November 2011 to 16,000 rials to the dollar over the summer. But in the past week it has taken an abrupt turn for the worse, dropping to 37,500 rials to the dollar on Tuesday. The exchange rate had improved to 32,000 rials to the dollar by Thursday, but the crisis, which President Ahmadinejad blames on a ‘foreign conspiracy’, shows few signs of abating. Read the rest of this entry »
By Dana Allin, Senior Fellow for US Foreign Policy and Transatlantic Affairs
To my eyes, President Obama’s red line looks quite … red.
In front of the UN General Assembly yesterday, the president said the following:
And make no mistake, a nuclear-armed Iran is not a challenge that can be contained. It would threaten the elimination of Israel, the security of Gulf nations, and the stability of the global economy. It risks triggering a nuclear-arms race in the region, and the unraveling of the non-proliferation treaty. That’s why a coalition of countries is holding the Iranian government accountable. And that’s why the United States will do what we must to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
This is not new from the US President; last spring he started explicitly rejecting the idea that the United States could rely on a regime of containment against an Iran armed with nuclear weapons. I’m not sure it is correct that a nuclear-armed Iran couldn’t be contained, but it is pretty clearly the policy of the United States not to take the chance.
If you were a theocratic regime hell-bent on disrupting shipping in the Persian Gulf, how would you go about it?
Anti-ship missiles are selective but dangerous; torpedoes would need to be launched surreptitiously with a relatively small fleet of submarines. Perhaps the most effective method, and certainly the one concerning the US Fifth Fleet in Bahrain and its allies the most, is the possibility of mining areas of the Gulf.
Little wonder, then, that a huge multinational mine-countermeasures exercise is being held in the area, which began on 16 September and will continue until 27 September. The reasons for the exercises appear to be twofold. First, there is a genuine need to test and build multinational capacity in the region for mine-clearance operations. The number of different countries that might be involved in any rapid de-mining operations makes coordination supremely difficult, and hence testing the ability of navies to work together in assigned roles is vital. Read the rest of this entry »