India’s quest for Arctic ice

ARCTIC OCEAN – The Canadian Coast Guard Ship Louis S. St-Laurent ties up to the Coast Guard Cutter Healy in the Arctic Ocean Sept. 5, 2009. The two ships are taking part in a multi-year, multi-agency Arctic survey that will help define the Arctic continental shelf.  Photo Credit: Patrick Kelley, U.S. Coast Guard

Photo Credit: Patrick Kelley/U.S. Coast Guard

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

From the Antarctic to the Arctic?

Over 30 years ago, India surprised the world with its expedition to the Antarctic. It may have surprised once again by securing observer status at the Arctic Council – a grouping of Arctic States (Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the US). For months, the Arctic Council has been debating the issue of admitting observers to its gatherings. Last week the Council decided to admit six new observers  ̶  China, India, Italy, Japan, Singapore, and South Korea. Interestingly, the EU has not yet been admitted.

While the observers have no say in the decision-making process, this inclusion is significant, because it shows the Arctic Council is no longer defining itself in geographic terms and has factored in geo-economic elements. The economic rise of China and India is bound to impact on the Arctic region, both through global warming and their widening maritime footprint and interest in the Arctic’s vast oil and gas resources.

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Change of tack needed in Baltic gas policy

Vilnius to Kaliningrad gas pipeline Photo Gazprom

By Pierre Noel, Hassanal Bolkiah Senior Fellow in Economic and Energy Security

In the Baltic states, energy security remains perceived as a truly serious issue. It’s seen as a question of survival rather than, as it is in much of the world, merely an exciting topic for after-dinner speeches. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania depend entirely on Russia for their gas supply and have complicated political relationships with Moscow. Recent numerical indicators of gas-supply security – including my own – show that the Baltics are among the least secure countries in Europe. Therefore they want to invest in gas-supply security.

The European Commission encourages them to do so, but has precise ideas about how it should be done: it has made subsidies contingent on the building of joint regional infrastructure. Brussels’ dream however, although aggressively pursued since 2009, has failed to materialise. In fact, Baltic gas-security cooperation faces serious political and even legal hurdles. Steps already taken have managed to infuriate Russia without improving the Baltic states’ ability to cope with supply disruptions in any way.

Therefore it is important to know if Baltic cooperation is absolutely needed, simply desirable or just one solution among others to improve Baltic gas-supply security.

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Avoiding the resource curse

Traders in the Ghanaian Stock Exchange World Bank Photo Collection

By Elly Jupp, Research Associate, IISS-Middle East

Today Economist readers voted in the newspaper’s latest debate that Africa’s rise is real. But the margin was ‘surprisingly narrow’. This is a resource-rich continent where economic growth has often been hampered by corruption and poor governance. Indeed, countries such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nigeria and Uganda have all at times faced what is commonly called ‘the resource curse’, where the discovery and sale of oil or valuable minerals benefits only a small percentage of the population, and dominates the economy to the detriment of other industries.

In such situations, an influx of foreign investments can push up the value of the local currency, making other exports uncompetitive and depressing the wider economy. The jobs created for local people in resource-extraction tend to be relatively few and low-skilled, with the processing and manufacturing of the raw product moved abroad. Exporters are also vulnerable to the vagaries of the commodities markets, whose violent price swings affect the poorest hardest and make growth unsustainable. Sometimes the profits from commodities simply disappear into the pockets of kleptocratic regimes.

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An Iraqi strongman calls

Nuri al-Maliki on his cellphone. Photo Kurd NetBy Sarah Johnstone, Assistant editor, online

As ‘Genghis Khan with a telephone’ in the 1930s, Joseph Stalin routinely picked up the receiver late at night to issue instructions that led to the imprisonment or execution of millions. Author Toby Dodge probably wouldn’t compare current Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to the brutal Soviet leader; at the launch of his new book last week he steered away from describing Maliki as despotic as former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein. Nonetheless, Dodge’s portrayal of the Iraqi premier is of a man with ‘clear dictatorial ambitions’ who understands the utility of the telephone.

Dodge’s just-released Iraq: From War to a New Authoritarianism recounts how the PM’s office in Baghdad has subverted the military chain of command, directly ‘ringing up mid-ranking officers and issuing orders to them on their mobile phones’. It is one of the methods by which an initially unremarkable, ‘grey’ politician has managed to centralise power in the weak office of the Iraqi prime minister since his appointment in early 2006.

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Setting the agenda for Russia’s G20 presidency

Russian G20 presidency. Photo G20
Russia has assumed the helm of the G20 forum of leading economies at a time of concern that the group – so decisive in the wake of 2008 global financial crisis – is in danger of losing its way. What can Moscow do during its year-long presidency to help restore the group’s credibility?

Colleagues at the Council on Foreign Relations have canvassed opinion, ‘hoping to assist the government of Russia in defining priorities’. As part of its Council of Councils initiative, which includes the IISS, the CFR has published a collection of policy ‘memos’; one comes from Sanjaya Baru, IISS director for Geo-economics and Strategy, and Samuel Charap, our senior fellow for Russia and Eurasia.

In ‘Russia and the G20′, Baru and Charap point out that Russia is unique in being both a member of the G8 leading industrialised nations and one of the BRICS (the term for the world’s fastest-growing emerging markets, which also refers to Brazil, India, China and South Africa). Although Moscow has a mixed record in leveraging its position between the West and ‘the rest’, it does have the potential to act as a bridge between advanced and developing economies, they believe.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has set out five central issues for the G20 summit in St Petersburg this September, from reforming the international currency system to advancing discussions on energy security and climate change. Meanwhile, emerging nations have been calling for a greater role in international financial institutions like the IMF and World Bank, and the latest round of WTO trade negotiations has long been stalled.

The IISS authors focus on the ways in which the G20 could respond to its critics by taking forward the agenda agreed at its September 2009 summit in Pittsburgh to speed up the restructuring of the IMF and World Bank shareholdings, reviving the Doha Round of WTO talks and discouraging countries from ‘pursuing beggar-my-neighbor trade and currency policies’.

While they recognise the problems hampering the G20′s effectiveness – from national leaders’ current domestic preoccupations to overlap with G7, G8 and BRICS meetings – Baru and Charap suggest that the G20 has enormous influence over the IMF and the IBRD (International Bank for Reconstruction and Development), as it includes almost all the major shareholders. ‘Even the WTO can be guided by the G20′.

The same is not necessarily true, they argue, of other global negotiations, especially those relating to climate change, where many non-G20 countries have such major stakes.

Read the collected memos: ‘Prospects for the Russian Chairmanship of the G20′


Why Russia won’t help on Syria

Встреча Министра иностранных дел России С.В.Лаврова и Президента Сирийской Арабской Республики Б.Асада, Дамаск, 7 февраля 2012 года - 07022012

Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov with Syrian President Assad in Damascus

With all the high-level diplomatic visits to Moscow and accompanying news headlines, a casual observer might easily conclude that Russia holds the key to resolving the Syrian crisis, writes Samuel Charap, IISS senior fellow for Russia and Eurasia, in a New York Times op-ed. ‘But as the latest round of failed talks this weekend - this time between Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, and Lakhdar Brahimi, the United Nations and Arab League envoy on Syria – conclusively demonstrate, Russia will not be part of the solution on Syria.’

Charap says that some members of the international community continue to hope that Moscow can bring its influence on President Bashar al-Assad to bear on some sort of political transition. However, he points that the Kremlin has not only ‘fastidiously’ avoided joining the call for Assad to step down, but has also issued three UN Security Council vetoes during votes on Syria, and ‘bent over backward to water down the Geneva Communiqué calling for a peaceful transition of authority’.

Russia is not blind to the tragedy of the situation, but its approach to international intervention is very different from that of much of the rest of the international community, particularly the United States and the European Union. ‘Moscow does not believe the UN Security Council should be in the business of endorsing the removal of a sitting government,’ explains Charap. Indeed, it views many past US-led interventions as threatening to the stability of the international system and is not convinced that Washington’s motives in Syria are driven purely by humanitarian concerns. It even worries that giving its imprimatur to international action on Syria could potentially threaten ‘regime stability’ in Russia itself by creating a dangerous precedent that could eventually be used against it.

Read the full article


Obama’s second chance at Prague nuke agenda

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.

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Para-diplomacy with Iran and Russia

2012 Nuclear Security Summit Plenary Hall

2012 Nuclear Security Summit Plenary Hall. Copyright: IAEA Imagebank
Photo Credit: Dean Calma / IAEA

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

At a non-proliferation conference in Moscow on Friday, I questioned Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov about his interview with Interfax the previous day in which he claimed that Russia saw ‘no signs’ of a military dimension to Iran’s nuclear programme. Was this a misinterpretation, I asked. In English, ‘signs’ mean ‘indications’. Maybe he meant there was no proof?

There are plenty of indications, I added. The report by the IAEA last November included a 65-paragraph annex detailing the information the agency has assembled about Iranian nuclear activities of a ‘possible military dimension’. Most of the evidence concerned activities prior to 2004, but some suspicious activity took place after that time and possibly continues today. As I have put it elsewhere, surely the Russians are not blind to that evidence.

Answering in perfect English, Ryabkov doubled down on his insistence of ‘no signs, full stop’. Afterwards, two of my Russian friends privately shook their heads at this feigned ignorance. To put the best spin on it, I surmise that Ryabkov’s purpose was to dampen the heat that has been generated of late over the Iranian nuclear issue. But how far backwards is it seemly to bend in order to give Iran the benefit of the doubt?

The Iranian nuclear issue is assessed in detail in the newly published IISS Strategic Survey 2012. At the book launch this Thursday, I will be ready to offer an update on the latest diplomatic peregrinations, the state of Iran’s programme and the guessing game over Israel’s intentions. Will they or won’t they prematurely – and fatally – take military action? Sneak preview: probably not this year, but don’t bet the farm on peace prevailing next year. As we note at the end of the Iran section of Strategic Survey 2012: ‘No matter who won the US presidential election, the Iranian nuclear issue looked likely to reach a crisis stage in the coming year.’

At the Moscow conference, Ryabkov said Iran needs to cooperate more with the IAEA to remove doubt about their actions. He added that as difficult as the talks with Iran may be, ‘some talks are better than no talks’ and that for the first time Iran was discussing core issues. Russia had proposed a step-by-step plan that in the end would meet Iran’s demand for the lifting of sanctions and recognition of an Iranian right to enrichment. The sequencing is important, he added, and is one of the areas of disagreement with Iran.

In a luncheon address at the conference, Mustafa Dolatyar, Director General of Iran’s Institute for Political and International Studies, confirmed that Iran wanted these concessions up front. The soft-spoken diplomat/professor couched these demands in honeyed terms of good faith, respect for each other’s choices and transparency on the desired end game. As I see it though, agreement on the outcome should be the result of negotiations, not a precondition for meaningful talks.

Dolatyar also spoke about what he claimed to be America’s missed opportunities over the years at responding in kind to Iran’s offers of flexibility. Goodness knows there were too many such missed opportunities on all sides. His focus on America, though, was irritating to the representatives of other countries that share Washington’s concerns.

During the ensuing Q & A, rather than offer a point-by-point rebuttal of his accusations about past US actions, I asked a simple question about the present: Why does Iran refuse to meet bilaterally with the US and to respond to President Barack Obama’s offer of engagement? Since Iran is so focused on America’s position, would it not be good to sit down together? His answer – that talking together is not useful without a set agenda – left me unsatisfied. I have to agree with Ryabkov on this one, that talking is better than not talking.


Syria’s chemical weapons menace

Soldiers from the California National Guard conduct training at the Arctic Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical Site on JBER-Richardson. (U.S. Air Force photo/Percy G. Jones)

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

The international community was panic-stricken earlier this month when a spokesperson from Syria’s Foreign Ministry announced, ‘No chemical or biological weapons will ever be used… inside Syria. All of these types of weapons are in storage and under security and the direct supervision of the Syrian armed forces and will never be used unless Syria is exposed to external aggression.’

This statement was notable for a number of reasons. Firstly, because it was the first time a Syrian official acknowledged what the world has long known - that Syria has stockpiled chemical weapons (CW). Secondly, because everyone’s worst fear – the possibility of their use – was not only mentioned but also confirmed, at least in reaction to a foreign intervention. Furthermore, besides the statement itself, Syria’s state of civil war inevitably leads to fears that the regime will lose control of its chemical weapon stockpiles. This scenario is all the more troubling given the alleged presence of al-Qaeda linked fighters in the country.  Read the rest of this entry »


Russia: Protecting expats and more in Syria

Syrians hold photos of Bashar Assad and Vladimir Putin during a pro-government demonstration in front of the Russian embassy in Damascus, Syria, Sunday, March 4, 2012. (Photo: Freedom House)

By Dr Nicholas Redman, Senior Fellow for Geopolitical Risk and Economic Security; Editor, Adelphi Books

Russia is preparing to send two warships plus marines to Syria, as the civil war in that country shows no sign of letting up.

Russia has for months supported the government of Bashar al-Assad at the UN Security Council, blocking resolutions authored by Western and Arab League states to sanction Damascus and pressure Assad to step down.

Most of Russia’s motivations for doing so are well known. Firstly, it is determined to ensure there is no Security Council cover for any external effort to topple a sovereign government, whether by military or other means. The principle of non-intervention is one that Moscow is desperate to defend. Secondly, the government of Vladimir Putin has no wish to see another president – in the Middle East or the former Soviet Union – ousted by the mob, for fear the virus could spread further. Thirdly, it fears the regional destabilisation that could accompany Assad’s downfall. And fourthly, Russia has commercial, diplomatic and military ties with the Assad government that would be in jeopardy if the opposition came to power. These interests include arms sales, use of the Tartous naval base, energy-sector investment opportunities and a close diplomatic alignment with Damascus.

The latest dispatch of naval vessels to Syria is on one level a further statement of support for the Assad government and the interests that Russia wishes to defend. So too is the delivery of reconditioned military helicopters to Syria. Yet sending ships and marines to the coast of Syria also points to an interest that sets Russia aside from all other permanent members of the UN Security Council – it has people on the ground. Rather a lot of people, in fact. Read the rest of this entry »


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