Iran can be stopped

Iran's Sajjil missile. Photo Fars News Agency/Vahi Reza AlaeiOur prolific director of non-proliferation – or ‘the Great Fitzpatrick‘ as some others call him – has the cover story in the latest issue of the British current affairs magazine, Prospect. In the article, which draws on and updates both the strategic dossier on Iran’s nuclear capabilities that he edited last year, and 2010’s Iran missile dossier, he argues that sanctions and the threat of military action may dissuade Tehran from building a bomb.

‘It is not inevitable’, he writes, ‘that Iran will arm itself with nuclear weapons. Nor is a military strike by Israel or the United States the only alternative. Such worst-case assumptions could could lead to another unnecessary war in the Middle East, this time possibly lasting a decade or more.’ See the article at Prospect.

Bombings rise sharply in Iraq

Bomb attacks in Iraq. Figures from IISS-US researchBy Becca Wasser, Program Officer and Research Analyst, IISS-US

A series of coordinated bomb attacks shook Iraq yesterday, on the ninth anniversary of the US-led invasion and just days before the Arab League summit, scheduled for 27-29 March. The blasts bore all the hallmarks of al-Qaeda in Iraq, which soon claimed responsibility, saying that it had wished to derail the ‘meeting of Arab tyrants in Baghdad‘. Parliamentary speaker Osama al-Nujaifi had already blamed the terrorists for wanting to keep Iraq ‘feeling the effects of violence and destruction’.

The latest bombings – in Kirkuk, Karbala, Samarra, Baghdad and other cities – are part of an upsurge in violence following the withdrawal of US troops on 18 December 2011. In the first three months since troops left (to 18 March 2012) there were 204 bombings – a 70% increase on the same period last year. With no more real US military targets in the country, the spike necessarily means that Iraqi-on-Iraqi violence has increased, and illustrates the need for a strengthened local security force.

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Asia’s Syria Shame

Graffiti in Idlib. Photo: Freedom House via a Creative Commons Licence

While the Western world has been vocal in its objections to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s brutal suppression of dissidents, most Asian governments have remained eerily silent on the matter. Writing in The Diplomat, IISS Adjunct Senior Fellow for Asian Security Affairs Dr Chung Min Lee argues that now is the time for Asian governments to put aside their policy of non-interference in the domestic affairs of others. ‘If Asia’s rise is going to be about more than accelerated economic growth and vested commercial interests, it’s time that Asian governments spoke out forcefully against the brutal genocide in Syria and in support of the yearning for freedom and democracy worldwide,’ he argues.

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Syria and its neighbours

The Syrian regime seems to be hanging on a year after anti-government protests started as part of the Arab Awakening. But, writes Emile Hokayem in the latest issue of Survival: Global Politics and Strategy, nothing is inevitable about the Assad regime’s fate. It could survive the current unrest, although in a much weakened shape, Hokayem’s article concludes. ‘Much will depend on whether and how its neighbours intervene.’

As the Syrian government’s crackdown on its citizens has continued, thousands have fled across the border into Turkey, and Ankara’s relationship with Damascus has become strained. Philipp C. Bleek and Aaron Stein argue that the United States and Turkey now have the motivation and opportunity to cooperate in blunting the influence of Syria’s ally Iran.

In Israel, some politicians have been making noises about military action against Iran in an attempt to stop it crossing the nuclear threshold. Washington is reluctant to become involved, even indirectly, in another preventive war, and Survival‘s editor Dana Allin looks at how the United States is working to resist letting its ally’s perspective override its own balance of risk and benefit.

The focus on the Middle East continues with an examination of Jordan’s new geopolitics and Libya’s assets and the question of sovereignty. But this issue also looks at the upcoming Georgian elections, how to enlist Islam to create a more effective Afghan police force and much more.

Read more (Don’t forget Survival is also now available on iPad)

Violent times in Venezuela

Venezuela human rights demo by Flickr user ervega

By Antonio Sampaio, Research Assistant, Survival and the Armed Conflict Database

The death of a Chilean diplomat’s daughter at the hands of Venezuelan police this weekend has focused attention on Venezuela’s high homicide rate, and sparked renewed debate over the security forces’ role in it. The government of Hugo Chavez has apologised to the Chilean authorities and arrested 12 officers. But Venezuela’s rapidly escalating violence is blighting Chavez’s re-election prospects in October.

The victim, Karen Berendique was in a car with her older brother, when they were ordered to stop at a checkpoint in the western city of Maracaibo. Their father says they did not stop because it was unclear that the 12 men, dressed in black, were policemen – a telling indictment of the country’s security situation. As I wrote last week, the national homicide rate has reached 67 per 100,000 inhabitants, according to the Venezuelan Observatory of Violence (OVV), an NGO. Strangely, the organisation’s website has been offline this Monday, just as the Berendique case has aroused international media interest. In 2010, the UN reports, Venezuela already had the highest murder rate in South America, at 48 per 100,000 people.

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Europe’s fate: hive out, break up or blend in

The collapse of the euro was not inevitable, IISS Council Chairman Professor François Heisbourg said during a recent speech at the IISS-US. However, it would require effort, wisdom and luck to rescue it. In a presentation on the prospective collapse of the euro and its strategic consequences, Professor Heisbourg suggested three possible resolutions to the euro crisis: ‘hiving out’, ‘breaking up’ or ‘blending in’.

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Why Iranian Public Opinion Is Turning Against the Nuclear Program

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad inspects the Natanz nuclear facility

It’s been a busy few weeks for our non-proliferation programme, with developments in Iran and North Korea; and research analyst Dina Esfandiary is the latest to have a major feature published. In the Atlantic, she writes that, with sanctions biting in Iran, opinion polls suggest that the public’s support for Tehran’s nuclear programme is weakening. ‘Western officials and media outlets often say that it wouldn’t matter if the regime changed because support for the program cuts across political lines,’ she writes. However, recent polls – ‘assuming they’re accurate’ – indicate three things about Iranian public opinion: ‘There seems to have been a significant drop in Iranian support for a nuclear energy program, more Iranians are aware of how sensitive the issue is … and less than half of those polled are in favour of developing a nuclear weapon.’

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