This year’s G7 minus Russia concluded with a whimper. The world’s strongest economies met in Brussels, had a nice dinner and photo-ops, warned Putin about eastern Ukraine, and failed to put Crimea on the menu.
On Nov. 24, 2013, the Islamic Republic of Iran and the P5+1 reached a historical agreement known as the ‘Joint Plan of Action’ in Geneva. After numerous dead ends during intense diplomatic negotiations with the previous government of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the interim agreement signed with the newly elected president, Hassan Rouhani, relieved many countries. The United Arab Emirates was the first Gulf state to welcome the Iranian nuclear deal by sending their minister of foreign affairs, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, to Tehran on Nov. 28, just a few days after the signing of the nuclear deal.
Positive remarks on the agreement were also issued by India, Japan, Spain and Austria. On Nov. 24, Japan’s foreign minister, Fumio Kishida, welcomed the agreement as the “first significant step.” Spain’s government praised the deal as an important milestone towards achieving a general agreement that fosters stability and security in the region. German media, while appreciating the significance of the nuclear deal, emphasized that the bulk of sanctions on Iran must remain in place. However, several nations such as Saudi Arabia and Israel, along with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), continued to express concerns and scepticism towards a final agreement.
The disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 has prompted Chinese citizens to pressure their government to react harshly to Malaysia’s perceived incompetence. Purtrajaya’s lack of transparency on the subject, and Beijing’s sensitivity to domestic populism, have fueled the angry rhetoric Chinese officials have directed toward their Malaysian counterparts. Yet, in spite of the bilateral tension created by MH370, China is likely to remain cautious about taking actions that could jeopardize its partnership with Malaysia, given the country’s importance in the region’s geopolitical landscape and its warming relations with Washington.
China has a history of encouraging its citizens to rise up against foreign powers when Chinese people or property have been done wrong. The best recent example of this was the mistaken bombing by the U.S. of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade in 1999. A firestorm of protest followed across China, culminating in daily attacks on the U.S. embassy in Beijing by Chinese citizens armed with rocks. The Chinese government tacitly encouraged this response – a useful way for Chinese citizens to blow off some steam, while sending a strong message to America.
Perhaps the most perplexing element of the ongoing (and going and going…) Israeli and Palestinian conflict is that nearly every effort to bring resolution is met with the same stubborn fate of failure, despite changes in players, interests, contexts and environments over the last 60 years.
As this latest attempt ends with more of a whimper than a bang, it is worth asking, was this conclusion forgone from the beginning? Is another outcome ever possible? We suggest that the best way to answer this is to examine the three primary parties involved in the newly ended talks and we contend that the reason for the failure – and perhaps another year’s success – lies less with lines on a map and more with perceptions of strategic reality.
The Israeli Story
We can begin the discussion with Israel, a state increasingly internally divided about the role citizens should play in the future of the state. Right now, of course, Israel is led by Likud Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu – a man who has traditionally favored a hawkish and conservative approach to the so-called peace process, and who has more recently been a vocal supporter of a two state solution. However, Netanyahu is increasingly at the mercy of the ideologically opposed but strategically aligned Jewish Home and Yesh Atid parties whose continued support determines the sustainability of Netanyahu’s governing coalition. The Jewish Home and Yesh Atid fundamentally disagree about what role Israel should play in the peace talks.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s statement at Davos that the relationship between Japan and China is the same as that between Great Britain and Germany prior to the First World War has drawn a sharp response from world leaders.
The political turmoil in the East China Sea between Japan and China has reached unprecedented heights to a level where leaders of both countries are not talking to each other. The situation is quite alarming considering the huge economic repercussions a conflict between the two countries could have on the world economy. The Japanese prime minister’s recent visit to the Yasukuni Shrine last year coupled with aggressive nationalist policies have worsened the situation. The recent air defense identification zone (ADIZ) declared by China over the disputed Senkaku/Daioyu Islands has caused the situation to deteriorate further as Japan considers these islands as part of Japan. Both the countries are playing a game of cat and mouse and testing each other’s capabilities and limits.
Japan fears China’s rise and its rapid military modernization in the region as a threat to its very existence. What Japan fears is that China might gain control of both the East China and South China Seas thereby holding Japan ransom and crippling its already struggling economy. Japan’s recent National Security Strategy clearly identifies China as the troublemaker in the region. In response to China’s military buildup, Japan has increased its defense budget to counter a perceived Chinese threat. The bulk of the defense budget will be spent on acquiring maritime surveillance units. Japan will spend around $250 billion USD over the next 5 years to keep Chinese forces in check. Concerns about China’s opaque decision-making process and its intentions in the region are troubling for Japan. China’s use of force and coercion to enforce its claims with blatant disregard for international law and order has propelled the Japanese government to have a look at its peace constitution, which enforces a ban on offensive military capabilities.
China’s economy requires increased access to resources, especially when managing the needs of approximately 20% of the world’s population.
China’s growing energy needs and overlapping territorial claims in the resource-rich South China Sea place their energy security on a collision course with its smaller, weaker neighbors. The most recent issue is China’s increasingly hard-lined approach to the Scarborough Reef, approximately 4 times farther away from China than it is to the Philippines.
China backs its South China Sea claims through a Chinese map produced in 1947, Chinese Foreign Minister Zhou Enlai’s 1951 statement, and the discovery of the Belitung Wreck in 1998. Please make your own opinions regarding the legitimacy of a map created in 1947 citing a historical claim. Minister Zhou’s statement denounced the San Francisco Peace Treaty – as China was not invited – and further declared Chinese ownership of the Spratly, Paracel, and Pratas Islands.
A US deadline for peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians has ended without an agreement being reached. Talks resumed in July after a three-year hiatus but made little progress. The latest round was halted by Israel last week after the main Palestinian factions announced a political pact. US Secretary of State John Kerry meanwhile has issued a statement denying he believed Israel could become “an apartheid state” after drawing criticism over recorded remarks. On Monday, in comments captured in a recording of a closed-door meeting, he warned that Israel risked becoming “an apartheid state” if a two-state solution was not reached soon.
“A two-state solution will be clearly underscored as the only real alternative,” Mr. Kerry said, according to the comments published in the Daily Beast, which published his comments. “Because a unitary state winds up either being an apartheid state with second-class citizens – or it ends up being a state that destroys the capacity of Israel to be a Jewish state.”
The ongoing crisis in Ukraine, which has seen the Russian invasion and annexation of Crimea, has generated two important legal questions.
The first one relates to whether Russia has violated international law with respect to the territorial integrity and political independence of Ukraine. The second question relates to the legality of the referendum in Crimea whereby it has chosen to become a part of Russia. With regard to the first question, the UN Charter imposes via Article 2(3) the obligation upon nations to settle international disputes by peaceful means. Article 2(4) prohibits members from using force or the threat of force against another state’s territorial integrity and political independence. The use of force is however permitted in a situation where the UN Security Council has authorized such action to maintain or restore international peace and security or where a state exercises its inherent right of self defence as recognized in Article 51.
In addition to violation of the provisions of the UN Charter, it has been argued that Russia is in violation of the 1975 Final Act of the Conference on Security & Cooperation in Europe (Helsinki Accords) which reaffirmed the obligation of its signatories to respect each other’s territorial integrity and borders as inviolable in addition to refraining from the use of threat of use of force. These are commitments that were echoed in the 1994 Memorandum on Security Assurances in connection with Ukraine’s accession to the Treaty on the NPT (the Budapest Memorandum) and the 1997 Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation & Partnership between Ukraine and the Russian Federation. Further, Ukraine says Russia is violating the Black Sea Fleet Agreements and the 1999 agreement between the Cabinet of Ministers on the Use of Airspace of Ukraine and of Airspace Over the Black Sea, which places caps on Russian troop levels in Crimea and mandates prior approval of Ukrainian authorities before making any troop movements.
The United States may be heading for another Red Line moment–this time with China.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel making his fourth trip to the South China Sea region recently, wanted to reassure Japan and other nations that the U.S. stands with them if China pursues stated territorial annexation. The “Sleeping Dragon” has arisen, hungry for the small mostly uninhabited islands in the East and South China Sea claimed by Japan, Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan. Mr. Hagel’s visit comes on the heels of Russia’s takeover of Crimea which had been part of Ukraine. The fear is that China has been emboldened by Russia’s move, leading to similar action over the long disputed islands. China claims their rights to the islands go back 2,000 years, which could possibly include the international waterways between them. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton previously noted that unimpeded navigation access was important to U.S. national interests. More than half of the world’s merchant goods flow through these waters.
Mr. Hagel announced that two additional guided missile destroyers would be sent, bringing the total to seven U.S. warships in the China Sea region. The news gave Chinese officials the opportunity to showcase their newly refurbished Soviet aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, with its J-15 fighter jet strike group, signaling China’s growing global reach. China’s claim of territorial sovereignty over the islands was made very clear. Any provocation would require a response—crossing their Red Line. China has a growing global appetite, expanding its economic interests in every continent. Chinese warships could soon be cruising off the coasts of Africa, South America, and North America to protect their interests.
Interim President Oleksander Turchynov has called for UN peacekeepers to help regain areas taken by pro-Russian insurgents militants.
Many believe these activists to be Russian Special Operation Forces (SOF) soldiers. Turchynov’s office told UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon they could conduct joint-operations in eastern Ukraine. “We are not against and welcome if, with your assistance, we conduct a joint anti-terrorist operation in the east,” he said. President Turchynov stated that he had no objection to a referendum in eastern Ukraine to run alongside the planned presidential elections due in May. He strongly believes the majority of Ukrainians would endorse an “independent, democratic and unitary Ukraine.”
According to on-site witnesses, at least 100 armed pro-Russian insurgents attacked a police station in Horlivka earlier today, forcing the Ukrainian riot officers to withdraw from the area. Ukrainian TV footage was able to broadcast an ambulance treating several people who were ostensibly wounded during the assault on the police station in Horlivka. Separatist leaders in Horlivka have submitted a request for help from Moscow on behalf of the “Donetsk People’s Republic,” Reuters reported. Armed men supporting the separatists, who Western leaders claims to be Russian SOF, have established roadblock checkpoints and barricades in the area’s towns.
The UN Security Council will hold an emergency closed session on Ukraine. Upon Russia’s request, the Council will discuss the escalating crisis.
The Sloviansk shootout that killed 1 Ukrainian servicemen, later identified as an SBU officer, created more tension between the Ukrainian authorities and the Pro-Russian insurgents, who are believed by many to be Russian special operation forces (SOF) operators from Spetsnaz and GRU teams. Russia’s Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, intentions are to expose Kyiv’s plans to mobilize the Ukrainian army to put an end to the rebellion of the pro-Russian militants in eastern Ukraine. Lavrov tweeted earlier today that Ukrainian authorities must “stop war against their people.”
In a television interview earlier today, Interim President Oleksander Turchinov stated that he ordered a “full-scale anti-terrorist operation” engaging the army against the pro-Russian militants. “The blood of Ukrainian heroes has been shed in a war which the Russian Federation is waging against Ukraine,” he said. “We will not allow Russia to repeat the Crimean scenario in the eastern regions of the country,” he added.
Suddenly the talk is of a new Cold War between Russia and the West, as Crimea is quietly written off as “lost” for the foreseeable future and the diplomatic focus moves to preventing a further—and potentially devastating—move into eastern Ukraine.
While an understandable metaphor, though, this is a dangerous one. The Cold War, for all its brinkmanship and proxy conflicts, was a relatively stable and even rules-bound process. Instead, in this new “hot peace,” perhaps a better, if less comfortable analogy would be the Great Game, that (since mythologized) nineteenth-century era of imperial rivalry over Central Asia between Britain and Russia,, the freewheeling nineteenth-century struggle for authority in Central Asia.
One of the particular characteristics of the original Great Game was that there was little real distinction between the instruments of conventional conflict and competition such as wars, diplomatic missions and treaties and those of the informal realm, from subsidized bandit chieftains to third-party intelligence freelancers.
The Crimea incident, which occurred against the background of heightened tensions between the West and Russia, might reveal the ambitions of some political forces that took advantage of the opportunity in Kiev.
Although I am not passing judgment on either the West or Russia it must be said that the escalation of this type in the post-Soviet era is not promising for the future of the region. During the crisis, views within the Southern Caucasus differed significantly from other post-Soviet states. Even before the crisis it was clear that Georgia leaned heavily towards the West. However, Armenia’s favoring the Russian initiated Customs Union instead of the Association Agreement with the European Union, which was to have been signed in Vilnius in November of 2013 along with Ukraine, surprised the world community. While surprising, it should be taken into account that from 2007-2013 the European Union gave Armenia grants in the amount of €295 million for development and reconstruction projects. This amount exceeded 10% of the Armenian budget in 2013.
Azerbaijan voted in the UN General Assembly on the adoption of a resolution calling upon states not to recognize changes in the status of Crimea and was one of the 100 states that voted in favor of the territorial integrity of Ukraine. Garen Nazarian, the Armenian Ambassador to UN, tactfully accused those who voted for the resolution of colonialist behavior. It is not surprising that this accusation by the Armenian Ambassador was called shameful by Alexandre Arzumanyan, an Armenian MP. In contrast, Elmar Mammadyarov, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, openly declared Azerbaijan’s support of the territorial integrity of Ukraine. International law does recognize the principle of self-determination.
Kuwait is now hosting its first Arab League Summit. The slogan for this year’s Summit is “Solidarity For A Better Future.”
Question is: will the Kuwait Summit ensure solidarity for the region? It is a well known fact that the Arab World has seen its own share of regional alliances formed on the basis of ideological, sectarian and regional dynamics. With the recent cases of the Arab Spring, such dynamism has become all the more complicated and thus, regional solidarity is surely a challenging task to accomplish. Back in the 1950s-60s, the Arab World was divided into two factions: pro-Soviet Arab nationalists led by Egypt, and pro-West conservatives led by Saudi Arabia. The division between the two factions was so paramount that Malcolm Kerr termed it as The Arab Cold War.
Alignments changed in the year 1978 after the signing of the Camp David Accord, when Egypt decided to quit the Arab-Israeli conflict. Both Syria and Iraq tried their best to isolate Egypt after Camp David, but the situation refused to remain static. Following the Islamic Revolution of 1979 in Iran, Iraq’s attention shifted towards Iran, and the Arab World witnessed another set of factionism. This time, countries such as Syria, Libya and Algeria sided with Iran, whereas the Gulf States, Egypt and Jordan aided Iraq.
Now that Crimea has voted to unite with Russia and Vladimir Putin has welcomed Crimea with open arms, the Western half of the world, especially the United States and the European Union, are talking at lengths about imposing sanctions on Russia in order to bring Vladimir Putin to his senses.
However, the task seems easier said than done. The United States is simply not in a position to impose long-term sanctions on Russia. Economic and political ties between the United States and Russia are surely not exemplary. Yet, one key American industry relies heavily on a particular import from Russia: fuel for nuclear power plants. American dependency on Russia for its nuclear fuel is not a new development. It dates back to the early 1990s, when the HEU-LEU scheme was launched after the demise of the Soviet Union. Under this scheme, highly enriched uranium (HEU) from Russian nuclear warheads is processed into low enriched uranium (LEU) for use as fuel for American nuclear power plants.
While there are plans of reducing the need for nuclear energy, the United States still receives 100 GW of its power from nuclear power plants (compare this with Russia’s nuclear energy production of 230 GW). As a result, during 2014, 48 million pounds of uranium will be needed to fuel America’s nuclear power plants. Going by data released by the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), the total uranium Oxide produced within the United States is roughly 4.8 million pounds. Barely 10% of the total demand.