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How Iran Views the P5+1 Nuke Talks

The Buzz

Ahead of the June 30 deadline for a comprehensive nuclear accord with Iran, international negotiators remain puzzled by two questions: “What does Tehran want, and what will it settle for?”   

A close reading of Iranian officials’ recent remarks helps place us in their shoes. While the message varies between officials – from the stridency of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei to the more diplomatic rhetoric of President Hassan Rouhani – one theme remains consistent: Iran believes it’s on the ascendant. Such thoughts have roots in Iranian policy.

Iran can now rightly tout that it controls several Arab capitals. In Damascus, the Bashar al-Assad regime continues to wield power over much of the country despite the tide of international opinion having turned against him. In Beirut, the Iranian proxy Hezbollah exercises virtual “veto power” over the fractious Lebanese government. In Baghdad, Tehran wields extraordinary power, overseeing the Iraqi government’s campaign to counter the Islamic State (IS). And in Yemen, Iranian-backed Shiite Houthi rebels control the capital Sanaa and other strategic points.

The Syrian case is particularly instructive. In August 2012, the Syrian Ambassador to Iran exulted that Damascus and Tehran share “similar goals and similar enemies, and God-willing, we will be victorious.” More recently, in September 2014, Khamenei observed, “the realities of the world and the region demonstrate the weakening of the authority of the West…We must understand these realities well in order to avoid incorrect analyses.”

Counselors in the halls of power in Tehran are likely to continue to support Iran’s regional offensive, and are less inclined to believe that the West will confront it or its allies in the region. Such thinking is best exemplified by Admiral Ali Shamkhani, the Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, who proclaimed that “the situation in Syria represents Iran’s victory in the region.”

For Iran, its resoluteness on Syria could not have contrasted more sharply with American indecisiveness. The U.S. not only shed all credibility after failing to enforce its own chemical-weapons “red line,” but has failed to follow through on President Barack Obama’s warning three and a half years ago that Assad must “step aside.” Instead, Iran has stood by the maxim promulgated by Qassem Soleimani, the head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds-Force (IRGC-QF): “We’re not like the Americans. We don’t abandon our friends.”

Moreover, in a bid to confront the rise of IS in neighboring Iraq, Obama has even reportedly reached out to Tehran for assistance. For their part, Iranian analysts welcomed the move not as an aberration from three decades of mutual hostility, but as a “natural” gesture by Washington given Iran’s regional stature.

And yet nowhere is Iran’s line of triumphalist thinking more evident than on the nuclear file.

A November 2013 interim deal with international negotiators of the P5+1 led to significant sanctions relief, including economic sectors owned by the state or the IRGC such as petrochemicals. Since then, Iran has twice successfully extended talks in an attempt to ink a comprehensive nuclear accord. While it plays for time, Iran’s economy is looking up, with a particularly significant drop in inflation.

In the aftermath of the interim agreement, an Iranian brigadier general scoffed at the West for practically “begging” after Iran learned how to enrich uranium to 20 percent purity. Later, by not publicly chastising Iran for its incremental transgression of the interim agreement, negotiators have reaffirmed Tehran’s long-standing suspicion that the international community has more to lose from talks collapsing than does the Islamic Republic. The opposite is in fact true.

Khamenei has put it best. Highlighting the nuclear file as “a sign of the enemy’s weakness,” the supreme leader opined, “America and European colonial countries have gathered together so they can bring the Islamic Republic of Iran to its knees on the nuclear case. But they have not, and in the future, they shall not.”

Ahead of the next negotiation deadline on June 30, the United States’ most effective tools for gaining leverage are the threat of punitive financial and economic sanctions for failing to reach a comprehensive nuclear deal – all of them linked to rigid deadlines. Short of that, Iran will continue its delay tactics, pocketing international concessions while incrementally expanding its program.

Divining foreign adversaries’ objectives is never easy – certainly not when those adversaries’ decision-making apparatus is as opaque as that of the Islamic Republic. Still, by putting themselves in Iran’s shoes, international negotiators can find ways to make it exceedingly costly for Iran to stay its nuclear course, and to force Khamenei to reach for “the poisoned chalice” of compromise.

Behnam Ben Taleblu is an Iran Research Analyst at Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Image: Office of the Supreme Leader

TopicsDiplomacy RegionsMiddle East

Confirmed: China Is Building a Military Base Near Japan

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New satellite images have largely confirmed earlier reports that China is building a military base near the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands that Japan also claims and administers.

Last week IHS Jane’s reported that satellite images from October 2014 show that China is building a heliport with 10 landing pads and wind turbines on Nanji Island, which is one of 52 islands on an archipelago that is part of Zhejiang province. Nanji Islands is only 300 km from the disputed Senkaku Islands. By contrast, Okinawa— which hosts major U.S. and Japanese military bases— are 400 km away from the disputed islands.

Japan’s Kyodo News, citing unidentified Chinese officials, first reported the military buildup late last month. According to that report, “Several large radar installations have been built at high points on the main Nanji Island. Several landing strips have been paved, likely for use by aircraft based on warships or patrol vessels, and more landing strips are set to be built on an island adjacent to Nanji Island from around next year.” The satellite data Jane’s reviewed found no evidence of any airstrips being built on the island, but it did say that “existing radar and communications sites are clear from the imagery.”

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Following the publication of the initial Kyodo story, China's National Defense Ministry Spokesperson Yang Yujun dismissed the report as “pure media hype.” However, Yang also stated: “It's beyond any criticism and doubt when China carries out any activities and constructions on its own territory. Some media in Japan make irresponsible speculations about China's legitimate activities and construction and play up tensions in the region.”

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Similarly, a senior researcher at the Chinese Naval Research Institute told Bloomberg that China’s military already has a small military presence on the island, which it is likely to expand. “It’s a strategically important location because of its proximity to the Diaoyu Islands.... It’s unarguable that China would like to enhance the existing military presence there.”

The new base will greatly strengthen China’s ability to conduct surveillance over the Senkaku Islands as well as the rest of the area it claimed as part of its East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) in November 2013.

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The new base is also consistent with China’s recent moves in the South China Sea, where it is undertaking a massive reclamation project to establish several military bases near disputed islands in those waters. This includes an “unsinkable aircraft carrier” on Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratly Islands.

The new Nanji military base also highlights an uneasy dynamic in the East China Sea whereas the two sides continue to strengthen their military capabilities even as they repair their political relationship. For example, last April Japan announced plans to build a radar station on Yonaguni Island just 150 km from the Senkaku Islands. Japan (sometimes with the U.S.) has also been conducting a steady stream of military exercises to simulate defending or retaking remote island groups.

Image: Public Domain

TopicsSecurity RegionsAsia-Pacific

The National Interest Is Hiring!

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The National Interest Is Hiring! 

Position: Editorial Staff

Salary: Based on experience

Benefits: Health

Duties & Qualifications:

This demanding but rewarding position requires skills such as copy-editing, communication with authors, researching potential topics, art selection and formatting content on the web. Staff should contribute regularly to the magazine's blog. An interest in international affairs and an affinity for the magazine's realist outlook are desirable. Related experience in journalism and familiarity with tools used in web production (basic HTML/Drupal, Photoshop, SEO) will particularly stand out on an application.

To apply, please send a cover letter and resume to Jacob Heilbrunn, Editor, The National Interest at

Image: Wikicommons. 

TopicsEmployment RegionsUnited States

North Korea Slams Israel as a Rogue 'Nuclear Threat'

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North Korea’s Foreign Ministry slammed the “shamelessness of Israel” on Friday, calling the Jewish State a “rogue group” that “poses a nuclear threat” and commits “terrorist attack[s]” against neighboring countries.

On Friday the Korean Central News Agency released a statement attributed to North Korea’s Foreign Ministry that responded to comments Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made last week that were critical of the Hermit Kingdom.

“This is an unpardonable insult and provocation to the dignity and social system in the DPRK and the choice made by its people,” the statement said of Netanyahu’s comments, referring to North Korea by its official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The statement then took issue with Israel’s foreign policy in the Middle East, stating: “Israel not only represents dictatorial forces for aggression that trample down the legitimate right of the Palestinian people and indiscriminately kill them but also is a rogue group that poses a nuclear threat and makes terrorist attack[s] on its neighboring countries with lots of nuclear weapons.”

The statement was responding to comments Netanyahu made during a press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe last week, in which the Israeli leader repeatedly drew parallels between Iran and North Korea.

“And, Prime Minister [Abe], we have something else in common,” Netanyahu began. “We are two peace loving democracies that face formidable threats from nearby rogue states.”

“Both Iran and North Korea are governed by ruthless and extreme dictatorships, states that seek to bully and intimidate their neighbors, and in our case, to actually eradicate us from the face of the earth.”

Noting that “Iran and North Korea have aggressive military nuclear programs,” Netanyahu repeated his plea to not allow Iran to use diplomacy to advance its nuclear program as he alleges North Korea did with the 1994 Agreed Framework. “Iran cannot be allowed to travel the road taken by North Korea.”

It’s not the first time that North Korea has slammed Israel or even Netanyahu publicly. After Netanyahu criticized Pyongyang during a trip to Japan last year, the North Korean Foreign Ministry released a similar statement, which called Israel a "cancer to peace in the Middle East.”

It also accused Netanyahu of trying to use North Korea “to divert international criticism of Israel caused by its settlement activity and breakdown in the Middle East peace talks." Similarly, in last week’s statement, North Korea’s Foreign Ministry said, “Everybody knows about the shamelessness of Israel telling lies and making fabrications and pointing accusing fingers to others to justify its criminal acts and evade the censure and condemnation by the international community.”

Besides trading public insults, Israel has long been concerned about North Korea’s support for Arab states that are hostile to Israel, as well as Iran. In fact, during the 1973 Yom Kippur War North Korea actually deployed a squadron of MiG-21s to Egypt, which engaged in a firefight with Israeli F-4s. Neither side sustained any damage.

More recently, North Korea has been accused of proliferating ballistic missiles and nuclear technology to Syria and Iran. In 2007, Israel destroyed Syria's Al Kibar Nuclear Reactor that was reportedly built by North Korean engineers.

Image: Public Domain

TopicsSecurity RegionsAsia-PacificMiddle East

A Big Foreign-Policy Challenge: Regaining Saudi Arabia's Trust

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The passing of King Abdullah and ascension to the throne of Crown Prince Salman has proceeded smoothly at a time when the Saudi kingdom faces growing challenges at home and abroad.

King Abdullah, 90, compiled a record as a relatively liberal reformer who helped modernize the kingdom, reform its educational system and somewhat expand opportunities for Saudi women to work, vote and run for office in Saudi Arabia’s limited local elections.

On foreign-policy issues, King Abdullah often was a close ally of the United States on key issues such as cooperating against common threats posed by Iran, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, ISIS and Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which has thrived in neighboring Yemen.

But like many Arab rulers, Abdullah broke ranks with the United States on issues such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; nuclear negotiations with Iran, which he saw as naïve and risky; the urgency of democratic reforms, which he saw as inherently destabilizing; and the Obama administration’s embrace of the Muslim Brotherhood, which he saw as a rising threat to the stability of Saudi Arabia and other traditional oil kingdoms.

King Salman is expected to continue the broad outlines of foreign policy charted by his half-brother. But he probably will be less inclined to push incremental reforms at home.

King Salman is a respected authority figure who has encouraged family unity and is likely to rule by consensus. But he may not rule for very long. At 79, Salman is known to have significant health problems, including at least one reported stroke, as well as possible signs of dementia.

This may be what led King Abdullah to take the unprecedented step of naming a deputy heir, his youngest full brother, Prince Muqrin, 69, who formerly was an effective minister of intelligence.

This pick was controversial because it skipped over other princes, including Prince Ahmed, Crown Prince Salman’s full brother, who also is one of the “Sudairi Seven”—seven sons of King Abdulaziz’s favorite wife, Hassa al-Sudairi, who were the dominant faction before King Abdullah took the throne.

Saudi succession arrangements historically have been smooth, with senior princes meeting privately to make the key decisions. The family publicly has presented a show of unity, but there may be friction between family factions behind the scenes.

The jousting over succession was always been expected to become even more acute when it came to picking crown princes from the next generation, where there are hundreds of potential contenders. King Salman appears to have made a good start on this process by quickly naming Mohammed bin Nayef, as deputy crown prince.

Crown Prince Mohammed, 55, is the son of former Crown Prince Nayef, who was one of the “Sudairi Seven.” His selection should please the Sudairi branch of the family.

From Washington’s point of view, this was an excellent choice. Prince Mohammed was educated in the United States at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon. As Interior Minister, he has been a tough, effective and decisive leader of Saudi counterterrorism efforts against Al Qaeda inside the kingdom. He has survived several assassination attempts and remains dedicated to defeating Al Qaeda.

King Salman is likely to govern as the front man for a collective leadership. He has indicated he will continue many of Abdullah’s policies. On oil policy, a crucial element of the bilateral Saudi-American relationship, King Salman has signaled he will retain Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi, who has guided Saudi energy policy since 1995.

Saudi Arabia historically has preferred to keep oil prices lower than other OPEC exporters, because it possesses the world’s largest oil reserves and has a long oil-production horizon, which gives it a stronger interest in discouraging the long-term development of competing energy supplies, such as U.S. shale oil.

Saudi-American strategic cooperation against a wide spectrum of foreign adversaries, including Iran, ISIS and Al Qaeda, is likely to continue unabated.

The growing instability in Yemen is likely to become a major focus of Saudi and American concern and cooperation. Both countries supported Yemeni president Hadi, who was ousted last week by the rebel Houthi movement, a Zaidi Shiite militia backed by Iran.

Hadi’s fall is likely to strengthen Saudi perceptions about being encircled by a hostile Iran, which it charges also supports Shiite extremists in Bahrain and inside Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province, which contains the bulk of Saudi oilfields.

The collapse of Yemen’s government also will create a more permissive environment for the growth of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which hopes to use Yemen as a springboard for subverting Saudi Arabia.

Despite cooperation against common threats, friction over a number of issues is likely to mar Saudi-American relations. Differences over Israeli-Palestinian issues are likely to continue, although they may be overshadowed by differences over Iran and Syria.

Riyadh sees the Obama administration as an unreliable friend that looks to extricate the United States from Middle Eastern conflicts. The Saudis and other Arab kingdoms were appalled by the abrupt U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq, which left Iran as the dominant foreign influence there and left Iraq’s Sunni Arab minority under the thumb of Iraq’s Shia-dominated government.

The Saudis were also shocked by the speed at which Obama abandoned Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, a longtime U.S. ally. They were further troubled by the administration’s public embrace of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, which the Saudis perceive as an ideological enemy that has spawned an Islamist backlash against the Saudi monarchy. To offset Washington’s withholding of some military aid to Egypt, Riyadh last year offered to finance an arms deal worth more than $2 billion between Cairo and Moscow.

The impending U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan and the administration’s self-proclaimed “pivot to Asia” have exacerbated worries about the willingness and ability of the United States to continue to underwrite Gulf security.

This could not come at a worse time, given Iran’s nuclear push, surging ballistic-missile capabilities and aggressive support for the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria and militant Shiite factions in Bahrain, Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen, as well as within Saudi Arabia.

The Saudis believe that the Obama administration has failed to pay sufficient attention to Iranian support for terrorism and subversion. They fear that if Washington reaches a nuclear deal with Iran, it will turn a blind eye to Iran’s hostile acts against its neighbors. And if the nuclear negotiations fail, they doubt that Obama will take military action to prevent a nuclear Iran.

Saudi doubts on this score were heightened by the president’s failure to enforce his own red line against Syria’s use of chemical weapons in 2013. After threatening to launch military reprisal strikes, Washington backed down and acceded to a diplomatic agreement brokered by Moscow that let Syria’s Assad regime off the hook.

The Obama administration must work closely with King Salman and his successors. But it is likely to be an uphill struggle to regain the full trust of the royal family.

James Phillips is The Heritage Foundation’s Senior Research Fellow for Middle Eastern Affairs.

Image: Flickr/Secretary of Defense/CC by 2.0

TopicsForeign Policy RegionsSaudi ArabiaUnited States

The Philippines vs. China in the South China Sea: A Legal Showdown

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The next stage in the Philippines’ closely-watched arbitration case against China’s maritime claims will come in March when Manila’s lawyers submit their answers to questions posed last month by the five judge panel overseeing the case. The Philippines has put together a clever case, one that seeks to skirt China’s exemptions to compulsory arbitration as allowed by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). But the case is not a slam dunk, and that might be for the best.

The heart of the Philippines’ case is an argument that China’s infamous nine-dash line does not qualify as a valid maritime claim. If the Arbitral Tribunal finds that it has jurisdiction in any part of the case, it is hard to imagine that it will not agree with Manila on this point. And that ruling—that Beijing is legally obligated to lay out its claims based on maritime entitlements from coastlines and islands, not via dashes arbitrarily drawn on a map—could be enormously beneficial for all those with an interest in the South China Sea.

Despite Beijing’s insistence that it will not recognize any award the court makes, China’s leaders might be persuaded to clarify the country’s South China Sea claims even while publicly refusing to obey the court. This would be much the same as how the United States under the Clinton administration complied with much of an International Court of Justice ruling in a case brought by Nicaragua that the Reagan administration had earlier rebuffed.

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Chinese legal experts both inside and outside government already know that Beijing will eventually need to redefine the nine-dash line. In theory, it could maintain a claim to most of the waters within the line by making (admittedly extreme) EEZ and continental shelf claims from the Paracel and Spratly Islands. That is a clarification that the Chinese leadership could live with.

Other parts of the Philippines’ case are more ambitious, more tenuous, and less acceptable to China. Manila has asked the Tribunal to rule that several features occupied by China are in fact low-tide elevations, not islands, and are therefore not open to claims of sovereignty because they are legally part of the seabed. At least one of these features listed by the Philippines appears to lie within the territorial sea of a rock or island claimed by China and is therefore beyond the possible jurisdiction of the court. The court may or may not find it has sufficient evidence to rule on the remaining features, especially because accurate surveys of the Spratlys are notoriously lacking. If the tribunal does rule these features to be low-tide elevations and orders China to evacuate them, it is hard to imagine that Beijing will comply.

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But the really troubling outcome of the case could lie with the most ambitious of Manila’s arguments—that a number of islets occupied by China are legally rocks, not islands, and therefore can generate only a 12 nautical mile territorial sea, not an EEZ or continental shelf. In its full memorial submitted to the court last year, the Philippines added Itu Aba, the largest of the Spratlys, to its case. It is unlikely that the court will rule that Itu Aba, and by extension all the smaller islets in the archipelago, are legally rocks—such a ruling would be unprecedented in its scope. More importantly, such a ruling would back Beijing into a legal corner, with worrying results.

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Redefining the nine-dash line could be palatable to Beijing, but only if that redefinition leaves China with a substantive claim to EEZs and continental shelves in the South China Sea. If the Philippines gets everything it is asking for from the court, such a clarification would be impossible. In that case, China is all but certain to dig in its heels, doubling down on the nine-dash line and in all likelihood withdrawing from the Law of the Sea convention. This would technically be illegal since the treaty requires advanced warning of such a withdrawal, but at that point, Beijing would be unlikely to care. Provoking such an extreme reaction from China will not be in the Philippines’ interests, nor in those of the other South China Sea claimants, the United States, or the international legal order.

Gregory Poling is a fellow with the Sumitro Chair for Southeast Asia Studies and the Pacific Partners Initiative at CSIS. He manages research projects that focus on U.S. foreign policy in the Asia Pacific, with a special focus on the member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. This piece first appeared as part of the Asia Maritime Transparency Project created by CSIS.

TopicsSouth China Sea RegionsChina

Why India Is Still Hedging Its Bets on US

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Obama’s official state visit to India this week is unique due to the U.S. president’s place as “chief guest” during Delhi’s Republic Day celebrations, a role never previously bestowed on an American president. The visit comes on the coattails of several highly publicized, official state visits from China and Russia, both shortly before and after Prime Minister Modi’s visit to the U.S. in late 2014.

Many Indians are likely to view Mr. Obama’s presence at the Indian Republic Day celebration as a sign of India’s increased global importance and influence. Still, challenges—on both sides—threaten the sunny relationship. There is a pressing need to share both the benefits and risks bi-directionally across a number of areas, including foreign direct investments; technology co-creation; security and defense trade and cooperation; and energy and environment matters. If the U.S. can wrap its head around the fact that India will be India, inevitably trading with Russia and China and not always agreeing or siding with the U.S., then there is some hope for a positive set of outcomes this week. Likewise, India has challenges as well, with the need to manage liability, create more transparent procurement processes, and understand that Buy American can conditionally work with Make in India. Moreover, both countries need to come to terms with policies vis-à-vis Pakistan that can actually enable South Asia to be stable and peaceful.       

What will be on the agenda this week has been largely kept under wraps, fueling cross-border, Indian-Pakistani media antagonism. The tit-for-tat media volley has New Delhi claiming that inside sources in Washington told Islamabad to clamp down on cross-border terrorism during Obama’s visit. Islamabad has dismissed these allegations as propaganda. If the allegations are true, they would be tacit confirmation that India faces an unwieldy “Pakistan problem” in which Washington would not likely interfere either before or after the U.S. visit. Moreover, Indian perceptions that the America’s lack of condemnation through actions—such as using aid as a bargaining tool—only adds insult to injury to those worried about the alleged condition for Obama’s visit. Secretary of State John Kerry’s most recent visit to Pakistan, where he offered $250 million in emergency aid, did not go unnoticed  in New Delhi.  

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s December 2014 visit to Delhi for the 15th India-Russia annual summit resulted in an hundred billion dollar bonanza, with Modi and Putin inking significant nuclear, oil, and defense deals. The more subtle yet most significant outcome of last year’s summit, however, was Russia agreeing to further jointly developed defense capabilities with India and to allow Delhi to harness Modi’s “Make in India” initiative. And in a well-timed visit just days before Obama’s arrival, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu met with his counterpart Mannohar Parrikar and Prime Minister Modi, reinforcing the "time-tested special and privileged" strategic partnership between India and Russia. While in Delhi, Shoigu visited the Russian-Indian joint venture, BrahMos Aerospace Limited, which makes supersonic cruise missiles. In addition, Shoigu reportedly discussed jointly developing a new-generation of missiles that would be smaller and compatible with the fifth-generation fighter, the MiG-29K, the Su-30MKI, and Indian submarines.

This visit prompted Parrikar to say that India will be “fast-tracking” many of the issues related to the joint Russian-Indian stealth fighter jet project. The visit also reinvigorated talk about building 400 Russian helicopters in India annually. Overall, the purpose of Shoigu’s trip seemed to be about marking Russia’s manufacturing territory in advance of Obama’s visit.

For the most part, Washington appears to be choosing its battles with India wisely, and not remonstrating Delhi too much for its choice of “partners” or for not enacting sanctions against Russia in the aftermath of the Crimean annexation and continued conflict in Ukraine.

India has loudly acknowledged that Russia is its foremost defense partner amidst a growing list of foreign nations courting it. And, despite the U.S. taking the lead in defense sales to India last year, Washington’s reluctance to share custody of joint defense innovations makes it easier to understand Delhi’s continued ties to Moscow.

As Russia’s economic situation deteriorates, however, there is little indication that India will forego its old ally in favor of strengthening its ties with the U.S. This will not be a zero sum game for the U.S., and the focus will need to remain on how the U.S. and India can work bilaterally, independent of other variables. India can afford to pursue stronger ties with America despite preexisting ones with Russia; with that in mind, there is an opportunity for the Delhi and Washington to sign a new defense framework agreement.

Questions remain regarding how the Indian bureaucracy can engage the U.S. for joint development and production of various military hardware (around 17 projects are under discussion) in light of the ‘Make in India’ campaign. It is possible that the Pentagon will provide approval for the co-production of at least two projects; Indian rumors abound over at least two specific projects to be finalized with a price tag of around $20 million.  Concerns about cost and global supply chains, corruption, skilled manufacturing labor, labor availability and labor laws are still a vital part of the U.S. reluctance to fully advance co-production and Make in India. Joint production of combat and non-combat UAVs is an expected first step, although the U.S. is keenly aware of what its export restrictions are likely to mean for Indian’s security and defense needs. Also, some facility could be created for the joint production of equipment required for transport planes like the C-130.

Presently, the onus is on both the states to ensure that their bilateral relationship reaches new heights, not just in the security field, but also in technology and economics as well (the nuclear agreement announced just after President Obama landed is a good start). The burgeoning U.S.-India relationship will require actions—not just pomp, platitudes, or recapitulations of previous agreements/promises.

Melissa S. Hersh is a Washington, D.C.-based risk analyst and consultant and Truman National Security Fellow. Dr Ajey Lele is a Research Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis, New Delhi. The views expressed are their own.

Image: Flickr/Narendramodiofficial

TopicsDiplomacy RegionsSouth Asia

With Obama Trip, India and US Deepen Ties

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Mention January 26 and the thoughts of Australians jump quickly to barbeques, beaches and cricket. But this post isn’t about Australia Day. Many Australians will be aware that Indians celebrate their Republic Day on January 26. This year, the 66th since the Indian constitution entered into force in 1950, will be no different. Festivities in New Delhi will center around the Republic Day Parade, a showcase of the country’s defense capabilities—”the glories and follies old and new of the Indian armed forces, from camel regiments to tanks to ballistic missiles”—alongside the lush diversity of Indian culture. Moreover, Barack Obama is set to attend this year’s parade as the invited chief guest, the first time a U.S. president has received the honor. Obama’s attendance represents a diplomatic coup for Indian PM Narendra Modi. It’s yet another sign that relations between India and the U.S. are being reinvigorated, and serves as a reminder of the foreign policy dynamism Modi has displayed since his election last May.

The Republic Day parade will be rich in symbolism for both leaders. The imagery of an American president watching on as India flexes its military muscle won’t escape the attention of India’s neighbors. That Obama’s trip marks the first time a U.S. president has visited India twice while in office (he visited in 2010) will bring additional diplomatic cachet. The chief guest role will offer simple yet important sponsorship of the “rebalance;” it’ll similarly illustrate Modi’s support for a continuing American role in Asia.

Obama’s trip to India comes just four months after Modi was in the U.S.—a sign of the momentum in the bilateral relationship. The joint statement that came out of Modi’s September visit illustrated steady progress on a range of security issues. The decision was taken to renew for another 10 years the 2005 Framework for the U.S.–India Defense Relationship, and pledges were made to enhance counter-terrorism cooperation, to deepen military-to-military contact, and to “upgrade” the Malabar naval exercise. The statement reiterated support for India’s phased entry to the key non-proliferation regimes and established a contact group to push forward on civil nuclear cooperation. That Ashton Carter, Obama’s SECDEF nominee, has long championed U.S.–India relations and seems a popular pick in India is unlikely to do the relationship any harm. Still, real challenges to closer U.S.–India relations remain: distraction and competing priorities for Obama, and an historical commitment to strategic autonomy for Modi.

Modi’s decision to invite Obama recalls the symbolism and strategy of former Indian PM Manmohan Singh’s hosting of Japanese PM Shinzō Abe as chief guest last year. High expectations were attached to Abe’s 2014 visit, given his long-standing admiration of India and belief in the great potential of the bilateral relationship. (In his 2006 book, Abe wrote, “it would not surprise me if in another decade Japan–India relations overtake U.S.–Japan and Japan–China ties.”)

The Japan–India embrace has tightened considerably since last May; the Abe­–Modi bonhomie runs deep beyond bearhugs. Both are nationalistic, conservative leaders; both were elected with mandates to restart their economies and reclaim lost pride; and both are playing for a greater role in underwriting peace and stability in the Asia–Pacific. Both PMs are apprehensive about China’s rise—historical tensions and territorial disputes abound—on the back of which they’ve sought to engage more with the US, regional partners and multilateral security architectures. The upgraded “Special Strategic and Global Partnership” that resulted from Modi’s 5-day visit to Tokyo last September bore witness to growing affinity and shared ambition; so too did last week’s strategic dialogue between foreign ministers, brought back into play after two years on the bench. As Abe increases military spending for a third consecutive year (following 11 years of decline), the steady development of a balancing arc between Tokyo and New Delhi, across China, is an indication of the “proactive contribution” to regional peace and stability that both leaders seek to make.

While the U.S. has been drawn to various global flash points, the rebalance has quietly trundled along. It has become a standard administration line to encourage allies and partners in the Asia–Pacific to deepen and broaden cooperation. So the Asian elements of the one-time Quad—Japan, India and Australia—are holding the line in this respect. Australia should continue to aver strong support for the more active role that both Japan and India, separately and together, seek to play in the region. And with a freshly minted Framework for Security Cooperation with India and a “quasi-alliance” with Japan, Australia should look for and jump at opportunities to foster cooperation. What happens in and from those relationships will serve as important support for a U.S. rebalance that’s materially underway but politically underpowered.

David Lang is an analyst at ASPI and an editor of The Strategist. Image courtesy of The White House.

This piece first appeared in the ASPI Strategist Website, here.

TopicsDiplomacy RegionsSouth Asia

Time to Nuke the Doomsday Clock

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The “Doomsday Clock” is one of the iconic images of the Cold War. Operated since its creation in 1947 by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, it is designed to show how close humanity is to a global catastrophe. The less time to midnight, the closer we supposedly are to Armageddon. Over the past sixty-eight years, it has always been somewhere between two and seventeen minutes away from midnight.

Yesterday, the Bulletin, which is a great publication and a valuable resource, made news by moving the clock from five minutes to three minutes to midnight.

The last time the clock was at three minutes to midnight, it was the mid-1980s. There were roughly sixty thousand nuclear weapons in the world, virtually all of them held by the United States or the Soviet Union. Those two nations were in the midst of a four-decade-long ideological conflict that had already involved both proxy wars between them and numerous crises that came awfully close to all-out thermonuclear war. It was the decade of KAL 007 and the Able Archer exercise. In the words of Micah Zenko, it was possibly “the least safe time to live on earth. The number of deployed nuclear weapons was obscene overkill, and potential flashpoints for a U.S.-Soviet conflict were many.”

So, according to the Bulletin, how is it that we are as close to catastrophe now as we were in the mid-1980s? Here is the short version of its explanation for moving the clock (you can also read its longer statement here):

Unchecked climate change, global nuclear weapons modernizations, and outsized nuclear weapons arsenals pose extraordinary and undeniable threats to the continued existence of humanity, and world leaders have failed to act with the speed or on the scale required to protect citizens from potential catastrophe. These failures of political leadership endanger every person on Earth. Despite some modestly positive developments in the climate change arena, current efforts are entirely insufficient to prevent a catastrophic warming of Earth. Meanwhile, the United States and Russia have embarked on massive programs to modernize their nuclear triads—thereby undermining existing nuclear weapons treaties. The clock ticks now at just three minutes to midnight because international leaders are failing to perform their most important duty—ensuring and preserving the health and vitality of human civilization.

There are essentially two separate arguments here—one involving nuclear weapons, and the other about climate change. The first is that the United States and Russia continue to have large stockpiles of thousands of nuclear weapons, and some of the world’s nuclear states keep modernizing their arsenals. This suggests that nuclear weapons will be with us for quite some time—and that, over a long time frame, the possibility of a disastrous nuclear war will continue to exist, whether started by choice or miscalculation.

Even granting all of that, it’s impossible to argue that nuclear danger, as a whole, is greater now than it was during the 1960s and 1970s (during which time the Doomsday Clock ranged from seven to twelve minutes away from midnight). Keep in mind, the long-term nuclear risks that the Bulletin identified yesterday existed then as well. And, at the same time, there was the unavoidable risk of an immediate nuclear holocaust. This risk is underscored by the several near-disasters that occurred then, most notably in Berlin, Cuba and the Yom Kippur War. There were also far more nuclear weapons in the world overall, and the global nonproliferation regime that exists today was just in the process of being created. 

Then there is the issue of climate change, which seems to be the primary motivation for the Bulletin’s announcement. Yes, contra today’s Senate Republicans, climate change is real, and human activity contributes to it. And yes, the potential future consequences of it could be huge. But it’s fundamentally a different kind of phenomenon from nuclear disaster. We have a rough idea of what a nuclear war would look like. There would be, presumably, a single, definable moment at which it would start. Climate change, in contrast, will presumably lead to a series of progressively worse consequences. As Josh Keating put it the last time the Doomsday Clock was moved in 2012, “When we hit climate midnight, how will we know it?”

Stephen Schwartz made a similar point on Twitter yesterday, noting that the addition of climate change as a factor in the Bulletin’s calculations makes it “impossible to make comparisons of any clock settings pre-2007.” The clock has always been something of a cross between a symbolic prop and an attempt at a rough quantitative measure. The inclusion of climate change serves to make it even less useful as an analytical tool, and more of a prop for the Bulletin to prod the world’s governments on whatever issues it thinks is most important at the time. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, but it does mean you can safely ignore breathless headlines like “WE ARE ONLY 3 MINUTES FROM MIDNIGHT, PEOPLE.” That’s because, in the end, comparing nuclear weapons and climate change is like comparing A-bombs and oranges.

TopicsSecurity RegionsUnited States

China Reacts to Obama's State of the Union: America is in Decline

The Buzz

In his State of the Union address on Wednesday, President Obama mentioned China a total of three times.

One was to praise China's commitment to cut carbon emissions. The second was to encourage American manufacturing executives to bring back jobs from China. The third was a call-to-arms to prevent China from writing the trade rules in the Asia Pacific.

China watchers inhaled sharply at this third point, given the sensitivity in China about who should be calling the shots in Asia. However, the media coverage in China of Obama's remarks has been surprisingly restrained, suggesting that the leadership does not want to encourage anti-American nationalist fervour at the moment.

The language and tone also reiterates China's view of the US role in the world, its own place in the world order, and how both might change in the future.

The People's Daily ran subdued coverage of Obama's speech, and today, except for a factual article in Xinhua's Chinese language paper, Chinese media made no mention of it at all. The English version ran a piece which focused on Obama's vow to rebuild the economy to help the middle class, but it did not mention anything about who should be writing the rules in the region, or the Sino-US relationship. A Chinese language version of the same article appeared in Thursday's China Daily's business section.

Yesterday's Chinese-language People's Daily noted there was a: “deep meaning” behind China being mentioned three times, and argued that Obama emphasized the competitive nature of the Sino-US relationship. The article called on the expertize of Sun Zhe, Director of the US-China Relations Research Center at Tsinghua University, who said that although Obama did not directly discuss the Sino-US relationship, he implied that China should comply with what he described as US (note, not international) rules in the global marketplace. Sun Zhe concluded that overall, Sino-US relations will continue to grow in 2015.

Coverage of Obama's address in the English version of the People's Daily was limited to how Obama was positioning himself in domestic politics.

Both the English and Chinese versions of the Global Times ran more incendiary coverage of Obama's speech. “The US still wants to dominate the world. They worry that China's fast development will challenge the status of the US,” according to Zha Xiaogang, a Research Fellow at the Shanghai Institute for International Studies. The article also said China was not the only country to be “irked” by Obama's address, and quoted Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as saying that the speech shows that at the center of the (US) philosophy is one only thing: "We are number one and everyone else has to recognize that.” In addition to describing the US as a self-centered hegemon, the article reminded readers that China operates differently, wanting only for “all parties to work together to create a fair, open and transparent environment for economic cooperation as well as to contribute to the improvement of world trade rules” (Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying).

In another Global Times article, Renmin University School of International Relations Deputy Dean Jin Canrong drew on the popular discourse that the US has been in decline since the global financial crisis and argued that while the US may be worried that the world's rules are being redesigned by new powers, it can no longer rely on its own strength alone to manage global issues. The article also noted that Obama's address highlighted the complexity of the Sino-US relationship, since it referred to China in both positive and negative ways.

Taken together, the Government-aligned media coverage in China of Obama's 2015 State of the Union suggests two things.

Firstly, it would seem that at this juncture, the Chinese leadership does not want to stir up nationalist anti-US sentiment. This may imply that the Government wants to pursue engagement and discussion with the US in the near future, and wishes to create the public policy space in which to do so.

Second and relatedly, this should not be misread as any shift in China's fundamental beliefs about what the world should look like and what roles the US and China should play. The overall narrative still paints a picture of a US naturally and inherently inclined to hegemony and unilateralism, but in inevitable decline; and China as a fair, impartial and constructive global player, doing its best in a system it didn't create, and which in time will have to adjust to the rise of new global powers with different (but not threatening) views of how the world should work.

This article first appeared in the Lowy Interpreter here.

Image: Flickr. 

TopicsSOTU RegionsChina