Tons of Countries Want to Buy Russia's Most Advanced Fighter Jet

The Buzz

Russia’s state-owned media is reporting that a number of different countries are interested in buying its most advanced fighter jets.

According to Sputnik News, Russia is negotiating with numerous countries over the sale of its Sukhoi Su-35 fighter jet, and a number of these deals “are coming to fruition.”

Citing “sources close to the talks,” who were interviewed by a Russian-language newspaper, Sputnik reports “that the sticking point between the Russian and Chinese negotiators over the size of the order is nearing a resolution, and expects a compromise order of 24 fighters for China's Air Force.”

Russia and China have been negotiating the sale of the Su-35 for years. Russia had previously been insisting that China purchase at least 48 Su-35s over fears that Beijing will reverse engineer the jet. China has a history of purchasing a few Russian warplanes only to reverse engineer the jets and produce an indigenous version. This is what happened, for instance, when China purchased the Su-27 and then unveiled a domestically built variant, the J-11.

Moscow has evidently caved on its demand that Beijing buy at least 48 Su-35s in the initial order. The Sputnik report said that Russian negotiators “are also negotiating safeguards in the event that China makes a copy of its plane,” without elaborating further.

Among the other potential buyers, the report said that Pakistan and Brazil were interested in purchasing the Su-35 fighter jet from Russia.

Selling Pakistan the Su-35 would be a huge reversal, as Moscow has traditionally been one of India’s largest military suppliers, while relations have been much cooler with Islamabad. That being said, in recent years Russia has sought to cozy up more with Pakistan, and there have been reports that Moscow has been willing to sell Islamabad some military hardware. Indeed, earlier this month, Vladimir Kozhin, an aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin, reportedly told reporters that Russia might sell a few units of the Su-35 to Pakistan.

On the other hand, Russia has long been trying to entice Brazil to purchase its Su-35, going so far as to offer Brazil the joint development of a fifth-generation aircraft if Brazil agreed to purchase the Su-35. Under its F-X2 project, the Brazilian Air Force is currently looking to purchase about 36 foreign fighter jets for roughly $4 billion. Brazil announced in 2013, however, that it had selected Saab's Gripen jet for that competition, a decision that appears to still stand.

The Sputnik report also listed Vietnam, Venezuela and Indonesia as other potential buyers of the Su-35. In fact, the report said that “figures from manufacturer Polet, which makes parts for the Su-35, showing increased production of its onboard system in order to fulfil orders for a total of 60 aircraft from Vietnam, Venezuela and Indonesia.”

India and South Korea have also recently been linked to the Su-35. In February of this year, Rostec CEO Sergey Chemezov, said of a prospective deal with India: “We have been negotiating and have signed the intention protocol for the Su-35. Now we are working on designing ideas for this contract and on creating a manufacturing platform for the aircraft of the fifth generation."

North Korea has also reportedly asked Russia to purchase the Su-35, although that seems unlikely.

The Su-35 is currently the Russian Air Force’s most advanced fighter jet. Moscow refers to the airplane as a 4++ generation fighter jet because it incorporates fifth-generation technology, such as radar absorbent material.

“It’s a great airplane and very dangerous, especially if they make a lot of them,” one senior U.S. military official with extensive experience on fifth-generation fighters told The National Interest of the Su-35 back in December of last year. “I think even an AESA [active electronically scanned array-radar equipped F-15C] Eagle and [Boeing F/A-18E/F] Super Hornet would both have their hands full [fighting the Su-35.”

Zachary Keck is managing editor of The National Interest. You can find him on Twitter: @ZacharyKeck.

Image: Wikimedia/Dmitry Avdeev

TopicsSecurity RegionsEurasia

The Next Superpower: Is a 'United States of Europe' Possible?

The Buzz

Four days ago, French President François Hollande declared his in-principle commitment to the creation of a “euro government, with the addition of a specific budget and a parliament to ensure democratic control.”

This is more an opening gambit in a debate about the terms of putative federalization (a term Hollande was careful to avoid), than a statement of French commitment to it at all costs. 

If some form of federalization comes about, it will not be because the French especially desire it, but because the logic of the Euro ultimately demands it.

There has been talk of political and fiscal union since the Euro crisis erupted five years ago. It was one of two options for resolving the Euro crisis that the German Government seriously considered, before ultimately rejecting it in favor of the inter-state negotiations that produced the treaties creating the European Fiscal Compact and the Single Supervisory Mechanism, or banking union.

But the Greek debacle has demonstrated the limits of the inter-governmental approach. In the final resort, enforcing Eurozone rules requires a form of political control over member-states.

Germany is also in a better position to dictate the kind of federalism the Eurozone might adopt. Though German taxpayers have become more exposed to other Eurozone members' debts, Berlin has put that money to good effect, using it to extend its reach over afflicted countries' fiscal affairs. 

In Hollande's formula, the emphasis lies on 'democratic control' of the 'common budget'. For Germany, however, the aim would not be to create a European 'demos', but to gain control of (wayward) members fiscal policies.

Thus, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble – Germany's most popular politician – called a year ago for “a European budget commissioner with powers to reject national budgets if they do not correspond to the rules … jointly agreed” and “a 'Eurozone parliament' comprising the MEPs of Eurozone countries to strengthen the democratic legitimacy of decisions affecting the single currency bloc.”

For Berlin, then, the ideal form of European political and fiscal union would offer indirect, but reliable, control over the fiscal policies of other Eurozone members to ensure their 'competitiveness' and the euro's long-term stability, but the retention of national control over those issues that underpin Germany's position as Europe's paramount power. 

Perhaps the jurisdiction of a Eurozone parliament could be limited to questions pertaining to the shared treasury (unless, say, a bill gained a super-majority of votes). 

To make it an instrument for policies hatched in Berlin, Germany could write the rules of the 2012 Fiscal Compact into any potential Eurozone constitution that established the parliament: mandated balanced budgets, the elimination of structural deficits, maximum debt-to-GDP ceilings, etc. The same constitution could also empower a federal finance ministry to rewrite national budgets that fell short. 

In return, a common Eurozone treasury, financed by indirect taxes – a classic compromise for nascent federations (for example, the 19th century U.S., the German Empire after 1871, and the Australian Commonwealth before 1942) – could issue common Euro bonds to mutualize a portion of member-states' debts.

With direct taxes still collected by national governments, and with Germany remaining the biggest of those, ultimate financial firepower would remain in the hands of the Bundestag, meaning the German chancellor would remain Europe's de facto leader for long as Germany remained Europe's strongest economy. 

For the same reason, the independent European Central Bank would also be beyond the control of the Eurozone parliament, but not much less heedful of the German chancellor than today.

This might sound like an odd form of federalism (and such a Eurozone would still be more a con-federal than fully federal state). 

But Prussia's leading role within the post-1871 German Empire – an 'emphatically devolved' 'confederation of sovereign principalities' that left the sovereignty, parliaments, armies and diplomatic corps of the smaller German kingdoms and duchies intact – offers a historical model. (Since the foundation of Imperial Germany's power was the Prussian army, Chancellor Otto von Bismarck was often more powerful as chancellor of Prussia than of Germany.)

The trick would be in getting the rest of the Eurozone to agree to it.

Here, Chancellor Merkel could again take a leaf out of Bismarck's book. Indeed, perhaps she already has. 

19th century Germany and federalism

In 1859, Germany was a collection of some 39 sovereign states, loosely gathered in a 'German Confederation' (like the EU, a customs union but not a state). Helped by an economic boom from 1850, Bismarck united them by demonstrating the indispensability of Prussian leadership of a nascent but disunited German nation in Europe that had never before existed as a political entity. 

In the Danish War (1864), the Austrian War (1866) and the Franco-Prussian War (1870), Bismarck ensured that each crisis drew the minor German states into closer political and economic dependence on Prussia, until in 1871 a federal German Empire with Prussia as its largest state was at last proclaimed. 

By design or default Germany has followed a similar path today, using its economy – the world's fourth largest – rather than its army. 

Germany represents somewhat less than 25% of the population of the Eurozone and about one third of its economic output, making it less hegemonic than Prussia was in Imperial Germany (62% of the population). 

But it has the support of a larger block of friendly states tied more or less economically to it: the Netherlands, Austria, Belgium, Slovakia, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Finland. And as the German economy has stood firm while other big countries (France, Spain and Italy) have wilted, the 2010-15 European sovereign debt crisis has amplified Germany's political influence disproportionately. 

Indeed, when Paris emerged as Greece's defender in Brussels 10 days ago, it was partly replaying Vienna's (ultimately doomed) attempt to thwart Prussian dominance over the minor German states in the 1860s. What France was really defending was not Greek sovereignty, but its own. 

Perhaps all that stands between Germany and a Eurozone federalized on German terms is a French debt crisis – and Paris hasn't balanced a budget since the 1970s.

Nationalism, the missing ingredient

But no iron law says a federal, or more federalized, Europe must come into being. By comparison with the 19th century, the essential ingredient of nationalism is missing. 

Yet, while anti-EU sentiment has grown, what has been remarkable during the crisis are the sacrifices that European peoples have been prepared to endure in the name of the common currency. 

Greeks (so, at least, it seems for now) preferred capitulation to being cast out of the euro, partly suggesting their hard-won identity as modern 'Europeans' was dearer to them.

A majority of Germans might believe the latest bailout 'bad' or 'very bad' for Germany. But if the government will not fall over it, it's partly because Germans have learned to see their future as bound up, for better or for worse, with Europe's. The only long-term alternative to federalization, Germany's departure from the euro, attracts little support.

Of course, learning to live in a federal Europe won't be easy for anyone. Though it would now be cloaked in the greater legitimacy of federal structures, southerners would still resent the intrusions of federal supervisors and agents. 

But they would at least feel that northern Europe finally stood behind them, come what might economically in the 21st century. Europe's 'new normal' – a chronic squabble over the redistribution of fiscal revenues that a federal state could affect without so much controversy – would be over. 

And it would be difficult, not least, for Germany. The creation of the German Empire made German, and its Prussian core, one of the world's great powers.

But as Australian historian Christopher Clark writes in his award-winning Iron Kingdom: The rise and downfall of Prussia, 1600-1947, Prussia “had to learn to inhabit the large and ponderous body of the new Germany.” He continues that, “Perhaps the most striking thing about the new political order was the weakness of the central authority.” 

In the long run, even Germany might find such a federal Europe frustratingly limiting. Like every federal venture before it in history, Europe's would doubtless grow more adventurous with time. 

This piece first appeared in the Lowy Interpreter here

TopicsEconomics RegionsEurope

Revealed: How China and Russia Could Destroy America's F-35 in Battle

The Buzz

After the leaking of a report about the recent failure of an F-35 to win in a dogfight against an F-16D, debate has intensified about the future nature of air to air combat. In a recent Strategist post, Andrew Davies identifies the importance of combining long-range air-to-air engagement using ‘Beyond-Visual Range Air to Air Missiles’ (BVRAAMs), with the advantage bestowed by stealth technology to reduce detectability of the aircraft, as well as exploiting superior sensors, information processing and electronic warfare capability.

Davies also notes that it is yet to be demonstrated how effective these capabilities will be in a future operational environment, stating “…there are reasons to wonder how effective the F-35’s bag of tricks will be into the future, especially as counter-stealth systems evolve, and I’d like to see it carry more and longer-ranged weapons…” Clearly the F-35 was designed to undertake a particular approach to air-to-air combat in mind (long-range attacks) rather than close-in dogfighting. This highlights a key question that is now generating significant debate: “Are our current assumptions about future air combat—that BVR engagement will dominate and ‘dogfights’ have had their day

The underlying basis for current assumptions about the ascendance of long-range air-to-air combat and the demise of the dogfight is that U.S. and allied forces will always have a clear and sustainable ‘knowledge edge’ over any adversary in a manner that bestows superior situational awareness to permit unrestricted use of BVRAAMs. In this regard, the true success of the F-35 in tactical air-to-air warfare may in fact depend on an ability to preserve a knowledge edge at the strategic level in the face of determined efforts by future adversaries to decisively win an information battle at the outset of any future conflict.

In considering future adversaries, Chinese information warfare doctrine makes clear the requirement to attack U.S. C4ISR systems, including satellites, from the outset or even prior to, any military conflict. This information warfare campaign will be fought in space, cyberspace and across the electromagnetic spectrum. The PLA sees the information battle-space as an integrated environment comprising both cyberspace and electronic warfare, and base their approach to these domains around the concept of Integrated Networked Electronic Warfare (INEW).

General Dai Qingmin, PLA, states that a key goal of the PLA’s approach to INEW is to disrupt the normal operation of enemy battlefield information systems, while protecting one’s own, with the objective of seizing information superiority. Therefore, winning in the air against the PLAAF may be determined as much by which side wins these information warfare campaigns, as through success in tactical beyond-visual range air to air engagements. Imagine no data links between the F-35s and the AWACS; AESA radars on an E-7A Wedgetail spoofed; ASAT attacks that bring down strategic communications or computer-network attacks that strike logistics or which jam GPS signals, and the first shots fired are not missiles but satellites silenced by computer hackers or ground-based jamming. Furthermore there will be an incentive to strike quickly and decisively, with an information ‘battle of the first salvo’ effect emerging. Without the flexibility bestowed by these systems, the F-35 pilot must rely on on-board sensor systems such as its AESA Radar and Electro-Optical Targeting System (EOTS) to detect, track and engage targets which increase the detectability of the aircraft and potentially bring the F-35 into the envelope of an opponent’s within visual range systems.

Does the F-35s dependence on maintaining information superiority make it ineffective? If the F-35 is relegated to a long-range BVR-AAM role, and if future air power doctrine is formulated with this approach in mind, then the effectiveness of the platform—and of Western air power—is at risk if key C4ISR systems can be attacked. In this regards, any assumption that modern air forces don’t dogfight is a dangerous one to make. Such an assumption lacks credibility as no air force would cede control of the air simply because it cannot operate with all desired advantages. Air forces have to be prepared to dogfight—even with the F-35 as their fighter. Finally, future adversaries will not be as courteous as to fight the U.S. and its allies on their own terms and in a manner that reinforces their advantage. The enemy always gets a vote.

In the future, what wins in the air is firstly winning the information battle across space, cyberspace and the electromagnetic spectrum to gain superior situational awareness and deny it to an opponent at the strategic, operational, and tactical level. An inability to counter an adversary’s information warfare systems will significantly reduce the ability of tactical combat aircraft like the F-35 to gain sufficient situational awareness to employ BVRAAMs effectively, and thus fight in our preferred approach to air operations.

It seems unlikely our future adversaries will fight in a manner most conducive to their own defeat, and it’s a safe bet that Chinese and Russian analysts understand all the weaknesses of the F-35 and how to wage air warfare in a manner to best exploit those weaknesses. Expect the F-35 to be forced to dogfight when it is employed in real warfare against an intelligent, well-equipped and determined enemy.

This first appeared in ASPI's The Strategist here

Image: U.S. Air Force/Flickr.

TopicsSecurity RegionsAsia

The Sources of Opposition to the Iran Agreement

Paul Pillar

An air of unreality pervades much of the debate on the agreement to restrict Iran's nuclear program. Opponents of the agreement raise issue after issue on which the agreement is clearly superior to the alternative that would exist if the opponents succeed in getting the U.S. Congress to kill the deal, but the opponents keep raising such issues anyway. There is, for example, long discussion of the details of inspection arrangements and exactly how many days will elapse between when an accusation is made and when international inspectors could enter a facility. But to the extent any of this is intended as criticism of the agreement it is beside the point because if the agreement is disapproved there would not be any such extraordinary inspections, with 24 days or 240 days or anything else in the way of an adjudication period. Indeed, if the agreement is killed the universe of possible Iranian “violations” of its obligations would be greatly shrunk because Iran would be under no restrictions at all regarding its nuclear program other than the basic commitment under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty not to build weapons. Similarly, complaints about the number of years certain limits on the Iranian program will be in effect are beside the point because if the agreement is killed there will be zero years of limits.

Everything that has been gained under this agreement in the way of restrictions on, and monitoring of, the Iranian nuclear program is a net, as well as a gross, gain over the situation that prevailed before the negotiations began and over the situation that would prevail if the agreement is killed. To get these gains, neither the United States nor its negotiating partners nor Iran's regional rivals have had to give up anything that involves any significant risks to themselves. As former International Atomic Energy Agency chief Hans Blix has put it, in return for all the far-reaching commitments Iran has made, the only commitment our side has had to make is to “drop punishment”.

If the current debate were being conducted solely on the merits of the agreement, the outcome would be almost a no-brainer; the agreement is obviously much better than the alternative of killing the agreement, even on a litany of issues that the opponents themselves have been raising. And yet the agreement's political fate on Capitol Hill does not reflect that. There is substantial probability that Congress will pass a resolution of disapproval—an action that, if allowed to stand, would kill the agreement. There is a lesser, but still significant, chance that Congress would override a presidential veto of such a resolution. The final outcome is likely to come down to the votes of only a few senators or representatives. None of this political prognosis is understandable if one focuses on the substance of the agreement itself. The prognosis is comprehensible only if one realizes that the opposition is being driven by other reasons some people have for wanting to kill this agreement and to preclude any agreement with Iran.

The forces at play will be easily understood and written about by future generations of political scientists. But the American public and politicians are being buffeted (or swept along) by those forces right now. It behooves us to recognize explicitly the principal ones responsible for opposition to this agreement, which are the following.

The Israeli government's political stratagem. Even the most fervent Israel-lobby-denier cannot deny that the Netanyahu government is leading the charge against the agreement at least as much as anyone else is leading it. In Israel, as in the United States, there is a disconnect between sober consideration of the substance of the agreement and other political incentives that are making that kind of sober consideration difficult. Significant and understandable concern exists across the Israeli political spectrum about any possibility of an Iranian nuclear weapon. It makes sense, from the standpoint of security of the State of Israel, to support an agreement that restricts and scrutinizes Iran's nuclear program and not to favor killing such an agreement and thereby removing such restrictions. That is why many leading Israeli security professionals, who have dedicated careers to the safety and well-being of their nation, have, even while holding their noses over any dealings with the Islamic Republic of Iran, concluded that the agreement is in Israel's best interests. If Prime Minister Netanyahu were focusing chiefly and carefully on ensuring there will be no Iranian nuclear weapon, he would have announced the same conclusion. Clearly he has other motivations.

Netanyahu has come to center much of his political career on fearmongering about Iran. In addition to however this tactic works in his favor against domestic political opponents, with his posturing as a tough guy who stands up to foreign threats, endless enmity with an Iran that is endlessly treated as a rogue state serves other purposes for his government. Keeping Iran in an international penalty box lessens the competition for influence from a regime that will continue (certainly as long as the Palestinian issue remains unresolved) its extremely harsh criticism of Israeli policy. The Iranians may be no more irate about those policies than are the governments of the Gulf Arab states, but Iran is not as restrained in its rhetoric as the latter governments are because of their relationship with the United States.

Emphasizing an overriding threat from Iran, as Netanyahu does in any statement or speech about foreign affairs, also serves as a major rationale for continuation of the extraordinary U.S.-Israeli relationship and for framing Middle Eastern affairs in the moderates-vs.-bad-guys-led-by-Iran framework that Netanyahu's government prefers. Undermining any incipient rapprochement between the United States and Iran helps to sustain the notion that Israel is the only reliable partner for the United States in accomplishing anything important in the Middle East. Last but not least, repeatedly invoking Iran as the “real threat” in the Middle East serves to divert attention and change the subject whenever people start to talk about things, such as the occupation of Palestinian territory, that Netanyahu's government would rather not talk about.

Netanyahu surely does not want to see an Iranian nuclear weapon, but his own behavior and positions indicate that neither does he want to see the issue of Iran's nuclear program resolved. It serves his purposes to let the issue fester indefinitely, and to have tension with Iran continue indefinitely. To the extent that the new agreement does resolve the nuclear issue—and even worse from Netanyahu's point of view, to the extent it leads to the United States and Iran doing worthwhile business on other topics—all of the aforementioned advantages to him of endless enmity with, and endless rogue status for, Iran are undermined. And so he is doing everything he can to kill the agreement even though the agreement is in Israel's broader and longer-term interests.

Thus there are the rhetorical excesses such as endless fulminations about repeating Munich. There are Netanyahu's repeated warnings, which he has been making for many years even though they keep getting disproved, that Iran is just a few months away from having a nuclear weapon. There is plenty of other inconsistency and goalpost-shifting, as in presenting his cartoon bomb to the United Nations and then not saying anything more about it after an agreement was negotiated that drained his bomb, or in first denouncing the Joint Plan of Action of November 2013 and then backing off when he was denouncing a later and more comprehensive agreement. Consistency doesn't matter to him; what matters is throwing sand into the gears of U.S. diplomacy.

As always in American politics, when the Israeli government takes this unequivocal a position on something, its lobby springs into action. And so AIPAC is making a huge, cancel-staff-vacations effort to destroy the agreement. Although even AIPAC sometimes has had its own frustrations with the Netanyahu government when the latter has put a highly partisan slant on its interference in U.S. politics, the lobbying organization has its own institutional reasons to continue to beat the drum of Iran as an everlasting threat. An anonymous former AIPAC official comments, “Iran has been the group’s raison d’être for two decades and it doesn’t know what else to do; its troops are trained to attack Iran and the lobby can’t afford to admit failure lest it lose supporters.” The former official continues, “Iran has been an enormously lucrative fundraiser for AIPAC; just look at what they’re spending on this campaign alone. It needs to keep the issue alive for institutional imperatives.”

Partisanship. As conspicuous as the Israeli government's role in the campaign to kill the Iran agreement is the partisan divide in the United States. That divide is immediately apparent in the most recent hearings on the subject, as it has been all along with other Congressional action or attempted action to sabotage the negotiations, such as proposals for new sanctions that would have violated the Joint Plan of Action and torpedoed the whole process. There is nothing in declared Republican Party principles, such as support for free markets, low taxes, and a strong national defense, that explains opposition to the agreement. Nor does any determination to oppose resolutely any possibility of an Iranian nuclear weapon explain the opposition when killing the agreement would mean lifting restrictions under which the Iranian nuclear program currently operates. A more plausible explanation for Republican opposition against the agreement is that it is a major initiative of Barack Obama.

The role of anti-Obamaism in Republican positions has been illustrated by the party's obsessive opposition to the Affordable Care Act, with the dozens of time-wasting repeal votes in Congress and refusal to countenance any acceptance of the act or constructive bipartisan tinkering with it, even though it uses a commercially-based formula that was Romneycare in Massachusetts before it became Obamacare. The ACA is widely regarded as President Obama's biggest single accomplishment in domestic affairs, and the nuclear agreement with Iran is widely regarded as what will be—if it is not killed—his single biggest achievement in foreign affairs. Thus the agreement excites the same partisan impulses and the same urge to kill, no matter what the consequences that killing would have on the subject it addresses. The reflexive, unthinking nature of what flows from those impulses was illustrated by how quickly a large majority of Republican senators (probably to the later regret of many of them) signed on to the atrocious open letter to the Iranians initiated by Tom Cotton, a freshman with less than two months on the job.

Once such a partisan pattern develops, it becomes, as with so many other questions both factual and prescriptive, a guide for party faithful in determining their own opinions. The partisan divide in the public's views of the Iran agreement as recorded in opinion polls reflects to a large extent individual citizens' taking of cues from leaders of the party with which they identify. The self-reinforcing nature of Republican hostility to the agreement has been reinforced further by the contest for the Republican presidential nomination, in which a platoon of contenders has to scramble to get enough attention from the party base just to make it onto a debate platform, and in which a candidate opens himself up for attack just by suggesting that it might not be prudent to demolish on one's first day in office an agreement that had been already working for a couple of years.

The Iran nuclear issue is by no means the first major national security issue in recent years in which careful consideration of what is best for national interests is superseded by reflexive partisanship. Peter Beinart notes significant parallels between the debate (or what passed for debate) on launching the war in Iraq and current debate about the Iran agreement, including how many of the same people who were the most enthusiastic supporters of that blunder of a war are among the most vocal opponents of this agreement. Another parallel, which Beinart does not go into in his piece, concerns how party politics played into each question. With Iraq when Congress voted on a war resolution in 2002, as with Iran today, most of the key swing votes were Democrats. The Democrats in 2002 faced a political hazard if they appeared to resist the post-9/11 tidal wave of American militancy that the war promoters exploited to muster support for their project. That hazard was great enough that the war resolution gained support from a majority of Democrats in the Senate (where most of the party's presidential hopefuls were to be found), though not from most Democrats in the House of Representatives. But the biggest support by far in both chambers came from the nearly unanimous yes votes of Republicans.

Michael Isikoff and David Corn in their book Hubris give an insight into some of the thinking among those Republicans with a quotation from Texas Republican Richard Armey, who was the majority leader in the House at the time. Armey had earlier expressed reservations about starting a war in Iraq. When he and other Congressional leaders received a pro-war briefing, complete with overhead imagery, from Vice President Dick Cheney, Armey was unimpressed. “If I'd gotten the same briefing from President Clinton or Al Gore I probably would have said, 'Ah, b***s***',” recalled Armey. But, he continued, “You don't do that to your own people.” Given the substantive choice between the Iran agreement and killing the agreement and what each of those alternatives would mean for restricting and monitoring the Iranian program, perhaps there are similar private thoughts among some Congressional Republicans today as they listen to arguments that opponents are firing at the agreement. And probably for most of those members party solidarity will again prevail.

Anti-Iran xenophobia. The Islamic Republic of Iran has come to fill, almost from the start of its existence but certainly since the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the USSR, the role of chief bête noire in American minds as far as foreign countries are concerned (although lately Vladimir Putin's Russia has been making a bit of a comeback in that regard). The hostage crisis of 1979-1981 was the worst possible way to get off to a start with a new regime. American emotions and attitudes about Iran have never recovered, and they certainly have not kept pace with major evolution in the Islamic Republic's own attitudes and objectives, which long ago became post-revolutionary in nearly every sense of the term. Put simply, most Americans have a visceral dislike of Iran that leads the emotional to dominate the intellectual, that colors perceptions and fuels major misperceptions of what Iran is up to, and that caters to the most primitive and most negative depictions of the country's regime and its objectives.

Anyone who made a sober and rational appraisal of the alternatives of agreement and no agreement as far as the Iranian nuclear program is concerned could still, no matter how much he or she dislikes Iran, see the wisdom of the agreement. As the administration has repeatedly and truthfully noted, this is an agreement based on distrust, not trust. And as many others have correctly noted, some of the most important agreements one makes are with one's enemies, not one's friends. But in reality, emotionalism and bias often trump sobriety and rationality, as they have to a large degree in this case. The American public's feelings in this regard provide a fertile ground on which those who, for the reasons mentioned earlier, are determined to oppose the agreement can plant mistaken beliefs and can stir up still more negative emotion.

The anti-Iran sentiment affects the debate in several specific ways. The consistent worst-casing of Iranian objectives and intentions leads to many misperceptions because often the worst-case assumption is simply incorrect. (E.g., Iranian leaders are not really out to destroy Israel, and they are smart enough to realize there would be no way for them to do so even if they wanted to.) Clichés and sloppy formulations substitute for any careful examination of what Iran actually has and has not been doing (a problem especially apparent concerning Iran's activities in the Middle East). The regarding of anything Iran does as being by definition “nefarious” overlooks how Iranian actions relate to U.S. interests, sometimes complementing and sometimes conflicting with them. The assumption that Iranian intentions are uniformly malevolent and always will be malevolent leads to gross misunderstanding of actual Iranian intentions, how those intentions underlie what has already happened in the nuclear negotiations, and how intentions and not just capabilities are a major part of the agreement succeeding in the future. And simple distaste for doing any business with a disliked regime is a further impediment to getting public support no matter how much sense the particular business in question makes.

The Israeli government factor, party politics, and inchoate anti-Iran sentiments are the major reasons an agreement that is clearly in U.S. interests is nonetheless a close call in Congress. Other factors might be mentioned but are subsidiary and less in the nature of root causes than are the aforementioned reasons. Money is one such factor. Copious amounts of it are being spent in opposition to the agreement—far more than anything that can be found on the support side. When the public is largely ignorant about an agreement on a technical subject, money is all the more capable of molding opinions. That effect is in addition to what money that is spent for—and against—re-election campaigns can buy more directly in the way of Congressional votes.

The stakes of the agreement's fate in Congress are high. The most immediate and obvious stake is what Secretary Kerry laid out in his testimony this week: killing this agreement would mean an Iranian nuclear program that would be free of any restrictions and any monitoring other than the minimum to which it is subject under the NPT. Killing the agreement also would mean destroying one of the most significant steps in recent years on behalf of nuclear nonproliferation generally. More broadly and perhaps less obviously, it would mean losing an opportunity to remove a shackle from U.S. diplomacy in the Middle East and to be able to address more effectively and directly many other problems of concern to both the United States and Iran. It would mean damage to U.S. credibility and damage to relations with the European allies who were partners in negotiating the agreement.

Considering the chief reasons for opposition to the agreement brings into focus additional stakes. Killing the agreement would entail a subjugation of U.S. foreign policy to the baleful influences behind the opposition. It would mean a failure to break free of the influence of a foreign government that opposes the agreement for reasons that are not shared interests with the United States and in some respects are directly contrary to those interests (including telling the United States whom it can and cannot do business with). It would mean bowing to the money and the influence of bankrollers such as Sheldon Adelson, who favors dropping a nuclear weapon on Iran and who, although a U.S. citizen, wishes he had performed his military service with a foreign government. It would mean subjugating dispassionate consideration of U.S. national interests to raw party politics. It would mean subjugating it as well to xenophobic bias. None of this is America's better side.

Members of Congress need to think carefully about whether this is the way they want U.S. foreign policy to be made. 


TopicsIran Israel Nonproliferation RegionsMiddle East

Get Ready, Japan: Russia Has Its Own Island-Buildup Project

The Buzz

China isn’t the only country embarking on an island-building campaign on disputed territory.

On Thursday, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev reaffirmed that Russia will launch a civilian and military build-up on the Kuril Islands, which Japan also claims.

"We’re restoring both the civilian and defense infrastructure of the Kurils," Medvedev said, according to Russia’s state-owned media.

Medvedev went on to explain that this initiative would be led by the Russian armed forces and Defense Ministry. "The Armed Forces, and the Defense Ministry of Russia are dealing not only with the military but also with the civilian component," the Russian premier said.

Medvedev also announced that he will be visiting the Kuril Islands shortly. "I am planning to go there and have a look how matters stand there,” he said. He further encouraged other Russian cabinet members to visit the islands.

The decision to build up the islands’ infrastructure, as well as have the Russian prime minister and other cabinet members visit the Kuril Islands, is likely to set off tensions with Japan. Tokyo has long claimed the islands, and previously occupied them under the terms of Russia and Japan’s first bilateral treaty, the Treaty of Shimoda, signed in 1855. Soviet forces seized the islands in the waning days of WWII, and Russia and Japan have technically remained at war ever since over the dispute.

Medvedev has a history of placing special emphasis on the Kuril Islands. Indeed, when he was the president of Russia back in October 2010, he visited the Kuril Islands, the first time a Russian or Soviet leader had elected to do so. Medvedev’s trip to the Kuril Islands was followed by other senior Russian officials, including the defense minister, visiting the islands. Naoto Kan, Japan’s prime minister at the time, characterized these visits as “unacceptable rudeness,” and Ruso-Japanese relations deteriorated accordingly.

For a brief time period after Vladimir Putin reassumed the Russian presidency and Shinzo Abe became the Japanese prime minister again, it appeared that Moscow and Tokyo might resolve their long-standing dispute over the Kuril Islands. In April 2013 Abe even traveled to Russia for a summit with Putin, at which both leaders directed their government to work towards a resolution to the dispute.

This peace initiative, while promising at first, was derailed when Japan sided with the United States and Europe over Russia’s actions in the Ukraine. Since then, Russian-Japanese tensions have been rising steadily.

In fact, some even connect Russia’s new initiative to build-up the Kuril Islands as a response to Abe’s decision to visit the Ukraine last month. During that visit, Abe declared his support for President Petro Poroshenko.

In discussing the new initiative on Thursday, however, Medvedev said building up the Kurils was necessary to protect Russia’s frontiers. “It is necessary to join efforts, all the more so as the islands performed and will continue performing not only the usual function but also the function of protecting our frontiers. That is why, special attention is paid to the units of the Russian Armed Forces present there”

Medvedev also said the new initiative would help encourage more people to move to the islands, while also improving the lot of the people already living there.

“The purpose of the new program is to improve the living conditions on the islands, as much as possible, in order to attract people to the region, to ensure those who already live there with jobs, and provide all the necessary social infrastructure such as kindergartens, schools, medical facilities,” he said.

Russia has been discussing trying to build up the Kuril Islands’ social development for some years now, and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced an acceleration of these efforts last month.

Zachary Keck is managing editor of The National Interest. You can find him on Twitter: @ZacharyKeck.

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