Obama's Folly: The Iran Deal Disaster

The Buzz

In his press conference on Wednesday, President Obama said that his deal with Iran is the best outcome that could be achieved.  History proves otherwise.  Unlike past successful non-proliferation efforts with respect to states seeking nuclear weapons, this deal moves Iran further down the path toward obtaining a nuclear weapon. Indeed, the deal actually recognizes Iran’s "right" to enrich uranium and Iran will keep at least five thousand nuclear centrifuges spinning into the future. Six previous United Nations Security Council Resolutions stated the opposite. Iran flouted those resolutions and is now being rewarded for its clandestine and illegal nuclear enrichment activity.

When South Africa, for example, ended its nuclear weapons program in 1992, it not only dismantled its weapons stockpile, the country completely shut down its entire nuclear weapons program under IAEA supervision. When Libya came clean on its weapons of mass destruction program, it turned over every scrap of illegal material and dismantled its weapons making infrastructure. Not so here. Iran will keep the Fordow bunker “for nuclear research.” It will keep its Arak reactor (albeit, modified) and all other illicit sites it developed to build an atom bomb. South Africa and Libya were non-proliferation success stories. This Iran deal is not.

Iran is a sworn enemy of the United States. It is a revolutionary regime that is committed to changing the contours of the entire Middle East and destroying America’s key regional ally, Israel. Iran has held American diplomats hostage, currently holds Americans, including journalists, hostage and has killed hundreds of American servicemen and women in Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan, directly or through proxies, since taking power. There is simply no evidence to support the idea that we can trust revolutionary Iran to give up its long-term goal of developing a nuclear weapon and delivery systems.

In addition to legitimizing Iran’s now supposedly "peaceful" atomic program, the deal will likely lead to a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. It is hard to imagine that Sunni states such as Egypt, Turkey and, especially, Saudi Arabia, will not immediately begin the process of procuring nuclear arms on their own or from a sympathetic third country like Pakistan to counter Iran, which will in essence be an internationally recognized nuclear threshold state.

Further, Iran will receive tens of billions of dollars in sanctions relief. In addition to expanding its own military forces, there is no doubt that much of that money will be funneled to Iranian proxies such as Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Assad regime in Syria, Shia militias in Iraq and Houthis rebels in Yemen, not to mention Hamas in Gaza, which Iran has supported in the past. All of these groups are at war with or threaten America's friends and allies in the region. The economics of this deal will surely increase the volatility of an already dangerous region.

President Obama claims that without this deal, the current sanctions regime covering Iran would have crumbled. This claim strains credulity. Nations that wanted to drop sanctions and trade with Iran would face the prospect of being frozen out of world banking and trade systems. Siding with Iran over America and her fifty plus allies around the world, not to mention most Arab states, which have the same interest as America in keeping up pressure on Iran, would be an unlikely step for most nations. However, when Iran is discovered to have flouted this deal just as it has flouted UN sanctions and the Non Proliferation Treaty over the years, it will be difficult to reimpose crippling sanctions on Tehran. The bottom line is that it’s far less likely that “snap back” sanctions will ever be imposed on Iran than the current sanctions regime would have crumbled.

It is unprecedented that President Obama is taking this major and likely damaging step in the foreign policy arena with absolutely no bipartisan support. This deal with revolutionary Iran will be opposed by all leading Republican candidates for president. It will be overwhelmingly rejected by Republican members of the House and Senate. Our closest ally in the region and the Middle East’s only true democracy, Israel, is dead set against deal. The same is true for our key Arab allies. In response, the president in his press conference lumped Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, “the Israeli Ambassador” and “the Republican Leadership” into a group that must argue for a new Middle Eastern “war” as the only viable alternative to his deal with Iran’s Supreme Leader. This straw man argument that America only has a choice between the president’s weak deal and “war” is so discredited as to no longer merit a serious response.  

After Prime Minister Chamberlain signed the Munich Accords with the Supreme Leader of another ideological and cruel regime, Winston Churchill said in Parliament that the British people “should know that we have sustained a defeat without a war, the consequences of which will travel far with us along our road..." Sadly, his prophetic warning in 1938 appears to be applicable to us today.

Robert C. O'Brien is the California Managing Partner of a national law firm. He served as a US Representative to the United Nations.  He is a Senior Advisor to Governor Scott Walker. His writings on foreign policy and national security are available at He can be followed on Twitter: @robertcobrien.

TopicsPolitics RegionsMiddle East

Time For A Stronger U.S.-Australia Alliance?

The Buzz

Having just read the joint CSIS-ANU 'audit' of the U.S. alliance, published this week, a few of us here in Australia wondered whether the Australian public would support the sort of intensified alliance proposed by the report's authors.

It has been said that the finer points of foreign policy don't decide elections here in Australia. So, does it even matter what the great unwashed thinks about the alliance? As one commentator has pointed out, “the last mainstream Australian politician to openly criticize United States policy was Mark Latham, and look what happened to him at the ballot box.” The unpopularity of Australia's participation with its alliance partner in the Iraq war must have contributed to some degree to the Howard government loss in 2007.

So, perhaps one shouldn't blithely dismiss the relevance of public opinion on foreign policy generally, and the U.S. alliance in particular.

The report, The ANZUS Alliance in an Ascending Asia, has three main policy recommendations for the alliance:

1.     It should refocus on the Asia Pacific

2.     It should serve as a 'central hub for Asian regional order and architecture'.

3.     It should play a leading role in enhancing maritime security in the region.


The sorts of practical measures proposed include working more closely together with partners such as India and Indonesia in 'minilateral' security processes, along the lines of the increased cooperation between Australia, Japan and the U.S. in the past few years (this week, Japan is for the first time participating in the Talisman Sabre exercise with Australian and US military forces). In the maritime arena, the report recommends Australia and New Zealand provide “badly needed strategic operating locations” to compensate for the limited U.S. presence in the South Pacific. Other recommendations include sharing Australia's technological expertise and capability (radars, remote sensing), and more combined maritime operations to ensure open sea lines of communication.

None of this should pose much of a problem from the perspective of Australian public opinion.

The report's authors note the strong support for the alliance recorded in Lowy Institute Polls (now with 11 years of data on support for the alliance — check it out on our upgraded interactive tool) and from other polls, including those by ANU.

Even more persuasive evidence (not picked up in the report) is Australian support for basing U.S. forces here in Australia, regardless of China's condemnation of the 2011 announcement that U.S. Marines would have a permanent presence in Darwin. In 2011, before the Darwin announcement, a majority (55%) of Australians were in favor of “Australia allowing the United States to base U.S. military forces here in Australia.” Asked again in 2013, support was even stronger, with 61% of us in favor.

It is the first recommendation in the report – the 'refocus' on the Asia Pacific, which may cause problems for the punters, inoffensive as it sounds.

Australians are confident that the U.S. will continue to guarantee Australia's security well into the future, with two-thirds (66%) of the adult population in our 2013 Poll saying it's likely “Australia will still be able to rely on the alliance in 20 years' time.” However, they are far less enthusiastic about the reciprocal support Australia might be pressed to provide, particularly in inconvenient places like Asia.

In our 2013 Poll, we asked whether Australia “should act in accordance with our security alliance with the US even if it means supporting US military action” (a) “in the Middle East, for example, against Iran,” or (b) “in Asia, for example, in a conflict between China and Japan.” Less than half (48%) thought we should support US action in the Middle East. Even fewer (38%) would support US military action in Asia. Three-quarters (76%) thought Australia should only support US military action if it is authorized by the UN. 

In short, most Australians want the U.S. to support us in times of need, but aren't necessarily prepared to return the favor, as Rory Medcalf pointed out at the time.

It's not just public opinion that trends in this direction. As Michael Green et al point out in their report, the Australian Government is free-riding on the alliance as well, with Australia's defense budget in 2012 at its lowest level as a percentage of GDP since 1938. Recognizing this, the Abbott Government has begun to redress the imbalance with a significant boost to the Defense budget in 2014 and a more modest one in 2015.

The Asia 'refocus' recommendation is controversial because, reading more closely, it involves some tough prioritizing for Australia. The argument made in the report is that Australia's military involvement in the Middle East (which is more palatable to the Australian public) has distracted us and diverted funds from the “needed geopolitical focus on challenges in the Asia-Pacific” (less palatable to the Australian public). The corollary is that while Australia needs to refocus, the U.S. needs to reconsider its demands on us, because Australia cannot afford significant military commitments in both the Middle East and Asia Pacific. It has to choose.

This all makes perfect sense from a strategic point of view. The soon-to-be released Defense White Paper may well recommend similar policy shifts. But if these are up for serious consideration by Government, it needs to be with the full realization that they will require persuasive selling to win over a nervous Australian public.

 This piece first appeared in the Lowy Interpreter here

Image: Flickr/ Office of the Prime Minister. 

TopicsSecurity RegionsAsia

India's Top Banker: World Heading towards New Great Depression?

The Buzz

The head of India’s central bank, who predicted the 2007-2008 financial crisis, is now warning that the world may be gradually headed towards another Great Depression.

Speaking at an economics conference at the London Business School late last month, Raghuram Rajan, the governor of the Reserve Bank of India, claimed that the monetary policies of the leading developed nations could be creating conditions similar to those that led to the Great Depression.

“I do worry that we are slowly slipping into the kind of problems that we had in the thirties in attempts to activate growth,” Rajan said, according to multiple reports.

He added: “And, I think it's a problem for the world. It's not just a problem for the industrial countries or emerging markets, now it's a broader game.”

Rajan, who previously served as the International Monetary Fund’s chief economist, was referring to the efforts by central banks in developed countries to use excessively low interest rates to spur economic growth following the global financial crisis. These policies, commonly referred to as quantitative easing, have been adopted by the central banks of the United States, the European Union and Japan.

QE spurs lending in the domestic economy, which helps to combat high unemployment. It also keeps currencies low, which makes exports more competitive on the global market (and imports more expensive).

QE in developed countries also produces what Rajan and others have called “spillover” effects in less developed countries like India. Specifically, investors flee from developed countries to developing ones in search of higher yields. In the words of The Economist, QE has created “a firehose of money to emerging economies that cannot manage the cash.”

This creates a lot of volatility, and could upend the developing economies especially when QE ends in the developed countries, and investors start pulling out of the developing countries they are currently investing in. It also makes the currencies of those countries not engaged in QE relatively uncompetitive, hurting their exports.

Rajan’s fears this latter action could result in countries taking retaliatory actions to retain their market shares, much as they did during the 1930s. As he warned at the conference last month: "The question is are we now moving into the territory in trying to produce growth out of nowhere we are in fact shifting growth from each other, rather than creating growth. Of course, there is past history of this during the Great Depression when we got into competitive devaluation.”

This is hardly the first time Rajan has raised such concerns. In just one of many examples, last year he wrote an article which warned that “Central banks, in an effort to keep capital away and hold down the exchange rate, risk becoming locked into a cycle of competitive easing aimed at maximizing their countries’ share of scarce existing world demand.”

In both his recent speech and that earlier commentary article, Rajan argued that the International Monetary Fund must create “rules of the game” and help coordinate the different policies. Still, after Rajan’s speech last month received a lot of media attention in India, the Reserve Bank of India tried to walk back his comments.

In a statement released shortly after the speech, RBI said “Governor Rajan did not imply or suggest that there was any risk of the world economy, which is in steady recovery notwithstanding uncertainties like those in the Euro area, slipping into a new Great Depression.”

What he did say, according to the statement, “was that the policies followed by major Central banks around the world were in danger of slipping into the kind of beggar-thy-neighbor strategies that were followed in the 1930s.”

As the governor of RBI, Rajan has an interest in deterring QE in developed countries as India is often the victim of these policies. Still, Rajan was making such warnings long before he assumed his current position.

Moreover, Rajan’s views should be taken seriously because he was one of the few economists who predicted the global financial crisis. When he first warned of the impending global financial crisis in 2005, most of the world’s leading economists dismissed his claims.

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

Image: Flickr/World Bank

TopicsEconomicsGlobal Governance

Watch Out, China: India's Navy Wants 200 Warships

The Buzz

India aspires to have a 200-ship navy by 2027, a senior naval official revealed this week.

According to India’s Economic Times, Admiral P. Murugesan, the vice chief of India’s naval staff, said that the navy is seeking to have 200 warships operational by 2027, up from just 137 at present.

“The senior officer shared that the aspiration of the Navy—which currently has 48 ships under construction on various shipyards across the nation—is to become a 200 ship navy by 2027. At present, the Navy operates 137 combatants with new ships being added at a rate of 4-5 a year,” the Economic Times report said.

This means that India’s shipyards will have to ramp up production in the coming years, especially when factoring in that some of India’s current warships will have to be retired by 2027. A more likely scenario is that India will purchase more foreign ships in the years ahead in order to reach its target of 200 ships.

Already, India is one of the largest purchasers of foreign arms. In fact, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, a Swedish think tank, India was the largest arms importer for the years 2010-2014. During that time, India was the recipient of 15 percent of all international arms transfers, up from just 9 percent in the five years prior. India’s arms purchases increased 140 percent during this period.

By contrast, India’s domestic arms industry continues to suffer from severe delays in rolling out new systems, due partly to the excessive red tape involved in India’s bureaucracy. Thus, it is safe to assume that if India’s Navy boasts 200 warships by 2027, a large part of its fleet will have been purchased from abroad. Russia has traditionally been India’s top arms supplier, although the United States has been challenging Moscow for this title in recent years.

India’s desire to have 200 warships by 2027 is indicative of its growing concern over China’s rising military might. As The National Interest has previously noted, in recent months Delhi has been particularly concerned about Chinese submarines patrolling the Indian Ocean, where India seeks to be the dominant power. One recent report in India’s media noted that “the deployment of the relatively advanced Shang Class nuclear fast attack boat, [is] a significant cause of concern at [India’s] Naval Headquarters.”  

And for good reason: some in Chinese defense circles have boasted that Beijing could blockade most of India’s important ports using just six nuclear attack submarines.

Back in May of this year, a Chinese nuclear submarine docked in Pakistan for the first time ever. This followed Chinese submarines docking at Sri Lanka, another neighbor of India, on a number of occasions last year.

One way that India is seeking to combat this threat is by building up a more potent undersea fleet of its own. In that regard, during his interview with the Economic Times this week, Admiral P. Murugesan revealed that Delhi has begun work on building six indigenous nuclear attack submarines.

"The government has given approvals for six new SSNs (nuclear attack submarines) earlier this year. We have started work but still are at the pen to paper stage," Murugesan said.

He added that India was hoping to complete the project within the next 15 years.

"These things take time but we will be able to improve on the timelines that the pioneers (nations) have set which typically took over 15 years for such a project," Murugesan was quoted as saying.

India is also currently in negotiations with Russia over leasing another Russian-built nuclear attack submarine.

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

Image: Indian Navy

TopicsSecurity RegionsAsia

If America Went to War with China, What Would Washington's Allies Do?

The Buzz

The ANZUS study released this week by SDSC in conjunction with CSIS (PDF) says a lot of interesting things about the U.S. alliance, but it seems to evade the hard issue at the heart of the strategic choices confronting both Australia and America today: what order do we wish to see in Asia in the Asian Century, and what role should America aim to play in it?

The SDSC–CSIS paper certainly raises this question, in commendably clear and direct terms:

"Ultimately, U.S. and Australian grand strategy must return to first principles: what is the regional and global order we seek; what are the ways and means we have to achieve and sustain that order; and how then does our strategic approach to China fit in?"

But it provides no answer. The closest we get is this passage from what appears to the CSIS-drafted section of the paper:

“Chinese leaders should be reassured that the United States and Australia are committed to integrating Beijing into an international order that permits it to take a larger leadership role, as long as doing so does not undermine regional security or weaken rules and norms vital to a peaceful order.”

That doesn’t help much. It doesn’t tell us what kind of order is needed to uphold regional security and what rules and norms that requires. And it doesn’t address the really critical question about who gets to decide these things, and at what cost.

This passage seems to imply that America decides—perhaps with Australia’s help—what kind of order is acceptable and what role is acceptable for China to play in it. But can we take this for granted? China’s rise poses big questions for Asia’s strategic future precisely because it’s now powerful enough to contest U.S. preferences on these questions. America and its allies can no longer assume that they can dictate the regional order or the terms of their relationship with China. These now have to be negotiated with China—or fought over.

So America and Australia each have to decide what elements of the regional order are negotiable with China, and what elements are not. We can’t assume that the two allies will reach the same conclusions. For example, Americans may decide that U.S. primacy is the only acceptable basis for order in Asia, whereas Australians might decide that a strong U.S. role short of primacy might be good enough.

That would mean America would be willing to confront and if necessary fight China to preserve primacy, while Australians would not. This is not an abstract question: it is exactly what would be at stake if a clash occurs, for example, over the Senkakus or Taiwan.

If Washington decided to fight China in such circumstances, it would be because they saw that as essential to preserving U.S. primacy in Asia—which would be right—and that preserving U.S. primacy was worth a war with China—which might not be right. Conversely, if Australia decided not to support America militarily—which is at least a clear possibility—it would show that we didn’t think U.S. primacy was worth a war with China.

So there are very real potential differences between Australia and America over what aspects of the future regional order are worth fighting China over, and that points to the possibility of fundamental differences in the two countries’ strategic objectives. This is what threatens the future of the alliance.

The SDSC–CSIS paper seems to assume that these differences will be resolved, so that American and Australian objectives in Asia will remain as closely aligned in future as they have been in the past. The same assumption that is made by the two governments, of course. But that doesn’t make it right. And if it turns out to be wrong, then the practical measures and policy ideas proposed by the paper will mean nothing.

This piece first appeared in ASPI’s The Strategist here.

TopicsSecurity RegionsAsia