Israel & U.S. Allies Attempt to Sabotage Anti-Occupation Campaign

©The Commentator

©The Commentator

In a recent national movement, U.S. state and federal politicians are attempting to stop an international pro-Palestinian divestment campaign from gaining momentum. The campaign, called Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS), hopes to inflict an economic cost on Israel for its continued occupation and the associated harm to Palestinians. Rather than defending what is ostensibly a peaceful country, the effort to “boycott the boycotters” once again draws attention to the moral bankruptcy of many of Israel’s leaders and their allies in the United States, and does nothing to bring peace to the two populations.

In a first step, South Carolina recently became the first state in the U.S. to enact legislation with the goal of fighting the BDS campaign. Under the legislation, all public entities in the state are prohibited from doing business with anyone who supports a boycott of any of the state’s trading partners. [1] A total of nineteen other states now hope to follow in South Carolina’s footsteps and enact similar legislation.

As supporters of BDS point out, however, the actions of U.S. politicians to counter the movement merely exposes their anxiety about its potential. As the Palestinian ambassador to the UN, Riyad H. Mansour, has said, “No matter what [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu says by trying to divert discussion to attack this group, that cannot cover the fact that his government is involved in illegal activities in the occupied territories, especially in settlements. It cannot be defended, including by legislators in the United States of America.” [1]

Indeed, it is increasingly difficult to defend a country that is continually implicated in serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law [2], and whose presence within the Palestinian territories is officially recognized by the majority of the international community—including the International Court of Justice [3]—as a military occupation.

The U.S. Ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, acknowledges that BDS and similar campaigns thrive most easily in the current environment of hostility and stagnation in the peace process. “Negotiations,” he says, “have always been the most effective tool to defeat all of these efforts….If there are no negotiations now, and most of the world does not believe that there will be any time soon, how can we still, first of all, fight against boycotts and sanctions and delegitimization, and how can we preserve the two-state solution as a realistic option?” [4]

Leaders of the BDS campaign compare it to the divestment campaign used in the case of South Africa during the era of apartheid. Many believe that the effort contributed to the ultimate breakdown of that system, and has the same potential in the case of Israel’s occupation.

Interestingly, in a 1999 study, Ivo Welch and C. Paul Wazzan showed that divestment in South Africa had no substantial impact on banks’ and corporations’ valuations, but still had the important effect of raising awareness. “The sanctions,” they said, “may have been effective in raising the public moral standards or public awareness of South African repression, but it appears that financial markets managed to avoid the brunt of the sanctions.” [5] Nelson Mandela, however, has said that divestment was a crucial factor in ending apartheid. [6] Divestment’s true value lies in its ability to reflect, and also generate, public opposition to systematic injustices. In this sense, divestment in South Africa was successful and may now prove useful in the case of Israel.

While divestment itself, and the BDS campaign, may not be the ultimate answer in effecting an about-face in Israel-Palestinian relations, its increasing prominence can serve as part of a broader strategy forcing a reexamination of the issues at play. Sooner rather than later, relations between the two sides are going to come to a head and require a concrete resolution, and actions such as BDS make an eventual peaceful compromise more likely than a replay of large-scale conflict as was witnessed last year.

[1] Gladstone, Rick. “Israel’s Allies in U.S. Challenge Boycott.” The New York Times. The New York Times Company, 05 June 2015. Web. 07 June 2015.Gladstone, Rick. “Israel’s Allies in U.S. Challenge Boycott.” The New York Times. The New York Times Company, 05 June 2015. Web. 07 June 2015.
[2] “World Report 2013: Israel/Palestine.” Human Rights Watch. Human Rights Watch, n.d. Web. 07 June 2015.
[3] “Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.” International Court of Justice. International Court of Justice, n.d. Web. 07 June 2015.
[4] “US Envoy Shapiro: Difficult to Fight Boycott of Israel While Peace Process Frozen.” The Jerusalem Post. Jpost Inc., 4 June 2015. Web. 07 June 2015.
[5] Hendey, Eric. “Does Divestment Work?” Harvard University Institute of Politics. The President and Fellows of Harvard College, n.d. Web. 07 June 2015.
[6] Simmons, Adele. “Outside Opinion: Skeptics Were Wrong; South Africa Divestment Worked.” Chicago Tribune. Chicago Tribune, 15 Dec. 2013. Web. 07 June 2015.


Obama Delivers a Ukrainian Ultimatum



As the latest and most high-level response by the United States to Ukraine’s deepening political crisis, President Obama has warned the country’s government and military to stand down and not resort to more forceful action against protestors in the streets. While Obama’s statements are ostensibly reasonable, they represent another move to secure an outcome favorable to the West’s long-term geostrategic interests in Eurasia under the facade of remaining an objective bystander.

In remarks given to reporters, Obama laid blame for the violence, including any future violence, squarely at the feet of President Yanukovych’s government, saying that the United States holds the government “primarily responsible” for “dealing with peaceful protestors in an appropriate way, that the Ukrainian people are able to assemble and speak freely about their interests without fear of repression.” [1] Across the Atlantic, British prime minister David Cameron similarly has said that Yanukovych has a “particular responsibility” to resolve the situation. [2] Obama promised, “There will be consequences if people step over the line.”

At this stage in the unrest, the label of “peaceful protestors” is at best a dubious one. Those protesting have resorted to hurling chunks of pavement, petrol bombs, and fireworks, and are increasingly resorting to the use of firearms. Ukraine’s health minister has said that at least 600 people have been wounded thus far, with more than half being police officers. [3] Additionally, twenty-six persons are reported dead, ten being police officers. The fact that any police officers should have been killed is alarming, and is an aspect of the unrest that remains conspicuously unaddressed by Western policymakers and media.

While the tear gas and rubber bullets being used on the part of Ukraine’s police officers are regarded as potentially lethal, and thus could explain the deaths of the protestors, the police officers’ deaths seem to indicate that more lethal means are being used by the increasingly radicalized protestors. In footage posted online, masked rioters can be seen firing pistols and rifles, and the Ukrainian Security Service has said that protestors recently seized over 1,500 firearms. [4] This is in addition to a countrywide campaign that has protestors seizing and attacking regional administrative and police buildings. [3]

Despite a truce being declared between the government and the leaders of the main opposition parties, it is extremely tenuous and hasn’t produced any reduction in the violence thus far. At this crossroads in the conflict, it would seem apparent that all outside parties should remain impartial and encourage deescalation. Instead, the U.S. has imposed a preliminary set of sanctions on around twenty members of Ukraine’s government. Secretary of State John Kerry has said that the U.S. is “talking about the possibility of sanctions or other steps with our friends in Europe and elsewhere in order to try to create the environment for compromise.” [2] In contrast, Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov has stated, “We don’t want to impose ourselves, as some of our overly zealous Western partners are trying to do.” [5] At this point, steps such as sanctions are likely to only have the effect of further antagonizing the Ukrainian government.

These events must be seen in the broader context of the ongoing geopolitical tug-of-war between Russia and the West. In former national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski’s book The Grand Chessboard, he states, “Europe is America’s essential geopolitical bridgehead on the Eurasian continent … any expansion in the scope of Europe becomes automatically an expansion in the scope of direct U.S. influence as well.” [6] With Ukraine’s decision last year to not go forward with a pending EU association agreement, the country has suddenly drifted out of the orbit of both Europe and the United States. For Russia to acquiesce in Ukraine becoming subsumed by the EU and NATO “would be to acknowledge that Ukraine’s destiny is no longer organically linked to Russia’s.” Russia would thereby become further alienated from the West and slowly assume a solitary existence. Interestingly, President Obama had to acknowledge, albeit deny, the nature of the current conflict, saying the U.S.’s approach is “not to see this as some Cold War chessboard in which we are in competition with Russia.”

In this dangerous geostrategic contest, Ukraine has been added to the list of proxy battlegrounds between Russia and the West, threatening to evolve into a full-blown civil war. Rather than continuing to tear the country limb from limb, all parties, both internal and external, need to take serious steps toward peace before it becomes too late.

[1] Walsh, Nick Paton, Greg Botelho, and Victoria Butenko. “Truce Declared in Bloodied Ukraine, but Will It Last through Talks?” CNN. Cable News Network, 19 Feb. 2014. Web. 19 Feb. 2014.
[2] Lewis, Paul, Philip Oltermann, and Dan Roberts. “EU and US Consider Sanctions against Ukraine as Death Toll Reaches 26.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 19 Feb. 2014. Web. 19 Feb. 2014.
[3] “Ukraine President Yanukovych Sacks Army Chief amid Crisis.” BBC News. BBC, 19 Feb. 2014. Web. 19 Feb. 2014.
[4] “Rioters Seize over 1,500 Guns in Ukraine Mayhem – Security Services.” RT. TV-Novosti, 19 Feb. 2014. Web. 19 Feb. 2014.
[5] Myers, Steven Lee. “Violence in Ukraine Creates Deepening Clash Between East and West.” The New York Times. The New York Times Company, 19 Feb. 2014. Web. 19 Feb. 2014.
[6] Brzezinski, Zbigniew. The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives. New York, NY: Basic, 1997. Print.

East China Sea: The World’s Dumbest Flashpoint?

China’s decision last month to announce a new Air Defense Identification Zone, and the near-collision of U.S. and Chinese ships in the South China Sea, are only the latest moves in East Asia to bring the reality of a new strategic competition and regional arms race out into the open. The game of chicken being played in the Pacific has very real consequences, and threatens to destroy that ocean’s namesake.

In practice, the ADIZ put in place by China means that international aircraft flying through the particular airspace are required to report their flight plans to China, maintain radio communications and transponder identification, and identify their aircraft with appropriate logos. Aircraft that deviate from these rules become subject to “defensive emergency measures.” [1] Ostensibly, the zone would serve to “reduce military misjudgment, avoid aerial friction and safeguard the flight order and safety.” [2]

The problem, however, is that the ADIZ encompasses islands whose sovereignty is disputed between China, Japan, and Taiwan. Unfortunately, “in contrast with the usual defense zone — which helps build stability by reducing the chances of accidents based on mistaken identity — the unilateral and assertive nature of the new Chinese effort increases the risk of conflict.” [3] The ADIZ also overlaps those of Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. As a result, China’s move seems to have shot itself in the foot, and “will be used as an example of China’s status as a revisionist state and will further strengthen the China threat narrative.” [4]

Already, other Asian countries and the United States have proven themselves willing to test the integrity of China’s ADIZ, carrying out a series of daring and provocative moves in response. Japan, South Korea, and the United States have all carried out overflights of the islands using military planes, and defying China’s new required protocol. In the lead-up to Vice President Biden’s trip to Asia, some even encouraged this dangerous dynamic, saying that, “If Biden doesn’t encourage Japanese and South Korean military planes to fly with the U.S. Air Force and Navy through the contested zones, it will be a missed opportunity. If he displays any indecision, it will be a signal that U.S. resolve may not be as strong as has been presumed so far.” [5] These tit-for-tat flights are already a dangerous and far too common move, with Japan scrambling fighter jets 306 times in the previous fiscal year in response to Chinese aircraft. [6]

In addition to these overflights, South Korea has taken additional steps to push back against Beijing. The country’s navy conducted a sea and air military drill in an area within the ADIZ, [7] and also expanded their own ADIZ more than 300 kilometers to the south. [8]

By making the announcement of its new ADIZ, China is making a three-sided gamble: First, that the U.S. will not deviate from its stated position of neutrality on the island issue. Second, to test the limits of the United States’ support for its most important regional ally, Japan. And thirdly, Beijing intends to test the United States’ commitment to its new “Asia pivot” foreign policy strategy, in which the U.S. gives greater importance to developments in this part of the world. So far, aside from its overflight using B-52 bombers, the United States’ response has been to denounce the move and tell U.S. commercial airlines that, “the U.S. government generally expects that U.S. carriers operating internationally will operate consistent with NOTAMs (Notices to Airmen) issued by foreign countries.” [9] To many hardliners, this cautious move amounts to nothing more than acquiescence.

The dispute over the islands has, stunningly, become little more than a symbolic piece of world politics. The islands will have only modest strategic significance to whomever ends up claiming them. The real question for all the stakeholders is, who will become the Asia-Pacific’s hegemon? In this context, it becomes difficult for any of the actors to back down without losing face. The islands have therefore become a dangerous, and extremely stupid, flashpoint.

Some have pointed out that China’s ADIZ is likely a response to the United States’ operational concept for the Asia-Pacific of “Air-Sea Battle,” seen as a possible threat to China. “Chinese and U.S. military planners,” one analyst says, “are already engaged in a conceptual arms race to produce frameworks for controlling access to the Near Seas.” [10]

Conceptual arms races aside, a very real arms race is developing in East Asia, with each country bringing forth new strategies and weapons. China’s ADIZ has added momentum to the Asian arms race and increases the chances of strategic miscalculation — an unwelcome combination. Japan unveiled its first-ever national security strategy this week, a momentous inflection point in Japan’s history that shows the country’s concern about its security environment and competition with China.

In the strategy, Japan lists China’s activities as one of two “national security challenges” in its immediate environment, referencing China’s activities around Japan, the Senkaku Islands, and the ADIZ. “Such an external stance and military activities by China,” the strategy reads, “have become an issue of concern to the international community including Japan; therefore, the Government of Japan needs to pay careful attention to this situation.” [11] Japan’s strategy means it will begin acquiring drones, amphibious assault vehicles, the new F-35 plane, and other weaponry. Meanwhile, South Korea is building a new naval base and will also buy the F-35, [12] and China’s defense budget continues to grow at double-digit rates. If China decides to put in place another ADIZ in the South China Sea, the countries of Southeast Asia will be sucked further into the dispute.

All this makes it seem as if the Pacific is on the precipice of something terrible. With so many other crises ongoing around the world, the dispute needs to be dealt with before another unnecessary military and diplomatic crisis breaks out.

[1] “Announcement of the Aircraft Identification Rules for the East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone of the P.R.C.” Ministry of National Defense. Ministry of National Defense of the People’s Republic of China, 23 Nov. 2013. Web. 20 Dec. 2013.
[2] Cohen, David. “East China Sea Air Defense Moves: What for and Why Now?” The Jamestown Foundation. The Jamestown Foundation, 27 Nov. 2013. Web. 20 Dec. 2013.
[3] Steinberg, James, and Michael E. O’Hanlon. “China’s Air Defense Zone: The Shape of Things to Come?” Reuters. Thomson Reuters, 16 Dec. 2013. Web. 20 Dec. 2013.
[4] Wang, Zheng. “China’s Puzzling ADIZ Decision Making.” The Diplomat. The Diplomat, 18 Dec. 2013. Web. 20 Dec. 2013.
[5] Auslin, Michael. “US, China Scoreless after One.” American Enterprise Institute. American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, 30 Nov. 2013. Web. 20 Dec. 2013.
[6] Blumenthal, Dan, and Michael Mazza. “Japan: Land of the Rising Gun.” American Enterprise Institute. American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, 20 Dec. 2013. Web. 20 Dec. 2013.
[7] Keck, Zachary. “South Korea Conducts Military Drill in China’s ADIZ.” The Diplomat. The Diplomat, 4 Dec. 2013. Web. 20 Dec. 2013.
[8] Sang-Hun, Choe. “South Korea Announces Expansion of Its Air Defense Zone.” The New York Times. The New York Times Company, 8 Dec. 2013. Web. 20 Dec. 2013.
[9] “China’s Declared ADIZ – Guidance for U.S. Air Carriers.” U.S. Department of State. The Office of Website Management, Bureau of Public Affairs, 29 Nov. 2013. Web. 20 Dec. 2013.
[10] Kazianis, Harry. “AirSea Battle and ADIZ: A Reaction to a Reaction.” The Jamestown Foundation. The Jamestown Foundation, 5 Dec. 2013. Web. 20 Dec. 2013.
[11] “National Security Strategy.” Prime Minister of Japan and His Cabinet. Cabinet Secretariat, Cabinet Public Relations Office, 17 Dec. 2013. Web. 20 Dec. 2013.
[12] Sanger, David E. “In the East China Sea, a Far Bigger Test of Power Looms.” The New York Times. The New York Times Company, 1 Dec. 2013. Web. 20 Dec. 2013.

Interlopers Step in to Scuttle Peace with Iran


One of the most important reasons why hostility between Iran and outside powers over its nuclear program has never been conclusively settled is the fact that for far too many actors, it is not at all in their strategic interest. And now that an interim agreement with Iran is perhaps more tangible than ever before, a whole host of parties are coming out of the woodwork and voicing their dismay at the prospect of peace.

Last weekend, negotiations in Geneva between Iran and the U.S., UK, France, Germany, Russia, and China ran down the clock without any substantial agreement between the parties. According to subsequent reports, it was France that had blocked a last-minute deal. However, a litany of groups, both inside and outside the negotiating room, will ultimately stand against the inking of any agreement with the beleaguered Iranian nation.

The general outline of the deal being negotiated is that in return for Iran temporarily ceasing sections of its nuclear program and consenting to more rigorous inspections, the international sanctions regime leveled against the country would be slowly rolled back and it would be allowed access to a portion of its frozen funds.

Apparently oblivious to the ongoing state of negotiations, the U.S. Congress has threatened to put in place a new set of sanctions that would further tighten the noose around the country’s neck. The Senate Banking Committee is considering letting these new sanctions move forward, a strategy which would prove extremely detrimental to the negotiations. As the State Department spokeswoman has said, “The American people justifiably and understandably prefer a peaceful solution … So as this legislation is being considered, members of Congress need to ask themselves: Do they believe diplomacy should be the first resort, or should we open the door to confrontation?” [1] Although the negotiating countries have said they will not roll back sanctions during this preliminary agreement, [2] instituting new sanctions now would effectively neuter the ongoing negotiations.

Secretary of State Kerry has pointed out that new sanctions “could be viewed as bad faith by the people we’re negotiating with, it could destroy the ability to be able to get agreement, and it could actually wind up setting us back in a dialogue that’s taken 30 years to be able to achieve.” [3] As one commentator has wisely noted, “At a time when Congressional ineptitude is at an all-time high, I’d like to see as little Congressional influence over the highest echelons of U.S. national security policy as possible.” [4] Still, Congressional leaders such as Eric Cantor have gone as far as insisting that, “a Geneva deal would fall short if it did not entirely halt Iran’s nuclear program.” [2] Unrealistic or even harmful beliefs on the part of Congress could end up being the biggest obstacle at this historic juncture.

The immediate butcher of the deal was reportedly France and her foreign minister, Laurent Fabius. Looking at previous instances, it becomes clear that France’s foreign policy vis-à-vis Iran “is often defined in opposition to that of Washington.” [5] However, Secretary of State Kerry attempted to pin the blame on Iran, later saying that, “The French signed off on it, we signed off on it. There was unity but Iran couldn’t take it.” [6] A war of words ensued, when Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif then said in a series of tweets, “Mr. Secretary, was it Iran that gutted over half of U.S. draft Thursday night? And publicly commented against it Friday morning? No amount of spinning can change what happened within 5+1 in Geneva. But it can further erode confidence.” [7] Whatever the case may be, France potentially represents another actor that could recklessly derail future negotiations, being that the country is now recognized by many as “the most hawkish Western nation on matters involving the Middle East and neighbouring areas.” [8] Following the breakdown of negotiations in Geneva, Senator John McCain even tweeted “Vive la France.”

Israel has undoubtedly been the most vocal of those that fancy themselves conscientious objectors to a deal with Iran. This is not at all surprising, given the historical enmity between it and the Islamic Republic. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has argued to Kerry and other participating European foreign ministers that Iran would be making off with the “deal of the century” [2] if even these paltry negotiations are successful. The possibility of an agreement between Iran and the West would come at enormous financial and geopolitical costs to Israel, so naturally it would prefer to see the continuation of hostilities. In the words of one analyst, “If you’re an Israel who’s built your national defense strategy on having this large external threat and positioned yourself in a way that brings the American industrial base and their military prowess to come boost your own limited capabilities, you need that Iranian threat there.” [9] Netanyahu has stepped up his demagoguery, warning that the U.S. would eventually be a nuclear target as well. “Coming to a theater near you — you want that?” he asked a crowd of American Jewish leaders. “Well, do something about that!” [10]

Regional states that identify as ideological or strategic rivals of Iran also have a stake in the failure of negotiations — Saudi Arabia chief among them. These Sunni Arab states would ideally like to see the current Iranian regime’s destruction. In the eyes of the Saudis, “You have their historical competitor in the region coming to some sort of deal or negotiation with the United States, and Saudi Arabia has built its post-Cold War identity as being that partner to the United States in the region.” [9] “Tehran remains the sole serious external threat on the horizon,” to Riyadh, “particularly with the rise of the Shia.” [5] Secretary Kerry has also met with leaders of the United Arab Emirates to allay their concerns that more power would be ceded to Iran during any agreement. [11]

Finally, despite Moscow’s assertions to the contrary, Russia is having to walk a tightrope during the negotiations, between maintaining stability in the Middle East and preserving its own economic interests. “Besides leaving Russia on the margins, the Iran deal threatens to impact the global oil market, shaving perhaps $10 from the oil price. This would deliver a severe blow to the petro-rent-dependent Russian economy.” [12] Russia, if not working towards a deal which favors Iran, is likely to remain a passive observer in the negotiations and follow the lead of the United States.

In the interest of peace, it is now more crucial than ever that these parties temporarily put aside their reservations, lest they spoil a much-needed détente between Iran and the international community. Only then can an accord be clinched that is sound but also pragmatic. During the week ahead, it is in everyone’s interest that cooler heads in Geneva prevail.

[1] “Daily Press Briefing – November 13, 2013.” U.S. Department of State. The Office of Website Management, Bureau of Public Affairs, 13 Nov. 2013. Web. 17 Nov. 2013.
[2] Charbonneau, Louis, and Yeganeh Torbati. “Iran Nuclear Deal Unlikely as Split Emerges in Western Camp: Diplomats.” Reuters. Thomson Reuters, 09 Nov. 2013. Web. 17 Nov. 2013.
[3] “US Congress Pulling the Strings on Iran Sanctions.” YouTube. GlobalResearchTV, 14 Nov. 2013. Web. 17 Nov. 2013.
[4] Panda, Ankit. “The Congressional Threat to an Iran Deal.” The Diplomat. The Diplomat, 16 Nov. 2013. Web. 17 Nov. 2013.
[5] Delpech, Thérèse. Iran and the Bomb: The Abdication of International Responsibility. Trans. Ros Schwartz. New York: Columbia UP, 2007. Print.
[6] Landler, Mark. “Kerry Tries to Reassure Mideast Allies on Iran.” The New York Times. The New York Times Company, 11 Nov. 2013. Web. 17 Nov. 2013.
[7] Cowell, Alan. “Iranian Official Faults Kerry and France for Breakdown in Talks.” The New York Times. The New York Times Company, 12 Nov. 2013. Web. 17 Nov. 2013.
[8] “From Africa to the Middle East, France’s New Hawkishness.” NDTV. Agence France-Presse, 17 Nov. 2013. Web. 17 Nov. 2013.
[9] “Conversation: The State of Negotiations With Iran.” YouTube. STRATFORvideo, 15 Nov. 2013. Web. 17 Nov. 2013.
[10] Gordon, Michael R., Mark Landler, and Jodi Rudoren. “Iran Balked at Language of Draft Nuclear Deal, Western Diplomats Say.” The New York Times. The New York Times Company, 10 Nov. 2013. Web. 17 Nov. 2013.
[11] Landler, Mark. “After Near Miss on Iran, Kerry Says Diplomacy Is Still the Right Path.” The New York Times. The New York Times Company, 11 Nov. 2013. Web. 17 Nov. 2013.
[12] Baev, Pavel K. “Iran’s New Flexibility Exposes Russia’s Arrogance and Irrelevance.” The Jamestown Foundation. The Jamestown Foundation, 11 Nov. 2013. Web. 17 Nov. 2013.

‘Steadfast Jazz’ and the Perpetual Cold War

On Saturday, November 2nd, NATO launched a major military training exercise, its largest since 2006. Considering the magnitude of this exercise and its temporal and geographic setting, it is clear that Exercise Steadfast Jazz represents the continued unraveling of NATO-Russian relations and the perpetuation of a Cold War which never truly ended.

The week-long exercise is being held in the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, as well as Poland, with the participation of all 28 NATO member countries and other non-NATO countries. It encompasses air, land, maritime, and special forces components, and will involve 6,000 troops. According to NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, “The purpose of this exercise is to make sure that our rapid-reaction force, the NATO Response Force, is ready to defend any ally, deploy anywhere and deal with any threat.” [1] The Response Force, he says, “is the spearhead of NATO. Every year, we test it, to make sure that it is sharp and ready for use.” [2] The exercise revolves around a “fictitious scenario in a fictitious country,” but it is not a stretch to say that the exercise simulates a Russian invasion of Poland.

With the expected withdrawal of NATO forces from Afghanistan in 2014, the alliance is floundering for a new raison d’etre. According to NATO, “As the operational tempo is expected to decrease after the combat mission in Afghanistan is completed at the end of 2014, NATO will step up training to maintain readiness and interoperability.” Thus, recent exercises such as Steadfast Jazz which showcase NATO’s Response Force are occurring under the premise of a permanent collective security alliance being necessary. While the merits of such an alliance can be debated to no end, Steadfast Jazz and other similar exercises show that NATO unduly views modern-day Russia as a serious security threat.

As NATO continues its eastward expansion, drawing in new allies and partners which were previously Soviet republics or members of the Warsaw Pact, Russia has become understandably wary. With this expansion has also come the development of the Western allies’ missile defense shield, which would afford it a first-strike capability against potential adversaries such as Russia. Russia had in recent years worked to develop cooperation with NATO in the area of missile defense, but on Sunday gave up and dissolved the working group responsible for this cooperation. [3] It is in this context that Russia feels its western flank is slowly being encroached upon. Add to this the fact that the United States and its NATO allies are still holding out the possibility of unjustifiable military intervention in Syria and Iran, close Russian allies to its south. Geopolitical chess pieces are being deftly maneuvered as NATO seeks the strategic upper hand across Eurasia.

In the words of Russian Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov, “These drills are in the spirit of the Cold War.” [4] The last thing the world needs is for two nuclear-armed powers to fall more deeply into a period of hostile bipolarity, but military exercises such as Steadfast Jazz only serve to engender mutual suspicion and create such an unpleasant scenario.


House of Saud Announces its Own Funeral


Among the things known to get Saudi Arabia’s ruling monarchy worked up into a lather—such as the idea of democracy or women driving cars—add to the list an American foreign policy that isn’t recklessly aggressive and militaristic.

Top Saudis have recently been throwing a diplomatic temper tantrum, making political and rhetorical moves that rebel against the United States’ Middle East foreign policy. Last week, Saudi Arabia turned down a seat in the United Nations Security Council. This week, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the kingdom’s intelligence chief, and Prince Turki al-Faisal have made public and not-so-public remarks denouncing American policies and threatening that a “major shift” in bilateral relations is in the pipeline.

These unprecedented maneuvers are, apparently, a result of the Obama administration’s policies toward Syria, Iran, Bahrain, and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. The Saudi establishment’s grievances, while understandable when seen from their perspective, are laughable and only demonstrate the kingdom’s quickly fading political relevance.

Syria and Iran represent extreme ideological and geostrategic rivals to the Wahhabist regime in Saudi Arabia, and it only makes sense that the country would wish to hasten their demise. Washington’s willingness to engage in diplomacy, negotiation, and general peacemaking with these two countries has now become a thorn in the side of the kingdom.

The United States’ reluctance to rain down cruise missiles on Damascus in support of their rebel proxies, many of whom are international jihadists supported by Saudi Arabia, has allowed the Assad regime to—at least temporarily—survive, continue quelling the uprising, and work toward the conflict’s resolution. Meanwhile, the West’s and the United States’ commitment to continue multinational negotiation with Iran’s new president Rouhani over the country’s nuclear program has given that regime a similar lease on life.

In Bahrain, the ruling Sunni monarchy has brutally cracked down on the Shiite majority’s version of the Arab Spring uprising, with significant security assistance from Saudi Arabia. Again, the Saudi establishment’s extreme Wahhabi ideology predisposes them to contempt for the Shiite sect, and means they have no qualms about intervening in a conflict in which numerous human rights violations against the country’s population have been documented. The United States’ reluctance to explicitly support this crackdown is not only reasonable, but morally necessary.

Finally, Prince Turki’s complaint of U.S. “dithering” on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process is ludicrous. Secretary of State Kerry has already dedicated a large amount of time during his tenure to restarting negotiations. Too much, some officials and commentators have even said, arguing that it has come at the expense of other policy priorities.

Following meetings with the Saudi Arabian foreign minister, Secretary Kerry worked to address concerns about a fissure in U.S.-Saudi relations, saying, “I think there’s a clear understanding in our relationship going forward, and I have great confidence that the United States and Saudi Arabia will continue to be the close and important friends and allies that we’ve been.” [1] Despite such assurances, these recent Saudi actions seem to point to serious misgivings within the regime about their relationship with the U.S.

In the words of one Saudi analyst, “The message is: You need us. And we are not going to play ball with you until you wake up.” [2] Unfortunately for the kingdom, the relationship flows in just the opposite direction, and Saudi Arabia desperately relies on the U.S. to maintain its security and influence.

Ever since the Saudi kingdom’s formation at the behest of the British Empire, the West’s underwriting of the Saudi regime has played a large role in sustaining the kingdom’s legitimacy, viability, and regional influence. By threatening to withdraw from this relationship, the House of Saud has taken another step toward solidifying its position as a strategic liability and hastening its own downfall. If the kingdom begins uncoupling its foreign policy from Washington’s, especially at a time when the United States is working toward energy independence, it risks becoming a much less important ally and falling by the wayside.