Archive | November 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.