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December 10, 2016 / 10 Kislev, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘geopolitics’

In the Short Run, Biden Might Well Keep his Promise that Iran Won’t Get Nukes

Thursday, November 13th, 2014

{Originally posted at author’s website, Liberty Unyielding}

It’s not just the promise, of course.  It’s the Bidenesque way he makes it:

Monday, Biden had to remind Israeli leaders that the U.S. is not seeking a negotiation with Iran at Israel’s expense.

“I have heard so much malarkey about our position on Iran,” Biden said. “We will not let Iran acquire a nuclear weapon, period. I would not put my 42-year reputation on the line if I were not certain when I say it. We mean it.”

Daniel Greenfield casts a doubt or two on that 42-year reputation, and that’s fair enough.  We would be fools to take seriously such assurances from Joe Biden.

But there are reasons why Iran may well delay that moment of focused provocation when the radical Islamic regime proves itself nuclear armed.  If the Iranians don’t have the means to offer that proof yet, they are very close to it – so close that it is now their choice how fast to move, and in what way.

Where we are

Iran now lacks only the public demonstration of uranium enrichment to a weapons-grade level (above 95%), and a detectable warhead detonation.  To talk of a “breakout” capacity – a bomb-in-waiting – as something we are still looking for is now misleading.  Using such terms suggests that there is something more we need to see from Iran, before we officially set the breakout watch.

But the reality is that there is nothing we have yet to see that we can reliably expect to see.  We’ve reached the point at which it is prudent to assume the breakout watch has already started – and imprudent not to.

Fifteen years ago, Iran did not have a reliable uranium enrichment process; did not have an industrial-scale infrastructure for enrichment; did not have a stockpile of enriched uranium; did not have her own uranium production capacity; did not have a detonator mechanism for a uranium warhead; did not have a missile that could deliver a nuclear warhead; and did not have anything close to an intercontinental missile capability.

As little as six years ago, moreover, the United States had more than enough ready combat power, between our Air Force and Navy, to quickly strike a meaningful blow against an Iranian nuclear infrastructure that was still comparatively rudimentary and geographically concentrated.

Both of those conditions have changed significantly.  Iran now does have all the things she lacked in 1999: enough low-enriched uranium for at least 7-8 warheads; a proven enrichment process, including enrichment to higher purity (19.75%); an industrial-scale infrastructure, with geographic dispersion; an indigenous uranium production capacity (see here and here); a tested detonator mechanism for a nuclear warhead; at least one medium-range ballistic missile series that could deliver a nuclear warhead; and a satellite/rocket program advanced enough to support ICBM testing in as little as 1-3 years.  Iran has acquired almost all of these things since UN sanctions were implemented in 2007, and under the regime of IAEA inspections.

Reminder: Nothing has interrupted the trend of Iran’s uranium enrichment. Red column shows low-enriched UF6 stockpiled (versus total cumulative enrichment in blue), once Iran began enriching some stock to 20% in Jan 2012. Although Iran has “downblended” her 20%-enriched stock, the rate of increase in the total stockpile of 5% LEU has been robust: 17% from 11/13 to 11/14. (Data source: IAEA)

Reminder: Nothing has interrupted the trend of Iran’s uranium enrichment. Red column shows low-enriched UF6 stockpiled (versus total cumulative enrichment in blue), once Iran began enriching some stock to 20% in Jan 2012. Although Iran has “downblended” her 20%-enriched stock, the rate of increase in the total stockpile of 5% LEU has been robust: 17% from 11/13 to 11/14. (Data source: IAEA)

American military power, in the meantime, has declined to such an extent that mounting a quick, comprehensive strike on the Iranian infrastructure is no longer feasible.  We couldn’t do it quickly.  Not only could we not do it quickly; we couldn’t do it without first restoring the readiness of military units we no longer keep at their highest readiness level.  It would take months to prepare for a comprehensive strike campaign – and would require the prior allocation of special funding from Congress.

Where Iran once wanted to be

Iran’s vision for the future has been shaped, as everyone’s has, by the consequences of the Arab Spring.  It has also been shaped by the withdrawal of American power under Obama.

Four or five years ago, Iran took as a given the U.S. posture in the larger Middle East.  That posture included a key strategic presence in both Iraq and Afghanistan; close partnerships with almost all the Gulf Cooperation Council nations; special relationships, including military cooperation, with both Egypt and Israel; and unchallenged supremacy on the regional seas.

Iran’s basic objective was to peel America’s partners away through the pressure of proxy insurgencies (and other underhanded tactics), and thus squeeze us out of the region.  The first-order purpose of having the bomb was to immunize Iran against retaliation in that process, as the USSR had immunized itself with a nuclear “deterrent” force when it worked through proxy conflicts in the Cold War.

Iran also set her sights on chokepoints in the regional waterways, from the Strait of Hormuz through the Red Sea and all the way to Morocco and the Strait of Gibraltar.  No one was close to having a navy that could challenge the U.S. Navy, but even great navies are vulnerable in chokepoints.

At a kind of eschatological-strategic level, meanwhile, just as the Arab Spring was unfolding in early 2011, Iranian TV was running a mullah-approved “documentary” that outlined a scheme of military preparation for the arrival of the “twelfth imam.”  Mahmoud Ahmadinejad figured as a great military commander from Shia prophecy in this fantastical oeuvre, which depicted a dénouement in the armed conquest of Jerusalem.  (“Rescuing” Jerusalem had already figured for years in Iranian policy rhetoric, as well as in the concept of some major military exercises.)

Where Iran now wants to be

In the years since Obama took office, much has changed.  One thing hasn’t, and that’s Iran’s interest in gaining leverage at critical chokepoints in the regional seaways.  But some of the focused urgency has been bled out of the pressure campaign against America’s regional partners, in part because of the Arab Spring, and in part because Barack Obama has been doing an excellent job of peeling them away from us himself.

The momentum of Iran’s efforts has shifted to a new, more geographically focused vector, one that as recently as 2011 appeared to be unthinkable.  Where once Iran was confined to putting general pressure on various American partners in the region, and perhaps maneuvering to leapfrog nearby territory in which we seemed established – Iraq, Jordan, Israel – Iran can now realistically contemplate making an “internal” line of communication (LOC) through that territory.  She might accomplish that by proxy first, and then, eventually, exploit the LOC directly.

In fact, with much of the territory in question now disputed between ISIS and a weak Iraqi government, Iran has all the more reason for being there, with advisors and military equipment.

The bonus?  The U.S., weakened and compromised as our power is, has signed up to do at least some of the fighting against ISIS.  If Iran plays her cards right, American forces will open her strategic LOC through the heart of the Middle East for her.

J. E. Dyer

Great News: US Has Security Plan for the ‘West Bank’

Thursday, December 5th, 2013

One has to be sparing with exclamation points, but this one’s a lollapalooza.  A dilly!  A doozie.  A big honkin’ mess-a that Middle East Security Hotness.  You heard right folks:  the United States of America has a “West Bank security proposal” for Israel, and we’re sending a retired Army general to present it to Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu, himself.  !!!!!!!!!!

Why did no one think of this before?  Finally, someone has done something pragmatic and positive about the Israeli-Palestinian standoff, and just written up a proposal for the Israelis to chew on already.  The Obama administration has at last gotten things off top dead center with Iran, and it’s time to tackle those other intractable Middle East Security Problems, while the momentum is still red-hot.

The New York Times has done yeoman work in recent years pitching verbatim the information themes of the Obama administration, but interestingly, it comes off as a tad perfunctory in the story about the West Bank security proposal.  The tale seems to lack a little of that believer’s heart to it.  You might almost get the sense that there’s some editorial skepticism about the wisdom of this fresh Brainstorming for Peace initiative.

Almost.  Letting the Obama administration off the hook, as usual, for vagueness and strange diplomatic fire, NYT notes the following:

General Allen’s presentation appears to signify a more active American role, in which the United States is doing more than coaxing the Israelis and the Palestinians to negotiate and is presenting its own ideas.

What are the ideas about, exactly?  The NYT authors again:

Officials involved in the negotiations said security had been the prime focus lately, with most of the discussion revolving around the Jordan Valley. Israel has insisted that its own military continue to patrol there, rather than rely on an international force similar to those responsible for its tense borders with Lebanon and Syria. The Palestinians have said they cannot abide the presence of any Israeli soldiers in their future state.

Keep in mind, if George W. Bush’s officials were being so elliptical about a U.S.-drafted West Bank security proposal, NYT would be right in there concluding indignantly that American troops were about to be drop-kicked into the Jordan Valley to embroil a duped and overextended United States in Another Vietnam Quagmire (Marine Barracks Beirut Variety).  It would be barely possible to figure out what the Bush administration had actually said, so thick would be the underbrush of quotes from policy “critics” through which the reader would have to hack.

No such quotes enliven the current NYT piece.  The Obama administration gets the benefit of the doubt.  Maybe putting U.S. prestige and bona fides on the line with an unsolicited, and apparently very specific, security proposal to an ally isn’t a bad idea.  Maybe it’s not undiplomatic and prejudicial to announce it publicly before our briefer has even presented it to Israel’s prime minister.  Maybe it’s just, what, enthusiastic.  Maybe there’s nothing to be concerned about in the fact that the preemptive announcement is so vague.  Hey, we’re just talking – probably – a about U.S. proposal for administering military security in the Jordan Valley.  What could go wrong?

NYT lets this priceless, preemptive characterization go without comment:

State Department officials described the security briefing as an “ongoing process” and not a finished product on which the United States was demanding a yes-or-no vote from the Israeli side.

Sure, because announcing it in advance will put no onus on Israel to respond in a yes-or-no-type manner.  This formulation is like an addict pleading that he’s not using, he’s just snorting some coke.

J. E. Dyer

Hagel’s “Global Zero” Plan

Monday, January 14th, 2013

Former Senator Chuck Hagel, nominated to be Secretary of Defense, is also a signatory of what is known as the “Global Zero” plan. It calls for the United States and Russia to begin comprehensive nuclear arms negotiations in early 2013 to achieve zero nuclear weapons worldwide by 2030 in four phases.

The first phase would be a reduction of the U.S. nuclear arsenal to 1,000 weapons from its current level — some number slightly less than 5,000 warheads. While the U.S. has now deployed 1,550 strategic nuclear weapons, the new total would include stored and reserve weapons, as well as warheads considered tactical and deployed in Europe, and therefore not regulated by current arms control agreements. By way of comparison, the former head of the U.S. Strategic Command laid out in a summer 2012 essay the comparable Russian arsenal, which he estimated was probably in excess of 10,000 nuclear warheads — a number considerably higher than many current and previous estimates of the Russian nuclear arsenal, and nearly twice that of the United States.

The Global Zero plan first would remove all U.S. tactical nuclear weapons from U.S. combat bases in Europe to storage facilities in the United States. However, while these tactical U.S. weapons would no longer be able to defend Europe and NATO, Russians weapons would be able to attack all of Europe in a relatively short time — launching weapons from bases in Russia, where they would be stored, reconstituted and redeployed. Given the nature of such weapons systems, the verification of such efforts would be extremely difficult, if not impossible.

The real eye-opener is that the 1,000 ceiling for the U.S. would include our tactical nuclear weapons and stored weapons for reserve emergencies, and the currently deployed 1,550 weapons. The implication is that Hagel is pushing an 80% cut in overall U.S. deployed weapons. If done proportionately, that would involve a reduction to fewer than roughly 300 total deployed strategic nuclear warheads, a level less than China, and less than India and Pakistan combined.

This further signals the elimination of the U.S. strategic nuclear Triad (air, sea and land) — 300 accountable warheads would enable the deployment of a limited bomber or submarine or IBM leg of our nuclear deterrent, but certainly not all three legs. This would have the effect, by virtually eliminating all serious deterrent capability to our adversaries, of massively increasing the instability of the international security environment — a dramatic reversal of the promises made within the New START Treaty ratification process, in which enhancing and maintaining strategic stability was one of the cornerstones of the U.S. Nuclear Posture Review.

By quickly withdrawing our tactical nuclear weapons from Europe, we would be emasculating the extended deterrent umbrella which now covers Europe, and as a result seriously weaken the defense ties to our allies and friends across the Atlantic. There would also be a corresponding weakening of our deterrent umbrella over the Republic of Korea, Taiwan, and Japan, just at a time when these three nations, and others, are threatened by an expanding North Korean missile and nuclear weapons capability and a major modernization program by China of its nuclear weapons. The result, based on reasonable mid-point estimates of the current PRC arsenal, would be a Chinese deployed nuclear arsenal in excess of that deployed by the United States, to say nothing of what Peking could deploy in the near and intermediate future.

The Global Zero plan also calls for “de-alerting” our nuclear weapons. That would mean any number of things, but generally it means even the severely reduced number of warheads in our deployed arsenal would not, in a crisis, be available for use if they were needed. The warheads might be removed from their missiles or bombers; they might be disabled and stored remotely — requiring many hours, days, or longer to be redeployed.

Previous administrations, as well as the current government, have in various ways discussed and considered such a move. In every instance, de-alerting has been firmly rejected. First, the proposal is totally unverifiable. Second, it is highly destabilizing: in a crisis, there would be a race to re-alert and rearm, making the first and sudden use of nuclear weapons a greater or more likely possibility. Third, de-alerting solves no “nuclear” problem, whether in concerns abut proliferation, threats of an electro-magnetic pulse [EMP] attack, or any other deterrent or arms control requirement.

Peter Huessy

After the Fall: What Do You Do When America Is (Temporarily) Kaput?

Tuesday, January 8th, 2013

Originally published at Rubin Reports.

If we reach the following, highly unpleasant, conclusion what are the implications?

The United States has taken a political turn which at least for the next four years will guarantee that it does not play the role of a great power mindful of and willing to protect its own true interests, supporting its allies, and combating its real foes? On the contrary, through inaction or active effort the leadership of America will take counterproductive actions that achieve the opposite result. And there are certain factors–radical ideological hegemony, a weak economy and growing debt, structural social changes, the weakness and disorganization of the opposition–that may make this situation regarding America’s international behavior and policies a long-term, partly irreversible condition.

In other words, we don’t know if America is finished as the world’s leading power but we do know that it will not take leadership and certainly not leadership in a good direction for a while and perhaps will never fully recover. Please note carefully that I am speaking here only of US foreign policy and more remarking on the domestic situation. So what do those outside the United States do to face this situation?

There are those readers who would contest the accuracy of this statement. They will say that Barack Obama is a great president or at least a decent one. There is no big problem regarding U.S. foreign policy at all. In fact, he and his team, which now includes Secretary of State-designate John Kerry, will be just fine or at least okay. They will make the point–valid but irrelevant–that the United States doesn’t control everything in the world. Of course, but what about the things it can affect?

Unfortunately, American allies and clients cannot afford the luxury of clueless optimism or wishful thinking. Some will grumble publicly and scramble to limit the damage. Others will smile, praise the president, and scramble to limit the damage. To put it another way, it doesn’t matter whether you agree with me. I’m telling you what’s actually happening.

Other readers will want to debate endlessly on the cause of the problem. Why is this happening? Is it deliberate or due to incompetence and bad ideology? Various conspiracy theories will be raised and time wasted on them. To put it another way, for the purposes of this particular article at least I don’t care who or what you blame or what you intend to do about it, I’m talking about what’s happening right now. It is fortunate that in these post-Cold War times there is no candidate to replace America as world leader. Instead, we have candidates to be regional leaders: China in Asia; the European Union already playing that role in Western Europe; Russia trying to do this in Central/Eastern Europe; and Egypt, Iran, and Turkey competing for hegemony in the Middle East.

But here’s the real issue: things look bad. What does this mean specifically and how can potential victims react? Let’s begin with a very brief survey of the world scene.

Latin America. There are now several radical regimes in the area—most notably Venezuela–alongside, of course, Cuba. America’s allies in the region are dismayed that the former group (except for Cuba) gets soft, even favorable, treatment by Washington. Fortunately, radical revolutions or major armed insurgencies don’t seem probable. So leaders in the region will worry a lot, be frustrated (why should we be nice to the United States when it doesn’t help us but rather rewards being anti-American?) but get through it. Ironically, of course, the current administration favors policies that are sure to fail in South America so to the degree Washington has influence, it will help sabotage the region’s economic progress.

Sub-Saharan Africa. What is truly remarkable is how the Obama Administration has done nothing to change U.S. policy in the area. One might have expected that given its worldview and certain ethno-racial factors and ideas in the US leadership, Obama would have wanted to make this region a showcase of how he differed from his predecessors, as a model of reparations for past colonialism and racism. No such luck for the Africans. They will continue to suffer economic and political hardship without significantly increased US help. Bad, but not a change from the usual neglect. Let them eat rhetoric!

South Asia. The pro-Pakistan policy will continue; India will be mistreated. Again, bad, but no big change. It will just be more of watching Pakistan help conceal al-Qaeda terrorists, work for a radical Islamist Afghanistan once the US forces withdraw and sponsor terrorism against India as Washington pays more billions in aid money. That Afghanistan issue might cause a crisis: Why did hundreds of Americans die there? Someone–albeit not so much in the mass media–might ask if and when Kabul is taken over by a new anti-American regime. Also slated to be killed, Afghans who helped the Western forces. They will start seeking new protectors very soon.

East Asia. The smaller countries which want US help and protection against what they perceive as an ever-stronger China won’t get it. This will make them very nervous indeed. Since I believe China doesn’t have aggressive geopolitical intentions, that situation won’t deteriorate too much in military terms. Yet in economic terms the US government is ceding a great deal to China. Much or most of Asia may become a Chinese economic zone and that will be costly to Americans since potential markets for American goods will in some cases go to China instead, further reducing opportunities for the US economy. Leaders of other countries will scramble to get in good with the new regional superpower as they perceive the United States no longer matters very much. And we all better hope that North Korea doesn’t get too confident–hopefully Beijing will restrain that wacko dictatorship–and attack the South.

Western Europe. Honk if you love Obama. Since European leadership is still obsessed with the EU project and seeks to varnish over rather than deal with their deep economic and social structural problems, they will have no big problems with Obama. He doesn’t attack them, just feeds their addictions. We are familiar with the European stereotype of Americans as the ignorant, irresponsible cowboy (applied to George W. Bush) but there is far less talk about the European stereotype of Americans as naive, blundering, would-be do-gooders who make a giant mess (Barack Obama). Yet there are elements of American decline that many Europeans and European leaders like. The day may come when they think otherwise. As I once remarked to a European ambassador, who agreed, they spent eight years trying to hold Bush back and now are spending four years trying to pull Obama forward.

Central/Eastern Europe. Here is a potential big problem. Russian leader Vladimir Putin thinks he can do whatever he wants. He will continue to turn as much as possible of the ex-Soviet now independent states into a Russian zone of influence. If he ever decided he wanted to take over Belarus or Ukraine, or to attack Georgia again, he knows this can be done without any problem from America. Similarly, the regional states know they cannot depend on American support. Have no doubt that people in countries like Poland and the Czech Republic think about this every day.

So we see in Latin America, Asia, and Central Europe that American allies have no reliable protector anymore. They are left potentially helpless to possibly voracious local powers that are more radical than themselves. And of course they are all hurt by the ongoing poor state of the American economy. Lesson: Don’t make the bad guys angry if possible; move away if possible from relying on the United States.

Some, however, will benefit from policies that ensure the export of American jobs. But the Chinese—who seem on the surface to be the main beneficiaries—are horrified to find themselves holding so much American debt as a U.S. government inflates the dollar and goes ever deeper into debt. It is a very bad investment indeed.

The thing to watch for is if there’s a crisis. How well would the United States respond to wars, coups, invasions, revolutions, economic collapses? What kind of leadership would be shown in cases paralleling, say, the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait? What would Washington do if massive repression breaks out in Egypt with the massacre of Christians? Or how would Obama respond if Putin were to grab some neighbor’s territory in part or in full? You can come up with a great many scenarios that could happen. And in each case the local leaders and a lot of people both think and worry about such scenarios becoming real.

At a minimum, knowing they cannot depend on U.S. help makes moderates and democrats more reluctant to fight, more willing to concede or surrender, and certain to despair.

In short, this current (voluntary, not inevitable) decline of the United States places a lot of people at risk. The question is whether there will be crises in which bad and weak American performance makes things worse.

And this brings us to the Middle East where we know such crises will take place. I don’t want to repeat what I’ve written many times. But to put the whole thing into three sentences:

Israel, relatively moderate Arab regimes (including, yes, Saudi Arabia), and real moderate opposition movements know they cannot depend on the United States for the next four years and perhaps for much longer. To make things worse, the US government is aiding their enemies. Consequently, they must act on their own to protect themselves.

For the Saudis, this can mean supporting establishment (Bahrain’s government, Lebanese Sunni Muslims) or even Salafist forces (as in the Syrian opposition) that they feel can be turned into clients. We all have good reasons for not liking the current Saudi regime but imagine the country being run and the oil money being in the hands of someone like Usama bin Ladin or the Muslim Brotherhood, dedicated to overthrowing all the other regimes in the region and forcing out U.S. influence. For Israel, lacking a chance to build real alliances with Arab states or oppositions, it requires unilateral action.

Everyone else—including Christian minorities and women who want equality–is pretty much up the creek without a paddle. The democratic oppositions (and that includes Egypt, Tunisia, and Lebanon as well as Turkey and Iran) will have their hearts broken as they see their own countries as lost to a long reign of even worse tyranny and their hopes for better days dashed. Countries as diverse as Algeria, Morocco, and Jordan will have to maneuver and use force to keep Islamists from taking over. In other words, you may be very courageous but you will give some serious thought to running away as far as possible, to Europe, North America, or Australia.

It is very scary and even tragic for a lot of people.

Here, however, is the main point I wish to communicate: Americans can debate whether this shorter-term vacuum of responsibility and longer-term decline is happening. Much of the world already takes this outcome for granted.

Originally published at Rubin Reports.

Barry Rubin

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/analysis/rubin-reports/after-the-fall-what-do-you-do-when-america-is-temporarily-kaput/2013/01/08/

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