Monitoring developments in international security

Posts tagged “US

Iran: The ongoing debate

In an attempt to make transitioning back into posting articles here as smooth as possible, this first update is simply a collection of interesting articles regarding the strikingly public debate about a possible military strike on Iran.

Foreign Affairs

Israeli policymakers are ignoring several of the potential longer-term aspects of a strike: the preparedness of Israel’s home front; the contours of an Israeli exit strategy; the impact on U.S.-Israel relations; the global diplomatic fallout; the stability of world energy markets; and the outcome within Iran itself. 

As part of a larger package on the Iranian debate, Foreign Affairs recently posted an article titled ‘What Happens After Israel Attacks Iran.’ The author begins by reminding the reader of the Israeli strikes of 1981 and 2007 on Iraqi and Syrian nuclear reactors, which notably did not lead to a larger conflict. He quickly shifts attention to the main topic of his article: for all its preparedness for ‘the day after’ a military strike, Israel is not properly considering the longer-term effects of an attack. The arguments on each of the points alluded to in the quote above are cogent, historical references to past Israeli military action abound, and Mr. Eiran gives a nice insight into the minds of senior Israeli officials.

Al Jazeera (video)

 The so-called ‘Iranian Threat’ is a narrative being constructed by the US media all by itself – with scant public support from the Obama administration.

Al Jazeera’s Listening Post takes a look at the misinformation being spread in America through the media’s oftentimes sensationalist conjecture on Iranian capabilities and intentions. The report draws damning parallels with media coverage leading up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Here’s one telling fact: 7 out of 10 Americans believe that Iran has a nuclear weapon.

The Economist

Short of occupation, the world cannot eliminate Iran’s capacity to gain the bomb. It can only change its will to possess one. Just now that is more likely to come about through sanctions and diplomacy than war.

The author concedes that a nuclear-armed Iran is in no other nation’s interest and has the very real potential of setting off a a regional and perhaps multi-regional nuclear arms race. However, he argues, a strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities will only delay and not entirely prevent the Persian nation from acquiring a bomb. Indeed, while in the short term an air strike could set back Iran’s nuclear progress several years, more significant longer-term issues arise. The program would ‘figuratively and literally’ go underground and the nuclear ‘know-how’ of Iranian scientists would be unaffected. Additionally, a strike would further galvanize already-popular support for the nuclear program and could serve as a much-needed boost to the low popularity of Iranian leaders.

Photo credit: lead image


Chinese cyber attacks emphasize need for better electronic defenses

It is precisely the absence of a constraining political
framework around cyber warfare that makes cyberspace
so attractive as a place in which to pursue aggressively
cultural, religious, economic, social and even – paradoxically – political goals.

– From the executive summary of ‘On Cyber Warfare

New details emerged today of the cyber attacks on the email accounts of hundreds of US and other Asian government officials, Chinese political activists, military personnel and journalists. Google said the relatively simple phishing attempts, which involved leading the target to a fake login page to obtain the user’s login information, have been taking place for months. The GMail provider also pinpointed the source of the attacks as Jinan, the capital of Shandong Province and host of the regional military command center.

These attacks are not the first time Google has accused Chinese hackers of spying on the users of its GMail service. In 2009 it traced attacks on Chinese human rights activists to an IP address at Lanxiang Senior Technical School in Jinan, according to The Telegraph. These latest attacks come in the midst of a cyber security review in both the UK and US. BBC recently reported that the Ministry of Defence in the UK plans to employ hundreds of experts to help improve the UK government’s electronic defenses. A cyber attack on major US defense contractor Lockheed Martin further emphasized the rapidly increasing need for robust cyber defense mechanisms. The US earlier this week announced that cyber attacks sponsored by another country can constitute an act of war and reserved the right to use military actions as a result of such attacks. Washington plans to issue a more detailed statement regarding its cyber warfare policies later this month.

This most recent round of Chinese cyber attacks underline what is quickly becoming a major theme in modern political engagement: the cyber threat. As Stars and Stuxnet ravage Iranian nuclear facilities and fears of a potential equally powerful but less specifically-targeted virus raise concerns over the security of infrastructure ranging from power plants to telecommunications, leaders around the world are having to scramble to bolster defenses on a new front of vulnerability. As noted in the Chatham House paper quoted above, this new cyber front is the perfect platform for asymmetric warfare where traditional military might is all but meaningless. This notion of a whole new dimension of threats engaging in asymmetric warfare should certainly weigh heavily in American military commanders’ and policy-makers’ minds; the US has struggled with two other types of asymmetric engagements in recent years: terrorism and insurgency.


Threat of civil war looms over Yemen

Heavy fighting erupted in Yemen’s capital of Sanaa today as the country edged closer to a full-blown civil war. Anti-government protesters have been challenging the 33 year rule of President Saleh for months who, despite several negotiations and agreements regarding his departure, has yet to leave office. The latest outbreak of violence has been between government troops loyal to President Saleh and supporters of tribal leader Sadiq al-Ahmar. Locals reported heavy shelling of residential areas as well as widespread gunfire. Meanwhile, the Sanaa airport remains closed and traffic on roads leading out of the capital was reportedly at a standstill.

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Saleh’s refusal to step down threatens the country with a civil war whose effects on regional security and international terrorist activity could be dramatic. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has a strong presence in Yemen and is the arm of al-Qaeda that many counter-terrorism analysts regard as the most dangerous, particularly in the wake of Osama bin Laden’s death. A civil war in Yemen would take pressure off of AQAP. For this reason, the US and Yemen’s northern neighbor, Saudia Arabia, are likely to attempt to circumvent a civil war in the troubled nation. The US was initially slow to say that Saleh should step down, but President Obama today called for the Yemeni President to ‘immediately’ end his 33 year rule. This call for an immediate end to the crisis represented an important step in US policy and signaled Washington’s growing unease with the political stalemate that threatened to undermine counter-terrorism efforts.

American hesitance to specifically ask for Saleh to abandon power – instead merely condemning the violent government crackdown against protesters – was no doubt due to the Yemeni President’s past willingness to cooperate with the US and allow American counter-terrorism operations to take place in his country. Today, in apparent response to Obama’s call for his immediate resignation, Saleh said that ‘[he doesn’t] take orders from outside.’ He also promised to remain in power and to stop the violence from descending into a civil war. Whatever Saleh’s ultimate fate, the path Yemen follows over the days and weeks to come and how the US and Saudi Arabia react to the unfolding events will have important repercussions for the future of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninusla.

News links: Reuters Al-Jazeera Guardian


US and Israel attempt to find common policy ground

The US and Israel appear to be at major policy intersection following the events of this past week. On Thursday President Obama delivered a speech in which he supported Israel negotiating a peace deal with the Palestinians from the ‘1967 borders.’ These are the borders Israel had before the 1967 Six-Day War in which the Jewish state launched a preemptive strike against Syria, Egypt, and Jordan. Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel criticized the call for Israel to return to its 1967 borders, calling them ‘indefensible.’

  










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While President Obama did put public pressure on Israel to discontinue its illegal settlements and to come to terms with the reality of an eventual Palestinian state, he also sought to reassure America’s ally. He criticized plans later this year to hold a UN General Assembly vote on the creation of a Palestinian State. He also put himself in the shoes of Israeli leaders in light of the recent announcement of the Fatah-Hamas unification by musing, ‘How can one negotiate with a party that has shown itself unwilling to recognize your right to exist?’

Regardless of the protective, reassuring statements the President directed at Israel or even, for that matter, the criticisms; the truth is that Israel is facing a challenging future. The Arab Spring protests erupting around the Middle East serve as a great inspirational backdrop for the Palestinian statehood movement. Indeed, every one of Israel’s neighbors has experienced some form of anti-government action. The UN vote on a Palestinian state, which will likely take place later this year, could serve as a humiliation for Israel, especially if the US is one of only a few prominent nations to vote against it.* So while Israel may show public consternation at President Obama’s speech on Thursday, the fact is that both nations need to rely on some old-fashioned diplomacy to convince states like Britain, France and Germany not to further make a pariah out of Israel.

*(It’s my understanding that the US, regardless of the outcome of the vote, would be able to use its veto power as a permanent member of the UN Security Council to avoid the vote translating into an actual statehood.)

A few relevant links: NYTimes on Obama and Netanyahu, CBS on the legal concerns of a UNSC veto, Al-Jazeera hosts a scathing op-ed on Obama’s speech


‘Reassessing The Cost Of The Post-9/11 Era’

Dan Froomkin of The Huffington Post has an interesting look at the economic and human costs of the response to the 9/11 attacks. He includes the war in Iraq in his calculations and I won’t dispute that the atmosphere in post-9/11 America didn’t exactly loan itself to cautioned diplomacy with regards to Iraq, but it should be noted that President Bush never actually asserted that Saddam Hussein had a hand in the September 11th attacks. Again, Froomkin is speaking of the era as a whole not just the US’s actions in direct retaliation for the attacks, I just wanted to be clear about the facts. Speaking of which, here’s a brief summary (although the whole article is really worth reading):

6000 Americans dead, ‘several hundred thousand’ wounded

100,000+ Iraqis and Afghanis dead, 3.4 million+ remain displaced

Total financial cost: $4-6 trillion. That’s $6,000,000,000,000 or just over 40% of the US’s current national debt.

Colin Powell at the UN, presenting the American case for going to war with Iraq.

Obviously not all of that money could have been saved. For one, the war in Afghanistan actually was directly linked to 9/11. And while we should recognize that aspiring terrorists‘ incompetence probably had more to do with the high-profile failed plots over the last few years, one would encounter difficulty in arguing that absolutely none of the new homeland security measures implemented after 9/11 were a necessary response. Regardless, Froomkin ends on a ‘what if’ note by imagining a world where that $6 trillion was spent on eliminating extreme poverty or providing primary education for children. I found it difficult not to wonder what the consequences of forgoing the two wars would have been for the US and, indeed, the world as a whole.


US-Pakistan drama continues

In the wake of Osama bin Laden’s death, tensions between Washington and Islamabad continued to rise. The New York Times is reporting that Pakistani officials have released the name of the CIA station chief in Islamabad. His name was published in a conservative newspaper earlier today, spelled phonetically. This marks the 2nd time in 5 months that a CIA station chief station in Islamabad has been outed by Pakistani authorities. The previous station chief was identified in the media and court papers after a lawsuit was brought against him which alleged wrongful death in a CIA drone strike. He subsequently fled Pakistan after receiving a number of death threats.

Meanwhile today, Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani, said that ‘allegations of complicity or incompetence are absurd.’ He further warned that any additional US unilateral action within Pakistan would be met with ‘full force.’ While both the US and Pakistan say they want to continue their strategic partnership, the recent public volleys mark a low point in the relationship between the two governments.


What Bin Laden’s death means

Foreign Affairs has a couple new brief but interesting articles up that attempt to paint a clearer picture of the post-Bin-Laden world:

Richard Falkenrath looks at the domestic and international opposition to the US war on terror and how Bin Laden’s death means an end of ‘the strategic clarity of the post-9/11 era.’

Max Boot compares al-Qaeda to armed political movements of the past and attempts to extrapolate how Osama bin Laden’s death will affect the organization.