Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Shall We Consider Preemptive Strike against Iran to Stop the Nuclear Project?

The nuclear crisis on Iran poses an unanswered question of the Iraq War to us. People criticized President then George W. Bush that the US-UK coalition invaded Iraq without solid proof of its nuclear possession. However, virtually none of the experts discussed much more vital issue, whether preemptive attack is necessary to stop nuclear proliferation. Actually, Robert Kagan, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, insisted on striking North Korea to stop its nuclear project when he had an interview with a Japanese political journal SAPIO in 2003. Since then, North Korea conducted a nuclear bomb experiment in October 2006, and succeeded in causing some kind of nuclear explosion. The global community failed to stop proliferation to Pyongyang dictatorship.

Let me narrate the overview of this crisis. Tension has become increasingly intensified since Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced to install new centrifuges to acquire highly enriched uranium (“Iran's Nuclear Experiments Raise Alarm at U.N. Agency”; Wall Street Journal; September 3, 2011). While suspicion of nuclear proliferation was growing, Iran’s first nuclear plant in Bushehr started to provide electricity (“Iran’s First Nuclear Power Plant Goes into Operation”; New York Times; September 4, 2011). As the International Atomic Energy released a new report to warn that Iran’s nuclear program has proceeded almost close to develop nuclear weapons, President Ahmadinejad denounced IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano (“Iran Escalates Anti-U.S. Rhetoric over Nuclear Report”; New York Times; November 9, 2011). In view of growing threat to the Gulf area, the Obama administration proposed to supply bunker busters with the United Arab Emirates to contain Iran’s ambition for regional dominance (“U.S. prepares to send ‘bunker-busting’ bombs to U.A.E. to help contain Iran”; National Post; November 12, 2011). Despite tightening pressure on Iran, Israeli experts are skeptic to efficacy of sanctions by the global community. Ephraim Kam, Deputy Director of the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University, doubts whether new IAEA report promotes sufficient pressure, because "Iran wants a bomb, or at least the capacity to make a bomb, and is willing to pay the price." Kam says Israel can manage a unilateral strike on "three or four" Iranian nuclear sites, but he also admits that the United States is reluctant to support another war in the Middle East because the Obama administration is withdrawing from Iraq and Afghanistan (“Analysis: Israelis doubt world will stop Iran's nuclear quest”; Reuters; November 15, 2011).

Prior to discussing the impact of sanctions and preemptive attack on Iran, let me talk about the IAEA report. According to this, Iran has completed preparations for high explosive tests and procurement of equipment and materials for nuclear-weapons development. Also, Iran has designed a prototype warhead for Shahab-3 ballistic missile. Therefore, Iran has come quite close to produce a nuclear weapon (IAEA report: death knell of Iran diplomacy?”; IISS Strategic Comments; November 2011).

In view of such an imminent crisis, we have to discuss efficacy of sanctions and preemptive attack. Currently, the United States, Britain, and Canada declared to impose sanctions to stop financial and petrochemical business activities with Iran. However, experts doubt efficacy of sanctions (“Iran Penalties Insufficient to Curb Atomic Effort: Experts”; Global Security Newswire; November 22, 2011). Former British Chancellor of the Exchequer Lord Norman Lamont warns that broad sanctions can make Iranian businesses more dependent on the Revolutionary Guards that runs nationalized energy sectors and key industries in Iran. Moreover, ex-British Ambassador to the UN Jeremy Greenstock notes that sanctions are often used as a political pressure between verbal attack and military action (“Sanctions on Iran a Failed Approach”; IISS Voices; 23 November 2011). In addition, the Obama administration is reluctant to take punitive measures against Iran’s central bank, though it is widely considered the most powerful economic pressure the United States can use. The White House worries that this will skyrocket oil price, and threaten economic recovery in the United States and Europe (“U.S. Imposes New Sanctions on Iran, but Strongest Weapon Remains Unused”; Global Security Newswire; November 22, 2011).

In addition to economic aspects, we have to consider the nature of Shiite theocracy in Iran. Michael Rubin, Resident Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, points out that the Islamic Republic pursues to spread the revolution throughout the Islam world. The nuclear project is their jihad to achieve their own revolutionary goal (“Iran’s Nuclear Project”; National Review Online; November 8, 2011). For Iran, nuclear weapon is a source of their power and prestige on the global stage. Alireza Nader, Policy Analyst of RAND Corporation, comments that nuclear prestige is worth the price of sanctions as regime survival is the vital goal for Shiite theocracy (“Analysis - For Iran, the sanctions price may be worth paying”; Reuters; November 29, 2011). In pursuit of bargaining power against the West, Iran even conducted a secret experiment for ICBM early this November (“Iran Conducted ICBM Experiment: Report”; Global Security Newswire; November 21, 2011).

Another very important point that we must not dismiss is the policy stance of Russia and China. Michael Singh, Managing Director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and Jacqueline Deal, President of the Long Term Strategy Group, mention perception gaps between the United States and China. The United States may see China as a key partner in isolating Iran, but China sees Iran as a potential partner in countering U.S. power. Moreover, they quote Chinese Major General Zhang Shiping that Iran is potentially a desirable military base for the Chinese navy in the Middle East (“China's Iranian Gambit”; Foreign Policy; October 31, 2011). In view of rapid growth of Chinese sea power, this cannot be dismissed. In addition to geopolitical rivalries with the United States, Mark Hibbs, Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, pints out that both Russia and China need security and economic partnership with Iran through the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Russia wants to export more conventional weapons and nuclear reactors to Iran for big business deal. In order to defend their interests in Iran, Hibbs says Russia may suggest a roadmap for Iran to limit uranium enrichment to the low level (“Waiting for Russia's Next Move on Iran”; Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Q&A; November 22, 2011). The problem is revolutionary nature of the current regime of Iran. Their obsession with national prestige is hard to deal with. While Matthew Levitt、Senior Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, insists that even if sanctions hurt the Iranian economy, it still has generous customers for oil and gas, such as China, Japan, South Korea, some European countries including Italy, Greece, and Spain. Oil price is high enough to sustain the regime. Regardless of damages by sanctions, Karim Sadjapour Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, says “The economic welfare of the Iranian people has never been a top priority of the Islamic Republic” (“Iran's Economy Can Take the Pressure—for Now”; Bloomberg Business Week; November 30, 2011). Therefore it is necessary to discuss tougher measures.

Regarding military strike, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta argues that it will pose negative impacts to world economy due to unintended consequences associated with the conflict. Instead, Panetta endorses diplomatic efforts through the six party talks to pressure Iran (“Strike on Iran could hurt world economy, US says”; Reuters; November 17, 2011). Certainly, as Panetta argues, military strike is associated with some risks. Sanctions need to be accompanied by other kinds of pressure, and diplomatic negotiation is one of them. However, Russia and China do not feel the treat of a nuclear Iran so imminent as the West and Israel do. This is why we have to consider preemptive strike against nuclear facilities in Iran. Jamie Fly, Executive Director of the Foreign Policy Initiative, argues that diplomatic efforts and sanctions failed to stop Iran’s nuclear program, and it has become increasingly necessary to take military actions. He also stresses harmful impacts of a nuclear Iran, such as insecurity in the Gulf area and Afghanistan, and possible proliferation to terrorist organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah. Apparently, some actions are required, now (“Military action increasingly appears to be the only option that will prevent a nuclear Iran”; US News and World Report's Debate Club; November 16, 2011). As to preemptive attack, William Kristol, Director of the Foreign Policy Initiative, commented “It seems to me the United States has an obligation to act and not leave it to Israel to stop this threat,” in Fox News on November 6.

The global community has not answered the vital question of the Iraq War: whether preemptive attack is necessary to stop nuclear proliferation. It is forgotten homework for policymakers. This is far more important than “misinformation” that left wingers love to trumpet. Remember that Israeli air raid to Osirak nuclear plant in 1981 delayed Saddam Hussein’s dangerous project. The United States should not “lead from behind” when preemptive attack is urgently necessary.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

A Presentation on History and Current Politics of Islam and the Middle East

I gave a presentation about the following issue on November 17, hosted by Masaaki Mezaki, an international cultural analyst. We had active discussions at the event on a broad range of topics from history to current politics.

Title: The Future of Islam and the Global Community

1. Introduction
Basic terms on Islam, such as Sunni, Shiite, jihad, and so forth

2. Islam and Secularism: A Review of History
Attention to Islam Japanese Relations as well!: The Impact of the Meiji Restoration on Turkey and Iran

3. Democratization and Modernization in the Islamic World: Can we wipe out the roots of terrorism?

4. Problems of Modern Middle East
Is Israel over criticized?
Anti-modernization in Islam: The Iranian Revolution and the Rise of Islamic Traditionalism

5. Recent Problems
Tensions over Iran’s Nuclear Project
Pro or Con on US Withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

America Must Defend both Asia and the Middle East

As if resonating the announcement by President Barack Obama to withdraw of US troops from Iraq (“U.S. Troops to Leave Iraq by Year’s End, Obama Says”; New York Times; October 21, 2011), Secretary of State Hillary Clinton contributed an article to insists that the United States expand in political and military presence in Asia (“America’s Pacific Century”; Foreign Policy; November 2011). However, this should not curtail current US involvement in the Middle East as Iran can fill the vacuum of power. Less involvement in the Middle East does not necessarily mean more involvement in Asia.

First, let me review the Foreign Policy article by Secretary Clinton. The Secretary says that the United States has allocated too much resource to Iraq and Afghanistan over the decade, and it is time to consider smart and systematic use of time and energy to sustain American leadership in the world. Clinton argues that the United States needs more focus on the Asia Pacific region, because this area has become a key to global politics. Asian nations enjoy high economic growth, and there are emerging powers like China, India, and Indonesia. In face of growing isolationism because of long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan along with domestic economy, she rebukes that America needs new markets in rapidly growing Asia. Clinton wants to restructure alliances with Asia Pacific nations, primarily with Japan, and also South Korea, Australia, and so forth, in order to manage security challenges of China. On the other hand, she explores more business opportunity in China, while maintaining American superiority against Chinese military build up. However, this article focuses extensively on market opportunities in Asia, rather than security in this region, and it insists on shifting manpower and resource from Iraq and Afghanistan. Therefore, it raises serious concern that the Obama administration’s focus on Asia would sacrifice security in the Middle East, which will ultimately scale down America’s role as the world police man.

Currently, withdrawal from Iraq is the foremost issue on US role in the Middle East. Kayvan Kaboli, leader of Iranian resistance Green Party, criticizes that Obama’s decision to withdraw US troops from Iraq is premature and obsessed with the presidential election, which will ultimately embolden expansionism of the Shiite regime in Iran (“The Future of Iraq after US Departure”; Iranian American Forum --- Washington Insight; October 24. 2011). A joint article by Frederick W. Kagan: Director of the Critical Threats Project at the American Enterprise Institute, Kimberly Kagan: President of the Institute for the Study of War, and Marisa Cochrane Sullivan Deputy Director of the Institute for the Study of War, argues “President Obama’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops is the mother of all disasters” (“Defeat in Iraq”; Weekly Standard; November 7, 2011). Unlike Vietnam, Iraq is related to two critical security challenges which are Iran and Al Qaeda. They say that US pullout will intensify sectarian conflicts in Iraq, which will lead Sunni Arabs to seek support from Al Qaeda. In rivalry with them, Shiites would look for help from Iran. More importantly, Iran can penetrate its influence and import illegal goods through a long border line between Iraq. Therefore, it is vital to control trans-border trade to impose sanctions on Iran’s nuclear project. Also, three authors say that current domestic politics in Iraq is dependent on delicate balance of ethno-sectarian fractions so much that US presence is necessary to guarantee stability. When the Obama administration declared the pullout from Iraq, the chairman of Iran’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Hassan Firouzabadi even said that “American soldiers had no other choice than to leave Iraq, and this is the beginning of all American forces withdrawing from the region.” As three authors argue, leaving Iraq without completing the mission will undermine what America has achieved in the War on Terror.

In view of such criticism, Secretary Clinton warned Iran not to misunderstand US intentions in the Middle East. She stressed that the United States will maintain a robust presence in Iraq, by providing support and training for the Iraqi military and security forces (“Clinton warns Iran not to ‘miscalculate’ U.S. resolve as troops leave Iraq”; Washington Post; October 24, 2011). Moreover, the Obama administration announced to increase military presence in the Gulf area after withdrawing from Iraq. Combat troops in Iraq will be repositioned in Kuwait, and military ties with the Gulf Cooperation Council will be strengthened in face of growing threat of Iran. Multilateral security partnerships in the region develop furthermore. The Iraqi military forces were invited to an anti-guerrilla and terrorist exercise called Eager Lion 12 in Jordan next year. Also, some Gulf Cooperation Council members such as Qatar and the United Arab Emirates sent combat aircrafts to NATO led mission in Libya, and Bahrain and the UAE deploy forces in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, Gulf nations are concerned that American withdrawal from Iraq creates a vacuum that provokes Iran’s expansionist ambition as Bahraini Foreign Minister Sheik Khalid says. At the Senate Armed Service Committee, twelve senators expressed their distress that Iran would interpret US pullout from Iraq as their strategic victory (“U.S. Planning Troop Buildup in Gulf after Exit from Iraq”; New York Times; October 29, 2011).

A resource shift from the Middle East to Asia is no assurance to block Chinese expansionism. China is keen on filling the power vacuum when US troops withdraw from Afghanistan through strengthening ties with Pakistan (“China, US Reevaluate Asian Strategies Post Bin Laden”; Eurasia Review; May 8, 2011). The Sino-Pakistani nuclear deal is an apparent posture of rivaling against the United States and India. In addition, China continues to provide advanced missiles to Iran, which violates UN sanctions. China breaks the promise to the United States in 1997 not to sell C-802 anti-ship cruise missiles to Iran. In addition, China built an entire missile plant in Iran to produce the Nasr-1 anti-ship cruise missile last year. The United States can punish foreign companies that provide advanced arms to Iran, through the Iran Freedom and Support Act of 2006 or CISADA (the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability and Divestment Act) of 2010 (“Inside the Ring --- China Iran Missile Sales”; Washington Times; November 2, 2011). China’s strong connections with Iran and Pakistan make Middle East increasingly vulnerable.

Since the Chinese threat is global, and the Middle East nations need American presence, the United States must be well prepared to manage security challenges both in Asia and the Middle East. Therefore, it is vital that US defense expenditures meet such dual or even multiple requirements for global security. Michael Auslin, Resident Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, discusses the impact of current defense spending cut on Asian security. His primary focus is China’s expansion of navy operations from the East and the South China Sea to the Indian Ocean. Rapid build up of the Chinese navy and its assertive behavior on the Asian sea lane, heighten tensions in the region from Japan, ASEAN nations, Australia, and India. The resulting insecurity highlights continual US role to maintain stability, and Asia-Pacific nations explore to deepen strategic partnership with the United States. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta needed to soothe anxieties of Asian nations regarding defense budget cut, on his trip to Asia this October (“Asian Anxiety”; New York Times; October 25, 2011). I would like to mention that the Asian sea lane connects both sides of Eurasia, and the security of Asia and the Middle East is strongly interconnected.

In Washington, the special bipartisan committee on the budget demanded not to cut defense spending furthermore. House Speaker John Boehner told that defense expenditure cut went beyond the requirements in the budget accord between President Obama and Republicans this summer. Meanwhile, Democrat Congressman Adam Smith of the House Armed Service Committee said that lawmakers need to show alternatives to defend defense spending, such as raising revenue or cutting spending other than defense (Boehner speaks out against more defense cuts”; Military Times; October 27, 2011). Robert Samuelson, Economics Columnist of the Washington Post, point out that US armed forces have been downsized precipitously from late 1980s to 2010 despite long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Quite importantly, though Iraq and Afghanistan raised defense budgets from 2001 to 2011, the total war cost of these years is $1.3 trillion, which accounts for only 4.4% of the total federal budget of $29.7 trillion in the same period. Defense spending itself does not ensure effective and wise use of national power, but excessive reduction of it poses constraints to policy options. Samuelson warns that current defense expenditure reduction jeopardizes advantages in advanced technology and training quality both of which are the key to American military superiority (“The dangerous debate over cutting military spending”; Washington Post; October 31, 2011).

Remember that both Asian and Middle Eastern nations need American presence. As seen in China’s ties with Iran and Pakistan, security challenges on both sides of Eurasia are not independent but interconnected. Also, North Korea constitutes the Axis of Evil with Iran to develop nuclear weapons. Current defense cut by the Obama administration augments anxieties both in Asia and the Middle East. It is necessary to learn lessons from British Strategic Defence and Security Review by the Cameron administration. In the statement on SDSR at the House of Commons on October 19 last year, Prime Minister David Cameron said “This review is about how we project power and influence in a rapidly changing world.” The war in Libya suggests that Britain’s combat performance did not meet this objective sufficiently. The United States must invest sufficient resources on defense in order to carry out as many policy options as possible. America itself is a recipient of global public goods provided by American military preeminence.