MStrat Student Trip to Brussels and Mons, Belgium 18-21 March 2014

The MStrat course recently undertook a field trip to Brussels and Mons between Tuesday 18 and Friday  21 March 2014.

The aims of the MStrat to Belgium were, among other things:

  • To gain an understanding of the institutional structure, policy-making and crisis-management processes, and main policy issues pertaining to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Union External Action Service (EEAS).
  • To gain a non-NATO/EU perspective on the crisis in Syria, the Balkan region and Russia-EU relations, by visiting the Russian Permanent Delegation to the EU.

The MStrat trip was led by Dr. Sergio Catignani and accompanied by Dr. Daniel Steed and Ms. Roo Haywood-Smith.

Visit Highlights

The MStrat cohort visited NATO Headquarters where Mr Jonathan PARISH, Deputy Assistant Secretary General of the Defence Policy and Planning Division, spoke on the current political agenda and the future of NATO as well as on the key themes that the next NATO Summit in Wales will deal with this September. Moreover, Mr Patrick ANDREWS of Crisis Response Systems and Exercises, Operations Division gave a detailed presentation on NATO’s Crisis Management Operations and how NATO was currently reacting to the crisis in Ukraine.

Following the NATO Headquarters visit, the MStrat cohort was hosted by the Egmont Institute (The Royal Institute for International Affairs) in the Prince Albert Club, the Belgian Armed Forces’ All Ranks Club, where Professor Sven Biscop and Brig. (Ret.) Jo Coelmont gave respectively presentations on European Security and European Defence prospects during the “Age of European Austerity”.

The following two days saw the MStrat cohort visit the European External Action Service where, among others, Brig. Gen. Philippe Boutinaud, the Director of Cabinet of the European Union Military Committee Chairman, spoke on the EUMC’s role and decision-making processes and challenges particularly during international crises. Ms Joëlle JENNY, Director for Security Policy and Conflict Prevention, also gave a very insightful presentation on the ways in which the EU seeks to improve conflict prevention in global affairs particularly through upstream engagement activities and programmes.

At Supreme Headquarters Allied Europe, the MStrat cohort received several briefings including one on the workings of NATO’s Comprehensive Crisis and Operations Management Centre as well as how NATO is trying to improve its capabilities and activities relating to the comprehensive approach to conflict prevention and conflict resolution processes by British Army Brig. Gary Deakin and Dutch Ambassador Hans Wesseling. It also received a detailed briefing by a member of the European Union Staff Group on the EU’s “Operation Althea in Bosnia Herzegovnia” in order to prepare students’ for the next MSrat cohort trip to Bosnia Herzegovina, which is scheduled to take place in May 2014.

The MStrat delegation also had the unique privilege of receiving a detailed and lengthy briefing by the Deputy Supreme Allied Commander, General Sir Richard Shirreff, on the challenges that NATO countries face over the coming years. He also spoke at length on the Ukraine crisis and the key decision point that NATO countries face today as a result of Russia’s illegal annexation of the Crimea. His comments on the Ukraine crisis were especially poignant given the fact that the previous day the MStrat cohort had visited the Russian Federation’s Permanent Representation to the EU, where the Deputy Permanent Representative, Mr. Sergey Kopyrkin, provided a Russian perspective on issues such as the Ukraine and Syrian crises and the Russian Federation’s future relations with the EU and its constituent member states in light of the Ukraine crisis.

MStrat Staff and Student Visit to SHAPE, Mons on 21 March 2014

 

Why Russia is Invading Ukraine by SSI Honorary Fellow, Professor Julian Lindley-French

Alphen, Netherlands. 3 March.  Article 30 of the May 2009 Russian National Security Strategy states, “Negative influences on the military security of the Russian Federation and its allies are aggravated by the departure from international agreements pertaining to arms limitation and reduction, and likewise by actions intended to disrupt the stability of systems of government and military administration…”  The Russian invasion this past weekend is blatant flouting of international law.  It is also a long-planned intervention that has been sitting in the files of the Russian Defence Ministry since at least 1991.  The grand strategic reason for the intervention is the determination of Moscow to reassert control over what it sees as Russia’s “near abroad” with Ukraine as its lynchpin.  However, there are five additional reasons why Moscow has seized the collapse of the Yanukovich regime as the moment to intervene – history, military strategy, military capability, politics and opportunity.

History:  Ukraine has always had a strong pull on the Russian mind as it is the spiritual home of the Russian Orthodox Church.  In 1954 Ukrainian-born Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev handed ‘control’ of the Crimea to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic.  As Ukraine was then firmly under Moscow’s control the transfer mattered little, although it did mean the de facto shift of ethnic Russians and Tartars under the nominal administrative fiat of Kiev.  On Ukraine’s independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 the transfer became a matter of both historical and strategic import to Moscow.  ‘Loss’ of Ukraine to the EU (and eventually NATO) would be the final humiliation to the Kremlin following two decades of perceived retreat since the end of the Cold War in 1989.

Military Strategy:  One of Russia’s long held strategic mantras has been the need to maintain a warm water naval base that could enable Russian influence in the Mediterranean and the Middle East.  Sevastopol has long provided just such a facility for the Black Seas Fleet, which is in fact the Russian Mediterranean Fleet.  The nature of the Russian military operation this weekend and the use of Special Forces to establish a bridgehead at Simferopol and Sevastopol Airports are indicative.  They point to a classic Russian expeditionary operation that creates and exploits local unrest to enable seizure of the seat of government as well as control of land, sea and air space.  The initial aim is to secure the Sevastopol base and its lines of supply and re-supply with Russia.

Military Capability: In 2010 Russia announced it would inject $775 billion into the professionalization and modernization of its armed forces.  This followed the disappointing performance of Russian forces in 2008 during Moscow’s seizure of parts of Georgia. The bulk of those new forces are established in the Central and Western Military Districts which abut the Ukrainian border.  The kit being worn by the deployed force demonstrates a mix of Special Forces (Spetsnaz) and specialised forces and reflects the effort Moscow has made to improve deployability of its elite professional forces.

Ukrainian forces have enjoyed no such modernization.  In any case the upper echelons of the Ukrainian military’s command chain are deeply split, as evinced by the defection this weekend by the Head of the Ukrainian Navy.  Many senior Ukrainian officers owe their appointment to Yanukovich.

Politics:  The Putin regime was established in 2000 and led to the cult of Putinism.  It is a regime that consolidates domestic power by appealing to nostalgic Russian notions of grandeur.  In particular the regime has endeavoured to recreate the sense of a Russia powerful enough to re-capture the influence Moscow enjoyed in the 1950s and 1960s at the height of the Soviet Union’s super-power.  The 2014 Sochi Olympics were very much part of the regime’s image-building.  In 2013 US Secretary of State John Kerry gave equal billing to Russia in the handling of the Syria crisis and enhanced the reputation of the regime at home.

Opportunity:  The Kremlin under Putin is first and foremost a strategic opportunist.  The withdrawal of two US Brigade Combat Teams from Europe may seem small in and of itself.  However, taken together with the ‘pivot’ to Asia and President Obama’s uncertain grip of grand strategy the US is no longer the stabilising force in Europe it once was.  The Kremlin also has contempt for ideas of ‘civil power’ built around Germany and the EU.  Moreover, Russia’s military renaissance has taken place in parallel with the West’s failures in both Afghanistan and Iraq.  The Kremlin is also acutely conscious of Europe’s economic travails and de facto disarmament with total defence spending in Europe down by minus 1.8% per annum since 2001.  Moreover, the refusal of all but two NATO European states to meet their obligation to spend 2% of GDP on defence has also led Moscow to conclude that Europeans lack the will and capability to block Moscow’s regional-strategic ambitions.

Implications for Russia and Ukraine:  The seizure of parts of Ukraine will in the short-term strengthen the grip of Putin over Russia.  However, Russia faces deep demographic and economic challenges which unless addressed will see Russia continue to fade as the West, China and others eclipse Moscow.

The east of Ukraine is very vulnerable.  Moscow has a cynical view of the use of power and will almost certainly use the concerns of ethnic Russians to justify an intervention that would straighten Russia’s strategic borders and thus consolidate the new Russian sphere of influence.

Recommendations: There is no quick fix available to Western policymakers.  However, Western allies must use all the non-military tools at their disposal to force the Kremlin to reconsider the costs versus the benefits of such action.  That will include use of international fora to build a countervailing coalition, possibly with China which dislikes sovereignty grabs.  All economic tools must be applied with sanctions imposed on key officials, with Aeroflot flights to Europe and North America suspended and Gazprom slowly removed from the European market.  The accounts of senior Russians outside of the the country must be frozen.  Finally, the US must re-position forces back in Europe, including the Baltic States and Europeans must commit to the re-building of their armed forces.

Conclusions:  Over the medium-to-long term NATO allies must re-establish credible defence as part of a balanced economic, diplomatic and military influence effort in and around Europe.  Former US President Bill Clinton and former US Ambassador to NATO Nick Burns said yesterday that the enlargement of NATO to former members of the Soviet Bloc guaranteed their security.  This is correct to a point. Without the modernisation of Article 5 collective defence the value of NATO membership will over time erode and if Putin remains in power the Kremlin will exploit such weakness.

Julian Lindley-French

Mstrat student submit evidence to Parliament on Iran

The UK Parliament Commons Select Committee launched on 2 December 2013 its inquiry on “UK Policy Towards Iran”. Falling in line with the focus of one of the Mstrat student inquiry groups as part of the Crisis Watch module, two of our students submitted evidence to this inquiry in January.

The evidence submitted by Mal Craghill and Nicholas Wood can be found at the following url: http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/foreign-affairs-committee/inquiries1/parliament-2010/iran-2014/?type=Written#pnlPublicationFilter

Evidence was also submitted by an Exeter PhD candidate, Morgane Colleau, who is supervised by SSI’s Director of Research, Professor Gareth Stansfield. Her evidence can also be found in the link above.

Geneva Talks Lack Sincerity and Concrete Action, by Tobias Borck – Crisis Watch: Syria

Wang Yi, the Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs, is hopeful: “A review of human history teaches that any conflict, however serious, can be resolved, and any hatred, however deep, can be removed. As long as there is sincerity and concrete action.”[i]

These words were part of Mr. Wang’s statement during the so-called ‘high-level segment’ of the Geneva II Conference on Syria. Alongside him in the huge conference room in Montreux were the foreign ministers and officials from some 40 countries and international organisations, as well as delegations from the Syrian regime and the Syrian National Coalition – the opposition group with the highest international profile, but doubtful influence over the opposition fighters on the ground in Syria.

It is not clear which historic conflicts Mr. Wang had in mind. Perhaps he was talking about the Lebanese civil war (1975-1990) or the Bosnian war (1992-1995). Both conflicts brought immeasurable human suffering leading to horrendously high death tolls (approximately 150,000 in Lebanon[ii]; more than 97;000 in Bosnia[iii]). And both conflicts were brought to an end through internationally brokered peace processes, resulting in the Taif Agreement[iv] and the Dayton Accords[v] respectively.

In any case, the Syrian war certainly is a ‘serious conflict’ and the deep hatred between the various waring factions is not least depicted in thousands of terrifying YouTube videos. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights,[vi] more than 136,000 people have been killed since the first wave of protests against the regime of president Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011. More than 2.4 million Syrians have fled to neighbouring countries, over 6.5 million have been internally displaced. USAID estimates that more than 9.3 million Syrians are in need of humanitarian assistance as they are suffering through the cold winter.[vii]

It is becoming increasingly obvious that the Syrian conflict will not be resolved on the battlefield. After almost three years of fighting no side looks poised for a decisive military victory.[viii] A political solution is the only way out of the brutal stalemate, and the mere fact that the Geneva II conference has taken place therefore has to be seen as a positive sign. Yet, after ten days of negotiations there is no credible solution to the conflict in sight.

With the next round of negotiations scheduled to begin on the 10th of February, the Geneva II conference appears to be turning into a more permanent Geneva-process. However, there is little reason for optimism that the talks will be producing any meaningful progress anytime soon. This is not least due to the fact that “sincerity and concrete action”, Mr. Wang’s conditions for resolving a conflict, have thus far been absent from Geneva.

The fact that the Geneva conference saw the first direct talks between delegations from the Syrian regime and the opposition has to be seen as a positive sign. Nevertheless, it remains unclear whether the two sides are truly willing to engage in sincere and meaningful negotiations.

The regime delegation categorically refused to even discuss the future of president al-Assad. Instead they submitted a document calling for the return to Syrian sovereignty of the Golan Heights, which have been occupied by Israel since 1967.[ix] Information minister Omran al-Zohbi cast further doubts over his delegation’s willingness for compromise. Outside the UN’s Geneva headquarters he told supporters that “neither in this round, nor in the next will they obtain any concessions from the Syrian delegation.”[x]

Meanwhile, doubts persist regarding the willingness of the opposition to participate in negotiations with the regime. The Syrian National Coalition was the only opposition group present in Geneva. The Islamic Front, currently the strongest non-extremist armed opposition group, on the other hand rejects the very concept of talks to resolve the conflict.[xi]

But even the Syrian National Coalition failed to convincingly demonstrate its willingness for compromise. This was not least illustrated by the group’s threat to withdraw from the talks entirely when UN General Secretary Ban Ki-Moon invited Iran to Geneva.[xii] Considering Iran’s heavy involvement in the war as the regime’s closest ally, and the fact that Saudi-Arabia and other overt supporters of the armed opposition were present, this uncompromising stance by the Coalition seems short-sighted. Even though Tehran refuses to endorse the Geneva I communique[xiii] from June 2012 as the basis for the political process, it is clear that an effective resolution of the conflict is only possible with participation of all parties involved – including Iran.

As for “concrete action,” the Geneva talks have produced next to nothing. The two sides agreed some limited ceasefires to allow access for humanitarian aid workers, particularly around the besieged city of Homs. But according to Valerie Amos, the UN’s Under Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, these measures have so far been ineffective.[xiv]

Once again, the only truly concrete action the Syrian people are seeing has little to do with peace. During the 10 days of talks in Geneva almost 1,900 people were killed, the following weekend brought an additional 591 deaths.[xv] In Aleppo the regime is bombarding rebel-held areas with crude barrel bombs, causing death and destruction, and hardly a day goes by without the appearance of another amateur video depicting unspeakable acts of brutality committed by government forces, radical islamists or the more ‘moderate’ rebels.[xvi]

However, “sincerity and concrete action” is also required from the international community. The permanent members of the UN Security Council invested considerable effort in organising the conference, yet they remain unwilling to exert real pressure on the belligerents on the ground to halt the violence. Saudi-Arabia, other Gulf nations, and Iran give verbal support for a political solution, but continue to supply their respective allies with funds and weapons, which contributes to the protraction of the conflict. At the International Humanitarian Pledging Conference for Syria in Kuwait on the 15th of January, the international community committed to a give a total of $2.3 billion to ease the humanitarian crisis.[xvii] However, giving money is not enough to end the conflict.

At the end of the first 10 days of negotiations in Geneva, Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN’s Special Envoy to Syria tried his best to emphasise the positive: “Progress is very slow indeed, but the sides have engaged in an acceptable manner. This is a very modest beginning, but it is a beginning on which we can build.”[xviii] However, unless the delegations from the regime and the opposition, and the international community are truly sincere in their willingness to find common ground and commit to concrete action, the Syrian war will not come to a peaceful solution. The solution of the conflict needs compromise and sacrifice, not a mere additional, diplomatic battlefront in the UN’s conference rooms in Geneva.


[i] Wang Yi, “Wang Yi:Seek Common Ground While Shelving Differences And Meet Each Other Half Way To Find a Political Settlement of the Syrian Issue,” Office of the Commissioner of the Ministery of Foreign Affairs of the Peoples Republic of China, 23 January 2014, accessed 4 February 2014, http://www.fmcoprc.gov.hk/eng/xwdt/wsyw/t1122045.htm

[ii] “Lebanon Profile,” BBC News, last modified 31 December 2013, accessed 4 February 2014, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-14649284

[iii] “Bosnia War Dead Figure Announced,” BBC News, last modified 21 June 2007, accessed 4 February 2014, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/6228152.stm

[iv] “Taef Agreement,” Le Monde Diplomatique, undated, accessed 4 February 2014, http://www.monde-diplomatique.fr/cahier/proche-orient/region-liban-taef-en

[v] “Dayton Accords,” U.S. Department of State, undated, accessed 4 February 2014, http://www.state.gov/p/eur/rls/or/dayton/

[vi] See: Syrian Observatory of Human Rights at: http://syriahr.com/en/

[vii] “Syria,” USAID, last modified 4 February 2014, accessed 4 February 2014, http://www.usaid.gov/crisis/syria

[viii] Borzou Daragahi, “Assad Fails to Break Syrian Stalemate Despite Rebel Infighting,” Financial Times, 15 January 2014, accessed 4 February 2014, http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/cf51f198-7df6-11e3-b409-00144feabdc0.html#axzz2sNPOITSY

[ix] Anne Barnard, “Syria Talks Appear Deadlocked as Sides Disagree over Goals,” International New York Times, 27 January 2014, accessed 4 February 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/28/world/middleeast/syria.html?_r=0

[x] Ian Black, “Nearly 1,900 Killed in Syria Since Geneva Talks Began,” The Guardian, 31 January 2014, accessed 4 February 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jan/31/syria-death-toll-geneva-talks

[xi] “Major Syrian Rebel Group Rejects Geneva Peace Talks,” Al-Jazeera America, 19 January 2014, accessed 4 February 2014, http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2014/1/19/major-syrian-rebelgrouprejectsgenevapeacetalks.html

[xii] Louis Charbonneau and Parisa Hafezi, “Iran Invite to Syria Talks Withdrawn After Boycott Threat,” Reuters, 20 January 2014, accessed 4 February 2014, http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/01/20/us-syria-un-iran-idUSBREA0J01K20140120

[xiii] “Final communiqué of the Action Group for Syria – Geneva, Saturday 30 June 2012,” The United Nations Office at Geneva, 30 June 2012, accessed 4 February 2014, http://www.unog.ch/80256EDD006B9C2E/%28httpNewsByYear_en%29/18F70DBC923963B1C1257A2D0060696B?OpenDocument

[xiv] Alexandra Olson, “UN Official Dismayed at Failure of Syria Aid Deal,” ABC News, 31 January 2014, accessed 4 February 2014, http://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory/official-dismayed-failure-syria-aid-deal-22318905

[xv] See: Syrian Observatory of Human Rights at: http://syriahr.com/en/

[xvi] “Fighting Continues as Syria Talks Wind Up,” Al-Jazeera, last modified 2 February 2014, accessed 4 February 2014, http://www.aljazeera.com/video/middleeast/2014/02/fighting-continues-as-syria-talks-wind-up-20142223917200352.html

[xvii] Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, “International Humanitarian Pledging Conference for Syria, Kuwait 15 January 2014,” accessed 4 February 2014, https://docs.unocha.org/sites/dms/Documents/K2_PLEDGE_26JAN2014_report+graphic.pdf

[xviii] “Syria Crisis: Geneva Peace Talks End in Recriminations,” BBC News, last modified 31 January 2014, accessed 4 February 2014, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-25983181

Rouhani’s new Iran: carefully navigating Iran’s near neighbours, by Thomas Owen – Crisis Watch: Iran

The first day of 2014 saw snow fall in the Iranian capital Tehran, an apt

reflection of the cold reception that greeted news of the historic agreement

reached in Geneva on November 24th. As president Hassan Rouhani

celebrated his first one hundred days in office, a hundred days that were

perhaps more productive than that of US president Barak Obama’s, he still

faces an uphill struggle to convince his near neighbours that both he, and

Iran, are not to be feared.

This deal has brought about sudden turn of events that has seen the status

quo in the Middle East suddenly shift far faster than many leaders would

have liked, and while the developed world celebrated an apparent thawing in

diplomatic relations with Iran, the temperature that has settled over Tehran is

similar to the coolness Iran’s neighbours are treating them with.

Saudi Arabia and Israeli, two of the most unlikely bedfellows have

nevertheless crawled under the blanket of security, providing them, no

doubt, with the warming reassurance of alliance and mutual interest in

keeping an ascendent Iran in check. Rightly this has shivers running down

the spine of many in Washington, London, Brussels and Tehran, particularly

considering Israel is the region’s sole nuclear power and Saudi Arabia, it has

been rumoured, has had secret dealings with Pakistan that involve funding

Pakistan’s nuclear programme in exchange for rapid access to nuclear

weapons. If these rumours prove true, it could make Iran and Rouhani think

long and hard about their current dismissal of a nuclear weapons programme.

With this unease generated by Israel and Saudi Arabia, the war in Syria is

most certainly an unwanted distraction, with Iran heavily involved in

supporting and financing the Assad regime and various factions operating

within Syria’s borders such as Hezbollah. This support of groups identified

by the West as terrorist organisations is still a big stumbling block on the road

to reconciliation, particularly with countries like Israel.

The news isn’t all bad, as it was Oman, one of Britain’s strongest allies in

the Middle East, who originally brokered the first tentative meetings between

Iran and the USA. The Gulf States’ cooperation is high on the list of priorities

for Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, as he said on his

Facebook Page that “Iran’s ties with the Persian Gulf littoral states will get

better day by day, and we will try to have these relations upgraded to the

highest level.” For their part the Gulf States are nervous of an ascendent Iran.

The US’s attempt at reconciliation, combined with its desire to be self

sufficient in its ability to access oil and natural gas put the Gulf States in a

tricky situation. Turki bin Faisal al Saud, member of the Saudi royal family

and former head of Saudi intelligence has warned that US-Iran relations

should galvanise the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf

(GCC) to form a “unit” that does more than cooperation on economic matters

and the price of oil. This sentiment was echoed by the Saudi deputy Foreign

Minister, Nizar Madani, who said “the Gulf states should no longer work

independently from one another to guarantee their security.” The GCC does

welcome a nuclear deal, as it diminished the threat of an Israeli-US military

strike on Iran. Being excluded from the negations however, was not

welcomed.

The real reason for the GCC’s unease, says Omar al Hassan, director of

the Gulf Centre for Strategic Studies, is the potential for Iran to use its new

found peace with the West to forge a place as a Middle Eastern superpower

that would use its influence in Syria and Iraq to try to control the region. Al

Hassan reckons this is where the GCC should come together to counter any

power grabs Iran may have planned.

In all, the deal brokered on 24th of November will have a positive impact

on the regional dynamics of the Gulf. The GCC feel let down by America for

not intervening in Syria, and will likely grow closer as time goes on. Iran can

use this closeness to its advantage, by extending trade deals (which will be

limited given US and UN sanctions) to both the GCC, and to its existing

allies such as China and Russia. Syria will play a huge role in deciding the

balance of power in the region, and if the US continues to bring Iran in as a

powerful ally in the war against al-Qaeda and Sunni extremism, then Iran

could have the upper hand in securing influence in the future of Syria. The

relationship between Iran and her neighbours is complex, with mistrust

stretching back to the days of the Shah and Iran’s previous attempts at

becoming a regional superpower. As Spring comes to Iran and the snow

melts, it is likely that the thaw will continue in the relationship Iran has with

both its neighbours and the outside world.

The interim agreement: regional considerations, by Rafael Serrano – Crisis Watch: Iran

Beyond the issues surrounding the Iranian nuclear development program there is a larger struggle for regional power and influence. This struggle has pit traditional Gulf powers, led by Saudi Arabia, the Israelis, and the Iranians in a regional race for influence and leverage against one another. The divisions between these regional powers are influenced by deep political, cultural, and religious divisions. While the majority of the headlines and commentary have focused on the threats exchanged between the Israelis and Iranians, the Gulf States have also been actively and aggressively engaged in countering Iran at every opportunity. The recent international negotiations regarding Iran’s proposed nuclear weapons program have had a profound effect on the dynamic between the rivals with significant implications going forward.

There is an ongoing proxy war between the regional powers that could have serious impact of the possible success of any nuclear negotiations between Iran and major foreign powers. Understanding the significance of the proposed international deal to stem the Iranian nuclear weapons program requires an appreciation of the strategic environment. There is a broader and more complex strategic environment from within which the actions and counteractions regarding the Iranian nuclear development program are continuing to develop of which the nuclear issue is just one feature. This environment has a complex network of regional stakeholders and is significantly influenced by deep historical, cultural and religious dimensions. It is within landscape and through the prism of the regional geopolitical dynamic that the impact of any negotiations or actions must be analyzed.

The Saudis and Gulf States

The divisions between the Saudi and the Iranian regimes have the deepest and most complex origins and narratives in the region. These divisions have manifested themselves in a series of ongoing bloody sectarian battles throughout the region including in Yemen, Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria. These proxy wars have been fought by patchwork network of extremist organizations and Islamist militants to counteract one another. Whereas, the Saudis have also previously been able to rely on their interest more succinctly aligning with those of the US, they have perceived this to increasingly not be the case. The Saudi’s have been increasingly critical of western positions, especially those of the US, on Syria and Iran. This has led to increased sectarian proxy wars carried out by sub-state and non-state actors leading to assassination attempts, bombings, and arming sectarian militias.

The Saudi’s were further rebuffed when their demands for a seat at P5+1 nuclear negotiation were rebuffed. The apparent Saudi loss of strategic ground in the power politics of the region has led to the creation of a new alliance with the Israelis. While the Saudis had previously expressed support for Israeli direct action against Iran, these sentiments were always shared with the US as the intermediary. However, this new alliance may be a move to ensure Saudi interests are promoted without a reliance on direct US involvement, especially as they pertain to Iran.

The Israelis

The Israelis have been very clear regarding their positions on political and security matters throughout the region, especially regarding the Iranian nuclear program. They have long reiterated their unwillingness to have any nuclear capacity in Iran and reserved their right to strike if necessary. As with the Saudis, the Israelis have also been publicly opposed to the ongoing negotiations with Iran and are increasingly critical of western involvement, or lack thereof, in the region. The Israeli stance has been challenged directly with Iranian demands for disarmament of all regional powers in negotiations which may explain the new Saudi-Israeli alliance.

The emergence of an alliance, even if just against Iran, could have serious implications for the region. As international negotiations with Iran have progressed the Israeli government has found itself increasingly on the outside. This Israeli security dilemma has been coupled with the increasing instability on its borders in Lebanon and Syria. Additionally, Israel has had to navigate a good but changing relationship with Turkey which has recently adopted a more hard-line stance on regional issues.

The Turkish

In recent years the geopolitical dynamic has been further complicated by the reemergence of Turkey as an active participant in the regional security and political affairs of the Middle East. The legacy of the Ottoman Empire provides Turkey with a powerful legitimizing narrative to support greater regional involvement. Turkey has launched into regional affairs with noticeably differing objectives which have put them at odds with Saudi and other Gulf States. In fact, the Turks have taken a far more aggressive and strategic approach to relations with Saudi Arabia and Israel. However

In the past year the Turkish government has taken actions in direct opposition to the interests of Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Israel. The Turkish government expelled Saudi intelligence officials from Turkey and allegedly reported a number of Israeli intelligence assets in Turkey to Iranian officials, resulting in a significant loss to both countries. Moreover, Turkey has openly opposed Saudi positions in Egypt and Syria increasing tensions the two countries. These actions are in addition to Turkey’s more aggressive approaches towards Palestinian territories in Israel. Turkey’s relationship with Iran has been mixed but far better than that of Saudi and Israel. The significance of Turkey’s newfound position was best captured in the inclusion of President Erdogan in President Obama’s top five international leader friends; a list which excluded both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah.

The Strategic Implications

The international community has thus far largely failed to fully appreciate the complexities and nuances of the geopolitical dynamic in the region in negotiating the Iranian nuclear deal. The struggle for regional power and influence in the Middle East is an inescapable reality that has direct bearing over the ongoing nuclear negotiations. As such, there are several possible reactions to the P5+1 negotiation that western powers would be wise to monitor. First, if proxy warfare is allowed to escalate, groups like the Al Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in Syria could increase the threat of international terrorist in the region. Additionally, any unilateral actions on the part of Israel could potentially plunge the region in a far larger conflict.

In attempting to find a peaceful solution to the Iranian nuclear issue foreign powers should be wary of the implications to regional power balance. This is especially true since geopolitics in the region between the primary actors is often seen as a zero sum game. Moreover, while the reemergence of Turkey as a prominent geopolitical entity can possibly provide much needed balance, western powers should appreciate that all the regional powers will ultimately act according to its own strategic interests. In such a complex environment there is as much potential for negative outcomes as positive.

The interim agreement: unresolved issues, by Nick Wood – Crisis Watch: Iran

Whilst the interim agreement that was reached on the 24th November between the P5+1 and Iran saw embraces and smiles from the negotiating teams, the hard work is only just beginning. The 9th December saw negotiations commence once again in an attempt to agree upon the technical details not discussed in the 24th November agreement. The talks are taking place at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) headquarters in Vienna, a suitable location considering the key role the organisation will play in monitoring Iran’s compliance when the final agreement is implemented – possibly as early as January.

 

An agreement between Iranian nuclear officials and the IAEA on the 11th November saw Iran allow the UN nuclear watchdog access to both the Gachin uranium mine and the heavy water facility at Arak. The latter had been a particular sticking point after Iran refused to adhere to a UN Security Council Resolution demanding cessation of work related to heavy water projects in 2006, with Iran maintaining that it was under no legal obligation to halt activity. The one-day visit to the facility by a two-member IAEA team on 8th December signalled the first inspection since 2011. Whilst the Geneva interim agreement stated that Iran would make no further advances in its activities at the Arak reactor, Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif announced to Iran’s Press TV, just five days after the agreement had been reached, that although ‘capacity at the Arak site is not going to increase…construction will continue there.’ It is varying interpretations of what the interim does and does not allow that must be clarified in the current technical negotiations. Claims, for example, that the nuclear agreement includes loopholes that could allow for the production of specific nuclear-related components off-site, suggest that certain aspects of the deal still need to be clarified.

 

Another controversial aspect of the Geneva interim agreement is the lack of reference made to the Parchin military complex. A report released by the IAEA in November 2011 announced that it had received information from member states that suggested Iran constructed a large explosives containment chamber in 2000 and had been carrying out subsequent testing, possibly associated with nuclear materials – a charge that Iran denies. Whilst the IAEA’s visits in 2005 uncovered nothing of relevance, the UN watchdog maintained that Iran had yet to ‘explain the rationale behind these activities.’ Though Iran has argued in the past that the military sensitivity of the complex means that detailed inspections are not appropriate, there are hopes amongst U.S officials that further negotiations might break the impasse that Parchin has historically presented and allow a deal to be struck that could eventually permit future access.

 

Perhaps a more pressing issue concerns the practicalities of the IAEA’s expansion of monitoring in order to observe Iranian compliance with a final deal. The organisation’s Director-General Yukiya Amano announced on Thursday 28th November that the monitoring of the Iranian deal would have ‘implications for funding and staffing’ that would require an increased budget. Around 10% of the IAEA’s annual inspections budget of €121m is already used to monitor the Iranian nuclear program. The interim agreement and its subsequent technical additions will vastly increase the IAEA’s workload, requiring extra support, funding and time.

 

The 24th November interim agreement was certainly a breakthrough for both Iran and the P5+1. Putting the words to paper took much time and effort, but their implementation will require even more determination. The technical negotiations must clarify what exactly constitutes compliance if questions over facilities such as Parchin or loopholes over Arak are to be effectively addressed. The P5+1, Iran and the IAEA all have a difficult time ahead of them – the success of any deal will be measured ‘in months and years, not minutes.’

The path to an interim nuclear deal – by Mal Craghill, Crisis Watch: Iran

In the early hours of Sunday 24th November the foreign ministers of Iran and the “P5+1” group – China, France, Germany, Russia, UK and USA – agreed an interim Joint Plan of Action on solving the long crisis of Iran’s nuclear programme. The talks, led by the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Baroness Catherine Ashton, had been significantly aided by secret Omani-brokered talks between Iran and the USA since Hassan Rouhani’s surprise election as President of Iran in June, as well as talks between Iran and the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) which had been taking place separately from the P5+1 talks. An earlier set of Geneva talks, which had seemed likely to result in a breakthrough, had broken up with no agreement on 9th November after France allegedly held out for a tougher interim settlement, much to the delight of the Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Just two days later Iran reached agreement with the IAEA over access to the Arak nuclear reactor and the Gachin uranium mine, and on the same day the UK and Iran announced that they would be re-opening diplomatic relations – suspended after the British Embassy in Tehran was attacked in 2011 – with the exchange of non-resident charges d’affaires. On 17th November France’s President Hollande arrived in Israel for a previously scheduled visit and announced that France would continue to hold out against the easing of sanctions on Iran until it was convinced Iran was not pursuing a nuclear weapons programme. It was against this backdrop – and the bombing of the Iranian Embassy in Beirut on 19th November – that the Geneva talks re-convened. With expectations lowered following the previous round of talks, the talks were at “official” rather than ministerial level, and whilst they were underway Binyamin Netanyahu engaged in a frantic round of visits trying to forestall an agreement, including visiting Russian President Putin in Moscow on 20th November and meeting with John Kerry in Israel on 22nd November. This proved fruitless for Netanyahu, with good progress evident in Geneva as the P5+1 foreign ministers converged on Geneva on Saturday. Despite a long wrangle over the details of one or two points, a deal was eventually struck in the early hours of 24th November, with all sides claiming victory for their negotiating standpoints. But as the dust settles from Geneva, what does the agreement mean for Iran’s prospects over the next 6-12 months, and for the UK’s engagement with Iran? A series of blog posts from the Iran Crisis Watch group will investigate prospects for Iran over the coming months.

 

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The Prospects for Trade 

The Joint Plan of Action allowed for a limited easing of sanctions against Iran which may aid Iran’s ailing economy in limited ways. It puts a hold on efforts to further reduce Iran’s crude oil sales – which have dropped from around 2.5m barrels per day to 1m barrels per day – and allows Iran’s crude oil customers to maintain their current levels of supply. Sanctions on the automotive sector, petrochemicals and precious metal exports are suspended, and a channel is opened for humanitarian aid which will include food and agricultural products as well as medical and pharmaceutical supplies. The effect on trading partners has been surprisingly rapid, although the temporary nature of the current deal has led many to approach potential trade deals with caution.

 

One immediate beneficiary is likely to be India. Given its fragile relations with Pakistan, India has been involved in work to build a deep water port at Chabahar in Iran, which it views as an essential route for Indian trade into Iran and Central Asia. Illustrating the region’s difficult geopolitical situation, Chabahar would be in direct competition for international trade with the Chinese-financed Gwadar port, just 44 miles away in Pakistan. Iran has announced its intention to establish a free trade zone around the port, probably to attract lost trade back to the country; the port of Bandar Abbas is reportedly handling almost half of the trade now that it was two years ago. The announcement of the free trade zone already seems to be creating interest, with several Gulf States keen to invest. Japan also seems keen to rekindle trade with Iran, with talks having taken place in Tehran recently.

 

A number of opportunities arise for European trade with Iran, which will be highly beneficial for many stagnant European economies; EU exports to Iran are down 45% (3.4Bn euros) in the first 9 months of 2013 compared with the same period in 2011. France will be keen to re-kindle Peugeot and Renault’s previous exports to the Iranian automotive sector, although it remains to be seen whether their reported intransigence in Geneva will be held against them. Iran has also begun reaching out to oil companies that it would like to see re-entering the market, going as far as naming the companies it wants to do business with – including two from the USA, and Britain’s BP. Italian company Eni has been the first to show signs of interest, with its CEO meeting with Iran’s oil minister at the annual OPEC meeting in Vienna on 4th December. This sector is likely to be slow to develop, given the uncertainty over a long-term settlement and the poor terms under which Iran dealt with foreign oil companies in the past. An Austrian trade delegation visited Tehran in early December, reportedly focusing on infrastructure and manufacturing opportunities. Pakistan is also using the recent international developments to reinvigorate a stalled project to construct a gas pipeline from Iran into central Asia, despite opposition from the USA. Although Iran is keen to progress this project, their recent cancellation of finance for the Pakistan side of the pipeline reflects Rouhani’s pragmatism, showing a desire to fix Iran’s ailing economy structurally as well as through increased international trade.

 

Two UK companies stand to benefit immediately, thanks to the humanitarian sanctions relief. GlaxoSmithKlein and AstraZeneca have both maintained trade with Iran during the recent sanctions (reportedly $32.2m and $14m annually, respectively), and they can expect an immediate increase in sales of medicine and medical equipment. Beyond that there are no immediate reports of UK companies seeking new trade in Iran, but over the next 6 months – as work on a permanent agreement with Iran progresses – more interest is likely to be shown. According to the British Iranian Chamber of Commerce, opportunities are likely to lie in telecommunications and IT, joint manufacturing ventures (particularly in vehicle manufacturing), water and waste water projects and banking sector reform. The re-opening of diplomatic relations bodes well for potential future trade deals; Ajay Sharma, the UK charge d’affaires has already visited Tehran, and a reciprocal visit by his counterpart to London has just taken place. William Hague has made it clear that this will be a step-by-step process, rooted in demonstrable trust being developed, but the early signs are promising.

 

There are likely to be some negative aspects to the recent deal as well. With many GCC States believing, at least privately, that steps towards normalisation of Iran’s relations with the outside world will upset the balance of power in the region, it is possible that they will seek to scale down trade with members of the P5+1 group in retaliation. However, a more unexpected result may be to kill off some arms trades in the region. It already seems likely that the UAE will either postpone or cancel a potential Eurofighter Typhoon buy from the UK, citing fears over destabilising the region militarily and with one eye on seeking increased trade with Iran themselves. Oman even went as far as standing in opposition to the other 5 GCC members recently when they called for deepening the partnership into a military alliance. Oman has a strong trading history with Iran, and does not want to harm future relations by joining a potentially threatening regional alliance. For the UK, the real trade benefits will come with the agreement of a permanent settlement to Iran’s nuclear programme, and may necessitate a change of approach to the region, treating the Arab GCC states as individuals rather than as a homogenous bloc.

“Wargaming by the Rules: Two Days in the Life of NATO Legal Advisors” by Dr Aurel Sari

I have recently returned from RAF St Mawgan near Newquay in Cornwall, where I participated in the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps’ main exercise for this year, ARRCADE FUSION 2013. Running for a period of two weeks and involving over 2,000 military and civilian personnel, the exercise was designed to ensure that the ARRC maintains its operational readiness as part of the NATO Response Force.

 

As I knew from first-hand experience that Newquay gets a bit chilly at this time of the year, and having been advised to pack a ‘very warm’ sleeping bag, I arrived early in the morning kitted out like I was going on an Arctic expedition. It soon turned out that I erred on the side of caution by some margin, as the climate of the command and accommodation tents more closely resembled nearby Eden Project’s tropical biome than a windswept Cornish field in the middle of November.

 

Once I received my access pass and was given directions to the Brew Tent (serving coffee and tea, but bring your own mug), I was guided over to LEGAL—comprising two desks, four chairs, laptops and the legal advisors. And a supply of cookies and good humour.

 

This year, I specifically asked to be treated less as a visitor and more as another pair of hands on deck. Someone clearly got the message, as within the first five minutes of my arrival I was bombarded with about a dozen questions on a range of legal conundrums. Although the pace was not quite as relentless as I imagine it must be in real life operations, the questions kept rolling in at a steady rate throughout my two-day stay.

 

My participation in ARRCADE FUSION 2013 once again confirmed two important lessons. First, legal advisors deployed on operations must master a wide spectrum of international law. During the two days I spent with the ARRC, I was confronted with questions relating to the use of force, naval warfare, international refugee law, the law of neutrality, international human rights law, State responsibility, the classification of conflicts, various aspects of international humanitarian law, intelligence and the law of Chapter VII of the UN Charter. Quite a mix, really. Second, bringing together practitioners and academics in a setting such as this one offers real rewards to both sides. To me, the constant stream of legal problems requiring a more or less instant solution provided a refreshingly practical perspective on the law, while I believe my hosts benefitted from my expertise and second opinion in a number of subject areas. They certainly made me write memos.

 

Overall, participating in ARRCADE FUSION 2013 was a thoroughly enjoyable experience both personally and professionally, something of a cross between attending Glastonbury (save the music) and going on an international law field trip.

MStrat Student Mal Craghill on a visit to HQ ARRC

Purposeful activity, influence and context are three themes which keep recurring during the MStrat programme. I wasn’t consciously looking for them during our visit to Exercise ARRCADE FUSION at RAF St Mawgan, but they were plain to see. As one who has worked in headquarters on operations and on exercise I was taken aback by the sheer scale of the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps exercise, involving as it did some 16 NATO nations. I was struck by how coherent the headquarters was, how well everyone knew the mission and how much effort was being put into its achievement. The integration of civilian and military activity to achieve influence across the area of operations was way beyond what I have seen previously, as was the context being brought to the exercise by a well-resourced and tightly run Exercise Control – including input from very senior and experienced civilian experts. Being a participant in such activity tends to constrain one from taking a coherent view of the overall effort; visiting ARRCADE FUSION allowed a wider view, and what I saw was impressive.