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geopolitics

Abridged by Adam Dempsey , Research Associate, U K Defence Forum, from an article, originally published by the New York Times on January 16th 2011, written by William Yong

Iran has embarked on a sweeping program of cuts in its costly and inefficient system of subsidies on fuel and other essential goods that has put a strain on state finances and held back economic progress for years. The government's success in overcoming political obstacles to make the cuts and its willingness to risk social upheaval suggest that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad may have consolidated power after the internal fractures that followed his bitterly disputed re-election in 2009.

Analysts also believe that the successful implementation of the cuts could influence Iran's position at nuclear talks in Istanbul this month. "The initial success of the subsidy reform will increase the regime's confidence generally," said Cliff Kupchan, a former State Department official who is now a director at the Washington-based Eurasia Group. "This could make them more assertive in the talks. But more importantly, a confident and unified regime is better positioned to reach consensus on some initial agreement."

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said recently that international sanctions had slowed Iran's nuclear program, and the restrictions do seem to have disrupted sectors of the economy, particularly banking and export-related industries. But the sanctions do not seem to be the driving force behind the subsidy cuts.

Iran's foreign exchange revenues also sank in recent years as oil prices fell from prerecession highs, creating greater budget pressures. But Tehran has long sought to cut the subsidies — even under the reformist administration of President Mohammad Khatami — and particularly for oil.

The logic is compelling: artificially low prices encourage greater consumption, leaving less oil to export for cash. And the higher oil prices rise, the greater the "opportunity costs" in lost exports. But the timing, whether for political or economic reasons, was never right to cut the subsidies.

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Naval experts reckon there are 9 major choke points in the international sea lanes where bad guys could badly influence world trade. A major prize - or at least recognition amongst your peers - to the first person to identify them correctly through the comments mechanism just below.

 

By George Friedman, Stratfor

In my book "The Next Decade," I spend a good deal of time considering the relation of the American Empire to the American Republic and the threat the empire poses to the republic. If there is a single point where these matters converge, it is in the constitutional requirement that Congress approve wars through a declaration of war and in the abandonment of this requirement since World War II. This is the point where the burdens and interests of the United States as a global empire collide with the principles and rights of the United States as a republic.

World War II was the last war the United States fought with a formal declaration of war. The wars fought since have had congressional approval, both in the sense that resolutions were passed and that Congress appropriated funds, but the Constitution is explicit in requiring a formal declaration. It does so for two reasons, I think. The first is to prevent the president from taking the country to war without the consent of the governed, as represented by Congress. Second, by providing for a specific path to war, it provides the president power and legitimacy he would not have without that declaration; it both restrains the president and empowers him. Not only does it make his position as commander in chief unassailable by authorizing military action, it creates shared responsibility for war. A declaration of war informs the public of the burdens they will have to bear by leaving no doubt that Congress has decided on a new order — war — with how each member of Congress voted made known to the public.

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By Alex Shone, UK Defence Forum Research Associate in Residence

On 8th March, Ayatollah Mohammad Reza Mahdavi-Kani, an 80-year-old conservative cleric, was elected as the chairman of Iran's Assembly of Experts. Mahdavi-Kani replaced Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, who had headed the Assembly for the previous four years. Yesterday, in the House of Commons, it was asked of the UK Government what their assessment was of Rafsanjani's departure from the Assembly. The answer was that this event was not anticipated to seriously impact the current course of Iran's internal and external policies, though these will remain of great concern.

Mohammad Reza Mahdavi-Kani

Born in 1931 in the village of Kan, near Tehran, he began his education in Tehran and left for Qom to study at a seminary in 1947, aged 16. One of his teachers was Imam Khomeyni (later Ayatollah Khomeyni). He was imprisoned and tortured due to his political activity in the 1970s. Mahdavi-Kani has a history of medical conditions. He has been hospitalised with heart problems three times in 1985, 2001 and 2005.

Iran's Assembly of Experts

There 86 members of the Assembly of Experts and their role is to appoint the Supreme Leader, monitor his performance and remove the Leader from post if he is deemed incapable of fulfilling his duties. The Assembly's members are elected by the public for 8 year terms in a general election. The candidates are carefully vetted before being allowed to stand and the Assembly is dominated by religious conservatives.

Political career

Mahdavi-Kani was among the founding members of the Military Clergy Association, the jame'eh-ye rowhaniyat-e mobarez, (JRM). The Association started in 1977 as an anti-Shah movement and gained power after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

After the Revolution, Mahdavi-Kani was appointed a member of Guardian Council in 1980 and served as Iran's interior minister between 1980 and 1981. He served as acting Prime Minister from September to October 1981, after the assassination of his predecessor, Mohammad Javad Bahonar. Mahdavi-Kani has also served as a member of the Council of the Islamic Revolution Committee and the Supreme Council of Cultural Revolution.

In 1984, Mahdavi-Kani became provisional Friday prayer leader for Tehran for two years. In 1997, he was elected to the Expediency Council, and in 1989 Ayatollah Khamene'i appointed him as the Director of Mosques. In 1999, Mahdavi-Kani was elected as secretary-general of the JRM, a position he holds to this day. He is also the chancellor of the Imam Sadeq University in Tehran.

Mahdavi-Kani is a traditional conservative cleric who elects to stay behind the scenes. He is a loyal follower of Ayatollah Khomeyni and has expressed criticism towards President Ahmadinejad. Mahdavi-Kani actually refused to receive the President during the latter's visit to Imam Sadeq University in 2007, though he supported Ahmadinejad's candidacy in the 2009 presidential election.

In memoirs published in 2007, Mahdavi-Kani said that he had always been opposed to the siege of the USA embassy in Tehran in 1979 demanding the extradition of the Shah from the USA to face trial in Iran.

 

Recent American and South Korean intelligence reports speculate that North Korea may be preparing for its first nuclear tests since 2009. Satellite images show that North Korea has dug an 800 metre tunnel at its test site at Punggye-ri. Experts believe that the tunnel will be ready for a nuclear test when it reaches 1 kilometre, which South Korea believes may occur in early April.

Adam Dempsey, Research Associate for the UK Defence Forum, has recently undertaken a study of North Korea's nuclear weapons programme. His report outlines the development of Pyongyang's programme and ballistic missile capabilities.

In keeping with many aspects of North Korean life, Pyongyang's nuclear weapons programme is shrouded in secrecy and subject to speculation. Official estimates of North Korea's programme are varied and remain primarily reliant on open-source intelligence. To complicate matters, Pyongyang's nuclear missile development may have benefitted from illegal exchanges involving the A.Q. Khan network.

Adam's full report is available here.

 

By Peter Zeihan

Europe is on the cusp of change. An EU heads-of-state summit Dec. 16 launched a process aimed to save the common European currency. If successful, this process would be the most significant step toward creating a singular European power since the creation of the European Union itself in 1992 — that is, if it doesn't destroy the euro first.

Envisioned by the EU Treaty on Monetary Union, the common currency, the euro, has suffered from two core problems during its decade-long existence: the lack of a parallel political union and the issue of debt. Many in the financial world believe that what is required for a viable currency is a fiscal union that has taxation power — and that is indeed needed. But that misses the larger point of who would be in charge of the fiscal union. Taxation and appropriation — who pays how much to whom — are essentially political acts. One cannot have a centralized fiscal authority without first having a centralized political/military authority capable of imposing and enforcing its will. Greeks are not going to implement a German-designed tax and appropriations system simply because Berlin thinks it's a good idea. As much as financiers might like to believe, the checkbook is not the ultimate power in the galaxy. The ultimate power comes from the law backed by a gun.

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Editor's note: This is the sixth installment in a series of special reports that Dr. Friedman will write over the next few weeks as he travels to Turkey, Moldova, Romania, Ukraine and Poland. In this series, he will share his observations of the geopolitical imperatives in each country and conclude with reflections on his journey as a whole and options for the United States.

By George Friedman

The name "Ukraine" literally translates as "on the edge." It is a country on the edge of other countries, sometimes part of one, sometimes part of another and more frequently divided. In the 17th and 18th centuries, it was divided between Russia, Poland and the Ottoman Empire. In the 19th century, it was divided between Russia and Austria-Hungary. And in the 20th century, save for a short period of independence after World War I, it became part of the Soviet Union. Ukraine has been on the edge of empires for centuries.

My father was born in Ukraine in 1912, in a town in the Carpathians now called Uzhgorod. It was part of Austria-Hungary when he was born, and by the time he was 10 the border had moved a few miles east, so his family moved a few miles west. My father claimed to speak seven languages (Hungarian, Romanian, Slovak, Polish, Ukrainian, Russian and Yiddish). As a child, I was deeply impressed by his learning. It was only later that I discovered that his linguistic skills extended only to such phrases as "What do you want for that scrawny chicken?" and "Please don't shoot."

He could indeed make himself understood in such non-trivial matters in all these languages. Consider the reason: Uzhgorod today is on the Slovakian border, about 30 miles from Poland, 15 miles from Hungary and 50 miles from Romania. When my father was growing up, the borders moved constantly, and knowing these languages mattered. You were never sure what you'd be a citizen or subject of next or who would be aiming a rifle at you.

My father lived on the edge until the Germans came in 1941 and swept everything before them, and then until the Soviets returned in 1944 and swept everything before them. He was one of tens of millions who lived or died on the edge, and perhaps nowhere was there as much suffering from living on the edge than in Ukraine. Ukraine was caught between Stalin and Hitler, between planned famines and outright slaughter, to be relieved only by the grinding misery of post-Stalin communism. No European country suffered as much in the 20th century as Ukraine. From 1914 until 1945, Ukraine was as close to hell as one can reach in this life.

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Editor's note: This is the final installment in a series of special reports that Dr. Friedman wrote during his travels to Turkey, Moldova, Romania, Ukraine and Poland. In this series, he shared his observations of the geopolitical imperatives in each country and now concludes with reflections on his journey as a whole and options for the United States.

By George Friedman

I have come home, a word that is ambiguous for me, and more so after this trip to Romania, Moldova, Turkey, Ukraine and Poland. The experience of being back in Texas frames my memories of the journey. The architecture of the cities I visited both impressed and oppressed me. Whether Austro-Hungarian mass or Stalinist modernism, the sheer size of the buildings was overwhelming. These are lands of apartments, not of private homes on their own plots of land. In Texas, even in the cities, you have access to the sky. That gives me a sense of freedom and casualness that Central Europe denies me. For a man born in Budapest, with a mother from Bratislava and a father from Uzhgorod, I can't deny I am Central European. But I prefer my chosen home in Austin simply because nothing is ever casual for me in Central Europe. In Texas, everything is casual, even when it's about serious things. There is an ease in the intensity of Texas.

On my return, some friends arranged a small dinner with some accomplished and distinguished people to talk about my trip. I was struck by the casualness of the conversation. It was a serious discussion, even passionate at times, but it was never guarded. There was no sense that a conversation carried with it risk. I had not met some of the guests before. It didn't matter. In the region I was born in, I feel that I have to measure every word with care. There are so many bad memories that each word has to be measured as if it were gold. The simplest way to put it, I suppose, is that there are fewer risks in Texas than in Central Europe. One of the benefits of genuine power is speaking your mind, with good humor. Those on the edge of power proceed with more caution. Perhaps more than others, I feel this tension. Real Texans may laugh at this assertion, but at the end of the day, I'm far more Texan than anything else.

Or perhaps I speak too quickly. We were in the Kiev airport on the way to Warsaw. As I was passing through security, I was stopped by the question, "Friedman? Warsaw?" I admitted that and suddenly was under guard. "You have guns in your luggage." For me, that statement constituted a near-death experience. I looked at my wife, wondering what she had done. She said casually, "Those aren't guns. They are swords and daggers and were to be surprises for my husband." Indeed they were. While I stood in mortal terror, she cheerily chatted up the guards, who really couldn't make out what she was saying but were charmed nonetheless by her complete absence of fear. In my case, the fear came in layers, with each decade like another layer in an archaeological dig. For her, memory is a much simpler thing.

The region I visited is all about memories — never forgetting, never forgiving and pretending it doesn't matter any more. Therefore, the region is in a peculiar place. On the one hand, every past grievance continues to live. On the other hand, a marvelous machine, the European Union, is hard at work, making the past irrelevant and the future bright. In a region not noted for its optimism, redemption is here and it comes from Brussels.

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Editor's note: This is the fifth installment in a series of special reports that Dr. Friedman will write over the next few weeks as he travels to Turkey, Moldova, Romania, Ukraine and Poland. In this series, he will share his observations of the geopolitical imperatives in each country and conclude with reflections on his journey as a whole and options for the United States.

By George Friedman

We arrived in Istanbul during the festival of Eid al-Adha, which commemorates the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son Ishmael on God's command and praises the God who stayed his hand. It is a jarring holiday for me; I was taught that it was Isaac whom God saved. The distinction between Ishmael and Isaac is the difference between Hagar and Sarah, between Abraham and the Jews and Abraham and the Muslims. It ties Muslims, Jews and Christians together. It also tears them apart.

Muslims celebrate Eid with the sacrifice of animals (sheep and cattle). Istanbul is a modern commercial city, stunningly large. On this day, as we drove in from the airport, there were vacant lots with cattle lined up for those wishing to carry out the ritual. There were many cattle and people. The ritual sacrifice is widely practiced, even among the less religious. I was told that Turkey had to import cattle for the first time, bringing them in from Uruguay. Consider the juxtaposition of ancient ritual sacrifice so widely practiced that it requires global trade to sustain it.

The tension between and within nations and religions is too ancient for us to remember its beginnings. It is also something that never grows old. For Turkey, it is about a very old nation at what I think is the beginning of a new chapter. It is therefore inevitably about the struggles within Turkey and with Turkey's search for a way to find both its identity and its place in the world.

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Editor's note: This is the fourth installment in a series of special reports that Dr. Friedman will write over the next few weeks as he travels to Turkey, Moldova, Romania, Ukraine and Poland. In this series, he will share his observations of the geopolitical imperatives in each country and conclude with reflections on his journey as a whole and options for the United States.

By George Friedman

Moldova is a country in need of explanation, two explanations in fact. First, there is the question of what kind of country Moldova is. Second, there is the question of why anyone should care. Oddly, I went to Moldova thinking I knew the answer to the second question but not the first. I came away unsure of either. Let's begin with the second question: Why does Moldova matter?

The second article in this series, "Borderlands," described the re-emergence of Russian regional power following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Russian national security is dependent on two countries that became independent following the collapse. Belarus is the buffer between Russia and Europe on the North European Plain. Ukraine is the buffer between Russia and the Carpathian Mountains. From the Russian point of view, dominating these countries is less important than Europe and the United States not dominating them. The Russians have achieved this and perhaps more.

Ukraine is Russia's southwestern anchor and its Achilles' heel. It is difficult for Russia to be secure without Ukraine both for economic and strategic reasons. Russia would be hard to defend if Ukraine were under the control of a hostile power. What Ukraine is to Russia, Moldova is to Ukraine. It is a salient that makes Ukraine difficult to defend, and if Ukraine can't be defended Russia can't be defended either. Or so my reasoning went at the beginning of my visit.

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By George Friedman

Julian Assange has declared that geopolitics will be separated into pre-"Cablegate" and post-"Cablegate" eras. That was a bold claim. However, given the intense interest that the leaks produced, it is a claim that ought to be carefully considered. Several weeks have passed since the first of the diplomatic cables were released, and it is time now to address the following questions: First, how significant were the leaks? Second, how could they have happened? Third, was their release a crime? Fourth, what were their consequences? Finally, and most important, is the WikiLeaks premise that releasing government secrets is a healthy and appropriate act a tenable position?

Let's begin by recalling that the U.S. State Department documents constituted the third wave of leaks. The first two consisted of battlefield reports from Iraq and Afghanistan. Looking back on those as a benchmark, it is difficult to argue that they revealed information that ran counter to informed opinion. I use the term "informed opinion" deliberately. For someone who was watching Iraq and Afghanistan with some care over the previous years, the leaks might have provided interesting details but they would not have provided any startling distinction between the reality that was known and what was revealed. If, on the other hand, you weren't paying close attention, and WikiLeaks provided your first and only view of the battlefields in any detail, you might have been surprised.

Let's consider the most controversial revelation, one of the tens of thousands of reports released on Iraq and Afghanistan and one in which a video indicated that civilians were deliberately targeted by U.S. troops. The first point, of course, is that the insurgents, in violation of the 1949 Geneva Conventions, did not go into combat wearing armbands or other distinctive clothing to distinguish themselves from non-combatants. The Geneva Conventions have always been adamant on this requirement because they regarded combatants operating under the cover of civilians as being responsible for putting those civilians in harm's way, not the uniformed troops who were forced to distinguish between combatants and non-combatants when the combatants deliberately chose to act in violation of the Geneva Conventions.

It follows from this that such actions against civilians are inevitable in the kind of war Iraqi insurgents chose to wage. Obviously, this particular event has to be carefully analyzed, but in a war in which combatants blend with non-combatants, civilian casualties will occur, and so will criminal actions by uniformed troops. Hundreds of thousands of troops have fought in Iraq, and the idea that criminal acts would be absent is absurd. What is most startling is not the presence of potentially criminal actions but their scarcity. Anyone who has been close to combat or who has read histories of World War II would be struck not by the presence of war crimes but by the fact that in all the WikiLeaks files so few potential cases are found. War is controlled violence, and when controls fail — as they inevitably do — uncontrolled and potentially criminal violence occurs. However, the case cited by WikiLeaks with much fanfare did not clearly show criminal actions on the part of American troops as much as it did the consequences of the insurgents violating the Geneva Conventions.

Only those who were not paying attention to the fact that there was a war going on, or who had no understanding of war, or who wanted to pretend to be shocked for political reasons, missed two crucial points: It was the insurgents who would be held responsible for criminal acts under the Geneva Conventions for posing as non-combatants, and there were extraordinarily few cases of potential war crimes that were contained in the leaks.

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By Caroline Dynes

Why are the US and the People's Republic of China (PRC) so interested in Taiwan? It's a small seemingly inconsequential island that does very little to upset the international arena. Both have their different reasons for having their interests piqued by the island formerly known as Formosa.

From a Chinese perspective Taiwan represents the last vestige of defiance to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and a contradiction of its triumph in the civil war, on top of which it is a symbol of past foreign dominance as it was taken from China by Japan in one of the Unequal Treaties. This failure is dubbed the 'Century of Humiliation', and regaining Taiwan is seen as the last stumbling block to making China great once more, becoming the greatest nation on earth, a status it had held for thousands of years. America's interference in the East Asia region is ostensibly why the Republic of China (ROC) based on Taiwan is able to survive with such a direct threat to their legitimacy so close, across only 90 miles of water.

The US had long had a relatively affable relationship with the Nationalist government in China, and at the end of World War II left them to fight their own battles. It looked likely that the communists would follow the Kuomintang (KMT) across the Taiwan Strait and settle the civil war once and for all. Indeed, shelling of islands like Quemoy was a feature for many years. However, the Korean War broke out in 1950 and it suddenly became imperative to the Americans to find allies in Asia to stand against the tide of communism sweeping the world. Taiwan became strategically important in containing the socialist threat to capitalist ideology. Taiwan became the spokesman for all of China, despite only being in charge of c.20 million of the potential billion Chinese, some of whom identified themselves as ethnically Taiwanese. However, the KMT's international representation of all China was for a limited time, as the PRC found its feet. The importance of America finding substantial allies against the 'Evil Empire', the USSR, took priority.

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By Lauren Williamson

Iranian nuclear negotiations have been underway again in Geneva between Iranian officials and diplomats from the P5+1 countries. Yet according to Reuters, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad doesn't plan to discuss his country's specific nuclear programme and will be opting instead to chat about nuclear issues generally or other global problems. As Ahmadinejad sees it, the heavy-weight weapons-wielders of the world are about to scold him – again – arguing his country should not play with guns.

It is unlikely that this round of talks will yield a less defiant Iran, as Tehran has been doggedly determined in its nuclear pursuit. This is especially true in light of Sunday's revelation by the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran who claims Iran is now fully capable of producing nuclear fuel. It can now successfully make yellow cake, or uranium powder which, when refined, can become fissile nuclear bomb material.

Currently, Iran is returning to the negotiating table after a 14-month break. But the history of the issue has deep roots. The Institute for Science and International Security says Iran outlined nuclear ambitions in the 1950s, later signing the Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) – which does allow for the pursuit of peaceful nuclear energy programmes. From the 1980s through the 2000s Iran conducted undeclared nuclear-related activity, violating conditions of the NPT. Instead of pursuing its peaceful programme transparently, as it had agreed, Iran has been shirking it obligations to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). And its non-compliance has resulted in brutal economic sanctions from the international community since 2006.

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By Alex Shone, Research Associate, UK Defence Forum

Iran is a country firmly framed in Western perception as a state sponsor of terrorism, whose quest for a nuclear weapon is conceived for purposes of coercive regional diplomacy. Iranian President Ahmadinejad's regime drives this perception, and on the subject of Israel, his rhetoric stokes fears of a new war in the Middle East. This regime is the face of Iran that we in the Western world are presented with.

However, behind this is a far more complex and enigmatic nation. The 'real' Iran is clearly more than the 'Green Movement' of students and leftist intellectuals who were brutally suppressed in the wake of the country's presidential elections. The UK Defence Forum is commencing a new country series on Iran that will analyse all the country's history, society, economics and politics. This new series aims to comprehensively assess these wider aspects of Iran within and beyond the face of the regime.

The progress and extent of Iran's nuclear programme is reassessed continually as new intelligence enters into the public domain. Judgement as to the appropriate response oscillates between a pre-emptive military strike and continued diplomacy with sanctions. The conclusion seems to boil down to whether we choose to 'bomb Iran' or 'live with an Iranian bomb'.

Advocates for the military option have only to cite the indisputable failure of diplomacy to rein in Iran's nuclear ambitions. Economic sanctions have utterly failed to bring down the international support network available to Iran. Critically, the West has not been able to inflict the necessary pressure on Iran's energy sector, in great part due to the failure to secure the cooperation of other key states.

The military option is beset by concerns for the consequences. Airstrikes would end all diplomatic hopes, certainly for the near future. They would also put back any chance of eventual regime change, perhaps by decades, as Ahmadinejad's domestic propaganda would likely take an immoveable hold. There is also the problem of Iran's capacity to retaliate. Iran is a country with varying degrees of influence beyond its borders into Iraq and Afghanistan. Iran, as a state sponsor of terror, also has channels into a network of armed group proxies. The significance of Iranian influence here remains unclear but is still a great concern.

At centre of the problem is the opaqueness against which all assessments must be made. Iran is very much a closed country, regime and society to the West and the limits of our own understanding prohibit formulation of deeper judgements as to where Iranian intent lies. Diplomacy has failed with the Iranian regime and until sanctions develop real teeth, which key world powers genuinely rally behind, it is likely that Iran's government will be inconsolable from their nuclear path.

Rather, it is the Iranian people who are central to any resolution of this crisis. Ahmadinejad's regime and its political course must be de-legitimatised in the eyes of the Iranian population who do not have access to a free media. Understanding all aspects of Iran's society is therefore a paramount requirement if the West is to more effectively engage with the Iranian people to help steer the country from its current confrontational path.

 

Editor's note: This is the third installment in a series of special reports that Dr. Friedman will write over the next few weeks as he travels to Turkey, Moldova, Romania, Ukraine and Poland. In this series, he will share his observations of the geopolitical imperatives in each country and conclude with reflections on his journey as a whole and options for the United States.

By George Friedman

In school, many of us learned the poem Invictus. It concludes with the line, "I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul." This is a line that a Victorian gentleman might bequeath to an American businessman. It is not a line that resonates in Romania. Nothing in their history tells Romanians that they rule their fate or dominate their soul. Everything in their history is a lesson in how fate masters them or how their very soul is a captive of history. As a nation, Romanians have modest hopes and expectations tempered by their past.

This sensibility is not alien to me. My parents survived the Nazi death camps, returned to Hungary to try to rebuild their lives and then found themselves fleeing the communists. When they arrived in America, their wishes were extraordinarily modest, as I look back on it. They wanted to be safe, to get up in the morning, to go to work, to get paid — to live. They were never under the impression that they were the masters of their fate.

The problem that Romania has is that the world cares about it. More precisely, empires collide where Romania is. The last iteration was the Cold War. Today, at the moment, things seem easier, or at least less desperate, than before. Still, as I discussed in Borderlands, the great powers are sorting themselves out again and therefore Romania is becoming more important to others. It is not clear to me that the Romanians fully appreciate the shift in the geopolitical winds. They think they can hide in Europe, and perhaps they can. But I suspect that history is reaching for Romania again.

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By Jamie Ingram

The UK called a meeting of the UN Security council on 16 November 2010 to address concerns over violence relating to the forthcoming referendum on South Sudanese independence on 6 January 2011. The meeting aimed to demonstrate to the North Sudanese government that the international community is paying close attention to the country and will not permit the situation to regress into violence. This was just the latest visible sign of concern over the situation in Sudan, coming shortly after the visit of a high level UN panel to the country between 10-15 October to closely examine the situation and a statement from US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton condemning the Northern government. Clinton stated that there was only one possible outcome of the referendum, South Sudan's secession, and that any attempts by the North to interfere would be unacceptable.

Sudan's divisions are strikingly evident in both its geography and history. The deserts of the North are in stark contrast to the savannah and jungles of the South, while the populations of these two regions are just as varied. The North is predominantly Arabic speaking and Islamic while the South is populated by English speaking black Africans. After the British gained control in 1899 both regions were ruled from Khartoum in the North. Since gaining independence in 1956 Sudan has been racked by bloody civil wars between the North and South. The first civil war began in 1955 before Sudan even gained independence and ended in 1972; half a million died. The second civil war began in 1983 and lasted until the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005 after over 1.9 million civilians had died. Exploitation of the Nile by the North at the expense of the South was a major cause of the conflagration

The CPA resulted in the promise to hold a referendum for South Sudanese independence in January 2011, but difficulties surround the process and tension is rife. The precise delimitation of South Sudanese territory has proven to be extremely difficult, especially regarding the Abyei region. These boundaries were to be delimited by the Abyei Boundary Commission (ABC) but the findings of their 2005 report were rejected by the Northern Government. Eventually the boundary dispute was referred to the UN Permanent Court of Arbitration which ruled on the delimitation of Abyei's boundaries on 22 July 2009. In addition to the referendum on Southern independence, Abyei is due to hold an election in which its population will vote on whether they wish to be part of South Sudan or remain with the North.

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By Alex Shone, Research Associate, U Defence Forum

Syria has been described by some US analysts as a 'low hanging fruit' in the Middle East; a potential partner for resolving some entrenched obstacles to an eventual peace resolution. This fruit many argue is 'ripe' for strategic realignment; a move that would generate new and potentially crucial opportunities.
Syria will become an increasingly important player within the affairs of the Middle East. A comprehensive appreciation of the country and its internal dynamics is a clear requirement and shall form the basis for a new UK Defence Forum country series on Syria.


Syria is a country that bridges military, political and social divides between several key Middle East countries. As a result, a perception lingering over Syria is that of contradiction and 'double-standard games' with the West. Syria's stated aim is peace with Israel and yet they have allied themselves with partners whose stated aim is the destruction of Israel. Syria is a bastion for secularism and yet they promote a common cause with numerous political Islamist groups. Syria simultaneously supports Iraqi Sunni insurgents and Lebanese Shi'ite armed groups.


These glaring and controversial actions have played no small role in obstructing diplomatic progress between Syria and the US. Western perception is that Syria has yet to take the first, genuine steps towards redressing these areas. The other and problematic side of this coin is that Syria believes it has taken these first steps, demonstrated as they see it by their cooling of relations with Hezbollah and warming of relations with Turkey.


Consequently, an impasse exists whereby the US waits for a show of commitment by Syria to rethinking its alliances with such undesirable partners as Hezbollah, Palestinian armed political groups and critically, Iran. Syria in turn waits for a greater show of commitment by the US for support if these entrenched status-quos are to be uprooted. Syria simply does not have the motivation to do so until they feel that the steps they have taken are appreciated; Syria is weary of what Damascus sees as a one-way show of commitment.


Equally, there is undoubtedly safety and comfort for Syria in preserving its current position. The Syrian regime, itself a Shi'ite minority within a Sunni majority nation, has been described as one that must preserve certain instabilities in order to survive. Its relations with such countries as Iran are fraught, and indeed perhaps governed, by parallel shared and competitive interests. Damascus manoeuvres between Ankara, Riyadh and Tehran, pursuing the bilateral relations it has with each whilst holding the others at bay with the 'stick' that it does have at its disposal.


Each side tends to view their own "gestures of goodwill" as holding enormous significance while dismissing the others' as insignificant. Resolution of contradictions on Syria's part will likely require a slow-but-sure start rather than sweeping and dramatic changes. Gambling with their future is clearly not something the Syrian regime can do. The regime is, for the medium term relatively secure. Economics is central, and while the country is faring well in terms of macroeconomics, underlying problems will in the longer term become increasingly problematic for the current regime's survival.


Syria can indeed be described as a low hanging fruit among potential Middle East partners for the West. However, progress in improving relations will have to be seen if it is to be 'plucked' or flipped towards a new regional status quo of power. Not simply normalisation but instead an expansion of dialogue shall be required to discuss the relevant issues and problem areas in order to determine a new regional role for Syria.

 

By Deba Mohanty

The post-mortem has begun on the recent visit of US President Barak Obama to India. Preliminary autopsies suggest a heavy leaning towards optimism and even braggart assertions about the bilateral relations. A fairly balanced assessment, however, will come much later once promises and pronouncements are actually tested on the ground. Obama and his team have emphasised 'shared values, shared benefits and shared vision' between the two great countries. While shared values and visions do exist at the core of two democracies, with varying degree and often complementary, it is worth examining the 'shared benefits', which would put things in larger realistic perspectives.

Shared benefits in this context include expansion and consolidation of trade in civil and military domains, among others. While civil trade is mostly done between companies from both sides with minimal state supervision and intervention, it is the defence trade that is more complex, state-centric and often a casualty of legal procedural complexities as well as strategic considerations. Government approval is necessary even in the most insignificant military item transaction, although bulk of military manufacturing has gone into private hands in most countries.

Prior to Obama's visit, prognostic analyses in India suggested three broad assumptions—rise in American military equipment sales to India, growing company to company collaborations and gradual easing of regulations—apart from India's 'soft power' rise, possible entry into the high table in international affairs and a counter-balancer in Asian geopolitics. It must be mentioned here that the Indian soft power—cultural, historical, ideological and economic—has already been deeply embedded in its larger strategic framework, while a seat in the UNSC will not be easy, whereby US stamp of approval would only be symbolic at best. Counter-balancing act or 'strategic stabiliser' role in geopolitics needs more 'hard power' attributes than 'soft power'. In sum, symbolism seems to have overtaken 'hard business and strategic decisions', especially in the fields of defence trade, between the two countries.

All the three broad assumptions on defence trade are most likely to happen. If one looks at India's arms shopping list, it includes sale of C-130Js, Harpoons, P-8Is, C-17s, GE-414 aero-engines, etc. A reasonable assumption would suggest follow-on orders in most of these equipment and a possible $30 billion plus sale could be in the pipeline for the next five years (excluding $10 billion worth sale already approved). Collaborations with American firms will also increase as companies like Tatas start churning out components of military systems in collaboration with Sikorsky or state-owned HAL in collaboration with GE locally produces the aero-engine required for the LCA programme. Removal of restrictions on many of India's defence scientific labs will pave the way for import of critical components and technologies.

While such assumptions paint a rosy picture, the reality is actually very different. Four scenarios are laid down for further debate. First, the American discomfort on sale of weapons without signing agreements like CISMOA, LSA and BECA is likely to culminate in system acquisition by India that will be without critical support. This poses a challenge to the Indian scientists how to make the systems workable with Indian solutions. Previous experience of avionics and sensor integration to Su-30 by the Indian scientists gives much encouragement in this regard. Second, the American discomfort about Indian 'direct defence offsets' and FDI policies. The Americans would prefer 'indirect' to 'direct' offsets and would be happy if the FDI limit is raised to 49% or beyond. It would be wise on India's part if it carefully refines offsets conditions and resists the demand to raise the FDI limit for the moment as the larger Indian military industrial complex, at the moment dominated by state-owned defence firms, has not yet reached a level of maturity and global competitiveness. Third, we do not know why President Obama used the word 'so-called' entities list when it is 'real'! It will be wise again to wait for a while till the Americans work out on the list and impact of removed restrictions. Bulk of the Indian scientific community is still suspicious, so are many of our military leaders and even some of our pragmatic political leaders on this issue. Last but not the least, while the American decision making works on a composite system through which executive decisions are executed in a relatively fast manner, the Indian system is vertically structured and virtually independent of each other. Thus, the latter not only is a major hindrance to speedy decision making, leading to delays but equally importantly it leaves little accountability if things go wrong. If India wants a workable military industrial partnership with the US, it has to not only bring in reforms in its higher defence management structures but also emphasise collective decision making in an open environment.

Dynamics of military trade have changed from 'arms and influence' during the Cold War era to 'arms and incentives' in current times. If India wants strategic dividends from arms acquisitions, it must craft its acquisition policy in a prudent manner with the aim of bringing in knowledge that necessitates a higher degree of trust with the US. It should go beyond economics to factor in larger strategic considerations as well.

This article was first published the Financial Express on the 22nd November 2010. The author is a senior fellow in security studies at the Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi.

 

Editor's note: This is the first installment in a series of special reports that Dr. Friedman will write over the next few weeks as he travels to Turkey, Moldova, Romania, Ukraine and Poland. In this series, he will share his observations of the geopolitical imperatives in each country and conclude with reflections on his journey as a whole and options for the United States.

By George Friedman

I try to keep my writing impersonal. My ideas are my own, of course, but I prefer to keep myself out of it for three reasons. First, I'm far less interesting than my writings are. Second, the world is also far more interesting than my writings and me, and pretending otherwise is narcissism. Finally, while I founded STRATFOR, I am today only part of it. My thoughts derive from my discussions and arguments with the STRATFOR team. Putting my name on articles seems like a mild form of plagiarism. When I do put my name on my articles (as Scott Stewart, Fred Burton and others sometimes do) it's because our marketing people tell us that we need to "put a face" on the company. I'm hard pressed to understand why anyone would want to see my face, or why showing it is good business, but I've learned never to argue with marketing.

I've said all of this to prepare you for a series of articles that will be personal in a sense, as they will be built around what I will be doing. My wife (who plans and organizes these trips with precision) and I are going to visit several countries over the next few weeks. My reasons for visiting them are geopolitical. These countries all find themselves sharing a geopolitical dilemma. Each country is fascinating in its own right, but geopolitics is what draws me to them now. I think it might be of some value to our readers if I shared my thoughts on these countries as I visit them. Geopolitics should be impersonal, yet the way we encounter the world is always personal. Andre Malraux once said that we all leave our countries in very national ways. A Korean visiting Paris sees it differently than an American. The personal is the eccentric core of geopolitics.

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After extra time on Sunday night, Spain beat The Netherlands 1-0.

Spain

Spain's win over Germany in the semi-finals of the FIFA World Cup was doubly satisfying to many. Not only did Spain reach the finals of the most prestigious sporting competition in the world, but it gave a boost of confidence to the beleaguered Mediterranean region. Spain is one of the headliners of what is known as the "Club Med," a group of Mediterranean countries facing a severe economic crisis due to high budget deficits and growing government debt. The year 2010 has been harsh for the Club, with Greece facing a severe sovereign debt crisis that has threatened the financial stability of Europe as a whole, and then with Portugal, Spain and Italy identified as the next dominoes to fall.

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