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Behind the Biden Administration’s Hypocritical Treatment of El Salvador And The Dominican Republic

The National Interest - Wed, 31/05/2023 - 00:00

Since Salvadoran president Nayib Bukele began his crackdown on violent street gangs, the Biden administration, international media, and NGOs have made the small Central American republic the focal point of negative attention about accused corruption, civil liberties violations, and creeping authoritarianism. In contrast, the Dominican Republic, which is using much harsher forms of “preventative detention,” has seen virtually no hand-wringing about “democratic backsliding,” corruption, and human rights violations. Instead, the Biden administration has praised the Dominican Republic’s criminal justice system. The media and U.S. government’s disparate treatment of these two Latin American nations demonstrates a lack of consistency and principles in our diplomacy towards our neighboring countries.

After an unprecedented spike in gang-related homicides, El Salvador instituted a state of exception to address the violence. The crackdown increases the time someone can be detained without charge from three to fifteen days, restricted bail and other alternatives to pre-trial detention, and strengthened police powers. Even critics acknowledge the moves have popular support and have dramatically reduced violence. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken criticized the crackdown because it “lends itself to attempts to censor the media, prevent reporting on corruption and other matters of public interest, and silence critics of the Salvadoran government.” The United Nations Commissioner on Human Rights called it a violation of human rights law, focusing on the fact that “the previous two-year limit to pre-trial detention has been eliminated.” International media has put the spotlight on these criticisms with heavy coverage for an otherwise obscure country of six million.

In contrast, there has been almost no attention given to the Dominican Republic’s far more draconian “pre-trial detention” regime. According to the country’s National Office of Public Defense (ONDP), 70 percent of the prison population in the country is held under the “preventive detention” mandate imposed by President Luis Abinader. Most of the inmates are imprisoned for extended periods, even years, without formal charges or court proceedings. A recent ONDP report acknowledges that half of these detainees remain in confinement even past the expiry of their preventive detention mandate, the exact issue raised by the United Nations.

While Blinken warns that El Salvador’s pretrial detention can be used to silence critics of the government, the Dominican Republic has arrested nineteen members of the opposition leadership including Abinader’s 2020 opponent, Gonzalo Castillo. Six of these leaders were ordered to serve eighteen months of preventive detention without any charges, as the investigation continued. These preventive orders do not expire until after the 2024 re-election, effectively neutering their ability to conduct a campaign.

The U.S. embassy in the Dominican Republic has expressed significant concern over the pretrial detention programs, noting that the detention periods “equaled or exceeded the maximum sentence for the alleged crime, with some detentions reportedly lasting years.” It also reported that “Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings by government security forces; cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by police and other government agents; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary detention; [and] arbitrary interference with privacy.”

Yet these reports are ignored and contradicted by the White House and State Department leadership. Instead of criticizing the pretrial detention of political opponents under the guise of anti-corruption, President Joe Biden recently praised Abinader for “moderniz[ing] its anti-corruption law.” In contrast, there has been little evidence that El Salvador’s gang crackdown has been used on political opponents. Under Secretary of State for Security, Democracy, and Human Rights Urza Zeya has called the Dominican Republic a “bright spot” for "combating corruption, improving citizen security" and "protecting human rights"

Part of the disparity is no doubt caused by Bukele’s eagerness to highlight his crackdown on Twitter and criticize the Biden administration. But our foreign policy should react to substance rather than social media. To the extent that the U.S. and international organizations enact diplomacy in Latin America based on civil liberties, we should look to the actual policies rather than the bombast of media coverage and Twitter.

John Bugnacki is an attorney and director of government affairs for a technology company. He has served as a Fellow at the American Security Project focusing on Latin America, the Middle East, and Sub-Saharan Africa. He received his J.D. from the University of Chicago.

Image: Shutterstock

The National Bloc: Lebanon Needs a State Monopoly on Defense

The National Interest - Wed, 31/05/2023 - 00:00

Hezbollah’s recent military exercise in the south provoked criticism and condemnation from opposition forces including the National Bloc. Michel Helou, the party’s secretary-general gave his thoughts on the maneuvers and discussed what should be the proper alternative for Lebanon. “Our position is the military demonstrations clearly shows that Hezbollah is a threat to the sovereignty of the Lebanese state. It violates the monopoly of weapons that belong to the legitimate state.”

These operations in the south are not a new phenomenon. Hezbollah has mobilized its forces to demonstrate its power in the wake of either threats from Israel or to remind local opponents not to cross its authority. People in Lebanon are constantly on edge and fear the outbreak of additional violence. Lebanon’s international partners like the United Nations have put forward proposals to end the phase of hostilities through resolutions 1559 and 1701. UNSC Resolution 1701 was written and released on August 11, 2006, with a clear road map for peace in the Levant-Mediterranean region:

“This resolution calls for the full cessation of hostilities, the deployment of Lebanese forces to Southern Lebanon, parallel withdrawal of Israeli forces behind the Blue Line, strengthening the UN force (UNIFIL) to facilitate the entry of Lebanese Forces in the region and the establishment of a demilitarized zone between the Blue Line and the Litani River.”

Helou said the National Bloc respects this UN resolution and wants to see its implementation. “We also demand the application of all UN resolutions 1559 and 1701. On top of that, Hezbollah today is trying to escape the problems that are affecting the Lebanese people. Starting with the socio-economic collapse because they are not able to deal with that. This demonstration is another attempt at reclaiming their lost legitimacy as the resistance.”

It is a curious thing to see Hezbollah parading around with heavy weapons and soldiers while the people of Lebanon still live in increasingly worse conditions. The power Hezbollah holds is at this point extremely hollow. It does not impress most Lebanese. Rather, seeing a display of militarization when the region is calming down emits signals of weakness, not strength. In the recent weeks, the Arab League re-invited Syria and its leader Bashar al Assad back to the organization. Years of bloodshed caused by a Syrian government crackdown on protesters in 2011 forced Damascus out of the league. Now, there is a new approach from both Syria (a Hezbollah ally) and the Arab world that wants to focus on development and avoid war.

This maybe putting Hezbollah in an awkward situation. From its inception, it sold itself as a resistance movement waging a fight against Israeli occupation in the south, but also a group that represents the disenfranchised Shia Muslim community (a historically neglected community). It fought off the Israeli occupation when the Lebanese army didn’t. It provided social services when the state was non-existent. But these were temporary measures that are less relevant today.

Now, however, the people of Lebanon are searching for something more than a resistance. If the resistance Hezbollah speaks of is about building a state with normal institutions, no one in Lebanon would object. But today, the situation is that the presence of Hezbollah as paramilitary group is endangering Lebanon’s fate and circumvents the government’s legal mandate. As part of its principles, the National Bloc is calling for a secular state where every citizen enjoys the same rights and responsibilities regardless of sect.

Nevertheless, calls for a state over militias by individual politicians are not enough to make it happen. But the momentum is certainly there to pursue it until the end. Otherwise, there will be an atmosphere of more division, anger, and resentment among the Lebanese people. This is where the leaders must step up and use their influence to remind all Lebanese that opposing a party does not equal animosity toward a fellow Lebanese from a different sect. Lebanon’s social cohesion must come first, which must be preserved by the national security forces and the rule of law.

Adnan Nasser is an independent foreign policy analyst and journalist with a focus on Middle East affairs. Follow him on Twitter @Adnansoutlook29.

Image: Shutterstock.

Luxe sur rail

Le Monde Diplomatique - Tue, 30/05/2023 - 18:50
Il est des livres charmants, qui rencontrent la mémoire collective et servent d'embrayeurs de rêves rétro, et tout aussi bien de rêveries autour d'avenirs possibles. C'est ce qu'offre cet ouvrage consacré à l'Orient-Express, ou, plus précisément, aux trains de la Compagnie internationale des (...) / , , , - 2018/04

Renaissance des travaillistes au Royaume-Uni

Le Monde Diplomatique - Tue, 30/05/2023 - 16:47
Un pays où les divisions caractériseraient avant tout le camp conservateur ? Où la gauche susciterait l'enthousiasme des foules ? Où l'espoir de nouvelles conquêtes électriserait les progressistes ? Ce pays existe : il s'agit du Royaume-Uni, depuis que l'élection de M. Jeremy Corbyn à la tête du Parti (...) / , , , , , , , - 2018/04

Putin and the Psychology of Nuclear Brinkmanship

Foreign Affairs - Tue, 30/05/2023 - 06:00
The war in Ukraine hinges on one man’s thoughts and feelings.

China Is Flirting With AI Catastrophe

Foreign Affairs - Tue, 30/05/2023 - 06:00
Why accidents pose the biggest risk.

Can China Escape the Malacca Dilemma?

The National Interest - Tue, 30/05/2023 - 00:00

Despite China’s growing assertiveness in the competition for marine resources, Beijing has openly discussed its vulnerabilities in the Strait of Malacca. In November 2003, then Chinese president Hu Jintao coined the term “Malacca Dilemma,” referring to China’s vulnerability to a naval blockade at the strait—the shortest sea route connecting the Middle East and East Asia. Although imposing a naval blockade could incur high economic and diplomatic costs to all involved, intensifying tensions in the Indo-Pacific region increase its possibility of happening. This is of great concern to China’s leaders, as the Malacca Strait is an effective choke point in China’s economic network because of Beijing’s huge dependence on importing energy and its lack of reliable allies in the region. Seeking to remedy this situation, China, by promoting its recently proposed Global Security Initiative (GSI) to expand its security partnership with countries around the region, can potentially minimize the impact caused by the Malacca Dilemma.

The Malacca Dilemma

The Strait of Malacca is an 805-km stretch of water that falls between the Malay Peninsula on the northeast and the Indonesian island of Sumatra on the southwest. It connects the Andaman Sea in the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea in the Pacific Ocean, making it an important marine route for hydrocarbon, container, and bulk cargo shipments between Asia, the Middle East, and Europe. About a quarter of the world’s traded goods and one-third of total global petroleum and other liquids production transported using marine routes pass through the strait annually, making it the second-largest oil trade chokepoint in the world after the Strait of Hormuz. Additionally, 80 percent of China’s exports pass through here, meaning China’s economic destiny is heavily tied to the strait’s stability.

The strait, however, is itself a narrow stretch of water only 65–250 km wide, meaning that it could easily be blocked by nearby nations with sufficient force. To China, this is especially threatening because of the political dynamics in the region. The strait is surrounded by neutral countries like Malaysia, U.S. allies like Singapore, and geopolitical rivals like India, which also recently joined the United States’ Quadrilateral Security Dialogue. Some of these countries have a central geographic location in the region and possess outlying islands like the Andaman and Nicobars (controlled by India), which could allows said nations project naval power and control the strait more easily. Meanwhile, the U.S. Navy (the 7th and 5th Fleets), which operates in the Indo-Pacific and the Middle East, is the only force capable of guarding the strategic sea lines of communication stretching from the shores of Africa to East Asia. As such, the United States still maintains tight control over the Strait of Malacca—something Beijing is ever conscious about.

In contrast, China’s navy operates at a farther distance from the strait. If geopolitical tensions between China and the United States or the Indo-Pacific countries escalate (e.g., if China decides to invade Taiwan), the latter can weaponize this essential chokepoint by imposing a blockade, resulting in a disruption of trade, energy resources, and raw material flows. This would significantly increase China’s costs in pursuing its great power ambitions or waging a war in the Indo-Pacific region, to say nothing of the calamitous consequences to its economy.

Can China Avoid the Malacca Dilemma?

Admittedly, China has attempted to minimize the impact of a potential blockade by diversifying its energy sources. Beijing has been establishing alternative land links and energy partnerships with Russia, Pakistan, Myanmar, and other Arabic and Central Asian countries which are politically distant from the United States so as to ensure access to key resources in volatile times. Besides, China has allocated more resources to developing renewable energy to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels and thus oil imports. For example, China’s fourteenth Five-Year Plan has indicated that it will continue to develop green technologies.

Yet ultimately, China’s economic success is largely derived from its energy-intensive manufacturing sector, and the developmental pace of renewable energy technology can hardly catch up with its growing demand for energy. Thus, China still relies on foreign energy imports. It is now the world’s largest net oil importer and the second-largest oil consumer. Research also suggests that, with an increasing demand for energy, China’s foreign oil dependence level will rise from 65 percent in 2016 to over 80 percent in 2030. In short, it is unlikely that China can avoid importing energy from foreign countries using marine routes in the near future.

Meanwhile, China could face difficulties in searching for alternative routes. While the Malacca Strait has been known as a shallow strait, the Sunda Strait is even more difficult to navigate, due to a strong tidal current and it having a minimum depth is only 20m in parts of its northeastern end. The Lombok/Makassar Strait is a longer route, which can increase shipping costs. And although China can in theory also use the Northern Sea Route, not only is there a discernable lack of infrastructure, but the route is often covered by ice, so the navigation season is short and insurance costs would be high. For now, the Malacca Strait route remains irreplaceable.

Compounding the situation is the fact that, Beijing does not have any regional military allies which could guarantee firm support in a geopolitical crisis. Although China has formed partnerships with countries like Pakistan, the security provided is minimal. It is uncertain whether these countries would give up neutrality during wartime, especially because they could become vulnerable to wartime military threats and retaliatory sanctions. China’s ties with its partners in the Indo-Pacific region were also weakened by its economic exploitation. China’s investments and loans, especially those provided under the Belt and Road Initiative, have prompted countries like Pakistan and Sri Lanka to surrender sovereignty over some of their ports, which has led to backlash and triggered a rise in domestic anti-China sentiment. Developments like this may make it more difficult for China to secure support during wartime unless Beijing expands its security cooperation or improve its ties with these countries.

The Global Security Initiative

Though the Malacca Dilemma poses a threat to China’s economic and strategic security, Beijing’s recently announced Global Security Initiative (GSI) could potentially help avoid it.

At the 2022 Bo’ao Forum for Asia, China proposed the GSI, with a concept paper released in January 2023. The initiative contains six core values and principles: (i) pursuing common, comprehensive, cooperative, and sustainable security; (ii) respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries; (iii) abiding by the purposes and principles of the UN Charter; (iv) taking the legitimate security concerns of all countries seriously; (v) peacefully resolving differences and disputes between countries through dialogue and consultation; and (vi) maintaining security in both traditional and non-traditional domains. The aforementioned values reflect China’s growing emphasis on cooperation to maintain international security. It also attempts to create an impression that China desires to help other countries stabilize their political situation. It goes without saying that China is apparently eager to be more active in the security sphere.

Meanwhile, in the concept paper, China has stressed that more engagement with regions like Southeast Asia, the Pacific Islands, and the Middle East is needed. These regions are, however, core players in the Strait of Malacca. By expanding its security ties with these regions under the GSI, China can potentially build up mutual security commitments and weaken the United States’ security partnerships with countries around the strait. In the long term, China could even build up an opposition force against American hegemony in the security sphere with states which have tensions with Washington. This would help China exert pressure on the United States and dissuade Washington and its Indo-Pacific allies to impose a blockade on the Malacca Strait.

Furthermore, with more engagement, Beijing might be able to operate foreign military bases in these regions to enlarge its military presence and establish an overseas military network. At present, China has already strengthened its alliance with the Solomon Islands and formed a strategic deal that allows it to “make ship visits to, carry out logistical replacement in, and have stopover and transition in Solomon Islands,” therefore possibly opening the door to a Chinese naval base. Further military build-ups promoted by the GSI will enhance China’s capability to interfere with American naval capabilities in the Indo-Pacific region.

It must be noted that China’s growing aggressiveness has led to the distrust of some countries against Beijing’s GSI initiative, especially those which have territorial and marine disputes with China like the Philippines. The United States may appear to be a more trustworthy security partner than China, since the former does not have any territorial claims that threaten these countries’ geographical interests. China’s escalating competition with the United States also places the Indo-Pacific countries in a dilemma of their own. Joining China’s security partnership and architecture can potentially be considered an act of “taking sides,” which could worsen Indo-Pacific countries’ relations with Washington. As such, not all Indo-Pacific countries will be incentivized to join the GSI to form security partnerships.

Nonetheless, China can make use of the loose ties between some Indo-Pacific countries with Washington to promote the GSI, so as to tackle the Malacca Dilemma. Some Indo-Pacific countries like Myanmar are less inclined to offer comprehensive human rights protections or implement democratic accountability mechanisms which Washington has always desired them to put forward. The divergence of their values could hinder these countries to form close ties with the United States, which would thus deter cooperation during a conflict.

This, however, allows China to emerge as an alternative. The GSI suggests that China could offer security assistance to help maintain the stability and security of other states or regions. Meanwhile, the GSI has reiterated some universal principles to which Indo-Pacific countries often subscribe, such as respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries, adherence to UN principles, and the emphasis on dialogue. It also criticized the use of sanctions which the Western countries heavily rely on, so China is vocally criticizing the U.S.-led international security order. This could all raise the incentive of countries with relatively weaker ties with Washington to join the GSI. Accordingly, China would have a higher chance of securing more solid support during a naval blockade.

A Quest for a Greater Influence and Stability

Ultimately, the question of a naval blockade is a hypothetical future issue, but it is not entirely impossible. Beijing has been thirsty for greater power on the international stage. However, its pursuit of higher status has led to growing tensions with other states, especially the United States. Given this, China’s dependence on the Malacca Strait for energy transportation and trade could give rise to its concerns about the threats of blockade led by the United States or other countries in the region. Its lack of reliable support from partners could increase its vulnerability to serious economic and strategic repercussions arising from the Malacca Dilemma.

Nonetheless, the United States no longer has the hegemony it had during the Cold War. It relies on its regional partners to maintain effective regional security. If China is able to promote engagement with Indo-Pacific countries through the Global Security Initiative, it might be able to build closer cooperative ties with other states to weaken the influence of the United States’ coalition and prevent the Malacca Dilemma. This would embolden China’s ambition of expansion in the Indo-Pacific area and enhance its national security.

Ho Ting (Bosco) Hung is a geopolitical analyst at the Nicholas Spykman International Center for Geopolitical Analysis and a member of the International Team for the Study of Security Verona. Recently, he presented at the Oxford Hong Kong Forum 2022 and was interviewed by France 24, Al Jazeera, and Asharq News to provide geopolitical analyses of China’s political economy and global politics. He has written for Initium Media, UDN, The Journal of Conflict, Intelligence, and Warfare, The Webster Review of International History, Oxford Political Review, and other newspapers, peer-reviewed publications, and magazines.

Image: Shutterstock.

Childcare Has No Place in the CHIPS Act

The National Interest - Tue, 30/05/2023 - 00:00

Our children are our future, but the demands of work mean that we can’t attend to them all the time. Because of this, an estimated 15.7 million children under the age of five experience some form of childcare outside their parent’s hands. Policy institutions, like the Center for American Progress and Child Care Aware, have reported on the impact this has on families and the economy as a whole, noting the need to attend to children has significantly contributed to labor shortages in many industries.

The semiconductor industry is no exemption from this, as the childcare imperative, along with the lingering effects of the coronavirus pandemic, has exacerbated the ongoing talent shortage. In an attempt to mitigate this problem and expand the labor force, the Biden administration is mandating childcare as part of the requirement to seek incentives from the $52.7 billion CHIPS Act fund. President Joe Biden, via the Commerce Department, is leveraging the CHIPS Act and requesting chip manufacturers seeking over $150 million in incentives to provide a plan for childcare services.

This idea appears very attractive to some American employers, including many manufacturers who regard the lack of childcare accessibility as the drive for talent shortages. But while childcare is indisputably a vital necessity, the CHIPS Act is not the means to achieving such.

First, including childcare in the CHIPS Act diverts resources and attention from the core objective of the law.

Almost 95 percent of the $52.7 billion CHIPS fund is allocated to semiconductor manufacturing incentives and research and development (R&D). Yet if manufacturers have to spend a significant portion of that on childcare, revitalizing the onshore chips industry ends up becoming secondary. Consider that, on average, childcare costs about $10,000 per year—accounting for over 10 percent of the income of a married couple. This burden would be placed upon manufacturers who already have limited funds.

Moreover, childcare is a social policy that many companies seeking incentives are unqualified to implement, including semiconductor firms. Mandating childcare would end up increasing the costs and complexity of implementing the CHIPS Act. This is intolerable in an industry that already faces challenges from budget constraints, political opposition, and geopolitical tensions. What’s more, the funding provided for CHIPS is nowhere near the amount that China has invested in its own domestic industry. To mandate childcare would effectively be asking companies to do more with less against well-funded competitors.

Second, mandating childcare in the CHIPS Act does not address the root causes of the childcare crisis in the United States: inadequate funding, quality, accessibility, and affordability of childcare services and programs.

The idea of leveraging funding from industrially-focused legislation to cover social policy has been tried before. During World War II, the Lanham Act funded childcare centers all over America as a means of addressing labor shortages in critical industries. However, after the war, these 3,000 or so childcare centers were closed, demonstrating that tying the provision of childcare to supporting the temporary funding of a strategic imperative only lasts so long as there is a need for the latter. Additionally, the childcare centers funded by companies who pursued this agenda implemented a one-size-fits-all childcare policy that did not account for families’ diverse needs and preferences nationwide.

We cannot expect that introducing a childcare policy into the CHIPS Act would fare better; at most, it would offer temporary relief to the chips industry. It would not have any major impact on solving the issue of inadequate funding, quality, accessibility, and affordability of childcare services and programs.

Finally, using the CHIPS Act to implement childcare creates a potential conflict of interest between the federal government and the private sector. In terms of regulating and providing childcare services, this can create unintended consequences and trade-offs for workers and families.

Though both the government and private sector are facing the same issue of labor shortage, the two have different interests when it comes to childcare. If employers are required to provide childcare services by constructing on-site childcare facilities or contracting existing providers to help, it’s hard to say whether the quality of childcare provided would be sufficient without proper government oversight. An employer could reduce workers’ choices, flexibility, and autonomy in balancing work and childcare responsibilities—imagine if you were only allowed to spend thirty minutes with your child because your employer said so. This creates a disincentive for parents to work in the semiconductor industry or other high-tech sectors that require long hours and specialized skills. The government standard for quality and diverse childcare welfare may not align with private actors, whose primary motivation is to maximize production and profit. Scott Lincicome, a senior fellow at Cato Institute stated that the government would not have mandated child care “if they weren’t in conflict”.

Leveraging the CHIPS Act to implement affordable childcare may present useful outcomes on paper, but these would not be without a cost. Using the CHIPS Act as a means to remedy the childcare crisis sidelines the main agenda of the legislation, diverges from the root cause of the childcare crisis, and breeds a conflict of interests between the government and private actors. Moreover, adding this social policy to already complex legislation would increase the program’s cost and reduces its effectiveness in addressing the semiconductor shortage and broader U.S-China tech competition.

Childcare is a public good with no place in a purely economic and political agenda. By using the CHIPS Act to revitalize the domestic chip industry and address childcare, Biden is attempting to put the old adage “killing two birds with one stone” into action. But will a “stone” like the CHIPS Act be enough to kill two birds if they both happen to be eagles?

Benedicta Kwarteng is a 2023 Marcellus Policy Fellow at the John Quincy Adams Society. She is a graduate student and Public Service Fellow at John Hopkins SAIS. Her research interests include U.S. foreign policy, the informal economy, and the U.S.-China Tech War.

Image: Shutterstock.

À Fukushima, une catastrophe banalisée

Le Monde Diplomatique - Mon, 29/05/2023 - 18:42
Séisme, tsunami, puis fusion de trois réacteurs nucléaires : le Japon reste meurtri par l'enchaînement de catastrophes de mars 2011. Si, sur le moment, l'essentiel des victimes et des dégâts matériels ont été dus à la vague d'eau, les conséquences humaines et économiques de la faillite de la sécurité à la (...) / , , , , , , , , - 2018/04

Irlande, des bulles dans le béton

Le Monde Diplomatique - Mon, 29/05/2023 - 16:41
Peu de pays ont été aussi sévèrement touchés par la crise de 2008 que la République d'Irlande. L'éclatement de la bulle immobilière avait précipité le déficit budgétaire au-delà de la barre des 30 % en 2010 — du jamais-vu. Quelques années plus tard, une nouvelle flambée des prix de la pierre enthousiasme les (...) / , , , , , , - 2018/04

L'ère du fichage généralisé

Le Monde Diplomatique - Mon, 29/05/2023 - 16:37
Au nom de la lutte contre l'usurpation d'identité (quelques centaines chaque année), le gouvernement français a autorisé en 2016 la création d'un mégafichier regroupant les données, notamment biométriques, de tous les titulaires d'une carte d'identité ou d'un passeport. Passée inaperçue dans le contexte (...) / , , , , , , , , , , - 2018/04

America’s Best Bet in the Indo-Pacific

Foreign Affairs - Mon, 29/05/2023 - 06:00
How Washington and New Delhi can contain a rising China

Erdogan’s Russian Victory

Foreign Affairs - Mon, 29/05/2023 - 06:00
Turkey is shifting from illiberal democracy to Putin-style autocracy.

Filling Africa’s Data Gap

Foreign Affairs - Mon, 29/05/2023 - 06:00
How the World Bank can bolster the continent’s economic growth.

Why Did Erdogan Win?

The National Interest - Mon, 29/05/2023 - 00:00

Kemal Kilicdaroglu’s loss against incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdogan should be seen as a loss not only for the people of Turkey but for democracy worldwide. It is difficult to see the silver lining from Erdogan’s 52-48 percent victory against Kilicdaroglu, and Turkey is likely to slip further into authoritarian, even autocratic rule. On a systemic level, Erdogan’s victory adds credence to the view that removing authoritarian leaders by elections is less than likely. Expectations that Erdogan would lose the presidency ran high in early 2023. How do we explain this electoral upset, given that Erdogan presided over widespread economic mismanagement, corruption, and undemocratic governance?

For a large part, the uncomfortable truth is that Erdogan won because Kemal Kilicdaroglu was his opponent. The Nation Alliance, the opposition’s political coalition, chose to nominate Kilicdaroglu largely due to his insistence. The Republican People’s Party (CHP), under Kilicdaroglu and since 2010 conducted primaries to select parliamentary candidates. For some reason, Kilicdaroglu’s own nomination as the opposition candidate was not determined by party members. It was not even favored by all members of the Nation Alliance, causing Meral Aksener (leader of the Good Party), to briefly abandon her coalition partners.

Put simply, Kilicdaroglu’s nomination was imposed from the top, with little to no deliberation. Was there a better candidate? Polling suggests as much: ahead of his nomination, these consistently indicated that Kilicdaroglu was not the best candidate to defeat Erdogan, who continuously trailed the more popular candidate, Ekrem Imamoglu, the CHP’s mayor of Istanbul. This option was railroaded over due to concerns that if Imamoglu had been nominated he would have been banned from running, owing to a lawsuit that was pending against him. This is true, but if had been nominated and banned by the courts, Kilicdaroglu would still have had the opportunity to become the candidate as his successor. It was pure political greed on the part of Kilicdaroglu to insist on his own nomination, and it has cost Turkey dearly.

In addition to not having a say in the candidate nomination process, following the beginning of the election campaign, the anti-Erdogan opposition camp was expected to back the Kilicdaroglu campaign without debate, dissent, or criticism. To not unconditionally back Kilicdaroglu was projected as de-facto giving support to Erdogan. Even publishing polls three days before the election, which predicted an Erdogan win was seen as an immoral act! This level of hubris led the level of debate on Turkish politics to dizzying lows. Voters and analysts had no part to play in the determination of Kilicdaroglu as the candidate and were also expected to fall in line, simply because there was no other alternative. I’m sorry to say that this is not good enough. Impositions are impositions, regardless of whether they come from authoritarian leaders, or their democratic challengers.


Insult was added to injury. Kilicdaroglu ran a lackluster and muddled campaign. Critics of his campaign strategy were once again asked to remain silent.

For example, Kilicdaroglu ran a campaign of inclusion—one that promised the restoration of the rule of law, institutions, and an equitable economy that would benefit the masses, not just cronies as in the case of Erdogan’s rule. But following Kilicdaroglu’s failure to secure victory on May 14, (where he received ~45 percent against Erdogan’s ~49.5 percent), we were asked to not perceive this as an impending Erdogan victory, but an Erdogan loss. Not only that, but instead of taking stock of what needed to be adjusted in his electoral strategy, team Kilicdaroglu went off the rails and abandoned its previous message of inclusivity and temperance. In the final two weeks leading up to May 28, Kilicdaroglu attempted to pander to the nationalist right by promising to deport Syrian refugees. He even signed a pact with the far-right Victory Party of Umit Ozdag, promising him that a Kilicdaroglu presidency would present a tougher stance on the Kurdish question. Why did he depart so radically from his previous election strategy? It was because he was told that Erdogan’s right-wing nationalist campaign had resonated with voters and therefore he must do the same.

Kilicdaroglu’s turn to the political right appeared desperate and inconsistent, and likely turned off some Kurdish voters who voted for him on May 14. Moreover, while he was attempting to rebrand his campaign, Erdogan played dirty: he falsely accused Kilicdaroglu of consorting with Kurdish separatists by releasing fake videos to that effect. Kilicdaroglu and the Nation Alliance took days to try and refute these claims. More importantly, it is incredible that their campaign had not anticipated such tactics on the part of Erdogan and was not prepared. One easy strategy would have been to put together a reel of Erdogan’s greatest hits throughout the years, where he insults women, kicks protestors, and displays videos of shoe boxes of money that his son tries to scuttle. This would have meant that Kilicdaroglu would have run a negative campaign, but it would have had the virtue of at least displaying the truth.

Bottom line: Kilicdaroglu came to a gunfight against Erdogan with a knife and lost.

To Kilicdaroglu’s credit, the presidential race was not a fair fight. From the start, Erdogan utilized the advantages of public and private media that gave him disproportionate media space. For example, TRT, the state broadcaster gave Kilicdaroglu less than thirt-five minutes of coverage in the first round of voting, compared to over thirty-two hours for Erdogan. In both rounds of presidential voting, there were numerous allegations of voter fraud and voter intimidation. However, the vast majority of these have not been substantiated to the point that it would fundamentally change the outcome of the actual result. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), which deployed election monitors, while outlining the unfair conditions of the election, did not find any serious subversion of the democratic process.

All this said, there is no excusing the fact that Kilicdaroglu ran a terrible campaign and he was the wrong choice to run against Erdogan. Some suggest that Kilicdaroglu did as well as any candidate could have done against Erdogan. I disagree. If an opposition candidate wanted to run a campaign that handed the election to Erdogan, it would resemble Kilicdaroglu’s campaign. No deliberation over his determination as a candidate; no clear and consistent campaign strategy, a blind cheerleader support network that demanded unconditional support of his ill-conceived veer to the right, and now, followed by “we did the best we could.” This is an undefendable position and the least Kilicdaroglu can do is resign. Turkey’s voters deserved better, much better.

Sinan Ciddi is a nonresident senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, where he contributes to FDD’s Turkey Program and Center on Military and Political Power. Follow Sinan on Twitter @SinanCiddi.

Image: Shutterstock.

Will King Dollar Survive America’s Debt Ceiling Crisis?

The National Interest - Mon, 29/05/2023 - 00:00

Another debt ceiling crisis is here, complete with partisan finger-wagging and handwringing newscasters. If Democrats and Republicans cannot overcome their differences on spending, the federal government will run out of money in early June, which could result in a sovereign debt default. Although an agreement has been between the two parties’ leadership, now comes the hard part: selling the deal to the rank and file in Congress and the Senate. Hardliners in both parties could complicate matters. Will the center stand?

Although the United States has never had a sovereign debt default in its history, Washington’s current political class has opened the door to such possibility. Sadly, the American public is jaded: they have seen this show before. The expectation from many market participants is that the parties will posture until the last minute or a little over the time when the financial buzzer goes off, but then reach an agreement. Both sides will then declare victory, arguing that the other side blinked first. The problem with this game of chicken is neither side can stand down on their respective positions (due to internal party politics) or let a default happen.

We can expect an agreement in the last hour possible, but there is a rising risk that the political class miscalculates and plunges the United States into a debt default, which could have a knock-on effect on the dollar and the U.S. role in the world.

What Is the Debt Ceiling?

According to the U.S. Treasury Department, the debt limit, or debt ceiling as it is more commonly known, is “the total amount of money that the United States government is authorized to borrow to meet its existing legal obligations, including Social Security and Medicare benefits, military salaries, interest on the national debt, tax refunds, and other payments.” Historically, the debt ceiling has been around since 1917, being modified by the Public Debt Acts passed in 1939 and 1941.

At present, the debt ceiling is currently at $31.46 trillion; we are roughly there now.

Congress has always acted when called upon to raise the debt limit since 1960, having acted seventy-eight separate times to permanently raise, temporarily extend, or revise the definition of the debt limit. This happened forty-nine times under Republican presidents and twenty-nine times under Democratic presidents.

Failure to increase the federal debt limit will result in multiple consequences—a sovereign debt default, financial crisis, economic downturn (with global repercussions), job losses, shutdowns of parts of the government, a possible suspension of Medicare payments, and, theoretically, rating downgrades of the U.S. AAA/AA+ sovereign debt rating. The issue gets complicated very quickly, depending on how long a default would last and which obligations are not met. Indeed, U.S. treasury secretary Janet Yellen has repeatedly warned that if the debt ceiling is not raised soon, there will be “hard choices to make about what bills go unpaid.”

Dollar Dethronment

One of the big worries related to a potential default is that such an event would give further momentum to the dethronement of the U.S. dollar as the world’s major reserve currency. Although this issue is hard to translate into the day-to-day living of Americans, it matters. China, Russia, South Africa, and several other countries have already begun to conduct part of their trade in other currencies to escape the U.S. government’s potential weaponization of its national currency, which has been evident in economic sanctions leveled against Russia. For anyone watching, China has been working hard to de-dollarize, reducing its exposure to Treasury Securities from over $1 trillion in 2022 to $859 billion in January 2023 (and it is expected to drop lower).

While a rapid shift away from the U.S. dollar is not likely in the short term, the trend is not Washington’s friend. A sovereign default caused by a lack of political will as opposed to capacity to pay would certainly fuel the momentum to dollar dethronement. With that would come the end of Washington’s ability to endlessly print money in the form of U.S. Treasuries and other securities.

The decline of the U.S. dollar would have consequences for the American political classes’ voracious appetite for ever-greater public spending. But, say the pundits, that will never happen, as Washington’s debt ceiling politics are a show that will go on forever—especially as deficits do not matter!

However, deficits will not matter until they do; the continued stripping away of U.S. comparative advantages—stable democratic politics, prudent economic policy, a general consensus over economic policy, and manageable debt—all have a cumulative impact.

The problem facing the United States is not just the debt ceiling. Indeed, the debt ceiling crisis itself is a symptom of something far more problematic: a tired political system limping along, quite possibly broken. The critical middle ground where the ugly sausage-like making of laws takes place has been radically shrunk. Compromise is a dirty word, especially when it comes to budgets and deficits. Political virtue is now defined more by ideological purity, something upheld by the extreme right in the Republican Party and the far-left progressives in the Democratic Party. Neither extreme courts pragmatism; rather, they embrace vilification of the other, victimhood, and a winner-takes-all approach.

The Politics of No Economic Pain

The massive amounts of federal spending and borrowing since the 2008–09 financial crisis have been geared to make certain that even when there is an economic slowdown, spending goes to help buffer the depth of the downturn. This goes for the middle and working class as well as big business and the financial sector. The extended period of low-interest rates was taken by many as cheap money. This helped Wall Street hit record highs, kept zombie corporations lurching along, and boosted average savings through the coronavirus pandemic.

One result of this is that there is no traditional business cycle of expansion, peak, contraction, and trough—yet. One sign of this is that bankruptcies remained at historically low levels from 2009 through 2020. According to S&P Global, it is only in 2023 that corporate bankruptcies have been on the rise, with the first two months registering the highest total for any comparable period since 2011. Indeed, the response to the latest round of bank failures was to raise the FDIC ceiling on deposit losses.

Even the Federal Reserve’s push to cut inflation is running into the politics of no pain. While the central bank has hiked interest rates, the Biden administration has launched two major spending programs, the CHIPS and Science Act, which provides roughly $280 billion in new funding to boost domestic research and manufacturing of semiconductors, and the $369 billion Inflation Reduction Act, which invests in domestic non-fossil fuel energy production while promoting so-called clean energy. If successful, the two programs will greatly reduce U.S. dependence on China, make major strides towards zero carbon targets, and completely transform the U.S. economy. At the same time, specific interest groups are disproportionately benefiting, including the tech sector, unions, and the auto industry (all of which have well-lubricated lobbying machines working overtime in Washington).

What provides hope in the current crisis is that moderates in both parties want a deal. As it stands, the agreement entails a two-year appropriations deal, a two-year extension of the debt limit (pushing the issue back past the 2024 election); work requirements to receive federal aid under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps, for people up to fifty-four years of age, with exceptions for the homeless and veterans. Medicaid will not be affected. Although Republican and Democratic hardliners are likely to oppose the deal and complicate its passage, the likelihood is that moderates from both parties will be enough to pus the deal through the House and Senate. If not…

Looking ahead, the debt ceiling crisis will probably be resolved before the federal government runs out of money or shortly thereafter. However, the wounded nature of U.S. politics leaves the door open to a further erosion in U.S. economic policymaking that erodes King Dollar’s international role and undermines the United States’ global leadership. Ongoing threats of politically-induced default do little to instill confidence in a currency. Although stated in the late nineteenth century, German chancellor Otto von Bismarck gave sage advice to those who wish to lead, “Fools learn from experience. I prefer to learn from the experience of others.” There are plenty of examples of countries where economic and political consensus broke down, with interest groups fragmenting the national good; but it could be that Washington prefers not to listen to such advice. A lot is riding on making the right choice.

Dr. Scott B. MacDonald is the Chief Economist for Smith’s Research & Gradings, a Fellow with the Caribbean Policy Consortium, and a Research fellow with Global Americans. Prior to those positions, he worked for the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, Credit Suisse, Donaldson, Lufkin and Jenrette, KWR International, and Mitsubishi Corporation. His most recent book is The New Cold War, China and the Caribbean (Palgrave Macmillan 2022).

It’s Time for the United States to Adopt a New Strategy to Combat Ransomware

The National Interest - Mon, 29/05/2023 - 00:00

Offensive cyber operations have become an increasingly large part of doctrine among Five Eyes members in recent years, as states have grappled with how to deal with the threat of state-backed hackers and increasingly capable ransomware groups. A recently released strategy from the UK National Cyber Force, or NCF, discusses how London is taking a new approach to conducting offensive cyber operations with a focus on disrupting information environments. This new strategy introduces what the NCF calls the “doctrine of cognitive effect,” aims to “change adversary behavior by exploiting their reliance on digital technology,” and conduct offensive cyber operations with the goal of limiting an adversary’s ability to collect, distribute, or trust information.

As the FBI and other U.S. agencies seek to tamp down the threat of ransomware, they should adopt cognitive effect as part of their campaign against operators and affiliates.

Successes to Date

Over the past few years, Washington has tried a number of strategies in a bid to slow the growth of ransomware but has nonetheless struggled to find an effective deterrent. It has indicted individual hackers and sanctioned firms and organizations that supported criminal gangs. These efforts, however, have largely failed either because they were not applied consistently, ransomware groups easily adapted to the measures, or, most importantly, because said groups operated beyond the reach of Western law enforcement agencies. In response, the United States and some of its allies have taken a new tack against ransomware groups by pledging to use offensive cyber capabilities.

The turn to offensive operations manifested itself recently as the U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) and the FBI announced in late January that they discretely gained access to the systems of Hive—a ransomware group that stole over $100 million from organizations across the globe in its first year of operation alone and ranks among the most prolific such outfits over the last two years. The DoJ and FBI’s successful intrusion into Hive’s systems went on for over a year, allowing government operators to seize decryption keys and distribute them to victims. Likewise, the authorities also took down the dark web site used by Hive to shame victims and leak stolen data when organizations refused to pay a ransom.

The Hive takedown was not a one-off operation either, as the FBI and DoJ have also taken down cybercrime hubs like RaidForums, Genesis Market, and BreachForums, and arrested some of the administrators of these operations.

Yet Washington can go further with this by taking advantage of existing fractures in ransomware groups and creating new ones that can be exploited.

Hunting Big-Game Hunters

Most of the ransomware attacks against U.S. infrastructure come from groups known as big game hunters, who specialize in attacking large businesses with high-value networks that cannot sustain much downtime in their systems. The structure and hierarchy of these groups have become increasingly visible in the past two years as threat analysts have infiltrated the groups and disgruntled members have leaked internal chat logs and documents. The emerging picture provided by these leaks and the work of threat analysts points to major organizational weaknesses in these entities.

Take for example the ransomware group Conti. It is a network of about seventy individuals who know each other by their usernames. The group functioned like a small business, hiring employees for their skillset and then assigning them to teams where they worked on specific parts of their ransomware toolkit. Leaked chat logs reveal tension at the bottom of the group over low wages, long hours, and poor working conditions. This worker dissatisfaction drove frequent turnover at lower-level positions, with openings advertised on several cybercrime forums and little vetting for new hires.

Conti was not alone in having problems with morale and paranoia. The cybercrime group TrickBot is another illustrative example. The Conti leaks, which were released on February 27 after Conti came out in support of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, spurred TrickBot to completely uproot its operation, migrating all of its employees to new forum accounts, phones, computers, and encrypted chat services. This switch was not enough to save TrickBot, as a leaker began posting files, messages, cryptocurrency wallet addresses, and IP addresses used by the group on March 4.

As such, ransomware groups are quite conscious of the threat that governments’ turn toward offensive operations presents. LockBitSupp, the leader of the ransomware gang LockBit, said that targetting ransomware gangs’ infrastructure is “the most effective way to deal with [big-game hunters],” as it provides a useful method to steal decryption keys, take down servers, and collect intelligence on the operators behind ransomware groups. This is an effective approach and would be even more so if paired with a strategy of using cyberattacks to destabilize the information environment ransomware groups operate in.

There’s less visibility into the reaction to the Hive compromise, but it’s reasonable to assume it had a tangible impact on the operations of other ransomware groups, seeding further paranoia and forcing them to turn away from their usual work of attacking others’ networks to deal with the security of their own.

Adopting the Doctrine of Cognitive Effect

The days of the lone hacker are over—as the leaks from Conti and Trickbot show, modern ransomware groups operate like businesses. The broader ransomware ecosystem is defined by connections as well, where members frequently cooperate on forums, move between organizations, and bring old habits to their new workplaces.

The organizational complexity of ransomware groups and the weaknesses outlined above thus makes the use of offensive cyberattacks for cognitive effect especially useful in combating ransomware. Cutting off or restricting the flow of information is a great strategy to sever the networks of people that ransomware groups depend on to make and deploy their tools and find their targets.

The Biden administration committed itself to disrupting and dismantling threat actors as part of its National Cyber Strategy. Adopting the doctrine of cognitive effect is the best way to distract ransomware groups from their usual mission of causing havoc in a sustained manner.

Kyle Fendorf is the research associate for the Digital and Cyberspace Program at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Natasha White is a student at the University of Rochester.

Image: Shutterstock.

Le dernier combat de Martin Luther King

Le Monde Diplomatique - Sun, 28/05/2023 - 15:43
Le 4 avril 1968, Martin Luther King était assassiné à Memphis par un partisan de la ségrégation raciale. Cinquante ans plus tard, l'histoire officielle retient l'image du pasteur noir luttant pour les droits civiques, du patriote œuvrant pour la réconciliation nationale. Mais elle passe sous silence (...) / , , , , , , , , , , - 2018/04

Who is Behind the North Korean Nuclear Curtain?

The National Interest - Sun, 28/05/2023 - 00:00

North Korea’s nuclear capability poses a serious danger to the Republic of Korea (ROK). Such is the South Korean fear that, according to some polls, more than 70 percent of South Koreans want Seoul to develop its own nuclear weapons capability—a military option that is prohibited by the 1969 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

As an alternative, South Korean president Yoon Suk Yeol recently suggested that the United States deploy theater nuclear forces at a U.S. military base in South Korea while also enhancing joint Seoul-Washington military planning and cooperation. The threat from Pyongyang is, after all, an incentive for Seoul to secure a stronger U.S. deterrent commitment. Washinton rejected the former idea but worked to implement the latter.

This, however, does not touch the root of the problem: what are the chances the North Korean nuclear capability can be rolled back? Many observers continue to believe the North Korean nuclear programs were developed to protect Pyongyang from what the North refers to as a “hostile policy” of U.S. antagonism. The continued U.S. military presence in the ROK and the annual military exercises Seoul and Washington direct on and around the Korean peninsula is also often cited by the North as justifying their continued nuclear deployments. In addition, Pyongyang sees the cooperative military relations between Japan and the ROK as evidence of a joint effort by the two countries to harm North Korea.

In short, to the extent the United States and its allied military presence in the region is scaled back, the conventional wisdom is North Korea will be more susceptible to making concessions.

But what if such assumptions are incorrect? What if a more in-depth examination of the origin of this North Korean nuclear military capability produces a much different answer? After all, the North’s nuclear weapons are only one of the two net additional nuclear weapons states that have emerged since 1962. Did North Korea, an impoverished country with little advanced technology, get nuclear weapons because it feared being attacked by the United States? Or was the North Korean nuclear program part of a strategy to push the United States out of the region, initiated by China in 1982 as part of its one-hundred-year plan to be the world’s number one military and economic hegemon?

China’s Longstanding Nuclear Proliferation Endeavor

Siegfried Hecker, writing in his new book Hinge Points: An Inside Look at North Korea’s Nuclear Program, examines this very issue and produces two claims. He concludes that a nuclear disarmament deal with North Korea was in the cards but U.S. hawks, pushing for regime change, were responsible for mistakes that deep-sixed a possible disarmament agreement. He further elaborates, as other observers have, that the Chinese were not responsible for the North Korean nuclear programs and cannot be looked to for a resolution of the problem.

Both claims are not correct.

Understanding the fallacy of the second claim—that there was no Chinese role in the development of North Korea’s nuclear weapons—illustrates why the first claim is erroneous as well.

The evidence starts in 1982, when the Chinese government decided to spread nuclear weapons technology to rogue state allies in North Korea, Pakistan, Iran, and Libya. This effort was done in secret as it was contrary to China’s obligations under the 1969 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which obligates its 191 signatories not only to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons but to also work toward eventual general and total disarmament, including conventional and nuclear weapons.

China began with Pakistan. The full development of the atomic bomb in Pakistan was subsequently the work of A.Q. Khan. Pakistan reportedly received the actual atomic device blueprints from the Chinese. Khan, known as the father of Pakistan’s nuclear bomb, eventually created a network—what one might call it “Nukes ‘R Us”—that, with the coordination of China, spread nuclear weapons technology to Iran, Libya, and North Korea.

This network was fully discovered when nuclear centrifuges made in Malaysia as part of the Khan network were being transferred to Libya were intercepted by the Italian and U.S. navies. A manifest on the shipping crates was addressed to the son of Libya’s dictator, Muammar Gadhafi.

The interception led directly to a confrontation with Libya over the extent of its nuclear program, which was then subsequently dismantled by the United States with the assistance of Great Britain, and remarkedly also with the cooperation of Tripoli. The successful effort proved the viability of the 2003 U.S.-created Proliferation Security Initiative, which Washington hoped could be duplicated with other rogue state nuclear programs.

But can such counter-proliferation efforts truly be successful without China’s full cooperation? The extent of the Chinese involvement in the Khan network and the proliferation of nuclear weapons technology has remained unappreciated, despite Tom Reed’s 1969 book, The Nuclear Express. Reed detailed the Chinese push to arm its allies with nuclear weapons, which succeeded in programs in Pakistan and North Korea (Iran remains an open question)

China’s Motivations

Why would China undertake such a foreign policy initiative? The answers are multifold, but are consistent with other Chinese activity, especially in the Western Pacific.

China’s ambitions to be the world’s military hegemon, as detailed in Michael Pillsbury’s The One Hundred-Year Marathon, requires the U.S. military power in the Western Pacific to be diminished.

Enabling North Korean nuclear capability was designed to cause friction and conflict within the U.S.-ROK alliance, as ROK elements might begin to question the American willingness to deal with the increased threat to the region. If China could create doubt in the government of South Korea about whether the United States would keep its deterrent commitment to protect the ROK, maybe Washington would forgo even trying, or the ROK would try and go it alone. 

American observers such as the Cato Institute’s Doug Bandow took the bait and proposed that all U.S. military forces in the ROK be withdrawn so the United States would not be involved in any possible war on the peninsula. With U.S. forces still in the ROK, the theory was the North would hold at-risk U.S. cities as a means of leveraging against American support for the South Korean government in the event of a war.

David Asher at the Hudson Institute has put together a briefing—(to access, use passcode Nv2&35tD)—on the extent to which multiple dozens of Chinese government and military entities and individuals have been established for the sole purpose of sustaining and advancing the North Korean nuclear program. The founder of Sayari Analytics, a financial-intelligence firm, Asher has previously identified the Chinese and North Korean entities responsible for cooperative nuclear activities and thus targeted by the U.S. for economic sanctions.

There is sufficient evidence to make it undeniable that the North Korean nuclear weapons program is very much a joint cooperative program of the first order, established by China many decades ago to facilitate the development of a North Korean nuclear bomb.

In this context, China’s strategy is understandable: start undermining U.S. security guarantees for American allies in the Pacific and hopefully begin a process of unraveling overall U.S. military presence in the region. This is not necessarily limited to the Indo-Pacific: China is seeking military basing rights from Iran in the Persian Gulf region. What better way to counter the U.S. Middle East military presence as well as to intimidate U.S. allies in the region such as Saudi Arabia?

China is Not Innocent

The recent summit between the U.S. and Korean presidents has, however, indicated that the Chinese strategy may be backfiring. Over the past few administrations, the U.S. military alliance with the ROK and Japan has been strengthened. The latter two countries have also significantly increased their military spending as well as the development of advanced military technology.

Given the possible development of a ROK or Japanese indigenous nuclear weapons capability would markedly undermine Chinese hegemonic ambitions, Pyongyang’s nuclear threats might also be a catalyst to push the Chinese government to put an end to North Korean nuclear proliferation. The last thing the Chinese government wants is multiple additional nuclear weapons powers in the region—a proliferation that might very well occur due to Beijing’s missteps with respect to creating a North Korean nuclear threat.

When added to the current nuclear weapons states now in the region—Russia, China, the United States, and North Korea—there could be upwards of seven or more nuclear-armed powers in the region. The chances of accidental, inadvertent, or deliberate use of nuclear weapons would increase exponentially, and with it, the resulting fracturing of the world’s top economies, to say nothing of the potential death of more than a billion people.

The counter and non-proliferation efforts of the United States and its allies have successfully prevented what Israeli ambassador to the United States Dori Gold once predicted might be a cascade of new nuclear weapons states if not just North Korea but Iran also went nuclear. While Washington and its allies were successful in ending an actual nuclear weapons program in South Africa, and nascent programs in Iraq (1991) and Libya, (2006) as well as in Brazil and Argentina decades ago, North Korean proliferation remains, as well as potentially Iran. To bring those programs under control and eventual termination will require a hard-headed analysis of their origin and purpose. It is here that the notion that China is an innocent party leads us down the wrong road and toward possible catastrophe.

Peter Huessy is a Senior Defense Fellow at the Hudson Institute and President of Geo-Strategic Analysis. These views are his own.

Image: Shutterstock.

The Brewing Crisis on Iran’s Northern Flank

The National Interest - Sun, 28/05/2023 - 00:00

A strategic storm is brewing on the frontier of the South Caucasus and the northern rim of the Middle East. It involves the cross-border ethnic Azerbaijani population that forms a majority in Azerbaijan and is the largest minority group in Iran. Baku’s victory in the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh conflict with Armenia, resulting in Azerbaijan having a much longer border with Iran, and the unrest accelerating regime evolution in the Islamic Republic could create a crisis on Iran’s northern flank. Tehran is facing a significant challenge from its ethnic Azerbaijani citizenry which it discriminated against for decades.

Baku-Teheran relations are at a nadir after a gunman murdered the security chief of Azerbaijan’s embassy in Tehran in January. Tit-for-tat followed. Iran expelled four Azerbaijani diplomats on May 5, which itself was in response to Baku’s April 6 move to expel four Iranian diplomats in retaliation for the March 29 assassination attempt on one of its prominent lawmakers, Fazil Mustafa. Tensions between the two countries experienced another spike in the wake of the March 29 opening of Azerbaijan’s embassy in Tel Aviv. Days after Israeli foreign minister Eli Cohen’s April 19 visit to Baku, thirty-two Israeli lawmakers sent a letter to Cohen’s office expressing support for Iran’s ethnic Azerbaijani minority. Coincidentally, on April 20, Israel opened its embassy in Turkmenistan.

That last data point is noteworthy. Having made significant inroads in the Arab world, with Syria, Lebanon, and Gaza serving as a launchpad for its operations against Israel, Iran is now increasingly worried about what it perceives is a growing Israeli presence on its northern flank. This is in addition to the fact that its historic Sunni Muslim competitor, Turkey, has also made major inroads into the Trans-Caspian region, where Ankara is trying to create a strategic Turkic corridor.

For the longest time, Tehran took comfort from the fact that its regional ally Armenia served as a check on Azerbaijan, and Russia managed the balance of power in the South Caucasus. Turkey’s increasing influence in what was a Russian sphere of influence since 2020, followed by the Kremlin’s military and economic weakening in the aftermath of its 2022 war on Ukraine, is a cause of major concern for Iran.

Historically, much of the South Caucasus, along with parts of Dagestan in the North Caucasus, was under Persian control and was lost to the Russians in the early 1800s. Iran’s northern borders were established in three treaties with Moscow throughout much of the nineteenth century. For the better part of the twentieth century, Iran’s pro-Western Pahlavi monarchy represented a frontline state straddling the Soviet Union. Even after the ouster of the monarchy in 1979 and the establishment of the Islamist regime, Tehran was in no position to try and regain influence in the South Caucasus.

It was not until the 1991 Soviet implosion that Iran was able to use Shia Islamism to project power into a then newly-sovereign Azerbaijan, a Western-leaning secular Turkic, Shia majority nation. This was not just an offensive strategy but also a defensive one: an independent Azerbaijan could now do the reverse, leveraging Azerbaijani ethnonationalism to weaken the clerical regime—an objective on which Azerbaijan and Israel see eye-to-eye.

While it is expected that the Iranian regime would accuse Israel of supporting Azerbaijani separatism in Iran, the same claim was notably made by Reza Pahlavi, the late Shah’s son. Additionally, during a mid-April visit to Israel, Pahlavi got some Israeli parliamentarians to retract their signatures from the Knesset letter in support of Iranian ethnic Azerbaijanis.

Now that Tehran is faced with significant domestic unrest, it is all the more fearful of ethnic minorities that have been Persianized linguistically. There is worry that non-Farsi groups may culturally rise up against the theocratic order—in particular ethnic Azerbaijanis, who form about a quarter of the country’s 88 million people.

In the fast-approaching post-Khamenei era, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) will likely complete the process of supplanting the clergy as the principal center of power in the Islamic Republic. But the IRGC will be unable to rely on coercive means alone to ensure that minority communities such as the Azerbaijanis, as well as the Baluchis, Kurds, and Arabs, will remain loyal to a shape-shifting regime.

Azerbaijanis have been at the forefront of the protests that broke out after the killing of Mahsa Amini, the young Kurdish woman who morality police murdered last year after arresting her for not observing the hijab. “Freedom, justice, and national government” has been the common slogan on the streets of Tabriz, Urmia, and Ardabil, the three largest ethnic Azerbaijani population centers in northwestern Iran. Azerbaijani protest activists have become a leading factor in the Iranian protest movement. Eight different protest organizations united around the Telegram channel AZFRONT, based in the city of Tabriz. The accelerating regime evolution is an opportunity for ethnic Azerbaijanis to revive their ethnolinguistic Turkic identity. During a 2011 visit to Turkey, Ali Akbar Salehi, a former Iranian foreign minister, acknowledged that as many as 40 percent of all Iranians speak Azerbaijani.

As its religious influence continues to wane, the regime will try to use Iranian nationalism as a means of maintaining unity among the masses. This will not work—only about half of the country is ethnically Persian. Iran’s rulers will have to forge a new social contract with the country’s minorities, especially the ethnic Azerbaijanis—or face dire consequences to national coherence.

Kamran Bokhari, PhD is the Senior Director of the Eurasian Security & Prosperity Portfolio at the New Lines Institute for Strategy & Policy in Washington. Bokhari is also a national security and foreign policy specialist at the University of Ottawa’s Professional Development Institute. He has served as the coordinator for Central Asia Studies at the U.S. Department of State’s Foreign Service Institute. Follow him on Twitter at @KamranBokhari.

Image: Sepah News.