Archive Page 2

Coping with crisis: intervention versus regional cooperation

By Torgeir E. Færtoft

 

The perceived success of the NATO bombing to prevent mass murder by Gadaffi has revived the idea of humanitarian intervention, as set out in my previous blog input.  Humanitarian intervention now emerges as an option in Syria as violence persists and destabilization and disintegration looms.

But humanitarian intervention is still an intervention, with the risks and unintended consequences now especially evident in Iraq and Afghanistan, both failed attempts at social engineering by invasion.

Are there alternative policy options to the fatalism of non-intervention and the impotence of social engineering by force?

There are now some encouraging signs that regional political frameworks may be emerging to stem the threatening chaos in the practically contiguous belt of looming social and political breakdown from Somalia, over Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

In Somalia the AlQaida affiliate AlShabaab, who exploited the political vacuum left by the failed state, is forced on the defensive by a combination of Kenyan, Ethiopian and an African Union troops. As a result, there is now the prospect of a first functioning central government since it broke down in 1991. Across the narrow stretch of sea and pirate infested waters, in Yemen, where a Somalia like scenario has loomed for some time, the regional organization of the Gulf Arab states, the Gulf Cooperation Council, has engineered a political solution, which, if imperfect, is still a step in the opposite direction from chaos, violence and a heaven for organized crime and terrorism.  The GCC countries will now at an upcoming summit consider further integration steps.  In the case of Syria, Turkey holds the key to a regional framework for a political solution. In Iraq, Iran and Saudi Arabia, now backing different sectarian factions, would need to cooperate. In the case of Afghanistan, a regional political solution needs Iran, who supported the anti-Taliban Northern alliance before it became the vehicle for the Western invasion, and then supported the Pashtu-based current regime. Iran must be joined by Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, which must keep the rivalry with India over Kashmir from spilling over to Afghanistan.

Why would the regional powers cooperate rather than undermine each other by proxies?   Greg Gause points out the temptation to exploit politically trans-boundary identities, ethnic and religious, with potentially backfiring effects. Often the temptation to undermine the adversaries outweigh the concerns about the destabilizing effect, but perhaps not now.  Both Somalia and Afghanistan, and to some extent Yemen, are victims of superpower rivalries during the Cold War. Today their instability has repercussions beyond their borders. Such repercussions, inevitable in all internal conflict leading to social and political breakdown, create incentives for the regional cooperation necessary for stability. Without stability development is not possible and human misery will persist.

Utsikter til et gass-kartell?

Ådne Cappelen og Knut Einar Rosendahl

Siden 1973 har OPEC vært en svært viktig aktør i oljemarkedet. Organisasjonen ble stiftet i 1960, men det tok 13 år før den tok grep som påvirket markedet i vesentlig grad. Kan noe lignende skje i gassmarkedet – bør markedet være forberedt på et gass-OPEC? Det eksisterer allerede en organisasjon av gasseksporterende land (GECF – Gas Exporting Countries Forum; www.gecf.org) som minner om 1960-årenes OPEC. GECF ble stiftet i 2001, og inkluderer blant annet de tre største landene målt i gassreserver, Russland, Qatar og Iran.[1] Så langt har GECF vært mer et diskusjonsforum (jf. navnet) enn en slagkraftig organisasjon. Vil GECF utvikle seg til et slags gasskartell i årene som kommer?

Det har vært flere spekulasjoner omkring et gasskartell etter at GECF ble stiftet (se for eksempel Hallouche (2006) og Jaffe and Soligo (2006)). Det er både likhetstrekk og forskjeller når man sammenligner med OPEC. Begge organisasjonene har viktige medlemsland i Gulfen, men i GECF er det bare Qatar som er medlem av Gulf-statene. OPEC består som kjent av flere viktige Gulf-land. Det gjelder ikke minst Saudi Arabia, som også har betydelige gassreserver. Hittil har landet valgt å stå utenfor GECF.

En viktig forskjell mellom olje og gass er at olje er mye billigere å transportere enn gass. Det har medført at mens man gjerne har referert til et verdensmarked for olje, refereres det til regionale markeder for gass. Selv om LNG-teknologien gjør det mulig å frakte gass over store sjødistanser, er transporten forholdsvis kostbar. Prisene på gass i ulike deler av verden er derfor fortsatt lite integrerte og viser store regionale variasjoner. Det betyr blant annet at effektene av kutt i gasseksporten vil avhenge av hvilket land som kutter og hvilken destinasjon som berøres. Det kan gjøre det vanskeligere å få til optimale koordinerte kutt i gassproduksjon i et gasskartell, sammenlignet med et oljekartell. Selv om ulik fordeling av produksjonskutt i prinsippet kan ordnes via sidebetalinger (slik at et medlem av kartellet får kompensert for kuttet fra andre medlemmer), er det tvilsomt om dette vil la seg gjøre i praksis.

Både OPEC og GECF har ett medlemsland som er spesielt dominerende – i GECF er dette Russland som har 24% av verdens gassreserver (BP, 2011). Russland er verdens klart største eksportør av gass, og har verdens nest største gassproduksjon og -konsum (etter USA). Det er derfor rimelig å anta at GECF vil ha begrenset innflytelse uten at Russland er interessert i å bremse eksporten. Russland har ved flere anledninger vist at landet er villig til å kutte gasseksporten for å oppnå bedre betingelser (jf. konfliktene med Ukraina i 2006 og 2009). Det er likevel lite som i dag tyder på at landet er villig til å gå med på koordinerte begrensninger i gasseksporten for å oppnå høyere gasspriser. Russiske myndigheter har flere ganger benektet at de ønsker et gasskartell, og de er trolig skeptiske til å overlate noe av kontrollen over sine eksportbeslutninger til et organ som GECF. På den annen side kan det tenkes at Russland kan være interessert i å koordinere store infrastrukturinvesteringer med andre medlemsland, for å unngå for stort tilbud av gass med påfølgende prisfall (se Gabriel m.fl. (2012a) for en nærmere diskusjon av Russlands rolle i GECF).

Selv om det er lite som tyder på at GECF er på vei til å bli et gasskartell i nærmeste framtid, kan situasjonen endre seg lengre fram i tid. Et relevant spørsmål er da hvor mye medlemslandene vil kunne tjene på koordinerte produksjonskutt. I Gabriel m.fl. (2012b) blir dette spørsmålet analysert ved hjelp av en detaljert numerisk modell for gassmarkedene i verden. Resultatene derfra tyder på at gevinsten er heller beskjeden. I perioden 2010-2030 øker GECF-landenes samlede profitt med maksimalt 15% når de reduserer produksjonen av gass for å maksimere samlet profitt. I noen år faller profitten. Noen av GECF-landene kommer dårligere ut enn før med mindre sidebetalinger lar seg gjennomføre. Alt i alt tyder disse resultatene på at det er lite å tjene for GECF-landene, sammenlignet med kostnadene og utfordringene knyttet til koordinerte produksjonskutt.

Gabriel m.fl. (2012) tester også effekten av at GECF utvides til å inkludere hele Midtøsten (ikke minst Saudi Arabia og de Forente arabiske emirater) og de kaspiske landene. Da blir effekten klart større – samlet profitt for kartellet kan da øke med mer enn en tredel. Spesielt gassmarkedet i Europa vil da bli påvirket, med klart høyere gasspriser. Resultatene tyder dermed på at et gasskartell er lite sannsynlig med mindre GECF klarer å få med seg de aller fleste viktige gassprodusentene i Midtøsten og Sentral-Asia.

Referanser

BP (2011): BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2011. www.bp.com

Gabriel, S., A. Moe, K.E. Rosendahl og M. Tsygankova (2012a): The Likelihood and Potential Implications of a Natural Gas Cartel, kommer i R. Fouquet (red.): Handbook on Energy and Climate Change, Edward Elgar Publishing.

Gabriel, S.A., K.E. Rosendahl, R.G. Egging, H. Avetisyan og S. Siddiqui (2012b): Cartelization in Gas Markets: Studying the Potential for a “Gas OPEC”, Energy Economics 34, 137-152.

Hallouche, H. (2006): The Gas Exporting Countries Forum: Is it really a Gas OPEC in the Making, Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, NG 13, Oxford.

Jaffe, A.M. og R. Soligo (2006): Market Structure in the New Gas Economy: Is Cartelization Possible? I Victor, D.G., Jaffe, A.M., Hayes, M. H. (red.), Natural Gas and Geopolitics: From 1970 to 2040, kapittel 11, Cambridge University Press.


[1] De øvrige GECF-landene er Nigeria, Venezuela, Algerie, Egypt, Libya, Bolivia, Trinidad og Tobago og Ekvatorial Guinea. Norge er observatør, i likhet med Nederland og Kasakhstan.

Humanitarian intervention: after Libya what about Syria?

By Torgeir E. Fjærtoft

After the air campaign in Libya to protect civilians against the murderous intent of Ghadafi, what about protecting Syrians against Assad?
This question involves the difficult trade-off between two competing principles: national sovereignty versus individual human rights.  When the special envoy, the former UN Secretary General Kofi Anan, now is charged with the daunting task of restraining the violence in Syria, he brings with him the discussion he initiated as UN Secretary General in the 1990’s on humanitarian intervention. He then urged that when a state fails to protect the human rights of its citizens, the regime forfeits its right to sovereignty and the international community must intervene.
This discussion is as old as the United Nations. An important principle at its founding after World War II was decolonization, or anti-imperialism, in other words the right to self-determination and respect for national sovereignty. This principle is even visibly embodied in the lay-out of the UN building in New York when you ascend the escalator and face the three chambers symbolizing the ideas upon which the UN was conceived: The Security Council, the Economic and Social Council – and the Trusteeship Chamber, envisaged dealing with decolonization.
This principle of national sovereignty, with the ensuing principle of non-interference, suited old and new dictatorships. But at the same time a campaign was launched by activists in the democratic member states for a competing principle, individual human rights, leading to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The end of the Cold War created a freedom of manoeuvre in which the competition between these to principles surfaced in the 1990’s. The impotence to prevent genocide in Rwanda spurred the discussion of international humanitarian responsibility, leading to military interventions in Yugoslavia and Somalia.  The UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, by calling for humanitarian intervention, then called into question the very concept of national sovereignty upon which the UN was built. But he went even further. When the Security Council was deadlocked by superpower veto, he called upon regional organizations, such as NATO, to assume the responsibility to protect.
The principle of humanitarian intervention was discredited by the 2003 invasion of Iraq when the British Prime Minister Tony Blair explicitly and the US President George Bush implicitly invoked it. The invasion was widely seen as illegitimate and the consequences as disaster. (The invasion of Afghanistan is a more complicated case and beyond the scope of this input.)
Then the 2011 aerial campaign in Libya, an archetypal humanitarian intervention in the spirit of Kofi Anan, was seen as successful (even if the long-term effects remain uncertain), revindicating the principle set forth in the 1990’s.
But as mediator in the case of Syria Kofi Anan does not yet call for humanitarian military intervention. In addition to the obvious political risks and inevitable collateral damage of bombing like in Libya, there are other considerations. The principle of humanitarian intervention works most effectively when kept as an option of ultimate recourse, a threat if the ruler fails to show restraint in violence. Also, short of war, the international community, for practical purposes the West, has other effective tools of pressure, as Kofi Annan himself pointed out while UN Secretary General.  Sanctions have a bad record of effectiveness, but targeting individual power-holders with freezing their funds abroad and restricting their right to travel has proven effective and should be applied at a much earlier stage. After all, by accepting assets and allowing travel governments can become accessories to abuse considered criminal in the countries where the Ghadaffies and Assads keep their money and go to relax or – ultimately – escape.

Towards a Gulf union

By: Tora Systad Tyssen

When hundreds of Saudi troops and 500 police from UAE entered Bahrain in mid-March 2011 the deputy chairman of Bahrain`s parliament, Abdel al-Mowada, said it was a showing of solidarity among the GCC. It was also a showing of the strong Saudi security stamp on the region, an influence bound to grow stronger as steps are taken towards a more united GCC with Saudi Arabia as a main guardian.  

At the opening of the annual Gulf Cooperation Council summit in Riyadh in December Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz called for the formation of a Gulf union in response to what he called “growing threats”, saying that “you must realize that our security and stability are threatened and we need to live up to our responsibilities”. The proposal to coordinate defense affairs and other policies among the six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council is seen as the natural extension of the already existing GCC military cooperation, which was formed in 1981 as a security alliance to counter post-revolution Iran. Given the unrest in Bahrain the leaders of the GCC seems willing to take significant steps to secure Sunni leadership in the region and counter any Iranian attempt to extend their influence.

The first steps towards unity seems to be taken by King Abdullah and the Bahraini king Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, not surprising in light of the unrest in Bahrain. They have already met to discuss “union plans”, but few details of what they contain are known and about how deeply Bahrain and Saudi Arabia will attempt to merge. Another hint of the plans was given when the preacher Sheik Fareed Al-Meftah of the grand Sunni Mosque Al-Fatih in Manama at the end of February mentioned the union in his speech indicating that the first step towards stronger unity in the GCC would be a closer relation between Bahrain and Saudi-Arabia, calling a Gulf union a “long-awaited dream“ that will “be for the advantages and benefits to the citizens of the GCC countries in all social, cultural, economic, security and military aspects”.

How soon any real steps towards a sort of confederacy will be taken is not known, but Saudi King Abdullah and Bahraini King Hamad are expected to outline their plans further in May. According to Muhammad Abdul Ghaffar, a diplomatic adviser to Bahrain`s king the idea becomes more realistic as the political will to establish such a union is growing stronger. And one can only presume the political will is gaining ground as the unrest continues.

Not suprisingly, several prominent Shiite politcal figures in Bahrain have opposed the idea of stronger GCC unity. One of the more diplomatic statements came from Sheik Ali Salman, leader of al-Wifaq, stating that: “We welcome the idea of closer Gulf union if the people of nations approve it, but if the purpose is just to turn Bahrain into an emirate of Saudi Arabia, then it will not be accepted and it will be disastrous.”

The Significance of Friday’s Parliamentary Election in Iran

By Yadullah Shahibzadeh

Regardless of their ideological orientation and political affiliation, millions of Iranians expect this Friday’s parliamentary election to verify their political stance. It is not the electoral results but the level of the election turnout that matters most. While the Iranian leader, Ayatollah Khamanei tells the Iranian people that their participation in the election will deter foreign aggression against Iran,  oppositional forces affiliated to the Reform and the Green movement, believe that people will stay away from the election. Since the disputed presidential election in 2009, politicians who led post-revolutionary governments for 25 years have argued that the Iranian political system loses its popular legitimacy if it does not implement its constitution fully. The former president, Mohammad Khatami, put forward three demands as precondition for oppositional forces’ electoral participation; release of all political prisoners, protection of freedom of speech and assembly by the government and finally, guarantees given by the government to hold free and fair election. None of these demands have been fulfilled. Fulfillment of the first demand would be interpreted as acknowledgment of a wrong and injustice done to all those who questioned the presidential election result. Realization of the second demand would unleash unprecedented criticism of the leader and the revolutionary guard for engineering the presidential election and oppressing street protesters. Finally, the third demand would have dismantled The Guarding Council which has been engineering the elections for the assembly of experts since the late 1980s. The Council in collaboration with the Revolutionary guard has also been engineering parliamentary and presidential elections since 2004.

Since the 1979-revolution, different types of oppositions have boycotted different elections to no avail. The Islamic Republic has held tens of elections and no boycott this far has forced it to change its course. The main problem with the oppositions that have boycotted previous elections in Iran was that they did not represent a political force. They might have represented hundreds of thousands of like-minded Iranians ideologically, but they could not touch them politically. That is why they did not contribute to spectacular political events such as 1997 presidential election which resulted in Mohammad Khatami’s take over and the emergence of the Reform movement in 1997. It is the same story with the 2009 presidential election, which resulted in the Green movement. Both political events were results of high turnout in elections. Those creating and leading these political events were the main founders of the Islamic Republic and its defenders from the revolution until the late 1980s. Now the main founders and defenders of the Islamic Republic who are excluded from political power look forward to a popular boycott of the Friday election. The former founders and defenders of the Islamic Republic claim that they will stay away from the election, but they do not ask people to do the same. They say it is up to the people to choose whether they vote or not. Do the advocates of the Reform and Green movement have an overwhelming popular base? Do the Iranian people care about what these politicians and activist think of the Friday-election and what they do on the Election Day?  We cannot find a straight answer for these questions before the Election Day. Nevertheless, we can interpret signs indicative of people’s electoral attitude in the Election Day.

Iran is neither a democracy in which you can produce unbiased opinion polls nor a police state in which people cannot express their political views publically. Conservatives are in power and reformist individuals and supporters of the Green movement are prosecuted and imprisoned. But if you look at a number of the conservative websites you can see that over 80 % of the comments are in their favor of the Reform and Green movement.

Understanding of a recent cultural event in Iran may also be helpful to map the status of the Reform and Green movement and its level of popularity in Iran. A Separation (Jodaeiye Nader az Simin) is a film that has touched hundreds of thousands of Iranians since last year.  While the conservatives in power controlled street demonstration through repression and intimidation, people made, A Separation, the symbol of resistance and defended it against the Outcasts ( Ekhrajiha). The Outcast ridicules politicians and intellectuals who have advocated the Green movement and is directed by Masoud Dhenamaki one of the leaders of Ansar-e Hezbollah, a semi-official gang that attacked political and cultural gatherings disliked by conservatives in 1990s. The film had the total backing of the Ahmadinezhad government. Unfortunately for the Outcast, A Separation received one award after another. In Iranian newspapers, every word expressing admiration for A Separation has been followed by a word of condemning the Outcasts.  Finally, A Separation received an Oscar for best foreign language film on 26th February. Almost all leading political figures engaged in the democratic struggle such as Mohammad Khatami, political prisoners, literary and artistic figures in Iran publicized their messages of congratulations to the writer-director Asghar Farhadi with explicit and implicit critique of the political situation in Iran. The most competent commentator of the Iranian cinema Parviz Davaiy said, A Separation is the culmination of Iranian cinema.  How can a filmmaker make the culmination of Iranian cinema, while the conservatives in power have tried to control and privatize many aspects of the public sphere to prevent democratic ways of thinking, saying and acting in Iran?  A separation must be the culmination of Iranian cinema since it does not allow any of its characters to judge other characters without showing his or her moral flaws and lack of knowledge of the situation that is a result of their obsession with their own private affairs.
Few months prior to the 2009 presidential election, students, political activists and artists gathered to persuade Khatami to stand as a candidate in the presidential election. A known Iranian actress was invited on stage to say her reasons as to why Khatami should stand as a presidential candidate.  The actress said that in order to realize his previous promises which were the realization of the democratic demands of the Iranian people and in order to revive the hopes of those who have become disappointed with the political situation, Khatami should enter the presidential campaign. She got emotional in the middle of her speech and burst into tears but managed to say a few words.  “I am asking you to enter  the presidential campaign for the sake of small children and for the sake of those who do not want to leave their country,” while she was being watched thoughtfully  by her husband who was sitting in the audience.  Since last year, film critics around the globe talk about the intensity and greatness of the first scene in A Separation. In this scene the leading female character is asking for a divorce because her husband has reneged on his agreement to leave Iran for the sake of their daughter. The female character cannot imagine a bright future for her daughter in Iran.  The actress who plays the character in the first scene is no other than Leila Hatami, the same actress who became emotional while asking Khatami to stand as a candidate in the 2009  presidential election  and the words she uttered in this scene are the logical consequence of her statement in real life. Liela Hatami whose dream of democracy was shattered by the oppression that followed the 2009 presidential election takes the role of Simin in A Separation to care for her private affairs and defend her own and her druthers’ interests. What she does not know as Simin, the film character, is that when seeking private interests becomes a rule; her interests would collide with the interests of anyone and everyone surrounding her.  The result would be the shattering of her private dreams as well as the life of others.  A Separation is based on Leila Hatami’s shattered dream of democracy in Iran. However, she gets the opportunity to play in a film that is described by its writer-director as a democratic film, a film that free from dictatorial role of the director respects the equal rights of all its characters to express their views about their situation. When asked by a French journalist whether his film is political Farhadi replies that, his film is not political but he hopes that it is democratic.  The film is as political as it is democratic because it is about the people who regardless of their social position and religious or cultural background created the most spectacular political event in the Middle East in 2009 but were going to lose their passion for politics and started to care for their private affairs. This political passion remained alive only in an Alzheimer father who cares for other things than his own wellbeing through two unfinished sentences which he manages to say throughout the film, “I want to buy newspapers” and asking his son; whether he knows that certain “Ali got married.” The son answers reluctantly; who is Ali? Meaning, who cares.
What has the content of this film and its universal success to do with the level of election turnout on Friday? This political and democratic film reminds millions of Iranians that politics and experience of democratic unity may prevent them to become obsessed with their private affairs and self-interests and thus unpredicted tragic consequences. Different characters in A Separation; young, old, middle class, poor, religious, secular, are all recognizable in pictures and video footages of the Green movement that in the eyes of many analysts of Iranian politics is the culmination of Iranian democratic politics.  A Separation’s final achievement this week made the politicians, activists and political prisoners fighting for democracy in Iran more visible than before while conservatives including Ahmadinezhad and the leader remained silent on the subject.  Fridays election will show whether the culmination of Iranian cinema in combination with the culmination of Iranian democratic politics persuade Iranians to stay away from the election or not. A Separation may persuade the Iranian people that their separation from the ballot boxes that persist on their inequality with those who grabbed political power by chance but keep it by force and engineered elections is the expressions of their unity.
Conservative in Iran claim that they know very well that it will be a low turnout in Tehran, but the turnout will be high outside Tehran and especially in smaller cities. This week, I visited the website of a major local newspaper in the province of Bushehr many times. It was full of news on A Separation but not a word about the Friday election.

 

The Kuwaiti elections: new elections shortly?

By: Jon Nordenson

When Kuwaiti voters went to the polls on Thursday February 2nd, it marked the end of an eventful and extremely tense election campaign. And given the results, the work of the new parliament is likely to be eventful and tense as well, albeit short lived.

However, before going through the latest results, a quick look a the past few years in Kuwaiti politics is in place. From Sheykh Nasir al-Muhammad’s ascendence to the premiership in 2006, until his (last and final) resignation in November 2011, Kuwaiti politics were in a state of “crisis”. As I have written earlier, the kind of “crisis” referred to here is somewhat different from other countries; it was not a particular and unusual situation that brought turmoil to the country. Rather, it was a constant, but slowely escalating conflict between the opposition and the government, effectively hindering any “normal” political work, that is; passing laws, developing the country, and so on. Instead, the legislative and the executive powers were locked in an seemingly endless cycle of interpellations, resigning governments and early elections.

When Kuwaiti voters went to the polls in 2009, for the third time in three years, the credo was that everyone was tired of political bickering and wanted a parliament and a government capable of doing their jobs and fulfilling their terms. The election provided a majority supporting the PM and the government, and for a while, the deadlock seemed to be broken. However, allthough the opposition constituted a minority, they continued their attacks on the cabinet, earning them the nickname “crisis MPs”. Then, following the break up of a oppositional rally by the police in December 2010, things escalated. Prominent opposition MPs present at the rally promised to question the PM in parliament, and to present a motion of no confidence.  Allthough the government still enjoyed majority support in parliament, immense pressure was put on Sheykh Nasir to resign.

Grass-roots movements against Sheykh Nasir, such as “Kafi” (enough) and “as-Sur al-Khamis” (the fifth fence, a reference to the old city wall of Kuwait City),  began to appear, and rallies were organized more and more frequently.  The movements became better organized and coordinated, and teamed up with oppositional MPs to pressure the PM under the slogan “Hukuma jadida – ra’is jadid – nahj jadid” (new Government, new PM, new approach). Throughout the spring and summer they held demonstrations, seminars, issued declarations, and – inspired by the Arab spring – their own “Friday of wrath/anger”. As is evident in their latest declaration, their ultimate goal is a fully democratic Kuwait, with an elected government.

Then came the “25 million KD”-scandal; 15 MPs were allegedly paid by the Government/the PM to be supportive in parliament. The scandal brought outrage among ordinary Kuwaitis as well as the opposition, which vowed to question the PM on the issue. However, MPs formerly supportive of the cabinet switched sides, and it became evident that the opposition now constituted a majority. Sheykh Nasir, as other members of the cabinet from the royal family, refused to face a vote of no confidence he actually might loose, and managed to prevent the opposition from presenting their questioning. Infuriarated by this, oppositional MPs along with demonstrators took the unprecedented step of storming the parliament on November 16th, 2011. The situation had become unbearable for the royal family, and Shaykh Nasir resigned. Defence Minister Sheykh Jabir al-Mubarak was named as his successor, but before he formed his first cabinet, the Emir dissolved parliament and called for new elections.

Which brings us to this years campaign. One event in particular will be remembered from a campaign described by many as harsh and extremely tense; the burning of candidate Muhammad al-Juwaihil’s campaign tent. Al-Juwaihil, who made the headlines in December 2009 when he made derogatory remarks about Kuwait’s tribal population on his own TV-channel, once again lashed out against the Badu. This time, his remarks were directed against the Mutayr tribe, and provoked imideate reactions; hundreds of members of the tribe attacked his campaign HQ, and burned the tent to the ground. Police arrived at the scene, but proved unable/unwilling to interfer.

The incident was hardly accidental. The division between the Hadar (city dwellers) and the Badu (Beduins) is nothing new in Kuwait, but tensions have reached new levels over the past years. The Badu, which constitute a majority of the voters but a minority in parliament, feel marginalized, whereas the traditionally prosporous and mercantile Hadar feel their position threatened. Thus, when al-Juwaihil made his remaks, he did so knowing they would provoke a strong reaction, which in turn would benefit his electoral prospects among Hadar wary of tribal influence. Not surprisingly, both al-Juwaihil and his “partner in crime” Nabil al-Fadl were elected, as was five members of the Mutayr tribe. In the current political climate, both sides benefit from such incidents.

Moreover, it seems clear that the difference between the opposition and the government stems from more than just disagreement over particular issues. In fact, it has little to do with particular issues, as these are seldom dealt with by parliament. Rather, as discussed above, over the past few years it has been all about former PM Nasir al-Muhammad. But in reality, it may be a question of the Badu seeking greater influence. The movement against Sheykh Nasir, both inside and outside parliament, has consisted mainly of tribal MPs and activists. And in the elections just concluded, the opposition won 18 out of 20 seats in the two tribal electoral districts. If the difference in reality is an issue of Badu vs. Hadar, it seems unlikely that it will disappear even though a new PM has been named; more substantial changes would be needed.  As mentioned, the rallying call has been more democracy, which would, given that the Badu constitute a majority of the voters, give them greater influence. It should be noted here, though, that many tribal MPs have been staunchly against both female parliamentary participation in Kuwait as well as democratization in Bahrain (which would benefit the Shia majority), so to brand the opposition as purely democratict might be somewhat incorrect.

Moreover, there are of course other issues involved as well. The Arab spring has been influental in Kuwait as in other countries, providing momentum for the opposition. Secterian tensions between Shia and Sunni has been fuelled by events in the region, particularly Bahrain, and corruption is a very real and ever present phenomenon in Kuwait, important to voters from all political camps.

In last week’s elections, Islamist/Tribal/Oppositional candidates – all deemed oppositional by the Kuwaiti press – gained about 35 seats, and were the big winners. Shia candidates lost two seats compared to 2009, and ended up on seven. Liberals, who often found themselves in the middle between a staunch opposition and the government, did poorly, perhaps not surprisingly in the current climate. Whereas four women made history and were elected to the last parliament, no female candidate made it this time around. About 62% of Kuwait’s roughly 400 000 eligible voters went to the polls, and oppositional candidates won in four out the five electoral districts.

The opposition is by no means a unified groups; it consists of representatives from the Kuwaiti Muslim Brootherhood, Salafis, Nationalists and one liberal. Thus, they might find it difficult to unite on many issues, such as the amendement of article two of the constitution to make Sharia the sole source of law in the country. However, they have proved more than able to unite in their fight against the government before. And, as discussed above,if  the opposition is about much more than a fight against Sheykh Nasir al-Muhammad, they are likely to do so again. With a majority of 35 seats, they will be able to pass a motion of no confidence against any minister. The traditional reaction of al-Sabah ministers to such a situation has been either for the government to resign, or for the parliament to be dissolved. Now, with a new PM, this would be difficult and embaressing, but perhaps also unavoidable.

Thus, the result of these elections might very well be a new round of elections in the not to distant future.

A stable nuclear balance of terror in the Middle East possible? Illusions versus rationality.

By: Torgeir E. Fjærtoft

Should the current pressure by sanctions prove insufficient to stop the Iranian nuclear program, the risks inherent in the ultimate recourse to military attack are well-known: escalation, destabilization, collateral military and political damage, strengthening of Iranian resolve to acquire such weapons and rallying the Iranian opposition behind the regime. Still, the evolving perception in the current Israeli government and the Obama Administration seems to be that the risks arising from Iranian nuclear arms outweigh those of military attack.

Those that disagree with this relative risk assessment point out that living with Iranian nuclear arms, if need be, is the lesser risk. Beyond hoping to deter forced regime change or invasion, Iran can reap no military or political benefit from them, and therefore will have no incentive to try. This is the clear historical lesson of nuclear arms so far, as President Ahjmadinnejad himself repeatedly points out in interviews.

The view is entirely correct that nuclear arms are useless as instruments of power projection – and hopefully seen to be so – and therefore need not be feared by other countries. But, unfortunately, this reassurance totally misses the point. There is still the very real risk that these doomsday weapons can be released inadvertently by misunderstandings, misjudgments and technical malfuntions. This is another lesson of the Cold War that came to light after it was over; an insight that should be sobering to those who trust the stability of a nuclear balance of terror.

The nuclear balance of terror of the Cold War provides the analogies by which the risks of similar prospects in the Middle East must be asessed. The perceived stability has now proved an illusion.
This illusion was sincerely believed, as demonstrated as late as 1987 by the comprehensive study “Managing Nuclear Operations”.(1) In great and terrifying detail this study discussed how the nuclear balance of terror operated, or should it fail how nuclear war could actually be conducted – and hopefully stopped. Just like all responsible policy makers at the time, the analysts behind the study naively overrated the ability of the individual human mind as well as complex organizations to maintain rational and effective control during confrontation and crisis. The overriding concern of nuclear strategy during the Cold War was to deter, and, if perceived necessary, pre-empt, the ever-present option of the decapitating first strike by the other side. For this purpose, thousands of nuclear arms were kept on hair-trigger alert. In hindsight, we now see that the elaborate nuclear strategies of the Cold War, as set out in this study, conceived by the brightest minds of their time as the apex of logic and rationality, were actually inherently contradictory: nuclear war must at all times be possible to remain impossible. As a consequence the nuclear balance of terror, like the one Iran may now be on the verge on imposing on its region, was dangerously unstable.

Unknown to the overconfident analysts of nuclear strategy in 1987, the much-feared first strike emerged as a serious Soviet option only four years earlier, in 1983, in response to the mistaken belief
that the other side planned the same (2). Contrary to the common belief at the time, the lessons of the dangerous confrontations of the Cuban Missile crisis of 1962 had failed to inspire the caution needed to prevent a new skid to the brink of the abyss. Especially perilous was the cowardice of Soviet intelligence operatives, which prevented them from passing on correct information, fearing the personal consequences should the truth they conveyed challenge the conspiracy theories of their superiors in the Kremlin.(3)

All these fallacies of the Cold War decision-making on nuclear arms would be much worse in a region like the triangle of Israel, Iran and Saudi Arabia. The minimum of communication and cooperation that kept us all alive during the dangerous brinksmanship of the Cold War is practically absent. Both Israel and Iran officially deny possession and plans for nuclear arms, forcing the others to guess the answers to such vital security questions as capabilities, command and control systems, perceived missions, as well as the political and operational nuclear doctrines, should such exist at all. Saudi Arabia could easily aggravate this dangerously unstable situation by exercising their presumed option to acquire a ready set-up from Pakistan.

The rule of thumb is that nuclear deterrence can only be stable as long as it is unilateral, such as now when Israel alone is a nuclear power in the region (4). A bipolar deterrence introduces the terrifying option of a decapitating first-strike, which makes it inherently unstable. For each new nuclear-armed state added, the balance of terror becomes increasingly unstable because there will be more uncertain factors to juggle. In crisis, pressure and stress will impair human minds’ capacity to rationally weigh goals, costs and risks, precisely when this vital ability is most called for.
To keep us all alive under the menace of nuclear arms, rationality must prevail over illusions. The kind of dangerous suspicions during the Cold War that caused the close call in 1983 would be an almost permanent feature of a nuclear balance of terror in the Middle East. Preventing nuclear proliferation in the region is therefore imperative.

1 Ashton B. Carter, John D. Steinbrunner, and Charles A. Zracket Managing Nuclear Operations, Brookings 1987 (reviewed in Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists December 1987)
2 Christopher Andrew and Vasili Mitroknin The KGB in Europe and the West. The Mitroknin Archive, Penguin Books, 2000, p. 278-279. David E. Hoffman The Dead Hand. Reagan, Gorbachev and the Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race, Icon Books, (2009) 2011, p. 60-72
3 Andrew & Mitrokhin, p. 279, Hoffman, p. 62
4 Turkey has nuclear arms under Nato control

The anger over fuel price reform in Nigeria

By: Ingrid Krüger

Earlier this month, the Nigerian government decided to more than double the domestic fuel price, from the initially subsidized price of 40 cents per liter. After a week of general strike, the Nigerian government gave in to the pressure, only keeping less than half of the initial price increase.

What makes a fuel price reform so difficult in Nigeria? Nigeria is the largest crude oil producer in Africa, producing more than two million barrels of crude per day(1) and cheap fuel is considered a birth right among Nigeria’s citizens as in the other OPEC member states. The Nigerian government’s ability to subsidize fuel is challenged, however, both by the vast size of Nigeria’s population and by the country’s lack of sufficient refinery capacity.

Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa, with a population estimated to almost 160 million inhabitants.(2) This makes Nigeria oil poor when crude oil production is measured in per capita terms compared to, say, sparsely populated Kuwait, that produces around the same amount of crude. Furthermore, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) reports that because of “poor maintenance, theft, and fire”, Nigeria’s four refineries are operating below capacity. In 2009 and part of 2010, Nigeria’s refineries were operating below 30 percent of capacity, forcing the country to import around 85 percent of the fuel it needed.(3) The vast population and the lack of sufficient refinery capacity in Nigeria make subsidization of the domestic fuel price a very expensive economic policy for the Nigerian government. This may help explain why international comparisons rank Nigeria’s domestic fuel price above the OPEC average and even above the OPEC average within Africa.(4)

Even though subsidization of fuel implies great costs for the Nigerian government, it is difficult to make the citizens in Nigeria accept a domestic fuel price increase. Corruption and poverty make domestic fuel price increases highly unpopular and fuel price hikes have led to general strike in the country in the past. Nigeria receives the very poor rating of 2.4 on Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index (CPI), an index scaled from 0 to 10 where 0 is “highly corrupt”.(5) In December, the Economist wrote that “the most moderate estimates suggest that $4 billion to $8 billion is stolen from Nigeria’s state coffers every year”.(6) The corruption among politicians in Nigeria indicates a great waste of the country’s natural resources. To the citizens in Nigeria, it seems that they are picking up the bill for the politicians’ corruption. The revenues foregone by corruption could have been spent investing in poorly needed refinery capacity. Furthermore, poverty makes a doubling of the fuel price unbearable for many people. In 2004, which is the most recent year with data available, more than half the population was living below the national poverty line in Nigeria.(7) As long as corruption and poverty remain high, fuel price hikes will continue to cause great anger in the oil producing country.

 
1 OPEC Annual Statistical Bulletin 2010/2011: http://www.opec.org/opec_web/en/publications/202.htm
2 The World Bank: http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.POP.TOTL
3 Energy Information Administration (EIA): http://www.eia.gov/countries/cab.cfm?fips=NI
4 GIZ. Data Preview ‘International Fuel Prices’ 2010/2011: http://www.gtz.de/en/themen/33729.htm
5 Transparency International: http://cpi.transparency.org/cpi2011/results/
6 The Economist. Dec 3rd, 2011: http://www.economist.com/node/21541042
7 The World Bank: http://data.worldbank.org/country/nigeria

Iran beginning of 2012: diplomacy or war?

By: Torgeir E. Fjærtoft

Most foreign policy analyses are flawed. They discuss issues and options on their own merit, as if actors’ behaviour were guided by our perceptions rather than their own. Actual behaviour is shaped by two factors: the actors’ motivation and their perceptions of constraints, external as well as domestic. To understand, we must try to enter their minds, admittedly a speculative venture.

USA
The policy and the capacity of the United States remain the factors that weigh most heavily in the power equations of all regional actors in the Middle East. What motivation and sense of constraint is currently driving President Obama’s policy towards Iran? His number one concern is probably stopping nuclear proliferation, to discourage other countries in the region from acquiring their own nuclear arms in response to the Iranian nuclear program, which must therefore be stopped.  A nuclear balance of terror between Israel, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey (already host to US nuclear arms under NATO) and possibly others would be unstable and dangerous, placing at risk vital but vulnerably energy sources as well as the countries themselves.
He probably sees the Iranian rebuff of his original offer of reconciliation in the light of the domestic power struggle in Iran which makes any change of policy extremely difficult to bring about. Obama’s original rhetoric failed to change Iran’s threatening behaviour, but a credible threat of attack could hopefully shake the current Iranian perception of superiority and impregnability sufficiently to induce contending factions to compromise. In other words, since Obama’s speech failed to change Iranian motivation, he now tries to change the Iranian perception of constraints.
Should also this last-ditch attempt at coercive diplomacy fail, he will resort to force. He has no hesitation about this, should diplomatic options fail. Obama has stated that he is influenced by the so-called “Christian realism” of Reinhold Niebuhr whose central message is that there is evil in the world that needs to be fought, but in a humble spirit. Nuclear arms are definitely evil.
His acceptance speech when he received the Nobel Peace Prize was held in the spirit of Niebuhr. He would as US President use military force when necessary (“Wanting peace is in itself rarely enough to bring it about”). But he will calibrate his use of force. Military experts point out that even an underground plant can be incapacitated by a small charge collapsing the entrance and destroying machinery, such as centrifuges, by shock waves.
Obama’s own constraints are
•    His potentially limited time-window created by the presidential campaign since he could lose the election. The bad record of the massive and costly, but largely failed invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq by Obama’s Republican predecessor and the rhetoric of his Republican opponents, probably adds a sense of urgency to stopping the Iranian nuclear program lest a new Republican President once more resort to extreme policies that could create worse problems than those they set out to solve.
•    The twofold challenge by Israel: the need of any US president to neutralize the Israeli lobby against him in Congress and the US public, and in the current policy predicament prevent unilateral Israeli attack on Iran which could force him to deal with Iran in a different, more violent scenario, in which Israeli vulnerabilities could force him to conduct more comprehensive operations.
•    The need for Iran as a constructive partner in a post-conflict phase to stabilize the vital energy supplies of Saudi Arabia and Iran itself. Also for the political stability of Iraq and Afghanistan after US withdrawal is Iran’s cooperation needed since such stability can only be achieved by cooperation of the regional powers.

To overcome these constraints he has no alternative but to prepare surgical strikes, first as pressure and then, should that fail, as the ultimate recourse. However, to succeed coercive diplomacy and, if unavoidable, attack, need to be followed by military restraint and crisis diffusing diplomacy providing incentives for cooperation.

Iran
In Iran, the currently two main rivals, supreme leader Khamenei and President Ahmadinejad, by all appearances share the motivation of a combination of a revolutionary Islamic and anti-Imperialist ideology, and traditional nationalistic quest for power, prestige and recognition. The overriding concern of both is the protection of the revolutionary Islamic regime in Iran.
Their expansionist revolutionary vision is therefore constrained by their perception of any serious risk to the regime their ideology may give rise to. But they appear to differ over whether the nuclear program has reached that stage yet. When President Ahmadinejad initiated a compromise with the concerned outside world fall of 2009, the deal came to naught because the Supreme Leader Khamenei failed to support him when the President’s rivals seized the opportunity to undercut his position.  In fact, the main constraints perceived by any Iranian actor, may be even the Supreme Leader himself, is presumably the intense domestic power struggles which make anyone proposing to depart from the current course, e.g. the nuclear program, vulnerable to attack by rivals.
After all, an Iranian politician advocating compromise on the nuclear program will be faced by the argument that, seen from Teheran, the current pressure they experience along with their reading of the Libyan experience (Kaddafi toppled by Western military intervention after he had given in to pressure to renounce his nuclear program) combine to form persuasive arguments for nuclear arms as guarantee against forced regime change. Also, as in any nuclear state, there will be powerful vested interests behind a nuclear program, which offers position, prestige and income to those involved.
The crucial question now is whether the Supreme Leader Khamenei will have the power to change course, should he decide that compromise would be the smarter course for Iran. Despite whatever policy assets he may see in nuclear arms, the constraint may dawn on him that Iran will be stopped in its nuclear program because as the program progresses, the concerned outside world will increasingly see the risks inherent in Iranian nuclear arms, including the risks of proliferation, as worse than the collateral risks of a limited, surgical attack, should failed diplomacy leave the world with those options. Consequently, whatever the Iranian motivations for the nuclear program, nuclear arms will not be an option for regime protection. The only chance for diplomacy in the current confrontation is that the Supreme Leader and hopefully contending factions in Iran will be brought around to see compromise and a degree of cooperation as the only viable options for protecting the Islamic, revolutionary regime.

Saudi Arabia
The Royal Family, the governing political elite of Saudi Arabia, is motivated by deep-seated suspicions and resentment of Iran, a sentiment shared by the majority of Saudis and consequently an integral part of the regime’s political legitimacy. These resentments are partly due to the religious Sunni / Shia divide, partly political because of the declared Iranian revolutionary intent to overthrow the pro-Western Saudi royal family.
But those of the Royal Family in responsible policy positions are known to differ over how to weigh the perceived Iranian threat against the constraints on Saudi anti-Iran policies. The King has blamed the US for invading the wrong country in 2003, toppling the stable Sunni regime in Iraq instead of the revolutionary Shia regime in Teheran, urging them to “cut off the snake’s head, not its tail”. But others in the ruling elite are known to think the risks inherent in the confrontation the King seems to be seeking, outweigh the risks currently emanating from Teheran, even with the perceived Iranian encirclement by proxies of Saudi Arabia (“the Shia crescent”, or even “full moon”) .
The Saudi constraints are the potentially disastrous implications of armed conflict for the vulnerable oil production in the Eastern provinces and oil exports through the choking point of the Strait of Hormus. In addition, conflict with Iran also carries serious opportunity costs for Saudi Arabia, in need of cooperation with the revolutionary Shia enemy to exploit shared gas fields in the Gulf. This is potentially serious since gas deficiency forces the Saudis to divert export earning oil to domestic purposes, such as desalination and power production. In case of armed conflict with Iran, the Saudis also fear for their domestic stability should, as a side effect of confrontation with Teheran, Riyadh’s conflicts escalate with its Shia minority in the oil producing Eastern provinces.
The Saudi interdependence with their indispensable ally the USA constitutes another constraint on Saudi policy. (The huge Saudi arms procurements are seen partly as a conscious policy of prepositioning equipment for US forces, partly as a means to strengthen alliances by creating commercial bonds with Saudi Arabia.) With Israel the Saudis share the feeling of having been let down by President Obama in his refusal to support the Arab dictators against the revolting people of the Arab spring (leading to the first independent Saudi military action in contravention of US policy, the intervention in Bahrain).  But in contrast to Israel, with whom the Saudis also share the view on the Iranian threat, Saudi Arabia lacks the capacity for independent military action against Iran To compensate, in case President Obama backs down from attack on Iran’s nuclear installations, the Saudis, to retain the option of attack should they find that President Obama let them down again, even seem to have a tacit agreement with Israel to offer operational cooperation in case of an Israeli attack on Iran, over which they would have virtually no control, but for which they may have to absorb the brunt of the collateral damage of Iranian counter attacks due to vulnerability by proximity.

Israel
Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu is motivated by an overriding fear of a nuclear armed Iran, for the psychological effects it would have on Israelis, the sense of invulnerability nuclear arms could induce on Iran, daring them to more active hostilities by way of proxies such as Hizbollah and Hamas, and of course the ultimate horror of nuclear war, by accident if not by design. He apparently sees the Iranian threat in the context of the collective Jewish trauma of pogroms and the Holocaust. This sentiment is shared by practically all Israelis (although some of them will see the legitimacy the Iranian regime bestows on the Iranian Jewish minority as evidence that the issue between Israel and Iran is political, not racist).
However, there is strong disagreement in Israel, openly aired, over how to weigh the risks emanating from the Iranian nuclear program against the risks inherent in military options.  This disagreement is also reflected in conflicting views in the Israeli coalition government. As a consequence, the differences over Israel’s policy towards Iran remain unresolved at this time of writing, with Defence Minister Barak supporting the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Liebermann leading the opposition.  But since the differences are over tactics, not goals, this balance is volatile. Small changes in risk perception by individual Israeli politicians could change the balance and end the stalemate, sending off Israeli planes or cruise missiles from the Israeli submarines known to hide in the Gulf.
Israel’s constraints derive from the uncertain success of a unilateral Israeli attack and potentially disastrous effects of Iranian counter attacks, which in response to Israeli attacks could be widely perceived as legitimate defence by Israel’s neighbours, thus adding a serious political cost in the current volatile political environment of the Arab Spring.
Adding to the Israeli constraints, Israeli policy makers, with Israel’s total military and political dependence on the US, can ill afford to ignore the strong US rejection of a unilateral Israeli attack, openly and strongly voiced by the Obama administration. So far Israel has had virtually unlimited political capital in the US; no US politician would stand much chance of election without practically unconditional support of Israeli policies. But in the current American political climate, wary of new military entanglements, even US support could wither if Israel were seen to drag Americans into a new war.
To the military risks inherent in a unilateral Israeli attack cautious Israeli politicians are therefore in the current climate forced to add the combined political risk of Arab and American rejection.
But despite the fact that for these combined military and political reasons, the option of unilateral Israeli attack remains hotly contested in Israel, also in the current government, the unanimous Israeli view remains that the risks inherent in Iranian nuclear arms exceed the collateral risks of military action, unilateral, if need be. The prevailing Israeli view is that if left alone, they will go it alone.

Conclusion
In other words, the prospects of diplomacy versus war over the Iranian nuclear program are determined by the actors’ motivations and sense of constraints as outlined here. But the relationship between the actors is dynamic in the sense that their perceptions of constraints change by mutual influence. Therefore, the ultimate course of events cannot now be foreseen, although a US surgical strike against Iranian nuclear installations seems the more probable scenario at this time of writing. With the strong commitment by President Obama to prevent Iranian nuclear arms, a commitment shared by all possible alternative Presidents as well as US allies, Iran will be forced to change its current nuclear program. This will be an important victory for the efforts to reverse the dangerous current trend towards nuclear proliferation.

Will Israel reassess its security strategies?

By: Torgeir E. Fjærtoft

Israel, with its legitimacy disputed in its region, drives vital political dynamics in the Middle East. All contending factions in the neighbouring countries relate to Israel and its policies, directly or indirectly, one way or the other. The region is now undergoing dramatic change in its political landscape.  As a result, traditional policies no longer work, in the sense that they fail to achieve intended effects, and may even have turned counterproductive. Will Israel reassess its security strategies?
Inevitably.
Israeli security strategies have been threefold:
•    uphold legitimacy as a democratic, Jewish state,
•    project superior power,
•    deter and, when perceived necessary, preempt attack.
There are currently two major challenges to these Israeli security strategies: Iran, a threat aggravated by its nuclear program, and the emerging regional power of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Power versus legitimacy
To explore the changing circumstances of Israel I will draw on the ideas of a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany, Henry Kissinger, who, as professor and central policy advisor to President Nixon, became perhaps the foremost theorist and practitioner of diplomacy in modern times, in the sense of developing an overarching historical thesis on the relationships between states, while he exploited options and forged deals. In an interview with Der Spiegel on President Obama’s foreign policy, with special focus on the Middle East, he reiterated his two requirements to stable and peaceful relations between countries: First of all a balance of power must prevent one country from overthrowing the existing order, but, secondly, to be stable, those parties to such an order must perceive it as basically just. None of these conditions are present in Israel’s relations with its region, but below I argue that the situation may evolve in this direction, conditional upon smarter moves by Israel in adapting to changing circumstances.

Israel’s problem
In the absence of political acceptance in the region of its existence, Israel has primarily staked its security on the projection of superior power.  Power projection is mainly effective against regimes controlled by one leader or limited ruling clique. But this is precisely the decisive condition that is now changing in Israel’s region as people take to the streets. They are not intimidated by power, unlike the dictators they strive to overthrow, but driven by a quest for justice.

Against Iran, which, pending the victory of the Green Revolution, remains a centrally controlled dictatorship, the traditional strategy of power projection is still the only effective strategy. But in relating to the Arab Spring, it has lost its edge to the point of becoming counterproductive – to the degree that people in the streets succeed in empowering themselves. Towards the Arab public opinion only shaping their perception of legitimacy will work.

Israel’s legitimacy undermined by Israeli policies
Israel has undermined its twofold legitimacy, as a democratic and as a Jewish state. The underlying problem is its failure to merge the Jewish identity with the ethnic, religious and cultural pluralism of a modern democratic state. This failure to forge a modern state identity in Israel causes a basic problem of attitudes towards Arabs under its rule, aggravated by the occupation of the Palestinians following the war of 1967. These attitudes towards Arabs have eroded the democratic legitimacy, while the Jewish identity has been undermined by imposing Israeli rule on a large number of non-Jews. The Israeli historian, Tom Segev, describes in his book “1967. Israel, the War, and the Year that Transformed the Middle East” how evolving policies, not an original design, resulted in the current state of affairs, which is incompatible with the dual basis for the state of Israel, modern democracy and Jewish identity.

Balance of power changing
It was the new sense of power, legacy of the victory of 1967, that according to Tom Segev deluded the Israelis to make short-sighted choices, neglecting the long-term effects that created the current Israeli predicament.  As a consequence of the changes in Israel’s regional circumstances, the balance of power is also changing. Therefore, the internal political pressure in Israel, that has driven the occupation and the boycott of Gaza, is losing weight relative to the new external pressure; this must be the emerging perception of the power equation in the Israeli political elite, or so we must assume. The traditional strategy of power projection towards Arabs is becoming less effective, perhaps even counterproductive.

Israel needs to avoid long-term effects of mistakes
The current occupation, despite the overwhelming power behind it, will not be politically sustainable in the larger strategic picture now emerging. As a consequence, Israel is now, without an effective Palestinian state, set on a course that, if not corrected, will result in a new pluralistic state in which the Jews will be in a minority, and where the new majority will not, in the predominant Israeli view, share Israel’s democratic values. Under the current political trends the new Arab majority in Israel, which would be formed by the current minority of 20 % if joined by the Arabs on the West-Bank now under occupation, will likely come under strong influence from the Muslim Brotherhood and its off-shot Hamas. In the perception of the Israeli political elite, Israel’s dual legitimacy would then erode. Israeli fear that such an altered Israel would no longer be democratic in the Western sense because they feel convinced that current Israel’s western democratic principles are not shared by the Muslim Brotherhood, especially the equality of women and acceptance of political dissent. Nor would Jews, with the trauma of anti-Semitism and the Holocaust, feel safe in a state they no longer control. (In fact, according to the theories of the psychologist Philip Zimbardo, on the dynamics that cause humans to commit evil, the strong hostility Israel engenders could conceivably, in case power shifted hands, lead again to genocide.)

Israel needs regional allies against Iran
Where traditional power projection is still appropriate, the changed political circumstances of Israel make greater legitimacy in its region imperative. As Kissinger points out, without a shared perception of legitimacy, power will not produce stable relations. Israel will need political and probably military backing also from the regional powers to effectively and sustainably contain Iran, its overriding foreign policy concern also without Iranian nuclear arms because of Iran’s declared revolutionary vision aimed at Israel.
If Israeli politicians see a need to adapt policies to altered circumstances, they could take a clue from Kissinger. It was by his initiative to improve relations with China that the United States neutralized the potentially disrupting consequences of withdrawal from Vietnam. In the same vein, Israel will need to reduce current political tensions to forge regional alliances against Iran to off-set adverse effects of the changing political landscape. (At some point reduced tensions could even lead to improved relations with Iran. More about this in a later blog input.)
In forging regional alliances, the unresolved issues of the occupation and the boycott of Gaza will remain obstacles to those potential allies that share Israel’s concern over Iran. In Israel’s old ally Turkey popular resentment of Israeli policies limits the room for manoeuvre of the Government, should they find that concerns over Iran supersede resentment of Israeli policies. In Israel’s tacit ally Saudi Arabia, its ruling elite as well as its public opinion resent strongly what they perceive as Israel’s refusal to consider the Arab peace plan the King initiated, a sentiment shared by the other Gulf States.
Perhaps the single most important political actor bearing on Israel’s security interests now is the Muslim Brotherhood, an emerging regional political force based on political mobilization, because this movement wields significant power by its influence on Arab minds. But whatever the leadership could be persuaded to agree to, they will also have a limited room for manoeuvre towards Israel as long as the Brotherhood’s supporters resent so strongly Israeli attitudes towards Arabs, most blatantly manifested in the occupation and the boycott of Gaza.
For a balance of power in Israel’s region to be stable in Kissinger’s sense, alliances need to be more than tacit, transient, circumstantial or instrumental. Only a foundation of a shared sense of justice and perceived mutual benefits can provide peace and security. Perceptions and emotions shape motivation.
But should luck run out while a state of confrontation persists, even the coolest of minds cannot prevent everything from going terribly wrong; this was the lesson drawn from the Cuban Missile Crisis by one of crisis’ central actors, Robert McNamara, President Kennedy’s Secretary of Defence.

The risks of fallibility
Henry Kissinger, in the interview in Der Spiegel, described Obama as a “chess player”, Kissinger’s professed ideal for a foreign policy operator. In this ideal, Kissinger unfortunately fails to grasp the limits to rational analyses and control, limits described by the Israeli psychologist Daniel Kahneman, as I have set out in a previous blog input. Kissinger therefore fails to address the weakness in his balance of power ideal, how it can maintain under stress the stability which is its purpose. Kissinger notoriously fails to address the close call of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and in his own diplomacy in the Middle East in the aftermath of the 1973 war he acted more like a poker player, pressuring the Soviets by raising the US nuclear alert.
Kissinger’s Middle East brinksmanship of 1973 is an analogy to the current confrontation with Iran. The requirements of diplomatic pressure are seen to need the option of war to be credible. The problem for crisis management is that the path to building diplomatic pressure by making the threat of war more credible is the same as to actual war. When the parties to such a confrontation edge towards the brink of war, they could by inadvertence, if not by design, tip over the edge and find themselves in a situation immeasurable worse than what they set out to avoid.
Kissinger, in the interview, stated that the concept of victory in war is now meaningless.  There would be no victors in a war between Israel and Iran, only losers. Kissinger has joined other central actors from the Cold War in calling an end to all nuclear arms since they serve no purpose, but remain an existential threat. As a step towards realizing this vision in the region, trust must be established that no new nuclear arms are in the process.

From power projection to consensus building
But Kissinger still fails to address the basic risks inherent in any power thinking, be it by “chess players” or “poker players”: the ramifications if one “player” tries to outsmart or call the bluff of a posturing opponent.  Everybody could easily find themselves without bearings in situations resembling what Clausewitz described as “the fog of war”. Kissinger’s basic assumption is flawed, the primacy of the power equation, one nation’ power relative to others. Today, almost all national interests can only be protected in cooperation with other countries as self-motivated partners, while conflict entails huge costs to all, especially opportunity costs.
Kissinger’s work “Diplomacy” of 1994, setting out to summarize his ideas, makes his flaw clear. The book starts out with the peace negotiations following the end of the Thirty Year War resulting in the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, in hindsight seen as the starting point for the modern international system of nation states pursuing national interests to be mutually checked by a balance of power. Kissinger’s hero was the French leader Cardinal Richelieu for his adept exploitation of this principle, then a novelty, to pursue the national interests of France. But Kissinger, in his analysis of the innovative principles driving the negotiations leading up to the agreement of Westphalia, commits a serious omission: It was not the novel principle of Richelieu, pursuance of national interest by power, that prevailed as much as another novel principle, consensus-building diplomacy, driven by the unassuming Trautmanndorf, the emissary of the weaker party, the Austrian emperor.

From confrontation to cooperation
Israel today, dominated by the spiritual heirs of Richelieu, probably needs to find another Trautmanndorf. He bequeathed the heritage of consensus by compromise, a necessary first step towards effective cooperation in joint interest, such as the current European cooperation.
In fact, only cooperation and economic integration along the European model can solve the really serious security problem in the region, economic stagnation and unemployment. Especially young unemployed men are a ticking bomb in any society. Only effective economic cooperation can prevent despair, desperation and aggression caused by a feeling of hopelessness.  To cope with this security threat, Israel could, in the spirit of Trautmanndorf rather than Richelieu, take the European Union’s agreement with those non- members that qualify for membership, the European Economic Area, a proven instrument for peace, security and prosperity, and suggest to neighbouring countries and the Palestinian Authority that relevant parts of it could be applied selectively and gradually. That could be a beginning to a new regional process that in everybody’s interest.

Israel’s options
What can Israel now do to escape the long-term effects of the mistakes of 1967 that Tom Segev points out? In this perception of the current predicament, the only option available to Israel is to exercise its right to terminate the occupation of the West Bank. (Israel already did so in Gaza.) In the same vein, the single most effective move to counter Iranian ability to conduct “asymmetric warfare” in Lebanon would be to reach an agreement with the post-Assad regime in Syria over the Golan, to deprive Iran of its channel to Hezbollah.
Kissinger’s point that those parties to the political order must perceive it as basically just, or legitimate, has important implications for both Israeli and western considerations of strategies in the altered circumstances: It matters what the Muslim Brotherhood, the emerging regional political power, thinks of Israel and the West, perhaps even more than what Israel and the West think of them. They are today the most effective channel for influencing the perceptions of the new emerging elite that will shape Israel’s vicinity.

Conclusion
Israel, in its inevitable reassessment of its security strategies, may lament the passing of the old dictators for the stability they provided, but indulging in such counterfactual thoughts, which some Israeli seem to do, remains an exercise in futility.  Within Israeli power, however, is the ability to influence perceptions among the emerging Arab political elites of options in relating to Israel, on the continuum between confrontation and cooperation.


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