Archive for the ‘Asia’ Category

30
Oct

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In his engaging and timely presentation last week, Prof. Ansari discussed how ideology, nationalism and Iranian mythology were intricately intertwined. The Persian civilization is several millennia old and Iranians are immensely proud of their heritage. Indeed Iranian nationalism today is just as much about Islam as it is about Iranian mythology and early civilization. Prof. Ansari mentioned the important historical figure of King Cyrus, founder of the Achaemenid Empire in around 600 BC. Having originated from Persis, roughly corresponding to the modern Iranian province of Fars, Cyrus has played a crucial role in defining the national identity of modern Iran. King Cyrus, was obviously, not Muslim.

Prof. Ansari also mentioned the mythical figure of Kaveh, a blacksmith who led a popular uprising against a ruthless foreign ruler, Zahhāk. Kaveh is still today very much part of the Iranian identity, even though, again, he has nothing to do with Islam.

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What is interesting is to see how Iranians today try to reconcile their mythical, historical and Islamic identities into one Iranian identity. It is not always easy to do so, and often some stretches of imagination are required. But all three elements are fundamental aspects of who an Iranian is today.

Prof. Ansari answered questions from the public with humor and candor. When asked about the window of opportunity that is currently being opened as a result of the rapprochement between President Rouhani and President Obama, he answered that this represented an opportunity but that one should be realistic. His recommendation to negotiators on both sides was that “one should not invent a person you want to talk to. Talk to the person you have in front of you.” He seemed a bit sceptical about the “tectonic shifts” some observers claim are taking place in Iran and US relations Regarding the desire for nuclear power in Iran, Prof. Ansari asserted that unlike popular belief, Iranians were much more preoccupied about Pakistan having the bomb than Israel.

5
Sep

By Dennis P. Halpin

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In the spring of 2007, reports reached Washington concerning a covert North Korean operation in the Syrian desert. Senior members of Congress, including my former boss, Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, raised alarm bells with the State Department’s Six-Party negotiators on North Korean denuclearization. How could Pyongyang negotiate in good faith on nuclear issues while at the same time assisting a state sponsor of terrorism in the construction of a copycat Yongbyon-like nuclear facility? Such concerns, however, were largely put aside as the process of the Six-Party negotiations took precedence over the disturbing facts on the ground. The Israelis, increasingly concerned over Washington’s foot-dragging on the issue, did the world a favor on September 6, 2007 by taking out the Syrian nuclear reactor in a surgical strike. NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation), citing “unidentified South Korean intelligence officials,” reported that ten North Korean support staff may have died in that attack. Their remains were allegedly cremated and returned to North Korea.

Not only have North Koreans reportedly been killed in Syria due to Syrian–North Korean joint proliferation, but Syrians also have died in North Korea. In April 2004, according to a report in the World Tribune, “a dozen Syrian technicians” were killed in an explosion at the train station in Ryongchon, near the Chinese border. While some speculated that the blast involved an assassination attempt against then-North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, whose train had passed through the station only hours before, the consensus reached was that the explosion involved “a train car full of missiles and components” to be shipped to Syria and that the accompanying technicians were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Then Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, during a visit to Japan in May of 2010, publicly stated, according to the Associated Press, that North Korea, Syria and Iran are cooperating as a new “axis of evil” and “pose the biggest threat to world security because they are building and spreading weapons of mass destruction.” The foreign minister further noted that “We saw this kind of cooperation only two or maybe three months ago with the North Korean plane in Bangkok with huge numbers of different weapons with the intention to smuggle these weapons to Hamas and Hezbollah.” Mr. Lieberman was making reference to a plane from the North Korean capital of Pyongyang seized by Thai authorities at Bangkok airport on December 12, 2009, which contained thirty-five tons of weapons. Read more…

Dennis P. Halpin is a former Peace Corps volunteer in South Korea, former U.S. consul in Pusan, and former professional staff member, for more than twelve years, with the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. He is currently a visiting scholar at the U.S.-Korea Institute at SAIS (Johns Hopkins University).

As published by The National Interest on September 4, 2013.

14
Aug

Russian President Vladimir Putin has created an anti-CNN for Western audiences with the international satellite news network Russia Today. With its recipe of smart propaganda, sex appeal and unlimited cash, it is outperforming its peers worldwide.

By Benjamin Bidder

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The political evening program often kicks off with a mixture of chaos and tabloid news. Abby Martin, the American host working for the Kremlin, has her lips slightly parted and is applying red lipstick, which goes well with her black top, high heels and ankle tattoo. Then she swings a sledgehammer and destroys a TV set tuned to CNN, the American role model and nemesis of her employer, the Russian international satellite TV network Russia Today.

This show opening is apparently meant to illustrate one thing over all else: that Russia is aggressive and enlightened — and looks good in the process.

A photo of Edward Snowden, the whistleblower the United States wants to bring home to face charges, is projected onto the studio wall. Then there is a report on the detention camp at Guantanamo, which has hurt America’s reputation. Russia Today uses the source material America supplies to its rivals untiringly and with relish. Even Washington’s relatively minor peccadilloes don’t escape notice. For instance, the show also includes a story about Gabonese dictator Ali Bongo Ondimba, whom US President Barack Obama supports.

Many in the West are also interested in seeing critical coverage of the self-proclaimed top world power. Russia Today is already more successful than all other foreign broadcast stations available in major US cities, such as San Francisco, Chicago and New York. In Washington, 13 times as many people watch the Russian program as those that tune into Deutsche Welle, Germany’s public international broadcaster. Two million Britons watch the Kremlin channel regularly. Its online presence is also more successful than those of all its competitors. What’s more, in June, Russia Today broke a YouTube record by being the first TV station to get a billion views of its videos. Read more…

As published in www.spiegel.de on August 13, 2013.

2
Aug

By  Harry Kazianis

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Over the last several months, an interesting debate has occurred concerning the future of American grand strategy. What defined such ideas during the roughly half century struggle between the USSR and the United States was the doctrine popularly known as containment. America and its allies attempted to constrain Moscow and its communist partners across economic, political and military domains. At times, tensions flared with many fearing such a stance could lead to World War III, and even a nuclear holocaust.

Today, a new bipolar competition is taking shape. While not a global chess match for influence or a new “Cold War” as some theorize,  the United States and the People’s Republic of China faceoff in a competitive contest in the Asia-Pacific and larger Indo-Pacific region. In November 2011 in a now famous long form op-ed in Foreign Policy, then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton laid out American’s strategy of a “pivot” to Asia. Chinese pundits and media have panned the pivot or now respun “rebalance” as a blatant attempt to contain China’s rise.  One Chinese professor even remarked, “The pivot is a very stupid choice… the United States has achieved nothing and only annoyed China. China can’t be contained.”

I agree — unless China makes the choice to contain itself.

Clearly Beijing has interconnected itself into the global economy and international system with enormous success. U.S. – China bilateral trade stood at a jaw-dropping US$536 billion last year. China is now the second largest economy in the world. With an expanding middle class, it is also expected to become the world’s largest energy importer. Indeed, the nature of today’s interlinked global financial system serves as the ultimate insurance policy against any U.S.-led containment strategy.

Yet, despite China’s growing economic integration, it seems leaders in Beijing have been doing a pretty good job of creating a regional environment that is wary of its intentions.  China has made a number of controversial strategic moves that have alarmed the international community. The result has been an ever increasing number of nations looking to each other as well as the United States out of fear that China’s rise could have dangerous consequences for their own national interests. Read more…

As published by The Diplomat on July 29, 2013.

29
Jul

By Richard N. Haass

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Whenever something bad happens – Iran moving closer to acquiring nuclear weapons, North Korea firing another missile, civilian deaths reaching another grim milestone in Syria’s civil war, satellites revealing an alarming rate of polar-ice melt – some official or observer will call upon the international community to act. There is only one problem: there is no “international community.”

Part of the reason stems from the absence of any mechanism for “the world” to come together. The United Nations General Assembly comes closest, but little can be expected from an organization that equates the United States or China with, say, Fiji or Guinea-Bissau.

To be fair, those who founded the UN after World War II created the Security Council as the venue in which major powers would meet to determine the world’s fate. But even that has not worked out as planned, partly because the world of 2013 bears little resemblance to that of 1945. How else could one explain that Britain and France, but not Germany, Japan, or India, are permanent, veto-wielding members?

Alas, there is no agreement on how to update the Security Council. Efforts like the G-20 are welcome, but they lack authority and capacity, in addition to suffering from excessive size. The result is “multilateralism’s dilemma”:  the inclusion of more actors increases an organization’s legitimacy at the expense of its utility.

No amount of UN reform could make things fundamentally different. Today’s major powers do not agree on the rules that ought to govern the world, much less on the penalties for breaking them. Even where there is accord in principle, there is little agreement in practice. The result is a world that is messier and more dangerous than it should be.

Consider climate change. Burning fossil fuels is having a measurable impact on the earth’s temperature. But reducing carbon emissions has proved impossible, because such a commitment could constrain GDP growth (anathema to developed countries mired in economic malaise) and impede access to energy and electricity for billions of people in developing countries, which is unacceptable to China and India.

Stopping the spread of nuclear weapons would seem a more promising issue for global collaboration. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) limits the right to possess nuclear weapons to the Security Council’s five permanent members, and then only temporarily. Read more…

Richard N. Haass, President of the Council on Foreign Relations, previously served as Director of Policy Planning for the US State Department, and was President George W. Bush’s special envoy to Northern Ireland and Coordinator for the Future of Afghanistan.

As published in www.project-syndicate.org on July 24, 2013.