Archive for the ‘Foreign Policy’ Category


By Jonathan Adelman


Despite the rhetoric of the Obama administration and tougher sanctions, hard realities suggest a likely American policy of not attacking Iran but seeking to contain it.

For Iran, the benefits of nuclear weapons are significant: becoming the ninth member of the world’s exclusive nuclear club, spurring nationalist ardor at home, potentially dominating the Middle East, enhancing its leadership of the world’s neutralist bloc, offsetting the likely loss of their main Arab ally Syria and deterring an American attack. America’s desire to stop Iran, meanwhile, is constrained by many factors: withdrawal of an aircraft carrier battle fleet from the Persian Gulf, $80 billion in Iranian hard currency reserves, opposition from Russia and China, foreign efforts to help Iran evade international sanctions, American war weariness, economic malaise, Congressional hyper partisanship and the Obama policy of leading from behind.

Trying to contain a nuclear Iran avoids an unpopular military strike, regional war and harsher sanctions. And most appealing of all, containment succeeded for 40 years with the Soviet Union, culminating in its dissolution in 1991.

There is only one critical problem with the alluring temptation of containment —the Islamic Republic of Iran is no Soviet Union. The Soviet Union was a global superpower, with a vast military-industrial complex and Red Army whose World War II victories helped defeat Nazi Germany. During the Cold War the Soviet Union had several thousand strategic nuclear weapons capable of destroying the United States. The Red Army dominated Eastern and much of Central Europe and threatened Western Europe.

By contrast, Iran is a second rate military and economic power. It reactivated its nuclear program in 1984 and has still not exploded its first atomic bomb. In the 1980s, even after eight years, it could not defeat Iraq, a task that the United States accomplished in three weeks in 2003. With only several hundred atomic scientists, Iran relies heavily on foreign help for its nuclear project.  It possesses a modest missile force, weak army and no modern navy. Iran lags far behind Israel, with its strong air force and 100 to 200 atomic bombs, and NATO stalwart Turkey. Iran’s $13,000 GNP/capita lags far behind the United States ($49,000), United Arab Emirates ($49,000) and Israel ($32,000). Read more…

Jonathan Adelman is a professor at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver.

As published in on April 8, 2013.


Margaret Thatcher: pro-European ‘wet’ transformed by a triumphant war

The hypercautious leader who showered money on the unions was about to get the boot: the Falklands changed all that.

By Simon Jenkins

'I think on balance Thatcher did for Britain what was needed at the time.' Illustration by Daniel Pudles

‘I think on balance Thatcher did for Britain what was needed at the time.’ Illustration by Daniel Pudles

Margaret Thatcher was Britain’s most significant leader since Churchill. In 1979 she inherited a nation that was the “sick man of Europe”, an object of constant transatlantic ridicule. By 1990 it was transformed. She and her successors John Major and Tony Blair presided over a quarter century of unprecedented prosperity. If it ended in disaster, the seeds were only partly hers.

Almost everything said of Thatcher’s early years was untrue, partly through her own invention. She was the daughter of a prosperous civic leader who merely began life as a “grocer”. She went to a fee-paying school and to Oxford at her father’s expense, gliding easily into the upper echelons of student politics.

A Tory party desperate for women helped Thatcher through the political foothills to early success as an MP. Her gender led her into government and the shadow cabinet, despite Edward Heath’s aversion to her. It made her virtually unsackable as education secretary. As she said in her memoirs: “There was no one else.” When Heath fell, her promoters ran her as a stalking horse because, as a woman, they thought she could not win. Thatcher became prime minister because she was a woman, not despite it.

As leader she was initially hyper-cautious. An unclubbable outsider, she allied herself to another outsider, Keith Joseph, and his free-market set. But she regarded rightwing causes as an intellectual hobby. She was an ardent pro-European, and her 1979 manifesto made no mention of radical union reform or privatisation. It was thoroughly “wet”. On taking office she showered money on public sector unions, and her “cuts” were only to planned increases, mild compared with today’s. Yet by the autumn of 1981 they had made her so unpopular that bets were being taken at the October party conference that she would be “gone by Christmas”.

What saved Thatcher’s bacon, and revolutionised her leadership, was Labour’s unelectable Michael Foot – and the Falklands war. Whatever Tory historians like to claim, this was the critical turning point. By delivering a crisp, emphatic victory Thatcher showed the world, and more important herself, what a talent for solitary command could achieve. From then on she disregarded her critics and became intolerant of any who were “not one of us”. Read more…

As published in on April 8, 2013.


By Daniel W. Drezner


Margaret Thatcher has passed away. I could try to talk about Thatcher’s place as a world historical figure, but let’s face it, there’s going to be an orgy of columns on that very point over the next week or so — anything I write on the topic would be second rate at best. I could write about my own memories of living in London during the late Thatcher era, but to be honest, that’s not terribly interesting — it’s a tale of fading political popularity and really strident left-wing art. 

So, instead, consider the following two ways in which Thatcher has left a legacy in international relations theory:  

1) Diversionary war. There’s a large literature in international relations on the notion of using war against a foreign adversary as a way to distract domestic opposition and/or bolster domestic support for a leader (see Chiozza and Goemans for the latest iteration of this literature). It’s a little-known fact, but International Studies Association rules prohibit any paper on this topic from being published without a Thatcher reference.  

I kid, but only barely. The Falklands War represents the paradigmatic case of diversionary war theory for two reasons. First, almost every analysis of the conflicts attributes the Argentine junta’s growing domestic unpopularity as a key cause of their decision to launch the conflict (though, of course, it’s a bit more complicated than that). Second and more importantly, absent the Falklands War, Margaret Thatcher would be remembered as a failed one-term prime minister. Victory over the Argentines in the South Atlantic enabled Thatcher to win re-election.  

In truth, it’s far from clear that diversionary war is all that common a practice (if it was, we’d be drowning in conflicts since 2008). The Falklands War, however, does provide the paradigmatic case.

2) The spread of ideas. It’s fitting that the New York Times ran a story over the weekend about the boomlet in history about studying the growth of capitalism. Thatcher’s role in advancing the spread of free-market ideas to other policymakers was crucial. To explain why free-market capitalism became the pre-eminent idea in economic policymaking over the past few decades, you have to look at Thatcher. She preceded Reagan, becoming the first leader in the developed world to try to change her country’s variety of capitalism. Even after Reagan came to power, one could persuasively argue that Thatcher mattered more. As some international political economy scholars have noted, ideas and policies spread much faster when “supporter states” embrace them vigorously rather than reluctantly. Thatcher embraced capitalism with a near-religious fervor, acting as a vanguard for the rest of Europe on this front. For more on the role that Thatcher and her advisors played, see Yergin and Stanislaw’s The Commanding Heights, or Jeffry Frieden’s Global Capitalism. Read more…

Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.

As published in on April 8, 2013.


Tell Me How This Starts

By Patrick M. Cronin

croninkoreaThe Korean Peninsula is on a knife’s edge, one fateful step from war. While Koreans are accustomed to periodic spikes in tensions, the risk of renewed hostilities appears higher than at any time in the past 60 years, when American, North Korean, and Chinese generals signed an armistice agreement. Far more than 1 million people died in the Korean War, with at least that many troops and civilians injured over the course of the three-year campaign.

The exact leadership dynamics at play in Pyongyang remain mysterious, but the domestic survival of the Kim family dynasty appears to hinge on maintaining a credible nuclear and missile threat — backed up by a local great power, China. To achieve the former, Kim Jong Un appears willing to risk the latter. His regime’s unrelenting verbal threats are intended to rally domestic support, and its reckless brinksmanship is aimed at forcing the outside world to back down and back off. In the past days and weeks — adding to the tension created by its recent nuclear and missile tests — Pyongyang has severed a hotline with Seoul, renounced the 1953 armistice, conducted cyberattacks, and, against its own financial interests, closed down the Kaesong Industrial Complex, which is the only economic thread holding together relations with the South.

There is no single red line that, when crossed, would trigger war, but the potential for miscalculation and escalation is high. North Korea has a penchant for causing international incidents — in 2010 alone it used a mini-submarine to sink the South Korean naval vessel Cheonan and shelled South Korea’s Yeonpyeong Island. The brazen and unprovoked killing of military personnel and civilians shocked many South Koreans, some of whom faulted then-President Lee Myung Bak for a tepid response. The new president, Park Geun Hye (South Korea’s “Iron Lady”) is determined not to echo that weakness and has vowed a strong response to any direct provocation. Meanwhile, the United States, via the annual Foal Eagle and Key Resolve exercises, has many troops, ships, and planes on maneuvers in the region and, as an additional show of resolve, flew long-range B-2 stealth bombers from Missouri to Korea and dispatched F-22 fighter jets as well. Read more…

Dr. Patrick M. Cronin is senior advisor and senior director of the Asia-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) in Washington, D.C.

As published in on April 3, 2013.


I heard Pyongyang make a real offer — but the Obama White House didn’t even listen.

By Joel Wit


Given the torrent of threats and insults hurtling out of Pyongyang these days, North Korea’s announcement Tuesday that it intends to restart facilities at its Yongbyon nuclear installation should come as no surprise. One of those facilities, a plutonium production reactor partially disabled under an agreement with the George W. Bush administration, should eventually be able to produce at least eight more nuclear weapons, adding significantly to Pyongyang’s existing small inventory. What will come as a surprise is that, until recently, the North had been willing to agree to steps that could have prevented that outcome but was ignored by the United States and South Korea.

The facility in question has a long history. One of the first U.S. spy satellite pictures taken in the early 1960s was of the Yongbyon nuclear facility, where the Soviet Union had supplied the North with a small nuclear research reactor. By the early 1980s, spy satellites showed the construction of a larger 5 megawatt electric (MWe) experimental reactor, a significant development since it would allow the North to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons. The reactor started operating in 1985 but was shut down in 1994 by an agreement between the United States and North Korea before any plutonium could be produced. Once that agreement collapsed eight years later, Pyongyang picked up where it left off, restarted the reactor, and produced plutonium that was probably used in the North’s nuclear tests.

The 5 MWe reactor was shut down once again by a U.S.-North Korea agreement in 2007, this time under the Bush administration. As a first step toward permanent disablement, Pyongyang invited international journalists and diplomats to witness the spectacular demolition of the reactor’s cooling tower, needed to carry waste heat into the atmosphere. Fuel rods for the reactor, others that might have been retooled for its use, and still others that had already been irradiated were stored and periodically inspected by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). After Pyongyang’s 2009 long-range missile test, Barack Obama’s administration secured new sanctions against North Korea through the UN, prompting the furious North Koreans to stop the inspections and produce additional plutonium. The reactor itself, however, remained dormant and thousands of fuel rods also remained unused. Read more…

Joel Wit is a visiting scholar at the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies and founder of its North Korea website, 38 North.

As published in on April 2, 2013.

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