About Empress Samantha

Eternal History nerd, book lover, law student. I hope to work in international security when I finish school.

Iran Nuclear Deal & What It Means for the Future of International Security Part I: On the Brink of a Diplomatic Breakthrough?

P5+1 Talks With Iran in Geneva, Switzerland

Last Thursday was a historic day for world diplomacy as the P5+1 (US, UK, France, China, Russia + Germany) announced a framework for a deal with Iran over it’s nuclear program. Terms will not become final until June 30 but the key points are: 1) Iran dramatically reduces its enriched uranium to 3.67% (uranium needs to be enriched to 90% to make a bomb); 2) Iran’s centrifuges are reduced to 6,104; 3) Iran reduces its uranium stockpile from 10,000kg to 300kg; 4) IAEA has access to all of Iran’s nuclear facilities; 5) IF Iran keeps its word, sanctions will be lifted very gradually–some will remain in place still for over 20 years.

Reactions are wide-ranging. Iranians celebrated the possible end to sanctions that prevent them from accessing basic necessities for life–food, medicine, electricity etc. Saudi King Salman, who is fighting a proxy war with Iran in Yemen expressed cautious hope that this leads to increased peace & stability in the region. French president Francois Hollande points out that sanctions can be reinstated if Iran does not fully comply. Unsurprisingly, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not happy, insisting any deal must include Iran’s recognition of Israel’s right to exist, that the deal endangers the survival of the state of Israel and that his country will not accept it when the terms become final.

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Israel would appear to have little pull in stopping this deal as it is not part of the P5+1. Well, except for the catch. UN and EU sanctions are relatively easy to lift but easing US sanctions require Congressional approval. Hence when President Obama spoke about the framework he began making his case to Congress.

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The president’s foreign policy usually leaves much to be desired but he is absolutely right that “should negotiations collapse because we, the United States, rejected what the majority of the world considers a fair deal, what our scientists and nuclear experts suggest would give us confidence that they are not developing a nuclear weapon, it’s doubtful that we could even keep our current international sanctions in place…”

Despite their skepticism, neither Congress or Netanyahu mention any viable alternatives. If there is no deal, there are only two: 1) continuation of the status quo or, 2) war.

Congress would do well to heed the president’s words and remember that the US and Iran were not the only parties at the negotiating table.This is a multilateral deal and countries are eager to do business with Iran; China and India for starters. Assuming Iran complies, the rest of the P5+1 have agreed to lift the EU and UN sanctions. We can refuse to lift ours, but the world may not follow us. Iran may even start to look like a victim. This is just one more confirmation that the US is not ‘indispensible’ anymore. The world is not afraid to oppose us like in years past as seen with the AIIB. If we push too hard we may find ourselves isolated while the world moves on. If that happens, American power really will be in decline.

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The US Needs to Change the Way it Deals With the Rest of the World–or it Risks Being Left Behind

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On March 17 the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) received a significant boost in international credibility when European nations, France, Germany and Italy followed the United Kingdom in joining the AIIB, despite stern criticism from the United States. These four countries are not only leading players in the European Union, but they comprise the 4th, 5th & 6th largest economies in the world (Italy is ranked 8th) and are among the US’ closest allies. More European countries are likely to follow suit as Switzerland and Luxembourg are preparing to do. Asian countries such as New Zealand, Thailand and Singapore have already joined, and staunch US allies South Korea and Australia seem likely also. The AIIB is a China-led international infrastructure bank, part of China’s challenge to the global financial monopoly enjoyed by the US, since the dollar is its reserve currency.

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China’s reasons for creating it’s own version of the World Bank (WB) are straight forward. The BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) have long resented the financial monopoly that western countries, particularly the US have in the WB and International Monetary Fund (IMF). The status quo was birthed by Bretton Woods system established in 1944. Critics point out it is no longer the 1940s and the system needs to reflect the changing balance of power in the 21st century.

Before the creation of AIIB the BRICS tried to work within the system by demanding a greater say in the IMF. In 2010 a deal was introduced to give emerging economies more power. But the US is the largest IMF stakeholder and US lawmakers must approve any such deal. Republicans consistently block its approval. American reluctance to reform led China to attempt to create a financial system not dominated by the West.

American criticism against the AIIB are concerns that the institution will not meet western standards on transparency, the environment and other issues. However BRICS leaders fire back that the US and Europe no longer have credibility to dictate such standards given their mishandling of the 2008 global financial crisis which caused economic chaos throughout the entire world.

In hindsight this development could prove pivotal for the future of the global economic system not only because it evidences China’s commitment to dismantle the dollar as the reserve currency, but given United States Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew’s public criticism of European countries joining the AIIB, it is increasingly evident, that the world is changing. Non-western countries are increasingly vying for a share of the geopolitical pie. If the world’s lone superpower wishes to retain considerable influence, American leaders would do well to recognize this and act accordingly. The longer it takes for the US to wake up to this new reality, the harder the fall will be and the less influence the US will be able to retain as global power continues to shift Eastward.

china_papersover_us If the US continues to block necessary reforms to the IMF and WB while criticizing European allies who join (for their own financial self-preservation), the fallout could potentially be momentous. At worst, the US creates a new layer to the developing geopolitical rivalry between the US-China and forces even the closest American allies to choose sides against the US. At best, the US jeopardizes the strength of the Trans-Atlantic alliance and being left behind as a new international system emerges, trapped in its web of denial.

Ferguson and the Decline of Pax Americana

School_Begins_1-25-1899For the last 70 years, the United States has held itself as the epitome of national morality and human rights, and has used its military might to prescribe to the international community what each country should aspire to. However, it suddenly finds itself in a credibility crisis–all because of a town most Americans, let alone the world had never heard of until August 9, 2014.

tumblr_nfm9xltuQN1shiv3ro1_1280The facade of America as a nation of liberty and equality has been broken, in the most humiliating way, at a time when the American government endeavors the world to follow its lead on international predicaments such as Israel-Palestine, tensions with Russia over eastern Europe, and more recently the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Thanks to a global financial crisis and a world of nations that has turned inward, the US struggles to get help from its allies. The rise of China has the American government and citizenry fearing our time as the world’s sole superpower is ending. So a situation like Ferguson, which displays the true nature of American hypocrisy couldn’t have happened at a more inopportune time.

Ferguson has revealed the sharp racial divide that still haunts American society to the world, prompting widespread anger at the continuous cycle of institutional racism at home and damaging American credibility abroad. Footage of police beating, arresting and attacking mostly peaceful protesters with tear gas broadcast all over the world, leading national governments, citizenries and the United Nations alike to question how the US can criticize other countries when clearly, we have our own internal problems.

995069_10152575678655935_1853866743208737653_nOther groups, notably Palestinians, who experience the same injustices as African-Americans, draw parallels and reach out in solidarity from one oppressed group to another, even offering tips to Ferguson protesters fleeing tear gas on Twitter.

ferguson-palestineNews media in countries with friendly bilateral ties to the US, including Canada, Britain, France and Germany highlight and even criticize the US for its seemingly never ending problem with race. Not surprisingly, world leaders frustrated with the US react with schadenfreude, for example Russia, China, Iran and others. Like the US, these countries have internal problems but they’re not wrong for criticizing the US for brutalizing its own citizens while preaching to the world about liberty, justice and equality.

How exactly this will affect American Foreign Policy going forward remains to be seen. But one thing is clear, the days of the US holding the moral high ground are in serious jeopardy if not completely over. 2014 has been a year of resistance to governmental power, from Ukraine, to Hong Kong, to Thailand, to Gaza and now to the United States. A Human Right Watch researcher remarks “our world is melding into a single military regime.”

Scotland’s bid for independence and what it means for international relations

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The results have just been announced, that Scotland will not become an independent country and end a 300 plus year union. Even so, this vote will have profound effects for the UK and the international community.

Scotland’s bid for independence was fought hard on both sides. British politicians like Prime Minister David Cameron emphasized Scotland’s increased economic and political strength as a part of the UK. First Minister Alex Salmon highlighted the differences between Scotland and the rest of the union. In short Scots in favor of independence felt and still feel different, separate from the rest of the UK.

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 If Scotland seceded, the UK would’ve lost one-third of it’s land mass and 8% of it’s population. A Scotland-less UK would also be more likely to leave the European Union, which has always had an ambivalent relationship with the supranational organization.  The Conservatives have vowed to have a referendum on EU membership if they win next year’s general election.  As Scots are more left leaning, the UK would be more likely to leave without Scotland’s votes.

Also, the UK’s underwater nuclear weapons are in Scotland. Some have raised the issue if the UK lost possession of its nukes, would it continue to be a world power? Would it still be deserving of veto power on the United Nations Security Council? Nations such as India, Japan and Germany have openly declared they want “permanent member” status, making the argument that it no longer makes sense for the concentration of power in the international organization to be confined to five countries. A UK without Scotland would’ve further illustrate this argument.

However even though Scotland remains part of the UK, there will be consequences for Britain.  David Cameron has promised increased powers for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland if Scotland voted “NO” on independence but it remains to be seen what he or any of the other party leaders can feasibly do.

The ethnic nationalism that pushed the UK to the brink of national divorce is not confined to the island nation. Separatist and regional movements in Spain, Germany, Italy and Belgium watched the results of this vote very carefully. Whether Scotland became independent or not, Europe is at a critical moment in its history.  Groups all over the continent are challenging the modern definition of the nation-state.  Beyond Europe, in China, Canada and the Middle East, Scotland’s bid for independence motivated other ethnic groups to examine what ties them to the nation-state.

Just like the Global Recession has forced nations to turn inward, as seen in the recent elections in the European Parliament, so now too are groups within nations.  In a post-modern international system, the concept of the nation-state is slowly eroding as individuals groups, ethnic, religious and linguistic groups challenge globalization and centralization in the nation-state.

The Battle Between International Law and National Interests, Part I

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With Russia-Ukraine and Israel’s military assault on Gaza, 2014 seems to be the year of international crises.  Beginning in late 2013 with chemical weapons used in Syria, global crises seem to arise routinely lately.  This is nothing new, international crises have existed since even before the establishment of the nation-state.  However what is different about this current series of crises is the lack of an international response.

This is comparable to western Europe’s appeasement of Hitler before World War II. The world was recovering from the Great Depression and the United States was apathetic to Europe’s troubles, having embraced isolationism.  The burden fell to the western democracies of Britain and France who were weary of reliving another world war, and thus did nothing.

80 years later, the world is recovering from the Great Recession in a highly globalized and interconnected world.  The world is in a phase where countries largely keep to their own borders and are reluctant to act outside them.  This is why despite Europe’s outrage with Russia going back to Putin’s annexation of Crimea, the continent’s response has been lukewarm at best.  As with Syria, the US is trying to muster international engagement in a community of nations that currently pursues national interests above international norms.

But what distinguishes this situation from previous crises is the shifting balance of power.  This trend of globalization and ‘geopolitical isolationism’ is happening against a backdrop of changing polarity.  Which leads me to conclude the world is in a unique situation–a composite akin to pre-WWI and pre-WWII.

Part of the US’ difficulty in mobilizing an international response to global crises is the rise of other powers challenging American hegemony.  Russia, India, China are rising powers who not only want a ‘piece of the power-pie’ but whose national interests lead them away from the West.  The US does not agree with their actions, but cannot intimidate them either.  Despite Britain controlling 25% of the world’s population, in 1914 Germany, Austria-Hungary, Russia, France and the Ottoman Empire shared power.  The fear of losing power and the desire to gain power caused the tensions that resulted in World War I.  A century later the US is trying to maintain its influence as other countries such as the BRICS demand shared power.

 The world before WWII was one where countries largely kept to themselves, so fearful of another global conflict and out of economic self-interest.  Likewise the world today is jaded by the international interventions that dominated the 1990s and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan but is also still recovering from the Great Recession.

The Geopolitical Fall Out Over Malaysian Airlines Flight 17

I was shocked and saddened when I heard about the crash of Malaysian Airlines flight 17.  First and foremost my heart goes out to those who lost family members and friends.  It is also unfortunate that the AIDS research community lost 100 of its scientists ahead of the World AIDS conference.

When I first heard the passenger jet had been shot down, I actually thought about the assassination of Franz Ferdinand.  As discussed in an earlier post it was a minor incident that occurred in a volatile area set off a chain reaction that led to war and changed the world forever. The conflict between Ukraine and Russia has been out of the news recently but reports say that the conflict had escalated leading up to the crash, and that Putin resisted new American sanctions.  Ukraine and Russia are now playing the blame game as Ukraine hopes to finally rally the world to put real pressure on Putin to stop the violence and Putin blames Ukraine, claiming its efforts against the separatists lead to the plane being shot down.

Although leaders insist on a fair and objective investigation into who is responsible, the implied assumption is that Russia is responsible and should be punished.  Whether or not Putin is actually guilty is not my concern because he already is in the eyes of the international community.  My concern is what happens now?

A lot depends on Europe.  This is a moment of truth for the European Union and European countries, whether they can take a stand when their own citizens are at stake.  I appreciate the reality that the eurozone and Russian economy are very much dependent on each other–not just for gas, but business and trade.  Europe is still recovering from the recession and are wary about any possible upset that could jeopardize that.

But what about the precedent it sets for Russia or anyone to whatever it pleases and Europe’s silence?  When I interned at the European Parliament in 2010, I sat in Committee of Foreign Affairs meetings and the number one concern for the organization is to be a force on human rights and to have a voice the world pays attention to.  How is the EU going to gain the very credibility it wants when it won’t even speak to violence happening in it’s own backyard?

Narendra Modi gets to work cultivating alliances that could prove pivotal for India and international relations

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India’s new prime minister Narendra Modi is not wasting any time toward improving the economic situation in his country. The West (which previously shunned Modi) is not hesitating to embrace Modi as he seeks to make India a lucrative place to do business and for foreign investment.

Earlier this month, top British leaders met with Modi and his Foreign Minister and Indian business leaders in Mumbai for two days as they discussed expanding bilateral trade (already up to $15.8 million) and foreign investment from Britain into India. The talks included the sale of arms as India, already the world’s biggest arm importer seeks to build up its defense.

The United States announced Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel travel to India in late July-early August to discuss expanding India and the US’s bilateral relationship.

The relationship between the world’s largest democracies has been testy at best under the Obama Administration after being strong during the Clinton and Bush Administrations. Frank Wisner, the US ambassador to India under Clinton told the Express Tribune that as Obama has focused on China’s rise, India has trouble seeing where it fits in to Obama’s policy. As Modi is likely to be in power for foreseeable future, the time to cultivate a viable US-India relationship is now. Especially if Modi succeeds in replicating the economic success he oversaw in Gujarat, in the rest of India.

But India is not just looking to the West for alliances.

Despite tensions over border clashes, Modi met with Chinese leader Xi Jinping earlier this week in Brazil, days ahead of the BRICS summit.  Modi wants to resolve conflicts with China, emphasizing their shared similarities in an attempt to invite Chinese investment in Indian infrastructure.  In turn Xi Jinping invited Modi to Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting in November.

If these former rivals could manage to put aside their differences for a mutually beneficial partnership, it would be an amazing example in international politics.  More than that India and China make up 40% of the world’s population on the continent to where power is shifting.  India seeks for the world to take it seriously and China seeks to undermine US hegemony in Asia.  India and China working together could prove consequential for the world.

So far Modi appears to be pragmatic, and it’s working.