Monthly political analysis on nations in
economic or political transition
Following our ‘World Democracy Audit’ of last
month we return for this February edition with three Geopolitical reports:
Iran and Saudi Arabia, each written by expert contributors, seemed
appropriate since the middle east, with the re-emergence of a respectable
IRAN and the smack of reality resulting from the SAUDI’s mass execution, has
more clearly than ever mobilised their respective friends and allies, not
necessarily as might have been predicted. The West busily engaging with Iran
is not currently quite so ‘reflexively’ backing Saudi Arabia, but being
rather more objective in the stand-off between the great Sunni and Shia
powers. Future editions will be looking at the UN- sponsored Syrian Peace
Conference but nobody expects miracles there and just hopes delegates will
Our main report this issue is ‘The New Nuclear Arms Race’ with the advent of the B61-12 ‘smart’ nuclear bomb, which we suggest is the most dangerous weapons system yet devised, yet there has hardly been any debate or protest since the US revealed its ‘Nuclear Silo smasher’. We regard this as desperately important and say why, and believe that President Obama may not have been told the true purpose of this weapon. Whatever else, this topic must NOT be kept ‘under wraps’.
Clive Lindley - Publisher
A New Nuclear Arms Race is On!
Outrage! Has the world’s
collective common sense collapsed?
On Wednesday January 13th 2016, the New York Times printed an apparently innocuous article “US shifts focus to smaller nuclear bombs.” It said- and here is the clue- that this was designed to deal with deeply buried targets like ‘testing tunnels’ and ‘weapon sites’.
‘Smaller’ in the nuclear context surely means good - so where is the outrage?
Are we all so desensitised not to see what this simple report is saying?
The NYT properly drew attention to critics, including military ones, somewhat dismayed because a future president might be persuaded that a weapon that is currently ‘not useable’, might now, with a significantly smaller explosive yield, have become a ‘useable’ weapon!
Reference was made to the latest (probably irrelevant) North Korean nuclear weapon, believed to be hidden inside a mountain. The proposed US “smaller” bomb is to be delivered as a precision guided weapon - indeed tests of the newly designed nuclear missile (minus explosive content), have already taken place.
We were blandly reassured by sources quoted in the article, that any such aberrations as a North Korean bomb would be stymied by such a counter-measure, saying that it was designed to deal with ‘deeply buried targets like testing tunnels and weapons sites’.
But to us, this illustrates a far more dangerous concern, even than an about-turn in the ‘unusable’ concept, to ‘useability’. Our fear is that several nuclear-capable nations, apart from a proportion of submarine launch resources, have their primary deterrent in the delivery system of ICBM type, long range nuclear-tipped rockets, ‘ready to go’, concealed in silos, bunkers, etc; in ‘semi-secret’ bases in thinly populated areas - only ‘semi-secret’ because with constant and sophisticated overhead surveillance of various kinds, few could actually remain unknown or unsuspected, to potential adversary states. [continues...]
Iran after the Sanctions
With most of the sanctions
finally abolished, the Islamic Republic is now expecting an economic rebound and
is getting ready to welcome hordes of prospective investors from Europe, keen to
exploit the hungry Iranian internal market. Has Iran then won out in the
confrontation with western powers over its nuclear programme? In reality the
timing of Iran’s re-insertion in the world market is not good. It will be
difficult to attract investment in the oil industry at a time when the oil price
is below $30 a barrel. As Iran has accumulated huge stockpiles of oil during the
sanctions regime, its efforts to sell it will be driving the price of oil
further south – perhaps this is why the Iranians have not tried yet to push
these stockpiles onto the market. The Saudis do not appear to have any intention
of reducing production for now, so the price of oil could remain depressed for
quite some time to come. After the initial bounce in sales, production and
exports are expected to remain significantly lower than they were before the
sanctions, as the decline of Iran’s oil extraction industry has accelerated
during the sanctions regime. In 2015 Iran produced 2.9 million bpd, down from
3.7 million in 2010. The Iranians claim that they can increase production by one
million bpd in the course of 2016, with half of that achievable very quickly
after the abolition of the sanctions. They also claim to have already found
customers for 300,000 additional bpd. External observers however are sceptical.
In 2014 just US$6 billion were invested in the Iranian oil industry and in 2015 it might have been even less. This massive under-investment might not be addressed very soon. For now Total, ENI and Statoil are at the forefront of oil companies considering seriously investing in Iran, but others are more cautious. The government is trying to offset the caution of investors with new regulations, making investing in Iran easier than it used to be. The new regulations might be released to the public in February.
The spiral of confrontation
The abolition of the sanctions and the end to Iran’s economic isolation does little to reassure Iran’s regional rivals that the latter’s ambition to affirm its role of regional power are any closer to being contained. [continues...]
Saudi feels the Sting of Frustration
Saudi Arabia’s execution of a
Shiite cleric blocks diplomatic resolution of the Middle East’s regional
On January 16, 2016, the IAEA, the International Agency for Atomic Energy, confirmed that Iran has fulfilled its commitments under the joint action program (JPCOA) signed on July 14, 2014. This means, effectively, that the sanctions regime against Iran is over. After thirteen years of diplomatic controversies, six years of economic sanctions and a general climate of international isolation, Iran will gradually emerge as one of the main – if not the main - strategic actor in the Middle East. In the medium term, Iranian foreign policy will converge with the strategic objectives for the West as far as dealing with Islamic State in Syria. President Rowhani will likely pursue some form of regional integration, revolving around economics at first, but Tehran is ambitious and inevitably, its policy will seek greater regional political influence. In other words, a sanctions free Iran will aim to consolidate and perhaps even redefine its regional alliances and in the process affect the intensity and nature of hostilities with Saudi Arabia and Israel – its two regional power contenders, excluding Turkey.
Despite the limitations imposed by the sanctions regime, Iran has been able to maintain a good level of internal political and economic stability, while maintaining, if not gaining, some political influence beyond its borders. It has focused its regional efforts on Lebanon and the West Bank, with the support of Hezbollah - and Hamas, even if less so now, since Hamas distanced itself from the Baathist regime in Damascus - and definitely in Syria, backing the Syrian leadership against the forces of the Islamic State and what the West continues to describe to general puzzlement, as ‘moderates’. This is where Iran’s regional leadership ambitions clash with the other two strategic players in the region, Israel and Saudi Arabia, the very same which, for different reasons, have become unlikely allies in insisting Iran remain isolated internationally, citing their regional security concerns.
The lifting of sanctions will by no means solve the region’s stability problems. [continues...]