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The Irony of Revolution: JCPOA as Youth Coercion Tool in Iran

Dr. Matthew Crosston

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Authors: Dr. Matthew Crosston, Paula Malott

The recently signed Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) between Iran, the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and China was barely completed and announced to the world when debates about its impact began.

As can be expected, much of the conversation since the announcement has been focused on Iran’s nuclear program and whether this plan can prevent it from acquiring a nuclear weapon in the future. Formally speaking, the JCPOA leaves Iran enough capacity to still attain a nuclear weapon in the future should it decide to pull out of the agreement. But the question that must be asked, that we must keep in mind when discussing JCPOA, is this: What does Iran gain by signing the JCPOA?

When one considers that Iran has expended a great deal of resources over previous decades on building up its nuclear program, there has to be a serious reason for it to give up its nuclear aspirations now. Iran has spent billions of dollars on building infrastructure: nuclear reactors, centrifuges, and facilities; attaining nuclear materials; and thousands of man-hours expended on uranium enrichment. So why after all that material, time, and man-power investment does Iran reverse course and agree to curb its nuclear aspirations?

The most obvious gain to the Iranian government and its partners in the JCPOA is the economic and geopolitical cascade effects of full Iranian reintegration into the global economy. Iran’s economy has taken hits related to drops in the price of crude oil the last couple of years from over $100.00 a barrel to just above $50.00, as well as chronic strains on economic output because of sanctions imposed by the UN, the EU and the US. Prior to the imposition of sanctions, Iran was OPEC’s second largest oil producer with the fourth largest oil reserves and second largest natural gas reserves. Indeed, 80% of Iran’s economy was based on its petroleum industry. Iran’s economy was growing before the sanctions and it enjoyed a relatively low unemployment rate. As intended, these sanctions have had a devastating effect on the Iranian people over the last decade since their imposition. Iran’s unemployment rates now hover in the low teens and 20% of its population lives below the poverty line. Iran would greatly benefit by a return to its pre-sanction economic output. For the European Union, Iran’s return to the global market would offer it a welcome alternative to obtaining its natural gas supplies from someone other than Russia. Russia has used threats to shut off natural gas supplies to Europe to gain leverage in negotiations on the situation in the Ukraine. While much of Western Europe isn’t 100% dependent on Russia for its natural gas supplies, it nevertheless must be very attractive to remove that threat leverage from future negotiations with Russia. So on this level the JCPOA has very little to do with joining or being prevented from joining the global nuclear club and much more about a return to what must be seen in Iran as its proper economic birthright on the global market and in the EU as a wonderful chip to work against the Russian Federation as concerns its own energy needs.

But as we continue to ponder the question of what Iran gains by signing the JCPOA, we must begin to look also at a less obvious and, at least in our opinion, more compelling reason for its sudden agreement to capitulate on a nuclear program now. It is Iran’s demographics and the potential for political unrest related to its large youth population that can no longer be simply dismissed by the governing authority. Since the Ayatollah’s revolution Iran’s population has doubled and nearly 50% of the population is now under 35 years old. Unlike previous generations, this youth population is well-educated, since earning a college degree was highly encouraged by the Iranian government since the revolution. Despite their education levels, the brute force and displacement of the economic fall-out caused by sanctions has fallen squarely on this young and talented generation. Youth unemployment remains at nearly 25%, double the rate of other generations. The last time Iran had youth unemployment rates this high was in the decade prior to the revolution. The current regime is largely dominated by leaders who were youth members of that revolution. We find it hard to believe they themselves fail to recognize the strange similarities between the current situation and the 1970s, especially if they continue to ignore youth dissatisfaction. The Iranian Islamic Revolution was largely born within a restive youth population suffering from high unemployment rates that then partnered with other marginalized groups to overthrow the Shah and his US-backed government, which almost all sides had come to view as corrupt and ineffectual. While the current youth dissatisfaction has no religious underpinning or charismatic single leader to powerfully unite them all, it is not illogical to think current progressive thinkers within Iranian authority see concern with all this displaced anger and wasted young talent. For recognizing that danger and trying to counteract it through the JCPOA, Iran has proven itself to be diplomatically cunning and adept.

Keep in mind Iran had already experienced civil unrest from this demographic group. Following the 2009 presidential elections the Green Movement, which supported reform politicians in the elections, organized and led some of the largest protests seen in Iran since the revolution itself. Hundreds of thousands of Iran’s youth were in the streets protesting for political reform in the weeks following President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad’s reelection. While the government ultimately quelled the protestors, the sentiments expressed by the movement did not just melt away. On the contrary, the Green Movement has always been working below the surface of Iran’s political scene, pushing for democratic and social reform. As the 2011 Arab Spring spread through neighboring nations, Iran’s leaders had to notice the similarities to the Green Movement protests of 2009. They might have even worried that the base source for the Arab Spring may have been its own quashed Green Revolution. There had to be concern that the Arab Spring could create a ‘full circle’ effect, bringing revolution back to the place it all almost started three years before.

In addition, the countries that had the largest protests and ultimately largest reforms were the countries that had similar demographics to Iran: high youth populations and high youth unemployment rates. During the Arab spring, leaders of the Green Movement organized street demonstrations that had nearly a million protesters on the streets of Tehran. The candidates selected by the Guardian Council in the 2013 election cycle also show that while the Green Movement is not as openly active they are still clearly on the minds of the ruling class: the eventual winner, while a conservative leader, has shown more willingness to enact reforms and engage the broader population across the country.

The ultimate goal for Iran to join the JCPOA is rebuilding economic opportunities for its large youth population and hopefully redirecting it energies into building careers, raising families, and achieving stability and prosperity. Prior to the JCPOA, with sanctions still firmly in place, those goals had to seem largely out of reach for many of the young members of Iran’s society. Again, the true diplomatic talent with the nuclear accord is in Iran recognizing what could be a boiling point for political dissent and with one deft stroke has attempted to turn that energy into an economic aspiration for the entire country. Once it gains economic prosperity for its youth population, while still trying to ensure political stability for its ruling class no doubt, it will be interesting to see if Iran will continue to follow the mandates set out for it under the agreement. Or will it choose to pull out of the agreement (as it has a right to do let’s not forget) and return to its quest for a nuclear weapon, only now with the stability and prosperity and LEVERAGE of being a fully integrated and quite possibly valuable piece of the global energy economic puzzle for the Western world.

Who says global affairs isn’t full of irony in the modern day? The Iran accord proves this cynicism false.

Dr. Matthew Crosston is Senior Doctoral Faculty in the School of Security and Global Studies at the American Military University and was just named the future Co-Editor of the seminal International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence. His work is catalogued at: https://brown.academia.edu/ProfMatthewCrosston/Analytics

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Middle East

US-Iran Tension: Avert any big disaster to humanity

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US-Iran tension is growing to a dangerous level. Irrespective of who is right and who is wrong, but everyone agrees that it is leading toward a big disaster. Human life and natural resources are at stake. Irrespective, who will suffer more and who will suffer less, but it is human life, which is the most precious thing in this world, is at stake.

Middle-East is an oil and gas-rich area and meets the major portion of world energy demand. Any disturbance in this region will have a severe impact on the global economy. Whether one is right or wrong, will be the victim of this crisis directly or indirectly.

This war will be not like the Iraq war or the Libya War. As at that time, there was only one superpower and the world was unipolar. There was no resistance from any corner of the world. US and allies, without any resistance, conducted the war and achieved their desired results. But a lot of resistance was witnessed in case of Syrian War. The whole scenario has been changed, the calculated results were not achieved yet. Finally, the US has decided to pull back its troops. Similarly, Afghanistan case is not ideal, after spending trillion dollars, and fighting for 17 years, not gains on the ground and finally has to pull back.

It may not be limited to only US-Iran but may engulf the whole region. As traditional rivals are waiting for an appropriate opportunity to settle their old disputes. Whether, it is Arab-Iran, or Israel-Iran, or Arab-Israel enmity, may it spread to a much wider sphere than expected. It is in control of a few countries to start or refrain the escalation, but once it has been broken, it may be beyond the control of either country.

Especially, Russia and China are not sleeping at this time. They are in a strong position to offer resistance. It should not be taken an easy task like Iraq or Libya war. It is difficult to predict the exact reaction of Russia or China, but anticipated resistance.

If we expect, US or Iran to avert this foreseeable war will be not a realistic approach. As if they were to avoid any disaster, they should not have created so hype and should not have moved to this stage. They may not accept total hegemony of the US in this part of the world. They have heavy stakes in the middle-East and cannot be spectators only.

Geopolitics has been changed, regional alliances have emerged, and nations have re-aligned themselves. Much more complex changes have been witnessed after the war on terror. Public awareness has been enhanced, maybe some of the governments in this region have a different outlook, but public opinion is much more realistic and may play a vital role in the days to come. Old time’s friends may stand on the other side of the table. Some radical changes may be visible on grounds.

UN role was ineffective in the past and a little is expected in the future. In fact, the UN has been hijacked and curtailed to a very limited role practically. While one of its major mandates was to resolve the disputes among nations and avoid wars or war-like situations.

Under this serious scenario, there is a hope that all peace-loving nations and individuals, may peruse the UN and International Community do something to avert this bid human disaster.  We all share one world, we have the responsibility to save this world. Any loss of human life in any part of the world is considered the loss to the whole of humanity. And the destruction of natural resources may be considered a loss to humanity. Any damage to Environment or ecology or biodiversity may be a net loss to humanity. We all are son and daughter of ADAM and share a common world, common environment, common resources. We need to protect humanity, environment and natural resources.

It is strongly appealed to the UN, International Community and all individuals who believe in Peace, must act, and must act now, and must act strongly, to avert any bid disaster to humanity.

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Middle East

Chinese purchases of Iranian oil raise tantalizing questions

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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A fully loaded Chinese oil tanker ploughing its way eastwards from two Iranian oil terminals raises questions of how far Beijing is willing to go in defying US sanctions amid a mounting US military build-up in the Gulf and a US-China trade war.

The sailing from Iran of the Pacific Bravo takes on added significance with US strategy likely to remain focused on economic rather than military strangulation of the Iranian leadership, despite the deployment to the Gulf of an aircraft carrier strike group as well as B-52 bombers and a Patriot surface-to-air missile system.

As President Donald J. Trump, backed by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, appears to be signalling that he is not seeking military confrontation, his administration is reportedly considering a third round of sanctions that would focus on Iran’s petrochemical industry. The administration earlier this month sanctioned the country’s metals and minerals trade.

The sailing raises the question whether China is reversing its policy that led in the last quarter of 2018 to it dramatically reducing its trade with Iran, possibly in response to a recent breakdown in US-Chinese trade talks.

“The question is whether non-oil trade remains depressed even if some oil sales resume, which I think it will. That’s the better indicator of where Chinese risk appetite has changed. Unfortunately Iran‘s reprieve will be limited—but better than zero perhaps,” tweeted Esfandyar Batmanghelidj, head of Bourse & Bazaar, a self-described media and business diplomacy company and the founder of the Europe-Iran Forum.

A Chinese analyst interviewed by Al Jazeera argued that “China is not in a position to have Iran’s back… For China, its best to stay out” of the fray.

The stakes for China go beyond the troubled trade talks. In Canada, a senior executive of controversial Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei is fighting extradition to the United States on charges of violating US sanctions against Iran.

Reports that Western companies, including Kraft Heinz, Adidas and Gap, wittingly or unwittingly, were employing Turkic Muslims detained in re-education camps in China’s north-western province of Xinjiang, as part of opaque supply chains, could increase attention on a brutal crackdown that China is struggling to keep out of the limelight.

The Trump administration has repeatedly criticized the crackdown but has stopped short of sanctioning officials involved in the repressive measures.

Bourse & Bazaar’s disclosure of the sailing of the Pacific Bravo coincided with analysis showing that Iran was not among China’s top three investment targets in the Middle East even if Chinese investment in the region was on the rise.

The Pacific Bravo was steaming with its cargo officially toward Indonesia as Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was touring his country’s major oil clients, including China, in a bid to persuade them to ignore US sanctions.

A second tanker, the Marshal Z, was reported to have unloaded 130,000 tonnes of Iranian fuel oil into storage tanks near the Chinese city of Zhoushan.

The Marshall Z was one of four ships that, according to Reuters, allegedly helped Iran circumvent sanctions by using ship-to-ship transfers in January and forged documents that masked the cargoes as originating from Iraq.

The unloading put an end to a four-month odyssey at sea sparked by buyers’ reticence to touch a cargo that would put them in the US crosshairs.

“Somebody in China decided that the steep discount this cargo most likely availed … was a bargain too good to miss,” Matt Stanley, an oil broker at StarFuels in Dubai, told Reuters.

The Pacific Bravo, the first vessel to load Iranian oil since the Trump administration recently refused to extend sanction exemptions to eight countries, including China, was recently acquired by China’s Bank of Kunlun.

The acquisition and sailing suggested that Bank of Kunlun was reversing its decision last December to restrict its business with Iran to humanitarian trade, effectively excluding all other transactions.

The bank was the vehicle China used in the past for business with Iran because it had no exposure to the United States and as a result was not vulnerable to US sanctions that were in place prior to the 2015 international agreement that curbed Iran’s nuclear program.

China’s willingness to ignore, at least to some extent, US sanctions could also constitute an effort to persuade Iran to remain fully committed to the nuclear accord which it has so far upheld despite last year’s US withdrawal.

Iran recently warned Europe that it would reduce its compliance if Europe, which has struggled to create a credible vehicle that would allow non-US companies to circumvent the sanctions, failed to throw the Islamic republic an economic lifeline.

In a letter that was also sent to Russia and China, Iran said it was no longer committed to restrictions on the storage of enriched uranium and heavy water stocks, and could stop observing limits on uranium enrichment at a later stage.

Russian president Vladimir Putin warned in response to the Iranian threat that “as soon as Iran takes its first reciprocal steps and says that it is leaving, everyone will forget by tomorrow that the US was the initiator of this collapse. Iran will be held responsible, and the global public opinion will be intentionally changed in this direction.”

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Middle East

The Iran Question

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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Will there be war with Iran?  Will there not be war with Iran?  The questions are being asked repeatedly in the media even though a single carrier task force is steaming up there.  The expression is old for the latest carriers are nuclear powered.  Imagine the mess if it was blown up.

There are two kinds of weapons in the world … offensive and defensive.  The latter are cheaper, a fighter plane compared to a bomber.  If a country does not (or cannot afford to) have offensive intent, it makes sense to focus on defense.  It is what Iran has done.  Moreover, its missile centered defense has a modern deadly twist — the missiles are precision-guided. 

As an Iranian general remarked when questioned about the carrier task force:  some years ago it would’ve been a threat he opined; now it’s a target.  Iran also has a large standing army of 350,000 plus a 120,000 strong Revolutionary Guard and Soviet style air defenses.  In 2016 Russia started installation of the S-300 system.  It has all kinds of variants, the most advanced, the S-300 PMU-3 has a range similar to the S-400 if equipped with 40N6E missiles, which are used also in the S-400.  Their range is 400 km, so the Iranian batteries are virtually S-400s.  The wily Putin has kept trump satisfied with the S-300 moniker without short-changing his and China’s strategic ally.  The latter continuing to buy Iranian oil.

Iran has friends in Europe also.  Angela Merkel in particular has pointed out that Iran has complied fully with the nuclear provisions of the UN Security Council backed Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action i.e. the Iran nuclear deal.  She is mustering the major European powers.  Already alienated with Trump treating them as adversaries rather than friends, they find Trump’s bullying tiresome.  President Macron, his poll ratings hitting the lowest, is hardly likely to engage in Trump’s venture.  In Britain, Theresa May is barely able to hold on to her job.  In the latest thrust by senior members of her party, she has been asked to name the day she steps down.

So there we have it.  Nobody wants war with Iran.  Even Israel, so far without a post-election government does not want to be rained upon by missiles leaky as its Iron Dome was against homemade Palestinian rockets.

Topping all of this neither Trump nor Secretary of State Pompeo want war.  Trump is as usual trying to bully — now called maximum pressure — Iran into submission.  It won’t.  The wild card is National Security Adviser John Bolton.  He wants war.  A Gulf of Tonkin type false flag incident, or an Iranian misstep, or some accident can still set it off. 

In Iran itself, moderates like current President Hassan Rouhani are being weakened by Trump’s shenanigans.  The hard liners might well want to bleed America as happened in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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