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Putting Teeth into Peace: Making the JCPOA Legitimate

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Since the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) was signed on July 14, 2015, a fierce debate has ensued within the United States. While the agreement is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, it remains the best option currently available to the U.S. and other world powers to address Iran’s growing nuclear threat. Despite its shortcomings, the deal provides the opportunity for the U.S. to make an essential security impact on the Middle East while potentially improving worldwide relations with Iran.

First and foremost, for the JCPOA to be effective the U.S. must adopt a policy of strict enforcement to the conditions of the agreement and not scrap the deal altogether. Some U.S. law-makers still believe that there is a better option than the JCPOA, as proven by the letter that 47 Senators sent to the Ayatollah warning him that the deal could easily be undone by a future Republican President or Congress. To back out of the JCPOA would be extremely risky at this point, however, as the U.N. Security Council voted for the deal unanimously and more than 100 countries around the world have already publicly endorsed it.

Instead of hoping to get Iran and the P5+1 back to the negotiating table, the U.S. should focus on enforcing the best deal that it is likely to get with Iran now. Senator Coons of Delaware explains, “The President should coordinate a whole government effort utilizing the Pentagon, Intelligence Community, State, Treasury, and Energy to fully enforce this deal. The President must support action by Congress to increase funding and resources for the IAEA and the Office of Foreign Assets Control to allow strict enforcement of sanctions against Iran and the most effective snapback mechanism possible.” If the U.S. proves now that it is willing to strictly enforce the agreement, then it will give Iran less incentive to cheat on the deal in the future, thereby increasing global security.

It is equally essential for the U.S. to enforce the Additional Protocol that supplements the JCPOA. According to the IAEA, “the Additional Protocol aims to fill the gaps in the information reported under Comprehensive Safeguards Agreements. By enabling the IAEA to obtain a much fuller picture of such states’ nuclear programs, plans, nuclear material holdings and trade, the Additional Protocol helps to provide much greater assurance on the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in those States.” By demanding that Iran strictly adheres to the Additional Protocol the U.S. can avoid an outcome similar to the First Gulf War, when it became clear that Iraq had exploited a loophole in the standard IAEA Safeguards Agreement and used undeclared facilities to build a clandestine nuclear weapons program. Olli Heinonen, a veteran International Atomic Energy Agency arms inspector, explains, “Without unfettered access to people and all sites in Iran, and if limitations and sanctuaries are carved out, it will be impossible to convincingly certify that Iran is fully complying with its undertakings.” Further assurances of Iran’s commitment to its obligations under the JCPOA can be achieved by dedicating resources to fully implement the Additional Protocol and by expanding the dimensions of the protocol to include Iran’s military sites.

Despite the presence that the U.S. commands in the world, it will not be enough to deter Iran without assistance. The U.S. must enlist the support of its European allies to make sure that they will take effective action against marginal violations by Iran. This includes re-imposing sanctions against Iran in order to prevent ballistic missile proliferation and the support of terrorism if necessary. When the U.S. helped to establish the United Nations after WWII, it learned that attacking a problem as a united front has many benefits. Current U.S. policy should mirror the philosophy of international partnership rather than hoping to deter Iran solely through its own military might and financial institutions alone.

For the future success of the JCPOA and worldwide security, the U.S. should look to strengthen the parameters of international treaties now, rather than in 15 years, when the most restrictive aspects of the JCPOA will be basically unenforceable. The two treaties that have the potential to affect nuclear proliferation most are the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty (FMCT). The CTBT is a legally binding ban on nuclear explosive testing and the FMCT would prohibit the production of the two main components of nuclear weapons – highly-enriched uranium (HEU) and plutonium.

The first step in strengthening both of these treaties is to get them passed and ratified in the United Nations. Then, under the precedent of these treaties, the U.S. can begin to pursue an international ban on HEU and plutonium, beginning in the most unstable region of the world: the Middle East. The U.S. and other world leaders should consider adding amendments to these treaties as well. As Senator Coons correctly assesses, “We should require continuous access to all IAEA inspection sites under the Additional Protocol and develop new standards for when a country can build a nuclear facility based on a minimum standard of international economic competitiveness.” Additionally, new technology has been developed in online enrichment monitoring and the U.S. should advocate for this technology to be standard practice for all nuclear facilities. If the U.S. decides to implement these changes over the next decade, then Iran will find that it is faced with a new set of barriers on its nuclear program when the restraints of the JCPOA finally come to an end.

In the Middle East, arguably the greatest plausible conflict is still between Israel and Iran. To regulate this potential threat the U.S. must reaffirm its support for Israel so that Iran understands that if it threatens Israel, it threatens the U.S. by default. The current Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) provides Israel with $30 billion in U.S. assistance through 2018. While the U.S. has always considered Israel’s security a top priority, money assistance as a means to an end will not be enough to convince Israel that the U.S. still has its best interest at heart. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee sent President Obama a letter outlining its support for a strengthened MOU with Israel. Michael Bennet, the ranking member of the committee correctly determined, “These measures are necessary to deter conventional and asymmetric threats to Israel. We also support providing missile defense funding, as necessary and appropriate, to accelerate the co-development of missile defense systems, and increased bilateral cooperation on cyber, intelligence, and research and development for tunnel detection and mapping technologies.” The measures outlined in this letter to President Obama are precisely the kind of enhancements that should be added to the MOU. These revisions will give Israel the military assurance that it requires to embrace the JCPOA, while effectively deterring Iran from escalating the regional rivalry.

The JCPOA has the potential to supply the world with a promising future, but only if the policies outlined above are adopted. All of these policies are moot, however, if the U.S. does not have the fortitude to take military action if Iran violates the terms of these agreements. Engaging threats through multilateral institutions remains the best option, but the U.S. cannot afford to hesitate to use force if diplomacy fails. For now, the JCPOA is proof that the U.S. has embraced diplomatic options with both its allies and enemies in order to enhance world unity and security. By strictly enforcing the JCPOA, strengthening nuclear treaties, and endorsing Israel’s security, the U.S. can help to assure that the JCPOA is as effective as the world hopes that it will be.

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Americas

Will Geneva Be Any Different Than Helsinki?

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Joe Biden
Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

Any meeting between the leaders of Russia and the U.S. is inevitably an important international event. At some point in history, such summits decided the fate of the entire world, and the world held its collective breath as it followed Kremlin-White House talks on strategic arms or the two sides seeking agreements on urgent regional problems or any political signals coming from the superpower capitals prior to another round of negotiations.

The bipolar era has long been gone, and the Russia-U.S. relations are no longer the principal axis of international politics, although the suspense over bilateral summits remains. As before, the two countries are engaged in “top-down” interaction. Summits give the initial impetus to Moscow and Washington’s cumbersome bureaucratic machines, then diplomats, military personnel and officials start their assiduous work on specific issues, collaboration between the two countries’ private sectors and civil society perks up, the media gradually soften their rhetoric, bilateral projects in culture, education and science are gradually resumed.

Still, there are annoying exceptions to this general rule. In particular, the latest full-fledged Russia–U.S. summit in Helsinki in July 2018 failed to trigger improvements in bilateral relations. On the contrary, Donald Trump’s meeting with Vladimir Putin in Finland’s capital aroused massive resentment among the anti-Russian Washington establishment. Ultimately, on returning home, the U.S. President had to offer awkward apologies to his supporters and opponents alike, and relations between the two countries continued to rapidly deteriorate after the summit.

Surely, nobody is willing to see another Helsinki scenario in June 2021, this time in Geneva. Yet, do we have good reason to hope for a different outcome this time? To answer this question, let us compare Donald Trump and Joseph Biden’s approaches to Russia-U.S. summits and to bilateral relations at large.

First of all, in Helsinki, Trump very much wanted the Russian leader to like him. The Republican President avoided publicly criticizing his Russian counterpart and was quite generous with his compliments to him, which inevitably caused not only annoyance but pure outrage in Washington and in Trump’s own Administration. Joe Biden has known Vladimir Putin for many years; he does not set himself the task of getting the Russian leader to like him. As far as one can tell, the two politicians do not have any special liking for each other, with this more than reserved attitude unlikely to change following their meeting in Geneva.

Additionally, in Helsinki, Trump wanted, as was his wont, to score an impressive foreign policy victory of his own. He believed he was quite capable of doing better than Barack Obama with his “reset” and of somehow “hitting it off” with Putin, thereby transforming Russia if not into a U.S. ally, then at least into its strategic partner. Apparently, Biden has no such plans. The new American President clearly sees that Moscow-Washington relations will remain those of rivalry in the near future and will involve direct confrontation in some instances. The Kremlin and the White House have widely diverging ideas about today’s world: about what is legitimate and what is illegitimate, what is fair and what is unfair, where the world is heading and what the impending world order should be like. So, we are not talking about a transition from strategic confrontation to strategic partnership, we are talking about a possible reduction in the risks and costs of this necessarily costly and lengthy confrontation.

Finally, Trump simply had much more time to prepare for the Helsinki summit than Biden has had to prepare for Geneva. Trump travelled to Finland eighteen months after coming to power. Biden is planning to meet with Putin in less than five months since his inauguration. Preparations for the Geneva summit have to be made in haste, so the expectations concerning the impending summit’s outcome are less.

These differences between Biden and Trump suggest that there is no reason to expect a particularly successful summit. Even so, we should not forget the entire spectrum of other special features of the Biden Administration’s current style of foreign policy. They allow us to be cautiously optimistic about the June summit.

First, Donald Trump never put too much store by arms control, since he arrogantly believed the U.S. capable of winning any race with either Moscow or Beijing. So, his presidential tenure saw nearly total destruction of this crucial dimension of the bilateral relations, with all its attendant negative consequences for other aspects of Russia-U.S. interaction and for global strategic stability.

In contrast, Biden remains a staunch supporter of arms control, as he has already confirmed by his decision to prolong the bilateral New START. There are grounds for hoping that Geneva will see the two leaders to at least start discussing a new agenda in this area, including militarization of outer space, cyberspace, hypersonic weapons, prompt global strike potential, lethal autonomous weapons etc. The dialogue on arms control beyond the New START does not promise any quick solutions, as it will be difficult for both parties. Yet, the sooner it starts, the better it is going to be for both countries and for the international community as a whole.

Second, Trump never liked multilateral formats, believing them to be unproductive. Apparently, he sincerely believed that he could single-handedly resolve any burning international problems, from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to North Korea’s nuclear missile programme.

Biden does not seem to harbor such illusions. He has repeatedly emphasized the importance of multilateralism, and he clearly understands that collaboration with Russia is necessary on many regional conflicts and crises. Consequently, Geneva talks may see the two leaders engage in a dialogue on Afghanistan, on the Iranian nuclear deal, on North Korea, or even on Syria. It is not at all obvious that Biden will succeed in reaching agreement with Putin immediately on all or any of these issues, but the very possibility of them discussed at the summit should be welcomed.

Third, Trump was not particularly fond of career diplomats and, apparently, attached little value to the diplomatic dimension of foreign policy. The Russia-U.S. “embassy war” had started before Trump—but not only did Trump fail to stop it, he boosted it to an unprecedented scale and urgency.

Sadly, the “embassy war” continues after Trump, too. Yet President Biden, with his tremendous foreign policy experience, understands diplomatic work better and appreciates it. Practical results of the Geneva summit could include a restoration of the diplomatic missions in Washington and Moscow to their full-fledged status and a rebuilding of the networks of consular offices, which have been completely destroyed in recent years. Amid the problems of big politics, consular services may not seem crucial but, for most ordinary Russians and Americans, regaining the opportunity for recourse to rapid and efficient consular services would outweigh many other potential achievements of the Geneva summit.

From our partner RIAC

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“Choose sides” is practically a bogus idea for US military partners

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“Choosing sides” is practically a non-starter for US military allies such as Japan and South Korea. These nations, first and foremost military allies of the US, are forging cordial and productive ties with other countries based on military alliances with the US. The nature and level of partnerships varies greatly from those of allies, despite the fact that they appear to be quite heated at times.

Military concerns have been less important in the postwar period, but economic concerns have been extremely heated, social and cultural interactions have been close, and the qualitative differences between cooperative relations and allies have gotten confused, or have been covered and neglected.

Some unreasonable expectations and even mistakes were made. In general, in the game between the rising power and the hegemony, it is undesirable for the rising power to take the initiative and urge the hegemony’s supporters to select a side. Doing so will merely reinforce these countries’ preference for hegemony.

Not only that, but a developing country must contend with not only a dominant hegemony, but also a system of allies governed by the hegemony. In the event of a relative reduction in the power of the hegemony, the strength of the entire alliance system may be reinforced by removing restraints on allies, boosting allies’ capabilities, and allowing allies’ passion and initiative to shine.

Similarly, the allies of the hegemonic power are likely to be quite eager to improve their own strength and exert greater strength for the alliance, without necessarily responding to, much alone being pushed by, the leader. The “opening of a new chapter in the Korean-US partnership” was a key component of the joint statement issued by South Korea and the United States following the meeting of Moon Jae-in and Biden. What “new chapter” may a military alliance have in a situation of non-war?

There are at least three features that can be drawn from the series of encounters between South Korea and the United States during Moon Jae-visit in’s to the United States: First, the withdrawal of the “Korea-US Missile Guide” will place military constraints on South Korea’s missile development and serve as a deterrence to surrounding nations. The second point is that, in addition to the Korean Peninsula, military cooperation between the US and South Korea should be expanded to the regional level in order to respond to regional hotspots. The third point is that, in addition to military alliances, certain elements in vaccinations, chips, 5G, and even 6G are required. These types of coalitions will help to enhance economic cooperation.

Despite the fact that Vice President Harris wiped her hands after shaking hands with Moon Jae-in, and Biden called Moon Jae-in “Prime Minister” and other rude behaviors, the so-called “flaws” are not hidden, South Korea still believes that the visit’s results have exceeded expectations, and that Moon Jae-in’s approval rate will rise significantly as a result.

The joint statement issued by South Korea and the United States addresses delicate subjects such as the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea. Of course, China expresses its outrage. It is widely assumed that this is a “private cargo” delivered by Biden’s invitation to Moon Jae-in to visit the United States.

Moon Jae-in stated that he was not pressured by Biden. If this is correct, one option is that such specific concerns will not be handled at all at the summit level; second, South Korea is truly worried about the Taiwan Strait and South China Sea concerns and wishes to speak with the US jointly.

South Korea should be cognizant of China’s sensitivity to the Taiwan Strait and South China Sea concerns. When it comes to China-related concerns, the phrasing in the ROK-US joint statement is far more mild than that in the ROK-Japan joint declaration. Nonetheless, the harm done to South Korea-China ties cannot be overlooked.

South Korea highlights the “openness” and “inclusiveness” of the four-party security dialogue system, which allows South Korea to engage to some extent. South Korea will assess the net gain between the “gain” on the US side and the “loss” on the Chinese side. China would strongly protest and fiercely respond to any country’s measures to intervene in China’s domestic affairs and restrict China’s rise.

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Political Violence and Elections: Should We Care?

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The next Sunday 6th of June, the Chamber of Deputies along with 15 out of the 32 governorships will be up for grabs in Mexico’s mid-term elections. These elections will be a crucial test for the popularity of the president and his party, the National Regeneration Movement (MORENA). They currently hold majority in the Lower Chamber of the national Congress, and these elections could challenge this.

Recent national polls indicate that the ruling party, MORENA, is still the most popular political force in Mexico, and they are poised to win not only several governorships, but also several municipalities. They are also expected to maintain control of the Lower  Chamber, although with a loss of a few seats. In order to ensure MORENA keeps its current majority in the Congress, they have decided to pursue an electoral alliance with the Green Party (PVEM) and the Labout Party (PT). It is expected that with this move, they will be able to ensure the majority in the Chamber of Deputies in the Congress.

There is, however, another aspect that is making the headlines in this current electoral process: The high levels of political and electoral violence, The current electoral process is the second most violent since 2000. The number of candidates that have been assassinated is close to 30% higher than the mid-term electoral process of 2015. More than 79 candidates have been killed so far all across the country.

Insecurity in Mexico has been an ongoing issue that has continued to deteriorate during the administration of Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO). AMLO has continually criticised his predecessors and the valid problems of their approaches to insecurity in Mexico along with the War on Drugs policy. However, to date, he has yet to offer a viable alternative to tackle the security problems he inherited. During his campaign, AMLO coined the phrase “abrazos no balazos” (hugs not bullets) to describe his approach toward improving security in Mexico. He believed that to successfully tackle the worsening crisis of insecurity, the structural conditions that forced people to commit crimes had to be addressed first: Namely inequality, poverty, low salaries, lack of access to employment etc. To date, insecurity in Mexico continues to worsen, and this had become evident during the current electoral process.

This nonsensical approach to insecurity has resulted in the first three years of his government reaching over 100,000 murders, along with the nearly 225,000 deaths as a result of the pandemic.

What should be particularly worrying in this spiral of violence, is the prevalence of political and electoral violence during the current process. Political violence represents not only a direct attack on democratic institutions and democracy itself, but it also compromises the independence, autonomy, and integrity of those currently in power, and those competing for positions of power. It affects democracy also because political violence offers a way for candidates to gain power through violent means against opposition, and this also allows organised crime to infiltrate the state apparatus.

Political violence is a phenomenon that hurts all citizens and actors in a democracy. It represents a breeding ground for authoritarianism, and impunity at all levels of government. This limits the freedoms and rights of citizens and other actors as it extinguishes any sort of democratic coexistence between those currently holding political power and those aspiring to achieve it. Political violence also obstructs the development of democracy as it discredits anyone with critical views to those in power. This is worrying when we consider that 49% of those assassinated belong to opposition parties. This increase in political violence has also highlighted AMLO´s inability to curtail organised crime and related violence.

Assassination of candidates is only the tip of the iceberg. Organised criminal groups have also infiltrated politics through financing of political campaigns. Most of electoral and political violence tends to happen an municipal levels, where it is easier for criminal groups to exert more pressure and influence in the hope of securing protection, and perpetuate impunity, or securing control over drug trafficking routes. This should be especially worrisome when there is close too government control in certain areas of the country, and there is a serious risk of state erosion at municipal level in several states.

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