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US Foreign Policy in Crisis

Mohammad Javad Zarif

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Following the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Paris Climate Accord, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) is the third multilateral agreement that the current United States administration has withdrawn from. The administration has also put in jeopardy other multilateral arrangements such as NAFTA, the global trade system, and parts of the United Nations system, thus inflicting considerable damage to multilateralism, and the prospects for resolving disputes through diplomacy.

The announcement on 8 May 2018 of United States’ withdrawal from the JCPOA and the unilateral and unlawful re-imposition of nuclear sanctions — a decision opposed by majority of the American people — was the culmination of a series of violations of the terms of the accord by this administration, in spite of the fact that the International Atomic Energy Agency, as the sole competent international authority had repeatedly verified Iran’s compliance with its commitments under the accord. The U.S. decision was rejected by the international community and even its closest allies, including the European Union, Britain, France and Germany.

On 21 May 2018, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in a baseless and insulting statement, issued a number of demands of and threats against Iran in brazen contravention of international law, well-established international norms, and civilized behavior. His statement reflected a desperate reaction by the US administration to the overwhelming opposition of the international community to the persistent efforts by the White House to kill the JCPOA, and the ensuing Washington’s isolation. Mr. Pompeo, in his statement, attempted to justify the US’ withdrawal from the JCPOA and divert international public opinion from the unlawful behavior of the United States and its outright violation of UN Security Council resolution 2231; a resolution drafted and proposed by the US itself and adopted unanimously by the Council. Mr. Pompeo’s 12 preconditions for Iran to follow are especially preposterous as the US administration itself is increasingly isolated internationally due to its effort to undermine diplomacy and multilateralism. It comes as no surprise that the statement and the one made by the US president on Iran were either ignored or received negatively by the international community, including by friends and allies of the United States. Only a small handful of US client states in our region welcomed it.

I seriously doubt that had the US Secretary of State even had a slight knowledge of Iran’s history and culture and the Iranian people’s struggle for independence and freedom, and had he known that Iran’s political system—in contrast to those of the American allies in the region—is based on a popular revolution and the people’s will, would he have delivered such an outlandish statement. He should, however, know that ending foreign intervention in Iran’s domestic affairs, which culminated in the 25-year period following the US-orchestrated coup in 1953, had always been one of the Iranian people’s main demands since well before the Islamic Revolution. He should also be aware that in the past 40 years the Iranian people have heroically resisted and foiled aggressions and pressures by the US, including its coup attempts, military interventions, support of the aggressor in an 8-year war, imposition of unilateral, extraterritorial and even multilateral sanctions, and even going as far as shooting down an Iranian passenger plane in the Persian Gulf in 1987. “Never forget” is our mantra, too.

The Islamic Republic of Iran derives its strength and stability from the brave and peace-loving Iranian people; a people who, while seeking constructive interaction with the world on the basis of mutual respect, are ready to resist bullying and extortions and defend in unison their country’s independence and honor. History bears testimony to the fact that those who staged aggression against this age-old land, such as Saddam and his regime’s supporters, all met an ignominious fate, while Iran has proudly and vibrantly continued its path towards a better and brighter future.

It is regrettable that in the past one-and-a-half years, US foreign policy—if we can call it that—including its policy towards Iran has been predicated on flawed assumptions and illusions—if not actual delusions. The US President and his Secretary of State have persistently made baseless and provocative allegations against Iran that constitute blatant intervention in Iran’s domestic affairs, unlawful threats against a UN Member State, and violations of the United States’ international obligations under the UN Charter, the 1955 Treaty, and the 1981 Algiers Accord. While rejecting these fictitious allegations, I would like to draw the attention of U.S. policymakers to some aspects of their nation’s current foreign policy that are detrimental to the entire international community:

Impulsive and illogical decisions and behavior of the US President—and efforts by his subordinates to find some justification to persuade a reluctant domestic and foreign audience—have already surfaced as the main feature of the decision-making process in Washington over the past 17 months. This process, coupled with ill-conceived and hasty explanations to justify outcomes, usually lead to contradictory statements and actions. As an example, in his role as CIA Director, Mike Pompeo once in a Congressional hearing emphatically stated: “Iran has not violated its commitments.” Later, and following the US President’s decision to withdraw from the accord, now Secretary of State Pompeo in his statement on May 21 emphatically stated that “Iran has violated its commitments.”

It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that some aspects of US foreign policy have been put up for auction—far beyond the routine lobbying practices. It is, for instance, unprecedented that a US president should choose the very country he had called “fanatic and a supporter of terrorism” during his election campaign as the destination for his first foreign visit as president, or to publicly make aspects of his foreign policy positions contingent on the purchase by one or another country of arms and other items from the United States. It has also been reported that in some other cases, mostly illegitimate financial interests have been the main basis for the formulation of mind-bogglingly ill-conceived US policy positions.

Contempt for international law and attempts to undermine the rule of law in international relations have been among the main features of the current administration’s foreign policy. To the extent, according to media reports, that the US negotiators in the G7 Summit were even insisting on deleting the phrase “our commitment to promote the rules-based international order.” This destructive approach began by showing contempt for the fundamental principle of pacta sunt servanda, which is arguably the oldest principle of international law. The US withdrawal from some international agreements and undermining others, coupled with efforts to weaken international organizations, are examples of destructive moves so far by the US government, which have unfortunately darkened the outlook for the international order. Obviously, the continuation of such policies can endanger the stability of the international community, turning the U.S. into a rogue state and an international outlaw.

Predicating decisions on illusions is another aspect of this administration’s foreign policy. This has been especially evident with respect to West Asia. The illegal and provocative decision regarding al-Quds al-Sharif, blind support for the cruel atrocities committed by the Zionist regime against Gazans, and aerial and missile attacks against Syria are some of the more brazen aspects of such an unprincipled foreign policy.

The statement made by Mr. Pompeo on May 21 was the culmination of a delusional US approach to our region. Ironically, the U.S. Secretary of State tried to set preconditions for negotiations and agreement with the Islamic Republic of Iran at a time when the international community is doubtful about the possibility or utility of negotiation or agreement with the US on any issue. How can the US government expect to be viewed or treated as a reliable party to another round of serious negotiations following its unilateral and unwarranted withdrawal from an agreement which was the result of hundreds of hours of arduous bilateral and multilateral negotiations, in which the highest ranking US foreign affairs official participated, and which was submitted to the Security Council by the US and adopted unanimously as an international commitment under Article 25 of the Charter?

Recent statements and actions by the U.S. president, including reneging on his agreement with the G7 while in the air flying back from the summit, are other examples of his erratic behavior. His remarks immediately following his meeting with the leader of the DPRK regarding his possible change of mind in 6 months are indicative of what the world is facing—an irrational and dangerous US administration. Does the US Secretary of State really expect Iran to negotiate with a government whose president says: “I may stand before you in six months and say, ‘Hey, I was wrong. I don’t know if I’ll ever admit that, but I’ll find some kind of an excuse”? Can such a government really set preconditions for Iran? Isn’t it actually confusing the plaintiff for the defendant? Mr. Pompeo has forgotten that it is the US government that needs to prove the credibility of its words and legitimacy of its signature, and not the party that has complied with its international obligations and sticks to its word. In fact, the truth is that all US administrations in the past 70 years should be held accountable for their disregard for international law, and their violations of bilateral and multilateral agreements with Iran. A short list of the rightful demands of the Iranian people from the US government could include the following:

The US government must respect Iran’s independence and national sovereignty and assure Iran that it will end its intervention in Iran’s domestic affairs in accordance with international law in general, and the 1981 Algiers Accord in particular.

The United States must abandon its policy of resorting to the threat or use of force – which constitute a breach of the preemptory norms of international law and principles of the Charter of the United Nations – as an option in the conduct of its foreign affairs with or against the Islamic Republic of Iran and other States.

The US government should respect the State immunity of the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran, which is a fundamental principle of international law, and, while rescinding previous arbitrary and unlawful financial judgments, it should refrain from executing them in the US and extra-territorially.

The US government should openly acknowledge its unwarranted and unlawful actions against the people of Iran over the past decades, including inter alia the following, take remedial measures to compensate the people of Iran for the damages incurred, and provide verifiable assurances that it will cease and desist from such illegal measures and refrain from ever repeating them:

its role in the 1953 coup that led to the overthrow of Iran’s lawful and democratically-elected government and the subsequent 25 years of dictatorship in Iran;

unlawful blocking, seizure and confiscation of tens of billions of dollars of assets of the Iranian people after the Islamic revolution, or under various baseless pretexts in recent years;

direct military aggression against Iran in April 1980, which was a blatant violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Iran;

provision of massive military and intelligence assistance to the Iraqi dictator during the 8-year war he imposed on the Iranian people inflicting hundreds of billions of dollars of damages on Iran and its people;

responsibility in the enormous suffering that Iranians have incurred over the past 3 decades as a result of the use by Saddam of chemical weapons, whose ingredients were provided by the US and some other western countries;

the shooting down of an Iran Air passenger plane by the USS Vincennes in July 1988—a flagrant crime that led to the murder of 290 innocent passengers and crew, and the subsequent awarding of a medal to the captain of the ship rather than punishing him for his war crime;

repeated attacks against Iran’s oil platforms in the Persian Gulf in the spring of 1988;

repeated and unwarranted insults against the Iranian people by calling the entire nation “an outlaw and rogue nation” or “a terrorist nation”  and by including Iran in the so-called “axis of evil;”

unlawful and unreasonable establishment of a bigoted list of the nationals of some Islamic countries, including Iranians, prohibiting their entry into the US. The Iranians are among the most successful, educated and law-abiding immigrants in the US and have done great service to American society. They are now prohibited from seeing their loved ones, including even their aging grandparents;

harboring and providing safe haven to anti-Iranian saboteurs in the USA, who openly incite blind violence against Iranian civilians, and supporting criminal gangs and militias and terrorist organizations, some of which were listed for years as terrorist groups by the US and later removed from the list following intense lobbying by those who have received money from them. Some of those lobbyists  now occupy high-ranking positions in the Trump administration;

support provided to Mossad for the multiple terrorist assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists;

sabotage of Iran’s nuclear peaceful program through cyber-attacks;

fabrication of fake documents to deceive the international community over Iran’s peaceful nuclear program and to create an unnecessary crisis.

The United States government must cease its persistent economic aggression against the Iranian people which has continued over the past four decades; nullify the cruel and extensive primary and extraterritorial sanctions, rescind hundreds of legislations and executive orders aimed at disrupting Iran’s normal development which are in flagrant contravention of international law and have been universally condemned, and compensate the Iranian people for the enormous damages to the Iranian economy and its people.

The US government should immediately cease its violations and breaches of the JCPOA, which have caused hundreds of billions of dollars in direct and indirect damages for disrupting trade with and foreign investment in Iran, compensate Iranian people for these damages and commit to implement unconditionally and verifiably all of its obligations under the accord, and refrain (in accordance with the JCPOA) from any policy or action to adversely affect the normalization of trade and economic relations with Iran.

The US government should release all Iranians and non-Iranians who are detained under cruel conditions in the US under fabricated charges related to the alleged violation of sanctions, or apprehended in other countries following unlawful pressure by the US government for extradition, and compensate for the damage inflicted on them. These include pregnant women, the elderly and people suffering from serious health problems; some of whom have even lost their lives in prison.

The US government should acknowledge the consequences of its invasions and interventions in the region, including in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Persian Gulf region, and withdraw its forces from and stop interfering in the region.

The US government should cease policies and behavior that have led to the creation of the vicious DAESH terrorist group and other extremist organizations, and compel its regional allies to verifiably stop providing financial and political support and armaments to extremist groups in West Asia and the world.

The US government should stop providing arms and military equipment to the aggressors—who are murdering thousands of innocent Yemeni civilians and destroying the country— and cease its participation in these attacks. It should compel its allies to end their aggression against Yemen and compensate for the enormous damage done to that country.

The US government should stop its unlimited and unconditional support for the Zionist regime in line with its obligations under international law; condemn its policy of apartheid and gross violations of human rights, and support the rights of the Palestinian people, including their right to self-determination and the establishment of an independent Palestinian State with al-Quds al-Sharif as its capital.

The US government should stop selling hundreds of billions of lethal—not beautiful—military equipment every year to regions in crisis, especially West Asia, and instead of turning these regions into powder kegs it should allow the enormous amount of money spent on arms to serve as funding for development and combating poverty. Only a fraction of the money paid by US arms customers could alleviate hunger and abject poverty, provide for potable, clean water, and combat diseases throughout the globe.

The US government should stop opposing the efforts by the international community for the past 5 decades to establish a zone free from weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East. It should compel the Zionist regime—with its history of aggression and occupation—to de-nuclearize, thus neutralizing the gravest real threat to regional and international peace and security, which emanates from the most destructive arms in the hands of the most warmongering regime in our time.

The US government should stop increasingly relying on nuclear weapons and the doctrines of using nuclear weapons to counter conventional threats—a policy that is in flagrant contravention of its commitment under Article VI of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice, the 1995 NPT Review Conference Declaration, and UN Security Council resolution 984. The U.S. should comply with its moral, legal and security obligations in the field of nuclear disarmament, which is a near unanimous demand of all United Nations Member States, and virtually all people across the globe, including even former US Secretaries of State. As the only State that is stamped with the shame of ever using nuclear weapons itself, it is incumbent on the US to relieve humanity from the nightmare of a global nuclear holocaust, and give up on the illusion of security based on “mutually assured destruction” (MAD).

The US government should once and for all commit itself to respect the principle of pacta sunt servanda (agreements must be kept), which is the most fundamental principle of international law and a foundation for civilized relations among peoples, and discard in practice the dangerous doctrine which views international law and international organizations as merely “a tool in the US toolbox”.

The aforementioned US policies are examples of what has resulted in Iranians distrusting the American government. They are also among underlying causes of injustice, violence, terrorism, war and insecurity in West Asia. These policies will bring about nothing but a heavy toll in human lives and material assets for different regions of the world, and isolation for the US in world public opinion. The only ones benefitting are and will be lethal arms manufacturers. If the US government summons the courage to renounce these policies in words and deeds, its global isolation will end and a new image of the US will emerge in the world, including in Iran, paving the path to joint efforts for security, stability, and inclusive sustainable development.

I admit that regrettably, it is not realistic to harbor a hope for such a change in US behavior. Thus, at the global level the Islamic Republic of Iran has for years promoted inclusion, multilateralism, dialogue, respect for the rule of law and nuclear disarmament through initiatives such as Dialogue among Civilizations and WAVE (World Against Violence and Extremism), and participated actively in international efforts to achieve nuclear disarmament and a rule-based international system. We have also presented practical proposals and engaged in serious diplomatic efforts to end regional conflicts in Syria and Yemen through diplomacy from the earliest stages of these unfortunate conflicts, sadly, to the deaf ears of the United States that continues to support aggressors and terrorists in every conflict in our region. And following the United States’ withdrawal from the JCPOA, Iran has earnestly engaged with the remaining JCPOA Participants (EU/E3+2) in a good faith effort to salvage this unique global diplomatic achievement. We continue to do so as of this writing.

Nationally, Iran has ensured its security and stability in the past 4 decades on the basis of its inherent domestic capabilities and its reliance on the great Iranian people, not on any foreign power’s benevolence or patronage. Despite foreign pressure and while expending comparatively the least amount in the region on armaments, it has become stronger, more stable and more advanced by the day.

And regionally, in contrast to the US and its foreign policy, Iran—in accordance with its constitution—neither seeks to dominate nor will it ever submit to domination. It believes that the era of regional and global hegemony has long passed, and any effort by any power to achieve it is futile. Instead of yielding to foreign domination or trying to dominate others, countries in our region should seek to create a stronger, more prosperous and more stable region. We in Iran view our security and stability as inseparable from those of our neighbors. We have a common history and culture as well as indivisible opportunities and challenges, and can only enjoy security and stability at home, if and only if our neighbors enjoy internal and international stability and security. We expect other regional countries to adopt a similar approach, and instead of insisting on the failed experiment of “trying to purchase or outsource security,” concentrate on dialogue, mutual understanding, confidence building, and cooperation with neighbors.

The Islamic Republic of Iran views the establishment of a “Regional Dialogue Forum” in the Persian Gulf as the best means to resolve regional crises and create a stronger region. We can begin adopting confidence-building measures to bring regional countries closer to each other on the basis of such principles as the sovereign equality of states, non-resort to the threat or use of force, peaceful settlement of disputes, respect for territorial integrity of other States, inviolability of international boundaries, non-intervention in domestic affairs of others, and respect for the right of peoples to self-determination. By fostering common understanding about threats and opportunities at the regional and global levels, we can move towards achieving a non-aggression pact and creating common mechanisms for regional cooperation. We firmly believe that we, regionally—as the inheritors of the richest civilizations the world has ever known—should stand tall and can solve our own problems amongst ourselves and secure a better future for all of our children without outside interference and patronage, both of which come at a heavy cost to our collective dignity as well as our future development.

First published in our partner MNA

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Shaping Palestinian politics: The UAE has a leg up on Turkey

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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The United Arab Emirates may have the upper hand in its competition with Turkey in efforts to shape Palestinian politics. Similarly, the UAE’s recognition of the Jewish state gives it a leg up in ensuring that its voice is heard in Israel and Washington irrespective of who wins the November US election.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan didn’t miss a beat during his address to the United Nations General Assembly, insisting that he, unlike the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, would not accept a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that is not endorsed by the Palestinians.

Mr. Erdogan’s solemn pledge may earn him brownie points with large segments of Middle Eastern and Muslim public opinion critical of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Israel and the two Gulf states but does not strengthen his weak hand.

The UAE, with whom Mr. Erdogan is at loggerheads over Libya, Syria, and the future of political Islam, may have less clout than it thinks in bringing Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table, but has, for now, more cards to play.

What those cards are worth will only emerge over time.

The UAE is betting that a combination of soft power garnered through recognition of Israel and close security, economic and technological cooperation will enable it to convince the Israeli government that an independent Palestinian state is in Israel’s interest.

While there is little reason to believe that the UAE will succeed where others have failed in recent decades, Emirati leaders, in contrast to Turkey, potentially could in cooperation with Israel also try to impose an unpopular Palestinian figure who has close ties to the US, Emirati and Israeli leadership.

The move would be designed to install a leader who would be  more conducive to engaging in peace talks on terms that hold out little hope of meeting long-standing Palestinian aspirations.

It is a scenario that 84-year-old Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas appears to be taking seriously and appears to be trying to pre-empt.

The Democratic Reform Bloc, a political group headed by Mohammed Dahlan, a controversial Abu Dhabi-based former Palestinian security chief believed to be close to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, the UAE’s de facto ruler, said dozens of his supporters had been arrested or summoned for questioning by Palestinian security forces in recent days.

Mr. Dahlan appeared to be walking a fine line when he recently denied any role in mediating relations between the UAE and Israel.

Mr. Abbas’ suspicions stem from an unsuccessful effort last year by the UAE to engineer a deal in which Hamas, the Islamist group that controls the Gaza Strip, would share power with Mr. Dahlan.

Mr. Dahlan went into exile in the UAE in 2007 after Hamas defeated his US-backed efforts to thwart the group’s control of Gaza. US President George W. Bush described Mr. Dahlan at the time as “our boy.”

He has since been indicted by Mr. Abbas’ Palestine Authority on corruption charges.

UAE recognition of Israel constituted an acknowledgment that the 18-year old Arab peace plan that offered Israel diplomatic relations in exchange for land and a Palestinian state had produced naught.

In its rivalry with Turkey, whose assertive support for the Palestinian cause has likewise failed to produce results so far, the UAE is banking on the expectation that it has the upper hand in getting not only Israeli but also the attention of Washington that under US President Donald J. Trump has disregarded Palestinian rights.

The UAE assumes that it will be able to capitalize on the fact that Emirati recognition of Israel has further complicated Turkey’s relations with its NATO ally, the United States.

Turkey’s relations with the US are already troubled by US support for Syrian Kurds; Turkish military backing of the Libyan government in Tripoli; tensions between Turkey and Greece, another NATO ally, in the Eastern Mediterranean; and Turkey’s acquisition of Russia’s S-400 anti-missile defense system.

The Trump administration hopes to finalize by December the sale of F-35 fighter planes to the UAE in the wake of the deal with Israel.  Earlier, it cancelled Turkey’s acquisition of the same plane in response to the country’s S-400 deal with Russia.

For now, Turkey can look at appreciation by important segments of Arab and Muslim public opinion as an upside of its  strident support for the Palestinians.

Seeking to capitalize on its Palestinian goodwill, Turkey has been attempting to end the rift between Mr. Abbas’ Al Fatah movement and Hamas in a bid to get the Palestinians to agree on elections and the formation of a joint government.

The two groups, agreed during  talks in Istanbul this week to work together and hold long overdue elections in the next six months.

The joker in Turkish-Emirati differences over Israel and Palestine is the upcoming US presidential election in November.

Irrespective of who wins, Turkey has lost to the UAE the beneficial mantle of being Israel’s best Muslim friend.

Nonetheless, an electoral victory by Democratic challenger Joe Biden, who is expected to be more critical of arms purchases by the UAE and other Gulf states and take them to task on human rights issues, could put both Turkey and the Emirates on the back foot.

A Biden victory would be for Turkey a lost opportunity. The very issues that are at the core of its strained relations with the UAE are likely to complicate its relations with a Democratic administration.

Recent media reports reminded Mr. Erdogan that Mr. Biden had described him in a conversation with The New York Times early this year as an “autocrat.” The Democratic candidate suggested that the US. should “embolden” his opponents to defeat him in elections.

In the conversation, Mr. Biden mentioned other issues, including the Kurds, Syria, and tension in the Eastern Mediterranean that do not bode well for US-Turkish relations should the Democrat occupy the White House. Mr. Biden is expected to be also critical of the UAE’s interventions in Yemen and Libya.

Nonetheless, the UAE, despite its own issues with the US, is likely to still find itself in a better place in Washington no matter who emerges victorious from the November election.

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Arabs-Israeli Peace must be Well-Anchored, not Neatly Fantasized

Mohammed Nosseir

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Watching a few Emirati and Israeli citizens dance in Chabad House, Dubai to celebrate normalization may give the impression that these nations have realized a genuine peace; a false assumption that disregards the facts that the peace treaty between Israel and two Arab Nations is meant to serve Donald Trump in his upcoming presidential election, values the “ground reality” that clearly favors Israel over United Nations resolutions upholding the “land for peace” principle, and advances western politicians’ view that peace can be imposed top-down, seconded by autocratic Arab rulers.

As an Egyptian, I highly value the peace treaty between my country and Israel that was based on regaining occupied Egyptian land, the Sinai Peninsula. The treaty has helped to alter Egyptians’ views of Israel fundamentally; no longer seen as a permanent enemy, Israel is presently perceived as a “cooperative” neighbor that has offered us millions of tourists and a few sound investments – solid pillars for normalization. Meanwhile, the clear majority of Egyptians, Arabs and Muslims continue to sympathize with the Palestinians living under Israeli occupation – a crisis that can only be resolved by pursuing the same path towards peace as that of Egypt.

For years, the United States has been trying to impose a peace treaty between the Arab nations and Israel based on the concept that Arabs should accept Israeli territorial expansion in return for the injection of substantial U.S.  funds to boost the Palestinian economy, a proposition strengthened by Israel’s military power and Arab rulers’ injudicious, hasty attitude towards the crisis. Underneath this reality lurks the further empowerment of the political Islamist proposition that places Israel as a permanent enemy, which could easily drag our region into additional, unpredicted violence. 

Arabs societies generally appear to lead a “double life”. On the one hand is the reality that 60% are either poor citizens or citizens who are vulnerable to poverty, an unemployment rate of roughly 11%, the lack of basic freedoms and living under autocratic rule; a sad status that has become even more dramatic with the advent of Covid-19. These factors combined intensify Arab youth’s anger and frustration towards their rulers and towards the United States, seen as a solid supporter of those rulers. Obviously, Palestinians living under Israeli occupation rule have an extra challenge to deal with.

On the other hand is the fantasy life constituted of GDP growth and the implementation of a few mega projects that Arab rulers like to exhibit and that western politicians and scholars tend to recognize as a sign of success – completely overlooking the fact that these projects are often awarded to the rulers’ cronies and that the unequal distribution of wealth will keep large portions of Arabs living in poverty for generations to come, making them more vulnerable to violence. Likewise, expanding trade deals between Arab nations and Israel or receiving economic incentives from the United States have proven to benefit only the same cronies.

Moreover, the present rumour that the United States is building a block of Arab nations and Israel meant to potentially engage in a war with Iran is a catastrophic approach. Should it happen, it will thrust the entire region into a state of intense violence and enduring war that could well lead to the collapse of many of the signed treaties. Furthermore, a peace treaty between Israel and two Arab nations, who are not in conflict with Israel, will not help to resolve either the Palestinian crisis or the Iranian conflict – Bahraini and the Emirati citizens will never validate such a treaty, if it is presented to them fairly.

There is a huge difference between a peace treaty concluded between two mature, democratic nations whose respective governments truly represent their citizens, and an agreement that is imposed on nations whose citizens are – to put it mildly – in disharmony with their rulers. Arab citizens, often accused of engaging in violence and declining to peacefully settle with Israel, are in fact caught between two fires: their autocratic rulers, who deliberately offer them undignified living conditions and Islamic extremists, who promise them eternal salvation as a reward for engaging in violence and terrorism.

Permanent Arab-Israeli peace can only be achieved through a bottom-up approach that is designed to last, which entails keeping away from western pragmatism and enforcement, both of no value to this crisis. Israel is continually working to enhance its security, an absolute necessity for its citizens. It needs to offer Palestinians the opportunity to live a dignified life based, first, on regaining their occupied land and establishing a state of their own, followed by advancing their economic status. Offering the later at the expense of the former will keep us in this vicious circle of violence for decades to come.

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Untangling Survival Intersections: Israel, Chaos and the Pandemic

Prof. Louis René Beres

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MUNCH, Edvard The Scream (detail) 1893 Oil, tempera & pastel on cardboard, 91 × 73.5 cm The National Gallery, Oslo

Is it an end that draws near, or a beginning?”-Karl Jaspers, Man in the Modern Age (1951)

INTRODUCTION TO THE ANALYSIS:  Day by day, traditional global anarchy (with discernible roots in the seventeenth century Peace of Westphalia) is being supplanted by chaos. This exponential replacement has very substantial implications for (1) comprehensive global stability; (2) regional stability in the Middle East; and (3) Israeli national stability. Because the replacement  is taking place alongside a still-expanding global pandemic, variously resultant forms of chaos must be considered as multi-layered, tangled and synergistic.

 What next? Among others, Israel’s senior strategists and policy-makers will have to examine these dissembling expressions of chaos by proceeding with continuously capable scholarship.  Accordingly apt emphases in  Jerusalem and Tel Aviv should soon be placed upon plausible alterations to decisional rationality (both Israeli and adversarial) and on prospective nuclear competitions oriented to achieving intra-crisis “escalation dominance.” In the worst case scenario, such analyses would pertain to certain potential instances of nuclear war-fighting, a sobering narrative that reinforces Israel’s unceasing imperative to seek nuclear deterrence ex ante, and not revenge ex post.

There is more. The article that follows is self-consciously conceptual/theoretical. By design, it is unlike other more usual essays that concern global/ regional stability in world politics.

This article can be useful to military practitioners and national security planners because it could lead them well beyond any orthodox or narrowly “current events” focus on applicable strategic thought. By explaining this historically unprecedented transition from anarchy to chaos, it can also point serious readers toward a new corpus of pertinent strategic theory. “Theory is a net,” we all learned earlier from Karl Popper’s classic The Logic of Scientific Discovery (1959), “only those who cast, can catch.”

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As Chair of “Project Daniel,” a special policy task force assembled to analyze the Iranian nuclear threat to Israel two decades ago,[1] the author is not new to analytic assessments of complex geo-strategic hazards, including existential ones. Still, twenty years back, when Daniel sprang from a private conversation he was having in Tel-Aviv with two-time Israeli Ambassador to the United States Zalman Shoval,[2] overriding security perils were being examined as part of some presumptively coherent world order. This is not meant to suggest that the post-Westphalia[3] order was ever reassuringly stable or satisfactory, but only that the classical  balance-of-power regime had not yet become entirely unpredictable.

               That was then. Today, all serious scholarly assessments, irrespective of  specific country particularity, must be undertaken with a starkly different view. This updated perspective assumes, inter alia, that the world order system is no longer “merely” anarchic,[4] but is also chaotic. Now, a crucial part of this dissembling context is worldwide disease pandemic, a devastating plague that only renders an already unstable global structure even worse.[5]

               In essence, an incremental metamorphosis of system-wide anarchy into chaos has been underway for some time, but the sudden and sweeping comprehensiveness of Covid19 has produced a quantum jump in this already-significant transformation.

               Though a decidedly  global issue, some states will be affected more than others by any spreading chaos. In the specific case of Israel, our focus here, the prospective impacts of certain ongoing change patterns are apt to be considerable. This is because of that country’s conspicuously small size, its still-multiple enemies and its correspondingly unique dependence (for deterrence,[6] not war-fighting)[7] upon nuclear weapons and strategy.[8]

               Looking ahead, the challenging security tasks for Israel need not be regrettable or without any tangible benefits. There do exist sound and science-based reasons to acknowledge advancing chaos as a  security positive for Israel, at least in part. While distinctly counter-intuitive, such compelling reasons ought now be more closely and capably examined.

               These reasons should not be casually minimized or disregarded.

                As drawn from its core meanings in classical philosophy and mythology, chaos represents the literal beginning of everything, the good as well as the bad.

               This “positive”  concept of chaos now warrants very serious and meticulous scholarly assessment. This is not the same thing as suggesting, more prosaically, that scholars and policy makers should try to make better analytic sense of assorted security threats and circumstances, e.g., the Iran nuclear threat or the Palestinian terror threat (neither of which has in any way been diminished by the new Israel-UAE agreement). What is being urged here is the more self-conscious construction of pertinent theories, a painstaking process that must inevitably be contingent upon an antecedent and more refined conceptual understanding.

               Analysts may begin such epistemological processes at their most proverbial beginnings. To wit, Jewish theology discovers its primal roots in Genesis, an observation to be generally viewed with favor in a Jewish State. Whether in the Old Testament or in more-or-less synchronous Greek and Roman thought, chaos can be understood as an intellectual tabula rasa, a blank slate which, when thoughtfully completed, can best prepare the world for all things, both sacred and profane.

               Most significantly, chaos can represent that inchoate place from which absolutely all civilizational opportunitymust credibly originate.

                With such unorthodox thinking, chaos is never just a repellant “predator” that swallows everything whole; callously, indiscriminately, and without purpose. Here, instead, it is more usefully considered as an auspicious “openness,” that is, as a protean realm within which entirely new kinds of human opportunity may be suitably revealed or gleaned.  For Israel, this means that any advancing chaos in the Middle East need not necessarily be interpreted by the country’s senior military planners as a portentous harbinger of regional violence and instability, but rather, in at least some respects, as a potentially gainful condition for critically improving national security.

                There is more. By extrapolation, this same caveat should be extended to include any discernible elements of chaos in certain other regions of the world, though the intellectual or analytic arguments would then be based upon determinably other underlying conditions or outcomes.

               The next question arises. How best to harness such a radical re-conceptualization of chaos in Jerusalem (politics) and Tel Aviv (military strategy)? This is a manifestly difficult, subtle and many-sided question. Still, it would be better answered imperfectly than be wholly disregarded. Such an answer should suggest the following: Israel’s authoritative decision-makers must more intentionally stray beyond ordinary or usual national security assessments,[9] and then venture more wittingly in the direction of illuminating avant garde analyses.[10]

               To be sure, any such venture would have its detractors. “Whenever the new muses present themselves,” warned Spanish existentialist philosopher Jose Ortega y’ Gasset in The Dehumanization of Art, “the masses bristle.

               Among these studies would be scholarly examinations that hypothesize various radical redistributions of power in the Middle East, including some never-before considered alignments. Such unexpected alignments, born of a now palpably expanding regional chaos, could include not only assorted state-state relationships (e.g., Israel-Egypt; Israel-Jordan; Israel-Saudi Arabia; Israel-UAE; Israel-Russia), but also state-sub state or “hybrid” connections (e.g., Hezbollah-Iran; Hezbollah-Russia). Just as with certain state-state relationships, relevant intersections could sometime be synergistic. In these potentially most worrisome cases, the “whole” of any specific intersection would exceed the simple sum of its constituent “parts.” Of course, for Israel, not every expected synergy would necessarily be harmful or “bad.” Some of these intersections could be determinably auspicious or “good.”

               As an example of positive synergistic outcome for Israel, scholars and planners could consider alignments that would favor directly Israeli goals or objectives, and alignments that would be presumptively harmful or injurious to that country’s acknowledged foes.

               Similarly unprecedented but also worth considering would be steps taken toward alleviating the more expressly structural conditions of chaos in the Middle East region, including certain specific forms of cooperation that could move incrementally toward assorted forms of regional governance. Such  forms would have to be tentative, and also very partial, but they could nonetheless provide a generally welcome start toward greater area order than area chaos.[11] In specifically Hobbesian terms, these forms of governance would be intended to supplant the generally corrosive “war of all against all”[12] in the Middle East with some designated “common power.”[13]

                Recalling English philosopher Thomas Hobbes, the core objective here would be to keep all state and sub-state parties “in awe.”[14]

               Ironically, a unique opportunity for regional movements toward greater area collective security would have been made possible by decision-maker perceptions of a more general revulsion with anarchy or chaos. This opportunity will have been born of a growing existential desperation, that is, of a sense that “business as usual” in Middle East peacemaking can no longer suffice. Of course, it is altogether possible that this particular sense of opportunity could sometime be mistaken or misunderstood, in which case any presumed benefits of chaos might turn out to be a double-edged sword.

               There is more. With regard to any such injurious inversions of opportunity for Israel, Jerusalem need only be reminded of its unchanging obligation to avoid taking existential risks wherever possible.[15] Ultimately, this fixed and immutable obligation can be fulfilled only by assessing all risks and opportunities according to well-established and optimally rigorous intellectual standards. Among other things, even when chaos might beckon seductively to Israel as an unanticipated font of future strategic opportunity, there could be no adequate substitute for capable scholarly or intellectual analysis.

               Reciprocally, however, any such diligent analysis must eschew “seat of the pants” determinations, and rely instead upon an amply-refined strategic theory. Always, theory is a “net.” Only those who “cast” such an indispensable net can ever expect to “catch.”

               What else? When “casting,” Israel’s strategic planners should pay especially rapt attention to any discernible links between a prevailing or still-anticipated chaos, and the expected rationality of its relevant adversaries.[16] What might first appear as an unwittingly promising source of improved national safety could be reversed promptly by those enemies who would value certain normally subsidiary preferences in world politics more highly than national or collective survival.

               Credo quia absurdum, said the ancient philosopher Tertullian. “I believe because it is absurd.”

               Such “absurd” enemies are not historically unknown in world politics.[17]

               Not at all.

               At this moment, the most compelling threat of such enemy irrationality appears to come from a seemingly still-nuclearzing Iran. Significantly, there is no way for Israel’s decision makers to systematically or scientifically evaluate the authentic probabilities of any such uniquely formidable threat.[18] This is because (a) any truly accurate assessments of event probability must be based upon the determinable frequency of pertinent past events; and (b) there have been no pertinent past events (i.e., no nuclear war).

               All the same, an eventual Iranian nuclear threat to Israel remains plausible; it should thus suggest certain worrisome prospects for a “final” sort of regional chaos. To make reassuringly positive or at least gainful use of this vision, Israel ought soon to focus explicitly and meticulously on its still-tacit “bomb in the basement” nuclear strategy.  Preparing to move beyond the prospectively lethal limits of “deliberate nuclear ambiguity,” Jerusalem would need to (1) rank-order identifiable thresholds of enemy nuclear peril as tangible “triggers” for its incremental nuclear disclosures; and (2) prepare for rank-ordered release some very specifically limited sets of information concerning the invulnerability and penetration-capability of its own nuclear forces.

               These sets would include selected facts on nuclear targeting doctrine; number; range; and yield.

               As Israel can learn from certain intimations of some impending chaos, the country’s national security might be better served by reduced nuclear ambiguity than by any more traditional commitments to complete strategic secrecy. This seemingly counter-intuitive argument is rooted in the altogether reasonable presumption that Israel’s continued survival must depend very considerably on successfully sustained nuclear deterrence.

               When 19th century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche initially explained chaos as something contained deeply within each individual human being,[19] he did not intend this to represent a distressingly negative portent. On the contrary, like the German poet Hölderlin,[20] with whose work he was intimately familiar, Nietzsche understood that even from apparent formlessness can emerge things of great or even inestimable value. Accordingly, at this currently precarious moment in its contemporary history, Israel’s leadership would be well advised (a) to think seriously and inventively about such challenging conceptual opportunities; and (b) to fashion strategic theories that begin but do not end with conspicuous portents of the apocalyptic  “abyss.”

               This would not be a task for the intellectually faint-hearted, or for those who are constitutionally unable to recognize promising strategic “muses”[21] But the security payoff for Israel’s national defense could still prove overwhelmingly gainful. It follows that such a task would be determinably “cost-effective.”

               One last point in this broad argument now bears repeating. It is that Israel has absolutely no choice about either welcoming or rejecting chaos. Incontestably, this condition is not something that Israel can in any way push aside, negotiate, forestall or prevent. Because chaos in some form will inexorably emerge from a traditional global anarchy, Jerusalem must do whatever it can (as soon as it can) to reconcile and optimize its pertinent security strategies with chaos. A full acknowledgment of this unavoidable imperative could represent the acme of Israel’s decisional acumen and decisional rationality.[22]

               In the months and years ahead, Israel’s overriding obligation remains plain and obvious. To best meet this evident security imperative of collective survival, that nation’s strategic analysts and planners will first have to better understand the relevant policy correlates of any expanding chaos, and to accomplish this goal by means of a markedly advanced conceptual scholarship. At a particularly fragile moment in contemporary history when biology could prove even more fundamentally worrisome than capable enemy armies, this scholarship will need to take special note of our current and still-expanding Corona virus pandemic. 

               This “plague,” though “merely” biological, will likely produce certain unanticipated and hard to remediate forms of  social and political disintegration, both expressly regional (Middle East) and worldwide. At the same time, should Israel and its relevant area foes sometime recognize this viral pandemic as an exceptional menace that is nonetheless common to all –  one best diminished by some generally shared strategies of cooperation –  it could conceivably become a welcome agent of a more genuine Middle East peace.[23] Though ironic and more-or-less implausible,  microbial assault could represent just the right agent for enhanced geopolitical vision, for shaping a tabula rasa from which more promisingly audacious national security opportunities could sometime be born.

               If this novel opportunity for embracing chaos were sufficiently acknowledged, it could be a “beginning” that “draws near,” not an “end.”


[1] Our formal report, “Israel’s Strategic Future,” was discussed widely in global media and delivered by hand to PM Ariel Sharon in Jerusalem on January 16, 2003. http://www.acpr.org.il/ENGLISH-NATIV/03-ISSUE/daniel-3.htm

[2] Ambassador Shoval has been Professor Beres’ several times co-author on vital matters of Israeli security and international law. Most recently, see Louis René Beres and Zalman Shoval, West Point (Pentagon) https://mwi.usma.edu/creating-seamless-strategic-deterrent-israel-case-study/

[3] The historic Peace of Westphalia (1648) concluded the Thirty Years War and created the still-existing state system. See: Treaty of Peace of Munster, Oct. 1648, 1 Consol. T.S. 271; and Treaty of Peace of Osnabruck, Oct. 1648, 1., Consol. T.S. 119. Together, these two treaties comprise the “Peace of Westphalia.”

[4] Hobbes, the 17th- century English philosopher, argues that anarchy in the “state of nations” is the only true “state of nature.” In Chapter XIII of Leviathan (“Of the Natural Condition of Mankind, as concerning their Felicity, and Misery”),  Hobbes explains famously: “But though there had never been any time, wherein particular men were in a condition of war, one against the other, yet in all times, kings and persons of sovereign authority, because of their independence, are in continual jealousies, and in the state and posture of gladiators; having their weapons pointing, and their eyes fixed on one another; that is their forts, garrisons, and guns upon the frontiers of their kingdoms, and continual spies upon their neighbors, which is a posture of war.”

[5] With chaos, but not anarchy, even the usual mainstays of decentralized world politics (e.g., deterrence and balance of power processes) are replaced by more eccentric or idiosyncratic factors of national decision  making.

[6] As emphasized at Israel’s Strategic Future: The Final Report of Project Daniel (Israel, 2003): “The primary point of Israel’s nuclear forces must always be deterrence ex ante, not revenge ex post.”

[7]See, for example: Louis René Beres, https://thestrategybridge.org/the-bridge/2018/5/29/israels-nuclear-strategy-enhancing-deterrence-in-the-new-cold-war-part-i; Louis René Beres, INSS Israel, https://www.inss.org.il/publication/changing-direction-updating-israels-nuclear-doctrine/

and, at Harvard Law School, Louis René Beres: https://harvardnsj.org/2014/06/staying-strong-enhancing-israels-essential-strategic-options-2/

[8] See,  by Professor Beres, https://paw.princeton.edu/new-books/surviving-amid-chaos-israel%E2%80%99s-nuclear-strategy

[9] Such proposed “straying,” which might range anywhere from an eleventh-hour preemption to much greater commitments to regional collective security, could still be in more-or-less complete accord with pertinent international law. In this connection, a core or jus cogens principle of international law remains the unambiguous imperative: “Where the ordinary remedy fails, recourse must be had to an extraordinary one.” (Ubi cessat remedium ordinarium, ibi decurritur ad extraordinarium.” (Black’s Law Dictionary, 1520 – 6th ed., 1990).

[10] In his 1927 preface to Oxford Poetry, W.H. Auden wrote: “All genuine poetry is in a sense the formation of private spheres out of public chaos….” Looking ahead with an appropriately avant-garde orientation, Israeli strategists must essentially seek to carve out livable national spheres from a steadily expanding global chaos. Ultimately, of course, following Nietzsche, they must understand that such chaos originally lies within each individual human being, but – at least for the moment of their present strategic deliberations – they must focus upon collective survival in a true Hobbesian “state of nature.” This is a condition wherein “the weakest has strength enough to kill the strongest,” normally possible only where individual human beings coexist in nature, but possible also in world politics wherever there exists nuclear proliferation. Accordingly, the German legal philosopher Samuel Pufendorf reasoned, like Hobbes, that the state of nations “lacks those inconveniences which are attendant upon a pure state of nature….” Similarly, said Baruch Spinoza: “A commonwealth can guard itself against being subjugated by another, as a man in the state of nature cannot do.” (See: A.G. Wernham, ed., The Political Works: Tractatus Politicus, iii, II; Clarendon Press, 1958, p. 295).

[11] Back at Princeton in the late 1960s, I spent two full years in the University library, reading everything available about world order. The initial result was published in my early book The Management of World Power: A Theoretical Analysis (University of Denver, 1973) and two years later, in Transforming World Politics: The National Roots of World Peace (University of Denver, 1975).

[12] This Hobbes-described orientation represents the explicit underpinning of US President Donald Trump’s announced foreign policy, and stands in direct opposition to the core jurisprudential assumption (i.e., international law) of imperative solidarity between all states. This immutable or jus cogens assumption was already mentioned in Justinian’s Digest (533 CE); Hugo Grotius’ Law of War and Peace (1625); and Vattel’s The Law of Nations, or the Principles of Natural Law (1758). According to General McMaster, Mr. Trump’s earlier National Security Advisor, this policy is an expression of “pragmatic realism.” Historically, this term is essentially a self-reinforcing falsehood, as no forms of “realism” or “Realpolitik” have ever worked for long. For Israel, the best “lesson” to be extracted from this egregious US policy error is to think of the erroneous Trump-era posture as one of “naive realism,” and to draw upon certain expectations of advancing chaos to inspire more promising forms of both national strategy and international cooperation.

[13] Following the recently negotiated Israel-UAE and Israel-Bahrain agreements, it could be assumed or alleged that this “corrosive” condition has been correspondingly modified or reduced. Nonetheless, Israel’s principal security challenges have never come from these Gulf states; it is also arguable that the threat of renewed Palestinian terrorism has actually been increased by these US-brokered pacts.

[14] See Hobbes, Leviathan, especially Chapter XVII, “Of Commonwealth.” More generally, the presumed obligation to use force in a world of international anarchy forms the central argument of Realpolitik from the Melian Dialogues of Thucydides and the Letters of Cicero to Machiavelli, Locke, Spykman and Kissinger. “For what can be done against force without force?’ inquires Cicero. Nonetheless, the sort of chaos that Israel could confront shortly is much different from traditional anarchy or simply decentralized global authority. In essence, it is conceivably more primordial, more primal, self-propelled and potentially even self-rewarding.

[15] Such a primary warning is the central motif of Yehoshafat Harkabi’s The Bar Kokhba Syndrome: Risk and Realism in International Politics,” (New York: Rossel Books, 1983).

[16] See, by Professor Beres: https://besacenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/516-Israeli-Security-and-Enemy-Rationality-Beres-Author-approved-version.pdf

[17] See Sigmund Freud in Civilization and its Discontents: “Fools, visionaries, sufferers from delusions, neurotics and lunatics have played great roles at all times in the history of mankind….usually they have wreaked havoc.”

[18] Regarding also the expected consequences or “disutilites” of a nuclear war, by this author, see: Louis René Beres, SURVIVING AMID CHAOS: ISRAEL’S NUCLEAR STRATEGY (London: Rowman and Littlefield, 2016/2018); Louis René Beres,  APOCALYPSE: NUCLEAR CATASTROPHE IN WORLD POLITICS (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980); Louis René Beres,  MIMICKING SISYPHUS: AMERICA’S COUNTERVAILING NUCLEAR STRATEGY (Lexington MA:  Lexington Books, 1983);  Louis René Beres, REASON AND REALPOLITIK: U S FOREIGN POLICY AND WORLD ORDER (Lexington MA;  Lexington Books, 1984);  and Louis René Beres, ed.,  SECURITY OR ARMAGEDDON: ISRAEL’S NUCLEAR STRATEGY (Lexington MA:  Lexington Books, 1986).

[19] “I tell you,” says Friedrich Nietzsche in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, “ye have still chaos in you.”

[20] In philosophy, Hölderin, Nietzsche and Heidegger struggled with the fundamentally same ontological problems of existence, or “being,”

[21] Once again, “Whenever the new muses present themselves,” cautions Spanish existentialist José Ortega y’ Gassett in The Dehumanization of Art, “the masses bristle.”

[22] Reciprocally, a rational state enemy of Israel will always accept or reject a particular option by comparing the costs and benefits of each alternative. Wherever the expected costs of striking first are taken to exceed expected gains, this enemy will be deterred. But where these expected costs are believed to be exceeded by expected gains, deterrence will fail. Here, whatever the prevailing levels of order or chaos, Israel would be faced with an enemy attack, either as a “bolt-from-the-blue” or as an outcome of anticipated or unanticipated crisis-escalation. In this connection, too, Israeli planners will want to stay abreast of each side’s ongoing search for “escalation dominance.”

[23] More generally, see by this writer, Louis René Beres, at Jurist:  https://www.jurist.org/commentary/2020/04/louis-beres-trump-empathy/ To be sure, the recent US-brokered Israel agreements with UAE and Bahrain are actually net-negative for Middle East Peace because they provide no per se Israeli advantages with these Gulf states, and because they exacerbate Israel’s much more essential relationships with Iran, the Palestinians and Hezbollah.

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