The continuing tension in the Middle East has yet again become a discussion point during the so-called top-level week of the 74th Session of the UN General Assembly in New York. What made the situation worse this year was Washington’s decision to strengthen its military presence in the region, which it adopted a few days before the summit. According to US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, the measure was taken at the request of Saudi Arabia, which had been attacked by drones: “The President (Donald Trump) approved the deployment of US forces, which will be defensive and will focus primarily on air and missile defense”. According to the head of the Pentagon, this “will send a clear signal that the US is supporting its partners in the region.”
In turn, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Joseph Dunford, promised to begin to supply military equipment to regional allies – Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – at an early date.
According to Independent, on the night of September 17th, a couple of days after the drone attack, Saudi planes took part in an air raid on the alleged positions of the Iranian forces in Syria. An “informed source” told newspaper reporters that “Saudi fighters were spotted in the operation along with other fighters.” It is easy to guess the origin of “other” aircraft. Commenting on these events, Slavoj Zizek, a Slovenian culturologist and philosopher, remarks: “One should pay attention to the “wordless” partnership between Israel and Saudi Arabia, which serves as yet another proof of the existence of a new “axis of evil” in the Middle East, consisting of Saudi Arabia, Israel, Egypt and the UAE”.
Significantly, neither he nor other analysts mention Turkey, which is considered Washington’s strategic ally in the Middle East. And for a good reason – Ankara’s relations with all these countries are strained.
In the run-up to the UN General Assembly, “on the sidelines” of which a bilateral meeting of the American and Turkish presidents was to be held, Ankara assured its Western partners that its foreign policy paradigm remains intact.
In his lengthy interview on CNN Türk, the Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu emphasized: “We are not going to leave Europe … We are set in the direction of the EU”. Speaking about partnership with Russia, the minister noted: “Russia is a reality, not just part of the way towards Asia. Having good relations, economic ties with the East does not mean giving up on Europe … Our rapprochement with Russia does not give anyone the right to doubt our desire to join the EU or question our membership in NATO … We are members of NATO, we support a preventive and dialogue-based policy of the Alliance in relation to Russia. But we are part of this region, and we must pursue a balanced policy with our neighbors.” Doesn’t it look like an attempt to make excuses before the Western vis-à-vis for the “tilt” towards Moscow?
Cavusoglu was echoed by presidential spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin, who said in an article written for Bloomberg that allegations that Turkey is moving away from the West and pursuing policies that run counter to NATO’s interests, are ungrounded.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, on the eve of his trip to New York, made it clear that Ankara was ready to look into the possibility of acquiring the American Patriot air defense systems on acceptable conditions. The United States could not but agree: according to the Haber Turk Channel, Washington is drafting a new proposal on the supply of Patriot air defense systems and F-35 fighters to Turkey.
The Americans are in a rush. The Syrian campaign has drawn the attention of countries of the region to Russian weapons. Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon have demonstrated interest in S-400 systems. The trend towards diversification of sources of arms supplies is visible. In this regard, observer of the Turkish Sabah newspaper Berjan Tutar reports: “The world has seen that trillions of dollars worth air defense systems which were sold to Saudi Arabia by the United States and Europeans since the 70s, have proved powerless comparied to drones, whose price is 10 thousand dollars.” The analyst recalls that in January 2018 similar Russian systems shot down all 13 drones that attacked Russian bases in Tartus and Khmeimim.
On the second day of the General Assembly, foreign ministers of countries of the Astana Troika discussed the situation in Syria, first of all, in Idlib, and in the north-east of the country.
Just on the eve of the negotiations, the London-based Arabic-language newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat, citing one of Erdogan’s aides, announced Turkey’s readiness to launch a military operation in Idlib against the jihadists who de facto control the province. According to the publication, the decisive measures are due to the fact that the extremists, by the very fact of their existence, provoke Syrian troops and their allies into advancing on Idlib. Ankara disapproves of such a development. However, a scenario like this could be part of the “extra measures” that were worked out by the presidents of Russia, Turkey and Iran at their last meeting in Ankara. If reports about a Turkish operation are true, of course.
As for the northeast of Syria, on August 7th Turkey and the United States agreed to set up the so-called “Joint Operation Center” in Syria, which was followed by American troops arriving in Turkey to work in this center. A joint patrol service was created the purpose of which was “to identify terrorist strongholds and track the presence of terrorists and heavy weapons.” Turkish Minister of Defense Hulusi Akar even signaled the intention to join forces with the United States to establish permanent (Sic!) military bases in northeastern Syria for patrolling this region. He warned, though, that Turkey would do this on its own if the US continued to delay negotiations.
Some observers suggest that Ankara and Washington have already reached a compromise on this issue. For example, Cenghiz Tomar, acting President of the Akhmet Yasevi International Turkish-Kazakh University, predicts: “A successful operation in eastern Syria will allow Turkey to guarantee the protection of nearly the whole of its border with Syria. The cantons of the PKK terrorists will be blocked, which will remove the threat to Turkey’s national security”. The article in question was published on the website of the Antalian agency broadcasting the opinion of Ankara. Thus, the “blocking”of the Kurdish cantons may mean Turkey’s recognition of their right to exist (of course, under the aegis of the “senior” partner – the United States). They just have to be “cut off” from the territory of Turkey by the buffer zone. But we will not go into speculation.
Washington says that the US military presence in Syria is dictated, along with the need to combat the remaining members of the ISIS, which is banned in the Russian Federation, by the need to contain the mainly Kurdish self-defense units from attacking the Turkish military and from raiding the neighbouring territory. But few in Turkey believe it. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu complains that the United States is “slowing down” the implementation of a security zone agreement for northeastern Syria. The Minister made it clear that the American side’s approach to the agreement remains “unsatisfactory,” while the steps Washington has been taking are “perfunctory.”
Mehmet Ali Güller, a high-profile columnist for the Cumhuriyet newspaper, says openly that the main goal of the United States is to “create a dwarf Kurdish state” east of the Euphrates, which will become part of the “American corridor” from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean Sea (as opposed to the hypothetical “Shiite corridor ”, which is allegedly being built by Iran – A.I.).
Erdogan would not be Erdogan if he believed everything they say and do in the White House. Particularly with Donald Trump, who “hires” and “fires” the allies, who brandishes promises and then cancels them without a twinge of remorse. Like none of his predecessors, Trump has changed an unprecedented number of advisers and ministers. “We have completed preparations (of a possible invasion – AI) along our border. We do not want a confrontation with the United States, but we cannot but notice the support they provide to terrorist organizations, – the Turkish leader recently admitted, “ -I told Trump that they sent thousands of trucks with weapons. “We couldn’t buy these weapons for money, but you donate them to terrorist groups for free.”
Erdogan’s speech in the UN, in which he pointed out the need to restructure the system of international relations on the basis of justice, became a reflection on what could be described as the inconsistent policy of the “strategic partner” – Donald Trump, who, incidentally, declined the invitation to meet with his Turkish counterpart in the New York restaurant Cipriani.
From our partner International Affairs
The hegemony of knowledge and the new world order: U.S. and the rest of the world
In today’s world, knowledge and technological advantages determine – to a large extent – differences in the management of international policy. The increase in a country’s intellectual power directly defines an increase in its economic power, thus changing its position in the international competition for dominance.
The power policy, first in the agricultural age and later in the industrial age, was characterised by military and then economic hegemony, while the power policy in the information age gradually reveals the characteristics of knowledge hegemony at both the scientific and intelligence levels.
The hegemony of knowledge in contemporary international relations manifests itself specifically as unequal exchange in international trade, exploitation of high-value information and various conditions related to technological production. Hence, we see the transfer of polluting industries from privileged to poor countries: energy-consuming and high-intensity activities.
Western culture and values are disseminated vigorously, through the so-called soft power in information and mass media, and take on obsessive and oppressively hypnopedic forms.
Developed countries have patents in the use of outer space, as well as in the development of deep sea resources and in the production of environmental resources that pollute, while developing countries can only sigh as they look at other’s oceans and satellites, which fly around, do reconnaissance activities and monitor them.
The resources of the great and deep seas – which should be shared by mankind as they belong to everybody like the air, the moon and the sun – are instead exploited by the developed countries. On the contrary, they freely and ‘democratically’ share with the wretched ones only the evil consequences of environmental pollution.
With specific reference to sanctions and armed interference in international relations, the technique of violent and conscious bullying is adopted: whoever is militarily stronger imposes the validity of their interests, also at legal level.
The root cause for generating knowledge hegemony lies in the polarisation of the intellectual status of the nation-State. Western developed countries have already crossed the threshold of an information society, while developing countries are still struggling to climb towards industrial civilisation from the most primitive and closed state of existence. Although developing countries hold most of the world’s natural and human resources (just think of Africa), they are far behind in science and technology. Just look at the continental histogram of the 207 Nobel Prizes in Physics from 1901 to 2017 (winners are counted by country of birth except for the Algerian Nobel Prize winner Claude Cohen-Tannoudji , who was born when Algeria was a French territory):
Source: Nadua Antonelli <<Africana>> XXIII (2017) page 12
If they have no means to study, even the greatest and most brilliant brains cannot make discoveries or file patents, looking only at the sky and the earth.
About 80 per cent of science and technology staff and their achievements are concentrated in developed countries. The knowledge advantage gives developed countries the right to set the rules of the game and of communication for all global knowledge production and dissemination. In particular, the developed countries’ knowledge advantages in the military and high-tech media enable them to expand their influence on the civil and military fronts and achieve their strategic objectives.
Developing countries wander between traditional society, modern industrial civilisation and post-industrial civilisation, and are often challenged and oppressed by the third party’s hegemony of knowledge.
The new economy created by the information revolution is still a ‘rich-country phenomenon’, the core of what is called ‘advantage creation’, under the cover of ‘competitive advantage’, or rather: competitive towards those who cannot compete.
The country leading the information revolution is the United States, which is the biggest beneficiary of these achievements. The digital divide highlights the status of the US information superpower. In the global information sector, in 2000 the central processing unit production in the United States accounted for 92%, and software production for 86%.
IT (Information & Technology) investment in the United States was 41.5% of global investment, Microsoft’s Windows system accounted for 95% of global platform applications, while the US Internet users accounted for more than half of global Internet users, and 58% of all e-mail goes through US servers.
E-commerce is worth 75% of the global total and US commercial websites account for 90% of the planet.
Currently, there are almost three thousand large-scale databases in the world, 70% of which are in the United States. There are 13 top-level domain name servers in the world and 10 of them are located in the United States.
The above figures far exceed the share of US GDP, which is 28% of the world total. The United States is far ahead of all countries in the world, including the other developed countries. The leading position in information technology allows the United States to control the basics in the field of information with its strong economic and talent advantages, as well as to master the actual rights, and to set standards and formulate rules and regulations.
The status as cradle of the information revolution has brought enormous wealth and development benefits to the United States. Since the 1990s, the development of information technology and the rise of the related industry have become an accelerator of further economic advancement in the United States.
In the growth of US GDP – from 1994 (the beginning of the Internet) to 2000 – the share of the information industry in the value of the country’s total output has caused the economy to rise from 6.3% to 8.3%, and the contribution provided by the information industry development to the actual US economic growth is estimated at 30%.
At the beginning of the 21st century, the United States – with its strong national-global power and the relative hegemony of knowledge/information – was already ready to build a new world order.
Knowledge is also the soul of military hegemony. Since the 1990s the United States (after the USSR’s demise) has taken advantage of its absolute leadership in information technology to vigorously promote a new military revolution and equip its armed forces with a large number of modern sophisticated weapons, especially cyber weapons: an overwhelming advantage in the conventional field, clearly overtaking the Third World, as well as its Western allies.
The US superiority in equipment ranges from one to two generations (i.e. from 15 to 30 years) over developing countries and from 0.5 to one generation over allies. All this has established the hegemonic status of the United States as the world’s number one military power.
Gulf Wars II (1991) and III (2003) (the first was the Iran-Iraq War in 1980-88), the Kosovo War (1999), the Afghanistan War (2001- still ongoing), and the Iraq War (2003-2011) were four localised wars that the United States fought to establish a new world order after the Cold War. During those events, the US hegemony was strengthened on an unprecedented scale and its attempt to establish a new order made substantial progress.
Moreover, backed by strong military advantages (scattering the planet with its own bases and outposts), as well as economic and technological advantages, those events ensured that the United States had and still has a leading position in the world, thus making the White House a planner and defender of the new world order. (1. continued)
Hardened US and Iranian positions question efficacy of parties’ negotiating tactics
The United States and Iran seem to be hardening their positions in advance of a resumption of negotiations to revive a 2015 international nuclear agreement once Iranian President-elect Ebrahim Raisi takes office in early August.
Concern among supporters of the agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear program which former US President Donald J. Trump abandoned in 2018 may be premature but do raise questions about the efficacy of the negotiating tactics of both parties.
These tactics include the Biden administration’s framing of the negotiations exclusively in terms of the concerns of the West and its Middle Eastern allies rather than also as they relate to Iranian fears, a failure by both the United States and Iran to acknowledge that lifting sanctions is a complex process that needs to be taken into account in negotiations, and an Iranian refusal to clarify on what terms the Islamic republic may be willing to discuss non-nuclear issues once the nuclear agreement has been revived.
The differences in the negotiations between the United States and Iran are likely to be accentuated if and when the talks resume, particularly concerning the mechanics of lifting sanctions.
“The challenges facing the JCPOA negotiations are a really important example of how a failed experience of sanctions relief, as we had in Iran between the Obama and Trump admins, can cast a shadow over diplomacy for years to come, making it harder to secure US interests,” said Iran analyst Esfandyar Batmanghelidj referring to the nuclear accord, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, by its initials.
The Biden administration may be heeding Mr. Batmangheldij’s notion that crafting sanctions needs to take into account the fact that lifting them can be as difficult as imposing them as it considers more targeted additional punitive measures against Iran. Those measures would aim to hamper Iran’s evolving capabilities for precision strikes using drones and guided missiles by focusing on the providers of parts for those weapon systems, particularly engines and microelectronics.
To be sure, there is no discernable appetite in either Washington or Tehran to adjust negotiation tactics and amend their underlying assumptions. It would constitute a gargantuan, if not impossible challenge given the political environment in both capitals. That was reflected in recent days in Iranian and US statements.
Iranian Spiritual Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei suggested that agreement on the revival of the nuclear accord was stumbling over a US demand that it goes beyond the terms of the original accord by linking it to an Iranian willingness to discuss its ballistic missiles program and support for Arab proxies.
In a speech to the cabinet of outgoing President Hassan Rouhani, he asserted that the West “will try to hit us everywhere they can and if they don’t hit us in some place, it’s because they can’t… On paper and in their promises, they say they’ll remove sanctions. But they haven’t lifted them and won’t lift them. They impose conditions…to say in future Iran violated the agreement and there is no agreement” if Iran refuses to discuss regional issues or ballistic missiles.
Iranian officials insist that nothing can be discussed at this stage but a return by both countries to the nuclear accord as is. Officials, distrustful of US intentions, have hinted that an unconditional and verified return to the status quo ante may help open the door to talks on missiles and proxies provided this would involve not only Iranian actions and programs but also those of America’s allies.
Mr. Khamenei’s remarks seemed to bolster suggestions that once in office Mr. Raisi would seek to turn the table on the Biden administration by insisting on stricter verification and US implementation of its part of a revived agreement.
To achieve this, Iran is expected to demand the lifting of all rather than some sanctions imposed or extended by the Trump administration; verification of the lifting; guarantees that the lifting of sanctions is irreversible, possibly by making any future American withdrawal from the deal contingent on approval by the United Nations Security Council; and iron-clad provisions to ensure that obstacles to Iranian trade are removed, including the country’s unfettered access to the international financial system and the country’s overseas accounts.
Mr. Khamenei’s remarks and Mr. Raisi’s anticipated harder line was echoed in warnings by US officials that the ascendancy of the new president would not get Iran a better deal. The officials cautioned further that there could be a point soon at which it would no longer be worth returning to because Iran’s nuclear program would have advanced to the point where the limitations imposed by the agreement wouldn’t produce the intended minimum one year ‘breakout time’ to produce enough enriched uranium for a bomb.
“We are committed to diplomacy, but this process cannot go on indefinitely. At some point, the gains achieved by the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) cannot be fully recovered by a return to the JCPOA if Iran continues the activities that it’s undertaken with regard to its nuclear program…The ball remains in Iran’s court, and we will see if they’re prepared to make the decisions necessary to come back into compliance,” US Secretary Antony Blinken said this week on a visit to Kuwait.
Another US official suggested that the United States and Iran could descend into a tug-of-war on who has the longer breath and who blinks first. It’s a war that so far has not produced expected results for the United States and in which Iran has paid a heavy price for standing its ground.
The official said that a breakdown in talks could “look a lot like the dual-track strategy of the past—sanctions pressure, other forms of pressure, and a persistent offer of negotiations. It will be a question of how long it takes the Iranians to come to the idea they will not wait us out.”
Wendy Sherman’s China visit takes a terrible for the US turn
US Deputy Secretary of State, Wendy Sherman, had high hopes for the meeting in China. At first, the Chinese side did not agree to hold the meeting at all. The reaction had obvious reasons: Antony Blinken’s fiasco in Alaska left the Chinese disrespected and visibly irritated. This is not why they travelled all the way.
So then the State Department had the idea of sending Wendy Sherman instead. The US government actually needs China more than China needs the US. Sherman was in China to actually prepare the ground for Biden and a meeting between the two presidents, expecting a red carpet roll for Biden as if it’s still the 2000s — the time when it didn’t matter how the US behaved. Things did not go as expected.
Instead of red carpet talk, Sherman heard Dua Lipa’s “I got new rules”.
That’s right — the Chinese side outlined three bottom lines warning the US to respect its system, development and sovereignty and territorial integrity. In other words, China wants to be left alone.
The bottom lines were not phrased as red lines. This was not a military conflict warning. This was China’s message that if any future dialogue was to take place, China needs to be left alone. China accused the US of creating an “imaginary enemy”. I have written about it before — the US is looking for a new Cold War but it doesn’t know how to start and the problem is that the other side actually holds all the cards.
That’s why the US relies on good old militarism with an expansion into the Indo-Pacific, while aligning everyone against China but expecting the red carpet and wanting all else in the financial and economic domains to stay the same. The problem is that the US can no longer sell this because there are no buyers. Europeans also don’t want to play along.
The headlines on the meeting in the US press are less flattering than usual. If the US is serious about China policy it has to be prepared to listen to much more of that in the future. And perhaps to, yes, sit down and be humble.
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