Speculation about origin of COVID19 has engendered questions about weapons of mass destruction. A retroviral antidote to COVID19 may yet take about a year. Germany and United States have tested some vaccines. A drug Tamiflu, effective against Respiratory Syndrome and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, and Remdesivir (Gilead Sciences Inc), originally tested on Ebola, is being experimented on COVID19, besides HIV medicine Kaletra / Aluvia (lopinavir / ritonavir (AbbVie) as Covid-19 treatment.
COVID19 origin: COVID origin is shrouded in mystery, natural transmutation from Pangolin, bats, snakes, and what not. Or, genetic engineering, prophecy, and alien nemesis as reflected in a host of novels/books/films. American author Dean Koontz predicted the coronavirus outbreak in 1981. His novel The Eyes of Darkness made reference to a killer virus called “Wuhan-400” – eerily predicting the Chinese city where Covid-19 would emerge. Film Contagion 2011 predicts a global pandemic that jumps from animals to humans and spreads arbitrarily around the globe.
In Homer’s Iliad, the Greeks disrespect one of Apollo’s priests. The god manifests his displeasure by firing his arrows of contagion into their camp. The plague lasts nine days, brief by modern epidemiological standards. When the Greeks make amends and sacrifice sheep and goats to Apollo, the plague is cured. Thucydides, the Athenian historian, has a simple explanation for the epidemic: wrath of Apollo. The Spartans had cannily supplicated the god and he in return had promised victory. Soon afterwards, Sparta’s enemies started dying of the plague. But, probably it was not divine wrath but unhygienic conditions that caused contagious diseases. Athens was under siege, its population swollen with refugees, everyone living in unsanitary conditions – was at risk of contagion in a way the Spartan army, free to roam the countryside outside, clearly wasn’t. But this thought doesn’t occur to Thucydides.
Book of Chronicles, a Hebrew prose of text featured in the Old Testament, hints about COVID19. It contains a story from Adam, some teachings from Jesus and a narrative of the history of ancient Judah and Israel until the proclamation of King Cyrus the Great.
The passage being shared online reads: “Whenever I hold back the rain or send locusts to eat up the crops or send an epidemic on my people, if they pray to me and repent and turn away from the evil they have been doing, then I will hear them in heaven, forgive their sins, and make their land prosperous again.
“I will watch over this temple and be ready to hear all the prayers that are offered here.” This extract is interpreted to refer to the coronavirus, the current locust plague and the Australian wildfires which are still being contained in some areas. Nostradamus 2020 predicted three prophecies of plague that surprisingly sound like coronavirus. Novelist Dean Koontz eerily predicted the outbreak in his 1981 book The Eyes of Darkness.
Several films touched contagion: IT COMES AT NIGHT (2017), RESIDENT EVIL: EXTINCTION (2007), TRAIN TO BUSAN (2016), CARRIERS (2009), OUTBREAK (1995). BLOOD MUSIC (1985),WAR OF THE WORLDS (1898), THE FEMALE MAN (1975), “WHILEAWAY”, THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN (1970), THE COLOUR OUT OF SPACE (1927), THE WHITE PLAGUE (1982), and INDEPENDENCE.
Nuclear terrorism: What lends credence to threat of nuclear terrorism is International Atomic Energy Investigation. It recorded over 1,000 possible cases of nuclear theft and trafficking between 1993 and 2008. Among these incidents was reported seizure in Tbilisi, Georgia, in February2006 of 79.5 grams of bomb-grade 89 per cent HEU. These incidents actuated then CIA director to hint at possibility of `terrorist or subnational groups’ constructed a nuclear device stolen or purchased enriched nuclear material.
Is a `dirty bomb’ a possibility: According to international media reports (February 25, 2004), India reported 25 cases of “missing” or “stolen” radio-active material from its labs to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Fifty-two per cent of the cases were attributed to “theft” and 48% to “missing mystery”. India claimed to have recovered lost material in twelve of total 25 cases. She however admitted that 13 remaining cases remained mysterious.
Critics surmised that India’s report to the International Atomic Energy Agency was apparently intended to portray India as a “responsible state”.
It is hard to believe that radio-active material could be stolen from nuclear labs without government’s connivance. A few months earlier, Taiwanese authorities had intercepted a ship, carrying dual-use aluminum oxide from India to North Korea. The oxide is an essential ingredient of rocket casings and is, as such, prohibited for export to “rogue” countries.
A New-Jersey-based Indian engineer, Sitaraman Ravi Mahedevan was indicted in the USA for illegally exporting contraband , including blue-prints of solenoid operated valves for use in consturction of North Korean nuclear facilities.
India’s “bonafide disclosure” prompted several think-tanks and Ph.D students in foreign universities to analyse implications of radio-active material falling into hands of so-called “terrorists”.
Hyper-sensitive analysts postulated that the stolen radio-active material could be used in making “dirty bombs”. A new report by Henry Stimson Center, Washington lamented “…Nuclear and radiological terrorism remains a frightening possibility in India and Pakistan, and the source material for nuclear terrorism could come from illicit transactions of poorly protected materials originating outside the region, as well as material from within the region used for military or civilian purposes”.
The report even provided an “analysis of the effects of a nuclear accident and/or nuclear terrorism from a ‘dirty bomb’ attack on Indian and Pakistani cities. The Stimson Center warned that depending on location and yield, a small nuclear explosion in either of the countries could cause more casualties than Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The report, titled ‘Nuclear terrorism and nuclear accidents in South Asia’, also, cautioned that radioactive fallout from a dirty bomb in a major commercial center in either of the neighbors could have potentially disastrous economic, psychological and political ramifications”.
This report was provided to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee whose chairman Senator Richard Lugar (R-Indiana) made it part of his campaign to extend the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program on nuclear proliferation to South Asia.
The report concluded that “although India and Pakistan ‘have established regulatory bodies to deal with the safety and security of their nuclear materials,’ these may not be sufficient to protect against every potential threat”.
Another report, authored by Kishore Kuchibhotla, a PhD student in biophysics at Harvard, and Matthew McKinzie, a nuclear physicist serving as a staff scientist with USA’s Nuclear Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, argued that “…three other types of events could prompt unintended escalation in South Asia: a terrorist use of RDDs (radiological dispersal devices); a terrorist detonation of a nuclear weapon; and the accidental explosion of nuclear arms — for example at military bases in either India or Pakistan… The report pointed out that while nuclear weapons themselves are closely guarded, all sorts of radioactive material could be found in research laboratories and hospitals that could provide the basic materials for the making of a dirty bomb…. Nearly 10,000 radioactive sources are used throughout India of which about 400 are particularly worrisome…” The report predicts that “…dirty bomb detonation in Karachi, New Delhi, Mumbai and Islamabad” could result in “casualties that at the very minimum would number in the tens of thousands”.
A hoax: It appears that the concern about the “dirty bombs” is overblown. History of terrorism reflects that “terrorists” are interested in symbolic targets (which could yield widespread publicity), not in mass killing (Verinde Grover’s Encyclopaedia of International Terrorism).
A “dirty bomb” is not known to have been tested by any country or detonated by any “terrorist” anywhere in the world. So, scope of its destructive power is shrouded in mystery. However, fall-out of the tested A-bombs is well recorded.
The major powers declared moratoriums on nuclear-bombs testing only in 1992. The pre-1992-period test scoreboard of the USA, former Soviet Union, France, and Britain is an explosion every 18 days, 21 days, 61 days, and 331 days (R. Venkataraman Nuclear Explosion and its Aftermath).
Cost aspect: It is much easier and cheaper to make a chemical or biological bomb than a “dirty bomb”. Though a “dirty bomb” has never been used by any “terrorist”, a bio/chemical bomb was actually used by Japan’s former doomsday-cult Guru Shoko Asahara. The Guru was sentenced to death “for masterminding the deadly 1995 nerve/chemical gas (sarin) attack on the Tokyo subway and a string of other crimes that killed 27 people”.
The cult’s quest for biological weapons was overshadowed by its chemical attack capability. The cult members were trying to develop botulinium toxin by utilising toxin on green mamba snake and poisonous mushroom spores,
Regarding use of chemical/biological weapons by “terrorists”, Professor Ramesh Chandra points out in his Global Terrorism (volume 1, page 27), “The US government indicates that these weapons are well within the reach of terrorists. According to the Central Intelligence Agency, ‘Terrorist interest in chemical and biological weapons is not surprising, given the relative ease with which some of these weapons can be produced in simple laboratories… Although popular fiction and national attention have focused on terrorist use of nuclear weapons, chemical and biological weapons are more likely choices for such groups’”.
Not only sarin, but also several other chemical agents like mustard, tabun, soman and VX are capable of dual use as pesticides and as a chemical weapon. Chandra (op. cit., page 30) points out, “chemical warfare agents ‘can quite literally be manufactured in a kitchen or basemennt in quantities for sufficient for mass-casualty attacks’. Therefore, the costs for a small-scale terrorist operation could be significantly less than $ 5 million”. Experts agree that it is moredifficult to manufacture Sarin gas, used by the “terrorists” in Japan, than mustard, tabun, soman, et al. To some experts, an effective bio-terrorism facility could be built for $ 200,000 to 2 million.
Cost profile of chemical-biological weapons vis-a-vis nuclear weapons shows that CBW will be the preferred option for both states and terrorists. An effective bio-terrorism facility in a basement or a kitchen could be built for US$ 200,000 to 2 million. A crude nuclear bomb would cost $5,433,000.
Researchers Peter Zimmerman and Jeffrey Lewis (wrote in Foreign Policy, terrorists can construct a nuclear device within the United States, which could be a highly-enriched uranium bullet that they could fire through a gun. As for the physics and computation of the device, a senior physicist with two assistants could be hired at a cost of $200,000. Metallurgy and casting would cost $270,000, precision machining and construction $230,000, gun design, assembly and training $230,000, electronics, arming, fusing and firing $150,000, other facilities $200,000, fissile material between $300,000 and $500,000 and transportation $153,000. The total cost would be $5,433,000.
Biological weapons, too, are easier to manufacture than “dirty bombs”. Viruses could cause smallpox, Venezuelan equine encephalitis and hemorrhagic fevers like Ebola.
It appears that disproportionate emphasis on mythical “dirty bombs” vis-à-vis chemical-bio bombs is meant to press and exploit non-major or threshold nuclear states. There being no universally-acceptable definition of “terrorism”, any state, individual or group could be dubbed a “terrorist”.
The problem of divergent perceptions about “terrorism” could best be understood by analogy with problems with negative numbers in mathematics. Example: Antoine Arnauld argued in mid-1600 that the proposition –1: 1 = 1: -1 must be non-sense: ‘How can a smaller be to a greater as a greater is to a smaller’. In year 1712, Leibnitz agreed that Arnauld had a point.
To control “terrorism”, it is necessary that no strong state should try to exploit a weak state, using “aiding abetting terrorism” as a subterfuge. In historical context, efforts to distinguish “terrorism” from civil disobedience, revolutions, crime, banditry, freedom movement, etc. have foundered.
The best approach: The best approach to control “terrorism”, nuclear or CBW, appears to be the one presented by Dr Ihekwoaba D. Onwudiwe (University of Maryland) in his The Globalisation of Terrorism. He used World Systems Theory (dividing countries into dominant/core and dependent/peripheral groups) to identify the “terrorism” problem.
Onwudiwe does not classify “terrorists” as crimainals or freedom fighters. But looks at terrorism as “consequence of ho the world is ordered”. He postulates, “There are dominant nations that control world resources and manufacturing practices, and which possess the ability to translate their economic resources into politcal and military strength used to maintain a world order that continues to benefit their best interests…They have the military might to enforce their will when challenged…Patterns of terrorism are strongly influenced by nature of the capitalist world economic system. …Terrorism is a response to the structure of the world system, a response to the global inequality that exists between nations, the only solution that will have any significant impact on the reduction and control of terrorism are those that restructure the world; that is policies that eliminate cross-national inequality and existing patterns of exploitation that extend from the core to the peripheral nations of the world. Military interventions, attempts at ‘target hardening’, or other forms of social control such as economic sanctions, may work in the short run to contain terrorism, but only temporarily. In the long run, however, these policies have been and will continue to be ineffective since they do nothing to remedy the conditions that set the state for terrorism: namely global inequality”.
It appears that “dirty bomb” is a hoax to exploit nouveau-nuclear or nuclear-threshold nations. Real threat emanates from chemical or bio-weapons. Solution to terrorism lies in a less exploitative world order.
Iran in the SCO: a Forced “Look East” Strategy and an Alternative World Order
On September 17, a package of several dozen documents was signed in Dushanbe at the summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). The highlight of the meeting was the decision taken by the Heads of State Council of the SCO on launching the procedure of granting SCO membership to the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Technically, this decision does not turn Tehran into a full-fledged SCO member, launching the accession process only. Granting full membership involves a number of agreements signed, which usually takes about two years. However, a proactive decision has de facto been made, and the Islamic Republic of Iran can already be considered a member of the Organization.
Moscow played a key role in granting SCO membership to Iran. It was after a telephone talk on August 11 with Nikolai Patrushev, Secretary of Russia’s Security Council, that Ali Shamkhani, Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council of Iran, announced that the political obstacles to Iran’s membership in the SCO had been removed so that Iran’s SCO membership could be finalized. Besides, throughout this year, Russia has repeatedly urged to endorse Iran’s bid for SCO membership.
Endorsing Tehran’s bid for SCO membership was the first significant victory for the new ultra-conservative Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi’s foreign policy. One of the key tasks for the Islamic Republic’s new head of government is to demonstrate his own achievements as opposed to the failures of his predecessor, the reformist Hassan Rouhani. The latter has repeatedly advocated for expanding cooperation with the SCO; however, Tehran did not manage to join the Organization during his presidency.
One of the reasons for this was Rouhani’s team pursuing the Western vector of Iran’s foreign policy. The nuclear deal with the leading world powers, including the United States, as well as the subsequent prospects of large-scale investments from Europe, clearly exceeded what other international projects could offer. Therefore, other integration initiatives were temporarily set aside. While this looked rather reasonable at that point, the subsequent failure of this plan because of the inconsistencies in the U.S. foreign policy raised the burning issue of exploring the alternatives.
Yet, Hassan Rouhani never completely abandoned the non-Western vector. There have been at least two remarkable achievements here during his tenure. On May 17, 2018, the Eurasian Economic Union and Iran signed a provisional free trade zone agreement, which entered into force on October 27, 2019, for a period of three years. Then, late into Rouhani’s presidency, China and Iran signed a 25-year cooperation agreement on March 27, 2021, to comprehensively enhance the bilateral relations.
Ebrahim Raisi is largely trying to prove himself as polar opposite to Hassan Rouhani, whose recent years have been one of the most proving times for Iran’s economy. First and foremost, Ebrahim Raisi needs to live up to the confidence placed in him, while the new president’s decisive victory in June 2021 was overshadowed by the extreme political apathy demonstrated by large segments of the country’s population, resulting in a record low voter turnout in Iran’s history.
Domestically, the fight against COVID-19 is still serving this purpose. Lockdown restrictions are consistently lifted in Iran amid reports of high vaccination rates. This stands in sharp contrast with Rouhani’s administration, when the epidemic was only growing, with the authorities resorting to closures of businesses and public institutions as well as to movement restrictions, and with Tehran constantly having problems with vaccines import.
Iran’s accession into the SCO demonstrates another good start for Raisi—this time, in terms of foreign policy. This is especially important amid stalled negotiations on restoring the nuclear deal. Technically, reviving the JCPOA remains valuable for Tehran and Washington, which both sides confirm every now and then. However, trust between the parties is so low after Donald Trump’s demarche that the prospects for new agreements are increasingly elusive.
All the more so since Iran is demanding security guarantees from the U.S. so that the incident does not recur and that the new U.S. elections do not destroy any previous agreements. However, Washington cannot guarantee this due to the very nature of the American political system. At the same time, Joe Biden, in fearing domestic criticism, has not yet made any concessions that could give Tehran at least some confidence in the intentions of the U.S. president. Washington could well have announced its unilateral return to the JCPOA without the sanctions lifted. However, the White House did not do this, which means a U.S. delegation cannot sit at the negotiating table on the nuclear deal in Vienna, with the JCPOA dialogue with the U.S. held separately.
There are still chances for the JCPOA to be revived and the sanctions against Tehran to be lifted. Even if this is case, however, there is no quick positive outcome for Raisi—which is why the SCO membership has gained momentum for his image within the country. It is no coincidence that his participation in the SCO Summit in Dushanbe was the first international trip made by the Iranian president in the wake of the elections.
At the turn of the 2010s, the demand for better relations with the West grew so strong in Iran that both the legislative and the executive were taken over by Westerners amid the struggle for power, with President Rouhani becoming the epitome of the process. This turn may seem paradoxical to the casual observer since the ideology of the Islamic Republic of Iran is anti-Western at its core. However, pro-Western forces were rather strong in Iran of the 1990s. President Hashemi Rafsanjani (1989–1997) was the first who cautiously spoke out for the normalization of relations with the United States and Europe to be then succeeded by Mohammad Khatami (1997–2005), an open advocate for dialogue.
Therefore, of the last four presidents in Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (2005–2013) was the only who proved a consistent opponent of the West. Hassan Rouhani seemed right for establishing the dialogue. The United States under Obama’s administration and the European countries seemed to have weighed all the possibilities in embarking on the path of normalizing the relations with Tehran. However, the Collective West found itself hostage to the twists and turns of the U.S. domestic policy.
Donald Trump’s hasty withdrawal from the JCPOA was carried out in spite of no violations of the deal’s terms on the Iranian side, the position of the UN Security Council, or the opinion of U.S. allies in Europe. This became a critical point for the Iran’s “pivot West.” The political elite of the Islamic Republic of Iran saw once again that treaties with the U.S. and assurances from the U.S. are not worth anything. However, this does not mean that the West has lost Iran forever. In theory, there might be a new chance in the long run—for the foreseeable future, this is out of the question, though.
For Iran, joining the SCO symbolizes a consolidation of its foreign policy’s Eastern dimension. Even a prospective return to the nuclear deal under Raisi will not change this trend. This may look like a victory for the “Look East” strategy promoted earlier on by Ahmadinejad as the basic tenet of his foreign policy. Moreover, it was right during his presidential term that Iran attained observer status with the SCO in 2005 and made two failed attempts to become a full member.
While this was a deliberate choice made by Iranian conservatives under President Ahmadinejad who sought to hinder relations with the West with their own hands, today’s Iran is taking such a step as a desperate measure. The West has closed off the path to normalization, doing so for no good reason, whose rationale would be shared by the majority of the players, but because one of them is in the grip of political instability domestically.
Reassessing the Image
The nuclear deal, coupled with the desire to cooperate with the outside world and the attempts to break the isolation, have borne some fruit for Iran. Iran’s image as a collective threat has consistently been blurred by Tehran’s efforts. The Islamic Republic is increasingly perceived as a rational actor on the international arena, if in pursuit of its specific goals.
Thus, Iran’s failed attempt to attain SCO membership was largely due to the fact that the Central Asian nations had been rather wary of Iranian Islamism and its proneness to ideological expansion. However, the following years have shown that Tehran is ready for constructive cooperation with secular forces. Realistic considerations increasingly prevail over Islamic motivation, while the expansionism is limited to certain regions in the Middle East. Moreover, Iran’s anti-terrorist aspirations tend to overlap with the vision of other countries. Iran’s fight against the Islamic State (ISIS, a terrorist group banned in Russia) and its meaningful interaction with Russia and Turkey in Syria are another important indicator.
Another obstacle to Iran’s membership in the SCO was its pronounced and unrelenting anti-Americanism, especially characteristic of Ahmadinejad’s years in power. China, remaining one of the key economic partners of the United States in the 2000s and 2010s, did not want the SCO to become a platform for anti-American rhetoric. Russia, too, had expectations to normalize relations with Washington at that time.
However, Tehran showed again that pragmatism, rather than ideology, is the highlight of its foreign policy, proving that Iran can even negotiate the nuclear deal with the “Great Satan”. The failure of the JCPOA framework should be attributed to the inconsistency of the United States rather than to the stance professed by Iran. Besides, anti-Americanism no longer seems to be an issue today. The relations between Moscow and Washington have progressively been degrading all this time, while China has turned from a stable partner of the U.S. into the main threat to it as a leading world power. In other words, Iranian anti-Americanism now looks much more acceptable to the founding members of the SCO than was the case 10 or 15 years ago.
Tehran’s general vector, pursuing an end to the isolation and aiming to legitimize the state around the world, has yielded certain results, and the SCO membership is one of them. At the same time, this was facilitated by the broader shifts in the international situation as much as by ideology having lesser sway in the foreign policy of the Islamic Republic.
An Alternative World Order
Iran’s accession into the SCO is taking place amidst the growing demand from the organization’s member states for new mechanisms of interaction. For a significant part of its history, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization looked like a showcase alternative to the Western order—today, in a number of dimensions, this “alternativeness” is not just an option but a need.
The most striking example is Afghanistan. In resolving security threats emanating from Afghanistan, including terrorism and drugs, the SCO member states have no one else to rely on, except for themselves, following the withdrawal of the U.S. forces. Against this background, Iran’s accession at this moment seems to be of significance, as an effective Afghan settlement seems hardly possible without Tehran.
Establishing alternative (to the Western) financial mechanisms and looking for new ways of handling economic activity is another challenge. And Iran’s example confirms the need for such an alternative. The U.S. withdrawal from the nuclear deal, all other participants being against it, threatened the very existence of the Agreement. First of all, this happened due to the dominant influence of Washington on the global economy. Despite all attempts, Europe, China and Russia have failed to neutralize the consequences of U.S. secondary sanctions against Tehran.
At the same time, the sanctions policy has become a very popular instrument in international relations. Restrictions imposed by Western governments are becoming less and less predictable each year, since the internal political situation is the key factor. In the future, China, Russia and other countries may face similar pressure measures that are now used against Iran.
In this regard, Tehran is in the “vanguard”, exploring new pilot approaches. So far, circumventing sanctions has proved difficult and time-consuming, although there has been some progress in this area.
Finally, the key prospect for the SCO is its transformation into a dialogue platform for politically diverse states in order to agree on new approaches. The Organization’s extremely broad mandate allows it to tackle a huge range of issues and unlock the potential to coordinate efforts of different international actors.
In this vein, Iran turns out to be a unique test case for the entire structure. A country with a completely different worldview and specific goals will be forced to talk and negotiate on a regular basis with the largest states of the macro-region. From now on, Tehran as a full member cannot simply observe the course of meetings, it will have to adopt a position on the SCO agenda issues.
As far as the interest of Iran goes, the Organization is quite in line with its political objectives in the short term. Promoting trade ties is mostly based on bilateral agreements between the countries, while the role of the SCO as an economic driver is still at its early stage. This institution will primarily contribute to Tehran’s cooperation in the field of security and political rapprochement; however, closer economic cooperation may come as a by-product of this.
In any case, Iran’s membership in the SCO can be called an important stage in the SCO’s maturing into a solid international institution. Until now, the Organization has focused on combating terrorism, separatism and extremism, although its mandate allows it to tackle a much broader range of issues. The expansion of the membership increases the legitimacy of the SCO—but, at the same time, expectations from the organization as a global powerbroker are growing. To justify them, the SCO must take on greater responsibility, looking beyond security issues.
From our partner RIAC
US military presence in the Middle East: The less the better
It may not have been planned or coordinated but efforts by Middle Eastern states to dial down tensions serve as an example of what happens when big power interests coincide.
It also provides evidence of the potentially positive fallout of a lower US profile in the region.
Afghanistan, the United States’ chaotic withdrawal notwithstanding, could emerge as another example of the positive impact when global interests coincide. That is if the Taliban prove willing and capable of policing militant groups to ensure that they don’t strike beyond the Central Asian nation’s borders or at embassies and other foreign targets in the country.
Analysts credit the coming to office of US President Joe Biden with a focus on Asia rather than the Middle East and growing uncertainty about his commitment to the security of the Gulf for efforts to reduce tensions by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirate and Egypt on the one hand and on the other, Turkey, Iran, and Qatar. Those efforts resulted in the lifting, early this year, of the Saudi-UAE-Egyptian-led economic and diplomatic boycott of Qatar.
Doubts about the United States’ commitment also played an important role in efforts to shore up or formalise alliances like the establishment of diplomatic relations with Israel by the UAE and Bahrain.
For its part, Saudi Arabia has de facto acknowledged its ties with the Jewish state even if Riyadh is not about to formally establish relations. In a sign of the times, that did not stop then Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu from last year visiting the kingdom.
To be sure, changes in Washington’s priorities impact regional defence strategies and postures given that the United States has a significant military presence in the Middle East and serves as its sole security guarantor.
Yet, what rings alarm bells in Gulf capitals also sparks concerns in Beijing, which depends to a significant degree on the flow of its trade and energy from and through Middle Eastern waters, and Moscow with its own security concerns and geopolitical aspirations.
Little surprise that Russia and China, each in their own way and independent of the United States, over the last year echoed the United States’ message that the Middle East needs to get its act together.
Eager to change rather than reform the world order, Russia proposed an all-new regional security architecture modelled on the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) adding not only Russia but also China, India, and Europe to the mix.
China, determined to secure its proper place in the new world order rather than fundamentally altering it, sent smoke signals through its academics and analysts that conveyed a double-barrelled message. On the one hand, China suggested that the Middle East did not rank high on its agenda. In other words, the Middle East would have to act to climb Beijing’s totem pole.
“For China, the Middle East is always on the very distant back burner of China’s strategic global strategies,” Niu Xinchun, director of Middle East Studies at China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR), China’s most prestigious think tank, told a webinar last year.
Prominent Chinese scholars Sun Degang and Wu Sike provided months later a carrot to accompany Mr. Niu’s stick. Taking the opposite tack, they argued that the Middle East was a “key region in big power diplomacy with Chinese characteristics in a new era.”
Chinese characteristics, they said, would involve “seeking common ground while reserving differences,” a formula that implies conflict management rather than conflict resolution.
On that basis, the two scholars suggest, Chinese engagement in Middle Eastern security would seek to build an inclusive and shared regional collective security mechanism based on fairness, justice, multilateralism, comprehensive governance, and the containment of differences.
In the final analysis, Chinese and Russian signalling that there was an unspoken big power consensus likely reinforced American messaging and gave Middle Eastern states a further nudge to change course and demonstrate a willingness to control tensions and differences.
Implicit in the unspoken big power consensus was not only the need to dial down tensions but also the projection of a reduced, not an eliminated, US presence in the Middle East.
While there has been little real on-the-ground reduction of US forces, just talking about it seemingly opened pathways. It altered the US’ weighting in the equation.
“The U.S. has a habit of seeing itself as indispensable to regional stability around the world, when in fact its intervention can be very destabilizing because it becomes part of the local equation rather than sitting above it,” noted Raad Alkadiri, an international risk consultant.
While important, the United States’ willingness to get out of the way is no guarantee that talks will do anything more than at best avert conflicts spinning out of control.
Saudi and Iranian leaders and officials have sought to put a positive spin on several rounds of direct and indirect talks between the two rivals.
Yet, more important than the talk of progress, expressions of willingness to bury hatchets, and toning down of rhetoric is Saudi King Salman’s insistence in remarks last month to the United Nations General Assembly on the need to build trust.
The monarch suggested that could be achieved by Iran ceasing “all types of support” for armed groups in the region, including the Houthis in Yemen, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and pro-Iranian militias in Iraq.
The potential monkey wrench is not just the improbability of Iran making meaningful concessions to improve relations but also the fact that the chances are fading for a revival of the 2015 international agreement that curbed Iran’s nuclear program.
“We have to prepare for a world where Iran doesn’t have constraints on its nuclear program and we have to consider options for dealing with that. This is what we are doing while we hope they do go back to the deal,” said US negotiator Rob Malley.
Already, Israeli politicians, unhappy with the original nuclear deal and the Biden administration’s effort to revive it, are taking a more alarmist view than may be prevalent in their intelligence services.
In Washington this week, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid told US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan that Iran was “becoming a nuclear threshold state.” Back home Yossi Cohen, a close confidante of Mr. Netanyahu, who stepped down in June as head of the Mossad, asserted at the same time that Iran was “no closer than before” to obtaining a nuclear weapon.
There is no doubt, however that both men agree that Israel retains the option of a military strike against Iran. “Israel reserves the right to act at any moment in any way,” Mr. Lapid told his American interlocutors as they sought to resolve differences of how to deal with Iran if a revival of the agreement proves elusive.
Meanwhile, a foreplay of the fallout of a potential failure to put a nuclear deal in place is playing out on multiple fronts. Tension have been rising along the border between Iran and Azerbaijan.
Iran sees closer Azerbaijani-Israeli relations as part of an effort to encircle it and fears that the Caucasian state would be a staging ground for Israeli operations against the Islamic republic. Iran and Azerbaijan agreed this week to hold talks to reduce the friction.
At the same time, Iran, Turkey and Israel have been engaged in a shadow boxing match in predominantly Kurdish northern Iraq while a poll showed half of Israeli Jews believe that attacking Iran early on rather than negotiating a deal would have been a better approach.
Taken together, these factors cast a shadow over optimism that the Middle East is pulling back from the brink. They suggest that coordinated big power leadership is what could make the difference as the Middle East balances between forging a path towards stability and waging a continuous covert war and potentially an overt one.
A Johns Hopkins University Iran research program suggested that a US return to the nuclear deal may be the catalyst for cooperation with Europe, China, and Russia.
“Should the United States refuse to re-join the agreement following sufficient attempts by Iran to demonstrate flexibility in their negotiating posture, Russia and China will ramp up their economic and security cooperation with Iran in a manner fundamentally opposed to US interests,” the program warned.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh announced this week that Russia and Iran were finalizing a ‘Global Agreement for Cooperation between Iran and Russia’ along the lines of a similar 25-year agreement between China and the Islamic republic last year that has yet to get legs.
Even so, Iran scored an important victory when the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in which China and Russia loom large last month agreed to process Iran’s application for membership.
The U.S. may not involve military confrontation in the South China Sea
Although the US with its highest military budget, and maintaining the largest number of military bases around the globe, and the largest number of troops in foreign countries, and keeping the largest number of alliances, yet may avoid a direct military confrontation in the South China Sea. It does not mean that the US will give up, but, may exert political and diplomatic pressure, or opt for cold war strategies. The US is very well aware of the consequences and scared of spreading the conflict into other parts of the world, initiating the third world war (WWIII). It might be a nuclear war and disaster for the whole world.
Today, the piles of lethal weapons, especially nuclear weapons, are enough to destroy the whole world. If the escalation starts, it might not be limited to a small region, or continent, it might get out of control and spread to other parts of the world, and engulf the whole world. The highly hostile geopolitics are heading toward more volatility and entering dangerous limits.
As a part of the US cold war strategy, they are pushing the region toward war. On one hand creation of AUKUS, instigating Taiwan, and supporting India, pressurizing China, leaving no option except war, is extremely dangerous. The US may be once again miscalculating that, push the regional countries into war, while keeping the US away from the war zone will benefit Americans. In the recent past, all US dreams turn against their expectations, and such a dream to push China into war and enjoy the destruction of the region, keeping itself away, may not realize.
As a result of undue support to Taiwan, may instigate Taiwan for war. Chinese President Xi Jinping, also general secretary of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and chairman of the Central Military Commission, delivered an important speech at a commemorative meeting marking the 110th anniversary of the Revolution of 1911 at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, capital of China, Oct. 9, 2021. He said that the Taiwan question arose out of the weakness and chaos of the Chinese nation, and it will be resolved as national rejuvenation becomes a reality. “This is determined by the general trend of Chinese history, but more importantly, it is the common will of all Chinese people,” he noted.
National reunification by peaceful means best serves the interests of the Chinese nation as a whole, including compatriots in Taiwan, said Xi, while calling on compatriots on both sides of the Taiwan Strait to stand on the right side of history. Xi described secession aimed at “Taiwan independence” as the greatest obstacle to national reunification and a grave danger to national rejuvenation. “Those who forget their heritage, betray their motherland, and seek to split the country will come to no good end,” he said, adding that they will be disdained by the people and condemned by history. The Taiwan question is purely an internal matter for China, one which brooks no external interference, Xi noted. “The complete reunification of our country will be and can be realized,” he stressed.
By nature, the Chinese are peace-loving and never like aggression or wars. China has been observing patience for a long, and expects, that the people of Taiwan may opt for peaceful reunification. Although China has the capacity to take over Taiwan by force, yet, China preferred reunification through dialogue and negotiation peacefully. China understands the consequences too and will observe patience to the last moment. If the people of Taiwan are smart and wise they must take the right decision, and a timely decision will be in their interest. A unified China will make them proud too. They may also be beneficiaries of Chinese economic developments. Reunification, will definitely, raise the economy of Taiwanese and improve individuals’ standard of life. There are many incentives for Taiwan and unlimited opportunities.
However, in case of war, no foreign country will come to help Taiwan, especially the US will not rescue them. In fact, the role of the US is to instigate others and push them into war and keep themselves aside, watching only, they may join the winner side later on. The US is not sincere with Taiwan, but playing dirty politics only and selling expensive weapons to gain economic benefits to save its ailing economy. The US will not proactively involve in any war in the South China sea.
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