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Canada and Russia in the Arctic: Competition or Cooperation?

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Canadian-Russian relations in the twentieth century have been complicated at best and conflictual at worst. Though crisis has been avoided between the two Arctic states, the issue of Crimea as well as the war in the Donbass have nevertheless been calamitous. In what Canada perceives as Russian aggression towards Ukraine and the West and an encroachment on Ukrainian sovereign territory, Canada has been an adamant supporter of multilateral efforts to punish Russia for its actions. This has included, for the most part, Canadian sanctions towards Russia in concert with Canada’s allies, the United States, and the European Union. Canada, however, went a step further than most of its allies in taking action towards Russia. During the tenure of Stephen Harper in 2014, Ottawa implemented a unilateral policy of boycotting almost all bilateral and multilateral events and “tables” at which both Canada and Russia earlier sat together. Harper stated that Canada has refused to take part in any multilateral meetings in which Russia participates. Political commentators have termed this Canada’s “empty chair policy”.

Naturally, Ottawa was both unable and unwilling to abandon all “tables” at which both Canada and Russia sit. It would not have been in Canada’s interests to forsake its responsibilities at the United Nations, Arctic Council, or the OSCE, as Canada continues to understand its role in international affairs as a power with global interests and global influence. Canada’s continued engagement in these international organisations (IOs) demonstrates that despite attempts to punish Russia for its international transgressions, having a dialogue with Russia — albeit however minimal — is of advantage for both Canada and Russia. Whereas Canada takes a secondary role to that of Russia in the United Nations, Canada and Russia are considered institutional equals in the Arctic Council. Indeed, it is of significant relevance that the Arctic Council represents the most proliferate body within which Canada and Russia are able to cooperate. Despite different and sometimes conflicting approaches, Canada and Russia’s interaction within the Arctic Council and Arctic affairs remain a vital framework within which Canadian-Russian relations continue to develop outside of the current sphere of conflict and provide a unique space for the two states to increase dimensions of cooperation.

In late 2019, shortly before the Canadian election in October, Justin Trudeau’s liberal government released Canada’s new Arctic policy. Canada’s earlier policy, defined in the Harper years, followed an aggressive line coined by Harper that in Arctic affairs, “Canada has a choice when it comes to defending our sovereignty over the Arctic. We either use it or lose it. And make no mistake, this Government intends to use it.” [1] Throughout the Harper administration, Canada pushed for more strength in the Arctic. Trudeau’s new Arctic policy, conversely, has a shifted focus towards greater peace and cooperation, whilst also pushing for the development of northern communities and emphasizing the importance of the human aspect of the North as well as climate change. The new policy asserts the importance of a “rules-based international order in the Arctic” and a renewed leadership from Canada as well as “the representation and participation of Arctic and northern Canadians in relevant international forums and negotiations.” As per Canada’s new Arctic policy of 2019, Canada sees three main foci points in moving forward with its international Arctic policy: “1. Strengthen the rules-based international order in the Arctic,” “2. More clearly define Canada’s Arctic boundaries,” and “3. Broaden Canada’s international engagement to contribute to the priorities of Canada’s Arctic and North.” This new Arctic policy is ultimately twofold. On the one hand, to push for more international cooperation in the Arctic sphere, seeking to play a more constructive role internationally. On the other hand, the new policy still holds Canada’s sovereignty in the North and international responsibilities with NATO as vital components of policy.

In Canada’s new policy, international cooperation has once again returned to the forefront of Arctic matters. The policy sees that the “circumpolar Arctic is well known for its high level of international cooperation on a broad range of issues, a product of the robust rules-based international order that is the sum of international rules, norms and institutions that govern international affairs in the Arctic.” [2] Arctic cooperation is manifested in both bilateral and multilateral forms, such as in terms of direct Canada-Russia relations, or in the form of the Arctic Council. For Canada, multilateral cooperation within the auspices of the Arctic Council represents the pre-eminent form of Arctic cooperation. Canada’s interests in its Arctic foreign policy involve exercising its sovereignty, promoting economic and social development, protecting the environment, and improving Arctic governance. Ottawa views international cooperation as indispensable and actively looks to contribute to a general, international — albeit with limitations — unity on Arctic matters.

Certainly, this approach includes Russia as a necessary partner. In 2019, Canada signalized a willingness to work with Russia on Arctic matters. For example, the recent posting of Alison LeClaire, former Senior Arctic Official and Director General of Circumpolar Affairs, as Canadian Ambassador to Russia, suggests that Canada is getting serious on Arctic cooperation with Russia. Additionally, as per Canada’s new Arctic policy, Canada has directly engaged itself with the possibilities of cooperation with Russia, in that Canada “will take steps to restart a regular bilateral dialogue on Arctic issues with Russia in key areas…”[3]

Despite Canada’s willingness to cooperate internationally and with Russia on Arctic matters, Canada continues to honour its international responsibilities and alliances and has placed these at the forefront of its Arctic policy. This includes Canada’s membership in NATO and NORAD, not to mention Canada’s intensive relationship with the United States. This has resulted in a sobering policy towards Russia, in which Russia remains a theoretically potential threat to Canadian sovereignty and interests in the Arctic region. Both NATO and NORAD have made attempts to develop increased measures in case of a Russian threat. This has been followed by an increase in symbolic discourse of the potentially threatening nature of Russia’s existence in the Arctic and fears that Russia’s military and economic build up in the region could endanger Canada’s northern interests. Ultimately, an offensive act towards Canada on the part of Russia a priori does exist in order to secure Russia’s interest; this, however, is extremely unlikely, especially when considering Canada’s role in NATO. Canada continues to perceive the realistic possibility of a Russian threat in the Arctic, despite an openness towards cooperation with Russia. Canada’s membership in NATO and the perception of a possible Russian threat, however, do not necessarily imply that Canada will be unable to work with Russia on certain matters, albeit it does indicate a level of reservation on the part of Canadian policymakers. As an increase in Russia’s military presence in the Arctic is undeniable, fears among Canadian policymakers emerge as to the level of successful cooperation attainable. Nevertheless, Trudeau’s new policy plays down the narrative of Arctic conflict, signaling that cooperation and dialogue with Russia is of first-rate importance [4]. Though Canada has not overlooked the possibility of threats to its sovereignty and interests in the Arctic as well as the importance of its international alliances and obligations, Canada’s new Arctic policy focuses on the possibilities of open and mutually beneficial cooperation in the Northern region in order to achieve its goals and interests — including with Russia.

Russia, similar to Canada, has also released a new Arctic policy in 2020, which comprehensively details Russia’s Arctic plans up to 2035. Russia’s new Arctic policy, signed into force by President Vladimir Putin on March 5, 2020, also presents a multidimensional approach to its Arctic affairs. As the world’s largest Arctic power, Russia has long sought to develop the North for its own purposes, especially for the extraction of natural resources. To this extent, the Arctic region is primarily important for the Russian economy, especially in terms of natural resources and the development of Northern Sea Route. For Russia, the North Sea Route — a transport and transit route emerging as a result of melting polar ice that would more than half the travel distance from South East Asia to Europe and save billions of dollars in shipping costs — , as well as Arctic gas reserves, are the foundation of Russia’s economic and geopolitical plans in the North [5]. As a result, Russia considers the North to be of immense geopolitical and geoeconomic importance. It is therefore of little surprise that Russia has been actively working to obtain a stronger foothold in the region, such as claiming sovereignty over the disputed Lomonosov Ridge, which, if recognized internationally, would extend Russia’s sovereignty over the Arctic region hundreds of kilometres beyond Russia’s northern land borders. Russia is, without a doubt, the world leader in northern development. It holds the largest northern population, infrastructure, and Arctic military of all eight Arctic states. Russia’s move into the economic and geopolitical focus on the Arctic is not inherently threatening to Canada; on the contrary, Russia, like Canada, is looking for greater Arctic cooperation.

As a result of the economic importance of the Arctic sphere for Russia, Russia acts pragmatically vis-à-vis other Arctic (and non-Arctic) states. The immense value that the Arctic holds for Russia has caused Moscow to act and react benevolently in the international sphere. Examples of this can be seen in Russia’s signing and ratification of the Ilulissat Declaration of the five Arctic coastal states in 2008, which defines the governance of the Arctic, as well as the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea [UNCLOS].

It is ultimately telling of Russian foreign policy that Russia has included “cooperation and peaceful settlement of all disputes in the Arctic” in its new policy of 2020. This lends further credibility to the argument that Russia, despite the Ukraine Crisis and weakening of relations with the West since 2014, is actively looking for some level of rapprochement. Indeed, an examination of Russia’s Arctic policies are wholly void of the conflictual language found in other spheres of political relations. Certainly, Russia is very much open to economic and scientific cooperation in its northern territories. This includes, among others, investment, scientific, and technological cooperation, environmental and fishing cooperation, and further development of the Northern Sea route. Russia has been open to the peaceful and fair settling of disputes in the Arctic region as well. In 2010, for example, during the Medvedev presidency, Russia and Norway struck a sea border deal, dividing 175,000 km2 of undersea “land,” much of which has oil and gas-rich deposits. The end of the dispute, which concluded 40 years of talks between Russia (and the Soviet Union) and Norway, was announced by President Medvedev in 2010, attesting to Russia’s balanced position in international circumpolar affairs.

Although Canada is not concretely mentioned in the Arctic policy signed into force by Putin in 2020, Vladimir Putin has, such as on February 7, 2020, spoke of cooperation with Canada in positive terms: “We are open to cooperation with Canada … Our countries are neighbours in the Arctic and have a shared responsibility for the sustainable development of this vast region, for preserving the traditional way of life of indigenous peoples and for respecting its fragile ecosystem.” [6] Though Russia, unquestionably, is focused on attaining its interests and aims in the Arctic — possibility at the expense of others — it has on more than one occasion signalized a willingness to cooperate and aim for mutual benefit in crucial spheres in a rules-based international order and within the institutions, such as the Arctic Council, that govern the Arctic region.

The pertinent question here is if and how Canada and Russia are able to develop, maintain, and foster amicable relations and cooperation in the Arctic against the backdrop of worsening general Canadian-Russian relations as well as the increasing importance and competition in the Arctic region. Both Canada and Russia are open to Arctic cooperation. Indeed, Canadian and Russian interests in circumpolar affairs often correspond with one another, thereby fostering the possibility for improved and increased cooperation. On the part of Canada, Ottowa has on multiple occasions and directly within its policy stated that it will take steps to restart a regular bilateral dialogue on Arctic issues with Russia. Russia has voiced similar aims. Russian scholar Natalia Viakhireva explains that in the international sphere, Russia takes on two faces: the “aggressive revisionist,” such as in the post-Soviet space and “liberal internationalist” in the circumpolar sphere. Yet in her article on Canadian-Russian cooperation in the Arctic, she argues that relations between “close competitors” are a combination of cooperation and competition, but that the West must recognize that Russia’s cooperative behavior on Arctic issues can be mutually beneficial. The first step for Canada and Russia, therefore, is to acknowledge mutual interest in the Arctic sphere, to place significance on the current low level of conflict in the region, and to encourage the continuation of positive cooperation, both bilaterally and multilaterally.

A closer analysis of Canadian-Russian relations within the Arctic Council demonstrates a unique level of existing cooperation between the two states on a number of important matters. Most prevalent of those is the issue of extra-regional actors within the governance of the Arctic. Countries in Eastern Asia, such as China, Japan, and Korea, but also EU members such as Germany and France see it within their national interests to “internationalize” the Arctic. These countries, and foremost China, advocate greater involvement in the region and support the loosening of Russian and Canadian control over the Northern Sea Route and the Northwest Passage. They are looking to reorganize the governing structure of the Arctic and circumvent what Russia and Canada perceive as their sovereign territory in order to benefit from the changing geopolitical and geoeconomic nature of the Arctic. China, especially, wants unfettered access to the North Sea Route and the Northwest passage. Though Canada and Russia could and to some extent currently are benefiting from cooperation with non-Arctic states (especially in technology and environmentalism), both are opposed to Asia’s and Europe’s encroachment on the Arctic. Russia, like Canada, also declared its opposition to “[a]ttempts by a number of foreign states to revise the basic provisions of international treaties regulating economic and other activities in the Arctic.” [7] Canada and Russia’s shared opposition to foreign encroachment demonstrates a distinctive opportunity for cooperation between the two Arctic countries, as has already been the case. As these extra-regional actors’ interests often do not coincide with those of Canada and Russia, the Arctic Council and the Arctic in general are in need of a fundamentally balanced and strong policy regarding this question. It would serve the common interests of Canada and Russia to spearhead this, either bilaterally or within the Arctic Council. Though this is probably not enough for rapprochement, it has the potential for further Canadian-Russian cooperation in the region. If both Russia and Canada take a proactive coordinated stance on the matter, the two “Arctic Giants” are in the position to affect and form future Arctic policy, especially in regard to the matter of non-Arctic states.

In addition to the institutional interaction between Canada and Russia in the Arctic Council, the nature of the Arctic and its vast territories means that no state can self-sufficiently operate without at least a minimal degree of bilateral or multilateral communication and cooperation with other Arctic states. Neither Russia, nor Canada, nor the United States have such developed infrastructure or fleets of icebreakers to accomplish such a task alone. In the scenario of an oil spill, search-and-rescue mission, or for the purpose of Arctic tourism, bilateral cooperation is a necessity. Here Canada and Russia are in a position to accelerate and expand cooperation on a series of matters. Cooperation could be expanded into other spheres of mutual importance, such as technological and scientific research, oil-spill prevention, conservation, or economic spheres such as shipping. Likewise, both Canada and Russia’s new Arctic policies place importance on the development of northern communities, improving the quality of life of northern peoples, and the protection of the environment. Many of these spheres, some of which are already covered by the Arctic Council or have other bilateral treaties in place, succeed in circumventing overtly political or controversial fields for Russia and Canada as well as military competition between the two states.

In considering Russia and Canada’s aims, interests, and points of contention in the Arctic upon the backdrop of deteriorating relations in other international contexts, the notion of Arctic cooperation presents concrete possibilities of communication, cooperation, and — albeit with much time and effort — an improvement in relations between the two states. Canadian-Russian relations have not come to a stark halt. Rather, certain international spheres have endured the weakening of relations due to the Ukraine Crisis. As it is unlikely that Canada and Russia will find common ground on the matter of Ukraine in the near future, especially considering the increasingly intense dialogue between the two and the war in Eastern Ukraine, Canada and Russia will be required to focus on other real and potential spheres of possible cooperation. Foremostly, this will include greater coordination within the Arctic and Arctic Council. As a result of global warming and melting ice, in the coming years and decades the Arctic territories will take on immense geopolitical and geoeconomic importance. As Canada and Russia have more mutual concerns than points of contention in the Arctic, Arctic affairs do and, in the future, will represent the most formidable backdrop for an easing of tensions. It would thus be advisable for both Russia and Canada to maintain a proactive approach to Arctic affairs. This does not denote ignoring military and defense matters in the Arctic, despite the small probability of a conflict, but rather focusing on aspects that are relevant to the national security and interests of both states. In this regard, in the case of a conflict, Canada will fall in line with its NATO partners. Russia, for its part, has already placed a focus on the security and military dimension of its Arctic territories. Therefore, in conclusion, the spheres of real and potential cooperation offer Canada and Russia a basic level of opportunity to improve weakened relations without having to concede on vital points of each states’ respective foreign policy. Russia and Canada would do better to shift the narrative of the conflict between them to more proactive spheres of mutual benefit, which would result in an increased level of positive cooperation.

1. Adam Tereszowski, “Securing Canada’s Sovereignty in the Arctic,” Potentia (2010): 80.

2. Government of Canada, “Arctic and Northern Policy Framework International Chapter.”

3. Ibid.

4. Andrew Chater, “Three Takeaways from Canada’s Arctic and Northern Policy.”

5. Maria L. Lagutina and Natalia Yu. Markushina, “The Arctic Region and the New North: the Russian Approach” in Russia and the World: Understanding International Relations, ed., N. Tsvetkova (Langham: Lexington Books, 2017), 325-357.

6. The Arctic, “Путин отметил важность сотрудничества стран Арктического совета”; Официальный интернет-портал правовой информации, Указ Президента Российской Федерации от 05.03.2020 № 164 “Об Основах государственной политики Российской Федерации в Арктике на период до 2035 года”.“

7. Kommersant.ru, „Путин утвердил основы госполитики в Арктике до 2035 года,“; Официальный интернет-портал правовой информации, Указ Президента Российской Федерации от 05.03.2020 № 164 “Об Основах государственной политики Российской Федерации в Арктике на период до 2035 года”.“

From our partner RIAC

Doctoral candidate at Heidelberg University, International Relations MA Candidate, St. Petersburg State University

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Americas

The hegemony of knowledge and the new world order: U.S. and the rest of the world

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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 [1997], 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)

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Hardened US and Iranian positions question efficacy of parties’ negotiating tactics

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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.”

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Wendy Sherman’s China visit takes a terrible for the US turn

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Photo: Miller Center/ flickr

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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