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Iran, JCPOA, Trump, Biden: History and prospects

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On January 20, 2021 the newly elected US President Joseph Biden was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States. It looks like none of the previous 45 presidents had to deal with such a huge burden of problems inherited from the predecessor, both in domestic and foreign policies.

On his first day in office President Biden signed about 15 decrees that annul a number of resolutions by the ex-President Donald Trump.However, it is hardly possible to wipe out all of Trump’s provocatively empathizing decrees with just one go even if at such a high level. This requires scrupulous work. And it is this kind of work that is needed with regards to the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI).

Many political analysts, including those in America, believe that foreign policy will not top the agenda of the Biden administration. Nevertheless, he will have to tackle many issues which resulted from Trump’s policy beyond the bounds of the US. One of the most pressing ones is the Middle East, which abounds in hot spots.

What makes the issue of the Middle East special is that no matter where the newly  elected president casts his reformist glance – on US-Arab and US-Israeli relations, on Palestinian-Israeli conflict, on the situation in Yemen and Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, Afghanistan and Kurdistan, in the  Persian Gulf – everywhere he faces Iran. Tehran has spread its influence to nearly the whole of the Middle East.

The main thing is to reactivate JCPOA

Given the situation, the administration of Joe Biden, who repeatedly called for a diplomatic solution to the Iranian issue, is doomed to a dialogue with IRI. Here, the new president is destined to encounter a variety of “stumbling blocks” which, in the opinion of Washington, incorporate human rights in Iran, Iran’s policies in the region and worldwide, its missile program, and its nuclear project. However, no one doubts that the nuclear program is of primary importance and of global value. A solution to the Iranian nuclear program would both stabilize the nuclear non-proliferation regime and would pave the way if not for a complete and final settlement of the other Iran- and region – related issues, then to a comprehensive discussion and to the arrival at mutual understanding on the positions of the opponents, which will, undoubtedly, reduce the existing tension.

For today, a key point in addressing the Iranian nuclear issue is re-activation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), in which both Tehran (the US sanctions are stifling the Iranian economy), and Washington (the political ideologeme of Democrat Joe Biden) are equally interested in. All this makes a promising signal to getting down to work.

As is known, the JCPOA was adopted by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, as well as by Germany, the European Union and Iran in July 2015, was approved by the UN Security Council. Its purpose is to contain the IRI’s nuclear program, and to intensify the IAEA’s control of it with a view to prevent the possibility of creating nuclear weapons in exchange for the lifting of financial, economic and trade sanctions, imposed earlier by the IRI opponents. JCPOA provisions remain valid 5-25 years.

Iran’s commitments under the JCPOA Treaty somewhat differed from those of the counteragents. IRI was required to carry out a complicated technical restructuring of its nuclear infrastructure, take a wide range of measures to reduce, and in some areas, to curtail research and development projects, and to change nuclear research programs. Even taking into account the participation and assistance of the Iranian counteragents on the JCPOA and the IAEA, this means extensive but necessary for the nuclear non-proliferation, work.

Meanwhile, the United States (in the first place) and the European Union vowed to lift all anti-Iranian sanctions, introduced in connection with the Iranian  nuclear program.

The adoption of the JCPOA opened up new opportunities to settle the Iranian nuclear issue and create a precedent for resolving nuclear and other disputable issues that emerge worldwide using the experience and example of this treaty.

However, Donald Trump, who came to power in the US in January 2017, struck a deadly knockout blow at this reasonable nuclear agreement. On May 8, 2018 President Trump pulled the USA out of the JCPOA Treaty and slapped tough sanctions on the IRI. Tehran had to respond – on May 8, 2019 it launched a stage-by-stage process to stop implementing the requirements set by the nuclear deal.

JCPOA – collapse history and the present

USA. President Trump, on leaving the nuclear agreement, recalled American experts and scientists who under the Plan worked in Iran carrying out the restructuring of the IRI nuclear infrastructure, reformatting the nuclear facilities so as to make them unfit for being used to produce nuclear weapons. For instance, a working group consisting of representatives of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, the Atomic Energy Agency of China and the US Energy Department was set up to work on the heavy water reactor IR-40 in Araks, with a capacity of producing up to 10 kg of weapons-grade plutonium a year, which is equivalent to the amount of fissionable material needed for about two-three nuclear warheads on the basis of plutonium. In 2017 the Americans left the facility. The same happened to the other US projects within the JCPOA. The US also stopped financing projects aimed at implementing the provisions of the nuclear agreement.

The Trump administration did not withdraw from the nuclear deal without pomp, pulling a PR trigger by bringing back the former sanctions and introducing the tougher ones (all in all, about 100 sanctions), and deliberately delaying the process of lifting anti-Iranian sanctions on the part of the EU.

European Union. Britain, France and Germany, as participants and co-authors of JCPOA, came up against President Trump’s policy on Iran. With the approval of Russia and China, European countries managed to work out, register and launch the Instrument for Supporting Trade Exchanges with Iran – INSTEX. Unfortunately, this Instrument proved ineffective under the pressure of US sanctions, which affected any legal and physical persons that had business ties with the IRI.

Moreover, Trump’s sanctions hit hard not only on the Iranian economy, but also on the reconstruction of Iranian nuclear facilities within the JCPOA. In May 2020 the United States annulled temporary exemptions from the earlier introduced regime of sanctions against the Iranian nuclear program. These exemptions made it possible for Tehran to obtain assistance from JCPOA signatories in acting on the Plan’s requirements to present guarantees of the peaceful nature of its nuclear program. They affected, in the first place, projects which were pursued (without Americans) by Russian, Chinese, European scientists and experts in compliance with the requirements of the JCPOA. This concerns operations on the Fordo works and on the Araks reactor.

European participants of the nuclear deal were unable to resist the American sanctions. By early 2021 the JCPOA de facto ceased to exist, under the attack of the US.

Russia and China. These countries – co-authors and active participants in negotiating, signing and implementing the JCPOA, which opposed any sanctions, – did their utmost to preserve the nuclear deal. That Iran has not de jure pulled out of it is to the credit of Moscow and Beijing.

Iran. Exactly a year after the US withdrawal from the JCPOA on May 8, 2019 Tehran announced a gradual pullout of its commitments under the nuclear deal. During this period Iranians returned their nuclear program to the 2015 level, and even exceeded this level on some points.

Iran breached the JCPOA (which was inevitable under the circumstances) practically on all points.

Tehran stopped the restructuring of the Fordo nuclear facility into a research center, so the plant will again become a uranium enrichment facility. The Natanz nuclear complex has expanded its capacity. The heavy water reactor in Araks is returning to its original state of a weapons-grade plutonium plant.

The number of active centrifuges is rising, as more and more cascades are formed of them. Being commissioned are the  cutting-edge maximum efficiency centrifuges IR-2m, IR-4, IR-6.

Uranium enrichment level is rising from the permissible 3,67% to 4,1 and 20%.

The volume of enriched uranium reserves allowed under the agreement has increased 12 times. Heavy water reserves are on the rise as well.

The production of yellow cake (a uranium concentrate produced from uranium ore) which is used as a foundation for further enrichment, has increased eightfold.

IRI has launched preparations for the production of uranium metal, which can be used in nuclear reactors and weapons. It has to be explained that even weapons-grade uranium which is enriched in centrifuges to 90 % is not an explosive but a gas, which is not enough to produce an atomic bomb. To make it a weapon gaseous uranium needs to undergo a specific technological treatment which includes at least four or five stages. As a result, gas turns into a metal, which is used for making a nuclear warhead. Until recently, experts had doubts that Iran possesses the high technology and chemically pure substances to complete the process of transforming uranium from gas into metal. Now, it appears, that there are no more such doubts.

On December 1, 2020 Majlis ratified the “Strategic Plan for Counteracting Sanctions” as law. On December 2 the law received the approval of the Supervisory Council. This document stipulates activization and intensification of IRI’s nuclear research, sets the uranium production limit at 120kg of 20% uranium per year, provides for accumulating uranium reserves, for using at least 1000 IR-2m centrifuges in underground facilities of the Natanz center, and for transferring all enrichment, research and development operations with the use of IR-6 centrifuges to a nuclear  plant in  Fordo.

Speaking in Majlis on December 1, deputy Abolfazl Amoui said that the Plan is designed to unlock the ban on the Iranian nuclear program and achieve the goals set by the “nuclear martyr” Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, who was killed by terrorists suspected of ties with Israel.

On January 4 IRI announced the start of uranium enrichment to 20%. The next day they obtained the first results. Soon afterwards Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) representative Behrouz Kamalvandi announced that Iran had made so much progress in the nuclear area that “we can easily enrich uranium to any level, even higher than 40, 60 and 90”. Mr.Kamalvandi specified that “in accordance with the new law (The Strategic Plan for Counteracting Sanctions) the AEOI is allowed to enrich uranium to more than 20% if it is necessary for other industries”, adding that “we are contemplating other industries as well”.He did not specify, however, which industries he meant exactly. Could they be the military ones?

Iran’s view on the solution of the JCPOA problem

The law stipulates that within two months after its adoption (February 2021), the Iranian government is to suspend the regulating access of IAEA inspectors, in accordance with the nuclear deal, along with the Additional Protocol to the Agreement on IAEA Guarantees . Three months after the adoption of the law, if Iran’s banking operations in Europe and the volume of oil purchases from Iran do not return to a satisfactory level, the government will have to discontinue the voluntary implementation of the Additional Protocol.

Majlis Deputy Ahmad Amirabadi pointed out on January 9 that if sanctions against IRI were not cancelled by February 21, particularly in banking, finance, and oil, “Iran will send IAEA experts out of the country and will surely discontinue the voluntary implementation of the Additional Protocol…<…>. The new administration of the US will get down to work on January 21. We have given the Americans one month to cancel sanctions, otherwise IRI will defend the interests of its people”. Saying that the main purpose of the JCPOA was  the lifting of sanctions, which did not happen, the deputy concluded: «We see no reasons for acting on our commitments until sanctions are lifted».

The above mentioned deputy Abolfazl Amoui confirmed on January 8: «Iran’s major goal in JCPOA is the cancellation of sanctions».

Speaking on television the same day, Iran’s Supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei said that the parliamentary decision (The Strategic Plan for Counteracting Sanctions), and the government’s measures to cut down on the commitments under the JCPOA are the right thing to do and are fully rational: «The Islamic Republic has been acting on its commitments, but in a situation when the other party is not acting on their commitments, we find it pointless to  act on ours (under the JCPOA)». He added: «Of course, if the other side returns to their commitments, we will return to ours as well».

Ayatollah Khamenei emphasized: «We do not insist on the US returning to the nuclear agreement. Whether they will do it or not is not our business. We demand the lifting of sanctions. This is a right, earned by the Iranian people». In his words, the United States and European countries must guarantee Iranians this right.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who was in Moscow, told his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov at a joint press conference on January 26: «What we have heard from the new US administration is just words. We will react to actions». In his words, when the United States lifts the illegally imposed sanctions, which run counter to the JCPOA and Resolution 2231 of the UN Security Council, when they stop punishing law-abiding countries, Iran will be ready to react in an appropriate way. That is, it appears that Tehran will be prepared to return to a complete implementation of its commitments under the JCPOA as soon as the United States lifts the sanctions.

However, Iran’s opponents have little time, if at all, Iranian experts say. IRI government representative Ali Rabei has said that the United States and European countries of the JCPOA will not have a window of opportunities for acting on their commitments for ever. According to the schedule, the law approved by parliament, Mr.Rabei pointed out, the first steps to cut the number of inspectors working under the Additional Protocol will be taken in the first week of March. But inspectors working under the general Agreement on IAEA guarantees will continue their regular work as before.

Clarifying Russia’s position on the JCPOA, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said  during a visit of his Iranian counterpart: «We are worried that Iran has to depart from acting on its voluntary  commitments under the JCPOA. We understand that the problem stems from systematic years-long violation by the Trump administration of their commitments under Resolution 2231 of the UN Security Council, which approved the JCPOA». The Russian minister expressed hope for a favorable outcome: «We hope that the currently taken efforts will produce good results and will preserve the JCPOA, and that the United States will get back to implementing the above mentioned resolution. This, in turn, will create conditions for complying with all the requirements of the nuclear deal by the Islamic Republic of Iran».

However, the path towards a positive solution of the “Iranian issue” which would satisfy all parties, is thorny.

Even a perfunctory analysis of the work and statements by Iranian authorities suggest that Iran is ready to return to the scrupulous implementation of requirements under the JCPOA and cancel all the activities that go beyond the bounds of the Plan but ONLY AFTER the lifting of sanctions on the part of the United States and other countries. The deadline for decision taking (first of all, in Washington) is limited by the Iranians to two or three months. Next could come the withdrawal of IRI from the  JCPOA de jure and the  breakage of many agreements with the  IAEA with unpredictable, but, clearly catastrophic, consequences.

But, considering the critical social and economic situation at home, the Iranian leadership will have to start a dialogue with the USA. It might be because of this that Tehran is urgently intensifying its nuclear activity and toughening its rhetoric, so that it could accumulate enough bargaining power ahead of an inevitable dialogue with the USA and other participants in the JCPOA.

US glance on the solution of the JCPOA issue

New US President Joe Biden said during his election campaign that he was willing to return the United States in the JCPOA and act towards resolving a whole range of issues related to Iran. He presented his plan in one of his September interviews: “First, I will make an unshakable commitment to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. Second, I will offer Tehran a credible path back to diplomacy. If Iran returns to strict compliance with the nuclear deal, the United States would rejoin the agreement as a starting point for follow-on negotiations. With our allies, we will work to strengthen and extend the nuclear deal’s provisions, while also addressing other issues of concern.  <…>. Third, we will continue to push back against Iran’s destabilizing activities, which threaten our friends and partners in the region. <…> We will continue to use targeted sanctions against Iran’s human rights abuses, its support for terrorism and ballistic missile program”.

In brief, Biden’s idea is the following: negotiations – yes! (on the American conditions), but not only on the nuclear program, but on Iranian missiles, IRI’s activities in the  Middle East and on human rights.

Having estimated Joe Biden’s position on the Iranian issue, we can state with 100% confidence that to resolve the range of problems outlined by the president in the foreseeable future is impossible. Tehran has no intention of conducting a dialogue with Washington on issues other than the nuclear one, which is closely connected to the lifting of sanctions.

In the above mentioned televised address IRI’s Supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei said that any future talks with the West should be confined to the nuclear problem. In his opinion, Washington is the one trying to destabilize the region, whereas Tehran is the stabilizing agent, which must strengthen its friends in the region. Consequently, he made it clear that Iran’s regional presence would continue.

In the same way, Khamenei described the missile program and other military efforts as defensive, saying that the West wanted Iran to be “defenseless” so that enemies “would not be afraid to bombard our cities”, as Saddam Hussein did in the past decades. He argued that by improving its missile arsenal and other systems, Iran would be able to contain its enemies and make them reckon with Iran.

As for the JCPOA, there are differences in principle between the positions of Ayatollah Khamenei and President Biden. Both put forward their conditions, insisting on the first move of the opponent. Biden requires IRI to return to the “nuclear condition” of 2015 before the US could lift sanctions, while Ayatollah Khamenei wants, in the first place, the lifting of American and other countries’ sanctions before it could return gradually to the JCPOA. Naturally, such positions lead to a deadlock.

In order to overcome this hypothetical deadlock (hypothetical because practical work on the reactivation of the JCPOA is yet to begin) the United States is considering several scenarios. Tough and mild. Dennis Ross, former special adviser to President Barrack Obama, now an employee of the Washington Institute of Middle East Policy, presents both.

The former option presupposes the use of the so-called “reserves” built by Trump. Dennis Ross, together with co-author Juan Zarate, writes: “The Trump administration’s wholesale withdrawal from the Iran nuclear agreement was a mistake and has given Iran an excuse to accelerate its nuclear program. Yet its “maximum pressure” campaign has certainly created leverage that should not be discounted. The supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, may be trying to force Iran onto the Biden administration’s agenda by, among other things, enriching uranium to 20% and showing that the Islamic Republic presents a problem that must be addressed. But, as his words in a recent speech indicate, the Iranian leader is doing so not because he wants the U.S. to rush to rejoin the nuclear deal but because he wants sanctions relief — which Iran should not get for free.”

In his other article on Iran and the JCPOA Dennis Ross suggests using temporary agreements on specific issues related to the nuclear problem. One option would be to allow Iran access to some frozen Iranian accounts in exchange for freezing or reducing the reserves of low-grade uranium, or allowing some countries to purchase Iranian oil in exchange for Iran’s demolishing cascades of present-day centrifuges.In essence, this is a «step by step» method, which, undoubtedly, makes the solution-finding process longer, but on the other hand, with every step it adds to mutual trust, which the two sides are lacking at the moment. Incidentally, the «step by step» method for solving the Iranian nuclear problem was suggested in 2011, by Sergei Lavrov, and this  method  has proved its efficiency for the JCPOA.

Conclusion

The International Crisis Group believes, and not without reason, that the arrival of the Biden administration in January 2021 may become instrumental in overcoming the nuclear and regional confrontation between the United States and the IRI. A revival of the American-Iranian diplomatic ties on the basis of the JCPOA could bring back this agreement’s considerable advantages in non-proliferation, revive contacts, which faded away overshadowed by the aggressive US maximalism towards Iran, and suggest the prospect of discussing issues beyond the nuclear dossier, in a constructive, rather than a confrontational manner. In the future, a nuclear agreement could pave the way to a dialogue between Iran and the Arab countries of the Gulf, supporting a diplomatic process backed by foreign and regional powers.

But a transition from confrontation to cooperation is bound to be a difficult process, which will require rising above the high level of mutual distrust and hard-going talks.

From our partner International Affairs

Senior research assistant at RAS Institute of Oriental Studies, candidate of historical sciences

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Early Elections in Canada: Will the Fourth Wave Get in the Way?

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On August 15, Justin Trudeau, the Prime Minister of Canada and leader of the Liberal Party, announced an early parliamentary election and scheduled it for September 20, 2021. Canadian legislation allows the federal government to be in power up to 5 years, so normally, the elections should have been held in 2023. However, the government has the right to call early elections at any time. This year, there will be 36 days for the pre-election campaigns.

At the centre of the Liberals’ election campaign is the fight against the COVID-19 epidemic in Canada and the economic recovery. The coronavirus has also become a motivator for early elections. In his statement, Justin Trudeau emphasised that “Canadians need to choose how we finish the fight against COVID-19 and build back better. Canadians deserve their say, and that’s exactly what we are going to give them.” Thus, the main declared goal of the Liberals is to get a vote of confidence from the public for the continuation of the measures taken by the government.

The goal, which the prime minister did not voice, is the desire of the Liberal Party to win an absolute majority in the Parliament. In the 2019 elections, the Liberals won 157 seats, which allowed them to form a minority government, which is forced to seek the support of opposition parties when making decisions.

The somewhat risky move of the Liberals can be explained. The Liberals decided to take advantage of the high ratings of the ruling party and the prime minister at the moment, associated with a fairly successful anti-COVID policy, hoping that a high level of vaccination (according to official data, 71% of the Canadian population, who have no contraindications, are fully vaccinated and the emerging post-pandemic economic recovery will help it win a parliamentary majority.

Opinion polls show that the majority of Canadians approve Trudeau’s strategy to overcome the coronavirus pandemic. Between the 2019 elections and the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Trudeau’s government was unpopular, with ratings below 30%. Unlike Donald Trump, Trudeau’s approval rating soared after the outbreak of the pandemic to 55%. During the election campaign, the rating of the Liberal Party decreased and was 31.6% on September 16, which reduces the chances of a landslide victory.

Trudeau left unanswered the question of whether he’d resign if his party fails to win an absolute majority in the elections.

Leaders of opposition parties—the Conservative Party, the New Democratic Party, Bloc Québécois, and the Green Party—criticised Trudeau’s decision to call early elections, considering the decision inappropriate for the timing and situation with regard to the risk of the fourth wave of the coronavirus epidemic. They stressed that the government’s primary task should be taking measures to combat the pandemic and restore the economy, rather than trying to hold onto power.

The on-going pandemic will change the electoral process. In the event of a fourth wave, priority will be given to postal voting. Liberal analysts are concerned that the registration process to submit ballots by mail could stop their supporters from voting, thereby undermining Trudeau’s drive to reclaim a majority government. However, postal voting is the least popular among voters of the Conservative Party, and slightly more popular among voters of the Liberal and New Democratic parties. The timeframe for vote-counting will be increased. While ballots are usually counted on the morning after election day, it can take up to five days for postal voting.

One of the key and most attractive campaign messages of the Liberal Party is the reduction of the average cost of childcare services. Liberals have promised to resolve this issue for many years, but no active action has been taken. Justin Trudeau noted that the pandemic has highlighted the importance of this issue.

As in the 2019 elections, the Liberal Party’s key rival will be the Conservative Party, led by new leader Erin O’Toole. The Conservative Party’s rating a five days before the election was 31.3%. Conservatives suggest a different approach to childcare—providing a refundable child tax subsidy that covers up to 75% of the cost of kindergarten for low-income families. Trudeau has been harshly criticised by the Conservatives in connection with the scale of spending under his leadership, especially during the pandemic, and because of billion-dollar promises. In general, the race will not be easy for the conservative O’Toole. This is the first time he is running for the post of prime minister, in contrast to Justin Trudeau. Moreover, the Conservative Party of Canada is split from within, and the candidate is faced with the task of consolidating the party. The Conservative will have to argue against the billion-dollar promises which were made by the ruling Liberals before the elections.

The leaders of the other parties have chances to increase their seats in Parliament compared to the results of the 2019 elections, but they can hardly expect to receive the necessary number of votes to form a government. At the same time, the personal popularity of Jagmeet Singh, the candidate from the New Democratic Party, is growing, especially among young people. The level of his popularity at the end of August was 19.8%. Singh intends to do everything possible to steal progressive voters from the Liberal Party and prevent the formation of a Liberal-majority government. Singh will emphasise the significant role of the NDP under the minority government in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and highlight that it was the New Democratic Party that was able to influence government decisions and measures to support the population during the pandemic.

Bloc Québécois leader Yves-François Blanchet, whose popularity level was 6.6%, intends to increase the Bloc’s presence in Parliament and prevent the loss of votes in the province of Quebec in favour of the Liberal Party. According to him, it is fundamentally important to protect the French language and the ideas of secularism. The Bloc Québécois is also not interested in the formation of a majority government by the Liberals.

Green Party leader Annamie Paul is in a difficult position due to internal party battles. Moreover, her rating is low: 3.5%. Higher party officials have even tried to pass a no-confidence vote against her. Annamie Paul’s goal is, in principle, to get a seat in Parliament in order to be able to take part in voting on important political issues. The Greens are focused on climate change problems, the principles of social justice, assistance to the most needy segments of the population, and the fight against various types of discrimination.

Traditionally, foreign policy remains a peripheral topic of the election campaign in Canada. This year, the focus will be on combating the COVID-19 epidemic, developing the social sphere, and economic recovery, which will push foreign policy issues aside even further.

The outcome of the elections will not have a significant impact on Russian-Canadian relations. An all-party anti-Russian consensus has developed in Canada; none of the parties have expressed any intention of developing a dialogue with Russia.

From our partner RIAC

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Interpreting the Biden Doctrine: The View From Moscow

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Official White House Photo by Carlos Fyfe

It is the success or failure of remaking America, not Afghanistan, that will determine not just the legacy of the Biden administration, but the future of the United States itself.

The newly unveiled Biden doctrine, which renounces the United States’ post-9/11 policies of remaking other societies and building nations abroad, is a foreign policy landmark. Coming on the heels of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, it exudes credibility. Indeed, President Biden’s moves essentially formalize and finalize processes that have been under way for over a decade. It was Barack Obama who first pledged to end America’s twin wars—in Iraq and Afghanistan—started under George W. Bush. It was Donald Trump who reached an agreement with the Taliban on a full U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021. Both Obama and Trump also sought, albeit in strikingly different ways, to redirect Washington’s attention to shoring up the home base.

It is important for the rest of the world to treat the change in U.S. foreign policy correctly. Leaving Afghanistan was the correct strategic decision, if grossly overdue and bungled in the final phases of its implementation. Afghanistan certainly does not mean the end of the United States as a global superpower; it simply continues to be in relative and slow decline. Nor does it spell the demise of American alliances and partnerships. Events in Afghanistan are unlikely to produce a political earthquake within the United States that would topple President Biden. No soul searching of the kind that Americans experienced during the Vietnam War is likely to emerge. Rather, Washington is busy recalibrating its global involvement. It is focusing even more on strengthening the home base. Overseas, the United States is moving from a global crusade in the name of democracy to an active defense of liberal values at home and Western positions abroad.

Afghanistan has been the most vivid in a long series of arguments that persuaded Biden’s White House that a global triumph of liberal democracy is not achievable in the foreseeable future. Thus, remaking problematic countries—“draining the swamp” that breeds terrorism, in the language of the Bush administration—is futile. U.S. military force is a potent weapon, but no longer the means of first resort. The war on terror as an effort to keep the United States safe has been won: in the last twenty years, no major terrorist attacks occurred on U.S. soil. Meantime, the geopolitical, geoeconomic, ideological, and strategic focus of U.S. foreign policy has shifted. China is the main—some say, existential—challenger, and Russia the principal disrupter. Iran, North Korea, and an assortment of radical or extremist groups complete the list of adversaries. Climate change and the pandemic have risen to the top of U.S. security concerns. Hence, the most important foreign policy task is to strengthen the collective West under strong U.S. leadership.

The global economic recession that originated in the United States in 2007 dealt a blow to the U.S.-created economic and financial model; the severe domestic political crisis of 2016–2021 undermined confidence in the U.S. political system and its underlying values; and the COVID-19 disaster that hit the United States particularly hard have all exposed serious political, economic, and cultural issues and fissures within American society and polity. Neglecting the home base while engaging in costly nation-building exercises abroad came at a price. Now the Biden administration has set out to correct that with huge infrastructure development projects and support for the American middle class.

America’s domestic crises, some of the similar problems in European countries, and the growing gap between the United States and its allies during the Trump presidency have produced widespread fears that China and Russia could exploit those issues to finally end U.S. dominance and even undermine the United States and other Western societies from within. This perception is behind the strategy reversal from spreading democracy as far and wide as Russia and China to defending the U.S.-led global system and the political regimes around the West, including in the United States, from Beijing and Moscow.

That said, what are the implications of the Biden doctrine? The United States remains a superpower with enormous resources which is now trying to use those resources to make itself stronger. America has reinvented itself before and may well be able to do so again. In foreign policy, Washington has stepped back from styling itself as the world’s benign hegemon to assume the combat posture of the leader of the West under attack.

Within the collective West, U.S. dominance is not in danger. None of the Western countries are capable of going it alone or forming a bloc with others to present an alternative to U.S. leadership. Western and associated elites remain fully beholden to the United States. What they desire is firm U.S. leadership; what they fear is the United States withdrawing into itself. As for Washington’s partners in the regions that are not deemed vital to U.S. interests, they should know that American support is conditional on those interests and various circumstances. Nothing new there, really: just ask some leaders in the Middle East. For now, however, Washington vows to support and assist exposed partners like Ukraine and Taiwan.

Embracing isolationism is not on the cards in the United States. For all the focus on domestic issues, global dominance or at least primacy has firmly become an integral part of U.S. national identity. Nor will liberal and democratic ideology be retired as a major driver of U.S. foreign policy. The United States will not become a “normal” country that only follows the rules of realpolitik. Rather, Washington will use values as a glue to further consolidate its allies and as a weapon to attack its adversaries. It helps the White House that China and Russia are viewed as malign both across the U.S. political spectrum and among U.S. allies and partners, most of whom have fears or grudges against either Moscow or Beijing.

In sum, the Biden doctrine does away with engagements that are no longer considered promising or even sustainable by Washington; funnels more resources to address pressing domestic issues; seeks to consolidate the collective West around the United States; and sharpens the focus on China and Russia as America’s main adversaries. Of all these, the most important element is domestic. It is the success or failure of remaking America, not Afghanistan, that will determine not just the legacy of the Biden administration, but the future of the United States itself.

From our partner RIAC

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AUKUS aims to perpetuate the Anglo-Saxon supremacy

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Image credit: ussc.edu.au

On September 15, U.S. President Joe Biden worked with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison together to unveil a trilateral alliance among Australia-U.K.-U.S. (AUKUS), which are the major three among the Anglo-Saxon nations (also including Canada and New Zealand). Literally, each sovereign state has full right to pursue individual or collective security and common interests. Yet, the deal has prompted intense criticism across the world including the furious words and firm acts from the Atlantic allies in Europe, such as France that is supposed to lose out on an $40-billion submarine deal with Australia to its Anglo-Saxon siblings—the U.K. and the U.S.

               Some observers opine that AUKUS is another clear attempt by the U.S. and its allies aggressively to provoke China in the Asia-Pacific, where Washington had forged an alliance along with Japan, India and Australia in the name of the Quad. AUKUS is the latest showcase that three Anglo-Saxon powers have pretended to perpetuate their supremacy in all the key areas such as geopolitics, cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, and quantum computing. In short, the triple deal is a move designed to discourage or thwart any future Chinese bid for regional hegemony. But diplomatically its impacts go beyond that. As French media argued that the United States, though an ally of France, just backstabs it by negotiating AUKUS in secret without revealing the plan. Given this, the deal among AUKUS actually reflects the mentality of the Anglo-Saxon nations’ superiority over others even if they are not outrageously practicing an imperialist policy in the traditional way.

               Historically, there are only two qualified global powers which the Europeans still sometimes refer to as “Anglo-Saxon” powers: Great Britain and the United States. As Walter Mead once put it that the British Empire was, and the United States is, concerned not just with the balance of power in one particular corner of the world, but with the evolution of what it is today called “world order”. Now with the rise of China which has aimed to become a global power with its different culture and political views from the current ruling powers, the Anglo-Saxon powers have made all efforts to align with the values-shared allies or partners to create the strong bulwarks against any rising power, like China and Russia as well. Physically, either the British Empire or the United States did or does establish a worldwide system of trade and finance which have enabled the two Anglo-Saxon powers to get rich and advanced in high-technologies. As a result, those riches and high-tech means eventually made them execute the power to project their military force that ensure the stability of their-dominated international systems. Indeed the Anglo-Saxon powers have had the legacies to think of their global goals which must be bolstered by money and foreign trade that in turn produces more wealth. Institutionally, the Anglo-Saxon nations in the world—the U.S., the U.K, Canada, Australia and New Zealand—have formed the notorious “Five eyes alliance” to collect all sorts of information and data serving their common core interests and security concerns.

This is not just rhetoric but an objective reflection of the mentality as Australian Foreign Minister Payne candidly revealed at the press conference where she said that the contemporary state of their alliance “is well suited to cooperate on countering economic coercion.” The remarks imply that AUKUS is a military response to the rising economic competition from China because politics and economics are intertwined with each other in power politics, in which military means acts in order to advance self-interested economic ends. In both geopolitical and geoeconomic terms, the rise of China, no matter how peaceful it is, has been perceived as the “systematic” challenges to the West’s domination of international relations and global economy, in which the Anglo-Saxon superiority must remain. Another case is the U.S. efforts to have continuously harassed the Nord Stream 2 project between Russia and Germany.

Yet, in the global community of today, any superpower aspiring for pursuing “inner clique” like AUKUS will be doomed to fail. First, we all are living in the world “where the affairs of each country are decided by its own people, and international affairs are run by all nations through consultation,” as President Xi put it. Due to this, many countries in Asia warn that AUKUS risks provoking a nuclear arms race in the Asian-Pacific region. The nuclear factor means that the U.S. efforts to economically contain China through AUKUS on nationalist pretexts are much more dangerous than the run-up to World War I. Yet, neither the United States nor China likes to be perceived as “disturbing the peace” that Asian countries are eager to preserve. In reality, Asian countries have also made it clear not to take either side between the power politics.

Second, AUKUS’s deal jeopardizes the norms of international trade and treaties. The reactions of third parties is one key issue, such as the French government is furious about the deal since it torpedoes a prior Australian agreement to purchase one dozen of conventional subs from France. Be aware that France is a strong advocate for a more robust European Union in the world politics. Now the EU is rallying behind Paris as in Brussels EU ambassadors agreed to postpone preparations for an inaugural trade and technology council on September 29 with the U.S. in Pittsburgh. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen declared in a strong manner that “since one of our member states has been treated in a way that is not acceptable, so we need to know what happened and why.” Michael Roth, Germany’s minister for European affairs, went even further as he put it, “It is once again a wake-up call for all of us in the European Union to ask ourselves how we can strengthen our sovereignty, how we can present a united front even on issues relevant to foreign and security policy.” It is the time for the EU to talk with one voice and for the need to work together to rebuild mutual trust among the allies.

Third, the deal by AUKUS involves the nuclear dimension. It is true that the three leaders have reiterated that the deal would be limited to the transfer of nuclear propulsion technology (such as reactors to power the new subs) but not nuclear weapons technology. Accordingly, Australia remains a non-nuclear country not armed with such weapons. But from a proliferation standpoint, that is a step in the direction of more extensive nuclear infrastructure. It indicates the United States and the U.K. are willing to transfer highly sensitive technologies to close allies. But the issue of deterrence in Asia-and especially extended deterrence-is extremely complicated since it will become ore so as China’s nuclear arsenal expands. If the security environment deteriorates in the years ahead, U.S. might consider allowing its core allies to gain nuclear capabilities and Australia is able to gain access to this technology as its fleet expands. Yet, it also means that Australia is not a non-nuclear country any more.

In brief, the deal itself and the triple alliance among AUKUS will take some years to become a real threat to China or the ruling authorities of the country. But the deal announced on Sept. 15 will complicate Chinese efforts to maintain a peaceful rise and act a responsible power. Furthermore, the deal and the rationales behind it is sure to impede China’s good-will to the members of AUKUS and the Quad, not mention of their irresponsible effects on peace and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region.

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