Iran Crisis – Ship Attacks in the Gulf


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Iran nuclear deal is hanging by a thread – so will Islamic Republic now develop a bomb?



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Annie Waqar, University of Westminster

The most ambitious effort to peacefully constrain the nuclear aspirations of a nation hangs by a thread. Eight years of patient and difficult negotiations to reach an agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme were cast aside when president Donald Trump withdrew US support for the deal in May 2018.

Since then, tensions between Iran and the US, a signatory to the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – alongside the UK, Germany, France, Russia and China – have escalated. Last November, the US inflamed things further by re-imposing economic sanctions targeting both Iran and the states that trade with it.

The US decision in early May to deploy an aircraft carrier strike force and B-52 bombers, in response to what Washington said was an imminent Iranian plan to attack US assets, has kept tensions at a boil.

Washington stated that the latest show of force was in response to a “campaign” of recent attacks, including a rocket launched into the Green Zone in Baghdad, explosive devices that damaged four tankers near the entrance to the Gulf, and drone attacks by Yemeni rebels on a key Saudi oil pipeline. Iran has denied any association with the incidents.

More recently, the US withdrew waivers which were part of the JCPOA deal with Iran. By revoking the waivers that enabled Iran to ship abroad excess supplies of enriched uranium and heavy water, the US has left the Islamic Republic pondering whether it should continue to comply with certain key parts of the deal.




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Iran’s foreign affairs minister, Javed Zarif, and Iraq’s foreign minister, Ali Alhakim, held a joint news conference in May, during which Zarif called on European states to do more to preserve the nuclear deal. Zarif also called the deployment of extra US troops to the Gulf region “extremely dangerous and a threat to international peace and security”.

A supportive Alhakim stated: “The sanctions against sisterly Iran are ineffective and we stand by its side.”

Certainly, sanctions have damaged Iran’s economy. The Iranian currency has hit a record low against the US dollar amid continued economic difficulties following the reimposition of sanctions, and the purchasing power of Iranians has dropped significantly. Indeed, Iran’s economy in 2019 is expected to fall deeper into recession, with estimated negative growth of 5.5% or higher.

Iran’s choice

Tehran has requested that the European signatories to the nuclear accord – France, Germany and the UK – keep the pact alive. The JCPOA sets a 3.67% limit on uranium enhancement (enough to fuel a commercial nuclear plant) and bars Iran from accumulating supplies of more than 300kg of low-enriched uranium and 130 tons of heavy water, a coolant used in nuclear reactors.

Tehran has rightly said the deal agreed to end Iran’s financial isolation in return for the strict limitations on its nuclear activities. But by bolstering sanctions, the US has scared organisations and banks into diminishing, ceasing or avoiding altogether business with Iranian partners, with serious repercussions for Iran’s economy.

Europe, by and large, has supported diplomacy with Iran. It has argued that Trump’s rejection of the deal compromises the pragmatic wing of Iran’s administration and plays into the hands of hardliners. The EU has long had questions about Tehran’s missile program, and its involvement in Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen, but it has viewed these as separate from the nuclear agreement.

Hassan Rouhani: under pressure.
Shutterstock

The economic sanctions have certainly put the moderate Iranian leader Hassan Rouhani under pressure, both internationally and domestically. Iranian hardliners argue that Iran surrendered too much in the agreement.

Rouhani has perhaps come up with a clever way of deflecting domestic criticism of him – at least for now – by suggesting that the Islamic Republic hold a referendum over its nuclear program. The official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) stated that Rouhani, who recently was openly chastised by the nation’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, made the suggestion at a gathering of senior Iranian editors on May 25.

Khamenei, who has the last say on all issues of state in Iran, has not yet responded to Rouhani’s recent proposition. The Islamic Republic has seen just three referendums since 1979: one on its change from a monarchy to an Islamic republic, and two on its constitution.

A nuclear threat?

In the meantime, Iran has also threatened to quadruple its uranium-enrichment production limit, but stressed that even this uranium would not be enhanced beyond the 3.67% limit set by the JCPOA, making it unsuitable for developing a nuclear weapon. Rouhani has also said that Tehran will keep its excess enriched uranium and heavy water rather than exporting it.

If Europe fails to find a way for business and investors to work with Iran without being penalised by US sanctions, however, Rouhani has said that Iran will begin enriching uranium even further. In principle, this more highly-enriched uranium could be used as the fissile core of a nuclear weapon. This would send Iran back on its way towards making a bomb, and mark the end of the JCPOA.

According to the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) most recent quarterly report, Iran’s enriched uranium and heavy water stocks have grown but have not exceeded the ceilings set in the nuclear agreement. This suggests that Iran continues to comply with the JCPOA – for now, at least.

So far, Iran has also abstained from getting entangled in military brinkmanship with the US. But Trump may soon face a tough choice: either engage in a military clash with Iran or return to the JCPOA. The latter may be a u-turn too far for the bellicose president.

Either way, it is difficult to convince nations to surrender nuclear weapons once they have them. In this case, everything peaceful should be done to ensure that Iran is prevented from acquiring one in the first place.The Conversation

Annie Waqar, Lecturer/Academic consultant, University of Westminster

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

US-China relations are certainly at a low point, but this is not the next Cold War



Though a Cold War between China and the US seems unlikely, there are still repercussions of a deepening rift.
Roman Pilipey/EPA

Nick Bisley, La Trobe University

Trump’s long-threatened trade war with China is now a reality. Beijing has met Washington’s sanctions with retaliatory measures as the world’s two most important economies square off.

Since Vice President Mike Pence’s speech to the Hudson Institute in October 2018, American policymakers have increasingly used hardline rhetoric toward China. FBI director Christopher Wray described China as a “whole of society threat” in testimony to Congress.

The view that China’s rise has come at the expense of the US is now seen as conventional wisdom. The evidently warm relationship established by leaders Donald Trump and Xi Jinping over chocolate cake at Mar-a-Lago in 2017 seems a world away.




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Given this, it is unsurprising that many scholars and analysts have described the emergence of a new Cold War between China and the US (including myself in an essay last year).

The Cold War seems an obvious historical parallel. Like the former Soviet Union, China is also a communist country. And the US and China both have genuinely global interests and the capacity to act on those interests around the world.

But is the deteriorating state of US-China relations likely to tip the world back into the kind of ideological and geopolitical competition that dominated international politics for four decades after the second world war?

The Cold War’s unique dynamics

The Cold War was unlike any great power rivalry that has come before. Most obviously, it was the first geopolitical contest of the nuclear age. Both the US and Soviet Union rapidly developed vast arsenals of the most devastating weapons yet conceived. And their jockeying for power and influence meant that the threat of global annihilation was an ever-present risk.

But it was not just a contest for power – the Cold War was also fight between two evangelical ideologies. Each side believed their respective ideologies – liberal capitalism and Soviet communism – represented universal and fundamentally superior ways of organising society. The mobilisation of resources on a global scale, the nature of these commitments, and the risks they were willing to take was underpinned by the ideological dimensions of the contest.

The Cold War was principally focused on Europe and East Asia, yet it had a global reach. As colonial empires crumbled after 1945, the Soviets and Americans competed for influence among those fighting for their independence and the newly free. This indirect competition, which led at times to proxy wars, and its consequence of dividing the world into duelling blocs was the Cold War’s third main component.

…And a very different current world order

Sino-American relations are at their lowest point since at least 1989 and appear to be entering a level of mutual mistrust and suspicion not seen since the 1970s. Yet in spite of the trade war, explicit calls from US officials to treat China as a full-spectrum threat, and a growing militarisation of their interactions in the western Pacific, this is no Cold War.

More importantly, Sino-American relations are not even on that trajectory. And shrewd statecraft could easily avoid a repeat of the four decades when the world sat on the edge of nuclear apocalypse.

Presently, there is no meaningful ideological dimension to the competition between the two. While China is formally a communist state, its economy is an unusual mix of command, market and statist forms.




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The country also shows little interest in spreading its particular mix of ideas and values globally, although, like all great powers, it is interested in increasing its global influence. China adheres to an orthodox view of sovereignty and evinces no meaningful desire to reshape the political and economic structures of states in its own image.

Equally, the contest between the world’s top two economies has not moved beyond the Asian theatre, geo-politically. Clearly, the US is concerned that Chinese technology may be used on a global scale to advance the country’s interests, hence its very visible campaign to try to contain Huawei’s global reach, but this is a long way from using conscripts to intervene in conflicts in Vietnam and Korea.

And most obviously, the economies of the USSR and US were hermetically sealed from one another. They may as well have been on different planets, such was the sparse nature of their interactions. The US and China could not be more different.

A rivalry for a new age

Today, China presents an increasingly confident face on the global stage. It is increasingly assertive and at times even abrasive in the way it tries to advance its interests.

But it is not yet explicitly contesting the US role in Asia or indeed the world. Rather, it is testing the US-led order to probe for vulnerability and creating new institutions to try to shape the world around it, like the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the Belt and Road Initiative.




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But it is a long way from a direct confrontation. In part, this is because China’s risk appetite is not that great. But it’s also because Beijing believes it does not need to take such steps to increase its influence in the world.

For its part, the US has moved from its cautious engagement of China to a position in which it is trying to counter Chinese advances and contain its influence. Even with the tariff wars, the two remain profoundly economically interdependent and it will take many years for any real de-coupling of their relationship to occur.

The first great power rivalry of the 21st century has begun. It is not a re-run of the Cold War, however. Instead, this rivalry will look unlike any that has come before it. How acute the competition will be and the consequences for the world order will depend on the price China and the US are willing to pay to undermine and limit the other’s ambition.The Conversation

Nick Bisley, Head of Humanities and Social Sciences and Professor of International Relations at La Trobe University, La Trobe University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Trouble in the Gulf as US-Iran dispute threatens to escalate into serious conflict



US President Donald Trump’s language has only inflamed the tense situation.
AAP/EPA/Jim La Scalzo

Tony Walker, La Trobe University

The last thing the world needs at a moment of significant trade tensions between the United States and China is a Middle East crisis that would further imperil global growth.

Yet this is what is threatening in the Persian Gulf, where the US and its Arab allies are edging towards a showdown with Iran in a contested waterway through which 20% of the world’s tradeable oil passes daily.

In coordination with its Arab allies, notably Saudi Arabia, and with Israel, the US is ratcheting up pressure on Iran to wind back its support for what it terms “bad actors” in the region.

This includes Syria, Hezbollah in Lebanon, radical groups in the Palestinian territories, including Hamas, the Houthis in Yemen, and disaffected anti-regime elements in the Gulf.

While the US denies it is seeking to bring about regime change in Iran, this clearly is its hope.

Conflict is not inevitable, but risks are elevated by combative talk – and actions – from a Washington that seems bent on engaging in the sort of brinkmanship that threatens more serious conflict in a region already on edge.




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Washington’s deployment of an aircraft carrier battle group and B-52 bombers in the Gulf region is amplifying concerns.

President Donald Trump is not helping; to the contrary.

On one hand, he invites Iran’s leaders to talk. On the other, he warns of that country’s annihilation.

This sort of bombast, the antithesis of wielding a big stick and talking softly, coincides with tightening US sanctions that are doing significant damage to Iran’s economy.

These measures include sanctions imposed this month on Iran’s industrial metals sector. This sector accounts for about 10% of its export economy.

How Tehran responds to these harsh assaults on its economic lifelines is anyone’s guess, but what is certain is that its response will not be passive.

Already this month we have witnessed two sets of terrorist attacks on Gulf oil interests Iran, or its proxies, are blamed for an assault on four ships in which explosives damaged the hulls. Two of these vessels are Saudi-owned. In the second, Iran proxies are blamed for drone strikes on a Saudi Arabian oil pipeline.

In response to terrorist threats to its eastern oil-rich provinces, Saudi Arabia’s state-controlled media have begun calling for “surgical strikes” against Iranian interests.

Such action would provoke a wider conflagration.

What tends to be overlooked in all of this is the ease with which Iran, on a previous occasion, stifled oil shipments from the Gulf.

In 1984, Iran was widely believed to have been responsible for rolling second world war mines into Gulf waterways in the so-called “tanker war” with Iraq. This destroyed several vessels and brought tanker traffic to a halt for weeks.

Adding to jitters are recent reports that a Katyusha rocket fell near the American embassy in central Baghdad. Iranian-backed militias, with their strongholds across the Tigris River in the east of the city, are suspected of launching the rocket.

Washington had already ordered non-essential US personnel out of Baghdad. Oil giant ExxonMobil has begun moving employees out of the region. The US has warned commercial air traffic of increased risks in the Gulf.

This is a movie we have seen before, in the first Gulf War and in the 2003 invasion of Iraq to remove Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

Iran proved to be a significant beneficiary of the chaos that resulted from a destabilisation of the Middle East following the US-led invasion.

None of this is contributing to a stable oil market, on which the global economy rests.

On top of punitive sanctions against Iran, sanctions on Venezuela and disruptions in Libya caused by a civil war have unsettled markets.

Dramatic cuts in Iran’s oil shipments due to US-imposed sanctions followed Washington’s withdrawal last year from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) aimed at forestalling Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Until sanctions started to bite, Iran was the second-largest exporter among Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), behind Saudi Arabia. At their peak, Iranian exports were about 3 million barrels a day.

That number has now slid to 500,000 barrels or less, according to oil market analysts. But in its attempts to skirt US sanctions, Iran is no longer reporting production to OPEC and is not providing definitive information on exports.

As things stand, US sanctions are being adhered to by most importers of Iranian crude, with the likely exceptions being China and India. The US removed waivers on countries accepting Iran’s oil in November after withdrawing from the JCPOA in May 2018.

The 2015 agreement, negotiated by the Obama administration in partnership with the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany, froze Iran’s nuclear program for 15 years. The agreement was designed to provide an opportunity for the West to take counter-measures in case Iran upscaled its production of fissionable material.

By withdrawing from the JCPOA without a fallback position beyond punitive sanctions and threats of military action, the US has separated itself from its allies and left itself few options beyond further sanctions – or military threats.




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That is, unless Trump’s offers of direct negotiations with Iran’s leaders bear fruit. At this stage, a tense standoff in the world’s most volatile region is not only dangerous, it could have been avoided by the US adhering to an agreement that was far from perfect, but better than the alternative.

That alternative is estrangement from its allies on Iran, and now real risks of a further security deterioration in the volatile Gulf.

Philip Gordon, a Middle East specialist at the Council on Foreign Relations, summed up the dilemma for US policy and that of its allies rendered anxious by risks of adventurism in the Gulf in pursuit of an American goal of regime change in Tehran. He wrote that barring something extraordinary such as the collapse of the Iranian regime,

It’s hard to see how this current conflict could end without the United States backing down or with a further and very dangerous escalation. The Trump administration should have considered all this before it walked away from the nuclear deal in the first place.The Conversation

Tony Walker, Adjunct Professor, School of Communications, La Trobe University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

How to get ready as the US-China trade war spills over to other countries


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China is the world’s second largest economy.
EPA/Aleksandar Plavevski, CC BY-SA

Hongzhi Gao, Victoria University of Wellington; ivy guo, Victoria University of Wellington, and Tarek Soliman, Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research

The ever-escalating tensions in trade relations between the US and China have caught the nerve of politicians, businesses and the public. This conflict is challenging the traditional approach to trade disputes, which usually involves one of the disputing countries taking the case to the World Trade Organization (WTO) for arbitration or adjudication.

International institutions, including the WTO and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), have warned that the consequences of the conflict could include growing economic nationalism, rising protectionism and a downturn in global growth.

This will have flow-on effects for other countries such as Australia and New Zealand.




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A new framework

Both countries have developed close political ties with the US while fostering strong economic ties with China. As China is a top trading partner for Australia and New Zealand, the impact of the US-China trade war on their exports could be significant.




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Although the dollar value of any effect of the trade war is difficult to gauge, a qualitative analysis is important so that policymakers, investors and businesses can develop an informed view of this live event.

To analyse the impact of the trade war on the exports of third-party countries, we have developed a new framework.

The first factor to consider is whether an original demand for products from a disputing country has been redirected to a third-party country. For example, China’s demand for Brazil’s soybeans has sky-rocketed over the past year, with 5.07 million tonnes imported from Brazil in November 2018, up more than 80% from a year ago. It is predicted that members of the European Union, Mexico, Japan and Canada, among other countries, may capture about US$70 billion of US-China bilateral trade affected by the trade war.

The second factor is whether an original supply from one disputing country to another has been redirected to a third-party country. It has been reported that soybean exports from the US to the European Union have increased by 133% from July through mid-September 2018, compared with the same period in 2017.

European Union consumers and downstream businesses of the soybean industry, such as producers of animal feed and biofuels, have enjoyed the benefits of a lower price of soybeans as a result of the additional supply from the US.

Changing international supply chains

The third factor is whether the trade tension has disrupted the global supply chain of an industry (e.g. smartphones) that is important to the third-party country. The levies imposed by the US government on imports from China are said to destabilise international supply chains inside and outside of China that companies have invested in over years. Countries such as Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam are catching up with China in terms of manufacturing expertise and capacities. Companies from already industrialised economies such as Taiwan and South Korea are considering revamping their home country’s competitive advantages.

Uncertainty in the price and supply of intermediary goods from these countries into the third-party country’s supply chain are critical for determining the spillover effect on the third country.

The last factor is whether the focal industry in the third-party country has developed a proactive response to the risk from the trade war. A proactive response would mean that companies in the focal industry in the third-party country have started to adjust strategic investment in research and development, sourcing, and manufacturing in or outside the US or China.

Risks and opportunities

The trade war will create risks and opportunities to third-party countries such as Australia and New Zealand. Filling the supply and demand gaps caused by higher tariffs on both sides of the trade war is an opportunity for a third-party country. But this requires flexibility in production and export capabilities in companies and industries.

As the trade spat continues, it remains a balancing act for the third-party country dangling between two political and economic powers. We have already seen the tensions between the US and China spill to this region in the context of the US ban on Huawei and its persuasion of Australia and New Zealand to follow suit.

Companies such as Air New Zealand and Sanford have been reported to face challenges on “operational” matters when the country’s political relationship with China is in question.The Conversation

Hongzhi Gao, Associate professor, Victoria University of Wellington; ivy guo, research assistant, Victoria University of Wellington, and Tarek Soliman, Economist, Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Explainer: what charges does Julian Assange face, and what’s likely to happen next?


Holly Cullen, University of Western Australia

Julian Assange, the Australian cofounder of Wikileaks, was arrested on April 11 by British police at the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he had been claiming political asylum for almost seven years.

He has faced a range of criminal charges and extradition orders, and several crucial aspects of his situation remain to be resolved.

What are the British charges against Assange, and what sentence could be imposed?

Assange moved into the Ecuadorian embassy in London in June 2012 after losing the final appeal against his transfer to Sweden on a European Arrest Warrant (EAW). He was then charged with failing to surrender to the court.

While in the embassy, Assange could not be arrested because of the international legal protection of diplomatic premises, which meant police could not enter without Ecuador’s consent. On April 11, British police were invited into the embassy and made the arrest. On the same day, Assange was found guilty, and awaits sentencing. The charge of failing to surrender to the court carries a jail term of up to 12 months.

What are the US charges against Assange?

Also on April 11, the United States government unsealed an indictment made in March 2018, charging Assange with a conspiracy to help whistleblower Chelsea Manning crack a password which enabled her to pass on classified documents that were then published by WikiLeaks. The US has requested that the UK extradite Assange to face these charges before a US court.

What were the Swedish charges, and could they be revived?

In 2010, a Swedish prosecutor issued the EAW requesting Assange’s transfer to Sweden to face sexual assault allegations, which he denies. In 2016, Assange was questioned by Swedish authorities by video link while he remained in the Ecuadorian embassy. In 2017, they closed their investigation.

After Assange was arrested and removed from the embassy, the lawyer for one of the complainants indicated she would ask the prosecutor to reopen the case, as the statute of limitations on the alleged offence does not expire until 2020. As of April 12, Sweden’s Prosecution Authority is formally reviewing the case and could renew its request for extradition.

What are Britain’s legal obligations to extradite to Sweden or the US?

The UK, as a member of the European Union (for now!), is obliged to execute an EAW. The law on EAWs is similar to extradition treaties. However, the law also says it is up to the UK to decide whether to act first on the EAW from Sweden or the US extradition request.

Bilateral extradition treaties are usually based on identical reciprocal obligations. But the current UK-US extradition treaty, agreed in 2003, has been criticised for allowing the UK to extradite a person to the US solely on the basis of an allegation and an arrest warrant, without any evidence being produced, despite the fact that “probable cause” is required for extradition the other way.

The relative ease of extradition from the UK to the US has long been one of the concerns of Assange’s legal team. The treaty does not include a list of extraditable offences but allows for extradition for any non-political offence for which both states have criminalised the behaviour, which carries a sentence of at least one year in prison.

Espionage and treason are considered core “political offences”, which is why the US request is limited to the charge of computer fraud. Conspiracy to commit an extraditable offence is covered in the US-UK treaty, as it is in the EAW (and in the US-Australia extradition treaty).

Assange may legally challenge his extradition either to the US or to Sweden (as he previously did). Such challenges could take months or even years, particularly if Assange applies to the European Court of Human Rights arguing that an extradition request involved a human rights violation.

Given Assange’s previous conduct, and the likelihood that he will be sentenced to prison for failure to surrender to court, he will probably remain in a UK prison until all legal avenues are exhausted.

What are Australia’s obligations to Assange?

As an Australian citizen, Assange is entitled to consular protection by the Australian government, which means staff from the Australian High Commission in London will provide support for him in the legal process. The extent of that support is not set in stone, however, and both Foreign Minister Marise Payne and Prime Minister Scott Morrison have declined to provide detail on the basis that the matter is before the courts.

One possibility is that Assange will serve his sentence for failing to surrender to the court, after which the UK will deport him to Australia. At that point, it is possible the US could request extradition from Australia, and the US-Australian extradition treaty would apply. The US charges would most likely be covered although not specifically mentioned in the treaty.

As with the UK-US treaty, political offences are excluded, and an extradited person can only be tried for the offence in the extradition request or a related offence, and in any event not for an offence not covered by the treaty. In addition, the treaty specifies that neither Australia nor the US is obliged to extradite its own nationals, but may do so. The fact that Australia has the option to refuse extradition purely on the ground of Assange’s nationality could lead to intense pressure on the government to do just that.The Conversation

Holly Cullen, Adjunct professor, University of Western Australia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

We war-gamed an escalation of the Ukraine-Russia crisis – here’s what it taught us about the real world



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‘Games without frontiers, war without tears …’
Kirillir_makarov

Holger Nehring, University of Stirling and Megan Dee, University of Stirling

It is 9am on a chilly March morning. Delegates from across the world have assembled for an emergency meeting of the North Atlantic Council, NATO’s main decision-making body. The main item on the agenda: an update from the Supreme Allied Commander Europe on Russian escalations in Ukraine and elsewhere in Europe, to determine NATO’s response.

No one doubts the gravity of the situation. Russian forces are moving west to occupy parts of Ukraine beyond the Donbas region and the Crimea. There have also been severe Russian cyber attacks on German infrastructure, while Vladimir Putin has threatened to invade Estonia. NATO’s secretary general has asked one of his predecessors, Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, to join the meeting and share advice.

Do not adjust your set: this meeting took place, but it was a simulation – set in a very near future in which the Ukraine has joined NATO and the UK has left the EU.

These kinds of exercise are conducted regularly by NATO and national armies to anticipate what might happen in the “fog of war”. Standing in for the NATO headquarters in Brussels on this occasion was the University of Stirling in central Scotland. The delegates were students on the university’s masters programme in international conflict and cooperation, and the doctorate in diplomacy.

Lord Robertson was the only person playing himself. He briefed delegates under Chatham House rules on his time chairing NATO, including the historic decision on September 12, 2001 to invoke collective defensive action under Article 5 of the founding treaty.

Lord Robertson holds forth.
University of Stirling

Immersed in NATO’s engine room, our delegates had to strike a balance during two days of negotiations between countries advocating conflict resolution and those inclined to deterrence – if not pre-emptive action. As well as informing the students’ learning, it produced the following insights for the real world.

1. Russian capabilities

Delegates had to assess Russian defensive capabilities using real-life data. They concluded that while Russia looks strong on a country-by-country comparison, its armed forces remain stretched and are sometimes poorly equipped. Russia would probably not be able to sustain a war with NATO troops over several months, and would likely be challenged by fighting on two fronts.

Having said that, the country’s forces have recently modernised, making them more effective than a few years ago. Russia is also closer than most NATO powers to Ukraine and the Baltics, so could mobilise more quickly and potentially gain strategic advantages.

NATO action in Ukraine would be complicated by a low bridge that Russia has opened connecting Crimea to the Russian mainland. This makes it difficult for larger ships to move between Ukraine’s Black Sea ports and the Mediterranean. Russian expertise in cyber attacks and creating confusion by spreading fake news could also create disunity among NATO members.

Takeaway: the Russian bear is frail but can still bite.

2. Expect complexity

Countries in our simulation negotiated according to national interests. The multilateral negotiation splintered into smaller discussions as mini-alliances emerged. For example, Turkey – with its improving relations with Russia and exposure to potential refugees – was so conciliatory to Moscow that its NATO membership became questionable.

On the other side of the spectrum, Ukraine and also Romania, which feels threatened by Russian aggression in the Black Sea region, sought immediate offensive action. Alliances like these weren’t always visible to the outside world. They complicated negotiations, especially when such countries had essentially non-negotiable aims.

Diplomacy in action.
University of Stirling

Takeaway: things are not always what they seem, even within a negotiation. Try and stay flexible, and don’t rely on media reports about counterparts’ interests.

3. Events, events, events

Just like in real life, our delegates had to keep monitoring an internal news feed. In one announcement, Russia began mobilising after hard-line statements from certain NATO members leaked to the media on day one of the negotiation. Several times, discussions had to start from scratch as delegations changed priorities and strategies.

Takeaway: constantly ask yourself how events affect your own position and those of your counterparts.

4. Clarity under pressure

With full military intervention and occupation of Ukraine by Russia on the cards by the middle of day two, NATO allies had to deploy ground troops or risk ceding ground to Moscow. Issues agonised over the day before became less relevant as delegations were forced to compromise in the interests of collective action.

Takeaway: time pressure can make decision-making hot-headed, but can lead to clarity of purpose. Negotiators who understand this can use it to their advantage.

5. EU security

As EU members of our fictional North Atlantic Council discussed issues among themselves, we witnessed how the EU has become a geopolitical actor with “state-like” qualities. Before committing to security actions through NATO, EU members negotiated with each other and sought a coherent position.

EU and yours.
Alexandros Michailidis

One important dimension in the real world is the EU’s Russia sanctions, which are slightly different to US sanctions. With Ukraine now also party to an EU Association Agreement, the EU is demonstrating its capability to project power abroad.

Takeaway: the EU is developing its own geopolitical and security role in Europe, with potential consequences for NATO.

6. The UK squeeze

Within NATO, the UK has generally mediated between the US and usually softer EU positions. Our simulation showed that after Brexit, despite its important role as a nuclear-armed NATO member, the UK will likely feel squeezed between the US and EU.

Takeaway: the implications of Brexit for the UK in NATO deserve more attention.

7. Refugee risks

In our simulation NATO members closer to Russia, such as Poland and Hungary, were particularly worried that military action in Ukraine would lead to a large number of refugees – with potentially serious domestic political consequences.

Takeaway: we don’t always take enough account of the linkages between military and human security.

8. Take positive decisions

When the BBC war-gamed a similar scenario several years ago, the UK got drawn into a nuclear war. Our fictional delegates managed to avoid such awful outcomes by using what deterrent power they had. They combined mobilisation with the offer of talks in such a way that Russia backed off. Despite some hawkish pressure, the situation was mostly defused by dominant countries such as the US as well as conciliatory EU voices.

Takeaway: On March 18, on the fifth anniversary of annexation, NATO reiterated its view that Crimea is Ukrainian territory. Meanwhile, hostilities continue in Donbas. The apparent stalemate in Ukraine could change overnight – not least with the presidential election at the end of March. If so, NATO members will have to make a choice, despite the fact that Ukraine is not currently a member of the alliance. As became clear to our participants, the one thing you can’t do in a moment of international crisis is to refuse to act if your interests are at stake.The Conversation

Holger Nehring, Professor in Contemporary European History, University of Stirling and Megan Dee, Lecturer in International Politics, University of Stirling

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