US-Iran conflict escalates again, raising the threat of another war in the Middle East



The United States’ reinstitution of punitive sanctions is causing real hardship to Iranians.
AAP/EPA/Abedin Taherkenareh

Tony Walker, La Trobe University

Let’s start with a number. On any given day, more than 17 million barrels of oil pass through what is known as the world’s most important chokepoint.

Those 17 million-plus barrels constitute about 20%, give or take a few percentage points, of world oil consumption daily.

The waterway in question is the Strait of Hormuz at the entrance to the Arabian Gulf to the north. It is 33km wide at its narrowest – where its “chokepoint” shipping lane measures just 3km across.

This is barely enough space for supertankers to pass.

Any interruption to seaborne oil-trade through the strait in the world’s most volatile region would immediately push up oil prices, add to risks of a global recession and prompt concerns about a wider conflagration in the Middle East.




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


The Strait of Hormuz is not simply a chokepoint. It would become a flashpoint in the event of military confrontation between the US and Iran.

It is hard to overstate the dangers of unintended consequences from an escalation of American military pressure on Iran that risks bringing the region to the brink of war and severing an economic lifeline to the rest of world.

This scenario hardly bears thinking about. Yet Donald Trump has seemed determined to push Iran to the brink by re-instituting punitive economic sanctions that are causing real hardship to Iranians.

What is at stake for the regime in Tehran is its survival. It will not yield to crude American pressures which reflect a certain mindset in Washington that appears to believe that regime change on the cheap is achievable.

At the heart of an escalating dispute between the US and Iran is the US withdrawal from the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action nuclear deal and re-imposition of sanctions, notwithstanding that Iran was complying with its obligations. Iran is now threatening to resume production of low-enriched uranium beyond amounts specified in the deal.

This agreement was negotiated over many months by the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany to forestall Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Washington’s abrogation of it ranks as the most irresponsible act – among many – of the Trump administration.

America’s stringent sanctions that penalise entities that do business with Iran, allied with risks of conflict in the Gulf, are exerting enormous stress on the Western alliance.

American leadership in this case is perceived to be part of the problem, not part of the solution.

Vali Nasr, an Iranian specialist at the International Crisis Group, warns of a mistake or a miscalculation. He told The New York Times:

President Trump may not want war, but he will get one unless he balances coercion with diplomacy.

At this point, there is not much sign that American diplomacy provides a real prospect of an easing of tensions.

This week, the US announced it was deploying another 1,000 troops to the region to join more than 6,000 already in place. It has sent an aircraft carrier battle group to the Gulf, and has positioned B-52 bombers on bases in proximity to Iran.

All this is feeding high levels of anxiety in the Gulf region and across the Middle East. Further afield, markets across Europe, Asia and North America are nervously watching developments.

Whatever Washington’s strategy of exerting maximum pressure on Iran is, it is not working. It is also not clear whether there is a plan B.




Read more:
Why Trump’s decertification of the Iran nuclear deal may prove a costly mistake


America’s avowed aim is to bring Iran back to the negotiating table to force concessions on the nuclear deal. The US also wants the Iranians to scale back what Washington perceives to be their destabilising behaviour in the region.

This includes allegations Iran is behind a series of attacks in the Gulf on shipping tankers and oil pipelines in recent weeks. Iran denies involvement.

Circumstantial evidence of Iranian involvement is fairly compelling. But such is the damage done to Western intelligence credibility by mistakes in the lead-up to the Gulf War in 2003 that anything Washington says based on its own intelligence is questioned.

Let’s put forward another figure. The 17 million barrels passing through the Strait of Hormuz daily represent 30% of the world’s seaborne-traded oil.

Those shipments account for the bulk of oil shipped by the world’s major oil producers and OPEC members – Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.

There’s another figure that is relevant. About 25% of the world’s traded liquefied natural gas (LNG) also transits what is arguably the world’s most strategically important waterway. Qatar, which matches Australia as the world’s largest exporter of LNG, sends almost all of its LNG through the strait.

In other words, this is a crowded energy superhighway by any standards.

The strait connects the Arabian Gulf with the Gulf of Oman to the south and the Arabian Sea beyond.

It is bounded on the eastern perimeter by Iran and to the west by the oil-rich Gulf states led by Saudi Arabia.

The Saudis have been urging their American allies to take “surgical” reprisals against Iran for attacks on shipping in the Gulf. In such a case, Iran would not turn the other cheek.

Tehran is certain to have a roster of retaliatory options starting, no doubt, with a further disruption to shipping in the Gulf. American naval forces could be deployed to keep Gulf sea lanes open, but this would come at a cost.

The most immediate cost would be felt in the world’s energy markets. What could not be discounted is another war in the Middle East and the destabilisation of the entire region.

These are dangerous moments.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.

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Sri Lanka has a history of conflict, but the recent attacks appear different


Damien Kingsbury, Deakin University

Sri Lanka has long been subject to extremist violence. Easter Sunday’s coordinated bomb blasts, which killed almost 300 and injured hundreds more, are the latest in a long history of ethno-religious tragedies.

While no one has yet claimed responsibility for the attacks, 24 people have been arrested. Three police were killed in their capture.

The Sri Lankan government has blamed the attacks on the National Thowheeth Jama’ath (NTJ), a radical Islamist group known for vandalising Buddhist statues.

These attacks are different from previous ethno-religious violence in Sri Lanka. By fomenting generalised religious hatred, they appear to have more in common with Al-Qaeda, which has sought specific political change.




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For many, the bomb blasts immediately recalled Sri Lanka’s ethnic civil war. The war was fought between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (Tamil Tigers) and the Sri Lanka government from 1983 until 2009.

In its final weeks, around 40,000 mostly Tamil civilians were killed, bringing the war’s total toll to more than 100,000 from a population of around 20 million.

The Tamil Tigers were completely destroyed in 2009. Many Tigers, including their leader, were summarily executed. There remains much bitterness among Tamils towards the ethnic majority Sinhalese, but there is no appetite for renewing a war that ended so disastrously.

A history of unrest

Ethnic tensions in Sri Lanka were high prior to independence in 1948, and stoked by the 1956 election of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party under Prime Minister Solomon Bandaranaike.

Bandaranaike proclaimed himself “defender of the besieged Sinhalese culture”, and oversaw the introduction of the Sinhala Only Act. The act privileged the country’s majority Sinhalese population and their religion of Buddhism over the minority Hindu and Muslim Tamils. The fallout from this legislation forced Bandaranaike to backtrack, but he was assassinated in 1959 by an extremist Buddhist monk for doing so.

Inter-ethnic tensions continued with outbursts of mob violence. In 1962, there was an attempted military coup, and in 1964, around 600,000 third and fourth generation “Indian” Tamils were forcibly removed to India.

In 1972, and again in 1987, the predominantly Sinhalese Marxist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna party (JVP) launched insurrections that were bloodily suppressed. Clashes between Sinhalese and Tamils in 1983 led to an attack on a Sri Lankan army convoy. This sparked the “Black July” Sinhalese rampage against ethnic Tamils, leaving at least 3,000 dead and marking the start of the inter-ethnic civil war.

The war was noted for its bitterness, with the Tamil Tigers using suicide bombing as a tactical weapon, as well as for targeted political assassinations. India intervened in the war in 1987. In retribution, a Tamil Tiger suicide bomber assassinated former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991.




Read more:
Violent Buddhist extremists are targeting Muslims in Sri Lanka


Extremist violence isn’t new

Sri Lanka’s Muslims are predominantly ethnic Tamils and make up about 10% of the population. They have been at the margins of these more recent conflicts – excluded as Tamil speakers, but at odds with the more numerous Hindu Tamils. However, they also have long been subject to Sinhalese persecution, with anti-Muslim riots dating back at least as far as the early 20th century.

As the Tamil Tiger war progressed, Sinhalese Buddhism became more radicalised. Some Sinhalese claimed that all of Sri Lanka should be exclusively Buddhist. With the Tamil Tigers defeated, Sri Lanka’s non-Buddhist communities were again persecuted. This culminated in 2013 with a Buddhist attack on a mosque. Anti-Muslim riots in 2014 resulted in a ten day state of emergency. Last year, there were more anti-Muslim riots. Buddhist monks have also disrupted Christian church services.




Read more:
Explainer: Why Sri Lanka is sliding into political turmoil, and what could happen next


Sri Lanka’s history of extremist violence, then, is far from new. Sinhalese Buddhist chauvinism has been the driver of much of this conflict. It may be that the Colombo East bombings are a reaction to recent ethnic persecution.

But if so, this raises the question of why Christian churches and upmarket hotels were bombed, rather than symbols of the Sinhalese Buddhist community. One can speculate about the logic of radicalisation and its possible manifestations. It is possible that, if Islamist-inspired, the bombings were not a direct retaliation for last year’s anti-Muslim riots, but part of a wider jihadi agenda.

It is instructive that, when the suspected terrorists were arrested and weapons found, three police were shot dead. Clearly, whoever was responsible was well trained, and there have been suggestions of international links. This contributes to speculation of returned Islamic State fighters having joined NTJ.

The Sri Lankan government was slow to release details of those believed responsible, as it knows ethnic and religious tensions are easy to spark. Identification of responsibility could well provide fuel for another round of inter-ethnic bloodletting.

If NTJ links are proven, or if the more radical elements of the Buddhist community are persuaded by wider speculation, it is likely Sri Lanka’s Tamil Muslims will bear the brunt of their reprisals. It is in this manner that Sri Lanka’s wheel of ethno-religious conflict turns.The Conversation

Damien Kingsbury, Professor, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Deakin University

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

China wrestles with contested heritage of conflict and colonial rule



File 20181205 186055 w4gwpn.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Dongguan Street in Dalian reflects both Chinese and colonial history, prompting increasing debate about how to manage this contested heritage.
Author provided

Shiqi Xiong, Griffith University; Karine Dupré, Griffith University, and Yang Liu, Griffith University

China often makes headlines on a great variety of topics, yet very little is said and known about its contested heritage. At a time when this country with a complex and rich history is undergoing rapid urbanisation, one might expect contested heritage to be a hot topic.

For example, many Chinese scholars, officials and villagers view heritage preservation and display as tools of modernisation and improvement in “backward” rural areas. Therefore, the project of cultural heritage display becomes a colonising project, one that estranges local communities from their own cultural resources. In that case, the display of cultural heritage in rural China becomes a contested project.

The village of Tunpu in Guizhou province is a distinctive example of this. The language and culture of Tunpu are not derived from local villagers, but are defined by scholars to represent villagers.

More urbanised areas, notably Hong Kong, also have many cases of contested heritage. The city has a long British colonial history and returned to China in 1997. Many cultural heritage sites remained. These including the Marine Police Headquarter Compound, the Star Ferry Pier and Queen’s Pier, and the Central Police Station Compound.

Nowadays, in the development of Hong Kong, there are differences between the governor and the community in interpretation, restoration, preservation, assignment, commodification or elimination of these heritages.

What exactly do we mean by contested heritage?

Interestingly, an international literature review produces no clear definition of contested heritage. Rather, there is a consensus on its common characteristics.

Firstly, the value and meaning to be given to a specific heritage are contested. Most of the time this is because there are different views and conflicts on aspects of this heritage during its preservation, redevelopment or urban restoration. For example, this happened when deciding the future of the Nazis’ Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland. It eventually became an educational tourism destination.

Contestation over heritage has many origins, but always involves negative sentiments.
Karine Dupré, Author provided

Secondly, contested heritage sites always convey a negative sentiment to some extent. Think, for instance, of a walled city: those living either side of the wall will have different attitudes to it. These contested heritage sites are about colonisation, apartheid, slavery, conflict and war, and religious divides.

Although in postcolonial settings multiple communities can succeed in sharing a common negative heritage and become resilient about it, the heritage left by war is always contested, since different countries have different positions. For instance, Japan, America and China have different views of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial (Genbaku Dome), which was inscribed on the World Heritage List. America and China opposed the nomination but for different reasons.

Finally, interpretations of contested heritage by different interest groups fluctuate as these interpretations and meanings might vary depending on the historical period. This is obvious in how the terminology has evolved. It was previously discussed as dissonant heritage and later as ambivalent heritage and even negative heritage.

So what about China’s contested heritage?

As a country with a very long history, China is rich in heritage. It already has 36 cultural heritage sites and four mixed heritage sites on the World Heritage List.

Yet the modern Chinese consciousness of cultural heritage protection began in the late 19th century. This was closely related to Western influence on China at that time (Guo, 2009). That is once source of contested heritage today.

Other contested heritage relates to the traces left by Russian and Japanese colonisation of China. There has been a shift in national heritage policies and in the handling of such memories.

Dalian, on the southern tip of the Liaodong Peninsula, is a good example. Like Hong Kong, Shanghai and Qingdao, Dalian’s development stemmed from colonial occupation. Invaded by the Russians in 1897, the Japanese in 1905 and returned to China in 1955, the city went through half a century of colonial rule.

This has left lasting imprints on Dalian’s urban planning and urban landscapes. Basically, these are either highly valued (the Russian Nikolayev Square main square is heritage-listed), targeted for demolition, or dismissed (low-income districts built under Japanese rule) … until recently.

Model of Dalian’s historical main square.
Courtesy of Dalian Urban Planning Museum, Author provided

A more nuanced view of heritage

Attention to contested heritage is quite recent in China. There is still little discussion about it as urban modernisation has for a very long time been the number one priority.

However, with rising awareness of the cultural and economic benefits that some heritage could bring to communities, as seen in Dalian, the debate about contested heritage has been gradually gaining more prominence. This is important as it contributes to rewriting the national narrative with more shades of grey.The Conversation

Shiqi Xiong, Visiting Scholar, Griffith University; Karine Dupré, Associate Professor in Architecture, Griffith University, and Yang Liu, PhD Candidate. School of Engineering and Built Environment, Architecture & Design, Griffith University

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