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Was the Madrid COP25 useful?

The UN Conference did little to increase international commitment to climate change action, but did at least boost the assertiveness of the EU

In recent years, the temperature of the Earth has risen, causing the desertification of lands and the melting of the Poles. This is a major threat to food production and provokes the rise of sea levels. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has concluded that there is a more than 95% probability that human activities over the past 50 years are the cause of global warming. Since 1995 the United Nations has organized international meetings in order to coordinate measures to reduce CO2 emissions, which arguably are behind the increases in temperature. The latest meeting was the COP25, which took place in Madrid this past December. The COP25 could be labeled almost a missed opportunity.

ARTICLE Alexia Cosmello and Ane Gil

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was established in 1988 by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and United Nations Environment Programme. The IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report concluded that: “Climate change is real and human activities are the main cause.” In recent years, rising temperatures on earth have contributed to the melting of the Polar Ice Cap and an increase in desertification. These developments have provoked the rise of sea levels and stresses on global food production, respectively.

In 1992, the IPCC formed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) with the goal of minimizing anthropogenic damage to the earth’s climate. 197 countries have since ratified the UNFCCC, making it nearly universal. Since 1995, the UNFCCC has held an annual Conference of the Parties (COP) to combat climate change. These COPs assess the progress of national governments in managing the climate crisis, and establish the legally binding obligations of developed countries to combat climate change. The most significant international agreements emerging from UNFCCC annual COPs are the Kyoto Protocol (2005) and the Paris Agreement (2016). The most recent COP25 (25th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) took place in Madrid in December 2019.

The previous conference (COP24) marked a significant improvement in international regulation for implementing the Paris Agreement, but crucially ignored the issue of carbon markets (Article 6). Thus, one of the main objectives of COP25 was the completion of an operating manual for the Paris Accords that included provisions for carbon market regulation. However, COP25 failed to reach a consensus on carbon market regulation, largely due to opposition from Brazil and Australia. The issue will be passed onto next year’s COP26.

Another particularly divisive issue in COP25 was the low level of international commitment. In the end, only 84 countries committed to the COP25 resolutions; among them we find Spain, the UK, France and Germany. Key players such as the US, China, India and Russia all declined to commit, perhaps because together they account for 55% of global CO2 emissions. All states will review their commitments for COP26 in 2020, but if COP26 goes anything like COP25 there will be little hope for positive change.

COP25 also failed to reach an agreement on reimbursements for damage and loss resulting from climate change. COP15 set the goal of increasing the annual budget of the Green Climate Fund to 100 billion USD by 2020, but due to the absence of sufficient financial commitment in COP25, it appears that this goal will not be met.

It is worth noting that in spite of these grave failures, COP25 did achieve minor improvements. Several new policies were established and a variety of multilateral agreements were made. In terms of policies, COP25 implemented a global “Gender Action Plan,” which will focus on the systematic integration of gender equality into climate policies. Additionally,  COP25 issued a declaration calling for increased consideration of marine biodiversity. In terms of multilateral agreements, many significant commitments were made by a vast array of countries, cities, businesses, and international coalitions. Notably, after COP25, the Climate Ambitious Coalition now counts with the impressive support of  27 investors, 763 companies, 393 cities, 14 regions, and 70 countries.

But by far the saving grace of COP25 was the EU. The EU shone brightly during COP25, acting as a example for the rest of the world. And this is nothing new. The EU has been a forerunner in climate change action for over a decade now. In 2008, the EU established its first sustainability goals, which it called the “2020 Goals”. These goals included: reducing GHG emission by 20% (compared to 1990), increasing energy efficiency by 20%, and satisfying a full 20% of total energy consumption with renewable energy sources. To date, the EU has managed not merely to achieve these goals, but to surpass them. In fact, by 2017, EU GHG emissions had been reduced not just by 20%, but by 22%.

The EU achieved these lofty goals because it backed them up with effective policies. Note:

i) The launch by the EU Commission in June 2000 of the European Climate Change Programme (ECCP). Its main goal is to identify and develop all the necessary elements of an EU strategy to implement the UN Kyoto Protocol of COP3.

ii) The EU ECCP developed the ETS (EU emissions trading system), which has helped to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from energy-intensive industries and power plants.

iii)The EU adopted revised rules for the ETS in February 2018,  which set the limits on CO2 emissions of heavy industry and power stations.

iv)The EU opted for acircular economy.” In May 2018, the EU decided on new rules for waste management and established legally binding targets for recycling. In May 2019, the EU adopted a ban on single-use plastic items.

v) The EU limited CO2 emissions on the roads. In April 2019, stricter emission limits for cars and vans were passed. By 2029, both cars and vans will be required to emit on average 15% less CO2.

vi) The EU approved new regulations in May 2018 for improved protection and management of lands and forests.

If the EU is anywhere near as successful at combating climate change in the decades to come as it has proved itself to be in the past decade, the EU seems primed to achieve both its 2030 Goals, and its 2050 Goals (the European Green Deal). The 2030 Goals include cutting GHG emissions by at least 40% by 2030 (compared to 1990). Such  new measures will make the EU’s economy and energy systems more competitive, more secure, and more sustainable. The 2050 Goals are even more ambitious: they include the complete elimination all CO2 emissions and the achievement of a climate-neutral EU by 2050. The EU’s 2030 and 2050 Goals, if achieved, will be a remarkable step in the right direction towards achieving the Paris Agreement objective to keep global temperature increase stabilized at 1.5ºC and well below 2ºC.

The European Green Deal and 2030 and 2050 Goals will demand far more effort than the 2020 Goals, especially in the political and economic spheres. Poland has yet to commit to the Deal, which has led the European Council to postpone the matter until June 2020. But progress in the EU towards the 2050 Goals is already underway. The Just Transition Mechanism was proposed in December 2019 to provide support for European regions projected to be most affected by the transition to climate neutrality. (This measure will also hopefully serve to assuage the concerns of Poland and other members.) The EU Commission is to prepare a long-term strategy proposal as early as possible in 2020 with the intention of its adoption by the Council and its submission to the UNFCCC shortly thereafter. Furthermore, the EU Commission has also been tasked with a proposal, after a thorough impact assessment, for an update of the EU’s nationally determined contribution for 2030 under the Paris Agreement. The EU’s example is reason to hope for a bright and sustainable future for the developed world.

Unfortunately, not every developed country is as committed to sustainability as the EU. While many efforts have been made at both the global and regional levels to combat climate change, it is abundantly clear that these efforts are horrendously insufficient. In order to properly address climate change, consistent commitment to sustainability from all parties is imperative. Those countries such as the US, China, India and Russia that abstained from commiting to the COP25 resolutions need to begin following in the EU’s sustainable footsteps and start behaving like true global citizens as well. If they do not, even the EU’s exemplary efforts will not be anywhere near enough to slow climate change.

Decapitado, pero eficiente: El gobierno de Bolsonaro cumple un año

El éxito de varias reformas se ve ensombrecido por la impulsividad e intereses personales de un presidente con imagen deteriorada

Jair Bolsonaro atiende a la prensa a comienzos de enero en la sede del Ministerio de Economía [Isac Nóbrega, PR]

▲ Jair Bolsonaro atiende a la prensa a comienzos de enero en la sede del Ministerio de Economía [Isac Nóbrega, PR]

ANÁLISISTúlio Dias de Assis

Hace un año, el 1 de enero de 2019, un excapitán del ejército brasileño, Jair Bolsonaro, subió las escaleras del Palácio do Planalto para la inauguración de su mandato presidencial. Era el más polémico líder en asumir la jefatura de estado y de gobierno de Brasil desde la presidencia del no menos extravagante populista Jânio Quadros, en la década de 1960. Los más catastrofistas anunciaban el inminente fin de la cuarta mayor democracia del mundo; los más ilusos, que Brasil despegaría y ocuparía su debido lugar en la arena internacional. Como era de esperar, ninguno de los dos extremos acertó: Brasil sigue manteniendo el nivel de democracia de los últimos 30 años, sin que haya habido ninguna intentona militar, como algunos habían temido; tampoco ha pasado Brasil a ser la potencia mundial que, según creen muchos brasileños, le corresponde por su excepcionalidad territorial, poblacional, cultural y política. Como suele pasar, la realidad ha sido menos simple de lo que se esperaba.

Economía

Entre los aspectos más atractivos de la candidatura de Bolsonaro para el público durante la campaña electoral se hallaba la promesa de recuperación económica bajo la administración del ministro Chicago Boy Paulo Guedes. A fin de cumplir dicho propósito, nada más comenzar su mandato, Bolsonaro unificó los antiguos ministerios de Hacienda, Planificación, Desarrollo y Gestión, Industria, Trabajo y Comercio Exterior y Servicios bajo el techo del Ministerio de Economía, todo al mando del liberal Guedes. Personaje que se convirtió en una especie de “superministro” responsable de toda la agenda económica del nuevo gobierno.

Desde un principio Guedes dejó claro que haría lo posible para levantar las barreras del proteccionismo comercial brasileño, doctrina adoptada en grado variable por cada gobierno desde hace más de medio siglo. A fin de desplegar su cruzada contra el estatismo y el proteccionismo, Guedes ha fomentado durante este año el acercamiento comercial bilateral a varios aliados estratégicos, los cuales, “a diferencia de gobiernos anteriores, no se elegirán en base a criterios ideológicos”, según Bolsonaro. Ya en enero hubo el anuncio de un Novo Brasil en el Foro Económico Mundial de Davos, definido por un mayor aperturismo, nula tolerancia a la corrupción y fortalecimiento de América Latina como bloque regional.

Comercio

Pese a su apoyo a la apertura económica, el equipo de Bolsonaro en ningún momento se ha mostrado excesivamente favorable al comercio con Mercosur –su bloque comercial multilateral regional–, llegando incluso Guedes a afirmar que este suponía un peso para Brasil, ya que lo consideraba una alianza más ideológica que económica. Sin embargo, esta aversión a Mercosur, y principalmente a Argentina, parece haber terminado tras la firma del acuerdo comercial Mercosur-UE, dado que el potencial volumen de comercio que se generaría con dicho pacto sería enormemente beneficioso para los productores agrícolas y ganaderos brasileños. De igual manera también se logró firmar un acuerdo con los países del Área Europea de Libre Comercio (EFTA), conformado por Suiza, Noruega, Islandia y Liechtenstein.

De estos dos acuerdos, el más controvertido ha sido el firmado con la Unión Europea, principalmente por los altos niveles de rechazo que ha producido en algunos Estados miembros como Francia, Irlanda o Austria, pues es visto como un posible riesgo hacia la Política Agraria Común. Por otra parte, algunos otros países se mostraron críticos alegando la política medioambiental de Bolsonaro, ya que el acuerdo se firmó durante el verano, que coincidió con la época de los incendios en la Amazonia. A consecuencia de ello varios Estados miembros siguen sin ratificar el tratado y el parlamento austríaco ha votado en contra.

No obstante, el hecho de que las relaciones comerciales multilaterales no parezcan haber avanzado demasiado, debido a las trabas impuestas desde Europa, no ha impedido que Brasil expandiera su actividad comercial. Al contrario de lo que se pensaría, por la cercanía ideológica con Donald Trump y su política exterior, el acercamiento en materia económica no se ha dado con EEUU, sino con el antagónico gigante asiático. En este proceso, destaca el viaje de Bolsonaro a Pekín, donde se mostró abierto al comercio chino, pese a sus anteriores declaraciones menos favorables al respecto. Durante la visita surgió la propuesta de un acuerdo de libre comercio con China, que todavía debe ser aprobada por la cúpula de Mercosur, y varios acuerdos menores, entre los que se destacan el relativo al comercio agropecuario.

Este interés repentino chino por amentar las importaciones agropecuarias procedentes de Brasil se debe al incremento de la demanda de carne en China, provocado sobre todo por la epidemia de peste porcina que asoló la producción nacional. Esto ha provocado una inmediata subida del precio de la carne bovina y porcina en Brasil, que en algunos cortes ha sido de hasta un 30% en poco más de un mes, lo que ha distorsionado el mercado nacional, pues la carne, principalmente el vacuno, suele estar muy presente en la dieta habitual del brasileño medio.

Cuentas públicas

Por lo que se refiere a las cuentas internas del país, destaca la aprobación de la reforma del sistema de pensiones (Reforma da Previdência), que en un principio tenía un carácter marcadamente liberal, con la pretensión de eliminar privilegios y pensiones desmesuradas de altos cargos públicos. Sin embargo, varias modificaciones durante su paso por la Cámara de los Diputados y el Senado hicieron que el ahorro para el erario público sea ligeramente menor que el previsto por Guedes. Con todo, supone un gran avance teniendo en cuenta que el sistema de pensiones tenía en 2018 un déficit de 195.000 mil millones de reales (cerca de 47.000 millones de dólares). Este déficit se debe a que Brasil contaba con uno de los sistemas con mayores prestaciones y menos exigencias del mundo, pues no eran pocos quienes se jubilaban a los de 55 años recibiendo un 70% del salario original.

Esta medida, junto con varios otros ajustes en las cuentas públicas, incluyendo la congelación de algunos gastos ministeriales, redujo el déficit público 138.218 millones de dólares en enero (6,67% del PIB) a 97.680 millones de dólares en noviembre (5,91% del PIB), la cifra más baja desde que hace cinco años comenzó la recesión económica. Entre otros datos relevantes está el descenso de la tasa de interés básico del Banco Central, a un mínimo histórico del 4,5%, mientras que la del desempleo pasó del 12% al 11.2%.

Como resultado de todo lo anterior, el PIB brasileño se ha visto incrementado en un 1,1%, una cifra tímida pero promisoria teniendo en cuenta la enorme recesión de la que acaba de salir Brasil. Las previsiones de crecimiento para el 2020 varían entre el 2,3 y el 3% del PIB, dependiendo de la aprobación de las tan esperadas reformas tributaria y administrativa.

Seguridad

Otra de las razones que llevaron a que el controvertido capitán de la reserva alcanzara la presidencia fue la histórica problemática del crimen en Brasil. Así como para afrontar la situación económica Bolsonaro se presentó con un nombre fuerte, para la seguridad reclutó a Sergio Moro, un exjuez federal conocido por su papel indispensable en la Operação Lava Jato, la mayor operación anticorrupción de Brasil que supuso el encarcelamiento del mismísimo expresidente Lula. Con el objetivo de combatir la corrupción, disminuir la criminalidad y dinamitar el poder del crimen organizado, Moro se puso al frente de una fusión de departamentos, el nuevo Ministerio de Justicia y Seguridad Pública.

En general, el resultado ha sido bastante positivo, con un notable descenso del número de crímenes violentos. Así, ha habido una reducción del 22% en el caso de los homicidios, que es uno de los indicadores más preocupantes en Brasil, ya que es el país con el mayor número absoluto de homicidios del mundo al año.

Entre los factores que explican este descenso de la criminalidad violenta, destaca principalmente la mayor integración entre las diferentes instituciones de fuerzas de seguridad del Estado (federales, de los estados y municipales). También ha influido la transferencia de jefes de bandas a presidios de mayor nivel de aislamiento, impidiendo así su posible comunicación con los demás integrantes del crimen organizado. Otro elemento ha sido el recién aprobado “pack anticrimen”, que consiste en una serie de leyes y reformas del código penal para dar más poder de actuación a las fuerzas de seguridad del Estado, además de establecer penas más duras para delitos de crímenes violentos, crimen organizado y corrupción.

Frente a esos avances también hay que mencionar el aumento de los muertos accidentales en operaciones policiales. Algunos casos han tenido un eco en la opinión pública, como el de un artista que terminó baleado en su coche cuando la policía lo confundió con un narcotraficante o los de niños fallecidos por balas perdidas en tiroteos entre bandas de narcos y las fuerzas de seguridad. Esto, junto a declaraciones polémicas del jefe de Estado al respecto, ha avivado el criticismo por la mayor parte de la oposición y de varias ONGs de derechos humanos.

Política social e infraestructuras

En lo relativo a las políticas sociales, el año transcurrido ha estado lejos de la distopía apocalíptica que se esperaba (por la actitud previa de Bolsonaro en relación homosexuales, afrobrasileños y mujeres), aunque tampoco ha sido tan destacable como en los apartados mencionados previamente. No ha habido progreso en áreas clave, pero tampoco ha habido cambios notables en cuanto a política social respecto a 2018. Por ejemplo, no se ha cancelado el emblemático programa social Bolsa Família, creado durante el gobierno Lula y que ayudó en gran medida a la reducción de la pobreza extrema.

Comenzando por la educación, a finales de 2019 Brasil salió clasificado con una de las notas más bajas del informe PISA, hecho que el ministro del ramo, Abraham Weintraub, achacó a la “educación de talante marxista progresista de administraciones anteriores”. Como resultado del fracaso del sistema público ordinario, e incluso la falta de seguridad de algunos centros, el gobierno ha promovido abiertamente la construcción de nuevos centros de educación cívico-militares por parte de los gobiernos de los estados. En dicho tipo de centro, los alumnos reciben una educación basada en valores militares a la vez que los mismos oficiales ofrecen protección en estos espacios públicos. Ha de destacarse que los centros ya existentes se encuentran entre las clasificaciones más altas de Brasil en materia de calidad educativa. Sin embargo, esto no quedado libre de controversias, ya que no son pocos los que consideran que no se trata de una solución adecuada, pues cabe que se termine educando desde una perspectiva militarista.

En materia de sanidad lo más destacable de este año ha sido el fin del programa de cooperación sanitaria con Cuba, Mais Médicos. Dicho acuerdo se inició en 2013, durante el mandato de Dilma Rousseff, y tenía como objetivo el proporcionar una mayor y más extensa asistencia médica universal a través de la contratación de varios médicos ‘exportados’ por el gobierno castrista. El programa recibió críticas porque los médicos cubanos solamente recibían un 25% del sueldo que les proporcionaba el gobierno brasileño y el restante 75% lo retenía La Habana. Bolsonaro rompió el acuerdo, causando así vacantes de personal sanitario que pudieron cubrirse en poco tiempo. A los profesionales cubanos se les dio la oportunidad de permanecer en Brasil bajo asilo político si revalidaban su titulación en medicina en el sistema brasileño. Dicho incidente no ha supuesto un cambio relevante en el precario sistema sanitario nacional; la única consecuencia de todo ello ha sido el deterioro de las relaciones con Cuba.

Pese a no lograr grandes progresos en lo social, la administración Bolsonaro sí ha introducido mejoras en las infraestructuras nacionales de logística. Bajo el mando del militar Tarcisio Gomes de Freitas, el Ministerio de Infraestructuras ha destacado por su capacidad de concluir obras no terminadas por previos gobiernos. Ello condujo a una diferencia notoria en cuanto al número y la calidad de carreteras, ferrocarriles y aeropuertos operativos en comparación con el año anterior. Entre las fuentes de financiación para las nuevas obras está la reapertura de un fondo común establecido 2017 entre entidades financieras brasileñas y chinas, con un valor de 100.000 millones de dólares.

 

Bolsonaro, junto al primer ministro indio, Narendra Modi, durante una visita oficial a Nueva Deli a finales de enero [Alan Santos, PR]

Bolsonaro, junto al primer ministro indio, Narendra Modi, durante una visita oficial a Nueva Deli a finales de enero [Alan Santos, PR]

 

Medioambiente

Una de las áreas que más se temía que se viera perjudicada por la administración de Jair Bolsonaro era la política medioambiental. Dicha preocupación se vio incrementada con los polémicos incendios de la Amazonia durante los meses de julio y agosto. Para comenzar, el Ministerio del Medio Ambiente, como todos los demás, se vio afectado por las políticas de austeridad de Paulo Guedes, a fin de equilibrar las cuentas públicas, aunque según el propio ministro Ricardo Salles fue el que menos sufrió el recorte presupuestario. A causa de esto, al comenzar el periodo de sequías en la Amazonia la protección forestal se vio comprometida.

Viendo el incremento de la deforestación en un 278% durante el mes de julio, Bolsonaro reaccionó impulsivamente y despidió al director del Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciales (INPE), acusándole de favorecer a la oposición y de conspirar en su contra. La situación provocó la salida del Fondo de Protección de la Amazonia de Alemania y Noruega, los dos mayores contribuyentes, lo que fue acogido con críticas por parte de Bolsonaro, que además acusó a las ONGs de ser las causantes de los incendios. Finalmente, bajo la presión internacional, Bolsonaro terminó reaccionando y decidió enviar al ejército para combatir las llamas. Objetivo que logró en poco menos de un mes, lográndose en octubre la cifra más baja de la que se tiene registro.

Finalmente, el total anual terminó superando la cifra del año anterior en un 30%, pero sigue ubicándose dentro de la media de las dos últimas décadas. Sin embargo, el daño a la imagen nacional ya estaba hecho. Bolsonaro, gracias a su rivalidad con los medios, su vehemente afán de defender la “soberanía nacional” y su poca contención a la hora de hablar, había logrado ser considerado el culpable de una catástrofe distorsionada.

Adicionalmente, a finales del año, una polémica más azotó la administración de Bolsonaro: el misterioso derrame de petróleo en la costa noreste de Brasil. Miles de kilómetros de playas se vieron afectadas y aún a día no hay culpable oficial del delito. Hubo varias hipótesis al respecto; la más aceptada, que además recibió el respaldo del gobierno, fue la que afirmaba que el derrame provenía de un cargamento ilegal de petróleo venezolano que intentaba burlar el bloqueo comercial impuesto al régimen de Maduro. Según análisis realizados por la Universidade da Bahia, efectivamente, la estructura de dicho petróleo era muy similar a la del crudo de los yacimientos venezolanos.

Política exterior

En política exterior Bolsonaro puede distinguirse retóricamente de sus predecesores, pero no en cuanto a sus acciones. Aunque en ese ámbito le gustaría aplicar su ideología, él mismo ha aceptado que no es posible hacerlo. Ante la fuerza e intereses de las instituciones del Estado, como la tradición diplomática de Itamaraty (Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores), la política exterior brasileña se ha mantenido tan pragmática y neutral como en todos los gobiernos anteriores de la democracia, evitándose así el cierre de puertas por razones ideológicas.

Un buen ejemplo del pragmatismo brasileño es el acercamiento económico a China, pese a al rechazo de la ideología comunista por parte de Bolsonaro. Aunque no por ello se ha alejado de su aliado cuasi natural en lo referente a ideología, Donald Trump. No obstante, la relación con EEUU ha sido de una naturaleza diferente, puesto que ha habido mayor proximidad en la cooperación internacional y la seguridad. EEUU impulsó la designación de Brasil como socio estratégico de la OTAN, llegó a un acuerdo para el uso de la base espacial de Alcântara, muy próxima a la línea del Ecuador, y apoya la entrada de Brasil en la OCDE.

Sin embargo, en el ámbito económico, no parece haber tanta cercanía, e incluso se han producido ciertos roces. Uno de ellos fue la amenaza de Trump de imponer aranceles al acero y al aluminio procedentes de Brasil y Argentina, que finalmente terminó retirando, aunque el daño en las relaciones comerciales y en las bolsas de São Paulo y Buenos Aires ya estaba hecho. Algunos analistas apuntan incluso que la poca reciprocidad de EEUU en materia económica, así como el rechazo de algunos miembros de la UE al acuerdo con Mercosur, fue lo que empujó a Bolsonaro a buscar una relación compensatoria con los BRICS, cuya cumbre de 2019 tuvo lugar en Brasilia.

Otro punto peculiar de la política exterior de Bolsonaro ha sido su posición sobre el conflicto palestino-israelí, que una vez más muestra la incongruencia entre retórica y su actuación. Durante la campaña electoral Bolsonaro prometió en varias ocasiones el traslado de la embajada brasileña de Tel-Aviv a Jerusalén, algo que por el momento no ha ocurrido y solo ha habido el trasladado de una oficina económica. Bolsonaro probablemente temió represalias comerciales por parte de los países árabes, a quienes Brasil exporta productos, en su mayoría cárnicos, por valor de casi 12.000 millones de dólares. La prudencia en esta cuestión le valió incluso la firma de varios acuerdos con países del Golfo Pérsico.

Pese a lo mencionado anteriormente, ha habido un aspecto de la política exterior en la que Bolsonaro sí que logró imponer su ideología frente al “pragmatismo histórico” del Itamaraty, y este es el ámbito latinoamericano. Brasil dejó de ser el gigante que en teoría se mantiene neutro para apoyar, tímidamente, el llamado Socialismo del Siglo XXI durante los gobiernos de Lula y Dilma, y ahora coordinarse con los gobiernos del otro lado político.

Lo más destacable es su enemistad con Nicolás Maduro, así como con el expresidente Evo Morales, al que Bolsonaro denegó abiertamente su petición de pasar por territorio brasileño. También ha habido un distanciamiento respecto al retornado peronismo en Argentina, con la ausencia de Bolsonaro y de cualquier alto representante brasileño en la ceremonia de inauguración de mandato del kirchnerista Alberto Fernández. En ese mismo contexto están los acercamientos a Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay y Colombia, así como al nuevo gobierno provisional de Bolivia, con los cuales Bolsonaro ve más similitudes. Con ellos ha promovido la creación de PROSUR frente a la antigua UNASUR controlada por la izquierda bolivariana. Aún y todo, pese a haber adoptado una política más ideológica en la región, Brasil sigue manteniendo la cordialidad diplomática ya que, aunque su líder lleve el conservadurismo liberal hacia los extremos en su retórica, sus políticas en la región apenas difieren del resto de gobiernos de derechas.

Bolsonaro

Por lo general, como ha quedado expuesto, en su primer año el gobierno de Bolsonaro ha obtenido resultados positivos, destacando principalmente sus avances en los ámbitos de la seguridad y de la economía. Sin embargo, mientras la labor de diversos ministros mejora la percepción de la administración, el propio Bolsonaro parece no hacer una contribución especialmente positiva. A lo largo del año, ha generado polémicas por temas sin importancia, que han acentuado su previa enemistad con la mayor parte de la prensa.

A causa de esto, poco a poco se ha ido deteriorando la imagen pública del presidente. A finales de 2019 su popularidad era del 30%, frente al 57,5% con que comenzó el año. Eso contrasta con el porcentaje de aprobación que tienen miembros de su gobierno, en especial Sergio Moro, que ha logrado mantenerse inamovible por encima del 50%. Además, su hijo Flavio, que es senador, ha pasado a ser investigado por un posible caso de corrupción, en un proceso que el presidente ha procurado impedir. Bolsonaro también causó escándalo a mitad del año al intentar nombrar embajador en Washington a su hijo Eduardo, siendo acusado de nepotismo. A las tensiones en su propio partido, que condujeron a una ruptura, se añade la poca compenetración entre Bolsonaro y los presidentes de ambas cámaras del fracturado Congreso Nacional, ambos investigados en operaciones anticorrupción convenientemente paralizadas.

¿Impeachment?

Todo este caos causado por el presidente ofrece la impresión de un Bolsonaro que va a contracorriente de su propio gobierno. El aparente éxito de las reformas ya realizadas termina viéndose maculado por la impulsividad e intereses personales del que otrora defendía la impersonalidad del Estado, lo cual acaba causando el deterioro de su imagen política. Además, se ha de sumar la reciente puesta en libertad del expresidente Lula, que conlleva el riesgo de la unificación de la oposición, dependiendo de cuán moderado sea el discurso que adopte. Así las cosas, es posible que el descabezado pero eficiente gobierno de Bolsonaro no tenga fácil mantenerse en el poder hasta final del mandato. Debe recordarse que la mano del Congreso brasileño no suele temblar a la hora de realizar impeachments; véase que en poco más de tres décadas ya ha habido dos.

Creación, ascenso e impacto de la Nueva Liga Hanseática

El Brexit, con la salida de la UE de un adalid del libre mercado, ha potenciado la coordinación de los países librecambistas del norte de Europa

Grabado del siglo XVI con una vista de Lübeck, cuando formaba parte de la Liga Hanseática

▲ Grabado del siglo XVI con una vista de Lübeck, cuando formaba parte de la Liga Hanseática

ANÁLISISJokin de Carlos Sola

Compuesta por los pequeños de la costa norte de Europa, la Liga Hanseática controla el mar y el dinero que se mueve por él. Esta definición se aplica a dos organizaciones, una medieval y otra creada hace poco, lista para hacer oír su voz en el escenario europeo.

En 2017 ocho países del norte de Europa (Países Bajos, Irlanda, Dinamarca, Suecia, Finlandia, Estonia, Letonia y Lituania) comenzaron el proceso de creación de la iniciativa Nueva Liga Hanseática. Su principal objetivo es mantener y aumentar la ortodoxia económica, ahora que el Reino Unido –uno de sus máximos defensores– abandona la Unión Europea, e impedir que Francia aproveche este momento para aplicar sus las políticas de economía expansiva.

La primera Liga

La primera liga Hanseática o simplemente la Hansa fue una alianza comercial y defensiva de ciudades comerciales y gremios de las principales ciudades marítimas del Báltico y del Atlántico Norte. Fundada en Lübeck en 1158, la primera alianza estaba formada por las ciudades marítimas libres alemanas de Lübeck, Hamburgo, Lüneburg, Wismar, Rostock y Stralsund.

Más adelante otras muchas ciudades se unieron a la Hansa, como Colonia, Groninga, Berlín o Estocolmo. Por otra parte, la Hansa fijó puestos comerciales en los puertos de casi todo el norte Europa, llegando incluso a establecer barrios propios –llamados kontors– en otros lugares como Londres, Amberes, Nóvgorod o Brujas.

Esta alianza adquirió una gran importancia comercial y también militar. Desde su fundación la Hansa había mantenido una relación casi simbiótica con el Estado Monástico de los Caballeros Teutónicos, establecido en el Báltico. Más adelante establecería su propia flota. Con el crecimiento de los estados nación y el declive de los gremios, la Hansa fue decreciendo hasta ser conformada únicamente por Lübeck, Hamburgo y Bremen, siendo finalmente disuelta con la unificación alemana.

Creación de la Nueva Hansa

Con la ampliación de la Unión Europea surgieron nuevas oportunidades de equilibrar el poder del bloque francoalemán (también llamado bloque de Aquisgrán), dominante en el Consejo Europeo. Así, se han creado el Grupo de Visegrado, la Iniciativa Tres Mares o el Grupo de Craiova, en el centro y este europeo. En los últimos años ha surgido la Nueva Liga Hanseática, en el norte del continente.

Esta última iniciativa nació a raíz del Brexit. Siendo el tercer país por peso económico en la UE, el Reino Unido ha tenido una gran influencia en la política económica de la Unión, defendiendo ideas como la estabilidad económica, el recorte del déficit, la reducción de la deuda, la desregulación económica y una política monetaria estable que evite la inflación, así como una política de libre comercio.

Estas ideas chocaban con la política económica francesa, de un mayor dirigismo e intervencionismo económicos, que pone el acento en los proyectos sociales y el proteccionismo. Mientras, la actitud de prudencia alemana actuaba como balanza y punto intermedio entre las dos posiciones. Las posiciones de Londres han tenido también el apoyo de los Países Bajos y Dinamarca, así como de otros países con tradición comercial marítima, quienes ante la perspectiva de la marcha del Reino Unido de la UE decidieron establecer una mayor coordinación entre sí.

Otra causa para la formación de la Nueva Hansa es la llegada al poder de Emmanuel Macron y su ascenso como hombre fuerte en la UE. Macron ha abandonado parte del discurso económico con el que fue elegido en 2017 para acercarse más a las posiciones tradicionales francesas, también seguidas por países como Italia o España.

Un último detonante de la iniciativa, de inspiración neerlandesa e irlandesa, fue el relevo en enero de 2018 de Jeroen Dijsselbloem como presidente del Eurogrupo por Mario Centeno, ministro socialista de Portugal. Para muchos políticos del norte de Europa la intransigencia de Dijsselbloem ante la crisis de la deuda griega en 2015 fue correcta y un camino a seguir en política económica y monetaria de la UE y la Eurozona.

Este grupo fue conocido al principio por nombres como “Los Vikingos” o “Coalición del mal tiempo”. En febrero de 2018 los ministros de finanzas de Países Bajos, Dinamarca, Irlanda, Suecia, Finlandia, Estonia, Letonia y Lituania firmaron el documento fundacional de la Nueva Liga Hanseática.     

Valores políticos y económicos

Los principales objetivos de la Nueva Liga Hanseática se basan en las ideas librecambistas, así como en mantener un presupuesto equilibrado. Sus principales objetivos pasan por el desarrollo del Mecanismo de Estabilidad Europeo, establecido en Luxemburgo. La idea sería que este desarrollo terminase convirtiendo el MEE en un pleno Fondo Monetario Europeo, el cual redistribuiría la riqueza entre los Estados miembros que tengan superávit y aquellos que tengan déficit comercial. La Hansa también es favorable a darle más poder al MEE para poder interferir en los presupuestos nacionales con el fin de evitar sobrepasar los límites del déficit.

Sin embargo, pese a que el documento fundacional se ciñe al Mecanismo de Estabilidad Europeo la Hansa no pretende detenerse ahí. Algunos representantes de esos países se han pronunciado en contra de un presupuesto para la eurozona, un ministro de finanzas de la eurozona y un sistema común de seguro de depósitos, como ha propuesto Macron. También criticaron a la Comisión Europea por su decisión de no iniciar un procedimiento disciplinario contra Italia por su déficit y su deuda.

Las posiciones de la Hansa han logrado popularidad general en sus respectivos países. Por un lado, los partidos de derecha en esos lugares defienden planteamientos librecambistas desde hace tiempo, mientras que los partidos de izquierda no quieren que se arriesgue el estado de bienestar de sus respectivas poblaciones para ayudar a los países del sur de Europa.

Los orígenes ideológicos de la Nueva Hansa podrían datarse en el Thatcherismo británico de los años 80. Esta ideología política incluía por una parte un planteamiento liberal de la economía, defendiendo ideas como desregularización, privatización y libre comercio. El Thatcherismo no advocaba por la ruptura de la UE, pero incluía una visión escéptica, defendiendo una unión que se limitara a la economía, sin avanzar en la unión política. Este pensamiento, adversario del tradicional dirigismo francés, ha tenido una clara influencia dentro de la política británica y dentro del Partido Conservador. Sin embargo, algo menos conocida es su influencia en otros políticos europeos, como diversos dirigentes de los Países Bajos y Dinamarca.

La defensa de una Europa liberal y capitalista, contraria a un fuerte poder central, es compartida por muchos países, todos ellos situados en la franja norte de la Unión. Esto los enfrenta con los países Mediterráneos, que han requerido de ayudas comunitarias en los últimos años.

Sin embargo, hay otros elementos que caracterizan a estos países más allá de su riqueza y posición geográfica, como es su tamaño y su dependencia del comercio, derivada de su carácter marítimo. Eso les hace favorables al aumento de los tratados comerciales y les obliga a procurarse recursos que no tienen en su territorio.

Liderazgo del grupo

La Nueva Liga Hanseática es una iniciativa y no una organización como tal, por lo que no tiene un líder oficial, las decisiones son tomadas en consejos no oficiales de los jefes de gobierno y de los ministros de finanzas. Sin embargo, se han destacado varias personalidades, principalmente Mark Rutte, premier neerlandés, y Wopke Hoekstra, su ministro de finanzas.  

Wopke Hoekstra es considerado arquitecto de la Nueva Hansa. De 41 años, es democristiano, protestante practicante, miembro de la hermandad remonstrante y antiguo estudiante del Institut Européen d'Administration des Affaires (INSEAD), la escuela de comercio más prestigiosa de Europa. Ha mostrado la faceta más intransigente en temas económicos del gobierno neerlandés en los últimos años. Ha llegado al punto de que el propio Dijsselbloem ha criticado la formación de la Nueva Liga porque, según él, daña la idea de solidaridad dentro de la Unión.

Mark Rutte, por otra parte, ha usado la creación de la Nueva Hansa para aumentar el peso de los Países Bajos en la política europea. Rutte es considerado como uno de los premieres neerlandeses más activos en política exterior desde la Segunda Guerra Mundial y ha tratado de hacer valer a los Países Bajos en la UE frente a Francia y Alemania. Al mismo tiempo Rutte ha tratado de ocupar la voz británica en el Consejo de Europa mostrándose como uno de los líderes más atlantistas.

Otros líderes que han mostrado participativos en este proyecto han sido el que hasta 2019 era ministro de finanzas danés, Kristian Jensen, y por el viceprimer ministro irlandés, Simon Coveney. Por otra parte, el papel de Dinamarca y Suecia fue clave para que los países bálticos se alejaran del Grupo de Visegrado y se unieran a la Nueva Hansa.

Peso económico, financiero y tecnológico

La Hansa ha logrado aglutinar un peso económico que otras iniciativas del mismo estilo no han conseguido reunir. Actualmente el PIB conjunto de los países de la Hansa es de más de 2,2 billones de euros, cerca de los 2,5 billones del PIB francés, segunda fuerza económica europea.

El grupo también cuenta con un claro peso financiero. Ciudades como Ámsterdam, Estocolmo o Dublín han estado escalando durante los últimos años entre las principales capitales financieras europeas, si bien todavía no logran sobrepasar a Paris o Frankfurt. Además, se trata de países donde existe innovación tecnológica, especialmente Estonia y Países Bajos.

El hecho de que el grupo no supere el 10% de la población europea mitiga algo su influencia, pues los votos de los países y bloques en el Consejo Europeo se hace en parte por número de habitantes, pero no por eso deja de ser un actor político relevante en la UE. En contraposición, los países del sur de Europa (España, Italia, Portugal y Grecia) abarcan el 30% de la población europea, pero se les considera menos decisivos.

Las posiciones de la Hansa representan una ruptura con el principio de la UE de que, por razones de cohesión social interterritorial, aquellos países que más tienen y están más desarrollados aportan más. Las ideas de los sectores más radicales de la Hansa pueden incluso ser tachados de un cierto neocolonialismo, en tanto que pretenden utilizar los mecanismos supranacionales de la UE para garantizar que los países deudores del sur devuelvan los préstamos, lo que les mantendrá en ciertos niveles de deuda.

Países Bajos, Suecia, Dinamarca, Finlandia e Irlanda se encuentran entre los países que más aportan al presupuesto común europeo, estando detrás de los cuatro primeros (Italia, Reino Unido, Francia y Alemania). Si se mira desde una perspectiva de aportación per cápita, Países Bajos, Suecia y Dinamarca ocupan los primeros puestos. Si bien Estonia, Letonia y Lituania son beneficiarios, no lo son tanto como Polonia, Grecia o Rumanía.

Dada es mayor contribución a la UE, o menor dependencia de ayudas, la Hansa reclama un mayor peso en la dirección comunitaria. De momento, en el presupuesto de 2020 ha logrado imponer diversos criterios, frente al de los países receptores.

Ejercicio de influencia

Uno de los principales objetivos de la Nueva Liga Hanseática era asegurarse de que las dos figuras de mayor control sobre la economía europea (la presidencia del Banco Central, y la dirección del Fondo Monetario Internacional) eran de su agrado. En ambos casos ha fracasado, en gran medida por la intervención de Emmanuel Macron.

Los Países Bajos tenían un interés particular en el nombramiento del BCE, pues el presidente saliente, Mario Draghi, había presionado al gobierno neerlandés para activar políticas de estímulo económicas. El candidato de la Nueva Hansa era el presidente del Bundesbank, Jens Weidmann, conocido por sus críticas a las políticas estimulacioncitas de Mario Draghi y por defender una política de intereses altos. Macron acordó con Alemania que la Comisión Europea fuera a una alemana (Ursula von der Leyen) a cambio de que el BCE fuera presidido por Christine Laguard, que continuaría las políticas de Draghi.

Para el FMI Rutte propuso a Dijsselbloem, pese a las críticas que había hecho a la Hansa. La votación final quedó entre este y la economista búlgara Kristalian Georgieva. Pese a que Alemania terminó votando por el neerlandés, Georgieva se convirtió en la nueva directora del FMI. 

No obstante, la Hansa ha tenido también algunas victorias, como mantener firme a la Comisión en relación con el presupuesto italiano, el cual iba a sobrepasar los límites de déficit; ejercer influencia en el presupuesto europeo, que ha sufrido una drástica reducción, o ralentizar, si no si no bloquear completamente, el proyecto de Macron de un presupuesto común para la Eurozona.

 

Visita del ministro de Finanzas de Países Bajos, Wopke Hoekstra (dcha.), a su colega irlandés, Paschal Donohoe (izq.), a finales de 2018 [Gob. de Irlanda]

Visita del ministro de Finanzas de Países Bajos, Wopke Hoekstra (dcha.), a su colega irlandés, Paschal Donohoe (izq.), a finales de 2018 [Gob. de Irlanda]

 

Estrategia de expansión y alianzas

Uno de los problemas previamente mencionados para la Hansa ha sido su falta de peso en el Consejo Europeo. Por esta razón sus líderes han buscado la sintonía política de países con los que pueda haber coincidencias ideológicas.

Uno de los primeros países que establecieron contacto con los países de la Hansa fue Austria. Esto tiene sentido puesto que Austria tiene una estructura económica similar al resto de países de la Hansa por su pequeño tamaño y población. Además de eso el gobierno de Sebastian Kurz, parecía tener un programa marcado hacia Europa muy en la línea de la Hansa. Famosa es la propuesta de varios políticos austriacos de la creación de dos monedas europeas, una para el norte y otra para el sur. Este tipo de conexiones serían muy importantes para más tarde poder influir en Alemania. Se logró que la Comisión de Finanzas fuera para Austria en la nueva Comisión von der Leyen, concretamente por el economista Johannes Hahn.

El cortejo austriaco parece tener también un objetivo estratégico como paso para comenzar también a influenciar a Alemania, que actúa como equilibrador de la balanza. Varios políticos alemanes de la CDU y la CSU son favorables a los pensamientos de la Hansa y han sido muy influyentes a lo largo del gobierno de Merkel. Mas cuando Wolfgang Schäuble fue removido del Ministerio de Finanzas y sustituido por el socialdemócrata Olof Scholz esas posiciones perdieron importancia.

De una forma similar, la Hansa (y sobre todo Países Bajos) han estado estableciendo contactos con el gobierno de Flandes en Bélgica. Sin bien Flandes es solo un estado más en la federación belga, la falta de gobierno en Bruselas le da gran importancia, junto al gobierno de Valonia. Además de eso, los flamencos controlan el puerto de Amberes y siembre se han mostrado más cercanos a las ideas de la Hansa.

Por otra parte, la Hansa parece haber comenzado contactos también con Eslovaquia y con Republica Checa. Esto se vio cuando en marzo de 2019 ambos países firmaron una declaración junto a los países de la Hansa contra el presupuesto italiano. Sería inusual ver a estos países acercarse mucho a la Hansa porque siguen siendo receptores natos de fondos europeos. Sin embargo, teniendo en cuenta que son países con cuentas saneadas se les podría ver aliados con la Hansa en algunas futuras actuaciones.

En cierta manera podríamos ver la diplomacia Hanseática como una evolución parcial de la diplomacia de Otto von Bismarck (alejar a Francia del poder mediante la formación de alianzas regionales). Se trata de formar un bloque suficientemente fuerte que pueda presentarse con solidez en el Consejo Europeo y convencer a Alemania de que incline la balanza hacia la ortodoxia presupuestaria y hacia los intereses de los países del norte. Junto a Francia se encuentran la mayoría de los países del sur. Se podría decir muy generalmente que los objetivos de la Hansa son: “Movilizar al Norte, seducir a Alemania, silenciar al Mediterráneo”.

Extrañas alianzas frente a la Hansa

La configuración Hanseática de alianzas alrededor de Europa y su influencia en el nuevo presupuesto europeo parece que ha creado curiosas alianzas, la mayor sin duda es la que puede surgir entre Polonia y Francia.

Esto puede sonar extraño, pues en lo que se refiere a política exterior, política social y en ciertos puntos de la construcción europea Polonia y Francia han estado en polos opuestos. Mas cuando se trata de política económica y lo que atañe al presupuesto europeo, Francia y Polonia coinciden y esto puede resultar en un frente común en contra de la Hansa.

Las razones para el acercamiento franco-polaco son variadas. Ambas naciones siguen la tradición del estado social del bienestar, Francia por su legado de fraternidad republicana y Polonia por su herencia católica, ambas contrarias al estado ausente hanseático. Además, ambos países tienen motivos para querer evitar unos presupuestos restrictivos. El gobierno polaco teme que una reducción drástica de la inversión en Polonia le fuerce a hacer recortes sociales, lo que provocaría inestabilidad. Francia se muestra contraria por una razón más ideológica: Macron ha defendido la idea de “Una Europa que protege” y tendría problemas para mantener esta idea.

No obstante, Polonia y Francia mantienen algunos puntos de fricción, especialmente con el intento de una nueva Ostpolik de Macron para calmar las relaciones con Rusia.

Conclusión

La creación de la Nueva Liga Hanseática es en última instancia una reacción a dos movimientos: la creación de sistemas regionales europeos y el abandono de políticas económicas que favorezcan al norte de Europa. 

Si los países de Europa se organizan en bloques, quizás sea más fácil realizar ciertas iniciativas al haber menos interlocutores entre los que negociar.

Por otra parte, la creación de una iniciativa con el objetivo específico de defender los intereses del norte puede suponer un riesgo para los países del sur, acentuando las diferencias norte-sur en Europa. Esto pondría en una situación complicada a Alemania, que quiere evitar verse en ese compromiso.

Lo más inteligente sería evitar estas confrontaciones directamente buscando otras fuentes de ingresos para la UE que no comprometan la riqueza de los países de la Hansa, como expresó Morawiecki y ha apuntado también Macron. Así, se ha hablado de algunos impuestos, como sobre el viaje aéreo, las transacciones financieras y el mundo digital. Pero de nuevo, con la importancia del sector financiero y de las nuevas tecnologías en países como Irlanda o Estonia, esto puede encontrar oposición. No es una tarea sencilla.

Convendría asegurarse, en cualquier caso, de que los políticos europeos tienen la visión suficiente y la comprensión necesaria para formalizar acuerdos que tengan en cuenta todas las idiosincrasias de la Unión Europea.

Khamenei is turning 80: Who will be next Iran's Supreme Leader?

The struggle for power has already started in the Islamic Republic in the midst of US sanctions and ahead a new electoral cycle

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaking to Iranian Air Force personnel, in 2016 [Wikipedia]

▲ Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaking to Iranian Air Force personnel, in 2016 [Wikipedia]

ANALYSISRossina Funes and Maeve Gladin

The failing health of Supreme Leader Sayyid Ali Hosseini Khamenei, 89, brings into question the political aftermath of his approaching death or possible step-down. Khamenei’s health has been a point of query since 2007, when he temporarily disappeared from the public eye. News later came out that he had a routine procedure which had no need to cause any suspicions in regards to his health. However, the question remains as to whether his well-being is a fantasy or a reality. Regardless of the truth of his health, many suspect that he has been suffering prostate cancer all this time. Khamenei is 89 years old –he turns 80 in July– and the odds of him continuing as active Supreme Leader are slim to none. His death or resignation will not only reshape but could also greatly polarize the successive politics at play and create more instability for Iran.

The next possible successor must meet certain requirements in order to be within the bounds of possible appointees. This political figure must comply and follow Khamenei’s revolutionary ideology by being anti-Western, mainly anti-American. The prospective leader would also need to meet religious statues and adherence to clerical rule. Regardless of who that cleric may be, Iran is likely to be ruled by another religious figure who is far less powerful than Khamenei and more beholden to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Additionally, Khamenei’s successor should be young enough to undermine the current opposition to clerical rule prevalent among many of Iran’s youth, which accounts for the majority of Iran’s population.

In analyzing who will head Iranian politics, two streams have been identified. These are constrained by whether the current Supreme Leader Khamenei appoints his successor or not, and within that there are best and worst case scenarios.

Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi

Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi had been mentioned as the foremost contender to stand in lieu of Iranian Supreme Leader Khamenei. Shahroudi was a Khamenei loyalist who rose to the highest ranks of the Islamic Republic’s political clerical elite under the supreme leader’s patronage and was considered his most likely successor. A former judiciary chief, Shahroudi was, like his patron, a staunch defender of the Islamic Revolution and its founding principle, velayat-e-faqih (rule of the jurisprudence). Iran’s domestic unrest and regime longevity, progressively aroused by impromptu protests around the country over the past year, is contingent on the political class collectively agreeing on a supreme leader competent of building consensus and balancing competing interests. Shahroudi’s exceptional faculty to bridge the separated Iranian political and clerical establishment was the reason his name was frequently highlighted as Khamenei’s eventual successor. Also, he was both theologically and managerially qualified and among the few relatively nonelderly clerics viewed as politically trustworthy by Iran’s ruling establishment. However, he passed away in late December 2018, opening once again the question of who was most likely to take Khamenei’s place as Supreme Leader of Iran.

However, even with Shahroudi’s early death, there are still a few possibilities. One is Sadeq Larijani, the head of the judiciary, who, like Shahroudi, is Iraqi born. Another prospect is Ebrahim Raisi, a former 2017 presidential candidate and the custodian of the holiest shrine in Iran, Imam Reza. Raisi is a student and loyalist of Khamenei, whereas Larijani, also a hard-liner, is more independent.

 

1. MOST LIKELY SCENARIO,  REGARDLESS OF APPOINTMENT

1.1 Ebrahim Raisi

In a more likely scenario, Ebrahim Raisi would rise as Iran’s next Supreme Leader. He meets the requirements aforementioned with regards to the religious status and the revolutionary ideology. Fifty-eight-years-old, Raisi is a student and loyal follower of the current Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. Like his teacher, he is from Mashhad and belongs to its famous seminary. He is married to the daughter of Ayatollah Alamolhoda, a hardline cleric who serves as Khamenei's representative of in the eastern Razavi Khorasan province, home of the Imam Reza shrine.

Together with his various senior judicial positions, in 2016 Raisi was appointed the chairman of Astan Quds Razavi, the wealthy and influential charitable foundation which manages the Imam Reza shrine. Through this appointment, Raisi developed a very close relationship with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which is a known ideological and economic partner of the foundation. In 2017, he moved into the political sphere by running for president, stating it was his "religious and revolutionary responsibility". He managed to secure a respectable 38 percent of the vote; however, his contender, Rouhani, won with 57 percent of the vote. At first, this outcome was perceived as an indicator of Raisi’s relative unpopularity, but he has proven his detractors wrong. After his electoral defeat, he remained in the public eye and became an even more prominent political figure by criticizing Rouhani's policies and pushing for hard-line policies in both domestic and foreign affairs. Also, given to Astan Quds Foundation’s extensive budget, Raisi has been able to secure alliances with other clerics and build a broad network that has the ability to mobilize advocates countrywide.

Once he takes on the role of Supreme Leader, he will continue his domestic and regional policies. On the domestic front, he will further Iran's Islamisation and regionally he will push to strengthen the "axis of resistance", which is the anti-Western and anti-Israeli alliance between Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, Shia Iraq and Hamas. Nevertheless, if this happens, Iran would live on under the leadership of yet another hardliner and the political scene would not change much. Regardless of who succeeds Khamenei, a political crisis is assured during this transition, triggered by a cycle of arbitrary rule, chaos, violence and social unrest in Iran. It will be a period of uncertainty given that a great share of the population seems unsatisfied with the clerical establishment, which was also enhanced by the current economic crisis ensued by the American sanctions.

1.2 Sadeq Larijani

Sadeq Larijani, who is fifty-eight years old, is known for his conservative politics and his closeness to the supreme guide of the Iranian regime Ali Khamenei and one of his potential successors. He is Shahroudi’s successor as head of the judiciary and currently chairs the Expediency Council. Additionally, the Larijani family occupies a number of important positions in government and shares strong ties with the Supreme Leader by being among the most powerful families in Iran since Khamenei became Supreme Leader thirty years ago. Sadeq Larijani is also a member of the Guardian Council, which vetos laws and candidates for elected office for conformance to Iran’s Islamic system.

Formally, the Expediency Council is an advisory body for the Supreme Leader and is intended to resolve disputes between parliament and a scrutineer body, therefore Larijani is well informed on the way Khamenei deals with governmental affairs and the domestic politics of Iran. Therefore, he meets the requirement of being aligned with Khamenei’s revolutionary and anti- Western ideology, and he is also a conservative cleric, thus he complies with the religious figure requirement. Nonetheless, he is less likely to be appointed as Iran’s next Supreme Leader given his poor reputation outside Iran. The U.S. sanctioned Larijani on the grounds of human rights violations, in addition to “arbitrary arrests of political prisoners, human rights defenders and minorities” which “increased markedly” since he took office, according to the EU who also sanctioned Larijani in 2012. His appointment would not be a strategic decision amidst the newly U.S. imposed sanctions and the trouble it has brought upon Iran. Nowadays, the last thing Iran wants is that the EU also turn their back to them, which would happen if Larijani rises to power. However it is still highly plausible that Larijani would be the second one on the list of prospective leaders, only preceded by Raisi.

 

 

2. LEAST LIKELY SCENARIO: SUCCESSOR NOT APPOINTED

2.1 Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps

The IRGC’s purpose is to preserve the Islamic system from foreign interference and protect from coups. As their priority is the protection of national security, the IRGC necessarily will take action once Khamenei passes away and the political sphere becomes chaotic. In carrying out their role of protecting national security, the IRGC will act as a support for the new Supreme Leader. Moreover, the IRGC will work to stabilize the unrest which will inevitably occur, regardless of who comes to power. It is our estimate that the new Supreme Leader will have been appointed by Khamenei before death, and thus the IRGC will do all in their power to protect him. In the unlikely case that Khamenei does not appoint a successor, we believe that there are two unlikely options of ruling that could arise.

The first, and least likely, being that the IRGC takes rule. Moreover, it is highly unlikely that the IRGC takes power. This would violate the Iranian constitution and is not in the interest to rule the state. What they are interested in is having a puppet figure who will satisfy their interests. As the IRGC's main role is national security, in the event that Khamenei does not appoint a successor and the country goes into political and social turmoil, the IRGC will without a doubt step in. This military intervention will be one of transitory nature, as the IRGC does not pretend to want direct political power. Once the Supreme Leader is secured, the IRGC will go back to a relatively low profile.

In the very unlikely event that a Supreme Leader is not predetermined, the IRGC may take over the political regime of Iran, creating a military dictatorship. If this were to happen, there would certainly be protests, riots and coups. It would be very difficult for an opposition group to challenge and defeat the IRGC, but there would be attempts to overcome it. This would be a regime of temporary nature, however, the new Supreme Leader would arise from the scene that the IRGC had been protecting.

2.2 Mohsen Kadivar

In addition, political dissident and moderate cleric Mohsen Kadivar is a plausible candidate for the next Supreme Leader. Kadivar’s rise to political power in Iran would be a black swan,  as it is extremely unlikely, however, the possibility should not be dismissed. His election would be highly unlikely due to the fact that he is a vocal critic of clerical rule and has been a public opposer of the Iranian government. He has served time in prison for speaking out in favor of democracy and liberal reform as well as publicly criticizing the Islamic political system. Moreover, he has been a university professor of Islamic religious and legal studies throughout the United States. As Kadivar goes against all requirements to become successor, he is highly unlikely to become Supreme Leader. It is also important to keep in mind that Khamenei will most likely appoint a successor, and in that scenario, he will appoint someone who meets the requirements and of course is in line with what he believes. In the rare case that Khamenei does not appoint a successor or dies before he gets the chance to, a political uprising is inevitable. The question will be whether the country uprises to the point of voting a popular leader or settling with someone who will maintain the status quo.

In the situation that Mohsen Kadivar is voted into power, the Iranian political system would change drastically. For starters, he would not call himself Supreme Leader, and would instill a democratic and liberal political system. Kadivar and other scholars which condemn supreme clerical rule are anti-despotism and advocate for its abolishment. He would most likely establish a western-style democracy and work towards stabilizing the political situation of Iran. This would take more years than he will allow himself to remain in power, however, he will probably stay active in the political sphere both domestically as well as internationally. He may be secretary of state after stepping down, and work as both a close friend and advisor of the next leader of Iran as well as work for cultivating ties with other democratic countries.

2.3 Sayyid Mojtaba Hosseini Khamenei

Khamenei's son, Sayyid Mojtaba Hosseini Khamenei is also rumored to be a possible designated successor. His religious and military experience and dedication, along with being the son of Khamenei gives strong reason to believe that he may be appointed Supreme Leader by his father. However, Mojtaba is lacking the required religious status. The requirements of commitment to the IRGC as well as anti-American ideology are not questioned, as Mojtaba has a well-known strong relationship with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Mojtaba studied theology and is currently a professor at Qom Seminary in Iran. Nonetheless, it is unclear as to whether Mojtaba’s religious and political status is enough to have him considered to be the next Supreme Leader. In the improbable case that Khamenei names his son to be his successor, it would be possible for his son to further commit to the religious and political facets of his life and align them with the requirements of being Supreme Leader.

This scenario is highly unlikely, especially considering that in the 1979 Revolution, monarchical hereditary succession was abolished. Mojtaba has already shown loyalty to Iran when taking control of the Basij militia during the uproar of the 2009 elections to halt protests. While Mojtaba is currently not fit for the position, he is clearly capable of gaining the needed credentials to live up to the job. Despite his potential, all signs point to another candidate becoming the successor before Mojtaba.

 

3. PATH TO DEMOCRACY

Albeit the current regime is supposedly overturned by an uprising or new appointment by the current Supreme Leader Khamenei, it is expected that any transition to democracy or to Western-like regime will take a longer and more arduous process. If this was the case, it will be probably preceded by a turmoil analogous to the Arab Springs of 2011. However, even if there was a scream for democracy coming from the Iranian population, the probability that it ends up in success like it did in Tunisia is slim to none. Changing the president or the Supreme Leader does not mean that the regime will also change, but there are more intertwined factors that lead to a massive change in the political sphere, like it is the path to democracy in a Muslim state.

Iran's nuclear crisis: Red Hat insights

Why Tehran has decided to openly confront US sanctions and how the crisis could develop from now

Persian chess-game [Pixabay]

▲ Persian chess-game [Pixabay]

ANALYSISBaltasar Martos

It is now time to suggest a possible future-oriented course of action for Iran in response to the US unilateral exit from the nuclear deal1. The strategy employed to this end will be that of the red-hat analysis, capitalizing on cultural comprehension and adopting the Iranian regime’s perspective to better understand the way in which it perceives the various threats and opportunities ahead, hence always considering situational factors.

A SWOT analysis will be provided beforehand by way of introduction, focusing just in one of the most important (1) strengths: high proportion of young people; (2) weaknesses: the intrincate political system; (3) opportunities: a closer relationship with leading European countries, and (4) threats: joint pressure by the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia. This will surely enable a more in-depth approach to Iranian views and positions.

A simplified SWOT

1. First and foremost, Iran is home for more than 80 million people, 43% of which are less than 40 years old. This large young population is very much tuned to Western trends and habits of consumption. They embrace technology virtually as much as in any other Western nation. The most striking fact about Iranian youngsters is the amount of university students among them. The country is well known for hosting a highly qualified population and labor force that acquired superior education at any of the numerous universities in the major cities.

2. In second place, Iran owns a very complex, intricate political system that renders the hierarchy of the decision-making process very difficult to understand. Its current institutions are a product of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, which ousted the Shah and reformed the whole previous power network. The political system of the country then turned from an authoritarian Monarchy into a constitutional theocracy with a multipolar power structure. The religious figure of the Supreme Leader or Ayatollah is the ultimate responsible for setting both domestic and foreign policy. The main issue here is that this institution holds views that are deeply rooted in the old days and endeavors to influence the private lives of the citizens. Decisions are self-explanatorily not made according to economic efficiency or political experience, or even less to satisfy population’s demands. Instead they aim to preserve and safeguard the regime and ensure its survival. The primary concern of the ruling political elites is thus to last in power, not to introduce reforms or think prospectively.

3. In the third place, Iran has now the chance to strengthen ties with its traditional powerful trade partners in the European Union, such as France, England or Italy. Provided their opposition vis-à-vis the US reimposition of sanctions, Iran can utilize this opportunity to begin a rapprochement towards them and express its best desire to cooperate under certain established conditions that prove beneficial to both parts.

4. Finally, Iran should not disregard the warnings coming from the White House. The main threat Iran is likely to face is an aggressive diplomatic strategy at the initiative of the US with the aggregated—but separated—efforts of Israel and Saudi Arabia. This would definitely jeopardize Iran’s current position as one of the dominant powers in the region and would force the nation to find an alternative solution.

Red Hat exercise

Tehran’s interpretation of Washington’s 2018 diplomatic shift quite evidently differs from that of the Trump administration2. In the words of Ayatollah Khamenei, the ultimate reason for this new move lies in the US’s perverse ambition to progressively weaken and undermine the socio-political structure built after decades of arduous work by the Islamic Revolution. Khamenei claims that Washington’s intention is to overturn a popular, legitimate government in favor of a puppet regime completely subjected to its will.

In their public speeches, the Iranian political elites constantly refer to the US’s boundless ambition to regain total control of the region, oppress civil society and submit individuals to their corrupted dogmas and doctrines, like they did decades ago. They very often evoke the glorious past of their millenary civilization and emphasise that it is precisely its longevity what makes it worthy of the most careful preservation and promotion. Once a major empire, they say, Iran has developed a unique identity different from that of its closest neighbors.

In the Iranian collective mindset, especially that of the most orthodox Shia and the very influential clerics, the nation enjoys the highest dignity for having conquered other territories and peoples but also endured invasions and dominations from enemies and rivals, yet always remaining true and loyal to its ancient traditions and foundations. More recently, Iran owes its independence to the innumerable efforts made by the leaders of the Revolution to free the nation from the clutches of the American imperialism embodied in the Pahlavi dynasty. The country’s civilisational pride is therefore deeply ingrained in the people’s minds and very often put forward in the political discourse. Furthermore, its foreign policy is soaked by a traditional ‘regional fear’, for Iran sees itself as the guardian of true Shi’a values amidst a region dominated by Shi’a-adverse powers with superior military capabilities.

The strong resentment and hatred against the Western world in general, and the demonization of the United States in particular, appear very often in Iranian politics. Such an anti-Western narrative is very often used to cover up the regime’s economic mismanagement over the last decades, instead blaming the West for all the struggles, ills and evils of society. We must remember that, for Iranians—at least for the most religious sector of the society—the Islamic Revolution is a path that leads believers into Paradise and salvation as understood by the Shi’a. The revolution purports to redeem the peoples from the national humiliation suffered during Western dominance in the times of the Shah. Therefore, martyrdom, resistance and endurance are considered three most valuable virtues that will guarantee all kinds of enjoyments to those cultivating them throughout their lifetime.

Iran presumably decided to start a nuclear program based off several historical reasons. On one hand, in face of a strong isolation experienced during the bloody war waged against Irak—an opponent which used chemical weapons against both combatants and civilians alike—Iran began its works with the aim of further intensifying its nuclear technology developments as a means to guard against a future surprise of similar characteristics.

On the other hand we shall recall the Revolution’s need to constantly legitimate itself and maintain its status in front of the international community, thus preserving Iran’s independence from outside influence or external intervention while restoring its former greatness as a center of scientific progress. Moreover, Tehran has long claimed its need to promote a solid nuclear energy plan to ensure energy security at home and satisfy the needs of its huge domestic demand in peaceful civilian, energy and medical terms. The government emphasizes the right to develop, research, produce and use nuclear energy as endowed by Iran’s membership in the Non-Proliferation treaty.

However, the most pressing issue for Iran’s security is undoubtedly the fact that five of the world’s nine nuclear powers are located nearby or directly on its borders. The theocracy claims to have substantial grounds for feeling victim of the foreign arrogance of the outside world, which has allegedly endeavored to restrict Iran’s rights to freely develop its nuclear activities by having it sign the Non-proliferation Treaty, unlike other neigboring nuclear-armed states such as Pakistan, Israel or India. This brings us to the conclusion that, even if the regime vehemently denies any interest in developing nucler weapons and rather uses the need to supply its domestic market with much needed energy resources as an excuse to keep its works running, some evidence found in recent discoveries of covert facilities and nuclear plants can confirm the vital importance for some of the regime leaders to obtain weapons in the short or medium term.

Scenarios ahead

The Persian nation is now standing on a crossroads with three different paths ahead, each one leading to a very different place. We will place them in an order, ranging from the most likely scenario to the least plausible one: (A) prolongation of diplomatic stalemate with minor tensions; (B) quick escalation of tensions and direct military confrontation, and (C) bring back the so-called ‘12 conditions’ to the bargaining table and stick to them. 

A. The most likely: Diplomatic stalemate

On May 8, exactly a year after Donald Trump's announcement of US exit from the JCPOA, President Rouhani announced that Iran would cease to perform parts of its commitments under the nuclear deal, namely the observance of the limit for its stockpile of low-enriched uranium and the compliance with the limit of heavy water reserves. Its statement included a 60-day ultimatum, addressing specifically the European State parties to the treaty and urging them to find a diplomatic solution via economic packages to ease the current oil and banking restrictions. Should they prove unable to fulfill this conditions, Rouhani warned, Iran will continue with its intended pullout from the accord through a ‘multi-phased approach’.

Europeans have recently been employing a rhetoric that has resulted in ambiguous and confusing promises to Iran, mainly due to the innumerable efforts they need to make in order to balance out a strong willingness to save the deal and the fear of a further detachment from an everyday more hostile American partner. On his side, President Rouhani has remained true to his bet on ‘strategic patience’ in the style of the Moderation and Development Party, to which he belongs, during all this time.

Nevertheless, it seems that the patience of the Iranian leadership is coming to an end with each passing day. The political elites have harshly critized its European counterparts for making lots of empty promises throughout this last year without achieving any substantial or practical outcome, specially after the U.S. decision on April 22 to put an end to the waivers on oil imports from third countries in an attempt to ‘bring oil trade to zero’. This will no longer exempt any customer engaging in oil transactions with Iran from the US-led second wave of sanctions. Moreover, Rouhani has called on the Europeans to allow Iran to repatriate its money sitting in European bank accounts, which still remain blocked as part of previous sanctions.

Without disregarding the vital importance of the E3 for Iran’s national economy and the pivotal role they play in the political scenario surrounding the country in the Middle East, it is also true that there are other strategic partners involved in this game whose existence as credible alternatives to the E3 is precisely the cause that pushes the Iranian leadership to discard a complete withdrawal and rather remain adhered to the nuclear accord. At the front of this group of Iranian oil importers are China and India, which will self-evidently ignore the effects of the recent termination of the US waivers and prosecute their purchases to satisfy their huge domestic demand. Although with weaker currencies and perhaps using more rudimentary instruments, both China and India will manage to secure those transactions in an orderly manner and will most likely help other purchasers to do the same. In fact, some voices speak of a possibility of performing oil-swap arrangements via Russia to lock oil prices and protect their finances from the high volatility of global energy prices.

Following this logic, Iran will then go ahead with its ongoing business while persuading and encouraging importers to keep buying Iranian oil despite the inability of European counterparts to meet the aforementioned ultimatum as set by President Rouhani. In paralell to this, Iran will probably threaten the remaining parts and especially the Americans with a further development of its nuclear capacities, but this will only add to a strategy that seeks to prolong the current state of affairs until the next U.S. presidential elections in 2020 take place.

B. The apocalyptic, yet no the least plausible scenario

The most apocalyptic—yet not the least plausible—scenario can be inferred from the most recent moves of US military assets after the government’s official designation of the Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps as a ‘Foreign Terrorist Organization’ on April 8. Fist, on May 6, the Pentagon announced the deployment of the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln and a bomber task force on the Persian Gulf. Four days later, the Pentagon confirmed that it had sent some warships, the USS Arlington amphibious transport dock and a Patriot missile defense battery to the same region as a deterrent to Iran. Lastly, on May 12, two Saudi oil tankers and four additional Emirati ships off the coast of the Persian Gulf were sabotaged. President Trump blamed Iran for malicious behaviour targeting maritim traffic along the Gulf. More recently, Washington officials have announced a new deployment of some fighter jets and additional troops to the same territory in what they have called a ‘mostly protective measure’. This suddenly heightened tensions might result in the outbreak of renewed hostilities in the coming months.

The American public opinion does not discard a military confrontation in a close future. In fact, a poll conducted in the US between May 17 and May 20 disclosed surprising results3: more than half of the American citizens consider Iran as a ‘worrying’ or even ‘imminent’ threat. Roughly the same percentage assumes their country will go to war against Iran in the coming years. Very few civilians believe that a preemptive attack should be conducted on Iranian military interests, but roughly 80% of them are convinced that the US should respond to an attack from the side of Iranian via airstrikes or even ground troop invasions.

An undeniable fact is that there are differing views inside the White House. The National Security Advisor John Bolton and in some way also the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have always shown a maximalist approach that seeks to overthrow the mullahs’ regime in Tehran. Apparently none of them would hesitate to enter into a dire military confrontation if the situation so required. Bolton himself had already declared his intentions even before substituting his predecessor in office, Herbert McMaster. On the other hand, President Trump has used his recent meeting with the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to affirm the following: ‘Iran has a tremendous economic potential. […] It has a chance to be a great country with the same leadership. We are not looking for a regime change. I just want to make that clear. We are just looking for no nuclear weapons'4. This somehow spaces out his view from that of his hawkish aides. In the words of Karim Sadjadpour, a well renowned Iranian-American policy analyst, ‘What Trump articulated in Japan was another reminder that his main problem with the Iranian nuclear deal was that it was signed by Obama. Given Trump’s eagerness for a public summit and deal with Tehran, it is conceivable that Iran’s leaders could sign a more favorable deal with Trump than they did with Obama. But the pride and mistrust of Iran’s supreme leader makes him more inclined to subject his population to another year of sanctions and economic malaise rather than do a deal with Trump’.

C. The unlikely back to the negotiating table

On May 12, 2018, four days after President Trump made public his intention of withdrawal from the JCPOA, Pompeo set out a list of twelve conditions under which Washington would agree to a new agreement with Tehran. Besides addressing the termination of Iran’s participation in different conflicts throughout the Middle East, it explicitly called on Tehran to ‘stop enriching its uranium and plutonium reserves, grant IAEA unrestricted access to all sites throughout the entire country and end proliferation and testing of ballistic missiles’.

It should be noted that Trump never presented explicit and clear evidence that Iran was failing to comply with its obligation. Instead, he merely denounced the treaty as far from being minimally advantageous for American interests, once again reinforcing the idea that the Obama Administration resoundingly failed to negotiate a deal that could benefit both parts. The three European State parties also emphasized that Iranians had remained faithful to their commitment and that had been officially attested by international inspectors supervising the nuclear facilities. That was the main piece of evidence supporting Iran’s thesis of not being in a state of violation of any provision of the deal but instead strictly observing every single aspect as they were agreed upon.

Having all this in mind, there are other aspects we should look at. The war in Syria is slowly coming to an end and Al-Assad owes his victory to the strong and uninterrupted financial and logistic aid from Tehran. There is no doubt that the regime will hold him accountable for all the support provided throughout the conflict and will seek to consolidate positions around the war-torn territory, thus expanding the influences of Shia islamist ideology as promoted by the Supreme Leader and the most prominent clerics. Moreover, not only is Iran-backed Hezbollah movement present in Syria, but also it enjoys a very prominent position inside the Lebanese parliament and holds an enormous influence in the country in general terms.

All this together, in addition to the round success Tehran is enjoying in his efforts to back Houthi rebels as compared to the exorbitant cost Saudi Arabia is paying to counter the rebellion, suffices to conclude that Iran is by no means willing to get back to the conditions advanced by Pompeo in order to renegotiate a new treaty that would thwart all the efforts already made along the way. This would signify an absolute humiliation for the regime. Iran has already come too far and it would now only accept to resume negotiations if it was granted the chance to depart from a dominant diplomatic position.

 

Representatives from the P5+1 countries in 2015, weeks before reaching the JCPOA, the nuclear agreement [US State Department]

Representatives from the P5+1 countries in 2015, weeks before reaching the JCPOA, the nuclear agreement [US State Department]

What the EU is doing

Among all the State parties involved in the JCPOA, the E3 are likely to be the most severely affected by the US reinforcement of sanctions given the big stake they have in the region in form of finances and investments in the oil sector, and their unwillingness to go undercover. As a result of this new decision by Washington, companies and banks doing business in Iran could see their access to the American market cut off. Among other collateral effects, the re-imposition of sanctions will cause a negative impact on the region’s trade flows, energy supplies, connectivity, security and stability. Indeed, sanctions present a special conundrum for the European counterparts: either they decide to carry on with their economic activities in Iran or they remain inside the US-led international financial circuit. They need to solve this jigsaw puzzle if they still want to secure their economic interests.

In order to do so, following the US exit, the High Representative of the European Union Federica Mogherini issued a statement bitterly regretting the US retaliation and expressing the EU’s strong commitment to enact an updated blocking statute that would enter into force on August 7. This blocking statute refers to the ‘Council Regulation (EC) No 2271/96 of November 1996 protecting against the effects of the extra-territorial application of legislation adopted by a third country, and actions based thereon or resulting therefrom’5. It basically ‘allows EU operators to recover damages arising from US extraterritorial sanctions and nullifies the effect, in the EU, of any foreign court rulings. It also forbids EU persons form complying with those sanctions’6. In a nutshell, this statute acts as a shield against trade wars and mitigates the impact of those sanctions on the interests of European companies doing legitimate business with Iran, thus keeping Iran’s oil and investments flowing.

The European Union considers that its Member States’ business decisions should not be determined by any kind of foreign legislation. It would never recognize such legislation applicable to European operators. However, the EU still holds to the commitment of pursuing a continued, full and effective implementation of the treaty as long as Iran also plays its part by refraining from acquiring further equipment to develop a nuclear weapon and enables monitored verification of its uranium-235 enrichment activities. The E3 considers that the agreement is delivering on its goal so far and ensuring the peaceful nature of the nuclear program.

It is hence no surprise that the three European Member States involved in the deal are determined to preserve and implement it, insisting upon the numerous benefits it entails for Iran, the Middle East and the rest of the international community. Acting on behalf of the E3, the EU has recently endeavored to take several measures in order to offset the US withdrawal of the JCPOA7.

i) In the first place, they seek to extend the European Investment Bank lending mandates, allowing the bank to decide strictly under the EU budget to what extent and under which conditions it will finance commercial activities in Iran.

ii) Secondly, they also attempt to encourage and promote activities by Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) willing to undertake operations in Iran.

iii) Thirdly, they purport to accelerate the activation of the Instrument In Support of Trade Exchanges (INSTEX). This is a ‘Special Purpose Vehicle’ acting as a clearing house or barter arrangement for Iran to conduct trade with European companies outside of the SWIFT mechanism. This mechanism was officially registered by France, Germany and the United Kingdom on January 31, 2019. It works as an alternative payment channel that facilitates legitimate trade and investment between the EU and Iran despite sanctions. It is led by the EU3 and self-evidently euro-denominated. The entity originally focused only on trade in non-sanctionable essential goods, namely medical and humanitarian, and not so much on oil-related transactions so far. It mainly addresses SMEs whose total trade volume is usually small. In principle, it has not been designed to circumvent or bypass US sanctions but rather to fight money laundering and counter the financing of illicit terrorist activities. These last aspects reinforce the European efforts to voice its disagreements on Iran’s declared support for Al-Assad in Syria and the promotion of terrorism region-wide, its multiple human rights abuses and its development of ballistic missiles.

However, in view of the technical complexities resulting in a long delay to set in motion this mechanism as well as the more immediate challenges the Union has to face in the first instance, it is very unlikely that the E.U. finds enough resources and time to effectively give a definite impulse to this apparatus before the deadline of 60 days from May 8 set by Iranians eventually expires.

 

 

(1) Sanger, D. et al. “U.S. Issues New Sanctions as Iran Warms It Will Step Back from Nuclear Deal”, The New York Times, May 8, 2019

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/08/us/politics/iran-nuclear-deal.html

(2) Chubin, Sharam. “The Politics of Iran's Nuclear Program”, The Iran Primer, US Institute for Peace, 2010 (updated 2015)

http://iranprimer.usip.org/resource/politics-irans-nuclear-program

(3) Ipsos/Reuters Poll Data, Iran Poll 05.20.19 https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/mkt/12/658/652/2019%20Reuters%20Tracking%20-%20Iran%20Poll%2005%2020%202019.pdf

(4) Kranish, Michael. “Trumps Says He Is Not Seeking 'Regime Change' in Iran”. The Washington Post, May 27, 2019

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/trump-says-he-is-not-seeking-regime-change-in-iran/2019/05/27/94d3053a-808d-11e9-933d-7501070ee669_story.html?utm_term=.9005a7a98ec8

(7) Geranmayeh, Ellie. “60 days to save the JCPOA”. European Council on Foreign Relations. May 9, 2019

https://www.ecfr.eu/article/commentary_60_days_to_save_the_jcpoa_iran_nuclear_deal

Iranian crisis: the regional context

How Russia, China, India and the Gulf Cooperation Council countries react to the new US sanctions against Iran

Presidents Putin and Rouhani during a meeting in Tehran, in September 2018 [Wikipedia]

▲ Presidents Putin and Rouhani during a meeting in Tehran, in September 2018 [Wikipedia]

ANALYSISAlfonso Carvajal

As US-Iranian relations continue to deteriorate, the balance of power and regional alliances will be prone to shifting and changing. Iranians will likely feel increasingly more marginalised as time passes and will seek to remedy their state of international isolation. Here, the main factors to look out for will be the nations seeking to achieve great power status, and how they will try to attract Iran towards them while pushing the Islamic Republic further away from the United States.

China and Russia’s response

Russia’s relations with Iran have historically been complicated. While at some points, the two countries have faced each other as rivals in war, other times have seen them enjoy peace and cooperation. Russia has been an important actor in Iranian international relations since at least the Sixteenth Century and will most likely retain its importance in the long run. Since the fall of the USSR, Russian-Iranian relations have improved, as many issues that had caused tensions suddenly disappeared. These issues where mainly caused by their ideological incompatibility, as the USSR’s atheism was looked upon with suspicion by Khomeini, and its support given to Iraq in the Iran-Iraq war.

Recently, both countries have found themselves facing international, mainly US, economic sanctions. This is a factor that is important to acknowledge, and that will shape their future relations. As Russia and Iran struggle to defuse the effects of sanctions, they will seek trade elsewhere. This means that they have found in each other a way to make for their isolation, and their ties are likely to only grow. Militarily, cooperation has already been cemented by years of sanctions in Iran.

Whereas once the Iranian Armed Forces boasted of having the most advanced Western-built fighter jets and other military material in the region, Iran now often uses Russian and Chinese aircraft and military gear, coupled with its own native military industry that was independently developed as a result of its isolation. Iran is also said to cooperate with Russia in certain industrial sectors close to the military such as drones. However, due to the latest international sanctions, Russia is less keen to continue to cooperate on military sales and technology transfers. For this reason, Russia has shown reluctance towards helping the Iranian nuclear program, although it is in favour of reaching a deal with Iran along with the international community.

A cornerstone in Russian-Iranian relations has always been their mutual distrust towards Turkey. In the age of the Ottoman Empire, relations between Persians and Russians would often consist in an alignment against the Ottoman Turks. Nowadays, their relationship also has this component, as Turkey and Iran are increasingly competing in the Middle East to decide who will lead the reconstruction of the region, whilst Russia and Turkey find themselves at odds in the Black Sea, where Russia’s ambition of naval dominance is being challenged.

While it may seem that Russia and Iran should be close allies, there are a series of reasons to explain why cooperation is not likely to see a fully fledged alliance. First of all, there are far too many differences between both regimes, as they have different geopolitical imperatives and ambitions in the Caucasus and the Middle east. The second issue is Israel. As Russia moves further into the Levant, it tries to maintain good relations with Israel, Iran’s archenemy, also called little Satan by Iran’s first supreme leader, Ayatollah Khomeini. As the conflict in Syria dies down in the following years, Russia will be forced to choose between who to support. This is likely to mean a withdrawal of support towards Iran’s position in Syria, as it sees its meddling in the region increasingly unproductive, and would favour its retreat. Iran, however, has said it is there to stay.

Russian-Iranian cooperation has recently been developed in one important country of the region: Afghanistan. As the US seems to lose interest in the Middle East and pivots towards East Asia, Russia and Iran have moved into the war-torn country, as they back different factions aiming to end the decades-long conflict. Russia has previously backed the Taliban, because it wants to ensure that they are a part of the peace negotiations. Iran has backed both the government and the Taliban, as it wants to fight the rising influence of ISIS in Afghanistan, as well as keep good relations with the Taliban to maintain a degree of stability and control over Afghanistan’s west, so that the conflict does not spill over. Although Russia and Iran might have different objectives, they are united in wanting to push the US of the region.

The other geopolitical giant that is slowly encroaching on the region is the People’s Republic of China, albeit with a different stance altogether. Like Russia, China has welcomed business with Iran and currently supports the nuclear deal, the JCPOA, which the US recently left. Chinese-Iranian ties are more solid than the Russian’s, as they don’t have as many overlapping hegemonic ambitions. In a certain way, the relations between these two countries arose as a way to contain the USSR’s expansive influence during the 1970’s after the Sino-Soviet split, and predate the current Iranian regime. Both countries see their relation as part of the past, as great empires of antiquity, the present, and see each other as important partners for future and ongoing projects, such as the One Road One Belt initiative. However, as does Russia, China sometimes tries to play down its support towards Iran so as not to antagonize its relations with the West and the US in particular.

The Chinese have cooperated with the Islamic Republic since its conception in the 80’s, as the Iranian isolation led them towards the few markets they could access. The main theme of this cooperation has been undoubtedly based on hydrocarbons. Iran is one of the most important producers of both crude petroleum and natural gas. China is Iran’s largest trade partner, as 31% of Iran’s exports go to China, whose imports represent 37% of Iran’s in 2017. Military cooperation between these two countries has also been very important, a large part of Iran’s non-indigenous military material is of Chinese origin. The Chinese have historically been the main providers of arms to the Iranian regime, as can be seen by much of the equipment currently used by the IRGC.

Both regimes feel a certain closeness as some parts of their ideologies are similar. Both share an anti-imperialist worldview and are sceptical of Western attitudes, an attitude best perceived among their unelected leaders. They are countries that are emerging from the misery left behind by Western imperialism, according to their own narrative. Both see each other as the heirs of some of the world’s oldest cultures—the Chinese often talk of 20 centuries of cooperation between both states—, and thus feel a historical, civilizational and anti-imperialist connection in this sense. Iranians admire the great leaps that the PRC has taken towards development, and the great successes they have brought to the Chinese people and State. They also value the Chinese mindset of not meddling or criticizing the internal affairs of other States, and treating them all in the same way independent of their government.

On the other hand, the Chinese are happy to work with a Muslim country that doesn’t stir the restive North-Western Xinjiang region, where the majority of China’s Uighur Muslims live. In fact, Iran is seen by the Chinese as an important factor on the stability of Central Asia. More recently, they also see in Iran a key part of the pharaonic One Belt One Road infrastructure project, as Iran sits in the crossroads between East and West. It is understood that Beijing has high expectations of cooperation with Teheran.

However, not all of it is positive. Iranians and Chinese have different ideological foundations. China has shown that it will not be able to form an full-fledged alliance with Iran, as it fears Western backlash. In 2010 China voted a UNSC resolution in favour of sanctions towards Iran. Even though these were largely ignored by China later, Tehran understood the message. As a result of these sanctions, the only nations willing to trade with Iran where Russia and China. The latter became an increasingly important trade partner as a consequence of the lack of Western competition and began to flood the Iranian market with low-quality goods, which was unpopular among the Iranians. Resentment toward China only grew as the Chinese firms that became established in Iran brought their own workers from China and unemployment remained at high levels despite the increased economic activity. As discontent rose, Iranians of all backgrounds saw the negotiations with the West with great expectations. If successful, negotiations could provide a diversification of providers and a counterbalance against Chinese influence.

As negotiations have broken down under the Trump administration, China’s role in Iran is likely to only intensify. While the Europeans fight to save the nuclear deal, Iran is set to count on China as its main trade partner. Chinese firms, although now more vulnerable to pressure from the US than in 2010, still have strong interests in Iran, and are unlikely to leave what will be a competition-free market once most foreign firms are deterred by US sanctions. The Chinese will seek to keep the nuclear provisions of the JCPOA agreement and will cooperate in the development of the Arak Heavy Water Reactor, probably displacing the Russians, which have historically led the Iranian nuclear program. Chinese involvement in the Iranian nuclear industry will likely prevent the development of a bomb, as China does not want to encourage nuclear arms proliferation.

While China moves into South Asia, alarms go off in New Delhi. India sees itself as the dominant power in the region and its traditional enmity towards China is causing a change in its foreign policy. India’s PM, Narendra Modi, is following a policy of “Neighbourhood first” in the face of a growing Chinese presence. China already has expanded its reach to countries like Sri Lanka, where it has secured the port of Hambantota for a 99-year lease. In the latest years, Pakistan, India’s other arch-enemy, has become one of China’s closest partners. The relation between both countries stems from their rivalry towards India, although cooperation has reached new levels. The Chinese- Pakistan Economic Corridor runs from the Chinese city of Kashgar through the entire length of the country of Pakistan and ends in the developing port of Gwadar. The project has caused a rush of much needed capital in the financially unstable Pakistan, with Chinese and Saudi bonds keeping it afloat. In the face of China’s new projects and its New Silk Road, New Delhi sees itself more and more surrounded, and has accused China of scheming to isolate it.

To face China’s new stance, India has taken a more active role. Its prime minister made many State visits to the neighbouring countries in a bid to weaken Chinese influence. In this effort to impose itself on what it sees as its region, India is developing a deep-sea port in the coast of Iran, past the strait of Hormuz in the Indian ocean. Iran will be an important piece in the designs of the Indian political elite.

The development of the deep-sea port of Chabahar is a joint Indian, Iranian and Afghan project to improve the connectivity of the region and has more than one reason of being. It is effectively a port to connect Central Asia, a growing 65-million people market, through a series of rail and road networks which are also part of the project, to the Indian Ocean. Another reason for this port is the development of war-torn Afghanistan, which also serves the purpose of reducing Pakistan’s influence there. Pakistan holds a firm grip in Afghanistan and sees it as its back yard. Pakistan is said to harbour Taliban guerrillas, who use the country to launch attacks against Afghanistan, as it did against the USSR in the 80’s. The most important feature of all for India is that the port would allow it to bypass what is an effective land blockade from Pakistan, and will permit it to reach and trade with Afghanistan. The Chabahar port will essentially compete with the Chinese-built Gwadar port in nearby Pakistan, in the two superpowers’ race for influence and domination of the ocean’s oil-carrying sea lanes.

India’s usual approach is to keep a neutral stance around world conflicts in order to be able to talk and deal with all parties. This is part of its non-commitment policy. For example, India has relations with both Israel and Palestine, or Iran and Saudi Arabia. This means that India is very unlikely to make any serious statement in favour of Iran against the United States if Iranian-US relations were to badly break down, as it might be seen as picking sides by some countries. It does not mean, however, that it will abandon Iran. India has already invested greatly in infrastructure projects and is unlikely to simply withdraw them. Far more importantly, India is one of Iran’s biggest petroleum purchasers, and losing such an important market and provider is not a choice the Indian government is eager to make.

India calls its relationship with Iran a “strategic partnership”, in terms of cooperation in energy and trade activities. The Indian government is likely to take a cautious stance while acting with principles of Realpolitik. They will try to sort out sanctions if they can and will discourage this sort of activity while trying to maintain their interests in the region. As said before, New Delhi will shy away from committing strongly from any project likely to keep its hands tied.

The Syrian War

In 2011, the Middle East and North Africa region was shaken by what would soon be called the Arab Spring. While the citizens of many Arab countries where chanting pro- democratic slogans and protesting outside dictators’ palaces and in the squares of Middle Eastern capitals, outside observers began to say that the once dictatorship- riddled region was about to adopt Western liberal democracy in what would become an era of freedom never paralleled in such countries. What came later could hardly be further from that reality. The region was struck by great waves civil unrest, as one by one, from West to East, the waves of revolution spread. The most authoritarian regimes attacked their own citizens with brutal repression, and what seemed like democratic transitions rapidly turned out to fall back into authoritarianism. Such was the case in Egypt, among others. However, some countries where struck harder than others. The more serious cases became civil wars. Some of the countries that had enjoyed relative long-term stability, like Libya and Syria burst into civil war. Yemen too, was struck by sectarian conflict.

The longest of these conflicts, the Syrian Civil War, is on its 8th year already. For a long time, it has drawn many international and regional actors, turning its countryside into a patchwork of pro-government militias, rebel guerrillas, Islamist extremism, transnational nationalist movements and others. The ruling class, the Al- Assad alawite family, under an authoritarian and secularist regime, has held on to power through every means possible, using foreign support as a crucial part of its survival strategy. To his side, Bashar Al-Assad has drawn the support of Vladimir Putin’s Russian Federation, as well as the Islamic Republic of Iran and its Lebanese ally, Hezbollah. Each of these players has brought their own forces to the battlefield, as Russia has helped give Syria the necessary aerial capabilities it lacked, while Iran provides it with Shia militias, material, volunteers, and the presence of Hezbollah.

The regime faces many groups, who often fight against each other, and have different international backing, if any. For example, the Free Syrian Army is said to be backed by Turkey and is made from Sunni Arab and Turkmen militias. Other groups such as the Islamic State or Al Qaeda affiliated organizations also fight for survival, or to implement their ideal society. Another important group, perhaps the most important one is the YPG, or People’s Protection Unit, largely a Kurdish force, which holds much of Northern Syria, the Kurdish region called Rojava. The YPG and the Syrian government of Al-Assad seem to have come to an understanding and try not to enter into hostilities amongst each other, focusing on the Islamic State, or ISIL. YPG international backing comes mainly from the US, but with President Donald Trump having said that the US will soon leave Syria, their future is uncertain.

With Bashar Al-Assad’s position having become dominant in the Syrian battlefield, it is expected that the conflict will enter a new stage. Israel has shown its growing discomfort in what it sees as Iranian expansionism, and has launched aerial offensives against Iranian positions, permitted by Russia, who currently controls much of Syria’s aerial defences. This might spell the loosening of Al-Assad’s coalition.

As Iranian-backed forces draw closer to the southwest of Syria, Israel becomes more and more nervous. The implication of Israel in the Syrian conflict would most likely be a disaster for all parties involved. If Israel comes to point of fearing for its territorial integrity, or its existence, it has previously shown, in many occasions, that it will not doubt to take action and use all of its military might in the process if needed.

This is why Hezbollah is unlikely to make a serious move towards the Golan Heights. Hezbollah now boasts of the greatest amount of power it has ever had in its domestic scene. It is an influential actor in the Syrian War and at home it has achieved serious political power, forming a coalition with various other Shia and Christian groups. A war with Israel, in which it was identified as the aggressor, would be disastrous to its image as a protector of the Lebanese, as it has always taken a stance of resistance. It would put all of Hezbollah’s political achievements in jeopardy. Whatever the case, Israel boasts of significantly more modern and powerful armed forces, which would force Hezbollah to be on the defensive, thus making an offensive into Israel extremely unlikely. Hezbollah must then try to restrain Iran, although, amongst the myriad of Iranian-backed militias, it has lost leverage in its relations with Iran and the IRGC.

For Bashar Al-Assad, war with Israel might prove an existential threat, as it bears the potential to cause a great deal of damage in Syria, undermining any effort to consolidate power and end the war in his favour. If war with Israel broke out, even if it was just against Iranian-backed objectives, Al-Assad would never be able to obtain the reconstruction funds it so badly needs to rebuild the country. Israel’s powerful and advanced army would without a doubt pose the patchwork of battle-hardened militias a very big challenge. Thus, it is very unlikely for Al-Assad to permit a war might cause his downfall.

Russia, wishing to end the war and keep its military bases and prestige in the process, would no doubt discourage any sort of posturing against Israel from its allies in Syria. Moscow seeks to maintain good relations with Israel and wouldn’t be very upset about an Iranian exit. It is already trying to prevent Iran and Hezbollah from coming too close to the Israeli and Jordanian borders and has opened the Syrian airspace to Israeli aerial attacks towards Iranian targets located in its vicinity. Russia would welcome a quick and impressive end to the war to consolidate its status as a global power and become a power broker in the region.

Reaching a deal with the US to end hostilities in exchange for the recognition of Al-Assad is not outside the realms of possibility, as chances of regime change get slimmer, the US will be forced to recognize that Al-Assad is there to stay. It is necessary to acknowledge that a Russian-US deal will be incomplete, and quite unfruitful. The US is very likely to demand that Iran leave Syria and stops occupying Iraq with is Quds Force. Russia does not possess the leverage to send Iran back home. It would also be unfavourable for Russia as it has chosen to help Assad to regain its status as a great power in the world and has become a major power broker in the Middle East. This means their position relies on their status, which would be compromised, were Iran to openly confront Russia. The Iranians have already said that they would not leave unless Bashar Al-Assad specifically asked them to. Russia could pressure on Al-Assad, but the Iranians are likely to have more leverage, as they have a larger ground force in the region, and where the first to help the Syrian regime.

If the US wants to achieve any sort of meaningful peace negotiations, it must come into dialogue with the Iranians. Any sort of negotiation that does not include Iran would be pointless, as the amount of influence it has acquired in the region these last years makes it a key player. Iran is determined to stay in Syria and the IRGC is committed to force the government to keep its presence abroad.

In any case, the retreat of US troops in Syria would mark a turning point in the war. Currently the US provides air support, has 2,000 ground troops and provides an vital amount of equipment to the YPG Kurdish forces. Its retreat would be a blow to American credibility as an international ally, as it abandons the Kurds in a decisive moment where all tables could turn against them. Turkey has committed forces towards fighting the Kurds, which it sees as a threat to its national integrity, as large numbers of Kurds live inside Turkey and are hostile to it. The main reason for Turkish entry into the Syrian war was to stop the YPG from uniting a long stretch of land along the Turkish

border towards the Mediterranean Sea and to prevent the establishment of a Kurdish state. It is therefore a possibility that, whether through its Syrian proxies, or with its own army, the Turks will ally with Al-Assad against the Kurds, if these two don’t reach an agreement and begin hostilities. This alliance is more than likely, as Turkish animosity towards Kurdish forces will cause them to jump at the occasion, if Al-Assad asks for help. Al-Assad might seek in this way to balance Iranian influence by integrating another player, which would cause tensions between Iran and Turkey to rise, as both countries aspire to obtain regional hegemony, and would give Syria more margin to manoeuvre.

 

Saudi Arabian soldier from the First Airborne Brigade with a UAE soldier, 2016 [Saudi88hawk-Wikipedia]

Saudi Arabian soldier from the First Airborne Brigade with a UAE soldier, 2016 [Saudi88hawk-Wikipedia]

 

Saudi-Iranian rivalry

The struggle for dominance in the region is expected to continue indeterminately. As long as the ideological argument between the Islamic Republic and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) exists, it will take geopolitical dimensions, as both states seek to ensure their legitimacy in the face of the other. The Iran-Iraq War shaped the Islamic Republic’s sense of geopolitical isolation, giving the more entrenched sectors of its political elite a fierce will to prevent any further isolation as was done in the past. Chemical weapons, often provided by the US were used against it, without any action taken from the international community. Therefore, the Iranian elites believe that Iran will have to stand by itself, and knows it will have few allies.

For the moment, Iran seems to be winning the confrontation. With a the possibility of a consolidated Syria, Iran’s influence would be unparalleled. Iraq, Syria, Lebanon will provide Iran the reach and the potential to expand its influence even in the Mediterranean Sea. The war in Yemen is proving as costly as it is ineffective to Saudi Arabia and its allies, with a minimum cost from Iran. It can be expected that Iran keeps its strong grip over these countries, as its presence has become necessary for the survival of some of these states. It will not be without difficulty, as local forces are likely to reject the imposition of Iranian authority. This has been shown before in the burning of the Iranian consulate in Basra [4], by local Sunni Arabs who resent the degree of influence its neighbour has in their country. The recently struck commercial deals with Iraq during Rouhani’s visit to the country might cause more Iraqis to take a more confrontational stance, as they are seen to benefit Iran more than Iraq. Both counties have pledged to increase their trade up to 20 billion dollars, but it will be hard to determine how they will affect Iraq. With this degree of Iranian involvement, the KSA’s influence diminishes.

The Yemeni war is likely to drag on for years, and if the Saudis are to win, the shall have to keep paying a high toll, which will require strong political will to overcome the adversities. The expense of this war is not only material, it has primarily taken a great diplomatic cost, as it loses credibility to its allies, like the US, which see the ineffectiveness of the Saudi military. At home, their western allies struggle to explain their partnership with a country that has proven too much to handle for certain political groups and the civil society in general, with its lack of human rights considerations and sharia-based laws that seem outdated to Westerners. The cruel Yemeni war further alienates the Saudi Kingdom from them.

The conflict for Middle Eastern hegemony might be about to attract a new player. As Pakistan tries to deal with its ongoing crisis, its new president, Imran Khan, has looked to the Gulf States for funding. The Saudis and the UAE have already pledged many billion dollars. For now, the economic woes make Pakistan an unlikely actor, but there is evidence of a change of direction in Islamabad, as Khan seems to part ways from his predecessor’s foreign policy regarding its western neighbour. Cooperation with Iran has significantly been reduced, especially in terms of security and anti-terrorism, as in March 2019 Baluchi ethno-nationalists once again attacked Iranian positions from the Pakistani border. Tehran seems alarmed by these developments and has explicitly warned Pakistan that an approach towards Saudi Arabia and participation in the so called Middle Eastern Cold War will have severe consequences for Pakistan. It is right in fearing Pakistan, which has shown that it can play the same game as Iran, making use of foreign militias and having an impressive intelligence service, on top of the nuclear bomb. If Iran where to cause conflict in Pakistan, it might find itself in severe disadvantage, as it would be harder to use subversive activities in the predominantly Sunni country. It might also come to odds with China, who will view any menace to its infrastructure projects with great suspicion. Iran would have difficult time finding a serious counterbalance to Pakistan in India, as India would decline to strike a serious alliance due to its many interests in the Gulf States.

Iran, however, still holds many cards it can use if the conflict were to escalate. Bahrain, whose predominantly Shia population contrast to its powerful Sunni ruling family, which will find itself fighting to maintain control in the case of an Iranian- backed coup similar to the one in 1981, or a pro-democracy uprising with significant Shia elements such as the one of 2011. For the latter, had the Gulf states not intervened in Bahrain in support of its ruling family, Bahrain would now likely be part of the Iranian regional system, which would be extremely troublesome for the KSA, given its proximity. It can also be expected for Iran to influence the oppressed Shia Arabs along Saudi Arabia’s Persian Gulf coast. These Shia Arabs lie just above most of KSA’s petrol wells and reserves, and if stirred to open rebellion, and properly armed, would cause immense trouble in the Monarchy.

The other option open to Iran will be to exploit the current Gulf crisis between the KSA and UAE against Qatar, whose blockade has lasted almost two years. Iran will seek to build up stronger ties with Qatar, who has found itself isolated by most Arab nations. Currently, Turkey is the key ally to Qatar in the crisis, and their partnership is seen to have strategic importance by both parties.

Qatar has traditionally had better ties to Iran than most other Gulf states, also due to the fact that they share the South-Pars/North Dome natural gas field, the largest in the world, and rely on cooperation to exploit its resources and wealth. This is largely a product of its independent foreign policy. This means that Iran is likely to use the crisis to drive a wedge between the members of the GCC and take advantage of their disunity in favour of Qatar and in detriment to the KSA. It will be difficult for the Iranians and the Qataris form a significant partnership, since there are still too many obstacles to this. First of all, Qatar is a Sunni Arab state, and it is the main exporter of the Muslim Brotherhood’s ideas, which would not fit Iran’s tendency toward Shia countries. Secondly, a partnership with Iran would make the Gulf Cooperation Council’s crisis permanently irreparable, which is not desired by Qatar. Finally, this would turn Qatar into the main objective of the Saudi-led coalition and would unnecessarily put it in harm’s way.

One key factor could change everything in a highly unlikely scenario, also known as a ‘black swan’. This is the disappearance of ISIS from the Levant, and its relocation to Khorasan, a term used for Central Asia, Northern Iran and Afghanistan. This would change the balance of power in the middle East as it would bring conflict to the very borders of Iran. It would allow for Iran’s enemies to arm this extremely anti-Shia group, following a parallel of the Yemen’s Houthi rebels for Saudi Arabia. These rebels are banking on the opportunity that, following peace in Afghanistan with the Taliban, the Taliban’s followers will become disenchanted by its leadership dealings with the US and would thus join the newly founded group. They would acquire the battle-hardened Taliban troops, which would provide a formidable foe for Iran.

Toyota wars and the next generation in counter insurgency strategies

ISIS Toyota convoy in Syria [ISIS video footage]

▲ISIS Toyota convoy in Syria [ISIS video footage]

ANALYSISIgnacio Yárnoz

When you go to a Toyota distributor to buy a Toyota Land Cruiser or a Toyota Hilux, what they proudly tell you is how resistant, fast and reliable the truck is. However, what they do not tell you is how implicated in wars and conflicts the truck has been due to the very same characteristics. We have seen in recent newscasts that in many of today´s conflicts, there’s a Toyota truck; no matter how remote the country is. This is because, if the AK47 is the favourite weapon for militias in developing countries, the Toyota Hilux and Land Cruiser are the militia’s trucks of choice.

This is no surprise when one considers that the Toyota Land Cruiser was initially designed to be a military car inspired by the famous Jeep Willis at the time Japan was occupied by the US after Japan´s defeat in World War II. However, its popularity among terrorist groups, militias, as well as developing countries’ national armies only gained ground in the 80’s when a conflict between Chad and Libya proved the trucks’ effectiveness as war machines; simultaneously calling into question the efficacy of traditional war strategies and military logistics.

This little-known story is about how an army comprising 400 Toyota pickups of the Chadian army outmanoeuvred and overwhelmed a vastly superior force equipped with soviet-era tanks and aircrafts of the Libyan army. The historical event demonstrated how a civilian truck was able to shape international borders, tipping the balance in favour of the inferior party to the conflict.

The Toyota War

The Toyota War is the name given to the last phase of the Chad-Libyan War that raged on for almost a decade, yet did not have relevance until its last phase. This last phase began in 1986 and ended a year later with a heavy defeat inflicted on the Libyan army by the Chadians. In total, 7,500 men were killed and 1.5 billion dollars worth of military equipment was destroyed or captured. Conversely, Chad only lost 1,000 men and very little military equipment (because they hardly had any).

The last phase of the conflict developed in the disputed area of the North of Chad, an area that had been occupied by Libyan forces in 1986 due to its natural resources such as uranium (highly interesting for Gadhafi and his nuclear armament project). At the beginning of 1987, the last year of the war, the Libyan expeditionary force comprised 8,000 soldiers, 300 T-55 battle tanks, multiple rocket launchers and regular artillery, as well as Mi-24 helicopters and sixty combat aircrafts. However, the Libyan soldiers were demotivated and disorganized. The Chadians, on the other hand, had nothing but 10,000 brave and motivated soldiers with neither air support nor armoured tanks. However, by 1987, Chad could count on the French Air Force to keep Libyan aircraft grounded but, perhaps more importantly, a 400 Toyota pickups fleet equipped with MILAN (Missile d´infanterie léger antichar) anti-tank guided missiles sent by the French Government. Additionally, it could also be equipped with .50 calibre machine guns, with archaic flak cannons for anti-air purposes or even rocket clusters to be used as WWII-style artillery.

This logistical combination proved to be superior to that employed by the Libyan army as Toyota pickup trucks could easily outmanoeuvre the heavily armoured Russian tanks. Whereas the latter consumed around 200 L/100 km, the Toyota trucks consumed a fraction, at 10L/100 km. In addition, Toyota Trucks could mobilize groups of 20 people in a single truck, enabling faster transport and deployment of troops to the conflict scene; an advantage the Russian tanks did not have.

Reminiscent of the Maginot line when the Nazi army challenged the old trenches system utilizing a fixed artillery method with the innovative Thunder war strategy, the Chad Army emerged victorious over the Libyans through a simple strategic innovation in military logistics. Something clearly demonstrated in the Battle of Fada. In this instance, a Libyan armoured brigade defending Fada was almost annihilated: 784 Libyans and CDR (Democratic Revolutionary Council) militiamen died, 92 T-55 tanks and 33 BMP-1 infantry fighting vehicles were destroyed, and 13 T-55s and 18 BMP-1s were captured, together with the 81 Libyan soldiers operating them. Chadian losses, on the other hand, were minimal: only 18 soldiers died and three Toyotas were destroyed.

All in all, this situation was one of the first deployments of the Toyota Hilux in a conflict zone, demonstrating the reliability of the truck and its high performance in harsh environments. A testament to the Toyota’s endurance was its featuring in the famous TV show “Top Gear” where a 1980’s Toyota Hilux was put to a wrecking ball, set on fire, submerged in a sea bay for 5 hours, then left on the top of a building waiting its final demolishment, yet still rolled.

Ever since, Toyota trucks have been sighted in conflicts in Nicaragua, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Liberia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (CDR), Lebanon, Yemen, Sudan, and Pakistan and as the New York Times has reported, the Hilux remains the pirates' 'ride of choice.'  The deployment of Daesh of a fleet of hundreds of Toyotas in Mosul in 2014 was a lasting testament of the trucks’ durability.

 

Chad's troops during the war against Lybia in the 1980s [Wikimedia Commons]

Chad's troops during the war against Lybia in the 1980s [Wikimedia Commons]

 

Adaptability

How could the West deal with this issue? To deploy a massive fleet of Humvees? It would be naïve to attack an enemy with their own means. This hardly appears to constitute an effective solution. Humvees are already being substituted by JLTV (Joint Light Tactical Vehicle) due to their vulnerability to IED’s (Improvised Explosive Devices); something insurgents are allowed to use but western countries are not due to international treaties and ethical values (how can a mine be designed such that it can distinguish a civilian truck from a Toyota driven by insurgents?). This proves the challenge that counterinsurgency policies (COIN) entail and the need to move to a next generation as far as COIN strategies are concerned.

The Toyota example is one of many that clearly signals a need for conventional state armies to adapt their logistical capabilities to better match the challenges of non-conventional warfare and insurgencies; the primary forms of conflict in which our nations are today engaged. The first lesson is clearly that the traditional focus on high power and the availability of resources is poorly suited to respond to contemporary insurgencies and military engagement with primarily non-state entities. Rather, there is a growing need for logistical versatility, combining both attack power and high manoeuvrability. The Toyota issue is an interesting example that illustrates how groups like Daesh have been able to mobilize an easily accessible, relatively non-expensive market commodity that has proven to be effective in lending the group precisely the kind of logistical aid required to successfully wage its insurgency. This being said, there are a number of dilemmas posed to nation states engaging in COIN strategies that prevent them from being able to employ the same methodology. Clearly there is a need to constantly engage in the adaptation of COIN strategies to respond to new threats and the surprising innovation of the adversary. However, COIN campaigns have been difficult to manage, and even harder to win, since time immemorial.

Recent research in political science and economics investigates a number of difficulties security forces face during conflicts with insurgent actors (Trebbi et al., 2017). Development and military aid spending have uneven effects, and conventional military strategies, including aerial bombardment, can erode civilian support for the COIN. Although states have historically used mass killings of non-combatants to undermine logistical support for guerrilla actors, evidence from modern insurgencies indicates that these measures may have the opposite effect: in some cases, such measures may encourage recruitment and mobilization (Trebbi et al., 2017). As such, the challenge is to constantly adapt to meet the requirements of contemporary warfare, whilst simultaneously assessing and remaining cognizant of the effects that COIN measures have on the overall campaign.

Adaptation through learning and innovation occurs on a much different time-scale than evolution. Although both involve information exchange with the environment and with elements within the system, evolution occurs over long periods of time through successive generations that have been able to successfully survive to changes (Hayden, 2013). Learning is the process of modifying existing knowledge, behaviours, skills, values, or preferences, and innovation involves the incorporation of a previously unused element into the system, or the recombination of existing elements in new ways.

Airstrikes

In the previous example of the conflict between Chad and Libya, it was mentioned that the Libyan army had its air force inoperative due to the presence of French air support. Another important point to make is that Toyotas may have been effective war machines for the terrain and surrounding environment, yet would nevertheless have been vulnerable to airstrikes had the Libyan army been able to engage air power against the Chadians. Air and space are part of the future of COIN strategies, despite composing only one element of them. They are our eyes (UAV systems), our way to get away or deploy forces (Chinook helicopters for example) and also the sword that can eliminate the threat (e.g. Predator drones). However, maintaining complete dominance over the battle space does not guarantee victory.

Due to the success of the air campaign in Operation Desert Storm, airpower seemed to be the predominating weapon of choice for future warfare. Yet, recent operations in Afghanistan and Iraq have called that assertion into question. Airstrikes in ground operations have proven to be controversial in small wars, especially when it comes to civilian casualties and its impact on civilian morale (an element that could enhance local support to insurgents). This is why, to win popular support, the US air force had to rethink its operations in Afghanistan and Iraq to win popular support (this also a result of Taliban and Pakistani propaganda and political pressure). Most recently, the US, along with France and the UK, have engaged in massive airstrikes on strategic infrastructure devoted to chemical development supposedly for a military use. Although being calibrated, proportional and targeted, those attacks have created a lot of internal debate in the West and have divided society. As such, the future environment seems certain to further limit the kind of strikes it can make with airpower and missiles.

Consequently, technologically superior air assets nowadays face significant challenges in engaging dispersed and oftentimes unseen opponents. The Air Force must determine how modern airpower can successfully engage an irregular opponent. Air power, the “strategic panacea” of Western policymakers (Maxey, 2018), will no longer maintain the same utility that it does against rural insurgents. Although tactical Predator strikes and aerial reconnaissance may have shifted the street-to-street fighting against Daesh, such operations are severely limited within expansive megacities. The threat of civilian casualties is often too high, even for precision-guided munitions with limited blast radius. Further. buildings and layers of infrastructure often obscure a clear overhead view.

For 2030, the United Nations (UN) suggests that around 60 percent of global population will live in urban areas. There are 512 cities of at least one million inhabitants around the world, and this is expected to grow to 662 cities by 2030. Many of the megacities that will emerge will come from the developing world. That is why it is so urgent to design strategies to adapt to operating within metropolitan environments where small roads prevent large tanks to manoeuvre, where buildings give cover to heavy cannon targets and where one is more exposed to the crosshairs of insurgents taking cover in civilian infrastructure. 

As U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley remarked in 2016; “In the future, I can say with very high degrees of confidence, the American Army is probably going to be fighting in urban areas. We need to man, organize, train and equip the force for operations in urban areas, highly dense urban areas, and that’s a different construct. We’re not organized like that right now”.

In addition to this, National armies must be able to work through host governments, providing training, equipment and on-the-ground assistance to their local partners. The mere presence of a foreign army in the area often creates a negative perception among the local population and, unfortunately, in other cases, violent opposition. However, if the army patrolling the city wears the national flag, things change. Defeating an insurgency depends upon effective state building.

 

REFERENCES

Engel, P. (2018). These Toyota trucks are popular with terrorists — here's why. Business Insider. [Accessed 21 Apr. 2018].

S.L.P., I. (2018). La guerra de los Toyota en Siria. Instituto de Estrategia S.L.P. [Accessed 21 Apr. 2018].

Wang, A. (2018). How did the Toyota pickup become terrorists’ favorite truck?. Quartz.

Maxey, L. (2018). Preparing for the Urban Future of Counterinsurgency.

Smallwarsjournal.com. (2018). Air and Space Power COIN / IW | Small Wars Journal.

Costas, J. (2018). El lado oscuro y bélico del Toyota Land Cruiser. Motorpasion.com.

Tomes, R. R. (2004). Relearning counterinsurgency warfare. Parameters, 34(1), 16-29.

Hayden, N. K. (2013). Innovation and Learning in Terrorist Organizations: Towards Adaptive Capacity and Resiliency. System Dynamics Society.

Ryan, A., & Dila, M. (2014). Disruptive Innovation Reframed: Insurgent Design for Systemic Transformation.

Trebbi, F., Weese, E., Wright, A. L., & Shaver, A. (2017). Insurgent Learning (No. w23475). National Bureau of Economic Research.

Women allowed to drive: Is Saudi Arabia really changing?

Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman and President Donald Trump during a meeting in Washington in 2017 [White House]

▲Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman and President Donald Trump during a meeting in Washington in 2017 [White House]

ANALYSIS / Naomi Moreno

Saudi Arabia used to be the only country in the world that banned women from driving. This ban was one of the things that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) was best known for to outsiders not otherwise familiar with the country's domestic politics, and has thus been a casus belli for activists demanding reforms in the kingdom. Last month, Saudi Arabia started issuing the first driver's licenses to women, putting into effect some of the changes promised by the infamous Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MBS) in his bid to modernize Saudi Arabian politics. The end of the ban further signals the beginning of a move to expand the rights of women in KSA, and builds on piecemeal developments that took place in the realm of women’s rights in the kingdom prior to MBS’ entrance to the political scene.

Thus, since 2012, Saudi Arabian women have been able to do sports as well as participate in the Olympic Games; in the 2016 Olympics, four Saudi women were allowed to travel to Rio de Janeiro to compete. Moreover, within the political realm, King Abdullah swore in the first 30 women to the shura council − Saudi Arabia's consultative council − in February 2013, and in the kingdom's 2015 municipal elections, women were able to vote and run for office for the first time. Finally, and highlighting the fact that economic dynamics have similarly played a role in driving progression in the kingdom, the Saudi stock exchange named the first female chairperson in its history − a 39-year-old Saudi woman named Sarah Al Suhaimi − last February.

Further, although KSA may be known to be one of the “worst countries to be a woman”, the country has experienced a notable breakthrough in the last 5 years and the abovementioned advances in women’s rights, to name some, constitute a positive development. However, the most visible reforms have arguably been the work of MBS. The somewhat rash and unprecedented decision to end the ban on driving coincided with MBS' crackdown on ultra-conservative, Wahhabi clerics and the placing of several of the kingdom's richest and most influential men under house arrest, under the pretext of challenging corruption. In addition, under his leadership, the oil-rich kingdom is undergoing economic reforms to reduce the country's dependency on oil, in a bid to modernize the country’s economy. 

Nonetheless, despite the above mentioned reforms being classified by some as unprecedented, progressive leaps that are putting an end to oppression through challenging underlying ultra-conservatism traditions (as well as those that espouse them), a measure of distrust has arisen among Saudis and outsiders with regards the motivations underlying the as-of-yet seemingly limited reforms that have been introduced. While some perceive the crown prince's actions to be a genuine move towards reforming Saudi society, several indicators point to the possibility that MBS might have more practical reasons that are only tangentially related to progression for progression's sake. As the thinking goes, such decrees may have less to do with genuine reform, and more to do with improving an international image to deflect from some of the kingdom’s more controversial practices, both at home and abroad. A number of factors drive this public scepticism.

Reasons for scepticism

The first relates to the fact that KSA is a country where an ultraconservative form of shari'a or Islamic law continues to constitute the primary legal framework. This legal framework is based on the Qur'an and Hadith, within which the public and many private aspects of everyday life are regulated. Unlike in other Muslim majority countries, where only selective elements of the shari'a are adopted, Wahhabism – which is identified by the Court of Strasbourg as a main source of terrorism − has necessitated the strict adherence to a fundamentalist interpretation of shari'a, one that draws from the stricter and more literal Hanbali school of jurisprudence. As such, music and the arts have been strictly controlled and censored. In addition, although the religious police (more commonly known as the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice) have had their authority curbed to a certain degree, they are still given the authority to enforce Islamic norms of conduct in public by observing suspects and forwarding their findings to the police.

In the past few years, the KSA has been pushing for a more national Wahhabism, one that is more modern in its outlook and suitable for the kingdom’s image. Nevertheless, the Wahhabi clergy has been close to the Al Saud dynasty since the mid-18th century, offering it Islamic legitimacy in return for control over parts of the state, and a lavish religious infrastructure of mosques and universities. Therefore, Saudi clerics are pushing back significantly against democratization efforts. As a result, the continuing prevalence of a shari'a system of law raises questions about the ability of the kingdom to seriously democratise and reform to become moderate.

Secondly, and from a domestic point of view, Saudi Arabia is experiencing disharmony. Saudi citizens are not willing to live in a country where any political opposition is quelled by force, and punishments for crimes such as blasphemy, sorcery, and apostasy are gruesome and carried out publicly. This internal issue has thus embodied an identity crisis provoked mainly by the 2003 Iraq war, and reinforced by the events of the Arab Spring. Disillusionment, unemployment, religious and tribal splits, as well as human rights abuses and corruption among an ageing leadership have been among the main grievances of the Saudi people who are no longer as tolerant of oppression.

In an attempt to prevent the spill over of the Arab Spring fervor into the Kingdom, the government spent $130 billion in an attempt to offset domestic unrest. Nonetheless, these grants failed to satisfy the nearly 60 percent of the population under the age of twenty-one, which refused to settle. In fact, in 2016 protests broke out in Qatif, a city in Saudi Arabia's oil-rich, eastern provinces, which prompted Saudis to deploy additional security units to the region. In addition, in September of last year, Saudi authorities, arguing a battle against corruption and a crack down on extremism, arrested dozens of people, including prominent clerics. According to a veteran Saudi journalist, this was an absurd action as “there was nothing that called for such arrests”. He argued that several among those arrested were not members of any political organization, but rather individuals with dissenting viewpoints to those held by the ruling family.

Among those arrested was Sheikh Salman al-Awdah, an influential cleric known for agitating for political change and for being a pro-shari'a activist. Awdah's arrest, while potentially disguised as part of the kingdom’s attempts to curb the influence of religious hardliners, is perhaps better understood in the context of the Qatar crisis. Thus, when KSA, with the support of a handful of other countries in the region, initiated a blockade of the small Gulf peninsula in June of last year, Awdah welcomed a report on his Twitter account suggesting that the then three-month-old row between Qatar and four Arab countries led by Saudi Arabia may be resolved. The ensuing arrest of the Sheikh seems to confirm a suspicion that it was potentially related to his favouring the renormalization of relations with Qatar, as opposed to it being related to MBS' campaign to moderate Islam in the kingdom.

A third factor that calls into question the sincerity of the modernization campaign is economic. Although Saudi Arabia became a very wealthy country following the discovery of oil in the region, massive inequality between the various classes has grown since, as these resources remain to be controlled by a select few. As a result, nearly one fifth of the population continues to live in poverty, especially in the predominantly Shi’a South where, ironically, much of the oil reservoirs are located. In these areas, sewage runs in the streets, and only crumbs are spent to alleviate the plight of the poor. Further, youth opportunities in Saudi Arabia are few, which leaves much to be desire, and translates into occasional unrest. Thus, the lack of possibilities has led many young men to join various terrorist organizations in search of a new life.

 

Statement by MBS in a conference organized in Riyadh in October 2017 [KSA]

Statement by MBS in a conference organized in Riyadh in October 2017 [KSA]

 

Vision 2030 and international image

In the context of the Saudi Vision 2030, the oil rich country is aiming to wean itself of its dependence on the natural resource which, despite its wealth generation capacity, has also been one of the main causes of the country's economic problems. KSA is facing an existential crisis that has led to a re-think of its long-standing practice of selling oil via fixed contracts. This is why Vision 2030 is so important. Seeking to regain better control over its economic and financial destiny, the kingdom has designed an ambitious economic restructuring plan, spearheaded by MBS. Vision 2030 constitutes a reform programme that aims to upgrade the country’s financial status by diversifying its economy in a world of low oil prices. Saudi Arabia thus needs overseas firms’ investments, most notably in non-oil sectors, in order to develop this state-of-the-art approach. This being said, Vision 2030 inevitably implies reforms on simultaneous fronts that go beyond economic affairs. The action plan has come in at a time when the kingdom is not only dealing with oil earnings and lowering its reserves, but also expanding its regional role. As a result, becoming a more democratic country could attract foreign wealth to a country that has traditionally been viewed in a negative light due to its repressive human rights record.  

This being said, Saudi Arabia also has a lot to do regarding its foreign policy in order to improve its international image. Despite this, the Saudi petition to push the US into a war with Iran has not ceased during recent years. Religious confrontation between the Sunni Saudi autocracy and Iran’s Shi’a theocracy has characterized the geopolitical tensions that have existed in the region for decades. Riyadh has tried to circumvent criticism of its military intervention in the Yemen through capitalizing on the Trump administration's hostility towards Iran, and involving the US in its campaign; thus granting it a degree of legitimacy as an international alliance against the Houthis. Recently, MBS stated that Trump was the “best person at the right time” to confront Iran. Conveniently enough, Trump and the Republicans are now in charge of US’ foreign affairs. Whereas the Obama administration, in its final months, suspended the sale of precision-guided missiles to Saudi Arabia, the Trump administration has moved to reverse this in the context of the Yemeni conflict. In addition, in May of this year, just a month after MBS visited Washington in a meeting which included discussions regarding the Iran accords, the kingdom has heaped praise on president Trump following his decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal.

All things considered, 2018 may go down in history as the irreversible end of the absolute archaic Saudi monarchy. This implosion was necessitated by events, such as those previously mentioned, that Saudi rulers could no longer control or avoid. Hitherto, MBS seems to be fulfilling his father’s wishes. He has hand-picked dutiful and like-minded princes and appointed them to powerful positions. As a result, MBS' actions suggest that the kingdom is turning over a new page in which a new generation of princes and technocrats will lead the breakthrough to a more moderate and democratic Saudi Arabia.

New awareness

However, although MBS has declared that the KSA is moving towards changing existing guardianship laws, due to cultural differences among Saudi families, to date, women still need power of attorney from a male relative to acquire a car, and risk imprisonment should they disobey male guardians. In addition, this past month, at least 12 prominent women’s rights activists who campaigned for women's driving rights just before the country lifted the ban were arrested. Although the lifting of the ban is now effective, 9 of these activists remain behind bars and are facing serious charges and long jail sentences. As such, women continue to face significant challenges in realizing basic rights, despite the positive media endorsement that MBS' lifting of the driving ban has received.

Although Saudi Arabia is making an effort in order to satisfy the public eye, it is with some degree of scepticism that one should approach the country's motivations. Taking into account Saudi Arabia’s current state of affairs, these events suggest that the women’s driving decree was an effort in order to improve the country’s external image as well as an effort to deflect attention from a host of problematic internal and external affairs, such as the proxy warfare in the region, the arrest of dissidents and clerics this past September, and the Qatari diplomatic crisis, which recently “celebrated” its first anniversary. Allowing women to drive is a relatively trivial sacrifice for the kingdom to make and has triggered sufficient positive reverberations globally. Such baby steps are positive, and should be encouraged, yet overlook the fact that they only represent the tip of the iceberg.

As it stands, the lifting of the driving ban does not translate into a concrete shift in the prevailing legal and cultural mindsets that initially opposed it. Rather, it is an indirect approach to strengthen Saudi’s power in economic and political terms. Yet, although women in Saudi Arabia may feel doubtful about the government’s intentions, time remains to be their best ally. After decades of an ultraconservative approach to handling their rights, the country has reached awareness that it can no longer sustain its continued oppression of women; and this for economic reasons, but also as a result of global pressures that affect the success of the country's foreign policies which, by extension, also negatively impact on its interests.

The silver lining for Saudi woman is that, even if the issue of women's rights is being leveraged to secure the larger interests of the kingdom, it continues to represent a slow and steady progression to a future in which women may be granted more freedoms. The downside is that, so long as these rights are not grafted into a broader legal framework that secures them beyond the rule of a single individual − like MBS − women's rights (and human rights in general) will continue to be the temporary product of individual whim. Without an overhaul of the shari'a system that perpetuates regressive attitudes towards women, the best that can be hoped for is the continuation of internal and external pressures that coerce the Saudi leadership into exacting further reforms in the meantime. As with all things, time will tell.

Jordan River Basin: Hydropolitics as an arena for regional cooperation

Satellite imagery of the Jordan River [NASA]

▲Satellite imagery of the Jordan River [NASA]

ANALYSISMarina Díaz Escudero

Water is an essential natural resource, not only for individual survival on Earth, but also for nation-states and their welfare; having an effect on socio-economic development, trade, health and population productivity.

As a natural determinant of power, its accessibility must be considered by states in their policies on national security; “hydropolitics” being the branch of study for this phenomenon. Although it has been, and continues to be, a major source of inter-state conflict, it is an arena in which cooperation and diplomacy between rival countries can set the ground for further political agreements, effectively leading to more stable and peaceful relations.

On the other hand, when water is used as a natural border or must be shared between various countries, concurrent cooperation between all of them is essential to find an effective and non-violent way to approach the resource. Otherwise, an overlapping of different, and potentially contradictory, bilateral agreements may lead to frictions. If one of the concerned countries is not present in negotiations, as some historical events suggest (e.g. 1992 multilateral negotiations in Moscow, where Lebanon and Syria where not present), this will always constitute an obstacle for regional stability.

Moreover, although 71% of the Earth’s surface is covered by water, factors such as economic interests, climate change, and explosive population growth are also challenging the sustainable distribution of water sources among countries. The future effects of this scarcity in the region will demand consistent political action in the long-term and current leaders should bear it in mind.

Water availability and conflict in the MENA region

The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is known as an arid and semi-arid region, with only 1% of the world’s renewable water resources. On average, water availability is only 1,200 cubic meters, around six times less than the worldwide average of 7,000 cubic meters.

As global temperatures rise, more frequent and severe droughts will take place in the region and this will make countries which already have socio-economic rivalries more prone to go to war with each other. According to the World Resources Institute, thirteen of the thirty three states that will suffer from worse water scarcity in the twenty-first century will be Middle Eastern countries.

To cite the findings of the National Intelligence Council (NIC) report, Global Trends: Paradox of Progress, more than thirty countries – nearly half of them in the Middle East – will experience extremely high water stress by 2035, increasing economic, social, and political tensions.

Although claims to the land were and are the main motives for much of the current conflict, water, as part of the contested territories, has always been considered as a primary asset to be won in conflict. In fact, recognition of the importance of water lent the term, the “War over Water”, to conflicts in the region, and control over the resource constitutes a significant advantage.

Despite there being several water bodies in the Middle East (Nile, Euphrates, Tigris…), the Jordan River basin is one of the most significant ones today in terms of its influence on current conflicts. The Jordan River Basin is a 223 km long river with an upper course from its sources up to the Galilee Sea, and a lower one, from the latter to the Dead Sea. Territories such as Lebanon, Israel and the West Bank are situated to its West, while Syria and Jordan border it to the East. Water scarcity in the Jordan watershed comes from many different factors, but the existence of cultural, religious and historical differences between the riparian countries (situated on the banks of the river) has led to a centuries-long mismanagement of the source.

Tensions between Zionism and the Arab world on regards to the Jordan River became noticeable in the 1950s, when most Arab countries rejected the Johnston Plan that aimed at dividing the water by constructing a number of dams and canals on the different tributaries of the river. The plan was based on an earlier one commissioned by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNWRA) and was accepted by the water technical committees of the five riparian countries. Nevertheless, the Arab League didn’t give the go-ahead and even hardened its position after the Suez Crisis.

In spite of this, Jordan and Israel decided to abide by their allocations and developed two projects, the Israeli National Water Carrier (to transport water from the north to the center and south) and Jordan’s East Ghor Main Canal (King Abdullah Canal). In retaliation and with severe consequences, Arab states reunited in an Arab Summit (1964) and decided to divert Jordan’s headwaters to the Yarmouk river (for the Syrian Arab Republic and Jordan), depriving Israel of 35% of its Water Carrier capacity.

This provocation led to a series of military clashes and prompted Israel’s attack on Arab construction projects; a move that would help precipitate the 1967 Six-Day War, according to some analysts. As a result of the war, Israel gained control of the waters of the West Bank (formely Jordan-annexed in the 1948 war and today still controlled by the Israeli Civil Administration) and the Sea of Galilee (today constituing about 60% of the country’s fresh water).

Later, in 1995, by the Article 40 of the Oslo II political agreement, […] Israel recognized Palestinian water rights in the West Bank and established the Joint Water Committee to manage and develop new supplies and to investigate illegal water withdrawals. Nevertheless, the loss of control over water in the West Bank has never been accepted by neighbouring Arab countries as, despite the agreement, much of the water coming from it is still directly given to Israeli consumers (and only a smaller fraction to Palestinians living under their control).

Role of water in Syrian-Israeli hostilities

Hostilities have been covering the agenda of Syrian-Israeli relationships ever since the Armistice Agreements signed by Israel with each of the four neighbouring Arab countries in 1949. This is compounded by the fact that there is seldom mutual agreement with resolutions proposed by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC).

The Golan Heights, a rocky plateau in south-western Syria, was taken away by Israel in the aftermath of the Six-Day War and is still considered an Israeli-occupied territory. In 1974 the Agreement on Disengagement was signed, ending the Yom Kippur War and resulting in the formation of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), a buffer zone separating the Israeli portion of the Golan Heights and the rest of Syria. Although Israel kept most of the Golan Heights territory, in 1981 it unilaterally passed the Golan Heights Law to impose its jurisdiction and administration on the occupied territory (refusing to call it “annexation”). These laws did not receive international recognition and were declared void by the UNSC.

The fact that Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated in April 2016 in a weekly cabinet meeting that “the Golan Heights will remain forever in Israeli hands” has once again triggered the rejection of UNSC’s members, who have declared that the status of the Heights “remains unchanged.”

Rainwater catchment in the Golan Heights feeds into the Jordan River and nowadays provides a third of Israel's water supply. Although “Syria has built several dams in the Yarmouk river sub-basin, which is part of the Jordan River basin”, the Golan Heights are likely to remain an important thorn in future Israeli-Syrian relationships.

 

Map of the Jordan River Basin [Palestinian Authority]

Map of the Jordan River Basin [Palestinian Authority]

 

Water as a casus belli between Lebanon and Israel

In March 2002, Lebanon decided to divert part of the Hasbani (a major tributary of the Jordan upper course) to supply the lebanese Wazzani village. Ariel Sharon, the former Prime Minister of Israel, said that the issue could easily become a "casus belli". According to Israel, Lebanon should have made consultations before pumping any water from the Springs, but both the Lebanese government and Hezbollah (a shi’a militant group) condemned the idea.

The Wazzani project, according to Lebanon, only aimed to redevelop the south by extracting a limited amount of water from the Hasbani; 300 MCM per year (they drew 7 MCM by the time). The actual conflict with Israel began when Lebanon started constructing the pumping station very close to the Israeli border.

The United States (US) decided to establish a State Department water expert in order to assess the situation “and cool tempers” but in 2006, during the Lebanon war, the pumping station and other infrastructures, such as an underground water diversion pipe which run Letani river water to many villages, were destroyed.

Although Israeli-Lebanese tensions have continued due to other issues, such as spying, natural gas control and border incidents, water source domination has been a significant contributor to conflict between the two states.

Inter-Arab conflicts on water allocation

Some inter-Arab conflicts on regards to water distribution have also taken place, but they are small-scale and low level ones. In 1987, an agreement was signed between Jordan and Syria which allowed the latter to build twenty five dams with a limited capacity in the Yarmouk River. Later on it was proved that Syria had been violating the pact by constructing more dams than permitted: in 2014 it had already constructed forty two of them. New bilateral agreements were signed in 2001, 2003 and 2004, but repeated violations of these agreements by Syria in terms of water-allocation became unsustainable for Jordan. Most recently (2012), former Jordan's water minister Hazim El Naser stressed the necessity “to end violations of the water-sharing accords.”

Although these are low-level tensions, they could quickly escalate into a regional conflict between Jordan, Syria and Israel, as a decrease of water from the Yarmouk released by Syria to Jordan may prevent Jordan to comply with its commitments towards Israel.

Regional cooperation: from multilateralism to bilateralism

Since the beginning of the last century, attempts to achieve multilateral cooperation and a basin-wide agreement between the five co-riparian countries have been hindered by regional political conflict. Boundary definition, choices about decision-making arrangements, and issues of accountability, together with other political divisions, can help explain the creation of subwatershed communities of interest instead of a major watershed agreement between all neighbour countries.

The Israeli-Palestine peace process begun in 1991 with the Conference in Madrid, attended by all riparians: Israel, Jordan, Palestine, Lebanon and Syria. Co-sponsored by the US and the Soviet Union as representatives of the international community, it addressed several regional issues, such as environment, arms control, economic development and, of course, water distribution (in fact, water rights became one of the trickiest areas of discussion).

In 1992, multilateral negotiations about regional cooperation continued in Moscow but this time they were only attended by Israel, the Jordanian-Palestinian delegation and the international community; Syria and Lebanon were not present. “After the failed Johnston plan, external efforts to achieve a multilateral agreement through cooperation on water sources were attempted by the Centre for Environmental Studies and Resource Management (CESAR) […] As Syria and Lebanon did not want to participate in a process involving Israel, (it) ran parallel processes for Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Jordan on the one hand, and Syria and Lebanon on the other hand.”

As a matter of fact, bilateral instruments grew in importance and two treaties, between Israel and Jordan/Palestine respectively, were signed: The Treaty of Peace between The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and The State of Israel (1994) and The Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip (Oslo II, 1995). Discussions about water use and joint water management played an important role and were included in the annexes.

In 1996, the Trilateral Declaration on Principles for Cooperation on Water-Related Matters and New and Additional Water Resources was signed by Israel, Jordan and the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and in 2003 the first two initiated a plan called Roadmap for Peace which included the revival of cooperation on regional issues like water.

Although Israel and Syria started some negotiations to solve the Golan Heights’ problem in 2008, after the break out of the Syrian civil war distrust between both actors has increased, leaving the most important thorn in multilateral regional negotatiations still unsolved. Nevertheless, “a new government in Syria after the end of the war may provide new opportunities for improved bi- and ultimately multilateral cooperation,” says the FAO. The previous year (2007) Jordan and the Syrian Arab Republic also signed some agreements “in regard to shared water in the Yarmouk river basin.”

Role of Non-Governmental Organizations

Civil society has also been an important platform for resource-management discussions between riparian countries.

Middle Eastern rhetoric, according to the BBC, “often portrays the issue of water as an existential, zero-sum conflict - casting either Israel as a malevolent sponge sucking up Arab water resources, or the implacably hostile Arabs as threatening Israel's very existence by denying life-giving water.”

For this reason, in 2010, Friends of the Earth Middle East (FoEME, also called EcoPeace Middle East) stressed the importance of replacing this win-lose approach for a compromising perspective of mutual gains for all. In this way, their proposals don’t “include quantitative water allocations, but the implementation of a joint institutional structure that is continuously tasked with peaceful conflict resolution over water resources; […] defining water rights not as the access to a certain water quantity, but as a broader bundle of rights and duties to access and use the available water and to uphold quality and quantity standards.”

Through “The Good Water Neighbors” project (2001), the NGO tried to raise awareness about the negative consequences of leaving this issue unmanaged and reiterated its willingness to strenghten ”institutional capacities for collaboration in the region.” According to the staff, Israel, Jordan and Palestine could develop a certain interdependence, focused on water (Israel to Jordan/Palestine) and solar-generated electricity (Jordan to Palestine/Israel), in order to facilitate the powering of desalination plants and produce more cleanwater for sale.

The use of this type of political support for transboundary cooperation, based on water access but focused on solving less cultural and sensitive problems (like environmental sustainability), as a means to opening up avenues for dialogue on other political issues, could be the key for a lasting peace in the region.

According to Gidon Brombert, cofounder and Israeli director of FoEME, adopting “healthy interdependencies is a powerful way to promote regional water and energy stability as a foundation for long-lasting peace between our people.”

A testament to the success of these initiatives is the fact that Jordan and Israel scored 56.67 under the Water Cooperation Quotient (WCQ) 2017, which means that there is currently zero risk of a water-related war between both states (50 is the minimum score for this to apply).

Final key points and conclusions

There is no doubt that water issues have been a key discussion point between riparian countries in the Jordan River watershed since the late nineteenth century, and rightly so, as the only way to achieve a long-lasting peace in the region is to accept that water management is an integral part of political discourse and decisions. Not only because it is an essential factor in the conflicts that arise between states, but because agreements on other political matters could be furthered through the establishment of sound agreements in the hydropolitical arena.

In other words, a “baby-step” approach to politics should be applied: peaceful discussions on this and other matters leveraged to talk about other sources of conflict and utilized to improve political relations between two parties. The Korean conflict is a good example: although both Koreas are far from agreeing with regards to their political outlook, they have been able to cooperate in other fields, such as the Winter Olympic games. Communication during the games was used to subtly suggest avenues for a political reapproachment, which now seems to be progressing satisfactorily.

As for multilateral-bilateral conditions of negotiations, it is important to take into account the fact that the Jordan River basin, mainly due to its geological condition as a watershed, has to be shared by several different countries, five to be exact. This may seem obvious but clearly many actors don’t see its implications.

Understandably, it is very difficult for a state to manage various bilateral agreements concerning the same asset with countries that are mutually at odds with one another. Their contents can overlap, creating contradictions and making the achievement of a general arrangement not only disorganized, but also challenging. Notwithstanding, a multilaterally agreed distribution of the basin’s water – taking into account the necessities of all riparians simultaneously, could more easily pave the way for further cooperation on other, pressing, political issues.

Last but not least, it is important not to forget about policies related to other regional affairs, and their potential effect on water management. Climate change, for instance, will certainly affect water availability in the MENA region and the Jordan River basin, easily disrupting and modifying past and future agreements on the resource’s allocation and distribution. Attention should also be paid to interest groups and to the economic situation of the countries involved in the negotitations, as these will be determinant in states’ decisions about the implementation of certain future projects.

Khashoggi case: the lack of European unity of action

Protest in London in October 2018 after the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi

▲ Protest in London in October 2018 after the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi [John Lubbock, Wikimedia Commons]

ANALYSISNaomi Moreno Cosgrove

October 2nd last year was the last time Jamal Khashoggi—a well-known journalist and critic of the Saudi government—was seen alive. The Saudi writer, United States resident and Washington Post columnist, had entered the Saudi consulate in the Turkish city of Istanbul with the aim of obtaining documentation that would certify he had divorced his previous wife, so he could remarry; but never left.

After weeks of divulging bits of information, the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, laid out his first detailed account of the killing of the dissident journalist inside the Saudi Consulate. Eighteen days after Khashoggi disappeared, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) acknowledged that the 59-year-old writer had died after his disappearance, revealing in their investigation findings that Jamal Khashoggi died after an apparent “fist-fight” inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul; but findings were not reliable. Resultantly, the acknowledgement by the KSA of the killing in its own consulate seemed to pose more questions than answers.

Eventually, after weeks of repeated denials that it had anything to do with his disappearance, the contradictory scenes, which were the latest twists in the “fast-moving saga”, forced the kingdom to eventually acknowledge that indeed it was Saudi officials who were behind the gruesome murder thus damaging the image of the kingdom and its 33-year-old crown prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS). What had happened was that the culmination of these events, including more than a dozen Saudi officials who reportedly flew into Istanbul and entered the consulate just before Khashoggi was there, left many sceptics wondering how it was possible for MBS to not know. Hence, the world now casts doubt on the KSA’s explanation over Khashoggi’s death, especially when it comes to the shifting explanations and MBS’ role in the conspiracy.

As follows, the aim of this study is to examine the backlash Saudi Arabia’s alleged guilt has caused, in particular, regarding European state-of-affairs towards the Middle East country. To that end, I will analyse various actions taken by European countries which have engaged in the matter and the different modus operandi these have carried out in order to reject a bloodshed in which arms selling to the kingdom has become the key issue.

Since Khashoggi went missing and while Turkey promised it would expose the “naked truth” about what happened in the Saudi consulate, Western countries had been putting pressure on the KSA for it to provide facts about its ambiguous account on the journalist’s death. In a joint statement released on Sunday 21st October 2018, the United Kingdom, France and Germany said: “There remains an urgent need for clarification of exactly what happened on 2nd October – beyond the hypotheses that have been raised so far in the Saudi investigation, which need to be backed by facts to be considered credible.” What happened after the kingdom eventually revealed the truth behind the murder, was a rather different backlash. In fact, regarding post-truth reactions amongst European countries, rather divergent responses have occurred.

Terminating arms selling exports to the KSA had already been carried out by a number of countries since the kingdom launched airstrikes on Yemen in 2015; a conflict that has driven much of Yemen’s population to be victims of an atrocious famine. The truth is that arms acquisition is crucial for the KSA, one of the world’s biggest weapons importers which is heading a military coalition in order to fight a proxy war in which tens of thousands of people have died, causing a major humanitarian catastrophe. In this context, calls for more constraints have been growing particularly in Europe since the killing of the dissident journalist. These countries, which now demand transparent clarifications in contrast to the opacity in the kingdom’s already-given explanations, are threatening the KSA with suspending military supply to the kingdom.

COUNTRIES THAT HAVE CEASED ARMS SELLING

Germany

Probably one of the best examples with regards to the ceasing of arms selling—after not been pleased with Saudi state of affairs—is Germany. Following the acknowledgement of what happened to Khashoggi, German Chancellor Angela Merkel declared in a statement that she condemned his death with total sharpness, thus calling for transparency in the context of the situation, and stating that her government halted previously approved arms exports thus leaving open what would happen with those already authorised contracts, and that it wouldn’t approve any new weapons exports to the KSA: “I agree with all those who say that the, albeit already limited, arms export can’t take place in the current circumstances,” she said at a news conference.

So far this year, the KSA was the second largest customer in the German defence industry just after Algeria, as until September last year, the German federal government allocated export licenses of arms exports to the kingdom worth 416.4 million euros. Respectively, according to German Foreign Affair Minister, Heiko Maas, Germany was the fourth largest exporter of weapons to the KSA.

This is not the first time the German government has made such a vow. A clause exists in the coalition agreement signed by Germany’s governing parties earlier in 2018 which stated that no weapons exports may be approved to any country “directly” involved in the Yemeni conflict in response to the kingdom’s countless airstrikes carried out against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in the area for several years. Yet, what is clear is that after Khashoggi’s murder, the coalition’s agreement has been exacerbated. Adding to this military sanction Germany went even further and proposed explicit sanctions to the Saudi authorities who were directly linked to the killing. As follows, by stating that “there are more questions unanswered than answered,” Maas declared that Germany has issued the ban for entering Europe’s border-free Schengen zone—in close coordination with France and Britain—against the 18 Saudi nationals who are “allegedly connected to this crime.”

Following the decision, Germany has thus become the first major US ally to challenge future arms sales in the light of Khashoggi’s case and there is thus a high likelihood that this deal suspension puts pressure on other exporters to carry out the same approach in the light of Germany’s Economy Minister, Peter Altmaier’s, call on other European Union members to take similar action, arguing that “Germany acting alone would limit the message to Riyadh.”

Norway

Following the line of the latter claim, on November 9th last year, Norway became the first country to back Germany’s decision when it announced it would freeze new licenses for arms exports to the KSA. Resultantly, in her statement, Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ine Eriksen Søreide, declared that the government had decided that in the present situation they will not give new licenses for the export of defence material or multipurpose good for military use to Saudi Arabia. According to the Søreide, this decision was taken after “a broad assessment of recent developments in Saudi Arabia and the unclear situation in Yemen.” Although Norwegian ministry spokesman declined to say whether the decision was partly motivated by the murder of the Saudi journalist, not surprisingly, Norway’s announcement came a week after its foreign minister called the Saudi ambassador to Oslo with the aim of condemning Khashoggi’s assassination.  As a result, the latter seems to imply Norway’s motivations were a mix of both; the Yemeni conflict and Khashoggi’s death.

Denmark and Finland

By following a similar decision made by neighbouring Germany and Norway—despite the fact that US President Trump backed MBS, although the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had assessed that the crown prince was responsible for the order of the killing—Denmark and Finland both announced that they would also stop exporting arms to the KSA.

Emphasising on the fact that they were “now in a new situation”—after the continued deterioration of the already terrible situation in Yemen and the killing of the Saudi journalist—Danish Foreign Minister, Anders Samuelsen, stated that Denmark would proceed to cease military exports to the KSA remarking that Denmark already had very restrictive practices in this area and hoped that this decision would be able to create a “further momentum and get more European Union (EU) countries involved in the conquest to support tight implementation of the Union’s regulatory framework in this area.”

Although this ban is still less expansive compared to German measures—which include the cancelation of deals that had already been approved—Denmark’s cease of goods’ exports will likely crumble the kingdom’s strategy, especially when it comes to technology. Danish exports to the KSA, which were mainly used for both military and civilian purposes, are chiefly from BAE Systems Applied Intelligence, a subsidiary of the United Kingdom’s BAE Systems, which sold technology that allowed Intellectual Property surveillance and data analysis for use in national security and investigation of serious crimes. The suspension thus includes some dual-use technologies, a reference to materials that were purposely thought to have military applications in favour of the KSA.

On the same day Denmark carried out its decision, Finland announced they were also determined to halt arms export to Saudi Arabia. Yet, in contrast to Norway’s approach, Finnish Prime Minister, Juha Sipilä, held that, of course, the situation in Yemen lead to the decision, but that Khashoggi’s killing was “entirely behind the overall rationale”.

Finnish arms exports to the KSA accounted for 5.3 million euros in 2017. Nevertheless, by describing the situation in Yemen as “catastrophic”, Sipilä declared that any existing licenses (in the region) are old, and in these circumstances, Finland would refuse to be able to grant updated ones. Although, unlike Germany, Helsinki’s decision does not revoke existing arms licenses to the kingdom, the Nordic country has emphasized the fact that it aims to comply with the EU’s arms export criteria, which takes particular account of human rights and the protection of regional peace, security and stability, thus casting doubt on the other European neighbours which, through a sense of incoherence, have not attained to these values.

European Parliament

Speaking in supranational terms, the European Parliament agreed with the latter countries and summoned EU members to freeze arms sales to the kingdom in the conquest of putting pressure on member states to emulate the Germany’s decision.      

By claiming that arms exports to Saudi Arabia were breaching international humanitarian law in Yemen, the European Parliament called for sanctions on those countries that refuse to respect EU rules on weapons sales. In fact, the latest attempt in a string of actions compelling EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini to dictate an embargo against the KSA, including a letter signed by MEPs from several parties.

Rapporteur for a European Parliament report on EU arms exports, Bodil Valero said: "European weapons are contributing to human rights abuses and forced migration, which are completely at odds with the EU's common values." As a matter of fact, two successful European Parliament resolutions have hitherto been admitted, but its advocates predicted that some member states especially those who share close trading ties with the kingdom are deep-seated, may be less likely to cooperate. Fact that has eventually occurred.

COUNTRIES THAT HAVE NOT CEASED ARMS SELLING

France

In contrast to the previously mentioned countries, other European states such as France, UK and Spain, have approached the issue differently and have signalled that they will continue “business as usual”.

Both France and the KSA have been sharing close diplomatic and commercial relations ranging from finance to weapons. Up to now, France relished the KSA, which is a bastion against Iranian significance in the Middle East region. Nevertheless, regarding the recent circumstances, Paris now faces a daunting challenge.

Just like other countries, France Foreign Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, announced France condemned the killing “in the strongest terms” and demanded an exhaustive investigation. "The confirmation of Mr. Jamal Khashoggi's death is a first step toward the establishment of the truth. However, many questions remain unanswered," he added. Following this line, France backed Germany when sanctioning the 18 Saudi citizens thus mulling a joint ban from the wider visa-free Schengen zone. Nevertheless, while German minister Altmeier summoned other European countries to stop selling arms to Riyadh—until the Saudi authorities gave the true explanation on Khashoggi’s death—, France refused to report whether it would suspend arms exports to the KSA. “We want Saudi Arabia to reveal all the truth with full clarity and then we will see what we can do,” he told in a news conference.           

In this context, Amnesty International France has become one of Paris’ biggest burdens. The organization has been putting pressure on the French government for it to freeze arms sales to the realm. Hence, by acknowledging France is one of the five biggest arms exporters to Riyadh—similar to the Unites States and Britain—Amnesty International France is becoming aware France’s withdrawal from the arms sales deals is crucial in order to look at the Yemeni conflict in the lens of human rights rather than from a non-humanitarian-geopolitical perspective. Meanwhile, France tries to justify its inaction. When ministry deputy spokesman Oliver Gauvin was asked whether Paris would mirror Berlin’s actions, he emphasized the fact that France’s arms sales control policy was meticulous and based on case-by-case analysis by an inter-ministerial committee. According to French Defence Minister Florence Parly, France exported 11 billion euros worth of arms to the kingdom from 2008 to 2017, fact that boosted French jobs. In 2017 alone, licenses conceivably worth 14.7 billion euros were authorized. Moreover, she went on stating that those arms exports take into consideration numerous criteria among which is the nature of exported materials, the respect of human rights, and the preservation of peace and regional security. "More and more, our industrial and defence sectors need these arms exports. And so, we cannot ignore the impact that all of this has on our defence industry and our jobs," she added. As a result, despite President Emmanuel Macron has publicly sought to devalue the significance relations with the KSA have, minister Parly, seemed to suggest the complete opposite.

Anonymously, a government minister held it was central that MBS retained his position. “The challenge is not to lose MBS, even if he is not a choir boy. A loss of influence in the region would cost us much more than the lack of arms sales”. Notwithstanding France’s ambiguity, Paris’ inconclusive attitude is indicating France’s clout in the region is facing a vulnerable phase. As president Macron told MBS at a side-line G20 summit conversation in December last year, he is worried. Although the context of this chat remains unclear, many believe Macron’s intentions were to persuade MBS to be more transparent as a means to not worsen the kingdom’s reputation and thus to, potentially, dismantle France´s bad image.

United Kingdom

As it was previously mentioned, the United Kingdom took part in the joint statement carried out also by France and Germany through its foreign ministers which claimed there was a need for further explanations regarding Khashoggi’s killing. Yet, although Britain’s Foreign Office said it was considering its “next steps” following the KSA’s admission over Khashoggi’s killing, UK seems to be taking a rather similar approach to France—but not Germany—regarding the situation.

In 2017, the UK was the sixth-biggest arms dealer in the world, and the second-largest exporter of arms to the KSA, behind the US. This is held to be a reflection of a large spear in sales last year. After the KSA intervened in the civil war in Yemen in early 2015, the UK approved more than 3.5billion euros in military sales to the kingdom between April 2015 and September 2016.

As a result, Theresa May has been under pressure for years to interrupt arms sales to the KSA specially after human rights advocates claimed the UK was contributing to alleged violations of international humanitarian law by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen. Adding to this, in 2016, a leaked parliamentary committee report suggested that it was likely that British weapons had been used by the Saudi-led coalition to violate international law, and that manufactured aircraft by BAE Systems, have been used in combat missions in Yemen.

Lately, in the context of Khashoggi’s death things have aggravated and the UK is now facing a great amount of pressure, mainly embodied by UK’s main opposition Labour party which calls for a complete cease in its arms exports to the KSA.  In addition, in terms of a more international strain, the European Union has also got to have a say in the matter. Philippe Lamberts, the Belgian leader of the Green grouping of parties, said that Brexit should not be an excuse for the UK to abdicate on its moral responsibilities and that Theresa May had to prove that she was keen on standing up to the kind of atrocious behaviour shown by the killing of Khashoggi and hence freeze arms sales to Saudi Arabia immediately.

Nonetheless, in response and laying emphasis on the importance the upholding relation with UK’s key ally in the Middle East has, London has often been declining calls to end arms exports to the KSA. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt defended there will be “consequences to the relationship with Saudi Arabia” after the killing of Khashoggi, but he has also pointed out that the UK has an important strategic relationship with Riyadh which needs to be preserved. As a matter of fact, according to some experts, UK’s impending exit from the EU has played a key role. The Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) claims Theresa May’s pursuit for post-Brexit trade deals has seen an unwelcome focus on selling arms to some of the world's most repressive regimes. Nevertheless, by thus tackling the situation in a similar way to France, the UK justifies its actions by saying that it has one of the most meticulous permitting procedures in the world by remarking that its deals comprehend safeguards that counter improper uses.

Spain

After Saudi Arabia’s gave its version for Khashoggi’s killing, the Spanish government said it was “dismayed” and echoed Antonio Guterres’ call for a thorough and transparent investigation to bring justice to all of those responsible for the killing. Yet, despite the clamour that arose after the murder of the columnist, just like France and the UK, Spain’s Prime Minister, Pedro Sánchez, defended arms exporting to the KSA by claiming it was in Spain’s interest to keep selling military tools to Riyadh. Sanchez held he stood in favour of Spain’s interests, namely jobs in strategic sectors that have been badly affected by “the drama that is unemployment". Thusly, proclaiming Spain’s unwillingness to freeze arms exports to the kingdom. In addition, even before Khashoggi’s killing, Sanchez's government was subject to many critics after having decided to proceed with the exporting of 400 laser-guided bombs to Saudi Arabia, despite worries that they could harm civilians in Yemen. Notwithstanding this, Sánchez justified Spain’s decision in that good ties with the Gulf state, a key commercial partner for Spain, needed to be kept.

As a matter of fact, Spain’s state-owned shipbuilder Navantia, in which 5,500 employees work, signed a deal in July last year which accounted for 1.8 billion euros that supplied the Gulf country with five navy ships.  This shipbuilder is situated in the southern region of Andalusia, a socialist bulwark which accounts for Spain's highest unemployment estimates and which has recently held regional elections. Hence, it was of the socialist president’s interest to keep these constituencies pleased and the means to this was, of course, not interrupting arms deals with the KSA.

As a consequence, Spain has recently been ignoring the pressures that have arose from MEP’s and from Sanchez’s minorities in government—Catalan separatist parties and far-left party Podemos— which demand a cease in arms exporting. For the time being, Spain will continue business with the KSA as usual.

CONCLUSION

All things considered, while Saudi Arabia insists that MBS was not aware of the gruesome murder and is distracting the international attention towards more positive headlines—such as the appointment of the first female ambassador to the US—in order to clear the KSA’s image in the context of Khashoggi’s murder, several European countries have taken actions against the kingdom’s interests. Yet, the way each country has approached the matter has led to the rise of two separate blocks which are at discordance within Europe itself. Whereas some European leaders have shown a united front in casting blame on the Saudi government, others seem to express geopolitical interests are more important.

During the time Germany, Norway, Denmark and Finland are being celebrated by human rights advocates for following through on their threat to halt sales to the kingdom, bigger arms exporters—like those that have been analysed—have pointed out that the latter nations have far less to lose than they do. Nonetheless, inevitably, the ceasing carried out by the northern European countries which are rather small arms exporters in comparison to bigger players such as the UK and France, is likely to have exacerbated concerns within the European arms industry of a growing anti-Saudi consensus in the European Union or even beyond.

What is clear is that due to the impact Saudi Arabia’s state of affairs have caused, governments and even companies worldwide are coming under pressure to abandon their ties to the oil-rich, but at the same time, human-rights-violating Saudi Arabian leadership. Resultantly, in Europe, countries are taking part in two divergent blocks that are namely led by two of the EU’s most compelling members: France and Germany. These two sides are of rather distant opinions regarding the matter, fact that does not seem to be contributing in terms of the so-much-needed European Union integration.

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