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From Iranian strategic perspective the Sunni-Shi‘a divide is only part of its larger objective of exporting its revolution.
▲ Escena militar de un altorrelieve de la antigua Persia [Pixabay]
ESSAY / Helena Pompeya
At a first glance it may seem that the most important factor shaping the dynamics in the region is the Sunni-Shi’a divide materialized in the struggle between Saudi Arabia and Iran over becoming the main hegemonic power in the region. Nonetheless, from the strategic perspective of Iran this divide is only part of its larger objective of exporting its revolution.
This short essay will analyze three paths of action or policies Iran has been relying on in order to exert and expand its influence in the MENA region: i) it’s anti-imperialistic foreign policy; ii) the Sunni-Shi’a divide; and iii) opportunism. Finally, a study case of Syria will be provided to show how Iran made use of these three courses of action to its benefit within the war.
I. ANTI IMPERIALISM
The Sunni-Shi'a division alone would not be enough to rocket Iran into an advantaged position over Saudi Arabia, being the Shi’ites only a 13% of the total of Muslims over the world (found mainly in Iran, Pakistan, India and Iraq). Even though religious affiliation can gain support of a fairly big share of the population, Iran is playing its cards along the lines of its revolutionary ideology, which consists on challenging the current international world order and particularly what Iran calls US’s imperialism.
Iran does not choose its strategic allies by religious affiliation but by ideological affinity: opposition to the US and Israel. Proof of this is the fact that Iran has provided military and financial support to Hamas and the Islamic Jihad in Palestine, both of them Sunni, in their struggle versus Israel. Iran’s competition against Saudi Arabia could be understood as an elongation of its anti-US foreign policy, being the Saudi kingdom the other great ally of the West in the MENA region along with Israel.
II. SUNNI-SHI’A DIVIDE
Despite the religious divide not being the main reason behind the hegemonic competition among both regional powers Saudi Arabia (Sunni) and Iran (Shi’a), both states are exploiting this narrative to transcend territorial barriers and exert their influence in neighbouring countries. This rivalry materializes itself along two main paths of action: i) development of neopatrimonial and clientelistic networks, as it shows in Lebanon and Bahrain; ii) and in violent proxy wars, namely Yemen and Syria.
Sectarian difference has been an inherent characteristic of Lebanon all throughout its history, finally erupting into a civil war in 1975. The Taif accords, which put an end to the strife attempted to create a power-sharing agreement that gave each group a political voice. These differences were incorporated into the political dynamics and development of blocs which are not necessarily loyal to the Lebanese state alone.
Regional dynamics of the Middle East are characterised by the blurred limits between internal and external, this reflects in the case of Lebanon, whose blocs provide space for other actors to penetrate the Lebanese political sphere. This is the case of Iran through the Shi‘ite political and paramilitary organization of Hezbollah. This organization was created in 1982 as a response to Israeli intervention and has been trained, organized and provisioned by Iran ever since. Through the empowerment of Iran and its political support for Shi’a groups across Lebanon, Hezbollah has emerged as a regional power.
Once aware of the increasing Iranian influence in the region, Saudi Arabia stepped into it to counterbalance the Shi’a empowerment by supporting a range of Salafi groups across the country.
Both Riyadh and Tehran have thus established clientelistic networks through political and economic support which feed upon sectarian segmentation, furthering factionalism. Economic inflows in order to influence the region have helped developed the area between Ras Beirut and Ain al Mraiseh through investments by Riyadh, whilst Iranian economic aid has been allocated in the Dahiyeh and southern region of the country.
Bahrain is also a hot spot in the fight for supremacy over the region, although it seems that Saudi Arabia is the leading power over this island of the Persian Gulf. The state is a constitutional monarchy headed by the King, Shaikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, of the Sunni branch of Islam, and it is connected to Saudi Arabia by the King Fahd Causeway, a passage designed and built to prevent Iranian expansionism after the revolution. Albeit being ruled by Sunni elite, the majority of the country’s citizens are Shia, and have in many cases complaint about political and economical repression. In 2011 protests erupted in Bahrain led by the Shi’a community, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates stepped in to suppress the revolt. Nonetheless, no links between Iran and the ignition of this manifestation have been found, despite accusations by the previously mentioned Sunni states.
The opposition of both hegemonic powers has ultimately materialized itself in the involvement on proxy wars as are the examples of Syria, Yemen, Iraq and possibly in the future Afghanistan.
Yemen, in the southeast of the Arabian Peninsula, is a failed state in which a proxy war fueled mainly by the interests of Saudi Arabia and Iran is taking place since the 25th of March 2015. On that date, Saudi Arabia leading an Arab coalition against the Houthis bombarded Yemen.
The ignition of the conflict began in November 2011 when President Ali Abdullah Saleh was forced to hand over his power to his deputy and current president Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi (both Sunni) due to the uprisings product of the Arab Spring.
The turmoil within the nation, including here al-Qaeda attacks, a separatist rising in the south, divided loyalties in the military, corruption, unemployment and lack of food, led to a coup d’état in January 2015 led by Houthi rebels. The Houthis, Shi‘ite Muslims backed by Iran, seized control of a large territory in Yemen including here the capital Sana’a. A coalition led by Saudi Arabia and other Sunni-majority nations are supporting the government.
Yemen is a clear representation of dispute over regional sovereignty. This particular conflict puts the Wahhabi kingdom in great distress as it is happening right at its front door. Thus, Saudi interests in the region consist on avoiding a Shi’ite state in the Arabian Peninsula as well as facilitating a kindred government to retrieve its function as state. Controlling Yemen guarantees Saudi Arabia’s influence over the Gulf of Aden and the Strait of Baab al Mandeb, thus avoiding Hormuz Strait, which is currently under Iran’s reach.
On the other hand, Iran is soon to be freed from intensive intervention in the Syrian war, and thus it could send in more military and economic support into the region. Establishing a Shi’ite government in Yemen would pose an inflexion point in regional dynamics, reinforcing Iran’s power and becoming a direct threat to Arabia Saudi right at its frontier. Nonetheless, Hadi’s government is internationally recognized and the Sunni struggle is currently gaining support from the UK and the US.
The Golf Cooperation Council (GCC) is a political and economic alliance of six countries in the Arabian Peninsula which fail to have an aligned strategy for the region and could be roughly divided into two main groups in the face of political interests: i) those more aligned to Saudi Arabia, namely Bahrain and UAE; ii) and those who reject the full integration, being these Oman, Kuwait and Qatar.
Fragmentation within the GCC has provided Iran with an opportunity to buffer against calls for its economic and political isolation. Iran’s ties to smaller Gulf countries have provided Tehran with limited economic, political and strategic opportunities for diversification that have simultaneously helped to buffer against sanctions and to weaken Riyadh.
Oman in overall terms has a foreign policy of good relations with all of its neighbours. Furthermore, it has long resisted pressure to align its Iran policies with those of Saudi Arabia. Among its policies, it refused the idea of a GCC union and a single currency for the region introduced by the Saudi kingdom. Furthermore, in 2017 with the Qatar crisis, it opposed the marginalization of Qatar by Saudi Arabia and the UAE and stood as the only State which did not cut relations with Iran.
Furthermore, the war in Yemen is spreading along Oman’s border, and it’s in its best interest to bring Saudi Arabia and the Houthis into talks, believing that engagement with the later is necessary to put an end to the conflict. Oman has denied transport of military equipment to Yemeni Houthis through its territory.
A key aspect of Kuwait’s regional policy is its active role in trying to balance and reduce regional sectarian tensions, and has often been a bridge for mediation among countries, leading the mediation effort in January 2017 to promote dialogue and cooperation between Iran and the Gulf states that was well received in Tehran.
It has always been in both state’s interest to maintain a good relationship due to their proximity and shared ownership of the North/South Pars natural gas field. Despite having opposing interests in some areas as are the case of Syria (Qatar supports the opposition), and Qatar’s attempts to drive Hamas away from Tehran. In 2017 Qatar suffered a blockade by the GCC countries due to its support for Islamist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood and militant groups linked to al-Qaeda or ISIS. During this crisis, Iran proved a good ally into which to turn.. Iran offered Qatar to use its airspace and supplied food to prevent any shortages resulting from the blockade. However as it can be deduced from previous ambitious foreign policies, Qatar seeks to diversify its allies in order to protect its interests, so it would not rely solely on Iran.
Iran is well aware of the intra-Arab tensions among the Gulf States and takes advantage of these convenient openings to bolster its regional position, bringing itself out of its isolationism through the establishment of bilateral relations with smaller GCC states, especially since the outbreak of the Qatar crisis in 2017.
Iran is increasingly standing out as a regional winner in the Syrian conflict. This necessarily creates unrest both for Israel and Saudi Arabia, especially after the withdrawal of US troops from Syria. The drawdown of the US has also originated a vacuum of power which is currently being fought over by the supporters of al-Assad: Iran, Turkey and Russia.
Despite the crisis involving the incident with the Israeli F-16 jets, Jerusalem is attempting to convince the Russian Federation not to leave Syria completely under the sphere of Iranian influence.
Israel initially intervened in the war in face of increasing presence of Hezbollah in the region, especially in its positions near the Golan Heights, Kiswah and Hafa. Anti-Zionism is one of Iran’s main objectives in its foreign policy, thus it is likely that tensions between Hezbollah and Israel will escalate leading to open missile conflict. Nonetheless, an open war for territory is unlikely to happen, since this will bring the UyS back in the region in defense for Israel, and Saudi Arabia would make use of this opportunity to wipe off Hezbollah.
On other matters, the axis joining Iran, Russia and Turkey is strengthening, while they gain control over the de-escalation zones.
Both Iran and Russia have economic interests in the region. Before the outbreak of the war, Syria was one of the top exporting countries of phosphates, and in all likelihood, current reserves (estimated on over 2 billion tons) will be spoils of war for al-Assad’s allies.
The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps took control of Palmira in 2015, where the largest production area of phosphates is present. Furthermore, Syria also signed an agreement on phosphates with Russia.
Iran has great plans for Syria as its zone of influence, and is planning to establish a seaport in the Mediterranean through which to export its petroleum by a pipeline crossing through Iraq and Syria, both under its tutelage. This pipeline would secure the Shi’ite bow from Tehran to Beirut, thus debilitating Saudi Arabia’s position in the region. Furthermore, it would allow direct oil exports to Europe.
In relation to Russia and Turkey, despite starting in opposite bands they are now siding together. Turkey is particularly interested in avoiding a Kurdish independent state in the region, this necessarily positions the former ottoman empire against the U.S a key supporter of the Kurdish people due to their success on debilitating the Islamic State. Russia will make use of this distancing to its own benefits. It is in Russia’s interest to have Turkey as an ally in Syria in order to break NATO’s Middle East strategy and have a strong army operating in Syrian territory, thus reducing its own engagement and military cost.
Despite things being in favour of Iran, Saudi Arabia could still take advantage of recent developments of the conflict to damage Iran’s internal stability.
Ethnic and sectarian segmentation are also part of Iran’s fabric, and the Government’s repression against minorities within the territory –namely Kurds, Arabs and Baluchis- have caused insurgencies before. Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States aligned with its foreign policy, such as the UAE are likely to exploit resentment of the minorities in order to destabilized Iran’s internal politics.
The problem does not end there for Iran. Although ISIS being wiped off the Syrian territory, after falling its last citadel in Baguz, this is not the end of the terrorist group. Iran’s active role in fighting Sunni jihadists through Hezbollah and Shi’ite militias in Syria and Iraq has given Islamist organization a motivation to defy Tehran.
Returning foreign fighters could scatter over the region creating cells and even cooperating with Sunni separatist movements in Ahwaz, Kurdistan or Baluchistan. Saudi Arabia is well aware of this and could exploit the Wahhabi narrative and exert Sunni influence in the region through a behind-the-scenes financing of these groups.
 Mapping the Global Muslim Population, Pew Research Center, 2009
 El derrumbe del Status Quo en OM: Las estrategias de seguridad de Irán y AS, David Poza Cano, enero 2017.
 Saudi Arabia, Iran and the Struggle for Supremacy in Lebanon and Bahrain, Simon Mabon, LSE 2018
 Proxy war: What is the Yemen War about, is there a famine, why is Saudi Arabia involved and how many people have died? Guy Birchall, November 2018.
 Iran and the GCC Hedging, Pragmatism and Opportunism, Sanam Vakil, September 2018
 Reuters ‘Yemen’s Houthis and Saudi Arabia in secret talks to end war’, 15 March, 2018
 Bayoumy, Y. (2016), ‘Iran steps up weapons supply to Yemen’s Houthis via Oman’, Reuters, 30 October.
 Coates Ulrichsen, K., ‘Walking the tightrope: Kuwait, Iran relations in the aftermath of the Abdali affair’, Gulf States Analytics, 9 August, 2017
 Kamrava, M. ‘Iran-Qatar Relations’, in Bahgat, Ehteshami and Quilliam (2017), Security and Bilateral Issues Between Iran and Its Neighbours.
 The current situation in Syria, Giancarlo Elia Valori, Modern Diplomacy, January 2019
 Irán en la era de la administración Trump, Beatriz Yubero Parro, IEEE, 2017
 The current situation in Syria, Giancarlo Elia Valori, Modern Diplomacy, January 2019
 Confirman en Siria la derrota total del grupo terrorista ISIS, Clarín Mundo. 23 de marzo, 2019
La necesidad de mano de obra ha llevado tradicionalmente a Suecia a acoger olas de inmigrantes; sectores de la sociedad lo viven hoy como un problema
▲ Puente de Oresund, entre Dinamarca y Suecia, visto desde territorio sueco [Wikipedia]
ANÁLISIS / Jokin de Carlos
Suecia ha tenido la reputación, desde la Segunda Guerra Mundial, de ser un país abierto a los inmigrantes y de desarrollar políticas sociales tolerantes y abiertas. Sin embargo, el aumento del número de inmigrantes, la lenta adaptación cultural de algunas de esas nuevas comunidades, especialmente la musulmana, y los problemas de violencia generados en áreas de mayor vulnerabilidad han provocado un intenso debate en la sociedad sueca. La opinión de que una generosa política migratoria puede estar destruyendo la identidad sueca y haciendo la vida más difícil para los suecos nativos ha alimentado el voto de cierta oposición de derechas, si bien los socialdemócratas revalidaron el año pasado el apoyo ciudadano para un Gobierno que mantiene las políticas tradicionales con cierto mayor énfasis en la expulsión de aquellos cuya solicitud ha sido rechazada.
Uno de los problemas históricos de Suecia ha sido su baja tasa de fecundidad, que alrededor de la década de 1960 había ya caído al umbral de 2,1 hijos por mujer necesarios para el reemplazo poblacional. Eso era algo que amenazaba el célebre estado de bienestar sueco, por la necesidad de ingresos por impuestos que mantuvieran los generosos servicios públicos, de forma que el país promovió la llegada de inmigrantes. Al mismo tiempo, la necesidad de mano de obra también era planteada por el desarrollo de la industria nacional.
Suecia surgió de la Segunda Guerra Mundial en buenas condiciones. No sufrió la destrucción de otras naciones, al quedar territorialmente en los márgenes del conflicto, y pudo consolidar una industria metalúrgica que, gracias a la producción de sus minas de hierro, se había beneficiado de vender a los dos bandos en guerra. Ese desarrollo industrial requería de una gran fuerza de trabajo que la baja natalidad propia y la concentración de la población en la costa y en el sur, fuera de los núcleos industriales, dificultaban reunir. Además, el estado de bienestar sueco y las continuas décadas de paz crearon una clase media que no quería trabajar en la nueva industria por los bajos salarios que esta ofrecía para resultar competitiva.
Para resolver la falta de mano de obra y así mantener el progreso económico, desde la década de 1950 Suecia recurrió a la inmigración. El Gobierno abrió primero la frontera a quienes buscaban asilo o trabajo y luego construyó grupos de viviendas, generalmente de baja calidad, cerca de las áreas industriales donde los recién llegados podían encontrar empleos sin ningún requisito de idioma. Cuando el impacto cultural de esas incorporaciones era demasiado grande en algunas áreas, el Gobierno procedía a cerrar las fronteras, restringiendo la inmigración. Cuando se necesitaran nuevos trabajadores, el Gobierno volvía a abrir la frontera.
Este sistema ayudó a un importante avance económico, pero también aisló a muchos grupos sociales, que se quedaron estancados en áreas de bajos ingresos sin apenas posibilidad de desarrollo ni integración social.
Tanto durante la Segunda Guerra Mundial como a su término, Suecia fue un destino importante para personas procedentes de Noruega, Dinamarca, Polonia, Finlandia y las Repúblicas Bálticas que escapaban de la guerra o de la destrucción que creó; también fue un destino neutral para muchos judíos. En 1944, había en Suecia más de 40.000 refugiados; si bien muchos regresaron a sus países tras la contienda, un grupo considerable de ellos se quedó, principalmente estonios, letones y lituanos, cuyas naciones de origen fueron incorporadas a la URSS.
En 1952, Suecia, Dinamarca y Noruega formaron el Consejo Nórdico, creando un área de libre comercio y libertad de movimiento, a la que Finlandia se unió en 1955. Con esto, miles de migrantes fueron a Suecia para trabajar en la industria, principalmente de Finlandia pero también de Noruega, que aún no había descubierto sus reservas de petróleo. Esto aumentó el porcentaje de la población inmigrante del 2% en 1945 al 7% en 1970. Todo esto ayudó a Tage Erlander (primer ministro de Suecia entre 1946 y 1969) a crear el proyecto "Sociedad Fuerte", dirigido a aumento del sector público y el estado del bienestar. Sin embargo, este flujo de mano de obra comenzó a dañar a los trabajadores suecos nativos y, en consecuencia, en 1967, los sindicatos comenzaron a presionar a Erlander para que limitara la inmigración laboral a los países nórdicos.
En 1969, Erlander renunció al cargo y fue sustituido por su protegido, Olof Palme. Palme era miembro del sector más radical de los socialdemócratas y quería aumentar aún más el estado de bienestar, continuando el proyecto de su predecesor a una mayor escala.
Con el fin de atraer una fuerza laboral más grande sin enojar a los sindicatos, Palme comenzó a utilizar la retórica a favor de los refugiados, abriendo las fronteras de Suecia a las personas que escapaban de las dictaduras y la guerra. Al mismo tiempo, estas personas serían trasladadas a vecindarios industriales, construidos especialmente para ellos en áreas industriales cercanas donde trabajarían. Al mismo tiempo, Palme trató de hacer de Suecia un país atractivo para los inmigrantes mediante políticas de asimilación a favor del multiculturalismo.
Durante este período, personas de muchas nacionalidades comenzaron a llegar al país: desde quienes escapaban del conflicto en Yugoslavia o la ley marcial en Polonia a quienes huían de Oriente Medio y América Latina. Estas nuevas poblaciones se establecieron lejos de núcleos demográficos nativos suecos; debido a esto muchos vecindarios de la clase trabajadora se convirtieron en guetos aislados. En 1986, Palme fue asesinado y su sucesor, Ingvar Carlsson, cambió la política de inmigración y comenzó a aceptar solo a aquellos que configuraran como refugiados de acuerdo con las normas de las Naciones Unidas.
Durante la década de 1990, el aumento de los conflictos en lugares como Somalia, Yugoslavia y varias naciones africanas hizo aumentar el flujo de refugiados de guerra, y muchos de ellos fueron a Suecia. En 1996 se creó el Ministerio de Migración y Política de Asilo. Sin embargo, los dos mayores movimientos de personas de países extranjeros se producirían a raíz de los siguientes conflictos de Irak e Siria. El gobierno conservador de Fredrik Reinfeldt comenzó a acoger a un gran volumen de refugiados iraquíes, que en 2006 se convirtieron en la segunda minoría más grande del país, después de los finlandeses. En 2015, el gobierno socialdemócrata de Stefan Löfven abrió la frontera a los refugiados sirios, que llegaron en masa, huyendo de la Guerra Civil siria y del empuje de Daesh.
Esta sucesión de olas de inmigrantes de Oriente Medio agravaron algunos problemas: en muchos vecindarios, los llegados de fuera no se sienten como en Suecia, principalmente porque estos fueron construidos para "no ser Suecia"; además, la difícil integración y los trabajos mal pagados alimentan las pandillas y el crimen organizado. Todo esto llevó a Löfven a aplicar una política de migración más estricta en 2017, aceptando menos solicitantes de asilo y comenzando a expulsar a aquellos cuyas solicitudes de asilo habían sido denegadas.
Como se puede ver la tendencia en Suecia es abrir las fronteras a la inmigración cuando esta es necesaria y cerrarlas cuando esta comienza a provocar tensiones sociales.
Orígenes de la población inmigrante
Suecia se ha convertido en una sociedad étnicamente muy diversa, donde casi el 22% de la población tiene antecedentes extranjeros. Hasta 2015, la mayor minoría étnica en eran los finlandeses, que a finales del pasado siglo superaban los 200.000. A raíz de la guerra de Irak y de la crisis migratoria siria, las personas procedentes de Oriente Medio han pasado a ser el mayor grupo.
En la actualidad, el 8% de los habitantes de Suecia procede de un país de mayoría musulmana –básicamente de Siria e Irak, pero también de Irán–, si bien solo el 1,4% de la población practica la religión musulmana (alrededor de 140.000 personas en 2017), pues también existen inmigrantes procedentes de esos países con otras adscripciones religiosas, como cristianos, drusos, yazidis o zoroastrianos. Estos números pueden haber aumentado ligeramente, si bien no para provocar cambios muy drásticos en la demografía.
A pesar de no ser especialmente numerosa, la comunidad musulmana ha generado atención mediática a raíz de diversas polémicas. En 2006, Mahmoud Aldebe, miembro del Consejo Musulmán de Suecia, planteó por carta a los partidos políticos del Riksdag y al Gobierno sueco demandas especialmente controvertidas, como derecho a vacaciones islámicas específicas, financiamiento público especial para la construcción de mezquitas, que todos los divorcios entre parejas musulmanas sean aprobados por un imán, y que a los imanes se les permita enseñar el Islam a niños musulmanes en escuelas públicas. Esas demandas fueron rechazadas por las autoridades y la clase política de Suecia. También se ha dado el caso de que algunas asociaciones musulmanas o mezquitas han invitado a predicadores radicales, como Haitham al-Haddad o Said Rageahs, cuyas conferencias fueron finalmente prohibidas.
Áreas Vulnerables y crimen organizado
El Gobierno sueco ha designado algunos barrios como Áreas Vulnerables (Utsatt Område). No son propiamente “No-Go Zones”, porque en ellas tanto los agentes policiales, como los servicios sanitarios o los medios de comunicación pueden entrar. Se trata de áreas de menor seguridad que exigen una mayor atención de las autoridades.
Algunas de ellas se encuentran en Malmö, ciudad con la mayor tasa de criminalidad del país, principalmente debido a su ubicación. Malmö se encuentra al otro lado del puente de Oresund, que conecta Dinamarca con Suecia y es la única ruta por tierra entre Suecia y el continente sin tener que rodear el Báltico. Allí diversas pandillas y mafias participan en el tráfico de drogas y de personas, al tiempo que se enfrentan entre ellas en una pugna por el control del espacio. Grupos de este tipo también actúan en Rotterdam, en relación a la actividad generada por su importante puerto.
A pesar de la impresión dada por ciertos mensajes contrarios a la inmigración, la comisión de delitos en Suecia se encuentra en niveles parecidos a los de 2006. Después de ese año el número de delitos descendió, para subir de nuevo en 2010 y 2012. Podría establecerse una relación entre ese ascenso y la crisis económica, que supuso un aumento del desempleo, pero no está tan clara su vinculación con los registros de inmigración. La llegada de iraquíes en 2005 no conllevó una mayor inseguridad en las calles de Suecia y tampoco lo ha hecho la recepción de sirios en los recientes años. La tasa de homicidios en Suecia es de 1,1 por cada cien mil habitantes –por debajo de otros muchos países europeos–, y hay más delitos registrados por nativos suecos que por extranjeros, según el Consejo Nacional Sueco para la Prevención del Delito.
No obstante, las mafias que operan en Suecia se componen en su mayoría de ciertos grupos étnicos. Su formación se derivó especialmente de la llegada de personas de Yugoslavia, tanto de trabajadores de la década de 1970 como de refugiados de las guerras balcánicas de la década de 1990. El principal de esos grupos, conocido como Yugo Mafia, está hoy liderada por Milan Ševo, apodado “El Padrino de Estocolmo”. Otros grupos son K-Falangen y Naserligan, compuestos por albaneses; la Legión Werefolf, formada por sudamericanos, y los Gangsters, originales por los asirios (minoría cristiana de Siria). No obstante, uno de los más grandes es Brödraskapet o la Hermandad, fundada en 1995, con más de 700 miembros que en su totalidad son suecos nativos y con mucha presencia en las cárceles suecas.
Movimientos migratorios de Suecia entre 1850 y 2007. En rojo, llegada de inmigrantes; en azul, salida de emigrantes [Wikipedia-Koyos]
Desde 2011 en Suecia se han producido tres ataques terroristas; un cuarto ataque pudo se evitado al ser detectada con tiempo su preparación. El primero fue realizado por Anton Lundin Pettersson, un neonazi sueco que en 2015 atacó la Escuela Trollhättan, donde mató a cuatro personas, todas ellas inmigrantes. El siguiente fue perpetrado por el Movimiento de Resistencia Nórdica, una organización neonazi, que actuó contra un centro de refugiados y el café de una organización de izquierdas; en el ataque solo se produjo un herido. El tercero, el más conocido, fue perpetuado en 2017 por un hombre de Uzbekistán aparentemente reclutado por Daesh, que arremetió con un camión contra viandantes en el centro de Estocolmo, matando a cinco personas e hiriendo a catorce.
De los tres atentados, solo uno tuvo motivación yihadista, a diferencia del peso que el terrorismo islamista ha tenido en otros países europeos con mayor población musulmana. En cualquier caso, la segregación que se vive en algunas comunidades y el adoctrinamiento radical que se da en ellas llevó a jóvenes suecos musulmanes a marchar a Siria para encuadrarse en Daesh y las autoridades siguen de cerca su posible retorno.
Aciertos y errores
Durante mucho tiempo, desde la izquierda europea se puso a Suecia como ejemplo de modelo socialdemócrata exitoso; ahora, desde ciertos grupos de derecha, se le pone como ejemplo de multiculturalismo fallido. Probablemente ambas afirmaciones son una exageración con fines partidistas. No obstante, lo cierto es que Suecia cuenta con un bienestar generoso que está costando mantener, y que en su también generosa apertura de fronteras ha cometido errores que no han facilitado la integración de la nueva población. Todo parece indicar que Löfven continua el camino que empezó en 2017 y se ha aumentado la presencia policial en las calles así como un endurecimiento en las políticas de inmigración, siguiendo a su vez las políticas hechas en Dinamarca.
Tiempo tendrá que pasar para ver qué resultados estas políticas tendrán en una futura Suecia.
*En la mitología nórdica, el Valhalla es un enorme y majestuoso salón al que, en la otra vida, aspiran a entrar los héroes
La próxima autosuficiencia gasista de sus dos grandes vecinos compradores obliga al Gobierno boliviano a buscar mercados alternativos
▲ Planta de gas de Yacimientos Pretrolíferos Fiscales Bolivianos (YPFB) [Corporación YPFB]
ANÁLISIS / Ignacio Urbasos Arbeloa
Bolivia, bajo el mandato de Evo Morales, es la única historia de éxito económico de todos los países latinoamericanos que abrazaron el populismo de izquierdas al comienzo del presente siglo. El país altiplánico ha logrado junto a Panamá y República Dominicana el mayor crecimiento de PIB de la región en el último lustro, y todo esto en un difícil contexto de decrecimiento por parte de sus principales socios comerciales: Argentina y Brasil. La estabilidad política aportada por Evo Morales desde 2006, sumada a políticas macroeconómicas prudentes de carácter contracíclicas y una nueva gestión de los hidrocarburos son parte de la fórmula de este éxito. A pesar de todo, existen enormes riesgos para Bolivia de carácter económico y político. Por un lado, el gas natural supone un 30% de las exportaciones y su destino es exclusivamente Brasil y Argentina, países que se hallan cerca de la autosuficiencia gasística. Encontrar vías alternativas no es una tarea sencilla para un Estado sin salida al mar, con un conflicto diplomático con Chile y separado por la Cordillera de los Andes del Perú. Además, la apuesta del gobierno boliviano por explotar el litio por medio de empresas nacionales que integren su procesamiento para favorecer la industrialización es una estrategia arriesgada que puede dejar al país fuera del creciente mercado del litio mundial. Por último, Evo Morales y el MAS han seguido una creciente tendencia autoritaria, permitiendo la reelección del presidente, atentando contra la separación de poderes y la reciente constitución de 2009. La nueva Bolivia enfrenta en la próxima década el desafío de reorientar sus exportaciones de gas natural, diversificar su economía y consolidar una democracia real que permita un crecimiento sostenido de su economía y su papel como actor regional.
Gas Natural: en el centro del debate político del s.XXI
Durante las fracasadas exploraciones petrolíferas en el Chaco de los años 1960, acontece el descubrimiento de abundantes reservas de gas natural de gran potencial económico. Si bien se trataba de un recurso de menor valor que el del crudo, pronto se desarrolla una incipiente industria gasista de la mano de compañías extranjeras, principalmente norteamericanas como la Standard Oil. En 1972 se produce una primera nacionalización, con el surgimiento de YPFB como la empresa estatal encargada de la exploración, producción, transporte y refino de los recursos energéticos bolivianos en colaboración con empresas extranjeras. Ese mismo año, se construirá el primer gasoducto exportador, con dirección a Argentina. Para 1999, Bolivia exportará gas natural a Brasil por medio del gasoducto Santa Cruz-Sao Paulo, cuyo proyecto supuso más de 8 años de negociaciones y obras e introdujo a Petrobras como un importante actor en el sector. De este modo, Bolivia entra al siglo XXI con una creciente industria gasista, mayoritariamente privatizada por el primer gobierno de Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, y aupada por un modelo fiscal muy favorable para las compañías extranjeras.
El año 2001 marca el inicio de una convulsa etapa política en Bolivia con la denominada Guerra del Agua. Una oleada de protestas surgida de la privatización de los servicios municipales de aguas en el marco de negociaciones financieras entre el FMI y el Gobierno de Hugo Banzer. En el centro neurálgico de dichas protestas en Cochabamba surgió la figura de Evo Morales, líder cocalero que irá incrementando su popularidad de forma imparable. El gas se convertirá en protagonista en 2003, con una nueva oleada de protestas en contra de la construcción de un gasoducto de gas natural desde Tarija a Mejillones (Chile) para consumo de la industria minera de este país y exportación a México y EEUU en forma de GNL. La oposición al proyecto argumentaba la incoherencia histórica de aportar recursos bolivianos a la explotación de la región minera perdida frente a Chile en la Guerra del Pacífico (1879-1883) y que privó a Bolivia de una salida al mar. Además, se proponía un gasoducto alternativo, más costoso, que atravesase Perú, pero que supuestamente beneficiaría la región norte de Bolivia y no supondría una humillación nacional. Las protestas tomaron un cariz nacionalista e indigenista convirtiéndose en una auténtica revolución que bloqueó La Paz, el aeropuerto internacional y sumió el país entero en la violencia y el desabastecimiento. El presidente Lozada terminó renunciando y la mayoría de su gobierno huyendo al extranjero, mientras el proyecto quedaba cancelado y enterrado para siempre.
El nuevo presidente Mesa llega al poder con la promesa de llamar a un referéndum vinculante sobre el gas, al establecimiento de una Asamblea Constituyente y a una reforma de la Ley de Hidrocarburos, que incluyera la revisión de los procesos de privatización. El referéndum termina por dar la victoria a las propuestas de Carlos Mesa, si bien con una baja participación y una confusa redacción de las preguntas. El presidente Mesa, incapaz de capitalizar la legitimidad que le otorgaba el plebiscito renuncia al cargo y convoca elecciones presidenciales anticipadas en 2005, que llevan al poder al primer presidente indígena de la historia de Bolivia, Evo Morales, por mayoría absoluta. De esta forma el gas natural se convierte en el principal catalizador del cambio político en Bolivia.
La reforma de los hidrocarburos
La llegada de Evo Morales supuso un profundo cambio en el marco legal de los hidrocarburos. En 2006 se promulga la nueva ley de hidrocarburos “Héroes del Chaco”, que nacionaliza los recursos energéticos de Bolivia, expropia el 51% de las acciones de empresas involucradas en el sector y establece un impuesto directo sobre los hidrocarburos del 50% sujeto a una regalía extra del 32% a YPFB en aquellos yacimientos de más de 100 mcf de producción anual. Esta legislación, en palabras de Evo Morales “daba la vuelta a la tortilla, pasando de 18% a 82% en los ingresos del Estado sobre los hidrocarburos”. La legislación, aunque adornada con una retórica radical revolucionaria, ha demostrado ser moderada y viable en el medio plazo, ya que permite en la práctica fórmulas fiscales mucho menos gravosas para las multinacionales energéticas y no implicó grandes expropiaciones de activos. Tal y como se puede ver en la gráfica inferior, los ingresos fiscales derivados del gas natural crecieron enormemente desde 2005, año de la reforma, sin afectar dramáticamente a la producción de gas natural. Además, esta reforma vino acompañada de máximos históricos en el precio de las materias primas en 2006, 2007 y 2008, amortiguando la reducción porcentual en los ingresos de las compañías extranjeras. En el año 2009 Bolivia incluye en el artículo 362 la primacía de contratos de servicios petroleros, una fórmula en la que las multinacionales no obtienen ningún derecho sobre los hidrocarburos extraídos, pero son remuneradas por los servicios prestados.
Desde la reforma, las exportaciones han sido relativamente estables, aupadas por una creciente demanda tanto en Brasil como Argentina. El caso más polémico se dio en el invierno de 2016, especialmente frío, en el que Bolivia paralizó sus exportaciones debido a tareas de mantenimiento en el campo Margarita. Este hecho desenmascaró una tozuda realidad sobre las reservas demostradas de gas natural en Bolivia y la necesidad de aumentar las labores de exploración y perforación en el país. Las reservas actuales de Bolivia ascienden a 283 bcm (10 tcf), suficientes para solamente 10 años de actividad exportadora al ritmo actual. Conocedora de esta situación límite, la corporación YPFB ha lanzado para 2019 una campaña de inversión que asciende a los 1.450 millones de dólares, de los cuales 450 irán dedicados a labores de exploración. Buena parte de la inversión en el sector durante los últimos años ha ido dirigida a industrializar la producción de gas natural en lugar de labores de exploración, construyendo plantas de refino como la planta de amoniaco y urea de Bulo Bulo. Actualmente trabajan en labores de exploración y producción Total, Shell, Repsol y Petrobras. Este esfuerzo pretende contestar el informe del FMI que consideraba demasiado escasas las reservas de gas natural en Bolivia para convertir al país en un centro energético regional, máxima aspiración de Evo Morales. Para YPFB, existen unas reservas probables de 850 bcm (35 tfc) que garantizarían una larga vida para el sector gasista, pero que debería repensar su política fiscal para volver a atraer empresas extranjeras, que a día de hoy solo suponen el 20% de la inversión total.
El futuro del gas natural boliviano
De acuerdo con los contratos firmados con Brasil (1999) y Argentina (2005) los precios de exportación están indexados a una canasta de hidrocarburos, que en general ha garantizado a Bolivia un precio muy favorable, superior al de Henry Hub, pero que hace al país igualmente dependiente de las fluctuaciones en los precios internacionales de las materias primas. Sin embargo, la revolución de tecnología no convencional y nuevas formas de transporte ahora más económicas como el GNL están transformando la realidad del mercado del gas natural en el Cono Sur. Esta nueva coyuntura, ligada a la finalización de los contratos con Brasil en 2019 y Argentina en 2026, pone en jaque el futuro del principal activo de la economía boliviana.
Tal y como se muestra en el gráfico, la balanza comercial boliviana y su estabilidad fiscal dependen de los volúmenes exportados de gas natural y su precio internacional. La supervivencia del modelo económico actual boliviano y la presidencia de Evo Morales dependen en gran medida de los ingresos derivados de este hidrocarburo, siendo un factor fundamental para el futuro de la República Plurinacional de Bolivia.
Desde 1999 Brasil se convierte en el principal destino de las exportaciones de gas natural, siendo en el periodo 2001-2005 el único cliente de Bolivia. Esta posición permitió la entrada de Petrobras como principal inversor en el sector hasta el año de la nacionalización, suponiendo una importante fricción diplomática entre ambos países. Fue la complicidad entre Morales y Lula, así como la importancia de mantener la armonía entre los gobiernos de izquierdas en la región, lo que permitió evitar una confrontación mayor entre ambos países. A pesar de las palabras del presidente de Petrobras en 2006, Sergio Gabrielli, anunciando el fin para siempre de la compañía en Bolivia, esta ha continuado siendo un importante inversor debido a la rentabilidad de sus actividades y la importancia estratégica del gas boliviano para Brasil.
Parece evidente que el gas natural va a jugar un papel importante en el futuro de Brasil, ya que la principal fuente de electricidad en el país, la hidroeléctrica, requiere de otras fuentes que la sustituyan cuando haya escasez de lluvias, tal y como ocurrió entre 2012 y 2014. Este contexto favoreció la entrada de gas natural en el mix eléctrico, que pasó de un 5% en 2011 a un 25% para 2015. Sin embargo, Brasil comenzó hace una década con las revolucionarias explotaciones de hidrocarburos presal, que han permitido al país aumentar su producción de crudo de 1,8 mbd en 2008 a 2,6 mbd en 2018. Se espera que la producción de gas natural asociado a estos campos entre al mercado brasileño conforme se vaya construyendo la infraestructura necesaria que conecte los yacimientos off-shore con la todavía insuficiente red de gasoductos, algo que se prevé mejorar con la entrada de actores privados al sector tras la reforma energética de 2016. Igualmente, Brasil ya cuenta con 3 plantas para importar GNL, lo que le permite diversificar sus importaciones, tal como hizo durante 2018 cuando Bolivia no pudo suministrar los 26 millones de metros cúbicos al día acordados en 1999. Todo esto pone en una posición privilegiada para la negociación a Petrobras y Bolsonaro, situado en las antípodas ideológicas de Morales, y que podría apostar por aumentar las importaciones del cada vez más barato GNL norteamericano y reducir el volumen de gas boliviano. En cualquier caso, debido a ciertos incumplimientos en el suministro de gas desde Bolivia, el contrato se extenderá durante al menos dos años más hasta que se alcancen los volúmenes pendientes de entregar y que Brasil ya ha pagado.
El otro mercado de gas natural para Bolivia también está inmerso en profundas transformaciones, en este caso derivado de las técnicas no convencionales de shale y tight oil. El yacimiento de Vaca Muerta, considerado uno de los mayores depósitos de shale del mundo, ha comenzado a producir los primeros retornos tras años de inversiones por parte de YPF y otras multinacionales. A pesar de la inestabilidad económica argentina y las reformas fiscales exigidas por el FMI que retrasarán el desarrollo total de este yacimiento gigante, se prevé que para 2022 su producción cubra aproximadamente el 80% de las importaciones bolivianas, volviendo a la senda de la autosuficiencia alcanzada en buena parte de la década de los 90 y el 2000. Por el momento Argentina ya ha logrado renegociar los volúmenes de gas natural importados en verano y en invierno de forma más favorable a la demanda interna. Además, Argentina autorizó exportar gas natural a Chile tras 12 años de interrupción y realizó su primera exportación de GNL en mayo de 2019, lo que constituyen primeros síntomas de una creciente producción doméstica.
Parece evidente que el mercado argentino no tendrá un largo recorrido para el gas natural boliviano y que probablemente ponga fin a sus importaciones cuando termine el contrato en 2026. Otras opciones pasan por emplear la completa red de gasoductos argentinos como tránsito a otros destinos vía GNL o a vecinos como Uruguay, Paraguay o incluso Chile.
Desde hace unos meses, Bolivia ha articulado una campaña de diplomacia pública para lograr extender un gasoducto exportador a Puno, ciudad peruana situada en el Lago Titikaka. Si bien Perú tiene una importante producción de gas natural en Camisea que le permite exportar grandes cantidades de GNL, el país lanzó un programa conocido como Siete Regiones para universalizar el acceso al gas natural. El sur de Perú puede abastecerse de forma más económica por medio de importaciones bolivianas debido a la proximidad del gasoducto de La Paz, pero existen reticencias, especialmente en la oposición fujimorista, a importar un bien excedentario en el país. Esta fórmula sería integrada en un plan para exportar desde Bolivia gas licuado de petróleo a esta misma zona, mientras que Perú construiría un gasoducto para importar petróleo y derivados desde el puerto de Ilo, en el Pacífico, a La Paz. Para Bolivia, el mercado peruano puede ser una solución temporal mientras se siguen diversificando las exportaciones, pero tendrá una fecha de caducidad temprana dadas las reservas de gas natural peruanas, el doble que las bolivianas, y la tendencia lógica a una mayor producción doméstica que cubra la demanda de todo el país. Igualmente, parece sensato pensar que la costa de Perú será en el futuro uno de los puntos por donde Bolivia podría exportar su gas natural en forma de GNL si el mercado regional está saturado.
Desde un punto de vista económico, Chile es el país más atractivo para las exportaciones bolivianas. Carece de reservas de gas natural y su zona minera, de alta demanda energética, se sitúa en una zona relativamente próxima a la red de gasoductos y yacimientos de Bolivia. Sin embargo, la ya centenaria disputa por los territorios originariamente de Bolivia anexionados por Chile en la Guerra del Pacífico (1879-1883) han sido un obstáculo insalvable en el presente siglo. Cabe mencionar que durante los años 50 y 60 Bolivia exportó petróleo a Chile y a EEUU por medio del oleoducto Sica Sica-Arica; es decir, la negativa a exportar gas natural a Chile ha sido una bandera empleada por Evo Morales y no una tradición histórica en la relación de estos países.
Tras las enormes movilizaciones producidas por la Guerra del Gas, Evo Morales supo catalizar el fervor popular y utilizar la disputa territorial para incrementar su popularidad. De hecho, buena parte de sus esfuerzos en la anterior legislatura se centraron en lograr la ansiada salida al mar por medio de la Corte Internacional de Justicia de la Haya. En 2018 este tribunal falló de forma favorable para Chile, dictaminando que este país no tiene el deber de negociar con Bolivia un arreglo territorial. La negativa de Morales a exportar gas natural a Chile parece que continuará mientras dure su presidencia.
Sin embargo, el tratado de Paz y Amistad de 1904 firmado por ambos estados otorga a Bolivia plena autonomía aduanera en los puertos chilenos de Arica y Antofagasta y el derecho a mantener mercancía en tránsito por 12 meses, con almacenamiento sin costo para sus importaciones, y 60 días de almacenamiento gratuito para sus exportaciones. Estas condiciones parecen las ideales para la construcción de una planta de GNL en Arica o Antofagasta que permita exportar gas natural por vía marítima mientras se abastece el norte chileno, necesitado de gas natural barato que permita desplazar al carbón. Las difíciles relaciones políticas entre ambos países complican la viabilidad de este proyecto, que no debe ser descartado cuando Morales abandone la presidencia y exista una mayor sintonía, tal y como ocurrió con Pinochet y Banzer en el poder.
El consumo doméstico de gas natural en Bolivia ha crecido a un ritmo del 4,5% anual en el periodo 2008-2018 impulsado por unos precios subsidiados para consumo y la puesta en marcha de proyectos estatales que pretenden dotar de valor añadido a la extracción de gas natural como la planta de urea de Bulo Bulo o la industria siderúrgica de Mutún. Se espera que la renta per cápita en Bolivia y el consumo eléctrico sigan aumentando en la próxima década. Si el volumen de subsidios al gas natural crece de forma similar mientras que los ingresos por exportaciones disminuyen, el delicado equilibrio fiscal boliviano podría tomar una senda similar al de Argentina. El proceso de industrialización nacional por medio del gas natural tampoco parece descabellado, siempre y cuando se asiente sobre las reglas de mercado y no a costa de las finanzas públicas. El país ya ha alcanzado la autosuficiencia en fertilizantes y ya suponen un creciente rubro exportador, ejemplo de la diversificación económica que el gobierno de Morales persigue.
La pregunta: ¿Hay mercado para todos?
Tras revisar el contexto regional, puede parecer que el mercado de gas natural en Sudamérica va a estar saturado por un exceso de oferta futura. Tal y como se puede observar en el gráfico, la demanda de gas natural en el vecindario boliviano va a aumentar de 107 bcm a 140 bcm anuales para 2030. Probablemente Perú, Argentina y Brasil aumenten su producción, pudiendo alcanzar la autosuficiencia a lo largo de la década de 2020. Esto complica la comercialización del gas boliviano, pero no la hace imposible. En primer lugar, la realidad geográfica de Sudamérica hace que ciertos proyectos transfronterizos sean más económicos que otros internos, como en el caso del Sur de Perú. Igualmente, los cada vez menores costes de exportar gas por vía marítima permiten encontrar mercado a los excedentes de la producción regional, como es el caso de Perú que concentra sus exportaciones de gas a España. En un contexto de cada mayor interconexión energética, Bolivia podrá seguir exportando gas natural, ahora bien, con una posición menos privilegiada y teniendo que invertir en infraestructura exportadora. Los grandes retos se concentran en aumentar las actividades de exploración atrayendo más inversión extranjera y privada, así como la búsqueda de nuevos mercados, siendo la cuestión chilena un elemento central en este debate.
Iran Country Risk Report (June 2019)
After some months of implementation, the re-imposed US sanctions against Iran are seriously affecting Iranian economy and forcing disputed political and even military reactions. The present report attempts to provide an analysis of Iran by addressing: the consequences of sanctions, the current and future state of its energy sector, the internal situation of the country, and the future prospect of the Iran-US relations.
C. Asiáin, M. Morrás, I. Urbasos
Report [pdf. 14,1MB]
The US unilateral withdrawal from the JCPOA on May 8, 2018, reshaped the Iranian domestic and international reality. On the one hand, the JCPOA enabled Iran to increase its GDP above 7% in the period of 2016-2018, more than double its oil exports and maintained President Rouhani in office after the 2017 elections. On the other hand, the US reimposition of the previously lifted sanctions demonstrated the deep vulnerabilities of the Iranian economy and its huge diplomatic isolation.
US sanctions will affect the whole of Iran’s foreign relations due to its extraterritorial nature. The EU will try to avoid its effect through legal protection of its companies and citizens with mechanisms such as the SPV, whose scope and effectivity is yet to be proved. China, as it is less exposed to the US financial and political influence, will be able to better circumvent sanctions but still far from being totally unaffected. Other countries such as India, Turkey or Russia will find difficulties to handle secondary sanctions, but will be able to maintain a certain degree of trade with the Islamic Republic. Japan or South Korea will have to follow US demands because of its strategic alliance in the Asia-Pacific region and resume energy imports and investments.
The Iranian economy is expected to enter into recession during 2019, GDP growth is expected to be -4.5% and unemployment rate will increase to the 15.4%. This economic hardship will concentrate the political debate in the 2020 legislative and 2021 presidential elections, whose result will determine if a moderate or hardliner political faction seizes power. Social unrest from ethnic minorities and opposition is expected to rise if the economic conditions do not improve, challenging the current political equilibrium of the country.
The energy sector will be deeply affected by US sanctions as it banned all countries from investing and purchasing Iran’s energy products. Sanctions are expected to reduce Iran oil exports to 1million barrels a day from the 2017 levels of 2.4 mbdp, decreasing governmental revenues drastically and freezing most foreign investments. The lack of FDI and technology will aggravate the problems of the Iranian energy sector with possible irreversible effects depending on the sanctions duration.
US-Iran relations are expected to worsen at least until the US 2020 Presidential elections, when a more dialoguing candidate could substitute the hawkish Trump administration. The United States is expected to maintain its current strategic alliances with Saudi Arabia and Israel, whose common goal of pressuring Iran can have unexpected consequences for the Middle East. Domestic politics in Iran, US, Israel and Saudi Arabia will play a major role in the evolution of the events.
[Winston Lord, Kissinger on Kissinger. Reflections on Diplomacy, Grand Strategy, and Leadership. All Points Books. New York, 2019. 147 p.]
RESEÑA / Emili J. Blasco
A sus 96 años, Henry Kissinger ve publicado otro libro en gran parte suyo: la transcripción de una serie de largas entrevistas en relación a las principales actuaciones exteriores de la Administración Nixon, en la que sirvió como consejero de seguridad nacional y secretario de Estado. Aunque él mismo ya ha dejado amplios escritos sobre esos momentos y ha aportado documentación para que otros escriban en torno a ellos –como en el caso de la biografía de Niall Ferguson, cuyo primer tomo apareció en 2015–, Kissinger ha querido volver sobre aquel periodo de 1969-1974 para ofrecer una síntesis de los principios estratégicos que motivaron las decisiones entonces adoptadas. No se aportan novedades, pero sí detalles que pueden interesar a los historiadores de esa época.
La obra no responde a un deseo de última hora de Kissinger de influir sobre una determinada lectura de su legado. De hecho, la iniciativa de mantener los diálogos que aquí se transcriben no partió de él. Se enmarca, no obstante, en una ola de reivindicación de la presidencia de Richard Nixon, cuya visión estratégica en política internacional quedó empañada por el Watergate. La Fundación Nixon promovió la realización de una serie de vídeos, que incluyeron diversas entrevistas a Kissinger, llevadas a cabo a lo largo de 2016. Estas fueron conducidas por Winston Lord, estrecho colaborador de Kissinger durante su etapa en la Casa Blanca y en el Departamento de Estado, junto a K. T. McFarland, entonces funcionaria a sus órdenes (y, durante unos meses, número dos del Consejo de Seguridad Nacional con Donald Trump). Pasados más de dos años, esa conversación con Kissinger se publica ahora en una obra de formato pequeño y breve extensión. Sus últimos libros habían sido “China” (2011) y “Orden Mundial” (2014).
El relato oral de Kissinger se ocupa aquí de unos pocos asuntos que centraron su actividad como gran artífice de la política exterior estadounidense: la apertura a China, la distensión con Rusia, el fin de la guerra de Vietnam y la mayor implicación en Oriente Medio. Aunque la conversación entra en detalles y aporta diversas anécdotas, lo sustancial es lo que más allá de esas concreciones puede extraerse: son las “reflexiones sobre diplomacia, gran estrategia y liderazgo” que indica el subtítulo del libro. Pudiera resultar cansino volver a leer la intrahistoria de una actuación diplomática sobre la que el propio protagonista ya ha sido prolífico, pero en esta ocasión se ofrecen reflexiones que trascienden el periodo histórico específico, que para muchos puede quedar ya muy lejos, así como interesantes recomendaciones sobre los procesos de toma de decisión en posiciones de liderazgo.
Kissinger aporta algunas claves, por ejemplo, sobre por qué en Estados Unidos se ha consolidado el Consejo de Seguridad Nacional como instrumento de acción exterior del presidente, con vida autónoma –y en ocasiones conflictiva– respecto al Departamento de Estado. La Administración Nixon fue su gran impulsora, siguiendo la sugerencia de Eisenhower, de quien Nixon había sido vicepresidente: la coordinación interdepartamental en política exterior difícilmente podía ya hacerse desde un departamento –la Secretaría de Estado–, sino que debía llevarse a cabo desde la propia Casa Blanca. Mientras el consejero de Seguridad Nacional puede concentrarse en aquellas actuaciones que más le interesan al presidente, el secretario de Estado está obligado a una mayor dispersión, teniendo que atender multitud de frentes. Por lo demás, a diferencia de la mayor prontitud del Departamento de Defensa en secundar al comandante en jefe, el aparato del Departamento de Estado, habituado a elaborar múltiples alternativas para cada asunto internacional, puede tardar en asumir plenamente la dirección impuesta desde la Casa Blanca.
En cuanto a estrategia negociadora, Kissinger rechaza la idea de fijar privadamente un máximo objetivo y después ir recortándolo poco a poco, como las rodajas de un salami, a medida que se va alcanzando el final de la negociación. Propone en cambio fijar desde el principio las metas básicas que se desearían lograr –añadiendo tal vez un 5% por aquello de que algo habrá que ceder– y dedicar largo tiempo a explicárselas a la otra parte, con la idea de llegar a un entendimiento conceptual. Kissinger aconseja comprender bien qué mueve a la otra parte y cuáles son sus propios objetivos, pues “si tú impones tus intereses, sin vincularlos a los intereses de los otros, no podrás sostener tus esfuerzos”, dado que al final de la negociación las partes tienen que estar dispuestas a apoyar lo logrado.
Como en otras ocasiones, Kissinger no se abroga en exclusiva el mérito de los éxitos diplomáticos de la Administración Nixon. Si bien la prensa y cierta parte de la academia ha otorgado mayor reconocimiento al antiguo profesor de Harvard, el propio Kissinger ha insistido en que fue Nixon quien marcó decididamente las políticas, cuya maduración habían previamente realizado ambos por separado, antes de colaborar en la Casa Blanca. No obstante, es quizás en este libro donde las palabras de Kissinger más ensalzan al antiguo presidente, tal vez por haberse realizado en el marco de una iniciativa nacida desde la Fundación Nixon.
“La contribución fundamental de Nixon fue establecer un patrón de pensamiento en política exterior, que es seminal”, asegura Kissinger. Según este, la manera tradicional de abordar la acción exterior estadounidense había sido segmentar los asuntos para intentar resolverlos como problemas individuados, haciendo su resolución la cuestión misma. “Nixon fue –dejando aparte a los Padres Fundadores y, yo diría, a Teddy Roosevelt– el presidente estadounidense que pensó la política exterior como gran estrategia. Para él, la política exterior era la mejora estructural de la relación entre los países de modo que el equilibrio de sus intereses propios promoviera la paz global y la seguridad de Estados Unidos. Y pensó sobre esto en términos de relativo largo alcance”.
Quienes tengan poca simpatía por Kissinger –un personaje de apasionados defensores pero también de acérrimos críticos– verán en esta obra otro ejercicio de autocomplacencia y enaltecimiento propio del exconsejero. Quedarse en ese estadio sería desaprovechar una obra que contiene interesantes reflexiones y creo que completa bien el pensamiento de alguien de tanta relevancia en la historia de las relaciones internacionales. Lo que de afirmación personal pueda tener la publicación se refiere más bien a Winston Lord, que aquí se reivindica como mano derecha de Kissinger en aquella época: en las primeras páginas aparece completa la foto de la entrevista de Nixon y Mao, cuyos márgenes aparecieron cortados en su día por la Casa Blanca para que la presencia de Lord no molestara al secretario de Estado, que no fue invitado al histórico viaje a Pekín.
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]
ANALYSIS / Alfonso 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]
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 , 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.
ESSAY / Albert Vidal
What once achieved great successes oftentimes seems to lose its momentum and, sometimes, it even can become obsolete forever. When this occurs, there are usually two options: one can either try to reform it and save it, or adapt to the changes and play resiliently. But taking that decision involves sacrifices, and there will always be victims, no matter what one chooses. We can see this happening today with the World Trade Organization (WTO), particularly in regards to its function as a forum for the multilateral liberalization of trade.
In this essay, I argue that the WTO has lost its function as a forum for the multilateral liberalization of trade; rather, its only function is now to settle disputes through the Dispute Settlement Mechanism (DSM).
I have developed three main arguments to support my opinion. First, the failure of the Doha Round has marked an inflection point. With tariffs in its lowest point ever, states decided to abandon the WTO structure due to its slowness and resort to other mechanisms such as Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) and Regional Trade Agreements (RTAs) to liberalize the remaining barriers. The WTO has been deprived of one of its core functions, which could be toxic for smaller economies. Second, the uniqueness and effectiveness of the WTO’s DSM has conquered many hearts in the international arena and most states rely on it to solve its disputes. It has functioned so well, that it is now dealing with some disputes that had previously been part of trade liberalization negotiations. Third, the WTO does not have a clear mandate to decide on today’s most significant trade barriers: behind-the-border barriers. Most FTAs and RTAs deal with them in a more effective way than the WTO. Let’s now develop these reasons.
Toward a system of elites
The first argument that supports my thesis has to do with the failure of the Doha Round and its consequences. If we look back to the average tariff rates of the past decades, we see how they went down from 22% in 1947, to 15% in 1965 and to less than 5% after the Uruguay Round. In 2004, the average tariff rate was less than 3.8%, and global tariffs remained highest in the least developed regions of the planet. The Doha Round, which began in 2001, was thought to address the remaining agricultural subsidies and other minor tariffs that still were in place. But in 2008, talks collapsed due to a lack of commitment by many parties: lobbies in Western countries pushed hard to maintain the agricultural subsidies, while developing economies demanded more protection for farmers.
Suddenly, some countries (in particular the biggest economies) realized that engaging in negotiations within the WTO framework wasn’t worth it, since reaching consensus for such sensitive issues would be an almost impossible task. Besides, very few tariffs actually remained in place. Thus, they decided to resort to other channels, such as Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) and Regional Trade Agreements (RTAs). What were the consequences of such drift?
Since 2001, more than 900 FTAs and 291 RTAs have been signed: there has been a true explosion. They are attractive, because they deal with areas where the WTO has failed (e.g., non-tariff barriers and investment). FTAs and RTAs are technically allowed by the WTO, but they are problematic, because the members of such trade agreements end up forming their own blocs to trade freely, which excludes other minor countries. Consequently, FTAs and RTAs are now undermining the multilateral trading system, because them being preferential provokes trade diversion and increased costs. Besides, they reduce the value of a potential outcome from the Doha Round and, by abandoning the WTO framework, it is easier for bigger economies to use their bargaining power.
In short, powerful and rich members have removed the function of freeing trade from the WTO by engaging in FTAs and RTAs. They once came together to give this organization a role in liberalizing trade; now, following the functionalist theory, they have come together again to remove such function. One might ask, what will then happen with the WTO? Actually, not everything is lost.
What remains of the WTO: the most effective international tribunal
A second reason is that the WTO’s DSM has functioned so well, that it has even absorbed some of the issues that were previously dealt with in negotiations. The DSM was created with the aim of resolving trade disputes among members, being one of the two initial functions of the WTO. Since 1995, members have filled more than 570 disputes and over 350 rulings have been issued, most of which have been complied with (compared to less than 80 rulings of the International Court of Justice in a longer span of time). Almost 100 cases have been settled by a mutually agreed solution before advancing to litigation. Such figures make it the most widely used and effective international tribunal in existence.
One might wonder how this is possible. The secret rests in its five features: first, its procedure is extremely quick (it should take just one year to settle a dispute without appeal); second, it allows for Alternative Dispute Resolution mechanisms and encourages diplomacy before going for the judicial option; third, it allows for appeal; fourth, its panel is made by experts; fifth, it allows for retaliation.
Some may object by pointing out to the paralysis that the DSM is suffering due to Trump’s blockage of nominations to seats on the appellate body, which could leave the system inoperable. My answer to that is that Trump is the exception to the rule, and everything should be going back to normal with the coming administration.
The increasing number of active disputes (Appendix B) does not necessarily mean that law is being broken more often; rather, it is a reflection of the growing faith countries have in the DSM. In fact, the lack of progress in the Doha Round has pushed some countries toward the WTO’s DSM to solve disputes that should have been part of trade liberalization negotiations (e.g., agricultural subsidies).
Non-tariff barriers are better dealt with outside the WTO
A third reason to justify why the WTO no longer functions as a forum for multilateral trade liberalization is that the unclarity of the extent to which the WTO can decide on non-tariff barriers makes states uneasy when it comes to negotiating such issues within the WTO framework. I may also remind that most of the barriers still in place today are non-tariff ones, and the WTO has not yet developed universally recognized rules on them.
Again, solving issues like the harmonization of standards through the required-consensus of the WTO’s rounds is incredibly complex. This means that states prefer either to simply bring them to the WTO’s DSM or to deal with those challenges bilaterally and through regional deals.
That is why, in my opinion, the WTO needs to undertake certain reforms to regain its lost function: it should promote non-litigious dialogue outside the official frameworks. Simultaneously, it should develop relationships with the existing FTAs and clarify the extent to which it will decide on behind-the-border measures.
To put it briefly, the WTO has lost one of its two core functions due to three main factors. The most important one is that many countries are tired of the rigid WTO structure for trade negotiations, and have decided to work toward the same direction but with different methods. At the same time, the DSM has earned a tremendous reputation during almost two and a half decades and, although it is now going through difficult situation, it has a bright future ahead. Lastly, the bulk of barriers to trade that remain standing are so complex, that the WTO cannot effectively address them.
I would like to end by referring to the reflection with which I began this essay. It seems to me that we can still save the WTO as a forum to liberalize trade multilaterally, but we cannot pretend for it to be as it was in the past. It will never again be the central and unique leader of the process. Instead, it will have to develop relationships with existing FTAs, RTAs, and other functioning partnerships and agreements. But at least, we can try to reform it and soften the damaging consequences that are affecting countries outside these elite clubs.
 Tariff rate, applied, weighted mean, all products (%). (2017). Retrieved from
 How to rescue the WTO. (2018). The Economist. Retrieved from
 Regional Trade Agreements. (n.d.). Retrieved from
Jackson, K., & Shepotylo, O. (2018). No deal? Seven reasons why a WTO-only Brexit would be bad for Britain. Retrieved February 21, 2019, from
 Meltzer, J. (2011). The Challenges to the World Trade Organization: It’s All About Legitimacy. Washington DC. Retrieved from
 McBride, J. (2018). What’s Next for the WTO. Retrieved April 26, 2019, from
 America holds the World Trade Organisation hostageTitle. (2017). The Economist. Retrieved from
 Meltzer, Op. cit., p. 4.
 Low, P. (2009). Potential Future Functions of the World Trade Organization. Global Governance, 15, 327–334.
▲ Special forces (Pixabay)
ESSAY / Roberto Ramírez and Albert Vidal
During the Cold War, Offensive Realism, a theory elaborated by John Mearsheimer, appeared to fit perfectly the international system (Pashakhanlou, 2018). Thirty years after the fall of the Soviet Union, this does not seem to be the case anymore. From the constructivist point of view, Offensive Realism makes certain assumptions about the international system which deserve to be questioned (Wendt, 2008).The purpose of this paper is thus to make a critique of Mearsheimer’s concept of anarchy in the international system. The development of this idea by Mearsheimer can be found in the second chapter of his book ‘The Tragedy of Great Power Politics’.
The essay will begin with a brief summary of the core tenets of the said chapter and how they relate to Offensive Realism more generally. Afterwards, the constructivist theory proposed by Alexander Wendt will be presented. Then, it will be argued from a constructivist approach that the international sphere is the result of a construction and it does not necessarily lead to war. Next, the different types of anarchies that Wendt presents will be described, as an argument against the single and uniform international system that is presented by Neorealists. Lastly, the essay will make a case for the importance of shared values and ideologies, and how this is oftentimes underestimated by offensive realists.
Mearsheimer’s work and Offensive Realism
‘The Tragedy of Great Power Politics’ has become one of the most decisive books in the field of International Relations after the Cold War and has developed the theory of offensive realism to an unprecedented extent. In this work, Mearsheimer enumerates the five assumptions on which offensive realism rests (Mearsheimer, 2014):
1. The international system is anarchic. Mearsheimer understand anarchy as an ordering principle that comprises independent states which have no central authority above them. There is no “government over governments”.
2. Great powers inherently possess offensive military capabilities; which means that there will always be a possibility of mutual destruction. Thus, every state could be a potential enemy.
3. States are never certain of other states’ intentions. All states may be benign, but states could never be sure about that, since their intention could change all of a sudden.
4. Survival is the primary goal of great powers and it dominates other motives. Once a state is conquered, any chances to achieve other goals disappear.
5. Great powers are rational actors, because when it comes to international policies, they consider how their behavior could affect other’s behavior and vice versa.
The problem is, according to Mearsheimer, that when those five assumptions come together, they create strong motivations for great powers to behave offensively, and three patterns of behavior originate (Mearsheimer, 2007).
First, great powers fear each other, which is a motivating force in world politics. States look with suspicion to each other in a system with little room for trust. Second, states aim to self-help actions, as they tend to see themselves as vulnerable and lonely. Thus, the best way to survive in this self-help world is to be selfish. Alliances are only temporary marriages of convenience because states are not willing to subordinate their interest to international community. Lastly, power maximization is the best way to ensure survival. The stronger a state is compared to their enemies, the less likely it is to be attacked by them. But, how much power is it necessary to amass, so that a state will not be attacked by others? As that is something very difficult to know, the only goal can be to achieve hegemony.
A Glimpse of Constructivism, by Alexander Wendt
According to Alexander Wendt, one of the main constructivist authors, there are two main tenets that will help understand this approach:
The first one goes as follows: “The identities and interests of purposive actors are constructed by these shared ideas rather than given by nature” (Wendt, 2014). Constructivism has two main referent objects: the individual and the state. This theory looks into the identity of the individuals of a nation to understand the interests of a state. That is why there is a need to understand what identity and interests are, according to constructivism, and what are they used for.
i. Identity is understood by constructivism as the social interactions that people of a nation have with each other, which shape their ideas. Constructivism tries to understand the identity of a group or a nation through its historical record, cultural things and sociology. (McDonald, 2012).
ii. A state’s interest is a cultural construction and it has to do with the cultural identity of its citizens. For example, when we see that a state is attacking our state’s liberal values, we consider it a major threat; however, when it comes to buglers or thieves, we don’t get alarmed that much because they are part of our culture. Therefore, when it comes to international security, what may seem as a threat for a state may not be considered such for another (McDonald, 2012).
The second tenet says that “the structures of human association are determined primarily by shared ideas rather than material forces”. Once that constructivism has analyzed the individuals of a nation and knows the interest of the state, it is able to examine how interests can reshape the international system (Wendt, 2014). But, is the international system dynamic? This may be answered by dividing the international system in three elements:
a) States, according to constructivism, are composed by a material structure and an idealist structure. Any modification in the material structure changes the ideal one, and vice versa. Thus, the interest of a state will differ from those of other states, according to their identity (Theys, 2018).
b) Power, understood as military capabilities, is totally variable. Such variation may occur in quantitative terms or in the meaning given to such military capabilities by the idealist structure (Finnemore, 2017). For instance, the friendly relationship between the United States (US) and the United Kingdom is different from the one between the US and North Korea, because there is an intersubjectivity factor to be considered (Theys, 2018).
c) International anarchy, according to Wendt, does not exist as an “ordering principle” but it is “what states make of it” (Wendt, 1995). Therefore, the anarchical system is mutable.
The international system and power competition: a wrong assumption?
The first argument will revolve around the following neorealist assumption: the international system is anarchic by nature and leads to power competition, and this cannot be changed. To this we add the fact that states are understood as units without content, being qualitatively equal.
What would constructivists answer to those statements? Let’s begin with an example that illustrates the weakness of the neorealist argument: to think of states as blank units is problematic. North Korea spends around $10 billion in its military (Craw, 2019), and a similar amount is spent by Taiwan. But the former is perceived as a dangerous threat while the latter isn’t. According to Mearsheimer, we should consider both countries equally powerful and thus equally dangerous, and we should assume that both will do whatever necessary to increase their power. But in reality, we do not think as such: there is a strong consensus on the threat that North Korea represents, while Taiwan isn’t considered a serious threat to anyone (it might have tense relations with China, but that is another issue).
The key to this puzzle is identity. And constructivism looks on culture, traditions and identity to better understand what goes on. The history of North Korea, the wars it has suffered, the Japanese attitude during the Second World War, the Juche ideology, and the way they have been educated enlightens us, and helps us grasp why North Korea’s attitude in the international arena is aggressive according to our standards. One could scrutinize Taiwan’s past in the same manner, to see why has it evolved in such way and is now a flourishing and open society; a world leader in technology and good governance. Nobody would see Taiwan as a serious threat to its national security (with the exception of China, but that is different).
This example could be brought to a bigger scale and it could be said that International Relations are historically and socially constructed, instead of being the inevitable consequence of human nature. It is the states the ones that decide how to behave, and whether to be a good ally or a traitor. And thus the maxim ‘anarchy is what states make of it’, which is better understood in the following fragment (Copeland, 2000; p.188):
‘Anarchy has no determinant "logic," only different cultural instantiations. Because each actor's conception of self (its interests and identity) is a product of the others' diplomatic gestures, states can reshape structure by process; through new gestures, they can reconstitute interests and identities toward more other-regarding and peaceful means and ends.’
We have seen Europe succumb under bloody wars for centuries, but we have also witnessed more than 70 years of peace in that same region, after a serious commitment of certain states to pursue a different goal. Europe has decided to do something else with the anarchy that it was given: it has constructed a completely different ecosystem, which could potentially expand to the rest of the international system and change the way we understand international relations. This could obviously change for the better or for the worse, but what matters is that it has been proven how the cycle of inter-state conflict and mutual distrust is not inevitable. States can decide to behave otherwise and trust in their neighbors; by altering the culture that constitutes the system, they can set the foundations for non-egoistic mind-sets that will bring peace (Copeland, 2000). It will certainly not be easy to change, but it is perfectly possible.
As it was said before, constructivism does not deny an initial state of anarchy in the international system; it simply affirms that it is an empty vessel which does not inevitably lead to power competition. Wendt affirms that whether a system is conflictive or peaceful is not decided by anarchy and power, but by the shared culture that is created through interaction (Copeland, 2000).
Three different ‘anarchies’
Alexander Wendt describes in his book ‘Social Theory of International Politics’ the three cultures of anarchy that have embedded the international system for the past centuries (Wendt, 1999). Each of these cultures has been constructed by the states, thanks to their interaction and acceptance of behavioral norms. Such norms continuously shape states’ interests and identities.
Firstly, the Hobbesian culture dominated the international system until the 17th century; where the states saw each other as dangerous enemies that competed for the acquisition of power. Violence was used as a common tool to resolve disputes. Then, the Lockean culture emerged with the Treaty of Westphalia (1648): here states became rivals, and violence was still used, but with certain restrains. Lastly, the Kantian culture has appeared with the spread of democracies. In this culture of anarchy, states cooperate and avoid using force to solve disputes (Copeland, 2000). The three examples that have been presented show how the Neorealist assumption that anarchy is of one sort, and that it drives toward power competition cannot be sustained. According to Copeland (2000; p.198-199), ‘[…] if states fall into such conflicts, it is a result of their own social practices, which reproduce egoistic and military mind-sets. If states can transcend their past realpolitik mindset, hope for the future can be restored.’
Ideal structures are more relevant than what you think
One of the common assertions of Offensive Realism is that “[…] the desire for security and fear of betrayal will always override shared values and ideologies” (Seitz, 2016). Constructivism opposes such assertion, and brands it as too simplistic. In reality, it has been repeatedly proven wrong. A common history, shared values, and even friendship among states are some things that Offensive Realism purposefully ignores and does not contemplate.
Let’s illustrate it with an example. Country A has presumed power strength of 7. Country B has a power strength of 15. Offensive Realism would say that country A is under the threat of an attack by country B, which is much more powerful and if it has the chance, it will conquer country A. No other variables or structures are taken into account, and that will happen inexorably. Such assertion, under today’s dynamics is considered quite absurd. Let’s put a counter-example: who in earth thinks that the US is dying to conquer Canada and will do so when the first opportunity comes up? Why doesn’t France invade Luxembourg, if one take into account how easy and lucrative this enterprise might be? Certainly, there are other aspects such as identities and interests that offensive realism has ignored, but are key in shaping states’ behavior in the international system.
That is how shared values (an ideal structure) oftentimes overrides power concerns (a material structure) when two countries that are asymmetrically powerful become allies and decide to cooperate.
After deepening into the understanding that offensive realists have of anarchy in the international system, this essay has covered the different arguments that constructivists employ to face such conception. To put it briefly, it has been argued that the international system is the result of a construction, and it is shared culture that decides whether anarchy will lead to conflict or peace. To prove such argument, the three different types of anarchies that have existed in the relatively recent times have been described. Finally, a case has been made for the importance of shared values and ideologies over material structures, which is generally dismissed by offensive realists.
Although this has not been an exhaustive critique of Offensive Realism, the previous insights may have provided certain key ideas that will contribute to the conversation. Our understanding of the theory of constructivism will certainly shape the way we tackle crisis and the way we conceive international relations. It is then tremendously important that one knows in which cases it ought to be applied, so that we do not rely completely on a particular theory which becomes our new object of veneration; since this may have dreadful consequences.
Copeland, D. C. (2000). The Constructivist Challenge to Structural Realism: A Review Essay. The MIT Press, 25, 287–212. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/2626757
Craw, V. (2019). North Korea military spending: Country spends 22 per cent of GDP. Retrieved from https://www.news.com.au/world/asia/north-korea-spends-whopping-22-per-cent-of-gdp-on-military-despite-blackouts-and-starving-population/news-story/c09c12d43700f28d389997ee733286d2
D. Williams, P. (2012). Security Studies: An Introduction. (Routledge, Ed.) (2nd ed.).
Finnemore, M. (2017). National Interests in International Society (pp. 6 - 7).
McDonald, M. (2012). Security, the environment and emancipation (pp. 48 - 59). New York: Routledge.
Mearsheimer, J. (2014). The Tragedy of Great Power Politics. (WW Norton & Co, Ed.). New York.
Mearsheimer. (2007). Tragedy of great power politics (pp. 29 - 54). [Place of publication not identified]: Academic Internet Pub Inc.
Pashakhanlou, A. (2018). Realism and fear in international relations. [Place of publication not identified]: Palgrave Macmillan.
Seitz, S. (2016). A Critique of Offensive Realism. Retrieved March 2, 2019, from https://politicstheorypractice.com/2016/03/06/a-critique-of-offensive-realism/
Theys, S. (2018). Introducing Constructivism in International Relations Theory. Retrieved from https://www.e-ir.info/2018/02/23/introducing-constructivism-in-international-relations-theory/
Walt, S. M. (1987). The Origins of Alliances. (C. U. Press, Ed.). Ithaca.
Wendt, A. (1995). Constructing international politics. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Wendt, A. (2008). Anarchy is what States make of it (pp. 399 - 403). Farnham: Ashgate.
Wendt, A. (2014). Social theory of international politics (p. 1). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Wendt, A. (2014). Social theory of international politics (p. 29 - 33). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Why Tehran has decided to openly confront US sanctions and how the crisis could develop from now
▲ Persian chess-game [Pixabay]
ANALYSIS / Baltasar 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.
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]
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
(2) Chubin, Sharam. “The Politics of Iran's Nuclear Program”, The Iran Primer, US Institute for Peace, 2010 (updated 2015)
(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
(7) Geranmayeh, Ellie. “60 days to save the JCPOA”. European Council on Foreign Relations. May 9, 2019
Iran Country Risk Report (May 2019)
The sanctions that the United States is implementing against the Islamic Republic of Iran since November 2018 are the toughest sanctions ever imposed on Iran. They threaten to cut off foreign countries and companies dealing with Iran from the US financial system in order to deter business with Iran so to curtail the impact of proxy groups on the Middle East’s security and stability. The aim of this country report is to provide the most recent analysis of the Iran's economic and political situation, and estimate its evolution in the short and medium term. It presents an overlook of specific clues about matters related to political risk, as well as the effect that sanctions may have on the Iranian economy, and the prospects for political stability all over the region.
Report [pdf. 13,5MB]
Effects of sanctions
The re-imposition of US sanctions will maintain the Iranian economy in recession during the remaining months of 2019. Notwithstanding the foregoing, the economic meltdown will be very unlikely to happen, as the volume of oil exports is still significant, crude prices are going to continue to rise and other major powers´ opinion will still differ from the US´s. The multinational companies dependent on US financial system will continue leaving the Iranian market, partially leading to declining of the foreign investment, but SMEs will be almost unaffected and new forms of trading are likely to emerge soon.
Iran is likely to build stronger economic and political ties with India, China and Russia, thus giving them more power and openness to new trading opportunities, basically due to lack of any other possible partner on the horizon in the mid-term.
The prices are likely to keep growing up in the following months reaching the average inflation of 31.2% in 2019-20; still the risk of hyperinflation is discarded due to the fact that Iran is able to meet a significant share of local demand through local production.
Backed by support from the EU, Iran is promised to obtain in the mid-term a special mechanism of payments (Special Purpose Vehicle) for its oil and other exports (possibly through a barter system) in order to conduct trading outside of the competence of the US sanctions. This is likely to create some tensions between Europe and the US but they will not be powerful enough to split the long-lasting alliance between the two.
Oil and gas
The Iran´s production of oil will probably continue to decrease affecting the world´s oil price.
Five from the eight initial major buyers (Italy, Greece and Taiwan have already stopped their purchases from Iran) are and will be buying Iranian oil now that the waivers have been extended for the following 90 days. Thereby, the Iranian oil will still remain in demand during the following years, and Iran´s government is likely to find solutions for its selling and exportation, even though illegally, in the mid and long-term. Thus, the United States is unlikely to meet its earlier target of driving Iranian oil exports to zero.
Iraq will continue to buy natural gas from Iran in order to use it in the production of electricity, becoming the second largest customer. Taking into account the fact that there is a sort of competence between US and Iran for the influence over Iraq, it can fuel a further deterioration of their relations. It is also plausible that more buyers will emerge if some new forms of trading, which do not rely on dollar, appear soon.
Even though the modest production growth is likely to continue, Iran won´t be able to unilaterally monetize its natural gas resources due to lack of financial partners and the investment, especially from the West. However, it will be able to fulfil its domestic demand and sustain trade with Turkey.
Iran’s ability to increase production and exports of natural gas will be almost improbable, unless the relations with the United States are improved or support from international partners in defiance of sanctions is reinforced. Nevertheless, if Iran manages to accomplish current development projects, its export pipeline capacity will increase from 46.4 bcm/year in 2018, to 119.7 bcm/year to the regional and global markets in a long run. China, India and Pakistan will play a significant role in Iran´s natural gas sector.
The domestic scene
Iran will continue demonstrating considerable resilience in coping with US sanctions, and is likely to continue to fully implement the commitments of JCPOA as long as China, Russia, or countries which are non-members of the deal, such as India, continue to trade with it, and if EU continues maintaining its constructive attitude. In this case, even a greater international support and United Nations diplomatic intervention is expected in the mid-term. However, on a longer run, the JCPOA future will depend upon the economic situation and complex political battles between moderates and hardliners in Tehran.
The current deterioration of the economic conditions in Iran, the rial devaluation and growing inflation, together with already-high unemployment will provoke a further popular discontent which is likely to maintain the protests but without any considerable probability to threaten the Iranian political stability or lead to leadership´s rupture during the upcoming years.
The sanctions are likely to produce some adverse effects on the political local scene over the longer term, as Iranian hardliners may take advantage of them and the popular frustration and obtain the victory in the coming 2020 parliamentary elections and the 2021 presidential poll. As a result, any possibility for future cooperation with US will equal zero.
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