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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.
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.
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
The struggle for power has already started in the Islamic Republic in the midst of US sanctions and ahead a new electoral cycle
▲ Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaking to Iranian Air Force personnel, in 2016 [Wikipedia]
ANALYSIS / Rossina Funes and Maeve Gladin
The failing health of Supreme Leader Sayyid Ali Hosseini Khamenei, 89, brings into question the political aftermath of his approaching death or possible step-down. Khamenei’s health has been a point of query since 2007, when he temporarily disappeared from the public eye. News later came out that he had a routine procedure which had no need to cause any suspicions in regards to his health. However, the question remains as to whether his well-being is a fantasy or a reality. Regardless of the truth of his health, many suspect that he has been suffering prostate cancer all this time. Khamenei is 89 years old –he turns 80 in July– and the odds of him continuing as active Supreme Leader are slim to none. His death or resignation will not only reshape but could also greatly polarize the successive politics at play and create more instability for Iran.
The next possible successor must meet certain requirements in order to be within the bounds of possible appointees. This political figure must comply and follow Khamenei’s revolutionary ideology by being anti-Western, mainly anti-American. The prospective leader would also need to meet religious statues and adherence to clerical rule. Regardless of who that cleric may be, Iran is likely to be ruled by another religious figure who is far less powerful than Khamenei and more beholden to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Additionally, Khamenei’s successor should be young enough to undermine the current opposition to clerical rule prevalent among many of Iran’s youth, which accounts for the majority of Iran’s population.
In analyzing who will head Iranian politics, two streams have been identified. These are constrained by whether the current Supreme Leader Khamenei appoints his successor or not, and within that there are best and worst case scenarios.
Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi
Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi had been mentioned as the foremost contender to stand in lieu of Iranian Supreme Leader Khamenei. Shahroudi was a Khamenei loyalist who rose to the highest ranks of the Islamic Republic’s political clerical elite under the supreme leader’s patronage and was considered his most likely successor. A former judiciary chief, Shahroudi was, like his patron, a staunch defender of the Islamic Revolution and its founding principle, velayat-e-faqih (rule of the jurisprudence). Iran’s domestic unrest and regime longevity, progressively aroused by impromptu protests around the country over the past year, is contingent on the political class collectively agreeing on a supreme leader competent of building consensus and balancing competing interests. Shahroudi’s exceptional faculty to bridge the separated Iranian political and clerical establishment was the reason his name was frequently highlighted as Khamenei’s eventual successor. Also, he was both theologically and managerially qualified and among the few relatively nonelderly clerics viewed as politically trustworthy by Iran’s ruling establishment. However, he passed away in late December 2018, opening once again the question of who was most likely to take Khamenei’s place as Supreme Leader of Iran.
However, even with Shahroudi’s early death, there are still a few possibilities. One is Sadeq Larijani, the head of the judiciary, who, like Shahroudi, is Iraqi born. Another prospect is Ebrahim Raisi, a former 2017 presidential candidate and the custodian of the holiest shrine in Iran, Imam Reza. Raisi is a student and loyalist of Khamenei, whereas Larijani, also a hard-liner, is more independent.
1. MOST LIKELY SCENARIO, REGARDLESS OF APPOINTMENT
1.1 Ebrahim Raisi
In a more likely scenario, Ebrahim Raisi would rise as Iran’s next Supreme Leader. He meets the requirements aforementioned with regards to the religious status and the revolutionary ideology. Fifty-eight-years-old, Raisi is a student and loyal follower of the current Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. Like his teacher, he is from Mashhad and belongs to its famous seminary. He is married to the daughter of Ayatollah Alamolhoda, a hardline cleric who serves as Khamenei's representative of in the eastern Razavi Khorasan province, home of the Imam Reza shrine.
Together with his various senior judicial positions, in 2016 Raisi was appointed the chairman of Astan Quds Razavi, the wealthy and influential charitable foundation which manages the Imam Reza shrine. Through this appointment, Raisi developed a very close relationship with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which is a known ideological and economic partner of the foundation. In 2017, he moved into the political sphere by running for president, stating it was his "religious and revolutionary responsibility". He managed to secure a respectable 38 percent of the vote; however, his contender, Rouhani, won with 57 percent of the vote. At first, this outcome was perceived as an indicator of Raisi’s relative unpopularity, but he has proven his detractors wrong. After his electoral defeat, he remained in the public eye and became an even more prominent political figure by criticizing Rouhani's policies and pushing for hard-line policies in both domestic and foreign affairs. Also, given to Astan Quds Foundation’s extensive budget, Raisi has been able to secure alliances with other clerics and build a broad network that has the ability to mobilize advocates countrywide.
Once he takes on the role of Supreme Leader, he will continue his domestic and regional policies. On the domestic front, he will further Iran's Islamisation and regionally he will push to strengthen the "axis of resistance", which is the anti-Western and anti-Israeli alliance between Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, Shia Iraq and Hamas. Nevertheless, if this happens, Iran would live on under the leadership of yet another hardliner and the political scene would not change much. Regardless of who succeeds Khamenei, a political crisis is assured during this transition, triggered by a cycle of arbitrary rule, chaos, violence and social unrest in Iran. It will be a period of uncertainty given that a great share of the population seems unsatisfied with the clerical establishment, which was also enhanced by the current economic crisis ensued by the American sanctions.
1.2 Sadeq Larijani
Sadeq Larijani, who is fifty-eight years old, is known for his conservative politics and his closeness to the supreme guide of the Iranian regime Ali Khamenei and one of his potential successors. He is Shahroudi’s successor as head of the judiciary and currently chairs the Expediency Council. Additionally, the Larijani family occupies a number of important positions in government and shares strong ties with the Supreme Leader by being among the most powerful families in Iran since Khamenei became Supreme Leader thirty years ago. Sadeq Larijani is also a member of the Guardian Council, which vetos laws and candidates for elected office for conformance to Iran’s Islamic system.
Formally, the Expediency Council is an advisory body for the Supreme Leader and is intended to resolve disputes between parliament and a scrutineer body, therefore Larijani is well informed on the way Khamenei deals with governmental affairs and the domestic politics of Iran. Therefore, he meets the requirement of being aligned with Khamenei’s revolutionary and anti- Western ideology, and he is also a conservative cleric, thus he complies with the religious figure requirement. Nonetheless, he is less likely to be appointed as Iran’s next Supreme Leader given his poor reputation outside Iran. The U.S. sanctioned Larijani on the grounds of human rights violations, in addition to “arbitrary arrests of political prisoners, human rights defenders and minorities” which “increased markedly” since he took office, according to the EU who also sanctioned Larijani in 2012. His appointment would not be a strategic decision amidst the newly U.S. imposed sanctions and the trouble it has brought upon Iran. Nowadays, the last thing Iran wants is that the EU also turn their back to them, which would happen if Larijani rises to power. However it is still highly plausible that Larijani would be the second one on the list of prospective leaders, only preceded by Raisi.
2. LEAST LIKELY SCENARIO: SUCCESSOR NOT APPOINTED
2.1 Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps
The IRGC’s purpose is to preserve the Islamic system from foreign interference and protect from coups. As their priority is the protection of national security, the IRGC necessarily will take action once Khamenei passes away and the political sphere becomes chaotic. In carrying out their role of protecting national security, the IRGC will act as a support for the new Supreme Leader. Moreover, the IRGC will work to stabilize the unrest which will inevitably occur, regardless of who comes to power. It is our estimate that the new Supreme Leader will have been appointed by Khamenei before death, and thus the IRGC will do all in their power to protect him. In the unlikely case that Khamenei does not appoint a successor, we believe that there are two unlikely options of ruling that could arise.
The first, and least likely, being that the IRGC takes rule. Moreover, it is highly unlikely that the IRGC takes power. This would violate the Iranian constitution and is not in the interest to rule the state. What they are interested in is having a puppet figure who will satisfy their interests. As the IRGC's main role is national security, in the event that Khamenei does not appoint a successor and the country goes into political and social turmoil, the IRGC will without a doubt step in. This military intervention will be one of transitory nature, as the IRGC does not pretend to want direct political power. Once the Supreme Leader is secured, the IRGC will go back to a relatively low profile.
In the very unlikely event that a Supreme Leader is not predetermined, the IRGC may take over the political regime of Iran, creating a military dictatorship. If this were to happen, there would certainly be protests, riots and coups. It would be very difficult for an opposition group to challenge and defeat the IRGC, but there would be attempts to overcome it. This would be a regime of temporary nature, however, the new Supreme Leader would arise from the scene that the IRGC had been protecting.
2.2 Mohsen Kadivar
In addition, political dissident and moderate cleric Mohsen Kadivar is a plausible candidate for the next Supreme Leader. Kadivar’s rise to political power in Iran would be a black swan, as it is extremely unlikely, however, the possibility should not be dismissed. His election would be highly unlikely due to the fact that he is a vocal critic of clerical rule and has been a public opposer of the Iranian government. He has served time in prison for speaking out in favor of democracy and liberal reform as well as publicly criticizing the Islamic political system. Moreover, he has been a university professor of Islamic religious and legal studies throughout the United States. As Kadivar goes against all requirements to become successor, he is highly unlikely to become Supreme Leader. It is also important to keep in mind that Khamenei will most likely appoint a successor, and in that scenario, he will appoint someone who meets the requirements and of course is in line with what he believes. In the rare case that Khamenei does not appoint a successor or dies before he gets the chance to, a political uprising is inevitable. The question will be whether the country uprises to the point of voting a popular leader or settling with someone who will maintain the status quo.
In the situation that Mohsen Kadivar is voted into power, the Iranian political system would change drastically. For starters, he would not call himself Supreme Leader, and would instill a democratic and liberal political system. Kadivar and other scholars which condemn supreme clerical rule are anti-despotism and advocate for its abolishment. He would most likely establish a western-style democracy and work towards stabilizing the political situation of Iran. This would take more years than he will allow himself to remain in power, however, he will probably stay active in the political sphere both domestically as well as internationally. He may be secretary of state after stepping down, and work as both a close friend and advisor of the next leader of Iran as well as work for cultivating ties with other democratic countries.
2.3 Sayyid Mojtaba Hosseini Khamenei
Khamenei's son, Sayyid Mojtaba Hosseini Khamenei is also rumored to be a possible designated successor. His religious and military experience and dedication, along with being the son of Khamenei gives strong reason to believe that he may be appointed Supreme Leader by his father. However, Mojtaba is lacking the required religious status. The requirements of commitment to the IRGC as well as anti-American ideology are not questioned, as Mojtaba has a well-known strong relationship with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Mojtaba studied theology and is currently a professor at Qom Seminary in Iran. Nonetheless, it is unclear as to whether Mojtaba’s religious and political status is enough to have him considered to be the next Supreme Leader. In the improbable case that Khamenei names his son to be his successor, it would be possible for his son to further commit to the religious and political facets of his life and align them with the requirements of being Supreme Leader.
This scenario is highly unlikely, especially considering that in the 1979 Revolution, monarchical hereditary succession was abolished. Mojtaba has already shown loyalty to Iran when taking control of the Basij militia during the uproar of the 2009 elections to halt protests. While Mojtaba is currently not fit for the position, he is clearly capable of gaining the needed credentials to live up to the job. Despite his potential, all signs point to another candidate becoming the successor before Mojtaba.
3. PATH TO DEMOCRACY
Albeit the current regime is supposedly overturned by an uprising or new appointment by the current Supreme Leader Khamenei, it is expected that any transition to democracy or to Western-like regime will take a longer and more arduous process. If this was the case, it will be probably preceded by a turmoil analogous to the Arab Springs of 2011. However, even if there was a scream for democracy coming from the Iranian population, the probability that it ends up in success like it did in Tunisia is slim to none. Changing the president or the Supreme Leader does not mean that the regime will also change, but there are more intertwined factors that lead to a massive change in the political sphere, like it is the path to democracy in a Muslim state.
The Belgian city, the world's capital of diamonds, has applied more regulations, sanctions and scrutiny on the industry, but still there are some bad practices
▲ The diamond industry has its main world centre in the Belgian city of Antwerp
ANALYSIS / Jokin de Carlos Sola
The diamond trade moves hundreds of millions of euros every year around the globe. Most of them come from third world countries were the diamonds are extracted by very hard means. Even today, diamonds coming from conflict zones and used to finance conflicts and violence are a significant part of the market. Nowadays the production is mainly sold in cities of the United States and Europe and most of those diamonds in some way or another end up passing through the city of Antwerp in Belgium, showing that the Dutch and Belgians still have certain control over the industry.
This text will explore the origins of the city of Antwerp as a centre in the diamond market and of the control by Dutch and Belgians of this particular business; then it will analyse this industry in the new globalised era, and finally explain the relation of the city of Antwerp and the trade of blood diamonds.
Low Lands, a land of diamonds
Until the 19th century most diamonds came to Europe from India through the ports of Bruges, Antwerp and Amsterdam. The origins of the Low Countries as a centre of diamond craft and trade comes from the 15th century. In 1475 a Flemish jeweller, named Lodewyck van Bercken, invented the scaif, a polishing wheel infused with diamond dust and olive oil. This made easier the cutting of a diamond and revolutionised the industry. Bercken was a protégée of Duke Charles de Bold and his techniques were spread all around the Low Countries. For the next years Antwerp and Amsterdam became big competitors in the diamond trade.
In the 17th century Amsterdam was the most important city in Europe concerning diamonds. Because of the religious tolerance of the Netherlands, many Sephardic Jews established themselves in the city moving from Antwerp. There they had acquired knowledge working with diamond due to the guild-system, for the only industry that they were allowed to work in was the diamond industry.
In 1725 diamonds were discovered in Brazil and most of them went through Amsterdam. During the 19th century over 90% of rough diamonds sold in Europe passed through the Dutch city. Due to the colonial power of the Netherlands, the Dutch diamond trade extended over the world, specially to New Amsterdam (New York) and Cape Town, which would become vital bases of the international diamond trade in the 20th and the 21st century. However, after the mines in Brazil started to dry up and the power of the Netherlands began to fade Amsterdam started to lose importance in favour of Antwerp, its biggest rival on the diamond industry, also a culturally Dutch city that would become the diamond's capital of the world. During its golden age Amsterdam developed a high-quality craft industry, but Antwerp managed to be as effective and cheaper as well as more permissive regarding taxes.
In 1866 diamonds were discovered in South Africa, in the Transvaal region, an area mainly populated by Dutch settlers. At the same time the British magnate Cecil Rhodes created the diamond company De Beers, based in Johannesburg. Massive amounts of rough diamonds started then to arrive to Europe, through Cape Town and Antwerp.
By the beginning of the 20th century De Beers controlled over 90% of the diamond industry in the world. In 1927 the company passed from the hands of Cecil Rhodes to the ones of Ernst Oppenheimer, a white South African entrepreneur, whose family still controls the diamond trade around the world.
During the Second World War most Jews from both Amsterdam and Antwerp were either forced to flee or were sent to extermination camps. This had hard consequences on an industry that was mainly controlled by the Jewish community. After the war, Antwerp quickly rebuilt its diamond business.
In 1948, De Beers established a new marketing strategy: it presented diamonds as a symbol of love and marriage, with the motto “a diamond is forever”. A ring with a diamond became the perfect wedding present and it was advertised extensively. This new strategy increased the demand of diamonds, especially in the United States, where not just the economic elite was buying them, but it was also the aspiration of the high-middle class and even of the middle class. As result, De Beers experienced it biggest growth in history turning Antwerp the indisputable capital of the diamond industry.
In 1973 the Antwerp Diamond World Centre (ADWC) was established. It is a public/private corporation, founded by the Belgian government and the most important diamond companies in the city. The Diamond Office, an ADWC’s subsidiary, facilitates the import and export of diamonds in and out of Antwerp.
Antwerp's diamond industry
The Antwerp's diamond industry is concentrated in a part of the city called the diamond district or Diamantkwartier, which covers a complete square mile. According to the ADWC, 84% of the rough diamonds and 50% of the polished ones pass through Antwerp. In 2012 the turnover of the Diamantkwartier was 54 billion euros. Over 16 billion dollars in polished diamonds pass through the district's exchanges each year. There are 380 workshops that serve 1,500 companies. There are also 3,500 brokers, merchants and diamond cutters. The main actions taken in Antwerp are both the trade of rough and cut diamonds and the cut of rough diamonds with modern machinery. They also perform other jobs like applying colour and crafting jewellery. There is even a bank consecrated to the diamond industry, the Antwerp Diamond Bank, which is owned by the KBC Bank.
Traditionally the Jewish community had almost complete control over the diamond business in Antwerp. More than 80% of Antwerp's Jewish population works in the diamond trade. In fact for many years the Yiddish was considered the main language of the diamond exchange. No business is conducted on Saturdays. However, since the late 20th century many Indian, Arminian and Lebanese dealers have increased importance in Antwerp’s diamond trade.
For Belgium, the importance of Antwerp as the diamond capital of the world has been a source of economic incomes and great prestige. The diamond trade counts for 5% of Belgium's exports to the EU and 15% of its exports outside the EU; it is the 5th largest industry in the country. It also has been the reason for a lot of foreign investment.
During the last decade several other cities outside Western Europe have invested on their diamond industry, like Tel Aviv, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Chicago and several cities in South Africa. However, Antwerp still is the most important trade centre in Europe, being Amsterdam its biggest competitor.
In 2017 Antwerp traded 46 billion dollars in diamonds, with a total of 233.6 million of carats. This figures meant a slight improvement, aided by the approval of the Diamond Regime by the Belgian Parliament. This law changed the way of taxation and ended up benefiting the diamond companies of Belgium.
Diamonds and political corruption
Because of its size and the profits it generates, the diamond industry has a lot of influence in Belgian politics, especially in Flanders. It acts as a lobby in favour of specific bills and policies and tries to avoid an increase of regulations. An example of this is when in 1986 an investigation was opened on the business of Abraham Kirschen, who reportedly sold diamonds in the black market to avoid taxation. According to the media, some conservative politicians were linked to the scheme and some 170 diamond traders were investigated for evading a billion dollars in taxes through a bank account in Geneva. The case ended up implicating the second largest diamond company after De Beers, Omega Diamond, and most of the Belgian political establishment. The AWDC rapidly distanced itself from the scandal at the beginning of the controversy, which was to closed without having much negative impact in the industry.
Following this and other scandals, the Belgian government managed to impose more regulations, in order to rule a business that traditionally has shown a lack of transparency and has been prone to tax evasion. But the diamond lobby has been very active and through its political influence has scored some victories. In 2011 it achieved its main goal: the change of the Belgian criminal law.
In 2008 the biggest fraud of a diamond company was discovered by Belgian authorities. The company was Omega Diamonds, established only in 1994 by the Belgian Sylvian Goldberg. The company became the second biggest diamond company after De Beers and had for many years the monopoly of the diamond exports from Angola. An investigation started in 2006 concluded that the company had created a tax fraud scheme. Omega Diamonds imported diamonds from Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo through Dubai into Antwerp. During the transfer, documents were manipulated allowing the company to conceal the origin of the diamonds. It ordered the shipment of diamonds purchased in Angola and the DRC to be delivered to entities located in Dubai. Upon arrival in Dubai the diamonds were repacked and exported to Antwerp. The new shipment, marked “diamonds of mixed origin”, was issued with an invoice addressed to Omega Diamonds wherein the value of the diamonds was artificially increased. In so doing, the company was able to hide its additional profit from Belgian tax authorities.
In October 2008, Belgian federal police raided the premises of Antwerp-based Omega Diamonds. The raids resulted in a record seizure of 150 million dollars worth diamonds. Companies in Antwerp started to fear similar scrutiny from Belgian courts and the federal police. Because of this, the AWDC asked for political support, and it got help from some politicians, who accused law enforcement of “damaging the reputation” of the diamond industry. A bill meant to block law enforcement from confiscating illegal diamonds, written by AWDC’s lawyers, was introduced by members of the most important political parties of the Belgian establishment.
In December 2010, the sponsors of the 2008 bill became members of a secretive group, “The Diamond Club”, in order to push this legislation, which passed in 2011. According to the law, diamond companies investigated by fraud could avoid prison by paying a sum of money to the public prosecutor, as well as fight back the judicial backlog, and prevent, in many cases, a deeper investigation.
In application of the law, Omega Diamonds agreed in 2013 to pay a settlement of 160 million euros to avoid being prosecuted for tax evasion and money laundering, all that for a fraud that is calculated to have been of over 2 billion euros. The settlement cleared Omega Diamonds of all charges.
The law was controversial, to say the least, and it became very unpopular in Belgium, mainly because almost all parties were involved in it. In 2016 the Federal Constitutional Court of Belgium declared unconstitutional most parts of it. In 2017, the Belgian Parliament set up an inquiry commission to investigate the relation between the law of 2011 and the diamond industry. The commission stated that the blueprint of the law was written by lawyers for the AWDC, but at the moment it hasn't investigated the relations of various politicians with the diamond industry.
A blood diamond is the one that is extracted from conflict zones and used for financing wars or violent actions. They have been a very common threat to the image of the diamond industry and nowadays there is a big effort by various diamond companies of tracking the origin of the stones, in order to avoid scandals. However, during the 1980s and 1990s blood diamonds worth millions of dollars flooded from Angola and Sierra Leone to Antwerp, something that still happens today.
Diamonds have a very big value, that’s common knowledge, but in fact a big reason for this value comes from a strategy started by De Beers and followed by other diamond companies. This strategy consists of acquiring the monopoly of diamonds in a certain region and putting them in the market in a way that prices will always remain high. This was firstly done by Cecil Rhodes, and the diamonds in South Africa. If all the diamonds were put in the market at the same time their price will decrease. With this the company always got a big revenue.
Before the Angolan Civil War (1975-2002) there was not much concern on what was the origin of the stones. However, during this war the UNITA group started to use the diamonds extracted in their territory to fund its war against the government. This made diamonds a reason for instability and provided violent groups with weaponry. Because of this there was a big international pressure for the ending of the trading of the Angolan diamonds in 1998, by the UN Security Council resolution 1173.
A similar situation happened in Sierra Leone with RUF group and its war against government (1991-2002). It is calculated that the RUF extracted yearly a total of 125 million dollars every year. This money was used to fund a war were the RUF committed a series of crimes such as rape, mass killings or mutilations. In the year 2000 the UN Security Council imposed sanctions on diamonds from Sierra Leone.
Even though these sanctions were harmful for both rebel movements a report written by Robert Fowler, chairman of the Security Council committee investigating violations of sanctions on Angola, informed the UN that blood diamonds were still being exported from these countries, most of them arriving to Antwerp, where they were sold in the international market.
The 2017 African Diamond Conference organized by the Antwerp Diamond World Centre [ADWC]
The Fowler Report
The Fowler report was very critical with the role of Antwerp as the end stage of all blood diamonds. “The unwillingness or inability of the diamond industry, particularly in Antwerp, to police its own ranks is a matter of special concern to the panel,'” said the report.
The report also stated that the willingness to traffic the diamonds provided by UNITA or RUF “results from the often-expressed fear that stricter regulation would simply cause traders to take their business elsewhere.” It also said that he Belgian authorities had failed to establish a credible system for identifying rough diamonds coming from conflict zones, while making “no serious effort” to keep track of diamond traders known to deal with the rebels. A prominent Antwerp diamond trader trained the diamond experts who work for UNITA, the report said.
The system for concealing the bad practices consisted on transporting the diamonds to third countries that were willing to act as a bridge between the diamond exporter and Antwerp. Two examples of this are Liberia for the Sierra Leone diamonds and Rwanda for the stones from Angola. In fact, Rwanda had a key role in the war in Angola: UNITA transported diamonds to Rwanda which were bought by Antwerp diamond traders and then the money was used to buy guns from Eastern Europe that were transported to Rwanda.
The Fowler report, together with another research made by the international NGO Global Witness, also pointed De Beers to have bought Angolan blood diamonds to maintain its monopoly on diamond sells. De Beers admitted to have done this before the sanctions of the UN, but Global Witness still accuse De Beers of trading with blood diamonds even after the sanctions. According to this report the company bought blood diamonds through its huge network of buying offices in Africa and the company's cartel-like Central Selling Organization, which sets world diamond prices (although it is based in London, many of its diamond traders work in Antwerp).
This severely harmed De Beers' name. Because of this Anthony Oppenheimer, CEO of the company, stopped buying Angolan diamonds except the ones provided directly by the Angolan government. Due to the fall of prestige of diamond industry after the scandals involving blood diamonds De Beers and other diamond companies started to establish more transparent roots of diamond trading to avoid new scandals.
The Kimberly Process
After the effects of the Fowler report the Kimberly Process of Certification Scheme was established to guarantee a fair and clean trade of diamonds. Established in 2003 following a meeting in Kimberly, South Africa, and by the UN General Assembly Resolution 55/56. Belgium took an active role in the establishment of the process. The first step of these process was the system of warranties created by World Diamond Council, all these warranties were incorporated in the Kimberly Process and all its members must follow them:
–Trade only with companies that include warranty declarations on their invoices.
–Not buy diamonds from suspect sources or unknown suppliers, or which originate in countries that have not implemented the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme.
–Not buy diamonds from any sources that, after a legally binding due process system, have been found to have violated government regulations restricting the trade in conflict diamonds.
–Not buy diamonds in or from any region that is subject to an advisory by a governmental authority indicating that conflict diamonds are emanating from or available for sale in such region, unless diamonds have been exported from such region in compliance with the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme.
–Not knowingly buy or sell or assist others to buy or sell conflict diamonds.
–Ensure that all company employees that buy or sell diamonds within the diamond trade are well informed regarding trade resolutions and government regulations restricting the trade in conflict diamonds.
Members like the Democratic Republic of Congo have been expelled after being unable to ensure the origins of the stones. Organizations such as Global Witness have criticized the ineffectiveness of the process and its inability to end with the continuing trade of blood diamonds: “Rough and uncut diamonds can easily be smuggled over porous borders from places like the Ivory Coast and can obtain a Kimberley Process certificate from another country before being shipped to Europe.” Other critics accuse the Kimberly process of making the diamond trade too complicated and too bureaucratized and therefore harming developing countries which heavily depend on the diamond trade such as Botswana or South Africa. They underscore that only 0,2% of diamonds in the industry are considered conflict diamonds and during both Angola and Sierra Leone civil war the number never increased over 15%, as it was addressed by the publication Foreign Policy.
The Belgian connection
Despite the efforts of the Kimberly Process and the Belgian government blood diamond still pass through Antwerp, mainly using companies and bank accounts in Switzerland. An example of this was when in March of 2017 Belgian authorities seized 14 million euros worth of diamonds believed to be from the Ivory Coast from a major diamond smuggling ring based in Antwerp. The investigation also led to several Geneva-based firms that used fake certificates to import raw diamonds worth 370 million euros from countries outside the Kimberley Process before selling them to Belgian traders.
Antwerp dealers routinely settle multi-million-dollar transactions in cash and rarely offer receipts, according to a study on diamonds and conflict in Sierra Leone by the NGO Partnership Africa Canada. While illegal operations have a hand in keeping the trade alive in Europe, even legitimate enterprises could be unwittingly involved.
Another case was when in 2015 the Belgian businessman Michael Desaedeleer was arrested in Spain, accused of enslavement and pillaging blood diamonds during Sierra Leone’s civil war. His arrest was a “landmark” because it was the first time an individual resulted detained on international charges related to the exploitation of the war in Sierra Leone to market blood diamonds.
Recently, Zimbabwe has gained recognition as an exporter of blood diamonds and a 2017 report by Global Witness relates these diamonds with the Antwerp diamond industry. Like most of its neighbours, Zimbabwe has diamond mines in its territory. However, in 2006 in the area of Marenga the richest diamond deposits were found –the so called Marenga diamond field. Since its discovery, the extraction of these diamonds has been done either by the government or by companies related to the regime. According to Global Witness these stones are being used to strength the regime and keep the political repression. Because of that most countries and organizations consider it blood diamonds. Since its discovery, there has been an embargo of these diamonds, but the Antwerp industry has tried to make the trade flow between Zimbabwe and the city, sometimes violating the EU sanctions.
The report mentions confidential government papers that talk about deals between Belgian diamond traders with the Zimbabwean Consolidation Diamond Company (ZCDC), as well as with two other companies in Marenga: Anjin and Jinan, both related to the state-owned military company Zimbabwean Defence Industries (ZDI). Since 2008, the EU imposed sanctions on ZCDC as well as on Anjin and Jinan. However, in 2013 the EU decided to withdrew all sanctions against ZMDC following increasing pressure from state members, especially from Belgium (pressed by the AWDC). The decision was very criticised by human rights groups, and finally the sanctions against the ZDI were kept.
Since 2010 Zimbabwe has officially exported over 2.5 billion dollars in diamonds according to official figures from the Kimberley Process. According to the limited available government reporting, only around 300 million dollars can clearly been identified in public accounts.
The diamond trade is definitely part of the Belgian trade tradition and part of the Belgian economy. As a part of a country with very few natural resources, Antwerp has done around history a big effort to maintain its position as a diamond centre. Bringing money, jobs and prestige to the city. However, it has also brought corruption to the political system and has served as a place for money laundry, tax evasion and financing of violent groups in Africa. With corruption, with money, with prestige and by work and schemes, without question Antwerp is the diamond of Belgian crown.
▲ Protest in London in October 2018 after the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi [John Lubbock, Wikimedia Commons]
ANALYSIS / Naomi Moreno Cosgrove
October 2nd last year was the last time Jamal Khashoggi—a well-known journalist and critic of the Saudi government—was seen alive. The Saudi writer, United States resident and Washington Post columnist, had entered the Saudi consulate in the Turkish city of Istanbul with the aim of obtaining documentation that would certify he had divorced his previous wife, so he could remarry; but never left.
After weeks of divulging bits of information, the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, laid out his first detailed account of the killing of the dissident journalist inside the Saudi Consulate. Eighteen days after Khashoggi disappeared, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) acknowledged that the 59-year-old writer had died after his disappearance, revealing in their investigation findings that Jamal Khashoggi died after an apparent “fist-fight” inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul; but findings were not reliable. Resultantly, the acknowledgement by the KSA of the killing in its own consulate seemed to pose more questions than answers.
Eventually, after weeks of repeated denials that it had anything to do with his disappearance, the contradictory scenes, which were the latest twists in the “fast-moving saga”, forced the kingdom to eventually acknowledge that indeed it was Saudi officials who were behind the gruesome murder thus damaging the image of the kingdom and its 33-year-old crown prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS). What had happened was that the culmination of these events, including more than a dozen Saudi officials who reportedly flew into Istanbul and entered the consulate just before Khashoggi was there, left many sceptics wondering how it was possible for MBS to not know. Hence, the world now casts doubt on the KSA’s explanation over Khashoggi’s death, especially when it comes to the shifting explanations and MBS’ role in the conspiracy.
As follows, the aim of this study is to examine the backlash Saudi Arabia’s alleged guilt has caused, in particular, regarding European state-of-affairs towards the Middle East country. To that end, I will analyse various actions taken by European countries which have engaged in the matter and the different modus operandi these have carried out in order to reject a bloodshed in which arms selling to the kingdom has become the key issue.
Since Khashoggi went missing and while Turkey promised it would expose the “naked truth” about what happened in the Saudi consulate, Western countries had been putting pressure on the KSA for it to provide facts about its ambiguous account on the journalist’s death. In a joint statement released on Sunday 21st October 2018, the United Kingdom, France and Germany said: “There remains an urgent need for clarification of exactly what happened on 2nd October – beyond the hypotheses that have been raised so far in the Saudi investigation, which need to be backed by facts to be considered credible.” What happened after the kingdom eventually revealed the truth behind the murder, was a rather different backlash. In fact, regarding post-truth reactions amongst European countries, rather divergent responses have occurred.
Terminating arms selling exports to the KSA had already been carried out by a number of countries since the kingdom launched airstrikes on Yemen in 2015; a conflict that has driven much of Yemen’s population to be victims of an atrocious famine. The truth is that arms acquisition is crucial for the KSA, one of the world’s biggest weapons importers which is heading a military coalition in order to fight a proxy war in which tens of thousands of people have died, causing a major humanitarian catastrophe. In this context, calls for more constraints have been growing particularly in Europe since the killing of the dissident journalist. These countries, which now demand transparent clarifications in contrast to the opacity in the kingdom’s already-given explanations, are threatening the KSA with suspending military supply to the kingdom.
COUNTRIES THAT HAVE CEASED ARMS SELLING
Probably one of the best examples with regards to the ceasing of arms selling—after not been pleased with Saudi state of affairs—is Germany. Following the acknowledgement of what happened to Khashoggi, German Chancellor Angela Merkel declared in a statement that she condemned his death with total sharpness, thus calling for transparency in the context of the situation, and stating that her government halted previously approved arms exports thus leaving open what would happen with those already authorised contracts, and that it wouldn’t approve any new weapons exports to the KSA: “I agree with all those who say that the, albeit already limited, arms export can’t take place in the current circumstances,” she said at a news conference.
So far this year, the KSA was the second largest customer in the German defence industry just after Algeria, as until September last year, the German federal government allocated export licenses of arms exports to the kingdom worth 416.4 million euros. Respectively, according to German Foreign Affair Minister, Heiko Maas, Germany was the fourth largest exporter of weapons to the KSA.
This is not the first time the German government has made such a vow. A clause exists in the coalition agreement signed by Germany’s governing parties earlier in 2018 which stated that no weapons exports may be approved to any country “directly” involved in the Yemeni conflict in response to the kingdom’s countless airstrikes carried out against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in the area for several years. Yet, what is clear is that after Khashoggi’s murder, the coalition’s agreement has been exacerbated. Adding to this military sanction Germany went even further and proposed explicit sanctions to the Saudi authorities who were directly linked to the killing. As follows, by stating that “there are more questions unanswered than answered,” Maas declared that Germany has issued the ban for entering Europe’s border-free Schengen zone—in close coordination with France and Britain—against the 18 Saudi nationals who are “allegedly connected to this crime.”
Following the decision, Germany has thus become the first major US ally to challenge future arms sales in the light of Khashoggi’s case and there is thus a high likelihood that this deal suspension puts pressure on other exporters to carry out the same approach in the light of Germany’s Economy Minister, Peter Altmaier’s, call on other European Union members to take similar action, arguing that “Germany acting alone would limit the message to Riyadh.”
Following the line of the latter claim, on November 9th last year, Norway became the first country to back Germany’s decision when it announced it would freeze new licenses for arms exports to the KSA. Resultantly, in her statement, Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ine Eriksen Søreide, declared that the government had decided that in the present situation they will not give new licenses for the export of defence material or multipurpose good for military use to Saudi Arabia. According to the Søreide, this decision was taken after “a broad assessment of recent developments in Saudi Arabia and the unclear situation in Yemen.” Although Norwegian ministry spokesman declined to say whether the decision was partly motivated by the murder of the Saudi journalist, not surprisingly, Norway’s announcement came a week after its foreign minister called the Saudi ambassador to Oslo with the aim of condemning Khashoggi’s assassination. As a result, the latter seems to imply Norway’s motivations were a mix of both; the Yemeni conflict and Khashoggi’s death.
Denmark and Finland
By following a similar decision made by neighbouring Germany and Norway—despite the fact that US President Trump backed MBS, although the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had assessed that the crown prince was responsible for the order of the killing—Denmark and Finland both announced that they would also stop exporting arms to the KSA.
Emphasising on the fact that they were “now in a new situation”—after the continued deterioration of the already terrible situation in Yemen and the killing of the Saudi journalist—Danish Foreign Minister, Anders Samuelsen, stated that Denmark would proceed to cease military exports to the KSA remarking that Denmark already had very restrictive practices in this area and hoped that this decision would be able to create a “further momentum and get more European Union (EU) countries involved in the conquest to support tight implementation of the Union’s regulatory framework in this area.”
Although this ban is still less expansive compared to German measures—which include the cancelation of deals that had already been approved—Denmark’s cease of goods’ exports will likely crumble the kingdom’s strategy, especially when it comes to technology. Danish exports to the KSA, which were mainly used for both military and civilian purposes, are chiefly from BAE Systems Applied Intelligence, a subsidiary of the United Kingdom’s BAE Systems, which sold technology that allowed Intellectual Property surveillance and data analysis for use in national security and investigation of serious crimes. The suspension thus includes some dual-use technologies, a reference to materials that were purposely thought to have military applications in favour of the KSA.
On the same day Denmark carried out its decision, Finland announced they were also determined to halt arms export to Saudi Arabia. Yet, in contrast to Norway’s approach, Finnish Prime Minister, Juha Sipilä, held that, of course, the situation in Yemen lead to the decision, but that Khashoggi’s killing was “entirely behind the overall rationale”.
Finnish arms exports to the KSA accounted for 5.3 million euros in 2017. Nevertheless, by describing the situation in Yemen as “catastrophic”, Sipilä declared that any existing licenses (in the region) are old, and in these circumstances, Finland would refuse to be able to grant updated ones. Although, unlike Germany, Helsinki’s decision does not revoke existing arms licenses to the kingdom, the Nordic country has emphasized the fact that it aims to comply with the EU’s arms export criteria, which takes particular account of human rights and the protection of regional peace, security and stability, thus casting doubt on the other European neighbours which, through a sense of incoherence, have not attained to these values.
Speaking in supranational terms, the European Parliament agreed with the latter countries and summoned EU members to freeze arms sales to the kingdom in the conquest of putting pressure on member states to emulate the Germany’s decision.
By claiming that arms exports to Saudi Arabia were breaching international humanitarian law in Yemen, the European Parliament called for sanctions on those countries that refuse to respect EU rules on weapons sales. In fact, the latest attempt in a string of actions compelling EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini to dictate an embargo against the KSA, including a letter signed by MEPs from several parties.
Rapporteur for a European Parliament report on EU arms exports, Bodil Valero said: "European weapons are contributing to human rights abuses and forced migration, which are completely at odds with the EU's common values." As a matter of fact, two successful European Parliament resolutions have hitherto been admitted, but its advocates predicted that some member states especially those who share close trading ties with the kingdom are deep-seated, may be less likely to cooperate. Fact that has eventually occurred.
COUNTRIES THAT HAVE NOT CEASED ARMS SELLING
In contrast to the previously mentioned countries, other European states such as France, UK and Spain, have approached the issue differently and have signalled that they will continue “business as usual”.
Both France and the KSA have been sharing close diplomatic and commercial relations ranging from finance to weapons. Up to now, France relished the KSA, which is a bastion against Iranian significance in the Middle East region. Nevertheless, regarding the recent circumstances, Paris now faces a daunting challenge.
Just like other countries, France Foreign Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, announced France condemned the killing “in the strongest terms” and demanded an exhaustive investigation. "The confirmation of Mr. Jamal Khashoggi's death is a first step toward the establishment of the truth. However, many questions remain unanswered," he added. Following this line, France backed Germany when sanctioning the 18 Saudi citizens thus mulling a joint ban from the wider visa-free Schengen zone. Nevertheless, while German minister Altmeier summoned other European countries to stop selling arms to Riyadh—until the Saudi authorities gave the true explanation on Khashoggi’s death—, France refused to report whether it would suspend arms exports to the KSA. “We want Saudi Arabia to reveal all the truth with full clarity and then we will see what we can do,” he told in a news conference.
In this context, Amnesty International France has become one of Paris’ biggest burdens. The organization has been putting pressure on the French government for it to freeze arms sales to the realm. Hence, by acknowledging France is one of the five biggest arms exporters to Riyadh—similar to the Unites States and Britain—Amnesty International France is becoming aware France’s withdrawal from the arms sales deals is crucial in order to look at the Yemeni conflict in the lens of human rights rather than from a non-humanitarian-geopolitical perspective. Meanwhile, France tries to justify its inaction. When ministry deputy spokesman Oliver Gauvin was asked whether Paris would mirror Berlin’s actions, he emphasized the fact that France’s arms sales control policy was meticulous and based on case-by-case analysis by an inter-ministerial committee. According to French Defence Minister Florence Parly, France exported 11 billion euros worth of arms to the kingdom from 2008 to 2017, fact that boosted French jobs. In 2017 alone, licenses conceivably worth 14.7 billion euros were authorized. Moreover, she went on stating that those arms exports take into consideration numerous criteria among which is the nature of exported materials, the respect of human rights, and the preservation of peace and regional security. "More and more, our industrial and defence sectors need these arms exports. And so, we cannot ignore the impact that all of this has on our defence industry and our jobs," she added. As a result, despite President Emmanuel Macron has publicly sought to devalue the significance relations with the KSA have, minister Parly, seemed to suggest the complete opposite.
Anonymously, a government minister held it was central that MBS retained his position. “The challenge is not to lose MBS, even if he is not a choir boy. A loss of influence in the region would cost us much more than the lack of arms sales”. Notwithstanding France’s ambiguity, Paris’ inconclusive attitude is indicating France’s clout in the region is facing a vulnerable phase. As president Macron told MBS at a side-line G20 summit conversation in December last year, he is worried. Although the context of this chat remains unclear, many believe Macron’s intentions were to persuade MBS to be more transparent as a means to not worsen the kingdom’s reputation and thus to, potentially, dismantle France´s bad image.
As it was previously mentioned, the United Kingdom took part in the joint statement carried out also by France and Germany through its foreign ministers which claimed there was a need for further explanations regarding Khashoggi’s killing. Yet, although Britain’s Foreign Office said it was considering its “next steps” following the KSA’s admission over Khashoggi’s killing, UK seems to be taking a rather similar approach to France—but not Germany—regarding the situation.
In 2017, the UK was the sixth-biggest arms dealer in the world, and the second-largest exporter of arms to the KSA, behind the US. This is held to be a reflection of a large spear in sales last year. After the KSA intervened in the civil war in Yemen in early 2015, the UK approved more than 3.5billion euros in military sales to the kingdom between April 2015 and September 2016.
As a result, Theresa May has been under pressure for years to interrupt arms sales to the KSA specially after human rights advocates claimed the UK was contributing to alleged violations of international humanitarian law by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen. Adding to this, in 2016, a leaked parliamentary committee report suggested that it was likely that British weapons had been used by the Saudi-led coalition to violate international law, and that manufactured aircraft by BAE Systems, have been used in combat missions in Yemen.
Lately, in the context of Khashoggi’s death things have aggravated and the UK is now facing a great amount of pressure, mainly embodied by UK’s main opposition Labour party which calls for a complete cease in its arms exports to the KSA. In addition, in terms of a more international strain, the European Union has also got to have a say in the matter. Philippe Lamberts, the Belgian leader of the Green grouping of parties, said that Brexit should not be an excuse for the UK to abdicate on its moral responsibilities and that Theresa May had to prove that she was keen on standing up to the kind of atrocious behaviour shown by the killing of Khashoggi and hence freeze arms sales to Saudi Arabia immediately.
Nonetheless, in response and laying emphasis on the importance the upholding relation with UK’s key ally in the Middle East has, London has often been declining calls to end arms exports to the KSA. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt defended there will be “consequences to the relationship with Saudi Arabia” after the killing of Khashoggi, but he has also pointed out that the UK has an important strategic relationship with Riyadh which needs to be preserved. As a matter of fact, according to some experts, UK’s impending exit from the EU has played a key role. The Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) claims Theresa May’s pursuit for post-Brexit trade deals has seen an unwelcome focus on selling arms to some of the world's most repressive regimes. Nevertheless, by thus tackling the situation in a similar way to France, the UK justifies its actions by saying that it has one of the most meticulous permitting procedures in the world by remarking that its deals comprehend safeguards that counter improper uses.
After Saudi Arabia’s gave its version for Khashoggi’s killing, the Spanish government said it was “dismayed” and echoed Antonio Guterres’ call for a thorough and transparent investigation to bring justice to all of those responsible for the killing. Yet, despite the clamour that arose after the murder of the columnist, just like France and the UK, Spain’s Prime Minister, Pedro Sánchez, defended arms exporting to the KSA by claiming it was in Spain’s interest to keep selling military tools to Riyadh. Sanchez held he stood in favour of Spain’s interests, namely jobs in strategic sectors that have been badly affected by “the drama that is unemployment". Thusly, proclaiming Spain’s unwillingness to freeze arms exports to the kingdom. In addition, even before Khashoggi’s killing, Sanchez's government was subject to many critics after having decided to proceed with the exporting of 400 laser-guided bombs to Saudi Arabia, despite worries that they could harm civilians in Yemen. Notwithstanding this, Sánchez justified Spain’s decision in that good ties with the Gulf state, a key commercial partner for Spain, needed to be kept.
As a matter of fact, Spain’s state-owned shipbuilder Navantia, in which 5,500 employees work, signed a deal in July last year which accounted for 1.8 billion euros that supplied the Gulf country with five navy ships. This shipbuilder is situated in the southern region of Andalusia, a socialist bulwark which accounts for Spain's highest unemployment estimates and which has recently held regional elections. Hence, it was of the socialist president’s interest to keep these constituencies pleased and the means to this was, of course, not interrupting arms deals with the KSA.
As a consequence, Spain has recently been ignoring the pressures that have arose from MEP’s and from Sanchez’s minorities in government—Catalan separatist parties and far-left party Podemos— which demand a cease in arms exporting. For the time being, Spain will continue business with the KSA as usual.
All things considered, while Saudi Arabia insists that MBS was not aware of the gruesome murder and is distracting the international attention towards more positive headlines—such as the appointment of the first female ambassador to the US—in order to clear the KSA’s image in the context of Khashoggi’s murder, several European countries have taken actions against the kingdom’s interests. Yet, the way each country has approached the matter has led to the rise of two separate blocks which are at discordance within Europe itself. Whereas some European leaders have shown a united front in casting blame on the Saudi government, others seem to express geopolitical interests are more important.
During the time Germany, Norway, Denmark and Finland are being celebrated by human rights advocates for following through on their threat to halt sales to the kingdom, bigger arms exporters—like those that have been analysed—have pointed out that the latter nations have far less to lose than they do. Nonetheless, inevitably, the ceasing carried out by the northern European countries which are rather small arms exporters in comparison to bigger players such as the UK and France, is likely to have exacerbated concerns within the European arms industry of a growing anti-Saudi consensus in the European Union or even beyond.
What is clear is that due to the impact Saudi Arabia’s state of affairs have caused, governments and even companies worldwide are coming under pressure to abandon their ties to the oil-rich, but at the same time, human-rights-violating Saudi Arabian leadership. Resultantly, in Europe, countries are taking part in two divergent blocks that are namely led by two of the EU’s most compelling members: France and Germany. These two sides are of rather distant opinions regarding the matter, fact that does not seem to be contributing in terms of the so-much-needed European Union integration.
▲ Frontera entre México y Estados Unidos en Anapra, a las afueras de Ciudad Juárez [Dicklyon]
ANÁLISIS / Túlio Dias de Assis y Elena López-Doriga
Con una votación de 152 países a favor, cinco en contra y doce abstenciones (1), la Asamblea General de Naciones Unidas aprobó el pasado 19 de diciembre el proyecto de resolución que ratificaba el Pacto Mundial para una Migración Segura, Ordenada y Regular, acuerdo firmado algunos días antes en la ciudad marroquí de Marrakech. Se trata del primer pacto internacional, bajo los auspicios de la ONU, destinado a abordar la migración a nivel global. Si bien no se trata de un acuerdo vinculante, al ser ejecutado por la Asamblea General de la ONU pretende reiterar principios importantes acerca de la protección de los derechos humanos de los migrantes, de una forma universal y unísona.
A pesar de lo positivo de que se alcanzara un amplio consenso, muchos países se abstuvieron de votar o se posicionaron directamente en contra del pacto, generando incertidumbre sobre su eficacia. Aunque se terminaría llevando a cabo la tan esperada firma en Marrakech, finalmente hubo muchos menos firmantes de los que durante las negociaciones se esperaba. ¿Por qué ese rechazo por parte de algunos países? ¿Y la neutralidad o indiferencia de otros? ¿A qué se deben los múltiples debates que han tenido lugar en varias cámaras parlamentarias a lo largo del mundo en relación al pacto? Estas son algunas de las cuestiones que van a ser abordadas en este análisis.
Antes de abordar el pacto mismo, es importante diferenciar los conceptos de “migrante” y “refugiado”. Un migrante se define como persona que llega a un país o región diferente de su lugar de origen para establecerse en él temporal o definitivamente, a menudo por razones económicas y generalmente con el objetivo de mejorar su nivel de vida. Mientras que el concepto de refugiado hace referencia a las personas que huyen de conflictos armados, violencia o persecución y se ven por ello obligadas a abandonar su país natal para garantizar su propia seguridad. Los motivos de la persecución pueden ser de muy diversos tipos: persecuciones étnicas, religiosas, de género, por su orientación sexual, entre otros. En todos ellos, dichas causas han provocado temores fundamentados por su vida, lo que, tras un debido proceso, les convierte en “refugiados” a ojos de la Comunidad Internacional.
Cabe destacar que este pacto aborda únicamente lo referente a los derechos de los migrantes, pues para los refugiados ya existe el referente histórico vinculante de la Convención sobre el Estatuto de los Refugiados de 1951 y su protocolo de enmienda de 1967, ambos firmados y ratificados por una amplia mayoría de los Estados miembros de la ONU. Además, habría de mencionarse que, de forma simultánea a la elaboración del pacto migratorio, también fue confeccionado un pacto no vinculante, de carácter similar, sobre la temática de los refugiados. Pacto que fue apoyado por una amplia mayoría de Estados, registrándose apenas dos votos contrarios (EEUU y Hungría) y tres abstenciones (República Dominicana, Libia y Eritrea). Por ello, se podría concluir que al menos en materia de refugiados la mayoría de los países no parece tener ningún problema; en lo que a migrantes se refiere, la opinión parece cambiar bastante.
Los orígenes del texto se remontan a la Declaración de Nueva York sobre los Derechos de los Migrantes y Refugiados de 2016, en la que se propone la elaboración de ambos pactos –por un lado el que concierne a los refugiados, y por otro, el de la migración– como una iniciativa más de la implementación de la Agenda 2030. Desde entonces ambos documentos fueron elaborados de forma paulatina hasta que en julio de 2018 se dio por concluido el texto del que nos concierne.
El documento, de naturaleza no vinculante, consiste de varias partes. La primera, comúnmente llamada “Chapeau”, es simplemente una declaración de valores compartidos que supuestamente deberían poseer todos Estados de la comunidad internacional. Seguidamente figura una lista de 23 objetivos, principalmente en materia de cooperación internacional, en gran medida a través de la Organización Internacional de la Migración (OIM), órgano subsidiario de Naciones Unidas. Finalmente el texto explica cómo ha de ser llevada a cabo la revisión periódica del progreso de los Estados firmantes en lo que se refiere a los 23 objetivos mencionados.
La parte más polémica a lo largo y después de las negociaciones es el Chapeau, especialmente por equiparar los derechos de los migrantes y de los refugiados. El documento en su totalidad también es criticado por no distinguir de forma clara los derechos de los migrantes regulares de los que corresponden a los irregulares. Por último, otra medida altamente controvertida fue el llamado a que los países firmantes faciliten un mayor número de visados.
Otros puntos importantes del texto concitaron un sustancial acuerdo, aunque tampoco se libraron de las críticas de los gobiernos más conservadores: entre ellos la garantía de buenas condiciones y cuidados a los migrantes en casos de deportación, el principio de non-refoulement aplicado a las deportaciones de migrantes (la no devolución de migrantes a zonas conflictivas), la otorgación de derechos sociales a los migrantes en los países en los que se encuentren, la creación de una mejor red de cooperación internacional en materia de migrantes bajo la administración de la OIM, así como la creación de medidas para combatir la discriminación a los migrantes.
Durante las negociaciones apenas dos países mostraron explícitamente aversión a la elaboración del tratado. Compartiendo la postura de la Hungría de Orbán, se encontraban los EEUU de Trump, que ni tan siquiera se molestó en participar en las negociaciones. La entonces embajadora estadounidense ante la ONU, Nikki Haley, se posicionó rotundamente en contra del acuerdo. “EEUU se enorgullece de su origen migratorio, pero serán los mismos americanos quienes decidirán cómo controlar sus fronteras y quiénes podrán entrar”, declaró Haley, remarcando el interés estadounidense en hacer prevalecer su soberanía nacional. EEUU terminó no firmando el documento.
Además de las razones aportadas por la Administración Trump, la pérdida la dirección de la OIM sufrida por EEUU frente al candidato portugués António Vitorino –y por ende la pérdida del control de la puesta en marcha del pacto– también podría haber tenido bastante peso en su forma de actuar. Quizá no tanto en la decisión primaria de no participar en las negociaciones del pacto, como en la actitud final de no firmarlo. Asimismo, llama la atención el hecho de que varios países que en un principio parecían demostrar apoyo al pacto terminaran retirándose, véase el caso de Brasil tras la toma de posesión de Jair Bolsonaro, o no firmando, como Chile o República Dominicana, que en un principio no se habían opuesto a la propuesta. Esa falta de adhesión se justificaría, según algunos de los negociadores, por los intentos de persuasión de los diplomáticos estadounidenses, aunque ese esfuerzo de EEUU no parece haberse limitado a la esfera latinoamericana. De igual manera, cabe mencionar que la decisión de la delegación dominicana estuvo también en gran medida influenciada por presiones internas procedentes de algunos grupos del legislativo.
“Hungría jamás podría aceptar un documento tan partidista, tendencioso y promigración. ¡La migración es un fenómeno peligroso!”. Así empezó la intervención del ministro de Exteriores húngaro, Péter Szijjaártó, durante la celebración del fin de las negociaciones del pacto el pasado 13 de julio. Hungría, junto a EEUU, ha sido de los pocos países que se opusieron a la propuesta desde un principio, pero la representación magyar, al contrario de la estadounidense, sí tomó parte en las negociaciones. El hecho de que la representación magiar adoptara una postura desde el principio tan distinta en comparación con los demás Estados miembros de la Unión Europea hizo que la butaca asignada al cuerpo diplomático europeo estuviera vacía durante la totalidad de las negociaciones.
Sin embargo, Hungría no fue el único país europeo en tomar una postura tan radical sobre el acuerdo. Cabe destacar que, una vez terminadas las negociaciones, junto a Hungría había en la Asamblea General otros cuatro países opuestos al pacto: Polonia, EEUU, República Checa e Israel. Además, doce más se abstuvieron, incluyendo varios miembros de la UE, como Austria, Bulgaria, Italia, Letonia y Rumanía, mientras que Eslovaquia se ausentó de la votación.
En varios de esos países se produjo un agrio debate parlamentario. En Bélgica, que acabó aceptando el texto, el primer ministro Charles Michel perdió su coalición de gobierno por haber firmado el pacto, ya que la Nueva Alianza Flamenca, su principal aliado en el Ejecutivo, rechazó la ratificación del documento. En el Bundestag también hubo cierta controversia causada por Alternative für Deutschland y algunos miembros de la CDU, aunque finalmente se aprobó la adopción tras una votación en la que una mayoría de 372 a favor, frente a 153 votos en contra y 141 abstenciones, terminó aprobando la medida. En Letonia el parlamento de Riga rechazó claramente el acuerdo, así como los gobiernos de Bulgaria, Austria, Polonia, República Checa y Eslovaquia. Italia y Suiza no aceptaron el pacto en un principio, pero los Ejecutivos de ambos Estados han remitido la decisión a sus respectivos parlamentos para que tengan la palabra final. En el resto de Europa se aceptó el pacto sin mayores problemas, a pesar de que en casi la totalidad de parlamentos nacionales los grupos parlamentarios de extrema derecha o derecha conservadora plantearon objeciones.
China, Rusia y otros
También cabría destacar las posturas de otros países. Australia fue el primero en quitar su apoyo al pacto tras las negociaciones; justificó su salida afirmando que su sistema actual de protección fronteriza es totalmente incompatible con algunas partes del pacto, invocación a la seguridad que también utilizó Israel. China y Rusia terminaron firmando el pacto, pero reiteraron su negativa a cumplir varios de los objetivos. Finalmente prácticamente todos los países de África y Oriente Medio apoyaron la iniciativa, sin plantear especiales resistencias, probablemente debido al hecho de que se trata de regiones donde se originan los flujos migratorios más relevantes.
MAL PARA LA UE Y PARA LA ONU
En definitiva, la dificultad de un pacto mundial migratorio reside en la preocupación con que muchos países receptores de migrantes ven estos movimientos de personas. La reticencia de los países europeos se debe en gran medida a la crisis migratoria del Mediterráneo, causada por los varios conflictos del Magreb y Oriente Medio; en el caso de Estados Unidos estaría motivada por los flujos migratorios hacia su frontera con México procedentes de América Central y del Sur. En general, todos los países que se resistieron a la adopción del acuerdo han venido siendo los últimos años puntos de destino de inmigración masiva, frente a la que han establecido estrictos controles fronterizos; en esas sociedades la oposición a una propuesta tan aperturista como la promovida por Naciones Unidas, a pesar de no ser vinculante, se ha visto con normalidad.
En cuanto al panorama europeo, las distintas posturas tomadas por los Estados miembros de la Unión Europea podrían suponer una mala señal de cara la integración europea, puesto que una vez más el Servicio Europeo de Acción Exterior parece haber fracasado en su labor de crear una postura común para la UE. El hecho de que desde el principio la representación europea no estuviera presente, debido a la indisposición inicial de Hungría de modificar su postura, pone en cuestión el servicio diplomático común. Además, la postura inicial común que parecían tener los otros 27 Estados de la UE, al margen de la postura magiar, se desvaneció por completo al final del proceso, dado que varios de ellos terminaron desvinculándose del acuerdo. Eso marcó una clara división dentro de la UE en cuanto a migración, asunto sobre el que ya hay bastantes debates abiertos en las instituciones europeas.
En general, a pesar del gran número de países firmantes, teniendo en cuenta toda la oposición creada y las crisis políticas que se llegaron a dar en algunos países, la iniciativa sobre la migración se podría clasificar como de dudosa efectividad, y en algunos aspectos incluso como un fracaso por parte de la ONU. Es evidente que Naciones Unidas parece haber perdido parte de su capacidad para promover su agenda de carácter global, tal como solía hacer hasta hace una década. Probablemente diez años atrás, Occidente habría aceptado de forma unánime las propuestas migratorias del secretario general; hoy, en cambio, existe una mayor división entre los países occidentales, así como dentro de sus mismas sociedades, entre las que cree el escepticismo hacia la propia organización.
Al fin y al cabo, es evidente que entre los países que se han opuesto a un pacto migratorio global se empieza a notar una cierta alineación en contra del planteamiento idealista en relaciones internacionales, a la vez que se ve un realce de la actitud conocida como realista: no hay más que ver los EEUU de Trump, la Italia de Salvini, la Hungría de Orbán, el Brasil de Bolsonaro y el Israel de Netanyahu, por citar los casos más emblemáticos.
Probablemente, en un futuro, la ONU tenga que adaptar sus proyectos a la nueva realidad política internacional, si es que espera mantener su influencia entre sus Estados miembros. ¿Podrá la ONU adaptarse a esta nueva ola de conservadurismo realista? Indudablemente, tiempos interesantes nos esperan para la siguiente década en el panorama internacional…
(1) Votos en contra: Estados Unidos, Hungría, Israel, Polonia y República Checa. Abstenciones: Argelia, Australia, Austria, Bulgaria, Chile, Italia, Letonia, Libia, Liechtenstein, Rumanía, Singapur y Suiza.
ANÁLISIS / Nerea Álvarez
Las relaciones entre Japón y Corea no son fáciles. La anexión japonesa de la península en 1910 sigue muy presente en la memoria coreana. Por su parte, Japón posee un sentido de la historia distorsionado, fruto de haber asumido su culpabilidad en la guerra de modo obligado, forzado por el castigo sufrido en la Segunda Guerra Mundial y la ocupación estadounidense, y no como consecuencia de un proceso propio de asunción voluntaria de responsabilidades. Todo ello ha llevado a que Japón se resista a revisar su historia, sobretodo la de su época imperialista.
Uno elemento clave que dificulta una reconciliación sincera entre Japón y los países vecinos que se vieron invadidos por los nipones en la primera mitad del siglo XX son las mujeres de consuelo o “mujeres confort”. Este grupo de mujeres, procedentes de China, Filipinas, Myanmar, Taiwán, Indonesia, Tailandia, Malasia, Vietnam y Corea del Sur (alrededor del 80% provenían de este último país), son una consecuencia de la expansión de Japón comenzada en 1910. Durante este periodo, los soldados japoneses se llevaron aproximadamente entre 70.000 y 200.000 mujeres a estaciones de confort donde estos abusaban sexualmente de ellas. Estas estaciones siguieron en marcha en Japón hasta finales de los años 40. Según los testimonios de las mujeres supervivientes, los soldados japoneses se las llevaban de diversas formas: secuestro, engaño y extorsión son solo algunos ejemplos.
Según el testimonio de Kim Bok-Dong, una de las mujeres supervivientes, los soldados nipones adujeron que debían llevársela para trabajar en una fábrica de uniformes porque no tenían suficiente personal. En aquel entonces ella tenía 14 años. Los soldados prometieron a su madre devolvérsela una vez fuese mayor para casarse, y amenazaron con el exilio a toda la familia si no los padres no permitían la marcha de la joven. Fue transportada en ferri desde Busan hasta Shimonoseki (prefectura de Yamaguchi, en Japón), junto con otras treinta mujeres. Después tomaron otro barco que las transportó a Taiwán y luego a la provincia de Guangdong. Allí fueron recibidas por oficiales, que las acompañaron hasta el interior de un edificio donde les esperaban médicos. Examinaron sus cuerpos y las acompañaron a sus habitaciones. Las mujeres fueron agredidas y violadas repetidamente. Tras varias semanas, muchas pensaban en el suicidio: “Estábamos mucho mejor muertas” (Kim Bok-Dong, 2018). Muchas murieron debido a las condiciones a las que se les sometía, a causa de enfermedades, asesinadas por los soldados japoneses en los últimos años de la guerra o, si tenían oportunidad, suicidándose. Se estima que sobrevivieron alrededor de un cuarto o un tercio de las mujeres.
Tras la guerra y pese a conocerse los hechos, ese dramático pasado fue quedando relegado en la historia, sin que se le prestara la atención necesaria. Corea del Sur no estaba preparada para ayudar a estas mujeres (y Corea del Norte había entrado en un absoluto aislamiento). Durante los años 60, las relaciones entre la República de Corea y Japón empeoraron debido a las políticas antijaponesas de los líderes políticos surcoreanos. En 1965, Tokio y Seúl firmaron el Tratado de Normalización, pero quedó demostrado que los asuntos económicos eran lo prioritario. Se tendieron puentes de cooperación entre ambos países, pero el conflicto emocional impedía y sigue impidiendo mayor relación en campos alejados del económico. Japón sigue alegando que en el Tratado de Normalización se encuentran los argumentos para descartar que estas mujeres posean el derecho de legitimación ante tribunales internacionales, aunque en el texto no se las mencione.
Las cosas comenzaron a cambiar en los años 70, cuando se formó en Japón la Asociación de las Mujeres Asiáticas, la cual empezó a arrojar luz sobre este aspecto de la historia reciente. Al principio, incluso el Gobierno coreano ignoró el problema. La razón principal fue la falta de pruebas de que los hechos hubieran ocurrido, ya que el Gobierno de Japón había mandado destruir los documentos comprometedores en 1945. Además, Japón impidió que el Gobierno surcoreano reclamara reparaciones adicionales por daños incurridos durante el período colonial basándose en el tratado de 1965.
La cultura del sudeste asiático jugó un papel importante en la ocultación de los hechos acontecidos. El valor de mantener las apariencias en la cultura oriental primaba sobre la denuncia de situaciones como las vividas por estas mujeres, que debieron callar durante décadas para no ser repudiadas por su familia.
Cuando la República de Corea se democratizó en 1987, el Gobierno surcoreano comenzó a darle importancia a esta cuestión. En 1990, el presidente Roh Tae Woo, pidió al Gobierno de Japón una lista con los nombres de las mujeres, pero la respuesta desde Tokio fue que esa información no existía porque los documentos se habían destruido. El dirigente socialista Motooka Shoji, miembro de la Cámara Alta de la Dieta japonesa, reclamó que se investigara lo ocurrido, pero el Parlamento alegó que el problema ya se habría resuelto con el Tratado de Normalización de 1965. En 1991, Kim Hak-Sun, una de las mujeres que sobrevivieron a la explotación sexual, presentó la primera demanda judicial, siendo la primera víctima en hablar de su experiencia. Esto supuso el arranque de la lucha de un grupo de más de cincuenta mujeres coreanas que pedían el reconocimiento de los hechos y una disculpa oficial del Gobierno japonés. A partir del 8 de enero de 1992, “todos los miércoles a las 12 del mediodía, las víctimas junto a miembros del Consejo Coreano y otros grupos sociales marchan frente a la Embajada de Japón en Seúl. La marcha consiste en levantar carteles exigiendo justicia y perdón y expresar en público sus reclamos”.
El Gobierno de Tokio negó toda implicación en el establecimiento, reclutamiento y estructuración del sistema de las mujeres de confort desde el principio. No obstante, desde la Secretaría del Gabinete tuvo que emitirse en 1992 una disculpa, aunque fue vaga y demasiado genérica, dirigida a todas las mujeres por los actos cometidos durante la guerra. No fue hasta ese año que el Gobierno japonés reconoció su implicación en la administración y supervisión de estas estaciones. La UNHRC determinó entonces que las acciones del Gobierno nipón representaban un crimen contra la humanidad que violó los derechos humanos de las mujeres asiáticas.
En 1993, Japón admitió haber reclutado bajo coerción a las mujeres coreanas. La coerción era la palabra clave para desmentir las declaraciones previas, que indicaban que estas mujeres se dedicaban a la prostitución voluntariamente. El secretario del Gabinete, Yohei Kono, declaró que “el ejército japonés estuvo, directa o indirectamente, involucrado en el establecimiento y la gestión de las estaciones de confort, y en el traslado de mujeres de confort... que, en muchos casos, fueron reclutados en contra de su propia voluntad”. El Gobierno de Japón ofreció sus disculpas, arrepintiéndose de lo sucedido, pero no hubo compensación a las víctimas. En 1994, la Comisión Internacional de Juristas recomendó a Japón pagar la cantidad de $40.000 a cada superviviente. El Gobierno quiso estructurar un plan para pagar a las mujeres con fondos no gubernamentales, pero el Consejo Coreano para las mujeres raptadas por Japón como exclavas sexuales, fundado en 1990 e integrado por 37 instituciones no se lo permitió.
En 1995, el primer ministro Murayama Tomiichi sentó las bases del Asian Women’s Fund, que serviría para proteger los derechos de las mujeres en Japón y en el mundo. A ojos internacionales, esta organización se vio como una excusa para escapar de las responsabilidades legales requeridas, ya que se recaudaba dinero público, lo que hacía que la participación del Gobierno fuese casi imperceptible. Además, comenzó a hacerse oír una creciente opinión minoritaria de ciudadanos afines a la derecha japonesa que calificaban a las mujeres confort de ‘prostitutas’, a las que no era necesario compensar de ningún modo.
No obstante, la compensación monetaria es una de las cuestiones que menos ha importado a este grupo de mujeres. Su prioridad ante todo es restaurar su dignidad. Que el Gobierno japonés no se haya implicado directamente y no acalle opiniones como las de la minoría derechista, es probablemente lo que más les afecte. Ante todo, estas mujeres luchan por que Tokio reconozca los hechos públicamente y ofrezca una disculpa oficial por lo ocurrido.
La ONU ha seguido tomando el papel de mediador a lo largo de los años. Encontramos en varios documentos pertenecientes a la UNHRC declaraciones que instan a Japón a resolver el problema. En un documento que revisa la primera demanda de la organización (2 de febrero de 1996) en el Consejo de los Derechos Humanos, figura la respuesta del primer ministro Ryutaro Hashimoto: “la cuestión acerca de las reparaciones se resolvió mediante tratados de paz y el Gobierno nunca pagará una indemnización a las víctimas”.
En el documento en cuestión, se clasifica de esclavitud militar a las estaciones de confort. Japón respondió negando cualquier tipo de responsabilidad legal, dada la incapacidad de aplicarse retroactivamente la ley internacional del momento, la imprecisión de la definición de estaciones de confort, la no vigencia de leyes contra la esclavitud durante la Segunda Guerra Mundial y la no prohibición en las leyes internacionales de cometer violaciones en situaciones de conflicto internacional. Además, adujo que las leyes existentes durante la guerra solo se podían aplicar a la conducta cometida por los militares japoneses contra ciudadanos de un Estado beligerante, pero no contra los ciudadanos de Corea, ya que esta fue anexionada y formaba parte del territorio japonés.
En 1998, la abogada estadounidense Gay J. McDougall presentó ante la UNHRC un documento que concluía que las acciones tomadas por las Fuerzas Armadas de Japón eran crímenes contra la humanidad. Más tarde, ese mismo año, la ONU adoptó el texto y cambió la definición previa a estaciones de violación.
Estatua de bronce de una “mujer de consuelo” frente a la embajada de Japón en Seúl [Wikipedia]
Entendimiento que no llega
A lo largo de los años, el problema no ha hecho más que crecer y la política japonesa ha ido alejándose de un posible camino de mejora de las relaciones diplomáticas con sus vecinos. Este problema de revisión de la historia es la base de los movimientos políticos que observamos en Japón desde 1945. Las reformas impuestas por la ocupación estadounidense y los tribunales de Tokio jugaron un papel de gran importancia, así como el Tratado de San Francisco, firmado en 1948. Todo ello ha establecido en la población japonesa una aceptación pasiva de la historia pasada y de sus responsabilidades.
Al haber sido juzgados en los tribunales de 1948, la responsabilidad y culpabilidad que cargaban los nipones se creyó absuelta. Por otro lado, la ocupación de EEUU sobre el archipiélago, tomando el control militar, afectó al orgullo de los ciudadanos. La transformación de la economía, la política, la defensa y, sobretodo, la educación también tuvo sus repercusiones. Desde los comienzos democráticos de Japón, la política se ha centrado en una defensa pasiva, una educación antinacionalista y unas relaciones exteriores alineadas con los intereses de la potencia norteamericana.
Sin embargo, tras las elección como primer ministro en 2012 de Shinzo Abe, líder del Partido Liberal Democrático (LDP), se han introducido numerosos cambios en la política exterior e interior del país, con reformas en campos que van desde la economía hasta la educación y la defensa. Respecto a esta última, Abe se ha enfocado mayormente en reintroducir la fuerza militar en Japón a partir de una enmienda en el artículo 9 de la Constitución de 1945. Este giro se debe a la ideología propia del partido, que quiere dar a Japón un mayor peso en la política internacional. Uno de los puntos clave en su Gobierno es precisamente la postura frente al polémico tema de las mujeres confort.
En 2015, Shinzo Abe y la presidenta de la República de Corea, Park Geun-hye, firmaron un tratado en el que se establecían tres objetivos a cumplir: las disculpas oficiales de Japón, la donación de mil millones de yenes a una fundación surcoreana para el beneficio de estas mujeres y la retirada de la estatua en recuerdo de las mujeres confort levantada frente a la embajada de Japón en Seúl. Este tratado fue el mayor logro en el largo proceso del conflicto, y fue recibido como la solución a tantos años de disputa. Los dos primeros objetivos se cumplieron, pero la controvertida estatua no fue apartada de su emplazamiento. La llegada del presidente Moon Jae-in en 2017 complicó la completa implementación del acuerdo. Ese año, Moon criticó abiertamente el tratado, por considerar que deja de lado a las víctimas y al pueblo coreano en general. Su presidencia ha variado ciertos enfoques estratégicos de Corea del Sur y se desconoce exactamente qué quiere conseguir con Japón.
Lo que sí puede concluirse es que retrasar la solución no es beneficioso para ninguna de las partes. Dejar el problema abierto está frustrando a todos los países involucrados, sobre todo a Japón. Un ejemplo de ello es la reciente ruptura de la hermandad entre las ciudades de San Francisco y Osaka en 2018 debido a una estatua en la población estadounidense que representa a las víctimas de este conflicto. En ella se encuentran tres niñas, una niña china, una coreana y una filipina, cogiéndose de las manos. El alcalde de Osaka, Hirofumi Yoshimura, y su predecesor, Toru Hashimoto, habían escrito cartas a su ciudad hermanada desde que se redactó la resolución para construir el memorial. Asimismo, dentro del propio LDP, Yoshitaka Sakurada, calificó de ‘prostitutas’ a este grupo de mujeres en 2016; poco después de haber establecido el tratado de 2015 sobre este tema. Eso ha provocado una respuesta negativa al tratado, ya que se cree que en realidad Japón no busca la reconciliación, sino olvidar el tema sin aceptar la responsabilidad que conlleva.
El problema radica en cómo afrontan la controversia estos países. La República de Corea, con el presidente Moon, busca cerrar las heridas pasadas con nuevos acuerdos, pero Japón solo aspira a cerrar el asunto lo antes posible. La renegociación de un tratado no es la mejor opción para Japón: incluso buscando la mejor solución para ambas partes, saldría perdiendo. En caso de que el presidente Moon logre llegar a un nuevo acuerdo con el primer ministro Abe para solventar los problemas del anterior tratado, se demostraría que las negociaciones anteriores y las medidas adoptadas por Japón en 2015 han fracasado.
Por muchas disculpas que el Gobierno de Japón haya emitido a lo largo de los años, nunca se ha aceptado la responsabilidad legal sobre las acciones en relación a las mujeres confort. Mientras que esto no suceda, no se pueden proyectar futuros escenarios donde la discusión se solucione. El presidente Moon renegociará el tratado con Japón, pero las probabilidades de que resulte son escasas. Todo indica que Japón no tiene ninguna intención de renegociar el tratado ni de hacerse cargo legalmente. Si no alcanzan una solución, las relaciones entre los dos países se pueden llegar a deteriorar debido a la carga emocional que presenta el problema.
La raíz de las tensiones se sitúa en el pasado histórico y su aceptación. Tanto Moon Jae-in como Shinzo Abe deben reevaluar la situación con ojos críticos en relación a sus propios países. Japón debe comenzar a comprometerse con las acciones pasadas y la República de Corea debe mantenerse una posición constante y decidir cuáles son sus prioridades respecto a las mujeres confort. Solo ello puede permitirles avanzar en la búsqueda del mejor tratado para ambos.
▲Área del Indo-Pacífico y territorios adyacentes [Wikimedia-Commons]
ANÁLISIS / Emili J. Blasco
Estamos asistiendo al nacimiento efectivo de Eurasia. Si esa palabra surgió como artificio, para reunir dos geografías adyacentes, sin relación, hoy Eurasia está emergiendo como realidad, en una única geografía. El catalizador ha sido sobre todo la apertura hacia Poniente de China: en la medida en que China ha comenzado a ocuparse de su parte trasera –Asia Central–, y ha dibujado nuevas rutas terrestres hacia Europa, las distancias entre los márgenes de Eurasia también se han ido reduciendo. Los mapas de la Iniciativa Cinturón y Ruta de la Seda tienen como efecto primero presentar un único continente, de Shanghái a París o Madrid. La guerra comercial entre Pekín y Washington y el desamparo europeo del otrora paraguas estadounidense contribuyen a que China y Europa se busquen mutuamente.
Una consecuencia de la mirada cruzada desde los dos extremos del supercontinente, cuyo encuentro construye ese nuevo mapa mental de territorio continuo, es que el eje mundial se traslada al Índico. Ya no está en el Atlántico, como cuando Estados Unidos retomó de Europa el estandarte de Occidente, ni tampoco en el Pacífico, adonde se había movido con el fenómeno emergente del Este asiático. Lo que parecía ser la localización del futuro, el Asia-Pacífico, está cediendo el paso al Indo-Pacífico, donde ciertamente China no pierde protagonismo, pero queda más sujeta al equilibrio de poder euroasiático. La ironía para China es que queriendo recuperar su pretérita posición de Reino del Medio, sus planes expansivos acaben dando centralidad a India, su velada némesis.
Eurasia se encoge
La idea de un encogimiento de Eurasia, que reduce su vasta geografía al tamaño de nuestro campo visual, ganando en entidad propia, fue expresada hace dos años por Robert Kaplan en un ensayo que luego ha recogido en su libro The Return of Marco Polo's World (2018). Justamente el renacimiento de la Ruta de la Seda, con sus reminiscencias históricas, es lo que ha acabado por poner en un mismo plano en nuestra mente Europa y Oriente, como en unos siglos en los que, desconocida América, no existía nada allende los océanos circundantes. “A medida que Europa desaparece”, dice Kaplan en referencia a las crecientemente vaporosas fronteras europeas, “Eurasia se cohesiona”. “El supercontinente se está convirtiendo en una unidad fluida y global de comercio y conflicto”, afirma.
Para Bruno Maçães, autor de The Down of Eurasia (2018), hemos entrado en una era euroasiática. A pesar de lo que cabría haber predicho hace tan solo un par de décadas, “este siglo no será asiático”, asegura Maçães. Tampoco será europeo o americano, sino que estamos como en aquel momento, al término de la Primera Guerra Mundial, cuando se pasó de hablar de Europa a hacerlo de Occidente. Ahora Europa, desprendida de Estados Unidos, según argumenta este autor portugués, también pasa a integrarse en algo mayor: Eurasia.
Teniendo en cuenta ese movimiento, tanto Kaplan como Maçães vaticinan una disolución de Occidente. El americano pone el acento en las deficiencias de Europa: “Europa, al menos como la hemos conocido, ha comenzado a desaparecer. Y con ella Occidente mismo”; mientras que el europeo señala más bien el desinterés de Estados Unidos: “Uno tiene la sensación de que la vocación universalista estadounidense no es garantizar la preeminencia global de la civilización occidental, sino seguir como la única superpotencia global”.
Cambia el eje del mundo
A raíz del descubrimiento español de América, en el siglo XVI se veía coronar una traslación gradual hacia Occidente de la hegemonía y de la civilización en el mundo. “Los imperios de los persas y de los caldeos habían sido reemplazados por los de Egipto, Grecia, Italia y Francia, y ahora por el de España. Aquí permanecería el centro del mundo”, escribe John Elliott citando un escrito de la época, del humanista Pérez de Oliva. La idea de estación final también se tuvo cuando el peso específico del mundo se situó en el Atlántico, y luego en el Pacífico. Hoy proseguimos de nuevo ese viraje hacia Poniente, hasta el Índico, sin ya quizá mucho ánimo de darlo por definitivo, aunque se complete la vuelta sobre cuyos inicios teorizaron los renacentistas.
Al fin y al cabo, también ha habido traslaciones del centro de gravedad en sentido contrario, si atendemos a otros parámetros. En las décadas posteriores a 1945 la localización media de la actividad económica entre diferentes geografías estuvo situada en el centro del Atlántico. Con el cambio de siglo, sin embargo, el centro de gravedad de las transacciones económicas ha estado emplazado al Este de las fronteras de la Unión Europea, según apunta Maçães, quien pronostica que en diez años el punto medio estará en la frontera entre Europa y Asia, y a mitad del siglo XXI entre India y China, países que están “abocados a desarrollar la mayor relación comercial del mundo”. Con ello, India “puede convertirse en el nudo central entre los extremos del nuevo supercontinente”. Moviéndonos hacia un lado del planeta hemos llegado al mismo punto –el Índico– que en el viaje en sentido contrario.
El mundo isla
A diferencia del Atlántico y del Pacífico, océanos que en el globo se extienden verticalmente, de polo a polo, el Índico se despliega horizontalmente y en lugar de encontrar dos riberas, tiene tres. Eso hace que África, al menos su zona oriental, forme parte también de esta nueva centralidad: si la rapidez de navegación propiciada por los monzones ya facilitó históricamente un estrecho contacto del subcontinente indio con la costa este africana, hoy las nuevas rutas de la seda marítimas pueden acrecentar aún más los intercambios. Eso y la creciente llegada de migrantes subsaharianos a Europa refleja un fenómeno centrípeto que incluso da pie a hablar de Afro-Eurasia. Así que, como apunta Kaplan, referirse al mundo isla como en su día hizo Halford Mackinder “ya no es algo prematuro”. Maçães recuerda que Mackinder veía como una dificultad para percibir la realidad de ese mundo isla el hecho de que no fuera posible circunnavegarlo por completo. Hoy esa percepción debiera ser más fácil, cuando se está abriendo la ruta del Ártico.
En el marco de las teorías complementarias –verso y reverso– de Halford Mackinder y de Nicholas Spykman sobre el Heartland y el Rimland, respectivamente, cualquier centralidad de India tiene que traslucirse en poder marítimo. Cerrado su acceso al interior de Asia por el Himalaya y por un antagónico Pakistán (le queda el único y complejo paso de Cachemira), es en el mar donde India puede proyectar su influencia. Como India, también China y Europa están en el Rimland euroasiático, desde donde todas esas potencias disputarán el equilibrio de poder entre ellas y también con el Heartland, que básicamente ocupa Rusia, auque no en exclusiva: en el Heartland también se encuentran las repúblicas centroasiáticas, que cobran un especial valor en la competencia por el espacio y los recursos de un encogido supercontinente.
Pivot a Eurasia
En esta región del Indo-Pacífico, o del Gran Índico, que va del Golfo Pérsico y las costas de África oriental hasta la segunda cadena de islas de Asia-Pacífico, a Estados Unidos le corresponde un papel exterior. En la medida en que el mundo isla se cohesiona, queda más remarcado el carácter satelital estadounidense. La gran estrategia de Estados Unidos deviene entonces en lo que ha sido el tradicional imperativo del Reino Unido con respecto a Europa: impedir que una potencia domine el continente, algo que más fácilmente se logra apoyando a una u otra potencia continental para debilitar a la que en cada momento sea más fuerte (Francia o Alemania, según la época histórica; hoy Rusia o China). Ya en la Guerra Fría, Estados Unidos se esforzó por impedir que la URSS se alzara en hegemón al controlar también Europa Occidental. Eurasia entra en un juego de equilibrio de poder presumiblemente intenso, como lo fue el escenario europeo entre el siglo XIX y el XX.
Por eso, Kaplan dice que Rusia puede ser contenida mucho más por China que por Estados Unidos, como también Washington debiera aprovechar a Rusia para limitar el poder de China, a sugerencia de Henry Kissinger. Para ello, el Pentágono debiera ampliar hacia el Oeste la presencia estratégica que tiene en el Pacífico Occidental: si como potencia exterior y marítima no puede acceder al centro continental de Eurasia, sí puede tomar posición en las entrañas mismas de esa gran región, que es el propio Índico.
“Si Obama hizo el pivot a Asia, entonces Trump ha pivotado a Eurasia. Quienes toman decisiones en Estados Unidos parecen crecientemente conscientes de que el nuevo centro de gravedad en la política mundial no es el Pacífico ni el Atlántico, sino el Viejo Mundo entre los dos”, ha escrito Maçães en un ensayo posterior a su libro.
Imagen de la presentación oficial de la Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy japonesa [Mº Exteriores de Japón]
Alianzas con India
El cambio de foco desde Asia-Pacífico al Indo-Pacífico por parte de Estados Unidos fue expresado formalmente en la Estrategia de Seguridad Nacional publicada en diciembre de 2017, el primero de ese tipo de documentos elaborado por la Administración Trump. Consecuentemente, Estados Unidos ha rebautizado su Comando del Pacífico como Comando del Indo-Pacífico.
La estrategia de Washington, como la de otros destacados países occidentales de la región, sobre todo Japón y Australia, pasa por una coalición de algún tipo con India, por el carácter central de este país y como mejor manera de contener a China y Rusia.
La conveniencia de una mayor relación con Nueva Dehli ya fue esbozada por Trump durante la visita del primer ministro indio, Narendra Modi, a Washington en junio de 2017, y luego por el entonces secretario de Estado, Rex Tillerson, en octubre de 2017. El sucesor de este, Mike Pompeo, abordó un marco más definido en julio de 2018, cuando anunció ayudas de 113 millones de dólares para proyectos destinados a lograr una mayor conectividad de la región, desde tecnologías digitales a infraestructuras. El anuncio fue entendido como el deseo estadounidense de hacer frente a la Iniciativa Cinturón y Ruta de la Seda lanzada por China.
En ocasiones, la Estrategia para el Indo-Pacífico de Estados Unidos se presenta asociada a la Estrategia para un Indo-Pacífico Libre y Abierto (FOIP), que es el nombre puesto por Japón para su propia iniciativa de cooperación para la región, ya expuesta hace diez años por el primer ministro japonés Shinzo Abe. Ambas son coincidentes en contar con India, Japón, Australia y Estados Unidos como los principales garantes de la seguridad regional, pero presentan dos principales divergencias. Una es que para Washington el Indo-Pacífico va desde el litoral oriental de India hasta la costa oeste estadounidense, mientras que en la iniciativa japonesa el mapa va del Golfo Pérsico y la costa africana a Filipinas y Nueva Zelanda. La otra tiene que ver con la manera de percibir a China: la propuesta japonesa busca la cooperación china, al menos en el nivel declarativo, mientras que el propósito estadounidense es hacer frente a los “riesgos de dominio chino”, como se consigna en la Estrategia de Seguridad Nacional.
India también ha elaborado una iniciativa propia, presentada en 2014 como Act East Policy (AEP), con el objeto de potenciar una mayor cooperación entre India y los países de Asia-Pacífico, especialmente de la ASEAN. Por su parte, Australia expuso su Policy Roadmap para la región en 2017, que descansa en la seguridad que ya viene prestando Estados Unidos y aboga por un continuado entendimiento con las “las democracias indo-pacíficas” (Japón, Corea del Sur, India e Indonesia).
Algunas otras consecuencias del nacimiento de Eurasia, de diferente orden e importancia, son:
–La Unión Europea no solo está dejando de ser atrayente como proyecto político e incluso económico para sus vecinos, debido a sus problemas de convergencia interna, sino que la realidad de Eurasia la reduce a ser una península en los márgenes del supercontinente. Por ejemplo, pierde cualquier interés la vieja cuestión de si Turquía forma o no parte de Europa: Turquía va a tener una mejor posición en el tablero.
–Adquieren toda su importancia los corredores que China quiere tener abiertos hacia el Índico (Myanmar y, sobre todo, Pakistán). Sin poder recobrar el estatus milenario de Reino del Medio, China valorará aún más disponer de la provincia de Xinjiang como modo de estar menos escorada en un lado del supercontinente y como plataforma para una mayor proyección hacia el interior del mismo.
–El pivot a Eurasia por parte de Estados Unidos obligará a Washington a distribuir sus fuerzas en una mayor extensión de mar y sus riberas, con el riesgo de perder poder disuasorio o de intervención en determinados lugares. Cuidar el Índico puede llevarle, sin pretenderlo, a descuidar el Mar de China Meridional. Un modo de ganar influencia en el Índico sin gran esfuerzo podría ser trasladar la sede de la Quinta Flota de Bahréin a Omán, igualmente a un paso del estrecho de Ormuz, pero fuera del Golfo Pérsico.
–Rusia se ha visto tradicionalmente como un puente entre Europa y Asia, y ha contado con alguna corriente defensora de un euroasianismo que presentaba Eurasia como un tercer continente (Rusia), con Europa y Asia a cada lado, y que reservaba el nombre de Gran Eurasia al supercontinente. En la medida en que este se encoja, Rusia se beneficiará de la mayor conectividad entre un extremo y otro y estará más encima de sus antiguas repúblicas centroasiáticas, aunque estas tendrán contacto con un mayor número de vecinos.
(1) Kaplan, R. (2018) The Return fo Marco Polo's World. War, Strategy, and American Interests in the Twenty-First Century. Nueva York: Random House
(2) Maçães, B. (2018) The Dawn of Eurasia. On the Trail of the New World Order. Milton Keynes: Allen Lane
(3) Elliott, J. (2015) El Viejo Mundo y el Nuevo (1492-165). Madrid: Alianza Editorial
(4) Maçães, B. (2018). Trump's Pivot to Eurasia. The American Interest. 21 de agosto de 2018
▲Kim Jung-un and Moon Jae-in met for the first time in April, 2018 [South Korea Gov.]
ANALYSIS / Kanghun Ji
North Korea has always utilized its nuclear power as a leverage for negotiation in world politics. Nuclear weapons, asymmetric power, are the last measure for North Korea which lacks absolute military and economic power. Although North Korea lags behind the United States and South Korea in military/economic power, its possession of nuclear weapons renders it a significant threat to other countries. Recently, however, they have continued to develop their nuclear power in disregard of international regulations. In other words, they have not used nuclear issue as a leverage for negotiation to induce economic support. They have rather concentrated on completing nuclear development, not considering persuasion from peripheral countries. This attitude can be attributed to the fact that the development of their nuclear power is almost complete. Many experts say that North Korea judges the recognition of their nation with nuclear power to be a more powerful negotiation tool (Korea times, 2016).
In this situation, South Korea has been trying many different kinds of strategies to resolve the nuclear crisis because security is their main goal: United States-South Korea joint military exercises and United Nations sanctions against North Korea are some of those strategies. Despite these oppressive methods using hard power, North Korea has refused to participate in negotiations.
Most recently, however, North Korea has discarded its previous stance for a more peaceful and amicable position following the PyeongChang Olympics. Discussions about nuclear power are proceeding and the nation has even declared that they will stop developing nuclear power.
Diverse causes such as international relations or economic needs influence their transition. This essay would argue that the soft power strategies of South Korea are substantially influencing North Korea. Therefore, an analysis of South Korea’s soft power strategies is necessary in order to figure out the successful way to resolve the nuclear crisis.
Importance of soft-power strategies in policies against North Korea
North Korea has justified its dictatorship through the development of its ‘Juche’ ideology which is very unique. This ideology is established on the theory of ‘rule by class’ which stems from Marxism-Leninism. In addition, the regime has combined it with Confucianism that portrays a dictator as a father of family (Jung Seong Jang, 1999). Through this justification, a dictator is located at the top of class, which would complete the communist ideal. People are taught this ideology thoroughly and anyone who violates the ideology is punished. To open up this society which has formerly been ideologically closed, their ideology should be undermined by other attractive ideology, culture, and symbol.
However, North Korea has effectively blocked it. For example, recently, many people in North Korea have covertly shared TV shows and music from South Korea. People who are caught enjoying this culture are severely punished by the government. In these types of societies, oppression through hard power strategies doesn’t affect making any kind of change in internal society. It rather could be used to enhance internal solidarity because the potential offenders such as United States or South Korea are postulated as certain enemies to North Korea, which requires internal solidarity to people. North Korea has actually depicted capitalism, United States and South Korea as the main enemies in media. It intends to induce loyalty from people.
As a result, the regime have developed nuclear weapons successfully under strong censorship. Nuclear power is the main key to maintain the dictatorship. The declaration of ‘Nuclear-Economy parallel development’ from the start of Kim Jung-Eun’s government implies that the regime would ensure nuclear weapon as a measure to maintain its system. In this situation, sending the message that its system can coordinately survive alongside South Korea in world politics is important. Not only oppressive strategies but also appropriate strategies which attract North Korea to negotiate are needed.
Analysis of South Korea Soft Power Strategies
In this analysis, I will employ a different concept of soft power compared from the one given by Joseph Nye. Nye’s original concept of soft power focuses on types of behavior. In terms of his concept, co-optive power such as attraction and persuasion also constitutes soft power regardless of the type of resource (Joseph Nye, 2013). However, the concept of soft power I will use focuses on what types of resources users use regardless of the type of behaviors. Therefore, any kinds of power exerted by only soft resources such as images, diplomacy, agenda-setting and so on could be soft power. It is a resource-based concept compared to Nye’s concept which is behavior based (Geun Lee, 2011).
I use this concept because using hard resources such as military power and economic regulation to resolve the nuclear problem in North Korea has been ineffective so far. Therefore, using the concept of soft power which is based on soft resources makes it possible to analyze different kinds of soft power and find ways to improve it.
According to the thesis by Geun Lee (2011: p.9) who used the concept I mentioned above, there are 4 categories of Soft Power. I will use these categories to analyze the soft power strategies of South Korea.
1. Application of soft resources – Fear – Coercive power (or resistance)
2. Application of soft resources – Attractiveness, Safety, Comfort, Respect – Co-optive power
3. Application of soft resources (theories, interpretative frameworks) – New ways of thinking and calculating – Co-optive power
4. Socialization of the co-optive power in the recipients – Long term soft power in the form of “social habit”
1. Oppression through diplomacy: Two-track diplomacy
South Korea takes advantage of soft power strategies that request a global mutual-assistance system in order to oppress North Korea. Based on diplomatic capabilities, South Korea has tried to make it clear that all countries in world politics are demanding a solution to the North Korean nuclear crisis. Through these strategies, it wants to provoke fear in North Korea that it would be impossible to restore its relationship with the world. These strategies have been influential because they are harmonized with United Nations’ Security Council resolutions. Especially, the two-track diplomacy conducted by the president Moon-jae-in in the United Nations general assembly in 2017 is evaluated to be successful. He gave North Korea two options in order to attract them to negotiate (The fact, 2017). The president Moon-jae-in stressed the importance of cooperation about nuclear crisis among countries in his address to the general assembly. Moreover, he discussed the issue with the presidents of United States and Japan and pushed for a firm stance against the North Korea nuclear problem. However, at the same time, he declared that South Korea is ready for peaceful negotiation and discussion if North Korea wish to negotiate and stop developing its nuclear power. By offering two options, South Korea not only aimed to incite fear in North Korea but also left room for North Korea to appear at the negotiation tables.
Strategies using diplomatic capabilities are valuable because they can induce coercive power through soft resources. However, it would be difficult to judge the effectiveness if North Korea didn’t show any reaction to these strategies. Moreover, the cooperation with Russia and China is very important to persuade North Korea because they are maintaining amicable relationships with North Korea against United States and Japan. In the situation that North Korea has aimed to complete development of nuclear weapons for negotiation, diplomatic oppression is not effective itself for making change.
Joint statement by the leaders of North and South Korea, in April 2018 [South Korea Gov.]
2. Sports and culture: Peaceful gesture
The attempt to converse through sports and culture is one of the soft power strategies used by South Korea in order to solve the nuclear crisis. This strategy intends to obtain North Korea’s cooperation in non-political areas which could then spread to political negotiations. As a result of this strategy, South Korea and North Korea formed a unified team during the last Olympics and Asian games (Yonhapnews, 2018). However, for it to be a success, their cooperation should not be limited to the non-political area, but instead should lead to a constructive conversation in politics. In these terms, South Korea’s peaceful gesture in the Pyeong-Chang winter Olympic is seen to have brought about positive change. Before the Olympics, many politicians and experts were skeptical to the gesture because North Korea conducted the 6th nuclear test in 2017, ignoring South Korea’s message (Korea times, 2018). In extension of the two-track diplomacy strategy, nevertheless, the South Korea government has continually shown a desire to cooperate with North Korea. These strategies focus on cooperation only in soft power domains such as sports, culture, and music rather than domains that expose serious political intension.
In the United Nations general assembly which adopted a truce for the Pyeong-Chang Olympics, gold medalist Kim-yun-a required North Korea to participate in Olympics on her address (Chungang, 2017). Moreover, in the event for praying successful Olympics, the president Moon-jae-in sent another peaceful gesture mentioning that South Korea would wait for the participation of North Korea until the beginning of Olympics (Voakorea, 2017). This strategy ended up having successfully attracted North Korea. As a result, they composed a unified ice hockey team and diplomats were dispatched from North Korea during the Olympics to watch the game with South Korean government officials. And then, they exchanged cultural performances in Pyeong-Chang and Pyeong-yang. Finally, the efforts led to the summit meeting between South-North Korea, and North Korea even declared that it would stop developing nuclear power and establish cooperation with South Korea.
It is too early to judge whether North Korea will stop developing their nuclear influence. However, it is a success in the sense that South Korea has attracted North Korea into conversations. Especially, South Korea has effectively taken advantage of the situation that all countries in international relations pay attention to the nuclear crisis of North Korea. They continuously pull North Korea into the center of world politics and leave North Korea without alternative option. Continuous agenda-setting and issue making has finally attracted North Korea.
3. Agenda-setting and framing
It is important to continuously set agendas about issues which are related to North Korea’s violations concerning the nuclear crisis and human rights. Although North Korea is isolated from world politics, it can’t operate its system if it refuses to cooperate or trade with other countries. As a result, it do not want to be in constant conflict with world politics. Therefore, the focal point of agenda-setting South Korea should impress is the negative effects of nuclear policies and dictatorship of North Korea. Moreover, South Korea should recognize that the goal of developing nuclear influence of North Korea is not to declare war but to ensure protection for their political system. South Korea needs to continuously stress that political system of North Korea would be insured after nuclear dismantlement. These strategies change thoughts of North Korea and induce it to participate in negotiations.
However, South Korea has not been effectively employing this strategy. Agenda-setting which might arouse direct conflict with North Korea could aggravate their relationship. This explains its unwillingness to resort to this strategy. On the other hand, the United States show effective agenda-setting which relates to the nuclear crisis mentioning Iran as a positive example of a successful negotiation.
South Korea needs to set and frame the agenda about similar issues closely related to North Korea. For example, the rebellion against the dictatorship in Syria and the resulting death of the dictator in Yemen which stem from tyrannical politics could be a negative precedent. Also, the agreement with Iran that acquired economic support by abandoning nuclear development could be a positive precedent. Through this agenda setting, South Korea should change the thought of North Korea about their nuclear policies. If this strategy succeeds, North Korea will obtain a new interpretative framework, which could lead them to negotiate.
4. Competition of system: North Korea defector and Korean wave
The last type of soft power strategy is a fundamental solution to provoke change. While the strategies I mentioned above directly targets the North Korea government, this strategy mainly targets the people and the society of North Korea. Promoting economic, cultural superiority could influence the North Korean people and then it could lead to movements which would require a transition from the current society. There are many different kinds of way to conduct this strategy and it is abstract in that we can’t measure how much it could influence society. However, it could also be a strategy which North Korea fears the most in the sense that it could provoke change from the bottom of the society. In addition to this, it could arouse fundamental doubt about the ‘Juche’ ideology or nuclear development which is maintained by an exploitative system.
One of these strategies is the policy concerning defectors. South Korea has been implementing policies which accept defectors and help them adjust to the South Korea society. These defectors get a chance to be independent through re-socialization. And then, some of them carry out activities which denounce the horrible reality of the internal society of North Korea. If their voice became influential in world politics, it could become a greater threat to the North Korea system. In 2012, some defectors testified against the internal violation of human rights in UNCHR to gain attention from the world (Newsis, 2016).
In addition, recently, Korean dramas and music are covertly shared within the North Korea society (Daily NK, 2018). It could also provoke a social movement to call for change. Because the contents reflect a much higher standard of living, it triggers curiosity and admiration from North Korean people. These strategies lead society of North Korea to socialize with the co-optive power in the recipients. Ultimately, long term soft power could threaten North Korea itself.
Limits and conclusion
This essay has analyzed the strategies South Korea has used in order to resolve the North Korean nuclear crisis. South Korea threatens North Korea utilizing consensus among countries. Strategies its government has shown such as the speech of the president Moon-jae-in in the United Nations general assembly, the winter Olympics which reflected a desire for peace and the two-track diplomacy are totally different from the consistently conservative policies that the previous governments showed during the last ten years. In addition, the declaration of the Trump’s administration that they would continuously pressure North Korea about nuclear issues offered the opportunity to react to North Korea’s nuclear policies. In this process, active joint response among South Korea, United States and Japan is also necessary.
However, it is true that there are some drawbacks. In order for North Korea to eventually accept nuclear disarmament, South Korea absolutely needs to cooperate with Russia and China which are not only in a good relationship with North Korea but also in a comparatively competitive relationship with the United States and Japan. If South Korea will succeed in gaining their support, the process of reaching an agreement concerning nuclear issues would be much easier.
Eventually, in contrast with the hard power strategies with hard resources, soft power strategies with soft resources can only be effective when South Korea offers the second attractive option. The options are diverse. The main point is that North Korea should recognize the positive effects of abandoning nuclear.
Also, South Korea should recognize that the effect of soft power strategies is maximized when it coexists with economic / military oppression through hard power. In other words, South Korea must take into account Joseph Nye’s smart power to solve the nuclear crisis.
In this process, the most important thing is to persuade North Korea by offering an attractive choice. The reason why North Korea desires to have a summit meeting with South Korea and the United States is because they judge that the choice would be more profitable. Therefore, the South Korean government needs to reflect upon what objectives North Korea has when they accept to negotiate. For example, China’s economic opening is an example of a good precedent that North Korea could follow. South Korea needs to give North Korea a blue print such as the example of China and lead the agreement about the nuclear problem.
Lastly, it is difficult to apprehend the effectiveness of soft power strategies with soft resources, mentioned by Geun Lee, in the sense that the data and the figures about this strategy are not easy to measure in contrast with hard power strategies. Also, many causes exist concerning change of North Korea. Therefore, further research needs to establish a system to get concrete and scientific data in order to apprehend the complex causes and effects of this strategy such as that stem from smart power strategies.
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