Saudi Arabia’s Complex War in Yemen

The Saudi led Gulf Arab intervention in Yemen has now entered its 10th month and the incumbent but beleaguered president, Abd Rabbuh Masur Hadi, still lacks control over around half his country’s territory. The Saudis, who started the campaign in order to oust an ethnic Houthi regime aligned with Iran, have, in classic Middle Eastern fashion, supported the resurgence of an equally as dangerous enemy- Al-Qaeda.

Yemen, like so many of the Arab world’s states, is geographically and ethnically endowed for a proxy war between the Sunni Arab House of Saud and the Shia Persian regime in Iran. Like Syria and Iraq, Yemen’s deficient politics have over time exasperated deep-seated ethnic tensions but the move towards extremism that conflict generates means that Saudi Arabia now must play a delicate balancing game between the traditional Shia enemy and Sunni ultra-radicalism. Whilst the Saudis have pummelled the Houthi’s from the air, skirmished with them on the ground and cut of vital arms smuggling routes from Africa, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (an especially brutal faction of the terrorist franchise) has strengthened its grip over central Yemen whilst Islamic State has also taken its first scraps of territory in Aden, Yemen’s fourth largest city and commercial capital.

The coalition has simply been far too focused on the big geopolitical Iranian problem and they are still far more terrified of a Persian dominated Gulf than one that is swarming with terrorists. The truth is however that the Gulf States (Saudi Arabia in particular) will soon have to start directing at least some of their attention on Yemen’s Sunni insurgents. Saudi Arabia has had a recurring problem with terror incidents over recent years, a fear that has grown exponentially since the collapse of order in nearby Syria and Iraq. Even with tighter border controls and intense public propaganda, disaffected Saudi youths continue to be mystified by and drawn to groups like al-Qaeda. Young Saudis seek martyrdom and follow calls to Jihad more than almost any other nationality. Indeed, 15 of the 19 9/11 hijackers were Saudi nationals.

The source of this attraction stems partly from the fact that state Wahhabi Islam is simply too difficult to distinguish in doctrine from that espoused by terrorists. After growing up with the intensely religious Saudi educational system, moving towards violent Jihadist ideas is not that large a step to take- indeed, Wahhabism makes it explicitly clear that Jihad is a goal of all Muslims. Many older and wealthier Saudis also see Jihadism as a noble cause which again stems from the blurred division between violent Islamism and official state religion. In addition to this it must be remembered that a young unemployed Saudi with meagre job prospects is still viewed as a complete failure by a culture that expects nothing less than all Arab men to lead successful careers in the civil service. These men, feeling a sense of shame, are inevitably drawn to jihadism as a way of venting their frustration with the state and also as a way of elevating their reputations in a society that, as explained above, continues to associate Jihad with righteousness and bravery. A lack of technical jobs in Saudi Arabia also means that far too many young men are drawn towards theological and literary careers which are more prone to nurturing extremist ideas. All of these factors contribute to Al-Qaeda’s continuing successful recruitment of Saudis, a process which perpetually undermines the safety and security of the Kingdom. It is this spectre of extremism that now lingers over the Saudi intervention in Yemen which has allowed Al-Qaeda to set up training camps and access vital resources right on its doorstep.

Even before Saudi Arabia’s intervention which began with Operation Decisive Storm, Sunni extremists inclined against the Kingdom have benefited from Yemen’s political instability and turmoil. In 2012 a group of eight men were arrested in Saudi Arabia on suspicion of plotting terror attacks in Jeddah and Riyadh- of them, six were Yemenis. In that same year, an Islamist website also called upon all its followers to “do everything possible to strengthen the jihadist front in Yemen as it serves as a source of back-up and reinforcement for operations in the Land of the Two Mosques [Saudi Arabia].” Ironically, Saudi Arabia’s military campaign is only serving to undermine its own security by creating the conditions in which groups like these can thrive. Deeper anarchy in Yemen means that Al- Qaeda has gained and is actually holding territory in the country- a frightening replication of Islamic State’s tactics in Iraq and Syria. Importantly, a strong terrorist presence in Yemen means the greater likelihood of cross-germination of ideas and men between Al-Qaeda and home-grown Saudi extremists.

In the Yemeni city of Taiz Al-Qaeda is known to be expanding its reach through a policy of integration with other Sunni Salafist groups and whilst they may impose a violent and puritanical government they are widely perceived as preferable to the Houthis. Continued success in recruitment in Sunni areas means that the extremist faction of the anti-Houthi resistance now makes up a full 40% of the force- Al-Qaeda’s proportion of this is likely to be significant.
In Southern Yemen too, Al-Qaeda has consolidated its grip after stunning victories against the Houthis in the towns of Zinjibar and Jaar last December. Further land acquisitions in Abyan province (of which Zinjibar is the capital) have been met with little resistance and Fadhl al-Rabei, a political analyst and head of Madar Studies Centre in Aden, believes that the group is likely to soon take control of all of Abyan province. Mr al-Rabei argues that Yemen’s popular committees (groups which have established control over towns and cities) are ceding their territories to Al-Qaeda as a way of pressurising the government into coming to their aid.

Without a change in tactics by the Gulf States therefore, Al-Qaeda’s strengths in the region will only continue to grow as it feeds off destitution, instability and ineffective administration. Indeed, the Kingdom’s tunnel vision approach to Yemen’s Houthis has shown how the severe complexities of Middle Eastern intervention apply even to familiar Arab countries too and if Saudi Arabia, like America, fails to show the necessary flexibility and commitment that intervention warrants, then it too may find itself being dragged into a horrifically expensive and bloody quagmire.

Cameron Chippindale 

Puerto Rico: Change on the Horizon

American politicians have always avoided mention of their country’s unincorporated Caribbean territory, Puerto Rico. The hypocrisy is clear- America has always expressed pride in its abstention from the temptations of empire building and in its contribution to the demise of Imperialism. Yet the island of Puerto Rico was in essence grabbed as a colony in 1898 after a brief war with the Spanish. Since then Puerto Ricans have been the subjects of numerous economic experiments and schemes none of which originated from indigenous authorities or institutions. Puerto Rico, whilst not economically exploited like the colonies of European powers, has nonetheless been unilaterally governed according to American interests. With the islands rising debt and increasing political importance however, change for Puerto Rico is an increasingly likely possibility.

Unique among U.S territories, Puerto Rico has a state like government but is not a state. Influenced heavily by Washington, the island has to obey numerous restrictions and rules. For example, its ports can only do business with U.S flagged vessels making transactions between the mainland extremely expensive- this is under a law of 1920 that congress refuses to repeal. The island also depends on huge amounts of federal aid making its financial autonomy virtually non-existent. Today some members of the Republican Party wish to create a financial control board to impose reform on the debt-ridden territory, a suggestion that appears remarkably colonial.

Historically as well, the island has been told what and what not to do. During the 1940’s Puerto Rico was one big experiment in central planning with the U.S creating favoured industries such as tuna canning and pharmaceuticals. In the cold war years the island was flooded with investment in an attempt to make the island a perfect example of capitalism sitting in stark contrast to its impoverished communist neighbour, Cuba. Tensions between the territory’s nationalists and the mainland have often erupted in violent spells. Incidents include the Capitol shooting attack in 1954 by the Marxist-nationalist Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional Puertorriqueña (FALN) and the attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan.

However Puerto Rico is becoming an increasingly frequent topic of debate amongst U.S politicians who no longer blushingly ignore the islands problems. The reasons for this are twofold. Firstly, Puerto Rico’s colossal debt can no longer be ignored no matter how hard politicians try. America, if nothing else, has a moral duty to sort out its territory’s economy. In June this year the island’s governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla admitted that public debts of $72 billion are “unpayable”. This is leading to discussion that, whilst not very productive, is at least better than silence. Debate focuses primarily on the islands bankruptcy laws. On July 7th Hilary Clinton called for congress to grant Puerto Rico the same access to federal bankruptcy protection that the 50 states can access to save public services and indebted institutions. Conservatives attacked this demand arguing Puerto Rico would not reconstruct but rather forget about its debt like other leftist countries such as Venezuela and Argentina, however this protest from the right is undermined by Jeb Bush’s support for the demand- Bush, a republican rival to Mrs Clinton, wishes to see Puerto Rico become America’s state number 51.

The second reason for America’s increased interest in Puerto Rico is the island’s population’s growing political importance. Whilst the island’s 3.5 million inhabitants cannot vote in the presidential election and it only sends a non-voting delegation to congress, islanders are still American citizens and can vote in elections if they move to the mainland. The large Puerto Rican diaspora is increasingly developing into a vital political resource. Whist Puerto Ricans previously settled in Democrat strongholds such as New York and New Jersey, growing numbers are migrating to Florida attracted by cheap homes, jobs and better weather. Fiercely competitive Floridian elections can now be seriously swayed in favour of one party if it becomes the party for Puerto Ricans. In addition, given the fact that Puerto Rico’s political environment tends to focus on issues such as statehood, the parties and ideas that dominate mainland politics have relatively few natural links to Puerto Ricans and so these migrators are true swing voters, yet to form loyalties and establish their own political identities. Many Politicians have therefore realised that constructive debate about Puerto Rico’s future could impress this diaspora and pay off in elections in 2016.

Many spectators call for more radical measure to be taken. Some argue that the only meaningful institutional reform on Puerto Rico would be if it acquired statehood and enjoyed all the benefits of official participation in U.S politics. Others (mainly natives) make demands for independence from the U.S altogether.

Jeb Bush is certainly the most high profile proponent of Puerto Rican statehood saying “To get the full benefits and responsibilities of citizenship, being a state is the only way to make that happen”. For Mr Bush statehood is a matter of fairness and equity. Indeed, 61% of Puerto Ricans voted in favour of statehood in a non-binding referendum in 2012 and, he would say, true to democracy the will of the people must be respected. But the 39% that voted no in this referendum have reason to be sceptical of the benefits of statehood. Some argue that incorporation into the union would do nothing to ease problems relating to unemployment, healthcare and housing. Whilst Puerto Ricans would have access to the U.S justice system, bankruptcy options and federal intervention they would also have to pay federal income tax on top of what are already the highest local tax rates in the country.

That is why some continue to subscribe to the nationalist sentiment that was so prominent in the 1960’s and 1970’s. “Statehood is wrong for Puerto Rico because Puerto Rico is a nation” said senator Ramón Nieves. “We consider ourselves Puerto Ricans, not Americans”. Mr Nieves supports a model like that adopted by the Marshall Islands which entered into a compact association with the U.S in order to retain some rights but also to move towards complete sovereignty which it achieved in 1986. Vastly greater autonomy verging on independence is for some the best way for Puerto Rico to end its structural dependence on federal money. They point to other small Caribbean nations who manage perfectly well on their own in managing the tasks and demands of resource management and policy formation.

However such autonomy is highly unlikely and the idea remains widely unpopular on the island. With constant migration to and from the mainland many Puerto Ricans share familial and emotional ties with the diaspora which could be severed with independence. In practical terms too would independence really be the best solution to Puerto Rico’s problems? It is unlikely- Puerto Ricans do after all enjoy many of the benefits of U.S citizenship including U.S passports and federal spending.

Even if Puerto Ricans are not behind independence it takes nothing away from the fact that major reform on the island is necessary and this may end up manifesting itself as fully fledged statehood (although this is unlikely for quite some time). Whatever the future holds Puerto Ricans can at least find comfort in the knowledge that the mainland is at last holding constructive and sensible debate on the islands many afflictions. With circumstances as they are America is finally attending to its territory’s needs rather than sweeping them under the carpet in embarrassment.

Cameron Chippindale

Essay: A History of Iranian Foreign Policy and the Realities of the 2015 Nuclear Deal

Iran-armyThe conclusion of negotiations between Iran and six world powers plus the European Union on July 14th 2015 was marked with celebrations in both Iran and the west. Usually suspicious of large-scale popular activity the Iranian regime authorised and even encouraged jubilant expression to mark the event, and all in the absence of the Islamic Republic’s notorious Basij militia in charge of public “morals enforcement”. The deal struck appears constructive and certainly smacks of potential – in exchange for intrusive inspections of their nuclear and military facilities by the Americans, Iran will be welcomed back into the global market after a 36 year absence. It is hoped that this, along with diplomatic normalisation, will incrementally move Iran further towards western political practices before the deal expires in 15 years’ time.
However, the nuclear deal looks much less promising when set against the backdrop of Iran’s foreign policy which, despite all the progress in Vienna, is still aggressive and quite blatantly motivated by religious and expansionist sentiments. The deal is good, agreed, but the west needs to ensure Iran is not using the deal to obscure the objectives of its military action abroad or that radicals within Iran don’t seek to reinforce its presence in proxy conflicts across the region as an expression of its continuing strength and esteem despite the recent concessions it has made. Taking Iran’s history into account the nuclear deal could simply be a way for Iran to pursue its very long term objective of ending its regional insecurity.
This is what this short essay seeks to answer- what can we discern about Iran’s real motives from its historic and present political and military action. What habits and patterns betray Iran’s core motives and real trajectory and hence what can we possibly learn about the genuine nature of and reasoning behind the recent nuclear pact. Beginning with the first Iranian tribes and ending with Iran’s present ideals and intentions this essay aims to persuade people to take a sceptical and sadly critical approach to Iran’s goodwill and warn those relying on its success to reconsider their long term fortunes.


The First Iranians
To understand what is meant by Iran’s “long term objective” we must look back at Iran’s historic position and role in the Middle East. Iran is first and foremost a country of Persians surrounded on three sides by Arabs. Persians are descendants of the ancient Iranian tribes who emerged on the Iranian plateau in around 1000BC. These tribes used the term Arya as a collective definition recognising their belonging to a common ethnic stock. They spoke in closely related languages and shared a religious culture focused on the worship of the God Ahuza Mazdu. Throughout history we can trace a pattern of pulsating Persian empires- a manifestation of the Persian identity always growing and receding whilst constantly rubbing in friction against its neighbours. The Achamenid and Parthian Persian empires were destroyed by the predecessors of Arabs until the Sassanid Empire was finally destroyed by the Arabs themselves.
Persians have always, through their geographical, military, commercial and economic interpenetrations with their neighbours, intruded into and existed awkwardly with Arabs and their predecessors. Alone in the region,Persians have always had a profound psychological understanding of their alien form and unusual presence in a hostile environment even more so after they adopted the teachings of the prophet Muhammad’s cousin Ali Ibn Abi-Talib and became eternal Shia heretics in the eyes of the Sunni majority of the Muslim Ummah. Entering more modern history and Iranians still, just like their ancestors, felt vulnerable and insecure and longed for a solution to their unique predicament. Throughout the 20th century and to this day around 90% of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims are Sunni (opposed to the Shia sect that dominates Iran) and in addition Iran is the only predominantly ethnic Persian country in existence. It is easy to understand therefore why Iranians feel even (and especially) today so alone. Iranians have always strove to eliminate their anxiety and secure a better future by reconciling their neighbours to Iran or harmonising international relations in the gulf whether that is through religious expression, force or “friend-making” as they do now. Iran’s politics, no matter how conciliatory and accommodating it may appear, will always be engineered towards finding a solution to Iran’s fundamental problem because this is something axiomatically and cognitively engrained in Iranians by their history of isolation and conflict.

The Pahlavi Era
The era that concerns our analysis of Iran begins in earnest with the reign of Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi who ruled as the Emperor of Iran from the Soviet withdrawal in 1941 to the Islamic revolution of 1979. Shah Pahlavi came to power after the embarrassing and brutalising joint Anglo-Soviet invasion of Iran during World War two. This, coupled with the ubiquitous understanding of Iran’s geographical, strategic and demographic insecurity (as described above) , persuaded Pahlavi that Iran must develop into the gulfs most powerful state and one that outsiders, Western and Arab alike, would fear to reckon with. The Bozorg Arteshtaran (Head of Warriors) sought to push Iran up the global hierarchy through the combined effects of the socio-economic modernisation of his White revolution and the material expansion of his army. Pahlavi understood that modernisation would elevate Iran’s perceived status and so his programme of secularisation, nationalisation of key industries, centralisation and expansion of suffrage all served to send a signal to Iran’s enemies that the government there had the imaginary capacity for reform that was so lacking in the region.
Iran’s place as a powerful westernised nation amongst the austere and often radical Arab regimes would, according to the Shah, bring Iran the support, security and the acceptance from its neighbours that she always desired through the inherent backing it would receive from the West, in particular America. However, Pahlavi’s open-mindedness and reforming trajectory meant that at times his intimacy with America was too excessive for a population that was still piously religious and which had a strongly constructed identity based on the values established in the Quran. Shah Pahlavi was after all installed by foreign powers who removed his more conservative father in 1941 and both the CIA and SIS engineered a coup in 1953 to reverse the nationalisation process which was threatening British profit from Iran’s vast oil wealth and to counter a suspected communist threat. The Shahs complicity in this western organised conspiracy helped confirm to many his detachment form Islamic principle.
There was a sense therefore that the politics of the Shah were undermining both the religious spirit of the nation and the sovereignty of God in Iran and that whatever path to security the Shah professed to be taking , it was certainly not the path for Iranians. Primary critics of the regime came from leading Shia clerics who particularly challenged friendly relations with Israel and female emancipation. This, and the economic shortcomings of his regime(including official hostility to the working class bazaar culture), confirmed to Iranians that they should reassert their Islamic credentials and install a government that was prepared to sever all ties to America and its religiously corrosive ways.

1979- The Rise of the Islamic Republic
The Islamic revolution of 1979 ushered in a new regime that felt more appropriate, relevant and correct to the Iranian populace and with it came a new truly Iranian strategy to bring about Iran’s habituation within the regional community. Paradoxically this strategy entailed sacrificing the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Iran and its people to the synthesising force of Islam. Rather than corrupting the country by bringing it into line with the Western powers, Iran’s new leaders would satisfy the subconscious, fundamental agenda of Iranians by expressing to the Muslim world Iran’s commitment to global Islamification. The moral and spiritual stature of such a cause would ideally reconcile the Muslim world to Iran’s differences whilst Iran’s role in the formation of an Islamic mega-caliphate would submerge its people’s abnormal character beneath the powerful homogenising identity of the Muslim.
The Islamic revolution was therefore a revolution to remove a regime whose spiritual deficiencies necessitated that the new one be religiously and culturally sensitive i.e. Islamic. Inherent in this new Islamic government was a new Islamified conception of Iran’s insecurity and a transmutation of Iranian foreign policy from one of nationalist expression of strength to one of an internationalist rally cry for global Muslim cooperation and unity. Islam, with its ability to transcend tribal, national and political affiliations, would secure a peaceful future for Iranians. The security of Iranians would warrant the death of Iran and its inhabitants in their national context and the birth of a new Islamic republic to act as the epicentre of religious global sedition. The ugliest manifestation of Iran’s new strategy was the bloody Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988) which was a result of Iran’s attempt to absorb Iraq into the new Islamic state. In fact the Iran- Iraq war serves as an excellent demonstration of the parallel dynamics of Iranian thought processes:

1. Iran has a security problem because it is a regional anomaly.

2. Islamic expression will eradicate the prominence of said anomaly.

3. Iraq is a core source of Iran’s regional insecurity.

4. The Islamification of Iraq will remove this core source.

It was not a panacea but the infiltration followed by the invasion of Iraq reveals the bare mechanics of the Iranian consciousness and the central reasons behind the Islamic republic’s existential justification, presence and trajectory.
Iran’s new rulers recognized the defensive credentials of a war with Iraq. Iraq was strategically vulnerable, its capital Baghdad lying barely within Iraq’s hinterland and perilously close to Iran’s border, the Hussein regime was rotting and Iraq was a majority Shia country and whilst Iran’s goal was Islamic unity not the particular dissemination of the Shia sect, it was assumed Shia would assist the Iranian advance more than would their Sunni compatriots. Importantly Iraq was also an Arab country and the home of a Baathist, Arab-nationalist regime. The Ayatollah understood that if Iraq fell it would emphasise the spirit of Islamification and its inherent removal of all identity but that of the Muslim man or woman. Iran aspired towards a purely Muslim world in which inhabitants of the Iranian plateau would survive purely because they had abandoned their Iraninaness and Persianness in conjunction with the global removal of all other national, tribal, class, political, ethnic and economic identities and the Iran-Iraq war was conceived as the ideal beginning to this world-wide Godly revolution.
The war did however fail. Iraqis at the time felt more stirred by their Arab loyalties as their Shia ones and so whilst there were some radicals who supported Iran’s cause it was Iraq with the defensive advantage which prevailed in the end. Iran emerged from the war battered, bruised and exhausted and its religious militias were to retreat back to their desert bases for years licking their wounds whilst the torch of expressive aggression and Islamic expansionism was passed to Iran’s scientists and their soon to be conceived nuclear programme.
However Iran continued to play a significant role in the region- it armed, trained and instructed Hezbollah, the political party cum radical Shia organisation in Lebanon, and it fostered a cosy relationship with the Islamists in Sudan even sending 2000 elite Revolutionary Guards to train the regimes military. In addition it maintained intimate relations with the Assad regime in Syria, constantly seeking to prop up the country ruled by a family from the minority Shia Alawite sect, and after the Americans and British toppled Saddam Hussein in Iraq, Iran amicably embraced the Shia triumphalist government that replaced him. But Iran’s presence, whilst strong, was not pivotal and its supervision never translated into power partly because it lacked the economic clout to make important decisions for other countries.

Iran’s problematic 21st Century
Iran’s shadow over the region was to decline dramatically however. The Arab Spring that began in December 2010 and that rocked the Middle East’s dictatorships was superficially beneficial for Iran. As secular regimes collapsed in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya Islam was by far the most tangible source of structure and esteem to draw upon and apply to their respective newly democratic systems. Islam helped make sense of this period of flux and change and helped give revolution a spiritual justification. For a period of months the interests of Iran and these new Islamist governments therefore appeared to align. But it was not to last. Soon it became clear that the populations who elected Islamist parties such as the Muslim brotherhood had no interest in the archaic expansionism espoused by Tehran but rather were interested in genuine democratic activity and who were possibly more hostile to Iranian nuclear ambitions than were the original despotisms. In addition the failure of the Arab Spring has galvanised the convictions of the radical Sunni Islamist fringe such as those of Sufi groups in the Sinai Peninsula who denounce Iran as a heretical realm.
The Arab Spring also partly led to the explosion of Sunni nationalist sentiment right on Iran’s doorstep in Syria and Iraq as Sunni populations in both countries became entirely dissociated from the states they lived in. Sunni in Syria caught the wind of the Arab spring and campaigned for democracy in a last ditch attempt to restore the authority and influence they once held over the country. In the event President Assad crushed these demonstrations and launched vicious reprisals against Syrian Sunni communities. Suddenly Sunni in both Syria and Iraq (who also longed for the power they once yielded) rebelled against their rulers. Faced with radical Sunni groups like Islamic State across its borders Iran has become ever more militarily involved in its neighbour’s politics. In Syria It sent the Shia Hezbollah militia in to lay siege to the town of Zabadani whilst recruiting and training groups of Afghan and Iraqi Shia to protect the Assad government alongside formal Iranian army units. In Iraq, General Soleimani of Iran’s elite al ’Quds division of the revolutionary guards has played a huge role in organising the civilian Shia resistance and transforming Baghdad into an impenetrable fortress. But these hasty interventions have weakened the Iranian regime on other fronts.
Drafting Hezbollah into the Syrian Civil war has alienated Hamas a traditional (albeit Sunni) client of Tehran and pushed the group towards a new base in the Sunni Arab Kingdom of Qatar. Hamas, which operates in Gaza, is the internationally most famous brand of Palestinian resistance against Israel and its decision to ditch the Iranian regime is a mighty loss for the Islamic Republic’s status as the leading advocate of Islam’s holy message. Elsewhere in the Sunni world Iranian interests are under assault. The Taliban are becoming increasingly bold once again in Northern Afghanistan whilst in Sudan the government expelled an Iranian diplomat and closed an Iranian cultural centre in August 2014.
On the other hand all this sectarian turmoil has sucked Iran into positions of influence within the governments of its various Shia clients. The civil war in Yemen is a prime example of a beneficial eruption of conflict for the regime. The Houthi militia (which practices a form of Shia Islam) waging war against the internationally recognised government and also extremist Sunni groups linked to al-Qaeda, has catapulted Iran into the Yemeni political sphere especially after its advances into Aden, a major port on the Arabian peninsula.
Waging a small proxy war in Yemen however is nothing compared to the unprecedented influence Iran now holds over Iraq and Syria. It is believed many units of the broad alliance of Shia groups fighting Islamic State (IS) in Iraq take their orders directly from Iran and many of these were crucial in the operation that retook the city of Tikrit. In Syria too Iranian help was essential for the development of the paramilitary National Defence Force (NDF) which musters around 100,000 men. Iran also coordinates the fluid and dynamic cooperation of the Shia militias operating in the two countries, facilitating geographical transfers of men, resources and Knowledge. Hezbollah for example was encouraged by Tehran to send its explosive experts to Shia groups in Iraq to help defeat IS.
In addition recent normalisation of relations with the West may well just revive Iran’s attempt at constructing some form of loose Shia crescent by reversing Sunni gains in the region. Iran will finally possess the financial resources required to spearhead a foreign policy that truly reflects its conscious convictions about its security in the region. The recent deal will unfreeze $100 billion in assets and let Iran sell its oil worldwide. Iranian officials believe it can double its oil exports within just six months and unleash the potential of its spectacular gas reserves to help target 8% average annual growth. This, and the profitability of renewed Islamic tourism, will fill the regimes coffers for sure and much of this will indefinitely go towards sustaining the fronts Iran now holds spanning from Mosul to Aden.



The Future
Iran’s expansionist foreign policy may well be revitalised and given a new lease of life by the removal of sanctions on its exports. Iran’s engagement in current regional conflict must be seen as a continuation of the foreign policy it has directed since the revolution of 1979. Iranian phycology, this fear of isolation and loneliness, dictates that intervention and expansion are necessary for the long term welfare of Iranians. This continuous, axiomatic cycle cannot be ignored when analysing Iran’s recent diplomacy with the West and we must not hesitate to view Iran in the context it has operated in for centuries and which necessitates that it’s every action somehow goes towards a culturally and religiously appropriate achievement of security.
The signs of this continuation are obvious- Iran’s foreign policy today is moulded in this psychological cast and they pursue it openly for the entire international community to see and interpret. The fact that the negotiation of the deal happened in conjunction with Iranian aggression in other countries is surely ample evidence to reveal their real motivations. Indeed even whilst discussions ensued many conservative Iranian’s openly called for the overthrow of the House of Saud which it sees (rightly) as the main financial source of Sunni militarism. Iran still aspires towards security and a financial stimulus will go towards the incremental creation of the pan-Islamic caliphate it has desired for the best part of four decades, beginning with the Shia nations and moving on to the majority Sunni Muslim world later.
Taking Iran’s history into account therefore, is the nuclear deal all that it is been promoted as? Rather than ushering in an end to an era of fundamentalist aggression, the deal will serve to facilitate and enhance this very aggression in a more venomous form. Iran will use the influx of money to make tactical adjustments to its long term strategy of achieving an eternal goal- safety. Unfortunately for the West Iran’s conception of security will make relations between the two interest groups frosty and could initiate the return of sanctions and the hostile relations emblematic of the last 36 years.

Cameron Chippindale 

The War In South Sudan

South-Sudan-warWhen the Republic of South Sudan seceded from its Northern neighbour following a peaceful referendum on July 9th 2011, hopes were high amongst the international community that the world’s newest state would harbour the principles its people had fought over six decades to obtain. South Sudan however soon lost the unity fostered during the years of northern exploitation and became rather a loose political association of ethnically separated and geographically disparate groups. Barely functioning as a state the deficiencies of the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) ensured South Sudanese never came to see themselves as a nation. The heart of the conflict which erupted in South Sudan on December 15th 2013 is political yet its manifestation is disastrously tribal and ethnic hence greatly diminishing the chances of an easy settlement.
From day one of independence the SPLM under President Salva Kiir struggled to adjust itself to modern political conditions following years of waging war in the bush. Mr Kiir approached and still approaches government with the paranoia and instinct he had grown so used to leading to the degeneration of unity within the upper echelons of the party as he formed a strong base of mainly ethnic Dinka supporters around him. The general population meanwhile found little reason to support the new state. Without the democratic institutions and behaviour that could have given South Sudan’s government popular approval and support, and without the common legislative, judiciary, enforcement and regulatory bodies emblematic of modern states many South Sudanese felt the ruling administration simply did not care for their concerns or woes. Mr Kiir abused and misused the apparatus available to him in the interests of his own personal power and he persistently treated the duties of government with the same outlook he would give a military campaign. In the absence of constitutional reform or any nation building initiatives for that matter South Sudan’s diverse and complicated communities turned to the most tangible and accessible institutions available to them – their tribes. Within the rotting state tribes became the most obvious vehicles of protest, the only organised and most traditional affiliations for people to turn to. Tribal and ethnic loyalties became paramount because the loftier notions of state and nation had failed. The sub-nation is therefore both a replacement of and a means of protest against the nation.
Tribal alliances were easy to turn to because ironically South Sudan’s decrepit institutional structure was already organised into ethnic factions. In 1991 many ethnic Nuer SPLM members split from the main party to form the SPLM- Nasir under Riek Machar, the current Nuer faction and main opposition leader.Machar made peace with core SPLM in 2001 to force Sudan to the negotiating table however the ethnic loyalties forged in the decade long civil war within a civil war persisted despite the creation of a new independent republic. In fact, the reconciliation between the SPLM and SPLM-Nasir merely took the form of Nuer and other tribal rebel units being incorporated but not integrated into the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) meaning that militarily capable ethnic factions were ready in waiting as soon as their respective tribes turned to them in need. Politics under Kiir had rendered many South Sudanese regions into what were effectively tribal fiefdoms again enhancing the accessibility of tribal over national politics to civilian South Sudanese. South Sudan rather easily therefore exploded along its ethnic fault lines that suddenly came to have a new meaning, relevance and purpose.
The conflict therefore now has the appearance of ethnic war even though its causes are primarily political. Whilst the Nuer and other tribes came to assemble themselves in anti-government factions the Dinka tend to demand change yet still protect the incumbent president for fear of Nuer genocidal triumphalism. As fighting continues the nature of the belligerents (their tribal distinctions) means that ethnic war becomes a more potent reality every day. One particularly fearsome group is the Nuer White army, mainly a group of cattle herding Lou Nuer who paint themselves in white ash as protection form insects and who recently advanced on the city of Bor. Members of the Shilluk ethnic group have also organised themselves into fighting units as have many of the Equatorian tribes who fear of a government offensive on their land. Adding to the complexity is that a number of opposition leaders arrested by the government were in fact of Dinka ethnic origin, highlighting the fact that for some at least economic and social frustration can be vented along conventional political and not tribal lines.
If unstopped the conflict in South Sudan has the potential to cause one of the worst humanitarian tragedies of the 21st century. Beyond the capital Juba there are no tarmac roads making it difficult to deliver what aid the government allows into the country. Poor yields, the disruption of the harvest and the destruction of crops by armed groups is making the prospect of famine evermore likely and in May this year 100,000 people were confirmed as having being displaced because of the continued fighting. The war appears to be sucking in South Sudan’s unhelpful neighbours too. The Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) has been hindered by the intervention of Uganda on the side of Mr Kiir. President Museveni of Uganda has always held the belief that autocracy in Africa is the unique path the continent’s governments must follow to prevent social dislocation and so seeks to protect the regime in Juba by committing 4,500 troops to its cause. In addition Sudan has surprisingly got involved to ensure the survival of the current government, most likely because of the mutual interest in maintaining oil production in already unstable border territories. Foreign intervention of the military kind simply has the effect of disrupting peace processes and causing more bloodshed and is therefore an unfortunate development of events.
What South Sudan needs now is profound reform in government and the establishment of nationwide structures that all South Sudanese can trust and respect no matter which tribe they originate from. One huge step towards this would be democratisation and a genuine popular election rather than just another ethnic power sharing settlement that would inevitably dissolve as quickly as the first one. This however is unlikely to happen especially given the intervention of Uganda yet political change needn’t be so dramatic. Other measures to reconcile civilians to the government could be the creation of effective and non-corrupt institutions, the promotion of a pan tribal vision for the country and once peace had been concluded the eradication of warlordism. The kind of pressure placed on both Mr Machar and President Kiir must be in the interests of negotiation and must be from regional and western countries- a military solution of the kind sought by Uganda is simply not going to address the root causes of this civil war. As with so many African conflicts though even negotiations seem a long way off……

Cameron Chippindale 

Cold War- The Kremlin’s Arctic Policy

russia_flag_1470366cRussian’s have always had a certain affinity with the Arctic and a fascination for their mystical frozen north.Under Peter I Russia launched the Great Northern Expedition, one of the largest exploration enterprises in history which successfully led to the mapping of Russia’s Arctic coastline from the European white sea to the mouth of the Kolyma river in Asia .The first successful voyage through the treacherous North East passage was achieved by Adolf Erik Nordenskjold, a Russian Finn born in Russia’s Grand Duchy of Finland in 1832. Indeed even today Russia still carries out pioneering geological and hydrological research in the Arctic recently finishing new bases on Samoilovsky Island and one of the Svalbard islands. Of late however Russia is using its historic role in the North to justify its increasing presence and implicit control over a greater expanse than it is due- in 2007 a Russian expedition led by Artur Chilingarov planted a titanium Russian tricolour on the seabed below the North pole and claimed that the Arctic “has always been Russian”.
One of Moscow’s most imaginative points on its nationalist agenda is the bolstering of its northern frontier -a 7000km long chunk of Arctic tundra that Russia uses for testing its military hardware as well as for a base for its ambitious space programme and increasingly incursive submarine activity. Russia has been carrying out major combat exercises in the Arctic for the first time since the end of the cold war, it has restored former Soviet bases in the area including a massive one on the New Siberian Islands and in July 2014 it tested its new-generation Angara rockets from a cosmodrome hidden deep within its northern territory. Two thirds of Russia’s naval power is concentrated in its Northern fleet and it is believed to have approximately 35 submarines operating in the Arctic. Last summer in fact the Swedish navy were busy tracking an almost certainly Russian submarine snooping around its Baltic waters whilst Russian sorties over the rest of Scandinavia have become an almost routine occurrence.
Russia has direct territorial ambitions in the Arctic too. It recently filed a case under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) against Denmark’s claim to a larger slice of Arctic territory which overlaps with Russia’s own. Russia argues that the underwater Lomonosov mountain range is an extension of the Eurasian continent and thus part of the Russian continental shelf, a claim that would legitimately give it control over the North Pole under UNCLOS. In addition in April this year Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rozogin defied warnings and inflamed the disputes by visiting a Russian mining community on the Norwegian Svalbard archipelago before flying to a new Russian military base on a nearby ice floe. Calling the Arctic “Russia’s Mecca” Mr Rozogin spectated as a Russian Orthodox priest blessed the new station in a clear expression of Russia’s growing and uncompromising confidence in the North. In 2010 when asked about Russia’s position in the Arctic, Russia’s Navy Commander Admiral Vladimir Vysotsky said “Russia will not give a single inch in the Arctic”.
Russia understands that control of the Arctic seabed will generate big returns in the future when global warming allows for cheaper and more efficient drilling for oil and gas reserves there. Perhaps a quarter of the worlds untapped gas is in the Arctic as well as about an eighth of its oil and Russia’s government plans to spend 222bn roubles on mineral exploitation in the region between 2015-2020 a move that could revitalise Russia’s sagging economy.
In addition ,and possibly more importantly for Russia, the melting of sea ice is making Arctic sea lanes evermore traversable which has the potential to speed up and facilitate trade between Europe and Asia. Russia’s s long term strategic position in the Arctic may enhance therefore as evermore commercial vessels venture through the north-east passage and the Russian Kara Sea. 71 cargo ships travelled across the top of Russia last summer up from 46 in 2012 and the increasingly easy and pirate free passage can almost half fuel costs for commercial vessels and cut journey times by up to 37%. In 2012 Russian state media reported that 85% of vessels travelling through the North East passage were carrying gas or oil, again increasing Russia’s strategic gain from global warming.
For now though Russia’s increasing presence in the North has failed to reap generous economic and strategic rewards and has largely been a symbolic exercise with populist objectives. No matter how much the planet warms Russia is never likely to have even a partial monopoly over Europe-Asia shipping lanes as the conventional route through the Mediterranean and the Suez Canal will remain a relatively cheap and viable alternative. In addition Russian icebreakers, navigational support, ports and naval vessels would be required for the North East passage to become a popular shipping route and these ae things that Russia’s barren and undeveloped north will struggle to provide at least in the near future. Poor infrastructure is likely to hinder investment in the region and scupper Russia’s ambitious programme for exploitation of the Arctic’s mineral wealth whilst western sanctions imposed in 2014 have dramatically reduced the attractiveness of the North east passage for foreign investors whilst already cutting back the number of voyages through the passage. Russian Railways plans to connect Indiga which is being considered for the construction of a new deep water port and Mr Putin recently announced plans for the development of a new all year-round port on the Yamal peninsula. However without foreign investment and with a worsening economy Russia is unlikely to be able to carry such grand capital investment schemes especially since they are themselves planned to rely on the world’s first and also astronomically expensive floating nuclear power pants. It is easy therefore to take an exaggerated view on just how empowered Russia will become as it consolidates control over the far North and such action is certainly not the type of short term economic strategy required for Mr Putin to shore up his support in an increasingly poor economic environment.

Cameron Chippindale 

Understanding Russia


Following Russia’s official confirmation as the successor state to the USSR in 1991 many in the new republic found it easy to specify whether they were or were not Russian but at the same time proved to be utterly incapable of defining what is to be Russian. This is the dilemma  that still bothers Russia to this day- beyond its purely formal status as the preceding country to the Soviet Union what is the Russian `idea’ that lends esteem and purpose to Russians in the post-soviet world order.
Whatever the mindset of Russian’s at the time there was one pivotal concept that was to prove crucial with regard to Russia’s relations with the new world- `spetsifika’ or `uniqueness’. Russians had and still have a profound sense of being separate and distinct in a way that makes them exempt from the moral and ideological rules and laws that have dominated the post-soviet world. To accept American international law would be to sacrifice Russia’s moral superiority and lead Russia astray from its unique political and economic destiny. Russia is at once European and Asian, it is the cradle of the Orthodox Christian civilisation and it is beholden to the idea of loyalty to the state as being of the highest virtue in society.
Russia’s state has developed an almost revered status over the country’s history. Beginning in the imperial Tsarist period the state grew fat owing to the administrative demands of maintaining Russia’s colossal hinterland. Under Stalin the USSR soon abandoned Lenin’s idealism and instead developed the presence of the state in quite literally all matters of civilian life. After the collapse of the Soviet Union many Russians felt bereft and missed the definite nature of Stalinist government. Faced with the concept of accepting the alien, liberal values of the West and plunging Russia into a period of flux and chaos, Russians looked inwards for the certainty they had grown so used to. Now the Russian state is a focus of its nationalism and has come to express everything that Russians believe is intrinsically and innately Russian. The belief that a good government is a good administration and that obedience, propriety and order are of profound importance in society are enough to make Russia an exception to the inexorable rise of democracy.
Russia has its own moral order and its unique history as an `empire-state’ makes it attached to the values of autocracy, orthodoxy and obedience. Crucially Russia shares an affinity with a number of Eastern European countries with which it shares an orthodox heritage and so if we are to explain why the Kremlin directs such an aggressive foreign policy it is to protect Russia’s unique ideology and its system of patronage from the American values of liberty and popular government . Wherever autocracy resides, Mr Putin seeks to ensure its longevity and reverse the seemingly blind global acceptance of American power. The Slavic and orthodox link to countries such as Ukraine and Belarus makes the need for political similarity with Russia all the more urgent in Mr Putin’s eyes as Eastern Europe is an area over which Russia has always had traditional hegemony in place of America-Russia entered world war one for example because of its belief in its historic role as defender of the Slavic peoples.
Importantly  because to be a nationalist in Russia is to revere the state Russians have become obsessed with the extent and limits of their former empires,the collapse of which left a number of autocratic satellite countries around the motherland’s borders run in conjunction with the Kremlin. To Russians the former soviet states are administered according to the values and traditions Russia conferred upon them – Russia’s ideological gift to the world is to Mr Putin something far greater than the American conceptions of democracy and something to which former soviet states have fundamentally and irreversibly subscribed to. It is this ideological factor that galvanises Russian ambitions and sets them apart from the usual allegations of a nostalgic people attempting to shore up their power in a region looking increasingly westwards. Dangerously Mr Putin can place his foreign policy in the context of a war for survival against an American system that is steadily eroding everything uniquely Russian and he can portray Russia’s liberal politicians as American sponsored spies and criminals bent on subverting the foundations of the Russian state. Russia and America therefore have fundamentally opposite conceptions of the relationship between the state and the individual. It is their endorsement of two opposing political theories and their respective global outlooks that sadly make Russia and America impossible friends and necessary enemies.

Cameron Chippindale