Armed Clash in the South China Sea

2012Contingency Planning Memorandum No. 14

Author: Bonnie S. Glaser, Senior Advisor for Asia, Center for Strategic and International Studies

The risk of conflict in the South China Sea is significant. China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and the Philippines have competing territorial and jurisdictional claims, particularly over rights to exploit the region’s possibly extensive reserves of oil and gas. Freedom of navigation in the region is also a contentious issue, especially between the United States and China over the right of U.S. military vessels to operate in China’s two-hundred-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ). These tensions are shaping—and being shaped by—rising apprehensions about the growth of China’s military power and its regional intentions. China has embarked on a substantial modernization of its maritime paramilitary forces as well as naval capabilities to enforce its sovereignty and jurisdiction claims by force if necessary. At the same time, it is developing capabilities that would put U.S. forces in the region at risk in a conflict, thus potentially denying access to the U.S. Navy in the western Pacific. Given the growing importance of the U.S.-China relationship, and the Asia-Pacific region more generally, to the global economy, the United States has a major interest in preventing any one of the various disputes in the South China Sea from escalating militarily. Approfondisci

Why Iran Should Get the Bomb

By Kenneth N. Waltz| Foreign Affairs foreign affairs

Nuclear Balancing Would Mean Stability

The past several months have witnessed a heated debate over the best way for the United States and Israel to respond to Iran’s nuclear activities. As the argument has raged, the United States has tightened its already robust sanctions regime against the Islamic Republic, and the European Union announced in January that it will begin an embargo on Iranian oil on July 1. Although the United States, the EU, and Iran have recently returned to the negotiating table, a palpable sense of crisis still looms…continua a leggere

Terrorism in North Africa and the Sahel: Al-Qa’ida’s Franchise or Freelance

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By Jacques Roussellier | Faculty – American Military University

The commonly agreed upon narrative on the impact and leverage of terrorism in North Africa and the Sahara-Sahel has its inherent logics and obvious shortcomings. There is no doubt that North Africa remains a critical area for radical Islam’s (Salafi jihadism) expansion, which affects each North African country both idiosyncratically and transnationally. Over the past 20 years, the threat of terrorism has been reinforced by the emergence of organizational and institutional networking of nationally-based, radical Islamist movements with European and Middle East outreach, in particular its most active group in North Africa, Al-Qa‘ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Yet,close scrutiny of AQIM’s foothold in the Sahara and Sahel region fails to convey a sense of urgency and critical threat, let alone of an incipient offensive posture or projection capability emerging from an autonomous operational basis in the Sahel.

Al-Qa‘ida’s Regional Momentum

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Iran’s Nuclear Program

by Greg BrunoCFR

Sanctions and Saber Rattling

The United States has imposed unilateral economic sanctions on Iran for nearly three decades (Arms Control Today), but international efforts to cripple Iran’s nuclear program have coalesced more recently. In September 2005, the IAEA Board of Governors expressed an “absence of confidence (PDF) that Iran’s nuclear program is exclusively for peaceful purposes.” Five months later, the board voted to refer Iran to the UN Security Council, and in December 2006, the UN Security Council adopted the first of a series of resolutions imposing sanctions to punish Iran for continued uranium enrichment.Resolution 1737 initiated a block on the sale or transfer of sensitive nuclear technology. Subsequent resolutions–the most recent in September 2008, which reaffirmed past mandates–added financial and travel sanctions on Iranian individuals and companies. In June 2008, the European Union imposed its own set of sanctions, freezing the assets of nearly forty individuals and entities doing business with Bank Melli, Iran’s largest bank. Western officials have accused Bank Melli of supporting Iran’s nuclear and missile programs.

Now some members of Congress are backing a bill that would authorize the White House topenalize foreign companies for selling refined petroleum to Iran. Some analysts support this approach, but former U.S. Ambassador to the UN John R. Bolton suggests only the threat of force (WSJ) can prevent an Iran nuclear bomb. CFR’s Micah Zenko says Israel may be prepared to act (LAT) in that regard if the United States doesn’t.

Despite increasing calls for a military solution, international diplomacy continues apace. In mid-2008, the European Union resubmitted a 2006 offer of incentives for Iran to give up its enrichment activities. In October 2009, talks between Iran, the United States, and other world powers ended in failure as Iran’s leadership rejected a plan to send its uranium to the West (NYT), hours after Iranian negotiators agreed to the deal.

Iran continues to send mixed signals (PDF) regarding cooperation with the IAEA, though considerable evidence suggests Iran’s defiance. In November 2009, the Iranian government approved ten new uranium enrichment plants (WashPost). In February 2010, escalation mounted when Iran announced plans to heighten the enrichment levels (CSMonitor) of existing uranium stockpiles and Ahmadinejad declared (NationalPost), on the Islamic Republic’s thirty-first anniversary, Iran to be a “nuclear state.” These developments and Iran’s continued intransigence led the IAEA’s new director general, Yukiya Amano, to publicly announce IAEA fears that Iran was working on nuclear weaponization. A February 2010 report read, “Iran has not provided the necessary cooperation to permit the agency to confirm that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities.”

Russia and China traditionally have resisted calls for a fourth round of UN sanctions, but in March 2010 President Medvedev signaled that Russia was warming (Reuters) to the possibility of sanctions. China, however, continues to resist stronger sanctions, and its foreign minister announced in early March (Reuters) that sanctions will not solve the Iran nuclear issue.

U.S. officials remain committed to a bilateral, dual-track approach of both international sanctions and incentives. An example of this tactic is the March 2010 decision to allow the export of internet services (NYT) like instant messaging and file sharing to Iran. These services are intended to facilitate the free flow of information and undermine the regime’s control over the media and communications.

Nestor Bailly contributed to this report.