The U.S.’s Strategic Re-Pivot to the Middle Eastern Quagmire

(Newsweek) – The U.S. has not fully woken to the rising Chinese dragon’s aggressive forays into the Middle East. In December 2019, China participated in its first three-way naval exercise with Iran and Russia in the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Oman. More recently, in response to Iran’s economic and military alliance with China, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo asserted in the beginning of August that “China’s entry into Iran will destabilize the Middle East. It’ll put Israel at risk. It’ll put the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Emirates at risk as well.”

But the Trump administration has not formulated a comprehensive regional strategy to keep China at bay, while also maintaining a light footprint in the Middle East and pivoting toward Asia. So for now, the U.S. is doomed to continually be sucked into the quagmire of the Middle East.

The U.S.’s regional allies questioned the Obama administration’s withdrawal from Iraq and pivot away from the Middle East toward Asia. This subsequently led to increased Russian involvement in Syria and the rise of ISIS, which once again drew the U.S. into the region. A U.S. in retreat will increase regional instability, as an assertive Russia, a nuclear-aspiring Iran committed to destabilizing the region, a rivaling Saudi nuclear aspirant and mercantilist China seek to extend their spheres of influence across the vacuum of governance spanning the region.

U.S. strategic allies in the region are not convinced by the level of the U.S.’s commitment to their security vis-à-vis Iran. James Dorsey, a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, has identified that Saudi Arabia fears that the U.S. will seek to renegotiate the JCPOA with Iran, which may contain loopholes and ambiguities that Iran could exploit. Iran could then be allowed to develop nuclear weapons, enhanced its ballistic missile capabilities and increase its support for terrorist proxies across the region. And the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states have lauded the UAE’s recent peace agreement with Israel, which they believe will bolster their security in the event of a regional U.S. drawback.

China will seek to increase its maritime presence in the region to protect its energy imports. The Iranian attack on the Saudi petroleum processing facilities in 2019 saw oil prices spike by 20 percent. This affected China’s purchase of 60 percent of its oil that comes from the Middle East, with Saudi Arabia being China’s top supplier of oil.

Dorsey notes that Sun Degang and Wu Sike, scholars with close links to the Chinese regime, asserted that the Middle East was a “key region in big power diplomacy with Chinese characteristics in a new era.” China perceives the U.S.’s reticence to commit to the Middle East as an opportunity to destabilize the region. For example, in 2017, China agreed to cooperate with Saudi Arabia on nuclear energy. Although this was guaranteed to heighten tensions with Iran, it was not met with a U.S. response. Similarly, in 2018, China’s comprehensive strategic partnerships with Saudi Arabia and the UAE was met with a muted response. All the while, GCC states are increasingly hedging from fully committing to the U.S. underpinning its security architecture and are simultaneously cultivating ties with China, Russia, Iran the U.S. and Israel.

Despite the U.S. providing weapons sales to GCC states, those GCC states will take the opportunity of increased ties with Israel to diversify their weapons supplies away from sole reliance upon the U.S.—especially in light of criticism by U.S. lawmakers on weapons sales to Saudi Arabia and the UAE. This will reduce the U.S.’s leverage with them, which is and will continue to be exploited by China and Russia. In 2019, Russia advanced a collective security concept for the Gulf. In July 2020, at the ninth ministerial meeting of the China-Arab States Cooperation Forum, Chinese and Arab League foreign ministers adopted the Amman Declaration, which seeks to build a joint China-Arab community by deepening ties.

Read Full Article: Newsweek

Barak Seener is the CEO of Strategic Intelligentia and a former Middle East Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI). He is on Twitter at @BarakSeener.

The Godfather Wars

(The American Interest) – Don Vito Corleone, Don Licio Lucchesi, Hyman Roth, and the coming international realignment.

In the aftermath of World War II, the U.S.-led Western hemisphere decided that economic interdependence between Western democracies would underpin political harmony. The trauma of two world wars prompted the Europeans to establish the Coal and Steel Community in 1951, the progenitor of the European Union. This trend was cemented by the end of the Cold War, with the triumph of capitalism over communism, to the point that the free world became defined by open markets and democracy. Despite being underwritten by the U.S. security guarantee, the Western order distinguished between political security and economic prosperity, to the point that the former concept was consigned to the dustbin of history (this despite historical precedents establishing that economic ties do not necessarily strengthen political ties). The Unipolar Moment came to be identified with the End of History, to the point that President Clinton in 1997 dismissed the Chinese government as being on the “wrong side of history.” Little did the West suspect that it might be on the wrong side of history, or that its primacy would become a source of its vulnerability in the international system.

Liberal internationalists certainly did not anticipate China’s military assertiveness, or its economic decoupling with the United States. They embodied a tendency to idealistically project the West’s unique historical circumstances, and especially the triumph of democratic capitalism over Soviet communism, onto China’s totalitarian political system. This tendency was complemented by the West’s eagerness to access China’s large consumer market and natural resources. In the process, the West discarded realpolitik, and the bell rang forth, extolling the virtues of U.S.-Chinese financial interdependence. The World Trade Organization learned the wrong historical precedent that, “The key lesson drawn from the inter-war experience was that international political cooperation—and an enduring peace—depended fundamentally on international economic cooperation.” In 2002, the Bush Administration’s National Security Strategy advanced the idea that the United States and China would enhance cooperation on global challenges. This was echoed by the Obama Administration’s National Security Strategy in 2010. Tony Blair echoed this approach when he argued that the European Union should extend to China, along with the United States, a new global partnership. As such he took a page from The Godfather’s Peter Clemenza, who orders Rocco Lampone, “Leave the gun. Take the canoli.”

In the liberal internationalist order, which stresses interconnectedness, Western manufacturers have followed suit by preferring access to China’s vast markets. In the process, they were willing to overlook issues like the trade deficit, theft of intellectual property, the forced transfer of U.S. technology to China, and ongoing attempts to prevent China from selling at below-market levels in order to drive out competitors….

Read Full Article: The American Interest

Barak Seener is the CEO of Strategic Intelligentia and a former Middle East Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI). He is on Twitter at @BarakSeener.

Welcome to the Coronavirus – Inspired Supply Chain Security Showdown

(The National Interest) – German chancellor Angela Merkel and France’s President Emmanuel Macron have expressed their commitment to make strategically important products such as medical and pharmaceutical products in France and Germany. In a similar vein, the European Union Chamber of Commerce has asked its members to wean themselves off being reliant on China’s supply chains. Japan and India appear to be following suit.

Strategic decoupling from China is likely to lead to governments to increase national security regulations on foreign investments and expand their definition of strategic sectors from being information technology (IT), telecommunications and dual-use technologies with civil and military applications, to include food security, biotech, and pharmaceuticals. In turn, governments will demand that strategic sectors conduct domestic manufacturing.

The United States, EU, Russian and Chinese governments will have greater oversight and screen foreign direct investment (FDI) in these strategic sectors to prevent foreign investors from accessing sensitive data and technologies in a bid to protect their respective technological bases. As businesses are increasingly vulnerable to buyouts due to the economic downturn, governments are wary of foreign investments of their national companies. In late May, the U.S. Senate passed a bill that would bar foreign companies from U.S. exchanges if they are unable to prove that they are not controlled by a foreign government and refuse greater U.S. oversight of company financials. Similarly, the British government is considering legislation to prevent significant investment and foreign takeovers of UK companies.

Already prior to the pandemic, higher wages and increased shipping costs had led companies to shift supply chains away from China. Yet, the coronavirus has created severe disruptions in a complex web of international supply chains due to quarantines, factory closings, travel restrictions imposed by China and other countries. This increased the momentum of companies seeking to relocate as part of a growing trend of attempting to build resilience into their supply chains and mitigate against future shocks. A recent Bank of America survey of three thousand firms reported that companies in ten out of twelve global industries, including medical equipment along with semiconductors are in the process of shifting part of their supply chains from current locations.

In a bid to accelerate the trend to regionalize supply chains, Western states are likely to increase taxation on goods that were not made onshore or near shore. U.S. Commerce Secretary, Wilbur Ross exclaimed, “Globalization had gotten out of control. It takes two hundred suppliers in forty-three countries on six continents to make an iPhone.” The United States is exploring increasing tariffs on Chinese goods, tax incentives and potential re-shoring subsidies. The United States is also engaging with states across the international community and companies as part of an “Economic Prosperity Network” to standardize an approach towards regionalizing supply chains, trade, energy and infrastructure.

Read Full Article: The National Interest

Barak Seener is the CEO of Strategic Intelligentia and a former Middle East Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI). He is on Twitter at @BarakSeener.

The World is Round: Shifting Supply Chains and a Fragmented World Order

Barak Seener

(The National Interest) – Since the 1990s, nationalism in the West was deemed passé as supply chains spanned the globe and international travel along with financial flows became more frequent. We thought that the digital-information age had led us to transcend nature and history respectively. These delusions were abruptly ended by the Coronavirus pandemic that has proven that the world is indeed round. Yet we are destined to repeat the mistakes of history.

In light of global lockdown brought about by coronavirus, Thomas Friedman’s famous aphorism that “the world is flat” due to ever-increasing interconnectivity sounds anachronistic. The ever-increasing interconnectedness associated with the latest phase of globalization was believed inevitable. Since the 1990s, nationalism in the West was deemed passé as supply chains spanned the globe and international travel along with financial flows became more frequent. We thought that the digital-information age had led us to transcend nature and history respectively. These delusions were abruptly ended by the Coronavirus pandemic that has proven that the world is indeed round. Yet we are destined to repeat the mistakes of history.

The West’s economic prosperity was artificial and predicated upon an artificial standard of living by outsourcing labor to frontier and emerging markets where it was cheaper to manufacture. The rationale for our throwaway society was that it was cheaper to outsource production to areas where health or environmental regulations were poor or non-existent. As a result, we would be raising their standard of living by the service economies’ supply chains extending to impoverished production economies. As these countries’ GDP grew, we would cause them to evolve from production to service economies. We had reached a phase in history where self-interest and altruism were synonymous. Yet within the strength of this proposition lay its vulnerability. It is precisely in areas with weak regulations that makes them attractive and cost-effective to manufacture and ultimately cheaper to purchase, where there is a heightened risk for localized epidemics to become global pandemics.

Currently companies are seeking to resource their manufacturing away from China and relocate supply chains to smaller southeast Asian states such as Vietnam. Apple announced plans last year to diversify its manufacturing from being reliant upon China. Kearney, an international manufacturing consulting firm, released its seventh annual Reshoring Index that identified that in 2013, China maintained 67 percent of U.S.-bound Asian sourced goods. By the second quarter of 2019, China’s share collapsed by 56 percent, a decrease of more than a thousand basis points. Kearney predicts companies “will be compelled to go much further in rethinking their sourcing strategies, (and) their entire supply chains.”

As fostering a sense of security will be associated with controlling supply chains, there will be an increasing trend away from diversifying supply chains that have been disrupted in neighboring countries such as South Korea and Japan due to coronavirus, towards localized supply chains within national borders. The momentum is increasing as the Trump administration fearful of China weaponizing critical supply chains attempts to reduce U.S. dependence on China for drugs and medical products such as antibiotics and pain medicines used across the globe, as well as surgical masks and medical devices. In turn, the Trump administration is encouraging greater American manufacturing of pharmaceuticals, which will lead to them being more costly. This is likely to extend to industries such as semiconductors and technology. Yet the United States. will be unable to build a manufacturing base overnight. Echoing U.S. concerns, German economic affairs and energy minister Peter Altmaier has even raised the option of nationalizing strategically important companies that have suffered because of coronavirus.

Barak Seener

The undermining of global supply chains endemic to international trade will be followed by great power contestation between the United States and China, schisms between nations, and the breakdown of multilateral projects, which in turn sets the stage for future inter-state conflict. These trends coupled with coronavirus’ disruption of global markets are likely to lead to a fragmented global order, which will detrimentally affect the export economies of Europe.

Coronavirus has already begun to undermine the legitimacy of the European project in a greater manner that nationalist movements had hoped to achieve. European finance ministers have clashed over all EU nations sharing “corona bonds” debt, while France and Germany responded to Italy’s request for ventilators with a refusal accompanied by closing their borders with Italy. At around the same time, the United States imposed a unilateral ban on commercial flights with the EU.

China’s economic growth strategy and foreign policy aspirations are being frustrated in the wake of Coronavirus, as developing countries are likely to scrutinize China’s Belt Road Initiative. Among Western policymakers anti-China sentiment is increasing. In the UK, there is mounting opposition to Huawei building its fifth-generation mobile networks. In late March, the United States abandoned its long-standing policy of maintaining a status quo vis a vis Taiwan. President Donald Trump signed into law The Taiwan Allies International Protection and Enhancement Initiative (TAIPEI) Act, which increases U.S. support for Taiwan and “alters” engagement with nations that undermine Taiwan’s security or prosperity. Beijing responded that it would respond forcefully if the law was implemented, all the while China increases its military drills around Taiwan. This is increasingly likely to occur while the United States increasingly supports Hong Kong’s independence movement and demonstrates willingness to confront China in the South China Seas. Similarly, Washington is likely to be drawn into a confrontation with North Korea as the collapse of North Korea’s health system may threaten Kim Jong-un’s regime leading him to militarily lash out.

 

The latest phase of globalization spearheaded by the West entailed that service economies were not responsible for the manufacture of the products they consumed. Instead, they depended upon outsourcing production of cheap goods in distant shores creating unprecedented levels of economic prosperity, which at its root was artificial. Liberal democracies did not reach “the end of history,” where conflict was to be consigned to the dustbin of history, but could easily be unraveled by a virus emanating from a society it was reliant upon that did not share its norms. In a similar vein, the Roman Empire’s apex contained the seeds of its decay as it had become overstretched and difficult to manage. The historian Edward Gibbon, in his 1776 book The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, notes that Romans had become weak and responded to the challenges of hyperinflation, civil wars and revolts by outsourcing their duties to defend their empire in far flung regions to “barbarian” mercenaries such as the Visigoths. Blowback occurred as these barbarians’ increased economic production and their ability to conduct warfare, which led them, ultimately, to turn against their benefactors and sack the Roman Empire. Similarly, the West increased the prosperity of faraway nations and ironically, as a result their military assertiveness by being beholden to extended global supply chains. This along with the risk of globalization unravelling increases the prospects of inter-state and great power conflict. All it took was a virus to detonate the fuse that was shorter than anyone expected.

Article published on: The National Interest

Barak Seener is the CEO of Strategic Intelligentia and a former Middle East Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI). He is on Twitter at @BarakSeener.

Fallout of Halting Weapons Sales to Saudi Arabia

(Defense News) – UK asserted that cluster bombs used in Saudi Arabia against Houthi rebels in Yemen were restricted to purely military targets, and that no civilians were targeted. Nonetheless, the outgoing Obama administration is halting a planned weapons sale of precision-guided munitions (PGMs) to Saudi Arabia due to its concerns over civilian casualties while paradoxically continuing to refuel Saudi-led coalition planes.

This is a reversal of the US Congress’s decision in November 2015, to sell smart bombs to Saudi Arabia to limit civilian casualties. Other sales included laser guided munitions such as Guided Bomb Unit (GBU 10) Paveway II, UAVs, JADAM and as well as air to ground precision guided missiles used on the American built Saudi F15 fleet.

For Saudi Arabia, avoiding collateral damage is central to effectively countering the Houthis. Brigadier General Ahmad Asiri, a spokesperson for Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Defense expressed that Saudi Arabia’s strategy in Yemen is imitating the US-led coalition’s strategy in Mosul and Riqqa of avoiding civilian casualties by relying upon local intelligence while relying upon air power rather than ground troops. This however creates a problem as Yemen’s National Army intelligence that Saudi Arabia relies upon is poor. To avoid civilian casualties Saudi Arabia and the UAE are in need of a greater intelligence network on the ground. This requires Saudi Arabia to reverse its doctrine that relies heavily upon airpower and commit to greater ground troops.

Human Shields

It is not only Saudi Arabia’s usage of air power that has contributed to civilian casualties. Houthi rebels along with units loyal to Saleh have launched rockets and shells from residential areas and constituting human rights violations. On November 10 2016, General Al-Asiri asserted that Houthi militias held up 34 humanitarian aid ships carrying urgent medical assistance for over six months. The UN Security Council’s established Panel of Experts on Yemen reported to the UN Security Council that in the Taiz province, the Houthis had violated international humanitarian law by concealing fighters and equipment in or close to civilians in Al Mukha in the Taiz Governorate “with the deliberate aim of avoiding attack”. Houthi-Saleh forces in Aden and Taiz were documented attacking “medical facilities, schools and other civilian infrastructure, and using snipers positioned atop buildings to target people seeking safety, medical care or food.”

A Human Rights Watch report in January 2016, similarly accused Houthi forces of placing its armed fighters in a school for the blind in Sanaa, saying this placed vulnerable children “at grave risk”. Echoing this, Brigadier General Ahmed Asiri revealed that on Nov 9, 2016, Saudi Arabia killed 30 Al Qaeda operatives in the Eastern side of Al Mukalla where numerous Al Qaeda operatives had embedded themselves in the densely populated areas.

For this reason in 2014, when Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah condemned the war in Gaza, he but did not criticize Israel’s military operations against Hamas’s usage of human shields. Israel has accused Iran’s proxy Hamas from storing and firing rockets from schools, hospitals and mosques in order to raise the prospects of collateral damage. Iran’s Al Quds force along with Hezbollah are training Houthi militias to conduct the same tactics in densely populated areas.

Military Assistance

In early 2016, the U.S. military significantly reduced the number of US military personnel coordinating with the Saudi-led coalition’s air campaign resulting in increased likelihood of the usage of cluster bombings which would increase civilian casualties. Such measures also provides Iran the initiative to increase its support to the Houthis with impunity.

Both the US and UK can assist Saudi Arabia to dramatically lower civilian casualties in Yemen by increasing its intelligence cooperation with Saudi Arabia combined with offering precision guided munitions and pilot training. Reversing Houthi advances and Iranian involvement in Yemen can only be achieved with increased UK and US involvement leading to a greater humanitarian outcome.

Read Full Article: Defense News

Barak Seener is the CEO of Strategic Intelligentia and a former Middle East Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI). He is on Twitter at @BarakSeener.

American-European Relations

(InFocus) – During the presidential campaign, Barack Obama positioned himself as a strong proponent of diplomatic engagement. He pledged to work with Europe to solve international disputes and heed the advice of others when it came time to crafting America’s foreign policy. In practice, President Obama hoped that his approach would stand in stark contrast to George W. Bush’s “cowboy diplomacy” — the philosophy where, “You’re either with us or you’re with the terrorists.”

It is no surprise, then, that in the aftermath of President Obama’s electoral victory, the sense of optimism in Western Europe was palpable. According to a poll by the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitude Project conducted in May and June 2009, Germany’s favorable opinion of the U.S. more than doubled from the attitudes held in 2008 – from 31 to 64 percent. During the same period, Britain, Spain, and France also saw an increase of 16, 25, and 33 percent respectively. The belief that Obama would “do the right thing in world affairs” – which according to most Europeans means placing faith in multilateral institutions – was shown to be nearly universal in Western countries. In France and Germany, no fewer than nine-in-ten expressed confidence in the new American president, exceeding the ratings achieved by Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel in their own countries.

Indeed, the importance Europe places in multilateralism is manifest when compared to the polling data from the first year of the Bush administration. A Pew Research Center poll from August 2001 measured the confidence levels of European nations toward the Bush administration and found that much of the opposition resulted from Europe’s frustration with Bush’s unilateralist approach to world affairs. It was therefore no surprise that more than 80 percent of Europeans disapproved of Bush’s rejection of the Kyoto Protocol and more than 60 percent disapproved of the U.S. withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and the Defense Missile Development Program. Yet the question remains: Do European perceptions towards the U.S. matter?

Obama promised hope and change, and that optimism was to extend to his diplomacy with Europe. The question, from a U.S. standpoint, was which path to Europe offers the highest probability of success? Should the new administration reach out to individual European nations — that is, the bilateral approach — or is it best to engage with collective bodies, such as the European Union (EU) or the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)? And how different would Barack Obama’s approach be in reality from that of George W. Bush?

Read Full Article: InFocus

Barak Seener is the CEO of Strategic Intelligentia and a former Middle East Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI). He is on Twitter at @BarakSeener.