March 2007

Iran31 Mar 2007 02:43 pm

Michael Spies

It should be no surprise that the media coverage in the west on this has limited itself to a superficial recap of the narrow propaganda points put out by the US and UK governments- basically parroting outrage at Iran’s parading of the soldiers in front of the media and emphasizing that Iran is interfering with a UN-authorized operation. Given that most of the diplomacy is happening outside the view of the public, it is even more difficult than usual to discern what Iran’s intention’s might have been and what the significance or consequences of this might be, but it is possible to connect up the dots to come up with some plausible theories.

Thought 1: The first thing we can exclude is the knee-jerk comparison to the Gulf of Tonkin incident. From my perspective the current situation represents more a sign of an impending conflict, rather than an incident that will lead to conflict. While this move certainly heightens existing tensions, the Iranian conduct here has been very measured and deliberate. Unlike the nuclear situation, where it’s been very obvious there are multiple factions vying to push their own agendas, here the regime has largely been able to speak with one voice, and that voice generally has not been coming from Ahmadinejad, though his often-incendiary comments tend to attract the lion’s share of the coverage. Other items that point in this direction are the facts that Iran’s video releases of the soldiers have been broadcast in Arabic - so not for a domestic audience - and their extensive efforts to manipulate perception of the crisis through the media: the (botched) attempt to provide alternative coordinates for the capture; the steady progression of letter releases and video confessions; etc.

So what’s going on?

As this crisis has been unfolding, the AP has reported on a purportedly confidential letter from Iran to the IAEA, where Iran cites the threat of a U.S. attack as rationale for its curtailing of cooperation with the Agency. Iran’s perception of a threat from the U.S. is not a new development and in the context of the nuclear crisis can be traced back to May 2003 when Iran first offered it’s “grand bargain” to the U.S. through diplomatic channels. Here, chief among Iran’s goals was to obtain security assurances from the U.S., something that has been conspicuously absent from all proposals made by the E3 and P6 to Iran, and also something the Bush administration has explicitly ruled out regardless of Iran’s response to the nuclear question.


Iran& War and law14 Mar 2007 12:39 pm

Michael Spies

This week, two fights are going on, one in Washington and the other in New York, the outcomes for which might largely affect the likelihood for armed conflict with Iran. In Washington, backsliding below the zero point to a new low from their campaign promises to end the current war, the House democratic leadership has decided to pull language from their Supplemental Appropriations bill (funding the Bush administration’s escalation in Iraq), which would have required the President to seek explicit congressional approval prior to any military operations in Iran.

The Friends Committee on National Legislation has set up a phone number that can connect constituents to their congress people in order to tell them to reinsert the Iran provision: see for more information. The National Iranian-American Council has also set up an online page where you can send a similar (customizable) electronic message to your congress person.

Meanwhile in New York, Russia and China are sparring with the Western members of the Security Council over the severity of sanctions on Iran that would be imposed over its failure to suspend its uranium enrichment program as required by resolution 1737. There is a tendency to see the actions of the Security Council as legitimizing the actions of the United States, but as I detail in this piece here on Iran and the evolving role of the Security Council, the Council’s actions on crucial matters affecting the peace have increasingly represented little more than the raw exercise of the power, not the triumph of the rule of law. The United States has increasingly used the Council as an instrument to create hegemonic international law whenever it suits its own interests as its most powerful member.

It is said that law is a tool of the powerful, but it can also be its master. Most of those who work toward strengthening international law tend to emphasize how the UN and law constrains the United States. But, since the end of the cold war arrow has been moving almost entirely in the opposite direction. In this period the Council has drastically extended both its activities and its authority. Exemplified by the progression of the crisis over Iran’s nuclear program, the Council continues to innovatively adapt the rules to assert the will of the United States in the name of the international community, even when these acts require rewriting, reinterpreting, or violating existing law.

Strategic weapons and space06 Mar 2007 08:19 am

Ray Acheson

Since China tested a kinetic energy anti-satellite (ASAT) weapon on 11 January 2007, arms control and space experts, along with the media, have delivered a range of analyses. The New York Times declared the test marks China’s “resolve to play a major role in military space activities,” while the Council on Foreign Relations argued it put “pressure on the US to negotiate agreements not to weaponize space.” Theresa Hitchens of the Center for Defense Information called it an “irresponsible and self-defeating act.” The White House topped them all, declaring China’s “development and testing of such weapons is inconsistent with the spirit of cooperation that both countries aspire to in the civil space area.”

Of course, the US has demonstrated through word and deed that it has little spirit of cooperation when it comes to security in outer space. The new US National Space Policy authorized by President Bush in August 2006 explains that the US will “preserve its rights, capabilities, and freedom of action in space; dissuade or deter others from either impeding those rights or developing capabilities intending to do so; take those actions necessary to protect its space capabilities; respond to interference; and deny, if necessary, adversaries the use of space capabilities hostile to US national interests.”

Furthermore, the US space policy firmly opposes “the development of new legal regimes or other restrictions that seek to prohibit or limit US access to or use of space,” and insists that “proposed arms control agreements or restrictions must not impair the rights of the United States to conduct research, development, testing, and operations or other activities in space for US national interests.” During the UN General Assembly’s First Committee on Disarmament and International Security held each year in October, the US has faithfully rejected resolutions proposing the negotiation of a treaty to prevent an arms race in outer space (PAROS), arguing there is no such arms race, and it would therefore be a waste of time to negotiate a PAROS treaty.

While condemning China’s ASAT test, the Department of Defense requested more than a billion dollars from the US budget for fiscal year 2008 to continue working on its own space weapons. US contractors such as Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon, and Northrop Grumman are currently developing technologies that would allow the US to dominate space militarily, including lasers, sensors, missiles, delivery vehicles, and ground- and sea-based mission centers. The US military frequently denies these multi-million dollar enterprises are for space weapons, but the technology is widely believed by industry experts to at least have space weapon applications. Dual-use technology: the preferred way to have your cake and eat it too in the twenty-first century. (more…)

About this blog06 Mar 2007 08:10 am

In an effort to promote the engagement of younger voices, we are glad to introduce Ray Acheson as a new guest contributor. Ray is currently a research assistant at the Reaching Critical Will project of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. She is a 2005 Peace and Conflict Studies graduate from the University of Toronto and has worked with Dr. Randall Caroline Forsberg at the Institute for Defense and Disarmament Studies.