More Resources: Military Movements And The Prospect Of War

FOLLOWING OUR post on New Year’s Eve — which pondered whether 2013 had taken the world closer to Armageddon or not — this morning’s post is intended simply to share additional material with readers; the question is receiving considerable attention both in Australia and abroad, as comparisons between 1914 and 2014 are drawn: and a frightening incident off the Scottish coast shows how easily it could occur, even by miscalculation.

It’s not a very pleasant subject this one, to be sure, and — like most readers — I hope and pray it’s one that never advances in status beyond the hypothetical.

Even so, a failure to read the signs, sift the probabilities, or to evaluate the true state of international affairs is incredibly negligent, especially where governments, their advisors, relevant agencies and an investigative media are concerned.

Today, I seek to share some of what has been published — in Australia and beyond — over the past week; the objective isn’t to unduly frighten anybody, but given these matters are being postulated upon I feel it would be remiss not to continue to keep an eye on them.

Readers will know that a little over a week ago, I posted an article that in turn linked to an excellent piece by Tim Stanley, that originally appeared in The Telegraph in Britain; that piece theorised on the question of whether the world drew nearer to a nuclear apocalypse over the course of 2013.

Of course, for that to happen, their first must be a war, and it’s in this vein that I post the material to follow here today. As with my post on New Year’s Eve, I’m not going to comment to a great extent on these; the intention really is to provide additional material.

For those to whom the broad theme is of interest, however, most of these pieces are compelling reading.

First cab off the rank is the recent Brookings Essay, by Margaret MacMillan, entitled The Rhyme of History: Lessons of the Great War, an academic effort that draws distinct parallels between the pre-1914 world political environment, and the one that exists today.

This article — from http://www.news.com.au, of all places — contains some surprisingly good links to other pertinent material (and it is, I will confess, where I initially obtained the link to Dr MacMillan’s essay).

The Daily Mail‘s international affairs editor, Max Hastings, picked up the theme of one of the world’s present hot spots — tensions between China and Japan over a few uninhabited islands in the South China Sea — as a potential flashpoint for a conflict that could easily spiral out of control in this piece published in the Mail a week ago.

Even the Fairfax press gets in on the subject, in a rational and intelligent piece, touching on the same subjects but from the differential perspective of the economic drivers that may contribute to the ignition of any conflagration that might erupt.

Just in case anyone thinks I’m fearmongering for the sake of it, I also include this article — again, from the Daily Mail — which details a terrifying incident off the British coast, involving a Russian cruise ship with a full clip of nuclear-tipped SLBMs on board; the truly terrifying thing about it, as readers will see, isn’t even the fact that the Russians sailed enough nuclear hardware to blast the UK out of existence so close. It’s where the British naval response was parked, and had the Russians been on a live mission, it would have ended very badly, very quickly, with nary a shot fired in response.

This column is predicated on following politics and associated issues both in Australia and in the world around us, wherever they arise; that obviously covers military matters, although the bulk of what we discuss here involves the dour grind of retail and electoral politics, with a smattering of peripheral issues thrown in for good measure.

All that said, we will continue to observe matters that relate to any prospect of global military conflict, as we have done intermittently for some time.

I trust the materials included with this post are of interest to readers, and I will be keen for any feedback you may wish to offer — or any points in the attached articles that may merit further discussion within this forum.

 

World Wrap: Did 2013 Carry Us Closer To Doomsday?

AT THE END of another year, I am for once unashamedly deferring; 2013 has been a difficult year across the world, and whilst I am an optimist when it comes to world affairs, I am also a realist. Did 2013 bring the world a little closer to a nuclear apocalypse? Today we consider a piece by British-American historian Dr Tim Stanley, and his summation of the year behind us — and its messages for the year ahead.

For once I’m not going to say much; I know I threaten often to be brief, only to find a 1,500 word essay on my screen when I have finished. Today I seek only to share — it is New Year’s Eve, after all — and to offer a few thoughts and some opinion.

The article I am linking to today by Dr Stanley appeared yesterday in the UK in The Telegraph, and I have chosen to share it because it not only evaluates the state of global affairs through conservative eyes, but considers them through the dual prisms of two distinct (but complementary) threads of conservative thought.

I urge readers to read it: makes a lot of sense.

There are a lot of the same subjects in Dr Stanley’s piece that we have touched on in this column: the benefits of globalisation and economic liberalism; the need to ensure wealth remains able to be created; the dangers of socialism; and some consideration of the value of conservatism, and why that noble school of thought applies as much today as it did in the days of Locke and Burke, and more recently expressed by the likes of Friedrich Hayek.

And Dr Stanley devotes much of his article to themes we talk about here whenever they are appropriate: specifically, the ever-volatile nature of global politics, and how easily a miscalculation could lead to trouble on an unprecedented scale; to be sure, these concerns cover much of his article, and I think it important to note that issues we have talked about here — the potential for military confrontation with Russia in Syria, the danger of North Korea, and the military adventures of China and their ramifications, to recall a few — are equally taken on by others in a mainstream context across the Western world.

Dr Stanley’s piece is written for a British audience, and conspicuously so, but it could as easily have been penned with Australian eyes in mind. Rather than pick it apart and talk about it in detail, I will be interested in any reader comments today: the discussion, such as it is, will flow from these, and I will involve myself in any debate that arises as those who do so peruse his article, and share their thoughts.

Is the glass half empty, or half full?

 

I should also like to take the opportunity to thank all readers of The Red And The Blue for their readership, loyalty and referrals during 2013 — in the full knowledge, of course, that many do not share my views, or the principles of conservatism that inform them. No matter: the brief here is to present issues for political discussion at the level of the “everyday Joe,” free (as far as restraint allows me!) of highbrow jargon or bogging down too far in advanced concepts that typically turn people off politics, and to get people talking about them. Our readership has increased by more than 350% this year, for which I thank you, and I ask you to invite those around you with an interest in the matters we talk about here to trial the site and to get involved in the conversation.

Politics is all around us, and not just confined to Canberra, or Spring Street, or the Melbourne Town Hall, or the equivalent of these where you live: it affects everything we do, and shapes our lives; in turn (and even if many fail to realise it), it is also directly shaped by each of us.

 

I trust all readers enjoy a festive New Year celebration tonight; be safe, and by all means drink (but leave one in the fridge at the end of the night for tomorrow, so to speak): my drop of choice at present is comprised of some fine beers from Bavaria (in breach of my usual red wine and Islay single malt habits) and I intend to enjoy several of them. Once the festivities are over, I look forward to picking our discussion up again later in the week.

Russia Flags Prospect Of Nuclear War If Iran Attacked

For years, Iran has sent out conflicting messages as to why it wants nuclear technology; for years, the West has debated what to do about it. Now, with a “red line” about to be crossed and the US signalling they are ready to strike, Russia has warned such a conflict could become nuclear.

It’s a potential for conflagration that has just about every possible — and volatile — ingredient and sub-plot: Muslims vs Jews, Iran vs Israel, Russia vs the USA; inexhaustible oil, nuclear weapons, and black market trafficked technologies; a lunatic dictator with a stated policy of wiping Israel off the face of the Earth, a superpower pledged to defend Israel militarily, and a remilitarising Russia claiming UN-related grievances and now flexing its nuclear muscles.

And whilst it’s true that the most likely scenario is that things are resolved diplomatically, the growing risk is that it may end very, very badly.

During his eight years in the White House, former US President Bill Clinton consistently kicked foreign policy challenges down the road to be dealt with by whoever followed him into office — Saddam Hussein in Iraq, Al Qaeda, the Middle East generally, North Korea — you name it.

Only when completely unavoidable did the Clinton administration act — and even then, to the minimum extent required to get the problem off the daily running sheet.

As a result, by the time George W. Bush assumed office, the USA was facing a growing number of increasingly urgent flashpoints that required addressing; ambushed by terrorists on home soil on 11 September 2001, Bush Jr began to act.

I point out that I do not necessarily condone all of the actions taken by the second Bush administration, and nor do I excuse or apologise for some of the excesses that accompanied them. The simple point is that as Bush Jr’s administration progressed, and as the number of “operations” it undertook increased, resistance grew, both in the USA and elsewhere, among the body politic, among the commentariat and the information class, and among the wider public.

It also grew on the United Nations Security Council.

Indeed, by the time Bush and his ultra-hawkish Vice-President, Dick Cheney, arrived at the decision to “liberate” Iraq from Saddam Hussein and the threat posed by his alleged trove of weapons of mass destruction, Bush and his allies (including Australia) was forced to rely on a UN Security Council Resolution that implicitly authorised the military action taken (UNSCR 1441) as other members of the Security Council — notably, Russia and China — refused to support a further, more specific resolution to mandate military action.

Indeed, both threatened to veto any such resolution.

Of course, the legality or otherwise of what has become known as the second Gulf War has been the subject of debate that has raged ever since; it is not a tangent I intend to be diverted down, and is a subject for others to deal with, and in other forums.

My point in raising these matters is twofold; firstly, it raises the issue of the fraught process of the United Nations system as a mechanism for negotiated authority to deal with threats — real, perceived or otherwise — on an international basis; secondly, it highlights a point in time at which Russia (and to a lesser extent China, the issue of North Korea notwithstanding) began to frustrate, through the United Nations, the policy agenda and ambitions being pursued by the nations of the West, led by the USA.

And this brings us to the fraught issue of Iran, its nuclear ambitions, what to do about them, and what the consequences might be.

It is well-known that Iran — for many years now — has been pursuing the development of nuclear technology; Iran says it requires a civilian nuclear industry for the peaceful generation  of electricity.

This would seem at odds with the fact that Iran, blessed with natural resources on a vast scale, is possessed of virtually inexhaustible energy reserves; indeed, the suspicion of several of Iran’s neighbours, as well as the US and its Western allies, is that Iran’s nuclear program is primarily concerned with the development of atomic weapons, not  its domestic electricity supply.

It is also well-known, and established, that nuclear technologies (including technology for nuclear weaponry, warheads and missile delivery systems) have been extensively smuggled and sold into Iran through black market racketeers, especially those originating from Pakistan and North Korea.

And it is known, and uncontested, that Iran’s nuclear plants are predominantly ensconced in facilities deep beneath the ground, mostly in reinforced concrete bunkers and/or under mountains, often underneath layers of rock, where they are impregnable against conventional weaponry and difficult to destroy even with nuclear armaments.

Iran has played a cat-and-mouse game with the rest of the world, wilfully frustrating attempts to satisfactorily verify that its nuclear activities are as it claims and disrupting independent international inspection efforts.

And its leader — Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a man widely viewed in the West as dangerously unhinged at best, and potentially a suicidal lunatic at worst — is a dictator whose stated policy is to wipe Israel off the face of the Earth.

His administration is informed by a strictly conservative religious bent; Ahmadinejad makes little secret of his hatred of Israel and his belief that it is a pollutant of sacred and holy lands. His term in office expires in a little under 18 months from now, and this is one marker that the long-touted confrontation over his country’s nuclear programs may be at hand.

Israel, unsurprisingly, is alarmed by what it perceives — correctly, in my view — as an existential threat; it has implored the United States to act and to strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities, but made it very clear that it is quite prepared to do so on its own if the US refuses.

In the meantime, Iran is believed to have already achieved the enrichment of uranium to 20 percent purity, which is within striking distance of the level needed to fuel a nuclear weapon; the “red line” — realisation of the capacity to produce weapons-grade nuclear fuel, which is not required in nuclear reactors producing domestic electricity — is fast approaching.

It is this “red line” that Israel has repeatedly stated that it will not allow Iran to cross.

All of this comes at a time at which the US believes its diplomacy and sanctions campaign is biting, and is likely to force Iran into striking a deal; however, like so many other regimes determined to pursue illicit weapons, Iran has proven in the past to be an unreliable participant in such negotiations and may well do so again.

It is against this backdrop that Russian Prime Minister Dimitry Medvedev this week made clear it will not support any Western military intervention in Iran, and warned that such action could lead to nuclear war.

Medvedev’s unhelpful remarks were made in the context of both Syria and Iran, and although Syria is, like Iran, a longstanding ally of Russia dating back to the Soviet era, it seems reasonable to infer that the primary motivator of his comments was Iran and the looming decision that must be made on its nuclear developments.

Saying that the two countries should be allowed to sort out their own affairs, Medvedev stated that “hasty military operations in foreign states usually bring radicals to power.”

Which is fair enough, but what constitutes a “radical” is a very subjective consideration.

Israel — frightened for its very survival — would likely argue that Ahmadinejad and his regime represent an entity quite radical enough; Russia, by contrast, with its vast commercial and strategic interests in Iran, is clearly loathe to countenance any variation to the status quo.

Russia has made it abundantly clear that it is trenchantly opposed to military action in Iran, and that that opposition is hardening further.

In an ominous warning, he was quoted this week as saying, of military strikes against other countries, that “at some point such actions, which undermine state sovereignty, may lead to a full-scale regional war, even, although I do not want to frighten anyone, with the use of nuclear weapons.”

Russia — despite decades of Cold War animosity with the West and, more recently, its insular and increasing preoccupation with its own interests — does not have a history of making ambit threats of the use of nuclear weapons; certainly, at times of tension between itself and the West, the possibility has been floated, but it is not a practice in which Russia or its predecessor state have engaged in at every turn in its international dealings.

And there have, of course, been times at which Russia/the USSR has readied its nuclear arsenal for launch; these have mostly been as a result of false alarms and misunderstandings, such as the launch of a Norwegian scientific rocket in 1995 that led to the activation of Russian President Boris Yeltsin’s nuclear “suitcase” and nuclear keys, or in response to “Able Archer” in 1983, a routine NATO exercise misinterpreted by the Soviets as cover for the launch of a massive surprise nuclear strike against the USSR.

But Medvedev’s warning on this occasion — accompanied as it is by an empty reassurance that he doesn’t want to “frighten” anyone — would seem to represent a significant raising of the stakes in relation to the standoff with Iran.

Russia has been modernising and renewing much of its military capacity, including its nuclear arsenal; it has been resolutely opposed to every measure aimed at either containing the threat Iran may pose or at neutralising any action it may take (think the US’ missile shield, for example); and even its support for sanctions aimed at forcing Iran’s compliance with international inspection obligations has been lukewarm, and given under protest.

The scenarios of Israel’s security, a hypothetical attack on Iran and the likely consequences are ones which have consumed quite a degree of time in my circle; I have a number of Jewish friends who take an active interest in matters relating to Israel and its future, and as such Ahmadinejad and his ambitions have filled many conversations.

The scenario that keeps getting played out in these discussions runs as follows, and it’s not a pleasant one; significantly, the storyline described below isn’t new, but rather has been on the table for a number of years.

It goes like this: Israel, frustrated by the refusal of the US to launch a pre-emptive strike against Iran and exasperated by Iran’s refusal to allow verification of the claims it has made about nuclear electricity generation, launches — at the point it is confirmed Iran has achieved uranium enrichment to the degree required to produce nuclear warheads — a conventional strike aimed at disabling or destroying Iran’s nuclear infrastructure.

This is unsuccessful; Iran retaliates, targeting Israeli civilians with mass casualties as a result. Israel responds, this time with nuclear weapons.

Russia — pledged to the defence of its ally, and despite the presence of Russian Jews in Israel — responds with a nuclear attack against Tel Aviv; and the US — also pledged to the defence of its ally — responds with a nuclear strike on Moscow.

And thus, the conflict spirals out of control.

In case anyone thinks this is doomsaying for the sake of it, it isn’t; rather, it is a recognition of just how fraught, how dangerous and how risky the standoff with Iran is.

Nobody wants a nuclear war, and I believe that includes Russia; but equally, the ingredients are all present for the first time in many years by which the end result, with one miscalculation, overreaction or false move, could well result in precisely that.

And Russia — be under no misapprehension about it — has openly and squarely put the nuclear option on the table.

It is to be sincerely hoped that these matters can be resolved peacefully, and that the world can move on; but the “red line” is approaching: very soon, Iran will possess the missing link in realising the greatest fears of Israel, many of its neighbours, and the West — the ability to produce fuel for nuclear warheads.

This isn’t North Korea, which uses bellicose rhetoric over its weapons to extract food and other aid from abroad, with a Chinese protectorate as likely as not to turn on its ally if it oversteps the mark; this is a fundamentalist Islamic country with a stated policy of wiping another country off the map, and very near the acquisition of the means to do exactly that.

What do readers think? Are you concerned about what the world does in regard to Iran? Do the consequences worry you? And do you believe there is the scope for any action over Iran to spiral badly, and catastrophically, out of control?

 

Dangerous Game: Iran Rattles The Sabre; US Throws Down The Gauntlet

A disturbing development — which is a surprise only in terms of the length of time the confrontation has taken to mature — occurred this week over Iran’s nuclear plans. Of all of the world’s present “hot spots,” this is the one most likely to lead to World War III.

Interestingly enough, the exchange in communications between the US and Iran has taken place at Christmas time; a meaningless occasion in Iran, and a time at which the obviously sensitive news reports can be buried amid feel-good stories in America.

For those who have missed the fun — and I don’t speak in jest; I’m deadly serious — Iran has responded to the UN-authorised sanctions due to take effect on Sunday by stating that should the said sanctions be implemented, it will close the Strait of Hormuz, through which roughly a third of the world’s oil supply must pass as sea freight from the Middle East.

The US has simply stated that should Iran pursue such a course of action, it will respond with military force.

And that should worry people.

Most people know that Iran has been pursuing a nuclear capacity; the only area of disagreement is over its intent.

Iran says it wants nuclear energy for the peaceful generation of domestic electricity supplies; most of the rest of the world — including certain countries trying to shield Iran from Western retribution — believe it seeks nuclear weaponry capability.

Certainly, utterances from the lunatic Iranian dictator, Ahmadinejad, to the effect that he seeks to “wipe Israel of the face of the Earth” tend to underscore the latter rather than the former.

One of the first things I’d point out is that the sanctions due to be implemented on New Year’s Day are, on paper, authorised by the United Nations Security Council.

The problem is that both Russia and China abstained from the vote.

Big problem.

Russia, traditionally, has been a friend to Iran; Russia also has an awful lot of oil buried under the Siberian Steppes. It stands to lose relatively little from any conflict over oil.

Russia also has an awful lot of nuclear warheads.

China, on the other hand, is a mischief-maker; nobody really knows what its real intentions are, but at face value, China doesn’t exactly present as a model international citizen, with its bellicose activities in south-east Asia, its emergent alliances in South America and in Africa, and its economic stunts designed to show others who’s the boss.

China, too, has many nuclear warheads, which will be interesting should it ever attempt to retake Taiwan by force: the USA is obliged at law to defend Taiwan from China, and the day must come when China attempts to “reunify” with the renegade island republic.

China’s abstention from the vote on sanctions against Iran is perhaps less troubling than that of Russia; nevertheless, the Chinese seek to keep their options open on this issue, and in many respects that’s a very bad thing.

The dispute over Iran’s nuclear ambitions isn’t about politics; it’s about power.

On the one hand, the Iranians point to US activities in Iraq and Afghanistan and say “Look! The US is an international criminal! How dare they…”

Which conveniently overlooks the fact that a) Afghanistan was a proven harbour, training ground and safe-haven for terrorists, b) ten years ago the USA was justifiably seeking retribution for the despicable attacks of September 11, and c) it was Tony Blair of the UK, not George W. Bush of the USA, who provided the fabricated “intelligence dossier” for the Allies to invade Iraq.

But on the other hand, the fundamentalist Muslim regime in Iran has never — never — made any secret of its desire to see the destruction of Israel; the only thing different about the current Iranian leadership is the fact it’s said so explicitly.

So, who do you believe?

Do you believe Iran, with its limitless supply of cheap and easily recoverable oil, that it needs nuclear energy for electricity?

Or do you believe everyone else (except the Russians and the Chinese) and decide that Iran not only wants to become a nuclear weapons state, but wishes to use those weapons?

Or do you take the Russian/Chinese view, which essentially boils down to “nothing to see here people…move on…” and have faith that everything will be OK in the end?

I’d dismiss the Russian/Chinese position for the pap that it is; it isn’t even their position. Should push come to shove, neither country will be sitting around waiting to see what happens.

Insofar as the dispute over the Strait of Hormuz is concerned, however, it needs to be pointed out that the Strait isn’t just located in international waters, but that it is one of the world’s major sea routes, and pivotal to world trade — and not just in oil.

Were the Iranians to close the Strait it would, technically, be an act of war.

So what happens?

To me, it was always inevitable that Iran’s standoff with the West would end in some kind of armed conflict; the only questions were around timing and the shape such a conflict might take.

Iran — like so many countries historically run by fanatics — has been steadfast and resolute in its objectives.

Just as Hitler sought to rearm Germany under the noses of his European neighbours in the 1930s (and made Winston Churchill — the only political figure who saw through the appeasement thrown at Hitler and called the danger emanating from the Third Reich for what it was — look like an eccentric fool), so too has Iran attempted to play the world community for fools.

A couple of years ago, at about this time of year, an article appeared in the respected British conservative opinion magazine, The Spectator, in which prediction was made of an Israeli attack on Iran “in the new year” and that the attack was “likely to be nuclear.”

(Forgive me being a little vague; not knowing The Red And The Blue would ever come along at the time, I didn’t keep my copy of the magazine. The quotations I’ve made, however, stuck in my mind the day I read the article, and are accurate).

The central tenet was this: Israel — if the US didn’t do it first — would never allow Iran to go nuclear; rather than wait to receive a warhead detonated over Tel Aviv, Israel would use a neutron bomb as a depth penetration charge to pre-emptively destroy enrichment centrifuges that at the time were being installed by Iran deep beneath the ground.

It went on to add that such an attack might just be what Iran wanted, canvassing the idea that it may have bought a couple of nuclear warheads “off the shelf” and would respond with these to any attack by Israel. I don’t subscribe to that portion of The Spectator‘s case.

Even so, by all verifiable accounts, the Iranian nuclear programme is long beyond the point of underground centrifuges, and almost at the point where a call must be made: is the intent peaceful nuclear energy, or offensive nuclear weaponry capability?

To me, the belligerent threat by Iran to close the Strait of Hormuz — and thereby attempt to plunge the world into economic depression — goes a long way toward providing the answer.

Iran can’t say it wasn’t warned: it has resisted all attempts by the world community and in particular, independent international bodies governing the responsible use of atomic energy, to verify its claims about peaceful electricity generation.

Of course sanctions were going to be imposed, and enforced.

Yet Iran now openly portends to behave like an international spoilt brat and attempt to punish those who seek to hold it to account for its actions.

And, as I said earlier, closing a sea lane in international waters is tantamount to an act of war.

Unless cooler heads prevail, and there is no closure of the Strait and thus no military action — and when talking about Iran, it’s difficult to see how cooler heads could prevail — I see this playing out one of two ways.

Iran closes the Strait of Hormuz, and the USA attacks Iranian forces and — possibly — Iran itself; remember, with Iraq finished and Afghanistan being scaled back, the US has deep reserves of available troops, military hardware, and firepower.

Scenario one: Iran is repelled, and the Strait of Hormuz is reopened in short order; Russia, China and other nations allow the US and Iran to sort the matter out; and disruption to world trade and the flow of oil is minimal and the event, overall, is brief.

Scenario two: the US attacks Iran as per the above scenario; Russia and China come to Iran’s aid militarily; and someone — someone — lobs a nuclear warhead into the equation.

That’s the risk. That’s the danger. Iran calculates America doesn’t have the heart or the brains or the stomach to take the risk.

Yet someone will take the risk; and if the USA doesn’t take it directly, Israel will, believing (correctly, I think) that it faces an existential threat. And if Israel acts first, the US will defend it to the hilt.

Either way, the prospect of nuclear escalation is there; it is real, and this is one potential conflict that isn’t necessarily as predictable in terms of its outcome as other American military adventures have been.

I’m quite open about the fact I’m a friend of Israel and a friend to the Jewish people, but my views in this regard are informed by fact, not fanaticism.

Iran has forced the international community to a point where a great danger and — to use the words of Churchill — a gathering storm are about to be played out.

A dangerous game indeed; and the outcome far from certain.