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Donald Trump

Iran’s Toughest Sanctions

Why is the United States imposing the “toughest sanctions in history” on Iran?

In 2018 November the United States re-imposed full sanctions on the Islamic Republic of Iran following Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear accord back in May. The US has vowed to impose and maintain the “toughest sanctions in history” on Iran.

For its part, the Iranian president Hassan Rouhani has struck a defiant tone vowing to “break” the sanctions. But the reality is Iran is facing an economic siege which threatens to create instability with potentially far-reaching social and political consequences.

Realistically, there are three potential scenarios at this stage. First is that Iran hunkers down to manage the embargo by using innovative ways to evade some of the sanctions. The Iranians will be hoping to out-last Trump, whose first term expires in January 2021. However, this strategy falls apart if (as it looks increasingly likely) Trumps secures a second term in office.

The second scenario is that Iran caves in and agrees to negotiate a new deal on Trump’s terms. As Trump has repeatedly made clear the US is seeking a new deal which not only radically renegotiates the terms and conditions of the existing deal – known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – but expands it to include restrictions on Iran’s ballistic missiles programme and changes to its regional policy.

The third (and worst) scenario is that tensions do not remain at the sanctions or economic level, but that they escalate, leading to indirect and possibly even direct clashes between Iranian and American forces in the Middle East. In this scenario the provocative actions of Washington’s key allies, notably Israel and Saudi Arabia, is crucial. Iran may strike these countries directly if it perceives an intolerable provocation or it comes to believe it can force an American retreat by striking at its allies.

But how did we get to this place in the first place?

History of Iran-US relations

Prior to the 1979 Iranian revolution, the United States and Iran were allies and Washington looked to Iran to maintain peace and stability in the Persian Gulf arena. But following the revolution the new revolutionary regime in Tehran found itself at odds with the US and relations rapidly deteriorated.

The climax came with the seizure of the US embassy in Tehran by revolutionary students in November 1979 under the pretext that the embassy was a “den of espionage” and to that end it was actively working against the Iranian revolution.

The real reason relates to the US decision to grant entry to the former Shah of Iran whom the revolutionaries wanted extradited to stand trial in Tehran. There was a real fear back then that the US would attempt to reinstall its former ally by overthrowing the Iranian revolution.

This fear brought back memories of the August 1953 coup (orchestrated by the CIA and Britain’s MI6) which overthrew Iran’s first democratically elected government – led by the nationalist Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaadegh – and reinstalled the Shah who had fled to Rome (Italy).

The August 1953 coup which overthrew Mossadegh was a pivotal moment in Iran’s modern history. Mossadegh was not only democratically elected but more importantly he was an icon of Iranian nationalism and was admired by nationalists across the region and beyond. It was Mossadegh’s decision to nationalise Iran’s oil industry – which had hitherto been in the clutches of the British “Anglo-Iranian Oil Company” (later renamed British Petroleum) – which had set him on a collision course with the Western powers led by Britain.

Mossadegh’s overthrow, followed by the instalment of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi as Shah, set the stage for the Iranian revolution 25 years later. It was based on this history – i.e. the US role in reinstalling the Shah and helping him to consolidate his rule for the next quarter of a century – that the Iranian revolutionaries staked out an oppositional stance vis-à-vis the United States.

Following the seizure of the US embassy in November 1979 bilateral relations were severed and the US began the long process of sanctioning virtually every aspect of the Iranian economy. The first sanctions targeted Iranian imports into the US. In addition, the US government froze $12 billion in Iranian assets. Hitherto these funds remain frozen and Iran not only seeks their return but also wants 40 years of interests to be taken into account as well.       

The next round of big sanctions came into effect 15 years later during the presidency of Bill Clinton. The latter sanctioned Iran’s oil industry by preventing US companies from investing in the Iranian oil and gas sector. A year later in 1996 the US congress went further by passing a law targeting foreign firms which invested more than $20 million a year in the Iranian energy sector.

This was the first time the US was using its clout to target non-US entities who did business with Iran. As such it was a significant escalation in America’s economic war against Iran and in hindsight it prepared the groundwork for today’s far-reaching sanctions regime.

The next round of sanctions was multilateral in nature in so far as they were prompted by United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions targeting specific features of Iran’s nuclear programme, notably uranium enrichment. The UNSC imposed its first round of sanctions – mostly targeting the nuclear sector – in December 2006.

But the US imposed additional sanctions on top and used the opportunity created by international concerns over Iran’s controversial nuclear programme to widen and deepen its own sanctions regime against the Islamic Republic.

Indeed, in October 2007, the US directly sanctioned Iran’s powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) by designating its expeditionary wing, known as the Qods (Jerusalem) force as a terrorist organisation.

Moreover, in June 2010, the US exploited the international climate following the UNSC’s imposition of the fourth round of sanctions on Iran, to further target Iran’s energy and banking sectors. Then in January 2012 Washington went a step further by sanctioning Iran’s central bank.

Following the signing of the landmark nuclear deal in July 2015, much of the complex web of unilateral and multilateral sanctions that had been imposed on Iran since December 2006 were gradually eased but never fully lifted. However, the US kept in place its non-nuclear related unilateral sanctions, including wide-ranging sanctions against the IRGC on account of its alleged support for “terrorism”.

By withdrawing from the nuclear deal, the US is not only seeking to reimpose full sanctions, but is in fact going a step further by pledging to reduce Iranian oil exports to “zero”. This is a massive provocation and if the US comes anywhere near to achieving its goal then a confrontation with Iran is guaranteed.

Do Iran and America talk directly?   

In view of this bitter 40-year history, viewers would be excused in thinking that Iran and the United States rarely (if ever) talk directly. Whilst it is true that the two powers broke off diplomatic relations in late 1979 and have had no direct diplomatic representation on each other’s soils, nevertheless direct talks and even deals have materialised intermittently.

The best early example was the “Iran Gate” scandal of 1986 when the US government illicitly sold arms to Iran (in violation of its own arms embargo on the Islamic Republic) so as to secure the release of US hostages in Lebanon. The scandal had an additional illicit layer as the funds from the deal were transferred to the “Contras” rebels in Nicaragua who were fighting the leftist Sandinista government led by Daniel Ortega.

More recently Iran and the US engaged in secret talks in Muscat (Oman) in 2013 on finding a way out of the impasse presented by Iran’s nuclear programme. These secret meetings soon gave way to direct bilateral meetings between Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and his former US counterpart John Kerry.

It is also worth noting that Iranian and US envoys met directly in Baghdad in July 2007 to agree to a de-escalation in the Iraqi arena. At the time Iran was accused by the US of arming anti-American militants who were resisting the US-led occupation. Although this meeting didn’t produce a breakthrough, nevertheless it showed that even under the most adverse circumstances – when Iran and the US are fighting each other indirectly via proxies – they can still meet with a view to de-escalation.

Why talks are unlikely now

Donald Trump has called for direct talks with Iranian leaders, notably President Hassan Rouhani, on several occasions. On each occasion the Iranians have publicly rebuffed his outreach on the grounds that it is spurious and insincere.

Iran’s position is clear: namely that the current nuclear deal (JCPOA) is fit for purpose and consequently Iran will not be forced to renegotiate its terms and conditions. Moreover, the 12 list of demands issued by the US secretary of state Mike Pompeo back in May are effectively a call for surrender as compliance would mean Iran effectively giving up its independent foreign policy.

Amongst other demands, Pompeo wants Iran to fully withdraw from Syria, stop supporting Hezbollah and cease playing a role in the Yemen conflict. Clearly the Iranians will never agree to these terms and to that end Pompeo’s list of demands was an incitement to confrontation as opposed to a credible negotiating position.

Will Iran and the US go to war?

To many observers it is surprising that given the depth of hostility between Iran and the US, as reflected by the events of the past four decades, the two sides have not gone to war yet. It is worth noting that the two sides have clashed militarily but stopped short of declaring war.

The most intense clash occurred in April 1988 when in the course of one day – during Operation Praying Mantis – the US destroyed a quarter of the Iranian navy. This operation was part of a broader US effort to pressure Iran into accepting a ceasefire with Iraq in the long-running Iran-Iraq War.

The power differential between the US and Iranian militaries is one of the factors that military analysts cite to explain Iran’s reluctance to engage the US militarily. But Iran has come a long way since the late 1980s and the Iranian armed forces – in particular the IRGC – have developed a wide range of asymmetric capabilities and tactics which could be used to great effect against superior military powers.

Iran’s asymmetric capabilities – in addition to the Islamic Republic’s extensive reach and influence across the Middle East – makes the US reluctant to engage Iran militarily for fear of unintended consequences.

Nevertheless, despite both sides’ reluctance to go to war, a conflict could still break out either as a result of the cumulative effect of tensions or a mistake or misunderstanding which escalates suddenly and without warning.

The next two years are the most crucial yet in the 40-year standoff between Iran and America.               

 

Will North and South Korea Ever Reunite?

Since the end of the War in 1953, the Korean peninsula is divided by a frozen conflict that still awaits a definitive settlement. The recent developments as the signs of detente between North and South Korea or the meeting between the former’s leader Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump leave some hope of a peaceful resolution of the Korean issue. But will it actually be the case?

The historical background

After having been under Japanese domination for nearly four decades, in 1945 Korea was divided in two occupation zones separated by the 38th parallel: the Soviet one to the north, and the US-led Allied one in the south. While the original plan was to ultimately restore an independent and unified Korean state, in practice things unfolded differently. As the Cold War emerged, the disagreements between Moscow and Washington led to the establishment of two different states: a pro-communist one ruled by Kim Il-sung in the north, with Pyongyang as capital, and an authoritarian but pro-American one in the south, whose government was based in Seoul. The former took the name of Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or DPRK, while the latter became known as the Republic of Korea, shortened in RoK. The efforts to reach a common agreement over the reunification of the Peninsula were all unproductive, and the situation stalled until 1950 when North Korea invaded the South.

Exploiting the surprise effect, its troops captured Seoul and almost managed to occupy the whole Peninsula. The international coalition created to defend the South, patronised by the United Nations and headed by the US, struggled to stop the advancing enemy. But then, the US organized a counter offensive. With a bold amphibious landing at Inchon, they cut the supply lines of the North’s armies and pushed them back to the initial positions. Acting beyond the UN directive, the allied forces proceeded further north, taking Pyongyang and almost reaching the Yalu river, Korea’s border with China. Feeling threatened, the PRC intervened in support of its North Korean ally in December 1950. The coalition was expelled from the North’s territory, and the communist troops conquered Seoul a second time. But once again, the US and its allies counterattacked and retook the city in March 1951. the situation stabilized along the 38th parallel, and no notable changes occurred until the signature of an armistice in 1953. While this practically put an end to the conflict, a true peace treaty was never signed, and as such the Korean War is officially still unresolved.

Since then, the situation has stalled. The South maintained an authoritarian regime for several decades, before becoming a democracy in 1987 and beginning a period of rapid economic growth that turned it in one of the world’s most dynamic economies. The North, under the leadership of the Kim family, has remained a ruthless, isolationist, heavily-militarized and economically fragile dictatorship centred upon the Juche ideology; a peculiar combination of communism, nationalism, Korean tradition and cult for the ruler.

The geopolitical situation in Korea

As of today, the Korean peninsula remains divided, and this deeply influences the foreign policy of the two Korean states and of the other powers implied in the area.

First, since Korea is relatively small, both states are exposed to a potential attack coming from the other and/or its allies; notably as both capitals, and especially Seoul, are close to the border. This “proximity curse” is a central factor in the security dilemma that they face and that will be examined later. Second, there are the political factors. South Korea is allied with the US, which maintains bases and troops on its territory and that has even the power to take command of the South Korean military in case of war. The two countries regularly hold joint manoeuvres that anger the DPRK; who, on its part, is allied with China. The two states are tied by a 1961 treaty that establishes that the PRC is the security guarantor of the North. Its commitment is not total, however, as it would intervene only if the DPRK were attacked, and not if it would launch an offensive. In this regard, it is notable that amid the tensions between Washington and Pyongyang in 2017, the Chinese communicated that they would defend North Korea if the US attacked it.

As a matter of fact, the Korean Peninsula holds a particular geostrategic significance for both China and America, especially now that they are engaged in a broader competition in the Asia-Pacific and beyond. For the PRC, North Korea is a buffer zone separating its territory from the US-allied South, and therefore do not want the Pyongyang regime to collapse. This is why it keeps the 1961 treaty alive and continues supplying the DPRK with essential goods without which its economy would collapse. But at the same time, the division of Korea is also a problem, the risk remains that a war involving the US may break out in China’s backyard; in which case it would have to choose between seeing the American forces reaching the Yalu and creating a unified Korea under Washington’s influence or intervening and battle the US military to prevent this outcome. On it part, America is also facing a dilemma in Korea: remaining committed to protecting the South is important to preserve the credibility of its security engagements and to maintain a useful military presence in the area; but at the same time it also faces the risk of being involved in a conflict that may escalate to include China.

Finally, there are two other powers that have some interests at stake in the Peninsula. The first is Japan, who is equally concerned over the possibility of being directly or indirectly involved in a war and who sees North Korea’s missiles and nuclear program as a threat to its security. The second is Russia, who would not see favourably a further extension of America’s influence in the region.

In short, all the powers involved in the issue do not want a conflict. Yet, the risk of war remains real; because the two Korean states and their allies are trapped into a complicated security dilemma.

The security dilemma in Korea

Both the RoK and the DPRK continue to live as if the war could restart at any time. The two states maintain considerable military forces along the border, ready to respond in case of attack; even though no party wants to launch an offensive. But the looming threat of an escalation, most likely during a crisis, remains sufficient to keep both in alert. As a matter of fact, the security dilemma is very strong here; also because of the aforementioned “proximity curse”, Most of the DPRK’s forces are concentrated along the frontier. In particular, it has massed hundreds of artillery pieces ready to unleash a rain of fire on the highly-populated Seoul area; which would cause uncountable victims and terrible material damage, with huge repercussions on the financial-economic plan as well. This is already a very powerful deterrent against any attack on the North by the South or its main ally, the US; but at the same time it is the reason why the RoK wants to be ready for war and maintains its close alliance with the Americans: it considers this as the only way to dissuade the North from attempting to reunify the Peninsula by force. But this and the US presence in South Korea, in turn, is what motivates Pyongyang to keep its armed forces ready for attack: the massive damage it could inflict on the South is an extremely effective mean of dissuasion; probably equal and even superior to its nuclear weapons.

North Korea’s nuclear programme

This security dilemma is the main driver at the base of North Korea’s quest for nuclear weapons, as from its perspective it is the only way it can ensure its security in a challenging geopolitical environment.

During the Cold War, the South was still poor and militarily weak, and the DPRK could benefit from the support of two powerful allies, namely China and the USSR. Considering also that it already had formidable conventional retaliation means, it felt safe enough not to need nuclear weapons to guarantee its safety. But the balance of power in the Peninsula gradually changed with time as the RoK developed its economy and filled the military gap with its northern neighbour. In this context, in the late 80s the DPRK was first suspected of having a military nuclear programme. Things turned more complicated for the North in 1991: the Soviet Union fell; and China, whose relations with the US had much improved, was just beginning its economic boom. So, the DPRK was left virtually alone to face the possibility of a conflict, and this reinforced its determination to obtain nuclear weapons. In practice, this choice just worsened the security dilemma, but in the optic of Pyongyang’s regime it was the only guarantee that no one would try to attack the country and topple its government. Moreover, it also gave the DPRK a powerful tool to attract the world’s attention and obtain much-needed economic aid from the international community. As a matter of fact, an agreement with the US was initially reached in 1994, according to which Pyongyang pledged to stop its nuclear programme in exchange of diplomatic recognition and economic assistance.

At first, the deal worked, but things changed once again in the early 2000s. In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, US President G.W. Bush pledged to counter WMD proliferation with all means and started implementing a preventive war doctrine to eliminate the “Axis of Evil” that threatened America. The DPRK, who was explicitly included in the list and who was already suspected of running a clandestine nuclear programme in spite of the pacts, felt menaced and decided to leave the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 2003 and openly admit its quest for nuclear weapons. Being already engaged in Afghanistan and Iraq, Washington opted for diplomacy in the context of the Six-Party Talks (or SPT), that included the two Korean States plus the US, China, Japan and Russia. In 2006, North Korea conducted its first nuclear test, which showed that it had achieved its goal and therefore reinforced its position both strategically and diplomatically; as now the point was to disarm it rather than preventing proliferation. After long negotiations, the DPRK accepted once again to end its nuclear programme if it received economic aid. But no actual progress was made afterwards, and the DPRK ultimately abandoned the SPT in 2009. In the meanwhile, it continued making progress and testing nuclear warheads as well as ballistic missiles. When President Trump entered in office in 2017, he decided to apply a “maximum pressure” policy to push North Korea to dismantle its small but dangerous arsenal. After a crisis marked by verbal attacks and military shows of force, Trump and Kim Jong-un decided to talk directly. After meeting South Korean President Moon Jae-in, Kim went to Singapore in June 2018 to personally discuss with Trump; and negotiations have been under way since then.

What now?

While the recent meetings were certainly historic events, the road ahead still appears to be long. The North has shown some goodwill, but the fundamental issues are still unresolved and most importantly the underlying geopolitical situation has not changed. Korea remains divided, the North’s regime is still in power and wants to remain there, and there is no agreement over the future asset of the Peninsula.

Moreover, the current status quo is somehow convenient for all, as any alteration may result in less convenient outcomes and even in an all-out war. Also, if the US used its military force to attack a foreign country and enforce regime change, the DPRK would once again feel threatened and would probably decide to resume its nuclear programme. Finally, apart from geopolitics, the reunification of Korea would also imply very high cost to develop the former North, and no one really wants to sustain these expenses.

Yet, it cannot be excluded that progress will be made, that the nuclear issue will be solved and that Korea will eventually reunite. But in the short term, no breakthrough is to be expected in the Peninsula.

Why is Japan Rearming?

The gradual but firm shift in Japan’s defence posture is among the most notable developments characterizing the Asia-Pacific’s international dynamics in the past few years. Its efforts to increase its military power, accompanied by attempts to change the Constitution to expand the means and the duties of its military forces are to be interpreted in a broader context of growing security challenges. But what exactly are the drivers behind Japan’s re-arm?

Japan’s defence policy after WWII

Japan’s past is the first element to consider to understand the importance of its changing defence posture.

After being defeated in WWII, Japan abandoned its pre-war militarism to embrace pacifism and rejection of the use of armed force. This principle was enshrined in Article 9 of its Constitution, which entered into force 1947 with US support. According to its terms, Japan denied its own right to belligerency, rejected war as a mean to solve international disputes, and renounced to develop any war potential. This meant that it could not possess its own armed forces and could not participate in any conflict abroad, not even for collective self-defence. Initially, the US had favoured this constitutional provisions as a guarantee that Japan would never try again to conquer the Asia-Pacific region has it had done in the past. Moreover, immediately after the war it seemed that the area would become a hub of peace and stability.

But the situation changed soon. In 1949 the communists took power in mainland China, thus radically changing the region’s geopolitical landscape. Only one year later, the pro-Soviet North Korea attacked its southern counterpart, triggering the three-years-long Korean War. Following the emergence of these threats, Washington applied the containment policy to counter the assertiveness of Moscow and its allies in Asia as in Europe. In this logic, the US started pressuring Japan to adopt a larger security role. However, this achieved very limited success. In 1951, America and Japan signed a Peace Treaty, and along with it a separate Security Treaty (later revised in 1960) that committed Washington to defend its ally. But under the Premiership of Yoshida Shigeru, Japan preferred to minimize its military expenditures in order to focus on reconstruction and economic growth, all while relying on its powerful American ally for protection. This approach, later named “Yoshida Doctrine” after its inspirer, became the cornerstone of Japan’s foreign policy for decades, and it was an extraordinary success. Thanks to it, Japan managed to avoid international conflicts and to achieve an impressive GDP growth, rapidly turning into one of the world’s leading economic powers. As of today, Japan is still the third largest economy in terms of nominal GDP.

Yet, this does not mean that Japan did not have its own military. The terms of Article 9 notwithstanding, the country still had to make concessions. In 1954, it established its armed forces, which took the name of Japanese Self-Defense Forces (or JSDF). But as their name suggests, they were not comparable to the full-fledged militaries that other states had. The JSDF could not field any equipment considered to be “offensive” such as strategic bombers or aircraft carriers, and their role was strictly limited to defending Japan’s territory from an external (most likely Soviet) invasion. They could not participate to collective self-defence operations, as this would imply fighting abroad to protect an ally, and not even to peacekeeping missions. In 1976, the practice of limiting the defence expenditures to no more than 1% of its GDP became official. All this deeply influenced Japan’s role in overseas conflicts, even those occurring very close to its territory and whose outcome could affect its own national security. The first case is the Korean War: in spite of the geographical proximity and of their anti-communist stance, the Japanese limited their contribution to providing bases and equipment for the US-guided coalition. Still, with time new events pushed Japan to slowly change its stance.

The first one was the outbreak of the Gulf War in 1991. Since Japan was (and still is) largely dependent on Middle Eastern oil for its energy supplies, the US expected that it would give a sensible contribution to the conflict. But on the basis of its constitutional limitations, Japan refused to do so, limiting its participation to providing financial aid to the international coalition. This form of “checkbook diplomacy” was largely criticized by the US, and as a result Japan adopted a new legislation allowing it to take part to peacekeeping missions with strictly non-combat roles. A few years later, North Korea’s withdrawal from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Taiwan Strait Crisis in 1996 increased Japan’s fear of being involved in a regional conflict. Then, the test of the DPRK’s first ballistic missile in 1998 shocked Japan, thus prompting it to start cooperating with the US on anti-missile defence. Another change occurred in the aftermath of 9/11. As America begun its “War on Terror” under the Bush administration, it asked Japan to contribute to operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. Tokyo was again reticent, but in the end it accepted to deploy its forces to provide non-combat support. In 2004 it also adopted a new national defence document that called for an increase of its military capabilities, and most importantly Article 9 was reinterpreted to allow self-defence in case of attack on American forces defending Japan or even abroad, provided this represented a threat to Japan itself.

In spite of all this, strong restrictions remain on Japan’s military. Still, it maintains a well-trained and well-equipped military. As a matter of fact, despite the 1% GDP gap on defence expenditures, the sheer size of its economy means that its budget is one of the world’s largest in absolute terms. Nevertheless, until recently it has kept a low-profile defence posture. But with the emergence of new challenges, Japan is gradually moving out from its traditional policy to take a more important role in regional security, which also implies increasing its military capabilities and re-interpreting (if not changing) its Constitution.

The drivers of Japan’s re-arm

As seen, the earliest driver of Japan’s efforts to empower its military came from the need to give a greater contribution to international operations. This was the answer to its American ally, which criticized it for being a free-rider who takes benefit from US protection without giving much support to American-led actions. Gradually, Japan started participating more actively in international missions, dispatching its forces for peacekeeping, disaster relief, or maritime law enforcement.

But there are two other factors to be considered, the first of which is North Korea. Its ballistic missiles and the possibility of a new war in the Peninsula are considered serious threats by Japan. This explains both its diplomatic efforts to favour a negotiated settlement of the issue, but also its commitment to deploy anti-missile systems like Patriot Advanced Capability 3 batteries (PAC-3) or AEGIS-equipped destroyers.

Yet, this is only one part of the story. Coping with a potential conflict in Korea does not reveal why Japan is increasing its maritime and air power, nor why it is acquiring Anti-Access / Area Denial (A2/AD) systems and practicing amphibious operations. To understand this, the third factor should be considered, which is by far the main driver of Japan’s military build-up: the rise of China.

After it started its economic boom in the 90s, the PRC soon initiated a military modernization programme. Combined with its increasing assertiveness, this has resulted in heightening tensions with the US. While much remains to be done for China’s armed forces to match America’s military on an equal level, this has turned Beijing into Washington’s near-peer competitor, at least in the Asia-Pacific. In this context, Japan has started feeling concerned about China’s rise as well, something that clearly emerges from its official documents.

The reasons are double fold. First, its relations with China are problematic, and sometimes even tense. There is much animosity between the two about Japan’s invasion of China in the 30s and the war crimes it committed during that period. There is also a territorial dispute between them over the Senkaku / Diaoyu islands. Maritime security is another major issue: Japan’s economic prosperity and energy security depends on the sea lanes of communication (SLOC) connecting it with Europe and the Middle East; therefore, it is afraid that China may cut these maritime routes, thus posing an existential threat to its survival. Then, China does not appreciate Japan’s status as an American ally; which brings to the second aspect to consider: the role of the US.

As noted before, Washington has been asking Tokyo for a greater contribution to regional security. For decades, Japan has resisted these demands, but now that China is emerging as a military power capable of damaging the interests of both Japan and the US, Tokyo is more willing to expand the roles and the capabilities of its military; also because it understands that not doing so would alienate Washington and may ultimately result in the loss of its main ally, which remains essential for its national security.

This was also the main justification behind the reinterpretation of the Article 9 of the Constitution. The text of the Article has not been changed, as that would require a complex procedure including a referendum that would likely fail given the popular attachment to the pacifist principles of the Chart. But in 2014 Abe’s government introduced a new interpretation, which was approved by the National Diet the following year. According to it, Japan will be able to use the military even to protect a foreign country, provided that Japan’s survival is at stake, that there are no other means, and always by limiting its action to the minimum necessary measures. This move was strongly criticized by Japan’s neighbours, first and foremost China.

The axes of Japan’s re-arm

The central importance of China as the main driver of Japan’s re-arm is evident when examining the specific nature of its military reorganization. Its defence expenditures have been growing constantly in recent years, reaching around 4.94 trillion yen.

The land component of the JSDF is being reduced in favour of the air and naval forces. This is because in the case of an open conflict with China, the best defence for Japan would be to achieve the aero-naval superiority over its surrounding seas (in cooperation with the US) so to keep the Chinese forces away from its territory. In this context, Japan is deploying to the south more air squadrons equipped with F-15J fighters, as well as support aircraft like tankers and airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) planes. Recon drones like the RQ-4 Global Hawk could be adopted as well. A total of 42 F-35A fighters are also scheduled to be fielded, the first of which has been deployed at the beginning of 2018.

But it is the maritime part of the JSDF that is being developed the most. There are five notable trends in this. First, surface ships are being modernized and new ones are entering into service to bring the total from 47 to 54. These include new guided missile destroyers equipped with the AEGIS system, whose task is to patrol and protect the SLOC and the seas around Japan, contribute to air and naval superiority, and intercept incoming missiles. Second, the number of attack submarines is to increase from 16 to 22. Their mission is to counter the subs that the PRC is also fielding in larger numbers, to have assets that are not threatened by its anti-ship missiles, and finally to threaten the SLOC that are vital for China as well. Third, in a similar logic Japan is procuring more antisom aircraft for its naval forces. Fourth, it is enhancing its mine warfare capabilities, both in the form of deploying and removing naval mines. But the fifth and most notable development is the introduction of helicopter destroyers, which has also caused controversy. Currently, Japan has four ships of this kind: two belong to the Hyuga class while the other two are more recent Izumo-class units. They are the largest ships in Japan’s maritime force and, in spite of being smaller than their US counterparts, they are often described as de facto aircraft carriers. However, this is misleading. Currently these ships do not operate any fighter jet, but only helicopters; mainly because their deck cannot resist the extremely high temperatures generated by jet engines. Still, while it is a complex endeavour, it is technically possible to modify the deck of the two Izumo units to enable fighter operations, and there have been rumors that Japan is actually considering this option so to allow the ships to operate up to 10 F-35B fighters; something that has caused criticism from the PRC. Moreover, the number of planes they could carry is relatively limited, as their autonomy. As such, rather than for sustaining large-scale naval battles or as power projection means, these ships are more suitable for antisom missions thanks to their helicopters or for supporting amphibious operations along with dedicated landing ships, as they can carry 400 marines and around 50 light vehicles.

This brings us to the role of the land forces, which also have an important role that reflects Japan’s new strategic needs. The marines units are being expanded, a sign that Japan wants its military to be able to defend and if necessary retake remote islands to the south like the Senkaku or the Ryukyu. Also, radars and five regiments armed with anti-ship cruise missile (consisting in the Type 88 and the more recent Type 12) are being deployed on these islands along with anti-aircraft missile units. The aim is to create A2/AD zones over the East China Sea both for protecting the SLOC and for denying the access to the open ocean to China’s aero-naval forces; in the logic of keeping them at bay until the US Navy arrives. New missiles are also under development, among which the most notable is the HVGP (Hyper Velocity Gliding Projectile), a hypersonic missile explicitly designed to defend remote islands and a sign that Japan wants to enter in the race to develop such systems.

What next?

Considering all these aspects, it is clear that Japan is taking a greater role in regional security and that appears more determined to protect its interests in a challenging international environment. Yet, it seems unlikely that it will opt for full militarization. The large majority of Japanese oppose a change in the Constitution and even the recently-approved reinterpretation was met with resistance. Japan remains more willing to solve international issues by diplomacy and economic assistance rather than by the use of force. Yet, to ensure its vital interests and to preserve the alliance with the US, which remains essential for its national security, Japan will likely continue on this course and increase its military capabilities. But this is something that is not only up to Japan: much depends on its American ally; and much, if not the most, on its Chinese rival.

How do Germans view Americans?

The relationship between the United States and Germany has been a cornerstone of the liberal international order for decades. From the Marshall Plan to early entry into NATO to German reunification and USSR era, the two countries have been engaged together in major historical events while facing many of the same challenges to both security and prosperity.

But despite this shared history, the Americans and Germans express very different opinions about the state of relations between their two countries. I’m Kasim, welcome to KJ Vids and in a brand-new series of videos, I will be looking at global attitudes and how people from different countries view each other.

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Trump on Jerusalem – 10 Days On

Violence, protests and arrests have followed US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Donald Trump made the announcement on December 6 and said the US would begin the process of moving its embassy to the city from Tel Aviv. In this video we take a look at five key developments since his announcement.

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Top 5 Facts About Jared Kushner

Back in October, Jared Kushner made an unannounced visit to Saudi Arabia, days before Bin Salman’s purge.

Trump has given his son-in-law, overall leadership in the “peace process” between Israel and the Arab States.

In this video, you will learn 5 things about Jared Kushner.

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Trump backtracks on U.S.-Russia cyber unit

Reuters

Read original report by Phil Stewart or read below;

  1. U.S. President Donald Trump on Sunday backtracked on his push for a cyber security unit with Russia, tweeting that he did not think it could happen, only hours after promoting it following his talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
  2. “The fact that President Putin and I discussed a Cyber Security unit doesn’t mean I think it can happen. It can’t,” Trump said on Twitter. He then noted that an agreement with Russia for a ceasefire in Syria “can & did” happen.

 

 

Comedienne Kathy Griffin Beheads Donald Trump In Shock Photo

Comedienne Kathy Griffin took to Twitter Tuesday afternoon to apologize after participating in a photo shoot while holding a bloodied, severed head that resembled that of President Donald Trump.

Griffin posted an apology video to Twitter on Tuesday evening hours after photos from the shoot circulated online.

“I sincerley apologize,” Griffin said. “I’m a comic, I cross the line. I moved the line, then I crossed it. I went way too far.”

“I made a mistake, and I was wrong,” she said later.

As reported by ABC News:

“I caption this ‘there was blood coming out of his eyes, blood coming out of his … wherever,’” Griffin tweeted, referring to an exchange between Donald Trump and former Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly during the primary season.

But in an attempt to appease those who were offended by the image, the controversial comedienne then tweeted, “OBVIOUSLY, I do not condone ANY violence by my fans or others to anyone, ever! I’m merely mocking the Mocker in Chief.”

Maybe because of the very recent terrorist suicide bombing at the Manchester Arianna Grande concert, but I feel a bit uncomfortable with this image. On the other hand, isn’t that what good art is supposed to do?  Make you feel uncomfortable?  Make you question your feelings?  Start a conversation?

VIDEO OF PHOTOSHOOT HAS QUICKLY BEEN TAKEN DOWN BY YOUTUBE.

Donald Trump’s Base Is Shrinking

Read the original article by Nate Silver on FiveThirtyEight or read some of the key points below;

  1. “To the contrary, Trump’s base seems to be eroding. There’s been a considerable decline in the number of Americans who strongly approve of Trump, from a peak of around 30 percent in February to just 21 or 22 percent of the electorate now. (The decline in Trump’s strong approval ratings is larger than the overall decline in his approval ratings, in fact). These estimates come from the collection of polls we use for FiveThirtyEight’s approval ratings tracker. Many approval-rating polls give respondents four options: strongly approve, somewhat approve, somewhat disapprove and strongly disapprove.”
  2. “The bulk of the increase in Trump’s strong disapproval ratings came early in his term, over the course of late January and early February. It’s possible that this was partly a reaction to Trump’s initial travel ban on immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries, which was the biggest news of Trump’s first few weeks in office.”
  3. “The number of Americans who strongly disapprove of Trump has sharply risen since early in his term, meanwhile, from the mid-30s in early February to 44.1 percent as of Tuesday. In most surveys, Trump’s strongly disapprove rating exceeds his overall approval rating, in fact.”
  4. “During last year’s presidential primaries, Trump received about 14 million votes out of a total of 62 million cast between the two parties, which works out to 23 percent of the total. So perhaps it’s not a coincidence that 20 to 25 percent of the country still strongly supports Trump; they were with him from the start.”
  5. “But 20 to 25 percent isn’t all that large a base — obviously not enough to win general elections on its own. Instead, Trump won the White House because most Republicans who initially supported another GOP candidate in the primary wound up backing him in the November election. Trump has always had his share of reluctant supporters, and their ranks have been growing as the number of strong supporters has decreased.”

 

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