Recent negotiations initiated by South Korea with the United States to obtain acquiescence for South Korean production of nuclear fuel show that South Korea is serious about improving its energy and security independence from the United States. Such moves are a response to growing public opinion pressure in South Korea, which perceives the need for a stronger and more independent counterweight to North Korean threats. Such steps in the fuel production cycle could eventually lead to an independent South Korean nuclear weapons capability (WSJ).
The United States seeks to assure its ally verbally, and with military training exercises, overflights, advanced fighter presence, and naval destroyer movements. But relying on an outside deterrent has become increasingly unnerving to the South Korean public. While the United States and its allies won the Cold War against the Soviets, the United States appears to be overstretched on the global stage from a South Korean perspective. Eleven years of war against terror have not yielded a clear victory. China is ascending. Nuclear proliferation edges forward, with recent proliferators being India, Pakistan, Israel, and as recently as 2006, South Korea’s belligerent neighbor North Korea. Deterrence pro tem would increase deterrence of North Korean belligerence. Continue reading →
Saturday marked the first flight between Egypt and Iran since 1979. The election of Islamist President Mohamad Mursi in Egypt in June 2012 significantly thawed relations between the two countries. Diplomatic ties had been cut by Iran in 1979 when the deposed Shah took refuge in Egypt, but the heads of state from the two countries visited in February and the relationship is now largely mended (Reuters).
President Mursi was a leader in the pan-Islamist movement called the Muslim Brotherhood, which has approximately 600,000 members who pay a percentage of their incomes to the organization. It has members worldwide, and promotes Sharia law and the unification of Arab states. These goals are, incidentally, shared by the terrorist group Al Qaeda. The 2011 popular overthrow of President Mubarak in Egypt served as a strong indicator of the Muslim Brotherhood’s growing power. The US announced diplomatic relations with the group immediately following. Egypt was a strong US ally against the Soviets during the Cold War, and was a voice for stability in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The manifestation of the Arab Spring in Egypt, which deposed long-time US ally Hosni Mubarak, has not been kind to US foreign policy goals in the region.
Iran and Egypt are the third and sixth largest Muslim countries by GDP. Iran has a GDP of $522 billion and Egypt has a GDP of $231 billion (United Nations 2011). While the economy is half that of Iran, Egypt will attempt to expand its regional power status in the Arab states, Africa, and closely align with Iran and China.
For indicators of balancing against NATO and tilting away from the US, watch for Egypt joining the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) as an observer state, as has Iran. Watch for increased commercial relations with North Korea and Iran, and improved diplomatic ties with Pakistan. For indicators of nuclear club aspirations, watch for Egyptian efforts to improve types of nuclear power generation that yield fissile by-products for potential use in nuclear weapons. Also watch for increased Egyptian government links to organizations with likely ties to global terrorism. Egyptian political instability will continue until more authoritarian rule is imposed by either the Islamists or the pro-western faction. Expect further loss of value in Egypt-tied investments, including equities, commercial debt, and sovereign debt. Egyptian oil production is less than 1% of global supply, so there should be negligible effects on oil prices.
On March 15, 2011, popular protests erupted in Syria as part of the Arab Spring. The Syrian regime brutally suppressed the protests, which grew into armed opposition and civil war. President Bashar Hafez al-Assad’s Ba’athist government fought against a splintered but militant opposition. The United Nations tracked atrocities committed on both sides, including more than 70,000 killed (CNN).
Assad obtains most of his political support from the authoritarian regimes in China, Russia, and Iran. The Arab League previously supported him, but as the atrocities mounted, now supports the opposition. There is substantial public support for action against the Syrian regime in the United States, France and Britain. The types of action palatable to the voting public in the United States and Britain, weary of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, do not include intervention. The public in newly-interventionist France does support deploying United Nations troops to Syria. All three countries support economic sanctions, and there is increasing support for supplying opposition groups with military materiel (Council on Foreign Relations). Political leadership in the United States, France and Britain are responding with proxy war proposals consistent with this public opinion.
Expect limited military materiel support to Syrian rebels from the US, Britain and France in the near future. Due to insufficient public support, this will not include deployment of troops, and will only be sufficient to prolong — not win — the war. Over time, limited and therefore ineffectual military support may lead to increasing public support for deployment. If deployment occurs, expect a quick apparent win by the opposition, which turns into a long (5-15 years) and expensive period of nation-building and civil war as in Iraq and Afghanistan. Increased western military expenditures will improve yields in the defense sector, but increase government debt and taxes. Expect lower economic performance overall as defense expenditures aimed at Syria increase.
Opposition groups that will immediately benefit from western intervention in Syria will solicit such intervention in the short term. However, public opinion in Islamic countries find western intervention highly disagreeable, as do China, Russia and Iran. Expect increased global tensions and Islamic terrorism from western intervention in Syria. Expect Syrian opposition groups to quickly spurn their western benefactors as soon as military and other aid ends.