Sunday, December 1, 2013

Does Rouhani rhyme on Harmony?

af Lars Andreassen

Or did the ‘Great Satan and ‘Axis of Evil’ – as Reuters put it - strike a deal on the Iranian nuclear programme? A deal between satan and evil really should cause some unrest - which also seem to be the case in Israel and Saudi Arabia - but this one, I think, deserves at least a smiley. It could prove to be a bit like the math thing were minus (satan) multiplied with minus (evil) yields a plus, even though we're not safe home yet. 

Real politics or politics for people
Some people are not as optimistic as I am. Those people would no doubt call themselves realists. Michael Rubin, who says this interim deal with Iran risks creating another North Korea, I guess, is one of them. The 5+1 must somehow have conditioned Iran in the old fashion Pavlonian way, so that “whenever Tehran needs cash, it can restart enrichment and then demand billions in payment for temporary suspensions. In effect, Iran has replicated North Korea’s strategy: blackmail for cash and technology.”
Rubin makes a perfectly sound argument, but he misses out on at least one thing: the Iranian people. The Iran deal is not just a deal between states, it is also a deal between the populations of these states. 

There is a viable opposition in Iran, which is causing the supreme leaders a lot of headache. First they had to let Hassan Rouhani in to the presidential election, and even though he was probably not their favorite candidate, they did let him win. Rouhani was the candidate that the Green Movement – the people’s opposition – preferred. Those in Iran who want peace, development, independence, freedom, and the possibility to choose for themselves; the youngsters, the educated, and they neither need nor want nuclear bombs. 

They want peace just like most Americans – and, I dare to add, most of the rest of common folks on this planet.

The Iranian people are well informed, they are educated and they know, that we, in the west, does not oppose them. That know, that we want peace as well as they do. And we know, thanks to our valuable freedom rights, about the Iranian people, that Iranians has everything to win and nothing to lose by a peaceful relations to the west. They want more than just a nuclear deal, they want to tap into the global economy, and the opportunity to live peaceful and prosperous lives, as one can read in this Al-Monitor reportagefrom Iran.

When Pr. Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry are to sell this interim deal to congress, they should take on the case of the Iranian people. Those are the ones we’ll have to share our future with, and they aspire to the same dreams and hopes as every other human being does – whatever religious views they fancy.

What Historical Mistake
The deal is a historical mistake says Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. It threatens the security of the state of Israel, he claims. The Iranians only appear peaceful, but appearance is not what it seems. And now, with the new deal and relieved sanctions they can proceed their strive toward gaining nuclear weapons – and even with a better economy. But how on earth are the Israelis more threatened by Iran now,  than they were just three months ago, I’d like to ask.

Sanctions didn’t work before, why should they work in the future to come. “Iran had 164 centrifuges operating in 2003; today it has 19,000 centrifuges,” as Fareed Zakaria writes on GPS“Had the Geneva talks with Iran broken down, Iran would have continued (International Atomic Energy Agency) expanding its nuclear program.” And now Iran might have visits from IAEA on a daily basis.

On the other hand, Netanyahu has been feeding extremists of his own, and proceeded the building of settlements on the West bank and other places violating both collective and individual rights of Palestinians. That might be the real historical mistake. The making of new settlements is not just a provocation to the enemies of Israel they are also making it harder for allies to remain devoted allies as this article by Akiva Eldar, clearly shows.

The above point is also clear from Ben Caspit’s article, which add to this, that many Israeli security- and military officials and experts “believe that the agreement with Iran — while not perfect and with a few holes — has benefits that outweigh the damage.”

State Rights or Human Rights

Pr. Rouhani of Iran has often claimed that his state has the same rights as any other state to protect themselves and to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes. It is not viable for an international rule of law to deny some states the same rights as others. But a state's rights should be conditional to how it protects and respects its citizens' individual rights. This will protect the international society from abusive governments. 

A long-lasting agreement with Iran must be accompanied by demands for real democratic reform and respect for individual rights. An Iran led by its people, as we know from Western and Scandinavian democracies, will yield the best guaranty against conflict. From people to people. Repressive states only guarantee one thing: repression, war, and conflict. 

Friday, October 4, 2013

How the Conflict in Syria can lead to an nuclear agreement with Iran

One day I did not say goodbye to my boys as they drove to school, I sent them off with a remark, saying that they might get to live their adulthood in a peaceful world. That day was the 20/9-2013, and I’d just read President Hassan Rouhani’s now famous op.ed. in the Washington Post, and the thought occurred to me: Can the conflict in Syria lead to a more peaceful world? I believe so, but what will it take for the Syrian conflict to lead to a better international system and a lasting global peace. For a beginning, Rouhani points at three key factors.

Karl Fredrik Reuterswärd's sculpture Non Violence, which is located outside the UN headquarters in New York. UN's overarching goal is world peace. Photo from UN archives.

The migration of power
If world leaders grasp the opportunity that has arisen in the wake of the civil war in Syria, then yes, we can come closer to a more stable and peaceful world. But what are they, the world leaders, to look for up until the Geneva-meeting?

First the global balance of power has changed in the last 20 years. It is no longer the West against the rest, and herein lies the chance to say goodbye to an unjust and therefore, dysfunctional international system. A system that first and foremost, as Kishore Mahbubani states, has protected western interests. Those days are over, and it is, as Barack Obama said when he addressed the United Nations General Assembly this year, time to rethink - and more deeply, to take into consideration the overarching goal of the UN, which is global peace.

The changed global environment is the first Pr. Rouhani points out in his article: "The world has changed. International politics is no longer a zero-sum game but a multi-dimensional arena where cooperation and competition often occur simultaneously. Gone is the age of blood feuds. World leaders are expected to lead in turning threats into opportunities.”

This displacement of economic power is well documented. But to reform the institutions of the international society, it is important that the leaders of world and their populations realize that national interests can no longer be handled in fierce competition with each other. And that is the second important thing, Pr. Rouhani points out:
In other words, win-win outcomes are not just favorable but also achievable. A zero-sum, Cold War mentality leads to everyone’s loss."

To achieve peace in the world obviously requires more than a new president in Iran. It requires reform of the international system, particularly the United Nation’s Security Council (UNSC). Reforms that on the surface, seem counter to western interests: we must share our influence after general democratic principles. But in the long run democracy is the only viable option.

The way the Syrian conflict has been handled and mishandled reveals some of those elements that should be taken into consideration in making a more just international system. And if we in the West do not rise to the challenge of the times, and participate in making this world a better and more fair place, we might be the ones who in the future get our arms twisted or become ousted, when India, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Colombia, Vietnam, Nigeria, South Africa, and China get enough.

The citizens of the western cultures represents only 12% of the world’s total population, says Mahbubani in an interview in The Economic Times. Asia's population constitutes 55% of the total world population. We could also just say that 88% of the world population is non-western, but 60% of the permanent seats in the UNSC is taken by western countries: the US, England and France. Russia and China have the last two out of the five permanent seats. That seems tainted, when as Mahbubani wrote in The Great Convergence, the western democratic ideal is "every citizen has equal moral worth.” UNSC reflects so clearly yesterday's world – the Cold War mentality.

Thus, the world is ruled by a minority – not unlike many totalitarian states. This undemocratic injustice should be changed, and Mahbubani has a possible proposal balancing UNSC in another way, which I will advocate later on.

The third thing Pr. Rouhani points to is the question of identity. Maybe the most important issue. And in my opinion exactly the same factor, that Samuel P. Huntington in 1993 pointed to as the key factor in the conflicts to come; after the clash and crash of the political ideologies we would identify ourselves along the lines of civilizations. Pr. Rouhani points precisely at this ghost in the world's conflict zones, when he states: "We must also pay attention to the issue of identity as a key driver of tension in, and beyond, the Middle East.
At their core, the vicious battles in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria are over the nature of those countries’ identities and their consequent roles in our region and the world."

Religious affiliation is about identity. Pr. Rouhani’s focus on identity is a thinly veiled call for religious tolerance in its modern form, another Western idea.

From Pr. Hassan Rouhanis inauguration, August 2013. Ayatollah Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader hands Rouhani something (I don't know what). A portrait of the Islamic Revolution Leader, Ayatollah Khomeinei, who in 1979 ousted Iran's last Shah (King), is hanging top left. Shah Reza Pahlavi was reinstalled by the Americans after a coup in 1953 against the democratically elected prime minister, Mohammed Mossadeq. Photo from the Iranian President's website.

The dysfunctional UNSC
In the heydays of the Arabic spring, we could only look scared and in wonder at the way in which Bashir Al Assad responded to the Syrian people's demands for freedom and reform. In this light it was only natural to demand Assad's departure as part of the solution. Maybe Barack Obama made a rhetorical error with the remark about the red line. I don’t think so; he knows what Kennedy thought of appeasement, and he knows what Kennedy achieved. And if you don’t, there’s plenty of inspiration to get in Jeffrey Sachs book on Kennedy’s quest for peace.

But the deeper cause of the failure in Syria is to be found in the dysfunctional institutions of the international society. More precisely, the UNSC. But it is also precisely in its dysfunctions, we can see what to alter – and therefore in which parts our hopes for a global peace can rest. Not for the Syrian citizens, unfortunately, but for everyone else. As Assad resorted to chemical weapons, and Obama then had to take his word on the red line seriously and begin preparations for an attack on Syria, the British House of Commons voted against an intervention without the UN. Obama lost an important ally, and then found time to consult the Congress about their views on the matter. During this period Vladimir Putin made his move.

Not, as Putin claims, to defend the Assad regime but to preserve the balance in the international system.
The potential strike by the United States against Syria, despite strong opposition from many countries and major political and religious leaders, including the pope, will result in more innocent victims and escalation, potentially spreading the conflict far beyond Syria’s borders. […] It could throw the entire system of international law and order out of balance.

It’s ironic to claim that the international system was in balance before. It’s precisely because of imbalance in the UNSC, that the Syrian conflict could escalate to the present – for the Syrian population hopeless level. The imbalance in the international community was visible in Russia's and Iran's alliance with Syria and a passive China. The West, on the one hand, and the rest on the otheror rather Orthodox Christians and Shias on the one hand and the West and Sunnis on the other side. No pure civilization lines. At the same time it seems to me, that the Sino-Orthodox-Shia flank – cynical at the expense of the Syrian population – wanted to demonstrate to the US that they can no longer take action on their own. That’s for the better. Instead of drawing up hostile borders, we have a unanimous UNSC vote to disarm Syria from chemical weapons. Who saw this coming a fortnight ago?

It is also ironic that it probably was Obama's threat to act on his own, that made Putin respond, jump in and attempt to rescue the same system, he’s been helping to destroy. And you have to wonder to what extent Putin is ready to commit?

In any case, Putin has stumbled so far into a solution that he will find it difficult to back down. The longtime Beirut correspondent for the Danish newspaper, Information, and author of a book about the Arab Spring, Lasse Ellegaard, is citing an anonymous Western diplomat as saying that: "The two sides [U.S. and Russia] has come so far in the process that they would lose face if they returned to the veto-zero-situation." And let's be happy about that, no matter how little we like Putin.

Putin's Russia might very well be a major obstacle for a peaceful development. A world society can not passively watch as Putin slowly strangles civil society and passes on laws, that clearly violate basic human rights – especially as China is working in the opposite direction. It's a good question whether Putin stumbled into the solution of the Syrian conflict out of sheer excitement over what he saw as Obama's rhetorical mistake, and an opportunity to demonstrate his power. But Obama maybe have Putin cornered by this talk of a red line – mistake or not.

Once in a Lifetime
Nevertheless, the chance of a serious change is here. And to consider the future path of the international society, and to straighten out the imbalance between the world's superpowers. Whether Putin wanted it or not, he is a part of a solution now, and properly he also has to commit himself to this rational path in the near future. Caught in the net by his own words of a
“system of international law and order.”

It will not save the Syrian population. But it should be able to prevent a similar conflict from escalating – it could be in Yemen, North Korea, Al-Shahab in Somalia or it could be the Iranian nuclear programme. But if Iran becomes a part of the world community it has no need for nuclear weapons. And if the responsible countries of the world stands firm and united (in an inclusive and friendly way) against Iran, and willing to ease sanctions it will make it extremely difficult for Iran to return to the rhetoric and strategy of the time under Pr. Ahmedinejad.

The controversial political scientist Kenneth N. Waltz (1924-2013), was of the opinion that Iran only wanted the bomb to be appropriately listened to in the international society. It is a matter of identity and recognition – exactly as Pr. Rouhani points out. Maybe Iran wants to be the Japan of the Middle East; to develop an Islamic country embracing modernity in a slightly different way.

Pr. Rouhani speaks about the country’s right to defend itself – isn’t that reasonable? What are the Iranians to think when they’re not allowed to enrich uranium. Though in a friendly world, the Iranians wouldn’t need nuclear weapons. They have oil, and if they manage to reconcile with the rest of the world they can also sell it, and they can engage in the development of alternative energy sources and the lives of people. That is not only in Iran's interest, but in everyone's interest.

Of course, Pr. Rouhani must move further from conciliatory words to action, as Ray Takeyh strongly emphasizes. And commentators are justified in their skepticism toward Iran's supreme leadership, after all, Khamenei and not Rouhani has the last word. But read this little encouraging analyticalpassage of Fareed Zakaria from Time magazine:

”During the campaign, Rouhani vigorously attacked the most hard-line candidate in the race, Saeed Jalili – thought to be the favorite of the Supreme Leader – for being unable to come to an agreement with the international community and ease any of the sanctions arrayed against Iran. “It is good to have centrifuges running, provided people’s lives and livelihoods are also running,” he said in a debate, to great applause.”

The Iranian people have shown, A) with the election of the pragmatist Pr. Rouhani, in which direction they want to move and they already did so during the Green Wave in 2009 after having voted for Mir-Hossein Mousavi. And B) What interest can even Iran's supreme leader, Khamenei see being cornered if his only playmates will be Russia, Syria, and Hezbollah? C) When Pr. Rouhani in his UNGA speech criticizes other nations for violating various human rights, he must be sufficiently intelligent to know that his criticism also fit his own regime.

In 2009 the Iranians elected the reformist Mousavi to the great annoyance of the religious elite who robed him his, and the Iranian people their, victory. Millions took to the streets and protested against the electoral fraud. They were completely struck down slain to pieces by the Revolutionary Guard. "They Killed My Bro Koz He Asked Where is My Vote", it says on the young woman's sign. Photo Hamed Zaber, the wiki medias license.

The West, the Ruling Minority
Fortunately, neither Iran nor Russia are greatpowers (what can Putin use his nuclear weapons for), and the US is no longer dominant, but just a major power among equals, as Fareed Zakaria puts it. The West can no longer obstruct the agenda of other’s, and if we want to prevent China and other major powers in deciding that what is good for them is good for the rest of us, then cooperation is in our long term interest. Western countries will lose influence, but in the long-term it will be a victory for every nation of the world. It could be the last leading move of the West to point out the direction towards a real democratic international society.

I’ve already touched upon the imbalance in the UN Security Council, but the institutionalized absurdities do not stop there. The Western 12% population of the world has 50% of the votes respectively in the Monetary Fund and the World Bank, and the leaders are furthermore always from Europe and America. If you try to put yourself in the shoes of a non-western, would you then think it odd that some countries step up to the West from time to time?

Mahbubani recently continued his critique of the West in a razor-sharp analysisin the Financial Times: ”The G20 website boasts that its 20 members represent almost 90 percent of the world’s gross domestic product and 65 percent of the world’s population. At the end of the meeting, 10 G20 countries – representing 12 per cent of the world’s population – supported the American call for action [in Syria]. The maths is clear: 50 percent of the world’s citizens, a vast majority of the G20 population, did not support the US.”

Three times 7 for the eternal peace
Mahbubani can do more than criticize. He’s been a diplomat for 33 years, and has a proposal for a reform of the UNSC. The details of the proposal are outlined in his book The Great Convergence. This is not an ideal solution, he states, but something that might be politically possible, and I would like to end my article with a rough sketch of his proposal.

The Security Council shall consist of 7 permanent members: the EU, the US, China , India, Russia, Brazil, and Nigeria. And 7 pseudo-permanent members: a group counting roughly 28 countries competing for the membership responsibilities. These should be countries like Pakistan, which definitely will feel offended by India's permanent seat; Argentina and Mexico, who will be offended by Brazil's seat and of course South Africa, but also countries such as Japan, Vietnam, Turkey, Colombia, and even the major European nations, although they would be permanently represented by the EU. These are countries which all have a sufficient size to be able to pay their dues and commit troops and other kinds of assistance to the world's hotspots. Finally, 7 countries, elected from among the rest of the world's small states with the same status as today’s 10 non-permanent members.

Such a 7-7-7 Security Council, with each of the world’s major regions permanently represented, would yield a fairer and more balanced distribution of seats and thus a council of greater legitimacy. The medium-sized countries will not have to compete with quite so many to gain influence and they would more frequently find themselves sitting at the table. For the smallest nations the advantage is, that they do not have to compete with the medium sized countries.

Europe's crisis-affected populations must realize that a peaceful global development is dependent on a fair distribution of benefits and the majority of the world's population can’t afford the pensions and annual holidays as many Europeans can, and they do not have free access to hospitals and are not protected against unemployment. The best protection for minorities is rule of law, Mahbubani writes in Why We - especially the West - Need the UN Development System, therefore, the West should live up to its own ideals of democracy, and give every individual a voice.

Many Europeans, especially left-wings, believe that government subsidies are the way out of the crisis, but it's a dead-end. If we continue along the path of state-subsidiaries, we can by no means take it for granted, that invited to trade negotiations with the big economies in the future. It might as well happen that the Rest will treat us in the future as the West has treated them in the past. In a global economy, access must be equally granted to everyone – the EU and the US can’t protect their economies from competition from lower wages in development countries.

The conflict in Syria – or rather the UNSC agreement on Syria – could yield a change of the world. If we grasp the chance and cast off our shoulders old geopolitical paradigms and Cold War mentality. We can move closer to the United Nation’s basic purpose: a peaceful world.

Text, Lars Andreassen

I owe Emily Beresford a lot of thanks for helping with the translation from danish.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Teufelsberg – US Ears Behind Enemy Lines

First word from my intended sentence returns from the fiberglass shell of the radar dome. In a split second it breaks the waves of the next word, the next, and again, and the words of the others. All these bashed utterances create an inferno of sound waves, desperately seeking ears but instead in vain bounces off the wall. Communication is impossible. But communication wasn't really intended here. No word should ever leave the place. At Teufelsberg listening is the only thing or it once was.

One of the ragged domes at Teufelsberg, Berlin's highest mount, and a a small impression of the resort's panorama view. Photo Lars Andreassen.

I’m standing half an hour from the Berlin downtown, in Grunewald, on the top of an abandoned building from the Cold War, in a flayed dome that once hid the West or more precisely America's listening devices in the middle of the past GDR (German Democratic Republic). USA’s ears behind enemy lines, deep within East Germany.

On the map you see how far inside East Germany, Berlin was actually located (GDR red). Source Wikimedia. The guy to the left is me inside Teufelsbergs control center by the U.S. Military Police emblem: Assist, Protect, Defend. Photo Peter Wang.
Jeffrey Sachs writes somewhere that Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet leader from 1953 to 1964, ”… viewed West Berlin as a staging post for Western spying and aggression against the Soviet Union, ”a NATO beachhead and military base against us inside the GDR [German Democratic Republic].”

A Ragged Design Classic
What the listening equipment in the dome caught and how important it was, we do not know. And we are first to know, when the archives of Teufelsberg is opened in 2022. But the ears of the west in the east had 500,000 East German soldiers to listen to and 400,000 soldiers from GSSD, Gruppe der Sowjetischen Streitkräfte in Deutschland, which was stationed at the frontline of the Cold War.

The spy tower looks like an enlarged version of the famous Bauhaus lamp. It was obvious to everyone, that the hill could hear, but only a small bunch of Americans know how the fine mechanics of the ears were functioning. You have a fantastic view from Teufelsberg over Berlin and surroundings, but the complex itself had almost no eyes. Only in the canteen there were windows.

Despite the panorama view from Teufelsberg, only the canteen had windows. Not because it was prohibited to enjoy the view, but to prevent the GDR and their Soviet allies gaining knowledge of the activities at Teufelsberg. Photo Lars Andreassen.

Anyone could get close to the outer fence, but they were not supposed to see what went on inside. Numerous Russian busses were passing by with photographing "tourists" during the years of the Cold War. And residents of West Berlin was skiing down the hill until 1972 when they closed the 400-meter-long slope – they even had a world Cup there – because electromagnetic radiation from the snow machines disturbed the sensitive technology in the inner ear.

The spy tower reminds me of the famous Bauhauslamp. Photo Lars Andreassen.
And while the precautions appears relatively relaxed from the outside, there was a double fence around the inner ear, where even the British employees had to badge ID to get into the deep of the U.S. military facilities.

Street Art or Cold War Monument
We don’t know what they heard on Teufelsberg, and we also do not know what will become of the place. A small group of tenacious people guides visitors through the history up here, our guide, Martin Schaffer, tells us, while they try to raise money to maintain the site, create a monument and a museum of the Cold War.

(Left) Martin Schaffer, our very dedicated and well speaking guide. One of the people trying to preserve the site and create a Cold War monument and museum of Teufelsberg. (Right) An example of information posters glued up upon the raw bricks - clearly a part of the resort's current charm. Photos Peter Wang.
That evening, as we are visiting
with a group of students from Egaa Folk High School, in the afternoon, Deutsche Telekom has rented the abandoned radar station for a gigantic party.

Ready for the night's Telekom party. The inside of the top dome turned in to a disco dome - how the acoustics will work out during a party is beyond me. It was utterly impossible to communicate there. Photo Lars Andreassen.

And right now its Berlin's main site for street art. Empty spray cans, waste, falling ceilings, old machines, dark and empty door holes, and rusty barbed wire make up the settings for our afternoon and the evenings coming Telekom party.

Teufelberg's surviving buildings has been a mecca for graffiti artists and other creative temperaments. According to our guide, Martin Schaffer, the location contains right now one of Berlin's largest collections of Street Art. Photos Lars Andreassen.

Ruin of rubble
The mound Teufelsberg is 120.1 meters high, the highest place in Berlin. Built on the remains of 2nd World War bombed-out Berlin. All the rubbles that couldn't be used for the city's reconstruction were run out here in the suburbs, where they initially covered the remains of what should have been the University of the World Capital, Germania’s Department of War Technology.

(Left) Wehrtechnische Fakultät, the first and largest building of what should have been Germania's, the world capital of the Third Reich, University City. (Right) The listening station at Teufelsberg before the trees covered the hill, and the graffiti and decay took over the buildings. The Americans left the place in 1992. Photos Peter Wang.

The Nazis worked on their project in Grunewald from 1937 until 1942 but they never finished. And now, on the remains of Hitler’s and his architect Albert Speer's megalomaniac visions, the abandoned towers of the Cold War's victorious power
as a history’s ironic comment – resides.

Text, Lars Andreassen

P.S. If you would like to visit the place, check it out.