Tag Archives: Rogue State

Why the International Community Shouldn’t be Worried About China

China’s rise has been one of the most impressive economic success stories of the 21st century so far. This despite relatively high levels of poverty, sub-par healthcare, and education systems and one-party rule for the past six decades. Moreover, prior to Communist Revolution China had a chaotic and violent history. Economic growth came only after Beijing obtained a level of security and stability coupled with an opening to the outside world which ultimately led to a place in the international community. Indeed, China’s rise is thanks to this openness and largely with the international community’s blessing. Today China is less much less of a threat than it used to be.

Officially China was and still remains a communist state. However, today’s Chinese Communist party is far less ideological than it was in Mao’s day and especially since Beijing decided to open up the country to the rest of the world. By opening up, China had much to gain economically despite the new challenges that would inevitably come with it.  Today, Beijing predominately faces two challenges on the domestic front. First is figuring out how to quell the near constant domestic unrest that occurs all across the vast country. This unrest is largely either underreported or not reported at all by the international media despite it’s scale which is a huge concern for Beijing.  A restless population undermines the Communist’s party’s legitimacy and rule.

Second is to successfully make the transition from a predominately export-driven economy to a mainly consumer-driven one like the economies of many of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries. This is a delicate yet crucial transition that if Beijing doesn’t successfully make could also jeopardize the future of the Communist Party. Moreover, each challenge could adversely effect the other if they are managed poorly. That’s why Beijing has a strong incentive to keep it’s current social contract with the Chinese people, namely to provide economic prosperity and to guarantee certain personal freedoms in exchange for the public’s acceptance of one-party rule.

Abroad China’s main objective is to secure natural resources for their growing economy. Already, Beijing has managed to pull 500 million of its people out of abject poverty and yet, there is a sizable portion of the population that remains in poverty.  An entirely separate task is providing basic foodstuffs, needs and services to the newly-enfranchised Chinese middle class. For this, China has been instrumental in developing constructive relations the West, particularly the United States. Over the years Chinese politicians, scientists, engineers and business leaders have studied and visited the United States to learn how to better run their own country in a variety of ways.  Moreover, having received Most Favored Nation Status with the United States China has enjoyed one of the strongest bi-lateral relations of any two countries. Beijing’s widespread and full-fledged membership of the World Trade Organization (WTO), the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and accession to the G-20 has further solidified its important place in the international community. By contrast, revisionist powers of the past such as Nazi Germany flat out rejected such ties with the international community.

China also possesses nuclear weapons and although the United States believes it has almost 200 such weapons they have rarely been seen as much of a threat. Rather, it can be argued that China has become less of a threat with nuclear weapons. Ever since acquiring a nuclear arsenal, China has maintained a ‘no first use’ nuclear posture vowing not to strike first. Although this posture seems to have changed recently, chances of a nuclear escalation remain low making China much less of a threat today.

Granted, the Middle Kingdom is still an authoritarian state accused of a slew of human rights violations, widespread theft of American intellectual property and hotly disputed territorial claims in the South China Sea. For the latter, China’s neighbors in the South China Sea will be looking to the United States to play a pivotal role in helping to resolve the dispute peacefully. The hope is that international pressure will resolve these issues given how well integrated China is into the global economy.  In fact, it’s very integration into the international community is why China is not labeled a rogue state. By contrast Iran, a country labeled as a rogue state is accused of human rights violations while also financing terrorist activities around the world, assisting the Assad regime in Syria in a war against their own people, allegedly pursuing a nuclear weapons breakout capability, and, until recently electing a president that suggested among other things that Israel should be ‘wiped off the map‘.  Being less integrated in the international community means Tehran has fewer allies.  A fate that Beijing has avoided.

There is no question that the People’s Republic of China has had a tumultuous history from the Communist Revolution to Tiananmen Square. But the Middle Kingdom’s past is not prologue. It’s no accident that China’s rise has been part and parcel to it’s relatively fast-paced integration into the international community and global economy. Indeed, Beijing chose a path of economic development and growth within international norms and institutions which is why it continues to grow with the international community’s blessing.

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Why the United States has Already Lost on Iran

Ever since it was discovered that Iran was secretly pursuing a nuclear program in 2002, Tehran has insisted its program is for “peaceful purposes” only.  Washington, however is not buying it.  From the beginning they have steadfastly been against a nuclear-armed Iran. Then as now, Washington believed an Iranian bomb would trigger a whole slew of undesired consequences including but not limited to a nuclear arms race in the broader Middle East.  In the over 10 years since the United States has levied a series of progressively harsh economic sanctions on the Islamic Republic aimed at isolating the Iran economically from the international community. At the same time, Washington signaled to Tehran that if they come clean on their nuclear program, they would according to Obama be allowed, “to return to its rightful place among the community of nations.”

Moreover, the United States signaled that if they do so, Iran would have the right to peaceful nuclear technology under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). However, as the global economic pendulum shifts further east, Iran has little reason to believe the United States is the sole gatekeeper to the ‘community of nations’ therefore rendering Washington’s ultimatum to Iran as a false dichotomy.

For the United States, it’s a straightforward proposition. If its nuclear energy Tehran wants it should agree to halt its own indigenous uranium enrichment program in exchange for guaranteed access to nuclear power and a place in the international community. Washington considers this more than a fair deal to Iran which in many ways still considers Iran a rogue state.  For over thirty years, the United States has accused Iran of consistently supporting terrorist activities abroad in an effort to expand it’s influence while at the same time clandestinely pursuing a nuclear weapons capability away from the prying eyes of the international community.

Not surprisingly, the view from Tehran is different. Not only does the Islamic Republic not consider the United States the exclusive gatekeeper of the international community but it doesn’t see relations with the United States as playing a crucial or pivotal role in Iran’s future. At least not as long as there are emerging markets in need of Iranian oil–by far Iran’s biggest export.  And especially not when Washington itself grants waivers for their sanctions to some of Iran’s largest export partners.

Granted, Iran’s economy is contracting and they are not experiencing a windfall in oil revenue from developing countries now that many of the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries are not buying their oil. But there are signs that oil consumption in OECD countries has peaked while consumption in many parts of the developing world are rising. With projections like these in the pipeline, the Islamic Republic sees little reason to make any fundamental changes to their economic model in the foreseeable future or to give up its self-perceived right to enrich uranium in the face of international pressure.  Moreover, Tehran has called the United States the ‘Great Satan‘.  Iran harbors a deep suspicion of the West, particularly with the United States and Great Britain dating back at least to the 1953 CIA overthrow of Mohammad Mossadegh, Iran’s democratically elected Prime Minister. This deep suspicion over time has contributed to a history of mistrust between the two sides so it’s little wonder Tehran doesn’t always buy what Washington is selling even as Iran’s economy continues to falter.

The accumulation of sanctions has made life not only harder for Iran’s elite but they have made life more difficult for ordinary Iranians as well.  Tehran has been under sanctions of one kind or another since 1979.  Earlier sanctions mainly targeted individuals and certain industries both inside and outside Iran who were involved in propagating terrorism or contributing to Iran’s nuclear program. The most recent sanctions have hit ordinary Iranians the hardest by specifically targeting Iranian financial institutions as well as any foreign banks doing business on behalf of Iranian banks. The result has been a near complete collapse of the Iranian Rial making some basic essentials prohibitively expensive for ordinary Iranians. This in tandem with general economic mismanagement by the Islamic Republic has slowed the over all Iranian economy to a crawl.

Despite being one of the most sanctioned countries ever, Iran has managed to avoid becoming a failed state. Time and time again, the Islamic Republic has demonstrated its ability to do whatever possible to avoid economic collapse and by extension the regime itself.  In the last 34 years Tehran has managed to dodge the worst effects of the sanctions imposed by outside powers by exploiting loopholes, establishing new economic partnerships with other countries such as its growing trade with Iraq as well as enlisting the help of its economic partners for infrastructure projects.  What the regime cares about the most above anything else is its own survival and it has repeatedly shown it can weather any external economic shocks outside powers can throw at it.

No doubt the sanctions have inflicted significant pain to all levels of Iranian society. They have succeeded in denying Iran access to certain international markets as well as access to nuclear and advanced military technology.  But with a track record of avoiding some of the harshest sanctions ever imposed on a country by another and market demand for oil expected to rise in the developing world, Tehran sees little reason to change its economic trajectory in the foreseeable future.  Moreover, if the Islamic Republic can see its way out of it’s most recent economic malaise it will have rendered Washington’s ultimatum of ‘come clean on your nuclear program or face isolation’ as irrelevant.

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