Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The New Yorker

My Tour of Cranky Old Revolutions

The first thing that struck me during a trip to Cuba this month was how much it reminds me of Iran. Despite divergent ideologies—one Communist, the other Islamic—the aging revolutions emit the same cranky melancholia. Rhetoric is still defiant, but public zealotry has atrophied. The graffiti of rebellion, once vibrant, has faded.

In Old Havana, only part of a popular street painting of Che Guevara, with his long locks and trademark beret, has survived the years; his washed-out mouth and mustache have been filled in with a Sharpie. In Tehran, billboards of the early turbaned revolutionaries are so dull, from the sun and the decades, that they seem ghost-like.
Read on....

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The New Yorker

How the Arab Spring Became the Arab Cataclysm
By Robin Wright 
Five years ago, Mohamed Bouazizi, a Tunisian street vender with black curls, deep brown eyes, and chin fuzz, refused to pay a seven-dollar bribe, yet again, to a government inspector. For a man who supported his mother, five younger siblings, and an ailing uncle, seven dollars was a full day’s income—on a good day. It was the start of the epic convulsion known as the Arab Spring.
“It’s the same kind of humiliation that takes place every day in many parts of the world—the relentless tyranny of governments that deny their citizens dignity,” President Obama said in a speech about the events some months later. “Only this time something different happened. After local officials refused to hear his complaints, this young man, who had never been particularly active in politics, went to the headquarters of the provincial government, doused himself in fuel, and lit himself on fire.” Bouazizi died two and a half weeks later. Spontaneous protests erupted in sympathy, and soon spread across the region, directed against other autocrats.

Over the next fourteen months, the heads of state in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen—who had ruled for a collective hundred and seventeen years—were ousted. The President of Syria went to war with his own people to survive. “The story of this revolution, and the ones that followed, should not have come as a surprise,” Obama declared.

Five years later, the costs and consequences of the uprisings have stunned the world. “Perhaps we in the international community, and the people on the ground, were naïve and misled by how easy the Tunisians made it seem,” Sarah Leah Whitson, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, told me this week. “The Egyptians, too, got rid of a dictator. But we underestimated the forces against democracy and rights—and the way in which other forces of repression and destruction were able to fill the vacuums that the uprisings created.”
Read on....

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Foreign Policy

The Iran Deal Wasn't Revolutionary
By Robin Wright

Those clarion pivots — Nelson Mandela’s walk to freedom or the fall of the Berlin Wall — are enchanting. It’s tempting simply to credit a visionary leader, the human spirit, or a historical trajectory. Change, however, is often foggier. It takes a convergence of causes also selfish, crudely commercial, strategically pragmatic, and more reactive than altruistic. In apartheid South Africa and the communist states of Eastern Europe, isolating societies and economies indefinitely proved too expensive, too impractical, too unsustainable. After a war that killed millions of people, Washington and Hanoi restored relations over the economic lures of new Asian markets for America and of foreign investment for Vietnam. Despite enduring ideological differences, they also shared a common fear of a rising China.

This year, Iran illustrates the density of change. For almost two generations — through six American presidencies — relations between the United States and Iran have been toxic. Revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini warned against “Westoxication,” or infection by foreign culture and political ideas. In 1979, he praised the Iranian students who seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran (to the students’ surprise, prolonging the crisis) after Washington agreed to take in the ailing shah. Khomeini pronounced, “America is the Great Satan, the wounded snake” — a label that stuck. Final negotiations to free the 52 diplomats were so tortured that American and Iranian envoys wouldn’t meet in the same country, much less the same room.

Yet this July 14, top U.S. and Iranian diplomats shook hands to seal a deal to check Iran’s ability to make a nuclear bomb. Over 20 months of talks, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif spent more time with each other than with any other foreign leader. Relationships bloomed across their staffs. After 36 years — almost twice as long as it took for the United States and Vietnam to restore relations — minds had changed: This August, 76 percent of Iranians surveyed said they approved of the deal with the Great Satan.

The United States likes to claim credit for forcing Iran to the negotiating table under the most punitive international sanctions ever imposed on any country. Many other factors intersected, however, to produce conditions conducive to real diplomacy. It was a long slog to cooperation — and one that’s far from over. Change can be change without being a pivot.

This is my essay on "the fog of change." Read on.....!decision-makers/detail/iran-deal-wasnt-revolutionary

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The New Yorker

The Rubble-Strewn Road to Damascus

A Biblical land and its people are being wiped out by weapons and warlords of the twenty-first century. Damascus, after almost five years of war, is strewn with the rubble of a shattered state, a fractured society, and a demolished landscape. To the north, the grand city of Aleppo—the formerly bustling heart of commerce, often likened to New York but dating back at least five millennia—is now compared to Stalingrad, because of its devastation. To the east, the Roman ruins in Palmyra, including the majestic Temple of Bel, from the first century, and the towering Arch of Triumph, from the second, have been pulverized.

The question now is whether Syria--both politically and physically--can be put back together again. My analysis in The New Yorker. Read on...

Sunday, November 15, 2015

The New Yorker

Genesis and Grow of a Global Jihad

I witnessed the first suicide bombing attacks against American targets, in the 1980s, during my many years in Beirut. Back then, I would never have believed I'd be covering the same story--bigger, badder and more global--three decades later. Here's my reflection on how the extremists' Jihad against the West has evolved since those first days. Read on....

Friday, October 30, 2015

The New Yorker

An American Hostage in Iran--Again
Next Wednesday, November 4th, is the anniversary of the 1979 takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, which led to a mass hostage crisis that dragged on for four hundred and forty-four days. Thirty-six years later, the Iranians are still at it. For more than two weeks, U.S. media, including The New Yorker, have been withholding information—at the request of the family—about yet another American seized in Tehran. The embargo was broken late Thursday with published reports that Iranian security had detained Siamak Namazi, an American businessman of Iranian descent who was once tapped as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum.

Namazi was taken to Tehran’s Evin Prison in mid-October, according to friends and colleagues. He is a business strategist, normally based in Dubai, and was visiting his family. His mother’s home was ransacked; his confiscated computer has since been used by an intelligence wing of the Revolutionary Guard to launch cyber-attacks against his contacts. I was among those hacked. So was the State Department. 

Monday, October 26, 2015

The New Yorker

Iran's Generals Are Dying in Syria 
 My new piece about the rising costs of Iran's military intervention. At least seven brigadier generals and one major general have died fighting in Syria. Just where and how they died tells a lot about the scope of Tehran's engagement on three distant fronts -- and against even more enemies. Two generals were killed in October alone. So was a senior bodyguard of former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. At least four hundred more--including other senior officers--have died in a campaign to back the government in Damascus. Read on!

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The New Yorker

Iran's Foreign Minister Zarif 
on Russia and Peace in Syria
My interview in The New Yorker: 
Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, is in demand these days. On the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, he shook hands with President Obama and met twice with Secretary of State Kerry. (Zarif and Kerry have been nominated, jointly, for the Nobel Peace Prize, to be announced this week, for their two-year negotiations on the Iran nuclear deal.) He hosted both Republican and Democratic officials from previous U.S. Administrations, breakfasted with editors, huddled with American nuclear experts, and briefed the Times editorial board. He also squeezed in a session with the University of Denver, his alma mater. The event was streamed live from the Waldorf-Astoria, because Iranian diplomats are not allowed to travel beyond a twenty-five-mile zone around New York.
The day before Zarif returned to Tehran, I spoke with him -- about what's next with the US, the Russian intervention in Syria, and his own peace plan -- at the residence of Iran’s U.N. ambassador, on Fifth Avenue, near the Metropolitan Museum. Read on...

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Our High-Priced Mercenaries in Syria

My piece on "America's High-Priced Mercenaries in Syria" in The New Yorker. The US program to create a ground force to fight the Islamic State is a real flop. The US admits it has produced only" 4 or 5 fighters" in a $500 million dollar program designed to train 16,000 rebels. And a tragedy for Syria, where 80% of the population now lives in poverty, life expectancy has plummeted by 20 years, and unemployment is 60%. More than half the population (of 23 million) have fled their homes due to fighting. And no end in sight
So read on.....

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The New Yorker

Two Artists and a Revolution
        I met two extraordinary artists this year. Both are Iranian. Both are women. Although decades apart, they were born in the same town, a bastion of religious conservatism. Yet both ended up as incredible innovators in art and film and photography. One (at age 91) had a one-woman show this spring at the Guggenheim in NY; the other (a mere 58) currently has a show at the Hirshhorn in Washington. Both ultimately had to decide between Iran and the US. They took divergent courses. But they admire each other greatly. This is their story...

Friday, September 11, 2015

The New Yorker

Trump's Bluster on Iran
By Robin Wright 
       Donald Trump's utter ignorance and bluster on foreign policy is dangerous.  His boast this week that he'd free the Americans detained in Iran -- even before taking office, no less -- was a reflection of his shallowness and, tragically, callousness. 
      At a Washington rally this week, he shouted that United States is "led by stupid, stupid people--very stupid, stupid people." But he's not so smart himself. He tweeted a story this week that reported on a SurveyUSA poll showing that  he would beat Hillary Clinton in a head-to-head race. Believe it or not, the story he linked to was from an Iranian media outlet. 
       I called former hostages seized over the past quarter century to get their reaction to Trump's statements on Iran. It was unanimous. In the words of Terry Anderson, America's longest held hostage, Trump is "a simple-minded twit."
Read on....

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The New Yorker

Iran: A Done Deal
By Robin Wright
      It's I wrote in this piece in The New Yorker. 
      President Obama today won the riskiest gamble of his presidency. He now has enough support in the Senate to ensure that the Hill can not kill the White House deal with Iran. Some will still try. Cheney has joined the noisy opposition and will give a big speech next week. Trump, Cruz and Glenn Beck have scheduled a "Stop the Deal" rally on Capitol Hill next week. The debate still to come - as Congress goes through the motions - will be (memorably) nasty. But Obama has now basically ensured that the Iran deal will be the centerpiece of his foreign policy legacy. 

      Read on.....

Thursday, August 6, 2015

The New Yorker

My Interview: 
Obama on War and Peace 
By Robin Wright

President Obama was in a reflective mood when he met with a small group of journalists at the White House on Wednesday afternoon, a few hours after he delivered a combative speech defending the Iran deal. He is, in private meetings, a congenial stoic, even as he chews Nicorette gum to stay ahead of an old vice. But Obama's frustration—that the bigger message of his foreign policy is being lost in the political furies over Iran—was conspicuous. He made clear that the proposed deal, the most ambitious foreign-policy initiative of his Presidency, is less about Iran than about getting America off its war track; Obama believes that Washington, almost by default, too often unwisely deploys the military as the quickest solution to international crises.
Obama makes many of his pitches in the Roosevelt Room, a modest, windowless chamber with a conference table. When the West Wing was built, in 1902, it was originally the President’s office. A portrait of Franklin Roosevelt is on one wall; a picture of Teddy Roosevelt, as a Rough Rider on horseback, hangs over the fireplace. The most striking piece in the room is the smallest: The 1906 Nobel Prize, the first won by an American and the first by a U.S. President, is encased behind glass. It went to Teddy Roosevelt for mediating an end to the Russo-Japanese war. Only two other Presidents–Woodrow Wilson, for the League of Nations, and Jimmy Carter, after leaving office, for promoting human rights—had won it before Obama was named, just months after his election, more for his spirit than any specific achievement. As he enters the final eighteen months of his Presidency, he seems to want to prove that he deserves it.
Obama chose to give the Iran speech on the American University campus, where John F. Kennedy told the 1963 graduating class, “The United States, as the world knows, will never start a war. We do not want a war. We do not now expect a war. This generation of Americans has already had enough—more than enough—of war and hate and oppression.”
Obama echoed a similar message....Read on.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The New Yorker

Obama's Hard Sell on Iran
By Robin Wright
With the most important foreign-policy initiative of his Presidency at stake, President Obama has gone on the offensive to salvage his controversial Iran nuclear deal, amid a blitz of television ads and opposition, both at home and abroad. On Wednesday, Obama chose American University—the campus where John F. Kennedy outlined his vision for peace, in 1963, during the early age of nuclear threats—to make his strongest pitch to date. He framed the deal as the latest step in a half century of American policy to avert nuclear confrontation, invoking Kennedy’s diplomacy during the Cuban missile crisis and the arms negotiations with the Soviet Union launched by Ronald Reagan. Under both Democratic and Republican Presidents, he said, the historic Non-Proliferation Treaty and the SALT and START treaties introduced arms control.

“The world avoided nuclear catastrophe, and we created the time and the space to win the Cold War without firing a shot at the Soviets,” he said. The deal with Iran, reached after twenty months of negotiations, “builds on this tradition of strong, principled policy diplomacy.” 
After the speech, in an afternoon session with ten journalists, Obama acknowledged that the vote could be close. “Everything in this Congress squeaks by,” he said. “If I presented a cure for cancer, getting legislation passed to move that forward would be a nail-biter.” Read on:

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The New Yorker

Who Would Kill a Giraffe?
Several years ago, I arranged for Neil Armstrong and his wife, Carol, to get a behind-the-scenes tour of the National Zoo. We stopped first to commune with Jana, the newborn giraffe. The zoo showed us a video of her being born. Giraffes give birth standing up, and Jana dropped some six feet to the ground as she slipped from her mother’s womb. The mother licked her calf, and in minutes the newborn got up on wobbly legs. Neil Armstrong was enthralled. You’d think he’d never seen anything interesting before.
Whatever the conservation merits, I’ve always hated to think of any animal confined behind the bars or walls of zoos, the equivalent of jail cells for animals. It seems particularly unfair for the world’s tallest creatures, the gentle vegetarians with flirty lashes and cinnamon spots. I lived in Africa for seven years, and few sights were as magnificent, or calming, as a herd of giraffes loping gracefully across the savannah. Giraffes seem the most harmless of beasts.

But giraffes are increasingly vulnerable in the wild. The world’s giraffe population has plummeted, by more than forty per cent, over the past fifteen years. “It’s a silent extinction,” Julian Fennessy, the executive director of the Giraffe Conservation Foundation, told me this week. “Already, giraffes have become extinct in more than seven African countries. Unfortunately, it’s not fully hit the attention of the world, including many governments and major conservation organizations.” Read on ...

Monday, August 3, 2015

The New Yorker

Cecil the Lion & Robert Mugabe
By Robin Wright
    I interviewed Robert Mugabe the day after he was elected in 1980. He's now the world's oldest leader--and maybe the oldest hypocrite. He feasted on baby elephant at his 91st birthday in February. Zimbabwe only demands justice for foreign poachers, not its own. Read on...

Thursday, July 30, 2015

The New Yorker

"Death to America" & the Iran Deal
By Robin Wright 
The fate of the Iran nuclear deal may be determined less by details in a weighty document, drawn up by the world’s six major powers, than by a three-word chant still shouted  thirty-six years after Iran’s revolution. “Death to America!” hangs heavy, and maybe decisively, over the debate in Washington.

Read on....

Monday, July 20, 2015

The New Yorker

"Letter from Iran: Tehran's Promise" 

My piece about the Iranian revolution's mid-life crisis, the inside story of how the nuclear negotiations played out behind closed doors (and the five close-calls), plus what it all means for Iran's future. I had a riveting trip to Tehran. I even went to see Huck Finn--in Farsi!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The New Yorker

Iran's Post-Deal Future
By Robin Wright
The long slog of diplomacy with Iran—a pariah nation since its 1979 revolution—was always about more than the bomb. It was about the return of the world’s eighteenth-largest country—and its vast military, population, and consumer base—at a time when the Middle East is crumbling. A nuclear deal could alter the regional dynamics. The chaos in the Middle East and the rise of the Islamic State, which has come within twenty-five miles of Iran’s borders, have redefined the dangers to Iran, as well as its priorities. During the nuclear talks in Vienna, Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, released a YouTube message to the West, in English, about how a deal could “pen new horizons to address important, common challenges.” Even Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, amid his customary anti-American bombast, offered a tantalizing remark. “If the other side gives up its usual diversionary tactics,” he told a group of poets, in April, “this will become an experience for us that, very well, we can negotiate with them on other issues.” Throughout the spring, Tehran was abuzz over the prospect of coöperation with the United States. During the final weeks of negotiations, I spoke to Zarif in Tehran about Khamenei’s statement and how a deal might impact other conflicts in the world’s most volatile region.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The New Yorker

An Iran Deal, At Last 
By Robin Wright 
After nineteen days of marathon negotiations and four missed deadlines, Iran and the world’s six major powers announced a nuclear deal in Vienna this morning. The exhaustive and elusive diplomacy—sustained by an unsettling combination of Twizzlers, gelato, string cheese, and Rice Krispies treats—was dicey to the end. Secretary of State John Kerry wasn’t sure that the often volatile talks would succeed, until Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, showed up at Kerry’s working quarters, in Room 103 of the opulent Palais Coburg, just before midnight Monday.

“This has always been a Rubik’s Cube,” a senior U.S. negotiator told me. “In the early morning hours of July 14th, the last cubes clicked into place. It was an incredibly arduous and incredibly complex process.”

It was also the longest mission of a Secretary of State in more than three decades. Since October, 2013, Kerry has flown some four hundred thousand miles—the equivalent of circling the world sixteen times—to prevent a tenth country from getting the bomb. Read on....

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

The New Yorker

Nuclear Deal's Adversaries Await
By Robin Wright
For the world’s six major powers, getting to a nuclear deal with Iran has been torturous. The talks, led by Secretary of State John Kerry and Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, have repeatedly been extended by months, then weeks, and, now, in the opulent Palais Coburg, in Vienna, almost day by day. Today, they were extended to July 10th. Deadlines, Iran’s senior negotiator, Abbas Araghchi, said (after missing today’s), are not holy. Marie Harf, the State Department senior adviser, said, “We’re frankly more concerned about the quality of the deal than we are about the clock, though we also know that difficult decisions won’t get any easier with time.”

Campaigns against a deal are already in full swing in both Washington and Tehran. If an agreement eventually emerges, both parties will have to sell it to constituencies that remain skeptical because of the even more tortured history between the two countries—spanning six decades and including a coup, terrorist attacks, assassinations, the shooting down of a passenger aircraft, covert operations, nuclear sabotage, and hostage dramas. Privately, the American and Iranian delegations have mused, more than once, over which government was taking the bigger risk, or was going to pay a bigger price, for the nuclear diplomacy. Read on....

Thursday, July 2, 2015

The New Yorker

The War that Haunts Iran
By Robin Wright 
The historic nuclear diplomacy taking place in Vienna’s elegant Coburg Palace has roots in a gritty war between Iran and Iraq that ended more than a quarter of a century ago. Iran suffered more than a hundred and fifty thousand dead between 1980 and 1988. In Tehran, it’s called the Sacred Defense. In the final stages, U.S. aid to Iraq contributed to Iran’s decision to pursue nuclear capability—the very program that six world powers are now negotiating to contain.... 
Read on: 

Thursday, April 16, 2015


Iran's Dealmaker
By Robin Wright 
    The new TIME profiles the world's 100 most influential people in 2015. I was asked to write about one of them: Iran's Dealmaker Javad Zarif, the diplomatic pivot on the most important deal in over a quarter century to prevent a 10th country from getting the world's deadliest weapon. Here's the link:

Monday, April 6, 2015

The New Yorker

Rouhani's Bet on an Iran Deal
By Robin Wright 
My piece in The New Yorker on the Iran deal -- from the Iranian side. President Rouhani faces a bigger risk than President Obama. In a speech to the nation, he said the nuke agreement would begin a “new chapter” for Iran. If he fails, though, it could be the last chapter for yet another Iranian President. Read on...

Thursday, April 2, 2015

The New Yorker

It's a Deal, Almost 

By Robin Wright
History may have been made today. 
It's not just the potential that will prevent Iran from getting the bomb. It's also the potential to end 36 years of hostilities with Iran. 
As John Limbert, a former hostage told me, “Symbolically, it is enormously important, because it means that we can move to something other than just spitting at each other. When the ‘bomb, bomb Iran’ crowd says we can’t trust Iran, I say, ‘So what?’ Throughout history, we’ve made deals with people we don’t trust. I support whatever gets us out of this morass.”
Read on...My piece in The New Yorker.…/news-desk/iran-its-a-deal-almost

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Wall Street Journal

The Tragedy of Tunisia

If ever there were an Arab country you want to work, it’s Tunisia.
Of the 22 Arab countries, Tunisia is the only one that has weathered the stormy Arab Spring and ended up with a viable democratic government. Its Islamist party has consistently worked with secular counterparts and not made the kind of power plays that doomed Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and its democratic transition. And Tunisia’s three national elections–held at unheated schoolrooms across the country–between October and December were practically pristine. (I was an international monitor at the December presidential vote.)
Tunisia is a sliver of North Africa nestled between disintegrating Libya and the military-backed government of Algeria. It is a stark contrast to those neighboring geographic giants, and to increasingly autocratic Egypt further east. Tunisia has represented a slice of hope.
Yet Tunisia has also provided more foreign fighters than any other country—in absolute numbers and proportionately—to Islamic State and other militant groups fighting in Syria and Iraq. More than 3,000 had joined by the end of 2014. Last fall the government said it had prevented an additional 9,000 from leaving the country. Just as alarming, an estimated 500 that have trained as killers have returned home.
The tragedy of Tunisia, which played out Wednesday in the terrorist attack at a Tunis museum that killed more than 20, is reflected in Sidi Bouzid.
The poor central city is a long way from the Mediterranean beaches and white-washed buildings with aqua trim that are more familiar to tourists. It was in remote Sidi Bouzid that a young fruit vendor set himself on fire in late 2010 to protest social inequality.Mohammed Bouazizi‘s grisly death sparked the wave of uprisings in 2011 that became known as the Arab Spring.
A large stone monument at the site where Mr. Bouazizi covered himself with paint thinner and lit a match honors his inspiration. It shows a fruit vendor’s cart pushing over several thrones. On the side, written in Arabic, English, and French: “For those who yearn to be free.”
Tunisia’s problem is that four years after Mr. Bouazizi’s self-immolation, flash points remain and many still face profound inequities. When I went to Sidi Bouzid in 2012, a vendor selling bulbous oranges at the street corner where Mr. Bouazizi had worked told me, “We have more freedoms now, but fewer jobs.”
Today, almost a third of Tunisia’s young people are unemployed. It’s not just the poor: More than 200,000 recent university graduates can’t find work. “Most of them have been waiting five, eight, even ten years for a job,” Karim Helali of Afek (“Horizons”), a progressive party favored by Tunisia’s young, told me in December.
Mr. Helali was not surprised by the appeal of militant groups. “Any time these people decide to go to their deaths, it’s because they don’t accept conditions of life. They believe they are rejected by society,” he said.
Rachid Ghannouchi, leader of Ennahda, Tunisia’s moderate Islamist party, told me: “The young are still waiting for the fruits of the revolution. So the poorest region is still in protest.”
On the eve of Tunisia’s first democratic election, for parliament, in October, a Pew pollfound that almost 90% of Tunisians described the economy as bad. More than half said the tumultuous transition had left Tunisia worse off than it had been under autocratic rule. Support for democracy had “declined steeply” since the Arab Spring, Pew found.
Three successful elections gave Tunisia a badly needed boost. Lack of jobs is only one of several issues that have disillusioned Tunisia’s young and enticed some of them to militancy. The fragile democracy faces tougher core issues, reflected in the fact that only 32% of eligible voters participated in the final presidential poll. The lowest turnout was among the young. And the lowest turnout in any town nationwide was in Sidi Bouzid.

Clearly, Tunisia has not yet produced enough to believe in.

Monday, March 16, 2015

The Wall Street Journal

Global Arms Sales Soar
By ROBIN WRIGHT   March 16, 2015

If judged by arms sales, the world is getting deadlier. Much deadlier.
For decades, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute has monitored the flows of weaponry. Its new report, which evaluates sales in periods of five years to account for multiyear deals and fluctuations in delivery, found that volume of arms exports rose 16% globally from 2010 through 2014, compared with the previous five years.
The United States, once again, was the largest exporter. Its export of major weapons–to 94 countries and territories–grew 23% in the same five-year period. But sales increasingly reflect the economics of the arms industry, not just policy or alliances.
“The USA has long seen arms exports as a major foreign policy and security tool, but in recent years exports are increasingly needed to help the U.S. arms industry maintain production levels at a time of decreasing U.S. military expenditure,” Aude Fleurant, director of the institute’s Arms and Military Expenditure Program, said in a statement Sunday.
The next largest exporters were Russia, China, Germany, and France. Sixty countries export arms, but the top five account for almost three-quarters of all arms transfers worldwide.
China surpassed Germany for the first time. Its exports soared 143% between the two most recent five-year periods, though its share of global exports is still only 5%, the institute reports.
Russian exports of major weapons–to 56 countries and to rebel forces in Ukraine—increased 37%. But its largest sales were more concentrated, with India, China, and Algeria accounting for almost 60% of Moscow’s exports.
The most notable numbers may be arms imports by the six oil-rich Gulf sheikhdoms, which increased 71%. Saudi Arabia became the world’s second-largest importer of major weapons globally between 2010 and 2014, the report says. Saudi imports were four times larger than in the previous five-year period.
The five largest importers among 153 countries that bought arms were India, Saudi Arabia, China, the United Arab Emirates, and Pakistan, according to the report.
Overall, Asia accounts for five of the 10 largest importers. “Enabled by continued economic growth and driven by high threat perceptions, Asian countries continue to expand their military capabilities with an emphasis on maritime assets,” said Siemon Wezeman, a senior researcher with the institute. “Asian countries generally still depend on imports of major weapons, which have strongly increased and will remain high in the near future.”
Among other trends the report noted:
* To fight Islamic State, Iraq received arms from countries as diverse as Iran, Russia, and the U.S. in 2014;
* Cameroon and Nigeria received arms from several countries after an urgent appeal for more weapons to fight Boko Haram, the Islamic extremist movement;
* African arms imports rose 45% from 2010 through 2014, compared with the previous five-year period.
* Azerbaijan had the largest single-country increase in arms exports: 249%.
The report does not bode well for the prospects of peace almost any place in the early 21st century.

Friday, March 13, 2015

The Wall Street Journal

In War on ISIS, Numbers 

Don’t Always Tell the Story

By ROBIN WRIGHT   March 13, 2015
Wars often degrade into numbers games of competing troop strengths, arsenals, territory held, bombing runs, and body counts. But judging an asymmetric conflict is complicated, and the battle against Islamic State involves militaries that are, in most respects, vastly different.
In Iraq, the battle for Tikrit reflects the imbalances and oddities. In Syria, the aftermath of the battle for Kobani shows how victories in this war are not always clean or decisive.
In Tikrit, some 30,000 have been fighting to retake Saddam Hussein’s home town. There are at least three disparate forces–the Iraqi army, an umbrella group of Shiite militias, and Sunni tribal fighters–with senior military advisers from Iran’s Revolutionary Guards providing strategy. They attacked ISIS simultaneously on three fronts.
ISIS had only hundreds of militants in Tikrit, according to Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who visited Iraq this week.
By numbers alone, the first major Iraqi offensive against ISIS should have been a romp.
Yet the fight to retake this city 90 miles north of Baghdad has been a slog, partly because of such immeasurable factors as motive, incentives, and ideological commitment. Sunni militants loyal to ISIS have repeatedly demonstrated more discipline and greater devotion, in Iraq and in Syria, than their rivals.
At this point, ISIS seems destined toretreat from Tikrit. Iraqi Prime MinisterHaidar al-Abadi declared Thursday that victory was near, despite suicide bombings and booby-trapped roads and buildings that have slowed the offensive.
Although the Iraqi army nearly collapsed last summer, ISIS is now outnumbered and outgunned in Iraq. The Iraqi military has 48,000 effective forces–about a quarter of its peak strength of 210,000 troops in 2009. A handful of Shiite militias, operating under the umbrella of Hashd al-Shaabi, or Popular Mobilization Forces, made up two-thirds of the fighting forces in the Tikrit campaign. Between 1,000 and 3,000 Sunni tribal fighters also took part in the battle.
Yet Islamic State militants have proven their willingness to fight, whatever the cost in human life or urban destruction. And insurgencies always have the edge of stealth. As it ceded turf in Tikrit, ISIS intensified its assault on Ramadi, a city nearly twice the size of Tikrit and only 60 miles west of Baghdad.
On Thursday, ISIS fighters blew up an Iraqi army headquarters in Ramadi, killing more than 40 soldiers. ISIS militants had dug a tunnel below the headquarters and set off homemade bombs, according to local officials.
In Syria, the first and biggest success against ISIS illustrates the complexities of this asymmetric war. On Jan. 26, ISIS was forced to retreat from Kobani, the little Kurdish town on the Turkish-Syrian border. With the help of more than 600 airstrikes since August by the U.S.-led coalition–at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars–a Kurdish militia with vintage arms pushed the militants out. It was a costly defeat for ISIS: More than 2,000 of its fighters were killed, U.S. officials said at the time.
Yet since that victory, the U.S.-led coalition has bombed “near Kobani” 175 times, according to a tally of U.S. Central Command’s daily press releases. That’s 67% of the coalition bombings in all of Syria since the win in Kobani. In other words, ISIS is still a threat “near Kobani,” just as it may be near Tikrit even if it pulls out.
In short, numbers don’t always tell the whole story of any battle.