Trump Fascist Part VII: Dystopia and Utopia

Trump Fascist Part VII: Dystopia and Utopia

by

Howard Adelman

I have not spent full blogs on many of the basic philosophic premises of fascism and instead have included them as minor keys within a larger discussion of one principle, such as the reference to the breakdown between the public and the private within the discussion of chaos, democracy and fascism. However, there are two remaining themes that I want to discuss at some length in this blog, the dystopian view of the existing world and the utopian portrait of a nostalgic as well as future world characteristic of fascism.

As was widely noted when Donald Trump delivered his acceptance speech after he won the nomination at the Republican Convention, in contrast to Barack Obama’s stress on hope and the typical stress on optimism characterizing presidential hopefuls, DT painted a very bleak picture of both the state of the nation and the world.  In a dystopia, people live dehumanized and fearful lives. Of course, it is an imaginary world conforming very little to reality, but all the more powerful because of that.

DT’s portrait of the state of the nation was cast in terms of murder and mayhem, moving towards financial ruin because of unfair trade deals and an invasion by immigrants and refugees. More recently, he insisted he won New Hampshire – he did not; he won the primary – because it is a drug-infested den.

The general explanation is that he was tapping into widespread anger and fear among white working-class men. However, in listening to interviews in the states that he won and among individuals who voted for him, I heard no expressions of fear, except in the abstract – that is, if something is not done, the U.S. is headed to hell in a basket. I heard very little anger. His supporters were calm and determined to have a candidate that reflected themselves and only fearful that DT and the Republican-led Congress would not deliver. Thus, the irony. They voted for the candidate who held the most jaundiced view of America than anyone had ever expressed on the campaign trail while they most deeply wanted to preserve the status quo where they lived in the American heartland.

The dystopic text for comprehending the regime is not George Orwell’s 1984 but Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. In that dystopic novel, order is not maintained by Big Brother watching your every move and thought, but by an amusement and entertainment absorption resulting in “blissed-out and vacant servitude.” (Christopher Hitchens) However, we live in an age of celebrity politics. DT as a candidate won power on a platform of “draining the swamp” by appointing billionaires, extras from Goldman Sachs and generals. In ignoring this and many other blatant contradictions, those who voted for DT were not “blissed out” by an absorption in amusement and entertainment, but rather in soap box melodrama both before and after the election. Aldous Huxley was right about distraction, but wrong about the vehicle. For the latter, as it turns out, is even more effective in burying facts and analysis in weepy clichés rather than sensual distractions.

In 1935, the great muckraking novelist, Sinclair Lewis wrote It Can’t Happen Here, warning about the immanent possibility of fascism in America. As Brian Bethune wrote in an essay in Macleans in January, “A dystopian reading list for the Donald Trump era,” the political style of the president was to sneer at “tact” and “courtesy.” Civility was not to be a hallmark of such an administration. Rather, a self-advertising and self-promoting hero defines himself as the only one who can make America great again in a fictitious America where citizens hide away fearful of marauding hordes of migrants.

The irony – one among many – is that this promoter of chaos mentioned “law and order’ four times in accepting the role of presidential candidate for the Republican Party. Further, his first TV ad in black and white at the beginning of the year, when he sought the nomination, included images of the two accused San Bernardino shooters, missiles, a body on a stretcher, bombs dropping on buildings. In this hellscape of riots that bore little resemblance to the then current reality in America, DT painted a portrait of the American nightmare rather than the American dream, the reference point for almost all American politicians running for high office.

This did not mean that his platform, his program and his performance lacked a utopian dimension. Quite the reverse. It was integral to his appeal.  DT views America as a once great nation (assuming, of course, that his words approximate his deep beliefs – a big assumption in itself) that is currently beset by a myriad of problems resulting from the U.S. being exploited and used by the rest of the world. He campaigned on a vision: “Make America Great Again.” Not only has the world taken advantage of America, but the elites have betrayed their own country.

Of course, the dystopic and utopian sides of his coin of the realm are at one and the same time a distorted picture of America’s problems and wrongheaded view of the solutions to the real problems of the country. DT promised to bring the coal industry back to life and restore the well-paying jobs in the industry. He is averse to involvements in foreign wars, but has been unable to forge an effective military doctrine to extract the U.S. from Afghanistan.

However, he has delivered his promises to the business world as he wages war on regulations. He promised to produce jobs and reduce unemployment and so far the economy has sizzled even higher than under Obama so that the U.S. is at the lowest record of unemployment in sixteen years – 4.3%. The unemployment rate was even lower in 19 of America’s fifty states, ironically mostly in states that voted for Hillary Clinton. Within the vision of this schizophrenic dystopian president one finds a utopian vision of America with full employment, high paying jobs, job security and thriving businesses operating in a country free from foreign wars, a reduced influx of “unwanted” migrants and increased domestic freedom from both regulations and taxes.

However, DT is a particularly odd type of saviour. For he has never been interested in creating a new world order. Nor even a new national order. His slogan is not. “Make America great,” but “Make America great again.” His utopia hearkens back to the vision America projected of itself when DT was a boy in the fifties, when the image was there, but not the reality of widespread discrimination, of the Korean and later Vietnam War. For DT, the strains and stresses of domestic strife in the U.S. began the long decline. D.T.’s utopian vision is a backward gaze immersed in nostalgia and mindblindness.

Linking the dystopian and utopian vision is the projection of himself as a doer, as a man of action, as a leader who signs executive order after executive, order, many, if not most, without reflection, vetting or input even by his own party or even cabinet. But if he emerges as disastrous on domestic policy requiring legislation (repeal and replace Obamacare), his record is even more disastrous when it comes to foreign policy. The Philippines has been allowed to fall into the Chinese sphere of influence. He is determined to destroy the Iranian nuclear agreement even as his officials certify that Iran has kept to its terms, even as his rants have undermined the relatively moderate leadership of Hassan Rouhani and even though his views are contradicted by his Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson. DT also spoke of supporting NATO in contradistinction to DT who wallows in belittling the alliance, wearing on the nerves of his allies. His one foreign policy success, getting through the UN Security Council a unanimous vote, resolution 2371, in support of severest sanctions ever against North Korea, but even that success might be highly overrated if China does not follow through with strict compliance on the boycott of North Korea.

However, even the North Korean UN victory cannot be attributed in any way to Donald Trump, but to the twin wrestling team of Rex Tillerson and Nikki Haley, his ambassador to the UN. For unlike their boss, they take the importance of the UN, and particularly the Security Council, seriously. They both emphasize the importance of diplomacy, though Nikki is more likely to wave the big stick. Rex Tillerson stresses clarity. “We do not seek a regime change; we do not seek the collapse of the regime; we do not seek an accelerated reunification of the peninsula; we do not seek an excuse to send our military north of the 38th parallel.”

The sanctions passed will slash North Korea’s revenues from coal, iron, iron ore, lead, lead ore and seafood by one billion dollars, a full one-third of its foreign currency earnings. The victory is also noteworthy because it relied on subtle diplomacy rather than shifts between rants and insults versus excessive praise and flattery. We can only watch to see if China, and, to a lesser extent, Russia really comply with the sanctions resolution.

Utopian/dystopian frameworks for politics lead to mindblindness to the actual problems nations face and the realistic alternatives for resolving them. The split undercuts rational analysis and detailed empirical research. Most importantly, it feeds the politics of centering attention on a leader who sees and projects a reality that is overwhelmingly a product of his own mind. As such, it reinforces an attachment between that leader and followers caught up in a similar or identical imaginative worldview.

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement: Part I: A Rhetorical Critique of BDS

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement

by

Howard Adelman

SPOILER WARNING

In the next three blogs, I assume the persona of a critic of Israel. The reader can judge whether that persona believes Zionism in general is a settler colonial enterprise, or believes that Israel has expanded its settlements on the West Bank, or because the writer is milquetoast and simply supports the Palestinian cause. I can assure the reader of only one thing – the writer is not an anti-Semite, though very critical of Jews and not just Zionists.  However, this is not a screed against Israelis or Zionists or Jews. It is a screed against my fellow Arabs and Muslims for their pusillanimous and hypocritical approach to the challenge facing them. My voice is not simply one of discontent or of a dissident against the organized Palestinian and Arab establishment. I come from that establishment.

I realize that I am taking on what is literally the weakest link, the soft underbelly of the anti-Israeli movement. But that softness is the real enemy, not Israelis, Zionists or Jews. For it diverts our energies and time into supporting BDS, not simply against Israel, but against Israeli academics who were never even part of the original target of the BDS movement. This is not an irrational screed. I intend to demolish the case for the BDS movement, not because it is not muscular enough, though it is certainly the skinny pasty victim on the beach, but because it is not ethically consistent or coherent.

I ask: upon what criteria – moral principles, efficaciousness of the BDS movement, current international political circumstances or my personal values or goals in life – should I support BDS?  Does or should it matter whether BDS is succeeding or, alternatively, whether it is badly in need of support? How should the existing strategies and tactics of BDS affect my support? This is not simply an exercise in sophistic rhetoric or an effort in verstehen, an empathetic re-enactment to better understand the BDS supporter from the inside as it were. Rather, this is intended to be an exercise in applied ethics where the support of BDS focused on Israeli academia is considered a possible reasonable moral choice for an effort in political activism.

It is a possible choice, but not a reasonable one for any self-respecting Palestinian, Arab, Muslim. I shall try to make clear why BDS is a fraud designed to serve, albeit unintentionally, in strengthening the Zionist program. Hopefully, this analysis will lead to a better understanding of the BDS movement with perhaps some implications for choosing alternative strategies.

This blogs will appear in three installments:

1) A succinct description of BDS and is rhetorical tropes;

2) What BDS- has achieved to date with an analytical critique of its claims for success;

3) A more fundamental moral critique.

Part I: A Rhetorical Critique of BDS

For the record, rather than offering information that is not already widely known, the BDS movement was launched in 2005 by 170 Palestinian civil society organizations. They represented refugees, Palestinians under occupation and Palestinian citizens of Israel. No one can accuse the BDS movement of a failure to be deeply rooted in Palestinian society.

Further, it is a non-violent effort. The roots began well before the initial 2005 date. Before even the first intifada broke out in 1987, Faisal Husseini (I said that I come from the establishment) argued that the use of force against the power of Israel backed by the might of America was an exercise in futility, a quixotic tilting at windmills that only invited more loss of territory and more concessions to the Zionists. Instead, the Palestinian movement had to imitate the efforts of Gandhi and Martin Luther King and host the Zionists on their own moral petard.

The methods of non-violent resistance had to be employed to enhance pressure on Israel through a program of boycotting Israeli products, just as Blacks in Alabama boycotted the use of the buses in Montgomery, Alabama. The movement had to promote financial disinvestment from Israeli companies by Western interests sympathetic to the Palestinian cause. Most importantly, it had to promote sanctions against the Israeli state and bring Israel down on its economic knees just as the West succeeded in forcing Iran through the use of sanctions to give up its military nuclear program. Hence, BDS, boycott, divestment and sanctions. These were to be and still are the purported tools to apply non-violent pressure against Israel.

This is why Uncle Faisal cleared out his huge accumulation of Palestinian records going back to the colonial period that he had collected in Orient House. He replaced the material with a huge collection of works on Gandhi’s and Martin Luther King’s tactics and successes. Though he never openly opposed the intifada, it was not the path he had recommended. The non-violent movement would look to the future and not try to build a case on either the records of the past or past exercises in military futility.

Note the following. The original mandate of BDS did not include boycotting the speeches of Israeli academics who appeared abroad to give talks. Yet much of the activity of the BDS movement on North American and British campuses has been directed towards that end. Secondly, the BDS movement on appearance had nothing to do with denying Israel’s right to exist or its legitimacy. Instead there were purportedly three finite goals, which, when met, would require the movement to retire. They were:

  1. ending Israel’s occupation and colonization of all Arab lands;
  2. recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality;
  3. respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194.

On the surface, these seem like perfectly clear and even modest demands. But are they? Take the first. If Israel is defined by its opponents as a colonialist and occupying power, then the reference is not only to the West Bank, much of which Israel continues to occupy, while the rest remains under its control through the PLO that has been reduced to a satrap, but must refer to the whole of Israel itself. Just look at the original non-aligned conference in Bandung, Indonesia in April 1955, sixty years ago. 29 countries representing one-quarter of the Earth’s surface and one-half of its population endorsed the Palestinian cause and depicted Israel as a colonialist imposition in the Middle East when it was not in occupancy of the West Bank.

Sixty years later in Bandung in April of this year, the rhetoric remained the same. Since the original conference, all countries under colonial occupation have been freed and gained their independence – except Palestine. The original declaration was not about the West Bank and Gaza. Instead, Israeli Zionists were accused of illegally occupying Palestine. This year, the NAM states reiterated that position. For the past 68, not just 48 years, with the support of its main ally, the United States, and some other western countries, such as Britain, Canada, France, Australia, and Germany, support for Israel as an occupying power continues. .

The Bandung non-aligned states are part of the problem, not part of the solution. For they are satisfied with rhetorical expressions of sympathy rather than any systematic program of action. After all, the countries at the Bandung Conference committed themselves to non-violent solutions. In the 10-point Dasala Bandung, the “declaration on promotion of world peace and cooperation.” Just read five of the clauses:

Clause 2: Respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all nations

Clause 4: Respect for the right of each nation to defend itself, singly or collectively

Clause 5 (b) Abstention by any country from exerting pressures on other countries

Clause 7: Refraining from acts or threats of aggression or the use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any country

Clause 8: Settlement of all international disputes by peaceful means, such as negotiation, conciliation, arbitration or judicial settlement as well as other peaceful means of the parties own choice, in conformity with the charter of the United Nations. 

Israel, as well as Taiwan, may not have been invited to the conference. The conference may have endorsed Palestinian recovery of their lands. But how could that be achieved? Especially given the record over the last sixty years, if respect was to be given to Israel as a nation with membership in the United Nations entitled to take all measures to defend itself? Not only could force not be threatened against Israel, but the Bandung Conference ruled out even the use of sanctions as a form of pressure. The non-aligned states could reiterate all they want this year that Palestine was not and would not be forgotten, but the actions of these states, with few exceptions, substitute nostalgia and memory for any program of action to deal with Israel as a colonial occupying power of all of Palestine.

The second goal of the BDS movement seems unassailable – recognizing the rights of Arab-Israeli citizens to full equality. But does equality require insisting not only that Arab-Israeli citizens have equal access to jobs and housing – they already have the ballot and considerable representation in the Knesset – but that the symbols of the state and its national anthem represent and give recognition to all of the citizens of the state and not be rooted in Jewish and Zionist motifs? Further, if Israel is by definition an occupying power, what is the meaning of equality of membership in such a state, becoming a quisling and joining with Zionists and Jews in the occupation of their own people’s lands?

The third is the most contentious – the demand for a return of the refugees. (See Howard Adelman and Elazar Barkan (2011) No Return, No Refuge. New York: Columbia University Press.) On that matter, the conclusion is very clear in spite of Palestinian and Arab subsequent successes in the revisions to the interpretation of UN Resolution 194, particularly in UN Resolution 338. The resolution itself does not state that the refugees, whether Jewish or Arab (the resolution applies to all those in Palestine who fled or were forced to leave their homes), had to be free to return to their original homes. Clause 11 of the resolution deals with other matters, such as the status and role of the Conciliation Commission, the demilitarization of greater Jerusalem, but also giving due recognition to the role of the recently assassinated Count Folke Bernadotte whose recommendations on the issue of refugees significantly influenced the debates and wording of the relevant clause. Clause 11 states:

Resolves that the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or in equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible; Instructs the Conciliation Commission to facilitate the repatriation, resettlement and economic and social rehabilitation of the refugees and the payment of compensation, and to maintain close relations with the Director of the United Nations Relief for Palestine Refugees and, through him, with the appropriate organs and agencies of the United Nations.

First, the clause is commendatory not mandatory, requesting Israel to permit return. This is consistent with the predominant view at the time that a state had full power to determine who could be its citizens, a principle accepted by the Bandung Conference. Second, even that request for permission has a condition – it is only applicable to those who having fled commit themselves to live at peace with the state of Israel, that is, to accept permanently the occupation by a colonizing power. Third, as the debates clearly reveal, those states supporting the resolution envisioned settlement in surrounding Arab countries as the permanent solution, an outcome to be supported by compensation paid to those displaced. Fourth, even the compensation clause is restrictive, applicable only to those who made a choice not to return. Those who opted for continuing the fight, by implication, would neither be permitted to return nor given compensation. The resolution was based on a belief in financial bribery – that the refugees could be bought off. There is no doubt that this clause, which was opposed by Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Yemen, was not only opposed because it favoured Israel more than the Palestinians, but because those states then considered Israel itself to be illegitimate.

The problem is that if the clause is interpreted, as it was subsequently, as mandating “a right to return,” then it is inconsistent with all other refugee situations where refugees have never been allowed to return in a violent clash between ethnic rivals. Everyone who has studied the matter knows that refugees only have been able to return in such conflicts if they were part of a victorious military force. The right of a state to determine its own members always trumped any consideration of return.

Warehousing refugees in camps for sixty-seven years, feeding them the belief that they can return “by right” instead of letting them understand that the only way they will and can return will be through victory over the Zionist colonizers, is all part of a long term sedative to put the Palestinian cause to sleep while rhetorically and nostalgically celebrating the Palestinian cause as the last and greatest item in the push back against colonialism. The refugees will only return if they are on the side of those who win militarily. So the clause either does not refer to any right even implicitly or it does entail a right, but a right that does not have universal applicability and is only applied to Palestinian refugees and not even all refugees from Palestine. But a right that is not universal is not a right at all.

I will end this critique of BDS as a rhetorical exercise by referring to an article in Embassy. Embassy is a ten-year old electronic publication that reports on Canadian diplomacy, defence, immigration, trade and development. On 26 May 2015, the periodical published an article by Peter Larson entitled, “Israel boycott demands consistent with official Canadian policy” with the subtext, “Yet the public safety minister recently declared that Canada will show ‘zero tolerance’ towards the so-called BDS movement.” It is important to note that Peter Larson is not a government official or someone who retired from the foreign service or even an independent journalist. He is the chair of the National Education Committee on Israel/Palestine, a committee of the National Council on Canada Arab Relations, the main lobby group behind the BDS movement.

Without even getting into the body of the article, a reader has to ask why would a Canadian government minister appear to legally banish a body engaged in promoting a boycott against Israel? On the other hand, why would the writer insist that the position of the BDS movement is perfectly consistent with Canadian policy? The answers to these two questions are not readily found in the article.

There is some clarification with respect to why the Minister might take such a stand that initially appears so counter-intuitive – if the activities were regarded as a ”hate crime.” However, no sooner was this explanation offered than the Canadian government announced in unequivocal terms that BDS was not a target for prosecution because BDS was an exercise in hate. Of course, BDS is no such thing. That is its problem. BDS makes nice. As in the article, BDS insists that the positions it advocates are perfectly consistent with Canadian policy. For example, the article claims that “ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands” is completely consistent with Canada’s existing policy as stated by the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development, namely that, “Canada does not recognize permanent Israeli control over territories occupied in 1967 (the Golan Heights, the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip)… As referred to in UN Security Council Resolutions 446 and 465, Israeli settlements in the occupied territories are a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.”

The omitted sentence signalled by the dots reads: ”The Fourth Geneva Convention applies in the occupied territories and establishes Israel’s obligations as an occupying power, in particular with respect to the humane treatment of the inhabitants of the occupied territories.” When inserted, the next sentence reads with my italics, “Canada does not recognize permanent Israeli control over territories…” Impermanent control as long as both Israel and the PLO protect Palestinian civil and humanitarian right and until the deal is made trading the settlements for land in the Negev. In reality, the policy endorses creeping colonialism. And that is made clear in the opening paragraph where the world’s current strongest supporter of Israel, Canada, “supports Israel’s right to live in peace with its neighbours within secure boundaries and recognizes Israel’s right to assure its own security… Canada and Israel enjoy a steadfast friendship and strong, growing bilateral relations in many areas based on shared values, including democracy.” The issue is then not one of real principle, but about what Israel can get away with even under international law.

The second BDS demand requires “recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality.” But nowhere in the above statement of Canadian policy is there any reference to the rights of Israeli-Palestinian citizens. All BDS supporters can cite is general principles where Canada boasts that it “has been a consistently strong voice for the protection of human rights and the advancement of democratic values.” But when was the last time, if ever, that Canada voiced any concern for the equal rights of Palestinian Israelis?

What about refugee policy? After all, Canada gavelled the refugee talks in Geneva. Canadian policy on the Palestinian refugees states that, “Canada believes that a just solution to the Palestinian refugee issue is central to a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as called for in United Nations General Assembly resolution 194 (1948) and United Nations Security Council resolution 242… This solution should respect the rights of the refugees, in accordance with international law.” The problem is that it is perfectly consistent with BDS goals and methods of using rhetorical gestures. For nowhere in that policy does it say that Canada respects the right of Palestinian refugees to return to what is now Israel. All we get is equivocation and a demonstration that diplomacy is the art of creative ambiguity.

When BDS participates in this creative ambiguity while believing in strategies directly at odds with Canadian policy, we simply observe an exercise in obsequious behaviour, the very attitudes that colonialism inculcates in a subject people.

What I have sketched out is an argument that the non-violent rhetoric of the BDS movement is but one small tactic in a long chain of concessions which rhetorically may make one feel good, feel righteous and virtuous, and even promote identification with those oppressed by the strategies of the colonial masters, but is an exercise in rhetoric that is both inherently contradictory and ultimately inefficacious. It contributes, as have all other gestures in this line, to the incremental success of Zionism, an ideology that needs to be defeated on the ground and not just with words

BDS speech is not hate speech. It is an exercise in obsequious love speech, love for the language of its colonial masters. Until BDS throws off the shackles of its linguistic colonialism, it offers no program for the future. If its rhetoric is rooted in a history of failure in spite of the appearance of some successes, has BDS had any significant concrete successes?

Sanctions and Relief Implementation

Sanctions and Relief Implementation

by

Howard Adelman

Note that the EU3+3 (Britain, France, Germany + China, Russia and the U.S.) is the same as the P5+1 (Britain, China, France, Russia and U.S., permanent members of the UN Security Council + Germany).

To understand the current conflict over sanctions against Iran, it is helpful if we provide a brief history.

  • 1979 (November) President Carter’s Executive Order 12170 freezing Iranian assets (estimated value $10-12 billion) in response to Iranian hostage-taking of American embassy personnel by radicals protesting allowing entry to the Shah of Iran for medical treatment into the U.S.
  • 1980 embargo on U.S. trade with Iran imposed and travel ban to Iran issued
  • 1981 sanctions lifted after hostage crisis resolved
  • 1984 U.S. prohibits weapons sales, loans or assistance to Iran following Iraq invasion of Iran and belief that Iran is developing a nuclear weapons program
  • 1987 (October) President Ronald Reagan issues Executive Order 12613 prohibiting all imports from or exports into U.S. by Iran
  • 1995 (March) President Clinton issues Executive Order 12957 prohibiting all manner of trade between the U.S. and Iran in support of the Iranian petroleum industry
  • 1995 (May) President Clinton issues Executive Order 12959 prohibiting any trade with Iran
  • 1996 (August) under President Clinton, Iran and Libya Sanctions Act (ILSA) (H.R. 3107, P.L. 104-172) signed into law but Libya deleted from name of law when sanctions against Libya lifted in 2006
  • 1997 (August) Mohammad Khatami, considered a reformer, elected President of Iran and president Clinton eases some sanctions
  • 2000 sanctions reduced for pharmaceuticals, medical equipment, caviar and Persian rugs
  • 2001 (August) Iran (and Libya) Sanctions Act renewed under President George W. Bush
  • 2004 U.S. Courts overrule a Treasury Department application of sanctions to intellectual exchanges and reciprocal publication arrangements
  • 2005 Mahmoud Ahmadinejad elected President of Iran and lifts suspension of uranium enrichment program agreed to with Britain, France and Germany (EU3) and sanctions in place now vigorously reinforced
  • 2006 UNSC Resolution 1696 passed against the renewal of Iranian uranium enrichment program
  • 2006 UNSC Resolution 1696
  • 2006 UNSC Resolution 1737
  • 2007 UNSC Resolution 1747
  • 2008 UNSC Resolution 1803
  • 2008 UNSC Resolution 1835
  • 2010 (June) UNSC Resolution 1929
  • 2010 (July) EU expands its sanctions beyond those required by the UNSC
  • 2012 (October) EU significantly expands and details more specifically its bans on the provision of services and equipment for the petrochemical industry, including oil tankers, the supply of services upon which Iranian production was so dependent, especially the ban in the export of certain specific metals, including graphite, that would be critical to Iran’s ability to fabricate its own machinery related to Iran’s ballistic missile development as well as its petrochemical industry
  • 2013 (March) EU imposition of sanctions against judges, media officials and a special police monitoring unit linked to the death of a dissident held in custody
  • 2013 (June) election of Hassan Rouhani government in Iran
  • 2013 (July) almost five months before Joint Plan of Action agreement signed and after Rouhani elected on a pledge to enter negotiations with the UN, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 400:20 in favour of increased sanctions against Iran
  • In contrast, following Rouhani’s election, the EU took a pro-active stand to invite Iran to join negotiations and a step-by-step approach that would restore normal economic relations while ensuring Iran’s right to develop nuclear technology for peaceful purposes
  • Sanctions begin to be lifted for an initial six-month period by the EU in January 2014 after the JPA came into effect beginning with suspension of the ban on the import of petrochemical products and the banking and insurance related thereto.

While George W. Bush was renewing the sanctions regime against Iran, since 1998, Iran and the EU had been seeking to formalize its commercial and political cooperation arrangements and, in 2001, sought to negotiate a comprehensive trade and co-operation as well as political dialogue agreement. Negotiations started in 2002 but paused when Iran declined to engage in any further human rights dialogue after 2004. Once Iran’s clandestine nuclear development program was revealed in 2005 and Iran refused to co-operate with IAEA, all dialogue between the EU and Iran stopped.

The increasing severity of United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions between 2006 and 2010 were in direct response to Iran’s refusal to abide by the international Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the requirements set down by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). IAEA was determined to resolve the Iranian nuclear issue to ensure the NPT was not breached. At the same time, the IAEA recognized Iran’s rights to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.

The biggest change came because of independent EU action in July 2010 since the EU was then Iran’s largest trading partner. Further, London is a global financial centre; UK financial restrictions made it much more difficult for Iranian banks to use the international financial system to support its oil and gas business and Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs. In addition to an embargo on nearly all dual-use goods and technology which could contribute to uranium enrichment, reprocessing of nuclear fuel, heavy water or to the development of nuclear weapons delivery systems, the EU introduced bans on the export of telecommunications, monitoring and transport equipment as well as arms, followed by more sanctions on instruments that could be used for internal repression. Perhaps the bans on investments, services and technology for the oil and gas industry were the most crippling since Iran’s oil production systems were based on European technology. European banking restrictions related to investments, grants, financial assistance, especially transfer of funds to and from Iran, and the ban on the provision of insurance services, were also enormously effective. But perhaps the sanctions that most hit home to persons of influence in Iran were the restrictions on the admission of specific persons (a long list to which more names were continuously added), freezing of their funds and economic resources and their inability to satisfy any claims.

By the time the JPA was put in place in November 2013, oil imports from Iran had fallen to zero and EU exports fell again by 26% in the 2012-2013 period. EU sanctions against Iran are based not only on the failure of Iran to be compliant with the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) but also because of Iran’s human rights record, support for terrorism, and its destructive approach to Israel-Palestine peace negotiations. Given the close economic ties between the EU and Iran, the targeted sanctions against specified individuals and organizations were even more significant because they entailed freezing of funds and economic resources of persons responsible for serious human rights violations in Iran and persons, entities and bodies associated with them. The list of people and organizations affected was long.

It was in the context of the UN sanctions against Iran for its breach of NPT that the Joint Plan of Action (JPA) has to be understood rather than the 35 years of U.S. up-and-down sanctions against Iran. In return for Iran taking steps to halt and roll back its nuclear enrichment program, the E3/EU+3 agreed to:

  • Pause efforts to further reduce Iran’s crude oil sales to enable Iran’s current customers to purchase their current average amounts of crude oil
  • Enable the repatriation of an agreed amount of revenue held abroad and, for such oil sales, suspend the EU and U.S. sanctions on associated insurance and transportation services
  • Suspend U.S. sanctions on Iran’s auto industry and associated services
  • Suspend U.S. and EU sanctions on:
    • Iran’s petrochemical exports, as well as sanctions on associated services
    • Gold and precious metals, as well as sanctions on associated services
  • License the supply and installation in Iran of spare parts for safety of Iranian civil aviation and associated services. License safety related inspections and repairs in Iran as well as associated services
  • No new nuclear-related UN Security Council or EU sanctions
  • U.S. Administration, acting consistent with the respective roles of the President and the Congress, will refrain from imposing new nuclear-related sanctions
  • Establish a financial channel to facilitate humanitarian trade (transactions involving food and agricultural products, medicine, medical devices, and medical expenses incurred abroad) for Iran’s domestic needs using Iranian oil revenues held abroad involving specified foreign banks and non-designated Iranian banks yet to be defined
  • This channel could also enable: transactions required to pay Iran’s UN obligations; and, direct tuition payments to universities and colleges for Iranian students studying abroad, up to an agreed amount for the six-month period
  • Increase the EU authorization thresholds for transactions for non-sanctioned trade to an agreed amount.

Nine months ago as the first deadline for the Joint Plan of Action approached, the negotiations on a comprehensive nuclear agreement hit a snag over the issue of sanctions, though, as became a pattern over the last nine months, the Iranians continued to voice optimism about the results of the negotiations. Thus, on 21 May 2014, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said, “Today, the nuclear negotiation is progressing and is on the threshold of reaching a conclusion.” The very next day, this was the same message coming from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Saeed Jalili, the former lead negotiator, a conservative very close to Khamenei, said, “We should permit the (Iranian) nuclear negotiation team to proceed with its programs in the framework of (the Supreme Leader’s proposed) ‘heroic lenience’ and we should all assist them in their bid to materialize the nation’s rights.”

There could be two reasons for the articulation of this optimism: 1) domestically to dampen down the ultra-conservative voices critical of the negotiations; 2) to send a message to the P5+1 that the Iranians are fully committed to the success of the negotiations. But there were two sets of issues which this optimism masked. There were disagreements about Iranian compliance that would persist for the next nine months and that I will deal with in tomorrow’s blog. Second, there were rising voices within Iran that the pace of lifting sanctions had been far too languid given the enormous concessions (in their minds) that the Iranians had made thus far in their nuclear program. Just as there were continuing concerns within the U.S about the Iranian commitments to a successful outcome of the negotiations., within Iran there were an increasing number of queries from many quarters about whether the U.S. was truly committed to lifting sanctions or whether the whole process was just a ruse to stop, set back and eventually derail Iran’s development of its nuclear program.

As reported from the Tasnin News Agency in Al-Monitor, Seyed Hossein Naghavi Hosseini, spokesperson for the Iranian Parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, noted “intense disagreements” over a variety of issues during the Vienna talks, including an alleged P5+1 proposal for a 10-year rollout for sanctions relief. The Iranians were afraid of a Republican backlash that could re-impose sanctions, since they already anticipated that American sanctions relief would only take place under U.S. President Barack Obama’s executive authority to waive many of the sanctions on Iran. Waivers can be easily rescinded. Iran might accept waivers, but only in an initial phase in a process leading to complete sanctions relief.

Hosseini called for lifting of all sanctions rather than segmentation and a phased-in approach, a comment directed not only at the then current snag in negotiations about sanctions, but an explicit critique of the JPA provision for the implementation of the agreement of “specified long tern duration” usually bandied about as ten years. The issue was a divide between ending or suspending sanctions.

If the U.S. insisted upon a 10-year rollout period for sanctions relief, then the Iranian rollback in its nuclear program should also be phased over ten years, Iran insisted. Yet the other side insists on Iranian compliance with IAEA requirements as a prerequisite to sanctions relief, consistent, not with the preamble of the JPA, but with the position that Iran is the outlier in its failure to comply with its international treaty obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPA). The sanctions were imposed for Iran’s failure in compliance. Making relief implementation proportionate to Iranian compliance is akin to requiring the justice system to reduce a fine in proportion to a felon desisting in the future from recommitting the felony.

The JPA calls for a “comprehensive solution.” Comprehensive entails lifting all trade, technology, banking, energy and aeronautical sanctions – including UN Security Council, EU multilateral and national sanctions – with the implication that these even included non-nuclear sanctions by the U.S. (hence the importance of having the historical background). But U.S. oil and financial sanctions are subject to the Iran Sanctions Act described above. To waive sanctions, the President must certify to Congress, not only that Iran will not be able to build nuclear weapons within a one year breakout period, but that Iran no longer seeks to build weapons of mass destruction ever. Further, the President must certify that Iran no longer sponsors terrorism (Hamas and Hezbollah, both clients of Tehran, though Hamas had a fallout with Iran over Syria). Both Hamas and Hezbollah are listed by the U.S. as terrorist organizations. Finally, the President must certify that Iran no longer represented a security threat to U.S. Interests. Given the U.S. commitment to Israel and Saudi Arabia, how could this be possible given Iran’s continuing foreign policy?

Who said that sanctions are easy to lift but hard to impose? This analysis suggests that the opposite may be truer.

All these issues end up being tied into the negotiations. And I have not even delved into the Syrian part of the equation. It is a truism that Lebanese issues and conflicts over Hezbollah cannot be resolved without reference to Syria. So bringing all of these into the negotiations would definitely kibosh them. Where do you draw the line? As we shall see tomorrow, IAEA restricts the negotiations to nuclear issues, but then includes military developments (e.g. missiles) related to nuclear militarization, but excludes other foreign policy issues.

However, with the U.S. as the lead negotiator on the side of the UNSC, the matter becomes complicated in a totally other way – not over what is included and what is excluded, but over who is included and who is excluded. Many members of Congress insist they must have a say since an act of the U.S. Congress is involved. And the Iranians, as well as everyone else, know the position of the Republicans. Senator Bob Corker, ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, however, insists that what is at stake is a good deal, not knee-jerk opposition to Iran. “If it’s a good deal, I’m going to vote for it. I want a good outcome… We haven’t been in the camp of wanting to add sanctions right now. We’ve been in the camp of wanting to find what a good deal is. So if we get a good deal, I’ll be glad to vote for it.” However, for the Republicans, merely extending the breakout period from three months to one year does not represent a good deal.

So the sanctions issue is bound to be a spoiler for both sides if politicians and the domestic constituencies behind them become convinced that Iran is not sincere in its quest to pursue a strictly peaceful use of nuclear energy. Hence, as we shall see tomorrow, the repeated reassurances that Iran is complying with almost all the requirements of the JPA. Hence, also the IAEA’s insistence of stretching beyond a narrow interpretation of nuclear negotiations to include other nuclear-related security issues (missile delivery systems) as well as assurances of full transparency.

IRAN: Three Days Before the Nuclear Negotiations Deadline

IRAN: Three Days Before the Nuclear Negotiations Deadline

by

Howard Adelman

This blog is intended to clarify what to look for if a deal is signed on Monday and if no deal is in place, explain where the remaining gaps are and what the continuing discussions will be about.

The Israeli Intelligence Service (Mossad – HaMossad leModiʿin uleTafkidim Meyuḥadim) yesterday indicated that there will be no deal signed by the 24 November deadline, though Mossad also let it be known that a deal is much closer to a conclusion than it was in July, the original deadline. Britain has been promoting an extension rumoured to be until March. France has been promoting a harder line in the talks. Obama via John Kerry is in Vienna for the last minute negotiations letting it be known that there is a 50% chance of the talks being concluded. Neither the US nor Iran are willing to consider an extension at this time, though there remain significant gaps between Iran and the P5+1 (UN Permanent Members of the Security Council + Germany). Marzieh Afkham, the Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman, went out of his way two days ago to scotch all rumours that Iran is considering an extension to the talks. But whether a comprehensive (unlikely) or a framework agreement is concluded, there will, of necessity, be continuing talks which will be both substantive and about implementation.

What is the problem? There is no one problem. There are many. Some of them impact on other countries than Iran. For example, if Iran signed a deal on Monday, Russia’s and Saudi Arabia’s share of oil exports would be threatened as Iran sought, according to Iranian Oil Minister, Bijan Zanganeh, to double its exports as soon as the sanctions regime is lifted. Russia as part of the P5 has no incentive to quickly conclude a deal.
The interim agreement signed by all parties provided for the release of Iran’s locked up funds. This week alone, India announced the release of US$400 million of frozen oil money largely by Mangalore Refinery and Petrochemicals Ltd. and Essar Oil. A few other sanctions provisions were lifted. On the one hand, this eased the pressure on Iran. On the other hand, until the controls on oil exports and on financial dealings with Iran’s Central Bank are lifted, Iran remains under considerable pressure.

One central debate was whether the agreement would or would not include the military plans for delivering nuclear weapons, that is, the nuclear weapon delivery systems that are integral of the nuclear enrichment program. Thus, the first and foremost issue in the deal with Iran is over what can be negotiated. Iran interpreted the agreement as applying only to its nuclear enrichment program and Iran’s capabilities for making a nuclear weapon, but none of its other military initiatives. So leading spokesmen in the Iranian government have accused the US of wanting everything under a nuclear deal. For example, General Mohammad Ali Jafari, Head of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, has said all along that negotiations are about the nuclear program and nothing else, at the same time as he defended a nuclear deal with the P5+1 as long as it is consistent with Iranian values.

Iran has insisted that its nuclear program is intended for peaceful purposes in order to reduce Iran’s dependence on oil. Iranian conservatives have argued that the USA is not simply interested in a nuclear deal but has two other major goals – first, hegemony in the region for which the US wants intelligence on the Iranian military, and, second, an overthrow of the Iranian values in place since the Revolution, using a human rights agenda to accomplish that end. Iran’s objectives, on the other hand, are far more modest and, as they argue, consistent – the removal of the sanctions. They presumably mean “all” the sanctions, though Iran has not indicated whether the removal can be staged over time or exactly how they are to be removed. Ali Shakhani, Supreme National Security Council Secretary, insisted that the negotiations have no point unless they are about total removal of the sanctions, a point reiterated by Ibrahim Aghamohammadi, a member of the parliamentary National Security and Foreign Policy Committee.

However, none of the close observers of the negotiations expect a deal that will provide for immediate removal of all the sanctions, if only because the sanctions endorsed by the US Congress in 2011 embraced many additional issues on top of the nuclear program – abuse of human rights being a major one. However, the sanctions on Iranian oil exports and on financial transactions with the Central Bank have had a crippling effect on the Iranian economy. One possibility is to separate the UN sanctions regime from the much larger American sanctions regime, and then further separate sanctions against the Central Bank from the sanctions on oil exports. But this is a possibility that Iran has been unequivocal in declaring as unacceptable. Removal of all sanctions or no deal. However, is a deal possible if it removes all sanctions over time and dependent on performance? Iranian spokesmen insist not, and very certainly not if the conditions include anything else in addition to the nuclear enrichment program.

Behind all the grandstanding and effectively using the media to negotiate outside the meeting room in Vienna, Iran has a credibility problem. Though it has followed through on the vast majority of agreements included in the interim Iran/P5+1 Plan of Action, Iran still falls short in specific areas. This allows critics of the negotiations to insist that Iran is cheating. For example, for the first time Iran recently began feeding uranium hexafluoride gas (UF6) into the IR5 centrifuge at the Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant at Natanz leading the P5+1 to charge Iran with violating its commitment to freeze its centrifuge activities at Natanz. When the US raised the issue with Iran. Iran responded by pledging to halt feeding the centrifuge while, at the same time, denying that feeding the centrifuge was a violation of the interim agreement. Whether or not total cessation of feeding the centrifuge may or may not have taken place deliberately, the effort was a clandestine one. Why did Iran not report on its resumption to the IAEA? Further, whether or not the freeze included the Natanz centrifuges, the resumption of this activity seemed to be in clear violation of the principle of a freeze on uranium enrichment.

Another possible source of difference between the two sides may be over the nature of a verifiable procurement channel so that Iran could continue its nuclear role but not its nuclear weapons ambitions. I had thought this problem had been resolved through the use of Russia. I think this is true with respect to nuclear materials. But there remain serious obstacles concerning equipment. For the agreement to work, Iran must be allowed to import items relevant to its peaceful use of nuclear energy, but not goods or equipment related to a nuclear weapons program. Since it is very difficult to monitor such a corridor, particularly since so much of the monitored material will be dual-use, one of the most difficult objectives in the agreement will be to create a monitoring architecture that can do the best possible job to prevent arousing the suspicions of the P5+1 or, on the other end, making the Iranians resentful that the monitoring system is interfering with Iran’s sovereign rights. One option may be to arrive at a second agreement three days hence and require the monitoring architecture – including control, licensing, approval, intelligence, inspection, detection, verification, investigation, disruption and penalty mechanisms – to be thrashed out by a subsequent deadline. Alternatively, the agreement could be signed with a ban on importing dual- use materials until a period of further confidence-building had passed, a more likely scenario, for without the monitoring architecture, the agreement is worthless.

The above is particularly important since Iran has all along been determined to isolate its military technological developments from its nuclear enrichment program and President Hassan Rouhani has openly boasted about Iran’s intentions and record in breaching sanctions in this area. Given this record and that pledge, how does the international community prevent an increasingly illicit, secret and sophisticated sanctions-busting regime from impacting on Iranian trade in illegal dual-use imports for the nuclear industry, not so much for the uranium imports, which will be in excess supply for many years to come in Iran, but other raw materials, replacement equipment and spare parts for illegal dual-use imports for the nuclear weapons industry – such as vacuum pumps, pressure traducers, lasers and frequency converters?

This clearly implies that all sanctions cannot be lifted, but the well-developed UN and western sanctions regime should continue to enforce import controls in this area. This is a particularly important item in a potential agreement since, as nations enter into lucrative trading arrangements with Iran in a post-agreement era, there will inevitably be a growing temptation to be more and more forgiving and to look aside or ease up on attention to bans as these economic relations develop. This is particularly important since China, as one of the P5, already has a reputation for weak export controls. How then will the agreement provide for minimizing and managing procurement risks in the monitoring architecture? How long will the monitoring regime have to be in place?

By Tuesday, we will be in a better position to know.

ON BDS

ON BDS

by

Howard Adelman

Defining BDS

Yesterday evening, Derek Penslar was in town and gave a talk on BDS, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign launched in 2005 on the first anniversary of the International Court of Justice’s ruling on the illegality of the Israeli West Bank barrier. The blog below is not a record of Derek’s talk, but rather my own take on BDS with comments that arose from points Derek made or from some of the questions and comments. Needless to say, Derek’s talk was excellent as his talks always are.

In much of the public mind who are aware of the BDS campaign, the purpose is thought to be about West Bank settlements and objections to them. In fact that campaign has three stated purposes:
1. Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall;
2. Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and
3. Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194.

This is a program far more extensive than opposition to West Bank settlements. Derek thought the goals were ambiguous since, given the goals as stated, according to Derek, no country, especially Israel, could know when it had satisfied the wishes of the BDS protesters. By parsing what the stated goals are and from talks with some of the proponents of BDS 4 or 5 years ago, I suggest that the goals are not as ambiguous as Derek suggested; rather, the ambiguity arises from the various ways different parties have interpreted the BDS campaign and how they apply it, for, as Derek noted, the BDS campaign is a movement not an organization and one with a bottom-up buy-in that allows different people and groups to use the BDS campaign for their own purposes.

As I read the goals of the BDS platform, the Israeli political right is correct in its interpretation. For BDS, Israel is considered to be on occupied Arab land. The program opposes the “occupation and colonization of all Arab lands”. (my italics) Though the program does not go as far as calling for the expulsion of Jews from the land, with the call for return of the refugees to their original homes (NOT stated in UN Resolution 194, though subsequently interpreted by UN resolutions to mean that), the object of the BDS plan is both the delegitimation and elimination of Israel as a political entity because Israel is considered a colonial and colonizing state occupying Arab lands. The campaign is not just about the current government’s policies and practices — however much many of us may disagree with them. Nevertheless, many supporters of the BDS campaign believe that the focus of the campaign is the West Bank settlements and have either ignored or not bought into its longer range goals.

In response to my original draft of this blog, Stuart Schoenfeld sent the following explication of those goals that clarify the vision embraced by those goals. On the goals of BDS: The three stated objectives were written to be inclusive of the three Palestinian constituencies

1. Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall; WEST BANK AND GAZA
2. Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; ARAB / PALESTINIAN ISRAELI CITIZENS and
3. Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194. THE DIASPORA

The intention was to have a campaign that would bring these constituencies together rather than have their issues addressed separately, avoiding the “divide and conquer” situation in which Israelis have more leverage. It also allows those who come from these different constituencies to work together in Europe and North America without in-fighting over their separate interests.

As a consequence of this coalition strategy, the only way to fully realize the interests of all three constituencies would be the maximalist position – a binational state with a Palestinian majority. This is a hard sell in public relations terms or as an achievable goal, but it seemed fairly clear a few years ago when reading the material for the “one state” conference written by the same people leading BDS. There seem to have been fewer “one state” conferences recently, but this is tactics, the strategic goal has not altered.

Calls for BDS go back to the origins of Jewish settlements in Palestine at the beginning of the twentieth century. They really took off after the 1948 War of Independence or what the Palestinians call the Naqba with the boycott led by Arab countries, a boycott which the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf ended following the signing of the Oslo Peace Accords. Ironically, the BDS campaign took off after many Arab states began to covertly or overtly engage in cooperation with Israel.

The campaign has three thrusts: 1) an economic Boycott of businesses, academic institutions and artists from Israel and artists refusing to go to Israel; 2) a Divestment of investments in or loans to companies initially focused on businesses operating in or servicing or undertaking manufacturing in the West Bank; and 3) a Sanctions campaign. The campaign underway currently has not only these three main tools but three main foci: business, academia and culture. In the business campaign, the main tool is the boycott since sanctions are largely a state responsibility. Perhaps this is because, as Derek suggested, boycotts resonate so much with the disempowered for it allows them to do something to advance their cause and to feel that they are accomplishing something. As one of the students present last evening said, the BDS movement has a romantic rather than a realist appeal.

The main focus of the boycott is business. Ahava products are boycotted. They have been produced from products from the Dead Sea since 1988 with little relationship to settlement activities in the heart of the West Bank, unlike Dexia Bank, SodaStream (its stock fell 25% when it became the focus of the BDS campaign) and Veolia. Ahava products are produced in Mitzpa Shalem, a kibbutz located on the Dead Sea. There have been a number of successes here with an independent Ahava store forced to close its outlet on a fashionable London shopping street because of the disruption of picketers. Selfridges Department Store, the leading department chain in Norway and the second largest in the Netherlands have all removed Ahava products from their store shelves. One year ago, the Norwegian retail chain, VITA, that is the major outlet for Ahava products in Norway, decided to boycott all products originating from settlements in “occupied Palestine”.

Britain’s Trade Union Congress supported the BDS campaign since 2009. Three British universities – Edinburgh, Kent and Dundee – have also boycotted some businesses as a result of BDS. So did the Irish Congress of Trades Unions. In the area of business boycotts, the BDS campaigners boast significant successes. Veolia purportedly lost a four and a quarter billion dollar operating and maintenance rail contract in Massachusetts because of the BDS campaign which targeted Veolia. However, the MBTA/MassDot Board of the Massachusetts commuter line said it awarded the contract unanimously on the recommendation of the General Manager to Keolis for a superior proposal in terms of pricing, operations and maintenance. Similarly, a $63.5 million contract was purportedly lost in Canterbury, UK, allegedly because of the BDS campaign, but the truth is that the municipality simply renewed its contract with Serco.

Second, the campaign involves a boycott of Israeli academics and institutions, but initially focused on Israeli institutions (and not individual academics) who are linked in any way with the West Bank settlements. As academics, this is the one of which we are most aware. Indirectly, a boycott campaign against academic institutions affects individual academics as Derek noted, but individual Israeli academics have been targeted in any case and many Palestinian academics now refuse to sit on panels with Israeli academics. However, as Derek also pointed out, almost ALL academics engage in personal boycotts of some kind. The BDS campaign, however, is of a different order.

Third, the BDS campaign entails a cultural boycott of artists from performing in Israel and a boycott of Israelis artists, but notably without any explicit relationship at all with West Bank settlements, who perform abroad. The most famous or infamous of these was the disruptions of the tour of Israel’s Batsheva dance company at the Burmingham Hippodrome and the Edinburgh International Festival (Don’t Dance with Israel Apartheid). The disruptions imitated those against the Soviet Union cultural tours of the Bolshoi and the Red Army Chorus to support the campaign to permit the emigration of Soviet Jews. The Israeli dance company Batsheva has been picketed throughout its tour and three protesters disrupted the performance in the theatre in Rome until they were removed and one protester in Theatre Royal in Plymouth used a megaphone to disrupt the performance. Disruptions took place in Edinburgh, Leicester, in the Birmingham Hippodrome with a banner dropped during the performance. With respect to Batsheva, they have affected performances from Turin to Aukland New Zealand, but have largely earned the BDS movement a negative backlash.

Individual artists scheduled to perform in Israel, such as the Rolling Stones Tour, have been lobbied and pressured extensively but resisted as have most artists. Some, like Chris “Daddy” Dave cancelled his appearance at the Red Sea Jazz Festival in Eilat. Ireland was the leading country in the artistic boycott campaign with 237 artists committed to boycotting performing or exhibiting in Israel but Riverdance resisted the pressure to cancel its show. There are a long list of other artists who have not resisted pressures by BDS. Artists seem to constitute one of the most susceptible groups to the BDS effort.

Support for BDS and the Divestment Campaign

Supporters of the campaign are varied but are concentrated in four institutional spheres, religious organizations, student and faculty unions and associations at and from universities and colleges, unions and, finally, states like Norway. The latter is important because Norway played such a critical role in getting the Oslo process going and concluded, erroneously in my analysis, that Israel was solely to blame for the failure of Oslo, a process in which Norway invested enormous personal resources and commitment. Norway was one of the first countries to support the BDS campaign when in December 2005, the Norwegian Sør-Trøndelag regional council supported a call for a comprehensive boycott of Israeli goods.

Ironically, just at a time when Norway has reversed course under a new centre-right coalition government (96 seats versus 72 for the opposition), Norway lifted its 2010 ban on investments in two companies in Israel, Africa Israel and Danya Cebus, on August 2013. The coalition backing the ban — including: Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee (BNC); Adalah-NY: The New York Campaign for the Boycott of Israel; The Civic Coalition for Palestinian Rights in Jerusalem; and The Palestinian Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign – called on the Norwegian government to reverse the decision since it claimed that the revocation was based on false information provided by Africa Israel in support of its claim that they were no longer building housing in Gilo. (Note where the housing was being built — in Jerusalem that in all the peace talks on land that will be ceded to Israel.) Norway’s leftist Minister of Finance in his 2010 decision determined that all land east of the 1967 Cease Fire Line was occupied land and, therefore, came under the purview of the fourth Geneva Convention.” In contrast, Africa Israel’s affidavit to Norway referred only to the West Bank. However, the BDS campaign in the end targets all Arab land usurped by the colonial Israeli state.

The trade unions in Norway have stepped up their support for BDS. The Norwegian Union of Municipal and General Employees (NUMGE) lobbied and succeeded in getting the Nordea Bank to resolve not to invest in Cemex, an Israeli company in the building materials industry, since Cemex allegedly uses material from the West Bank to manufacture cement. The University of Oslo, and subsequently the University of Bergen, decided not to use the security company, G4S Secure Solutions (Canada), even though it was the lowest bidder because critics claimed the use of G4S would cost the university 2.5 million NOK in reputational losses because of using the allegedly controversial G4S security company, a fifty year-old CANADIAN company, and the leading one in the provision of security, because of its work in the West Bank. A Norwegian government pension fund divested itself of Elbit Systems because of its business activities in the West Bank. This year, Dutch pension fund PGGM divested its investments in Israeli banks and Danish Danske Bank divested from Israeli Bank Hapoalim for their investments in the West Bank as well as Africa Israel Investments and Danya Cebus.

Support for BDS in Canada

Allan Dershowitz’s offer to lecture free on Norwegian campuses was turned down even though Ilan Pappé, a strong advocate of BDS, was supported in his tour of Norwegian universities. So some countries are particularly susceptible to the BDS campaign, countries with a record and reputation as a middle road country promoting peace. The BDS movement has had a few academic successes. Denmark’s Technical University dropped out of a scientific collaboration project with Ariel University on the analysis of its laboratories. Danish Foreign Minister Villy Søvndal stated: “We do not want to Danish scientific institutions participating in activities that may help to maintain the illegal settlements.” But overwhelmingly, the efforts have been a failure.

In Canada, BDS has been endorsed by, in Derek’s count, 9.5 student unions, the half point granted to McMaster because the students voted in support of BDS but the meeting giving that support lacked a quorum. The York Federation of Students, a university where I taught for 37 years, and the University of Toronto Scarborough Students’ Union voted to support BDS. The F4P, Faculty for Palestine, formed in the spring of 2008 as a sub-committee of the Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid (CAIA) includes over 550 faculty of all ranks (tenured, contract, emeritus, independent researchers, retired, visiting scholars) in support of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israeli (PACBI).

Thus, Canada was not far behind Norway in supporting BDS. In May of 2006, the Ontario section of CUPE endorsed the BDS campaign. I believe more university student and faculty unions in Canada than anywhere else support BDS. (Windsor students, have joined the BDS campaign.) The BDS campaign is supported by the United Church of Canada by boycotting products of Israeli settlements. However, the effort to boycott Shani Bar-Oz soap products in Vancouver backfired and sales went up. Friends of Simon Wiesenthal started a campaign today against the McMaster University student union campaign in support of the BDS on the grounds that it has stirred up an anti-Semitic campaign on the campus.

Overall, the BDS campaign has been a general failure. It is a minority movement from the left often with union (CUPE) and United Church support, but overwhelmingly ignored by the vast number of faculty and students. More to the point, there has been little if any measurable effect on the Israeli economy. This raises the question of why have such a campaign if it only serves as an irritant and falls into the segment of 80% of boycott campaigns that fail?

Theorizing BDS – Judith Butler

One impact that I witnessed on my own campus, York University, was a coarsening of debate and discussion on campus. Judith Butler (UC Berkeley), who comes from a family whose Jewish roots go back to eastern Europe, is a leading proponent of BDS from the high intelligence rather than the mob side. Yet she backed a meeting restricted to pro-BDS supporters and banned anyone opposed. Heavily influenced by Derrida, Judith is a leading well-known philosopher of the postmodernist critical theory school who writes on gender and queer studies; her theory of defining gender in terms of performance rather than a natural essence is at the core of most modern gender theory. Though she roots her theories in an interpretation of the section of Hegel’s Phenomenology dealing with desire and life and with Lordship and Bondage that has been heavily influenced by the French Hegelian philosopher, Alexandre Kojève (cf. Subjects of Desire: Hegelian Reflections in Twentieth Century France), it is a school of thought which the Toronto School of Hegelians (to which I myself belong) directly challenged in our close readings of Hegel that tried to show how this Marxist interpretation of Hegel inverted Hegel’s meaning.

Judith has a chair in a Department of Rhetoric and Comparative Literature rather than a traditional philosophy department in keeping with the fact that the Modern Language Association (MLA), an association dominated by postmodern theory, has been a leading exponent of the BDS campaign. (See a previous blog, Academic Boycotts and Israel, that I wrote last year that focused on the MLA vote.) As Derek pointed out, academic BDSers come from Literature, Philosophy and sometimes Anthropology but not history and certainly not international studies.

Judith Butler is not only a leading proponent of BDS and activist as an executive member of the Faculty for Israeli-Palestinian Peace in the United States, but a leading theorist of the movement. Just as in her theory of censorship as an instrument of the state’s effort to control language and discourse, one of her main rationales for the BDS movement is that it takes away from the power of the state to monopolize and control who can and who cannot be sanctioned and hands it over to the people themselves. This complements Derek’s thesis that BDS is adopted by youth who feel disempowered. Judith merged the critical theory of the Frankfurt School, largely relying on Theodore Adorno’s aesthetics, and French and postmodernist thinkers, to develop a theory in which the individual develops his or her individuality and character in contention with the dominant norms of society. Hence the appeal of BDS practices to young adults on the cusp of self-definition who are permitted to pick and choose their focus since the BDS movement lacks any top-down structure to define and determine the agenda of any group. Her ability to arouse the ire of the right was most evident when she received the Adorno Prize in Germany and the awarders of that prize were taken to task for that award by the German Council of Jews supported by Yakov Hadas-Handelsman, Israel’s Ambassador to Germany, and Dr. Efraim Zuroff, Director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Jerusalem.

One of the interesting items that came up in the discussion last night was the fierce opposition of two Of Israel’s most formidable critics, Norman Finkelstein and Noam Chomsky, to the BDS campaign. Finkelstein called the BDS movement a cult. Chomsky has not opposed BDS, however, contrary to what was said last night, but has opposed its implementation and the harm it causes to those who should be protected, namely Palestinians. As Chomsky said in a 2010 interview just when BDS had started to take off, “BDS actions are both principled and most effective when they are directed at our crucial contribution to these crimes [of Israel], without which they would end; for example, boycott of western firms contributing to the occupation, working to end military aid to Israel, etc.” In other words, BDS is well intentioned but relatively frivolous because it is not rooted in an economic analysis of capitalism and Israel’s role and undermines a two-state solution. As someone said last night, the criticism of BDS by Finkelstein and Chomsky represent the Old Left versus the youthful new new left.

Conclusions

As Derek suggested, the BDS movement should be combated but it is nothing to become hysterical about. The approach should be to understand its goals, motives and sources of support. It is an educational campaign aimed at consciousness raising rather than a serious effort to damage Israel economically. It is a psychological tool, an irritant like a horde of Lilliputians picking at the body of an economic and creative giant.

My Trivial and Specious Blog on Sanctions

My Trivial and Specious Blog on Sanctions

by

Howard Adelman

I first reprint Dr. David Goldberg’s response to my blog and then respond to his criticisms.

Dear Howard

I am sorry to have to say this, but I find your analysis below a far cry from your usual incisive jugular-directed intellectual dissection of complex events. It would not be entirely unfair to you to describe it as trivial and specious. 

Let us start with the 1st paragraph. You make a great song and dance about Crimea being removed from Ukraine without the consent of the citizens of Kiev, but what about the citizens of the Crimea itself? What Cesar gives, Caligula can take away. The Ukranian Kruschev took it from Russia and gave it to the Ukraine. Were the Crimeans consulted? Were they given the benefit of a ballot box —– stuffed or otherwise? Yet I hear not a peep from you, and others of your persuasion,  about the illegitimacy of this process that is only now being redressed.  It is obvious on the basis of demographics alone and past voting records that the proposition  would pass by a large majority. The decision of the Tatars and the Ukranian Opposition in Crimea to boycott the polls was anti-democratic and a puerile attempt to paint the vote as illegitimate. Just as the Bangkok Opposition is doing to bring down the multi-times elected Shinowatra Government. In the better democracies, NOT VOTING is an offence punishable by law (eg Australia). OK,so a few dissidents “disappeared”. Did you check this out for yourself? Do you know these individuals and their families personally? Do you know precisely who “disappeared” them?  Regular Russian Army personnel or local street gangs? Playing arm-chair detective is all very well, but evidence has to be tested and corroborated. And the question? I cannot see how it differs substantially from that used in any past or future Quebec Referendum, or the proposition upon which my fellow-Scots will vote next year. Please explain this to a naive simpleton like myself: If I vote YES to Crimea joining Russia, is it not axiomatic that I am simultaneously voting NO to Crimea staying as part of Ukraine.  Finally, cutting off communications may not have been a bad thing. At least the violence that plagued Kiev for months was prevented and the loss of life and limb effectively minimized. 

Now, as for the West’s response: I think it would have been much better to have done nothing and kept their mouth’s shut. It would have had precisely the same effect as their “micro-nano-Sanctions”, and they would not have made asses of themselves. What effect did Sanctions have on Mugabe and his Zimbabwe supporters? Or Milosevic? Or anyone else? I recall the EU that had banned Mugabe from all travel and even threatened his arrest and transfer to The Hague welcomed him at various conferences with open arms. Cowardice, Hypocrisy and Antisemitism: the three cornerstones of Western Diplomacy. You failed to see the irony in your own text, and the fantasy in your own predictions, when you seemed to suggest that the failure to include Putin and Lavrov in the Honours List was intended to force them to the negotiating table, of which you thought there was an excellent chance. Sure there is. In fact, it is a foregone conclusion, just as Iran came to the same table while their centrifuges keep whirling. Meantime, massive build-ups of Russian troops on Ukraine’s Eastern border continue unabated while Putin and Lavrov are laughing all the way to their banks.

There is only one way to stop Putin’s depredations: to send NATO troops immediately to the Eastern Ukraine as I believe the Ukrainian leaders have suggested, if not requested. And there is only one forlorn hope for having the Crimea returned to the Ukraine in violation of the “democratic rights” of its citizens, if that is what you pretend to call them.  That is to convene a meeting of the General Assembly of UNO  to debate cancelling Russia’s membership. The West should make it clear, one way or the other, that if it fails, they will withdraw from the organization en mass.  

Best regards

David

DR DAVID M GOLDBERG, MD, PhD, FRCPC

MY REPLY  

In response to the criticism about the illegitimacy of the process of annexing the Crimea to Russia, my point was to note the illegitimacy and to query why a the same result could not have been obtained by a significant majority vote legitimately conducted instead of under force of arms, a skewed ballot and the use of non-Crimean voters.

The only place where it is antidemocratic to boycott an election is where voting is compulsory. Of the almost two dozen polities with such legislation, only half enforce it. Neither Crimea nor Ukraine is one of them so the point is irrelevant. Boycotts of elections are used when a process is perceived as fraudulent and the voter does not want to lend legitimacy to an illegitimate process. The fact that election boycotts are rarely efficacious does not make them an illegitimate tactic when groups feel oppressed by a majority. And since when does compulsory voting make a polity a better democracy. The Democratic Republic of the Congo has compulsory voting. Is it a democracy let alone a better one?

On disappearances, Human Rights watch documented and reported on 15 March that with the Russian army present, so-called “self-defense” units and militias, with 11,000 personnel according to Crimean government authorities, were “abducting, attacking and harassing activists and journalists.” “Oleksiy Gritsenko, Natalya Lukyanchenko and Sergiy Suprun have not made contact with friends or family since 11pm on 13 March. Oleksiy Gritsenko’s father told Amnesty International that he believes they have been abducted by paramilitary forces in de facto control in Crimea.” “The mobile telephone signals of both Oleksiy Gritsenko and Natalya Lukyanchenko were located in the vicinity of the military conscription commission (kommissariat) in Simferapol, which is being guarded by military officers who are not wearing any identifying insignia and who deny they are holding the activists there.” “Ihor Kiriushchenko, a civic activist from Sevastopol, was abducted on Monday.  Mr Kiriushchenko has been active in helping Ukrainian soldiers in the military units occupied and blocked by Russian forces, as well as in protests.  He took part in Sunday’s demonstration in the centre of Sevastopol to mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of Taras Shevchenko and protest against Russian military occupation of the peninsula.” He too is still missing. Yesterday a Ukrainian soldier in Crimea was shot.

“The whereabouts of two leaders of the Ukrainian community – Andriy Shchekun and Anatoly Kovalsky – remain unknown following their abduction in Simferopol on Sunday.  Volodymyr Sadovyk, commander of a Bakhchysarai military unit, is also missing.” ” The three young women whose disappearance was reported on Sunday – Ukrainsky Tyzhden journalist Olena Maksymentko and two activists – Kateryna Butko and Oleksandra Ryazantseva – are still missing, together with press photographer Oleh Kromples and Yevhen Rakhno, whose car they were travelling in.” “Ukraine‘s Greek Catholic Church said a priest was seized by armed men from a chapel in Sevastopol on Saturday.”

A fair vote in a democracy does require all options to be on a ballot. One could vote NO to annexation with Russia and vote yes for independence, but there was no option that said you prefer the status quo since you must vote once for one of the two propositions on the ballot – annexation or independence. That is the difference between even the imperfect referenda conducted in Quebec.

You argue that, “Finally, cutting off communications may not have been a bad thing. At least the violence that plagued Kiev for months was prevented and the loss of life and limb effectively minimized.” First, since when does an open democratic media contribute to violence. By all accounts, overall, the demonstrations in Maidan were non-violent until the police were sent in. Secondly, I had reported the Estonian Minister quoting the famous doctor helping the wounded saying that the sniper fire seemed to target both sides. The Minister evidently misunderstood Oleh Musiy who subsequently corrected the Minister’s account and my repeating it by saying that only protesters were shot by snipers. 81 were killed. Thank you for the opportunity to clear up this error. Violence did not plague Kyiv for months. Violence was certainly NOT prevented and the loss of life and limb effectively minimized by the suppression of the media.

As far as the effectiveness of sanctions, the whole point of my blog was that these light sanctions were not intended to change Putin’s mind or actions but to send a signal that the West was interested in cooperating with Putin in deescalating the conflict. Nevertheless, sanctions can be effective. They were almost certainly effective re Iran’s nuclear program.  

As for the claimed ineffectiveness of sanctions on Mugabe and Milosevic, let me deal with Mugabe first. The real problem is that they have been too effective in disrupting the economy of Zimbabwe but not effective in dislodging Mugabe.  The sanctions in Zimbabwe were supposedly targeted against a few individuals. However, as bank studies have shown, the US Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Bill and the declared and undeclared sanctions that resulted have impacted on the entire economy. The Zimbabwean government itself has complained that the economy is under siege and has blamed the international community, particularly the US rather than Mugabe’s programs, for the negative downstream effects on vulnerable groups and civilians and led to cancellation of life-line projects, humanitarian assistance, and humanitarian infrastructural development support.

Sanctions can be very effective. The critical problem is how much breadth and strength to lend to them and how to target them to get the impact desired, hence the shift to targeted sanctions that include imposing travel bans and freezing foreign bank accounts more than restrictions on trade which were used in Zimbabwe in restricting access to lines of credit. According to Mugabe’s own government, “Since the imposition of declared and undeclared sanctions against Zimbabwe, the effects of these sanctions have been widespread and continuous.”

As for Milosevic, in Milica Delevic’s study, “Economic Sanctions as a Foreign Policy Tool” in the International Journal of Peace Studies, sanctions were certainly effective but the real question was whether the costs and unintended harm caused was worth it.” “Sanctions, helped to a great extent by pre-existing economic difficulties and macroeconomic mismanagement, had a devastating effect on the Yugoslav economy, thus helping make Serbian President Milosevic more cooperative, but were of no decisive importance for stopping the war in Bosnia. Moreover, poverty, which increased as a result of the sanctions, made people more receptive to authoritarian and totalitarian regimes, making democratization ever more difficult to achieve.”

I am puzzled by your next complaint. Where did I “suggest that the failure to include Putin and Lavrov in the Honours List was intended to force them to the negotiating table”?

Where did you get the evidence that “massive build-ups of Russian troops on Ukraine’s Eastern border continue unabated.” I would like to explore it.

 

As for the use of NATO, I am wrestling with that in my own mind and plan a future bl;og on the subject.

For additional consideration, readers might want to consult this other blog reference which a reader sent in.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bernardhenri-levy/lets-not-yield-to-putin-o_b_4944846.html.

Some excerpts from the Voice of Russia follow.

“Sanctions are just unprofessional and illogical. One of the persons who was so to say cracked down upon, is Elena Mizulina but she never played a particular role in the Crimean affairs or in Russia’s relations with Ukraine. She has been made into some sort of a bogyman by the western media and by the Russian liberal media because she was one of the initiators of this law against homosexual propaganda to minors. But it is strange that this person was included into a law which is supposed to punish people who somehow disturbed the territorial integrity of Ukraine.”

“I think this Magnitsky list was an excellent warning for everyone in Russia that it is dangerous to keep your assets in the US or in the European Union especially if you are a rich person connected to the Russian government. So, I just consider these sanctions stupid. They are not mild, they are not too harsh, they just hit the wrong targets.”

“Russian lawmakers and the Kremlin have been extremely vocal as to the ridiculousness of US designed sanctions with all Russian MPs passing a statement saying they volunteered to be subject to the US/EU sanctions and the Kremlin saying they view them with irony and sarcasm. Many Russian lawmakers, officials and others see the sanctions list as a point of honor and even as an “Oscar” from Washington, in recognition that they have defended Mother Russia. They echoed earlier words by Ramzan Kadyrov, the head of the Chechen Republic, who said he would be honored to be on that list with people who proudly defend their homeland and he added that he would be offended if he did not top it. Personally I would love to be on that list as well, perhaps someone in Washington will take me up on it?”

Sanction America for “Funding, training, arming and supporting neo-nazi elements and then using them to carry out the illegal overthrow of a democratically elected government. Using USAID and other organizations to subvert and manipulate the population of sovereign country. Spending $5 billion of taxpayer money without the knowledge or permission of the people to subvert Ukraine. Attempt to and then organizing a puppet government that does not represent the people. Killing police and protestors. Causing unrest, terrorizing the population and stripping groups of their human right to their language or their very lives. Covering up or ignoring evidence of murder and high crimes. Ordering the overthrow of said government. Placing paid mercenaries on the sovereign territory of a country. Planning false flags attacks. Supporting nazi elements and ignoring Nuremberg Trial denial. Attempting to organize through surrogates terrorist attack against civilians in Crimea, etc., etc”

 

The West’s Economic Sanctions Against Russia

The West’s Economic Sanctions Against Russia

 

by

 

Howard Adelman

 

SUMMARY

This BLOG argues that the sanctions thus far imposed are deliberate pin pricks, intended only to send a message and to invite Russia to join in a diplomatic effort to resolve the crisis without significant further economic or military escalation. The BLOG further argues that Russian responses seem also to point to an eagerness to resolve the dispute through diplomacy. Further, there is a diplomatic solution in the wings. I therefore, interpret that what has thus far taken place offers a guarded but optimistic promise.

 

BLOG

I think there is very little question among objective observers that the referendum conducted in Crimea was bogus on a number of grounds, first by being conducted with an army of occupation present, with minority Tatars and Ukrainians largely boycotting the vote, noted anti-Russian activists having “disappeared”, the critical media silenced, cancelled air and electronic communications with Ukraine, with the ballot not including an option to stay within Ukraine, with Russian non-Ukrainian citizens in Ukraine casting a ballot, and with clear evidence of overstuffing the ballot boxes since the votes were significantly higher in some constituencies. The absence of the Russian army, the posing of an honest question and a vote in favour of Russia over Ukraine would undoubtedly have produced a good majority for the Russian option if honestly conducted provided Kyiv agreement was obtained.  

Obama on behalf of the United States and the EU have now imposed very mild targeted sanctions against Russia as a result of the Russia’s occupation of Crimea and the recent vote overwhelmingly in favour of Crimea seceding from Ukraine and joining Russia. What are those sanctions intended to achieve and what is the likelihood of success, especially given the initial narrowness of the target and the shallowness of the sanctions regime? What are the risks associated with the imposition of such sanctions?

The sanctions regime has not been imposed as a milder aspect of a military conflict as in a blockade, but as a message, in Obama’s words, “to uphold the principle Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity must be respected, and international law must be upheld,” a principle which is generally accepted as fundamental to the modern transnational order and the essential fabric of the Euro-Atlantic security alliance. But how can such sanctions work since they do not seem inherently to be able to induce Russia to withdraw its troops from Ukraine or to reverse the continuing integration of Crimea into Russia whether that integration is accomplished through political union or simply by making Crimea economically, legally, politically and militarily part of Russia without the final step of annexation or union?

First, the economic sanctions seem more like symbolic gestures to signal a process of diplomatic isolation that has been initiated, beginning with named individuals (Vladislav Surkov, a Putin aide; Sergey Glazyev, a Putin adviser; Leonid Slutsky, a state Duma deputy; Andrei Klishas, member of the Federation Council, the upper house of the Federal Assembly of Russia, Valentina Matviyenko, head of the Federation Council, Dmitry Rogozin, deputy prime minister, and Yelena Mizulina, a state Duma deputy). All are seen to be directly involved and responsible for “undermining the sovereignty, territorial integrity and government of Ukraine” but clearly the main ones responsible, namely Vladimir Putin himself and his foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov,have not been targeted. The sanctions were expanded a bit on Monday to include Russian officials who provide material support to senior officials of the Russian government as well as  entities operating in the arms sector in Russia. But the scope of the application is very limited and the restrictions – visa restrictions and the mild economic sanctions – are merely signals that a process is underway which will be followed by further escalation. They do, however, target key architects and ideologues responsible for the Crimea policy who also seem to have been intimately involved in human rights abuses in Russia.

Efforts to begin a process of economic sanctions and diplomatic isolation are not stand alone initiatives. NATO has been involved, not only through the movement of some military assets to Poland and the Baltic states, but in the verbal signal by Obama that, “As NATO allies, we have a solemn commitment to our collective defense, and we will uphold this commitment.” This is clearly a vague formulation, deliberately so, to provide room for political and diplomatic manoeuvring as well as time to consult allies this week to develop a more coordinated policy. But the signals focus on diplomatic isolation and economic initiatives and not military threats, though military threats are clearly not off the table as they seemed to be earlier. The main stress at this time, however, is on diplomatic isolation and economic sanctions.

It should be noted that Russia itself has engaged in token sabre rattling – the Russian fleet conducted live fire exercises, MIG-29s were deployed to Yerevan, Armenia, Turkish airspace was probed to rattle one of the quivering NATO members, and an ICBM test, admittedly pre-scheduled, was launched when it could have been postponed. But these gestures pale into insignificance compared to a call up of Russian troops to the Ukraine border. Both sides seem willing to wave starter pistols but seem reasonably clear that neither side wants this to escalate into a military conflict. 

But what are the goals? To prevent Russia from continuing its adventurism in eastern Ukraine? Or just to uphold a principle? Or to actually get Russia to reverse its position as seems to be signalled when Obama vowed that, “The international community will continue to stand together to oppose any violations of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity, and continued Russian military intervention in Ukraine will only deepen Russia’s diplomatic isolation and exact a greater toll on the Russian economy”? The signals so far seem to indicate that it is the principle that is at stake – and various diplomatic formulations can be devised for upholding the principle while effectively giving Russia de facto sovereignty over Crimea, a position that even Kissinger, the arch-realist and concessionary towards Russian interests, opposes  – as well as inhibiting Russia from taking further initiatives along this line given the promise to calibrate the measures up or down depending on whether Russia chooses to escalate or de-escalate.

Obama clearly continues to believe that diplomatic engagement still has a chance and that he understandably fears the alternative of more serious actions. Further, the solution is signalled in his words – Russia keeps its troops in Crimea and “pulls them back to their bases”, allows OSCE monitors to be deployed and then permits Russia and Ukraine to negotiate the solution through a constitutional change that will allow Crimea to legally secede and set out the conditions for such secession. That way the principle is maintained, Crimea is surrendered, but the integrity of Ukraine is otherwise maintained as well as the principle of self-determination of the Ukrainian people. Ukraine will enter the Western economic sphere and Russia will inherit Crimea.

That seems clearly to be the program. Will it work? Lavrov and Putin have both signalled back that the most important issue is the retention of US-Russian relations and not the Ukraine. Russian leaders have unequivocally warned the West that the existing order should not be sacrificed on the altar of the principle of sovereignty generally or the sovereignty of the Ukraine in particular. On Friday, Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesman reinforced the message that Russia did not want a return to the Cold War and openly recognized that the West was seeking a diplomatic solution and that Russia still had hopes “that some points of agreement could be found as a result of dialogue”. Russia was still referring to the United States as a partner in maintaining the international order. But Russia has sent no signal that it is willing to recognize the new central government in Kiev which ousted President Viktor Yanukovych, but would Russia be willing to engage in negotiations to recognize the government to be elected this Spring in return for the West recognizing a legal and formal way for the Ukraine to secede and become once again part of Russia?

At the same time as Russia has been talking softly, it is waving a big stick – economic reprisals of its own and on-and-off military manoeuvres. Russia has aimed its most belligerent remarks at the EU, especially when the EU suspended talks on a new comprehensive economic and political pact with Russia. Clearly, it will be difficult for the EU to hold all its members together in a unanimous policy, especially its south-eastern members such as Greece. But the key factor seems to be the resolve of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Like Obama, Merkel and Putin have been talking. Further, they have agreed not to take actions which would increase violence. The solution on the European front would involve a positive sum economic game involving not only Ukraine but Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaidjan in a formula that would allow countries like Georgia and Ukraine to be both part of the EU economic zone as well as Putin’s new eastern European customs union thereby serving as a bridge between the two blocks. Of course, easier said than done, but it is another one of the chess pieces in this critical international crisis. At the same time, Merkel has been tough and unequivocal that Ukrainian sovereignty is not up for discussion.

Will the mild signals thus far and the threat of diplomatic isolation and massive economic consequences from both sides while the military option remains off the table (though only in reference to actual deployment of troops on the ground) be able to steer the crisis into a negotiations stream? Russia has not only signalled a willingness to enter such negotiations but had initially signalled its own interest in de-escalating the conflict by NOT annexing Crimea yesterday, but simply recognizing Crimea’s independence of Ukraine, but then made it a fait accompli today. The two options are, admittedly, only a difference in name, but even such slight differences are significant in international diplomacy and the signalling attendant thereto.The EU and the US have been working together to forge a political and diplomatic path out of the crisis which seems to explain a small part of why the initial sanctions have been so mild and shallow.

The issue is how ready are Western nations to impose much more drastic state sanctions given the boomerang effect on their own economies. The words of ultra-nationalist Russian members of the Duma, such as Vladimir Zhirinovsky, that sanctions will not have any negative effect on Russia is, of course, nonsense. The fact that the initial sanctions were so mild and, as almost as a direct consequence, the value of the Russian ruble rose making up for part of its earlier more precipitous fall, is simply one signal that the international economic market alone will significantly punish Russia if the situation escalates rather than de-escalates. The sanctions imposed thus far are simply intended to signal that the West is serious and has stepped onto the second stage of the escalator but in such a way as to allow for reversal and not to insult the key decision makers or Russia itself. But like the MAD doctrine with the nuclear standoff, the signals will only carry that message if they are also backed by the threat of much more serious steps.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 14-3 in favor of imposing much broader sanctions on Russians and Ukrainians involved in human rights violations and anyone involved in undermining Ukraine’s security and stability. Those sanctions, that would include freezing assets held in the United States as well as travel bans and denying visas to a wider cohort, were combined with the promised aid to the Ukraine directly and through the IMF. Hopefully, those signals will not be undercut by any decisions of the House of Representatives. There is a problem with freezing individual assets abroad, however. In this year alone, an estimated $50 billion has flown out of Russia already. This has significantly harmed the Russian economy. If some of such assets are frozen, then the export of capital would stop and Russia’s economy would benefit.

The US has only to hold its 50 states together through a majority, mainly be bringing the House of Representatives on side. The EU is a federation that has to hold its 34 states together in a consensus. The weakest economic link for both, but more for the US, is the need to strengthen the IMF, a move opposed by a significant number of Republicans including Senator Marco Rubio of Florida who argues that giving the money to Kyiv will only reward Russia by allowing Kyiv to pay its huge Russian debts. Therefore, such loans are not a threat but a reward offered to Russia. Nevertheless, only three Republicans on the committee actual cast votes against the IMF provisions, Senators Paul, as could be expected, joined by Senators Jim Risch of Idaho and John Barrasso of Wyoming.

Will the EU which is so dependent on Russia for gas be willing to do this, or, more importantly at this stage, signal that it is willing to take much more drastic steps if diplomacy fails and send enough signals that these threats are serious even though they will be significantly detrimental to the European economy just as it is beginning its recovery from the series of blows around the Euro crisis? More visa bans and asset freezes are on the table for the third stage of escalation (the steps Monday were the second stage for visa restrictions on Russian and Crimean officials and private citizens had already been imposed). But what about much more vigorous economic restrictions?

Germany already has an unprecedented (for it) unemployment rate of 7% and exports goods and services worth $130 billion to the Russian Federation (US exports are only $2.9 billion), let alone its dependency on Russia for 40% of its oil and gas. If, for example, more crippling sanctions, such as imposing limitations on Russian oil and natural-gas purchases, Germany would itself suffer enormously and the initiative has a significant risk of throwing Europe as well as Russia into a downward economic spiral let alone the devastating effect on the Ukraine economy. 45%  of Russian exports, 2/3rds oil and gas, goes to the EU. Ukraine sells almost $16 billion to Russia. Wider sanctions would be devastating all the way round, most devastating on Ukraine, extremely devastating on Russia and very devastating on the EU. But unless the EU holds a credible threat that it will resort to such sanctions, the possibility of Russia following a path of greater escalation increases. Russia has to know, as the Dutch foreign minister, Frans Timmermans, noted, that sanctions will be inevitable, thereby enabling Russia to “realise that sanctions will hurt everyone, but no one more than the Russians themselves.”

So broad sanctions will be avoided except as a last resort such as in response to a Russian invasion of eastern Ukraine. The sanctions imposed are extremely mild and are merely a pin prick on the Great Bear. But they are intended only as a signal and are not intended as a deterrent or punishment for they are far too gentle for that. The velvet glove of diplomacy not only thus far lacks an iron glove inside but even a green padded boxing glove, green for both St. Patrick’s day and significant economic sanctions. The sanctions imposed thus far are not intended to hurt. They are just tweets to say more can and will be forthcoming – freezing bank balances, stopping credit lines, cancelling barter deals and suspending joint projects, still far short of broad sanctions – unless we join together in a process of de-escalation.

Sarajevo and 1914 rather than Austria and Czechoslovakia in 1938 really haunt the current crisis. The West is NOT diplomatically impotent even if, militarily, its hands are tied behind its back with few military options available. Should the West escalate by offering Georgia and Ukraine associate status in NATO? Would that act as a deterrent or be seen as an abandonment of the diplomatic route? Diplomacy is accomplished not simply by what states do but by what they credibly convey they are willing to do. But the dilemma is that if the threat is to be meaningful, it must be made credible. But the more credible it becomes the more such measures inspire the other side to adopt equal and balancing counter-measures.

Tomorrow – Margaret Macmillan and How the Peace Was Lost.