ISIL Loses Territory, But Threat Remains

By Leah Cerilli


The Syrian Democratic Forces announced on March 23 that it had eliminated the last remnants of ISIL territory. The SDF, a coalition of Arab and Kurdish fighters backed by the United States, France, and Britain, said it fully liberated the town of Baghouz from ISIL control. Baghouz was the last territorial claim retained by ISIL. The announcement marks the demise of the ISIL caliphate from western Syria and eastern Iraq, officially declared in the summer of 2014. The principal goal of the caliphate is to consolidate control of territory in the region, which ISIL has now lost a significant portion of. Although this is a major blow to the terrorist organization, the loss of territorial control does not mean the end of ISIL itself.

The gradual loss of territory since the summer of 2017 has prompted ISIL to shift operational gears. ISIL has been increasingly relying on suicide bombers, guerrilla attacks, and sleeper cell networks to carry out operations. The lack of declared sections of territory makes it more difficult to monitor and track fighters as they split up and go underground.

ISIL is growing its presence internationally using these more traditional, low-level terrorism methods. ISIL networks and affiliates remain operational in Afghanistan, the Philippines, Niger, and Burkina Faso. Inland Libya’s vast ungoverned territory remains an appealing haven for fighters. Foreign Islamic State fighters who have returned to their home countries also pose a significant concern - it is estimated that 1,200 extremists have returned to Europe alone. ISIL’s ideology can still inspire lone wolves and smaller, loosely connected cells to carry out attacks.

Additionally, many ISIL fighters who fled liberating forces are at large within Iraq and Syria. Iraqi counterterrorism and intelligence officials have estimated that about 5,000 to 6,000 Islamic State fighters remain in Iraq and Syria. This number does not include sleeper cells or sympathizers assisting operations. A February 2019 estimate by the United Nations is substantially higher; the American Special Envoy for Syria claimed that there are 15,000 to 20,000 armed Islamic State fighters in Iraq and Syria.

The loss of territory also represents a significant change in ISIL’s finances. The group previously relied on territorial control to extract oil wealth and tax citizens living under its rule. ISIL has accumulated wealth, in addition to developing fairly sophisticated and difficult-to-track financial networks hidden in both former territory and abroad. This acquired wealth can still be used to fund operations, although ISIL will have to seek new ways to replenish funds now that they are not profiting off of occupying territory.

Although territorial control has been lost, ISIL’s ideology, fighters, and resources remain in play. Poverty and sectarian unrest remain as catalysts for recruitment, worsened by years of insurgency and fighting. The loss of territory will likely force ISIL to further adjust its strategies, rather than fizzle out and disappear.





NATO, Eastward Expansion, and Russia

By Kavya Verma

In the event that NATO had not expanded eastward after 1990, it is unlikely that the current state of US- Russian relations would be much better. However, despite the idea of Russia growing increasingly hostile towards the US, due to NATO expansion and what Russia views as encroachment on its historic sphere of influence, there has been little voiced concern in Russian political spheres regarding NATO expansion to the Baltics - given that no new military infrastructure is put in the Baltics. The main reasons why regardless of any NATO eastward expansion, US-Russia relations would not be in a significantly better state present-day, are in fact rooted in domestic politics and Russia’s need to distract from its waning global influence by flexing military might.

    Russian political leadership has actively sought on multiple occasions to communicate that the inclusion of the Baltic states in NATO is not an immediate security threat to Russia, and is something that was foreseen by Russia long before it happened. Additionally, although the Russian leadership knew that they were not at risk of NATO airstrikes, with NATO’s actions in Bosnia in the 1990’s and Russia’s simultaneously declining global influence, the stage was set for a decade of increasing public dissent in Russia towards what they likely must have seen as Western encroachment on Russia.

    Further evidence points to a Russian leadership unbothered by the eastward expansion of NATO because not only was this foreseen, but in the 90’s Russian authorities were even interested in joining. With even Putin failing to voice public anger at NATO’s eastward expansion until 2007 at the Munich Security Conference, it is likely that it was not until around 2007 that Russian leadership understood how widespread the nationalist sentiment that Marten speaks of had become.

    When explaining the current state of Russia-US relations, it seems that NATO eastward expansion, among a number of other factors, has exacerbated the rise in nationalist sentiment among the Russian public as a result of their increased awareness of Russia’s decreasing international clout. Despite Russian politicians’ attempts to assuage fears of Western imperialism over Russia, ultimately the leadership has come to see anti-NATO and anti-Western rhetoric and actions as crucial to their political survival. Hence, the current condition of US-Russia relations.

    Although it is doubtful that US-Russia relations would be in a better state today had NATO not expanded eastward in the 1990’s, given the observed rise in nationalist sentiment as a result of having to confront Russia’s greater political decline, at this point in time NATO does risk worsened US-Russia and European-Russia tensions if it keeps open the possibility of further eastern expansion.



Haiti’s Protests: A Continued Sequence of Frustration


By Sabine Tessono

    Over the past few weeks, the topic of voter fraud and government corruption has come into question in several nations. From the protests in Venezuela, to the controversy in the Nigerian elections, to even outcries in the United States, citizen dissatisfaction and government ignorance has led to an increase in outright dissent. Despite these various political crises, most neglect to understand that these violent protests stem from underlying, complex issues that result from precarious regimes. In this blog post, we will examine the Haitian protests that have erupted in the past few weeks and attempt to understand the reason behind these outbursts.

    Factors such as poor infrastructure, increasing environmental and economic problems, and several natural disasters have resulted in precarious fiscal and social conditions in Haiti. An inability to rebuild a stable market, along with continued reliance on foreign aid, has also further weakened the country’s ability to develop a relatively strong economic sector, leading to starvation, homelessness, and violence throughout major cities. Yet, perhaps the most consistent problem that has plagued Haiti has been rampant government corruption. Throughout the centuries, many leaders have risen out of turbulent uprisings in the island’s history and have taken advantage of the general dissatisfaction and lack of cohesion in Haiti’s population to seize power for themselves. While some may argue that this sudden change in authority may allow for both the population and the state to address their grievances and enact change, several heads of state have used these opportunities to embezzle funds and foreign monetary aid meant for rebuilding infrastructure and creating social and economic programs for citizens,--the most notable examples being the notorious Francois and Jean Claude Duvalier.   

    Although, citizens have expressed their frustration with the inefficiency and duplicity of government officials through various elections, protests, and general complaints, it appears that with the rise of President Jovenel Moise, another example of the Haitian government’s duplicity in deceiving its citizens has risen to the surface. According to a Senate report conducted in 2017, funds that Venezuela gave to Haiti in order to rebuild bridges and various buildings (as a part of the Petrocaribe oil alliance) damaged in the 2010 earthquake have gone completely missing, leaving many of the promised government projects remarkably unfinished. Even more damning is the apparent link the report made to Moise and these various embezzlements, claiming that even “before he was president, his private company received funds to build a road that never materialized.”

    The missing funds, along with various government debts and Moise’s refusal to respond, has led to a simmering anger among the population (the majority of which live on less than 2 dollars a day) that exploded with tens of thousands of protesters on the streets of the capital calling for the president’s resignation. While many foreign missionaries and outside forces have attempted to provide aid and support during the tumultuous oppositions, the rage has spread so far out of control that “roads are blocked, people are rioting all over the streets, and businesses are being destroyed,” with several people being killed in the process. To make matters worse, President Moise and many other political officials have made incendiary, derogatory comments about the protestors and refused to address the deficit in funds, further inflaming riots throughout Port-au-Prince and in other cities across the island.

    Essentially, the point here is to not justify the violence and further destruction being spread throughout Haiti. Rather, these protests are a product of a continuing cycle of the Haitain people’s dissatisfaction with government corruption and carelessness. While additional foreign aid and continued intervention in Haiti are feeding into the state’s continuous exploitation of the population, the island being left to its own devices results in further chaos and turmoil. In any case, both the president and the population must acknowledge the repetitive issues that constantly plague the wellbeing of Haiti and must come to some form of compromise and accountability to escape complete and total internal collapse.

Unrest Increases in Sudan Amidst State of Emergency

By Leah Cerilli

Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir has declared a state of emergency in an attempt to quell uprisings calling for the overthrow of his presidency. This action has only intensified the protests that began in late December. The protests began as a reaction to poor economic conditions such as expense increases, currency devaluation, and fuel shortages. Sudan’s economy has been suffering since its secession from South Sudan in 2011, which contained almost 75 percent of Sudan’s oil reserves. The unrest quickly developed into widespread protests against Bashir’s rule, who has been in power since 1989 following a military coup.

The state of emergency declaration includes a ban of unlicensed public gatherings, increased policing powers, and the establishment of emergency prosecutors and courts. Security personnel are permitted to search citizens and properties as needed, as well as confiscate money suspected as being used in illegal trade. These actions are part of an effort to control civilian actions and justify securitization measures such as the deployment of additional troops in populated areas that have seen the most protest. The Sudanese government officially announced that the death toll from the protests amounts to 31 deaths as of late February, but the actual number is estimated to be higher.

In addition to announcing a year-long state of emergency, Bashir dissolved the central and state governments. He has begun the process of replacing government officials through appointment, predominantly with senior military officials. Bashir also dissolved all elected regional governments and replaced all state governors with senior military officials. Protests widely escalated following the emergency declaration and government appointments, particularly in the capital city Khartoum.

Bashir’s actions are notable on a regional level due to the implications of Islamist and nationalist politics. Although he rose to power as a Muslim politician, Bashir seems to be distancing himself from Islamist political parties by appointing military officials and setting a nationalist tone. Islamist parties such as the Popular Congress Party sympathize with the protestors, blaming Bashir’s government for the economic crisis that started the unrest. Neighboring countries, such as Egypt and Turkey, faced unrest from Islamist parties during the Arab Spring and are consistently attempting to suppress the Islamic faith throughout the region. Both Egypt and Turkey have announced their support for Bashir and concern for stability in the country.

The situation in Sudan is being paralleled to the 2011 Arab Spring. One popular slogan in the Sudanese protests, “The people want the fall of the regime”, was made famous by the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia. Similar to the Arab Spring, the protests are largely made up of young people. Women are also playing a dominant role, taking to the streets to protest abuse and sexual harassment, in addition to arbitrary detentions by security forces.

Bashir has stated he will only step down if elections are held to replace him. Sudan’s next elections are scheduled for 2020, but protesters have vowed to remove Bashir from power before then.

Serbia and the EU: Part II

By Kavya Verma

There is evidence favoring the theory that these overtures being made to Serbia are being done in part to counter Russian influence in the EU’s neighborhood, and to legitimize the Vucic administration in exchange for Vucic and Serbia controlling the flow of migrants into neighboring EU member states. Russian influence in Serbia is not a new phenomenon or one that came about due to its twentieth century history: it is extensive and can be traced back as early as 1870. In Serbia at the time, political overtures and support of the geographically distant Russia were seen as safer than bowing down to the Austro-Hungarians. This historic factor was just the beginning. Serbia and Russia’s relationship has progressed further since then, with Serbian dependency on Russian natural resources and pro-Russia attitudes among Serbian elites. A shared history of Orthodox Christianity allows for a shared cultural heritage that unites both countries, leaving room for many soft power initiatives between the two. Furthermore, another very real risk is Russian-led misinformation campaigns in Serbia. Freedom House puts Serbia at having an internet penetration rate of 65.3%, and the Kremlin remains committed to ensuring that a country of such strategic interest with fundamentally common values not be lost to the EU. Because of this and the Kremlin’s commitment to advancing its soft power initiatives in Serbia, it is posing a threat to both the EU’s neighborhood and EU member states sympathetic to Russia. The EU currently lies at a crossroads when it comes to Serbian accession. Either it can be the external actor that initiates democratization, or it can risk letting Serbia fall back to its historic influencer and become a gateway for Russian influence into the EU. An even greater threat from the advancement of Russian initiatives in the EU is Russia’s use of frozen conflicts and capitalizing on ethnic tensions to prevent the Western Balkans from meeting the criteria for accession into the EU. Furthermore, with support for the accession of Western Balkan states into the EU waning, it has become necessary for EU leadership to counteract both a blatant lack of support by member states for Serbian accession, as well as chaos-causing overtures by Moscow to Serbia. A greater risk posed by Russian support of frozen conflicts is the reignition of ethnic tensions in the Balkans. Not only might this cause another humanitarian crisis, but it will also run the risk of blocking key energy supply routes from Russia to the rest of Europe, and worsen EU sentiments on the accession and integration of Serbia and the rest of the Western Balkans into the EU.

    In the 1990’s, Vucic served as Information Minister to Slobodan Milosevic. His job included countering media sources opposed to the Milosevic regime and essentially denying freedom of the press and the existence of other political parties. However, since joining the team of “Reformed ultra-nationalists” in the post-Milosevic era, Vucic has taken steps that, albeit risky or unlikely, to help have set the tone for what normalized relations with Kosovo would look like. While there is still more that can be done, the 2013 deal between Kosovo and Serbia recognizing that Serbs located in Kosovo’s north would have to follow Kosovo’s laws was a milestone. While not even close to fully normalized relations with Kosovo, this move was an example of Serbia firmly aligning itself with the EU as a counterbalance to Russia, just as many years ago it had used an alliance with Russia as a counterweight to its western neighbors.

    Additionally, it appears that every decision made by Serbian leaders is a balancing act between its citizens who feel a historic connection with Europe and those who feel the same deep connection to Russia. As can be witnessed in Serbia’s response to the annexation of Crimea, the country’s neutral response to this violation of national sovereignty can be attributed to a population torn between historic identities and cultures. Ultimately, overtures by EU leadership to a population contending with issues of identity, energy dependency, and a lack of support for Serbian accession to the EU among the EU’s own citizens is required to prevent Serbia from pivoting more towards Russian interests rather than those of the European Union.

Nigeria: The Constant Question of Democracy

By Sabine Tessono

When Muhammadu Buhari was elected to presidency after defeating Goodluck Jonathan (member of the PDP, a political party dominated by former military officers and Muslims from the northern region of Nigeria) in 2015, many believed that his rise to power signified Nigeria’s victorious claiming of democracy. After a long struggle with ethnic tensions (eventually causing a civil war), a consistent pattern of coup d’etats and authoritarian warlord leadership, and a lack of communication and unification of commissions created to represent the general populace, Buhari’s presidency, along with Goodluck Jonathan’s willingness to step down, signified the first peaceful transfer of power in Nigeria’s history—leading to an overarching belief of a democratic regime filled with promise.

    Yet, over the course of Buhari’s presidency, organized democracy seems to be in jeopardy. With the onslaught of terrorist groups like Boko Haram threatening the livelihood of various citizens throughout the country and playing upon ethnic and political divides, and with human rights abuses and forceful suppression of protests of the establishment, the question of Nigeria’s potential for a true democracy without any authoritative elements seems to remain in question.

    The underlying current of unrest began to turn into distinct, vocalized outrage when President Buhari suspended the Nigerian Chief Justice Walter Onnoghen, under grievous accusations of “failing to disclose bank accounts in foreign currencies.”. While Buhari himself claimed the dismissal was in favor of enforcing justice and an intolerance for corruption, many believe that Onnoghen’s dismissal came suspiciously close to the date when he was set to preside over a disputed election result—one that could have been influenced by potential violence and vote-rigging. This swift ousting of the Chief Justice, combined with Buhari’s run for reelection has led those from the opposition side to question the validity of the decision. During press interviews and even on social media, dissenters from the PDP consistently slammed Buhari for his “’brazen dictatorial act [that is] an ongoing rape of our nation’s democracy’”, while others believe that Nigeria has regressed from a democratic nation into a “’jaded era of military dictatorship’”. In fact, Buhari’s firmness on the matter has caused leaders from the EU, UK, and US to critique the suspension and how it could reflect upon the electoral and democratic process.

    But one could also examine the accusations leveled against Onnoghen. If these charges of fraud are found to be true, what would that say about the validity of having a Chief Justice or a legislative body to keep electoral process in check when corruption is an undercurrent in the proceedings? Yet, the presidential response to the accusations and the denial of due process in the midst of an incoming presidential election also raises the question of whether Nigeria’s democratic proceedings are able to hold firm amidst the outcry and chaos or if the president utilizes this opportunity to tamper down further dissent. In any case, Onnoghen and Buhari’s struggle still proves that Nigeria has quite a ways to go before having a solidified and relatively efficient form of government.  

US Stops Aid to West Bank and Gaza

By Leah Cerilli

The United States has halted all aid to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and West Bank as of February 1. The move is part of US Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act (ATCA).

    Under ATCA, American citizens are able to sue any country receiving aid from the U.S. through the American legal system over complicity in “acts of war”. The Palestinian Authority is opting to reject all American aid in order to avoid such lawsuits, but denies accusations that it encourages “acts of war” such as violence and terrorism. The U.S. previously gave over $50 million in aid last year for the training and operations of Palestine’s security apparatuses. The U.S. did not initiate the cessation of this aid; it is part of the aid that Palestine is rejecting. Palestine fears economic hardship from potential lawsuits that would make it not worth receiving aid in the first place. All USAID operations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip have ceased, but no steps are currently being taken to close the USAID mission to the Palestinian Territories.

    This is not the first time the U.S. has cut aid to Palestine. Last year, Washington cut hundreds of millions of dollars of funding to health, infrastructure and education humanitarian organizations supported by USAID. U.S. funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNWRA) ceased in August 2018. The U.S. had previously been the largest donor to UNWRA, providing more than $360 million in 2017. Numerous public institutions such as schools and clinics funded by the UNWRA now face fears of closure or severe budget and job cuts. Humanitarian organizations in the West Bank and Gaza also report a general cutback in funding from donors worldwide, especially as they seek additional funding to make up for the lost American aid.

    President Donald Trump claimed that the USAID cuts were meant to pressure the Palestinian Authority to pursue further peace talks with Israel. However, both measures are likely to further deteriorate the relationship between the U.S. and Palestine. This relationship is already especially fragile, given the U.S. recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital last year.

The lack of Palestinian security aid could also negatively harm Israel. Although security relations can be tense, Israel and Palestine do share intelligence and coordinate arrests. This coordination is a positive function for both countries amid their countless disagreements, which will likely be damaged if Palestinian forces lose such a significant amount of funding. Additionally, a weakened Palestinian security apparatus is a regional security concern that can easily cross borders.





Serbia and the EU: Part I

By Kavya Verma

    Serbia is of great geopolitical interest to the EU, dating back to the crisis in the Balkans in the 1990s, which traumatized not only the western Balkans but also all of Europe. In 2000, the Feira Council originally stated that membership to the EU was a plausible option for the Western Balkan states, specifically Serbia, although the opportunity for membership would only be extended if certain criteria were met by these nations. Since then, many milestones have been reached in the EU-Serbia relationship, with a big victory being the 2003 Stabilization and Association Process, along with the 2009 lifting of visa requirements for Serbs traveling to Schengen countries.

Brussels has shown a desire to rapidly integrate Serbia in particular into the European Union, with overtures to the illiberal Vucic administration increasing since the start of the migrant crisis. As high-level officials in the EU have publicly announced ambitious dates for the accession of Serbia into the EU, and Vucic is attempting to balance pro-Russia sentiment in his cabinet with the aims of the EU, many believe that Serbian accession to the EU is merely part of the European Neighborhood Policy and EU security interests in the Western Balkans. However, there are certain factors pointing to a greater explanation behind the EU’s interest in Serbia than simply the ENP and immediate security interests. Certain factors show that in exchange for the plausibility of Serbia joining the EU and prominent EU leaders legitimizing the Vucic administration, Serbia maintains a balance between Russian influence and EU influence, while also stemming the flow of migrants to neighboring EU member states.

The European Union and Serbia have a long and complicated history. An article from the European Council on Foreign Relations sums up their relationship nicely: “How do we in Serbia see the EU? The simple answer is ‘about the same as we in Serbia are seen by the EU’ - with lots of prejudice, without understanding the wider context, and framed with the perceptions and memories from the 1990s.”

The author is not incorrect, as when survey participants were asked if they in favor of the Yugoslavia Federal Republic (Serbia and Montenegro) joining the EU, Eurobarometer results showed only 31% support on average from the EU. Those most strongly against the prospect of Serbia joining the EU are Austria, Germany, and France, with the only northern European member state with a majority in favor being Sweden. Given the current troubles the EU is having dealing with its existing illiberal democracies, Hungary and to a lesser extent Poland, the benefits of the EU expressing support for Serbia joining the EU when ⅔ of EU citizens are against that prospect does not make sense. While Serbia is of geopolitical interest to the EU, the fact remains that the political goodwill of EU citizens is lacking, as are the abilities of Serbia under the Vucic administration - currently likely to be a stable factor in Serb politics for years to come - to meet EU standards of accession. Therefore, the question must be raised: why and how are the EU and Serbia continuing to integrate while balancing their respective relationships with Russia?


Emmanuel Macron and What Army: the assets and liabilities of soft and hard power policy – Part 3

By Chris Brown

Retrospectively, I’m glad that I put off the final installment in this series of blog posts for so

long. 2018 was a long and treacherous year for Macron. The progression to violent skirmishes

between gendarmes et gilets jaunes epitomizes the discontent that results from the liberal

centrist’s fiscal policies. Understanding Macron means understanding the context of his liberal

economic cadre and its raisons d’étre in France. Macron himself may frequently frame his

actions in an internationalist context, citing the goals of the COP21 accords or “commitments at

the EU, G20, and UN levels,” as he does at the head of his speech on 27 November in response

to the gilets jaunes protests. However, the force behind his policy decisions comes from a larger

political and intellectual class than just Macron, whose aims diverge from those of the COP21

accords.

Ever since the mid to late 1980s, it has essentially been the goal of each French

government’s economic policy to catch up with the leading European economies. Macron is

unique in that his aim to increase economic competitiveness coincides with his previously

discussed goal of making budget cuts to reduce France’s deficit and debt-to-GDP ratios to within

the European Commission’s recommendations: a goal which was achieved by the French

government 2017, but will likely be undone by the time 2019 is over. Meanwhile, “Liberal”

economists have criticized Macron’s reform, which coincides with this budgetary goal, for not

going far enough. Such criticisms include his policy’s failure to reduce social security pay-ins for

businesses, his 2018 budget’s failure to show sufficient deficit reductions, and his labor reforms’

lack of substantive change compared with that of other EU countries in the wake of the

Eurocrisis.

The position of the EU tends to coincide with that of the French economic elite when it

comes to a pairing of budget and tax cuts meant to boost the French economy back towards

lower unemployment and more steady growth. It would appear, however, that among the first

priorities to fall in the face of the gilets jaunes protests are those demanded by the European

Union. The Edouard Philippe government has announced that the French public will see no

increase of the TICPE emissions tax in 2019.

Now what does all of this have to do with defense spending? Macron’s budgetary

pivoting in the French public arena is more than just analogous to European defense spending in

the sphere of transatlantic relations. Whereas the past year’s worth of economic reform made by

the Macron/Philippe government has been modest at best, 2018 turned out to be a boon for the

growth and development of the European Defense Community. Countries across the EU have

made progress towards the 2% of GDP NATO spending target. Some EU members have even

exhibited resistance to Russian sharp power pressure, such as Finland, whose September raids on

Russian-owned properties on its western islands caught its Russian owners off-guard.

Meanwhile, and perhaps more importantly, the goals of European Defense spending and

foreign policy motives across EU countries coalesced more than it had in years prior. Across the

EU, countries responded swiftly and sharply to the Skripal affair by expelling Russian diplomats

last March. Then, in the fall afterwards, Macron used his pulpit at the 100th anniversary of

armistice day to advance his goal of uniting a “European Army”, this time harping on the

importance of thereby establishing European sovereignty. This position of Macron’s, met with a

twitterstorm from Donald Trump, who pointed out Macron’s own domestic struggles, is a

precarious one in the realm of European security, but is one that is increasingly supported by key

actors across the EU. Even Angela Merkel, who was at first hesitant to jump on board with

Macron’s many reformist proposals, now has a sizeable base of support, even among the less-

than-warhawkish German public to work with.

Given Macron’s importance as a driver behind reinforcing European security, the

delicacy of his domestic situation endangers his plans for a European Army. If he crumples

against Meluche’s generation of yellow-vested protests and changes his draft budget, then

Macron loses clout as a champion of EU rules and policies. If he doubles down as a European

‘sovereign’ and cracks down on protesters, a price will be paid in credibility as one among

Europe’s vanguard against authoritarianism. For the time being, it would appear that Macron has

chosen the latter. While I would not personally set the bar so low as to compare Macron to

authoritarians like Putin in this regard, the optics of Macron’s overzealous response to protesters

and calls for European sovereignty have the potential to empower those who stand against said

army.

Trump's Iran Sanctions Disputed by Deal Members

By Leah Cerilli

On Sunday, November 4th, the White House reinstated economic and trade sanctions on Iran, effectively ending the United States’ participation in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. These sanctions specifically target Iranian oil, which makes up 70% of Iran’s economy.

Commonly dubbed the “Iran nuclear deal”, JCPOA was forged in 2015 between Iran, UN Security Council members, Germany, and the European Union. This recent move is a reflection of President Trump’s promise to pull out of the deal, which he says is “horrible” and “one-sided”. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the sanctions are meant to influence Iran into renegotiating the deal. The Trump administration has also justified  the sanctions as a means to condemn Iran’s poor human rights record, support for terrorist organizations, and destabilizing actions within the Middle East. JCPOA lifted previous sanctions held on Iran since 1979, in exchange for limiting and monitoring its nuclear program.

The American sanctions predominantly target Iran’s banking, shipping, and petroleum sectors. They stipulate that countries that do business with Iran without U.S. waivers will face hefty fines or may be prevented from doing business with the United States. Eight countries have been given temporary waivers: China, India, Greece, Italy, Taiwan, Japan, Turkey, and South Korea. The waivers are supposed to last for six months and are intended to allow the granted countries enough time to eliminate their Iranian imports as well as avoid disruption of global oil markets. The importing countries must deposit Iran’s earning into an escrow account, which Iran can only spend on a limited range of humanitarian items. Although humanitarian goods can still be traded with Iran, the sanctions will likely make the purchase more expensive.

The US will be able to globally enforce these sanctions given that the majority of international transactions are made in US dollars. Any transaction that is made in US dollars or passes through American banks is subject to American sanctions.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the sanctions will backfire on the US. He claims the sanctions will only make the US more isolated, as the international community will oppose the sanctions. Both the European Union and China have criticised the sanctions.

However, the European Union is indicating that it may shift sides and pivot closer to the United States. Both France and Denmark have recently uncovered Iranian intelligence plots in their respective territories. Denmark suspects Iran of trying to carry out an assassination on its soil in October. France has concluded Iran’s intelligence ministry was behind a plot to attack Iranian exiles protesting in Paris this past June. Both countries have said they are considering sanctions at an EU-wide level as a result of the attempted operations.

The EU is also exploring a loophole that would allow continued trade with Iran. Their proposal is to create a “Special Purpose Vehicle” - a third party institution that would process transactions between Iran and businesses seeking to trade with them. Under the SPV, the deals would be subject to EU law, not international law.

Iran has threatened to abandon the deal if the EU does not protect its trade and financial benefits.