Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

Last Friday at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Deputy Prime Minister of Turkey Bülent Arinç discussed the work the Freedom and Development Party (FPD) has done for the democratic process in Turkey. Moderator Katherine Wilkens introduced DPM Arinç as being a founding member of the FDP and a key architect of government policies in Turkey.

Arinç began by praising the relationship that Turkey and the United States have as a model partnership and a strategic allegiance. He sees the United States as a leader in global politics, which is why Turkey sees the need to be attached to it.

He also praised the work that the FDP has done in Turkey and its success as a political party. FDP has been in power since 2002, with increasing success in general elections, local elections and referendum votes. Arinç believes it will be also be successful in local elections set to take place in early 2014.  People are happy with the reforms and progress Turkey has made under the FDP.  These include healthcare reforms, and he hopes the same for the US. The economy is growing at 2.5-3% a year. It was not affected by the 2008 global recession. The FDP has also created stability in the government administration, allowing for more fair and just representation.

While warning against politicians staying too long in government (quoting the Turkish proverb so that “your face doesn’t get old”), Arinç sees the FDP as playing an important role in Turkey’s democratization process. The political process opened up with the removal of the state security apparatus. The FDP has been running campaigns in languages other than Turkish so that anyone can enter the political process. He sees Turkey’s minority groups as adding to the country’s diversity, with equal citizenship rights. He also sees the value of conflicts within the democratic framework. Opposition to the ruling party is a good thing because it creates competitors, not enemies. There are currently 76 political parties in Turkey.  They are indispensable to Turkey’s democracy.

Similarly, Arinç believes that peaceful demonstrations should be encouraged.  Even a small voice should still be heard. When asked about the Gezi Park protests, he praised the protestors who came out during the first few days to oppose the building of a shopping mall in the park. He also apologized for the police’s unwarranted use of force against citizens. However, he condemned the rest of the protests for their use of violence, saying that illegal organizations were harming public property and people. He denounced those who made false accusations against politicians inciting hate, and BBC and CNN for exaggerating the protests in Gezi Park.  But demonstrations are allowed everywhere in Turkey.  The FDP is willing to accept both applause and criticism.

Wilkens asked Arinç about his thoughts on the role and importance of a free press in democracy. He recognized the importance of journalists and their role in relaying information to the people. He discussed provisions that the FDP has put in place that protect journalists so that they are able to freely do their jobs. He is aware of the criticisms Turkey has been facing regarding its crackdown, but he responded to these criticisms by claiming that journalists were not arrested for carrying out their profession but rather for ties to terrorist organizations.

Arinç painted a pretty picture of FDP openness and willingness to expand Turkey’s democracy, but to a good part of the audience this narrative clashed with actions of the government.  Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

When it rains

When it rains, it pours, or so it seems with diplomatic initiatives.  Yesterday it was the six-month Iran nuclear deal.  Today it is the United Nations announcement of a date for Syria peace talks:  January 22, in Geneva.

Neither one faces easy implementation, but the Syria peace talks are the dicier proposition.  A lot of things are still unclear, including who is invited and how they will be represented.  But Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon was at pains to be clear about the purpose:

“full implementation of the Geneva Communique of 30 June 2012,” including the establishment of a transitional governing body with full executive powers, including over military and security entities.

This is word for word what the Syrian Coalition of Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (Etilaf) requires.

It is a tall order for Bashar al Asad, as it implies that the meeting aims to remove him from power, if not from Syria.  Friends in Etilaf doubt the regime will show up for a meeting with this purpose.  I think it more likely it will, but with people who cannot make serious commitments for Bashar al Asad, whatever their nominal titles.  It is very unlikely that a one-day meeting is going to move us more than a millimeter closer to a negotiated settlement in Syria.  I’ll be delighted if it does that much.

How, you should ask, are the two news items related?  Did the nuclear deal pave the way for the Syria talks?  Or vice versa, did some sort of unannounced side deal on Syria pave the way for the nuclear deal?  Or are these two developments unrelated?

There are certainly some who have hoped that a nuclear deal would open the door to a broader rapprochement with Iran.  That’s possible, but unlikely in such a short timeframe. Syria is no less vital to Iran and its “resistance axis” (which also includes Hizbollah and Hamas) today than it was before the nuclear agreement was reached.

It is far more likely that Iran and Russia, the Asad regime’s key allies, are hoping to find the Americans pliable on Syria and even willing to accept half a loaf now that they’ve had their top priority at least temporarily met.  The Americans and their European partners (including Turkey) are worried about the rampant proliferation of extremists in Syria, reliant on Bashar al Asad to complete implementation of the chemical weapons agreement, and aware that things are going badly for the opposition military forces.  It is not a good moment from Etilaf’s perspective to be negotiating an end to the regime.

There is, however, virtue in talking, if the UN can manage to get both the regime and opposition to Geneva with credible delegations.  If, as I expect, the regime is nowhere near ready for Bashar al Asad to step aside, the obvious subject to discuss is the protection of civilians.  The international norm against military attacks on civilian populations is at least as important as the international norm against the use of chemical weapons.  It is violated in Syria on a daily basis.

The regime’s use of artillery, aircraft and missiles against civilian population centers should be ended.  Moscow and Tehran have the leverage to make this happen.  Without their financing and weapons supplies the regime wouldn’t last a month.  Even if the Geneva meeting is unable to achieve its avowed purpose of creating a transitional government, it would be doing something worthwhile if it provides an opportunity for the Americans and Europeans to get Russia and Iran to pressure Asad to end attacks on civilians.

The Geneva meeting might also serve a useful purpose if it fails altogether, forcing the Americans to rethink strategy in Syria (as Fred Hof suggests).  But if the Americans do nothing different after such a failure, the damage will be to the credibility of Etilaf and any other groups that go to Geneva.  When it rains, it pours, especially on the heads of those who aren’t well supplied with protection.



Peace picks, November 25-29

With Thanksgiving this week, Washington is pretty quiet. Still a couple peace and conflict events to check out:

1. Italy, the Cold War, and the Nuclear Dilemma: The Struggle over the NPT

November 25, 2013 // 4:00pm — 5:30pm // Wilson Center

Washington History Seminar
Historical Perspectives on International and National Affairs

Italy, the Cold War, and the Nuclear Dilemma:
The Struggle over the NPT

Leopoldo Nuti

Why do nuclear weapons matter? Italy‘s military nuclear policy throughout the Cold War was an attempt to achieve a position of parity with the major European powers. The Non-Proliferation Treaty, however, challenged this basic goal, and both the signature and the ratification of the treaty became two of the most controversial choices that postwar Italy had to face.

Leopoldo Nuti is Director of the Machiavelli Center for Cold War Studies and professor of history of international relations and coordinator of the international studies section of the doctoral school in political science at the University of Roma Tre.  He is the Co-Director of the Nuclear Proliferation International History Project. Nuti has been a Fulbright student, NATO Research Fellow, Jean Monnet Fellow at the European University Institute, Research Fellow at the CSIA, Harvard University, Research Fellow for the Nuclear History Program, Senior Research Fellow at the Norwegian Nobel Institute, and Visiting Professor at the Institut d’Etudes Politiques in Paris. He has published extensively in Italian, English, and French on U.S.-Italian relations and Italian foreign and security policy. His latest book is a history of nuclear weapons in Italy during the Cold War, La sfida nucleare. La politica estera italiana e le armi nucleari, 1945-1991.

Report from the Field: David Nickles, US Department of State Office of the Historian

Monday November 25, 2013
4:00 p.m. 
Woodrow Wilson Center, 6th Floor Moynihan Board Room
Ronald Reagan Building, Federal Triangle Metro Stop

Reservations requested because of limited seating: or 202-450-3209

The seminar is sponsored jointly by the National History Center of the American Historical Association and the Wilson Center. It meets weekly during the academic year. See for the schedule, speakers, topics, and dates as well as webcasts and podcasts. The seminar thanks the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations for its support.


2. Nuclear Talks with Iran: Potential Pitfalls and Prospects for Success

Tuesday, Nov 26, 2013 12:00 PM – 1:00 PM Lehrman Auditorium, Heritage Foundation

The rise to power of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has boosted expectations that the decade-long standoff over Iran’s nuclear weapons program soon will be resolved through a diplomatic agreement. How realistic are these expectations? What is the meaning of the deadlocked talks at Geneva? What negotiating pitfalls must be avoided to construct the framework of an acceptable agreement? What is the role of international sanctions in pressuring Iran and under what circumstances should Washington consider easing sanctions? Join us as the speakers address these and other questions.

More About the Speakers

Patrick Clawson
Director of Research, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy

Fred Fleitz 
Chief Analyst of the Langley Intelligence Group Network and former Senior Analyst with the CIA, DIA and House Intelligence Committee

James Phillips 
Senior Research Fellow for Middle Eastern Affairs, The Heritage Foundation

Hosted By

Steven P. Bucci, Ph.D.

Director, Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies



It’s the next six months that really count

If you are interested in today’s news about the six-month nuclear deal with Iran, read no further.  You’d do better to go to the New York Times for Michael Gordon’s piece on the important details and David Sanger’s on the broader issues of significance and impact on international relations.

My interest is in the prospects beyond six months.  Is this

  1. a step in the right direction towards a broader agreement that ends Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions, or
  2. is it a relatively insignificant pause in a decades-long march that will necessarily end, even if Israel or the US intervenes militarily, in a nuclear-armed Iran?

I don’t think we know the answer to that question.  What we need to think about is how to make sure the answer is 1. and not 2.  What will Tehran more likely to stop and even roll back its nuclear progress?  What would push Tehran in the wrong direction?


There is little doubt that sanctions have brought Iran to the negotiating table, and the propect of lifting them will be a major factor in Tehran’s thinking about whether to continue to pursue a potential nuclear weapons capability.  So should we tighten them further, or not?

I depart from the Administration and more dovish colleagues on this question.  If this is a six-month agreement, I think there is virtue in Congress making it clear what happens after the six months are up if the negotiations fail to produce a more permanent agreement.  Passing sanctions now, with a six-month trigger that the President can renew once or twice if he certifies real progress is being made, makes negotiating sense.

The trouble of course is that the Iranians will see this as pointing a gun at them while they sit at the negotiating table (there was a poster plastered all over Tehran recently with just that picture).  The majlis will likely respond with some six-month trigger of its own.  I don’t see that as a terrible thing.  There is something to be gained by being clear with each other about the consequences of a negotiating failure in the next stage.

There is also something to be gained from clarity about what happens if there is a permanent agreement.  The Congress may not like it, but it will need to act to lift sanctions and enable Iran to return from the penalty box we have put it in.


The international community’s failure to respond effectively to India, Pakistan and North Korea as they each went nuclear has given Tehran good reason to believe that we won’t do much if they follow in that path.  Even bombing won’t do much more than postpone what it at the same time make inevitable.  For understandable and good reasons, we have no record of attacking a regime that succeeds in making nuclear weapons.

So somehow the non-nuclear path has to be made to look at least as secure for Tehran’s rulers as the nuclear path.  That’s distasteful, but necessary.  President Obama has already gone a long way in this direction by eschewing in his General Assembly speech last fall any intention of pursuing regime change in Iran.  If Iran wants more than that, it will need to end the tense relationship with the U.S. it has cultivated and enjoyed for more than 30 years.   And we will need to do likewise, reducing the threat of military action.


That’s what diplomats mean when they talk about rapprochement.  No one snuggles with someone they don’t trust.  We don’t trust Iran.  They don’t trust us.  That makes snuggling dangerous.

Building trust is something that requires a far broader effort than what has been going on between us in Geneva in the last month or so.  The Iranians understand that.  Witness their Foriegn Minister’s unsuccessful Youtube video.  We do the same stuff:  our virtual embassy has been up and running for years, with little detectable effect on the Iranian leadership.

Trust requires personal contact.  Apart from President Rouhani’s fall visit and the Geneva meetings, there is precious little other than the nuclear negotiations themselves.  The various Track 2 dialogues (those are unofficial meetings to discuss substantial isses) have been useful, but their reach into Iranian and American society is limited.  We need far broader exchanges to build trust:  between universities, thinktanks, parliaments, research centers.  That is going to take a long time, as it did with the Soviet Union and with China.


In the meanwhile, we need verification.  Even if we decide in favor of rapprochement, we will want to be morally certain that Iran is not violating a permanent nuclear agreement behind our backs.  There is good reason to believe that they conducted some nuclear weapons research and development in the past.  They have not owned up to that or allowed verification at key sites.  This makes trust harder than it would be otherwise, and verification all the more necessary.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has been good at verification in the past, and Iran has reached agreement with it on important issues.  The IAEA will be the centerpiece of any verification effort.  But neither the Americans nor the Israelis will be satisfied with only the IAEA.  They will maintain their own national means for verification, but Israel (which has not signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty) will refuse the IAEA access to its own nuclear facilities.  NPT parties and non-parties are not equal.  Verification will be lop-sided, and therefore difficult to arrange with Tehran, which is highly sensitive to any sign of “disrespect.”

Bottom line

The next six months are more important to resolution of the Iranian nuclear issue than the last six.  Getting a permanent nuclear agreement will require progress on sanctions, security, overall rapprochement, and verification that will not be easy.

Best not to forget

Those of us still alive all remember where we were on November 22, 1963. I was crossing the campus of Haverford College 50 years ago, green bookbag over my right shoulder, when a student came up to me and said the President had been shot.  It seemed distant:  Dallas was a long way away then, 18-year-olds couldn’t vote, and I didn’t have much confidence in what went on in Washington.  JFK was a Cold Warrior who had invaded Cuba and failed to deliver on promised domestic reforms, especially civil rights.  A student at Haverford already knew that he was sliding us into war in Vietnam. Read more…

Somalia’s New Deal, or not

Decades of instability and war have transformed Somalia into a hotbed for extremist activity. Despite international and regional efforts to foster progress on security and development, the militant Islamist group al-Shabaab plays a significant role in the country. On Tuesday, the Woodrow Wilson Center hosted a panel discussion on the future of security and development in the impoverished nation. Read more…

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