China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is a vision to parlay large-scale economic dynamism into a foreign policy projecting Chinese influence overseas in the name of development. If the its promise of mutual prosperity and development is to be more than the sum of its parts, its stabilising effect on the Middle East would be a major litmus test. The momentum may come from Beijing, but smaller countries like Israel can and must shape it.
Many intelligence agencies were caught off-guard by the Arab Spring in 2011. Similarly, many agencies failed to anticipate the Islamic State taking over Mosul in 2014. Yet, the reasons behind these instances of strategic surprise were not new at all. They were already apparent over 25 years before, prior to the Iranian Revolution, and still pervade contemporary intelligence work.
This monograph examines post-revolutionary Iran’s grand strategy by way of its adjustments at three key inflection points. The first (1988-91) spans the end of the Iran-Iraq war, the collapse of the bipolar order and the First Gulf War, along with internal structural changes following Ayatollah Khomeini’s death. The second (2001-03) encompasses 9/11 and the US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. The third (2011-15) corresponds to the more recent Arab uprisings and the increasing internal and external pressures Iran faced over its nuclear programme.
Tehran has enjoyed observer status in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) since 2005, but has repeatedly pressed its case for full membership. The organisation's two centres of power disagree over Iran's position: Moscow supports Iranian accession but Beijing seemingly opposes such a move. Iran shares with the SCO the ambition to challenge US dominance and the Western-led order. For Iran, the SCO is also the closest it has to an international defence bulwark, since it is not a member of any other regional security organisation.
In the build up to the referendum on the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union, some advocates for leaving the EU have argued that Britain’s security is better met by its membership of NATO rather than the European Union. In reality, the United Kingdom’s membership of the EU gives it diplomatic leverage and law enforcement mechanisms that it would not have on it own as well as military cooperation beyond that possible within NATO. While NATO remains somewhat of a ‘solution looking for a problem’, the EU takes a broad political, economic and military approach to security that is in keeping with our own approach and is well-suited to the interconnected security threats of the 21st century.
Overall, the US-led coalition has had some considerable successes in containing and rolling back Islamic State in Iraq and Syria; however, much more should have been achieved given the combined military might and other resources of the 66 members of the global coalition to counter Islamic State. Those gains that have been made have come at the expense of civilian casualties. Furthermore, there are no signs that the terrorist threat to the United Kingdom from Islamic State is reducing despite nearly two years of UK airstrikes and other efforts to target the group.
Islamic State has used aerial drones for reconnaissance and battlefield intelligence in Iraq and Syria and has attempted to use aerial and ground drones with explosive payloads to attack Kurdish troops. Should we therefore be concerned about the possibility of Islamic State or another terrorist group using drones to attack Western cities? If so, what should we do to address the threat?
Despite the obvious constraints, elections in Iran - whether for the Assembly of Experts, the presidency, the parliament, or even the regional municipalities - can still tell observers a lot. And they also matter; they can be the difference between the slow wearing down of the hardliners’ outsized control or the further consolidation of power in their hands. This Open Briefing article for Foreign Affairs explores how the coming Assembly of Experts vote could shape Iran's future.