Inter Press Network

Friday, September 30, 2005

Poland's Rightward Turn and the Significance for Europe

Drafted By: Federico Bordonaro

As expected, a right wing majority was the result of Poland's September 25 general elections. The Law and Justice Party (PiS), led by the twin brothers Lech and Jaroslaw Kaczynski, won 28 percent of the vote, beating its likely ally, the liberal-conservative Civic Platform (P.O.), which received about 26 percent of the vote.

Like in previous post-communist era elections, the current ruling party -- the Democratic Left Alliance (S.L.D.) in this case -- has been brutally punished by voters. S.L.D. won a disappointing 11 percent of votes, although forecasts predicted an even worse thrashing for President Aleksander Kwasniewski's party. Poland is perhaps the only European country that has experienced such a sudden, dramatic change in its popular support.

With far-right parties such as the Self Defense Party (Samoobrona) and the catholic-nationalist League of Polish Families each taking 10 percent of the vote, the next parliament will be dominated by Poland's various right-wing factions. However, Polish sources say that negotiations to give birth to a new government have been difficult, for the conflict between PiS and P.O. over economic liberalization and cuts to the welfare state will need a compromise and could lead to an internally divided coalition.

At any rate, a right wing president (who will likely be P.O.'s candidate Donald Tusk or PiS' rival Lech Kaczynski) is expected to be elected when Polish voters return to the ballot boxes in October.

For the European Union, Warsaw's rightward turn means that Eastern Europe's most influential new member will likely strengthen its (already existing) pro-U.S. and anti-Russian policy, and will highlight some fundamental differences in the perception of European construction among European elites and their populations.

Warsaw's Geopolitical Orientation

Poland epitomizes the pro-Western former communist East. With some 40 million inhabitants, it is demographically the most important among the ten countries which joined the E.U. in 2004. At a political level, Warsaw is the new E.U. member that consistently showed the willingness to join a renewed Euro-Atlantic political, security and economic alliance. For Poland, joining the E.U. and entering the transatlantic security community is one single goal -- although composed of two aspects.

During the E.U.'s 2003 split in the face of the Iraq intervention, Warsaw joined the Anglo-American axis without hesitation. This put Warsaw at odds with Franco-German diplomatic maneuvers and let French President Jacques Chirac express his disappointment toward the "newcomers," which some observers expected to show more compliance to the Paris-Berlin combine. On the contrary, Poland actively supported the U.S.-led war against Saddam Hussein's Ba'athist government in Iraq.

History and geopolitics has, in fact, inexorably affected Warsaw's foreign policy orientations. Poland was once a powerful state. During the 16th and 17th centuries it formed a multi-ethnic empire extending from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea's northern region; Poland has known the hard rule of great powers ever since. Split among Austria, Prussia and Tsarist Russia since the end of the 18th century, and occupied by Hitler's army in 1940, the country was then made a satellite by the Soviet Union after Moscow helped to defeat Nazi Germany in WWII.

Germany and Russia are, therefore, inevitably perceived as geopolitical rivals by Warsaw. Although post-1990 relations with the two states are at unprecedented good levels, Poland will carefully avoid weakening Anglo-American influence in favor of a Russo-German axis, or even in favor of any one of those powers increasing in strength. This fundamental interest prevails over Warsaw's traditional excellent relations with France since Paris often looks to be the political brain behind the attempt to build a more autonomous Europe, thus reducing Washington's influence in European affairs.

In addition, Poland is trying to regain its leading role in Central and Eastern Europe by shaping enhanced cooperation with the Baltic states, Ukraine and even Georgia. In 2004, Warsaw actively supported the pro-U.S., pro-Western "orange revolution" in Kiev, and it's rapidly emerging as a solid U.S. ally when it comes to stirring up a similar civic movement in pro-Russia Belarus. [See: "The Poland-Belarus Controversy and the Battle for Eastern Europe"]

Such orientations have clearly emerged in Poland's foreign policy during the social-democratic rule of the last few years, so the rightward turn is not a synonym of Warsaw's reorientation, but instead a strengthening of some already working trends.

In August 2005, Warsaw launched a new initiative with Kiev, Vilnius and Tbilisi, aimed at forging a democratic community to foster liberal and pro-market policies in Eastern Europe. Such a move was clearly directed at easing Belarusian and Moldovan integration into the E.U.-N.A.T.O political, economic and security architecture, while at the same time securing the transport of Caspian oil and gas resources to the Eastern and Northern European markets via Georgia and Ukraine, thus bypassing Russian and Belarusian territories.

For Washington's broad geopolitical aims, Poland is gaining more and more importance. Warsaw's goals coincide with Washington's interests on a number of foreign policy issues. The new containment of Russia is certainly the most evident, but on a more general cultural and ideological level Warsaw's commitment to liberal democracy and pro-market reforms can prove decisive to carry American values in Eastern Europe, where populist policymakers can easily achieve wide popular support.

Moreover, from the American view, Poland's role in the enlarged Europe is also one of containment versus the French and German ambition to lead a united continent from a more autonomous one. However, the Franco-German combine is losing momentum, and some influential politicians in Paris and Berlin (like Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel) do not share plans to build a European superpower if it is not in a solid partnership with the United States.

If the more free market oriented policymakers take the lead in Warsaw's coming right wing coalition, pro-British and pro-American politicians in Western Europe will gain an even more valuable ally. However, national contexts still play a major role in the European Union, and dramatic changes in the economic policies in France, Germany and Italy are less likely than progressive re-adjustments of national social models. [See: "In the Heart of Europe: Social Models and Geopolitics"]

Why Poland Matters

European elites have an interest in carefully analyzing the evolution of Polish politics. After France and the Netherlands rejected the E.U.'s Constitutional Treaty, the European integration process as a whole entered a serious crisis. Apart from the fragile constitution's fate, the problem for the E.U. is that public opinion in the core countries is now disillusioned with the process itself.

The Polish right wing coalition set to rule in Warsaw will not help to revitalize the integrationist effort toward a strong political union: the PiS party explicitly warned against an immediate switch to the euro, and will probably win the battle against its allied party P.O. -- which would like to ditch the Polish national currency in favor of Brussels' single currency.

Furthermore, both the PiS and the P.O. have announced that they won't move to help the E.U.'s constitution, but instead will wait and see what Britain will do in this regard. Given the improbability of a short-term British rescue of the E.U. Constitutional Treaty, this will mean even more uncertainty for the constitution's destiny.

The 2004 enlargement was in the end a source of political troubles for the Franco-German combine and its historical allies in Western Europe, though unity remains a diplomatic success in light of Europe's turbulent history. Poland, like the Baltic states, Slovakia, the Czech Republic or the membership candidates Bulgaria and Romania, are afraid of Western European hegemony and clearly opted for a double security guarantee: N.A.T.O. (i.e. the U.S.) and the E.U.'s common security and defense policy.

In addition, Eastern Europe has often chosen to implement pro-market reforms which many advocate be applied to France and Germany. If citizens in France and Germany perceive European integration as a tool to enhance their own social models, voters in Poland and elsewhere in Eastern Europe seem to perceive it as the way toward more free market, U.S.-inspired reforms.

As a consequence, the British view of Europe as a wide free market federation and as the European pillar of a renewed transatlantic alliance has gained new strength to the detriment of neo-Gaullist or social-democratic visions in continental Europe.


The Polish general elections will not overly affect Warsaw's foreign policy, but they will strengthen an already existing pro-American course.

How much a new E.U. member can influence Western countries' policies remains difficult to predict, but when all is said and done, the European political landscape seems fairly fragmented at the moment.

However, the new Polish coalition will have to cope with inner competition, as the Civic Platform will try to gain momentum and to foster decidedly pro-market reforms, whereas the Law and Justice Party will probably seek a more moderate path. If the two parties fail to set a coherent policy, a further rise of radical outsiders such as the nationalistic and populist Self Defense Party could weaken the current rulers and open the way to a difficult phase in Warsaw's post-communist course.

Confrontation Looms as I.A.E.A. Passes Resolution on Iran

Report Drafted By:Erich Marquardt

For the past few years, Iran has been testing the resolve of the international community on the issue of its nuclear research program. Iran, a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (N.P.T.), argues that it reserves the right to control the nuclear fuel cycle. Tehran states that control over the cycle is important for Iran's development of nuclear energy. Indeed, according to the N.P.T., a state does reserve the right to control the nuclear fuel cycle, including the process of enrichment. The sticking point is that the process of enriching nuclear fuel is controversial because while enrichment is necessary to create nuclear energy, the enrichment process, if enhanced, can also be used to produce weapons-grade material to create nuclear weapons.

On September 24, the International Atomic Energy Agency (I.A.E.A.) passed a resolution stating that "Iran's many failures and breaches of its obligations [under the N.P.T.] ... constitute noncompliance." The resolution calls for Iran to end the conversion of uranium and to answer more questions about its past nuclear activities. Failure to comply with these demands could result in Iran's nuclear case being brought before the U.N. Security Council, an action that could result in economic and military sanctions being placed on the Persian state.

Background to the Current Crisis

Certain members of the international community, led by the United States, for years have feared that Iran is attempting to develop nuclear weapons under the guise of its nuclear energy program. In the past, Iran has admitted to keeping aspects of its nuclear research program secret from the international community, and there is the possibility that there are still aspects of the program that remain hidden from international inspectors. Since the start of the current crisis, the I.A.E.A. has been trying to ascertain whether Iran's failure to disclose certain parts of its nuclear research program constitutes a violation of the N.P.T.

The United States and its allies want to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons because such a development would give Iran more power in the Middle East. A country with nuclear weapons has more foreign policy leverage since it becomes more costly to threaten a nuclear power with military action. It would limit the ability of the United States -- or any other power in the region -- to take military action against Iran, since any such action could result in Tehran retaliating with nuclear weapons. [See: "Why States Seek to Acquire Nuclear Weapons"]

If Iran were able to add nuclear weapons to its threat arsenal, it would also be better able to assert itself in the region, possibly to the detriment of regional stability and, therefore, to U.S. and Western interests. Regional instability can create uncertainty over the global supply of energy, a concern that was an important factor in the Bush administration's decision to push Iraq out of Kuwait in 1991, and played a factor in the current Bush administration's decision to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Baghdad.

Furthermore, Israel, which is the major U.S. ally in the Middle East, views a nuclear-armed Iran as a major security threat. Iran is the main sponsor of the Islamic group Hezbollah, an organization that was responsible for bearing the brunt of the resistance against the Israeli invasion and subsequent occupation of Lebanon and is still responsible for occasional attacks against Israeli interests today. Israel worries that if Iran were able to acquire nuclear weapons, it would be able to spread its influence better in the Middle East to the detriment of Israel's security situation. Israel remains the only Middle Eastern state that possesses nuclear weapons, and by losing its monopoly in nuclear arms, it would also lose some of its ability to influence Middle Eastern affairs. [See: "Can Israel Maintain its Nuclear Superiority in the Middle East?"]

The United States has been very clear in its accusations that Iran is attempting to develop nuclear weapons covertly. On September 21, for instance, State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said at a daily briefing that Iran needs to "stop pursuing a nuclear weapons program under the guise of a civilian nuclear program."

Nevertheless, the United States does not consider military action against Iran a viable option under the present circumstances. For instance, the ongoing insurgency in Iraq has resulted in the overextension of the U.S. military; many of Iran's nuclear facilities are believed to be hidden, making it difficult to eliminate its nuclear research program through air strikes; and, the skyrocketing price of oil is weakening the economies of oil-dependent countries, and any military move on Iran would add more instability to energy supplies, thus lifting oil prices even higher.

Because of these restraints, the United States has pursued a policy of isolating Iran from the international community with the hopes that this pressure will cause Iran to abandon its drive to control the nuclear fuel cycle. Iran has extensive relations with the international community, and the Bush administration thinks that this is the country's vulnerable point. [See: "Washington's Iran Strategy: Ostracizing Tehran from the International Community"]

This explains why Washington has been careful not to be perceived as the primary party taking a hard line with Iran, as can be seen in U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's recent statement about the E.U.-3's role: "We are not trying to be in the lead on this one because it's the E.U. that they [Iran] walked out on. Remember that our strategy has been that the European Union offered to engage them in these talks."

The administration's strategy has been to lobby the E.U.'s three most influential states -- the United Kingdom, France and Germany (the E.U.-3) -- to pursue Washington's hard line with Iran. On September 19, Rice explained this strategy in an interview with Time Magazine. Rice said, "Ultimately, I don't believe the Iranians can afford to be completely isolated from the international community. ... This is a very worldly population that is accustomed to being a part of the international economy, international politics. I don't think Iran wants to get that isolated. And I think it's one reason that they have been so anxious to avoid referral to the Security Council."

Rice's statements do explain why Tehran has attempted to engineer a foreign policy that does not relinquish its right to control the nuclear fuel cycle but also does not permanently damage relations with its major trading partners, such as certain states in the European Union; Iran depends on European states economically and a loss of trading relations with the bloc would have a negative impact on the Iranian economy.

Therefore, in the past, Tehran has retreated from its bold nuclear rhetoric in order to prevent the E.U.-3 from moving closer to Washington's policy line on Iran. For instance, on October 21, 2003, the E.U.-3 convinced Iran to place an extra protocol on its signed copy of the N.P.T.; the protocol allowed for more intrusive inspections by the I.A.E.A. and placed into effect a temporary halt on all uranium enrichment activities inside Iran.

Nevertheless, after this agreement was established, Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi made a statement highlighting Iran's motivations behind complying with the European demands: "We suspended uranium enrichment voluntarily and temporarily. Later, when our relations with the I.A.E.A. return to normal, we will definitely resume enrichment." Early in 2004, Kharrazi continued to pursue this policy line, arguing that "it's our legitimate right to enrich uranium."

Yet, the next crisis occurred in late 2004. During this crisis, once the point came where Iran would lose the support of the E.U.-3, Tehran announced on November 14 that it would fully suspend all uranium enrichment-related activities.

Throughout these crises, the E.U.-3 had been hesitant to take Washington's suggested hard line on Iran, which involved referring it to the U.N. Security Council for a vote on possible sanctions. The E.U.-3 attempted to work with Iran to offer it political and economic incentives in return for its commitment to not control the nuclear fuel cycle. The main goal of this policy was to provide Iran with the necessary enriched nuclear fuel so that it could pursue a nuclear energy program, yet not allow it to control the entire fuel cycle, thus removing the possibility that Tehran could seek to create nuclear weapons at a later stage through its own indigenous uranium enrichment program.

However, Iran was unwilling to accept this deal, calling its right to control the nuclear fuel cycle a matter of national pride and security. Secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council Ali Larijani said that "pressuring a country like this is resisting a country's national pride." In response to the E.U.-3's offer of providing Iran with nuclear fuel, Larijani argued, "There is no international guarantee that governments would provide us with nuclear fuel. We cannot lay the fate of this nation in the hands of other governments."

Therefore, the E.U.-3 began to move more toward Washington's current policy on Iran, and on September 24 pushed a resolution through the I.A.E.A. board that could result in Iran being referred to the Security Council.

The September 24 Resolution

In the days before the September 24 resolution, the E.U.-3 hesitated over their proposed draft since Russia and China -- two countries that have veto rights on the U.N. Security Council -- reacted negatively to the draft motion, implying that such a resolution could result in a veto. A veto of this resolution by Russia or China in the Security Council could create a diplomatic row with the two Asian states on one side, and the E.U. and the U.S. on the other; this is a development that most countries involved want to avoid.

Indeed, while the E.U.-3 did decide to approve a resolution that could refer Iran to the Security Council, it was watered down from what the U.S. had initially hoped. Any threat of sanctions was removed from the resolution, although sanctions still would be a possibility if the issue makes it to the Security Council and it votes to sanction Iran for violating the N.P.T. Furthermore, the resolution did not outline a time frame when Iran would be put before the Security Council but instead said that such a referral could occur if Iran does not cease uranium conversion and if it fails to answer additional questions on its nuclear research program.

The resolution also showed how the international community is divided over referring Iran to the Security Council. The resolution passed with 22 votes in favor, one vote against, and twelve abstentions. In the past 20 years, there have only been two instances where the I.A.E.A. board has not passed a resolution by consensus. Both Russia and China abstained from the vote.

After the vote, members of the E.U.-3 stressed that Iran still had ways to avoid being referred to the Security Council. French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said, "This resolution shows the international community's concern about Iran's non-cooperation regarding the non-proliferation rules. At the same time, the text keeps open the possibility of negotiations which we must take advantage of, without delay, in order to put forward proposals which could re-establish trust." The U.K., which usually toes the closest to the U.S., said that, "Iran has an opportunity now to address the clear concerns of the I.A.E.A., and the lack of confidence in Iran's nuclear intentions."

But the statements, and the resolution, did not proceed much further. While the resolution worked to the Bush administration's advantage, it still gives Tehran time to maneuver away from having any punitive measures placed upon it.

Russian and Chinese Resistance

Despite not voting against the I.A.E.A. resolution, Russia and China have reservations about bringing Iran before the Security Council. On September 21 in a speech in San Francisco, RIA Novosti reported that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said, "While Iran is cooperating with the I.A.E.A., while it is not enriching uranium and observing a moratorium, while I.A.E.A. inspectors are working in the country, it would be counter-productive to report this question to the U.N. Security Council." Lavrov continued, "It will lead to an unnecessary politicizing of the situation. Iran is not violating its obligations and its actions do not threaten the non-proliferation regime."

Moscow refuses to state that Iran has violated the N.P.T., saying instead that the country is still abiding by the treaty. Washington argues that because of Iran's decision to keep aspects of its nuclear research program secret, it has undercut the principles of the N.P.T. which act as a violation

In a sign that Russia may be willing to veto any Security Council resolution punishing Iran, the Russian Foreign Ministry released a statement that "it will not contribute to the search for a solution to the Iranian problem by political and diplomatic methods."

The statements made by Lavrov and the Foreign Ministry display Moscow's unwillingness to support tougher action on Iran. Indeed, for Moscow, E.U.-3 and U.S. action against an important trading partner and a country that resists U.S. influence in the Middle East is just another sign of Moscow's weakening international influence. Combined U.S. and E.U. efforts in Moscow's near abroad have led to its loss of influence in Eastern Europe and, at least temporarily, in Central Asia and the Caucasus. Moscow has been struggling to reassert itself after the devastating collapse of the Soviet Union, and so far it has not been very successful.

Russia also is the party responsible for being the primary supporter of Iran's nuclear research program. Moscow is building the US$1 billion nuclear reactor at Bushehr, and has provided Iran with much of its nuclear knowledge. If the Bushehr reactor goes operational, it can be expected that Moscow will assist Tehran in the creation of more nuclear power plants, offering Russia a lucrative economic future in the field of nuclear energy. Moscow also provides Tehran with the bulk of its military equipment -- such as MiG-29 fighter aircraft, Su-24 fighter bombers, T-72 tanks, and Kilo-class attack submarines -- making it a major contributor to Iran's growth as a regional power.

The Chinese, on the other hand, also warned against taking Iran's nuclear issue before the Security Council. Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing reportedly told an E.U. grouping, led by British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, that bringing Iran before the Security Council "could encourage Iran to take extreme measures" and would, therefore, be counter-productive.

China has its motives for preventing a condemning resolution. China, for instance, has seen a dramatic increase in energy demand due to its rapid economic development. In order to find new energy resources, it has looked to countries near its borders that still have reserves to be exploited. Since Iran does not share economic relations with the United States due to U.S. sanctions on the country that stem from the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Beijing has been able to foster new energy ties with the country. About 15 percent of China's imported oil and natural gas comes from Iran, and U.S. attempts to destabilize Iran would pose a threat to China's energy and economic interests.

China, too, is wary of attempts by the U.S. to weaken countries such as Iran, since Beijing fears that Washington will take future actions aimed at containing China's rise as a major power in Asia. For instance, in an example that displays the Bush administration's views on China, on September 21 U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick argued that China's "actions on Iran's nuclear program will reveal the seriousness of China's commitment to non-proliferation." This statement can be read that China's continued support for Iran on this issue demonstrates its willingness to take actions counter to U.S. interests, explaining the U.S. rationale for containing China.

Furthermore, China and Russia have been improving their bilateral relations and have been cooperating in order to limit the spread of U.S. influence in Central Asia. Both countries are working together to increase the cohesion of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (S.C.O.), and have caused the S.C.O. to release a statement calling for the withdrawal of the U.S. military from its member states. [See: "The Significance of Sino-Russian Military Exercises"]

The resistance by China and Russia played a role on the E.U.-3's final proposed resolution; while the resolution passed did affect Iran's interests negatively, it did not result in any immediate action on Iran, giving Tehran once again more time to avoid being the victim of any substantial international action against it.

Nevertheless, Russia and China still abstained from voting on the resolution. While the two states were not willing to vote against the resolution, questions remain on whether they would be willing to issue a veto if a future resolution that threatens sanctions comes before the Security Council.

Despite their resistance to U.S. and E.U.-3 efforts on Iran, it cannot be said that Russia and China would welcome Iran becoming a nuclear power; both countries may be interested in placing restraints on Iran's nuclear development. Nevertheless, it appears that an Iran with nuclear weapons is not as much of a concern to Russia and China than is the ability of the United States and the E.U.-3 to refer Iran to the Security Council and to place economic and military sanctions on the country.

How Iran Might Proceed

Before the September 24 vote, Larijani said that it was unfortunate that "countries with economic ties with Iran, particularly in the petroleum area, have so far not defended Iran's rights." This tact taken by Iran was an effort to threaten with economic repercussions those countries that are supporting U.S. policy on Iran. Iran is the second largest oil exporting country in O.P.E.C., and has the ability to cancel billions of dollars in contracts with European energy companies. It also possesses the world's largest gas reserves. Larijani explained this threat, stating, "Some countries with economic interests especially in oil do not show any feelings of responsibility the [Supreme National Security Council] is determined to create a balance and provide the ground for their participation [in energy projects] accordingly."

Billions of dollars in contracts are on the line, with companies such as Royal Dutch Shell, Repsol of Spain and Total of France facing a major loss of business. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was even more succinct on his country's economic threats, telling the Iranian parliament that "economic ties are not irrelevant to political ties" especially with "hostile" countries that "fail to recognize Iran's legitimate rights" under the N.P.T. For instance, China, Russia and India also have major energy contracts out with Iran, and those countries have shown no interest in jeopardizing such contracts due to questions over Iran's controversial nuclear program.

For instance, in early 2005 India and Iran signed off on plans to construct a 1,609-kilometer (1,000 miles) natural gas pipeline from the Iranian port of Assaluyeh to the Indian state of Rajasthan, traversing Pakistan; additionally, in 2004, Iran signed a 30-year, US$70 billion liquefied natural gas deal with China's Sinopec.

That being said, India did vote in favor of the I.A.E.A. resolution due to its hope of acquiring more nuclear technology from the United States. In July 2005, India and the U.S. signed a nuclear deal that granted New Delhi access to civilian nuclear energy cooperation; however, the U.S. Congress has not yet approved the entire deal. New Delhi was concerned that Washington was hinging future nuclear support on India's vote for the resolution condemning Iran. However, because India was not behind drafting the resolution, and has shown little outspoken regard for punishing Iran due to its nuclear program, Tehran views India in a different light as it does the U.S. and the E.U.-3. [See: "The Implications of the U.S.-India Strategic Partnership"]

Therefore, behind these threats, Tehran's hope is that major European energy companies will lobby their governments and ask for a less confrontational foreign policy when it comes to dealing with Tehran. It will be important to note whether Iran proceeds with executing its economic threats now that the E.U.-3 has pushed through a resolution that threatens Iran with referral to the Security Council.


The three-year posturing between Iran and the United States is moving closer toward confrontation. The U.S. has been able to convince the E.U.-3 to put more pressure on Iran to abandon its desire to control the nuclear fuel cycle. However, as expected, both Russia and China have increased their resistance to attempts by the E.U.-3 and the U.S. to place Iran before the Council. Nevertheless, the U.S. and the E.U.-3 have managed to push the I.A.E.A. board to pass a resolution that threatens to refer Iran to the Security Council if it does not pursue a series of measures to explain its nuclear activities.

Before the I.A.E.A. vote, Iran tried to demonstrate to the E.U.-3 that it will not abandon its wish to control the nuclear fuel cycle, even though this could damage economic and political relations with the European bloc. Tehran was betting that resistance by Moscow and Beijing to the joint U.S.-E.U.-3 maneuvers would soften the E.U.-3's line and give Iran the ability to continue its nuclear research program. While a softer resolution was passed, it still damages Iran's interests since the resolution demands that Iran end the conversion of uranium and demands that it answer more questions about its nuclear research program; failure to comply with these demands could result in it being referred to the Security Council.

It is important now for Iran to keep Russia and China on its side. If Iran does eventually get referred to the Security Council, it will need one of those two countries to veto any resolution that calls for sanctions. However, any such veto would create an international crisis and there is little doubt that both Russia and China want to avoid this development. It can be assumed that they will now put pressure on Iran to make its nuclear efforts look innocuous and to prevent a major escalation of rhetoric with the U.S. and the E.U.-3.

The United States, on the other hand, will have to continue to pressure the international community to resist Iran's wish to control the nuclear fuel cycle. With the intervention in Iraq draining U.S. resources, Washington is not in a position to begin a new front across the border in Iran, even if that only involves executing air strikes on Iran's suspected nuclear facilities. With the price of oil seeing record highs, the United States and the E.U.-3 cannot afford to pursue any action that could result in uncertainty over oil supplies since that would push the price of oil even higher, threatening a recession in oil-dependent countries. Indeed, this concern could also affect how willing the U.S. and the E.U.-3 will be eventually to implement sanctions on Iran, since this, too, would create concern in the market.

Additionally, the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq continues to hinder the United States' credibility on the international scene, and an attack against a country that does not have a proven nuclear weapons program would not be welcomed in the international community and could further erode Washington's ability to pursue an effective, multilateral foreign policy.

Bangkok Struggles to End Separatist Violence in Southern Thailand

Drafted By: Adam Wolfe

While the world looks to suture the recent Aceh peace agreement onto the violence that is bleeding southern Thailand, the region's Muslim insurgency is eyeing the benefits of globalized terror networks. Bangkok has tried a variety of responses to the separatist violence -- everything from imposing martial law to dropping 100 million origami birds inscribed with peace messages onto the region -- but nothing has curtailed the violence, which has killed some 900 people since January 2004. With every attempted tactic, Bangkok seems to reinforce the differences between the Muslim, Malay-speaking south and the Buddhist, Thai-speaking majority.

Bangkok insists that the insurgency is an internal problem that it can deal with, but the separatist groups have ties to international Islamist militant organizations and the situation is gathering the potential to destabilize the greater region. At this juncture, it appears that the violence will increase -- and possibly destabilize parts of the region -- before Bangkok or the separatists can be convinced to sit across the table from each other in formal peace negotiations.

Background on Southern Thailand

The regions of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat were part of an independent sultanate, the ancient kingdom of Pattani, until annexed by Thailand (then known as Siam) in 1902. The residents speak Yawi, a Malay dialect, and are Muslims, having adopted Islam in the 13th century. In these ways, the region is very different than the rest of the country, and because of this it has always failed to attract much attention from the central government, helping to further increase the income disparity between the south and the rest of the country.

For decades, southern separatist groups have quarreled with the government. In the seventies and early eighties, Muslim separatists were involved in drug smuggling and other operations with the remnants of Malaysia's communist insurgency based on Thailand's southern border, ostensibly to finance their attacks against the government (though many of the militants have historically been more attracted to banditry than waging war against the government).

The separatist groups also conducted several attacks against public schools, government-run clinics and police stations in the region because they were seen as anti-Islamic tools of the state. In February 2002, Thai security forces killed Saarli Taloh-Meyaw, the leader of the Pattani United Liberation Organization (P.U.L.O.), but maintained that there was no organized, violent separatist movement. Bandits and criminal gangs were blamed for the bloodshed, which in many cases was, and to a large extent still is, the cause.

On January 4, 2004, thirty armed separatists raided an army depot in Narathiwat, stealing over 300 guns and killing four Thai soldiers. Eighteen nearby schools were set on fire at the same time. The next day, two police officers were killed by a bomb they were trying to defuse. Another bomb injured a police officer, and two more were dismantled that day. It became clear soon after the incidents that a new chapter in the conflict between the Muslim separatists and the Thai government had begun. The following weekend, the Thai government imposed martial law on the three southern-most provinces, and for the first time admitted, publicly, that it was battling a Muslim, separatist insurgency.

Since then, the violence on both sides has only increased. There are frequent killings, in addition to attacks on government and Buddhist buildings. Public beheadings of Buddhists (360,000 of the 1.3 million southern residents practice Buddhism) have lead to gun training sessions for the remaining Buddhist population (it's estimated that over 34,000 have fled) being taught in Buddhist temples by Thai military officials. The counter-offensive launched by Bangkok has also been responsible for at least its share of deaths in the region. Most notoriously, in October 2004, 78 people from the small town of Tak Bai died by suffocation while in police custody after being rounded up at a protest that turned violent. On April 28, 2005, Thai security forces killed more than 100 poorly armed militants after separatists launched a series of raids on security posts.

There is evidence that the separatists are using more sophisticated bombs and techniques as they learn from successful attacks. The security forces have apologized for the most egregious violent acts of suppression, but do not appear to be backing away from putting violent repression at the center of the counter-insurgency strategy. The government's latest attempted strategy gives more power to the prime minister to contain the separatist movement, which is likely to create a more powerful backlash.

The Government Response

Thai Prime Minster Thaksin Shinawatra's government is the country's first stable, democratically elected government. He was the first prime minister to serve out his four-year term, and in February his Thai Rak Thai (T.R.T.) party gained an even greater majority. However, in July his public approval rating dipped below 50 percent for the first time. His taking a more direct role in the southern conflict is, at least in part, designed to reverse his sinking popularity.

Thaksin's government has tried a variety of methods to contain the southern separatist threat -- none, so far, have had the intended effect. The police and the army were each given a chance at being in charge of the response, development funds have been promised and threatened with withdrawal, and martial law has been imposed. Of the several initiatives launched this year, one does seem to have some promise of success.

In March 2005, the National Reconciliation Commission (N.R.C.) was created to recommend steps to end the conflict. The N.R.C. has had some success in convincing the government that it needs to focus on the sources from which the separatist movement draws strength, instead of only on military responses. It convinced the government to release a full report on the killings at Tak Bai last October. The commission also has received widespread praise from the West and A.S.E.A.N. countries. Still, the N.R.C. is not scheduled to release its full report until early 2006 and has no direct role in drafting government policy. Thaksin continues to ignore the N.R.C. when it suits his convenience.

On July 17, without judicial approval, the Thai Cabinet issued an emergency decree that grants the prime minister sweeping new powers over the three southern provinces. Thaksin now has the power to order the detention of suspects for seven days without trial, censor the media, tap phones and expel foreigners. The emergency rules also grant immunity to security forces in emergency zones -- a direct dismissal of the N.R.C. recommendations. The net effect of this shift from martial law to rule by emergency decree is more likely to harden the conflict rather than bring about its end. The southern conflict is not strictly military in nature. The decree does nothing to bring the southern, Muslim population into the process of ending the violence, as the N.R.C. has recommended -- the emergency powers only drive another wedge between the south and the rest of the country. Predictably, there has not been a decrease in violence since mid-July.

The Conflict's Significance Outside Thailand

Malaysia's government has been put in an awkward spot by Thailand's southern conflict. There is domestic pressure to support the separatists, who draw their ancestry back to Malaysia, and the northern state of Kelantan has launched a fundraising campaign to assist Thais fleeing the violence.

Still, maintaining diplomatic relations with Thailand is very important for Kuala Lumpur. When 131 Thai Muslims fled across the border in late July, Malaysia was reluctant to repatriate them. This has increased tensions between the two states. Kuala Lumpur's suggestion that the A.S.E.A.N. states should take up the issue of southern Thailand's conflict was sharply dismissed by Bangkok, and Malaysia has said it will not return the refugees until Thailand can provide assurances that their human rights will be protected. This bilateral tension could spread to the greater region, where the balance of power is in a fragile transition. [See: "India's Project Seabird and the Indian Ocean's Balance of Power"]

Thailand's reaction to Malaysia has been typical of Bangkok since the present conflict began in January 2004: every suggestion that an outside moderator be brought in has been met with a harshly worded assurance that Bangkok can resolve the separatist problem on its own. The recent Aceh agreement in Indonesia has been floated as a model for negotiations between the separatists and the government, but Bangkok has dismissed this in addition to all other calls for outside mediation.

However, if the links between Thai separatists and international Islamist militant groups should become operational, pressure on Bangkok to accept outside help in ending the conflict may prove convincing. While the groups like P.U.L.O. have received financial support from abroad, there is no evidence that any foreigners are fighting alongside or training the separatists, and the groups claim that all their weapons have been obtained locally. As the conflict continues, this may change. There is evidence that the separatists are growing in sophistication, and this may eventually lead to globalizing their conflict by tapping into the existing Islamist militant networks.


There is little reason to believe that the conflict in southern Thailand will be resolved in the midterm. The Thai government is still attempting to suppress the separatist movement without outside assistance, even though every attempt thus far has failed. The latest plan of giving the prime minister more direct control over the situation seems destined to join its predecessors in the wastebasket of failed strategies.

The Muslim separatist movement is still a localized one, though it does have some contact with international Islamist militants. Should it choose to exploit these relationships, and globalize the conflict, the Thai government will not be able to defend its policy of sovereignty before peace in the face of the overwhelming diplomatic pressure that will follow. Pressure from the West and A.S.E.A.N. countries to accept outside mediation can also be expected to increase after the N.R.C. releases its final report in early 2006. Until then, more bloodshed can be expected in southern Thailand.