Eight unprecedented hours with “Mr. Everything,” Prince Mohammed bin Salman. -Bloomberg

Standard

Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 has already been discussed here, see:

https://jtdevinemta.wordpress.com/2016/05/06/saudi-arabias-vision-2030-various/

However, this article, based on a lengthy interview with Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s 31 year old Deputy Crown Prince and Defense Minister, provides an unusually candid look at the Kingdom’s economic problems:

  • “Saudi Arabia’s economy will probably expand 1.5 percent in 2016, the slowest pace since the global financial crisis, according to a Bloomberg survey, as government spending—the engine that powers the economy—declines for the first time in more than a decade. The state still employs two-thirds of Saudi workers, while foreigners account for nearly 80 percent of the private-sector payroll.”
  • “During the oil boom from 2010 to 2014, Saudi spending went berserk. Prior requirements that the king approve all contracts over 100 million riyals ($26.7 million) got looser and looser—first to 200 million, then to 300 million, then to 500 million, and then, Al-Sheikh says, the government suspended the rule altogether.”
  • “there was roughly between 80 to 100 billion dollars of inefficient spending” every year, about a quarter of the entire Saudi budget.”
  • “Last year there was near-panic among the prince’s advisers as they discovered Saudi Arabia was burning through its foreign reserves faster than anyone knew, with insolvency only two years away. Plummeting oil revenue had resulted in an almost $200 billion budget shortfall—a preview of a future in which the Saudis’ only viable export can no longer pay the bills, whether because of shale oil flooding the market or climate change policies. Historically, the kingdom has relied on the petroleum sector for 90 percent of the state budget, almost all its export earnings, and more than half its gross domestic product.”

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2016-04-21/the-2-trillion-project-to-get-saudi-arabia-s-economy-off-oil

For more on the state of the Saudi economy, see: Can Saudi Arabia’s bold reforms cure growing financial woes? By Michael Stephens

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-37516495?SThisFB

 

 

Shimon Peres -Various

Standard

Shimon Peres died at age 93 this week. He was one of the founding fathers of the Israel state and held virtually every key government post at one time or another, President, Prime Minister, Minister of Defense, Foreign Minister and the list goes on. There are links to two articles below, one positive from the Globe and Mail, and one negative written by Robert Fisk. They are not included in an effort to produce balance. More so, they are included to provide a glimpse into the man’s complex and at times contradictory career. He has been one of Israel’s most consistent advocates for a political solution to Israel’s conflict with the Arabs and the Palestinians. He is also widely praised for his role in the 1990s peace process and he was critical of the violence that followed its failure. However, his views were ‘hawkish’ when he was young and he supported the settlement project in the 1970s. He also ordered the 1996 invasion of Southern Lebanon (Operation Grapes of Wrath) and presided over the shelling of civilians in the UN compound of Qana. Observers tend to focus on on dimension of his career or the other, but both sides were integral to who he was.

Shimon Peres, guiding hand behind Israel-PLO peace pact, dies at 93

“…the middling politician and accidental prime minister was a true champion in another arena that shaped the history of modern Israel. Mr. Peres was the guiding hand behind the historic peace agreement signed between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization in 1993. And while that agreement so far has failed to lead to an independent Palestinian state and a peace treaty between it and Israel, the Oslo Accords, as it is known, remains the starting point for any two-state solution to this long-standing conflict.”

“As early as 1980, his “Gaza first” solution proposed returning the Gaza Strip to Arab control. And he had conceived a grand outline that would see the Middle East remodelled on the European Community, complete with a common market.

He also recognized that in the early 1990s, following the Gulf War, there was a real opening. In his book The New Middle East, he wrote: “We had reached one of those rare critical junctures that enable discerning statesmen to make a quantum leap in their thinking – and perhaps turn the tide of history.”…”

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/former-israeli-pm-shimon-peres-dies-at-93/article32097484/

 

Shimon Peres was no peacemaker. I’ll never forget the sight of pouring blood and burning bodies at Qana

“When the world heard that Shimon Peres had died, it shouted “Peacemaker!” But when I heard that Peres was dead, I thought of blood and fire and slaughter.

I saw the results: babies torn apart, shrieking refugees, smouldering bodies. It was a place called Qana and most of the 106 bodies – half of them children – now lie beneath the UN camp where they were torn to pieces by Israeli shells in 1996. I had been on a UN aid convoy just outside the south Lebanese village. Those shells swished right over our heads and into the refugees packed below us. It lasted for 17 minutes.

Shimon Peres, standing for election as Israel’s prime minister – a post he inherited when his predecessor Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated – decided to increase his military credentials before polling day by assaulting Lebanon. The joint Nobel Peace Prize holder used as an excuse the firing of Katyusha rockets over the Lebanese border by the Hezbollah. In fact, their rockets were retaliation for the killing of a small Lebanese boy by a booby-trap bomb they suspected had been left by an Israeli patrol. It mattered not.”

http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/shimon-peres-dies-israel-qana-massacre-never-forget-no-peacemaker-robert-fisk-a7334656.html

Syria ceasefire deal explained -al Jazeera

Standard

Here is a basic rundown of the September 2016 ceasefire deal in the Syrian conflict, courtesy of Al Jazeera:

  • “A nationwide ceasefire by Assad’s forces and the US-backed opposition is set to begin across Syria at sundown on Monday.
  • That sets off a seven-day period that will allow for humanitarian aid and civilian traffic into Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, which has faced a recent onslaught.
  • Fighting forces are to also pull back from the Castello Road, a key thoroughfare and access route into Aleppo, and create a “demilitarised zone” around it.
  • Also on Monday, the US and Russia will begin preparations for the creation of a Joint Implementation Centre that will involve information sharing needed to define areas controlled by the Jabhat Fateh al-Sham group (formerly known as al-Nusra Front) and opposition groups in areas “of active hostilities”.
  • The centre is expected to be established a week later, and is to launch a broader effort towards delineating other territories in control of various groups.
  • As part of the arrangement, Russia is expected to keep Syrian air force planes from bombing areas controlled by the opposition. The US has committed to help weaken Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, an al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria that has intermingled with the US-backed opposition in several places.
  • A resumption of political dialogue between the government and opposition under UN mediation, which was halted amid an upsurge in fighting in April, will be sought over the longer term.”

For more details on the deal see: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/09/syria-ceasefire-deal-explained-160910111132967.html

The Surprising Science of Cease-Fires: Even Failures Can Help Peace -1New York Times

Standard

No one expects the current ceasefire in Syria to last very long or provide a long-term solution to the conflict. However this article suggests that ceasefires agreements like the present one are still important:

  • “One of the best predictors of a peace agreement’s success is simply whether the parties had prior agreements, even if those earlier cease-fires failed. Not even a war’s duration or its intensity can so reliably predict a peace deal’s outcome. Neither does the poverty or ethnic diversity of the combatants.”

Ceasefires, even if they don’t last can create what the article refers to as “virtuous cycles”, wherein the parties build a degree of trust by making reciprocal concessions. If transgressions are also punished, they also learn that cheating on agreements is counter-productive. Together, these two dynamics shape the preferences of the parties making a lasting settlement more likely.

Of course, if handled poorly, the opposite lessons may be learned. If defection is widespread and inconsistently punished, then the parties learn that cooperation does not pay and cheating may actually pay-off. This result can be thought of as a “vicious cycle”.

Two points come to my while reading this article. First, the logic is very consistent with rational choice/game theory. The parties are rational actors responding to the contingencies in their environment and playing iterated games is extremely important. Second, There may be some issues with causality here. Perhaps settlements are not more likely because there are more ceasefire agreements, but instead ceasefire agreements are more likely because the conflict is winding down. If this argument is true, then it is the wider conditions in the conflict that are driving events, including the number of ceasefires and whether or not they create virtuous cycles or viscous cycles.

http://mobile.nytimes.com/2016/09/16/world/middleeast/another-cease-fire-in-syria-it-could-matter-even-if-it-fails.html?referer=https%3A%2F%2Ft.co%2FxZiLWXMT6P

 

Mohammad Javad Zarif: Let Us Rid the World of Wahhabism -New York Times

Standard

 

There is nothing really substantively new in this article. It is the latest in the war of words between the Saudis and Iran. The rhetorical battle has escalated recently because of the start of the Hajj season. At last year’s Hajj 769 pilgrims were killed in a stampede. Iran blames the Saudis for the catastrophe and claims the al Saud are unfit to oversee the pilgrimage. The Saudis, on the other hand, claim Iran exploits the religious event for political purposes.

see: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/09/saudi-arabia-iran-spar-hajj-pilgrimage-160906143744475.html

The article is notable however because it is the second time Iran’s Foreign Minister has taken to the op-ed page of the New York Times to chastise the Saudis. The first time was back in January when the Tehran and Riyadh fought a rhetorical duel on the editorial pages of the American paper/website.

see: https://jtdevinemta.wordpress.com/2016/01/20/he-said-she-said-new-york-times/

Apparently, courting American public opinion has become a mainstay of Iranian foreign policy.

 

Frenemies: Why Rival Insurgents Work Together -The National Interest

Standard

This article tries to explain the phenomena of “coopetition”, situations where groups simultaneously collaborate and compete. The article focuses on non-state actors in general, but with extra attention paid to the Syrian civil war, where groups like the Al Nusra front sboth compete and cooperate with other rebels groups such as the Free Syrian Army and Al Qaeda. The article suggests that the contradictions can be understood by looking at fragmentation that exists in these groups at a local level. Each off-shoot of the larger group has its own local needs and faces its own pressures. At times they will create conditions where cooperation, even with one’s enemies makes perfectly good sense.

It is worth noting there are other possible explanations for this type of behavior. On a more macro level, coopetition may simply be the result of balancing behavior in a complex threat environment. The logic of alliances based on traditional IR theory is that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”, and alliances form to counter the biggest threat. However, in situations like Syria, instead of having one enemy state or alliance to balance against, each actor (both state and non-state) probably faces several. Therefore they have to re-balance and realign depending who is the biggest threat at any given moment. Today’ friend may be tomorrow’s enemy, and visa-versa. Or, as is often said in the context of the Middle East, “the enemy of my enemy is still my enemy”.

p.s. my apologies for the tacky adds surrounding the article. The argument is interesting, unfortunately the publishers are lame.

http://nationalinterest.org/feature/frenemies-why-rival-insurgents-work-together-15827