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Diplomacy & Crisis News

The West Paid for Putin’s Huge New Gas Project

Foreign Policy - Fri, 20/10/2023 - 08:30
Despite sanctions, the United States and Europe continue to cooperate on Russia's lucrative fossil fuel ventures.

The Real Lessons of the Yom Kippur War

Foreign Affairs - Fri, 20/10/2023 - 06:00
To defeat Hamas, Israel needs a new approach to intelligence.

Biden’s Unquestioning Support for Israel Could Be a Costly Error

Foreign Policy - Fri, 20/10/2023 - 02:19
Washington’s tunnel vision risks eroding U.S. standing in the global south.

Egypt Agrees to Allow Aid Convoys Into Gaza

Foreign Policy - Fri, 20/10/2023 - 01:00
But Cairo’s efforts may be too little, too late for a quickly worsening humanitarian crisis.

U.S. Military Draws a ‘Keep Out’ Sign Around Israel

Foreign Policy - Fri, 20/10/2023 - 00:30
Two supercarriers, 2,000 troops, and lots of planes are aimed at keeping Iran’s proxies out of the war zone.

What the Use of White Phosphorus Means in Warfare

Foreign Policy - Thu, 19/10/2023 - 22:46
Israel’s use of the deadly chemical would violate international norms.

Biden Turns a Few More Screws on China’s Chip Industry

Foreign Policy - Thu, 19/10/2023 - 20:43
New export controls, a year after the first, are cautious but pack a punch.

The Belt and Road Ahead

Foreign Policy - Thu, 19/10/2023 - 20:42
At this week’s summit to celebrate Xi’s signature initiative, the headwinds facing it were clear.

Where Does Russia Stand on the Israel-Hamas War?

Foreign Policy - Thu, 19/10/2023 - 20:10
Moscow may temporarily profit from the West’s focus on the Middle East, but navigating its ties in the region will be tricky.

Will the War in Gaza Ignite the Middle East?

Foreign Affairs - Thu, 19/10/2023 - 15:00
Escalating violence could set Israel and Iran on a collision course.

How Israel’s Spies Failed—and Why Escalation Could Be Catastrophic

Foreign Policy - Thu, 19/10/2023 - 14:32
The culture of intelligence agencies paved the way for disaster. Regional war could revive the nuclear specter that haunted the world in 1973.  

The End of Biden’s Middle East Mirage

Foreign Policy - Thu, 19/10/2023 - 11:19
The administration’s regional security concept has collapsed. Does the president know it?

The U.S. and Europe Need to Get Their Act Together on China

Foreign Policy - Thu, 19/10/2023 - 10:09
The West has wasted precious time in developing a common strategy.

It’s Time for America to Join the International Criminal Court

Foreign Affairs - Thu, 19/10/2023 - 06:00
Holding Putin to account will require offering the court more than just intelligence.

What Pro-Palestinian Protests Mean for Pakistan

Foreign Policy - Thu, 19/10/2023 - 02:00
The Israel-Hamas war presents a conundrum for Islamabad.

Biden Urges Israel Not to ‘Be Consumed’ by Rage During Visit

Foreign Policy - Thu, 19/10/2023 - 01:00
The White House is trying to balance its commitment to Israel with the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza.

The Tigris-Euphrates Basin's Water Crisis Is a Looming Disaster

The National Interest - Thu, 19/10/2023 - 00:00

In a dramatic display of collective frustration, the streets of Baghdad recently became a theatre of dissent as around 300 Iraqis took to Nisour Square to protest acute water shortages. The demonstrations were held on 18 July near the Turkish embassy and marked a crucial moment in Iraq’s ongoing water crisis. They highlighted mounting tensions in the Middle East over shared water resources, the repercussions of climate change and poor governance.

The protests weren’t an isolated event. They were a manifestation of long-simmering discontent with the water crisis in Iraq. Faced with dwindling access to potable water and a significant decline in river levels, citizens took to the streets to demand accountability from a government perceived to have mishandled the nation’s most precious resource.

Iraq’s water scarcity comes back to its geography. It sits at an intricate intersection of water resources. The Tigris and Euphrates rivers, originating in neighbouring Turkey and Iran, respectively, are vital lifelines for Iraq. However, unyielding demand for water upstream has led these countries to construct dams and diversions that diminish flows downstream, devastating Iraq’s water supply.

The Baghdad protests drew attention to the delicate balance needed among nations that share water and the pressing need for cooperation in water management. Turkey’s and Iran’s dams on the Tigris and Euphrates have been contentious because they significantly alter flows downstream in Iraq. Tensions have made it challenging to achieve consensus on equitable sharing agreements, but also made diplomatic efforts to foster cooperation even more urgent.

Water is pivotal in any country’s development, but with Iraq experiencing sharp population growth and rising food demand, it’s feeling the pinch hardest. In Syria and Iraq, the Tigris and Euphrates supply the vast majority of water. The Euphrates provides around 85% of Syria’s renewable water, and the two rivers combined make up nearly 100% of Iraq’s supply. Ownership of the rivers’ basins is divided among Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

The Tigris originates in Hazar Lake in Anatolia and flows out of Turkey through Syria and Iraq before its confluence with the Euphrates at the Shatt al-Arab canal in southern Iraq. The water conflict in the Euphrates–Tigris basin has been ongoing since the 1960s with Turkey, Syria and Iraq competitively constructing large-scale water-supply schemes.

Diplomatic resolutions are complicated by the unpredictable flow of the Tigris, but Turkey’s control of 88.7% of the Euphrates basin’s water potential is the main strain on water relations. The Euphrates’ salinity has also been increasing beyond sustainable levels on the Syria–Iraq border, hindering irrigation. Yet all three countries have initiated extensive development plans to harness yet more of this water in hopes of achieving food security for their rapidly growing populations.

During the Syrian civil war, water was frequently used as a weapon. In May 2015, for instance, Islamic State took control of the Ramadi Dam in Iraq and reduced the outflow of the Euphrates River, diverting water into Lake Habbaniya. This drained the water supply of several provinces, hurting civilian communities. Other parties to the conflict in Syria also weaponised water access to punish or gain leverage over populations and exacerbated the already dire water crisis.

The war also severely damaged water infrastructure. Plants and pipes were hit directly by fighting, but also indirectly through energy infrastructure. This worsened the humanitarian crisis, leaving many Syrians without access to clean water for drinking, sanitation and agriculture.

Longstanding tension, environmental challenges and the impact of the war have combined to push the water crisis to a critical level. Addressing it will require not only sustainable water management practices in each country on the rivers; it will also require better conflict resolution, infrastructure and humanitarian aid across the region to protect access to clean water.

Meanwhile, climate change looms ominously over the Middle East. Rising temperatures and erratic precipitation patterns have disrupted the water cycle, reduced river flows and increased evaporation rates. Scarcity of water is a common challenge in the Middle East, with downstream states suffering the most, and water often triggers conflict as states compete to control it. While conflict is rare in regions with abundant water, areas with less often fight over vital supply sources. As the climate continues to change, Iraq’s water situation will deteriorate and strain the nation’s capacity even further.

Governance challenges have also affected Iraq’s ability to effectively manage water resources. Decades of conflict have severely hampered the maintenance and development of essential infrastructure. Mismanagement, corruption and a lack of coherent policies have compounded its water crisis, exacerbating discontent among Iraq’s citizens and highlighting the need for robust and accountable governance.

There have been steps in the right direction. Iraq recently joined the Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes, becoming the first country in the Middle East to do so. The landmark decision makes Iraq the 49th party to the framework and reflects its commitment to cross-border cooperation on water. In addition, Iraq has chosen to participate in the United Nations Water Conference.

Iraq has also sought to better collaborate with Turkey, and in March they signed an agreement to double water releases from dams on the Tigris River for one month. During the same visit, Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia’ al-Sudani and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reiterated their plans to establish a joint water resources research centre in Baghdad to cooperatively address water challenges and develop sustainable water management strategies.

With the region home to 12 of the most water-scarce countries on the planet, the significance of effective, collaborative water management cannot be understated. Communities in the Middle East rely on water that crosses international boundaries, and cooperation is needed to ensure its equitable access and responsible use.

Arushi Singh is a researcher at the Consortium of Indo-Pacific Researchers and a geopolitical risk analyst for a private consulting firm based in the Middle East.

This article was first published by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.

Image: Shutterstock.

Is Russia Unphased By Its High Military Losses?

The National Interest - Thu, 19/10/2023 - 00:00

A recent intelligence report published by the UK’s Ministry of Defence about Russia’s attempt to capture the town of Avdiivka in the Donetsk region is the latest illustration of just how much the conflict in Ukraine is becoming a war of attrition. Russia’s push to mount a new offensive in the east has resulted in substantive “personnel losses” for its military.

In the west, many assume that every inch of Ukrainian land that is liberated brings Russia closer to military defeat and Europe to peace. But Russia has adapted to both internal and external shocks. As of August, it was estimated that Russia had suffered “as many as 120,000 deaths”. That number will have risen in recent weeks. And as the death toll climbs, the ability to replace troops becomes as important as military equipment and technology.

Even though many young men left Russia rather than be sent to the front, the country still has a large pool of young men from which to recruit and has claimed to have enlisted a large number without resorting to general conscription – although the Kremlin’s figures have been questioned by other sources.

But the question remains as to how many Russian military deaths is too many for Putin to retain the support of the Russian people. And it’s a very difficult question to answer. In Russia, the notion of military sacrifice plays an important role in informing national identity.

Russia’s national story is constituted by loss. It has lived and continues to live a tale of self-induced suffering. Even just considering the past century, military losses during the second world war and in Afghanistan – followed by the loss of a sense of identity after the collapse of the Soviet empire in 1991 – have all come to define Russia’s character today. The sense of the “loss of empire” is what has driven Vladimir Putin’s foreign adventurism in Georgia and Ukraine.

For the motherland

For the British people, the death of 179 solidiers in Iraq was traumatic enough for leaders to change course. But military sacrifice has a different meaning in Russia, one that is diametrically opposed to the value the liberal west places on the individual subject.

For Russia, every dead soldier in Ukraine constitutes a step towards victory and reclaiming the great power image of the country’s Soviet past. While the west’s liberal philosophy promulgates the importance of individual rights, Russia is defined by a system of collectivism. Within its value system, the individual subject confers prestige through their self-sacrifice for the collective wellbeing.

In Soviet iconography, tropes of self-sacrifice and fatal injury tend to be closely tied to nationalist ideas of pride and superiority. They pervaded propaganda posters during the “great patriotic war”.

Take the image For the Motherland! (1942) by Aleksei Kokorekin as an example. It conveyed Soviet resilience through the portrayal of a wounded soldier fighting on bravely and showing no sign of physical weakness despite his injuries.

This juxtaposition between the injured self and national status is telling. Kokorekin’s depiction of Soviet heroism was also indicative of the Soviet mentality on death – where the emphasis on physical suffering became a source of national superiority.

Spirituality of loss

This logic permeated the consciousness of subsequent generations and in how they interpreted military sacrifice. For her 1990 study Tsinkovye mal’chiki (translated as Zinky Boys) by Nobel prize-winning writer Svetlana Aleksievich, the author interviewed army veterans from the campaign in Afghanistan. She recalled how in one interview an artillery soldier described war as “a spiritual experience”, while referencing the self-sacrifice of the Red Army during the great patriotic war.

This experience of spirituality through war not only reflects how Russians seek to replay and become part of the past, but speaks to the religious dimension of Russia’s discourse on self-sacrifice. This theme emerged strongly in comments by Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, in September 2022, in which he was encouraging Russian men to join up.

…if a person dies in the performance of this duty [war], then they have undoubtedly committed an act equivalent to sacrifice. They will have sacrificed themselves for others. And therefore, we believe that this sacrifice washes away all the sins that a person has committed.

His statement rationalised the self-sacrifice of the Russian soldier on the basis that it served a transcendental duty – a Christ-like sacrifice – which would ultimately absolve them from sin. The patriarch’s comments speak to a particular historical tradition of religious masochism – the practice of self-induced physical trauma – in Russia, which dates back to “the early days of Christian Rus’”.

Military martyrdom

Deciphering this internal logic governing the way many Russians deal with loss is imperative to the west’s understanding of the Ukraine war. Putin draws on a language of sacrifice which has its cultural and historical roots in Russian Orthodox thinking and Soviet mythology.

This language reveals something important about Russian psychology when it comes to dealing with news of large-scale casualties on the battlefield. A soldier’s body is a potent mixture of the political and spiritual in the Russian psyche.

The death of that body is for Russia a step towards achieving the fantasy of national prestige. For some Russians (by no means all), the trauma of military loss does not mean that they should stop fighting in Ukraine. On the contrary, it can represent a pathway to martyrdom.

 is a Researcher in the Department of War Studies at King's College London.

This article was first published by The Conversation.

Image: kibri_ho /

Has the Belt and Road Initiative Actually Harmed China?

The National Interest - Thu, 19/10/2023 - 00:00

China’s Belt and Road Initiative, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this week, has now advanced more than $330 billion, which is about 80% of the lending of the World Bank over that period.

The BRI mainly lends to infrastructure projects, while the World Bank increasingly focuses on ‘capacity-building’ projects, such as education and agriculture reform, but both are operating in the same field of development lending.

It is less widely appreciated that China is also competing with the International Monetary Fund, in providing liquidity or ‘lender of last resort’ finance, principally through its central bank, the People’s Bank of China.

World Bank working paper published earlier this year estimated that $170 billion had been used to provide liquidity support across 128 rescue lending operations to 13 countries, using currency ‘swap’ arrangements set up since 2009.

In addition to the swap financing, the World Bank study establishes that China’s state-owned banks have provided a further $70 billion in balance-of-payments support to troubled BRI borrowers. This lending and the swap arrangements amount to about 20% of IMF liquidity support over the past decade.

With both the BRI and the liquidity backstop operations of the PBOC, China is turning its chronic and massive balance-of-payments surpluses to its geopolitical advantage.

Unusually among developing nations, China has built up huge foreign exchange reserves, thanks to its model of export-led growth, so it has money to lend. It also has expertise and spare capacity in building infrastructure.

China has attracted representatives of 130 nations to its BRI forum being held in Beijing this week, after the IMF and World Bank meetings held in Marrakech last week.

Currency swap arrangements among central banks were pioneered by the US Federal Reserve at the peak of the 2008–09 global financial crisis, when global liquidity in US dollars almost disappeared. They were designed to ensure that US currency was available for international transactions.

The PBOC followed suit and now has a total of $570 billion in bilateral swap arrangements (including one with the Reserve Bank of Australia for A$40 billion). While these were initially seen as a means of facilitating trade in renminbi, they are increasingly being used to assist BRI borrowers facing financial difficulty.

The biggest users of the country’s liquidity supports have been Argentina, Mongolia, Pakistan and Suriname. Egypt, Nigeria and Russia have also tapped these facilities multiple times.

Argentina, which established a $19 billion swap with the PBOC in 2009, tapped it in both July and August this year for a total of $3 billion to meet a scheduled repayment on a 2018 IMF loan.

Argentina was in desperate straits. It had negotiated a new $44 billion loan from the IMF and was due for a $7.5 billion disbursement, but it had exhausted its foreign exchange reserves, had no funds to meet the repayment on the earlier loan and had no access to private banks.

The IMF will not lend anything to a country that falls into arrears and nor will the World Bank. By using the swap agreement with China to meet a repayment on the old IMF loan, Argentina was able to keep the new IMF loan alive and, when the $7.5 billion disbursement was finally made, the first use of the funds was to repay the PBOC.

Argentina was in a position to use the swap agreement because its finance minister, Sergio Massa, had travelled to China in May and negotiated to double the portion of the swap line over which Argentina had complete discretion to $10 billion.

Reuters quoted the former head of the IMF’s western hemisphere department, Alejandro Werner, saying the deal demonstrated how ‘much more agile Chinese external financial diplomacy can be, and it’s an additional virtue that countries see in maintaining a constructive relationship with China’. It’s unthinkable that the US Federal Reserve would countenance its swap arrangements being used in this way.

The geopolitical advantage that China gains from this transaction may prove ephemeral. The frontrunner in next week’s Argentine elections, the conservative populist Javier Milei, has said that if he wins he will freeze relations with the Chinese government, which he described as an ‘assassin’, and adopt the US dollar as the country’s currency.

China has often been accused of recalcitrance in negotiating the restructure of debts of troubled borrowers. The central issue has been that China won’t accept writing down the value of debts when the IMF and the World Bank also refuse to do so.

China sees the IMF and the World Bank as essentially Western institutions and as its peers in supporting poorer nations. Although China is a member of both funds, their governance is dominated by the Western nations. The managing director position of the IMF is reserved for a European, while the World Bank president is always an American.

China’s voting share in the IMF is less than Japan’s and a third of that of the United States. The US voting share gives it sole veto rights over major IMF decisions. Last week’s IMF and World Bank meetings agreed to an increase in contributions, but the US rejected any increase in China’s share.

The IMF and the World Bank, as a matter of principal, won’t accept any losses on their loans, although they insist that commercial lenders and other national development banks should do so. China has demanded equal treatment with the IMF and the World Bank.

A prolonged impasse on this point over Zambia’s debts was resolved last year with an agreement on an interest-rate grace period and extended repayment terms, rather than writing down the value of the debt.

China last week surprised Sri Lanka’s Western creditors and the IMF by being the first to strike a deal over the rescheduling of debt. The agreement is expected to defer payments on $4.2 billion of debt to China. Other creditors must also agree to debt restructuring before the IMF will release funds from a $2.9 billion facility.

The World Bank notes that Chinese loans differ from IMF loans by being opaque, carrying relatively high interest rates, and being offered exclusively to BRI borrowers.

‘China has developed a system of “Bailouts on the Belt and Road” that helps recipient countries to avoid default, and continue servicing their BRI debts, at least in the short run,’ the paper says.

The paper says China’s role as an international crisis manager is similar to that of the US Treasury during previous Latin American debt crises and the European Union’s stability mechanism that was deployed during the Greek debt crisis in 2010. It helps to avert or resolve defaults by highly indebted borrowers. Its financing is more like ‘bridging finance’, than the extended support provided by the IMF.

The geopolitical advantage gained by China from its international lending is hard to assess. A study by a US-based research institute, Aiddata, examined more than 13,000 BRI projects and found that 35% had implementation problems, such as corruption, labour conflicts, environmental problems or public protest.

However, the same study notes that China is an active financier of infrastructure in low-income countries that struggle to obtain funding from anyone else.

David Uren is a senior fellow at ASPI.

This article was first published by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.

Image: John Wreford /