Powerful yet weak – a US dilemma

Thinktank reports on messy ‘nonpolar’ world and urges new psychological warfare

The United States is still powerful enough to shape an agenda for international activity but too weak to implement it globally as it faces uncertain prospects in Iraq, an escalating confrontation over Iran’s nuclear ambitions and a robust challenge to its military hegemony from an increasingly assertive China, argues a new report by a leading UK thinktank.

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An annual survey of the international military scene produces a picture of a messy “nonpolar” world rather than the “unipolar” or “multipolar” world often described as having emerged since the late 1980s, said John Chipman, director-general of the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

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Iran Pressing Russia Over Plan for OPEC-Like Gas Body

Moscow (CNSNews.com) – Iran is urging Russia to launch a gas exporting grouping similar to the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), but Moscow has yet to throw its support behind the controversial idea.

Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, announced that Iran was prepared to cooperate with Russia to create a gas cartel.

“Iran and Russia can establish the structure for an organization of gas cooperation like OPEC as half of the world’s gas reserves are in Russia and Iran,” Iranian state television quoted Khamenei as saying.

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Russia’s military spending in 2007 to rise 23% year-on-year

MOSCOW, January 31 (RIA Novosti) – Russia’s Defense Ministry will spend over 860 billion rubles ($32.42 billion) of federal budget funds in 2007, 23% more than in 2006, a ministry official said Wednesday.

Military spending will account for 16% of overall federal budget expenditure. Under this year’s budget, signed into law by the president at the end of last year, total spending is set at 5,463.5 billion rubles ($206 billion).

“The sum of 860 billion rubles includes, besides National Defense provisions, other sums under budget provisions for: Education; Culture, Cinematography and Media; Health and Sports; Housing and Communal Services; State Policy Issues; Inter-budgetary transfers; and Social Policy,” Lyubov Kudelina, the head of ministry’s department for economy and finances, said.

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EU and Russia resist Iran sanctions

Russia feels bullied over legitimate business with Iran

BERLIN: The United States is urging its allies to go beyond UN sanctions against Iran over its atomic programme and choke off foreign investment but is meeting strong Russian and European resistance, Western diplomats said.

“A number of countries, especially Russia, feel the United States is bullying them to end even legitimate business with Iran due to the nuclear dispute,” a senior Western official told Reuters.

Understanding the Iran Crisis

From the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction to terrorism, from human rights to democratization, the Islamic Republic of Iran cuts across a wide range of American concerns. The American leaders routinely characterize Iran’s meddling in Iraqand its nuclear ambitions as a grave threat, while often musing about the eventual necessity of using military force against the recalcitrant theocracy. To properly contemplate the Iranian challenge, I shall focus on two areas of contention: Iran’s Iraq policy and its ambitious nuclear program. Through a better understanding of Iran’s motivations, one can best assess how to address its essential goals and objectives on these two critical issues.

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Iran’s Economic Crisis

Iran’s civil society is experiencing major breakdowns, the country’s reformist press and Web loggers are reporting. Signs of growing economic instability include high inflation, rising prices, food shortages, and long lines at gas stations.

In the first week of January, 150 deputies at the Majlis, Iran’s Parliament, openly criticized President Ahmadinejad’s handling of such issues. The same week, a group of 54 influential Iranian professors wrote an open letter to the government about its agricultural policies.

The professors discussed Iran’s “rapidly depleted” natural resources, such as water, and criticized the country’s growing reliance on imported grains and rice, as well as the deterioration of its farms and ranches. They said many Iranians, in particular the young, elderly, and poor, have begun to “suffer from severe nutritional deficiencies, which threaten Iran’s public nutritional security.”

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U.S.-Iran Tensions Could Trigger War

BAGHDAD, Iraq Jan 31, 2007 (AP)— Citing Iranian involvement with Iraqi militias and Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, the Bush administration has shifted to offense in its confrontation with Iran building up the U.S. military in the Persian Gulf and promising more aggressive moves against Iranian operatives in Iraq and Lebanon.

The behind-the-scenes struggle between the two nations could explode into open warfare over a single misstep, analysts and U.S. military officials warn.

Iraq has become a proxy battleground between Washington and Tehran, which is challenging at least rhetorically America’s dominance of the Gulf. That has worried even Iraq’s U.S.-backed Shiite prime minister, who in a reflection of Iraq’s complexity also has close ties to Iran.

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China is stirring: why now?

We asked ourselves, “Why would China be revealing these apparently new, and to some frightening, capabilities at this time?”

We discovered a mixture of reasons after questioning several current and former officials of the State and Defense Departments in the US along with former National Security Council staff members and some well known “China watchers”. We also drew upon the excellent reporting on China by Bill Gertz of the Washington Times.

1. Burgeoning power

2. Testing the waters

3. Distractions of Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, and North Korea

4. US Navy is “stretched”, showing some “strain”

5. Regional crisis and the protection of sea lines of communication

6. US seen often as “easy mark”

7. Weakness of the “lame duck” president

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‘Rule By Decree’ – One More Step on Chavez’s Road to Serfdom

Hugo Chavez came one step closer to becoming a full-fledged dictator on January 17. As the Associated Press reported, “Venezuelan lawmakers gave their initial approval to a bill granting President Hugo Chavez the power to rule by decree for 18 months so that he can impose sweeping economic, social and political change.” The vote in the National Assembly was unanimous — as befits a budding communist country. Not that Chavez’s powers were much constrained prior to that vote, but his soon-to-be official recognition as Venezuela’s dictator serves as an important reminder that state control of the economy and dictatorship go hand in hand.

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Iran two to three years from nuclear weapon: think tank

Iran could be only two or three years away from being able to produce a nuclear weapon, the head of a leading international security think tank in London said.

John Chipman, of the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), said Iran had stockpiled 250 tonnes of uranium hexafluoride (UF6), which, when enriched, would be enough for 30 to 50 weapons.

But he stressed that Iran still faced other obstacles before it could build a weapon.

While Iran is “probably” on track to hit a target of producing 3,000 centrifuges — the machines which enrich uranium — at its nuclear facility in Natanz by the end of March, installing them and making them function properly would be complicated, Chipman said.

“If and when Iran does have 3,000 centrifuges operating smoothly, the IISS estimates it would take an additional nine to 11 months to produce 25 kilogrammes (55 pounds) of highly enriched uranium, enough for one implosion-type weapon.

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