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Iran: Will They…?

Iran: Will They…?

First, of course, I have no idea. Second, who is/are “they” and what is “will”? A brief review on the eve of the next round of negotiations in Moscow.

The cast:

  • Iran
  • Israel
  • The US
  • The P5+G and the IAEA

(Some) Supporting players:

  • The crowd
  • The Fourth Estate
  • The think tanks
  • The US Congress

Will they capitulate in some way, to some degree, to pressure from outside agency (especially the P5+G, or, nominally, the IAEA)? Will they rattle the saber a bit more (perhaps a Shahab missile test, or the disclosure of another secret development site a la Fordow–i.e. the site near Qom)? This would have an enormous and stifling impact on negotiators. But it would be difficult; they’ve invested a lot in these sites. In a sense, even Fordow would have been assorted decoy in this situation.What credible threat can they make regarding the Strait of Hormuz? Or, to what extent are threats all you need?

BTW, Ahmadinejad is “retiring from politics” after completion of his term.

Don’t forget about Hezbollah in Mexico (as far as retaliation goes – could they attack the US directly in some way)? To cover my bases, here’s press from “the right” and “the left”It’s a real possibility, but things would have to have gone pretty far. Then again, clearly “things going pretty far” is an unfortunate reality. There was a time, for instance, when a nuclear-armed North Korea was “intolerable”… and yet, unfortunately, here we are.

Will they strike independently? And, if they do, to what extent would such action be separable from that of the US? And, if so, what (this should go without saying, but this is not Osirak or Al Kibar)?

Ehud Barak has implied that returning to an enrichment ceiling of 3.5% migh be sufficient:

Oh, there… there’s no need for a fatwa if they stop enriching for 20%, if they start bringing it out of the country to a friendly mutually agreed state, the 20% enriched uranium, and 3.5% enriched uranium beyond a few hundred kilograms which is not enough for a single device…”


Were Israel to strike Iran, how separable would that action/the decisions that lead to it be from the US? Even if ideas of conspiracy between two countries were unfounded, it would be difficult to convince the Iranians that the case was otherwise – especially as communication channels would narrow in such a situation. And even if after the fact, how might US interests get engaged? In such a situation what degree of support from the US might be expected or forthcoming? A 2009 Brookings exercise simulated a unilateral Israeli attack on Iran, and the results might be informative:

But, the U.S. team did pledge the United States to Israel’s defense, and early on undertook numerous moves in support of that promise— deploying Patriot batteries and AEGIS warships to Israel, and installing new command and control systems to “net” the U.S. and Israeli air defense teams together.

P5+G and the IAEA
(the permanent members of the UNSC–not to be facile, but incidentally, the P5 were the ones who already had nukes–and Germany): What will they demand as part of a “negotiation”? That work at Fordow be suspended? Heightened access to/scrutiny of Fordow? Well these might be practical, other options, such as a complete suspension of any enrichment, would be unrealistic.

Also incidentally, it’s “+G” because Germany was part of the E3–back when the US wouldn’t talk to them.

The Crowd
Intrade is an interesting marker of what the crowd is thinking… Here’s what they thought about and overt Israeli or US attack by December 2011.

And now, here is what the by the end of June looks like:

The Fourth Estate
I don’t have much to say here, except to highlight the unique role Jeffrey Goldberg’s articles have played through the last several years. 2010. 2012.

Then there’s the latest Foreign Affairs issue with Kenneth Waltz’s cover article, “Why Iran Should Get the Bomb”.

The Think Tanks
CNAS thinks a strike would be a bad idea.
CFR on where the “red lines” are or should be now.

The US Congress 
Perhaps I’m out of gas; unfortunately I don’t feel like writing about Congress at the moment. [/pun]

How did we find out about these “secret” sites?
At no time in the last 15 years has any disclosure of the existence of Iranian enrichment facilities been their choice; in 2002 the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK) “outed” the existence of the original enrichment facilities at Natanz (I use the scare quotes because, while this might constitute a public disclosure, there is little question that the intelligence community had awareness of this program). Iran disclosed the existence of the Fordow facility (this is the facility you’ll often hear of as buried deep within a mountain near the city of Qom) to the IAEA in 2009, but this was only after they become aware that elements of the Intelligence Community were already aware of it.
For more information on what Iranian enrichment to 20% would mean in practice, see this ISIS article.

Forever Overhead
Courtesy of Google Earth, ISIS has helped us follow developments at a number of Iranian facilities, thanks to satellites and overhead imagery. For example, see here
and here.

All the ISIS reports on Iran are excellent. Find them here.

More Iranian nuke porn here.

What Would a Successful Negotiation Look Like?
What would a compromise acceptable to all the active parties look like?
Again, Ehud Barak has suggested that a reduced maximum enrichment level of 3.5% might do the trick…
Sayed Mousavian (a former member of the Iranian negotiation team) also suggests something akin to a reduction in enrichment levels as well as an elimination of the more highly enriched levels:

I think that Mousavian is correct that allowing Iran some enrichment activity is a necessary condition of a deal. Once that right is established, Mousavian thinks that Iran would agree to a “zero stockpile” of uranium enriched to the potentially dangerous 20 percent level. As an interim “confidence-building measure,” Iran would export its stockpile of 20 percent uranium beyond what it needs for domestic civilian use.

I’d be hard-pressed to put it more succinctly than Stephen Walt:

From a purely strategic point of view, this situation is pretty simple. Iran is not going to give up its right to enrich uranium. Period. If the West insists on a full suspension, there won’t be a deal. It’s that simple. At the same time, the U.S. and the rest of the P5+1 would like to maximize the amount of time it would take Iran to “break out” and assemble a weapon. The best way to do that is to limit Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium to concentrations of less than 5 percent. If Iran insists on keeping a large supply of 20 percent enriched uranium on hand, we’ll walk too… Yet it is these two comparatively powerful and nuclear-armed nations are insisting that Iran cannot under any circumstances have its own nuclear weapons — which Iran has repeatedly said it does not seek — and Israel’s leaders are declaring that Iran must give up even the potential to acquire them. I have no trouble understanding why the P5+1 and Israel might prefer such a world, but what I don’t understand is why they think Iran will ever agree to it. I mean, I’d like to live in a world where anyone making more than a $1 million per year had to send me ten percent of their income, but it would be foolish for me to plan my life on that basis.

A Note on the NPT and the Additional Protocols
I’ve argued in the past that we shouldn’t sneeze at the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NNPT) for, among other reasons, there are a few other ideas of this scale that you’d ever get that many people to sign on to (currently 189 signers – they’re used to be 190, which included North Korea, but they withdrew… However, even in this case, there are protocols under which they can/can’t withdraw). Unfortunately, the NNPT sets no limits on the degree of enrichment a party can undertake. Clearly, it’s not enough. That’s why there are the Additional Protocols. The Additional Protocols, among other things, allow for greater degree of scrutiny and snap inspections by IAEA inspectors.

The Guns of July
As some of you know, I’ve long been an advocate of the “Iran as rational actor” line. I was to some degree vindicated by the 2007 NIE:

Our assessment that Iran halted the program in 2003 primarily in response to international pressure indicates Tehran’s decisions are guided by a cost-benefit approach rather than a rush to a weapon irrespective of the political, economic, and military costs.

At the moment, I’m fond of Kuperman’s formulation, “rational most–but not all–of the time”. But we’re entering serious “Guns of August” territory here.

Now I’m really out of gas. That’s the way it’ll stay for today. There are other Iran topics, but every time I list them something breaks the HTML–aforementioned “out of gas” state will keep them secret for now…

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North Korea and the Parade of Kims

North Korea and the Parade of Kims

When one thinks of North Korea, “funhouse” is probably not at the top of the vocabulary–but Kim Jong-il had waterslides.

Kim’s Funhouse
Courtesy of NKeconwatch (featured in prior Gestaltist posts), the pool at one of Kim’s numerous estates includes what appears to be a waterslide:

Perhaps soon many more Pyongyang “elites” will have their own funhouse(s). The 2012 Strong and Prosperous Nation (Kangsong Taeguk) measures marking the centennial of Kim Il-sung’s birth will bring Pyongyang a new 100,000-unit housing development cleverly called “The Development Project of 100,000 Housing Units in Pyongyang”. The development will feature a recreation area which will include–you guessed it–waterslides. Photos of the construction can be found here.

North Korea’s “Real” Potemkin Village
Just north of the DMZ lies Kijong-dong, an apparently bustling town within view of South Korean soldiers and tourists. Except this town has no residents, and the houses have no furniture, and apparently the buildings have no glass on the windows. It’s purpose appears to be propagandistic: it was built just after the war, apparently to lure South Korean sentinels across the border. Kijong-dong is a Potemkin village more real than the metaphor’s apocryphal source. And no one gets to live in a Potemkin village.

“The Hotel of Doom”
No one gets to stay in the Ryugyong Hotel either; no one ever has. It’s been 25 years.

The hotel was begun in 1987. Given its setting and mandate, its semiotic function (that is, beside just lodging and making money in some fashion) is clear. It’s huge (105 stories, 3,900,000 square feet). But construction stalled more than once, famine took hold, and for more than 15 years the Pyongyang skyline featured this pyramidal windowless derelict.

Wikimedia Commons

But construction (after a fashion) resumed in 2008, thanks to a foreign investor that’s also engaged in creating North Korea’s cellular data network. Work on the exterior and cladding is complete; though it remains dark, the Ryugyong is no longer windowless.

While a bit hysterical, I have a morbid fascination with Esquire’s formulation, “The Hotel of Doom”. Well, perhaps these changes will be more than superficial. The new angel is an Egyptian telecom, Orascom.. According to The Independent:

It would cost up to $2bn (£1bn) to finish the Ryugyong Hotel and make it safe, according to estimates in South Korea’s media. That is equivalent to about 10 per cent of the North’s annual economic output. Bruno Giberti, the associate head of California Polytechnic State University’s department of architecture, said the project was typical of what has been produced recently by many cities which were trying to show their emerging wealth by constructing gigantic edifices that were not related in scale to anything else around them.

When Dubai ran into trouble, Burj Dubai became Burj Khalifa after Abu Dhabi bailed Dubai out. Perhaps we’ll end up with an empty but at least covered Hotel Sawiris?

Are They Serious?

“Who knows does not speak / who speaks does not know”–this blog included (here I am, speaking, after all). What we do know is that the imagery we do see of swooning mourners gnashing teeth is almost entirely from Pyongyang–and merely living in Pyongyang affords a North Korean a degree of privilege and comfort not available elsewhere.. And while the crowds may seem huge, there’s a substantial bit of looping involved.

The article cites B.R. Meyers on the histrionics issue. Listen to an interview with him on the topic at NPR.

This whole wailing and carrying on is really a propaganda exercise in its own right. It’s meant to convey not just the message that these people loved their leader but also the message that this is a uniquely vulnerable child race whose emotions run deeper than the emotions of people in other countries. And they’re faking a very infantile kind of grief.


In the interview, Meyers asserts that the eldest Kim’s doctrine of “juche” (akin to self reliance) is a fraud. Indeed, from nuclear extortion in exchange for financial aid and heavy fuel oil to pleas for food aid (these are legitimate in that famine is a real problem for North Koreans–though not so much for the ones we see wailing on TV), passing the hat and blackmail are a means of getting the things that would allow an even slightly more open country to maintain legitimacy.

The Daily NK reported that mourners who were judged to have been “insincere” were being sent to labor camps:

The authorities are handing down at least six months in a labor-training camp to anybody who didn’t participate in the organized gatherings during the mourning period, or who did participate but didn’t cry and didn’t seem genuine.

That report has been officially denied, having a statement be declared “official” isn’t exactly a credibility-enhancer.

It’s the new “Kremlinology” (referencing the Cold War discipline of analyzing any trace of information leaking from the USSR–particularly photography–to get clues of who might be favored by whom by inference of who’s standing next to Krushchev at a May Day parade). Similarly with North Korea, ever since Kim Jong-un was elevated to general status ahead of and named to vice-chair to the Central Military Committee ahead of the 2010 Worker’s Party of Korea conference, the “who is standing next to him” question has been vital. Kim’s uncle Jang Song Thaek not only scores high on the proximity scale but also first appeared in military uniform in those photos. Ri Yong Ho (Army Chief of Staff) is one of the runners-up.

(Edited versions courtesy of NYT's The Lens

Though most probably this photo was altered for aesthetic reasons, it brings to mind the Stalin-era alteration of photos to remove those no longer in favor (or worse). Much ink has been spilled on this topic; this article from the Hoover Institution summarizes it nicely.

Stalin and Yerzhov

Stalin sans Yerzhov

Clues of political positioning are also given by watching who has offerred condolences, and what form they took. Even a local news weatherman may get to sign autographs at a county fair, mind you.

From the US, Bill Richardson and Jimmy Carter both offered condolences (as private citizens); there wasn’t any official condolence. Perhaps interestingly, the UN has been to the impromptu memorial at the DPRK mission to the UN, and the UN HQ in Pyongyang flew their flag at half-staff. Ban Ki-moon also offered condolences,but to the people of North Korea, not the government. It’s an important distinction, akin to Obama’s messages to the *people* of Iran. I’m fond of this quote in Foreign Policy:

‘This case is unique,’ a senior U.N. official explained to Turtle Bay. “Everything in that country is unique. I can’t think of another country where the head of state is permanently dead.” (the eldest Kim is constitutionally declared to be North Korea’s “Eternal President”)

Scott Snyder of CFR has a nice list of events to watch for (in coming months and in general) that might offer clues as far as the hardiness of Kim Jong-un’s succession.

“Bonus” is Gestaltist code for “I am tired of writing” and/or “I have to go for now”. So, a bonus on this topic, a few links of photos from glimpses inside North Korea.

From the Boston Globe’s phenomenal Big Picture blog:

Reuters / Nir Elias

“Land of No Smiles”: from Foreign Policy:

Tomas van Houtryve

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Palestinian Statehood, Legitimacy, and “Unity”

Palestinian Statehood, Legitimacy, and “Unity”

Rarely do I agree with more than one politician at one time, on one topic, but…

Susan Rice:

The reality is, the absolute only way to achieve our goal [of] two states living side by side … is through direct negotiations… There is no short cut.


Mahmoud Abbas:

No one can isolate Israel. No one can delegitimize Israel. It is a recognized state… We want to delegitimize the occupation, not the state of Israel.


Indeed, the Palestinian Authority (PA) can no more seek to deligitimize Israel than they can pose an “existential threat” to the state with the occasional Katyusha rocket. Unfortunately, theres not much more I agree with Abbas on.

Much as it pains me I’m even “agreeing” with Netanyahu on minor points. I agree with the conventional wisdom on this issue.

As overdue as I may think Palestinian statehood is (especially post-Oslo, and post-2003), the idea of getting it by end-running Israel at the UN is ill-advised. The fact that Israel offers so many intractables, particularly at present, is no excuse; a creation of a “state” in that body without the full cooperation of the other players in the equation, especially Israel, still means they will ultimately need those players “playing ball”. Quasi-legitimacy may introduce more problems than it solves–and given the regional realities, quasi-legitimacy is all the UN can confer. And reversing the order might just make the next step more arduous. This is not to say Israel is even close to ball-playing.

The PA will reportedly first make their application for full UN membership (making them a de facto state) at the Security Council. The US would veto the application, and and have been forced to show its hand. As unfortunate as I think that is, let’s not forget that these moves, their unpopularity, and the theatrics preceding them are similar to Israel’s 1948 moves at the UN.

I doubt there will ultimately be a UNSC vote on full membership, though. The “best” that can be hoped for at this point is some arrangement that will keep the PA from submitting and instead pursuing some face-saving measure short of the pursuit of full recognition in front of the General Assembly (which as an act of good faith the US and Israel should both vote in favor of in exchange for a good-faith return to negotiations on the part of both parties). At the UNGA, the best they can hope for is to be promoted from “non-member entity” to “non-member state” status (like the Holy See, i.e. The Vatican,) which would–among other things–leave them just where they’re sitting now.

Legitimacy and Law
The elevation of Palestine to a “non-member state” at the is unlikely to afford the PA the leverage that status would afford relative to the negotiating challenge they now (and would still) face. Though it would give them access to ostensible levers only available to states such as the International Criminal Court (ICC), to employ them would be a mistake. If one of their first moves as a state would be to provoke action by the ICC to investigate Israel’s Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, such a move would make Netanyahu–or Israel in general–more difficult to negotiate with (this is not to justify Cast Lead), which would them further back than they started. Regardless of their standing at the UN, they still need to work out innumerable practical issues with their “neighbor”. And they unfortunately can’t do this without the US. Or the people of Palestine (although the IDF’s promise to regard such an act as “war” fleetingly makes me feel galvanized, too)…

Guy Goodwin-Gill, a law professor at Oxford, brings up some questions that might have the PA considering this a hasty pursuit of statehood:

What we have here, it seems to me, is a moment in which certain matters have just not been thought through. Historically, the PLO has been the sole, legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, internationally and within the United Nations [UN]. Now it is to be the state. Who, though, is the state, and what are the democratic links between those who will represent the state in the UN and the people of Palestine? An abstract entity – a state – is proposed, but where are the people?

One issue here is that the majority of Palestinians are refugees living outside of historic Palestine, and they have an equal claim to be represented, particularly given the recognition of their rights in General Assembly resolution 194 (III), among others. It is not clear that they will be enfranchised through the creation of a state, in which case the PLO must continue to speak for their rights in the UN until they are implemented.

Professor Goodwin-Gill’s paper can be found here.

Put simply, Abbas is not the legitimate leader of the people of Palestine.

I’m “not unfond” of the Quartet proposal being lobbied by their envoy Tony Blair:

Under Blair’s proposal, the Palestinians would indeed present their bid for statehood, but to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. Mr. Ban would take the proposal under advisement, with a commitment to present it for a vote in the General Assembly by the end of the year if the Israelis and Palestinians have not returned to direct negotiations by then.

Israel’s Diplomatic Isolation
Israel’s increasing isolation in the region only adds more wrinkles and will likely cause Netanyahu to dig in and get more intransigent rather than less. Their on-again/off-again relationship with Turkey is waning and their embassy in the post-Mubarak Egypt has just been attacked. Things are sketchy on the Northern border with Syria. Netanyahu’s intransigence on settlements has put him on the outs with the Obama administration, and of course there was the “much ado” business over ” the pre-1967 borders”.

Khalil Hamra / Associated Press

Mitchell’s gone and some the latest moves seem to be backfiring on other envoys in diplomatically spectacular ways:

Speaking to reporters in Ramallah, Nabil Shaath said that a plan delivered at the last minute by U.S. envoys David Hale and Dennis Ross did not meet several Palestinian demands, thus convincing Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that the U.S. was not serious in trying to negotiate peace.

Talk about waning influence…

I am not surprised the Palestinians are frustrated.

Two Palestines
Since mid-2007 there have been two Palestines to match the geographic separation. Unable to agree on a government (among other things), Hamas withdrew to “govern” Gaza exclusively and Fateh continued to manage the West Bank. The convenient withdrawal of Hamas is one set of circumstances that led to Cast Lead. With Egypt set to be under new management, the position of Gaza and the Egypt-Israel accord seems slightly more tenuous–this is just one circumstance driving the will to “unity”.

Wikimedia Commons

I began putting down notes on this topic after the Fateh/Hamas deal, first intending to post immediately after and then well ahead of the UNGA meeting and whatever move the PA made. Alas, the 11th hour has arrived…

At the time, Matt Duss wrote:

As for Hamas, the key question is why now? Hamas’s strategy thus far has been to sit back and watch Fatah fail, let the peace process crumble, and remain standing as the only viable Palestinian alternative. Going for this deal now indicates that they feel they have something to lose by continuing to stand aloof. The change to an Egyptian government less willing to rigidly enforce the United States and Israel’s red lines was also almost certainly a contributing factor.

Further, Hamas has seen its support among Gazans drop considerably. Shikaki’s polling shows “50% of Gazans are ready to participate in demonstrations to demand regime change in the Gaza Strip,” where Hamas rules, while only 24 percent of those polled in the Fatah-ruled West Bank said the same. It’s also likely that Hamas feels vulnerable with its key Arab ally and patron Bashar al-Assad facing serious unrest in Syria. The growing challenge to its rule in Gaza by even more extreme Salafist factions may have Hamas worried about its future.

The later revelations in the “Palestine Papers” didn’t buy them any special legitimacy at home either.

Nation Branding
Al Jazeera blogs on the branding moves a newly-minted State of Palestine would need to undergo, and I can’t help remembering not only Nation Branding but also an earlier post here on that same topic with regard to South Sudan. Palestine is most definitely a nation; unfortunately stamps–in this case probably even UN recognition–do not a state make.

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Cartoons, Meet Combat. Combat, Cartoons.

Cartoons, Meet Combat. Combat, Cartoons.


Cars 2 starts with not only cars but boats. Minutes in, we’re introduced to Tony Trihull, who’s guarding a platform swarming with Bad Guys (or Bad Cars). I didn’t find out his name until later, and at that moment thought, “what an odd boat, it looks almost like a submarine”. It turns out it was a boat (the name being a bit of a giveaway), and like any vehicle in the Cars franchise, it’s got a liberal grounding in The Real.

Tony Trihull and the USS Independence


It’s the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) and, as its name implies, is a vessel intended for close to shore, or sea-to-shore operations. As is implied by Tony’s name, it’s a trihull and has no forward decks to speak of. As you’ll see in the diagrams (or even by just watching Cars 2 as Tony turns around), there is a substantial  rear deck for most configurations.

Segueing into configurations, it’s modular and can be fitted with a number of these modules depending on its intended application. So much hardware is in the modules and tied with vessel systems that it almost becomes a different ship depending on which module it’s fitted with, as the some of the names imply: Mine Hunter, Surface Warfare, Anti-submarine Warfare, etc. One carries a number of new-ish helicopter drones (the MQ-8B UAV), making for quite a sexy package.

MQ-8B heli-drone

Israel had initially expressed an interest in the LCS, but opted to build its own. Other potential customers include Saudi Arabia and China.

While we’re at it, a trivia question (prize TBD): how many countries have no Littoral (coast, i.e. “landlocked”), ocean or even large lake? BONUS: how many countries have no coast but still have a navy?

Incidentally, I’d come up with a moniker for a country completely enclosed by another (only one, with only one border): “statelocked”. Lesotho is my personal favorite; the Holy See (Vatican City) is perhaps more obvious, but it’s not so much a “state” and certainly isn’t in the UN pantheon (though it is an observer, as is the Palestinian Authority). There are more of these than you might think…

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South Sudan Joins the Community of “Nations”

South Sudan Joins the Community of “Nations”

States, Counties, Nations, and Nation-states

Though the term “nation” is being bandied about liberally, the point is not really that South Sudan is a nation now but that it’s a sovereign State distinct from the Republic of Sudan. There are of course few places where a unified ethnic, religious, or linguistic (etc.) entity is enclosed by a single border, so it’s more a matter of degree in a post-Westphalian world. South Sudan (composed largely of black Christians vs Sudan’s Arab Muslim population) is, for instance, closer to the “nation” end of that spectrum than Afghanistan–to be rudimentary, this at least partly motivated the 21 years of Sudan’s *last* civil war. There are of course always fractal strata of nuance that cause the definition to drift the deeper you go.

It’s useful to reserve the term especially when we consider the presence or absence of “nationalism” as a threat or obstacle to a unified State (rather prominent in the case of Afghanistan, for instance).

Nation Branding

Despite this railing against what may seem a mere semantic (in the pejorative sense) issue, I do find some of the “Nation Branding” material engaging (the term is cute too). This article on the naming of what became the Republic of South Sudan is interesting:

In fact, another suggestion most Southern Sudaneses don’t like either is ‘Southern Sudan’. They discard it because the name raises fears that this name would also confuse people, as many people would think that ‘Southern Sudan’ is the Southern region within Sudan, and not a different country.

But while there are ones who oppose the ‘Sudan’ word, there are others who don’t want to lose it. The latter consider their region to be the real ‘Sudan’, while the Northern part, which has become arabized and islamized, is not. They unpolish semantics to substantiate it. ‘Sudan’, they say, etymologically means in Arabic ‘land of the black people’, which is how fairer-skinned Arabs called the lands of conquered black tribes under their power. So this would justify that the name ‘Sudan’ makes more sense in the blacks-populated South than in the Arab-occupied North.

Nationalism and the “Arab Spring”

The “nation” question has has some import when we consider the “Arab Spring”: national unity is one reason the stability of an emerging Egyptian state may have some legs–there’s more of an underlying nation there (not to mention infrastructure and institutions which don’t rely on the regime for their legitimacy) than, say, Libya. Though the site of an ancient civilization like Egypt, Libya lacks a unifying nationalism. Another example: Belgium is not a nation, though of course it is a State. Though ethnic/linguistic cohesion is not the only source of nationalism, it is interesting that Iran, for instance, is only 51% Persian.

Wilson’s promise of “self determination” has, indeed, had some tragic results.


At the time of writing, the Republic of South Sudan has been recognized by 53 UN member states, Ban Ki-Moon’s written his op-ed and South Sudan is on the verge of being the 193rd member state. UPDATE: clearly the “time of writing” has past, there was the UNSC resolution, a General Assembly vote, and now South Sudan is the 193rd member of the United Nations.

While the country may not yet have an official capitol building, the world has another geopolitical metonym–Juba–akin to “Washington” or “Brussels”. E.g., “This week Juba decided to…”

While South Sudan’s may not yet have an official national stadium, they have already contested their first national soccer match.


Omar al-Bashir’s complicity in the secession and recognition of South Sudan was critical, and his presence at the independence ceremonies had some value. On the other hand, his complicity in civil war and atrocity is a bit of a problem: he’s been indicted for war crimes by the ICC, and there are plenty of other attendees who’d supported that indictment, or would simply rather not be photographed next to him or–even worse–shaking his hand. But his proximity to the new heads of state at these ceremonies is useful to both local parties, though for different reasons (perhaps “guilt by association” for one, the opposite for the other”)

South Sudanese officials are sensitive to these largely Western concerns and are choreographing a delicate diplomatic dance to avoid awkward encounters. (The Washington Times)

REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya


The World’s Seating Chart
While there is some question regarding how and when they get their (physical) General Assembly seat–the hall is full (with 192 UN member States, another sovereign non-member observer–the Holy See–and a non-sovereign observer–Palestine); for a country that’s now independent after extremely significant tribulations, this is hyper-trivial.

A game of diplomatic musical chairs will be required because the hall of the General Assembly is full. The UN is looking at squeezing in another desk, but it could also mean moving the non-state entities The Holy See and the Palestinian observer group out of the hall. (CBC)

Incidentally, the seating arrangement is alphabetical by State name (they select their denomination–in this case they’ll choose between Republic of South Sudan and South Sudan), but the starting seat is chosen through an annual drawing. Currently Turkmenistan occupies the starting seat and Turkey the last.

From Civil War to International Armed Conflict
Out of 620,000 square kilometers area South Sudan has less than 100km of paved roads. Sudan has only 15% literacy, and its average life expectancy is 55 years. Public health and infrastructure are two sources of legitimacy–improving either by substantial degrees will take time to say the least.

Security is another source of legitimacy. Establishing formal borders between the two countries is going to be fraught, particularly over Abyei, the Blue Nile state and how to split South Kordofan. Sudan’s acknowledgement of South Sudan’s sovereignty came with the caveat as being “within the 1956 borders”: this tees off the Abyei and South Kordofan disputes as part and parcel of that acknowledgement, almost as fait accompli.

And South Kordofan is rich in oil–like Kirkuk in Iraq, the loss of which in a referendum (an this case, though, just part thereof rather than the subject itself). Instead of eliminating bloodshed, one subject of civil war becomes an issue of international dispute and combat. Like Sudan’s President Bashir, the recently “elected” governor of South Kordofan is wanted by the International Criminal Court.

USAID (2001)

Ironically, the state of Unity is not, for the most part, disputed, though its oil fields are.

Challenges Ahead
The UNSC has voted to send 7,000 peacekeepers to South Sudan to “support” the establishment of the border; thus the UNMISS replaces the outgoing UNMIS. On top of the 4,200 Abyei-bound. Ethiopian peacekeepers. In a sense, in gaining independence these border disputes graduate from civil war to Internationally Armed Conflict.

FP has a good summary of the challenges ahead.

Despite all these troubles, it’ll be interesting to watch the formation of a new country (there are plenty of new countries–but not with this level of recognition). Along with two civil wars, and millions dead, this formal secession is the result of a vote. The sound of newly-minted South Sudanese watching their flag being raised is compelling.


National Logos
By the way, also via we have this rather literal chart of various countries’ “logos”:

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