For your first assessment you will develop a Geospatial Model of the Geopolitical Setting based on the Attachment “Geopolitical Setting: 2017 to 2021” from the point of view of the UAE Country Desk you have been assigned. A Soft Copy is uploaded to Moodle.
Each of you are assigned a country and a layer. All of you will use the combined layers for the final Intelligence Estimate. Assignments are:
The report should cover the following:
For example: Focus US Diplomatic
Geopolitical Settings: 2017-2021
The US’ shifting geostrategic priorities since 2017 seems to be taking a definitive shape. The US has announced its troops withdrawal from Iraq by the end of 2021, which allows Iran to further expand and consolidate its influence within the Middle Eastern region. The recent election of a hardline Iranian president, Ebrahim Raesi, forecasts little change in Iran’s approach towards the Middle Eastern region while maintaining an open hostility towards the US. While negotiations between the P-5+1 and Iran to revive the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) started early this year, they have been stalled due to differences. This poses considerable challenges to the US and its allies and partners, like the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt and Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) in the Middle East. Iran’s warming relations with Russia and China tend to further exacerbate these challenges. The unresolved nature of the armed conflicts based on ethnic, religious and sectarian differences within the Middle East (Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Palestine) presents a nightmare to the Middle Eastern countries.
The changing US foreign policy priorities since 2017 has witnessed a gradual shrinking of its physical footprint from the conflict-affected Middle East (ME) and Central Asian region (CAR), and towards the Indo-Pacific region in an attempt to contain a “Rising China”. The US has announced to withdraw all its troops from Afghanistan and Iraq – two potential hotspots – by the end of 2021. The US new posture has put into quandary many of its allies and partners in the Middle East and Central Asian region who are left on their own to battle conflicts and asymmetric threats.
In its quest to contain China, the US has activated the Quadrilateral Dialogue (QUAD) under a comprehensive Indo-Pacific Strategy to indent China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). A deteriorating relation between the two has witnessed a proactive China attempting to rope in countries of Central Asia and Middle East in the BRI and expanding the role and membership of Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). The US assertions of China being responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic and China’s aggressive postures to assert its claims in the South China Sea, and its threats to Japan and to forcibly take Taiwan have raised temperatures high. In March 2021, China increased its defence budget to USD 209 – six times bigger than the Indian defence budget. In July, China showcased new sophisticated weapons, including an aircraft carrier task group, in an exhibition in Beijing.
The border dispute between China and India marks another flashpoint in the fluid geopolitical settings. India which is part of QUAD is faced with an aggressive China that penetrated through the conflicted border between the two countries. Skirmishes between the two has seen dozens of military fatalities on both the sides. The militarization of the Sino-Indian border points to the fact that the confrontation will stay in the foreseeable future. Despite a series of high-level parleys, both sides continue to dig their heels and refuse to budge from their respective stance.
The resurgence of Russia and its annexation of the Crimean Peninsula stirred fears of Russia’s expansionism. Russia’s deteriorating relations with the European Union as well as Baltic states, Poland and Ukraine tend to put the US and Russia on a course of open confrontation. In June-July 2021, NATO and Russia faced off each other when the former undertook a large-scale military drill codenamed “Sea Breeze” to show solidarity with Ukraine. Russia, which expressed its strong displeasure deployed bombers and S-400 missiles and conducted military maneuvers in the region.
A country of major concern in the ME region is Iran, which acquires significance due to its quest to dominate the region through a mix of export of its ideological revolution through asymmetric warfare and an operational nuclear program. The UN as well as the US imposed crippling economic sanctions on Iran to deter it from pursuing the two strategic goals. However, situation on the ground indicates that Iran has largely survived the reeling impacts of the sanctions without altering its behaviour. The killing of Iran’s head of al-Qods Force, Qasim Solemani, in a drone strike by the US in Iraq on January 3, 2021, further worsened their relations. Iran retaliated by firing missiles on to a US base in Iraq which caused unknown casualties. Since then, the US troops are coming under regular attacks by the Iran-controlled militias in Iraq.
Since the election of US President Joe Biden, the P5+1 (US, Russia, China, France, UK and Germany) restarted negotiations with Iran to deal with its controversial nuclear program by reviving the earlier concluded Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Six negotiating sessions have so far been held which remained inconclusive.
In March 2021, China and Iran signed the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership (CSP) deal worth USD 400 billion, under which China will invest in Iran’s infrastructure projects and other sectors in return for discounted crude oil over a period of 25 years. The deal calls for a deepening of cooperation in defense and intelligence sharing. The deal could deepen China’s influence in the geopolitically critical Middle Eastern region and further undercut America’s waning influence in the region, while also ending Iran’s isolation by connecting it to the BRI.
Similarly, Iran is trying to come out of the US-imposed isolation by attempting to pursue a look-east policy, where it aims at cultivating relations with Pakistan, Central Asian countries. In recent months, Iran is strongly advocating the revival of the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO), whose members include Pakistan, Central Asia and Afghanistan. Iran is also trying to revive the East-West route that connect Pakistan with Turkey through Iran for trade purposes.
In cooperation with Pakistan, China is also building the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which provides a direct route for China’s exports and imports to the outside world through the Pakistani deep seaport of Gwadar. The BRI, especially its CPEC component, tend to cut off QUAD’s efforts to contain China in the Southeast and Far East of Asia. Under the strategic guidance of China, both Pakistan and Iran plan to link up Iran’s port of Chahbahar with that of Gwadar (Pakistan) for transportation to China while using the CPEC. This provides Iran with valuable allies that could mitigate Iran’s externally imposed isolation within its neighbourhood.
The US withdrawal from Afghanistan has unleashed a litany of violence in the country, which has seen the Afghan Taliban insurgents taking over a large swathe of territory and threatening to takeover Afghanistan’s provincial cities and Kabul, capital of the war-ravaged country. Iran’s continues to play an active role in the Afghan imbroglio. In July, Tehran organized an official dialogue between the Afghan government and the Taliban leadership to seek a negotiated settlement of the Afghan problem. On July 12, 2021, US-led NATO ended its Resolute Support Mission (RSM) and handed over the Afghan theatre to the US CENTCOM. However, the US is negotiating with Afghanistan’s neighbours for airbases to run drone operations and keep an eye on violent extremist groups based in the war-torn country. The USCENTOM also intend to use its bases in the GCC countries to protect its interests in Afghanistan.
The recent elections held in Iran in June 2021 witnessed a conversative and hardline radical cleric, Ebrahim Raesi, winning with a considerable margin. Raesi’s triumph indicates that Iran will pursue its policy of exporting its revolution more vigorously. In his first remarks after winning the presidential election, Raesi took a hardline position about the US by “rejecting the possibility of meeting with President Joe Biden or negotiating Tehran’s ballistic missile program and support of regional militias.” These comments by him “offered a blunt view of how Iran might deal with the world in the next four years.” A senior Iranian diplomat in an interview with IRNA news agency also stated that “foreign policy framework of the Islamic Republic of Iran will remain unchanged.” This clearly highlights the policy challenges for the US and its allies in the Middle East, especially the Gulf region.