Monday, December 24, 2007

Happy Holidays!

I'm almost done with all of my grading, but as I'm leaving for Washington, DC on Thursday, posting will be sparse until after the New Year.

Have a happy holiday season!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Interrgotation Tapes and Torture

As the furor grows concerning the destroyed video tapes of CIA interrogations of two al Qaeda operatives and the possible involvement, despite previous denials, of the White House, the questions ultimately all come back to the legality of interrogation techniques. I'm not so interested in the question of whether the destruction of the tapes was a violation of the law; rather, what is critical is the nature of the interrogations that were caught on those tapes.

The tapes show the 2002 interrogations of Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Mashiri and it is believed that both men were subject to harsh coercive interrogation techniques, including waterboarding. The tapes are now being sought to determine whether the CIA's techniques amount to torture, as well as to determine the validity of the testimony.

While much of the blame of the use of harsh interrogation techniques is put on the Bush Administration, the real problem lies with Congress. It's true that the Bush Administration used some creative definitions and a bit of subterfuge, publicly stating that the US does not use torture while privately broadening the realm of coercive interrogation to include techniques commonly seen as torture, such as waterboarding.

However, it's also true that Congress, or at least members of Congress, knew what was going on. In 2002, four members of Congress, including now-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, were briefed by the CIA on interrogation techniques, including waterboarding. According to the Washington Post:

With one known exception, no formal objections were raised by the lawmakers briefed about the harsh methods during the two years in which waterboarding was employed, from 2002 to 2003, said Democrats and Republicans with direct knowledge of the matter. The lawmakers who held oversight roles during the period included Pelosi and Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) and Sens. Bob Graham (D-Fla.) and John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), as well as Rep. Porter J. Goss (R-Fla.) and Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan).

Individual lawmakers' recollections of the early briefings varied dramatically, but officials present during the meetings described the reaction as mostly quiet acquiescence, if not outright support. "Among those being briefed, there was a pretty full understanding of what the CIA was doing," said Goss, who chaired the House intelligence committee from 1997 to 2004 and then served as CIA director from 2004 to 2006. "And the reaction in the room was not just approval, but encouragement."

Congressional officials say the groups' ability to challenge the practices was hampered by strict rules of secrecy that prohibited them from being able to take notes or consult legal experts or members of their own staffs. And while various officials have described the briefings as detailed and graphic, it is unclear precisely what members were told about waterboarding and how it is conducted. Several officials familiar with the briefings also recalled that the meetings were marked by an atmosphere of deep concern about the possibility of an imminent terrorist attack.

"In fairness, the environment was different then because we were closer to Sept. 11 and people were still in a panic," said one U.S. official present during the early briefings. "But there was no objecting, no hand-wringing. The attitude was, 'We don't care what you do to those guys as long as you get the information you need to protect the American people.' "

Only after information about the practice began to leak in news accounts in 2005 -- by which time the CIA had already abandoned waterboarding -- did doubts about its legality among individual lawmakers evolve into more widespread dissent. The opposition reached a boiling point this past October, when Democratic lawmakers condemned the practice during Michael B. Mukasey's confirmation hearings for attorney general.

Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) has protested the administration's claim of congressional support for the interrogation programs, claiming that "it was 'not the case' that lawmakers briefed on the CIA's program 'have approved it or consented to it.'" True. But when Congress passed the Military Commissions Act in October 2005, it chose to include language outlawing "humiliating and degrading" treatment of detainees. Such language was clearly intended to prohibit the use of torture; but Congress did not explicitly define what techniques were included in the broad definition. Thus, the designation of what was legal (coercive interrogation) and what was illegal (torture) was left up to the Bush Administration.

Given that Congress was aware that the CIA was using waterboarding, it could have easily defined "humiliating or degrading" treatment to include waterboarding, or any other controversial technique it wished to prohibit. Just last week, the House voted to limit all US interrogators to the techniques laid out in the Army Field Manual, which does not allow for physical harm of any kind. Bush has promised to veto the bill, and it's not clear that it will pass the Senate anyway, but it's nice to see Congress taking responsibility for its oversight role.

Recent Supreme Court cases have found that the president and the administration is bound by the Geneva Conventions in its handling of detainees in the War on Terror. But even the Geneva Conventions prohibit torture without defining torture. It is the job of Congress to define the legal parameters within which the president can act. If Congress wishes to outlaw the use of waterboarding, it is free to do so. But to not do so and then to blame the president for its use is disingenuous.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Manama Dialogue: Iraq and the Neighborhood

The fourth plenary session of the Manama Dialogue, "Iraq and the Neighborhood," had three speeches: Vecdi Gonul, the Minister of Defense from Turkey; Bob Ainsworth, the Minister of State for the Armed Forces of the United Kingdom, and Mowaffak al Rubaie, the National Security Advisor from Iraq. Unfortunately, the first two talks suffered from the Immutable Law of Speeches by Public Officials.

The Iraqi National Security Advisor, however, had some very interesting things to say. First, his observations on the cooperation of Iran and Syria in ending the insurgency:
We have recently observed some good measures from Iran on tightening the control along the borders and making it difficult for arms shipment to the militias. Our engagement with Syria has borne fruit. There are some good measures that the Syrians are taking to tighten the control in Damascus airport, stopping foreign terrorists from crossing the borders to Iraq. Our engagement with Saudi Arabia encouraged Saudi Arabia to apply effective measures on the flow of the Saudi young men, so-called jihadists, coming to Iraq. It has also encouraged Saudi Arabia to apply tighter control on the flow of funds coming to the jihadists in Iraq.
Next, he had some harsh words for the GCC states, which Iraq believes is not doing what it should to help in the reconstruction of Iraq:
As for the GCC countries, I am not going to ask the question ‘What are the negative effects of the GCC countries staying outside Iraq’. Let me tell you the positive reasons for the GCC countries to come to Iraq. They will have more security, because the GCC countries will have better security through security cooperation and intelligence sharing with Iraq because we are fighting the same enemy. If the jihadists are going to be sequestered in Iraq, they are going to spill over to the region. Also, if they get engaged in Iraq, they will have the lion’s share of the huge economic reconstruction opportunity in the Iraqi market. If some regional countries or GCC countries continue to be imprisoned by their paranoia or scepticism of an Iranian-influenced central government of Iraq, or of a Shia-Kurd‑dominated government in Baghdad, how long is this going to last? Centuries?
Perhaps most interestingly, the minister called for the creation of a regional security organization:
Iraq is looking seriously to call for a regional security pact, like the good old Baghdad security pact or a NATO-style pact, with a set agenda on counter-terrorism, counter-narcotics, counter-religious‑extremism and counter‑sectarianism. I think that is the way forward for this region. Otherwise we will continue in this sectarian conflict and religious extremism, if we do not join forces.
Finally, Minister al Rubaie repeated the call for the US to engage, rather than confront or contain, Iran:
For the US in the region, I have this message: United States, unless they seriously engage with Iran and Syria, the long‑term regional security will be in doubt. It will be very doubtful. We cannot continuing playing ‘Tehran & Co versus Riyadh & Co’, otherwise we will continue suffering in this region. I think we learned the hard way. I believe the United States and Iran have learned the hard way that they have to cooperate in Iraq. Therefore it is feasible for the government of Iraq to have on one side a strategic ally, the United States of America, and on another side we have a good relationship with Iran. I believe they are not mutually exclusive.
It is becoming increasingly clear that the region does not support the US approach to dealing with Iran. These are the countries that are most directly threatened by Iran, as well as those that stand to benefit the most from a moderate Iran. If the US persists with its policy of containment and punishment, it will certainly cost the US legitimacy, good will, and support in the Middle East and Persian Gulf. The call for a regional security organization is also very interesting. Historically, there has been a lot of tension between the various states of the region; the GCC has done a lot to flatten those differences. But increasing cooperation and communication between these countries would definitely be of a benefit (of course, it might also carry a price of increased cooperation in the manipulation of oil production and prices).

In the Q&A, the Iraqi minister continued on the general theme of the need to engage Iran, using the specific language that the US applies towards its policy of engagement towards China:
We have to engage with Iran. We have to build a network of economic, commercial, religious and cultural network to make interest between the two countries so that Iran will think twice before they start meddling in the internal affairs of Iraq, from the security side of it. Through positive engagement, we would like to deter Iraq from meddling in our internal affairs.
It is very interesting to see the Iraqis speak so positively about the relationship with Iran. True, Iraq is a country dominated by Shiites, as is Iran. But most Iraqis, even the religious ones, have exhibited little to no interest in the theocratic model presented by their neighbor. And yet, Iran's proximity and ability to cause trouble has driven Iraq to prefer very different policies from the US. If the US wishes to stay the course with Iran, it may put undue pressure on Iraq, Turkey, and other US allies in the region.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Manama Dialogue: GCC Security and Economic Development; Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber al Thani (Qatar)

The second plenary session, entitled "GCC Security and Economic Development" featured a speech by Qatari Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber al Thani. The speech was given in Arabic and, unfortunately, the translation is not yet available. However, the transcript of the subsequent Q&A is available, and there are several interesting questions and replies.

Several questioners asked about the GCC's perception of the threat posed by Iran. The GCC has long seen Iran as a problem for several reasons, including Iran's revolutionary Shiism. Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim responded to the first question by stating that:
It is very important that we tell the Iranians, as we always tell them, that we are a neighbour, we have the same religion, we want to work with you together, but we want to work in equality, we need to work by respecting each other, and that there are a few things that we have to explain to each other from our side. They are blaming for trying to damage stability in the region, because we have foreign countries in the Gulf. We are trying to tell them that we have the foreign countries because we would also like stability in the region, we are small countries and we had no big foreign presence before the invasion of Kuwait.
Later in the Q&A, former US Secretary of Defense William Cohen asked "Does the GCC have a common view about the threat that Iran poses, so that the US could in fact achieve a common approach in dealing with Iran?" The Prime Minister's response:
All the GCC countries have the same opinions about the Iranian threat, or the Iranian dialogue. I cannot see that they have the same opinion, but in principle, yes, they do have the same opinions. Maybe the approach differs between country to country on this, but the whole GCC would like to see a peaceful solution to that.
One of the more interesting questions, particularly in light of the speech by US SecDef Robert Gates at the previous plenary session, asked if the Prime Minister thought that "now is a good time for the US to engage with Iran on a senior level, without preconditions, perhaps negotiating on the kind of grand bargain that the Iranians themselves spoke about some years ago?" In contrast to Gates' assertions that Iran is not interested in engagement and that negotiations need to be couched in sanctions and sticks, the Prime Minister claimed that:
they should have a direct talk and direct dialogue. I always think that if there is a mediator something is lost in the middle. I always think that a direct talk does not mean that you agree with the other party. As Arabs we went to the US a few days ago to make a dialogue with the Israelis, so why then does the US not have a dialogue with Iran? I think that is the only way to at least understand each other on the matter.
Secretary Cohen responded to the sheikh's question by pointing to threats against Israel by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: "I do not believe that the head of state of Israel has ever called for the destruction of Iran or to wipe it off the face of the map. That may be one distinction we need to keep in mind as we discuss comparisons, which are all said to be odious in any event. "

The sheikh answered Cohen by referring to Arab and Middle Eastern culture:
In terms of wiping Israel from the map, Secretary Cohen, we also hear it from Saddam Hussein before. These are words, and you have to know the culture of the region. The culture of the region is that we sometimes become more aggressive by saying things, but we do not always mean it.
All in all, the prime minister's Q&A was interesting, but contained nothing particularly revelatory. The Arab states, especially those of the GCC, who are more directly threatened by Iran have long urged dialogue between the US and Iran. it is interesting, none the less, to see the direct contrast between the US approach and that of Iran's neighbors.

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Manama Dialogue: The US and the Regional Balance of Power; Remarks by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates (US)

The Manama Dialogue took place in Bahrain this past weekend, and Security Dilemmas has been invited by the International Institute for Strategic Studies to cover the plenary sessions. So, here we go with the first session, "The US and the Regional Balance of Power".

US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was the speaker, and his talk covered three points: Iraq, Iran, and security cooperation in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf. The first and third of these topics did not delve into anything new or particularly interesting. Regarding Iraq, Gates noted the impact of the surge as well as economic progress, but remarked that political progress was still needed to cement the recent gains. He also emphasized what failure in Iraq would mean for the region. With regards to security cooperation, Gates commented on a Bilateral Air Defense Initiative, which he hoped would:
become a stepping stone to a multilateral effort to develop regional air and missile defense systems that would provide more comprehensive coverage, a regional protective – defensive – umbrella. We should bear in mind the deterrent effect such a system would have. If the chances of a successful attack are greatly reduced, then so too is the value of pursuing offensive weapons systems and delivery systems.
Most of the talk concerned Iran, and, in particular, the impact of the recently released NIE. According to Gates:
The report expresses with greater confidence than ever that Iran did have a nuclear weapons program – developed secretly, kept hidden for years, and in violation of its international obligations. It reports that they do continue their nuclear enrichment program, an essential long lead time component of any nuclear weapons program. It states that they do have the mechanisms still in place to restart their program. And, the estimate is explicit that Iran is keeping its options open and could restart its nuclear weapons program at any time – I would add, if it has not done so already. Although the Estimate does not say so, there are no impediments to Iran restarting its nuclear weapons program – none, that is, but the international community.
Gates went on to describe how the US views the threat posed by Iran:
It is the policy of Iran to foment instability and chaos, no matter the strategic value or the cost in the blood of innocents – Christians, Jews, and Muslims alike. There can be little doubt that their destabilizing foreign policies are a threat to the interests of the United States, to the interests of every country in the Middle East, and to the interests of all countries within the range of the ballistic missiles Iran is developing.

Considering all this, the international community should demand that the Iranian government come clean about the extent of its past illegal nuclear weapons development. The international community should insist that Iran suspend enrichment. The international community should require that the Iranian government openly affirm that it does not intend to develop nuclear weapons in the future and, further, that it agree to inspection arrangements that will give us all confidence that it is adhering to that commitment.
This makes it clear that the US does not plan to ease up on Iran, even in face of the NIE assessment that Iran has suspended development of nuclear weapons. Interestingly, Gates did not recommend any real engagement with Iran, preferring to speak instead of pressure and sanctions:
While we must keep all our options open, the United States and the international community must continue – and intensify – our economic, financial, and diplomatic pressures on Iran to suspend enrichment and to agree to verifiable arrangements that can prevent that country from resuming its nuclear weapons program at a moment’s notice – at the whim of its most militant leaders. That should be a matter of grave concern to every government in the world. Let us continue to work together to take the necessary peaceful but effective measures necessary to bring a long-term change of policies in Tehran.
I just finished reading Hidden Iran by Ray Takeyh, in which he makes a convincing case for open negotiations with Iran, rather than threatening sanctions and punishment. He also argues for delinking the various issues of concerns so if negotiations over Iran's support for terrorism collapse, talks about Iran's nuclear program shouldn't be affected. Gates here makes no mention of such an approach, preferring instead to focus on "economic, financial, and diplomatic pressure." The NIE does credit Iran's suspension of the weapons program to such pressure, but if that pressure only produced a public change of behavior, it's not so clear that the strategy is working. US policy towards Iran since 1979 has focused on pressure and hasn't paid many dividends. Takeyh argues that the US and Iran have many common interests and that a new strategic course could pay benefits. So long as the international community remains watchful and doesn't cede too much too fast, a new approach seems worth trying.

The Q&A following Gates' speech focused primarily on Iran. In response to one question, Gates spoke about how the NIE was received:
The bottom line is that the estimate clearly has come at an awkward time. It has annoyed a number of our good friends. It has confused a lot of people around the world in terms of what we are trying to accomplish. But, the reality is that if you take the time to read the unclassified key judgments of that estimate, it points to the nature of the problem posed to all of us by the Iranians’ continuing enrichment, by the fact that they had a secret programme, which they did not suspend until put under international pressure. It is a fair question. I would tell you that the timing and the content were not determined by the President, by Secretary Rice or by me, but by the Director of National Intelligence. I think that we need to get past the give and take about how it happened and focus on the entirety of the estimate, and the key judgments that have been released and the continuing challenge that we face by Iran’s enrichment and their ability to return to a nuclear weapons programme at any time they choose. This is why I said in my remarks that it is so important to continue the economic and diplomatic pressures on Iran to make them first of all come clean, then to suspend, then to agree to arrangements for inspection that give the rest of us confidence that they are not, in fact, trying to produce a nuclear weapon.
Another question specifically asked whether the NIE was likely to undermine international efforts to curtail Iran's WMD program: "Given the reluctance of at least two members of the Security Council to exert ultimate pressure, is the dominant sound after the release of the national intelligence estimate not one of slamming doors and bolting horses, and has the likelihood of that international pressure of unanimity as far as international pressure not been totally destroyed?"

Gates' response:
I do not think it has been destroyed. One of the things that became clear to me when I was in Russia with Secretary Rice just a few weeks ago is that the Russians consider Iran to be a serious security challenge for them. In my conversations with the Chinese leaders, we had a very frank discussion about their interest in long-term energy security and particularly their reliance on oil and gas coming from this part of the world, which is not well served by an Iran that is pursuing an aggressive foreign policy, attempting to subvert its neighbours and potentially seeking nuclear weapons. Their long-term interests for obtaining security from this region are best served by working with the rest of the international community to try to get Tehran to change its policies.
I think that the statements that have come out of both Paris and Berlin, as well as London, in recent days makes clear a continued determination to not only continue to seek UN Security Council resolution but unilaterally apply sanctions that bring economic pressure to bear on the government in Tehran. My view is that even if there is not a UN Security Council resolution, a third resolution, that there are ample opportunities on the part of individual countries in this region, in Europe and elsewhere to take actions which bring further economic pressure to bear on Tehran as a means to trying to induce them to change their policies. Frankly, I do not see it change in either the perception of Iran as a disruptive influence in international affairs or the determination to try to work together using diplomatic and economic means to get them to change their policies.
A very interesting question was asked about US policy towards Iran:
I wondered if you could allow – or agree – to the Gulf States engaging Iran economically. In this manner, they will be able to involve them within the world creation in this region. If they have financial interest within the region, they will add stability to the region we live in. Would the United States consent to such policy? Perhaps this would moderate Iran, as you have done with North Korea.
Gates' answer:
This is the classic question: do you best produce results in dealing with a recalcitrant and truculent government through the application of carrots or sticks? The reality is that a number of countries, over the past 29 years, have engaged economically with Iran. There are many companies that do business in Iran; many countries that do business in Iran; that have hosted Iranian banks. There have been significant economic ties and I see no evidence that any of that has exercised any kind of a moderating influence on Iranian behaviour whatsoever.
It seems to me that if Iran were to begin to show some sign of movement, some willingness to engage the international community on the issues that concern us, then perhaps at some point there is a place where carrots and positive inducements could play a role. However, I have seen no evidence that the activities that have taken place so far have had any effect in moving them in toward that objective.
Many of the questions exhibited a serious fear of Iran, as well as concern that the US would do whatever is deemed to be in US interests without regard for the rest of the region:
Why would the Arab public opinion trust you again now that you are handling a very sensitive file, the file of Iran? There is a tremendous amount of fear that you could either end up doing a reckless thing such as a military strike that could set the whole region ablaze again, or you could actually sign a deal with Iran that would be at the expense of Arab interests, and ultimately America will end up doing what it has always done: embarrass its friends, let them down, let its allies down, and sign a deal that caters to its own interests while being detrimental to Arab interests in the region.
I have been engaged in this region, in one way or another, for nearly 40 years. I do not have enough fingers and toes to count the times when the United States has helped its friends and allies in this region. Perhaps the most signal example of that was liberating Kuwait from the Iraqi invader. We have been the primary sponsor of virtually every peace agreement and ceasefire that has been signed in this region for the last 35 years. We have exercised a constructive influence in trying to promote positive change. I therefore do not accept the premise of the question that we have exercised negative influence.
I know that there are aspects of American policy with which people disagree. That has been true also for the last number of decades. I can only speak for myself, but I believe that, working with our friends and allies in this region is critically important. I believe it is extremely important that, in dealing with Iran, as I indicated in my speech, we keep options open. The focus now is on trying to get the Iranians to change their positions using economic and political measures.
An interviewer from Al‑Arabiya yesterday asked me what the percentage of American policy is for military and for diplomacy in dealing with Iran at the moment. I said that it was 100% diplomatic and economic. I can assure you, on the other side of the equation that you suggested, that the United States is not going to cut any kind of a deal with Iran. Iran must change its policies and its behaviour towards its neighbours, and its own nuclear programme, before the United States is willing to pursue that relationship.
It is very important for us to consult closely with our friends and allies in this region on all of the issues that we pursue. As I indicated in the answer to an earlier question, it is important that we listen. The government of which I am a part is firmly committed to that course.
What is most interesting is the level of concern from the region about Iran. Iran's pursuit of a nuclear weapon has very much unsettled the Middle East and the Persian Gulf. Iran, as a revolutionary Shiite power, is viewed with much suspicion, which has given the US an opportunity to improve relations with many other regional actors. While Iraq and US policy towards Israel is cause for hesitation, many of these states realize that only the US can protect them from an aggressive Iran rising in power.

It is also interesting to note how little US policy has changed over time. There is little to no talk of engaging Iran, either diplomatically, politically, or economically. The US approach is to use pressure to force Iran to compromise on important issues; Takeyh argues that this policy is flawed and fails to take account of Iran's domestic political situation (Takeyh argues that Iranian politics are much more complicated and fissured than most American analysts assume). Taking Gates at his word, there seems to be few signs that US policy towards Iran will change, leaving little hope of any major breakthroughs. Perhaps the US is hoping that success in Iraq and in Palestine will further marginalize Iran, isolating it to the point that Iran must yield to international and American demands. That seems to be putting a lot of eggs in a few fragile baskets.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Iran and the NIE: Where Do We Go From Here?

In the wake of last week's bombshell that was the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran's nuclear program, it's time to think a bit about what the report means for US foreign policy towards Iran.

The most important impact of the NIE's findings is there is no imminent threat. If the NIE is correct (and as we learned with Iraq, intelligence is a sketchy business), Iran does not have and is not currently working to develop a nuclear weapon. Thus, there seems to be no need to contemplate preventive or preemptive uses of military force.

But that does not mean that there is no threat. A careful read of the NIE, or a perusal of this graphic from the New York Times, demonstrates that, at root, there are few real differences between the 2007 NIE and the 2005 NIE that concluded that Iran was trying to develop a nuclear weapon. Both reports assert that Iran will be capable of developing a nuclear device by the next decade: In fact, where the 2005 report claimed that "Iran is unlikely [to make a nuclear weapon] before early-to-mid next decade," the 2007 NIE has repeated that assessment, stating "Iran would probably be technically capable of producing enough highly enriched uranium for a weapon sometime between the 2010-2015 time frame."

Furthermore, the NIE states that while Iran halted its nuclear weapon program in 2003, it qualifies that statement with a footnote saying that "by 'nuclear weapons program' we mean Iran's nuclear weapon design and weaponization work and covert uranium conversion-related and uranium related work; we do not mean Iran's declared civil work related to uranium conversion and enrichment." This is a highly problematic qualification. The US, the EU, and the UN have long considered Iran's civil nuclear program to be worrisome. Given Iran's long history of NPT violations concerning its civilian nuclear program, the international community has viewed Iran's civil nuclear program as a source of concern nearly as great as its potential weapons program. And, as this New York Times article points out, "The open secret of the nuclear age is that the line between civilian and military programs is extraordinarily thin:"

One threshold is enriched uranium. Enriched to low levels, uranium can fuel a reactor that produces electrical power — which is what Tehran says it wants to do. But if uranium is purified in spinning centrifuges long enough, and becomes highly enriched, it can fuel an atom bomb.

Another boundary between civilian and military programs is weapons design. Designing a nuclear weapon involves sophisticated mathematical and engineering work to figure out how to squeeze the bomb fuel in a way that creates the nuclear blast.

Indeed, the most difficult part of building a bomb is not doing the secret military design work but rather the part of the process that is also crucial to civilian nuclear power — producing the fuel.

History illustrates the point. During World War II, scientists working secretly at Los Alamos in the mountains of New Mexico were so sure of the reliability of their simple design that they gave it no explosive test before the bomb was made and dropped on Hiroshima. It worked to devastating effect.

But making the bomb’s highly enriched fuel required a vast industrial effort clouded by great uncertainty. In a race, three huge factories were built in the Tennessee wilds, each pursuing a different way of enriching uranium. One had literally millions of miles of pipes.

In the end, no technique worked well enough to be relied upon exclusively. So engineers blended the outputs. “All three methods contributed to Hiroshima,” said Robert S. Norris, author of “Racing for the Bomb” (Steerforth, 2002), a biography of the project’s military chief.

That history cast light on the question of whether Iran’s enrichment work today could represent a future military threat.

Here, again, the NIE is less than reassuring. It states that it assesses Iran is most likely to obtain HEU through centrifuge enrichment and that "Iran resumed its declared centrifuge enrichment activities in January 2006" and that "Iran made significant progress in 2007 installing centrifuges at Natanz." The 2010-2015 time frame mentioned above is based on estimations of Iran's ability to produce through centrifuge enrichment enough HEU for a nuclear device. Additionally, "Iranian entities are continuing to develop a range of technical capabilities that could be applied to producing nuclear weapons, if a decision is made to do so."

It appears that Iran is going to be walking a thin line, staying on the "good" side of a civilian program, but retaining the ability to cross the line to military applications if deemed necessary.

The real change from the 2005 to the 2007 NIE is in the assessment of Iran's intentions (which is interesting given the caveat in the NIE that the 10 year time frame of the NIE's estimate is "more appropriate for estimating capabilities than intentions....). In 2005, the intelligence community "assess[ed] with high confidence that Iran currently is determined to develop nuclear weapons despite its international obligations and international pressure, but we do not assess that Iran is immovable." [emphasis added] The 2007 judgment essential revises the estimate of Iran's determination, assessing that Iran can be influenced by "increasing international scrutiny and pressure."

If Iran's intentions have changed, but its capability to produce a nuclear device have not changed, then it is just as important as before to maintain "international scrutiny and pressure." Already, rosy readings of the NIE are having their effect as Russia has expressed skepticism at the need to use the threat of expanded sanctions to coax Iran into greater cooperation with the IAEA. While the European states, and France and Germany in particular, have stated their willingness to maintain attention and pressure on Iran, the Russian hesitance highlights the need for a new diplomatic strategy. As I blogged about before, trading the European-based ballistic missile defense program for Russian assistance in forcing Iran to come clean and cooperate is just such a strategy. And the NIE hasn't made a case for a different one.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Microfinance For Profit

[First, allow me to apologize for the dearth of posts lately. My department has been immersed in two job searches which has consumed vast amounts of time. I plan to be back to normal blogging from now on.]

A while back, I blogged about Kiva, a microfinance organization that allows people to become directly and personally involved in development by loaning money to individuals in the developing world who need capital to start or improve their business ventures. So far, I've loaned money to two people and plan to loan again soon. In response to my post, a certain libertarian, capitalist, free-market friend of mine (who shall remain nameless) replied (and I paraphrase here) "Piffle. Why should I loan people money if I'm not getting the interest? The loan recipient is still paying interest which someone is getting. Why shouldn't it be me?"

Well, now it can be. A new for-profit microfinance organization has sprung up. Owned by eBay, Microplace combines the development aspect of Kiva with the for-profit motive. An individual invests money (a minimum of $100) by purchasing securities from a security issuer, who guarantees the interest and principal payments. The security issuer then loans the money to lending organizations in specific countries, which then loan the money to borrowers, who use the money for their businesses. The borrower then repays the lending organization, which repay the security issuers, which repay the investors. Depending on the area one wishes to direct one's investments towards, Microplace promises returns of 1-3%. Check out Microplace's "Learn More" page for more information about how Microplace works or about microfinance in general.

It will be interesting to see which business model wins out. Kiva doesn't provide returns on the money loaned, but it also allows individuals to loan on a smaller scale (the minimum loan on Kiva is $25). Microplace is slightly less personal as, although you can see the individuals who receive loans from the lending organizations, you don't choose the specific individuals to whom you want to loan money. But, it does provide a return. My gut tells me Kiva will be more successful, as, my friend notwithstanding, most people are a bit queasy about mixing their humanitarian philanthropy with profit. But either way, both Kiva and Microplace are excellent ways for people to have a direct and meaningful impact on ending poverty and improving the lives of people all around the world.