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SECOND QUARTER ASDA NEWSLETTER 2009

AMERICAN STRATEGIC DEFENSE ASSOCIATION
P.O. Box 190, Mount Holly, Virginia 2252
Volume 39, Number 2, Jerry Strope, Editor
editor@Strategicdefense.org
 

What a three months this past quarter has been! The Obama foreign policy encountered some rough seas that forced some course changes and the rewriting of scripts. The important events happened in Iran, completely overshadowing the crazy antics of Kim Jong Il in North Korea, at least in retrospect. Accordingly, we will report first on the course of events in our dealings with the government in Tehran.

  Iran - The population was scheduled to vote for president on June 12. The theocratic constitution  of Iran allows only those to run who are approved by the Guardian Council composed of a dozen senior clerics. So the voters got to choose either the current president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, or one of two former presidents, Ali Hashemi Rafsanjani or Mir Hossein Mousavi. Ali was the scion of a very wealthy Iranian family while Mir had dropped out of sight for some years, reappearing recently with the reputation of a moderate reformer. Active campaigning occupied April and May with a close vote anticipated. However, the government declared within hours that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had won re-election in a landslide victory. This early call was surprising since there were over 30 million paper ballots to be hand counted. It led to the charge that the election was a fraud, with the predetermined result released too early by mistake or with arrogant disregard for any critics.

  Hundreds of thousands of Iranians mounted nearly a week of protests in the streets of Tehran and other cities, posing the biggest challenge to the theocracy since it led the overthrow of the shah in 1979. Amid growing claims that the tally was riddled with irregularities, the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, offered a partial recount. But defeated candidate Mousavi, joined by Rafsanjani, demanded new elections and the protests gained strength in open defiance of Khamenei’s decree for citizens to stay home.

  The mullahs tried to keep the resistance quiet by cracking down on journalists and the media, but protesters used smart phones, Twitter, and web sites both to coordinate action and to distribute dramatic images worldwide. The bouncy amateurish TV views of the street protests in Tehran were arresting. For one thing, many, if not most, of the signs were in English, not Farsi. The protesters were aiming their message at the outside world as much as at the mullahs. Of even greater significance was the evidence that a large number of protesters were females. This is astounding for the Middle East and must have been deeply felt in the Muslim world. The regime’s Basij militia killed at least seven protesters and news outlets reported deaths and beatings of students at Tehran University  where the militia raided dormitories. 

  President Obama tried to walk a delicate line between protester support and meddling, saying that the differences between the incumbent and challenger “may not be as great as advertised.” To which said Ali Ansari in the London Guardian, “The election was never really about the two main candidates.” It was about whether Iran’s “republican elements” should be tolerated or “discarded altogether.” Even though the candidates, including Mousavi, were preapproved by the mullahs, the election nevertheless “raised expectations” of change. There seems to be credible evidence of the over-counting of Ahmadinejad’s vote and suppression of the opposition’s. If the government cannot convince the people that the election was legitimate, these wounds “may not heal at all.”

  The mullahs may have “won” the bogus election, said Pat Buchanan in Townhall.com, but they are “losing the Iranian people.” It’s not just the demonstrations that prove this point. This is the latest in a string of Iranian elections in which the candidate who promised “reconciliation with the West and an easing of social strictures” won in a landslide among students. “Those are the future leaders of Iran.” The election not only revealed “the character of the regime,” it showed that for freedom lovers, “time is on our side.”

  The people may already be able to claim a victory, wrote Abbas Milani in The New Republic Online. Even former government ministers are “demanding new elections.” The “majestic power of large peaceful crowds, brought together by the power of technologies beyond the regime’s control,” is now shaking Khamenei’s two-decade hold on power. Either he will bend to the protests, or he will have to ask the military to put down this uprising. Either way, he will not emerge “with his supremacy intact.”

  Incredibly, the crowds of protesters filled the streets of Tehran into the second week after the election. Khameni declared Ahmadinejad the victor of his partial recount and demanded that the protests cease. When they continued, the government brutally cracked down on demonstrators. Police and militia were on the streets in large numbers, attacking and dispersing crowds. In the crackdown, the government counted 17 demonstrators killed but twitter claims were in the hundreds. “Supreme Leader” Khamenei blamed the protests on foreign instigators, had a number of employees of the British embassy arrested, and warned that any further challenges to the government would be crushed. The last demonstration to be reported was on June 28, more than two weeks after the election.

  Iran’s regime is based on the idea of “’velayat-e faqih,’ rule by the Supreme Jurist,” said Fareed Zakaria in Newsweek. But after Khamenei declared Ahmadinejad’s victory a “divine assessment,” the people rejected his decree, exposing Khamenei as a mere partisan, not the voice of God. In this uprising, the regime’s legitimacy “suffered a fatal blow,” said Danielle Pletka and Ali Alfonch in The New York Times, Iran’s theocracy is already gone. It has been supplanted by a military dictatorship in “a silent coup d’etat.” Since his election in 2005, Ahmadinejad has appointed Revolutionary Guard veterans members of the Basij militia to 14 of 21 Cabinet positions. This “creeping militarization” is also evident in the economy, much of which the guard now controls. Given that he needs these thugs to fend off reformers, Khamenei is now just a front man.

  The regime’s weapons have prevailed for now, but its victory is pyrrhic, said Anne Applebaum in Slate.com. Iran’s educated women have been organizing in behalf of equal rights in recent years, and they were a major part of this uprising. It’s “no accident” that the main reform candidates promised to repeal some repressive laws or that opposition leader Mousavi’s wife, Zahra Rahnavard, was front and center in his campaign. Women have been leading the street demonstrations and the opposition’s new symbol of resistance is a young Iranian woman, Neda Agha-Soltan, who was killed during a protest. “Regimes that repress the civil and human rights of half their population are inherently unstable.” Ilter Turkmen, former Turkish diplomat said, “Iran suddenly appears to everybody as not a very successful country.” 

  What next? It is hard to tell if the uprising is really over. On July 1 it was reported that Mousavi had urged more street demonstrations the day before but the opposition bloc may be too battered to respond. In Washington, the Obama administration must be busy rewriting the script for dealing with the propped-up Ahmadinejad administration. Everything Obama has said.about seeking an opening to take our relationship with Iran in a new direction based on mutual respect is now inappropriate. In the first days after the election, hardliners criticized Obama for being tentative in support of peaceful protest. Can you imagine the outrage if he appears to grant legitimacy to Khamenei’s regime? 

  Yet the US and the West have a lot to settle with the Ahmadinejad regime. The uranium enhancement  machines are working away, the regime is causing trouble on the West Bank and in Gaza, in Syria and Lebanon, in Iraq, and in the Persian Gulf. After all, they support the terrorists and are one end of the Axis of Evil.

North Korea: April began much like March with Pyongyang shouting threats against nearly everybody and especially South Korea and announcing its intention to use a long-range rocket to put a satellite into orbit. This announcement caused the UN to warn that North Korea would face stronger international sanctions if it tested the three-stage Taepodong-2 missile, viewing the satellite launch as an obvious ploy. Pyongyang went ahead with the test on Sunday, April 5. The government claimed it boosted a satellite into orbit where it was said to be playing patriotic North Korean music. But tracking data showed the missile and payload fell into the sea. According to reports assembled by William J. Broad in The New York Times, experts, looking at the test from a purely technical vantage point, said the failure represented a blow that in all likelihood would seriously delay the missile’s development.

  The North Korean missile test came just hours before President Obama gave a major speech in Prague calling for a new framework to reduce and eventually eliminate nuclear weapons from the planet. Obama said in Prague that nuclear nations must reduce and secure their arsenals, in order to prevent rogue states and terrorists from acquiring bombs. He also vowed to negotiate a strategic arms reduction treaty with Russia that would significantly reduce the number of nuclear warheads. “As the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon, the United States has a moral responsibility to act,” he said. As for North Korea, Obama declared that Pyongyang “must know that the path to security and respect will never come through threats and illegal weapons.”

  “Rarely has a presidential speech been so immediately and transparently divorced from reality,” said The Wall Street Journal. As North Korea’s missile launch made plain, decades of treaties have failed to stop bad actors from pursuing nukes. Obama thinks that if the US simply gives up its own weapons, it will have the “moral authority” to persuade others to do so. But the “most conspicuous anti-proliferation victories in recent decades “ were Israel’s strike against Saddam Hussein’s nuclear plant and America’s removal of Saddam altogether.

  The threat from North Korea’s failed rocket pales in comparison to the danger of listening to American hawks, said The Boston Globe. Conservatives are demanding that Obama attack North Korea or try to destabilize Kim’s government. “That would only create a security threat where none now exists.” If provoked, North Korea could restart its nuclear program, which would be real trouble.

  On April 13, the UN Security Council unanimously “lashed” North Korea for the Taepodong-2 missile launch. On April 14, North Korea kicked the IAEA inspectors out of the country and resumed plutonium separation a week later. The rest of April and May was occupied by exchanges of threats. Near the end of May, Pyongyang fired off its second nuclear device. According to Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, it had a yield of about 4 kilotons or smaller, too small to be a successful Hiroshima-class crude nuclear device. It was much larger than the 2006 test but still falls far short of the expected yield of 12-20 kilotons.              

  It’s important to realize that nuclear tests in the past 15 years have primarily been demonstrations of power and national will rather than driven by engineering. The two differeny kinds of simple bombs are uranium-based and plutonium-based. The technology for a uranium 235 bomb is so simple, relatively speaking, that such a device need not be tested. Conversely, building a plutonium-based bomb represents a technical challenge because the critical mass can blow apart in a split second before the detonation reaches full efficiency. The technology for making the raw material for each device differs. Uranium 235 must be separated from the common heavier uranium 238 to make a bomb, so a country (Iran) that builds high-tech centrifuges is trying to make a uranium bomb that needs no testing. Plutonium comes from nuclear reactor waste which North Korea possesses. So, North Korea is attempting to make the trickier of the two devices. When the device is built correctly (the earliest technology used a sphere with precisely timed explosions to press an array of small plutonium masses into one critical mass) the yield is 10-20 kilotons. In June, North Korea went back to working on missiles.