It is a staple of undergraduate courses in Politics, the sort of question that gets asked to students in the very first weeks of their studies and when typed into search engines produces a myriad of academic articles. What does sovereignty mean in the twenty first century? This article does not seek to reproduce a general treatise on the subject, but seeks to use one particular and contemporary case study; the campaign for Scottish independence, to highlight just how significant and challenging the concept of sovereignty is in modern politics.
In May 2011 the Scottish National Party defied history and the assumptions of the Scottish electoral system to win an overall majority in the Scottish Parliament in Holyrood, Edinburgh. In doing so the SNP became the first party to achieve such a feat in an electoral system designed, because of its mixed member proportional basis, to avoid a single party winning a majority (partly because of unionist fears in the 1990s of such a scenario occurring). Most importantly of all, however, with a majority in the Scottish Parliament the SNP were now able to command a moral and arithmetical mandate to pursue the party’s primary goal: independence from the United Kingdom.
Unlike the 2007-2011 Scottish Parliament where the SNP ran a minority administration, the party’s hierarchy was unable to blame a unionist majority for a failure to pass a Bill seeking a referendum on independence and thus moved swiftly to negotiate a settlement with the UK Government over the powers to hold a referendum (the Scottish Parliament in and of itself was not granted the powers to declare independence, for obvious reasons, and thus a binding referendum would require the UK Parliament to devolve such power to Edinburgh). In 2012 the UK and Scottish Governments agreed a deal whereby the Scottish Parliament would be temporarily given the power to hold a referendum on independence and in a series of constitutional firsts for the United Kingdom, agreed to enfranchise sixteen and seventeen year olds for the referundum.
Following the Edinburgh Agreement of 2012, the people of Scotland will vote on their country’s future on the 18th September 2014. Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats have coalesced behind a unionist campaign imaginatively titled ‘Better Together’, while the SNP, Greens and a few minor parties have joined forces behind the equally innovatively named ‘Yes Scotland.’  We know what the referendum question will be (Should Scotland be an Independent Country?) and we know when it will be held, but aside from those details the peoples of Scotland and the UK at large are left with what we might call, to invoke Donald Rumsfeld, the “known unknowns.”
On the unionist side of the equation these known unknowns revolve around the concepts of ‘Devo-max’ and ‘Devo-more’, concepts that are essentially promises of more powers for the Scottish Parliament. Polls suggest that enhancing the devolution settlement in Scotland is by far the most popular constitutional option among the public, indeed Alex Salmond, the SNP First Minister, was alleged to have pushed behind closed doors for devo-max to be a third option on the referendum ballot paper and in public he has spoken of his desire for Scots to be given this choice. However, devo-max’s greatest strength as a political tool is also its fundamental weakness. Unionists have so far failed to find a common definition of devo-max, something that allows Better Together to simultaneously promise more powers, without being bound by specifics. On the one hand and for these very reasons this appears to be clever unionist statecraft, committing Better Together to everything and nothing, on the other this very absence of specificity risks unionists being tried by broad public expectations that have developed in this vacuum if Scotland votes to remain in the union.
It is not just Better Together and Unionists that represent the politics of the ‘known unknown’, however. Rather it is a description that, ironically enough, unites unionism and nationalism in this independence debate, the latter now forming the remainder of this article’s analysis. The Yes Campaign and the SNP particularly have used this referendum to propagate a version of independence that has been described by its detractors as ‘indy-lite.’ A charge that is particularly potent in the case of the proposals for the retention of a currency union, post-independence, with the remainder of the United Kingdom, with the Bank of England acting as a lender of last resort for an independent Scotland. This is, unsurprisingly, a hugely controversial policy, for both nationalists and unionists, with figures on both sides of this fault line alleging that the consequence would be that Westminster would effectively still control Scottish macro economic policy, indeed the Treasury has argued that it would only agree to a formal currency union if strict controls were set on Scottish borrowing limits and the activities of the financial sector in an independent Scotland.
However, while the dynamics of how this currency union would operate offer another example of the vagueness that defines the debate around Scottish independence, it is in no way the last. One of the main controversies that has engulfed the Scottish nationalists’ campaign for independence has been the question of EU membership. Alex Salmond had long claimed that an independent Scotland would automatically retain both membership of the European Union and the opt-outs agreed by the UK, importantly including opt outs from the Schengen agreement (which allows free movement of peoples within signatory countries without border controls) and the European single currency.
Beyond the EU, an equally significant source of ambiguity emerges in relation to Scottish membership of NATO. Despite the SNP leadership winning a crucial party conference vote in favour of a policy seeking Scotland’s continued membership of NATO, a victory won at the expense of two SNP Members of the Scottish Parliament who resigned the party whip in opposition, this has not settled the question of whether an independent Scotland would be a NATO state. At the heart of this ambiguity and confusion is a source of major uncertainty in its own right, the future of the UK’s nuclear deterrent, based currently in Faslane in Scotland. Faslane is a site of major strategic significance for the United Kingdom and NATO as the home of the country’s strategic nuclear deterrent, Trident. The SNP, however, are fervently opposed to nuclear weapons and a major pillar of Yes Scotland’s independence rhetoric revolves around liberating Scotland of this deterrent.
Unsurprisingly, however, this pledge to remove Trident is deeply controversial. The Guardian, for example, in July 2013 suggested that the Ministry of Defence was considering retaining control of Faslane, designating it as a Sovereign territory of the UK along the lines of UK bases in Cyprus and while this was swiftly rejected by the office of the Prime Minister, it suggests the strength of feeling and importance attached to the nuclear deterrent in the UK Government, particularly when relocating the nuclear deterrent would be a hugely expensive and lengthy process. This uncertainty over Faslane, alongside the SNP’s anti-nuclear positioning, has direct repercussions for the prospects of Scotland’s membership of NATO. Reports of meetings between Scottish civil servants and NATO officials in July 2013 indicated that, as now appears to be the case with the EU, Scotland would have to re-apply for membership of the nuclear alliance and that for any prospect of this application to succeed there would have to be a detail made between the Scottish and r-UK Governments about Faslane and Trident. Indeed, more than simply agreement, the UK Government and former NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson, have perhaps unsurprisingly given their unionist political philosophy, have insisted that any deal would have to amount to an independent Scotland agreeing to the continued existence of the r-UK’s nuclear deterrent on Scottish soil.
It is noteworthy, in this context, that in an October 2013 interview with the BBC Andrew Marr , Alex Salmond, despite repeating his and the SNP’s insistence on removing Trident, indicated that no such decision would be formally taken until 2016, two years after the referendum. Such a timescale would enable a period of negotiation and perhaps a period of convincing the Scottish public to allow the retention of a nuclear deterrent and indicates that Salmond is once again willing to partake in a process of deal making with London. However as with much of the Yes Campaign’s prospectus this is once again a case of the ‘known unknowns.’

However it is not just the explicit campaign between nationalism and unionism in the 2014 Scottish independence referendum that is dominated, indeed arguably framed, by these ‘known unknowns.’ Such certain uncertainty can be found in the dynamic around another referendum; that proposed by the UK Conservatives over the UK’s EU membership for 2017. It is important to emphasis the proposed element of this referendum, it is not set in stone and is entirely contingent on the Conservatives winning an outright majority, or being able to form the next Government as a minority or in another coalition, after the 2015 UK General Election. At present the chances of such an outcome are not favourable to the conservatives, though there is still well over a year until the election and as Harold Wilson once observed ‘a week is a long time in politics.’ Should the Conservatives defy the polls and recent British political history, by either gaining more votes and seats than in 2010 to form a majority government or secure a majority for this policy via other means, the referendum would pose huge constitutional questions not only for the UK’s place in Europe, but over Scotland’s place in the UK.
Imagine that Scotland votes no in 2014, as the polls suggest, and that following this result a Conservative administration emerges from the 2015 General Election as the largest party or as a majority. Then imagine that a referendum is held in 2017. It is the irony of all ironies that the Conservatives in this scenario would to a large degree become the party of independence, while the SNP spearhead a defence of the union (the European Union).
Whether Scotland votes yes or no, the years following this here 2014 seem to only offer the certainty of doubt. We know, to a considerable degree, where such ambiguities and uncertainties are likely to emerge, whether it is how a currency union would work, how substantive any ‘devo-max’ would actually be if Scotland votes to remain in the United Kingdom and how would the UK, if retained in 2014, cope with English votes propelling a protesting Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom out of the European Union.


By Robert Nyakundi International Relations Expert and Political Analyst

It seems that despite Africa’s economic renaissance, many of its states drift towards a new model of authoritarianism: the so called “soft authoritarianism.”

This not a new phenomenon.  From 1964, Kwame Nkrumah invented the whole idea of president-for-life, and subsequently became the first certified post-independence African dictator. “Seek ye first the political Kingdom!” he said as the prophet of African independence and Ghana’s first leader when it became independent in 1957. His advice has been followed diligently by every politically ambitious African man ever since. The few who got to the top of Africa’s greasy political pole have seized it and held on tight, usually until pushed off by force. In 1970, Hastings Kamuzu Banda of Malawi declared himself ‘President-for-Life”. Jean-Bédel Bokassa, the military ruler of the Central African Republic, kicked it up a notch in the mid-1970s. He coronated himself “Emperor” Idi Amin of Uganda, Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire, Félix Houphouët-Boigny of Ivory Coast, Muammar al-Gaddafi of Libya, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Albert Bongo of Gabon, Yahya Jmmeh of Gambia to Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea just to mention but a few.

The Mugabe phenomenon is a fine example of a special type of African leaders once admired as national heroes turned “demons” as called by many of his compatriots. Robert Mugabe is the only ruler Zimbabweans have known since Independence in 1980. President Mugabe has ruled the country with an iron fist, using violence as part of his election campaign, from the first post-Independence elections in 1985 when opposition Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU) supporters were beaten up and made to vote for his Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front. Thousands of innocent civilians were killed in Matebeleland and Midlands in the five-year civil strife from 1982-87, which is now commonly known as Gukurahundi, meaning to wipe the country of ‘dissidents’.

There was more widespread and systematic violence at the 2000 parliamentary elections, and again at the 2002 presidential elections after the formation of the Movement for Democratic Change, led by former trade unionist Morgan Tsvangirai. Surprisingly the crucial 2008 parliamentary and presidential elections were very peaceful until Mugabe lost, with 43 percent of the vote against Tsvangirai’s 48 percent; ZANU-PF also lost its parliamentary majority (99 seats to 110 for the opposition). The run-up to the second round of elections was a bloody campaign, which left close to 200 people dead, forcing Tsvangirai to pull out of the race.

Initially regarded as a revolutionary who wanted to keep the party leadership youthful (and as a man who would not tolerate corruption when ZANU-PF introduced a leadership code in 1984), Mugabe slowly turned into a dictator. Die-hard opponents like Edgar Tekere, his former Secretary General, and later Eddison Zvobgo were got rid of. Mugabe has retained power by rewarding loyalists and making sure that there is no logical successor at any one time. 

It has been widely accepted that African states, with a few exceptions, have no common understanding or experience of nationhood. Their flags, national anthems, and identities were created by outsiders. Patriotism, in the good sense of positive loyalty to one’s country and fellow citizens, is in short supply. If you want power, you play the ethnic card or smear your religious rivals. When you achieve power, you bring your own people into government – and even more important, into the army. Thus, many of these African leaders who replaced the colonial masters have not hearkened back to pre-colonial Africa and used traditional values and methods to hold the center and keep things from falling apart.

In 2010, in Ethiopia the victory of the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front and its allies, who claimed 545 out of 547 seats in Parliament following a massive campaign of intimidation against opposition supporters. Many of the protesters were paid the equivalent of a day’s wage for a few hours of shouting against Human Rights Watch.

In Rwanda, President Paul Kagame is admired by the West for leading the country to an economic renaissance after the nation was traumatized by the 1990s genocide. However, in the August elections, Kagame set to duplicate his implausibly high 95 percent victory in the last vote and was pressing charges against an opposition leader for “divisionism,” namely downplaying the genocide.

In Uganda, President Yoweri Museveni, who denounced dictatorship in Africa when he took power in 1986 and was seen as another great democratic hope, has said he’ll try to extend his 24-year tenure and finally succeeded in doing so.

In Gabon and Togo, the deaths of long-serving autocrats Omar Bongo and Gnassingbé Eyadéma had meant elections in which power was smoothly transferred—to their sons.

Thus, backsliders have outnumbered the well-doers, a shift that hasn’t gone unnoticed in the West. Political freedoms declined in 10 countries on the continent in 2009, while they improved in just four, according to Freedom House.

Undoubtedly, since multi-party democracy swept across the world after the end of the cold war, only few sitting African presidents have run for re-election, lost and retired gracefully; Kenya’s Mwai Kibaki March this year. Thus, what seems to lie at the heart of Africa’s problems is not democracy in the Western or any kind of sense, but the failure of leadership and especially Africa’s winner-takes-all politics, which explains everything that has gone wrong with the continent. It has become a pattern: a sitting president reluctantly holds an election; deludes himself into thinking he will win; no one would dare tell him he might lose.

But many times African “leaders”, when they lose power, blame the West for the continent’s underdevelopment, poverty, backwardness and mismanagement. They try to persuade their followers that everything is being caused by evil powers outside the continent. The latest re-invention of African leaders is “globalization” and “neoliberalism”. According to the U.N., life expectancy in Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Sierra Leone, Zambia, Mozambique and Swaziland for the period 2005-2010 is less than 44 years, the worst in the world. The average annual income in Zimbabwe at independence in 1980 was USD $950. In 2009, 100 trillion Zimbabwean dollars (with a “T”) was worth about USD $300. In the same year, a loaf of bread in Zimbabwe cost 300 billion Zimbabwean dollars (with a “B”). It is not without explanation why Africa is the only continent to have grown poorer over the last three decades while other developing countries and regions have grown.

But, even the outside world is not without any responsibilities for Africa’s current misfortunes. It’s partly thanks to the rise of China, which provides cheap loans and investment to resource-rich countries while asking no hard questions about human rights, thus strengthening the hold of authoritarian governments. The West also shares responsibility. The Obama administration and its European allies have turned a blind eye to autocratic trends in places like Uganda, Burundi, and Ethiopia because of those countries’ role in battling Islamists. Moreover, Uganda illustrates the terrible dilemna facing those who wish to help Africans improve their lives. To punish Museveni by cutting aid could mean hurting millions of Ugandans who are beginning at last to see real change. The country is so dependent on aid that dropping it would risk destroying the economic gains it has made in recent years. Museveni knows the donors, and their moral scruples, well. He will take huge risks with his country’s future to stay in power. Will he, after all he has achieved, throw it all away? As they used to say of Moi in Kenya: “If you are the only one on the teat, it does not matter how thin the cow gets.”

Zimbabwe, Cote d’Ivoire, Rwanda, Sudan, etc. all point to one simple truth: winner-takes-all multiparty democracy is not appropriate for Africa’s nation-states. Much of Africa today is under the control of “Vampire states”. As the noted African economist George Ayittey explains, the “vampire African states” are “governments which have been hijacked by a phalanx of bandits and crooks who would use the instruments of the state machinery to enrich themselves and to strengthen their patron client networks.”

Thus, we should not underestimate the profound changes which took place at the end of the 20th century in Africa. Two reasons reflect this: the fact that China had targeted Africa as the supplier of much-needed raw materials. Suddenly Chinese companies, state-owned and private, were going where Western companies feared to tread. That pushed the value of Africa’s raw materials and also gave African governments an alternative to Western partners. It gave them revenue and economic and political bargaining space.

Second and most importantly a new professional class began to emerge. Many of them had been educated or worked outside Africa. Inspired by a vision of Africa’s potential, they returned determined to do business according to international standards. Directly or indirectly they contribute to political stability as well and, most significantly, they are confidently both African and European. They have bridged the dichotomy their parents’ generation found so difficult between being African and Western. The rapidly emerging African middle class could number as many as 300 million, out of a total population of 1 billion, according to development expert Vijay Majahan, author of the 2009 book Africa Rising. While few of them have the kind of disposable income found in Asia and the West, these accountants, teachers, maids, taxi drivers, even roadside street vendors, are driving up demand for goods and services like cell phones, bank accounts, up-market foodstuffs, and real estate. In fact, in Africa’s 10 largest economies, the service sector makes up 40 percent of GDP, not too far from India’s 53 percent.

Indeed, many experts believe Africa, with its expansive base of newly minted consumers, may very well be on the verge of becoming the next India, thanks to frenetic urbanization and the sort of big push in services and infrastructure that transformed the Asian subcontinent 15 years ago. Just as India once harnessed its booming population of cheap labor, Africa stands to gain by the rapid growth of its big cities. Already the continent boasts the world’s highest rate of urbanization, which jump-starts growth through industrialization and economies of scale.

Given the centrality of competition among distinct political entities, this Game of Thrones, it is easy and inevitable to invoke international relations theory to understand the world of Westeros.  Various scholars have done so online with realist and constructivist approaches.  My task here is to consider what do the books and TV series tell us about how people (non-IR scholars) understand international relations.  That is, what do readers and viewers pick up about the nature of international relations from the series and perhaps what would IR theorists notice that others would not?

  In Game of Thrones, the personalities of individuals are crucial to the choices and the outcomes, just as many non-experts see International Relations.  Rather than events being driven by institutions and unseen structural forces, individual Presidents, Prime Ministers, autocrats are seen as the primary movers and shakers—Bush, Obama, Thatcher, Merkl, Netanyahu, Hussein, Qadaffi, Bin Laden, Khomeini, and so on.

In the first book/season of Game of Thrones, events seem to be driven by Ned Stark’s honor—that he not only leaves his home to keep his commitment, but he ultimately tells Queen Cersei, his rival, of his plans to thwart her.  The personality flaws of the old King and the new (drunk and crazy, respectively) are key to understanding the outbreak of the war.  While one can argue it is about legitimacy as the new King, Joffrey, may not be the blood of the old King, it is his cruelty that alienates and motivates.  In the books, there are far more references to the correlation between major wars and “bad” Kings and between peace and “good” Kings.  This is far too simplistic for most IR scholars, but, to be sure, we need to be reminded that individuals do matter.  French Presidents Chirac and Sarkozy came from the same part of the political spectrum, but had very different stances towards NATO, for instance.   So, Game of Thrones reinforces a tendency among ordinary people to emphasize personality and individuals.

The second consistent theme in the books is treachery.  The way to win the Game of Thrones, like other popular models of International Relations, is to take advantage of the trust of allies and others.  It seems that the most successful players in the Game are those that know when and how to betray allies: Tyrion, Littlefinger, and so on.  This certainly accords well with at least our understanding of diplomacy as a world of secret deals and backstabbing.  The reality that scholars tend to focus on is actually the prevalence of cooperation and the need to make binding commitments.  More academic attention is paid to signaling commitment than to surprise betrayals.

The third aspect of the TV show is that the economy tends to be de-emphasized.  IR scholars are long conditioned to understand that the power of countries and outcomes in war tend to depend significantly on economic processes.  In the books, there are some references to “international” finance as the Lannisters were borrowing money to pay for their rule, but in the TV show, there is almost no serious consideration of the economic bases of each rival.  Only Daenerys faces significant problems economically, as she does not have the resources to buy the mercenaries and ships necessary to return to Westeros.  Otherwise, the various contenders do not dwell much on trade and finance at least not on TV.

The fourth theme in Game of Thrones is the power of technology.  Dragons are the equivalent of nuclear weapons, which explains why Dany and her “kids” become targets of much admiration, fear and envy.  While it becomes clear that one cannot win with dragons alone—one needs to have boots on the ground to hold the throne, they are game changers in this world.  More clearly, Wildfire is the key to winning the Battle of the Blackwater.  This plays into some basic attitudes about modern warfare—that those with the big bombs or the latest equipment win the battles and the wars.  Of course, the opposite has been true for some time—that the weaker less advanced side has won the most wars.  Indeed, the question ahead is whether a side facing defeat in the quest for the thrones might resort to insurgency.

The joy of Game of Thrones is that the world that is drawn and televised is complex enough that people can read into it what they want.  For normal people who are not schooled in IR scholarship, they will see individuals and lies but not the economic constraints nor the limits of technology.  For IR scholars, we can see that anarchy (no one legitimate authority) can provide incentives for pre-emption and security dilemmas, but also varied reactions as there is more than one way to survive the Game of Thrones.  There will be plenty of opportunities to deploy IR theory to make sense of George R.R. Martin’s world.  That is probably the only sure thing when one begins to play this most dangerous of Games.

Having come under the international spotlight in August 2002, Iran’s nuclear program is now seen by many in the West as a threat to world peace. While the Islamic Republic has invariably insisted on its purely peaceful nature, skeptics emphasizing the venture’s military purpose usually raise a number of points that they believe have long characterized the Iranian nuclear policy: over a decade of secrecy surrounding the program speculatively from mid-1980s to early 2000s; heavy involvement of the military in its development; cost-benefit irrationality of the endevor should it be for civilian purposes only; its vast scale and scope; and finally systematic attempts by the government to procure sensitive nuclear technology from global black markets. Interestingly, almost all arguments for or against Iran going nuclear and building the bomb revolve around the imperative of international security and the implications an Iranian atomic weapon would have for it.


On one end of the spectrum, the Islamic Republic leaders are portrayed as a bunch of mad mullahs who cannot wait for the moment to get the bomb and nuke Israel, their perennial archfoe. Proponents of this line of thought, mostly found amongst radical neocons in Washington and messianic doomsayers in Tel Aviv, usually urge a pre-emptive American-Israeli strike to dismantle Iran’s nuclear programme or at least irreversibly damage it. Even some of those who do believe in the rationality of IRI leadership encourage such an option on the grounds that the costs and long-term consequences of deterrence (or otherwise non-action) are much greater than those of a carefully planned military action now. It is also contended that nuclearization of Iran would unleash a perilous domino effect in an already volatile region while raising the possibility of mass-destruction weapons falling into the hands of non-state terrorist actors who might not hesitate to use them against various targets, including Western capitals.


On the other end of the spectrum, acquisition of nuclear weapons by Iran is seen as a promising development and a harbinger of regional stability, as it would provide a firm balance of power in the Middle East. An Iranian bomb, the argument thus goes, would serve to balance Israel’s regional monopoly on atomic weapons and thus eliminate the destabilizing effects it has had in the region over the past decades. “Power, after all, begs to be balanced” and the more nuclear capabilities come to emerge, the better, as the fear of mutually assured destruction (MAD) can work as an effective deterrence to war-waging. Others hold a more qualified view, maintaining that a nuclear-armed Tehran, emboldened by the protection of the ultimate deterrent, would show a more adventurist and aggressive behavior abroad, but see coercive diplomacy rather than war as the best strategy to deal with the problem. Asserting that non-military methods of prevention must be given enough chance to run their course, this group regards military action as the option of last resort, which has officially constituted the US policy under Barack Obama.


From Security to Rights?


Despite the enormous volume of research and commentary on the issue, the domestic ramifications of a nuclear Iran have received almost no attention. One reason for this neglect lies in the very nature of international politics, which arguably attaches “rights” a status inferior to “security” and thus tends to prioritize the latter’s protection even if it is achieved at the expense of the former’s violation. For a constituency of around seventy five million, however, such an emphasis, not least when it comes to their country’s nuclear activities, seems to be of secondary importance, which may explain why international efforts to curb Tehran’s atomic ambitions have so far failed to elicit any reasonable amount of sympathy from the Iranian street. For many around the world, including Iran, endowment with the bomb is a matter of national pride after all. Moreover, people may ask why “they” should have it and “we” shouldn’t. Is American or European blood redder, as the Persian expression goes? Truly, blanket economic sanctions have had an effect in sharpening popular discontent against the Islamic Republic, but there is no escaping the fact that the policy has also worked to alienate notable segments of Iranian society from Western democracies, which they increasingly find equally blameworthy for their current plight.


It is high time, therefore, to broaden the oppositional discourse and factor “people” centrally in and accordingly the human rights implications of IRI’s dash for nuclearization, in the hope that such an intellectual recalibration may refine the public opinion by shedding light on where the atomic venture may take the Iranian society. Put simply, one needs to ask what impact the Islamic Republic’s access to the bomb would exert upon the Iranian society, the human rights situation and the struggle for democratization inside Iran.


May Guaranteed Survival Lead to Respect for Human Rights?


Ever since its establishment by the 1979 revolution, the IRI has seen itself living in an adverse security environment. Surely the revolutionary ideology and far-reaching attempts to export it around the world are largely to blame for the enmity and rivalry Tehran has long been exposed to, but whatever the reason, bone-deep survival fears have always been there, creating a siege mentality in the Iranian corridors of power. The Iran-Iraq War, which broke out with Saddam’s aggression in 1980 and lasted as long as eight years, and more recently the US-led invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, both Iran’s immediate neighbors, helped institutionalize this mentality, making the IRI leadership acutely sensitive to the external environment as a probable source of internal subversion. While the discourse of enmity and insecurity are in important part sustained by the regime itself, it is significant to note that contextual elements do play a role in keeping it alive. A latest example is the civil war in Syria, which has posed a fundamental challenge to the rule of Bashar al-Assad, Tehran’s sole regional ally, and is threatening to transform the whole security landscape of the Middle East in disfavor of Iran.


Less noted but perhaps more important, however, are the massive political repercussions the regime’s fear of subversion through external forces and the consequent psychological pressures have produced at home, with the authorities moving to behave more aggressively toward the civil society and ratcheting up crackdown on alternative voices at times when foreign threats have been amplified. That is, a positive relationship can be established in the context of post-revolutionary Iran between heightened fears of regime change from outside and intensified state repression inside. This may tempt one to make the conclusion that the authoritarian rule of the Islamic Republic, accompanied as it has been by socio-political repression and domestic securitization, is likely to give way to a more democratic system of governance and greater respect for human rights if the ruling establishment feels sustainably secure about its survival. In other words, as soon as the IRI would get the ultimate deterrent and thus immunize itself against external threats to its survival, it might open up internally, allow for more democratic power-sharing, stop suppression of civil liberties, and thus democratize itself. According to the argument, therefore, nuclearization and the security guarantee it provides is likely to bring about democratization.


In fact, such an outcome may be a positive corollary of going nuclear, but whether historical evidence bears this out is subject to question. At least when it comes to the case of Iran, history points largely to the contrary: throughout a span of over three decades since the 1979 revolution, stints of increased immunity to external threat have often seen intensified civil repression, political fraud, and deterioration of human rights situation in the country.


Working examples of this correlation can best be found during the post-war presidency of Aki Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani (1989-1997) when the intelligence and security apparatus, which had just been relieved from the threat posed by Iraqi aggression, embarked on a systematic campaign of opposition cleansing. After all, the chain murders of non-conformist intellectuals, dissidents and critics that came to a height in late 1998 had begun a decade earlier. The presidency of Mohammad Khatami (1997-2005), characterized by his reform-oriented foreign policy of détente and dialogue, also offers some evidence to that effect. Ensured by the favorable security environment following the collapse of Saddam Hussein, in which the reformist government of Iran played a helpful role, and the nuclear concessions of October 2003, whereby it signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty’s Additional Protocol, the ruling hardliners moved to hijack the parliamentary elections of February 2004 by selectively blocking the participation of around 3000 candidates. Notably, the aberration, comfortably carried out as it was, set a precedent for electoral fraud in the 2005 and 2009 presidential votes.

One should admit that the jury is still out. It is not a far-fetched argument, however, to say that Tehran’s acquisition of the bomb will likely put the final nail in the coffin of struggle for democracy and human rights in Iran. Of course, this is not to say that lack of access to the ultimate deterrent will necessarily improve the likelihood of democratization in such an authoritarian setting, but that if a nuclear-armed Islamic Republic can hardly be contained externally – particularly as far as small-scale and asymmetric conflicts are concerned – it cannot at all be contained internall

In 1884 The Times newspaper coined the phrase ‘Scramble for Africa’ to describe the contention between the major European powers for a share of what the Belgian king Leopold contemptuously referred to as  ‘this magnificent African cake.’ Britain, France, Belgian, Germany and the other big powers each attempted to carve out their share of the African continent during the infamous Berlin Conference, held over several months in the winter of 1884-1885. They then proceeded to invade and occupy their designated colonies in the period leading up to World War I, without any concern for the fate of the inhabitants of the African continent. That was the era of the so-called ‘civilising mission’ and ‘White man’s burden,’ that provided openly racist justifications for the conquest and partition of almost the entire African continent. It was undoubtedly one of the great crimes against humanity leading to literally millions of deaths of African men, women and children even in a singly colony, such as King Leopold’s ironically named Congo Free State.

The crimes of colonial conquest and rule, which also created the arbitrary division and externally imposed boundaries that still plague Africa, were perpetrated many years ago. Today, however, commentators speak of a new ‘scramble’ for Africa when referring to the intense rivalry between today’s big powers, such as the US, China, Britain and France, that has already led to military intervention in several African countries, most recently Mali and Libya, the establishment of the US African Command (AFRICOM) with a pan-African remit, in addition to economic and other forms of intervention and external interference throughout the African continent. Recent events in the Central African Republic, where a coup has taken place that appear to favour the leading members of NATO at the expense of the members of the BRICS grouping, have also been explained in terms of a new scramble.

The contention between the world’s major economic and military powers has been a constant feature of the African continent’s recent history. It was certainly a feature of the 1930s, when the fascist powers, Germany and Italy, as well as Japan demanded a ‘place in the sun,’ a re-partition of Africa in their favour and Italy, with the connivance of Britain and France, invaded and occupied Ethiopia. Competition and contention also existed during the ‘Cold War’, the period of the bi-polar division of the world between the US and Soviet Union and their respective allies. In this period the big powers sought to subvert the efforts of African countries to rid themselves of the shackles of colonial rule and to establish proxies and clients, new neo-colonial states that provided economic and geo-political advantage throughout the continent. The activities of the Soviet Union in Ethiopia for example and the NATO powers in Angola and South Africa are obvious examples.

The new ‘scramble’ might be said to have commenced with the contention for the resources of the Democratic Republic of the Congo during the late 1990s. Competition for the uranium, coltan, cobalt and other minerals in the DRC led to a major war involving seven African nations in 1996, and consequently to millions of deaths (estimates vary between 3-10m people).

The new ‘scramble’ is also a consequence of the fact that Africa stands poised to break free from the economic dependency that has been one of the most enduring and damaging legacies of colonial rule and its aftermath. In the past decade six of the world’s ten fastest growing economies were in Africa. In eight of the last ten years Africa’s economic growth has been faster than that of East Asia. Africa’s population is growing too and expected to provide half of the world’s increase in population in the next forty years. It is also expected that Africa will soon have over 100m people with an income of over $3000 per annum (almost the same as India). As a consequence the World Bank has reported that the continent could be on the brink of the same kind of economic take-off as experienced by China and India in the past, even though it is still heavily reliant on external investment. Africa is becoming increasingly important not only as a supplier of raw materials but also as a location for capital investment (this has increased by 500% over the last ten years).  The continent is particularly important for its oil and gas supplies in established areas such as Libya, Nigeria, Guinea, Angola, and Algeria but also in new areas such as, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Somalia. The US gets 15% of its oil from Africa, more than from the Middle East, and this is set to rise to around 25%. However, the US and its allies often find themselves in competition with the other big powers. China, for example, now obtains a third of its imported oil from Africa. The major buyers of Sudan’s oil are China, Japan, India and Malaysia and China has also become a major purchaser of Nigeria’s oil.

At the same time as the increasing contention for economic advantage in the continent, the people of Africa are demanding an end to the consequences of neo-liberal globalisation and unpopular governments that are little more than the proxies of external powers. It cannot be forgotten that the so-called ‘Arab Spring’ actually began in Africa and that the struggles of the people of Egypt and Tunisia for empowerment and people-centred economies continue. The possibility of revolutionary change as well as economic growth has only intensified the contention between the big powers in Africa and their attempts to maintain their domination over the continent. The old imperialist powers have been joined by Brazil, Russia, India, China, and others, all contending for Africa’s mineral resources and growing markets, as well as for strategic advantage in the continent. The BRICS countries used to account for 1% of Africa’s trade but now account for 20% and by 2030 possibly 50%. The biggest impact has come from China which is now the major economic power in Africa, has provided interest free loans, buys increasing amounts of Africa’s other minerals as well as oil, has tens of thousands of workers in Africa, in addition to many manufacturing and construction companies.  Contention between the NATO powers and China is occurring throughout the continent and was evident in Libya, throughout the Sahel region and in other countries such as the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Unable to compete economically, the western countries led by the US have sought other means to preserve their influence. The US established its AFRICOM in 2007 allegedly as part of the ‘war against terror’ and to safeguard US national interests but with the aim of countering the influence of China and other economic rivals in Africa. AFRICOM with the support of Britain, France and other NATO allies used military might to intervene in Libya, not in the interests of the people of that country, since it was the most economically developed in Africa with its own unique political system, but in order to establish in their own interests the stated policy of ‘regime change,’ something which is entirely contrary to international law and the Charter of the United Nations. Libya was one of the few African countries not allied to NATO, nor to AFRICOM, and played a vital economic and political role in the African Union. The destruction of the ‘Great Jamahiriya’ has consequently had a major negative impact not just in North Africa and the Sahel region but also throughout the continent.

AFRICOM, which has established connections and joint training exercises with the military in most African countries, appears to have been modelled on earlier US military initiatives in Africa such as the Pan-Sahel Initiative, and Trans-Saharan Counter-Terrorism Project, that both centred on Mali. It is an extraordinary coincidence that it was precisely in a region identified as important for strategic and economic reasons and targeted by the Pentagon for ‘counter-terrorism’ for nearly a decade, that ‘terrorists’ then appeared in the wake of military intervention in Libya, necessitating further military intervention in Mali by France, Britain and other allies of the US in 2013.

It is to be noted that just as during the ‘scramble’ for Africa in the nineteenth century all kinds of justifications are now advanced for continued external interference: ‘humanitarian intervention,’ the need to control ‘ungoverned spaces’ and ‘fragile states,’ as well as the ‘right to protect’ civilians. But perhaps these pretexts should be regarded in the same way that we now regard the ‘civilising mission’ and ‘white man’s burden’.


As predicted by Jane’s Defence Weekly, the main feature of the T-95 is its radical configuration with the main armament in a small unmanned turret fed from a newly-designed automatic loader located below the turret (JDW 11 November 1995). Seats for the driver, gunner and commander are in a special armoured capsule, separated by an armoured bulkhead from the automatic loader and turret. This design allows the MBT’s silhouette to be reduced, making it less observable on the battlefield and enhancing crew safety. Such a configuration resolves a major dilemma concerning modern MBT design – combining adequate protection with mobility and transportability.


The T-95 MBT is armed with a 135mm gun which is believed to be of the smoothbore type and is fitted with a new fire control system (FCS). Target information is provided via optical, thermal imaging and infra-red channels. The FCS also includes a laser range finder and possibly a radar. The design relies heavily on the FCS as the crew cannot use traditional optical devices to observe the battlefield and aim the gun. The T-95 MBT is not the sole domestic new-generation MBT. The “object 640” (named Black Eagle), developed at the Omsk-based Design Bureau of Transport Machine-building was displayed at an arms exposition in Omsk, Siberia, in 1999. The vehicle features a completely new chassis and turret. Its designers chose a simpler design with the automatic loader and some ammunition is placed in a spacious bustle in the rear part of the manned turret.


The T-90S represents one of the most advanced Russian tanks from the T-series. It features an improved firepower, mobility and protection. The tank was built at Uralvagonzavod, factory located in Nizhnyi Tagil, Russia. It is worth mentioning that the T-90S officially entered the service with the Russian armed forces in 1992.

The tank is developed for a crew of 3 people, its combat weight is 46.5 tons and it features a 4-stroke V-84ms diesel engine with 849hp. The fuel capacity of this battle machine is 1,600l. The range is 650km on paved roads and 500km on unpaved. The tank reaches a speed of 65 km/h.

The information provided by the American Foreign Policy Center says that Russia is currently working on upgrading its main battle tank to the new T-95 version. The features of the new generation battle tank are specified below:


  • -Diesel-electric propulsion
  • -125mm gun
  • -360° sensors and ECM and network-capability
  • -pro-active electric reactive armor
  • -Weight: over 55 tons
  • -ceramics-n-fiber armor, which would replace the usual steel armor
  • -virtual reality for the driver and gunner
  • -2 crew members will man the tank
  • -auto loader for 3 different types of ammo.


Compiled By Robert Nyakundi on May 12th 2012


The M1A1/2 Abrams main battle tank is manufactured by General Dynamics Land Systems (GDLS). The first M1 tank was produced in 1978, the M1A1 in 1985 and the M1A2 in 1986.

The first M1 Abrams battle tanks were delivered to the US Army in 1980. In all 3,273 M1 tanks were produced for the US Army, 4,796 M1A1 tanks were built for the US Army, 221 for the US Marines and 880 co-produced with Egypt.

Approximately 77 M1A2 tanks were built for the US Army, 315 for Saudi Arabia and 218 for Kuwait.

For the M1A2 upgrade programme, more than 600 M1 Abrams tanks were upgraded to M1A2 configuration at the Lima Army tank plant between 1996 and 2001. Deliveries began in 1998.

M1A2 system enhancement package (SEP)


In February 2001, GDLS were contracted to supply 240 M1A2 tanks with a system enhancement package (SEP) by 2004. The M1A2 SEP contains an embedded version of the US Army’s Force XXI command and control architecture, new Raytheon commander’s independent thermal viewer (CITV) with second-generation thermal imager, commander’s display for digital colour terrain maps, DRS Technologies second-generation GEN II TIS thermal imaging gunner’s sight with increased range, driver’s integrated display and thermal management system.

The US Army decided to cancel future production of the M1A2 SEP from FY2004, but in June 2005 ordered the upgrade of a further 60 M1A2 tanks to the SEP configuration. A further 60 were ordered in August 2006, plus 180 in November 2006.

Under the firepower enhancement package (FEP), DRS Technologies was also awarded a contract for the GEN II TIS to upgrade US Marine Corps M1A1 tanks. GEN II TIS is based on the 480×4 SADA (standard advanced dewar assembly) detector.

The FEP also includes an eyesafe laser range finder, north-finding module and precision lightweight global positioning receiver which provide targeting solutions for the new far target locate (FTL) function. FTL gives accurate targeting data to a range of 8,000m with a CEP (circular error of probability) of less than 35m.

In November 2007, General Dynamics was awarded a contract for the upgrade of 240 M1A2 SEP version one tanks to the version two configuration which has improved sights, displays and a tank-infantry phone. The first was ready in October 2008 and the work was completed in September 2009.



In June 2004, DRS Technologies was awarded a contract to provide systems including rugged appliqué computers for the M1A2 Abrams tanks (and M2A3 Bradley fighting vehicles) as part of the US Army’s Force XXI battle command, brigade and below (FBCB2) programme.

FBCB2 is a digital battle command information system which provides enhanced interoperability and situational awareness from brigade to individual soldier that will be used in conjunction with the army’s tactical internet.

M1 Abrams armament


The main armament is the 120mm M256 smoothbore gun, developed by Rheinmetall Waffe Munition GmbH of Germany. The 120mm gun fires the following ammunition – M865 TPCSDS-T and M831 TP-T training rounds, the M8300 HEAT-MP-T and the M829 APFSDS-T which includes a depleted uranium penetrator. Textron Systems provides the Cadillac Gage gun turret drive stabilisation system.

The commander has a 12.7mm Browning M2 machine gun and the loader has a 7.62mm M240 machine gun. A 7.62mm M240 machine gun is also mounted coaxially on the right hand side of the main armament.

Depleted uranium armour


The M1A1 tank incorporates steel-encased depleted uranium armour. Armour bulkheads separate the crew compartment from the fuel tanks.

The top panels of the tank are designed to blow outwards in the event of penetration by a HEAT projectile. The tank is protected against nuclear, biological and chemical (NBC) warfare.

One L8A1 six-barrelled smoke grenade discharger is fitted on each side of the turret. A smoke screen can also be laid by an engine-operated system.

In August 2006,GDLS was awarded a contract to produce 505 tank urban survivability kits (TUSK) for the US Army Abrams tanks.

TUSK includes add-on reactive armour tiles, loader’s armour gun shield (LAGS), tank infantry phone (TIP), Raytheon loader’s thermal weapon sight with Rockwell Collins head-mounted display and BAE Systems thermal driver’s rear-view camera (DRVC). TUSK entered service on M1A1 / M1A2 tanks in late 2007 and was deployed to Iraq.

Australian M1A1 tanks are fitted with Saab Barracuda multispectral camouflage systems which reduce the tank’s visual, radar and infra-red signature.

Fire control and observation


The commander’s station is equipped with six periscopes, providing a 360° view. The Raytheon commander’s independent thermal viewer (CITV) provides the commander with independent stabilised day and night vision with a 360° view, automatic sector scanning, automatic target cueing of the gunner’s sight and back-up fire control.

The M1A2 Abrams tank has a two-axis Raytheon gunner’s primary sight – line of sight (GPS-LOS) which increases the first round hit probability by providing faster target acquisition and improved gun pointing.

“The first M1 Abrams battle tanks were delivered to the US Army in 1980. In all 3,273 M1 tanks were produced for the US Army.”

The thermal imaging system (TIS) has magnification ×10 narrow field of view and ×3 wide field of view. The thermal image is displayed in the eyepiece of the gunner’s sight together with the range measurement from a laser range finder.

The Northrop Grumman (formerly Litton) Laser Systems eyesafe laser range finder (ELRF) has a range accuracy to within 10m and target discrimination of 20m. The gunner also has a Kollmorgen Model 939 auxiliary sight with magnification ×8 and field of view 8°.

The digital fire control computer is supplied by General Dynamics – Canada (formerly Computing Devices Canada).

The fire control computer automatically calculates the fire control solution based on – lead angle measurement, bend of the gun measured by the muzzle reference system, velocity measurement from a wind sensor on the roof of the turret and data from a pendulum static cant sensor located at the centre of the turret roof.

The operator manually inputs data on ammunition type, temperature and barometric pressure.

The driver has either three observation periscopes or two periscopes on either side and a central image intensifying periscope for night vision. The periscopes provide 120° field of view.

The DRS Technologies driver’s vision enhancer (DVE), AN/VSS-5, is based on a 328×245 element uncooled infra-red detector array, operating in the 7.5 to 13 micron waveband. A Raytheon driver’s thermal viewer, AN/VAS-3, is installed on the M1A2 Abrams tanks for Kuwait.



The M1 is equipped with a Honeywell AGT 1500 gas turbine engine. The Allison X-1100-3B transmission provides four forward and two reverse gears.

The US Army has selected Honeywell International Engines and Systems and General Electric to develop a new LV100-5 gas turbine engine for the M1A2. The new engine is lighter and smaller with rapid acceleration, quieter running and no visible exhaust.

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