The Brief, January 2016

The Brief

January 8, 2016

Saudi-Iran Power Plays

Saudi Arabia’s execution of Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr has exacerbated its regional power struggle with Iran. Experts discussed the causes and implications of worsening relations. 

In an NPR interview, Dean Vali Nasr stated that the Saudi-Iran rivalry has been accelerated by “a palpable U.S. withdrawal from the region,” the U.S.-Iran nuclear deal, and the “collapse of a number of Arab states,” providing “an opportunity for these two to try to engage in a proxy war of domination.” Listen Here He also discussed in The New York Times that “western opinion in this case was weighted in Iran’s favor — in part because of the European Union’s desire for rapprochement with Iran.” Read More

Randa Slim, senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Institute, stated on PBS Newshour that “anti-Iran feelings, anti-Shia feelings are also prevalent among large segments of the Saudi population” while hard-liners inside the Iranian regime “have approved of the attacks against the Saudi Embassy and the Saudi Consulate.” Listen Here

Sanam Vakil, adjunct professor of Middle East Studies, told ABC News Radio that “the execution of Nimr al-Nimr is about domestic politics in Saudi Arabia. He spoke out against the royal family in Saudi Arabia, criticizing them and their lack of governance, inclusion, and discrimination.” Listen Here

In a Press TV interview, Conflict Management Professor Daniel Serwer censured the execution of Nimr as “clearly unjustified” and “outrageous” since the cleric “was on the non-violent side of the political equation” in Saudi Arabia. Read More

Did North Korea Test a Hydrogen Bomb?

North Korea announced it successfully tested a hydrogen bomb on January 5. Experts debated the veracity of the claim, the history of the regime’s nuclear program, and next steps to address the crisis.

In The Globe and Mail, the U.S.-Korea Institute’s Joel Wit said “If it’s a real H-bomb, of course, it’s a significant qualitative advance,” but it also “shows that our policies aren’t working and we all need to go back to the drawing board, figure out what could be more effective.” Read More In Foreign Policy, Wit addressed Chinese pressure to rebuke the test, advising the Obama administration to “seize on the current crisis to press Beijing to impose serious penalties on North Korea.” Read More Vox cited Wit’s research on the history of the North Korean nuclear program, stating “the regime had done nuclear research as early as the 1950s.” Read More

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