Monday, December 21, 2020

The Persian Gulf Crisis and the Security Dilemma

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Anant Jani

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The Persian Gulf Crisis and the Security Dilemma

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Global Views 360

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December 21, 2020

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American Assault Ship in the Persian Gulf | Source: Cpl. David Gonzalez via Flickr

This article explains the recent tensions between Iran and the United States, and presents it as a case of the ‘Security Dilemma’ theory in practice.

The Persian Gulf Crisis 2019-20

To understand the current crisis in Persian Gulf, we must look at the Iran Nuclear Deal of 2015, also called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

The JCPOA was signed between The E3/EU+3 (France, Germany, the United Kingdom, the Russian Federation, and the United States, China, with the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy) and the Islamic Republic of Iran, to permit nuclear capabilities for Iran exclusively for peaceful purposes, in exchange for the lifting of crippling sanctions.

JCPOA terms:

International Atomic Energy Agency representative in Tehran, Iran for talks on JCPOA implementation | Source: Tasnim News Agency

Under this accord, Iran had to reduce its Uranium stockpile by 98% to 300kg, maintain its level of enrichment at 3.67%, reduce the number of centrifuges, and only keep one of its Uranium enrichment plants active. It also had to redesign its reactor at Arak, so it could not produce weapon’s grade Plutonium. Until 2031, Iran is not permitted to make heavy-water reactors.

Further, it was to permit itself to regular inspection of their nuclear site by the global nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

In return, Iran gained over $100bn of frozen assets overseas, and was permitted to allow trading in oil in international markets and use the global financial system for trade.

Trump Administration’s Revoking of the JCPOA

In 2018, the Trump administration reimposed some of the sanctions in Iran, despite Trump's election promise to reduce involvement in the Middle East. Countering the re-impositions, Iran threatens to resume Uranium enrichment. In May 2019, Iran suspends nuclear deal commitments, and gives other signatories a 60-day deadline to protect it from US sanctions, before resuming Uranium enrichment. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported that Iran had already increased Uranium production, but is unclear by how much.

President Trump signing executive orders, imposing sanctions on Iran | Source: Shealah Craighead via White House

In May 2019, the US increased military deployment in the Persian Gulf, reportedly to prevent what the termed was a “campaign” between Iran and its proxies to threaten US oil shipping in the Strait of Hormuz.

The Tanker Crisis

In June 2019, two tankers were set ablaze in the Gulf of Oman, using mines. The US blamed Iran for these blasts, but Iran denied the charges.

In the same month, Iran Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) shot down a US surveillance drone, escalating tensions and causing the US to name the IRGC as a terrorist organization.

In July 2019, the British Royal Marine Commandos seized an Iranian tanker off the coast of Gibraltar, as it was suspected to be en route to Syria, in violation of EU sanctions. The US declared that anyone assisting the ship would be considered an accomplice of terrorist groups, namely the Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard.

In retaliation, Iran seized British-flagged tanker in the Strait of Hormuz.

The Iranian tanker was released six weeks later, on the condition that they do not unload their cargo of 2.1million barrels of oil in Syria.

December Air Strikes

In December 2019, the K-1 Air Base in Iraq was attacked by an unconfirmed party, killing one American contractor. This base hosts Americans (amongst other nationalities) who are responsible for training Iraqi troops in counter-terrorism. The Americans alleged that the attack was carried out by Kataib Hezbollah, which denies it. Kataib Hezbollah is a rebel group (recognized as a terrorist group by the US) backed by Iran. The Iraqi’s alleged that ISIL was responsible.

In retaliation for the killing of the American Contractor, the US launched air strikes on the weapons depot and command centres of Kataib Hezbollah in Iraq and Syria in the same month, reportedly killing 25 militiamen.

Assassination of Iranian Major General

Late Iranian General, Qasem Suleimani | Source: Tasnim News Agency

Iraq and Iran condemned the attack, and on 31 December, 2019, Iraqi militia attacked the US Embassy in Baghdad. In response, the US conducted airstrikes at the Baghdad International Airport in January 2020, killing the Commander of Iranian Quds Force, General Qasem Suleimani, the second most powerful man in Iran.

These escalations, placed within the context of US invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, provide a good example of the Security Dilemma theory and how it plays out in practice.

What is the Security Dilemma?

Before delving into the theoretical definitions it is worth reminding ourselves that States do not behave as they do because a theoretical model demands them to. Rather, most theoretical models are based on observations of real-world behaviour of states, and seek to explain said behaviour. The Classical Realist theory, of which the Security Dilemma is a part, is amongst one of these, and I endeavour to highlight some of the key points of this theory.

The Classical Realist theory holds that States (or State-actors) are the basic unit of any international system. They are the most important actors, as there is no authority higher than them. The international system is fundamentally anarchic, with every actor left to their own devices with no supranational oversight. Each State finds it in their own self-interest to provide their own means for security. Security comes with the ability of the State to exercise its power, and thus Power Hegemony and Security are inextricably linked. In other words, since no State can rely on a supranational authority to provide security (an every-man-for-himself scenario), it is in each State’s best interest to understand the power distribution across all state-actors and maximize power for themselves, as the ultimate security. This results in a zero-sum game, with one actor’s loss being another’s gain. In providing absolute security for one’s own State, one leaves others insecure. The resulting power imbalance manifests in conflict, and for the Realist it follows, therefore, that Conflict is the natural state of affairs.

This, in essence, is the Security Dilemma: Striving for absolute security leaves others absolutely insecure, thus providing powerful incentives for an arms race, leading to further conflicts. It is little wonder that this is also called the Spiral Model, for in the very process of striving for security, one gives birth to escalating conflict.

How does this relate to the Persian Gulf Crisis?

The US has long followed the Realist model, believing that in a state of fundamental anarchy, it is justifiable to have nuclear capabilities and have intense militarization, as a means of gaining absolute security (justified by ‘offense is the best defence’). However, the US is also known for disallowing Weapons of Mass Destruction and nuclear capabilities in other countries, despite having such resources by itself. Here we see the Security Dilemma: to maintain absolute security, the US cannot allow others to be similarly armed. This is seen clearly in the signing of the JCPOA.

Consider the case from Iran’s point of view. As a result of the US war against Al Qaeda and Taliban in Afghanistan and overthrow of Saddam Hussain in Iraq, there has been constant American presence in both the countries bordering Iran since almost two decades. That this poses a threat to Iran is obvious: the US caused fundamental regime changes in Iraq after the war; with its manpower and firepower, alongside its strategic placement on both sides of the Iranian border, the US is at a vantage point to attack Iran – placements that are, paradoxically, intended to guarantee American security.

The American show of strength and the impending danger of conflict leave Iran with two choices: Forge alliances with US adversaries, such as China or Russia, to deter Iran-US conflict, or be nuclear-armed. Iran managed both, causing, in effect, a nuclear arms race that culminated in the JCPOA.  In retrospect, the JCPOA seems like the perfect solution to the Security Dilemma in US-Iran conflicts: not only does it allow Iran to benefit from its suspensions of nuclear capabilities, it also ceases the arms race and de-escalates the conflict. In short, it is the Diplomat’s way out of the Security Dilemma, guaranteeing security without arms.

The Trump administration’s call to reimpose sanctions on Iran only serves to re-ignite security concerns for both countries. With Iran having ousted its JCPOA commitments as of January 2020, we can only hope that de-escalations will soon follow to prevent the otherwise inevitable spiralling into arms race and false absolute security.

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January 18, 2021 2:21 PM

The Toxicity in Video Games and Cyberpunk 2077

Cyberpunk 2077, the most awaited video game was released on consoles and PC on 10th of December, 2020. The game went under 10 years of build-up and had kept gamers waiting for over 8 years. Cyberpunk 2077 is inspired by a cult-favourite tabletop roleplaying game. The video game was designed by well-known Polish studio, CD Projekt Red. Cyberpunk was the studio’s first big console game since The Witcher 3: Wild hunt which was an extraordinarily triumphant game that won numerous awards after its launch in 2015.

The popular video game, when released, faced backlash from the gaming community and non-gamers for several reasons. To many observers and gamers, Cyberpunk 2077 even proved to be an absolute failure. Several gamers called out the game developers for the promotion of sexiest ideologies and transphobia. However, the reviews weren’t well received by the fans. Cyberpunk 2077 fans responded with unacceptable abuses, harrasing and hateful messages and even rape and death threats.

Keanu Reeves in Cyberpunk 2077

Cyberpunk 2077 released ample previews, trailers, motion pictures and marketing material. Aside from this, the appearence of popular Canadian actor, Keanu Reeves as a character in the game carved the expectations of gamers and promised a sexy and kinky world of futuristic and revolutionary action. CD Projekt Red, one of Europe’s most successful video game company announced Cyberpunk 2077 project in 2012 and released the first trailer in 2013

The game is set in an alternate timeline in the city of California. The streets in the game are owned by tyrannical corporations. Everyone in the game modifies their body with illegal technology. Much of the state in the video game setting is said to be suffering from the impacts of a major nuclear attack which happened years ago. Every player gets to be a cyber-enhanced human who has to fight against physical and psychological threats to their survival. The game character of Keanu Reeves comes in as your sidekick.

In 2018, the developers insisted and had assured the gamers that Cyberpunk 2077 would not include in game purchases. CD Projekt Red did not want to lock any content behind a paywall. The studio was also insistent that the game would come out only when it was completely “ready”. They announced that the release would take place in April 2020 but it was delayed multiple times due to the COVID-19 pandemic as well as other quality problems that the game was facing. When it was finally released in December 2020, gamers expected their experience of the game to be “worth the wait”. However, the video game wasn’t well revived by all. In spite of several months of work that went into making and developing the game, the game was launched with several technical issues. Players on both PC and consoles were having terrible experiences. As a result of multiple glitches and technical problems, the characters’ faces were obscured and the game would reset randomly. Some of the environments or areas of the game map was unappealing. The game even caused consoles to crash repeatedly and sometimes sacrificed players’ progress. One glitch led to characters’ breasts and penises being exposed. The characters’ genitals would poke out of their clothes. CD Projeckt Red offered refunds to players who were disappointed with the product. In fact, they updated a self-review discouraging gamers from playing the game on console until the game was fixed and improved.

Cyberpunk 2077 was roundly criticized by reviewers, game designers, industry insiders and other gamers across the gaming community. The wait and hype for the game had already created a fanbase which turned toxic by harassing reviewers who criticised the game.

There is another reason why the game wasn’t well received. Cyberpunk 2077 transphobia was apparent in the game contradicting the fact that the developers had claimed that the game was ahead of its time. The game has an incredibly detailed character creation menu. The players can control several aspects of their character’s appearance including the shapes and size of the genitals. The game even allows players to decline the option of including genitals to their characters. However, this isn’t the problem and is in fact appreciable. The idea of not determining gender by the character’s genitals in fact made many trans players happy. But this soon turned into disbelief and disappointment. The gamers realised that the game actually assigned the gender to the characters not based on their genitals but rather by the voice. Characters with higher-pitched voices were identified as females and characters with deep-voiced characters were assigned male pronouns. This purports the toxic idea that people’s gender can be determined by certain traits. A non-sexist video game would determine the gender of a player’s character based on an independent choice made by players themselves. This is uninfluenced by other physical traits or qualities.

Several reviewers called out Cyberpunk 2077 for promoting sexist ideologies. Unfortunately, toxic fans harassed the reviewers. “You just KNOW when you're going to get harassed. If the game with all the hype has anything wrong with it, and you're honest about that, or even just want to provide any context outside of ‘it's fun’, you're going to get harassed. It's a given.” These were precisely what Susan Arendt, a podcast host quoted. She even second guessed herself whether sharing her true opinions was worth the hateful, threatening and harassing messages that she received.

Controversial Tweet by Cyberpunk 2077 Twitter Handle

In the early days of arcade, gaming was a family activity. The popular male dominance and stereotype that only boys or men are good at video games were perpetuated in the past three decades. We observe this change due to sexualisation of video games. Today, most video games aren’t family friendly as they include explicit and sexual content. This, in fact, is a marketing tactic used by developers to target the male population. In 2018, a Cyberpunk 2077 fan who was awaiting the game at that point of time tweeted that the user wanted to see more from the “guys” at CDPR. In response to this tweet, CD Projekt Red tweeted, “Did you just assume their gender?!”. On the look of it, the tweet seems innocent but it is a joke at the expense of the trans community. After receiving backlash to the tweet, CDPR took it down and issued an apology staying sorry to “all those offended”. The apology seems like another targeted mockery and CDPR did no right by not taking responsibility for its actions.

Not only is Cyberpunk2077 transphobic and sexist, it is non user friendly as well. The game has several epilepsy triggers without any warnings about it. There are several instances and situations in the game where the effects and the graphics are brighter, louder and flashing. This is a general trigger for seizures. Liana Rupert, a player of Cyberpunk 2077 suffered a major seizure and at several moments felt that she was close to another one. After bringing this to the notice of CD Projekt Red, the company agreed to add trigger warnings wherever necessary.  

The gaming industry has definitely taken a few steps forward in terms of inclusivity of all genders but has also taken a few steps backward. While all genders are welcome, they still face harassment and judgement for simply existing in the community and need a lot more improvement.

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