Ilan Berman
Ilan Berman
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Pundicity: Informed Opinion and Review

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Iranian Devolution: Tehran Fights the Digital Future

Fall 2015  •  World Affairs Journal

As we contemplate the complex diplomacy that created the recent agreement between the international community and Iran regarding the Islamic Republic's nuclear future, it is worth remembering Thomas Friedman's momentarily famous remark of a few years ago that, whatever else it may be, Iran is also a country ripe for catalytic political change. In passing this judgment, the New York Times columnist took special note of Iran's youthful and vibrant population, the deep knowledge base of Iranian society as a whole, and its interconnectedness with the outside world. However counterintuitive it seemed, given the deep authoritarianism of the Iranian political system then and now, Friedman's observation had legs - particularly the part about interconnectedness. While hungrier than ever for hegemonic power in its neighborhood, Iran is also a country of first-world expectations, widespread educational and technological advancements, and a citizenry increasingly chafing under the clerical status quo. The median age of its population of nearly 82 million is just 28.3 years, which means that for the majority of the country, the 1979 revolution is part of history rather than personal experience. More to the point, that population is extremely sophisticated; according to statistics compiled by UNICEF, overall adult literacy in Iran stands at 85 percent, higher than in neighboring Iraq (78.5 percent) and nearby Egypt (73.9 percent), and far greater than in countries like Yemen (65.3 percent). As of 2010, nearly 13 percent of the country's adult population held at least a basic university degree - more than any other country in the Middle East, save Israel. And that population is also increasingly online.

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A Role For China To Rein In Iran

November 18, 2015  •  Wall Street Journal Asia

Beijing is bullish on Iran. In meetings there earlier this month, we heard senior government and party officials express uniform support and optimism in their assessment of the nuclear agreement struck this summer between the Islamic Republic and the P5+1 powers, terming it "good for Iran and good for the world." The first part is certainly true. Iran has emerged as the undisputed winner of the long-running negotiations with the West over its nuclear ambitions. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, as the agreement is formally known, doesn't dismantle Iran's nuclear infrastructure as the White House originally promised. Instead, it provides Tehran with a slow but steady path to the bomb over the coming decade, even as it supplies Iran's ayatollahs with an unprecedented economic windfall. The second part is far less clear. The enormous economic relief inherent in the JCPOA (some $100 billion or more in the coming year) will likely fund the Iranian regime's destabilizing behavior on a number of fronts, from support of international terrorism to long-delayed military modernization. These trends will challenge the U.S. and its allies in new and serious ways. China's leaders, however, see things quite differently. For them, Iran today is more an economic opportunity than a strategic threat.

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Needed: A Strategy For Containing Iran

October 27, 2015  •  National Review Online

There is good reason to believe that it will do so in the near term, because the scope of the sanctions relief contained within the JCPOA is enormous - equivalent to a quarter of Iran's total economy. As such, complying with the terms of the deal makes good economic sense for Iran's ayatollahs, at least for the moment. That, however, does not signal an end to America's Iran problem. To the contrary, the entry into force of the JCPOA ushers in a new - and even more challenging - phase of American policy in the Middle East. Already, the nuclear agreement has begun to empower a range of destructive Iranian behavior. In recent weeks, the Islamic Republic has initiated major new procurement talks with arms suppliers such as Russia and China, conducted a high-profile ballistic-missile test in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions, and significantly expanded its military footprint in Syria. This adventurism, moreover, is poised to become more pronounced in the weeks and months ahead, as the economic benefits of the nuclear deal begin to kick in in earnest. Given the foregoing, U.S. policymakers need to begin thinking about the vulnerabilities that are likely to result from the agreement with Iran, as well as steps they can take in order to mitigate them.

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Ukraine's Memory Palace
How Kiev Is Fighting Russia's Misinformation Campaign

October 14, 2015  •  Foreign Affairs

On a leafy street in the Ukrainian capital, just steps from the ornate building that houses the country's parliament, sits what is perhaps the nation's most powerful weapon in its protracted battle of ideas with Russia. There, tucked away in a once beautiful tsarist-era building, are the offices of the Ukrainian National Memory Institute. It is a tiny government agency with a massive mandate: to counter decades of Russian intellectual disinformation. Officially, the institute's mission is to help Ukraine overcome the legacy of totalitarianism endemic to former communist regimes. The goal is an essential one, since the Soviet Union rewrote the national history of its constituent parts during the decades of the Cold War. In doing so, it suppressed the national identities and subverted the rich cultures of the countries it dominated. Reclaiming the national narrative has therefore been a key priority in many post-Soviet states; in Poland, Romania, and elsewhere, a growing coalition of like-minded groups has taken up the mission of remembrance. But Ukraine's National Memory Institute is unique, because it is carrying out its work in a country that now finds itself once again at war with Russia.

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Putin Isn't Winning In Syria

October 13, 2015  •  The Moscow Times

Don't believe the hype surrounding Russia's involvement in Syria. Ever since President Vladimir Putin launched a major escalation of the 4 1/2-year-old conflict there last month, Western media has been awash with commentary about the Kremlin's strategy, with most interpreting it as a function of Moscow's strength — and Washington's weakness. It's an image that the Kremlin is eager to stoke, for obvious political reasons. Yet Russia's intervention in Syria also carries serious downsides for the Kremlin — negatives that are likely to come back to haunt Russia's leaders in the not-too-distant future.

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Books by Ilan Berman

Cover of Iran's Deadly Ambition Cover of Implosion Cover of Winning the Long War Cover of Tehran Rising


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