Parisa Hafezi Jun 19, 2021 • 12 hours ago • 4 minute read • Join the conversation
DUBAI — Ebrahim Raisi’s record of fierce loyalty to Iran’s ruling clerics helped explain why the senior judge had been expected to win Friday’s presidential election, a contest the authorities limited almost exclusively to hardline candidates like him.
The win for Raisi, 60, an implacable critic of the West whose political patron is Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, burnishes his chances of one day succeeding Khamenei at the pinnacle of power, analysts say.
Later that year, Raisi headed the legal system as authorities used the courts to suppress the bloodiest political unrest since the 1979 Islamic revolution. Iran says its legal system is independent and not influenced by political interests.
A mid-ranking figure in the hierarchy of Iran’s Shi’ite Muslim clergy, Raisi has been a senior judiciary official for most of his career. He served as deputy head of the judiciary for 10 years, before being appointed prosecutor-general in 2014.
Gaining a reputation as a feared security hawk, he was one of four judges who oversaw executions of thousands of political prisoners in 1988, rights groups say. Amnesty International has put the number executed at around 5,000, saying in a 2018 report that “the real number could be higher.”
SUPPORT FOR IRAN TALKS
The CHRI said that those executed were “buried in unmarked mass and individual graves, based on the committee’s determination of their ‘loyalty’ to the newly established Islamic Republic. These prisoners had already been tried and were serving their issued prison sentences.”
Iran has never acknowledged the mass executions. However, some clerics have said the trials of the prisoners were fair, and those judges involved should be rewarded for eliminating the armed opposition in the revolution’s early years. Raisi himself has never publicly addressed allegations about his role.
In 2020, U.N. human rights experts called for accountability over the 1988 deaths, warning “the situation may amount to crimes against humanity” if the Iranian government continued to refuse to hold responsible those involved.
The United States imposed sanctions on Raisi in 2019 for human rights violations, including the 1980s executions and his part in the suppression of unrest in 2009.
Raisi, who lost to pragmatist President Hassan Rouhani in 2017, offered no detailed political or economic program during his election campaign, while wooing lower-income Iranians by promising to ease unemployment.
However, by promising not to “waste a single moment” in removing U.S. sanctions, Raisi signaled his support for talks with world powers aimed at reviving a 2015 nuclear deal.
A Raisi presidency will strengthen Khamenei’s hand at home, and rights activists fear it could usher in more repression.
“He would not have registered as a candidate if his chances were not all but certain, and Raisi’s decision to register would have almost certainly been guided by Khamenei himself,” said Kasra Aarabi, a senior analyst on Iran & Shia Islamist Extremism at the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change.
NEXT SUPREME LEADER?
With the rejection of prominent moderate and conservative candidates by a hardline vetting body, voters had a choice only between hardliners and low-key moderates in the election. Turnout was, as expected, a record low amid rising anger over economic hardship and curbs on personal freedoms.
“By taking its exclusionary strategies to a new height, the Guardian Council has left no space for surprise,” said Ali Vaez, senior adviser at the International Crisis Group.
An election win would increase Raisi’s chances of succeeding Khamenei, who himself served two terms as president before becoming supreme leader upon founder of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s 1989 death, analysts said before Friday’s vote.
“Raisi is someone that Khamenei trusts … Raisi can protect the supreme leader’s legacy,” said Sanam Vakil, deputy director of Chatham House’s Middle East and North Africa Program.
Born in 1960 to a religious family in Iran’s holy Shi’ite Muslim city of Mashhad, Raisi was active in the 1979 revolution that toppled the U.S.-backed Shah and continues to proclaim his fidelity to the “fundamental values” of Khamenei.
“The deep state is willing to go as far as undermining one of its pillars of legitimacy to ensure that Ayatollah Khamenei’s vision for the revolution’s future survives him when Raisi takes over the Supreme Leader’s mantle,” said Vaez.
Vaez was referring to the republican pillar of Iran’s dual system of clerical and republican rule. Critics say the hardline election body’s rejection of leading moderate and conservative hopefuls to enter the election race has cleared the way for tyranny, a charge Iranian authorities deny.
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi Editing by William Maclean and Frances Kerry)
There were no reported casualties in either Israel or Gaza, but the exchange raised the spectre of a return to full-scale conflict for the first time since an 11-day air war ended nearly a month ago.
The Israeli army said it had targeted military compounds and a rocket launching site near Gaza City and Khan Younis, two of the biggest cities in the strip, shortly before midnight Thursday. A Hamas-linked media outlet in Gaza reported hits on sites near Gaza City and Khan Younis, as well as in Jabalia, a town in the north of the strip.
About an hour later, early on Friday, sirens sounded in areas of southern Israel close to Gaza, a warning that the Israeli military said was prompted by gunfire from militants in Gaza, not rockets, which might have led to an even more forceful Israeli response.
The Israeli air strikes followed attempts by militants in Gaza to set fires in Israeli farmland surrounding the strip. Militants sent balloons attached to incendiary devices over the perimeter fence. Eight fires were reported Thursday, in addition to scores earlier in the week.
Analysts and diplomats are sceptical that either Hamas or Israel wants a repeat of the war in May. Israel’s new government is barely a few days into its term, while Hamas is still counting the cost of the damage caused last month. The chief of staff of the Israeli army, Aviv Kochavi, is still planning to visit counterparts in the United States this weekend.
But while the exchanges on Thursday and into Friday stopped short of a full-scale escalation, they underscored the fragile nature of the ceasefire that followed the air war in May.
The new Israeli government does not want to appear weak and is trying to differentiate itself from Binyamin Netanyahu’s administration, which it replaced on Sunday. Mr Netanyahu tended to ignore the balloons, whereas his successors want to show that the balloons will be met by a military response.– New York Times
During a crucial IAEA board meeting in Vienna, the U.S. accused Iran of violating the very nuclear deal that U.S. negotiators are trying to reinstate.
“Since this Board last met, Iran has also exceeded JCPOA constraints by enriching uranium to 60 percent U-235,” the U.S. delegation said in a statement.
The head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog, Rafael Grossi, issued a similar warning. “My expectations about this process, of course, were not met,” the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) director said. “We have a country that has a very developed and ambitious nuclear program, which is enriching at very high levels, enriching uranium at very high levels, very close to weapons-grade.”
The head of the IAEA said it is no longer possible to say for certain that Iran is not pursuing nuclear weapons, chastising Tehran for failing to answer questions about the discovery of uranium particles at former undeclared nuclear sites.
“The Iranian government has reiterated its will to engage and to cooperate and to provide answers,” Grossi said. “But they haven’t done that so far. So I hope this may change, but as we speak, we haven’t had any concrete progress on any of the issues.”
Satellite images shows the site as of Jan. 18, 2021 (Courtesy of Intel Lab)
The IAEA agreed to extend a monitoring arrangement for a month until after Iran’s presidential election, as U.S. and Iranian negotiators prepare to sit down and try to hammer out a new nuclear deal.
New activity at known Iranian nuclear sites worries those seeking a new nuclear deal. A sixth round of indirect talks about a return to the JCPOA is slated for Thursday.
“We don’t know, at this stage, whether Iran is willing and able to do what it would need to do to come back into compliance,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken told U.S. lawmakers. “I would anticipate that even in the event of a return to compliance with the JCPOA, hundreds of sanctions will remain in place, including sanctions imposed by the Trump administration. If they are not inconsistent with the JCPOA, they will remain unless and until Iran’s behavior changes.”
Fox News has obtained new satellite images that show unusual activity at Iran’s Sanjarian site, which has been exposed in the past as a suspected manufacturing site for “shock wave generators” – devices which would allow Iran to miniaturize a nuclear weapon.
The site, which is 25 miles outside Tehran and has a population of 361, was first revealed when Israel’s Mossad obtained Iran’s secret nuclear archive in 2018: 50,000 computer files and 50,000 documents outlining Iran’s Amad project, the scientific program to build a nuclear weapon which the IAEA says was halted in 2003.
Israel says Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapons continues. Now the IAEA — frustrated by Iran’s lack of transparency — says it can’t rule that out.
According to James Dorsey, the notion of Pakistan re-emerging as a breeding ground for militants is likely to gain traction in Beijing as well as Washington as Pakistan implements educational reform that would Islamicize syllabi across the board from primary schools to universities.
Pakistan new world order Pakistan’s place in the new world order is anybody’s guess. Recent policy moves suggest options that run the gamut from a state that emphasizes religion above all else to a country that forges a more balanced relationship with China and the United States.
The options need not be mutually exclusive but a populous, nuclear-armed country whose education system is partially anchored in rote learning and memorization of the Qur’an rather than science is likely to raise eyebrows in Washington and Beijing.
Pakistan has long viewed its ties to China as an unassailable friendship and strategic partnership with China but has recently been exploring ways of charting a more independent course.
Relations between Islamabad and Beijing were bolstered by an up to US$60 billion Chinese investment in the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a cornerstone of the People’s Republic’s infrastructure, transportation, and energy-driven Belt and Road Initiative.
Deeply indebted to China as a result of the Belt and Road that has significantly contributed to electricity supply and transportation infrastructure, Pakistan will have to tread cautiously as it explores the margins of its maneuverability.
The troublesome Gwadar port
Nevertheless, suggesting that CPEC may not live up to its promise to significantly boost the country’s position as a key Belt and Road maritime and land transportation hub, Pakistan recently agreed with Saudi Arabia to shy away from building a US$10 billion refinery and petrochemical complex in the port of Gwadar, long viewed as a Belt and Road crown jewel. The two countries are looking at the port city of Karachi as an alternative.
Gwadar port has been troubled for years. Completion of the port has been repeatedly delayed amid mounting resentment among the ethnic Baloch population of the Pakistan province of Balochistan, one of the country’s least developed regions. Work on a fence around the port halted late last year when local residents protested.
Building the refinery in Karachi would dent Chinese hopes of Gwadar emerging as a competitive hub at the top of the Arabian Sea. Doubts about Gwadar’s future are one reason why landlocked Tajikistan, as well as Afghanistan, are looking at Iranian ports as alternatives.
Saudi Arabia and Pakistan initially agreed on building the refinery in Gwadar in 2019 during a visit by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. A Saudi-funded feasibility study has since suggested that Gwadar lacks the pipeline and transportation infrastructure to justify a refinery. The refinery would be cut off from Karachi, Pakistan’s oil supply hub.
Pakistan borders on China’s troubled province of Xinjiang, home to Turkic Muslims who face a brutal Chinese attempt to squash their religious and ethnic identity.
China fears that Pakistan, one of the few countries to have witnessed protests against the crackdown in the early days of the repression, could be used by Turkic Muslim militants, including fighters that escaped Syria, as a launching pad for attacks on Chinese targets in the South Asian country or in Xinjiang itself.
Islamization of Pakistani education rooted in conservative religious concepts contrasts starkly with moves by countries like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to de-emphasize religious education and ensure that it is more pluralistic. The two Gulf states have positioned themselves as proponents of moderate forms of Islam that highlight religious tolerance while supporting the autocratic rule.
“Pakistan is an ideological Islamic state and we need religious education. I feel that even now our syllabus is not completely Islamized, and we need to do more Islamization of the syllabus, teaching more religious content for the moral and ideological training of our citizens,” asserted Muhammad Bashir Khan, a member of parliament for Prime Minister Imran Khan’s ruling party.
By implication, Mr. Khan, the parliamentarian, was suggesting that Pakistan was angling for a conservative leadership role in the Muslim world as various forces, including Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Turkey, Iran, and Indonesia compete for religious soft power in what amounts to a battle for the soul of Islam.
The educational reform boosts Prime Minister Khan’s effort to be the spokesman for Muslim causes. The prime minister has accused French President Emmanuel Macron of peddling Islamophobia and demanded that Facebook ban expressions of anti-Muslim sentiment.
Critics warn that the curriculum will produce anything but a society that is tolerant and pluralistic.
Said education expert Rubina Saigol: “When the state aligns itself with one sect or a singular interpretation of religion, it opens the doors to sectarian conflict, which can turn violent… There is lip service to the ideas of diversity, inclusion and mutuality but, in reality, an SNC that is gender-biased, sectarian and class-based, will sharpen social differences, undermine minority religions and sects, and violate the principles of federalism.” Ms. Saigol was referring to Prime Minister Khan’s Single National Curriculum project by its initials.
Former Senator Farhatullah Babar warned that “The SNC…opens the door for… (religious) seminary teachers to enter mainstream educational institutions… It is well known that a majority of the education of seminary students is grounded in sectarianism. Imagine the consequences of…seminary teachers trained and educated in sectarian education entering the present educational institutions.”
Dr. James M. Dorsey is an award-winning journalist and a senior fellow at Nanyang Technological University’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore and the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute as well as an Honorary Senior Non-Resident Fellow at Eye on ISIS. The article was first published in and has been republished with the author’s permission. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.
Here’s What You Need to Remember: Several studies have modeled the global impact of a “limited” ten-day nuclear war in which India and Pakistan each exchange fifty 15-kiloton nuclear bombs equivalent in yield to the Little Boy uranium bomb dropped on Hiroshima.
Between February 26 and 27 in 2019, Indian and Pakistani warplanes launched strikes on each other’s territory and engaged in aerial combat for the first time since 1971. Pakistan ominously hinted it was convening its National Command Authority, the institution which can authorize a nuclear strike.
However, those weapons are inferior in number and yield to the thousands of nuclear weapons possessed by Russia and the United States, which include megaton-class weapons that can wipe out a metropolis in a single blast.
Some commenters have callously suggested that means a “limited regional nuclear war” would remain an Indian and Pakistani problem. People find it difficult to assess the risk of rare but catastrophic events; after all, a full-scale nuclear war has never occurred before, though it has come close to happening.
Such assessments are not only shockingly callous but shortsighted. In fact, several studies have modeled the global impact of a “limited” ten-day nuclear war in which India and Pakistan each exchange fifty 15-kiloton nuclear bombs equivalent in yield to the Little Boy uranium bomb dropped on Hiroshima.
And those results are merely a conservative baseline, as India and Pakistan are estimated to possess over 260 warheads. Some likely have yields exceeding 15-kilotons, which is relatively small compared to modern strategic warheads.
Recurring terrorist attacks by Pakistan-sponsored militant groups over the status of India’s Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir state have repeatedly led to threats of a conventional military retaliation by New Delhi.
Pakistan, in turn, maintains it may use nuclear weapons as a first-strike weapon to counter-balance India’s superior conventional forces. Triggers could involve the destruction of a large part of Pakistan’s military or penetration by Indian forces deep into Pakistani territory. Islamabad also claims it might authorize a strike in event of a damaging Indian blockade or political destabilization instigated by India.
India’s official policy is that it will never be first to strike with nuclear weapons—but that once any nukes are used against it, New Dehli will unleash an all-out retaliation.
The Little Boy bomb alone killed around 100,000 Japanese—between 30 to 40 percent of Hiroshima’s population—and destroyed 69 percent of the buildings in the city. But Pakistan and India host some of the most populous and densely populated cities on the planet, with population densities of Calcutta, Karachi and Mumbai at or exceeding 65,000 people per square mile. Thus, even low-yield bombs could cause tremendous casualties.
A 2014 study estimates that the immediate effects of the bombs—the fireball, over-pressure wave, radiation burns etc.—would kill twenty million people. An earlier study estimated a hundred 15-kiloton nuclear detonations could kill twenty-six million in India and eighteen million in Pakistan—and concluded that escalating to using 100-kiloton warheads, which have greater blast radius and overpressure waves that can shatter hardened structures, would multiply death tolls four-fold.
Moreover, these projected body counts omit the secondary effects of nuclear blasts. Many survivors of the initial explosion would suffer slow, lingering deaths due to radiation exposure. The collapse of healthcare, transport, sanitation, water and economic infrastructure would also claim many more lives. A nuclear blast could also trigger a deadly firestorm. For instance, a firestorm caused by the U.S. napalm bombing of Tokyo in March 1945 killed more people than the Fat Man bomb killed in Nagasaki.
The civil war in Syria caused over 5.6 million refugees to flee abroad out of a population of 22 million prior to the conflict. Despite relative stability and prosperity of the European nations to which refugees fled, this outflow triggered political backlashes that have rocked virtually every major Western government.
Now consider likely population movements in event of a nuclear war between India-Pakistan, which together total over 1.5 billion people. Nuclear bombings—or their even their mere potential—would likely cause many city-dwellers to flee to the countryside to lower their odds of being caught in a nuclear strike. Wealthier citizens, numbering in tens of millions, would use their resources to flee abroad.
Should bombs beginning dropping, poorer citizens many begin pouring over land borders such as those with Afghanistan and Iran for Pakistan, and Nepal and Bangladesh for India. These poor states would struggle to supports tens of millions of refugees. China also borders India and Pakistan—but historically Beijing has not welcomed refugees.
Some citizens may undertake risky voyages at sea on overloaded boats, setting their sights on South East Asia and the Arabian Peninsula. Thousands would surely drown. Many regional governments would turn them back, as they have refugees of conflicts in Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar in the past.
Radioactive fallout would also be disseminated across the globe. The fallout from the Chernobyl explosion, for example, wounds its way westward from Ukraine into Western Europe, exposing 650,000 persons and contaminating 77,000 square miles. The long-term health effects of the exposure could last decades. India and Pakistan’s neighbors would be especially exposed, and most lack healthcare and infrastructure to deal with such a crisis.
Studies in 2008 and 2014 found that of one hundred bombs that were fifteen-kilotons were used, it would blast five million tons of fine, sooty particles into the stratosphere, where they would spread across the globe, warping global weather patterns for the next twenty-five years.
The particles would block out light from the sun, causing surface temperatures to decrease an average of 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit across the globe, or 4.5 degrees in North American and Europe. Growing seasons would be shortened by ten to forty days, and certain crops such as Canadian wheat would simply become unviable. Global agricultural yields would fall, leading to rising prices and famine.
The particles may also deplete between 30 to 50 percent of the ozone layer, allowing more of the sun’s radiation to penetrate the atmosphere, causing increased sunburns and rates of cancer and killing off sensitive plant-life and marine plankton, with the spillover effect of decimating fishing yields.
To be clear, these are outcomes for a “light” nuclear winter scenario, not a full slugging match between the Russian and U.S. arsenals.
Any one of the factors above would likely suffice to cause a global economic recession. All of them combined would guarantee one.
India and Pakistan account for over one-fifth world’s population, and therefore a significant share of economic activity. Should their major cities become irradiated ruins with their populations decimated, a tremendous disruption would surely result. A massive decrease in consumption and production would obviously instigate a long-lasting recessionary cycle, with attendant deprivations and political destabilization slamming developed and less-developed countries alike.
Taken together, these outcomes mean even a “limited” India-Pakistan nuclear war would significantly affect every person on the globe, be they a school teacher in Nebraska, a factory-worker in Shaanxi province or a fisherman in Mombasa.
Unfortunately, the recent escalation between India and Pakistan is no fluke, but part of a long-simmering pattern likely to continue escalating unless New Delhi and Islamabad work together to change the nature of their relationship.
Sébastien Roblin holds a master’s degree in conflict resolution from Georgetown University and served as a university instructor for the Peace Corps in China. He has also worked in education, editing, and refugee resettlement in France and the United States. He currently writes on security and military history for War Is Boring.
After Donald Trump’s clown shows, it was nice to have a U.S. president who at least takes world issues seriously while representing the country at the various summits over the last week. But that is a low bar. While we want adults in positions of responsibility, we have to ask where those adults want to take us. It is not clear that we should all eagerly follow the path that President Biden seems to be outlining with regard to China.
Unfortunately, people in the United States (including reporter-type people) tend to have little knowledge of history. Many have no first-hand knowledge of the Cold War with the Soviet Union and have not done much reading to make up for this deficiency. In fact, they also don’t seem to have much knowledge of the Iraq War, which is probably the better place to start here.
When President George W. Bush fixed his eyes on overthrowing Saddam Hussein in the summer of 2002, he decided the rationale was going to be that Hussein possessed or was developing nuclear weapons. This complaint came in spite of the fact that UN weapons inspectors had been in place in the country ever since its defeat in the first Iraq war in 1991.
The weapons inspectors insisted that they saw no evidence that Iraq was developing nuclear weapons. The inspectors’ assessment was dismissed by the Bush administration and to a large extent by major news outlets. They claimed that the restrictions that Iraq imposed on inspections, usually ones of timing, made it impossible for the inspectors to get an accurate assessment of the country’s nuclear capabilities.
The Bush administration then went about whipping up its own “intelligence,” supporting the administration’s claim that Iraq was far along in developing a nuclear bomb. Much of its case was complete fabrication, while other parts were very selective presentations of evidence. But they did manage to sell most of the media and the public on the threat of Iraq’s nuclear weapons.
However, the Bush administration also had a fallback to assuage many liberal types who had qualms about overthrowing a foreign government. The fallback was that Saddam Hussein was a really bad guy.
They had a very good case on this one. Hussein routinely imprisoned or executed political opponents or critics. He had invaded two of his neighbors (Iran in 1980 and Kuwait in 1990) and he persecuted domestic minorities within Iraq, most notably the Kurds and Shite population.
No one could seriously want to defend Hussein’s practices as the ruler of Iraq, but that didn’t mean that overthrowing him was a good policy. It may still be too early to pass a final judgement, and we can never know a counterfactual. At this point, it would be difficult to claim that things have changed for the better for the people of Iraq and the region as a result of the U.S. invasion.
Anyhow, the Hussein as bad guy story is important for our current policy toward China. We can point to the country’s repressive measures against internal dissidents. We can also point to the repression directed towards its Uighur population in Western China, as well as, its belligerence towards its neighbors in making claims on territorial waters. These and other actions can be used to show that China is far from a model democracy that respects the rights of its own citizens, as well as, international law.
But this issue is really beside the point. The question from the standpoint of U.S. policy is how any of our actions can be expected to improve the situation. Specifically, if we adopt a confrontational stance towards China, involving economic measures and a beefed-up military presence in the region, is there reason to believe that the country will improve its behavior in the areas that we care about?
My guess is that the answer is no. Perhaps those with more expertise on China can make a strong case that China’s government would change its behavior in response to a more confrontational approach by the United States, but that really shouldn’t be the issue. It doesn’t make sense to have confrontation as a feel-good approach.
Unfortunately, that seems to be the current path. It is also worth noting in this respect that China was hardly a model of human rights and democracy when the Clinton administration pushed to have it admitted to the WTO at the end of the 1990s. At the time, anyone who raised human rights and labor issues as a reason not to further open trade with China was denounced as a Neanderthal protectionist. We were told that somehow, by buying clothes shoes and other items produced with low cost Chinese labor, we would turn the country into a liberal democracy. Guess that claim is no longer operative.
In the days of the first Cold War the U.S. government pursued many policies, both foreign and domestic, that would be hard to justify without the threat of the Soviet Union. On the domestic side, we had a range of policies by both the government and private companies, to crack down on alleged communists and Soviet sympathizers.
These included loyalty oaths where people had to swear that they were not members of the Communist Party to get government jobs. This often kept not only people who were actual party members from getting jobs, but also people who sympathized with many of the party’s stated goals, like promoting civil rights and avoiding nuclear war.
The 1947 Taft-Hartley Act required unions to force all officers to sign affidavits saying that they were not communists in order to be eligible for recognition through a National Labor Relations Board certified election. Many of the most committed labor organizers were in fact members of the Communist Party, so they were thrown out of labor movement if they refused to sign this pledge. In other cases, committed organizers refused to go along with this demand even if they were not themselves actually party members. On the private side, we had the Hollywood blacklist, where a large number of screenwriters and actors were prevented from working for much of their career.
Internationally, the United States had numerous interventions around the world that had little or nothing to do with combatting the Soviet Union. Just to take two prominent ones: we overthrew the democratically elected government in Iran in 1953 and installed a brutal dictatorship. The issue was not communism or the Soviet Union. The issue was that our oil companies wanted access to Iranian oil.
In another case, the U.S. overthrew an elected government in Guatemala in 1954. Again, this had nothing really to do with the Soviet Union, the United Fruit Company was unhappy about its banana plantations being taken in a land reform program.
The list of interventions could be extended at great length, but the point is that the U.S. government used the Soviet threat to justify policies designed to serve powerful corporate interests that would be very difficult to rationalize without this threat. In addition, we spent enormous sums on the military, which meant large profits for military contractors.
A New Cold War against China could be used in the same way. Needless to say, we can justify pretty much endless military spending based on the need to meet the China threat. Many people don’t seem to realize the absurdity of trying to spend China into the ground, as some would claim we did with the Soviet Union. While the Soviet Union’s economy peaked at around half of the size of the U.S. economy, China’s economy is already almost 20 percent larger than the U.S. economy, and will be around 80 percent larger by the end of the decade.
If the goal of arms race is to spend China into the ground, it is more likely we would spend ourselves into the ground. The burden of a major arms buildup would be much greater on the U.S. than China, although just like in the first Cold War, it would make lots of military contractors rich.
There are other aspects to the prospect of Cold War-type competition that are equally pernicious. Last week the Senate passed a bill that would provide $250 billion over the next decade in research spending, ostensibly to help us compete with China. (The $25 billion in annual spending comes to 0.4 percent of the total budget, which you can find out quickly with CEPR’s “It’s the Budget, Stupid” budget calculator.)
The idea of boosting public spending on R&D is a good one, but we need to ask some serious questions about who gets the benefits. Operation Warp Speed gave us a great model for the benefits of public spending, while at the same time showing us the potential for skewing of the gains.
Moderna probably shows the issue most clearly. The federal government fully funded the development and testing of its vaccine. Yet, it gave the company a patent monopoly, which allows it to restrict the distribution of the vaccine and charge prices far above the free market price. As result, Moderna’s stockholders and its top executives have made billions of dollars, effectively profiting off of the government’s investment.
We could structure public contracts differently. For example, we could require that all innovations derived from government research be placed in the public domain so that anyone could manufacture them who possessed the necessary expertise. In some cases, this could involve going deeper downstream in the development process than is intended in the bill approved by the Senate, but there is no reason that the funding could not be used to cover the full costs of developing a product, as was the case with Moderna.
Unfortunately, this bill looks like the funding will follow the model of Moderna. The government puts up the money and takes the risk, while private corporations will be able to gain patent and copyright monopolies, which will allow them to garner a disproportionate share of the gains. In a context where we are supposed to be concerned about the distribution of income, this looks like a huge step in the wrong direction.
Some people have supported this sort of investment with the idea that it will bring manufacturing jobs back to the United States and therefore reduce inequality. Unfortunately, this is a view that has not kept pace with the data. Historically, manufacturing has been a source of good paying jobs for workers without college degrees. However, the wage premium in manufacturing has largely disappeared over the last three decades.
To take a very simple measure, the average hourly wage for production non-supervisory workers in manufacturing was 5.7 percent above the average for the private sector as a whole in 1990. In the most recent data (May, 2021), the wage for production workers in manufacturing was 8.1 percent lower than in the private sector as a whole. This comparison is incomplete, since it doesn’t capture the value of benefits, which tend to be higher in manufacturing, nor does it control for education, experience, and other factors, but it is clear that the premium is substantially smaller than it had been in prior decades.
The reason for the deterioration in the quality of manufacturing jobs is not a secret. The unionization rate in manufacturing has plummeted, largely due to trade, as well as aggressive anti-union measures by employers. In 1990, more than 20 percent of workers in manufacturing were unionized. In 2020, just 8.5 percent of workers in manufacturing were unionized. That is only slightly higher than the 6.3 percent average for the private sector as a whole.
Furthermore, more manufacturing jobs has not meant more union jobs. Until the pandemic hit in March, we had added back more than 1.6 million manufacturing jobs from the Great Recession trough in 2010. Nonetheless, the number of union members in manufacturing had fallen by almost 900,000. As we added back jobs in the sector, they were overwhelmingly lower paying non-union jobs.
The Biden administration hopes to change this story by pressing government contractors to be neutral on workers’ decision to unionize. Hopefully this effort will prove successful, but it would have the same benefit for workers if employers in other areas, like health care, transportation, and warehousing could be pressured to be neutral in organizing drives.
The historic link between manufacturing jobs and unions has largely disappeared, and there is not an obvious reason to put any special effort into bringing it back. We want jobs to be union jobs, in every sector of the economy. When manufacturing disproportionately had union jobs, increasing manufacturing jobs might have meant increasing union jobs. This is no longer true.
In this respect it is also worth noting that manufacturing jobs continue to be overwhelmingly male. There is no obvious reason that we should focus on improving the quality of the jobs held by men, while neglecting jobs held disproportionately by women. The idea that a Cold War stance to China will be a big positive for the working class as a whole is simply wrong.
As I haveargued in the past, we should look to cooperate with China in the areas where it will provide both countries with clear benefits. The most obvious areas for such cooperation are health care and climate change. Both countries, and in fact the whole world, would benefit from the sharing of technology in these areas. We would all benefit from having new technology in health care and clean energy distributed as quickly and widely as possible.
This cooperation should mean open-source research where all findings are fully open. This would both allow for the most rapid possible progress and also have an equalizing effect on income distribution. Top researchers should be well-paid, but there is no reason to believe that they need to be motivated by payoffs in the tens or hundreds of millions, or even billions, of dollars.
Instead of furthering the upward redistribution of the last four decades, open-source research in major areas of the economy would likely redistribute downward. If the price of patent-copyright protected items fell to the free market price, it would effectively raise the real wages of workers.
To take the most important example, we are currently spending over $500 billion a year on prescription drugs. If these drugs sold in a free market without patents or related protections, they would likely cost us less than $100 billion. The savings of $400 billion comes to roughly $3,000 a year for every household in the country. (The actual savings would be somewhat less since we would likely have to increase public funding of research by $50 to $100 billion a year.) There would also be huge savings on medical equipment and a wide variety of other areas where public funding was substituted for patent monopoly funding.
A policy that focuses on cooperating with China, where we can, is likely to produce the best results from both a foreign policy and domestic economic perspective. Our resources will be far better used on fighting climate change and disease than on trying to intimidate China militarily. And, if we adopt policies that almost seemed as though they are designed to redistribute income upwards, we should not be surprised that we end up with more inequality.
Unlike Trump, President Biden is a serious person, but he also can be seriously wrong. Putting us on a path towards a new Cold War with China would be a disastrous mistake. We should do everything possible to keep Biden from going this route.
 For the young ones out there, “no longer operative,” was the line that Richard Nixon’s press secretary, Ronald Zeigler, used to refer to all the claims he had made proclaiming Nixon’s innocence in the Watergate coverup after the release of White House tape recordings showing that Nixon was in the middle of the coverup from the beginning.
 I outline a mechanism for doing this in chapter 5 of Rigged [it’s free].
 Larry Mishel found a 7.8 percent wage premium for non-college educated workers for the years 2010-2016 in an analysis that controlled for age, gender, education and other factors. This compares to a premium of 16.7 percent for college-educated workers. The premium would be somewhat higher if non-wage compensation was included. However, since the average hourly wage for production non-supervisory workers in manufacturing has been falling relative to the average hourly wage in the private sector as a whole, the premium would almost certainly have to be considerably smaller in 2021 than the average for 2010-2016. It is also likely that the gap in benefits has fallen, as non-unionized workers in manufacturing are less likely to have health care insurance and pensions than unionized workers.