TIME russia

5 Disputed Numbers That Explain Geopolitics

Vadim Ghirda—AP Russia-backed separatist fighters stand next to self propelled 152 mm artillery pieces, part of a unit moved away from the front lines, in Yelenovka, near Donetsk, Ukraine, Feb. 26, 2015.

From Argentina’s economic woes to Iran’s nuclear timeline, statistics that are up for debate can tell us a lot about geopolitics. 

Every world leader uses data for political purposes. But some take it a step further. Here are five disputed stats where the controversy itself sheds light on a deeper political question.

1. How many Russians are in Ukraine?

Estimates of Russian troops in Ukraine differ dramatically depending on which side of the border you’re standing on. (That is, if you can find the border—Russian-backed separatists continue to take territory in southeast Ukraine). Ukrainian President Poroshenko proclaimed last month that there are more than 9,000 Russian troops and 500 tanks and armored vehicles in his country. But Russia claims it isn’t that many—zero, to be exact. According to a spokesman for Putin, “there are no Russian tanks or army in Ukraine.” Other players split the difference: in August, a separatist leader claimed that 3,000 to 4,000 Russian citizen “volunteers” provided assistance to the rebels.

(Reuters, CNN, LA Times)

2. How quickly could Iran build a nuclear weapon?

When Western leaders emphasize the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear program, there’s a recurring, essential question: How long would it take for Iran to produce enough weapons-grade uranium to build a bomb? Iran consistently downplays the threat: an Iranian source cited the ‘breakout time’ at a minimum of 18 months. But Washington believes it’s drastically shorter: about 2-3 months. There’s also fierce debate about how long that breakout time should be. In ongoing nuclear negotiations, the Obama administration wants to ensure it would take at least a year. But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants to eliminate Iran’s ability to produce nuclear weapons altogether.

(Reuters, Institute for Science and International Security, New York Times)

3. Can China boast that its economy is #1?

Last year, the International Monetary Fund projected that China’s economy was about to overtake the United States’ when measured on a purchasing power basis (a less common way of measuring GDP that takes exchange rates into account). China became the world’s largest trading nation back in 2012. But even China is pushing back against any perception that it’s on top: the state-run news agency Xinhua ran a piece in January titled “China denies being world’s No. 1 economy.” Beijing is careful to stress that it’s still very much a developing country, not yet wealthy enough to take on a lot of global responsibilities. They have a point. Despite relentless growth—last year’s economic output topped $10 trillion, more than five times higher than a decade before—China’s output per person is still nowhere near that of the U.S.

(New York Times, Bloomberg, Xinhua, Economist)

4. Just how valuable for Americans would the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) be?

One of President Obama’s biggest foreign policy priorities before he leaves office is to ink the TPP, a trade agreement that includes a dozen countries that collectively account for 40% of world trade and roughly a third of global GDP. The administration is quick to point out the estimated economic benefits. According to John Kerry, “TPP could provide $77 billion a year in real income and support 650,000 new jobs in the U.S. alone.” But not everyone buys that jobs claim. The White House’s statistics come from a 2012 book by the Peterson Institute that didn’t provide a precise jobs estimate. The book’s author said he avoided doing so because, “like most trade economists, we don’t believe that trade agreements change the labor force in the long run.”

(Congressional Research Service, Washington Post)

5. How is Argentina’s economy doing?

Argentina’s economic troubles are common knowledge. So is the government’s tendency to cast the numbers in a rosier light. The government claimed 30% growth in GDP from 2007 to 2012 (5.3% annual average rate), but a study last year claimed that GDP only grew half that much and the size of the economy was at least 12% smaller than official government estimates. Then there’s the issue of inflation. The government estimates 21% inflation for this year—but some private economists expect a rate of nearly 40%. Furthermore, the government’s official exchange rate doesn’t reflect reality: one U.S. dollar is officially worth about 8.7 pesos, yet the informal rate is as high as 13.

(World Economics Journal, Wall Street Journal, Reuters, BNamericas, Bloomberg)


Iran Blows Up Replica U.S. Warship During Defense Drill

A replica of a U.S. aircraft carrier is exploded by the Revolutionary Guard during naval drills near the entrance of the Persian Gulf, Iran on Feb. 25, 2015.
Iranian Tasnim News Agency/AP A replica of a U.S. aircraft carrier is exploded by the Revolutionary Guard during naval drills near the entrance of the Persian Gulf, Iran on Feb. 25, 2015.

"It seems they've attempted to destroy the equivalent of a Hollywood movie set," says U.S. Navy spokesperson

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard blew up a replica of a U.S. aircraft carrier Wednesday during defense drills conducted near the Persian Gulf’s Strait of Hormuz, a major passage for world oil shipments.

The attack, which was broadcast on state television, marks the first time Iran has used such a replica in a drill, USA Today reports. It took place nearly a year after it was revealed that Iran was constructing a U.S. ship mock-up.

The head of the Revolutionary Guard, Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari, warned on TV that the “message of these wargames is that others should pay good heed to the point that they should not take any action near the Islamic Republic’s security circle.”

The U.S. military, however, says it is “not concerned about this exercise” that saw rockets and missiles used during the attack.

“We’re quite confident of our naval forces’ ability to defend themselves,” said Cmdr. Kevin Stephens, the spokesperson for the U.S. Navy’s 5th fleet based in Bahrain. “It seems they’ve attempted to destroy the equivalent of a Hollywood movie set.”

[USA Today]


TIME fashion

Watch How Iran’s Beauty Trends Have Evolved Over 100 Years

A model transforms ten times in just one minute

In just one minute, a model transforms to reflect the changing beauty trends in Iran over the last 100 years.

But the evolution doesn’t only reflect Iran’s hair trends, but its history — from the 1936 hijab ban to the headscarf’s reemergence to the recent Green Revolution.

Screen Shot 2015-02-19 at 12.09.07 PM

This is Cut Video’s third installment of its “100 Years of Beauty” series. The first two videos look at American trends for both white and black women in the last century.

Read next: Bye, Bye, Barbie: 2015 Is the Year We Abandon Unrealistic Beauty Ideals

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: February 19

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Are rising tensions between nuclear powers and an increased risk of rogue actors getting weapons spurring a new nuclear age?

By Rod Lyons in RealClearDefense

2. Psychological barriers — not science — are holding back progress on treating wastewater, improving crop yields and more.

By Maria Konnikova in the New Yorker

3. Massive computing power and better tools are making it harder to hide submarines. Are they becoming obsolete?

By Harry J. Kazianis in the National Interest

4. It’s too soon to celebrate a win in the Net Neutrality battle.

By Blair Levin in Re/code

5. Mumbling isn’t lazy speech. It’s data compression.

By Julie Sedivy in Nautilus

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Education

UMass Bars Iranian Students from Science Programs

Students on the campus of UMass Amherst in 2014.
Jonathan Wiggs—The Boston Globe/Getty Images Students on the campus of UMass Amherst in 2014.

Decision greeted with harsh criticism

The University of Massachusetts is coming in for criticism for its decision earlier this month to stop admitting Iranian nationals to certain science and engineering programs, in what the university described as it merely complying with U.S. law.

To prevent Iran from creating a nuclear weapons program, the U.S. passed a law in 2012 that bars Iranian citizens from getting visas to study in the U.S. if they plan to return to Iran and work in nuclear energy or related fields, the Boston Globe reports. But that appears to be different from what the university has imposed on its Amherst campus, according to the State Department.

“U.S. law does not prohibit qualified Iranian nationals coming to the United States for education in science and engineering,” an official said in a statement to the Globe and NBC News. “Each application is reviewed on a case-by-case basis. We will reach out to UMass Amherst to discuss this specific decision.”

The university’s decision, posted on Feb. 6, outraged many students on campus. “We always felt like an integral part of the university community,” Shirin Hakim, a recent Iranian-American graduate, told NBC. “Now we’re just kind of confused. We want an explanation for all this, and we don’t think it should be tolerated, because it’s clearly discriminatory against Iranian nationals.”

[Boston Globe]


Iran Leader Criticizes American Sniper

Warner Bros.

Ali Khamenei calls the movie "propaganda"

Iran’s top leader has criticized the film American Sniper for encouraging violence against Muslims, according to a state media outlet.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the country’s Supreme Leader, told the IRAN Farsi newspaper that the movie “encourages a Christian or non-Muslim youngster to harass and offend the Muslims as far as they could,” the Associated Press reports.

“You are seeing what sort of propaganda there are against Muslims in Europe and the U.S.,” Khamenei said, adding that he hasn’t seen the movie.

American Sniper, starring Bradley Cooper and directed by Clint Eastwood, focuses on the life of Chris Kyle, a Navy SEAL who became known as a lethal sniper during the Iraq War. The movie has generated more than $300 million at the U.S. box office, but it has not been released in Iran.


TIME Education

UMass Bans Iranians From Some Engineering, Science Programs

University of Massachusetts, Amherst College Campus
John Greim—LightRocket via Getty Images University of Massachusetts, Amherst College Campus

Iranians can no longer enroll in Physics, Chemistry or other science or engineering programs at UMass-Amherst

(AMHERST, Mass.) — The University of Massachusetts at Amherst has banned Iranian nationals from admission to certain graduate programs in a move that school officials say aligns its policy with U.S. sanctions against Iran.

The university will no longer admit students from Iran to some programs in engineering and natural sciences.

The National Iranian American Council says UMass’ interpretation of the law is flawed and may violate protections against discrimination.

Congress enacted legislation in August 2012 that denies visas for Iranian citizens to study in the U.S. if they plan to participate in coursework for a career in the energy or nuclear fields in Iran.

But a U.S. State Department official says federal law doesn’t prohibit qualified Iranian nationals from seeking an education in science and engineering. Each application is reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

TIME Yemen

U.N. Security Council Orders Rebels in Yemen to Retreat

U.N. Security Council votes in favor of a resolution demanding the Houthi militia's withdrawal from Yemeni government institutions, at the U.N. headquarters in New York
Mike Segar—Reuters The U.N. Security Council votes in favor of a resolution demanding the Houthi militia's withdrawal from Yemeni government institutions during a meeting at the U.N. headquarters in New York City on Feb. 15, 2015

The council also demanded the release of the Yemeni President and Prime Minister

The U.N. Security Council on Sunday ordered the immediate withdrawal of rebel forces from government institutions in Yemen, warning of “further steps” if insurgents do not cease hostilities in the Middle Eastern nation.

The demand was part of a British- and Jordanian-drafted resolution adopted unanimously by the 15-member council, Reuters reports.

The resolution “deplores actions taken by Houthis to dissolve parliament and take over Yemen’s government institutions, including acts of violence,” referring to the Iranian-backed Shi‘ite Muslim militia that has overthrown the government and prompted increasing attacks from al-Qaeda and other Sunni terrorist groups.

Besides the withdrawal, the resolution also calls on Houthi forces to come to the negotiating table for a U.N.-brokered political settlement and release the Yemeni President, Prime Minister and other Cabinet members from house arrest.


TIME White House

Obama: It’s Time for Iran to Decide on Nuclear Weapons

US President Barack Obama and Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel
Michael Reynolds—EPA From Left: Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel and President Barack Obama hold a joint news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington D.C. on Feb. 9, 2015.

"We are at a point where they need to make a decision" Obama said Monday

President Obama said Monday that Iran needs to decide whether it will agree to end its nuclear weapons research.

In a joint press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the White House, Obama said he does not see much chance for an extension of the upcoming deadline on negotiations with the U.S. and several other countries, arguing that the issue is now whether Iran has the political will to get a deal done.

“We are at a point where they need to make a decision,” he said.

Obama noted that the six countries negotiating with Iran—the U.S., Russia, China, Great Britain, France and Germany—have already offered to allow Iran to continue using nuclear power but not nuclear weapons. His view on the deadline echoed similarly strong language made by Secretary of State John Kerry in an interview with NBC’s Meet the Press over the weekend.

“If we’re not able to make the fundamental decisions that have to be made over the course of the next weeks, literally, I think it would be impossible to extend,” Kerry said.

Obama also addressed concerns over Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s impending speech before a joint session of Congress, during which he is set to urge more sanctions be placed on Iran. On Monday, Obama said the the relationship between the two countries remains strong, though he and the Prime Minister two have strong differences in opinion when it comes to Iran.

“It does not make sense to sour negotiations a month or two before they’re about to be completed,” Obama said. “What’s the rush, unless your view is that it’s not possible to get a deal.”

Obama and Merkel spoke ahead of a working lunch between the two leaders and following a morning meaning where issues of ISIS and Russian aggression took center stage. Obama said Monday that he has not yet come to a decision on sending lethal aid to Ukrainian fighters, though he asked his team to “look at all the option” if a diplomatic solution cannot be reached..

Merkel reiterated Monday that she is against aiding Ukraine with lethal weapons, but noted the relationship between the two countries would remain strong regardless. The two countries hope to remain united in their efforts to confront extremism, Russian aggression and other global challenges.

“No matter what we decide, the alliance between US and Europe will continue to stand even though on some issues we don’t always agree,” Merkel said Monday. “It’s a partnership that has stood the test of time.”

TIME Argentina

Prosecutor Found Dead Had Drafted Arrest Warrant for Argentine President

Argentina's President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner
Juan Mabromata—AFP/Getty Images Argentina's President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner gestures during the 47th Mercosur Summit, in Parana, Entre Rios, Argentina on Dec. 17, 2014.

The document was found in a garbage in the apartment of the late Alberto Nisman

The saga surrounding the mysterious death of prosecutor Alberto Nisman in Argentina last month took another twist Tuesday, when the lead investigator said Nisman had drafted a warrant for the arrest of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.

The 26-page document was found in the garbage at Nisman’s apartment where he was discovered dead with a gunshot wound to the head on Jan. 18, the New York Times reports. The document also requested the arrest of the country’s foreign minister, Héctor Timerman.

Nisman had been heading the investigation into the deadly 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center when he died. He was expected to testify before Congress the day after he died about his allegations that Kirchner had covered up Iran’s alleged involvement in the attack.

Read more at the New York Times


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