Options other than sanctions to force Iran's nuclear compliance
Benjamin Ra is a recent graduate of Sciences Po Paris. He...
WASHINGTON, DC, January 9, 2012 - If by some miracle Iran is forced to give up on its nuclear ambitions, the credit for that success must go to the policy we have implemented, a policy of tightening the screws slowly but surely, beginning with threats, moving on to sanctions, then to crippling sanctions, all the while brandishing the possibility of using violence to make our point.
Currently, we are the stage of serious sanctions, and though we wish for the best, it behooves us to ask: what are the chances that this measure will succeed? And even if it does succeed, how long will the success last?
Sanctions rely on the hope that the victim will either submit or crumble under the weight of the misfortunes we inflict. And perhaps, the Iranians lack the will to grit their teeth and go on defying the international community; but if history is any guide, it will show that, whatever faults the Iranians may have in their national character, lack of courage is not one of them.
But let us assume that the sanctions do force Iran to sign a deal. Would that be the end of our troubles with that country?
In the business between states, a signature on a contract cannot be deemed good if the incentives which brought it about in the first place are no longer there. If sanctions bring Iran to the table, and the relaxing of sanctions induces them to sign, only the assurance that the sanctions will be re-implemented in case of a breach will ensure that the agreement will be kept.
Now will the P5+1 (The Security Council plus Germany) react in this forceful manner against any and every breach of the agreement? Perhaps, if the breach is blatant. But what if the Iranians renege on only a portion of the contract? Or what if they do something completely unmentioned by the agreement but just as injurious to it – such as testing ballistic missiles?
Our dealings with North Korea should have taught us that an agreement to stop nuclear enrichment is not the same as actually stopping nuclear enrichment, and that such an agreement, if it is ever signed, will be the beginning, not the end, of our efforts. Yet so much of our national debate has focused on the details of what we should offer to Iran in a purported deal - what sanctions should be lifted, what aid given etc.. We are presenting Iran with a choice between good and bad, between progress and oblivion, between relief and poverty.
The danger of this approach is that Iran may seek to preserve the very asset which brought about this offer in the first place: its nuclear program. Perhaps we should present the Iranians, not with a choice between good and bad, but rather a choice between two evils. In the following lines, I will present a course of action which will do just that.
The Option of Nuclear Enrichment
The level of a country’s nuclear enrichment is as much a measure of military power as the range of its missiles or the number of its artillery. A true balance of power can be maintained in the Middle East only if Iran’s capacity to turn out a nuclear weapon is balanced by a parallel capacity among its neighboring states.
Recently the Obama Administration sold 60 billion dollars worth of arms to Saudi Arabia. While this does almost nothing to balance Iran’s ability to enrich uranium, it does skew the balance of conventional forces even more in Saudi Arabia’s favor, giving Iran a newfound incentive to acquire nuclear weapons to compensate for its inferiority in that arena. Let us not forget that, during the Cold War, it was partly the inferiority of our conventional forces in Europe which forced us to rely on the threat of massive nuclear retaliation to maintain a balance.
If nuclear enrichment is balanced by nuclear enrichment, Iran will know that the day it acquires a nuclear weapon its neighbors will too. The Arab states may already have started on such a course. Saudi Arabia announced its own nuclear enrichment program with a justification nearly identical to that of Iran, and it is not unlikely that the other Arab states will follow suit. The true risk of a nuclear Iran is not a nuclear Iran itself, which we can balance, but a nuclear Middle East. In this prospect there is both opportunity and danger. If Washington chooses to sit on its hands and watch the enrichment race from afar, it will face the prospect of four or five nuclear powers in one unstable region. The question for the United States is not so much if the Arab states will respond but when and how.
It is time we consider the possibility of helping in the nuclear enrichment of our allies in the Middle East, so that the “medical benefits” of enriched uranium are made available to our friends as well as our enemies. Would the Iranians continue to enrich uranium if they knew that their neighbors would match them at each turn? Would they then turn out a nuclear weapon only to surround themselves with nuclear powers?
There is a legitimate worry here that one of these states may be overthrown and its nuclear program will then fall into the hands of extremist elements. But is that risk mitigated if a Pakistan or a China should become the main supplier of nuclear technology to the Middle East?
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