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Iran, War, Diplomacy

Writing for the New York Review of Books, Thomas Powers cautions against the U.S. conventional wisdom that Iran seeks nuclear weapons because it wants to threaten Israel and the Middle East. Historically, such the coercive threat of nuclear weapons has been ineffective and beside the point of nuclear development:

The world’s experience with nuclear weapons to date has shown that nuclear powers do not use them, and they seriously threaten to use them only to deter attack. Britain, France, Russia, China, Israel, South Africa, India, Pakistan, and North Korea have all acquired nuclear weapons in spite of international opposition. None has behaved recklessly with its new power. What changes is that nuclear powers have to be treated differently; in particular they cannot be casually threatened.

Nuclear weapons, in other words, are effective deterrents against casual threats. They are not the cheapest nor wisest deterrents, but they are effective. If what Seymour Hersh says is true, that the U.S. has special ops forces within Iran that have been funding terrorist groups to plot against the country’s government (again), then it is any wonder that Iran might be looking for any leverage it could?

The majority of U.S. action in the world this decade has been the result of a pointed refusal to believe that other nations will act in relation to the U.S. in ways that are not deferent and capitulatory to its military and/or economic might. Yet in all arenas—Iran and regional stability, North Korea and nuclear weapons, Russia and missile defense and Georgian autonomy, Saudi Arabia and oil production, China and monetary policy, and many others besides—states have continued to act in ways that they believe are in their own interests, regardless of U.S. attempts to get them to act otherwise. One might think the Bush administration would have seen, say around 2005, that solutions that benefit both parties—or at least solutions that harm neither party—are the best ways to create meaningful solutions to intergovernmental problems, but then, introspection was never one of the administration’s strengths. Intransigence in politics and policy, semper fidelis!

 

Comments

I know that Matthew Yglesias beats this drum nearly every day, but here’s Hans Blix advocating for a change in diplomatic strategy with Iran:

In the case of Iran, I think that while the Europeans have a number of carrots on the table, they say that these carrots are only available to Iran if, first, Iran does its part. There’s a precondition that Iran should suspend enrichment. I don’t know any negotiations in which one party says, yes, I will do my part and then we’ll discuss what you’ll give me for it. But the two elements I mentioned in the case of North Korea are not, to my knowledge, on the table in the case of Iran. Namely, a guarantee against attack, and talk about diplomatic relations. So I think that playing these two cards would be enormously valuable.

The standard right-wing line on this was that the Iranian leadership was religious and crazy, and therefore couldn’t be trusted to act cautiously with nuclear weapons. I haven’t heard that argument in a while. It’s either because they’ve given up on it, or because I don’t read The Corner as much as I used to.

Anyhoo, I’m thinking it’ll be an Israeli strike before the end of the Bush administration. The days of American carte blanche for Israeli Likudism are probably drawing to a close.

I’ve heard that before. It always struck me as self-serving because it assumes that there are governments that can be trusted to “act cautiously” with nuclear weapons—as if there were anything cautious about them. I mean, what would they say if Iran’s leadership was not religious and crazy (in their view). Would the pursuit of nukes be OK, then?

That someone would offer that argument (with that assumption) suggests to me that they don’t really agree with the goals of nuclear nonproliferation, much less nuclear disarmament. How foul would the cry be if a U.S. president re-opened disarmament talks with the other nuclear powers? They cried foul enough when Reagan did it…