Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Stratfor believes sanctions provide way to avoid military attack

Stratfor recently predicted an attack on Iran in the near future if Iran is not forced by sanctions to suspend its nuclear program. At the time it was a just laughable prediction, that would be clearly disprovable after however long we define as "near future".

Now, Stratfor has adjusted its model of the dispute over Iran's nuclear program in a way that accepts both that Iran will continue to enrich uranium and there will be no military attack.
The ultimate virtue of sanctions is that they provide a platform between acquiescence and war. The effectiveness of that platform is not nearly as important as the fact that it provides a buffer against charges of inaction and demands for further action. In Sudan, for example, no one expects sanctions to work, but their presence allows business to go on as usual while deflecting demands for more significant action.
Stratfor's explanation of sanctions is that they provide a way to act as if a country is working to solve a problem that while ineffective removes pressure to take further action. One thing I believe that misses is that every single anti-Zionist country in the region, save Turkey which is a special, recent case is currently under sanction.

Sanctions seem almost like the West's way to punish Middle East populations for having leadership, whether elected or not, that is overly hostile to Zionism. It is expensive, but the cost is not being borne by Israel's Jews and it puts off, for some amount of time, the tragic to them fate of being forced to live like White South Africans, without a political majority.

I still have not seen a fundamental change in the situation that prevented George Bush from pushing for more sanctions for the last year of his presidency. More sanctions still means faster enrichment for Iran and I believe that is a deal Iran would accept. The claims that sanctions are becoming inevitable are becoming more shrill and more insistent and I continue to believe they are wrong.

My best guess as to what's happening is that behind the scenes the US and Iran are discussing, but have not yet agreed on exactly how nuclear capable Iran is to be allowed to become. I'd expect the US has made an offer that Iran could continue to enrich uranium but in a way that would leave it 18 months or so away from building a weapon. That's my impression of the deal presented by Matthew Bunn in a paper "Beyond Zero Enrichment: Suggestions for an Iranian Nuclear Deal"
Here is one example of what a compromise with Iran could look like:

  • The P5+1 agrees to allow some operational centrifuges in Iran.

  • Iran agrees to limit enrichment to 2-8 centrifuge cascades (other centrifuges in place, but not operating).

  • All centrifuge operations, R&D, manufacture (also other sensitive nuclear operations) are shifted to international ownership with a 24/7 international staff.

  • Iran agrees to the Additional Protocol and broad transparency measures.

  • The P5+1 implements an incentives package (trade, nuclear assistance, etc.).

  • Bilateral and multilateral dialogues are established to address other issues over time—including recognition and an end to sanctions if these other issues are successfully addressed.

  • The United States pledges not to attack Iran and not to attempt to overthrow the regime as long as (a) Iran complies with its nuclear obligations, (b) Iran does not commit or sponsor aggression or terrorist attacks against others.
Essentially, under this plan, if Iran was to export is current stockpile, then considering the time it would take to restart its enrichment program it would take, I'd guess, about a year for Iran to get enough uranium for a weapon together. I'd also guess that the deal the US actually presented to Iran was either on the low end or less favorable to Iran than what we see here.

The US will not officially accept Iranian enrichment until an actual deal has been reached behind closed doors. But Iran likely has red lines the US has not committed to respecting, for example that any deal must not restrict future generations of Iranians.

Talks of sanctions have a little value in increasing pressure on Iran and more importantly the talks also calm supporters of Israel who are actually buying them. Iran is perfectly willing to accept another round of sanctions that will allow faster enrichment. Enriched uranium and nuclear capability are permanent strategic assets for Iran that it's willing to sacrifice a lot for in the short term. Sanctions would just mean that Iran would achieve on the ground and then demand in any future deal more nuclear capability. The "threat" is just not a threat. But the US is not going to publicly back from it until it has traded its position for an agreement.

So Stratfor is right that we will not see an attack on Iran next year and also that Iran will not stop enriching uranium. Stratfor is wrong in expecting to see sanctions.

As a gesture to match Iran's gesture of exporting its LEU, the US could allow Russia to ship the missile defense system. Assuming it really is impossible to produce the fuel for the medical plant quickly enough, I imagine that would satisfy Iran's fears that given what is said publicly by the US, there is still an active possibility that after shipping its uranium, the US can change its terms leaving Iran with nothing. The deal presented by the West in public is not acceptable to Iran, but the more important negotiations are certainly occurring without public knowledge.

Somehow it's very likely a deal will be reached not very long from now that will allow Iran to continue enriching at some level less than now, but more than 2 cascades, and after that deal is reached we'll see Iran make the type of gestures the West is asking for.

But we're not going to see sanctions.


Lysander said...

I'm assuming Iran does have something to fear, even if only mildly, from the west. Otherwise, I would wonder why does Iran simply not make an ultimatum ? (done diplomatically)

Either sell us 20% uranium or we will make it ourselves. Forget about swaps. How do you think the west would react and would Russia/China abandon Iran?

Arnold Evans said...

Let me say this, in 2006 I was very disappointed that Russia and China agreed to any sanctions because these were voluntary and non legally binding steps that were being made mandatory. I don't see Russia and China as shielding Iran. To me they don't factor into why there are no new sanctions at least now. They maybe did slow the US down from what it wanted or maybe not the US was already too vulnerable in Iraq by 2006 to push for real hostility.

The US has the lead in this good cop bad cop game, but if it wasn't Russia and China it would be Britain and Germany 'holding the US back'. I don't believe it.

The US could, with the resolutions already in place, decide to inspect all shipping entering or leaving Iran through the gulf or block large gas shipments. It does not because Iran's response options deter it. Iran would respond the same if the security council explicitly authorized the same degree of sanctions.

I don't think technologically Iran can build the fuel plates by itself in time, but the fuel plates are just the pretext for the US accepting a negotiated nuclear capability in Iran, which I expect to see in 2010.

Iran would rather the sanctions come off and will trade that for voluntary limits on its capabilities. But more sanctions mean more capabilities long term, which Iran doesn't need but sure doesn't fear.

If I'm reading this right.

Iran kind of is telling the US to stick it, possibly what we're seeing is that Iran post Balochistan won't accept a deal it would have accepted before.

Obama sent a letter to Lula when Ahmadinejad was visiting asking him to help.

The public details of the deal aren't important because we can only guess what's really being discussed. But the US obviously wants whatever was on the table a lot more than Iran does.

The Iranians have no problems with hurling insults at to Americans, calling them snakes, liars, fake smilers, backstabbers.

They don't break the freeze for freeze, maybe because they gave their word and don't have to, but what else could they do now to act unafraid?

We're not even hearing this is unfair any more.