Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Iran's motivation behind its nuclear program

It is true that Israel believes it needs a nuclear monopoly in its region to ultimately ensure its long term strategic security. It is also true that this Israeli strategic need is the primary motivation for the US to violate the NPT in a way that denies Iran the rights both guaranteed by the treaty and also given with little or no controversy to many other countries including Japan and Brazil.

But it does not follow that the ultimate reason Iran wants to build a "Japan option" - the capability, in theory, to weaponize its nuclear program in an emergency is related to Israel. The reason for that is, primarily, defensive. In simple terms, if Iran has a Japan option, it is safe from regime change led by the US and threats of regime change.

Here we have the Council on Foreign Relation's Ray Takeyh describing this.
... [N]uclear weapons, by definition, are such a narrow category of arms that they can accomplish only a limited set of objectives. They do offer a deterrent capability: unlike Saddam's Iraq, a nuclear Iran would not be invaded, and its leaders would not be deposed.
We also have John Bolton saying about the same thing. (Also demonstrating the reflexive habit of Western commentators to deliberately and misleadingly conflate weapons with capability.)
Having that nuclear weapon would make a big difference. For example if Milosevic had had nuclear weapons as Yugoslavia was disintegrating Bosnia, Kosovo could have turned out very differently simply from the threat or the risk that he would use them

Stewart: (Interrupting) That we would not intervene if they had them

Exactly. That's why it's so critical to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons. Once it actually has the capability the equation changes dramatically.
A Japan option, even without leaving the NPT or building a weapon, gives Iran very real strategic benefits. Takeyh actually describes this as "limited" but he's describing independent protection from regime change, even from military intervention. That is not limited at all, that is a huge benefit.

One may ask, "can't the US offer economic incentives to compensate Iran for giving that up?" Keep in mind now that what the US would be asking Iran to give up is a huge strategic advantage. It is a mistake to think of Iran's nuclear program primarily in terms of the threat it poses to Israel. As a side effect, Iran's program threatens Israel's strategic position but it primarily deters US and foreign attacks on Iran's own sovereignty.

So for this huge strategic advantage that the US would ask Iran to relinquish, the US cannot offer huge rewards because Iran still does not accept Israel, still acts to weaken Israel's position. If the US was to offer to end all sanctions in exchange for Iran giving up domestic enrichment, or keeping its LEU stock permanently below the threshold necessary in theory for a weapon, and Iran was to accept that, Iran would both be giving up a large amount of its security and at the same time would become more of a threat to Israel.

If the sanctions were to be lifted for the nuclear issue, Iran would have more resources that it could use to strengthen the positions of Palestinians in Gaza and the already intolerably fast build-up of Lebanon as a military force. An Iran without sanctions would be far more dominant in Iraq and would have resources to do some "democracy promotion" in Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia that would be good for the people of those countries but would destroy the colonial structure the US holds in place and that is also critical for Israel's survival.

The United States is severely limited in what it can offer Iran to end its nuclear program while at the same time Iran's nuclear program has great defensive value that Westerners do not even realize they admit to. Because of this, we are not going to see a nuclear deal that satisfies the US and Iran at the same time, at least until the US decides that the status quo is worse than accepting Iran's nuclear capability or manages to install a new Shah in Iran.


Roger said...

Arnold you are becoming more and more clear in your analysis of the strategic situation vis-a-vis Iran. But I feel you still don't take it to its logical conclusion. Let me explain.

The US is the most warlike, violent nation in the history of humanity. In its short history it started by enslaving a large population of Africans and ethnically cleansing its native populations to "West of the Mississippi River". It had proportionately the most gruesome civil war ever. It invaded both of its neighbors Canada and Mexico. In the next little while it had wars cold and hot with most countries on every continent, including Spain France, England, Germany, Italy, Yugoslavia in Europe, Japan (the only case of use of Atomic weapons on civilian populations), Vietnam, Cambodia, Burma, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, etc.. in Asia, and numerous countries in South America and Africa. The culture of violence is so much part of the fabric of society that it is the only country where people can freely buy deadly firearms. It put millions of its citizens in uniform to fight great powers Japan and Germany to unconditional surrender.

Given the US motivations that you describe so well and such vast resources, what chances do you give little Iran to threaten so much and get away with it? Isn't it in Iran's national interest to hold its nose and reach an arrangement with the US that may, yes even, turn control of Iran's foreign policy to the US where its a critical matter for the US, and concentrate on developing its society and institutions? After all that's what Japan and Germany have done to great success so why can't Iran do that instead of attempting to defy the world hegemon and irrationally hope for long-term success?
I submit that the protection of nuclear weapons and is worth having and Iran's opposition to Israel is morally in the right, but not at the price of isolating Iran and damaging its economy and the fabric of its fragile society and risking the breakup of the country which I believe is the end-result of Iran's present course.

Lysander said...

Roger, you make a very valuable point. The decision of whether to defy the US is solely Iran's to make. I don't think Arnold proposes to make it for them, although I believe he as well as myself are pleased to see Iran is resisting western hegemony and wish it continued success.

What Arnold does do is present a plausible scenario in which Iran does maintain its independence at an acceptable cost and even advances its national interests.

The alternative you suggest is a possibility. I don't know enough about the situation in Iran. I can only assume the 1979 revolution and the June 2009 elections are signs that many or most Iranians prefer their current course, with the attendant risks and sacrifices.

But let us assume otherwise and say that most Iranians feel as you do. What then? The US will not lift sanctions no matter what Iran does, no matter who is elected president, no matter who is Supreme leader. Iran could announce a halt to enrichment and recognition of greater Israel tomorrow and I doubt US policy will really change. Don't take my word for it. Just look and see that the US still(!!!) maintains its 1990 sanctions on Iraq.

The reason being is that Iran is simply too powerful. Without sanctions, foreign investment would flood Iran by the billions. Technological exchange would blossom. Iran would surpass Israeli strength in no time. In two decades, it could match the strength of some European powers. I don't think either the US or Israel could tolerate a Muslim country that powerful, even if it tries to behave as does Egypt or Saudi Arabia. There is simply no guarantee Iran wont flip again, or use its power to leverage concessions. States that strong can't be trusted to do as they are told. No matter what, the US goal will be to keep Iran down through sanctions and ultimately, if possible, to foment civil strife and try to break Iran down into its ethnic constituents. Again, you don't have to guess about that, just look next door.

And so, Iran really has no choice but to manage American hostility as best it can. I wish it were otherwise, but I'm afraid it is what it is. Not only are Iran's current policies just and moral, they are probably in Iran's best long term interests.