Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Washington's Iran Strategy: Ostracizing Tehran from the International

"Washington's Iran Strategy: Ostracizing Tehran from the International
Drafted by Erich Marquardt on September 29, 2004

While impossible to confirm, there is a high probability that the
leadership in Tehran is attempting to acquire a nuclear weapons capability.
By achieving a nuclear weapons capability, Iran would be better
insulated from foreign threats and would help to stabilize its regional power.
While a nuclear-armed Iran would assist in securing Iranian interests,
it would be a dangerous development for the interests of the United
States and Israel.

Because Washington lacks a viable military strategy in dealing with
Tehran, it is essential that it continues to garner the support of the
European countries of France, Germany and the United Kingdom in order to
adequately threaten Tehran with United Nations repercussions; the
present U.S. strategy is to threaten Iran with international economic
sanctions unless Tehran dismantles its enrichment-related programs.

Iran has many valid justifications for developing a nuclear weapons
capability. This status would protect Iran from the United States which
has labeled Iran an "evil" state subject to "regime change"; it would
also remove the geopolitical growth restraints that Israel has placed on
the countries of the Middle East.

Iranian acquisition of nuclear weapons would weaken U.S. hopes for
external regime change in Tehran, thus protecting the regime, and would
also give Iran the opportunity to expand its influence in the Middle East
and Central Asia without certain fear of U.S. or Israeli reprisals.

Yet, while a nuclear weapons capability favors Iran's state interests,
the opposite is true for U.S. and Israeli state interests. A
nuclear-armed Iran would prevent the U.S. from executing a forceful change of
government in Tehran, since if faced with regime termination, the Iranian
leadership could possibly exercise its nuclear weapons option in a last
ditch effort for regime survival. This uncertainty would guarantee a
more prudent U.S. response to Iranian policy actions.

For Israel, which has, with the support of the United States, managed
to keep the Middle Eastern states weak and disunited, a nuclear-armed
Iran would hurt its ability to respond militarily to Iran's support of
destabilizing forces that affect Israel, or to those actions that
increase Iran's regional strength.

- Weak U.S. Response

In light of Iran's potential pursuit of nuclear weapons, both the U.S.
and Israel will need to take steps to secure their regional interests
at the expense of Iran's. Due to Iran's military strength, Israel would
prefer to rely on the U.S. to weaken the Islamic republic, for if
Washington were to move on Iran, with Israel remaining on the sidelines, it
would likely limit Iranian retaliation against Israel. But Washington
has less leverage to act since it is bogged down in Iraq and
overextended elsewhere due to its involvement in multiple theaters of conflict.
Plus, in the midst of an election year, it is not clear how the U.S.
public would respond to serious U.S. saber rattling on the issue.

Considering these restraints, Washington must refer the Iranian nuclear
issue to the U.N. Security Council so it may threaten Tehran with
economic sanctions. This type of threat could cause Tehran to comply with
international pressure. However, this route requires the support of
France, Germany and the United Kingdom. For these reasons, the U.S. must
convince these states to join in efforts of intimidating Iran with
punitive sanctions. This is the present course of the White House, with
President Bush telling American television, "We are working our hearts out so
that they do not develop a nuclear weapon, and the best way to do so is
to continue to keep international pressure on them."

Until recently, Paris, Berlin and London have been loath to adopt the
U.S. approach to the Iranian nuclear issue. Their motives rest in their
heavy trade with Iran and also with the concern that threatening Iran
could cause the state to act irrationally and potentially threaten the
stability of the Middle East. The Europeans have few qualms about
allowing Iran to pursue nuclear technology for peaceful purposes, but they
recognize that a nuclear-armed could destabilize the region.

- Destabilizing Forces

A nuclear-armed Iran could pose a great danger to the region's
stability. Presently, the only truly powerful state in the Middle East is
Israel, and its power has kept the other regional states weak and disunited.
A nuclear-armed Iran would create a new power source that would reduce
Israel's supremacy. A reduction in Israeli power could mean an increase
in power for other Middle Eastern states since Israel would not be able
to strike surrounding states, such as Syria, with impunity. Any such
strike would have to consider the potential for Iranian retaliation, or
at least heightened Iranian assistance to states or organizations
focused on reducing Israel's regional power.

If Israel were to make a military move on Iran independently of the
U.S., the military response from Iran would be harsh. Indeed, in recent
weeks, the Iranian government has gone to extremes to emphasize the
retaliatory actions it will take upon attack from Israel.

In the event of a decrease in Israeli power and an increase in the
power of other regional states, the region could become a multi-polar
mini-system, with each country competing with the other in the regional
power balance. This competition would threaten regional stability and thus
threaten the globe's oil supply -- a development that could cause oil
prices to skyrocket, hurting the economies of oil dependent countries
such as the United States and the European states.

It is this fear of regional instability that is a major factor in why
the United States has consistently supported the state of Israel. Israel
has managed to keep the power balance tilted in its favor, which has
resulted in the Middle Eastern states remaining dependent and weak, a
geopolitical status quo that provides stable, cheap oil prices due to
little regional development.

Because Iran threatens this geopolitical status quo, the European
states have been reconsidering the U.S. approach, and have shown signs of
adopting parts of it. Their reconsideration is why Washington needs to
capitalize on the opportunity and push the Europeans to adopt a more
hard-line course toward Iran. If the Europeans were to follow the U.S.
approach, it could delay Iran's acquisition of nuclear arms.

- Avoiding International Condemnation

Despite its potential pursuit of nuclear arms, Iran does not wish to be
ostracized by the international community. If Tehran were threatened
with international economic sanctions, and loss of its European
connections, it will prove to be counter-productive to the interests of the
Iranian state. Thus, while the pursuit of nuclear weapons is a rational
objective for Tehran, it is not rational if it comes at the expense of all
other objectives. Tehran has recognized this predicament and has balked
when faced with threats of isolation from Europe.

In the past, when threatened with isolation, Tehran has generally
complied with European demands, such as by opening up its country to U.N.
nuclear inspections, and by freezing the enrichment aspect of its nuclear
program. To demonstrate this, upon the latest threat by the Europeans,
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asef said, "Iran will
adjust its policies according to the performance and decision of the
[Europeans]. We do not want Iran's file to be referred to the Security
Council, but in case of a referral, the Europeans will be harmed more than

- Conclusion

The preceding strategic analysis provides a course for the Bush
administration to set if it wishes to secure its interests in the Middle East.
After taking a serious hit to its military capability due to the
unexpected level of violence found in the Iraq occupation, Washington cannot
adequately threaten Iran with force. It must use the skillful art of
diplomacy to coax the Europeans to adopt Washington's position. While
there are signs that the Europeans are complying, it is far from certain
that they will agree with the U.S. on referring Iran's nuclear issue to
the U.N. Security Council.

After all, in the latest rounds of diplomacy, the Europeans did take
the step of agreeing with U.S. demands for Iran to halt its uranium
enrichment program, but they did not agree to place a "trigger mechanism"
into the U.N. draft. Therefore, if, by November, Iran does not comply
with U.N. demands, the issue will not be automatically referred to the
Security Council. It will merely spark more debate and thusly more time
for Iran to sprint down the path toward a nuclear weapons capability. All
sides in this conflict know what needs to be accomplished -- the
foreboding question, however, is which player will find itself in a better
position at the end.

- The Power and Interest News Report (PINR) is an analysis-based
publication that seeks to, as objectively as possible, provide insight into
various conflicts, regions and points of interest around the globe. PINR
approaches a subject based upon the powers and interests involved,
leaving the moral judgments to the reader. This report may not be
reproduced, reprinted or broadcast without the written permission of All comments should be directed to"


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