On the Brink with Iran
Posted by Suzanne Nossel
After last Friday’s report by the International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed that Tehran has successfully enriched uranium and defied the UN Security Council’s Friday deadline to halt the process, we find ourselves in a frightening stand-off with an uncontrollable Islamic demagogue bent getting nukes. I am not an expert on the region, but here’s my take on some things the U.S. ought and ought not do:
- Do everything possible to position this as a showdown between the Iranand the UN, not Iranand the US– Fortunately, as I’ve described before, Iranians are playing into our hands on this with its flagrant defiance of the Security Council. China and Russia are unreliable partners when it comes to forceful action but, if positioned right, they will back the proposition that no government can get away with ignoring the Security Council.
- Align the world’s neutral nations behind a tough UN stance – Behind the scenes, the US and Europe should be working the 30-50 key capitals around the world – Australia, Malaysia, Nigeria, South Africa, Brazil, Poland, etc. – on the idea that a nuclear-armed Iran is unacceptable, and that the time to stop it is now. While many of these countries have economic and other ties to Iran, they will all recognize that Ahmadinejad is dangerous and is flouting the Council. Having the support of these neutrals will back up claim #1 above and make it more likely that Moscow and Beijing ultimately come around.
- Stay close to Europe– This is obvious, but this Administration can't be relied on to choose rhetoric that ensures that no daylight opens up between Washington and Brussels. Condi Rice’s reference to “like-minded” nations potentially acting outside the UNSC rubric prompted Javier Solana to retort that no European country would take part in such a coalition of the willing. While Solana is wrong to offer Admadinejad the succor of believing that as long as China and Russia hold out he’s safe, the US should have known better than to beg the question right now. For time being, the language needed to keep the EU on board starts with the letters U and N. Other options must remain open, but well in the background in the short term.
- Hold firm on the idea that Iran cannot dictate to the UN – Ahmadinejad’s latest gambit was to allow robust international inspections, but only if their case is referred back from the Security Council to the IAEA. It did so because only the UNSC has the power to act – through sanctions or force – in response to evidence of misbehavior. The Administration rightly rejected this. Iran cannot dictate to the international community how and where it addresses threats to peace and security.
- Consider an outcome involving intrusive inspections under UNSC supervision – Given the provisions of the NPT that allow for civilian nuclear development, and the absence of a recognized exemption for countries that hide and lie about their weapons programs, its hard to see how international consensus coalesces around anything tougher than rigorous inspections under a watchful UN eye. While that’s neither an ideal nor a permanent solution, the experience in Iraq suggests that if inspectors have unfettered access, they can go a long way toward cramping the style of a rogue state.
Iran is currently estimated to be 5-10 years away from operational nuclear weapons. The longer that timeline can be stretched, the greater the likelihood of regime change in the meantime which could open up possibilities for a more complete solution, potentially as part of a beefed up global non-proliferation framework. If Iran defies the inspections, all other options come back on the table.
Iran is currently estimated to be 5-10 years away from operational nuclear weapons. The longer that timeline can be stretched, the greater the likelihood of regime change in the meantime which could open up possibilities for a more complete solution, potentially as part of a beefed up global non-proliferation framework. If Iran defies the inspections, all other options come back on the table.Before throwing up your hands on this approach, consider the alternatives: under the current NPT the UN will never back forcing Tehran to give up on civilian nuclear energy. While the US rightly sees that as the safest outcome, achieving it through anything short of regime change seems impossible. Everyone knows that an invasion is impracticable, and there’s no sign that Ahmadinejad’s particularly vulnerable internally (in fact, the international pressure is by some accounts strengthening him politically). Sad to say, there’s no viable scenario in which a totally de-nuked Iran emerges in the short-term.
So while we’re right to continue to demand a complete cessation of Iran’s nuclear program, policymakers should privately acknowledge that this outcome is unlikely and be sketching detailed contours for the kind of inspection regime that would keep Iran on the reservation. Getting even this won’t be easy.