Democracy Arsenal

May 09, 2006


Iran Learns from North Korea
Posted by Derek Chollet

As we all focus on the escalating problem with Iran, there seems to be some serious cognitive dissonance about another nuclear problem – North Korea.  Remember that other part of the “axis of evil?”  The U.S. approach to these problems has been largely the same, as have the results.  Writing in yesterday’s Boston Globe, my colleague (and occasional DA contributor) Jon Wolfsthal and I take a look at this.  Here’s some of what we say: 

For nearly three years the Administration approached the North Korea issue by wavering between half-hearted diplomacy and uncoordinated pressure tactics, refusing to talk to North Koreans face-to-face and choosing instead to argue over the shape of the table.

It was not until last fall that American diplomats began to act decisively.  Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice swept into office pledging that the “time for diplomacy is now,” and empowered Assistant Secretary Christopher Hill to deal directly with the North Koreans.  This new engagement worked, as Hill extracted important pledges from Pyongyang to dismantle its nuclear programs in exchange for discussions about possible cooperation on alternative energy sources.

But even then the administration began to falter.  As soon as the North Koreans inevitably and expectedly tried to negotiate for more, the Administration reverted back to its previous approach and allowed important but secondary issues like North Korea’s counterfeiting American currency to get block progress.  The September deal unraveled, and now seven months later, the U.S. is back at square one – no other six-party talks are even scheduled.  Meanwhile Pyongyang has quadrupled its nuclear arsenal potential and continues to operate a plutonium production reactor and could extract the material as early as this month, providing it with enough material to take its suspected nuclear arsenal from 9 to 12 nuclear weapons.

Instead of walking away from the problem, the U.S. must work to test North Korea’s willingness to deal by engaging them directly.  Rather than allowing less urgent issues to stand in the way, it should offer to meet with North Korea anytime and anywhere to make rapid progress on the nuclear issue.  And in the event that North Korea’s nuclear ambitions cannot be reversed, the U.S. needs to act now to shore up its deterrence on the peninsula, including by bringing back the troops moved from Korea to Iraq back and strengthening tactical missile defenses, and air and naval forces.

Finding a way to jump-start dealing with the North Korea threat is critical for the stability of East Asia; but it will also shows a possible way out of our current impasse with Iran. North Korea’s success in acquiring a nuclear capacity has provided Iran with a reliable playbook -- one they continue to use with great success.

Continue reading "Iran Learns from North Korea" »

April 25, 2006


Running out of time with Iran
Posted by Derek Chollet

How far will United States go to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons?  In Washington and key capitals around the world, politicians and policymakers are focusing closely on this difficult question.  The recent frenzy of press reports about Bush Administration’s secret planning for a military attack on Iran lead many to fear that we have entered the grim and sobering endgame. 

Reaching this point was not necessarily inevitable.  For most of the 34 months since arms inspectors blew the whistle on Iran, exposing its efforts to develop nuclear technology secretly in violation of its international commitments, Washington’s approach has been shockingly bumbled and confused.  Only recently has the Bush Administration pursued the kind of strong and serious diplomatic approach the threat required months ago, working with key European allies to pressure Iran within the United Nations Security Council.

But in Tehran, the hard-line mullahs and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad show little sign that they are interested in bargaining for anything less than an independent nuclear capability.  They are on a collision course with the rest of the world – and rather than sensing trouble, they seem to relish the situation.

Continue reading "Running out of time with Iran" »

April 20, 2006


How do you say Karl Rove in Persian?
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

"Simulated irrationality" is an unspoken policy of Iran's leadership-- according to a young  Iranian-American academic who I had the chance to hear at a roundtable this week.  Hmmmmm... Maybe the leaders in Tehran and Washington are playing the same "Careful, cuz I'm nuts" game with each other.  We declare "all options" on the table, we're all sticks with no carrots (threats but not negotiations).  We conduct questionable mega-bomb tests in Nevada (creepily called "Divine Strake"). Congress prepares to dole out money for regime change.  As for the other side, Iran's leadership is impossible to decipher (who's in charge of the nukes?) Their wack-a-doo president rants constantly about Israel, denies the holocaust and ups the ante in the nuclear roulette.  Call me cynical, but politics, like love and war has no rules nor geography. Seems President Ahmadinejad has taken a page out of the Rove handbook: Ignore mainstream folks and stoke the fundamentalist base. The armageddon lobby has gone global. 

Here are some other tidbits I heard this week at various discussions.

Ahmadinejad's anti-Israel hysterics are a terrible embarassment for the rest of Iran's leadership. In fact, others in leadership have been forbidden to ever spew in similar fashion. He continues doing this for his political base for whom Islam's relationship to Israel is critical.  The rural poor are Ahmadinejad's base. Wealth distribution is their issue--and he turns on the fundi rhetoric to distract them from this cruel problem. Values-voters anyone?

"The establishment"  in Iran want Ahmadinejad to fail. If he fails on his own, he will be marginalized. If he can blame the USA, he'll stick around, buoyed by nationalism.  He's already in constant campaign mode, holding huge rallies. We need to stop writing the plot and characters for our enemy.

In May, 2003, the Bush Administration allegedly received a missive containing extensive concessions from Iran--including nuclear issues.  They didn't respond. Keep in mind, this was right as the USA rolled victoriously into Iraq--when the Neo-Con hubris was at its most extreme. The theory is that because of the Iraq experience, the Bush administration figured that no discussion was necessary and that they could trounce the Iranians later without compromise.  Most shocking missed opportunity: one Iranian concession was an offer to disarm Hezbollah.  Given the pulseless response, the Iranians concluded that working with Washington was impossible.

Continue reading "How do you say Karl Rove in Persian?" »

April 12, 2006

Middle East, Proliferation

Iran is Not Cuba and Bush is not Kennedy
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

So now David Ignatius has jumped on Graham Allison's "Iran is the Cuban missile crisis in slow motion" bandwagon.

I think this is a non-useful and maybe even dangerous comparison for several substantive and political reasons:

1) the core problem, Iran's move toward nuclear weapons, is progressing in such slow motion, if you believe experts outside the Administration, that we have years, not weeks or months, to work with.  This only becomes an immediate threat when we start rattling nuclear sabers -- but saying "Cuban missile crisis" reinforces the idea that the problem requires immediate and comprehensive fixing.  Instead it requires immediate management with an eye toward a long-term solution.  That's different.

2) Ratcheting up the fear level serves the interests of those who are talking nuclear or conventional strikes.  It makes it -- as Allison knows better than almost anyone from his study of the Cuban missile crisis -- harder to back down.

3)  Which brings us to the crucial point:  Bush is no Kennedy.  Rumsfeld is no McNamara.  We don't have even the level of understanding of the Iranian regime that we had of the Soviets (McNamara's account of the Cuban crisis highlights the role of the US Ambassador to the USSR, Tommy Thompson, who had actually lived with Khrushchev briefly.)

4)  An additional point:  I am reminded that, while for people over a certain age the phrase "Cuban missile crisis" evokes sheer terror, for young people it evokes nothing -- except "crisis."  And again, this is a very serious problem that doesn't have to be a Cuban-scale immediate crisis -- unless we choose to make it one.

Happy spring renewal holiday of your choice -- or just enjpy the nice weather.

Continue reading "Iran is Not Cuba and Bush is not Kennedy" »

March 30, 2006

Proliferation, Report Blop

Posted by Arsenal Guard

Are we MAD?   Keir A. Leiber and Daryl G. Press claim that the United States is acquiring nuclear primacy - the ability to eliminate an enemy's nuclear retaliatory capability with a first strike - which will end the relative stability of Mutually Assured Destruction.

March 07, 2006


Now The Hard Part
Posted by The Editors

Guest Blogger: Jon B. Wolfsthal, Nonproliferation Fellow -- International Security Program, CSIS.

For three years the United States has been trying to bring Iran’s violations of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and alleged pursuit of nuclear weapons to the UN Security Council. The International Atomic Energy Agency Board of Governors reported Iran’s behavior to the UN in early February and gave Iran one month to clear up lingering concerns about its program, after having previously found Iran in violation of its inspection obligations. Nobel Laureate and IAEA Director General reported to the IAEA Board last week that Iran is still obstructing inspection requests by the Agency, and advancing its uranium enrichment program and despite last minute diplomatic efforts by the EU and Russia, the matter is now headed directly for New York and the UN Security Council.

Continue reading "Now The Hard Part" »

March 02, 2006


Bush's Nuclear Deal with India
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

Bushsingh I'm not ready to pronounce on the merits of the deal announced tonight on nuclear proliferation between Bush and Indian President Manmohan Singh, but I will offer some early musings.  Details of the accord are here

The deal would open the door for the US and others to aid India in building its civilian nuclear power capabilities despite the country's refusal to accede to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.  It provides for inspections of the 14 of India's 22 nuclear facilities that the country classifies as civilian, but leaves the remaining 8 military nuclear facilities to operate unimpeded.  The agreement needs Congressional approval and some legislative amendments before it can go into effect, and whether it will get those is in question.

There's a lot to this, but let me just offer a few observations:

1. US-India Relationship.  There's been a lot of pressure on Bush to demonstrate tangible progress is tightening ties to India, mostly as a counterweight to China's rising power.  With talk of how Bush can salvage a foreign policy legacy despite the morass in Iraq, this agreement has the potential to pave the way for a realignment, strengthening the ties between two leading democracies and deepening American influence on the sub-continent.  All this is good.

2.  Future of the NPT.  Many are pointing to this deal as the potential death knell for the NPT, in that it extends to India the same privileges that were formerly reserved for countries that renounced nuclear weapons development.  This is true, but nothing new.  Mort discussed the longstanding issues in this post.   Bottom line is that the NPT has been hobbling along for years and its not clear that pretending otherwise has served the cause of nonproliferation.  This is why IAEA Chair Mohammed El-Baradei has actually endorsed the deal.  I don't see this as the worst of all things.

3.  Legitimacy of the US's Non-Proliferation Efforts - While the contradictions inherent in the US's proliferation policy have been apparent for years, this deal would seem to mark end of US efforts to contort its policies to fit the NPT.   While that may be justified, if we do not move to undergird the deal with India with a new, broader non-proliferation framework that would justify differential treatment of states based on some objective criteria we will have zero credibility in trying to crack down on proliferators like Iran.  As we learned the hard way in Iraq, credibility in such efforts is a precondition for international support which, in turn, can be a prerequisite for success.  But the Administration has failed to proffer a vision for a redesigned non-proliferation regime, leading others to conclude that we don't care whether our proliferation policies are seen as legitimate or no.  In the absence of a credible effort to relaunch the non-proliferation regime, the accord with India will be viewed as just another circumvention of the rules.  This will undoubtedly be damaging to the US.

4.  Pakistan.  The Pakistanis aren't happy about the Indians getting a sweet nuclear deal that they will never match.  Will this snubbing further embolden the extremists that have already twice tried to assassinate Musharraf and take over the country and its nuclear arsenal?  It could very well.  This is a worrying wild card.

January 27, 2006


The North Korea Crisis: Still Simmering
Posted by Jeffrey Stacey

While the current American foreign policy focus is split between the vagaries in Iraq and duplicitous protestations of nuclear innocence in Iran, the crisis in North Korea simmers on.  Why is the U.S. devoting so much time to an Iran that is ten years away from producing nuclear weapons compared with a rocket-proliferating regime that is now actively producing nuclear bombs?

The U.S. can hardly afford frittering away more time, as the window of opportunity for defusing this crisis is beginning to close—while the North may have already built as many as eight nuclear bombs, in December it announced that it was reopening nuclear plants at Yongbyon and Taechon.  This move came on the heels of Pyongyang’s announcement that as a result of new U.S. financial sanctions it is pulling out of the stalled 6-party talks.

In November the talks achieved an apparent breakthrough, when the North in principle agreed to give up its nuclear weapons in return for security guarantees and economic and fuel aid.  However, the very next day the North claimed it had not agreed to the timetable that the U.S. and China et al. had insisted on.  Since then, not only have no new talks been scheduled, but diplomatic tensions have risen, and all the while Pyongyang continues to pursue its nuclear ambitions.

Continue reading "The North Korea Crisis: Still Simmering" »

January 21, 2006


No Military Option with Iran
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

Joe Cirincione at the Carnegie Endowment has penned an important analysis that cautions policymakers against using military options to break the current nuclear impasse with Iran.  He writes:

There is no need for military strikes against Iran.  The country is five to ten years away from the ability to enrich uranium for fuel or bombs.  Even that estimate, shared by the Defense Intelligence Agency and experts at IISS, ISIS, and University of Maryland assumes Iran goes full-speed ahead and does not encounter any of the technical problems that typically plague such programs. 

He also elaborates on the failure of the Osirak Raid--when Israel bombed an Iraqi reactor on June 7, 1981:

The raid energized Saddam Hussein and Hussein's nuclear ambitions went from a side project to an obsession. He launched a new effort to secretly construct gas centrifuges and other devices (particularly electromagnetic isotope separation units) to produce weapons-grade uranium. The program went underground and mushroomed. "At the beginning we had approximately 500 people working, which increased to 7,000 working after the Israeli bombing," Hamza explained to a Washington audience in November 2000, "The secret program became a much larger and ambitious program.

Read the whole thing here.

January 16, 2006


A New Grand Bargain for Nuclear Nonproliferation
Posted by Morton H. Halperin

With Iran and North Korea both continuing to defy American efforts to get them to abandon nuclear programs, we need to consider whether we are on the right track in our attempts to halt nuclear proliferation.   

The NPT tried to create a grand bargain.  States, other than the five who had already tested nuclear weapons, would agree not to develop such weapons.  In return they would receive assistance in developing nuclear power for peaceful purposes.

Ever since, all American administrations have adopted a double standard in implementing this bargain, looking the other way when our friends decline to sign and ratify the NPT or hedge their commitments and coming down hard on "rogue states."   However, the Bush administration has taken this posture several steps further by accepting the Indian nuclear programs and by seeking sanctions against Iran (which continues to observe its treaty obligations) and North Korea which has exercised its right to withdraw from the treaty.

The United States needs to put forward neutral rules which apply to all states and which take account of the realities of the twenty-first century.

Continue reading "A New Grand Bargain for Nuclear Nonproliferation" »

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