Friday 17 Aug 2018 | 13:51 | SYDNEY
Friday 17 Aug 2018 | 13:51 | SYDNEY

Iran: Disarmament we can believe in


Raoul Heinrichs

16 July 2009 13:54

If President Obama’s bruising encounters with North Korea serve any general purpose, they might well be a reminder of the consequences of nuclear proliferation to rogue states, the ineffectiveness of engagement as a means of preventing it, and the dilemmas of containment once all else has failed.

Unfortunately, however, these lessons appear to be lost on Obama, whose ideological worldview lends itself to a seemingly unerring faith in the value of conciliatory diplomacy and schmaltzy gestures of understanding and goodwill.

Instead, Obama is preparing to replicate in his approach to Iran the same flaccid strategy that his predecessors used to deal with North Korea, which culminated, ignominiously, in a North Korean nuclear arsenal, an anxious set of allies, and a grinding diplomatic process of which Pyongyang’s ally, China, is the principal arbiter.

Iran, like North Korea, has every reason to want nuclear weapons and almost no reason to give them up. And there is little sign that the Ayatollahs are prepared to be tempted away from nuclear weapons, which promise to add to their legitimacy and security and allow them to exert a level of influence out of proportion to other elements of their national power.
In a number of respects, the choices facing Obama over Iran in the coming years are similar to those Bill Clinton faced over North Korea in the mid 1990s, except for one important difference: Obama has a viable military option.

Unlike North Korea, Tehran is not protected by a nuclear-armed great power. Its allies – Hezbollah, Hamas, and Syria – are concerned above all with retaining power and avoiding another battering at the hands of the Israeli military. Iran is poor and politically divided, it holds no regional city to ransom (at least not to the same extent that North Korea threatens Seoul), and although it regards itself as a regional great power, its military capabilities are vastly inferior to those of the US.

Of course, US advantages alone do not provide a clear guide to action. But woven into a realistic strategy, one that disciplines the use of military power and follows a logical sequence, they do provide Washington with the opportunity to forcefully prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

This, more than any number of conciliatory speeches, would augment the US position in the Middle East, reassuring Arab states and averting the need for Israel to undertake its own operation, which would be less effective, more destabilising, and in any case, certain to be blamed on the US. Russia and China would be sidelined, unable to extract concessions at every step for their grudging cooperation. And the US will have unequivocally reasserted its commitment to the enforcement of nuclear non-proliferation.

In my next post, I’ll venture a few thoughts on how such a strategy might be constructed.

Photo by Flickr user Pooyan, used under a Creative Commons license.