Iran, getting tough with
Should the West take tougher measures against Iran for its alleged nuclear weapons programme?
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Although there are disagreements as to exactly how long it will take Iran to produce a nuclear weapo...
Although there are disagreements as to exactly how long it will take Iran to produce a nuclear weapon, it is likely to happen soon. In July 2004 Iran claimed to the EU-3 that it had enough weapons grade uranium to produce a bomb within a year. Intelligence reports suggest Iran did not manage to live up to this boast, however in 2005 the US Defence Intelligence Agency estimated that Iran would have enough enriched uranium or weapons-grade plutonium for a weapon early next decade. Yet we should be careful because Iran has repeatedly revealed itself to be further advanced than the world had realised; in the past analysts and experts have underestimated its stocks of uranium and plutonium, and most recently it surprised the world by showing off 164 functioning high-tech P-2 uranium centrifuges. It was upon similar technology, also acquired from Abdul Qadeer Khan, that Libya based its nuclear programme. Libya, like Iran, had deliberately followed several routes to produce fissile material (for instance through both enriched uranium and plutonium) thereby giving its scientists a better understanding of the process and helping them to make the final jump to weaponised fissile material. The world was shocked at how close Libya had come to a functioning nuclear weapon when it revealed its programme in December 2003 and we should not risk letting Iran surprise us in a far more threatening way. Once Iran has acquired enough enriched uranium for a bomb it is those few easy-to-hide kilograms of fissile material, rather than the nuclear facilities, which would have to be destroyed to block Iran from building a weapon. Thus the international community has only a short time to halt the operation of the centrifuges which Iran is using to produce enriched uranium, before regime change becomes the only real solution.
We have plenty of time to negotiate a settlement with Iran: the 2005 National Intelligence Estimate on Iran says the regime will not have a weapon for at least a decade and a 2002 US intelligence estimate says Iran will not have missiles with sufficient range to reach the United States until 2015 at the earliest. Iran has had a longstanding nuclear programme which was accelerated in the late 1980s in response to the Iraqi nuclear programme and chemical attacks during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war. Sunni-run Iraq under Saddam was perceived to be a threat in the years after the 1991 Persian Gulf War and given Iraq’s stronger conventional forces a nuclear weapon was seen as the ultimate deterrent to a second war. Greater American presence in the region after 1991, and especially with the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq since 9/11, has added a second potential foe whose overwhelming conventional forces mean that the Iranian regime’s only trump card in ensuring its survival is a nuclear weapon. The regime has looked at the differing experiences of North Korea (a key nuclear collaborator) and Iraq at deterring American aggression and has realised the power of having a defensive weapon. The regime has not threatened aggressive use of a nuclear weapon against America nor is there any suggestion it would provide a weapon for terrorist groups to target America on their behalf (it has not provided terrorists with access to its longstanding chemical or biological weapons programmes). As the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamene’i, has made clear, Iran seeks a nuclear weapon to guarantee its own security rather than to threaten the world. The US would still have overwhelming conventional and nuclear dominance which, in the opinion of the US National Defence University, would be enough to deter it from an attack on the US because such an attack would be tantamount to suicide, so we should not be so concerned about the Iranian programme.
The negotiated approach tactic of the so-called EU-3 has failed. Iran has not only rejected the May...
The negotiated approach tactic of the so-called EU-3 has failed. Iran has not only rejected the May 2006 offer of incentives from the United States which went over and above what the EU-3 were offering, but has also revealed that it had been secretly developing higher-tech centrifuge technology (called P-2 technology) with help from the Pakistani nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan throughout the negotiations with the EU-3 during the period 2002 to 2006. The Iranian regime has shown itself to be determined to develop nuclear technology which is only truly necessary for a weapons programme. Continued negotiations will only give it the chance to embarrass and divide the rest of the world while bringing it closer to possessing a nuclear weapon it can use to threaten Israel and the West. The UN Security Council should impose stricter sanctions on Iran to persuade it to change its ways and should consider military action (unilaterally on the part of the United States if necessary) to destroy key Iranian nuclear facilities.
The world will not tolerate armed intervention in Iran by the USA, Israel or a ‘Coalition of the Willing’. That is why Russia and China blocked attempts to pass a UN Security Council resolution under Chapter VII (which might allow military action) and instead insisted on a resolution under Article 41 of the UN Charter, which allows for measures “not involving the use of armed force” in July 2006. The UN has not been quick to impose sanctions on Iran but with oil so expensive many states will resist doing anything which might threaten the global economy. After all, Iran has made it clear that it will view sanctions as an act of war, one which will prompt it to retaliate by cutting oil sales to the US and Europe. And as Iran can easily target shipping sailing through the Strait of Hormuz, it is in a strong position to disrupt oil exports from Kuwait, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States.
Members of Bush Administration regularly describe President Ahmadinejad as ‘mad’ and quote claims he...
Members of Bush Administration regularly describe President Ahmadinejad as ‘mad’ and quote claims he has made that he wants to prepare the way for the 12th ‘Hidden’ Imam. According to the Twelver Shi’ite doctrine, the 12th Imam’s revelation will be accompanied by the advent of Islam as the global religion, however it will also mark the coming of the ‘Day of the Resurrection’ or what Christians refer to as the Last Judgement. Members of the Bush Administration claim that President Ahmadinejad will seek to use nuclear weapons to hasten the arrival of the 12th Imam by destroying Israel and prompting nuclear war. Faced with such an irrational regime the world should act quickly to ensure it never gets access to weapons of mass destruction.
President Ahmadinejad is anything but ‘mad’, in fact he is a shrewd negotiator who successfully served as Mayor of Tehran from 2003 to 2005. Similar rhetoric has been used by the Bush Administration against Saddam Hussein, Colonel Qadaffi, Kim Jong Il and Fidel Castro precisely because a ‘mad’ enemy is one with which the US does not have to engage in rational debate. Because they are supposedly unpredictable, they can be portrayed as a greater threat, thereby justifying regime change.
Even if President Ahmadinejad is not mad, he is undoubtedly engaged in an internal struggle to exert...
Even if President Ahmadinejad is not mad, he is undoubtedly engaged in an internal struggle to exert power over foreign and nuclear policy, which has traditionally been the preserve of the Supreme Leader (who is currently Ayatollah Khamene’i). Power is widely spread in Iran, with the Revolutionary Guard thought to be running the nuclear programme. They report to Khamene’i who is also the commander-in-chief of the regular armed forces. Some have argued that Ahmadinejad is consciously trying to circumvent Khamene’i by replacing large numbers of bureaucrats with more conservative allies. This overhaul has been most noticeable in the Foreign Ministry where around 40 senior diplomats have been removed. Thus Ahmadinejad is targeting his messages about the nuclear programme as much to elements within the regime as to the outside world, and this provides a completely different set of justifications for the nuclear programme. If Ahmadinejad can present himself as successfully defying the West over the nuclear issue he will be significantly strengthened domestically and have wrested control of foreign policy from Khamene’i. Ahmadinejad may be going even further, he knows that despite serving as President from 1981 to 1989, Khamene’i lacks the legitimacy his predecessor, Ayatollah Khomeini, acquired from his crucial role in the 1979 revolution and so may be manoeuvring to replace him with his mentor, Ayatollah Mohammed Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi. While Khamene’i constitutionally has control of the armed forces, Ahmadinejad has strong support there from his past service, and can count on large numbers of ex-Revolutionary Guards and ex-Basij (volunteer popular forces) to support him over the Supreme Leader. Ahmadinejad will not ‘give-in’ to Western negotiations because of the damage it would do to his domestic support; it is only through tough direct action that the West can force him to change his behaviour, or push other groups within Iran into standing up to him.
In fact Ahmadinejad is checked by the Iranian constitution from exercising too much power. For instance the Assembly of Experts, an elected body which can amend the constitution, is heavily influenced by Ayatollah Khamene’i. So is the Council of Guardians (half of whose members are directly appointed by the Supreme Leader) and which can strike down legislation and candidates for both the Presidency and the Majiles (Parliament). In October 2005 Khamene’i gave more power to the Expediency Council (headed by Rafsanjani, the man Ahmadinejad beat to the Presidency) which arbitrates disputes between the Council of Guardians and the Majiles. Finally the Supreme Leader put together his own ten-person Foreign Policy Committee in July 2006 made up of former foreign and defence ministers to provide an alternative policy centre to Ahmadinejad’s newly purged Foreign Ministry. Given that Khamene’i has control of the military and, crucially, the Revolutionary Guard, he will not allow a ‘mad’ or combative Ahmadinejad to take unilateral risks with the country’s security.
Even if Iran did not aggressively threaten the US with a nuclear weapon there is reason to suggest t...
Even if Iran did not aggressively threaten the US with a nuclear weapon there is reason to suggest that it might choose to destroy Israel with one. Since October 2005 President Ahmadinejad has repeatedly denied the Holocaust took place and argued that “Israel should be wiped off the map.” These statements cannot simply be dismissed as being for a domestic audience; Ayatollah Khamene’i has called Israel “a cancerous tumour” and in December 2001 Rafsanjahni explained that it would only take one Iranian nuclear bomb to destroy Israel but many Israeli bombs to destroy Iran. The entire nation of Israel could easily be destroyed by an Iranian nuclear weapon and the regime might gamble that for the sake of global peace the US might not retaliate with nuclear weapons in turn. Iran might also choose to hand nuclear technology to a third party to attack Israel on its behalf; a Jane’s Defence Weekly article from October 2005 alleged that Iran had offered to share chemical weapons technology with Syria in July 2005. In April 2006 Ayatollah Khamene’i said that Iran might transfer nuclear technology to Somalia or other Islamic states. While links between Al Qaeda and Iran are unclear (the former is a Sunni organisation opposed to Shia Islam), Iran admitted under US pressure in July 2005 that some 25 named Al Qaeda figures were under “house arrest” in Tehran and refused to hand them over to anyone else for trial. The links between Iran and Hezbollah are much clearer, and the conflict in Lebanon in the summer of 2006 shows the effects of Iran’s third party foreign policy projection. The West should not take the risk of giving Iran the option of destroying Israel or passing nuclear weapons to terrorist groups and should get tough now.
Although the US and Israel have threatened to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities, it would actually technically be very difficult. The Iranian regime learnt from the Israeli air strike on the Iraqi nuclear facilities at Osirak in 1981 and has since not only dispersed its facilities, but also moved many deep underground. For instance it is thought that the site at Natanz is some 25m underground. The US military estimates there are around 400 targets (75 of which are hardened and underground) that they would need to strike to seriously hamper and slow the nuclear programme. Yet US conventional bunker-buster bombs would find it difficult to penetrate many of these sites, which is why the Bush Administration was reportedly considering using small nuclear weapons to target these bunkers (although that option was blocked by the Joint Chiefs of the US military). With over 130,000 troops tied up in Iraq and NATO calling for greater troop support in Afghanistan, the US lacks the troop numbers for a ground attack on Iran, let alone the political will for the expected casualties. The likely Iranian retaliation would also be painful for the West and would probably include attacking Israel, targeting oil tankers travelling through the Straits of Hormuz (which carry 20% world’s oil), an end to oil exports to the West (taking 10% world’s oil and 1/6 of its gas off the market) as well as greater intervention to destabilise Iraq. Any attack would also be likely to rally support behind Ahmadinejad and the conservatives within Iran.
There is little chance of regime change occurring by itself in Iran, and so the West must step up to...
There is little chance of regime change occurring by itself in Iran, and so the West must step up to deter the regime from developing nuclear weapons itself. The last major student protests were in 1999, a strike by Tehran bus drivers was squashed without much reporting in March 2006 and overseas opposition groups are not particularly influential. In part this is because of a tightly controlled domestic media and the success of relatively anti-Western satellite TV stations like Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya, which have become much more popular than Western alternatives like Voice of America and BBC Persian. President Bush’s 2002 ‘Axis of Evil’ State of the Union address also enabled the regime to label all domestic opponents as American sympathisers and thus close them down. Yet buoyant oil prices (Iranian oil revenues increased from $24bn in 2003 to $47bn in 2005) have allowed the regime to reintroduce food and energy subsidies that the reformist Khatami government removed, bringing genuine support from poorer Iranians. Ahmadinejad has also increased the state sector’s control of the economy to around 70% which has aided job creation whilst cutting down on corruption amongst top officials, all of which has won him popularity. The US plans to spend $75m in the 2006 fiscal year on democracy promotion in Iran, but this has almost no chance of dividing Iranians from the regime. The only way to block the regime’s nuclear ambitions is to take tough direct action.
The real key to successfully influencing the Iranian regime lies with the Chinese and Russians. Both powers are keen to have access to Central Asia and the Middle East for its natural resources, which is why both have recently signed twenty year-plus oil supply contracts with the Iranian regime. Having paid $100bn for its 25 year deal, the Chinese government is unlikely to support regime change or action which will destabilise the continued supply of Iranian oil to Sinopec. This interest has been solidified through the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) which brought together Russia, China, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan as a group of states who rejected US intervention and which led to the ejection of the US from the Uzbeki Karshi-Khanabad air base. Iran is now being touted as the next state to be invited to join. Both China and Russia have also been key suppliers of weapons to Iran; the US claims that as recently as 2001 they were aiding its short and medium range missile technology development. As recently as December 2005 the Russian government agreed a $700m deal to sell advanced anti-aircraft systems to Iran, a deal which the US is pressuring Russia not to fulfil. In 1995 Russia designed and built the Bushehr nuclear plant for $800m. Yet because Iran is so lucrative for China and Russia they can act as a moderating influence on the regime. For instance Russia has pushed Iran to agree to send spent uranium from Bushehr back to Russia for reprocessing, rather than Iran carrying it out (which would allow Iran to enrich it to weapons grade levels). The West needs to recognise that Russia and China want to see the regime remain but might support a negotiated settlement. China and Russia do not yet see Iran as a being a threat or significantly unstable to pose a problem, but it is in their own economic interest to intervene once Iran gets to that point.
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