Thursday, January 19, 2006

Then What?

France--with the backing of the United States--has rejected Iran's request for more talks on the Islamic Republic's nuclear program. Secretary of State Condolezza Rice summed it up best, saying "there's not much to talk about," in terms of additional negotiations with Iran.

The EU-3 are now pressing ahead to develop "the greatest possible consensus" in dealing with Iran, whatever that means. The international Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has already agreed to hold an emergency meeting of its board of governors, on 2 February in Vienna. At that meeting, the EU-3 and the United States are expected to press the IAEA to refer the matter to the UN Security Council. However, Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns, on a diplomatic mission to South Asia, told reporters that "differences remain" in coordinating an Iranian strategy with Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China.

Let's assume for a moment that the world powers can overcome their differences, create a united front and persuade the IAEA to refer Tehran to the UNSC. Then what? At that point, the policy track seems to get a little murky. As we pointed out previously, China is now a major consumer of Iranian energy, and has indicated it might veto any security council resolution that imposes harsh sanctions on Iran. And even the Europeans--for all their new-found forcefulness on the Iranian issue--seem a little squishy. In a draft resolution now being circulated, the Europeans ask the UNSC to press Tehran to "extend full and prompt cooperation" to the IAEA. However, the resolution stops short of asking the UN to impose sanctions against Iran. Other reports indicate that Russia is seeking an option that stops short of an actual referral.

Is it any surprise, then, that Tehran shows so little concern about the current round of diplomatic maneuvering? Tehran's foreign minister described the case for a UNSC referral as "weak." Iranian President Ahmadinejad shrugged off the proposed resolution entirely, calling it "politically motivated."

With the threat of a meaningless resolution hanging over their heads, the Iranians can remain indifferent to the diplomatic process. At some point, they will probably express interest in a new or modified proposal, but only for the sake of sustaining the diplomatic sideshow and avoiding real sanctions or military action. And that will probably be enough to keep the Europeans and U.S. engaged diplomatically, while Iran's nuclear program keeps marching along.

For some clear-headed thinking on the Iranian problem, I highly recommend the U.S. Army Institute's recently-published book, "Getting Ready for a Nuclear-Ready Iran." In one particularly illuminating section of the book, Kenneth Timmerman highlights the fallacies associated with the idea that we can "negotiate" with Tehran. In his conclusion, Timmerman believes we have only two options with Iran, capitulation or war. In a recent posting, I took Timmerman to task for some faulty assumptions about the Iranian military and reported sales of military hardware from Russian to Iran. However, in this case, I believe Timmerman is correct. A nuclear-armed Iran cannot be allowed to emerge (as long as the country is ruled by a radical clerical regime) and the U.S. must be prepared to take military action to prevent Tehran from joining the nuclear club.

As an alternative, Michael Ledeen suggests increased support for Iranians who want to overthrow their repressive government. I second that notion, but with a cautionary note. Since the Iranian student movement fizzled a few years back, the domestic opposition has been in relative disarray. Meanwhile, the mullahs have shown no hesitation to do whatever it takes to secure their hold on power. True, spontaneous revolutions have occurred recently in Lebanon and the Ukraine, surprising everyone. But those uprisings succeeded because the existing governments were weak, and potential spoilers (Syria, Russia) were unable or unwilling to intervene. That is not the case in Tehran. But Ledeen's idea of a "people's revolt" makes more sense that pointless diplomacy, or a military coup that might lead to a civil war.


Wanderlust said...

I disagree, paul s.

The B-2 scenario you mention assumes that these "known" facilities can be shut down from above. However, I have to believe that although the mullahs may be mad, they aren't stupid: there will be multiple access points, including multiple ventilation shafts, into multiple, perhaps redundant, subterranean complexes. These complexes would likely be scattered all over the countryside, perhaps including sitting right under heavily populated areas.

There's an old adage that a wounded beast is the most dangerous of all. The B-2 strike would be a deep scratch, as it were, but nowhere near fatal. And that scratch would make the beast much more likely to go nuclear than not.

Meanwhile the Strategic Studies Institute has this to say with regards to its document on Iranian containment:

To contain and deter Iran from posing such threats, the United States and its friends could take a number of steps:

...encouraging Israel to set the pace of nuclear restraint in the region by freezing its large reactor at Dimona and calling on all other states that have large nuclear reactors to follow suit...

(emphasis mine)

WTF??? Why does everyone think that "getting Israel to play nice" by "being an example" is going to do ANYTHING other than encourage the Islamofascists???

Israel has been the model of nuclear restraint in the region for over three decades. To my knowledge, she has never, ever overtly threatened anyone with the possibility of a nuclear response, much less even publicly admitting or confirming that she has a nuclear IRBM capability.

Contrast this behavior with that of Iran, Pakistan, and other states or political groups crowing about the nukes they either have, or want to have.

There's simply no comparison. The SSI's suggestion that Israel dismantle its public nuclear power works on the [slim] hope of appeasing the Islamofascists is just that: appeasement. Israel has very little petrochemical resources of its own to use for power generation, and not much hydro, so civilian nuclear power makes a lot of sense there. Iran and the other "oil tick" nations, however, have so much petroleum and natural gas to use for energy generation that the cost of nuclear power makes that option financially ludicrous.

Unless, of course, the civilian nuclear power facilities are tweaked to put out a little plutonium 239 on the side, you know, for a rainy day...


Unknown said...

Good comments, all....

Regarding the B-2, it's worth remembering that we only built 20 of the aircraft, and not all are operational at any given time. And while the B-2 can service multiple targets per mission, the Iranian target set is large--beyond the capabilities of a single aircraft type.

If we decide to puruse the military option with Iran, I envision an "Allied Force" operation, built almost entirely around airpower. There is little consideration for a ground option, unless Iran does something like invade Iraq. Iran is roughly the size of Alaska; it has tremendous defensive depth in a ground campaign, and they would harass us every step of the way, using Basilj forces, which belong to the IRGC. Too much ground to occupy, and too many difficulties in the occupation for us to completely take over Iran. However, I could envision an incursion into the Bandar Abbas area and selected Persian Gulf islands, to prevent Tehran from shutting the straits of Hormuz.

To be effective, we would have to mount a massive air operation whose endurance would likely surpass the 88-day campaign mounted against Serbia. Hammer suspected nuclear sites, ballistic missile garrisons/operating locations, air defense nodes, telecommunications centers, and military concentrations over and over and over again. Meanwhile, AEGIS-equipped Navy vessels and Patriot batteries would defend our forces in the region from missile attack, while the ARROW II system does the same task for Israel. In this scenario, Iranian use of chem and bio weapons is virtually a certainity; that will make it tougher on our personnel in the region, who will have to fight the war in CBW suits, in stifling desert heat.

Finally, there is no guarantee that even a sustained air campaign will completely eliminate Iran's WMD capabilities and delivery platforms. Hopefully, it would be enough to trigger an internal revolt, much as we saw in Serbia following ALLIED FORCE.