Monday, July 03, 2006

Stop or We’ll … Uh … or We’ll …

The six western nations (including the U.S.) that are negotiating with Iran to stop uranium enrichment have issued an ultimatum (see here) to try to force Iran to comply by July 12. The term ‘negotiating with Iran’ can only be applied in the loosest sense, since Iran is largely a non-participant in the negotiations.

So far, the process has consisted of the six nations describing to Iran a package of incentives and threats. Iran has responded, at least publicly, by pretty much by laughing at them and telling them to shove it. Although diplomats have been very tight-lipped about what the package includes, it would appear to be highly unpersuasive.

Iran certainly has weaknesses that can be exploited, but there is no clear evidence of sufficient will on the part of the rest of the world to do so, especially as far as all of the main players are concerned. The referenced article cites unnamed diplomats in claiming that “Russia and China were closer than ever to supporting the West on U.N. Security Council action - including sanctions …”

Oh, really. That's like saying they wouldn't touch sanctions with a 9½-foot pole rather than with a 10-foot pole. And even if they truly supported sanctions, what would those sanctions be? Something akin to Saddam’s oil for food fiasco? Or perhaps the tidily-wink games that the U.N. Security Council played for months in the run-up to the liberation of Iraq? In fact, is there any example of truly effective sanctions by the U.N.?

Diplomacy is certainly the most desirable method of resolving international conflict. However, diplomacy can only work when a credible military threat exists. A military threat is only credible when there is sufficient military might and the will to use it. Can anyone demonstrate that these elements are in place today, or will be in place by July 12?

Sadly, the current diplomatic ultimatum comes across as implying, “If you don’t stop by July 12, we will be forced to issue another ultimatum.”


Demosthenes said...

Well said. The issue at hand, then, is what to do about it. Personally, I don't feel that the U.S. should act unilaterally against Iran. However, the chances of a legitimate multilateral military approach are slim at best. So in light of this conundrum, what do you feel is the best course of action for the United States?

Reach Upward said...

The U.S. would be totally remiss if it were not right now quietly formulating a number of potential military strategies, including ones that involve allies and countries that sense a threat from Iranian nuclear enrichment.

The U.S. should also be formulating multilateral strategies to make life as difficult as possible for Iranian leaders, realizing that numerous important countries will not support us in this effort. So the strategies should exploit Iran's greatest weaknesses in a way that provides the least amount of benefit to other Iran-friendly countries.

For example, while Iran has lots of oil, it has limited refining capability, causing Iran to import a lot of refined fuel. There are ways of inhibting that flow while keeping Russia from benefitting by attempting to replace it.

We don't have to act militarily, but we should be ready to do so if Iranian Pres. Nutcake and his mullah handlers push it to the brink; if they, for example, sell or give the makings for WMD to other (terrorist) states or organizations.

Cameron said...

Does this remind anyone else of the fall/winter of 2002?

The UN was "negotiating" with Iraq and passed resolution 1441, a "final" resolution for Iraq to make an accounting of its weapons systems. Iraq laughed, just as Iran is doing now. The UN waffled.

No country will listen to anything the UN has to say. The UN is toothless. They have declawed themselves through a history of big talk and weak, if any, action.

Even worse is the fact that the UN is corrupt. Iraq consistently bought off members of the Security Council nations. The "sanctions" against them were a joke. Oil for food was a fraud.

I don't see how multilateralism can exist in this scenario. But acting unilaterally doesn't sound great either.

Reach Upward said...

Good points, MVM. The UN ostensibly exists for the purpose of talking. But that is all it can really do. The reason the UN has no teeth is that it has no 'real' military power apart from the combined military might and will of its members. Given the competing interests of its members resulting in lack of will, the combined military might means nothing.

Many people think the League of Nations failed because the US refused to get involved, but that is only a partial explanation. The fact is that, like the UN, the LoN had nothing to back up its talk. WWII was fought and won only after we cobbled together a multilateral force that felt sufficient threat from the Axis to put aside some differences in order to combine their military might and will.

While acting unilaterally seems unpalatable, we have to take partners where we can get them. Every conflict will bring different potential partners depending on which countries sense a sufficiently significant threat. For this reason, we have to explore all possibilities. Countries that refuse to stand with us on one threat might be quite willing to do so on another. We cannot expect permanent partnerships, such as the UN, to be useful when talking fails.