Friday, August 04, 2006

Survey Says...

One could hardly accuse The Atlantic of lacking a sense of timing. This survey of 38 foreign policy pundits on questions pertaining to Iran's nuclear ambitions seems as germane as ever given Iran's central role in so many of the most pressing crises in the Middle East at this moment. It doesn't take a fanciful mind to imagine how an Iran with nuclear arms might change the current dynamic.

Along those lines, I found some of the responses rather interesting. First, there seemed to be some degree of optimism that the right package of diplomatic entreaties could persuade Iran to forego its mission to build a nuclear weapon:

Do you believe there is any set of incentives and economic sanctions that could persuade Iran to give up its quest for nuclear weapons?

To be fair, many of the written responses indicate that we might succeed more in postponing Iran's eventual return to the nuclear weapon quest rather than achieve complete abandonment of that goal. But still, there is something to be said for buying even an additional five years: the hope being that Iran's society and political culture moderates over that time span. Here are some typical responses (all submitted anonymously):

“Yes, sort of—that is, I think they would be prepared to suspend [their nuclear program], but hold on to enough capabilities to hedge against unfavorable developments and restart it.”

“If the question is to persuade Iran to permanently abandon their quest, the answer is no. If the question is to persuade Iran [not to seek] nuclear weapons capability now (but with a capacity to move in that direction in the future), I think the answer is yes.”

“Give up? No. Postpone or delay? Yes. While a few countries, [having] once embarked on the quest for nuclear weapons, have indeed decided to abandon that quest when they concluded it was not in their interests. This certainly includes Sweden, South Africa and Libya. Others have decided that circumstances made it in their present interest to delay or postpone an effort, but not to forsake forever such a quest. These countries, Japan, Brazil and a few others, have kept the option available, usually under the guise of a peaceful nuclear power program. Iran, at best, can be moved to this second category of states.”

The response to the following question was remarkable to me because of the strength of the consensus:

If Iran were to build nuclear weapons, do you think it would likely...[u]se its nuclear weapons offensively, either by directly attacking other countries or by passing the weapons to terrorist groups?

86% No
14% Yes

From my own point of view, I would be lumped in with the 86% on the "no" side, but I was greatly encouraged to see such a high number. Some responses:

“I would say no to all three of these possibilities, unless we attack them.” [ed note: interesting, so the threat increases if we provoke]

“No. Iran has had chemical weapons for twenty years now and has not passed them to terrorists—upping the stakes and passing a nuclear weapon would be highly unlikely.”

“No. I think they will closely parallel the Chinese approach to nuclear weapons—as the ultimate symbol of superpower status and political might, but not as a war-fighting asset. I think we can deal with a nuclear Iran through traditional methods of deterrence.”

“No. Nuclear weapons will make Iran more confident and perhaps more influential, but not necessarily more irresponsible. Certainly that has not been the effect of such capacity upon any other nuclear power. The U.S. will be able to deter Iran from any use of its nuclear capacity against the U.S. and its allies. Of course Iran will to a much lesser degree also be able to deter the U.S.”

On the other side of the ledger:

“This is the real question! Most analysts will say that history shows that possession of nuclear weapons makes states more risk adverse and interested in stability. Classic case is the loss of revolutionary zeal in China after it crossed the threshold. But the real question is whether Iran is like all other states or does it believe that it has a divine mission whose accomplishment may well require massive destruction—even its own. The awful truth is that no one knows the answer to this question. We do not know it, not because we have a broken intelligence service that is incapable of penetrating Tehran's inner sanctums—although that is probably true. We do not know the answer to this question because it is a battle that is on-going in Iran itself and the answer belongs to the unknown future not to the hidden, secret present. This leads me to the conclusion that YES it is possible that Iran might indeed might in one way or the other directly, actually use its nuclear weapons that we must do everything in our power and interests to delay, postpone and deny it the acquisition of these weapons.”

Like this respondent, I'd rather not have to test out the theories, hunches and hypotheses. Much better to try to forge that optimal combination of carrots and sticks that brings about Iranian cooperation. Even if just for an additional five-ten years - enough time to see which way Iran's inner struggle breaks.

But attacking now would only increase the chances of an undesirable outcome in that all important internal struggle and, as one respondent indicated, increase the chances that an eventual nuclear Iran would seek to retaliate.

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?