How to Prevent War in the Gulf: While Stopping Iran from Getting the BombPrintable Version
Thursday, January 26, 2012
Amidst rising tensions in the Gulf, the international community weighs its options for nuclear deterrence in Iran. Bloomberg News Senior Correspondent Indira Lakshmanan and our expert panel discussed the implications of U.S. sanctions on Iran’s energy sector and next steps for the Obama Administration.
Strengthening the Coalition
For Alireza Nader, Senior International Policy Analyst at the Rand Corporation, Tehran’s threats to shut down the Straight of Hormuz in response to prospective sanctions can be understood in the context of a set of internal and external pressures. Increased regional and international isolation engendered by the Arab Spring movements, along with social unrest and a lagging economy, have placed the Iranian leadership in a tenuous position. Iran is operating from a position of vulnerability and Mr. Nader believes the regime can be properly deterred from weaponizing its nuclear program.
Mr. Nader also warns against a U.S. military strike on Iranian nuclear sites. An attack has the potential to undercut the internal opposition movement, mitigate public support for nuclear non-proliferation efforts, and solidify the regime’s control. Further pursuit of the diplomatic course is encouraged, with the broadening of an international non-proliferation coalition a necessity. China’s involvement in this process would represent a crucial development.
Dr. Afshon Ostavar, Middle East Analyst at CNA Strategic Studies, is less convinced that we could maintain peace in the Gulf and simultaneously succeed in our non-proliferation efforts. The current trajectory has locked the two sides in an either/or proposition wherein peace and nuclear deterrence can only be achieved through the sacrifice of one of these goals. Dr. Ostavar argues that Iranian’s do not view this matter in terms of an international relations dispute but rather a full-blown assault on its sovereignty:
This is already a conflict. And what they are doing is conflict management as opposed to diplomatic management. They are trying to see how far they can get without it escalating any further, because what Iran wants more than anything… is the preservation of its regime.
The solution for Dr. Ostavar rests on an existential premise – Iran must believe that U.S. foreign policy is not aimed at regime change. Disabusing them of this posture is not an easy task and the window for productive negotiations may have passed. Like Mr. Nader, Dr. Ostavar does not believe the military option is the right course of action. Nevertheless, he suggests that armed conflict seems probable unless the United States changes the diplomatic approach in such a way to ameliorate Iranian concerns.
The First Strike Option
Matthew Kroenig, Stanton Nuclear Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, provided the policy counterpoint for this discussion, arguing for a first strike option against Iranian nuclear sites. Mr. Kroenig outlined three possible outcomes of the current situation: 1) a diplomatic settlement between Iran and the United States 2) a nuclear-armed Iran 3) a military action undercutting Iranian capabilities. Despite it being the ideal solution, a successful negotiated outcome appears unlikely to Mr. Kroenig. However, a nuclear-armed Iran could foster increased support of proxy terrorism, harden the regimes control, and encourage nuclear proliferation in the region.
As a result, Mr. Kroenig presents targeted strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities as the least-bad option. The “red line”, or strategic threshold that would warrant a first strike, would be a sign of reaching critical levels of weapons-grade nuclear enrichment. Mr. Kroenig contends that despite recent misinformation around the subject, the U.S. military is very capable of eliminating the main Iranian nuclear facilities and has the means of managing the resulting military, political, and economic fallout.