Iran’s Reasons For Wanting The Bomb Affects Sanctions

Posted on Tue 04/20/2010 by


By William R. Hawkins

On April 14th, the State Department sent out a twitter about its concern over the “provision of increasingly sophisticated weaponry into Lebanon.” The issue had come up at the daily press briefing of Assistant Secretary Philip Crowley, who was asked about reports that Syria is giving Scud ballistic missiles to the Hezbollah militia in Lebanon. Sen. John McCain also raised the issue earlier in the day at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Iran with Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Michelle Flournoy.

Crowley responded that the issue had been raised with the Syrian ambassador, adding, “Regardless of the issue of Scuds, we are – we remain concerned about the provision of increasingly sophisticated weaponry to parties in – to Hezbollah. And this is an issue that we continue to raise with Syria, [and] other parties in the region.” Among the other parties must be Iran. Syria is Iran’s junior partner in the arming, funding and training of Hezbollah, and of Hamas terrorists in Gaza.

In his testimony, Deputy Secretary Flournoy talked about Iran’s role in Iraq, backing parties in elections as well as supporting party militias. Radical cleric Moqtada Sadr has been living in Iran since 2007, but heads a political group that holds 40 parliamentary seats in Iraq. His fighters have also attacked U.S. and Iraqi security forces several times over the years. Thus Flournoy concluded, “Iran is a serious threat to U.S. national security both because of its nuclear program and its destabilizing activities across the Middle East.”   …   (Right Click to Open in a New Tab)

The Obama administration has focused on the Iranian nuclear program in recent forums like the Nuclear Security Summit, but it cannot be taken out of the larger context of Tehran’s ambitions to dominate the region.   …

At the conclusion of the NSS, Obama said he hopes to submit a new sanctions resolution to the UN Security Council this spring. “I want to see us move forward boldly and quickly, to send the kind of message that will allow Iran to make a different calculation,” said the President. The White House has also used the term “cost-benefit analysis” in regard to how Iran should think about acquiring nukes. But is this the right concept? If the Tehran regime wants nuclear weapons as part of its grand strategy and not just as a bargaining chip, then the concept of “calculation” upon which the U.S. tactic of sanctions has been based will not work.

Why does Iran want the bomb? The regime believes that once it truly becomes the “nuclear state” that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad proclaimed in February, no outside power will dare attack the country or intervene in its internal affairs. Though one cannot entirely discount Ahmadinejad’s threats to use nukes to annihilate Israel or bring about Armageddon to fulfill religious prophecy, the more logical use of such weapons is as a deterrent umbrella beneath which Iran can continue to support terrorists and militia groups, and even expand directly without decisive counteraction. It is the regime’s insurance policy, a belief it shares with its collaborator North Korea who has used the “death ride” scenario to its advantage to quash any discussion of overthrowing the madmen in Pyongyang.

Against this concept of security, the offer of “beads and trinkets” to either Iran or North Korea is not attractive. The Obama administration came into office extolling “positive incentives” as an alternative to the “militarized” posture of the Bush administration. Even including in some “grand bargain” an American pledge not to seek regime change in Iran is not as comforting to the mullahs as having their finger on a nuclear trigger. The regime knows that its aggressive foreign policy and penchant for violence will at some point provoke a military response, and Iran will need a powerful deterrent to ward it off.

Of what use then is another round of sanctions? Economic sanctions have often been oversold as a way to change behavior, and when they fail to do so, lose their credibility. The real power of sanctions, however, is to cripple the ability of an adversary to carry out its hostile programs. To be successful, they cannot be mere pinpricks.

The comprehensive sanctions imposed on Iraq after the Gulf War were decisive in preventing Saddam Hussein from rearming or reconstituting his weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs. They drastically reduced the revenues available to Baghdad, preventing the rebuilding of Iraqi defenses, blocking the import of vital materials, and cutting off access to foreign technologies. Iraq’s military industrial capabilities were beaten down by 12 years of air raids, an arms embargo, and strangling economic sanctions. It was the creeping collapse of the sanctions, weakened by a desire to lessen their impact on the Iraqi people (the notoriously corrupt “oil for food” program), which would have allowed Saddam to finance a renewal of his WMD programs. The U.S. pre-empted this development with its 2003 invasion. Coalition forces met little resistance from a demoralized society alienated from a regime whose policies had not defended the country, but had ruined it.

As in Iraq, U.S. sanctions have targeted Tehran’s energy revenues and access to the global financial system. Iran holds 16 percent of the world’s proven gas reserves and 11 percent of the world’s oil reserves, but the regime desperately needs foreign investment and technology (particularly to liquefy natural gas) to develop them. U.S. sanctions are meant to deny Iran that help.

China has undermined sanctions by importing oil from Iran and investing in oil and gas projects there. The Obama administration has offered China assurances that alternatives to Iranian oil would be available. Beijing has rejected this gambit, indicating it is looking at the larger strategic picture and not just economics. Beijing wants to be aligned with the most powerful state in the region, one that shares its hatred of “American hegemony.”

The White House gave the impression after President Obama met with Chinese President Hu Jintao on the sidelines of the NSS that Beijing would support new sanctions on Iran, When Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Jiang Yu was asked to confirm this at a press conference April 13, he did just the opposite. He stated, “On the Iranian nuclear issue, our position has been consistent….Sanctions and pressure are not the fundamental way out. Relevant actions of the UN Security Council should be conducive to the turn-around of the situation and proper settlement of the issue through dialogue and negotiation.” The same process that has failed to stop Iran’s program since talks started in 2003, and which Beijing knows will continue to fail.

Hopes that Russia would come on board at the UN, thus isolating China as well as Iran, have faded as well. On April 9th, President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed a treaty to cut their nuclear arsenals, an event that was supposed to be a positive “reset” of relations. Immediately thereafter, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said his country would not support restrictions on gasoline imports to Iran. “A total embargo on deliveries of refined oil products to Iran would mean a slap, a blow, a huge shock for the whole society and the whole population,” he said, “We definitely are not prepared to consider” such moves. Despite its oil reserves, Iran lacks refinery capacity and must import 25-30 percent of is gasoline.

This is the same position that Moscow held last February when Oleg Rozhkov, the deputy director of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s security affairs and disarmament department, said,” Call them what you want – crippling or paralyzing – we are not going to work on sanctions or measures which could lead to the political or economic or financial isolation of this country [Iran].”

With widespread unrest in Iran, the result of a failing economy and a stolen election, now would be the perfect time to impose the “crippling” even “crushing” sanctions that the White House has talked about in the wake of its initial policy of engagement. The “calculation” that must be changed in Tehran is the notion that having nukes will save the regime. The message must be that pursuing nukes is what will bring the regime down, either from a popular uprising inside the country or military attack from the outside – or, more effectively, a one-two punch of both.

Iran’s downfall will not come at the UN, but from decisive action by the United States and its allies. Comprehensive sanctions backed by a naval blockade, including gasoline and other critical supplies valued by Iranian society, is the only pressure short of a direct military attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities that has any chance of working fast enough to prevent Tehran’s rulers from becoming nuclear warlords. Contributing Editor William R. Hawkins is a consultant specializing in international economic and national security issues. He is a former economics professor and Republican Congressional staff member.

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