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The Collective
Saturday, September 26, 2009
By Steven L. Taylor

Here’s what I think is going to happen in regards to Iran:  the international community will condemn and point to treaties and international law and there may be some sanctions imposed.  At the end of the day, and amidst  loud complaints the Iranians will eventually develop both nuclear energy and, almost certainly, a nuclear weapon.   And then, like other nuclear powers, they will not use the weapon because they don’t all want to die.1

The best that we can hope for is that via various diplomatic means that the process can be slowed.

Now, understand:  I am not a proponent of nuclear proliferation and would certainly prefer that Iran not acquire such a device.  However, as I continue to point out:  there is ultimately very little that can be done to stop a state which has sufficient economic means from eventually acquiring the needed technology to produce a nuclear weapon.

The only possible route available for stopping an Iranian nuclear program would be a massive military invasion and occupation.   Sanctions, “crippling” (quotes both because it is a quote and because I think that scare quotes are appropriate) or otherwise, won’t work.  First, it is wholly unclear that there is sufficient international support for such a move.  Second, I can think of no historical example in which sanction worked on this kind of scale.  Third, the likelihood is that sanctions will simply increase Iranian resolve.

Indeed, after writing the above, I noted the following from Jim Walsh of MIT writing at the NYT:

Research on the effect of sanctions is difficult to assess, but some scholars conclude that sanctions work about half the time. They are most effective when applied over a long period of time on small countries that are dependent on the outside world Iran is a big country with oil, and it can build centrifuges faster than the international community can impose sanctions. The Islamic Republic is also a proud country, the kind for which sanctions are as likely to elicit defiance, as they are cooperation. Indeed, the Islamic Republic has been under one kind of sanction or another since its founding 30 years ago. Any objective assessment would have to conclude that sanctions have completely failed to alter Iran’s nuclear policy.

Indeed.

I would also note that being isolated and poor (the goals of sanctions are to isolate and impoverish) does not mean that a state cannot develop nukes (see:  North Korea).

This takes us to war, and that way is madness.  Let us consider a few specific facts.

1)  The US military is already rather heavily vested in both Iraq and Afghanistan.  Where are the resources going to come from for a war against Iran?   Are we going to reinstitute the draft to populate the military?

2)  War in the Persian Gulf would create a dramatic increase in oil prices.  The global economy is currently teetering between recovery and continued recession.  A massive spike in oil prices might very well cause a global depression.2

3)  An invasion of Iran would, no doubt, spark a wave of terrorism from groups like Hezbollah.

Further, there are no guarantees that a) the invasion would be successful (Iran is not Iraq, either in terms of military capacity or geography), and b) that an occupation could be maintained.    And then what happens once the occupation forces leave?  How long before some post-invasion government decides that what it really needs to protect Iran from future invasions is a nuclear weapon?

One of the things that too many people are missing in this debate:  there are reasons other use for the acquisition of said weapons.  Not only are there defensive reasons for wanting such a weapon, but perhaps more importantly, there are prestige reasons for wanting such a weapon.  Can anyone doubt that states with nukes aren’t treated differently than are states without?

Sphere: Related Content

  1. The same reason, by the way, that the Cuban Missile Crisis ended as it did, and the same reason why there has been no nuclear war between Pakistan and India, and the same reason that the North Koreans haven’t used their nukes, etc. []
  2. Correction: I originally wrote “recession,” but meant “depression” []
Filed under: Iran, US Politics, World Politics | |
The views expressed in the comments are the sole responsibility of the person leaving those comments. They do not reflect the opinion of the author of PoliBlog, nor have they been vetted by the author.

6 Responses to “There are no Good Options Regarding Iran”

  1. Mark Says:

    Dear Steven,

    This is well written and argued but I see no mention of Israel. Like you I don’t see anyone else doing something but can you really see Israel stand by? I would be interested in your thoughts.

    Mark

  2. Bill Daviau Says:

    There are some problems with the allied argument including 1.) The U.S. has not fulfilled its obligations of the Non Proliferation Agreement, 2.) We don’t hold Israel to any standard of reporting with regard to their nuclear program and 3.) It makes perfect sense for Iran to conceal the nuclear facility given that the United States and Israel, in defience of international law, keep threatening to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities. There are provisions of the Non Proliferation treaty that allow signatories to later opt out. Is that what we are pressing Iran to do? At that point they are like Israel with no requirement to report anything. Do we want a war with Iran? Most of our armed forces and naval ships are within their missile range. It would go badly for us.

  3. Steven L. Taylor Says:

    Mark,

    I am not so sure, despite public posturing on the issue, that it is as easy as some make it sound for Israel to efficaciously strike Iran without US help.

    S

  4. What To Do About Iran? | Heretical Ideas Blog Says:

    [...] wholeheartedly recommend this entire post of Steven Taylor’s regarding Iran. In particular, this bit about the insanity of military [...]

  5. Alex Says:

    “1) The US military is already rather heavily vested in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Where are the resources going to come from for a war against Iran? Are we going to reinstitute the draft to populate the military?”

    Why not recruit an international military force, led by a country other than the United States? Certainly we could provide some troops and plenty of advice and equipment, but perhaps the legwork should be done by a multi-national group.

  6. Steven L. Taylor Says:

    Alex,

    The simple answer is that there is no international support for such a military move.The US cannot even get troops to help in Afghanistan, what makes you thini that there is international support for a war in Iran?

    Heck, it is unclear that there is support for severe sanctions, let alone for an invasion.

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