The Need to Eliminate Iran’s Nuclear Weapon Capabilities and Restore US International Leadership

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Rationality & miscalculation in international conflict

Iran does not need nuclear weapons for defence. Its nuclear weapons program was originally conceived as a counter to Saddam’s Iraq. This is no longer any threat to Iran. Israel never has been a danger to Iran – apart from its current need to protect itself from the threat from Iranian nuclear weapons.

There are only two possible reasons for Iranian nuclear weaponry. The first is to intimidate and dominate. The second is for aggressive use. The first is certain. The second is a frightening prospect.

The Shi’a-Muslim ‘Internationale’

In 1919 following the Bolshevik revolution, Lenin and Zinoviev set up the Communist International – the ‘Comintern’. Its aims were to supersede the earlier ‘Second International’ which was dominated by non-revolutionary socialist parties; to encourage the growth of communist parties throughout the world; to disrupt capitalist powers antagonistic to the new soviet state and to overthrow the capitalist states.

The upheaval of the First World War and its aftermath gave revolutionary credibility and zeal to these aims. The world lived with their direct consequences until the demise of the Soviet system and the Soviet bloc in 1989-90.

The Islamic Republic of Iran is also driven to export its Islamic Revolution. Its leaders are motivated by a dangerous theology which provides them with enormous purposefulness and confidence. The goal is to threaten and overthrow the west-leaning Arab regimes, neutralise the Great Satan, to destroy the Little Satan, to establish Shi’a ascendancy and become leader of the Islamic world.

This will establish a totalitarian theocracy and herald the ‘messianic’ return of the 12th Imam.

In short, Iranian leaders give every appearance of following a dangerously unhinged political orientation. Their drive for nuclear weapons capabilities is at worst potentially lethal and at best destabilising and threatening to the entire Middle East and further afield.

The rationale behind acquisition of nuclear weapons is simple. It multiplies Iran’s ability to threaten and intimidate. It expands its ability to support similar-minded organisations throughout the Muslim world. It enhances its ability to support and finance terror in the Muslim and non-Muslim world. It widens its scope to make alliances of convenience with non-Shi’a states, such as Syria, and non-Shi’a Islamic fanatics such as Hamas.

If the present Iranian leadership acquires nuclear weapons, they and their linked fanatic organisations will feel invincible; that they have momentum and God on their side; and that they have the capacity to set fire to the Middle East because no-one will be able to stop them.

Power & intimidation

Even without using them, the possession of nuclear weapons and delivery systems will mean a massive shift in the balance of powers in the Middle East. It will give revolutionary Islam an aura of invincibility. It will encourage every fanatic and terrorist that they have God, history and now might on their side. It will demonstrate to them that their aim of seizing power and turning Arab states into theocratic dictatorships and of destroying Israel is a step nearer. In short, it will give some of the most dangerous anti-democratic and anti-liberal totalitarian forces on the planet an astonishing and unprecedented boost.

Iranian success in this field will confirm the propaganda of the jihadists and the agenda of the fanatics by proving how weak and ineffectual the west has become. This will intimidate all friends of the west in the region. As a result, they will be placed on the defensive and will be forced to either reach the best deal they can with Iran or join a coalition of other threatened states against it.

Currently, this looks unlikely and impractical. Either way, they will distance themselves from the unreliable west.
Irrationality & miscalculation in international conflict

In reality, as we know from experience, in responsible hands, nuclear weapons themselves are not the key problem. The key question is: will the Iranian leadership be a responsible pair of hands? Is there any strong reason to be confident that the Iranian regime is such a responsible body?
Given its theological views and behaviour, the alarming possibility must be considered that the Iranian leadership will not be content with intimidation and domination, but that it will use its nuclear weapons. Yet there are those who seem to believe – or say they believe – that Iranian belligerence is largely a matter of wild talk; that in reality the Iranian leadership is rational and calculating rather than crazy; that their aggressiveness is a posture for the purpose of tough appearances to impress and intimidate.

Naturally, this is possible. But how wise would it be to rely on it? Historically, it is clear that assumptions of rationality cannot be relied upon and have often been disastrously mistaken. Being head of state is no guarantee of sanity. In fact, state power has often been in the hands of deranged leaders. We need only recall Pol Pot, Idi Amin, Adolf Hitler and others. Likewise, evidence of quite different views of ‘rational calculation’ can be seen in even a cursory glance at modern history. For example, Mao’s policies in China and Stalin’s collectivisation in the Soviet Union, which each led to the deaths of astounding numbers of their own citizens – tens of millions – were hardly driven by what could be termed normal rationality.

Nor is there any strong reason to assume that all states must somehow act according to current western notions of rational self-interest. Historically, this is frequently not the case. For example, Saddam Hussein massively miscalculated reactions to his invasion of Kuwait. Then, failing to learn from this experience, he miscalculated again by his serial failure to cease being a danger to peace and security in the region. This led directly to UNSCR 1441 and the destruction of his regime by US and allied forces.

Likewise, the Argentinean military rulers misinterpreted Britain’s reaction to their invasion of the Falkland Islands. This led to war and their overthrow. Hitler similarly over-reached himself by his invasion of Poland and Russia and his declaration of war on the United States.

Cultural environment & miscalculation

In sum, political and diplomatic miscalculations are a constant feature of international relations. States often act in ways which seem irrational and even self-destructive. As a result, expectations of rational calculation have frequently been disastrously wrong. The core misapprehension is the assumption that other states and cultures want the same as current western views want. To put differently, they are said to want what this western view thinks they ought to want,

For the purposes of practical politics, it is far safer and more realistic to assume that western-style rationality and calculation is most probable from western-style democracies. In other words, the assumption of rational calculation along western lines is more likely from societies with common values and similar social and political structures. These are more likely to have demonstrated an extensive degree of mutual trust and cooperation. Accordingly, they have adopted non-belligerent methods of resolving disputes and diplomatic faux pas.

Therefore, the rational calculation would be to assume that western-style rationality and calculation cannot be relied upon from states with different political and social structures, pressures, expectations and motivations. In other words, it would be an irrational expectation to make an automatic assumption of western-style rationality and calculation from Iran’s leaders. Hard and reliable evidence is needed before this trusting leap of faith can be considered a safe assumption.

Lethal self-interest

This is powerful enough reason for taking seriously the wild statements and belligerent attitudes of the current Iranian leadership and to assume instead that they are deadly serious about their Islamic-supremacist gaols. This view has the merit of matching their violent and revolutionary-theocratic rhetoric rather than contradicting it. Likewise, it matches their history of deceit and dishonesty, their support for terrorist organisations such as Hizbollah and Hamas, as well as their threatening and aggressive behaviour.

Presumably, there are pragmatic leaders in Iran who can be deterred by the Cold War concept of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD). But significant sections of the leadership, including those around Ahmadinejad, are driven by apocalyptic visions and a revolutionary theology which accepts martyrdom as a glorious duty to hasten the ‘messianic’ return of the 12th Imam. As a result, many in the leadership may be encouraged rather than deterred by MAD.

This is something new in international conflict. A fanaticism that does not fear death and even welcomes it cannot be deterred by what are normally considered as the rational calculations of MAD which served so frighteningly well during the Cold-War nuclear confrontation. Therefore, deterrence is an insufficient defence against this new type of threat. Consequently, other methods need to be employed.

Rational means & irrational goals

In any case, being fanatical does not rule out the capacity for rational thought. Psychopaths are quite capable of being exceedingly cunning and calculating. Hitler was fully able to appreciate the opportunities provided him by the lack of determined international opposition to his early aggression. In other words, the means employed can be perfectly rational and calculating even when the goal is crazy.

There is a similar risk with the current Iranian leadership. They seem well able to calculate that the risks of serious international opposition are weak. They see that the international leadership provided by the US under Obama is inept and unlikely to pose a serious danger to them. In their supremacist-eyes, the US is decadent and thus lacking determination to seriously threaten the

Islamic republic. Consequently, the US and the western democracies are too weak to stop them. So far, this calculation has a lot going for it. At the same time, the Islamic-supremacist goals are entirely irrational and potentially lethal.

Likewise, they can calculate that the more they threaten and promote terror, the more discord, wavering and fear they generate. As a result, their strength and confidence has predictably won allies and admiration along with fear and division among those they threaten.

Iran’s big calculation

The core Iranian calculation is that the US and the western democracies and their regional allies are too disunited and feeble to take resolute and forceful action to halt the Iranian nuclear weapons program.

If this is right, the next calculation is the big one. It is this: if the US, the western democracies and their allies are too timid to take decisive action before Iran acquires nuclear weapons capabilities, they will be too feeble to do anything decisive about them afterwards.

In short, the current Iranian leadership exhibits not only threatening rhetoric, violent and dangerous behaviour, but also plausible and frightening rationality.
The ONLY way to be certain about Iran’s intentions

Yet the question remains: how can we be absolutely certain that we can tell the difference between tough-talking wild rhetoric and lethally threatening intentions? The answer is that there is only one way to be absolutely certain. This is to wait and see.

But the two potentially disastrous results of such a high-risk approach are obvious. The first is that the appearance of weakness and indecisiveness could well tempt the Iranian leaders into a mad adventure in the belief that they will not meet significant resistance. In much the same way, Hitler was encouraged by the early weakness of the international opposition to him. That is, the acquiescence implicit in a wait-and-see strategy will have the opposite effect to that intended and will make the feared aggression even more likely.

Learning the hard way

The second hazard is potentially catastrophic. The fanatical theology combined with a practical calculation that it could survive a nuclear exchange with Israel, as already claimed by Rafsanjani (the ‘moderate’ and still enormously powerful former president), may tempt the Iranian leadership to put its rhetoric into practice. As a result, we will have learned how rational and calculating they are by means of an entirely avoidable cataclysmic disaster. In other words, we will have learned the hard way.

Unfortunately, the certain knowledge provided by hindsight is always too late. Therefore, rather than learn the hard way like this, the only realistic approach is to make certain that it is the Iranian leadership that learns the hard way instead.

Legitimate protection for Iran

Like any state, Iran seeks to protect itself. This will always be the case no matter what type of government. But even legitimate self-protection can be threatening to neighbours. Legitimate defence capacity against ‘X’ can simultaneously be a potential threat to ‘Y’. Therefore, one way of self-defence that minimises these problems is to sub-contract out protection. This method is already common with alliances such as NATO in Europe and the Japanese American Security Treaty (JAST) in the Far East.

These pacts have a double advantage. Firstly, they protect and reassure friends. Secondly, they deter and also reassure potential foes. For example, the core of JAST was to control as well as defend Japan. Consequently, Japan does not need its own nuclear weapons or major military forces, which would have been seen as a threat elsewhere. As a result, those who have previously been victims of Japanese aggression are reassured that this will not happen again.

Similarly, in post-World War II Europe, any rearmament of Germany against the Soviet threat would inevitably have alarmed France and others. The presence of US power in NATO prevented this and at the same time ensured sufficient protection against the Soviets. This also reassured the Soviets that they would not be the victim of another German onslaught.

In this way, what may appear to be unlikely and unwelcome arrangements have proven highly successful at keeping the peace. The core of both NATO and JAST is the leadership of the US. In some quarters this has stirred-up nationalist or cultural opposition. But whatever the imperfections, there is no practical alternative to US dominance. As a result, although sometimes volatile and violent, this opposition has usually been a matter of token and symbolic posture politics rather than practical politics that encompass a viable alternative.

In a similar fashion, a sensible government in Iran could secure its protection as part of a regional alliance. To be effective, as with both NATO and JAST, this would have to be led by the US. In short, it can only be a realistic prospect with a far more amicable and non-aggressive leadership in Tehran which abandoned the quest for nuclear weapons.

Regaining US initiative & leadership

Obama’s international leadership is misguided and inept. His transformational agenda was supposed to charm the socks of everyone and show the lovable side of the US instead of the bullying ‘cowboy’ image. His view of the activities of the US abroad was that they were a major culprit in world problems. Thus, reducing the exercise of its power overseas was intended to make a big contribution to international tranquillity. Instead, this has scared friends and encouraged enemies.

Predictably, dictatorial and nasty regimes do not see the proclaimed openness and willingness to engage in dialogue as an opportunity for reciprocal behaviour. Instead, they see it as a golden opportunity to be grasped with both hands to advance their power with impunity. That is, geo-political, ideological, ethnic and power conflicts remain. So now what? The core issue is whether he can reverse this to regain US credibility. That is, how can the US scare foes and encourage friends?

Here’s the answer, following President JFK’s initial disastrous meetings with Soviet leader Khrushchev, as well as other lessons from history, the US demonstrated its willingness to use its power.

If the current leadership of Iran successfully acquires nuclear weapon capabilities, and this seems to be the most likely prospect, the repercussions throughout the Middle East and elsewhere will be frightening. It will be the most fantastic encouragement imaginable to the jihadist-fanatics. At the same time, it will place the weakness of the US on display so that no-one will be confident that they can rely on the US for protection. In sum, the US will be discredited and everyone will see that only the jihadist-fanatics enjoy the backing of an invincible supporter.

Iranian counter-attacks

Failing an improbable and untrustworthy decision by the Iranian leaders to back-down over this issue, a US decision not to take decisive action to prevent the Iranians acquiring nuclear weapons capabilities will bring neither peace nor security. It will make everything more unstable, violent and dangerous – particularly throughout the Middle East. In which case, it’s hard to see the winning argument for not destroying Iranian nuclear weapons capabilities before all this can take place.

Naturally, this may well have unpleasant consequences. All alternatives do. For example, commentators predict the sabotage of the Straits of Hormuz. But this will not be easy for the Iranians due to the presence of the US navy. In a battle between the Iranian and US navies there is only one winner; the Iranian navy would be no match for the power of the US. Therefore, a rationally calculating Iranian leadership will realise this and back away from such a conflict which would destroy its navy and defences.

Predictions have also been made of a wave of terrorist attacks promoted by Iran. Clearly, this is an awful prospect. But any rational calculation would conclude that such attacks could be countered at far less cost than a nuclear armed revolutionary Islamic state. Likewise, a Lebanese-Hizbollah attack against Israel or a new onslaught against Israel from Hamas would have devastating effect on its authors. During the Israel’s operation ‘Cast Lead’ in Gaza, Hizbollah demonstrated its grasp of reality by immediately declaring non-interference. As they discovered in the war of 2006, any other decision would be an enormous risk of ruin for no real gain. In any case, even if Hizbollah preferred to go down fighting with their Iranian allies, there are other political forces in Lebanon that will make a different choice.

Rationality & irrationality

In short, the rational calculation required is whether Iranian counter-actions to an attack on their nuclear weapons facilities can be countered at far less cost than countering a nuclear armed revolutionary Islamic state. As this seems clearly to be the case, it should not be the dominant factor in any decision to attack.

But there is a further advantage of an attack. This is the huge political bonus that the US will have delivered a serious blow to the fanatics. It will have reversed the trend of appeasement; it will have regained the initiative, protected friends and warned off enemies. Simultaneously, the totalitarian fanatics will have suffered a stunning defeat which will deprive them of momentum. Likewise, the Jihadists will have been deprived of an invincible supporter.

‘An-offer-they-can’t-refuse’

The only other alternative is a change of regime in Iran – after all, it’s the regime that’s the problem not the bomb as such. But there is always the possibility that a new regime may not be an improvement and possibly be even worse. In any case, it might not occur in time. Therefore, it cannot be relied on. Further, if the present regime acquires nuclear weapons, regime change in the future is likely to be even more difficult.

Attempts by Obama to avoid decisive action and to believe it can somehow ‘contain’ a nuclear Iran may be admirable if an alternative solution could be found. But there is no imaginable incentive or deal that could be made to the Iranian leadership that can possibly match the attraction to them of being a nuclear power. The only offer that can possibly succeed is ‘an offer they can’t refuse’ – an ultimatum to dismantle their nuclear weapons facilities or have them destroyed in an overwhelming attack. And if they are crazy enough to refuse, the destructive attack must follow.

No US exit-strategy = no happy ending

Unfortunately and disastrously, the Obama government shows zero appreciation of this. Instead, the policy of engaging with the openly contemptuous Iranian leadership has achieved nothing.

Nor has anything been achieved in building an international alliance to counter Iran. Further, by giving advance notice that it has no intention of taking decisive military action, Obama leaves himself with no effective exit strategy to replace the failure of ‘engagement’. And by supporting sanctions specially designed to be ineffective, it is assuring the worst of all possible results. In sum, the Obama government has succeeded only in demonstrating its own weakness and incompetence to both friend and foe.
As a result, we have a complete mismatch. On one side the Iranian government is driven by religious fanaticism that refuses to back down. On the other side is an amateurish US government that refuses to make the Iranian leaders the only offer they will take seriously: to back down or have their nuclear facilities pulverised and pulverised again if necessary. In short, Obama’s abysmal leadership is ensuring that there is no effective opposition to Iran. It is ensuring that the Iranian leadership will acquire its nuclear weapons. It is ensuring that we have a disaster happening before our eyes.

In sum, there is no happy ending in sight. His achievement of winning the Nobel Peace Prize will be completely eclipsed in the historical record by going down as the man responsible for allowing Iran to acquire nuclear weapons.

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