Introduction: Anatomy of American Foreign Policy.
Diplomacy is perhaps the most important cog in the realm of international politics. It involves giving threats benignly to other international actors. However, coercive diplomacy is very much a part of the game. History is replete with instances where coercive diplomacy was used. It is upon the failure of tacit “threats” that coercive diplomacy, or brinkmanship is used. The ultimate disaster is war, something which all military theorists concur upon. As the conduct of war has changed, the primacy of diplomacy has increased. World politics follows the “law of the jungle”, so to speak. Power is currency. Diplomatic leverage is only available to the big shots in the market. There are broadly two schools of thoughts in international relations, namely realism and liberalism. We need delve upon these theories in detail, but in a nutshell, one can say that the former deems the international system as anarchic. The realists hinge their argument on the assumption that man is selfish. The liberals take a diametrically opposite stance and call for co-operation, open covenants and disarmament.
Before going into the very essence of our topic it is imperative to pen down a few more concepts. Foreign policy lies at the heart of international relations. A policy or policies adopted to achieve certain broad strategic international goals is what foreign policy is all about. All great leaders, when analyzed, are under the scanner as regards their foreign policy decisions. The greatness of Charles De Gaulle and Adenaur, apart from many things lies in the famous Franco-German entente of 1953. Similarly, Margaret Thatcher was famous for her boldness in case of the Falkland Wars.
Foreign policy decision-making hence becomes all the more critical. There are three basic models of foreign policy decision-making. They include the Rational Model, bureaucratic model and the pluralistic model. The first one weighs the cost-benefits of various contingencies and then looks the resources available before arriving at a final decision. The exigency of the Cuban Missile Crisis demanded the late J F Kennedy to adopt the rational approach. However, nowadays, all stakeholders are taken on board and hence these models may overlap now. The topic in question is not merely about the Iranian nukes, but its American psyche which continues to impinge on her strategic thinking. We may mention people like Seward, Theodore Roosevelt and the Naval theorist, A T Mahan as being realists but the anatomy is a bit different.
Henry Kissinger, a doyen of diplomacy and strategy has aptly described American foreign policy.
“In the twentieth century, no country has influenced international relations as decisively and at the same time more ambivalently as the United States. No society has more firmly insisted on the inadmissibility of international intervention in the domestic affairs of other states……….. No country has been more reluctant to engage itself abroad even while undertaking alliances and commitments of unprecedented reach and scope”.
American foreign policy is based upon the infamous Monroe Doctrine and in fact more importantly on the ideas of President Woodrow Wilson. Before, going into that let’s first establish the fact that the international system is anarchic, brutal and based upon national interests. Thus, the realist worldview takes primacy over liberalism, something which has been discussed above. Woodrow Wilson always aspired America to put more weight in the international system , but the rationale was for humanitarian purposes and the endorsement of democracy. However, it is imperative to fathom the fact that America has always looked after her geo-strategic interests under the garb of liberalism. For instance the Marshall Plan and Truman Doctrine were not dished out due to any love lost for Greece, Turkey and other European countries, but because the Americans had to counter Communism. The reason why American foreign policy has been discussed here is that it has a direct bearing on the Iranian Nuclear conundrum. The program which began under the aegis of the “Atoms for Peace” program made great strides before the Iranian Revolution of 1979. Things turned for the worst not only between USA and Iran, but the latter’s nuclear program was also hampered. Iran has maintained her stance of developing a peaceful nuclear program; Iran considers herself well within the ambit of the Nuclear Non –Proliferation Treaty of 1968. This paper will shed-light on the Iranian Nuclear Program; the suspicions attached to it; the approach of the United States and Israel. The paper will be divided into 3 sections. The first will deal with nuclear weapons and deterrence, so as to provide a conceptual framework for discussing Iran’s penchant for the bomb, if any. The second part will succinctly trace the genesis and development of the program to-date. At last the paper will look into negotiations, sanctions and possible surprise attacks. The point that this paper tries to make is that diplomacy and not military actions will resolve this ever-brewing crisis.
Karl Von Clausewitz said that war is an extension of diplomacy by other means. He was very right, but the Clausewitzian war accounts for the horrors of war through the famous concepts of fog and friction. Before going into the realm of nuclear bomb, it is imperative to talk about wars and battles. A war is a series of battles fought between states with a clash of vital interests. Battles are fought in different Forward Defended Localities on or near the border. A war can be limited or all-out, conventional/ sub-conventional or a counter-insurgency. Conventional wars are fought by conventional means: forces and weapons employed to target the enemy on the battlefield. Threat perceptions compel countries to maintain conventional forces; however, when an adversary becomes numerically too superior, a country feels insecure. The concept of security dilemma comes into the equation. What do nuclear weapons do? Without going into intricate details, we should only focus on the concept of deterrence for the consumption of this paper.
Deterrence is the ability to dissuade an adversary from doing something repugnant to the security interest of the state. This is done through the possession of credible capability of causing unacceptable damage to the adversary. Deterrence is based upon willingness, capability and communicating the very capability to the nemesis, so that it believes that a likely action would be fatal. The types of deterrence are listed below:
- Sufficient Deterrence (MAD with multiple capabilities)
- Extended Deterrence (Nuclear umbrella to allies)
- Graduate Deterrence (proportionate to threats)
- Minimum Credible Deterrence
- Existential Deterrence (Deterrence as policy vs condition)
- Non Weaponized Deterrence
Deterrence primarily hinges upon second-strike capability, which happens to be the ability to withstand a surprise or a pre-emptive strike, and then be able to retaliate with a nuclear strike. Hence, the safety and security of the arsenal becomes imperative, to say the least. Furthermore, an efficient command and control system is needed to be in place, so as to channelize all nuclear-related activities.
The late Keneth Waltz was always a great proponent of nuclear weapons, for he believed that it induced caution. There are plenty of stabilizing factors of the nukes, to include acting as a power equalizer. Internal Balancing is or should be preferred over external balancing and bandwagon approach. States go nuclear because of three themes as identified in the book Eating Grass: the making of the Pakistani bomb. The themes are national humiliation, national identity and international isolation.
The genesis of the Iranian Nuclear Program:
Iran is an all-important country of the Middle East; it has a geo strategic importance of its own. The erudite Henry Kissinger opined “ of all the countries of the region, Iran has perhaps the most coherent sense of nationhood and the most elaborated tradition of national-interest –based statecraft.” Proximity to waterways and rich resources of gas and oil has made it an important country in the foreign policy calculus of the superpowers. This is true because the first ever covert CIA action overthrew Mosaddegh in 1953, ostensibly on nationalizing the oil company. Till 1979, the United States championed the Shah of Iran. Shah was known to be the protector of American interests in the region. All said and done, let’s expound upon the nuclear history of Iran. It was Dwight Eisenhower who gave a historic “Atoms for Peace” speech at the UN General Assembly session. This set in motion the Eisenhower’s “Atoms for Peace” program. It was agreed that any country having any kind of nuclear expertise or material would donate it to International Atomic Energy Agency, which would in turn out help any country which wanted a nuclear program for civilian purposes. The United States was actually serious about promoting peaceful uses . Iran began to settle down after the coup of 1953; it became economically stable enough to be trusted with nuclear technology. Thus, in 1957 not only saw a nuclear training center shift from Baghdad to Tehran, but a bilateral agreement was signed between USA and Iran. Moreover, the “Atoms for Peace” exhibit was opened in the city. The program thus kick started from then onwards. The bilateral agreement predicated upon a few terms and conditions. The stipulation was that Iran will stick with the peaceful uses of nuclear technology. The Americans provided Iran with enriched uranium and a 5 Megawatt light water reactor. Hence, nuclear power was born in Iran and America was the midwife.
The impetus was given, but Iran with its scant scientific prowess could not capitalize on the platform. The light water reactor was not put to use; it was seen as a showpiece at the Tehran University. The course of the program changed in 1965. A young scientist by the name of Akbar Etemad came back to Iran in the very year. He is deemed as the father of the Iranian nuclear program. He yearned Iran to become a technologically advanced country, hence he went on with full heart and soul. Shah of Iran after seeing his credentials mandated him to work at the Tehran University. Within a few years he handed over the 5 MW Reactors to the University. It was ironically working on a critical level. Soon, the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) was created so as to streamline all nuclear-related activities. A significant development took place in 1968, which perhaps remains the bone of contention between Iran and the West. Iran signed the Non Proliferation Treaty in 1968. This implied that Iran agreed on not to make a bomb and only has a right for a peaceful nuclear program.
Shah’s penchant for embarking on the nuclear program was there for all to see. In 1974, Shah told Etemad that we needed nuclear power (not weapons) for economic reasons; he believed that nuclear power was the perfect conduit for economic growth. However, there were some ulterior motives, such as royal glory and a drive into modernity. As early as 1960, Shah told the outgoing Majlis that Iran could no longer afford to live in the middle Ages. One can make out that the Pehlavi wanted a great leap forward through the so-called peaceful nuclear program. The journey continued under the tutelage of Etemad . Two developments are noteworthy before the revolution of 1979, one that the Bushehr nuclear reactor was 85% complete, thanks to the tireless efforts of Etemad . Then Gerald Ford signed an agreement with Iran, which allowed it to buy Us-built reprocessing facility to extract plutonium. In fact the deal was for a complete nuclear fuel cycle. The extracted plutonium also can be easily diverted from civilian to military purposes; therefore this was a momentous development. Iran had always remained averse of the bomb; however, it is imperative to understand that the civilian and military side can never be divorced, due to the ease of diversion. Iran has always been vociferous, though.
There were however, inklings that the Shah vied for a bomb to show his grandeur. The NPT was signed, but there were voices against it from the very outset; Etemad also saw it as an infringement of national sovereignty. The revolution changed things drastically, to say the least. Ayatollah Khomeini infamously said that nuclear bombs are UN Islamic. This dissuaded Iran from going overtly nuclear, for Imam Khomeini was and is still revered. The program was stifled by the ramifications of the revolution, to include the Hostage Crisis. A brief discussion on the post revolution nuclear odyssey would be pertinent. The international community began to turn a deaf ear to Iran; France and the US stopped the supply of Highly Enriched Uranium. Despite, efforts of rapprochement, the damage had been done due to the potent Hostage crisis; the predicament led to the disastrous Operation Eagle Claw. The program came under the scanner; the Kraftwerk stopped working on the Bushehr plant, owing to the intensification of war. Thus, Iran had to cobble-up everything all by herself. Imam Khomeini always viewed all international organizations with a great deal of skepticism. The organizations were advancing the cause of Western hegemony. The way the IAEA reacted over Iraqi attack in 1984 gave lot of credence to this notion. The Iranian Foreign minister questioned the dubious role of the IAEA, for he believed that it was paying in the hands in world powers. Adversity brings resolve; a sense and urge of self-sufficiency was evident. One can term it as Nuclear Nationalism.
The program continued with zest and zeal; the Iranians considered it as a national duty to tirelessly strive to complete the program. Meanwhile, the Americans did all what they could to thwart a perceived threat from an Islamic Republic. Before going into the actualities of the crisis, let’s briefly scan-through. Iran had time and again made a clear stance. David Patrikarakos in his book “Nuclear Iran” has given a very good account of Iranian views on weapons and theories of deterrence within the lens of Islamic rubric. Ghahvechi , the Iranian representative to the UN gave a lengthy speech where he expounded upon deterrence and weapons unambiguous. However, things were not that straight-forward. In close circles, there were talks about going for the bomb. Khamenei believed that a nuclear deterrent was the only way to secure the very essence of the Islamic Revolution from the schemes of its enemies, as a prelude to the rule of Imam Mehdi. This was not the first inkling for the idea of bomb-making; even during the tenure of Reza Pehlavi , there were indications that a bomb option was on the table. This can be corroborated by just one statement of the Shah in wake of India’s so-called peaceful explosion in 1974. The Shah said “ Pakistan and India talking about nuclear strength might force Iran to reconsider its options” the point that one needs to make is that the concerns of the West are not that concocted; there are plenty of reasons for them to be wary of Iran. One should not go into the debate of the NPT, for America has quite obviously flouted the treaty by signing the NFDR with India. The program was shrouded in mystery from 1989 to 2002, not that it is all clear now, but these years were deemed as lull before the storm.
The Iran-Iraq War had left an indelible imprint on the minds of the Iranian establishment and government officials. Rafsanjani’s ascendency to power gave the program a fresh lease of life. He was able to seduce Iranian scientists working abroad, to include Reza Khazaneh. The period from 1989 to 2002 was marked with significant augmentations, both overt and covert. The former included Russians working at the Bushehr. There were serious reports of Iran pursuing the first and the second stage of the nuclear fuel cycle. The stages pertained to extracting uranium ore to produce yellowcakes and then converting them to UF6. Moreover, the fact that Iran had the Par-1 and Par-2 centrifuge components added to suspicion. Now, going by nuclear theory, it is imperative for a nuke to be supplemented by a delivery system. One can really not decipher whether Iran went after missiles for conventional or strategic purposes. However, the presence of sophisticated Ballistic missiles would have only created skepticism.
All in all, Iran had not only suggested to go for the bomb, but had started to crack deals to get equipment; it had centrifuges, sites, yellow cakes and most importantly, delivery system: missiles. The cats were set amongst the pigeons. Suspicions may well be true, but the issue will probably reached what we call a “ripe moment” in the jargon of conflict resolution. A brief summary of the unfolding crisis is needed.
Nuclear program like we all know is of two kinds, civilian and military. The former is typified with Peaceful Nuclear Explosions (PNE’s). The civilian program is used for economic purposes such as energy and medicinal. As mentioned earlier, Iran signed the NPT way back in 1968. That meant that Iran vowed not to go for the bomb, and remain under the ambit of the civilian nuclear program. The program was to be under the strict control of the IAEA. The crisis relates and is predicated to an alleged cat and mouse game between Iran and the IAEA. It was in 2002, that an enrichment site was unveiled at Natanz. Furthermore, a heavy –water plant was instituted at Arak. The site at Arak had the potential to churn-out plutonium. Both, these sites were not illegal as per the terms of the NPT. However, there are other stipulations which ought to be followed. The IAEA must be informed 6 months prior to the establishment of a site. As the international comity saw the reports in awe, the crisis was underway. The Iranians were reticent to show IAEA other sites and workshops, but ultimately acquiesced. The delay was enough for the West to raise eyebrows. Soon a resolution was passed which baulked Iran from uranium enrichment. There was a furor in Tehran. There were cleavages within the Iranian high-ups; some wanted to halt the program, while others wanted the country to go ahead even with a weapon option. Hasan Rowhani came up with his 5-step plan. First, he wanted to keep the crisis under control and deter threats. Second, the need to safeguard nuclear facilities was important. Other plans included, turning threats into opportunities; enhancing capabilities and legal clout. Tehran subsequently signed the Tehran and Paris agreement, which manifested good faith on its part. The spirit of the treaty called for Iran to sign on additional protocols and cease enrichment. The issue has conflagrated since Ahmedinejad took over. He ordered the resumption of activities at Natanz, which was seen as a blatant breach of the Paris Agreement. Things moved in the direction where they stand today because of the hawkishness of Ahmedinijad. There are two important things which should be brought to the attention of readers. These anecdotes, so to speak will be a harbinger of something grievous. Satellite images outside the sacred city of Qom were shown to Obama. The site was huge, located on the mountainside of a military base and protected by Anti-Aircraft guns. This highly-protected and deeply-dug site certainly rung alarm bells among the American ranks. Secrecy increases suspicion. Then, America offered. During the talks in Geneva, Iran made a somewhat ironic excuse of not stopping uranium production because they needed to keep the Tehran reactor running ostensibly for medicinal purposes. Robert Einhorn, an expert proliferation got a food for thought. He said “why not offer to ‘swap’ much of Iran’s HEU , with specialty fuel for the research reactor”? This put Iran in a catch-22 situation; however, they agreed, but the Supreme Leader refused. This shows that everything is not that straight-forward when it comes to Iran’s intention to go for the bomb.
Diplomatic negotiations or Military strikes?:
As aforementioned, Diplomacy is a vital cog in conducting international relations. It is a process of asserting one’s power and national interests by overtly benign means of persuasion and not coercion. As of now, the Iranian nuclear crisis is in the “ripening process”, it has not yet reached the threshold of a “ripe moment”. Diplomacy has been thus far used to bell the cat. Much to Bush’s credit, that despite initiating the preemption doctrine, he opened the door for direct negotiations after a lapse of 30 years. He launched the famous 1st June offer. In this section, let’s focus on Obama’s tryst with this challenge. What has been the mainstay of Obama’s policy as regards Iran? Before going into that, it is imperative to mention that there are voices against diplomatic engagements, not only by Obama’s erstwhile rival, Mitt Romney, but others too.
Dore Gold with this vast experience in the UN has tried to explain the dangers associated with diplomatic engagements, in his new book, “The Rise of Nuclear Iran”. Obama made his intentions very clear even before his inauguration that he will prioritize the Iranian issue, and would talk to so-called rogue states. Obama made benign overtures right from the very outset. He gave a video message on Nowruz with Persian subtitles; this was ostensibly done with a view to broach upon the fact that the US wanted to resolve all issues. This talk overture directly to the Iranian leadership came after 30 long years. With the election of the hawkish Benjamin Netanyahu, pressure began to pile-up on Obama. The latter wanted diplomatic maneuvers to be given a change to work. The Israelis were left in a huff when Hillary Clinton talked about extended deterrence. The Americans at that stage and even now aim to slow down the process of uranium enrichment; they are mainly concerned with the site at Natanz. The talks at Geneva were of great significance, for they were the first after 30 years. Iran agreed to ship 75% of LEU abroad. However, Obama’s diplomacy was perhaps making Iran bolder; Ahmadinejad , in a press conference unveil new centrifuge designs, which were capable of enriching at a faster rate. He also signaled that two new enrichment plants will be built by March, 2011. Thus, the US and the Europeans felt that they have been duped. A round of sanctions ensued; Resolution 1929 is just one example of many sanctions that have been imposed on Iran.
Obama’s penchant for diplomatic negotiations was matched by Israel’s aplomb for punitive action against a prospective nuclear-armed state. Now, it is not about diplomacy alone; it is about a pre-emptive strike or “Olympic Games” on Natanz. In a nutshell, Olympic Games alludes to a joint project of USA and Israel. A computer worm “Stuxnet” is destroying the centrifuges at Natanz, in the process it has really slowed the otherwise vigorous enrichment process. Israel’s Mosad is groping for Iranian scientists; in fact they killed Majid Shahriari in broad day-light. Netanyahu visited the United States and both leaders talked about all options that were available. Netanyahu always favored the strike option; however, Obama has not yet bought that argument. The quagmire in Afghanistan; internal economy and the ability of Iran to retaliate, makes an attack highly unfeasible. With his focus on diplomacy, Obama has not entirely ruled out the war option, in fact war games and simulations take place, so as to make contingency plans. Israel has stretched a Red Line of 90% enrichment, if that is crossed, then it will take due note and reprisals will be witnessed. However, it is imperative to be savvy of the geopolitical compulsions, while thinking over this dangerous course of action. Iran will retaliate to anything offered to her, be it a surprise attack or mere diplomatic aggression. It is better to continue with sanctions and Olympic Games because history tells us that adversity has also given Iran an impetus to fight back.
Military strikes: An idea beyond hawkishness.
Time and again, we see a cleavage between the doves and hawks. America certainly is a dove in this crisis management. Why strikes in any kind and form will not fulfill America’s and Israel’s strategic interests? The strategic aim remains to stop Iran from making a bomb. Although, there are no conclusive evidences which suggest that Iran intends to go nuclear, but certain elements and statements show that bomb is what Iran gropes for. But for the sake of simplicity let’s assume that Iran is en route towards this glory. An attack whether carried-out by the United States or Israel would be welcomed with the same vengeance by the indomitable Iranians. They rightly lump together America and Israel as a nexus of evil.
In his riveting work, Kenneth M. Pollack opined that “an American military campaign , constitutes a final option because even if the United States started with limited measures , it could escalate to a full-scale invasion and occupation of Iran.”
If open and safeguarded facilities are targeted, it will put the program underground, and would further toughen the Iranian resolve, if any to go nuclear. Indeed, this is true. Did anything dissuade Iran from keeping the Ambassadorial staff as hostage? Furthermore, targeting a safeguarded facility would be an act of aggression, provided if they are found producing Low Enriched Uranium (LEU). It would fall in the ambit of a surprise attack, which in other words is repugnant to international law. A pre-emptive attack is still justified if the threat of an attack is imminent, which is not the case with Iran.
There is no need to state that the United States would be deemed as an enemy; the civilian population will rally around the current regime. This would mean that Western concerns will remain in shape of fundamentalist rule in Iran. A spate of liberal tendencies that are seen in Iran today would be eradicated forever. If we look at the Iranian map, their facilities are scattered. Therefore, the likelihood of colossal damage and mayhem would increase manifold.
Not even a tactical action can be based on suspicion alone. As repeatedly said , there is still no concrete evidence as to whether Iran is on this internal-balancing excursion. Therefore a draconian course of action taken without proofs would create ruckus, turmoil and a new conundrum will emerge. Iran is seemingly following all instructions given by the IAEA. If facilities , under the control of this agency are bombed and obliterated then it will emboldened many in Iran and the world over. IAEA will be undermined, as the bombing would send a wrong signal to those country which follow IAEA’s safeguards. What message will it send to the signatories of the NPT? Iran is working well within the confines of the NPT.
All military planners ought to be aware with what senior Moltke said. “There is no military plan that survives that of an enemy.” In warfare in particular, all concepts devised by a force are observed by the enemy’s intelligence. In light of intelligence, the enemy tries to counter those plans by making their own. Iran has the capacity to retaliate to an Israeli attack. America cannot directly fight this war or even back Israel at this stage. America is finding it difficult to withdraw its combat troops from Afghanistan, it can ill-afford to have “boots on ground” once again. Airborne operations would not be enough; the battle will conflagrate. A war between Iran and Israel would further trouble a region even otherwise on the cusp of blowing up. The Syrian crisis and the Egyptian issue have already marred the region lately. Israel’s face-off with Iran would cause damage galore. Gone are the days of the Iran-Iraq war, that the latter can be considered as pushovers.
The American strategic thinkers along with the highly-acclaimed Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) were beguiled into the CNN-led campaign as regards the WMD’s in Iraq. The war in Iraq can in some ways be deemed as futile. Things got out of control in Afghanistan because after March 2003, the focus shifted to Iraq and hence the Taliban re-emerged. Now, the Americans are leaving Afghanistan and are talking with Taliban too. The point that needs to be broached is that , one military strikes are undesired, unfeasible, both strategically and tactically. Two, if bombing is a necessity then it’s certainly not today. Iran is far away from bearing the teeth, if at all they are making one. If the non compliance to the NPT is something which compels the US to take a brazen course then it is imperative to remember that the NFDR agreement with India, ostensibly for enhancing civilian nuclear co-operation , is nothing but repugnant to article 1 and 2 of the Non Proliferation Treaty of 1968. But as Hans Morganthaeu saids “ It is only the national interests that matter.”
The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA):
The potentially incendiary issue which had all the ingredients to turn into a catastrophe was according to the United States kept in control by the landmark agreement between Iran and the P 5 plus 1 countries. The White House believes that the provisions of the deal and Iranian compliance to-date has prevented the country from obtaining a nuclear bomb. According to a report released by the White House , Iran had taken the following steps after the deal:
- Shipped 25,000 pounds of enriched uranium out of the country
- Dismantled and removed two-thirds of its centrifuges
- Removed the calandria from its heavy water reactor and filled it with concrete
- Provided unprecedented access to its nuclear facilities and supply chain
It is widely believed that the deal has blocked all the four possible pathways that Iran could take to bear its teeth. For now, the threat of a military adventure has receded but it remains to be seen whether Iran is left with the capability and the resolve to go nuclear if the deal is dealt with a severe blow.
Obama’s adamancy on using diplomatic means is by all means a rational choice given many factors. The first is historic in nature, which we can term it rightly as America’s “Hostage syndrome”. The effects of the Iranian revolution on American ties with Iran are well-known. Jimmy Carter lost his presidency because of the ill-conceived Op Eagle Claw. The second is the enhanced capabilities of the Iranian Defense establishment. An all-out regional war cannot be ruled. It is an amalgam of geopolitical and economic factors which necessitates a reliance on dialogues, deliberations and other tacit means of bargain. One does not need to explain the Rational-Model approach, for all that Obama did was in-line with this principle. The costs, which have been identified, are titanic in nature, while strategists are as yet unsure about the likelihood of even a tactical victory. Therefore , a rational-model demands caution and finesse. The continuation of this deal is highly advisable for President –Elect Donald Trump. Anything other than peaceful inducements will fail to neither deter nor compel Iran .