Monday, December 10, 2007

Iran and the NIE: Where We Go From Here

We’ve talked a lot about the recent National Intelligence Estimate, and rightly so. It is having a tremendous impact on U.S. foreign policy on the foreign policy of any great power. What we have not yet discussed is where we go from here.

In Iraq
As I’ve pointed out before, the NIE can be and most likely will be exploited as a tool to solve the crisis in Iraq. To summarize, the U.S. needs Iran on board to have a politically stable Iraq, and Iran needs the U.S. to allow Iran to influence events in Iraq in Iran’s favor. You might want to read that sentence twice. The biggest obstacle since negotiations have begun stopping the U.S. from getting what it wants has been Iran’s supposed nuclear weapons program. Iran has been using its nuclear program as a bargaining chip; if they surrender on the nuclear issue, they would expect to see concessions from the U.S. on the Iraq issue.

Now, the U.S. has a real chance to turn Iraq into a stable, democratic country that can be a model for the whole region. The U.S. could possibly even imagine achieving the goal of the Iraq invasion: a safe, friendly, democratic country in the Middle East. This possibility can only come into fruition if we continue negotiations with Iran over Iraq, and take advantage of the fact that now Iran has lost its biggest bargaining chip.

At the U.N.
Though the threat of Iran has appeared to diminish, the need for global political pressure is still necessary. Iran still has the capability, though no longer the intentions, to restart its weapons program and to build nuclear weapons. Therefore, the need for continuing pressure and sanctions is twofold: one, to ensure Iran does not restart its weapons program and two, to possibly coerce Iran into giving up its civilian nuclear program.

The need to guarantee Iran’s weapons program is never resurrected is self explanatory. We need to continue sanctions at the U.N. until Iran allows full open inspections of its facilities. Until then, there is always the possibility that Iran could restart its weapons program, and we cannot allow that to happen.

The reasoning behind compelling Iran to give up its civilian nuclear program is not as simple. The logic behind this requires an understanding of the broader Middle East and its countries. When it became public that Iran had worked on a nuclear weapons program at one time, the neighboring countries, especially those with majority Sunni populations, reacted with fear. The possibility of a regional arms race quickly became clear. This hit a high point in late 2006 when several regional countries, including Saudi Arabia, expressed ‘interest’ in nuclear power.

A world where the highly volatile region of the Middle East constantly has nuclear missiles pointing at each other would be unacceptable. As unacceptable as that would be to us westerners, Saudi Arabians would find a nuclear Iran even more unacceptable. Not only that, but it is unlikely Saudi Arabia, or any other Middle Eastern country, would find an Iran with civilian nuclear power any more bearable than an Iran with a nuclear weapon. A country often can claim it is developing civilian nuclear power, when in actuality, it is developing nuclear weapons, hidden from the eyes of U.N. and U.S. weapons inspectors.

And if there were to be a regional arms race?

If you thought a single country going nuclear was bad…