It’s Time to Brandish the Big(ger) Stick
We’ve been had. On April 13, Behzad Soltani, deputy director of Iran’s Atomic Commission, proclaimed, “Iran will join the world nuclear club within a month.” Granted, Iranian leadership is prone to hyperbole and this could just be Tehran posturing to disrupt President Obama’s Nuclear Security Summit. Regardless, we should be very concerned. We have spent the last six years in a futile cycle of proffered carrots and brandished sticks with the Iranian government. If we are to learn from our relations with North Korea, then this time we have to pick either the carrot or the stick and make it big, before it is too late.
Even before Soltani’s boast, indications that Iran was nearing operational nuclear arms have been growing stronger in the last few months. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad unveiled on April 9 a revamped centrifuge capable of enriching uranium at faster speeds that, according to the State Department, would be unnecessary for peaceful nuclear power. The Arak heavy water plant and the Bushehr atomic reactor, both almost completed, could combine to produce dangerous quantities of plutonium for nuclear warheads. Furthermore, according to the “Weekly Standard,” a thus far unreleased report by the International Atomic Energy Agency documents that Iran was recently testing sophisticated weapons technology for nuclear warheads.
What is particularly threatening about the reality of an Iran with nuclear weapons is its relationships with half a dozen terrorist groups. Whereas North Korea, or even Soviet Russia, would more likely and more rationally avoid mutually assured destruction, a radical zealot is liable to attack an American city without regard to his or her future.
The pieces for today’s quagmire began to fall into a place after the election of Ahmadenijad in 2005. Iran resumed uranium conversion that year and since then has been on a steady path toward developing nuclear power capability. A National Intelligence Estimate provided their infamously hopeful report in 2007 that declared Iran had halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003. However, that report has since been discredited based on its narrow-minded focus on the actual designing of weapons. As the world prepares for a nuclear-armed Iran, it has become clearer that Iran’s trajectory towards achieving that status has been remarkably direct.
The United States’ diplomatic relations with Iran over this time have been a series of blunders characterized by a cycle of ineffective sanctions and weak peace offerings. Furthermore, the U.S. has set countless deadlines, only to have them ignored with minimal punishment.
For instance, in March of 2005, President Bush decided to offer economic incentives including membership in the World Trade Organization to Iran if they agreed to abandon their desire for nuclear power. A year later, after Iran had successfully enriched uranium, the United States, working multilaterally with Britain and France, threatened Iran with harsher actions if they failed to suspend their uranium enrichment. Then, only a few weeks later, the U.S. retracted the stick and presented the carrot offering to engage in direct talks with Iran if it agreed to abandon its uranium enrichment program.
The United States’ primary strategy in attempting to rein in Iran has been economic sanctions. Unfortunately, these sanctions have had only a small effect on the Iranian economy as evidenced by the growth in its 2008 GDP by a strong 6.4 percent.
While the United States has been implementing sharper trade sanctions, the economies of Germany, China, Russia, and the United Arab Emirates have reaped the benefits of a larger share of Iranian trade. President Obama recognizes that in order to provide truly effective economic sanctions they must be multilateral and, most importantly, include China and Russia. He has recently discussed economic sanctions with both Chinese President Hu Jintao and Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. Both nations have proven unreliable on this issue in the past and furthermore, if Iran is truly only a month, or perhaps months, from developing nuclear warheads, then even economic sanctions from every developed nation would be rendered irrelevant.
Likewise, offering positive incentives to Iran may be too little too late at this stage in its development of nuclear technology. Of course, I am not advocating that we all start singing renditions of “Bomb Iran,” but military action should not be disallowed on principle. In fact, I would argue that our reliance on soft power without the implicit threat of true hard power is the fundamental reason why both North Korea and Iran have comfortably duped us.
President Obama must either immediately convince international leaders that a nuclear-armed Iran is a grave danger to international security and implement broader economic sanctions, or plan for military action. Or we can continue to stutter through weak narrow trade restrictions while providing excuses until Iran finally joins the nuclear club. Let’s hope Obama chooses one of the first two actions—our safety depends on it.
Eric T. Justin ’13, a Crimson editorial comper, lives in Mower Hall.