Of Bombs and (would-be) Bombers

This was the best of weeks; this was the worst of weeks. I am referring to last week’s ministerial meeting at the UN General Assembly – and of course I’m exaggerating.

For all who want to see Iran’s nuclear quarrel with the West resolved peacefully Prime Minister Netanyahu’s appearance before the Assembly was a god-send. This, surely, was the moment when he finally lost all credibility. Not only did he flirt with the grotesque by producing a ridiculous comic-book drawing of a bomb, he also implied that for the umpteenth time he had miscalled the imminence of an Iranian Armageddon.

Yet something tells me we have not heard the last from Mr. Netanyahu. Like Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi, he bounces back from making a fool of himself. At home in recent weeks he has been severely criticised for his misjudgements by Israel’s equivalent of the Great and the Good. Yet it seems his convictions remain intact.

And no doubt he will continue to be taken seriously by the mainstream media.  When reporting on Iran the media like to recall – despite evidence to the contrary – that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons. In future they ought to recall, when reporting the premonitions of Mr. Netanyahu, that his years in office have unbalanced him. But of course they won’t.

And so Mr. Netanyahu will continue to create political difficulties for all those who are trying to devise sensible solutions to a very difficult problem.

At least we can be confident that, if Mr. Obama is re-elected, he will not allow himself to be influenced by this hysteria. Twice this year the President has demonstrated that he has the measure of his Israeli “ally”. Last week, in his intervention before the Assembly, he made clear that he draws the line, sensibly, at Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons and not, as Mr. Netanyahu wants, at the acquisition of a weapons capability, long since a fait accompli, in any case, so far as the production of fissile material is concerned.

As for the worst – well, actually, the disappointing – I am thinking of a paper produced by Stephen Hadley and published by Foreign Policy on 26 September. The title was promising: Eight Ways to deal with Iran. But the contents could have been written in 2003. One peruses in vain for evidence that lessons have been learnt from the last nine years of Western dealings with Iran over its nuclear programme.

Instead, Mr. Hadley offers us strategic and tactical options that are familiar and stale, the same mix of carrots and sticks that have failed to deliver a solution because Iranians, as they like to remind us, are not donkeys. They are men as we are – men who understand the importance of maintaining self-respect and who know their rights.

The flawed nature of Mr. Hadley’s vision is apparent early on. He asserts that action is needed to stop Iran:

– pursuing weapons of mass destruction
– supporting terrorists
– intervening in the internal affairs of neighbours
– infringing the freedom and human rights of the Iranian people
– and denying these people the right to a democratic future.

The extent to which Iran is guilty of these abuses could be questioned. So could the right of other states to put a stop to some of them. The sole point I want to make is that many other states, some of them on friendly terms with the US, are engaging in one or more of these practices; so why single out Iran for special treatment? Is the core issue the enforcement of international norms or the punishment of dissent?

One is hardly surprised to discover, on turning to option 6, a military strike, that Mr. Hadley makes no mention of the legal obstacles to attacking another state. To expect him to be familiar with UN Security Council resolution 487, which condemns military attacks on nuclear facilities as a violation of norms of international conduct and a threat to the nuclear safeguards regime, may be unreasonable. But can he really have spent all those years in the White House without reading the UN Charter?

Nor does he mention the highly toxic nature of the uranium gases that an attack on Iran’s plants would release into the atmosphere. Or the risk retaliation could pose for Saudi desalinated water supplies.

He suggests the US could avoid being seen as responsible for an attack. I suggest that, if Iran’s facilities are attacked, large parts of the world won’t wait for evidence or an avowal before determining responsibility. They’ll be as sure they know who’s responsible as is Mr Netanyahu when, within half an hour of a terrorist outrage, he proclaims Iran’s guilt.

In short, it appears Mr. Hadley has not seen that we need to break out of the mind-set which has doomed efforts to resolve this problem since 2003. We need policies which will minimise the risk that Iran will be tempted to exploit a dual-use capability which is not outlawed by the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. We need a diplomacy that addresses this motivational element in the threat equation, not least by recognising that Iran is entitled to have national interests and that double standards weaken global governance.

Peter Jenkins

Peter Jenkins was a British career diplomat for 33 years, following studies at the Universities of Cambridge and Harvard. He served in Vienna (twice), Washington, Paris, Brasilia and Geneva. He specialized in global economic and security issues. His last assignment (2001-06) was that of UK Ambassador to the IAEA and UN (Vienna). Since 2006 he has represented the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Partnership, advised the Director of IIASA and set up a partnership, The Ambassador Partnership llp, with former diplomatic colleagues, to offer the corporate sector dispute resolution and solutions to cross-border problems. He was an associate fellow of the Geneva Centre for Security Policy from 2010 to 2012. He writes and speaks on nuclear and trade policy issues.


One Comment

  1. Hadley (knowingly I think) was recommending “Option 8: Acquiesce in a Nuclear-Armed Iran”

    That was the only listed option that was not cut and pasted, and actually contained an idea that has not been either tested and therefore not proven to be failure, or so hare-brained as not warranting a test. Furthermore, option 8 is the only one with a reference to the thinking of a recognized international relations guru, Mr. Waltz.

    Of course no one wants to see more nuclear arms. The “Acquiesce” Hadley & Waltz refer to, does not mandate on Iran to go ahead and develop weapons. Much more likely, Iran will use the “Acquiesce” to brandish her trustworthiness by continuing her fealty to having foresworn WMD, forever.

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