Iran wants to become a military nuclear power—there is no doubt. If the dimension of its nuclear program as well as the very ambitious missile program is not convincing enough as proof, try to analyze and understand the Iranian security perception.
US troops are present on both sides of Iran, in Iraq and in Afghanistan; marine combat units patrol the Gulf. From the point of view of the Iranian government, the US demand for regime change in Iran looks like a serious one.
Remember the Kosovo lesson learned. Immediately after the Kosovo war, governments of what US politicians call “rogue states” questioned whether NATO would have acted as it did if Milosevic had weapons of mass destruction at his disposal. The overall answer: No. The consequence for rogue state leaders was clear: a minimum of deterrence is required for one’s own security, i.e. long-range missiles and nuclear warheads. I repeat, from the point of view of the Iranians, this conclusion makes perfect sense. It shows that for the Mullahs, their security comes first.
How are we, the West, to deal with this? The EU-3 tried to negotiate, sending substantial offers to Tehran, without success (so far). The Europeans could not deliver what the mullahs wanted to achieve most: security guarantees. Only the US government could deliver these, and they have no desire to (so far).
Will there be a change in the future? Not likely. Instead, the US government is trying to build up pressure by forming a coalition of the willing to impose sanctions on Tehran. It is rather doubtful that this will work. Sanctions have never achieved what they were aiming at. The only exception: South Africa, but that was a different case—the whole world and a majority in South Africa was in favor of sanctions. None of this is true in the case of Iran.
So what other possibilities should we consider? A military option? Maybe. But let’s be serious: a military attack by air will not destroy all of the over 100 nuclear installations we know of in Iran and will not destroy all capabilities for military (and other) retaliation by Iran. The consequences for the whole region are beyond reasonable calculation. And an additional war on the ground is the last option that the US government is ready for, now and in the foreseeable future.
It seems that we only have one realistic option: We need to
- develop a new philosophy of deterrence against Iran,
- establish a credible regime of tough containment all around Iran, that should include Russia,
- defend Israel (that has been openly threatened with destruction by Iran’s president Ahmadinejad and before him by ex-president Rafsanjani) by securing its nuclear second-strike capability
- and push forward the idea of a new security architecture on the Arabian peninsula and in the Gulf, that finally (if Tehran behaves) might also include Iran.
Visionary? Yes, especially the last point, but the step-by-step approach is a realistic and responsible way to handle a conflict that could easily run out of control. We have too many conflicts in the world for which we don’t see a solution. So why not try some intelligent, pragmatic and visionary conflict management?
Hans-Ulrich Klose is a Social Democrat member of the German Bundestag and Vice-Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee. He is a member of the Atlantic Initiative Advisory Board.
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