Limited Effectiveness of Sanctions
Economic sanctions will not prevent Iran from pursuing its nuclear armament program. Truly harmful sanctions are vetoed by Russia and China since Beijing considers its billion dollar gas trade with Iran a priority and Moscow actively contributes to Iran's nuclear and missile programs. Besides, the embargo on Saddam Hussein in Iraq showed that draconian measures affect the people more than the regime. According to UNESCO estimates, the UN boycott of Iraq nearly caused more deaths than the Gulf wars.
A military disempowerment of the Iranian regime is also out of the question. Western troops would face resistance both from the government and the Iranian people. The will to become a nuclear and a regional power is widespread even among Iranians in exile and has little to do with the form of government.
Disputable Air Strikes
As a result, the American and Israeli militaries doubt precise attacks aimed at Iranian nuclear facilities would be effective in the long term. Politically, this would certainly be disastrous. Teheran could be tempted to start a "holy war" against Western troops in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Lebanon and voluntary fighters would not be hard to find. Besides, since the West has become burdened by its military, economic and especially political strategic overexpansion, another escalation would prove difficult to handle.
Deterrence is therefore the remaining option. After all, this principle also justifies Iranian nuclear ambitions. Teheran wants to be insured against Western intervention. However, the insurance only works so long as it remains a peaceful nuclear power. Were Iran to prepare the launch of just one missile with a nuclear warhead, let alone to fire at Israel or any other Western country, this would mean the end of the Iranian state, but also of large sections of the Iranian population.
In addition, Jerusalem would be able, to counter the missile with its anti-missile system. And even if this anti-missile device should fail and even if, - something that is even less likely - the estimated 200 land and air supported atomic weapons of Israel should be destroyed by such an attack, Jerusalem could resort to using the submarines it obtained from Germany to destroy most of Iran.
Terrorism is Not an Option
A similar scenario is conceivable if Teheran were to provide Hamas or Hezbollah with a nuclear weapon to use against Israel. The consequences for Iran would be the same as in the event of a direct attack on Israel. Hezbollah and Hamas would not survive this kind of conflict escalation, let alone the civilian majority of the Palestinians.
Since the end of the Cold War, nuclear weapons only serve as deterrents. Therefore they are also a means of responding to new nuclear powers. This was understood by Israel long before Iraq, Iran and Syria started having nuclear ambitions. Therefore Israel does not only have the first and second strike capabilities but also possesses one of the most modern Western anti-missile systems.
In Europe, where there is much talk of a common foreign and security policy but where little is done to put one into practice, France is the only country to have an independent nuclear arsenal. Tens of billions Euros flow into La Force de Frappe. New generations of nuclear submarines, cruise missiles and intercontinental missiles with multiple warheads are meant to bring France's nuclear arsenal up to date.
Deterrence and Escalation
Chirac declared in 2006 that France should not be cornered by terrorist and rogue states into deciding whether to stay coy or destroy. Terrorism could justify a nuclear response. He insisted that France should have the twofold ability to deter and to act if a conflict was to escalate.
Sarkozy too upholds nuclear deterrence. He intends to have the necessary means to have a functional nuclear defence. He too would not hesitate to make the necessary decisions if the country's interests or security were at stake. However, to sink the enormous costs, France's nuclear arsenal is to be reduced to the barest necessary minimum - a level equivalent to half of what it was during the cold war.
A European Nuclear Policy
Since a European security policy without a European nuclear doctrine does not make much sense in the long term, Sarkozy has offered Germany to take part in France's nuclear program. This could form the basis for a serious common foreign and security policy in Europe, and the backbone of a European army.
A credible nuclear deterrence strategy necessitates a modern anti-missile system and first and second strike capabilities. This is the only way Israel, Europe and America will be able to address the dilemma that Sarkozy described as the alternative between the Iranian bomb and the bombing of Iran.
Thomas Speckmann is consultant to the Office of the Governor of the Federal State of North-Rhine Westphalia and Assistant Lecturer at the seminar on political science and sociology of the University of Bonn.
This summary and translation was prepared by the Atlantic Community Editorial Team. The original article "Renaissance der nuklearen Abschreckung" was published in German in the Neue Zuercher Zeitung on April 12.
Related materials from the Atlantic Community:
- Fouad Naji Maarouf: Iran and the West: A Difficult Relationship
- Ryan R. Miller: Energy Carrots for Iran: Killing Two Birds with One Stone
- Charles Kupchan & Ray Takeyh: Iran Just Won't Stay Isolated