As U.S.-Iran tensions gain a dangerous momentum – with an Iranian court just giving a death sentence to an alleged CIA spy – neocon-dominated Washington has jumped on the bandwagon toward war. But the Independent Institute’s Charles V. Peña says the underlying assumptions deserve more scrutiny.
By Charles V. Peña
In the war of words between Iran and the United States, Tehran has drawn a line in the sand (actually, the Persian Gulf).
According to Maj. Gen. Ataollah Salehi, the commander in chief of the Iranian army, “We recommend to the American warship that passed through the Strait of Hormuz and went to the Gulf of Oman not to return to the Persian Gulf.” This comes hot on the heels of the Iranians test-firing a new radar-evading missile and threatening to close the Strait of Hormuz.
So what’s all the aggressive huffing and puffing about? Well, the United States is imposing economic sanctions on Iran, which the Iranians aren’t taking kindly to. Of course, the U.S. takes the position that imposing such sanctions is perfectly justified (I mean, what else is a superpower to do when another country doesn’t do exactly what we want it to do?).
But according to Republican presidential hopeful Jon Huntsman, if the Iranians reacted to sanctions by attempting to close the Strait of Hormuz (cutting off the flow of oil from the Persian Gulf, which is roughly equivalent to imposing economic sanctions on the United States and other oil-dependent countries), doing so would be “an act of war.”
This, of course, after the U.S. has already engaged in an analogous action that apparently isn’t considered an act of war (except to Ron Paul). Of course, that makes about as much sense as what the hullabaloo is about to begin with.
It seems that the United States doesn’t like the idea of the mullahs in Tehran and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad getting their hands on a nuclear weapon. Iran has an active nuclear program — it recently produced their first nuclear fuel rod — which the Iranians claim is for peaceful purposes, but the U.S. doesn’t believe that.
At the heart of U.S. disbelief are centrifuges that can be used to enrich uranium to weapons grade. But there isn’t anything in the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treat (NPT) — to which Iran is a signatory — that prohibits a country from enriching uranium.
Moreover, the foundation of the NPT is a false promise. Essentially, non-nuclear-weapons states (such as Iran) agree not to develop nuclear weapons (Article II) in exchange for nuclear-weapons states (such as the U.S.) agreeing to eventually (with no specific deadline) divest themselves of their nuclear weapons (Article VI). Apparently, the Iranians believe this about as much as that there is a bridge in Brooklyn for sale.
But why would the Iranians want nukes anyway? It couldn’t be that neighboring Israel has nuclear weapons (not that the Israelis are admitting that they do). And it certainly couldn’t be because U.S.-imposed regime change via military force (most recently right next door to Iran in Iraq) seems to happen to countries that don’t have nuclear weapons, e.g., notice that regime change in North Korea is happening because Kim Jong-Il died of natural causes.
Not that either of these could be considered legitimate concerns, from Iran’s perspective. And if the Iranians got nukes, the West’s argument goes, that would be the end of the world because they would most certainly use them. After all, Ahmadinejad supposedly threatened to wipe Israel off the map.
This assumes, of course, that the Iranians are suicidal. It is hard to imagine that the Israelis would sit idly by and not retaliate with their nuclear arsenal (which is likely enough to wipe Iran off the map). Ditto for any concerns about Iran lobbing a nuke at the United States (with an even larger and more capable nuclear arsenal that could wipe Iran off the map several times over — not to mention the minor detail that the Iranians don’t have a delivery platform capable of reaching the United States).
But Iran is a state sponsor of terrorism, the argument goes, so wouldn’t they give nukes to terrorists? This, of course, was a central tenet of the Bush administration’s rationale for invading Iraq to depose Saddam Hussein in the wake of 9/11.
But the reality is that there is no history of any country with dreaded weapons of mass destruction giving them away to terrorists. Indeed, Saddam Hussein was known to have both chemical and biological weapons (in the 1980s) and he supported terrorists — but he never gave those weapons to terrorists.
It is also hard to fathom why the regime in Tehran would spend billions of dollars (perhaps tens of billions of dollars) in pursuit of nuclear weapons technology only to give it away to terrorists (the Bushehr reactor complex is estimated to have cost $4-6 billion, and the Iranians are believed to be constructing three to five more nuclear facilities at an estimated cost of $3.2 billion).
So strip away the veneer of threats and posturing, and the underpinning logic is anything but logical. Unfortunately, this passes for and seems to be accepted as sound foreign policy.
Charles V. Peña is Senior Fellow at the Independent Institute as well as a senior fellow with the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy.