Peace Options on Iran

For decades, the default ideology of Official Washington’s foreign policy has been “tough-guy-ism,” wielding sticks and mocking those who offer carrots, a pattern that could start a disastrous war with Iran, say Tom H. Hastings and Erin E. Niemela.

By Tom H. Hastings and Erin E. Niemela

Tough talk by the U.S. and Iran — sometimes about nukes — has taken many turns over the past three decades, but there has been some relaxing of the tensions recently.

Iran signed a good-faith agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to allow inspectors broad access to its nuclear facilities. Signaling change, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani halted expansion of Iran’s uranium enrichment capacity since his election three months ago, according to U.N. inspection reports.

President Barack Obama talks with President Hassan Rouhani of Iran during a phone call in the Oval Office, Sept. 27, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama talks with President Hassan Rouhani of Iran during a phone call in the Oval Office, Sept. 27, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Yet, what has always been available are conflict management methods unexamined by our decision-makers. In developing potential options for adversarial nations, the U.S. government has the Joint Chiefs and security studies hawks on speed dial. Thus, the U.S. stumbles into war after war, informed of the full range of options from A to B. Attack or do nothing. Demonstrate a resolve to kill or show cowardice. It’s a wonder we haven’t nuked Canada.

Sometimes as we saw in the 1990s with killer sanctions on Iraq certain sanctions are hardest on the most vulnerable, innocent children and other civilians. To a large measure, this is the case vis-à-vis Iran. Peace scholars have been pushing for alternative options with Iran, backed by hard data and decades of conflict management experience, since the inception of the conflict. These alternatives have remained largely unnoticed amid the cyclical escalation/de-escalation of war drumming from both sides of the aisle.

In the spirit of sharing what we’ve learned in our obscure field of Peace and Conflict Studies, let’s think about some possible measures right now vis-à-vis Iran:

–Guarantee no-first-use of U.S. military force against Iran

As long as Iranian people and their government fear preëmptive military attack by the U.S. there will be strong motivation for development of nuclear weapons, and it will be easier for Iranian leaders to justify sacrifices, including resolve to endure crippling sanctions.

–Cease military aid to Israel

Even Israeli moderates remain belligerent toward Iran, reserving and openly referencing preëmptive military attack as an option. This keeps Iranian moderates on the defensive, emboldens hardliners, and continually prompts the average Iranian to hate Israel and its sponsor, the U.S. Stopping U.S military aid to Israel brings the region many steps closer to peace, helps take the target off the U.S., and prompts Israel to honestly negotiate its relationships constructively.


Now that declassified documents and an acknowledgment by President Barack Obama have formally recognized the CIA’s role in the 1953 overthrow of Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh, a formal apology should be made for this outrageous transgression. A simple apology without qualification, equivocation, justification or even explanation is best.

–Put some U.S. nukes on the table

Make the demand that Iran cease its nuclear ambitions linked to an offer to dismantle (for example) 200 U.S. nuclear weapons, with each party subject to IAEA inspections. Treat Iran like a real country, not a minor player of which we can make demands we won’t ourselves honor.

–Open embassies

The two countries should each invite the other to open an embassy with the guarantee of the safety of the personnel that is backed by enormous collateral. The 2011 Obama initiative to maintain an online embassy is a good gesture and not enough; it is time for reciprocity and advancements.

–Reframing U.S.-Iran relations as peaceful scientific collaboration

Iranian domestic legitimacy rests partially on the option of developing nuclear capabilities. Iran’s nuclear policy acts as a rallying point for internal cohesion. Reframe Iran-U.S. relations to one of peaceful scientific and health research collaboration, taking care to emphasize Iranian past and present contributions and collaborations with the U.S.

Give President Rouhani a fresh rallying point, highlighting Persian history and collective identity in its peaceful pursuits of science, engineering, technology, medicine and mathematics, and reduce reliance on Iranian nuclear policy for domestic legitimacy. Continuing negotiations would include these peaceful collaborations as additional bargaining points.

–Banking channels and medical supplies

Offer to provide third country banks a waiver against sanctions for facilitating transactions involved in medicines and medical supplies, and/or designate certain U.S. and Iranian financial institutions as open channels for humanitarian transactions. In exchange, Iran must allow consistent international monitoring of its medical enrichment facilities.

Most of these action items would be nonstarters, right? President Obama would never initiate any of them because, after all, the minority of Congress would howl and call him a treasonous coward. Congressional hawks would light up, hair on fire, bullhorns set on sonic warp kill. Peace-loving people would fear the dripping scorn.

If we continue to see the pusillanimity more afraid of knee-jerks in Congress than of allowing Iran to either get nukes or get attacked, we will watch as helpless as Junebugs on our backs while we drift into an ever-uglier world with more nuclear weapons in more hands, or into a stupendously reckless war of grand bloodbath proportions with Iran, war that is completely avoidable.

You do not need to conduct a multivariate regression analysis to know that successful negotiation requires both carrots and sticks. Hardliners are stuck on sticks, both violent and economic, and even low and no-cost carrots drive them “round the bend.” Fine. Let them go. Constructive conflict management is the new realpolitik.

Tom H. Hastings is PeaceVoice Director and teaches in the Conflict Resolution program at Portland State University.

Erin E. Niemela is PeaceVoice  Research Director and a Master’s Candidate of the Conflict Resolution program at Portland State University.

5 comments for “Peace Options on Iran

  1. November 24, 2013 at 07:34

    The NCRI is comprised of 25 committees that act as shadow ministries. The committees are responsible for expert research and planning for future Iran. For more information visit

  2. RichardKanePhillyPA
    November 19, 2013 at 11:40

    US foreign policy has always been dominated by lobbyists both good and bad. If a result of any compromise is that Iran gets to lobby like other nations and interest groups it would be a great improvement toward more balanced US foreign policy.

  3. Change Iran Now
    November 18, 2013 at 23:06

    Sanctions against Iran should be relaxed only after the machinery and materials necessary to develop a nuclear weapon are destroyed or moved out of the country. In addition, this must be strictly monitored. However, given the sacrifices Iran was willing to make for its nuclear program during the past three decades, it is extremely difficult if not impossible to envision Iran surrendering its nuclear ambitions.

    • F. G. Sanford
      November 19, 2013 at 10:06

      As if the same couldn’t be said about Israel’s rogue nuclear program…the hypocrisy of Neocon delusional thinking never ceases to amaze me. Military aid to Israel should be cut until it relinquishes its belligerent behavior and human rights abuses. What’s good for the goose, and all that…

  4. Eddie
    November 17, 2013 at 20:03

    The authors make some excellent points. I especially like the one about “… the full range of options from A to B. Attack or do nothing. Demonstrate a resolve to kill or show cowardice. ” ) I was recently reminded of this kind of thinking when one of the current JFK retrospectives (as the 50th anniversary of his assassination approaches) on PBS discussed the ‘Cuban Missile Crisis’, and it was scary how war-crazy a lot of the military advisors of Kennedy were – – – if he had listened to them it would have almost certainly quickly escalated into “a full nuclear exchange with an estimated 175 million dead” within hours of launch. Luckily Kennedy (like Eisenhower) had been in the military during wartime and had a healthy skepticism about their political/diplomatic abilities and was able to let the situation calm down (though JFK was somewhat responsible for creating the situation with his bellicose Cold-War talk during the 1960 election and afterwards) and negotiate himself/the US out of a very dicey situation.
    But back to the authors’ point about more than two options – – – there’s a whole continuum of choices and degrees-of-response between doing-nothing vs all-out-war. Military people are essentially experts (or, arguably the closest thing we have to ‘experts’) in war-making. If we need to go to war, then we should definitely consult them. But the political world is a vastly larger place with numerous other responses. When you’re water-main breaks, you call a plumber, but you don’t call him when you’re son or daughter is having academic problems in school — they’re two different problems in separate categories that require two different responses, which is analogous to this situation.

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