It is precisely the
fear of such blinding and incinerating nuclear light that is moving
the world's diplomats to speak out with increasing stridency and
urgency in the face of Iran's intent to recommence nuclear research
and testing that might lead to their development of nuclear weapons.
German Foreign Minister
Frank-Walter Steinmeir responded to Iranian words of intent to
break the seals and restart the nuclear program: "This marks
a breach of Tehran's commitments. [Iran is sending] very, very
disastrous signals. It cannot remain without consequences ...
We have had two very, very grave signals from the Iranian government
over the past weekend."
French Foreign Minister
Philippe Douste-Blazy warned: "We urge Iran to immediately
and unconditionally reverse its decision ... [It] is a reason
for very serious concern." European Foreign Minister Javier
Solana warned that the situation is "serious." Mohammed
El Baradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency
(IAEA) said he is "losing his patience" with Iran and
that they were approaching "a red line for the international
follow actions last Saturday by all five permanent members of
the U.N. Security Council (China, Russia, France, Britain and
the United States). Each country separately sent a demarche (a
formal diplomatic communique) to Iran warning the country it could
face United Nations Security Council censure and sanctions.
When cautious and
circumspect European diplomats use words like "serious,"
"grave," "disastrous," "red line for
international community," "urge Iran to immediately
and unconditionally reverse its decision," the rest of us
should take these phrases as unambiguous evidence that an international
crisis of the first water is fast building.
The event that may
precipitate formal diplomatic action will occur in March, when
IAEA head El Baradei will file his next report to the U.N. on
the nuclear program status of Iran.
The question remains
whether all this diplomatic agitation will lead to effective international
action. It is generally recognized among leading American and
European statesmen that the period of negotiating with Iran is
almost at an end. We are now entering a period of what is being
called coercive diplomacy. But what kind of coercion is being
contemplated? And what are the calculations that are going into
selecting the means of coercion?
As Dr. Henry Kissinger
once wrote, the advantage that historians have over statesmen
is that historians know all the facts and have years to assess
them. Statesmen must act without knowing all the facts and without
having enough time.
The spectrum of actions
range from mere criticism, to censure, to diplomatic isolation,
to economic sanctions as punishment, to specific barring of importation
into Iran of products and services critical to nuclear weapons
production, to military actions intended to physically destroy
Iran's nuclear capacity.
All the possible
actions short of the ultimate military one rely on assumptions
that are not fully verifiable. Diplomatic isolation assumes the
Iranian regime places a high value on non-isolation.
assume that they can have their desired coercive effect before
Iran can develop nuclear weapons. And denying Iran products and
services needed to develop nuclear weapons assumes that they are
and will remain unable to develop nuclear weapons exclusively
from what they possess internally (and that such a ban on such
imports could be enforced effectively even regarding such countries
as Russia, China, North Korea and Pakistan, as well as the international
Nobody asserts (not
even high U.S. government officials) that our intelligence within
Iran is sufficient to certify Iran's domestic capacities. But
there appears to be a high level of belief in our government that
Iran needs some outside help to fully develop and manufacture
a nuclear weapon.
If that assumption
is right, and if we and other leading countries under the auspices
of the United Nations (or otherwise) can enforce such an embargo
without damaging leakage, then the sanctions and embargo as a
coercive device would be a sufficient protection for the world.
Every action has
its risks and costs. Prompt American military action unsanctioned
by the U.N. would have very high diplomatic, geopolitical, world
image and domestic partisan division costs, but would assure a
non-nuclear Iran for a period of years.
Relying on embargo
and sanction comes cheap -- if it works. But as we can't know
Iran's full internal capacity, the likelihood of a leak-free embargo,
nor the will of the Iranian regime, the contingent price we would
pay for failure would be a fait accompli nuclear Iran. Also, this
plan relies on Israel forbearing from taking its own military
action -- which they might or might not take, and which might
or might not be effective.
From all available
evidence, it appears that international embargo of critical nuclear
elements, combined with diplomatic isolation and more general
economic sanctions, are likely to form the substance of the American
and international response if Iran does not agree to stand down
voluntarily in the next month or so.
Any action is a calculated
risk. We shall see whether today's statesmen are making the right