Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Memo on Bushehr

A brief post checking in with the larger world, and the potential for still more military conflict in the middle-east.

Something I learned in 2002, as the drums of war were unmistakably being played for what would be the 2003 invasion of Iraq, is that it is actually very, very difficult to have a hidden nuclear weapons program. In Iraq, it was simply impossible: the extent of our surveillance of the country was such that a project of that scale could not be hidden from view, even if it were taking place underground. There was a better chance of biological weapons being manufactured out of view, because that can be a much smaller project; nuclear weapons, no.

Iran's insistence on developing nuclear energy and widespread suspicions about its intentions, to say nothing of its own bellicose rhetoric, lead many to speculate that there will be a military strike against Iran in the near future. Some even call for forced "regime change."

Much less is written in the mass media about nuclear diplomacy and how it really works. For this reason, I appreciated this commentary about Bushehr, Iran's first nuclear power plant.

...Assertions about the apocalyptically dangerous character of the Bushehr project were a staple of U.S. policy throughout the Clinton Administration and for much of the George W. Bush Administration. But, before he left office, even President George W. Bush had come to recognize the non-threatening character of Bushehr. For its part, the Obama Administration has never had a problem per se with Bushehr as a serious source of proliferation risk.

The media presents us with a false dichotomy. We either trust Iran to develop nuclear energy without weaponizing it, or we have to bomb them. It is a strikingly stupid view of the situation. We don't have to trust them. If the IAEA is supervising the activity, and Russia is removing the spent fuel rods, there is really no hidden weaponizing that can take place. A similar approach might be taken with other sites in Iran that are enriching uranium: sunshine, rather than alienation.

This does, however, mean we need to reconcile ourselves to working in an international manner. That's up to us.


Petteri Sulonen said...

What drives me up the wall about the Iran nukes situation is that it would be a totally soluble problem, if only the major powers agreed to work together about it.

Bellicose posturing by America won't help (in fact, it'll make things a lot worse), because (1) it's a bluff and Iran knows it (the USA does not have the military capability to take on Iran) and (2) the other great powers (Russia, China, the EU) aren't on board.

OTOH if the great powers decided to put together a nice little package of sticks and carrots and stuck to it, with the carrot being genuine normalization of relations with Iran combined with some kind of international security guarantees against unilateral action by Israel, they would play ball. (There are plenty of sticks to be brandished too, but I won't go into that here.)

Iran isn't some kind of strange alien evil empire. It's a country, with a nasty regime and ambitions to regional leadership, but it's not batshit insane or suicidal (cf. North Korea).

Whereas how things are going now, Iran is inexorably sliding towards acquiring the bomb. Wouldn't you, if you had the sole regional nuclear power daily threatening you with destruction, and the rest of the world treating you like shit?

/end rant

Algernon said...

That is another thing. The media usually write about Iran from the assumption that it is an irrational regime. (Ahmedinejad helps.) Behind the person playing the role of president, in the lesser-seen echilons of power in the Iranian state, there is a rational politic at work. Bob Baer, author of The Devil We Know and a partial inspiration for the film Syriana, has argued this point extensively and, I think, persuasively.