Posted tagged ‘China’

Nuclear Summit & Iran

April 14, 2010

The first of many meetings to combat nuclear terrorism is complete. World leaders committed to eliminate or lock down nuclear materials and to finish this task in the next four years.

Noticeably absent from the conference were Iran and North Korea. Heads of State from Israel and the United Kingdom sent a high level representative.

With a very narrow and staged focus, Obama tried to convince African, Latin American, Asian and European nations to agree to deny terrorist groups the access to plutonium and highly enriched uranium. He urged nations to sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty but stopped short of addressing the most contentious issues such as stopping Pakistani production of weapons-grade plutonium or pressing Israel to admit to its nuclear arsenal.

With a specific warning to Iran, Obama urged China to put meaning to words and consequences to actions. With intent to gain momentum at the United Nations Security Council, he suggested that the resolution must have significant teeth with matching penalties to get the attention of Iranian leadership.

The result of this two day effort is a nonbinding communiqué that merely restates existing policy. A second conference scheduled for two years down the road will review accomplishments. Canada, Mexico and Ukraine committed to eliminating their surplus weapons-grade materials and Russia closed a plutonium reactor used to make weapons-grade fuel. But, there is little new here since many of these proposals are regurgitations’ from agreements signed 10 years ago.

Achieving success on the broader goals remains elusive. Convincing nations that they don’t need nuclear weapons for minimum deterrence will be difficult. Pakistan, India and China continue to manufacture more bomb fuel; North Korea defiantly maintains its 8 to 12 weapons; Russia is worried about America’s nuclear dominance particularly if American missile defense technology is improved and deployed and Iran continues to tout a new generation of centrifuges that will rapidly improve uranium production.

Next up is a review of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The month long review of the Treaty in New York sets the stage for challenges by Iran and others. Attempts to close loopholes, recast commitment and encourage new signatories hopefully will change the intentions of many nations.

International outreach efforts, however, are met with closed doors in Tehran. The U.S. and its allies worry that Iran is using its nuclear program to also develop atomic weapons. Iran says it only seeks energy-producing reactors. Hawks in the region openly discuss military action. U.S. led efforts coalesce around dialogue and strong U.N. sanctions.

Continued dialogue and increased sanctions appear to be the only options short of the military option. In the meantime, work on nuclear weapons in Iran continues unabated.

In the current contested environment, preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon is difficult at best. Effective sanctions are not likely as the Chinese will probably limit participation in the oil embargo since they are dependent on Iran for 11% of their oil imports and Russian mistrust of America is on the upsurge. All other sanctions, except maybe banking restrictions, are merely gestures.

To respond with a military strike also has its limitations and follow-on predictable responses. There are difficulties in locating and penetrating deep locations with precision weapons. This requires precise intelligence and effective delivery platforms and weapons. Assessment of effectiveness will always remain a question and determining the length of delays in the nuclear program will be the administration’s nightmare and the pundit’s delight.

Even with a decisive military outcome, Iran can and will respond with many possible options. Its terrorist arm, Hezbollah, can react quickly and decisively. Iran can impose on the stability of Iraq and Afghanistan and can reach into the Persian Gulf to disrupt the international flow of oil. Iranian retribution is real and destabilizing.

Iranian response challenges the Western mindset of rationality. It seems that the Iranian dilemma boxes the international community into accepting Iranian nuclear weapons or accepting the consequences. While dialogue may bring cooperation closer than catastrophe, preparing for the latter remains important.

Trying to change the calculus of a country like Iran when national and regime survival are the core of its concerns is difficult. Even with unprecedented international pressure, the Iranian regime is still able to maintain power over the population and a popular revolution is a distance dream.

Bringing Iran back into the international arena is certainly a worthy objective. Dialogue is important but Iranian defiance should not be tolerated. An Iran with nuclear weapons will do more harm than good. The broader approach of less nuclear weapons is admirable but still leaves nations like Iran short in their desire for minimum nuclear deterrence.

The way ahead is uncertain but one thing is certain, continued engagement and pressure is important. Policy matters and to enable success, America must remain strong. Nuclear posture ambiguity creates uncertainty in the minds of our enemies. A modern US nuclear inventory puts teeth into a Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. Strong missile defense across all levels improves deterrence. Small US regional presence with quick response capability enhances credibility and is an effective regional counter balance. Coalescing around a goal of preventing terrorism wins allies. Focusing on economic stability and common interests entices compliance. Convincing Iran to take its place as a rational actor on the stage of international actors lessens confrontation and promotes stability.