Saturday, September 26, 2009

Iran: Engagement, Sanctions, or Nothing?

The recent

disclosure of a second uranium enrichment site in Iran has led the Obama administration to shift the emphasis in its dealings with the Islamic republic -- away from engagement and toward building an international consensus for sterner action against Tehran.

Is this the right response? Let's take as given that, other things equal, it is in the world's interest that Iran not possess nuclear weapons. This might not be right - maybe Iranian nuclear weapons would help check other unfriendly forces in the Middle East - but leave that for another day. Then the following propositions all seem plausible:

1. Continued engagement just allows Iran to continue developing its nuclear capabilites.

2. Sanctions might slow Iran's nuclear development a bit, but since both Russia and China are not really on board with sanctions, this effect will be minimal.

3. Military action to destory the Iranian nuclear capabilities will address the issue in the short term, but Iran will just start over. Plus, such military action might escalate into something far more costly.

Faced with these choices, my vote is to do nothing.

15 comments:

simon... said...

"...Iranian nuclear weapons would help check other unfriendly forces in the Middle East..." whaaat??? Is there an unfriendly force threatening Iran which obtaining nuclear force will keep in check? Could you please name it?
May be slowing development of Iran's nuclear weapons by any means until the time Iran is not run by lunatics that openly looking to wipe other countries of the map IS the best thing we could do? If we could do it and by what means is a different question.

Ryan said...

I'm lost here. Your logic doesn't make a lot of sense. You want to do nothing in regards to Iran's nuclear weapons. With certainty this will cause Iran to continue building their weapons. Why not continue engagement or push the international community to pressure Iran through sanctions. I don't see either option at being terribly effective, but at least Iran would be forced to slow down production. There is at least some chance they could be pressured into stopping their production. The costs of engagement or sanctions are relatively small, such a small cost only needs to yield a small expected benefit in the long-run. The benefit of a slow down in production and the slight chance Iran may stop production far exceeds the costs.

Of course I might be underestimating the costs of engagement or sanctions by the international community.

Jess Austin said...

Short of carpet-bombing, which would have large negative repercussions, there is no way of "forcing" the leaders of Iran to do anything. Far from weakening the leadership, sanctions will just make the lives of ordinary citizens suck more than they already do, which will radicalize their preexisting nihilistic nationalist tendencies, and strengthen the position of the mullahs. Everyone will be shocked, SHOCKED, when sanctions, which have never in history worked for any purpose, fail to work yet again. International engagement is a fine employment program for the diplomatic corps, but it won't convince Iran's leadership to ignore its own interest.

As adults, we need to face the fact that we are not the center of the world; not every act of every dictator on earth is a response to us. The mullahs want nuclear technology, and in the present decade that's pretty easy for a nation of 75M people to obtain.

Jess Austin said...

Simon: Most countries in the Middle East, Central Asia, and South Asia are more or less opposed to Iran. (I'm racking my brain for an exception: maybe Azerbaijan?) Since most of these countries are also unfriendly to the USA, it could be that focusing more on a proximate threat would diminish their fascination with harming us. Throughout history, few nations have eschewed playing potential enemies off against each other. America hasn't pursued this policy much, but should we dismiss it out of hand?

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