Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Shall We Consider Preemptive Strike against Iran to Stop the Nuclear Project?

The nuclear crisis on Iran poses an unanswered question of the Iraq War to us. People criticized President then George W. Bush that the US-UK coalition invaded Iraq without solid proof of its nuclear possession. However, virtually none of the experts discussed much more vital issue, whether preemptive attack is necessary to stop nuclear proliferation. Actually, Robert Kagan, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, insisted on striking North Korea to stop its nuclear project when he had an interview with a Japanese political journal SAPIO in 2003. Since then, North Korea conducted a nuclear bomb experiment in October 2006, and succeeded in causing some kind of nuclear explosion. The global community failed to stop proliferation to Pyongyang dictatorship.

Let me narrate the overview of this crisis. Tension has become increasingly intensified since Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced to install new centrifuges to acquire highly enriched uranium (“Iran's Nuclear Experiments Raise Alarm at U.N. Agency”; Wall Street Journal; September 3, 2011). While suspicion of nuclear proliferation was growing, Iran’s first nuclear plant in Bushehr started to provide electricity (“Iran’s First Nuclear Power Plant Goes into Operation”; New York Times; September 4, 2011). As the International Atomic Energy released a new report to warn that Iran’s nuclear program has proceeded almost close to develop nuclear weapons, President Ahmadinejad denounced IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano (“Iran Escalates Anti-U.S. Rhetoric over Nuclear Report”; New York Times; November 9, 2011). In view of growing threat to the Gulf area, the Obama administration proposed to supply bunker busters with the United Arab Emirates to contain Iran’s ambition for regional dominance (“U.S. prepares to send ‘bunker-busting’ bombs to U.A.E. to help contain Iran”; National Post; November 12, 2011). Despite tightening pressure on Iran, Israeli experts are skeptic to efficacy of sanctions by the global community. Ephraim Kam, Deputy Director of the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University, doubts whether new IAEA report promotes sufficient pressure, because "Iran wants a bomb, or at least the capacity to make a bomb, and is willing to pay the price." Kam says Israel can manage a unilateral strike on "three or four" Iranian nuclear sites, but he also admits that the United States is reluctant to support another war in the Middle East because the Obama administration is withdrawing from Iraq and Afghanistan (“Analysis: Israelis doubt world will stop Iran's nuclear quest”; Reuters; November 15, 2011).

Prior to discussing the impact of sanctions and preemptive attack on Iran, let me talk about the IAEA report. According to this, Iran has completed preparations for high explosive tests and procurement of equipment and materials for nuclear-weapons development. Also, Iran has designed a prototype warhead for Shahab-3 ballistic missile. Therefore, Iran has come quite close to produce a nuclear weapon (IAEA report: death knell of Iran diplomacy?”; IISS Strategic Comments; November 2011).

In view of such an imminent crisis, we have to discuss efficacy of sanctions and preemptive attack. Currently, the United States, Britain, and Canada declared to impose sanctions to stop financial and petrochemical business activities with Iran. However, experts doubt efficacy of sanctions (“Iran Penalties Insufficient to Curb Atomic Effort: Experts”; Global Security Newswire; November 22, 2011). Former British Chancellor of the Exchequer Lord Norman Lamont warns that broad sanctions can make Iranian businesses more dependent on the Revolutionary Guards that runs nationalized energy sectors and key industries in Iran. Moreover, ex-British Ambassador to the UN Jeremy Greenstock notes that sanctions are often used as a political pressure between verbal attack and military action (“Sanctions on Iran a Failed Approach”; IISS Voices; 23 November 2011). In addition, the Obama administration is reluctant to take punitive measures against Iran’s central bank, though it is widely considered the most powerful economic pressure the United States can use. The White House worries that this will skyrocket oil price, and threaten economic recovery in the United States and Europe (“U.S. Imposes New Sanctions on Iran, but Strongest Weapon Remains Unused”; Global Security Newswire; November 22, 2011).

In addition to economic aspects, we have to consider the nature of Shiite theocracy in Iran. Michael Rubin, Resident Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, points out that the Islamic Republic pursues to spread the revolution throughout the Islam world. The nuclear project is their jihad to achieve their own revolutionary goal (“Iran’s Nuclear Project”; National Review Online; November 8, 2011). For Iran, nuclear weapon is a source of their power and prestige on the global stage. Alireza Nader, Policy Analyst of RAND Corporation, comments that nuclear prestige is worth the price of sanctions as regime survival is the vital goal for Shiite theocracy (“Analysis - For Iran, the sanctions price may be worth paying”; Reuters; November 29, 2011). In pursuit of bargaining power against the West, Iran even conducted a secret experiment for ICBM early this November (“Iran Conducted ICBM Experiment: Report”; Global Security Newswire; November 21, 2011).

Another very important point that we must not dismiss is the policy stance of Russia and China. Michael Singh, Managing Director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and Jacqueline Deal, President of the Long Term Strategy Group, mention perception gaps between the United States and China. The United States may see China as a key partner in isolating Iran, but China sees Iran as a potential partner in countering U.S. power. Moreover, they quote Chinese Major General Zhang Shiping that Iran is potentially a desirable military base for the Chinese navy in the Middle East (“China's Iranian Gambit”; Foreign Policy; October 31, 2011). In view of rapid growth of Chinese sea power, this cannot be dismissed. In addition to geopolitical rivalries with the United States, Mark Hibbs, Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, pints out that both Russia and China need security and economic partnership with Iran through the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Russia wants to export more conventional weapons and nuclear reactors to Iran for big business deal. In order to defend their interests in Iran, Hibbs says Russia may suggest a roadmap for Iran to limit uranium enrichment to the low level (“Waiting for Russia's Next Move on Iran”; Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Q&A; November 22, 2011). The problem is revolutionary nature of the current regime of Iran. Their obsession with national prestige is hard to deal with. While Matthew Levitt、Senior Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, insists that even if sanctions hurt the Iranian economy, it still has generous customers for oil and gas, such as China, Japan, South Korea, some European countries including Italy, Greece, and Spain. Oil price is high enough to sustain the regime. Regardless of damages by sanctions, Karim Sadjapour Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, says “The economic welfare of the Iranian people has never been a top priority of the Islamic Republic” (“Iran's Economy Can Take the Pressure—for Now”; Bloomberg Business Week; November 30, 2011). Therefore it is necessary to discuss tougher measures.

Regarding military strike, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta argues that it will pose negative impacts to world economy due to unintended consequences associated with the conflict. Instead, Panetta endorses diplomatic efforts through the six party talks to pressure Iran (“Strike on Iran could hurt world economy, US says”; Reuters; November 17, 2011). Certainly, as Panetta argues, military strike is associated with some risks. Sanctions need to be accompanied by other kinds of pressure, and diplomatic negotiation is one of them. However, Russia and China do not feel the treat of a nuclear Iran so imminent as the West and Israel do. This is why we have to consider preemptive strike against nuclear facilities in Iran. Jamie Fly, Executive Director of the Foreign Policy Initiative, argues that diplomatic efforts and sanctions failed to stop Iran’s nuclear program, and it has become increasingly necessary to take military actions. He also stresses harmful impacts of a nuclear Iran, such as insecurity in the Gulf area and Afghanistan, and possible proliferation to terrorist organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah. Apparently, some actions are required, now (“Military action increasingly appears to be the only option that will prevent a nuclear Iran”; US News and World Report's Debate Club; November 16, 2011). As to preemptive attack, William Kristol, Director of the Foreign Policy Initiative, commented “It seems to me the United States has an obligation to act and not leave it to Israel to stop this threat,” in Fox News on November 6.

The global community has not answered the vital question of the Iraq War: whether preemptive attack is necessary to stop nuclear proliferation. It is forgotten homework for policymakers. This is far more important than “misinformation” that left wingers love to trumpet. Remember that Israeli air raid to Osirak nuclear plant in 1981 delayed Saddam Hussein’s dangerous project. The United States should not “lead from behind” when preemptive attack is urgently necessary.