One of the most prominent international issues in the Middle East today centers around the Iranian nuclear program. Since the early 2000’s the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has reported violations of its Safeguard Agreement and, more recently in November of 2011, that Iran has been conducting research into the development of a nuclear weapons capability. This has compelled the United Nations (UN) to impose a number of sanctions on Iran and has also prompted threats of military action from Israel. While nobody would argue that nuclear proliferation is a positive thing, the way in which the international community has gone about trying to stop Iran’s nuclear development should be critically reviewed to determine if it is really the best strategy.
To understand the mentality of Iran and its motivations for presumably undertaking nuclear research with the aim of weaponization it is necessary to briefly describe the “nuclear climate” of the region. Both Pakistan and India are confirmed to have nuclear weapons capability while Israel is strongly suspected of having such capability. This means that Iran has a country directly bordering it, and two countries about 500 miles away that have the capability to conduct a nuclear attack. Of particular importance is Israel. Israel maintains a policy of “strategic ambiguity” which means it will neither confirm nor deny that it possesses nuclear weapons capability. There is strong evidence, however, that they do possess such capability and there have been statements by official sources from the American National Resources Defense Council as well as former US President Jimmy Carter that Israel possesses between 75 to 200 nuclear weapons. This is important because Israel has been one of the most vocal opponents to Iran’s nuclear activities and the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has recently stated that he is ready to order a military strike against Iran if the sanctions do not work. It is ironic that Israel should be so critical of Iran for its violations of the Non-Proliferation Agreement when it is one of the few nuclear powers in the region and is not a signatory of that very agreement.
The main strategy employed by the international community to try to stop Iran’s nuclear development has been economic sanctions. The US has imposed sanctions on Iran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, while the UN and others have increased sanctions related to its nuclear activities dramatically since around 2006. The sanctions would ideally put pressure on the Iranian government to comply with demands to stop its nuclear program due to the economic stress placed on the country. The sanctions have been effective at crippling the economy but this has not prompted any response from the Iranian government. What they are creating is an increasingly dire situation for the people of Iran who have no ability to influence the actions of their government. This has become particularly dire in the case of medical supplies. While the sanctions specifically exempt humanitarian and medical goods the sanctions on Iranian banks have made it near impossible for the people to pay to import them. Add to that the almost 80 percent drop in the value of Iran’s currency against the dollar and it is clear that the country is in economic shambles. Rather than quell the desire for increased military power in Iran, these sanctions are creating a situation ripe for radical actions.
The motives behind the actions by the international community in the effort to halt Iran’s nuclear development programs are good in spirit, but the way in which they have been realized should be reconsidered. Iran, like any nation, has the need to secure itself against its perceived threat level. The actions taken so far have only confirmed the hostilities, both economic and military, that are facing Iran. Rather than promote peace and non-proliferation, this is compelling Iran to continue along its path towards nuclear weapons. The strategy that should be considered is one that will compel the Iranians to halt their nuclear operations by showing them that they are not necessary. This can be done by prompting other nuclear countries in the region, particularly Israel, to adopt policies of nuclear transparency and disarmament. The idea that a country can be convinced to stop its development of a weapon when hostile countries not 500 miles away possess those very weapons is ridiculous. The way to reduce the threat of nuclear disaster in the Middle East, or anywhere else in the world, is for all countries to prove their desire for peace by transparently disarming themselves of weapons of mass destruction. Only then can a true peace be realized.
Israeli Military Action: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-20220566
Iran Drug Shortage: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-20923511