With the international community (i.e. the United States) continuing to challenge Iran’s nuclear program, a predictable pattern has emerged. Every now and again, an “authoritative” estimate surfaces declaring that Iran is on the verge of developing nuclear weapons. A round of condemnation follows. Stringent sanctions are sought. China studiously reviews the report. Russia repeats that diplomacy is the only answer to the issue. A few months later, the dust settles down. Business as usual commences. Until another report comes along, that is. Seem repetitive?
The truth of the matter is that no one outside the Iranian leadership has any definitive answer to the question of whether Iran is working on nuclear weapons. Most guesstimates are based on intelligence received from the United States, and sometimes Israel, both of whom hold a less than objective view of the current political regime in Iran.
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This isn’t to justify what Iran could be doing, or to condone its obstructionist behavior. However, the solution to the problem posed by Iran’s alleged weapons program doesn’t lie in what has been attempted in the past. Sanctions have had little impact. Indeed, they have strengthened the resolve of the leadership and, more importantly, demonstrated deep fissures among the countries implementing sanctions. Until Russia and China fully implement any agreed upon sanctions, they will never be fully effective.
An answer to the Iranian nuclear issue can be found in following a multi-pronged approach. Most of the burden for this will have to be borne by the United States.
This should include:
1) Engaging directly with the political leadership of Iran.
2) Arriving at an understanding of a common approach with Russia and China. U.S.-Russia and U.S.-China bilateral relations have an obvious bearing on this issue.
3) Limiting the use of the International Atomic Energy Agency and its reporting mechanisms to score points in the media. Also, allow the IAEA to mature into a credible institution that can have the trust of the programs being safeguarded.
4) Forge an international consensus to reinforce safeguards and verification mechanisms.
5) End the rhetoric of threatening military force against the Iranian nuclear program. This is unfeasible and undesirable and can only end up driving a deep wedge in inter-state relations.
6) Enhance the attractiveness of non-proliferation. This can be achieved by creating specific advantages for non-nuclear weapon states in the form of legally binding U.N. approved assurances to never use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against them. Delegitimizing their use or threat of use through a U.N. convention or treaty.
Steps such as these will be necessary to deal with the proliferation concerns posed by Iran’s nuclear program. Directly and indirectly, they could make a difference, and are certainly worthy of being tried at a time when most other options appear to be exhausted, and indeed, have become very exhausting.