Geoff FordenCBMs Gone Wild

If confidence building measures (CBM) were people, the TRR refueling deal would be a college student partying it up in Cancun, complete with all the risky behavior usually associated with that lifestyle. Why didn’t the West simply say, “Thanks, but no thanks” when Iran started to try to change the terms of the deal? Instead, the West responded by elevating the deal to such an extent that it seems it is the goal of US policy: this CBM is the tail that wags the dog. It has taken the place of the real issue, enrichment on Iranian soil. Now, of course, a new deal brokered by third party countries Brazil and Turkey is moving the center of initiative farther and farther from the EU3 and Washington.

This problem, and here I mean the problem of the West not being in the driver’s seat, was foreshadowed by Moscow about a week ago when it warned that the West was not being sufficiently flexible. Moscow said, as reported on BBC Monitoring on 8 May 2010, that there were clear signs Tehran was willing to ship the LEU out of country. But the West’s inflexibility on Iran goes much deeper than simply not recognizing a shift in Iran’s attitude toward the refueling deal. Throughout this crisis, which has now been going on for seven years, Iran has been much more diplomatically agile than the West! This is strange since the Islamic Republic has few friends internationally and little experience or even inclination toward diplomacy. (For a good portion of its history since the Revolution, ideology had been running its international diplomacy, often at the expense of Iran attaining its goals.)

I think the reason the West is losing the diplomatic war with Iran is pretty clear: it takes forever to get just the EU3 plus the US (and, yes, other interested parties like Israel) to reach an agreement on not only a goal but the diplomatic tactics to use. This painful process of arriving at a united stance has made unity between Western partners an end in itself with some governments unwilling to follow their firmly held beliefs simply because they do not want to be accused of breaking with their Western partners. The result has been rather ineffectual demands—such as demanding that Iran cease converting yellow cake into uranium hexafluoride—followed by retreat, i.e. acquiescing in uranium conversion. It has also resulted in a diplomatic strategy completely lacking in a “Plan B.” It is both unnecessary and dangerous to always consider the future as either Iran backs down or military action takes place.

The West needs to break this cycle of demand and retreat by building into its system enough flexibility to respond to events in real time. We need to appoint a single person for handling the Iranian crisis and actually give him or her the power to make real deals.

Comments

  1. FSB

    You say “ I think the reason the West is losing the diplomatic war with Iran is pretty clear: it takes forever to get just the EU3 plus the US (and, yes, other interested parties like Israel) to reach an agreement on not only a goal but the diplomatic tactics to use.”

    I say the reason that we are losing the “diplomatic war” is that there is no evidence that Iran has decided to build nuclear weapons, as attested to twice within the last calendar year by the DNI.

    The next NEI will conclude as much. In all probability.

    You say “We need to appoint a single person for handling the Iranian crisis and actually give him or her the power to make real deals.”

    I say there is no crisis, except that in the media-congressional-aipac echo-chamber.

    Time to listen to Roger Cohen, and do nothing in Iran.

    That does, of course, leave a lot of wonks with lots of time on their hands.

    Maybe they can look into Brazil’s nuclear weapons programme under the guise of their sub power programme.

  2. blowback (History)

    “This is strange since the Islamic Republic has few friends internationally and little experience or even inclination toward diplomacy.”

    I know that there was only a little continuity between the imperial government of the Shah and the revolutionary government, but Persia/Iran has been doing diplomacy for a couple of thousand years. They were doing diplomacy when the US didn’t exist and Great Britain was being invaded by the Angles, Saxons, Jutes and Normans.

    Th big problem for the West is that there is actually little cohesion between the aims of the US (regime change by war) and Europe (prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons without war) and the Iranians know that. The shame is that Obama didn’t walk the walk after his speach in Cairo and reset the Bush regime’s disasterous policies towards Iran. Something along the lines of “the US recognizes that the only people who should be involved in selecting the Iranian government are the Iranian people themselves and the US recognizes the sovereign right of Iran to enrich uranium for peaceful ends but can we please have the IAEA take a close look at what you are doing to help you achieve those ends” might still work. Putting several hundred engineers and technicians to work helping Iran’s civil nuclear programme would make it almost impossible for Iran to run a secret weapons project, I would suggest. But Israel and AIPAC would never agree.

  3. Azr@el (History)

    Do the Iranians want a bomb like the Israelis, Pakistanis, Norte Coreanos and Indians? Probably not or they could have had it by now. Do they want a break out ability as a hedge against future uncertainty such as nations such as Japan, Brazil, Argentina, Swedeland,Swissplace, Norge-country have? Probably, they’d be truly insane and irrational if they didn’t. Are we bending every treaty and legal script to deny the Iranians this possible course of action? Yes. And that coupled with the fantastic diplomatic coups Iran is serving up are ultimately why our policies are doomed to failure.

    The power relation between the IRI and the US is shifting uncomfortably in the direction of Teheran. We have no means of rectifying this shift without significant losses, contrary to the guesstimates of the US military is invincible fanboy chorus, thus we are attempting to diplomatically hamstring the mullahs. This is an admission to the rest of the world that we can not deal with the Iranians with anything stronger than sanctions.

    Since worldwide consensus on sanctions require a legal basis which is lacking in this case, the West is placed in the untenable position of attempting to piss on Iran’s shoes while convincing the rest of the world that it’s just rain. Attempting to herd cats with unsound legal arguments and the glaring exceptionalism of NPT refusniks; Israel, India and Pakistan means that Brazil, Turkey will not be the last defectors from the ‘International Community’.

  4. anon

    “…a united stance…”

    I not sure I understand what this means nor what would be achieved.

    Imo, the price of tea in china remains unchanged.

  5. Nick (History)

    Obama did put a person(s) in charge of Iran, and the team of Samore and Ross came up with this LEU swap deal that was a precursor to further negotiations for halting enrichment; wishful thinking that has continued bankrupt policies of Bush in dealing with Iran.

    Continuing to argue that Iran after the swap, with the remaining 1.2 ton of LEU can be a threat to US or even Israel with 100’s of deployable weapons clearly suggests that decision makers in DC have misplaced priorities that will weaken US position in the ME, when a sober and smart policy is needed.

  6. Bahram Chubak (History)

    I think you’re giving Iran more credit for our diplomatic skills than we deserve. Iran’s response to the TRR deal was sheer chaos. Ahmadinejad was in its favor all along, but he was shot down by his political rivals among both conservatives and the (now less influential) liberals. Ahmadinjead must have finally succeeded in convincing the Leader, Khamenei’i. But it took eight ugly months in which Iranian statesmen could not speak with one voice, thus sending contradictory signals. If a goal of the deal was to build trust, Iran’s confused response accomplished the opposite by stoking suspicions of bad faith and manipulation.

    If despite its diplomatic incompetence Iran ends up diplomatically successful, it’s because the Western position is not very tenable. The West wants Iran to stop enriching uranium for its civilian program, but the NPT gives Iran the right to do so.

    The situation is similar to the campaign against Iraq. WMD was a pretext for isolating Iraq and changing its regime. The nuclear issue serves the same purpose for Iran. China and Russia can see through that. To vote for sanctions, they need to be convinced that Iran is doing something wrong. But the US has a tough time convincing them that Iran is making a bomb. The reason for that is that Iran is not trying to make atomic weapons. In other words, if the US is having trouble, it’s because it does not have the truth on its side.

    * * *

    “…the West responded by elevating the deal to such an extent that it seems it is the goal of US policy…”

    I am in whole-hearted agreement with your points in this regard.

    If the true goal of the West is to avoid an Iranian bomb, what it should be negotiating about is the implementation of an inspection regime. But that seems to have been off the agenda.

    PS I used to post under the pseudonym “Bahram Chubin,” but I just realized that that is awfully close to the name of a real person who writes on nuclear matters. (I must have picked up this name subconsciously after having seen his name.)

  7. Pirouz (History)

    Bahram, I think you’re too hard on the Iranians. Just consider for a moment all the noise made in the US for any controversial international agreement.

    The Iranians consistently stated that they wanted guarantees. Now, with Turkey and especially Brazil on their side, they feel their fully warranted concerns have been addressed, and the time process has worked in their favor in meeting their strategic requirements.

    Before, it was the P5+1 and just Iran. Now it is the P5+1 and Iran+Brazil+Turkey. That’s a whole different ball game.

  8. FSB

    Looks like China is NOT going along with Hillary’s sanctions-lite.

    Looks like the US does NOT represent the “international community”.

    http://www.straitstimes.com/BreakingNews/Asia/Story/STIStory_528006.html

Pin It on Pinterest