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Friday, April 21, 2006

Iran and Nuclear Power

It's always good to see less-economically developed nations make technological progress toward modernization of their economies, and in that light, Iran's development of nuclear power should be good news.

But of course the United States and much of the world see it quite otherwise, and have stated our intent to seek UN sanctions against Iran if it moves forward with the enrichment process, because that can lead to the development of nuclear weapons by Iran, which has openly threatened to use them against Israel. China, however, and now Russia, are taking the Iranian government at its word and say they will veto any sanctions against Iran, through their position on the UN Security Council. The Times of London reports:

Iran says that it is seeking nuclear power purely for peaceful energy generation, but Washington believes that it is concealing a desire to develop an atomic bomb. But Russia said there was no proof Iran was seeking nuclear weapons.

"One can speak of sanctions only after the appearance of concrete facts proving that Iran is not engaged exclusively in peaceful nuclear activities," Mikhail Kamynin, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, told the ITAR-Tass news agency.

The Russians have a good point. But what is the evidence? Iran, a nation run by people who have shown little to no concern for the welfare of the general population, a government whose opposition to nearly all of modernity has been utterly resolute, and which sits on a vast subterreanean ocean of oil which it has refrained from developing for the nation's energy use and enrichment of its people, wants to develop nuclear power for entirely peaceful reasons?

Clearly, that doesn't make sense. At the very least, one should suspect that Iran is intent on developing nuclear weapons in order to protect itself from invasion by Western powers as happened in Iraq, and it is most probable that the nation is seeking to strengthen its position in the region overall.

That interpretation at least gives them some credit for having some brains.

What the West, and the United States in particular, should do about the matter is another question, but what Iran intends in developing the capacity to enrich uranium is not open to reasonable doubt.


James F. Elliott said...

No credible, or even half-baked, observer of international politics doubts that Iran is dead-set on creating its own nifty little arsenal of thermonuclear devices. And even the half-baked observer should be more than a little uneasy when that arsenal rests in the hands of a rhetorically belligerent and unstable leader like former Basiji trainer Ahmanidejad. For those in the audience who don't make casual study of the Iran-Iraq war a past-time, the Basiji were highly disciplined adolescent martyrs sent out in human waves to clear minefields and wear down the Iraqi lines in order to preserve the fighting capacity of the Ayatollah's Republican Guard.

Sam hits the nail on the head when he mentions the vast subterranean seas of crude Iran rides upon. The oil market is precisely why the US can do little to Iran. It is also the origin of Russia and China's posture, or rather, lack of it, towards the "Iran situation." Iran's current manufacturing capacity is some 4 million barrels of oil per day. Should the mad little men in charge of that country decide to cease production, or cease placing it on the market, we could easily see the price of oil rocket over the $100/barrel mark. OPEC's combined "spare" capacity is just over 1 million barrels a day - leaving a 3 million barrel shortfall that the market could not make up. China and Russia are two of the United States' three biggest competitors for oil, and also the two most-dependent on foreign sources of oil. It is in their best interest to keep Iran generously disposed towards, if not the market, then their countries in particular.

However, in the world of diplomacy, it is simply not kosher to say, "Well, if the bomb is the price we have to pay for affordable oil to meet our growing demand, so be it. And if the US economy happens to take a big hit at the same time, all the better." Frankly, I think China's a wee bit shortsighted there, being so intertwined with the American economy, but profits and long-term thinking don't always go together. Just ask an Enron employee.

Instead, Russia must say, "Bomb? I know no bomb" with a sly wink to its would-be business partner and a knowing shrug to the rest of the world.

S. T. Karnick said...

Excellent analysis, Mr. Elliott. It's a simply intractable dilemmma.

Tom Van Dyke said...

What he said, James.

D said...

I haven't read this yet, but I caught the interview with the author, who used to work for the NYT on Democracy Now, and the wapo review of it says this all too perfectly:

Unfortunately, the very audience that should read this book -- those who theologically defer to the shifting diktats of the national interest and still endorse deploying U.S. military power to remake countries -- is the least likely to bother picking it up. Twenty years ago, Bitter Fruit motivated a generation to think seriously about the impact of U.S. interventions in the southern hemisphere. I have a sad suspicion that, with Iraq's seemingly endless toll, Overthrow will likewise become required reading.

Tlaloc said...

"No credible, or even half-baked, observer of international politics doubts that Iran is dead-set on creating its own nifty little arsenal of thermonuclear devices."

Except that Khomeini (you know the guy with all the power, whereas Ahmanidejad has none) has issued a Fatwa against nuclear weapons. Now that may not mean squat to you and me but to the Iranian religious nuts who run the country it has all the power of a papal decleration does for catholics.

That is a very big arguing point for Iran wanting nuclear power for well nuclear power.

Is it iron clad? No. But you go way too far in saying that there is no credible argument that they aren't pursuing nuclear weapons.

James F. Elliott said...

Tlaloc, that's a pretty poor understanding of Iran's theocratic politics. In fact, there are multiple factions of mullahs. The faction Ahamanidejad owes fealty to issued a fatwa in February sanctioning the possession and use of nuclear weapons. The contradictory fatwas might be a big deal to the populace in general, but the government got the religious go-ahead.

You're also failing to distinguish from Khomenei, the now dead spiritual leader of the revolution, and his successor, Khamene'i, who issued the fatwa you refer to. Also, Khamene'i's fatwa has not been formally published, which is, in the politics of the Supreme Council, a big problem for your case of its religious force.