Iran and 9/11

To the countries of the former eastern bloc and parts of the so-called "rogue states" of the Middle East, a short rain of intervention came gently just after the Cold War. The principle of intervention–based on redefining the collective security regime–entered into force in four areas: gross violations of human rights, civil wars, terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.

The Balkan crises came to serve as a precedent in cases of human rights and civil wars, while the problems of the Middle East were mainly considered as falling into the unknown but highly controversial domains of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. The outcome of 9/11 was only to accelerate the pace of intervention. The desire of the United States for a regime change in Afghanistan was already on the agenda. Mention could be made, for instance, of Congressman Bill Campbell’s call as early as September 1, 2000 to convene a "loya jirgah" and reestablish a representative government in Afghanistan. The US acted too late and Al Qaida carried out a preemptive attack. Shortly after the attack, I argued in the Iranian press that the United States would seek to decapitate the target regimes in three phases: first, Afghanistan; then the Middle East (Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Lebanon and Iran); and finally North Korea and other Asian countries (Kashmir, China and Indonesia).

I also argued that in the cases of Afghanistan and Iraq, the US would launch a decapitation attack, while in other cases it would pursue a "process" of decapitation. Accordingly, the use of force through Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA), based on a series of United Nations resolutions, toppled the Taliban and the Ba’ath regime in Afghanistan and Iraq, respectively. By next March, Iraq will be stable enough to implement UN Resolution 1483 or its complementary resolution, which is currently being debated at the UN. A stable Iraq together with Qatar can replace Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates as the pillar of stability and center of US free trade in the Persian Gulf region. This free trade might change the pattern of economic behavior in the Middle East. The United States and the United Kingdom as the authority under UN mandate can thus influence the course of events in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), an organization upon which the future of oil-producing countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran is highly dependent.

Yet the process of regime change in Saudi Arabia will not be an easy task. The US problem with Saudi Arabia is much deeper than one resolved by mere decapitation. If broached, the US dilemma would be how to change the attitude and mentality of the young Neo-Wahabi generation, and to change the Saudis’ educational system.

In the case of Iran, I would argue that the US is neither willing nor able to bring about prompt regime change, for several reasons. First, the US is preoccupied with Afghanistan, Iraq and Wahabism in the Arab world. Its commitments, human costs and military expenditures could drain US desire for a major military operation in Iran. Second, US decision-makers do not have a common stance on Iran. They are highly divided on the issue. Third, despite great political rhetoric against each other, the US and Iran have frequently compromised in a give-and-take process (see my article in Arbitration International, Issue 2, Vol. 19, 2003). The US has traditionally been advised by the British to be prudent with the Persians. And, Americans are convinced that resorting to hard power in the case of Iran would be costly and that soft power can better materialize a regime change in Iran, especially when that soft power is supported by domestic forces.

The US has resigned itself to the use of threats in order to cause serious pain in Iran, and these ultimatums have been wired through diplomatic channels to Tehran in a diplomatic process of "shock and awe." The final tick in US calculations is that the above-mentioned areas of intervention are not genuine problems with Iran. On the surface, three of the four areas–human rights, proliferation of nuclear weapons and terrorism–are on the US agenda. None of them, however, is really a big deal for America. Underneath them lies the Palestinian-Israeli conflict; if it is resolved, the controversial disputes will wither away in a twinkle.

Seemingly, the case pending before the international community against Iran involves the failure on the part of Iran to comply with its International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) obligations as a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). To facilitate the process of transparency and inspection anytime and anywhere, the US and the EU want Iran to sign an additional protocol to the NPT. Geoffrey Kemp’s monograph at the Nixon Center elaborates on Iran’s nuclear options and recites two of my statements made at the Institute for Political and International Studies of Iran and the Majlis Research Center. The monograph goes on to say that my remarks, according to Kemp’s interpretation, signify that Iran has nuclear weapons.

Such is not the case. I made those statements at a time when India and Pakistan tested their nuclear weapons. I simply said that Iran should invoke Article 10 of the NPT and consider those tests as "an extraordinary event" against the "supreme interest" of Iran and therefore should render notice to step out of the NPT before the NPT and the CTBT monitoring systems and inspections regimes are in place. Iran failed to do so. That opportunity was lost and Iran has to pay the price. If you ask me as to whether or not Iran possesses the weapons, I would say no. If you ask me as to whether or not Iran will live up to its NPT commitments, I would say yes. If you ask me if Iran needs to nuclearize itself, I would say this is a must for Iran’s strategy of survival. A nuclear Iran must not be seen as a threat to its neighboring countries or to Israel. The weapons would serve as a minimum deterrence for self-defense in a world of uncertainty. It is necessary not only as a substitute for fossil energy but also for Iran’s social cohesion and prestige.

Six years ago, I warned that internally Iran is in a state of disarray. That argument still holds water. I would now argue that, only by becoming a nuclear weapons state, can Iran consolidate its social coherence. Iran needs both soft and hard power to regain its national identity and prestige. I strongly believe that if the underlying cause of conflict between Iran and the US–the Palestinian-Israeli issue–is resolved, those three outstanding issues would be irrelevant in the eyes of Americans. September 11 militates against all forms of radicalism, including radicalism in Israel. The solution can hardly be located in arms control regimes such as the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and NPT. It must start within the ambit of Alternate Dispute Resolution (ADR). September 11 is driving Iran and Israel toward that resolution.