Saturday, February 26, 2005

"Nuculer" diplomacy 

Russia and Iran again delayed the signing of a controversial contract to supply the Islamic republic with fuel for its first nuclear power station, amid a new dispute over the plant's opening date....

It was the latest and most spectacular hitch to a contract that the United States -- which accuses Iran of using an atomic energy drive as a cover for weapons development -- has been trying to convince Russia not to sign.

In a concession to the United States, Moscow had refused to provide fuel for the Bushehr plant in southern Iran unless spent fuel -- which potentially could be reprocessed and upgraded to weapons use -- was returned....

Bushehr was raised during a summit between US President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Bratislava on Thursday, where both publicly agreed agreed that Iran should not develop nuclear weapons.

According to Russian diplomats, the United States has been lobbying against Moscow's involvement in Iran's nuclear programme "on a daily basis" -- and right up until the Bratislava meeting.

The Russian nuclear power industry is on the ropes. According to the article, the Bushehr [a bizarre name for an Iranian nuke - ed.] contract "virtually saved Russia's atomic energy industry." It appears that an ex-Communist will sell the rope to hang him by.

UPDATE: The Russians went ahead and signed this morning. There are also reports that Iran has known how to develop the fuel cycle for quite some time, via Abdul Qadeer Khan, Pakistan's nuclear traitor hero.


By Blogger Heiko, at Sat Feb 26, 04:22:00 PM:

I think it's a good idea for Iran to develop nuclear power, and for Russia to support them in that endeavour.
If Iran wants a nuclear bomb, they'll get it, just like Pakistan, and they are moderate and powerful enough that it would not be justified to use military force against them over the issue.

But peaceful use of nuclear power is another issue altogether and is to be encouraged, it'll allow Iran to export more oil and natural gas, which will assist Iran's economic development and lower oil and natural gas prices, assisting the development of other poor nations.  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Sat Feb 26, 05:03:00 PM:

I disagree. Iran is not "moderate" - it is probably the leading state sponsor of terrorism left in the world. Its leadership promotes that idea that suicide in connection with the murder of infidels is religious duty. Can any country led by people who promote suicide be trusted with atomic weapons? I think not, in that their stated and revealed preference for death might make them undeterrable. This tendancy makes them quite different from the old Communist regimes, for whom survival was an essential goal.

The idea that Iran needs nuclear power so that it can export more oil and gas is bizarre. If Iran wants to boost its exports, it need only liberalize its economy and abandon the pursuit of nuclear weapons. Then it can develop and diversify its economy as other countries of south Asia have done. The only thing preventing this is statism and sanctions. If the mullahs agreed to abandon the development of the fuel cycle and stop supporting Hezbollah and Islamic jihad, I have no doubt that they could negotiate their way to a lifting of sanctions and enhanced exports. They could abandon their statism too, if they weren't worried that economically free Iranians would soon want to be politically free.

Iran is developing nuclear weapons so that the mullahs can preserve their slipping grip on power. There is no other reason that makes sense.  

By Blogger Heiko, at Sat Feb 26, 06:29:00 PM:


Iran's economy is growing very fast, and reforms are being implemented.


Total fertility is down to 1.93 children per woman, nearly all children go to school, with lots of investment in education. Infant mortality has been lowered massively.


Iran has never attacked a neighbouring country and opposed both the Taleban and Saddam Hussein's regime.

Iran may not be paradise, but it's not evil incarnate. And they'd be deterrable, as well, in my opinion, some support for terrorists, and anti-Isreal rhetoric non-withstanding.

I think the US should lift sanctions, it would help both the US and Iran. Note that the US is the only nation imposing sanctions on Iran.

There is nothing bizarre about nuclear power being useful in freeing more oil and natural gas for export. And there is no contradiction with reforming the economy, which Iran is doing. Look at what the IMF has got to say about that, or what's in the five year plan, eg the reforms of the subsidy system.

Oil and natural gas are scarce resources, and priced accordingly. Oil is particularly useful for transportation, and in industrialised nations has essentially been driven out of the electricity generating sector. It makes perfect sense from an economic efficiency point of view to substitute for oil in the electricity generating sector first, largely no matter where the electricity is generated. It's better for Iran to displace oil for electricity generation and to export it, than for oil prices to be a bit higher and more expensive oil sands production or deep water production to be required to meet transportation fuel demand.  

By Blogger Final Historian, at Sat Feb 26, 07:58:00 PM:

"Iran has never attacked a neighbouring country and opposed both the Taleban and Saddam Hussein's regime."

No, it uses its terror proxies to attack other nations.

"Iran may not be paradise, but it's not evil incarnate."

They recently stoned a 16 year old girl for fornication. That may not be evil incarnate, but its pretty damn close.

The Mullahs don't want nuclear weapons because they are nice people, they want nuclear weapons because they want to do all kinds of nasty things. The people who will suffer the most from an Iranian nuclear program are the people of Iran themselves.  

By Blogger Heiko, at Sat Feb 26, 08:17:00 PM:

Final Historian,

use of "terror proxies" (mainly Hisbollah against Israel) as practised by Iran is rather different from wars of conquest (Saddam's invasion of Kuwait or attack on Iran). The way they see it, it's rather similar to US support for the Mujaheddin in Afghanistan against the Soviet occupiers in the 1980's.

While I think their support of Hisbollah is unwise and unhelpful, it's just not equatable with wars of conquest.

Notwithstanding your example, Iran is in many respects more moderate than Saudi Arabia. You know in Iran, women are actually allowed to drive, and there are 7 countries in the world that have the death penalty for gay sex (in about half the world's countries and virtually all Islamic ones it's illegal).

Cambodia, Hitler's Germany those were regimes practising "evil incarnate".

Iran is an autocratic and in many respects fundamentalist regime, but I'd put it in a league with Russia, China or Saudi Arabia, not in a league with Pol Pot and Hitler.  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Sat Feb 26, 11:16:00 PM:


I actually agree with most of your comments. For example, I agree with your assessment of the relative harshness of the Tehran regime -- on a par with Russia or China, and probably no more oppressive than Saudi Arabia. I also agree that Iran has not overtly attacked a neighboring country, and that it has, from time to time, been helpful to the United States behind the scenes (our interests were significantly aligned in Afghanistan, and Iran wanted us to take out Saddam Hussein for reasons of its own). None of that, however, speaks to whether we can afford the risk of the current Iranian government controlling nuclear weapons. There are at least three reasons why this is true.

First, Iran has, in its rhetoric, targeted the United States particularly. You might say that Iran has reason to hate the United States (the overthrow of Mossadegh, support of the Shah to the last, etc.), but it absolutely hates us to the exclusion of other countries. This explains why we are alone in imposing sanctions, and why we are particularly troubled by the possibility that Iran will get nuclear weapons.

Second, Iran has known close ties with terrorist organizations that would love to inflict millions of casualties on the United States. Iran has shown an extended capacity for projecting power through these organizations (there are serious people who believe that Iran ordered Hezbollah to kill Rafik Hariri, for example). There is no reason why an American president could safely assume that Iran would not turn a nuclear weapon over to such an organization. In this regard Iran is much more dangerous to the United States than North Korea.

Third, Iran's government promotes an ideology of suicide. Could the world have assumed that if Imperial Japan -- with its twisted bushido of the banzai charge and the kamikazi -- had nuclear weapons that it would have been deterrable? No. Similarly, the jihadist cult of suicide makes it impossible for an American president to assume that a nuclear Iran could be deterred. Yes, it may be that Iran in fact would be deterred from first use of nuclear weapons, but given its public statements how can any Westerner rely on the deterrability of Iran? That is the question.  

By Blogger Heiko, at Sun Feb 27, 09:25:00 AM:

As you say we seem to agree on a lot.

I think it is unwise for Iran to seek nuclear weapons, and we should talk to them to convince them of this.

But the military option is effectively off the table. Nothing short of occupation or credible threats of overwhelming use of force will get Iran to abandon a nuclear weapons programme it truely wishes to pursue.

The costs of making war on Iran would be unacceptable. The US would lose pretty much all its allies. Europe would stand by neutrally and just denounce the US, some Islamic nations might actually actively support Iran militarily, most notably Pakistan, which is a nuclear power already.

The US would have to accept costs in the trillions, with a draft, and/or it would have to resort to WWII style bombing of whole cities. Its troops would be booted out of every single Mid East nation (including Turkey), unless they used military force to violently oppress all opposition.

The kind of costs an unprovoked attack on Iran with the aim of military occupation would cause are hard to overstate.

By comparison, it is in fact by far preferable to take the risk of a nuclear first strike by Iran (or by Hisbollah).

Iran's government may use a lot of anti-US rhetoric, but its population is rather more moderately minded. Pakistan's population has a far more negative view of the US and Pakistan is already a nuclear power.

And Iran's government has a far more ambivalent attitude to suicide bombings than you make out.


I believe the intervention in Iraq was justfied, but there have been significant costs, not least in goodwill lost in the Muslim world. But, Iraq was truely a heinous dictatorship, and it was militarily weak. Neither is true for Iran, and the combination of less justification for regime change, and higher costs in terms of lives lost, will cause an unprovoked attack to be viewed so negatively that we aren't just talking "goodwill" the loss of which could be temporary given a good outcome. We are talking the kind of opposition that would drive human, economic and diplomatic costs to possibly apocalyptic proportions, and virtually certainly to levels that are not worth the potential benefit of a nuclear weapons free Iran.

Even a nuclear first strike by Iran (or terrorists given a nuclear weapon by Iran) must be seen in some sort of context and perspective. It wouldn't wipe out the US, it would cause a large, localised loss of life. It would be far from certain to even be attempted, and if it was, there'd be a fair chance that the plan could be thwarted and the bomb(s) intercepted.

And if Iran did try to use nuclear weapons, that would actually make it far easier and less costly to take out Iran, because the world and likely a large part of Iran's population would be on the side of the US, which could very credibly threaten nuclear retaliation, and likely wouldn't even need to go that far.

So, the only realistic choice we've got is "talks" to convince the Iranian government it's in their own interest not to pursue nuclear weapons, and one of the things worthy of discussion would be US support for a civil nuclear energy programme in Iran. The US promised North Korea assistance in the construction of nuclear power plants, it can do the same with Iran.

The rest of the world wants hard evidence that Iran is a real threat, they will not be willing to accept hundreds of thousands or millions dead, or worse, just because the US sees the possibility that Iran might use nuclear weapons in the future. For that matter I think the costs are so obvious and large that an attempt to occupy Iran would also not get past the hurdle of public opposition inside the US.  

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