"One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one
makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship,” says George Orwell
in his famous 1984.
The “P5+1,” the permanent members of the UN Security
Council (UNSC) and Germany, are preparing to launch the next round of
negotiations with the current incarnation of Orwell’s totalitarian
Peaceful Intentions There is a critical gap between the actual
and public rationales behind Teheran’s moves. This gap has been largely masked
with the fig leaf of “peaceful intentions.” For instance, the 1967 Outer Space
Treaty grants signatory states the right to peaceful exploration and use of
outer space, the Moon and other celestial bodies. Iran’s recent sending of a
monkey into space would thus clearly be within its rights under the OST. On the
other hand, UNSC Resolution 1929 banned all Iranian ballistic missile activity
in 2010, which would definitely rule out using a satellite launch as cover for
ballistic missile testing. In other words, in the Iranian case, whether its
actions are protected by the 1967 OST or in violation of UNSC Resolution 1929
hinges on intent.
Likewise, whether Iran’s activities are in violation of
the Non-Proliferation Treaty’s Article II, which bans the acquisition of nuclear
weapons, or in compliance with Article IV, which guarantees signatory states the
right to develop nuclear infrastructure for peaceful purposes, also depends on
what the intent is judged to be.
At this point, the critical question is:
Can we trust Iran’s assertions of peaceful intent or not? Teheran’s claim is
that the nation needs nuclear energy to produce electricity and also for medical
purposes. Without a doubt, every NPT member state is granted this right, and
Iran cannot be an exception.
However, for its claims to be taken
seriously, Teheran needs to explain why it runs the largest ballistic missile
program in the Middle East, that overlaps its nuclear efforts. How does it serve
Iran’s energy interests to cover a region from Istanbul to Tel Aviv and Riyadh
with strategic weapons that might also be used as the delivery vector for
nuclear warheads? How is the blockading of the Strait of Hormuz with mines and
anti-ship assets supposed to help Iran overcome its electricity shortfall?
Moreover, maybe someone in Teheran has a satisfactory explanation for why the
completely defensive Patriot missile deployment in Turkey prompted some top
Iranian officials to accuse Turkey of igniting the next “world war”? How can the
North Atlantic Alliance’s deployment of a missile defense system in a democratic
member-state be more dangerous than the Syrian Ba’athist dictatorship’s SCUD
inventory and chemical arsenal? Meanwhile, during the forthcoming P5+1 meeting,
some questions should be raised about Syria’s ex-chemical weapons chief Gen.
Adnan Silu’s statements following his defection. For starters, Gen.
claimed that the regime has been taking systematic assistance from Iran to
improve its notorious chemical arsenal for a long time.
If true, this is
an open violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention, which Iran, unlike Syria,
is a party to. Clearly, providing foreign assistance to the Syrian WMD program
is not the best way to generate electricity or carry out medical research – but
can create big trouble with the UNSC. Eventually, Syrian President Bashar Assad
will fall, and the chemical secrets of Syria will be revealed, and we will see a
possibly ugly truth about this dreadful program.
The Bigger Picture In
fact, the P5+1 talks with Iran so far have been a clash of two paradigms. Many
top political- military figures, especially in the West, have seen the
negotiations through a “cardinal and ordinal numbers” paradigm, believing that
each round of negotiations brings a peaceful solution closer. On the other hand,
the Iranian elite see the talks as a countdown. In other words, depending on who
one listens to, every unsuccessful or indecisive diplomatic attempt brings
Teheran either closer to achieving its “peaceful intentions,” or to the
introduction of nuclear weapons into one of the most delicate regions of the
The silver bullet is to assess Iran’s military
march in a holistic manner. Iran’s nuclear program is not taking place in a
vacuum; combined with its aggressive pursuit of other strategic weapons and its
use of proxy warfare, a clear picture emerges of a country pursuing regional
hegemony. Moreover, the argument that Teheran needs nuclear weapons for
defensive purposes is deeply flawed. Iran is not, and has never been a Latin
American or a sub-Saharan dictatorship.
Strategic culture matters in
international affairs, and the Iranian strategic culture is nothing if not both
historically imperial and deceptive.
In sum, the P5+1 will be negotiating
not only with a potential nuclear power, but also a state with the largest
ballistic missile inventory in the Middle East, a state that is the largest
sponsor of proxy warfare in the region, the pioneer of asymmetric naval warfare
and the closest ally of the Syrian Ba’athist tyranny. The next round of
negotiations with the P5+1 will not only be a litmus test for the arms control
aspect of contemporary security doctrine, but also test for the viability of
diplomatic option itself.
The author, who served as a post-doctoral
fellow for the Begin- Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University,
holds a PhD from the Turkish War College, and a master’s degree from the Turkish