Tuesday, November 12, 2013

How to Manage a Nuclear Iran - Preparing for the Worst Case Scenario

It isn't just their support for Assad. Propelled by an ordained mission; from Baghdad to Beirut and from Buenos Aires to Washington DC, Khamenei and his agents leave no question as to their resolve.

Their commitment is paying off - Iran’s admittance to the nuclear arms club looks likelier with each passing day. To guard against diplomatic and/or military failure, we need to prepare to manage an Iran that's armed with nuclear weapons.

The danger is real. Having called President Obama on his ‘red line’ bluff, Assad has eviscerated American deterrent value. In Obama's eager détente with Rouhani, Iranian perceptions of American malleability have grown. As Dexter Filkins explains, Iran pays great attention to American resolve (or the absence thereof). As I’ve argued before; whether in terms of a regional arms race, a further sectarian dissection of Middle Eastern politics, or reactive strategies by Israel, an Iran possessing nuclear weapons would cause a geopolitical earthquake. In my opinion, faced with that world, the United States would need to enact a four-part strategic response.

    1) Obama would have to codify a new security doctrine.

Many commentators argue that the threat posed by a nuclear armed Iran is greatly exaggerated. As they see it, the fear of mutually assured destruction would deter Iranian nuclear aggression. I disagree. Their supposition happily ignores Iran’s enshrined ideal of martyrdom (the ‘submission of the self’). Time and time again, Iran's leaders have risked catastrophic consequences in the pursuit of their political agenda. This is a regime that sent children to clear minefields during the Iran-Iraq war. This is a regime that continues to call for the annihilation of America and Israel. As a corollary, deterring a nuclear armed Iran would require more than SSBNs - it would demand Iran’s recognition of an alternate cost-benefit analysis. In short, Iran would have to believe that a direct or indirect (via terrorist proxy) nuclear attack against the United States or its allies would result in one-sided retaliatory apocalypse. Articulating this new framework would be a horrific clarification. It would also be absolutely necessary for global security.
    2) The US Government would have to counter-balance an emboldened Iranian security strategy.

Iran’s nuclear accession would catalyze the Revolutionary Guards/Iranian Intelligence. In this scenario, the US could not stand silent. US security interests would require increased disruption operations against covert Iranian activities around the world. Here, the overarching US intention would be a simple one – ensuring that Iranian hardliners understood their choices were bound inexorably to consequences beyond their control.

    3) The US would have to pursue a regional defense agreement.

Highly evident tensions between the US and Saudi Arabia emphasize the importance of this point. At a deeper level, were the US to fail in reconciling its security relationships to a nuclear Iran, the consequences would be disastrous. As encapsulated in the Syrian Civil War, in America’s absence, states like Qatar and Saudi Arabia revert to terrorist proxies as mechanisms of self-defense - without American reassurance, a nuclear Iran would likely be joined by a flourishing spring of Sunni Jihadism. Moreover, Saudi Arabia is already flirting with its own procurement of nuclear weapons.

    4) US nuclear weapons would have to be upgraded.

Facing a nuclear Iran, the assurance of continued US nuclear supremacy would be a non-negotiable.

It’s true; a replacement for America’s aging nuclear deterrent must recognize growing fiscal pressures. That being said, the acceptance of substantial costs would become unavoidable. Like all totalitarians, the Ayatollahs understand power in brutally simplistic terms – through the barrel of a gun. Bound to a credible deterrent doctrine as outlined in point (1), the United States would have to halt the creeping doubt surrounding its nuclear credibility.

              This 'management' plan would be complex, expensive and risky. Regardless, a nuclear Iran would systemically alter the geopolitics of the Middle East (and thus the world). America could not remain inert.

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