Tuesday, July 31, 2007
The New Old Fashioned Middle East Strategy
"Despite the rhetoric about bringing "freedom to the peoples of the Middle East", the Bush administration's "new approach" to the region looks suspiciously like the ones his predecessors pursued. It is hoped in Washington that an alignment with Sunni monarchs and authoritarian regimes will contain Syria, Iran and Hizbollah."
The U.S. wants to sell sixty billion dollars worth of arms to the Saudis, the Gulf Arabs and other U.S. Arab allies.
The Guardian had this to say in its coverage: "The Arabs welcomed the prospect of the proposed arms sales to help contain their traditional enemy, Iran. But they were cool towards pleas by Ms Rice and Mr Gates to provide diplomatic and economic support to the Iraqi government."
Ray and I had written: "But the Bush team is in for two disappointments. The first is that the region's Sunni powerhouses are much less inclined to support US efforts and, in fact, may obstruct them. ... Despite being flush with oil revenues, the Saudi and the Gulf states are not rushing to provide financial assistance for the reconstruction of Iraq, nor are they restraining their Sunni clerical and intellectual classes from fanning the flames of the insurgency. The under-reported story of Iraq's sectarian convulsions is the extent that Sunni rebels enjoy financial and material support from the wealthy donors in the Gulf sheikdoms and Jordan.
"The second is that the very notion that the Middle East can be stabilised by reconvening a 1980s-style alignment of Sunni states is fallacious. The identification of Shia power with anti-American radicalism and frantic efforts to try to overturn the realities of Persian Gulf geography, however, are not only old policies but failed ones. The removal of Saddam Hussein from power has forever shattered the possibility that Baghdad will take the lead as an Arab bulwark to Tehran - and the power and status of Iran simply cannot be contained or negated by the weak city-states on its periphery. Without Iraq's participation, there is no viable constituency for America's attempt to insulate Iran and obstruct its influence."
The Saudis and others will buy our weapons and hedge their bets--but they aren't going to be U.S. proxies to either stabilize Iraq or confront Iran.
It's the Bush way--no mistakes, no apologies.
In fact, Arabs of the Persian Gulf and the Levant were not state actors from 1400 to 1950s; Iran and the Ottoman Empire were.
Arabs are stupid in aliging themselves against Iran. They envy Iran for some reason; this is an emotional response and not based on Raison d'Etat. That's why I call them stupid.
Saudi Arabia does not have the state or the polity or the industrial structure to develop and deploy a nuclear weapons. You or some other state actor has to essentially provide them with turn-key systems.
This 20-billion dollar sale is just that - a sale for hardware to sit in the desert and gather dust. It is business as usual and is irrelevant to the current strategic situation.
In regards to Iran, the Arabs at least understand that it is not useful to sanction their way out of influence with Iran[US already having done so and trying to get the EU states to do likewise.]
Pakistan could supply warheads for immediate use as a deterrent and they could export to Saudi Arabia the technology to make bombs afterwards.
Pakiston will not do so without a formal alliance treaty between the two states.
I just do not see such an alliance possible; it will cause Saudi Arabia to be tied to Pakistan's position on India etc.
Moreover, the command and control structure for the nuclear weapons on Saudi soil will require a lot more elaboration that you are contemplating.
On the Pakistan side; I cannot see them arming Saudi Arabia against Iran. Such a military venture has no strategic benefit for Pakistan. Additionally, stationing nuclear weapons on Saudi soil - directed against Iran - will make Iran maintain a nuclear posture against Pakistan - thus causing Pakistan to be in between 2 hostile states: Iran & India.
And Israel wil be foolish to have a Pakistani bomb in an Arab state.
Really, this whole thing about a nuclear arms race in Southwest Asia is a fantasy.
Pakistan did not need an alliance to supply Libya with nuclear technology through the A.Q. Khan network, and Islamabad does not need an alliance to supply Saudi Arabia.
Pakistan is already trapped between two hostile states, Iran and India, and Iran will soon join India as a nuclear power. Why would Pakistan feel safe with no nuclear allies of its own in the region? It would greatly benefit Pakistan to surround Iran with hostile nuclear states so that Iran's attention must be divided between many opponents.
Regarding command and control, if Libya could come close to having a nuclear capability, I do not see why Saudi Arabia cannot do so. Pakistan's command and control (eg. military coups) are also hardly ideal and if Pakistan can manage under these conditions I would think the Saudis can do so too.
Israel can no more prevent the Saudis from going nuclear than it can prevent Iran from going nuclear. If Iran goes nuclear first, and if Israel can do nothing about it, then it might make sense for Israel to allow the Saudis to go nuclear as a counterweight to Iran.
I wish I could agree with you on the point but I'm afraid it is too late to prevent a nuclear arms race in Southwest Asia. India and Pakistan (and American threats) made it inevitable that Iran would seek a nuclear capability, and the Arabs will never accept nuclear inferiority to Iran.
Pakistan needs nuclear allies in the Arab world to offset Iran. There is no reason why Indians should regard a nuclear Saudi Arabia as a threat if they can live with a nuclear Pakistan. Once the Saudis have their own nuclear reactors and weaponizing ability, their relations with Pakistan will revert to what they are today.
It is one things to sell centifuges and another to sell ready-to-detonate nuclear weapons. I understood your previous post to suggest Pakistan supplying nuclear weapons to Saudi Arabia. I just canno see that without a formal alliance structure between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.
In regards to Libya, their activities were not even in their infancy - it was yet another hare-braind project of Qaddafi's. There was no depth behind it.
Iran does not have an anti-Pakistan posture; that can chage and one sure way of changing it is to station nuclear weapons in Saudi Arabia.
As I have written here earlier; Saudi Arabia does not have the technical depth to engage in any form of arms race based on oit own resources; she has to buy turn-key systems.
Egypt and Algeria are the only 2 Arab states, that in my opinion, can follow the Iranian example. But there are political constraints on them due to their relationship with US and EU (mostly France in case of Algeria) that makes the development and deployment of nuclear weapons highly problematic for them.
You do not know Saudi polity: they are a lazy, rentiere-addicted people that just do not have inclination to work hard on engineering and scientific problems.
You can go to the periodicals room of any Saudi university and look at all the scientific magazines from all over the world to which they are subscribed - hundreds of them. But the room would be empty.
In case of Iran, American threads only made the Iranians more firm. Iran should have left NPT in 1998 after India and Pakistan exploded their bombs and threatened teh security and cohesion of the Iranian State. Perhaps it i stoo late for Iran to leave NPT but not too late to be nuclear-ready.
Really, US and EU should be in Tehran bribing iran to stay in NPT; the current course is foolish.
"In regards to Libya, their activities were not even in their infancy - it was yet another hare-brained project of Qaddafi's. There was no depth behind it."
My understanding was that U.N. and U.S. inspectors found completed centrifuges and other evidence that the Libyan program was beyond infancy. However, it did not go much beyond that when it ended in 2003.
"Iran does not have an anti-Pakistan posture; that can change and one sure way of changing it is to station nuclear weapons in Saudi Arabia."
The question is whether Pakistan will regard an Iranian nuclear capability as a threat to itself and to the larger balance between Sunnis and Shias.
"As I have written here earlier; Saudi Arabia does not have the technical depth to engage in any form of arms race based on its own resources; she has to buy turn-key systems."
Unless the Saudis can't trust foreign engineers with such a sensitive task, I should think they could import the technically skilled people they need, as they do in many other fields.
"In case of Iran, American threats only made the Iranians more firm. Iran should have left NPT in 1998 after India and Pakistan exploded their bombs and threatened the security and cohesion of the Iranian State."
If Pakistan acquired its bomb because it felt threatened by India's bomb, and if Iran will acquire a nuclear capability because Iran feels threatened by Pakistan's bomb, then I would think it only logical for Pakistan to feel threatened by having a nuclear Iran to its west in addition to a nuclear India to its east.
"Really, US and EU should be in Tehran bribing Iran to stay in NPT; the current course is foolish."
The problem is the long history of undeclared nuclear activity in Iran, which makes treaties rather doubtful. What would be better are limits in all countries on delivery systems, or failing that, an offer to Iran of participation in a regional missile defense that would provide security to all nations in the Middle East. Do you think Iran would be open to a common missile defense?
If Pakistan felt threatened by Iran she would not have helped Iran with her nuclear projects.
As for Saudi Arabia importing nuclear scientist, I just do not see that as a possibility. From where are they going to import them? And what about the lower parts of this technical pyramid; engineers, technicians, assembly line workers? I just cannot see it as a possibility.
Missile defense does not have any attraction for Iran. Cruise missiles cannot be defended against given the current technology level. And what about fighter bombers? Iran just does not have the air force to defend all of the Iranian territory.
But this is all academic; Iran has no trust in US, EU, Russia, India, China, etc. as far as her security is concerned. Nor does she have any trust in International Instruments of Disarmament.
Nuclear capable Iran is a fait accompli and all political calculations have to be based on that reality.
I disagree with "The problem is the long history of undeclared nuclear activity in Iran" - I do not believe that to be teh issue. The issue is the Iranian power which does not take into account Western interest. And why should they? What is in it for Iran to take into account Western interests?
As for bargaining with Iran - contrary to 2005 EU offer, now they expect a fixed time-table for delivery of the goodies from US & EU - no foot dragging like North Korean reactor case is any longer a possibility with Iran.
"If Pakistan felt threatened by Iran she would not have helped Iran with her nuclear projects."
True if the assistance was authorized, although it also proves that an alliance isn't necessary for this kind of aid. But in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran have rival interests, and relations between Iran and India have improved. Pakistan's sense of isolation may worsen under the next US President, and if Sunni extremists in Pakistan become more powerful, then relations with Iran itself could worsen.
"As for Saudi Arabia importing nuclear scientists, I just do not see that as a possibility. From where are they going to import them? And what about the lower parts of this technical pyramid; engineers, technicians, assembly line workers? I just cannot see it as a possibility."
Nuclear power is an engineering problem, not a scientific one. There are Egyptian and other Arab engineers with the necessary training who could be brought to work in Saudi Arabia.
The question is where Saudi Arabia could buy the technology. Under present conditions, this would be very difficult if Pakistan does not supply it. But once Iran has a nuclear capability, a lot could change. I don't think it can be assumed that the United States will be as vigorous in its efforts to stop proliferation, especially if Iran helps Venezuela and other countries acquire nuclear capabilities of their own.
I agree that Iran's nuclear capacity is a fait accompli and I don't see how it can be stopped. But will Iran accept restrictions on its right to export nuclear technology to Latin America and other regions? If not, why should the US be unwilling to lift its own restrictions on nuclear exports to friendly states?
"Missile defense does not have any attraction for Iran. Cruise missiles cannot be defended against given the current technology level. And what about fighter bombers? Iran just does not have the air force to defend all of the Iranian territory."
A commitment to shared missile defense is a statement of long-range strategic intentions, not a present-day reality. If Iran develops a nuclear missile arsenal purely for deterrent purposes, and not to provide an umbrella for extending influence, then Tehran can have no objection to joining a missile defense if and when the technology is effective. I am simply asking whether Iran would be willing to pledge today to join a regional defense in the future (with Turkey, Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and India) if the technology ever becomes practical. If Iran's answer is to have no comment, then an unavoidable uncertainty exists as to Iran's long-range intentions toward its neighbors. In fairness, the same question should be put to all of them as well.
"But this is all academic; Iran has no trust in US, EU, Russia, India, China, etc. as far as her security is concerned. Nor does she have any trust in International Instruments of Disarmament."
Does that not imply and encourage an equal measure of distrust among Iran's neighbors? Why would the United States not help these neighbors if Iran is giving nuclear and other aid to states that are hostile to America?
"I disagree with "The problem is the long history of undeclared nuclear activity in Iran" - I do not believe that to be the issue. The issue is the Iranian power which does not take into account Western interest. And why should they? What is in it for Iran to take into account Western interests?"
There are two separate problems: one whether it was in Iran's interest to accede to the NPT and the other is whether having done so it was sensible for Iran not to declare all of its activity. I think there is general agreement that if Iran does not want to disclose all of its activity then it should not join treaties of this kind. Perhaps the problem now is not whether Iran would comply with any treaty but whether there are any treaties that would be sensible for Iran to join.
US cannot arm and otherwise help Saudi Arabia and other assorted oil-wells-with-flags to gain strategic parity with Iran. No amount of aid can turn the Central American states into parity with Mexico.
Furthermore, no amount of Iranian re-assurance can fundamentally alter the threat perception of a small state vis a vis a larger state. Only the break-up of that larger state can ameliorate that. It is not going to happen.
On the technical capabilities of Saudi Arabia we will hav to agree to disagree; as I have stated before - you cannot buy your path into strategic parity and certainly not Saudi Arabia.
A regional defense structure is not feasible with the states that you have mentioned. One is a NATO member, 3 are US client states, one is virulently anti-American, on is a NAM founder, and the other, Pakistan, has already fought 3 wars with the other, India. This is a pipe-dream.
Iran might accept certain limitations on her rights but only for a fixed period of time; say until IAEA will give Iran a clean bill of health - so to speak. But permanent restrictions are out of the question. This is not just about Iran, if iran is forced to leave NPT, Muslim states will start leaving the NPT followed by the NAM states.
I do not know the treaty obligations of Iran in NPT well and I cannot judge the severity of her breaches, if any, under NPT. One problem with NPT is that it has no instruments which permits a state to rectify her past mistakes and re-commit herself to NPT. Also, US has severly weakened NPT; it will take US and other Nuclear States under NPT to strengthen it.
In regards to Iranian intentions; one can ask the same question with regards to US - what are her (US) intentions in the Persian Gulf, in the Levant, and in North Africa (why is there now an African command?)?
Is US there to push for Jews in their war against Muslims? Or Arabs aganist Iranians? Just what is US strategy in these areas of the Muslim world?
Some political/social systems have been able to modernize up to a point only to fail to move any farther. Saudi Arabia could be in this category if it cannot move more of its own citizens into the kinds of employment necessary to sustain and develop a complex modern society. My sense is that social attitudes and difficulties may be more of a barrier for them than technical demands. But I agree that we will have to see what they do.
"A regional defense structure is not feasible with the states that you have mentioned. One is a NATO member, 3 are US client states, one is virulently anti-American, on is a NAM founder, and the other, Pakistan, has already fought 3 wars with the other, India. This is a pipe-dream."
Again you may be right, but if neighbors do not accept the need to reach agreement on security issues then they run the risk of coming into conflict or at least having to live with serious insecurity.
"One problem with NPT is that it has no instruments which permits a state to rectify her past mistakes and re-commit herself to NPT. Also, US has severely weakened NPT; it will take US and other Nuclear States under NPT to strengthen it."
I suspect the NPT is a dead letter for the reasons you give. I wonder if you would agree that a nuclear Iran gives its neighbors an incentive to acquire other kinds of WMDs (perhaps biological ones if nuclear weapons are not feasible). Iran's neighbors may want the ability to inflict mutually assured destruction so as to make war unthinkable for everyone. It may not be necessary to have nuclear weapons to do so.
"In regards to Iranian intentions; one can ask the same question with regards to US - what are her (US) intentions in the Persian Gulf, in the Levant, and in North Africa (why is there now an African command?)?"
I agree. The US needs to envision what kinds of relations it wants to have with these regions in the long-run. By defining its objectives in short-term or open-ended ways, the US risks lurching from one crisis to another.
We seem to agree more than we disagree.
I am pessimistic in regards to US intentions: I think US is pursuing a fantasy of Global Full-Spectrum Dominance of which the Persian Gulf and Levant are just side-show theaters.
In regards to the Arab States: no matter what Iran does they will feel threatened - their inherent weakness cannot be ameliorated except by the destruction of the Iranian state.