Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Reacting to Iran's nuclear programme

This isn't as crafted as I would like, but it'll do as a brain dump on Iran.

I personally think that Iran is a status quo power. Their economy is in the doldrums and the government is having problems providing jobs and the mullahs are constantly having to deal with annoyingly principled people who object to them stealing the country's wealth for themselves (curiously, Ahmadinejad is one of those people). They know that people are so pissed off that they would not fight and die for the regime the way that they did in the war against Iraq. The only reason that they did so well in that war is because people were willing to fight and die in their millions for the republic. Ergo the only military security they have is harassment of the Iraqi type – which is a pretty last-ditch strategy, and doesn't really work if you're interested in milking the country for profit rather than (like Saddam) being Saladin – or the bomb.

Others believe that the anti-zionist rhetoric in which Iranian leaders often indulge – Ahmadinejad's rhetoric was foreshadowed by Rafsanjani gloating about how they would love to nuke Israel once they had warheads to put in their shiny new Shahab-3s – is a sign that the Iranians are unpredictable and kinda crazy. There's an extent to which the Iranians have cultivated this – taking a leaf out of the book of North Korea – and an extent to which the Israelis and the US have cultivated this. There's currently a press push to highlight the fact that Ahmadinejad may or may not belong to an anti-Baha'i anarchist sect of 12er Islam which thinks that chaos will bring the Mahdi back – though I'm sceptical, partially because everyone made similarly scaremongering claims about Strauss, partially because the same articles are casting a group called the 'Builders' as a similar cult, when in fact they're a movement in the majlis that everyone who knows anything about Iran has known about for ages.(rafsanjani's power base was with the Builders, who are technocratic economic reformers, when he was president).

So basically what it comes down to is: how comfortable do you feel with Iran having nukes? It rather depends on whether you agree with the status quo or the anarchist interpretations of Iranian foreign policy. To do that you can look at the overall political structure, or you can look at the psychology of individuals. I tend to go with the overall structure because my own personal feelings get less in the way. I tend to find that most of the people who go with the psychology of the individuals find it very difficult to be objective also – which is why you get lots of scaremongering about the crazy mullahs. But that's not to say that I'm right and they're wrong. The psychology people are better at winning the policy debate, that's for sure.


Blogger Bing said...

I don't follow Iran nearly as closely as I probably ought to. That having been said:
1) To what extent are the Iranians actually cultivating the 'crazy' aspect? I seem to remember reports about government officials trying to play down Ahmadinejad's initial 'wipe them off the map' comments the next day (although he inexplicably repeated them a week later).
2) Are his statements those of a man unaccustomed to diplomatic parlance? I don't think he's crazy (now Gaddafi on the other hand...), but he might just be naive. On the other hand, he might well be playing to a domestic audience.
3) North Korea's regime strikes me as being very rational indeed. This is not to say that it is nice, mind you, or even vaguely restrained in its official pronouncements. The way things work in Iran, however, one often wonders who- if anyone- is really in charge there.
4) Iran's signed up to every possible anti-WMD treaty including the Additional Protocol to the NPT. It's behavior has still remained remarkably suspicious. It's not done a good job at all, PR-wise of assuaging doubts about its intents, and those anti-Israel statements by its president didn't help any. It probably has no intention of launching a nuclear first strike or even attacking its neighbors, but no-one wants to see a nuclear Iran, not least because it could then be immune to foreign pressure DPRK-style (although in the latter's case, conventional weapons alone would be enough to save it from attack, seeing as it can pound Seoul with artillery).

16/1/06 17:54  

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