The consequences of diplomacy

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As Iran moves inexorably toward the creation of a viable nuclear weapons program recent developments continue to prove that alliances can be bought and sold in the world of diplomacy. Unfortunately, the costs of such alliances are often greater than the outcomes they are intended to produce. While United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently announced the forward movement of multilateral UN backed sanctions against Iran, one must consider what tangible effect these sanctions will ultimately have in deterring Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and equally important the question of at what cost to long-term U.S. security interests such sanctions will be obtained.

Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced this week his intention to enter into an agreement with Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan that would allow for the shipment of low-enriched uranium (LEU) from Iran to Turkey. That uranium would in turn be enriched to higher levels, ostensibly for use in a medical research reactor, and subsequently shipped back to Iran. Having previously rejected a similar proposal offered by the United Nations, Iran’s actions appear to be a transparent effort at stalling the imposition of further UN backed sanctions.

What the agreement between Iran, Brazil, and Turkey does not do is prohibit Iran from continuing to further enrich uranium on its own. This caveat within the agreement renders it largely cosmetic and incapable of instilling any confidence within the global community that Iran is abandoning its pursuit of nuclear weapons. This reality led to Secretary Clinton’s declaration that all five permanent members of the UN Security Council had agreed on pursuing further sanctions against Iran.

Unfortunately, irrespective of what those sanctions ultimately include they are unlikely to forestall Iran’s movement toward becoming a nuclear state. Sanctioning Iran’s importation of refined gasoline products, freezing the assets of members of the Revolutionary Guard, and increasing cargo ship inspections may prove to be an annoyance to Ahmadinejad’s government but it will not prevent Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. Such sanctions may simply have the unintended consequence of moving commerce onto the black market, driving internal costs higher but also serving as a potential conduit by which the Iranian government can direct the ire and suffering of its people toward the West and thus away from itself.

Given the harsh reality that sanctions against Iran have been, and will likely continue to be, porous and ineffectual it is incumbent upon the Obama administration to consider the long-term consequences of its efforts to achieve diplomatic unity to that end. In attempting to achieve the complicity of Russia and China, both of whom hold veto power over the imposition of UN backed sanctions, the Obama administration has weakened an increasingly relevant instrument within the United States national security apparatus, namely missile defense. By pulling out of an agreement to place missile defense installations in both Poland and the Czech Republic, the Obama administration sacrificed an integral piece of the long-term national security strategy for the United States. This action was undertaken at the behest of Russia and with the hopeful understanding that in so doing Russia would adopt a more conciliatory tone toward sanctioning Iran. This approach is woefully shortsighted.

Diplomacy does in fact have consequences. While diplomatic unity and a cohesive, global approach toward the Iranian nuclear threat are desirable they should not supplant the very real and tangible safety net offered by a comprehensive missile defense system. Should diplomatic endeavors fail to persuade the Iranian government from developing nuclear weapons the ensuing destabilization in the region will underscore the importance of the U.S. capacity to effectively protect its allies and global interests abroad. At that moment, diplomatic unity will be vitally important but so too will be the comprehensiveness of our global national security apparatus. The Obama administration needs to recognize that in diminishing the latter to effectuate the former the United States renders more tenuous its long-term national security capabilities.

Scott G. Erickson has worked in the field of law enforcement for the past decade and holds both his B.S. and M.S. in Criminal Justice Studies. He resides in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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