Few would have thought that the MAD world of Mutually Assured Destruction might seem like an era of sanity in retrospect. The period that created Dr. Strangelove restricted its nuclear club to paragons of predictability compared to today’s players, actual and prospective.
To start with the obvious, if it’s acceptable for North Korea to have nuclear weapons (to say nothing of Pakistan, spawning ground and frequent shelter of the Taliban) how can the world deny nukes to any country? Still, most nations or governments agree that nuclear capability for theocratic Iran is so dangerous as to be resisted even in a world that acquiesces in such capability for the Kim family of Pyongyang.
This is why, from Europe to the Far East, many nations participate in economic sanctions against the Tehran regime. They do so partly as a symbolic gesture of disapproval of the nuclear mullahs, and partly as a practical measure to induce a change of policy.
Whatever the first may accomplish — I suspect not much — the second may achieve something, provided the sanctions are widespread and airtight enough, and last a sufficient length of time. For sanctions to succeed one of three things would have to occur before Iran actually develops nuclear weapon capability:
- Tehran’s technocratic theocrats change their minds and policies; decide they don’t really need nuclear weapons and abandon their quest. (Chances: In your dreams.)
- The people of Iran correctly identify their rulers’ ambitions as the source of their troubles, revolt and throw the rascals out. (Chances: Possible yes; probable no.)
- Sanctions and boycotts and restrictions by the world community bring about Iran’s total economic as well as administrative collapse. (Chances: Long run, likely; before they have nukes, unlikely.)
Since these are the things that would have to happen before sanctions could be described as a success, and since they aren’t likely to happen, sanctions will probably be a failure. Still, the string has to be played out because people are reluctant to go to war and thank God for that. Bad as the world is, if people were eager to go to war, it would be worse.
Meanwhile the mullahs, religious as they are, will do more than pray. They, too, will calculate and re-calculate odds and almost certainly conclude that if they say “uncle” and give up their nuclear ambitions, they won’t just lose their hopes of regional and world domination but will also lose respect at home, where respect (read: fear) keeps them in business. Therefore the likelihood of sanctions achieving their first objective, a change of policy by the Islamic Republic, is remote enough to be virtually non-existent.
The second and third objectives, revolution against the nuclear mullahs or total economic collapse, are less remote as possibilities but they’re still long shots. People don’t easily rebel against savage dictatorships, especially when they cover oppressive conduct with a moral and mystical veneer as religious tyrannies do. Nor is it certain that a suffering population will blame Iran’s theocratic masters for the crippling sanctions; they might blame big and little Satan — that is, the Americans and the Jews. As for total economic collapse, I wouldn’t hold my breath. Countries can be remarkably resilient.
Influential advocates of economic sanctions, such as the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies, clearly share this view. “Our recent analysis shows,” writes FDD president and syndicated columnist Clifford D. May, “that Iran may have two or more years of foreign exchange reserves to head off economic collapse. That’s plenty of time for it to become a threshold nuclear power. Can massively intensified sanctions make a difference? We remain skeptical but are working closely with Congress, European and other foreign government officials to do what can be done on this front.”
To me, at least, the message is clear. Give sanctions every chance, so that when the inevitable military intervention occurs, you can truthfully say you’ve done everything to avoid it. It’s a good plan and it’s not going to work. When the inevitable occurs, no matter how much the West tried to avert it, there will be voices accusing America, and Canada, too, of not having tried hard enough.
I call military intervention inevitable because I can’t envisage a millennial, merciless, metaphysically mandated, self-righteous tyranny giving up its nuclear ambitions, and I can’t imagine the world allowing it to happen without a military challenge. What I can easily imagine, however, is such a challenge not happening in time to avert a greater calamity. I can imagine people, with the best of intentions, not resorting to arms until it’s too late for arms to do much good, and certainly not as much as their timely deployment might have achieved at a relatively low cost. That, unfortunately, is easy to envisage. All it takes is a timid, confused, misled, or mistaken U.S. administration, such as America’s voters will elect or come perilously close to electing in a few weeks.
George Jonas- National Post