The Problem of a World of Have and Have-Not Nuke States


Europe is pulling back from its take-Iran-to-the-brink pledge to refer Iran’s nuclear activities to the U.S. Security Council. While this may sound sensible to some, the ice we are all on is getting dangerously thinner.
This is big news:

The European Union has backed off from its attempt to have Iran immediately called before the UN Security Council over its nuclear programme, due to fierce opposition from Russia and China, diplomats said.
Several diplomats from the European Union’s Big Three – France, Britain and Germany – said on Thursday they had dropped the demand in the interest of getting a unanimous resolution approved by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) board of governors, which is meeting this week.
Iran’s official Irna news agency also confirmed this, citing Germany’s ambassador to the IAEA, Herbert Honsowitz, as saying: “The EU has withdrawn its request to send Iran’s case to the Security Council.”
The EU earlier in the week had been calling overtly for Iran’s immediate referral to the council over nuclear activities the US claims hide weapons work.

Perhaps a different form of European-sponsored resolution will eke its way forward in the future.
But the immediate consequences of this step are that (1) the U.S. will poke holes in Europe’s inability to ‘deliver’ Iran and knock back well-intentioned European efforts to forestall a crisis and (2) could result in the U.S. pressing ahead with its own resolution on Iran — just to force another division between America and the rest of the world over a major security issue in the Middle East. This could all very well look like a replay of the Security Council drama that preceded America’s invasion of Iraq.
The fact of the matter is that America is not in a good position to take on Iran, but the “we make our own reality” folks in the White House seem to be unaware of America’s limits at the moment, and that is profoundly disconcerting.
We need a more honest discussion in this country about what we, as a nation, will and won’t accept from Iran. There is great theatre here and in Europe, about trying to stop Iran’s burgeoning nuclear program. But what if it is not stoppable? What if the legal framework to stop Iran simply doesn’t exist — in part because of the failure of John Bolton and his former aide and Asst. Secretary Stephen Rademaker to prepare any substantive revision of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty earlier this year.
Zbigniew Brzezinski outlined this problem in a January 2005 talk he gave at a function I helped organize. Brzezinski stated:

. . on nuclear proliferation, I think we’re on the edge of a major move in proliferation unless we can stop it.
And that is we have to stop the production of fissile material. The NPT was written in a time when the assumption was that the difficult part of acquiring nuclear weapons was the device itself. And that was so technically. . .you had to have that device in order to be a threat. Therefore the NPT says producing fissile materials is just fine as long as it’s for peaceful purposes. Well, once you have the fissile material, a weapon is only months away, even from a rudimentary state.
So, the enrichment of uranium, the reprocessing of plutonium becomes a very important issue. And here, we may already be too late in North Korea, and we’re right on the edge with Iran and how to deal with it. And right behind Iran is Brazil. There are different gradations in these three states. But they are all heading toward a condition which is [a weapon] 30 odd medium range states will present us with a fundamentally different world.

Iran, at this point, may not be deterrable from its ambitions — not without a compelling array of carrots and sticks that were coordinated among the world’s great stakeholders. However, the world is fragmented on what to do about Iran, and Iran knows this.
What thus is the next best option? Perhaps there are ways to deter Iran from an overt and publicly “seen” nuclear weapons program. Perhaps this can be kept underground and concealed for some time. I doubt that Israel would accept such a circumstance easily, but the question is what to do if Iran simply won’t back off?
My hunch is that we will be dusting off analyses from the late 70s and early 80s on the importance of “balanced nuclear capacity” in achieving nuclear deterrence. While it may not be politically correct to state this — my guess is that we may have to eventually “re-frame” our depiction of regional stability in the Middle East between two nuclear-armed states of Israel and Iran, both undeclared but both capable.
We aren’t there yet, and there are many other possible outcomes depending on the brilliance, or lack thereof, of American and European diplomacy.
However, with the mystique of American military power stifled, at a minimum, and wrecked at worst because of Iraq, Iran has every incentive to push its nuclear program aggressively now.
If we can’t stop it, we must think about new scenarios — and a pissed-off, isolated Iran with nukes is about the worst outcome one can imagine.
— Steve Clemons