“How to Defuse Iran’s Nuclear Threat”

An Israeli or American attack on Iranian nuclear facilities would make it more, not less, likely that the Iranian regime would decide to produce and deploy nuclear weapons. Such an attack would also make it more, not less, difficult to contain Iranian influence.

We therefore recommend that the United States pursue a set of graduated diplomatic objectives, seeking first to halt the Iranian nuclear program short of weaponization while retaining the leverage to secure Iran’s eventual compliance with all its NPT obligations. Iran is seeking nuclear weapons for some combination of security, influence, and prestige; thus, persuading Iran that violating the NPT will only confirm its pariah status is the best way to dissuade it from crossing that threshold. No effort at persuasion can begin, though, until the United States acknowledges that the Iranian nuclear program might not be reversed and thus commences preparations to deal with the consequences.

from How to Defuse Iran’s Nuclear Threat by former ambassador James Dobbins, at RAND.

2 responses to ““How to Defuse Iran’s Nuclear Threat”

  1. Zakaria made an eloquent (and much more brief) argument against intervention or arming the opposition in Syria in favor of sanctions largely due to the dynamics of the country.


    Which sharply contrasts to what the ambassador and his co-authors are trying to get at here.


    Minister Shamseddin Hosseini is of course full of shit. But there’s some specific problems with Dobbins, et al argument that leads me to believe its more wishful thinking than anything else.

    More than one Arab foreign minister has publicly said the US needs to bomb Iran. Even though they were Sunni countries’ ministers, the statement “reaction among neighboring populations would be almost uniformly hostile” in the case of an attack is false. I’m not sure how much the ambassador appreciates how much Arabs hate, or at the very least distrust, Persians. As for the “Persian Spring,” they’re again looking through rose colored glasses. The Egyptian military sat it out, as we’ll recall – will the Iranian do the same?

    I’ll not take the time to address point by point – but I’ll go with my standard “the truth is in the middle” argument. All the soft power stuff he talks about is legit, but must not preclude a willingness to try bombing them if that’s where the situation takes us.

    • You might be oversimplifying what he’s getting at. He also talks about strengthening Israeli capabilities… that’s not suggesting that we build up Israel so they don’t bomb. This reads to me less like a soft power v hard power thing than an argument in favor of focusing less on the “unacceptability” line, more on the repercussions, and back-burnering hard power.

      I also think you’re conflating what Arab leadership says with Arab popular sentiment, and the whole “Arabs v Persians” is a little too Werewolf v Vampire for me. Would anyone in Ramadi or Kuwait City or Medina care if the Iranians got blown up? No, probably not. In Bahrain, in Lebanon, in Karbala? I don’t know. Hamas and Hezbollah haven’t had much of a problem cashing Iranian TDY vouchers, and they’re Arab. And that plays exactly into the kind of subversion he says is the bigger threat than aggression.

      It’s not something I know a lot about, but my impression is that our saber-rattling (or actual saber-withdrawing) is more useful for the conservative regime in Tehran than it is for us. Khatami was liberalizing, then Iran was an American sandwich between Iraq and Afghanistan, then GWB started up with the Axis of Evil stuff, then Ahmadinejad was elected on a piety + anti-corruption + “The Americans Are Out To Get Us” platform. I’m not saying it’s simple cause and effect, but we don’t need to write the current regime’s talking points for them.

      There’s a connection between what Dobbins writes about using the NPT to emphasize Iran’s “pariah status” and what Cartwright and friends write about reducing our own stocks to build the NPT’s legitimacy. (That’s longer-term than the immediate issue, just an observation.)

      Hosseini interview is great.

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