The Debate over Bombing Iran
The Economist held a debate earlier this week about taking military action against Iran’s nuclear program.
In favor of military action was General Chuck F. Wald, a director at Deloitte. Dr. Emily Landau, a senior research associate at Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies, opposed the option.
For military action
General Wald offered these forecasts:
- “There remain levers, such as biting sanctions, that have yet to be tried. They should be implemented immediately and given a chance to work. But, should all other options fail to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions, a US-led military strike is preferable to an Israeli attack, and certainly preferable to a nuclear weapons-capable Iran.
- New sanctions “would have to be both multilateral in scope and much stricter than previous iterations in order to have any effect. Given continuing Russian reluctance, Chinese indifference and EU apprehension, it seems unlikely that we will see internationally-backed biting sanctions soon, if at all.”
- “The prospect of regime change strike me as a particularly likely solution to this problem. … There has been no indication among some of [the opposition’s] leaders that it would curtail Iran’s nuclear programme. Whether a new regime would be friendly towards the West is questionable, and I fear that they certainly will not be nuclear-adverse.”
- “It is increasingly likely that Iran will be able to develop a nuclear weapon by the end of 2010, should it choose to do so.
- “Holding war games or deploying an additional battle carrier group to the area might do more than any sanction to persuade Tehran that continued intransigence is too dangerous. Moreover, without necessarily firing a single shot, the US Navy could blockade Iranian ports in support of any international sanctions.”
- “Should such pressure prove insufficient, and only once all other policy options have been exhausted, the United States could and should launch a punishing strike against Iranian nuclear and military installations.”
- Risks include “galvanising Iranian support for the government, either direct or proxy Iranian retaliation, and unrest in the region, fomented by Iran.”
- “In order to be successful any military strike would require years of continued vigilance. It is too late to eliminate Iran’s nuclear know-how; any bombing campaign would only delay their nuclear development. Thus, we would have to retain the ability to strike previously undiscovered sites and to ensure that Iran does not revive its nuclear programme.”
- Such vigilance “would probably also require an United Nations Special Commission on Iraq (UNSCOM)-like inspections regime.”
- “Should the Iranians acquire a nuclear weapon, or even the ability to quickly assemble one, Iran would dominate the Persian Gulf, threaten moderate Arab regimes, embolden radicals throughout the region, pose an existential threat to Israel and destabilise Iraq. Additionally, with an effective nuclear deterrent, Iran will be freer to sponsor terrorism, wage proxy warfare, derail the Middle East process and violently repress its burgeoning democratic movement.”
- “On the other hand, if Israel, in an event to prevent the above coming to pass, chose to conduct a unilateral military strike, it would alter the region’s strategic landscape dramatically. Not only would such a strike be less effective than one led by the United States, it would yield widespread international condemnationâ€”at least publiclyâ€”and could provoke Iranian retaliation against US interests and allies.”
- “A nuclear weapons-capable Iran would doom the region to a deadly spiral of proliferation, threaten world energy markets, embolden Iranian-sponsored terrorist organisations and give Iran’s leaders a nuclear deterrent behind which to even more brutally suppress their own people.”
Against military action
Landau countered with this perspective:
- “The correct statement is that the world would be a safer place if Iran did not acquire a military nuclear capability. But bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities is not going to achieve that goal, especially at this late stage of the game.
- “Military action will not eliminate the problem. With nuclear facilities spread throughout the country and Iran having prepared itself for years for this scenario by building up fortifications and defences, such a strike could at the very best delay the pace of its progress towards the bomb for a few years.
- “It would open an account between Iran and whoever attacked it that would be very difficult to settle.”
- “Regardless of how successful a particular attack might be, it is less likely to become the basis for a long-term solution to the challenge posed by a determined proliferator than would be a negotiated bargain.”
- “What the diplomatic option needs, however, is a serious makeover. The United States needs to take the lead in this process and demonstrate its unwavering resolve, rather than allow Iran to dictate the pace and even content of the talks.”
- The Economist moderator suggests that “bombing Iran is likely to intensify the regime’s desire for nuclear weapons, if only to deter future American attacks.” He summarizes: “General Wald’s prescription could mean a decade or more of conflict with Iran; Dr Landau’s policy could mean accepting to live with a nuclear armed Iran.”
- Trita Parsi, the head of the National Iranian American Council, writes that “Military action, he suggests, would achieve little and destroy the chance of seeing a democratic (and less threatening) Iran.”
- Wald hints at intermediate options, including sanctions enforced by limited blockades that would put the onus for starting violence on Iran, rather than the US.
- Landau omits a stark possibility: if diplomacy fails, that does not mean there is another fallback solution; there simply may not be a fix to this problem for now; that is the case with many problems in the world.
- Attacking Iran preventatively could trigger decades of hostility, and when the bombing stops, Iran is likely to pursue nuclear weapons.
- The US will have started a war with Iran; Iran will have the right under international law to defend itself with armed force.
- Wald suggests the need for a post-bombing inspection operation, but it is unclear why Iran would cooperate with such a regime.
- An attack on Iran would provide yet another reason for Muslims to hate the US, and to believe that the US is at war with Islam, virtually guaranteeing that more Americans will die at the hands of terrorists, and giving Al Qaeda another boost.
- Iran appears to be ruled by people interested in preserving the own lives and prosperity, and in the integrity of their state. This makes them deterrable, even with nuclear weapons, as others have suggested.
- Iranian counterattacks might be limited in Iraq and Afghanistan by the fact that Iran is essentially on the same side as the US in both countries: friendly with the Iraqi government, and hostile to the Taliban.
- It is unlikely that Iraq and Afghanistan will permit US forces in their countries to take part in attacks on Iran, complicating planning.
- It appears that their might be a role for threatening military action, but actually carrying it out seems self-destructive.
- Ultimately, advocates of military action appear to have a 6-18-month plan for a 10-20-year problem.
(Map graphic copyright Futureatlas.com, usable with attribution and link)