By Paul Shrivastava
November is the final deadline for Iran to stop processing nuclear materials. Iran's position is clear: It does not intend to stop.
One can only wonder, if the United States is determined to prevent Iran from continuing down the path of large-scale nuclear enrichment, what sort of war it is prepared to prosecute. This is the question Iranian leaders are mulling as the deadline for United Nations Security Council sanctions approaches.
The current U.S. approach includes funding dissidents to destabilize Iran's regime, supporting a surgical strike on Iran's nuclear facilities and targeted killing of Iranian leaders considered dangerous. The Bush administration recently increased the funding for Iran dissidents and regime change activities to $75 million. Plans for surgical strikes on Iran's nuclear facilities have been revealed in the past year. And the policy of targeted killing of terrorists could be extended to Iran because it is considered a supporter of terrorist groups such as Hezbollah.
The rhetoric of "all options are on the table" heard with regard to Iran is a thinly veiled warning from the Bush administration. Through Iraq, this administration has exhibited a willingness to engage in pre-emptive war and to invest in the effort and resources needed for war. This is the wrong approach for several reasons
The U.S.-led war in Iraq is not going well. After three years, despite military victory, a democratic political election and a huge presence by U.S. forces, Iraq is devolving into sectarian civil war.
The Iraq war has already cost the U.S. a half trillion dollars and will likely cost several hundred billion dollars more before the country is stabilized. A war with Iran would not be as easily contained and could cost a trillion dollars.
Lining up global allies for a war with Iran seems implausible. The Bush administration's credibility has been seriously jeopardized by the intelligence failures in Iraq, and China and Russia have already expressed preference for resolving the issue peacefully. Even by U.S. estimates, Iran will take at least three to five years to develop nuclear bomb capability. There is no imminent threat.
Stopping Iran from acquiring nuclear capabilities is a hypocritical goal. Just a few months ago, the U.S. legitimized India's nuclear program and signed a treaty that conflicts with international nuclear nonproliferation agreements. The Indo-U.S. accord allows India to continue developing its military nuclear program as long as it submits its civilian nuclear program to International Atomic Energy Agency inspections. In an ideologically divided world, this hypocrisy fuels the resentments of Islamic nations seeking nuclear power.
Nuclear power and nuclear fuel are akin to oil -- a proven energy source. No technologically capable nation is going to give up its right to produce and use nuclear energy. A side effect of producing nuclear energy is the capability to produce nuclear weapons. India stayed a nuclear pariah nation for 30 years before this month's treaty legitimized its nuclear programs. The world should be planning for a situation in which not only Iran but several other countries will become nuclear capable and probably eventually nuclear armed. The challenge will be to keep nuclear armed nations within the international fold through political, economic and cultural engagement.
Economic integration into the global economy is a powerful tool for influencing the behavior of nations. It is a tool that takes time to work. Economic integration is not a tool that will prevent the "nuclearization" of nations. But it can successfully keep nuclear nations working together toward their common interest in peace. Iran, with its oil resources, disciplined and educated work force and significant agricultural and craft sectors, offers good prospect for economic engagement and integration.
China and India are examples of successful integration of growing nuclear powers into the global economy. Their economies are now thoroughly intertwined with the rest of the world. Politically and culturally they are opening up and engaging global issues and challenges. This, despite the fact that for 50 years China was demonized as part of the evil communist empire, while India was vilified as a socialist, Soviet-client country.
Economic integration has proven to be more effective than economic isolation. This is a lesson worth keeping in mind as the rhetoric and stakes in the Iran nuclear game escalate.
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