Hillary Clinton delivered a “muscular” foreign policy speech on March 19, which, in part, dealt with Iran’s nuclear program. Clinton stated that, while the United States should “give space for diplomacy to work,” she remains, based on previous experience, “personally skeptical that the Iranians would follow through and deliver [on their promises]”. Similar to her president and his president’s predecessor, Hillary Clinton also made it abundantly clear that “every option” should remain on the table.
Clinton’s speech, of course, is disappointing to anyone who may have wished her to offer new solutions to international problems based on her four-year experience as a Secretary of State and a presidential hopeful who is writing a book on challenges of the 21st Century. As former Secretary of State, she must have known that when she declares “every option” must remain on the table she is proposing to conduct diplomacy under the threat of war. Issuing threats of violence is a blatant violation of international law enshrined in Article II, section 4 of the UN Charter. Similarly, when Clinton expresses personal skepticism based on Iran’s passed behavior, she knows that it takes two to tango and thus the behavior of the U.S. could be partially responsible for the behavior of Iran.
The question that Hillary Clinton does not address (similar to the rest of the American establishment) is if Iran is building toward nuclear weapons technology what could be their reasons for doing so.
The mainstream media and the mainstream policy makers have done a good job of telling us about the strategic concerns of the other major parties involved in the dispute over Iran’s nuclear program. Israel needs a credible deterrence, partially based on a triad of nuclear weapons (land base, in the air, and on submarines) to deter Arab countries and Iran from attacking it. U.S., on the other hand, must have a large conventional presence in the region, backed by its massive arsenal of nuclear weapons, to ensure the flow of petroleum and check any threats to its regional friends.
How about Iran’s strategic concerns? Whom is Iran trying to deter? True, the Islamic regime in Iran is a brutal and corrupt theocracy. (As was its predecessor Pahlavi Dynasty). Yet, the line of reasoning that suggests Iran should not be allowed to develop nuclear weapons because it is led by irrational fanatics who will attack Israel and/or US forces in the Persian Gulf is dishonest. Any Iranian attack on either U.S or Israel would be suicidal. Both the US and Israel have enough nuclear warheads to lunch a devastating counter strike against Iran. Nuclear weapons are weapons much better suited to deterrence than fighting and winning wars.
A more reasoned answer is that Iranian leaders, much like Israelis and Americans, have rationally considered their national interests, took stock of their resources, and explored their military options, and concluded, again rationally, that developing nuclear technology, which enables them to build nuclear warheads in a hurry, is the most cost-effective deterrence.
The reality is that Iran finds herself facing two powerful foes, U.S. and Israel who have made no secret of their unhappiness with its regime. As late as 2003, Israel’s Prime Minister Ariel Sharon called on the world to go for Iran “the day after Iraq is finished.” In May of that year, US turned down, out of hand, a plan offered by Iran designed to resolve on comprehensive basis all of the bilateral difference between the two countries. In addition, US military presence around Iran remains considerable. US Navy’s fifth fleet has been stationed in Persian Gulf since 1984. US ground forces number more than one hundred thousand in Iraq and Afghanistan. Saudi Arabia and UAE have purchased tens of billions of dollars in modern weapons, including offensive weapons such as long-range missiles and fighter-bombers, from the US in recent years. Israel is a regional superpower. Its convention military is among the best equipped and best trained in the world and it is the sixth largest exporter of military hardware worldwide. Israel, in addition, has large stockpiles of WMDs.
In comparison, Iran’s armed forces are poorly equipped and poorly trained. In addition, under American pressure, Russia has reneged on selling Iran modern air defense systems that could act as a deterrent against Israeli or American air strikes.
In this context, development of technology to build nuclear weapons in a short span of time seems to be the only deterrent option open to the regime in Tehran. Thus, Hillary Clinton’s hunch may be in fact a good one but not for her reasons. Rather, Iran’s clerical rulers would give up developing nuclear technology for possible weapon development only within a context of regional disarmament.