July 31, 2006
Kissinger on Iran
Henry Kissinger's op-ed in today's Washington Post requires careful examination.
Let's take a close reading of The Next Steps With Iran:
The world's attention is focused on the fighting in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip, but the context leads inevitably back to Iran. Unfortunately, the diplomacy dealing with that issue is constantly outstripped by events. While explosives are raining on Lebanese and Israeli towns and Israel reclaims portions of Gaza, the proposal to Iran in May by the so-called Six (the United States, Great Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China) for negotiations on its nuclear weapons program still awaits an answer. It's possible that Tehran reads the almost pleading tone of some communications addressed to it as a sign of weakness and irresolution. Or perhaps the violence in Lebanon has produced second thoughts among the mullahs about the risks of courting and triggering crisis.Unless Israel resumes its offensive against Hezbollah, the mullahs have little reason for second thoughts about provoking conflict because the war will have finished in Hezbollah's favor. Hezbollah's centers of gravity are either its support from Iran and Syria, or its masterful use of the international media to rally world opinion against Israel. Whichever it is, if it's not both, the Israelis have yet to find a critical vulnerability to attack either of those two strengths. Attriting Hez forces buys time for a little peace in the future, but it does not solve any problems in the long term. It looks as though Israel is going to widen its ground offensive. We'll see what happens next . . .
However the tea leaves are read, the current Near Eastern upheaval could become a turning point. Iran may come to appreciate the law of unintended consequences.Is this a reference to a defeat for Hezbollah? Perhaps.
For their part, the Six can no longer avoid dealing with the twin challenges that Iran poses. On the one hand, the quest for nuclear weapons represents Iran's reach for modernity via the power symbol of the modern state; at the same time, this claim is put forward by a fervent kind of religious extremism that has kept the Muslim Middle East unmodernized for centuries. This conundrum can be solved without conflict only if Iran adopts a modernism consistent with international order and a view of Islam compatible with peaceful coexistence.Thank goodness Kissinger doesn't say the only other way the conundrum can be solved without conflict: for the world to just accept a nuclear Iran. Finally, someone sane in the diplomatic community!
Heretofore the Six have been vague about their response to an Iranian refusal to negotiate, except for unspecific threats of sanctions through the United Nations Security Council. But if a deadlock between strained forbearance by the Six and taunting invective from the Iranian president leads to de facto acquiescence in the Iranian nuclear program, prospects for multilateral international order will dim everywhere. If the permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany are unable jointly to achieve goals to which they have publicly committed themselves, every country, especially those composing the Six, will face growing threats, be they increased domestic pressure from radical Islamic groups, terrorist acts or the nearly inevitable conflagrations sparked by the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.This is the gut check for the world. As much as an encouragement of iran's nuclear ambitions by other states may serve to promote their interests in checking US power, ultimately, if Iran proliferates, then the international system will be broken, perhaps beyond repair. And the United Nations will become even more of a laughingstock than it is now. Previous posts have discussed the issue of Iranian proliferation from the standpoint of stability in the international system (here and here). Iran may well be the tipping point in nuclear proliferation in the world. Not only would the likelihood of further proliferation by Egypt, Turkey, or Saudi Arabia be increased dramatically, but the case of Iran is unique in that the series of events comprising Iranian proliferation offer a direct challenge to the UN and the system of nonproliferation. Whereas Pakistan and India pursued their programs clandestinely, and successfully so, and Israel is still technically an undeclared nuclear power, Iran's cover was blown in 2003 by an opposition group, thus creating a clear case where the nonproliferation regime must be tested in its ability to dissuade a state from aquiring nuclear weapons. Iraq may have involved horrendous lapses in intelligence, but one thing is certain for the moment: Iraq currently has no nuclear weapons or programs to produce them. If the international security system cannot deter Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, then its credibility will be completely destroyed, and its legitimacy nil. Kissinger is right: world order will decrease, conflicts will multiply, and what he doesn't explicitly say will also be proved true: the chances of a nuclear exchange or a nuclear crisis will increase dramatically as well. These are not conditions that will appear overnight, but over an intermediate period. The morning after an Iranian weapons test will not mark the end of the current system of international security, but it will mark the beginning of the end. Kissinger next offers a quick primer in Diplomacy 101:
The analogy of such a disaster is not Munich, when the democracies yielded the German-speaking part of Czechoslovakia to Hitler, but the response when Mussolini invaded Abyssinia. At Munich, the democracies thought that Hitler's demands were essentially justified by the principle of self-determination; they were repelled mostly by his methods. In the Abyssinian crisis, the nature of the challenge was uncontested. By a vast majority, the League of Nations voted to treat the Italian adventure as aggression and to impose sanctions. But they recoiled before the consequences of their insight and rejected an oil embargo, which Italy would have been unable to overcome. The league never recovered from that debacle. If the six-nation forums dealing with Iran and North Korea suffer comparable failures, the consequence will be a world of unchecked proliferation, not controlled by either governing principles or functioning institutions.
Diplomacy never operates in a vacuum. It persuades not by the eloquence of its practitioners but by assembling a balance of incentives and risks. Clausewitz's famous dictum that war is a continuation of diplomacy by other means defines both the challenge and the limits of diplomacy. War can impose submission; diplomacy needs to evoke consensus. Military success enables the victor in war to prescribe, at least for an interim period. Diplomatic success occurs when the principal parties are substantially satisfied; it creates -- or should strive to create -- common purposes, at least regarding the subject matter of the negotiation; otherwise no agreement lasts very long. The risk of war lies in exceeding objective limits; the bane of diplomacy is to substitute process for purpose. Diplomacy should not be confused with glibness. It is not an oratorical but a conceptual exercise. When it postures for domestic audiences, radical challenges are encouraged rather than overcome.The popular methods of portraying diplomacy include its being on the opposite end of a one-dimensional axis that includes military action on its far end, and of characterizing diplomatic initiatives as merely talk and not action. Such a view is unconstructive. Diplomacy is dealmaking, pure and simple. The tragedy perhaps is that so much of our recent dealmaking has seemed much more like concession-making alone. As Kissinger mentions, diplomacy is not rhetoric; the other side of the negotiating table will not be swayed by the eloquence of domestic speeches. Kissinger next spends two paragraphs comparing the current situation with that of the US and China in the 1970s. He concludes that they are dramatically different:
The challenge of the Iranian negotiation is far more complex. For two years before the opening to China, the two sides had engaged in subtle, reciprocal, symbolic and diplomatic actions to convey their intentions. In the process, they had tacitly achieved a parallel understanding of the international situation, and China opted for seeking to live in a cooperative world.Kissinger sees a window of opportunity for diplomatic action and it looks something like this: allow Israel to teach Hezbollah a significant lesson; quickly come to consensus among the Six; use the Israeli action to encourage realism among the Iranians, an attitude that would abandon their messianic religious idealism heretofore displayed in favor of seeking a deal. It's a tall order and my guess is the window won't be open long.
Nothing like that has occurred between Iran and the United States. There is not even an approximation of a comparable world view. Iran has reacted to the American offer to enter negotiations with taunts, and has inflamed tensions in the region. Even if the Hezbollah raids from Lebanon into Israel and the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers were not planned in Tehran, they would not have occurred had their perpetrators thought them inconsistent with Iranian strategy. In short, Iran has not yet made the choice of the world it seeks -- or it has made the wrong choice from the point of view of international stability. The crisis in Lebanon could mark a watershed if it confers a sense of urgency to the diplomacy of the Six and a note of realism to the attitudes in Tehran. [emphasis added]
Up to now Iran has been playing for time. The mullahs apparently seek to accumulate as much nuclear capability as possible so that, even were they to suspend enrichment, they would be in a position to use the threat of resuming their weapons effort as a means to enhance their clout in the region.Kissinger sees comprehensive sanctions as a necessity, and soon. And he encourages a process among the Six that will not necessitate 100% agreement or long pauses.
Given the pace of technology, patience can easily turn into evasion. The Six will have to decide how serious they will be in insisting on their convictions. Specifically, the Six will have to be prepared to act decisively before the process of technology makes the objective of stopping uranium enrichment irrelevant. Well before that point is reached, sanctions will have to be agreed on. To be effective, they must be comprehensive; halfhearted, symbolic measures combine the disadvantage of every course of action. Interallied consultations must avoid the hesitation that the League of Nations conveyed over Abyssinia. We must learn from the North Korean negotiations not to engage in a process involving long pauses to settle disagreements within the administration and within the negotiating group, while the other side adds to its nuclear potential. There is equal need, on the part of America's partners, for decisions permitting them to pursue a parallel course.
A suspension of enrichment of uranium should not be the end of the process. A next step should be the elaboration of a global system of nuclear enrichment to take place in designated centers around the world under international control -- as proposed for Iran by Russia. This would ease implications of discrimination against Iran and establish a pattern for the development of nuclear energy without a crisis with each entrant into the nuclear field.This seems like a fantastic idea if it can be accomplished in a verifiably safe fashion.
President Bush has announced America's willingness to participate in the discussions of the Six with Iran to prevent emergence of an Iranian nuclear weapons program. But it will not be possible to draw a line between nuclear negotiations and a comprehensive review of Iran's overall relations to the rest of the world.This is a point that many other commentators have made: while Iran's nuclear program is our paramount concern, there are a number of other issues that need addressing, any one of which would be bad enough on its own.
The legacy of the hostage crisis, the decades of isolation and the messianic aspect of the Iranian regime represent huge obstacles to such a diplomacy. If Tehran insists on combining the Persian imperial tradition with contemporary Islamic fervor, then a collision with America -- and, indeed, with its negotiating partners of the Six -- is unavoidable. Iran simply cannot be permitted to fulfill a dream of imperial rule in a region of such importance to the rest of the world.
At the same time, an Iran concentrating on the development of the talents of its people and the resources of its country should have nothing to fear from the United States. Hard as it is to imagine that Iran, under its present president, will participate in an effort that would require it to abandon its terrorist activities or its support for such instruments as Hezbollah, the recognition of this fact should emerge from the process of negotiation rather than being the basis for a refusal to negotiate. Such an approach would imply the redefinition of the objective of regime change, providing an opportunity for a genuine change in direction by Iran, whoever is in power.A good point: give the Iranians enough rope to hang themselves, then say diplomacy won't work. Don't just assume it won't. He may be referring to direct negotiations here.
It is important to express such a policy in precise objectives capable of transparent verification. A geopolitical dialogue is not a substitute for an early solution of the nuclear enrichment crisis. That must be addressed separately, rapidly and firmly. But a great deal depends on whether a strong stand on that issue is understood as the first step in the broader invitation to Iran to return to the wider world.Another good point: a policy of improving relations with the world should have identifiable and verfiable objectives.
In the end, the United States must be prepared to vindicate its efforts to prevent an Iranian nuclear weapons program. For that reason, America has an obligation to explore every honorable alternative.This final statement is where Kissinger shows he understands the game better than most of the denizens of Foggy Bottom ever will: "vindicating" US efforts implies efforts that have failed. And it refers to the use of force. Kissinger understands all too well the big stick that must be carried by the soft-spoken.
Altogether an excellent piece. Given the hyperbolic nature of the coverage of Israel's war with Hezbollah, Iran's nuke program has fallen by the wayside. Kissinger's piece could not have come at a better time. In summary: Iran is the real problem; the clock is ticking quickly; there's an opportunity; get after it. Wise words from an old man.
Posted by Chester at July 31, 2006 7:55 PM
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You touch on probably the main problem that we have in your paragraph after the first Kissinger quote, namely the mullahs' " masterful use of the international media." The proponents of the 6th Century are bringing us the Dark Ages using modern weapons, because they're beating the tar out of us in employing it.
The media has been one of the decisive weapons, perhaps THE decisive weapon, in every major conflict in which the United States has been involved since VietNam. The effects of the television/computer media, combined with our wealth, self-preoccupation and general contentment, gives bad-actors in the international system an inherent advantage.
All this is obvious, but we'd sure better find a way to deal with it. The day old Mad Jad in Tehran gets the bomb, there will be no controlling Hezbollah, or talk about any sanctions on Iran, of any kind -- ever. Again, obvious.
Watch...when the 31 August deadline comes...it will slip again, and again, because we insist on being tied to the Euros, or rather, the Media and Opinion Makers insist that we stay tied to the Euros, and we will have more talks about talks until Iran gets its precious bomb.
Sorry, just in a pessimistic mood this a.m.
Posted by: El Jefe Maximo at August 1, 2006 9:06 AM
Thanks for the article; quite informative indeed. But Kissinger has a long history of failures, too.
Posted by: kristen at August 1, 2006 10:00 AM
Better than I would have expected from Kissinger.
There are some subtexts here that need to be brought to the surface. Part of the underlying message from Kissinger is that the task of negotiating with Iran is daunting, perhaps impossible. But that's one of those things that can't be taught; it can only be learned. It would do no good for Kissinger to come out and say it explicitly; each negotiating party will have to learn and internalize this lesson based on their own experience.
Kissinger only obliquely addresses the issue of weak allies. The US could learn this lesson perfectly, but what if the "Other Five" do not learn, or learn a different lesson, or do not even share the same goals? The difficulty of negotiating with Iran is one thing. Are the six powers that Kissinger refers to capable of negotiating with anyone? If not, what then?
What Kissinger really doesn't address is how to know when negotiations have failed. We are already years down this path of negotiating, whether we've done it well or not. When and under what circumstances will it be appropriate to move to "diplomacy by other means?" Is that a decision that requires agreement by the negotiating partners?
Posted by: diane at August 1, 2006 2:18 PM
Kissinger is a past master diplomat, no doubt, but he is just seeing the iceberg and not the real reason it's a threat. It's a threat because the key player here really thinks that they can beat us. In fact they are going to bet their lives and the lives of thousands of others (including the Arabs, who they distain anyway) that they can get away with murder and survive.
It's not that they are big, or have a good military or even that they have the bomb. It's that they believe that their brand of Islam IS the way to salvation for the Islamic world, with the Mighty Lion of Persia leading them.
You and others call this belief insane, but it's not insane to them and they could care less what we believe. Do you believe that August 22nd means anything? Well, the Imans and their President do and it just might mean something to us after the fact.
In any case, they are not going to stop or agree to anything that will hinder their plans.
Posted by: Papa Ray at August 1, 2006 11:04 PM
I can't recall a time when I said that the Iranians were insane, or their beliefs either.
In fact, I don't care for the characterization of Ahmadinejad in particular as a "madman", because I think it causes us to either underestimate him or to force our hand at a time and place when we would prefer not to.
Something bad is going to happen on August 22nd, no doubt about it.
Posted by: Chester at August 2, 2006 12:14 AM
Hmmmm...good point about our Iranian prime minister friend. Will think on that.
Posted by: El Jefe Maximo at August 2, 2006 11:02 AM
Diplomacy is great when it works...What could we possibly offer the mullahs to get them to shut down their centrifuges? We can either wait for something to climb out of the well in a couple of weeks or we can fill it in...
Posted by: Dave at August 2, 2006 7:00 PM
have ever read the book by John le Carre' titled "A small town in Germany"?
If you EVER get the chance its well worth a look. It was written right at the point when Germany was wither going to embrace the "coca cola generation" or fall into the hands of the soviets.
the definition of diplomacy it gives scraped years of ignorance off of me and reset my bs detector.
I would hazard a summation with "diplomats are the best at their job in the world, which really doesnt mean that they are good for the world.."
Le Carre' does it a whole bunch better than I could.
Is there anything inherently/built-in to the American system that can prevent a Weimar redux?
Is all of this technology perfecting the prideful moron more interested in fame and prestige than fighting for honor and civility?
Can we win without killing millions? Will they force us to finally unleash?
Posted by: luckent47 at August 2, 2006 9:31 PM
Israel may be on the way to defeating Iran, with American help.
Posted by: M. Simon at August 2, 2006 10:54 PM
Mr. Kissinger presumes that: 1) the disparate Nations of the UNSC (+ Germany) can actually *agree* on something and stick to it, and, 2) Iran is amenable to Nation State diplomacy must recognize the validity *of* Nation State diplomacy, which he apparently assumes given his review of the situation.
The first is problematical at best with or without Hezbollah roaming around in Lebanon, they are *already* situated in South America and the Far East internetworking with other Transnational Terrorists in both regions, be they local, Islamic or narcotics based. Going after these networks in-full requires more than just a bit of coordination via the UN, but full and open cooperation from the involved Nations. Against Iran itself, the *only* thing getting France off the dime is the fact that if Hezbollah gets Lebanon, that place becomes a wonderful launchpad for Iranian IRBMs. Germany would not care much for that either, as it would cause problems in SE Europe and possible expansionism into that region beyond the few operative cells of al Qaeda already there. If Russia were not working so hard to *give* this technology to Iran, some glimmer of hope might be seen. But, because of the Kissingerian statement of 'addressing separately' Iran, Russia may have jumped the gun on that and already worked out a deal. China has supplied some small amount of arms to Iran and Syria, and losing a *customer* with ability to *pay* would be a problem. Actually, that is also a problem for Russia, which needs a decent cash flow. Notice how both of these Nations undercut OFF, then OIF and then complained about not getting repaid for Saddam era sales. So the diplomatic group has problems to start with, and in-fighting due to lack of common understanding and aim would be a major problem.
Is Iran amenable to *any* diplomatic agreement as it stands? Are they truly a credible player as a Nation State and wanting to be a part of this world of Nation States? Or are they aiming to bring down this Western Construct and erect a Caliphate Empire? To date they *do* pay off loans, although with threats from time to time, so there is that... but with North Korea having similar technology to Russia and China, and being a willing seller, Iran may change purchases in the future and then dwindle payments on a plan to 'relieve the burden of these payments or we will send terrorists to your Nation' concept. And their entire support of Hezbollah, funding to Hamas and now working with al Qaeda points to them seeing Iran as a useful 'tool' for befuddling their enemies and causing corrosion of the Nation State diplomatic system. The Nation State gives them a patina of legitimacy and a world grandstand to bellow out their threats and be heard. In the mean time they internetwork with terrorist organizations, send money and supplies to same, and even train such as Hezbollah not only better than their internal forces, but give them enough to have their own foreign espionage and expansion system in South America and the Far East.
So 'transparency' in application of disarmament starts to sound very much like Cold War concepts of containment and 'open skies', which proved not to be enough when satellites gave constant coverage of Nations. And Saddam pointed to the fact that *any* international inspection regime can be easily thwarted and development of anything proscribed can continue onwards. Iran would not only have to accept the responsibilities of a Nation State, but the responsibilities of holding themselves accountable to agreements and to being 'transparent' in their actions.
I have not seen this from the 1979 Revolution onwards, so perhaps Mr. Kissinger could enlighten myself, at least, to all of the wonderful agreements on weapons, terrorism, and non-proliferation that Iran *has* actually adhered to. And then point to their firm founding in the Nation State system and all that it means to *be* a Nation State.
Until then, the final reminder is that diplomacy only works when the diplomats agree to the fact that what they are addressing *needs* to be addressed to the benefit of both sides. When one side sees benefit in *only* talking so as to stall things, diplomacy tends to move to that pointless realm he warns of. If by midnight of August 22 there is *not* a firm and clear response to the UNSC (+Germany [say, why not Japan and India and Pakistan, too?]) and hard and viable agreements on how to end the Iranian situation, then the answer will be clear. One side is using diplomacy as pre-text to buy time. While the other side dithers...
Posted by: ajacksonian at August 3, 2006 1:16 PM
I agree. It doesn't look likely to work.
Posted by: Chester at August 3, 2006 10:44 PM
August 22 is he date for a religious anniversary, but also, it could be the second date Iran's scientists have set for having a nuclear weapon downsized enough to fit on a rocket. They bought plutonium from another country which is enough for two bombs, they are working to make the electronic/mechanical parts smaller.
Earlier this year they announced March 21 would be an important happening. March came and went, nothing happened. Enrichment needed more time.
With the Six's new deadline the mullahs quickly rejected it. Why? Is it because they are certain they will have workable bombs by August 22 or, again, they need more time?
If Iran gets a nuclear weapon wouldn't using it against Israel, even if it missed the main target, put Iran in the totally unacceptable position of being retaliated against in kind with no weapons to defend itself? Certain total destruction is not a wise plan. When the other muslim countries see how devistating nuclear weapons really are they will hesitate rising up on Iran's behalf.
The mullahs seem to think that murdering millions of people in a split-second is a beautiful thing and will please Al Allah greatly. They are in for a huge surprise when they are ground zero.
Posted by: Jim at August 4, 2006 1:11 PM
Jim, they don't care. What the UNSC plus one is doing is threating to stop feeding a suicide bomber. Think about that for a second. You CANNOT be rational and think that a death threat will deter a suicide bomber! WTF, Over?
The Mad mullahs think they have a win-win going here. If they can use the Western Phobia about death to force our surrender, they win. If we kill them and send them to paradise, they win. So why wouldn't they use their nukes?
I don't think the Chinesew or the Russians will go along with sanctions, because SANCTIONS ARE USELESS. Sanctions will hurt the west more then they will hurt Iran. Threats of sanctions prolly have the Mad Mullahs ROFLMAO. It would be like the police at a bank holdup/hostage situation threatening to shoot themselves if the robbers don't give up.
No, the Mad Mullahs WANT war.
"War is the remedy that our enemies have chosen, and I say let us give them
all they want."
- General William T. Sherman
If the USA had transfered some of the B-1 bombers to the IAF a few years back, instead of putting them in storage it would be Iranian rubble being bounced today, instead of Lebanese rubble. The B-1 is obsolete by American standards, but it's state of the art for the rest of the world.
But we didn't, so now we will have to do it ourself. There will be no 'revolution' in Iran, that is just wishfull thinking by a group that wants to take power in Iran without bleeding for it. Iran will require military action. We either do it now, or wait until they start nuking people and do it then.
Posted by: grumbler at August 5, 2006 12:15 AM
I read a current comment of CHESTER at Belmont club on Spengler's analysis. I read the Spengler pieces, but he is saying that Iran is moving now not because it is rising on demographics but because it is at APPOGEE now. Aging population and unemployed youth will kill the mullocracy if it doesn't act soon to plunder nearby states. Revenue will not keep up with needs. This makes sense, but the demography is getting ready to take them over a waterfall--not lift them up. I don't think you read the same thing in Spengler as I did.
Posted by: JDF at August 5, 2006 12:49 AM
Why do people keep analyzing Iran as if it was a western democracy? It isn't. Iran is an Eastern Theocracy. Spengler is projecting. There is no evidence that the Mad Mullahs give a hairy rats arse about their economy, consumer goods or demographics.
Those are western concerns because they are important to a democracy, or at least to the leaders of a democracy maintaining their power. The Mad Mullahs maintain power thru having plenty of fanatics with automatic weapons availble for 'crowd control'.
Iran is moving now because Allah told them to. I live in the bible belt, so I understand how religous fanatics operate. There are Baptists that are just as fanatical as the mullahs, they just are kept away from political power. And automatic weapons.
Posted by: grumbler at August 5, 2006 11:22 PM