Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Reliance on Military Force to Prevent Proliferation Is Risky Business

On April 29, President George W. Bush gave a full explanation for why the administration chose to reveal previously classified intelligence on the Syrian nuclear facility the U.S. claims was built by North Korea and destroyed by Israeli airstrikes on September 6, 2007. According to President Bush, the timing for the release of the information was meant to send a warning to Syria, North Korea and Iran to advance “certain policy objectives.”

President Bush said, “One would be to the North Koreans, to make it abundantly clear that we know more about them than they think. Then we have an interest in sending a message to Iran, and the world, for that matter, about just how destabilizing nuclear proliferation would be in the Middle East.” He said another objective was to send a message to Syria about “their intransigence in dealing with, you know, helping us in Iraq or destabilizing Lebanon or dealing with Hamas.”

President Bush said the information wasn’t released sooner for fear Syria would retaliate against Israel, but was released instead “at a time when, you know, we felt the risk of retaliation or, you know, confrontation in the Middle East was reduced.” Threatening Syria for not helping in Iraq, Lebanon or Gaza, in particular, is a counterproductive strategy for obtaining cooperation.

CIA Director Michael Hayden claimed on April 28 that the Syrian facility could have been used to make nuclear weapons. According to Hayden, “In the course of a year after they got full up they would have produced enough plutonium for one or two weapons.”

Even if the facility could have been used to make nuclear weapons, which Syria denies, Israel’s military strikes on the facility, in violation of international law, was extremely risky and have furthered a very dangerous precedent for the preventive military option set by the U.S. invasion of Iraq under spurious claims Saddam Hussein was developing weapons of mass destruction.

A far better approach to dealing with the Syrian facility would have been for Israel and the U.S. to reveal any intelligence on the facility to the International Atomic Energy Agency. The military strikes eliminated the possibility for the International Atomic Energy Agency to verify intelligence and collect any additional intelligence. Through their military demonstration and acting on their own, Israel and the U.S. have undermined established mechanisms for dealing with nuclear proliferation and the international nonproliferation regime in general.

Furthermore, military threats are unlikely to influence the countries whose behavior the U.S. and Israel seek to change. In the case of Iran, repeated threats of military attacks have failed to produce any change in the Iranian government’s behavior. Instead, threats have contributed to strengthening the hand of the hardliners in Iran and made life more difficult for those inside of Iran working for democracy and reform.

Indeed, reliance on military force to prevent proliferation will likely backfire and result in strengthening the resolve of countries seeking to develop nuclear weapons as a means of defense against military strikes. Threats of military attacks against nuclear facilities will only incentivize developing nuclear programs in secret rather than developing them under international safeguards and the watchful eye of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Rather than using military force or evening threatening the use of military force as a first resort, the U.S. and Israel should abide by international laws and work within international institutions. Both the U.S. and Israel should recommit to diplomacy as a weapon of first choice, rather than the last choice, for preventing proliferation. Finally, both countries should bolster the nonproliferation regime by establishing a Middle East Nuclear Weapons Free Zone as a one practical step on the road to verified global nuclear disarmament.

1 comment:

Valliente said...

Hi there, I caught your comments on Cynthia Black's show and asked you a question there. I have been reading your blog periodically since. Here is another article of interest today that I thought I would post. Keep up the good work.

THE US military is drawing up plans for a "surgical strike" against an insurgent training camp inside Iran if Republican Guards continue with attempts to destabilise Iraq, Western intelligence sources said last week.

One source said the Americans were growing increasingly angry at the involvement of theguards' special operations Quds force inside Iraq, training Shia militias and smuggling weapons into the country.

Despite a belligerent stance by US Vice-President Dick Cheney, the administration has put plans for an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities on the backburner since Robert Gates replaced Donald Rumsfeld as Defence Secretary in 2006, the sources said.

However, US commanders are increasingly concerned by Iranian interference in Iraq and are determined that recent successes by joint Iraqi and US forces in the southern port city of Basra should not be reversed by the Quds force.

"If the situation in Basra goes back to what it was like before, America is likely to blame Iran and carry out a surgical strike on a militant training camp across the border in Khuzestan," said the source, referring to a frontier province.

They acknowledged Iran was unlikely to cease involvement in Iraq and that, however limited a US attack might be, the fighting could escalate.

Although US defence chiefs are firmly opposed to any attack on Iranian nuclear facilities, they believe a raid on one of the camps training Shia militiamen would deliver a powerful message to Tehran.

British officials believe the US military tends to overestimate the effect of the Iranian involvement in Iraq. But they say there is little doubt that the Revolutionary Guard exercises significant influence over splinter groups of radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army, which were the main targets of recent operations in Basra.

The CBS television network reported last week that plans were being drawn up for an attack on Iran, citing an officer who blamed the "increasingly hostile role" Iran was playing in Iraq.

The American news reports were unclear about the precise target of such an action and referred to Iran's nuclear facilities as the likely objective.

According to the intelligence sources, there will not be anattack on Iran's nuclear capacity. "The Pentagon is not keen on that at all. If an attack happens it will be on a training camp, to send a clear message to Iran not to interfere."

US President George W. Bush is known to be determined that he should not hand over what he sees as "the Iran problem" to his successor.

A limited attack on a training camp might give an impression of tough action, while at the same time being something that both Mr Gates and the US commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, could accept.