A Nuclear Iran: Carrot or Stick?

November 21, 2011 --

Iran, Israel, Skye Herrick

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Fahd Bahady is a Syrian cartoonist. This cartoon was published in his blog on 5 January 2010; it is reproduced here for non-profit educational purposes.

On November 8, 2011 the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) released a report stating that Iran has “carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear device.” Although this may not come as a surprise to most people, what is a surprise is that Iran has been able to stockpile enriched uranium (at a level that would not be used in a nuclear weapon), and test nuclear triggers as well.
So what does a nuclear Iran mean for the United States? Throughout history the United States and its allies have used pre-emptive military strikes, sanctions, and diplomatic power to deny Iran’s nuclear aspirations. However, the situation in the Middle East is much different today than it was ten years ago and now some of those options are closed.
In addition to the news about Iran’s nuclear programs, reports have also speculated on Israel’s ability to launch a preemptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. However, Israel is threatened by instability on all sides. Recent reports state the Israeli Defense Forces are contemplating military action in the Gaza Strip. Egypt’s revolution is leading to a porous border, and Syria’s upheaval is causing greater bloodshed and outrage than many thought possible. Were Israel to launch a pre-emptive strike on Iran, Syria would respond aggressively, and countries like Lebanon, Egypt, Iraq and Palestine would mobilize as well. In addition to these issues, Israel faces massive protests at home because of the economy and the rising cost of living. Not only is Israel’s domestic situation difficult, but her greatest allies are facing economic difficulties requiring cutbacks, austerity measure,s and reduction of forces deployed abroad. As if this were not enough, the population of the United States is recovering from an immensely difficult and costly conflict in Iraq that destabilized Iran’s great counterweight in the region. Not only is America tired of conflicts in the Middle East, but increasing fears of Chinese expansionism have caused redeployments of troops to the Far East to bolster our allies and apply soft pressure on China. Basically, the United States is looking to other areas of the world where her influence has waned and Israel is wary to light the match that starts a costly and unproductive war.
So what does this mean for Iran? Surprisingly, Iran’s position is actually quite robust. Supported by her eternal allies of China and Russia, Iran has the political clout and atmosphere that she needs to receive concessions from the West. Although it is unlikely that Western nations will allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons, they are likely to use a carrot where the stick has been failing. Iran could use the current political atmosphere to become a greater regional force in the Middle East and have more say in the affairs the Persian Gulf states. With the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, Iran will likely feel safer and more insulated from American intervention. This newfound security is a great bargaining chip for the United States, as is increased trade and cooperation on regional issues. By no means is the nuclear situation of Iran an easy issue to solve, however. Perhaps if the United States is able to use a carrot rather than a stick, the world and the Middle East will become a safer, more peaceful place.

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