Ancient and modern history is replete with examples where peaceful diplomacy failed to end conflicts between nations. On many occasions, affected nations have thrown away what is called “hypocritical humility” and opted for deterrence theory.
My definition of deterrence theory is limited, for this column, to the belief that it is better to prevent than to engage in war.
Recent weeks have given us dramatic insight into the state of world politics. As I watch some of the developing news items, the scary word – doomsday – comes to mind.
In 1947, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists introduced the symbolic Doomsday Clock to the world. “It represents the likelihood of a man-made global disaster and is a metaphor for threats to humanity from unchecked scientific and technical advances.”
On 24 January this year, the scientists kept the Clock at two minutes to midnight – the closest it has come to apocalypse. It reminds me of the movie 2012 which used biblical, mythological and historical references to depict “the destruction of everything and the killing of everyone…well, almost everyone.”
When setting the time on the Doomsday Clock in January, scientists highlighted threats emanating from nuclear weapons, climate change and the increased use of information warfare to undermine democracy around the world.
“It’s a state as worrisome as the most dangerous times of the Cold War, a state that features an unpredictable and shifting landscape of simmering disputes that multiply the chances for major military conflict to erupt.”
In his book, The Post-American World and the Rise of the Rest, Fareed Zakaria decries the “the competition to be the tough guy (which) has produced new policy ideas – ones that range from bad to insane.”
Recent television visuals have taken us on a journey into brinkmanship and recklessness. Not surprisingly, The Economist introduced one of its stories using the words, “the drums of war are beating again.”
It was referring to the movement of US military equipment to the Persian Gulf in response to speculation about Iranian military designs in the area.
But the picture is much bigger! The Associated Press correctly notes that “President Trump’s foreign policy challenges are mounting around the world. New North Korean missile tests. A trade standoff with China. Fresh nuclear tensions with Iran.” On to this list, I may add the Venezuelan crisis where the US and other countries recognize an opposition leader as interim president.
Effective deterrence revolves around three pillars: communication, capability and credibility. One military observer says “deterrence can only be effective if the threat on which it is based is technically capable of execution.”
Iran presents an interesting study for me. In 2015, the Obama administration negotiated the Iranian nuclear deal with five other world powers. Last year, Trump pulled America out of the deal. Trump has since gone further to blacklist the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization.
France and other witnesses to the 2015 deal hope to keep the deal alive. On the other hand, Iran’s president Hassan Rouhani has threatened to resume the high-level enrichment of uranium if the world reneges on the deal.
However, the possibility of disaster remains alive when we recall that the US decreed that no country will buy oil from Iran from the beginning of May. China, India and Turkey, who already have tricky relations with the US, will be affected by the new sanctions.
The US has also announced measures to cripple Iran’s steel, aluminium, copper and iron industries. An analyst observes that “US sanctions have targeted Iran’s government, its paramilitary forces and the oil exports that fund them. The new sanctions seem to be moving ever closer to directly affecting the country’s 80 million people.”
Some observers have suggested that Iran could take military action to block the Strait of Hormuz. The Strait gives Iran the leverage to contain aggressive or military action since “35 percent of petroleum traded by sea passes through the Strait of Hormuz. Hostilities in and around the Strait could be accompanied by major oil supply shocks.”
Interestingly, The Gulf News contends that, “Iran is not likely to take any action, not now and not even later, unless it cannot sell oil anymore, cannot transfer foreign currency into the country, and cannot import essential goods.”
As I close this essay, I note that David Cohen, a treasury official who worked under Obama, is on record as saying that “sanctions don’t produce regime change. There are no historical precedents for governments falling as a direct result of long-term sanctions processes.”
Israel’s former ambassador to the United Nations, Dore Gold, writes in The Rise of Nuclear Iran about “the dynamic of western officials misreading Iran and Iranian officials…it is the heart of Tehran’s success in repeatedly defying the United States and its allies.”
Time magazine weighs in by noting that, “Iranian aides and lawmakers are convinced that the current tensions wouldn’t lead to war, calling US deployment…a propaganda stunt.”
There are clearly mounting challenges. Who wins? In my book, it is Marc Lynch who noted in February 2009 that, “it has always been ludicrous to believe that effective foreign policy could be made without understanding and anticipating the responses of the other parties. That starts with listening.”
2019-05-17 10:10:38 4 months ago