Walt on how not to contain Iran

Harvard professor and Foreign Policy blogger Stephen Walt published an interesting piece last Friday raising objections to the containment argument for Iran. Responding to an article in Foreign Affairs by Ray Takeyh and James M. Lindsay titled “After Iran Gets the Bomb” (a shorter version appeared as an op-ed in the Washington Post), Walt offers seven rebuttals to the containment argument proposed by Takeyh and Lindsay:

1) First, [Takeyh’s and Lindsay’s] depiction of a swaggering Iran armed with nuclear weapons grossly overstates Iran’s actual capabilities. According to the IISS Military Balance, Iran’s military budget in 2008 was around $9.5 billion dollars (less than 2 percent of U.S. defense outlays) and Iran’s actual capabilities reflects this paltry investment.

2) Second, Lindsey and Takeyh misunderstand the sources of U.S. credibility. The United States has been actively engaged in Persian Gulf security for decades, because Persian Gulf oil is a vital U.S. national interest. That vital interest won’t change no matter what happens in Iran, which is why our local allies can count on us to back them up. The reason is simple: it is in our own self-interest.

3) Third, they overstate Iran’s capacity to subvert or blackmail its neighbors. Iran’s capacity to export its version of Islamic fundamentalism has declined steadily since the 1979 revolution (and it wasn’t very great back then), and the regime is a far less attractive model today than it was under the more charismatic Ayatollah Khomeini.

4) Fourth, fears that Iran will give weapons or technology to terrorists are even more far-fetched. One cannot rule out the possibility that Iran might share nuclear technology with a few other governments (much as Pakistan did), but there are good reasons to doubt it. Among other things, it is hard to believe that Iran would want to see more countries get nuclear weapons, especially in its own region.

5) Fifth, Lindsay and Takeyh’s redlines are too vague and elastic. The United States is already committed to opposing conventional aggression in the Gulf region (unless we’re the ones doing it, of course), and U.S. leaders have already made it clear that they will respond to blackmail or nuclear use as well. As Lindsay and Takeyh acknowledge, the United State remains a powerful presence in the Gulf region today and will stay there long after the withdrawal from Iraq is completed. In short, the essential ingredients of containment are already in place.

6) Sixth, a hair-trigger, forward-leaning approach to containment will give Iran an obvious incentive to acquire a deterrent of its own. No matter how much they hedge, Lindsay and Takeyh are announcing to the world that Iran’s acquisition of a small nuclear capability at some point in the future would have significant positive effects on its regional position.

7) Seventh…Lindsay and Takeyh never consider the one approach that might actually have some small chance of heading off an Iranian bomb. That approach would be to take the threat of regime change and preventive war off the table and accept Iran’s enrichment program-on the strict condition that it ratifies and implements all elements of the NPT Additional Protocol. At the same time, the United States would engage in serious and sincere discussions about a range of regional security matters, including a public U.S. guarantee to forego regime change.

Professor Walt offers some interesting rebuttals. This positive exchange between competent scholars who happen to disagree will only serve to promote a prudent foreign policy towards Iran.

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7 Comments

  • Render says:

    “Professor” Walt is not a “competent scholar” by any reasonable definition of the term.
    ALL
    OF THE
    ABOVE,
    R

  • patrick says:

    Why would Iran want nuclear weapons? Mainly for them it would prevent Iraq happening to them i.e. getting invaded by a foreign power. e.g. Iraq as in the eighties, Saudi Arabia, U.S.A.

    The spread of nuclear weapons is extremely dangerous regardless of which state is getting them, because it incrementally makes their spread more likely and their falling into terrorist hands in the future, a very likely nightmare at some point.

    A logical position for the U.N. would be a line in the sand. No nuclear free state gets nuclear weapons on pain of massive retaliation, in the case of Iran this means huge sanctions and an overwhelming bombing/military campaign. But the U.N. is weak and divisive so will never do it. The U.S.A probably wont do it either. It is much easier let the inevitable happen. Israel has a more vested interest in trying to prevent it happening, but I doubt now the U.S.A will have the sense to allow that happen either.

    Hence you get many justifications for doing nothing. The most laughable is often heard in left wing circles: Iran is just as entitled as any other country to nuclear weapons: the equality argument.
    The other is the line taken by Stephen Walt. i.e. that it is not so bad even if Iran gets the bomb. In his item 7 he seems to think even now that Iran can be dissuaded with nice gentlemanly talks. Not a chance in hell in my view.
    The case for preventing Iran getting the bomb is the same as for any other state getting it as in North Korea, Pakistan, etc. There must be a line in the sand. There is no line in the sand: Iran knows it can proceed with enrichment phases and finally assemble its bomb while the West wrings its hands, with the only threat perhaps from Israel. Other middleeast countries would follow suit again because there is no line in the sand. No credible threat if they proceed.
    In the case of Iran there is the added risk that they are known as exporters of terror, and a country run by fruitcakes. Not people to be given nuclear weapons.

  • Mat says:

    Is this guy serious? Ok a couple of refutations:
    “Third, they overstate Iran’s capacity to subvert or blackmail its neighbors…”
    Yeah, and when have the Iranians had a better opportunity to export it? I would have agreed with this in 1988, following the Iran-Iraq War (when they were devastated by eight years of war), but I think it’s certainly up-for-grabs now. Iranian intervention in Iraq has slowed down our efforts there considerably. I’d even argue that that it’s the main reason for our “surge” in 2007. Hardly peanuts.
    “Sixth, a hair-trigger, forward-leaning approach to containment will give Iran an obvious incentive to acquire a deterrent of its own…”
    Uh yeah, we’re not doing anything to them at this point. What has been their response? To accelerate their desire to gain nukes. I’m not sure where this genius is taking his argument here. It’s like Patrick said, getting nukes means that we’ll never be able to deal with Iran. In fact, you can even say that would put one hell of a crimp in our war effort. Terrorists will just have to re-arm and take pot-shots at us, which will just wear down our will even further.
    A nuclear umbrella in Iran would also have profound implications for our war in Afghanistan. Cripes, we refuse to directly confront Pakistan over their role to house terrorists and they’re technically our allies (not sure how this ever came about, but who ever said foreign policy was logical?). Can you imagine what it’ll be like for us to hold Afghanistan’s western border as well? We’re barely able to contain the enemy along the eastern one. And since Pakistan and Iran share a common bordern, al qaeda/Taliban will be able to play Cambodia/Vietnam on us from the east, west and south.
    Ugh.

  • Render says:

    //render64.wordpress.com/2010/03/11/fisking-walt-again/
    Thank you for the clean up Austin.
    KING
    OF
    AMBERVILLE,
    R

  • Oldpilot says:

    Iran’s military budget in 2008 was around $9.5 billion dollars (less than 2 percent of U.S. defense outlays)
    Yes, and what was the 2008 military budget of al-Qaeda? Blue skies! — Dan Ford

  • Sashland says:

    This is a parody, right? Talk about “vague and elastic”.
    Essentially he says Iran can’t and won’t do things because Walt claims they couldn’t or shouldn’t, without any link to reality or evidence.
    He is simply a ‘professer’. ‘It is because I say it’.
    What’s the expression? Weak sauce.

  • John says:

    You should be ashamed for even publishing this Islamists lies. Maybe Petraeus can send some flowers in thanks to all the American soldiers dead from Iranian IEDs. Or maybe you can just blame the Jews and ignore Islamic aggression all over teh world.

Iraq

Islamic state

Syria

Aqap

Al shabaab

Boko Haram

Isis