Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Tehran's Domestic and International Fronts

A briefing by Patrick Clawson
November 4, 2009

Patrick Clawson is an economist, deputy director of the Washington Institute of Near East Policy, and senior editor of the Middle East Quarterly. He graduated with a B.A. from Oberlin College in 1973 and a Ph.D. from the New School of Social Research in 1978. He taught at Seton Hall University in 1979-81 and served as an economist for the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Mr. Clawson addressed the Middle East Forum on November 4, 2009 in Philadelphia.

Mr. Clawson's talk revolved around two key points concerning the present situation in Iran.

First, the Iranian régime's approach to domestic issues is often misconstrued as secondary to its concern for the nuclear issue. In fact, the government is primarily concerned about the domestic opposition, which does not "appear to be going away" and is antagonistic to the Islamic Republic itself, unlike the reformist candidates, who have the same long-term objectives as the present régime. The latter, according to Mr. Clawson, merely wish to end Iran's international isolation created by the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei. The government of Tehran also displays a certain "paranoia" about "cultural infiltration" from the West as well as groups such as the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK)—despite the fact that the MEK has not been active in Iranian politics for twenty-five years.. The second, better known, issue Mr. Clawson discussed revolves around the question of what the outside world is doing vis-à-vis the régime's aim to acquire nuclear weapons. Three European governments—French, German, and UK—have taken a consistently hard-line stance towards Tehran's attempts to acquire nuclear weapons. This is not, in Mr. Clawson's words, due to "love for Israel," but rather a desire to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons in general. As experience from the Cold War shows, deterrence is both costly and laden with risks; hence, the United Nations has adopted resolutions with the aim of ending nuclear proliferation.

What course of action can be taken to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons and thereby becoming the pre-eminent power in the region? Mr. Clawson argued that measures such as sanctions, negotiations, and pre-emptive strikes on nuclear facilities can, at best, only slow Iran's progress to acquire nuclear weapons. A lasting solution requires régime change, just as régime change in the Soviet Union ended the Cold War. As long as Iran remains an Islamic Republic, it will seek to achieve its revolutionary goals, including nuclear weapons.

Considering that Mr. Clawson cannot say when such a change will occur, postponing Iranian plans to acquire nuclear weapons is to be the only viable solution.

Why have the Russian and Chinese authorities taken no action on the nuclear issue? Mr. Clawson replied that the Russians appear confident that Iran will not be able to acquire nuclear weapons; conversely, the Chinese are unconvinced that Iranian acquisition of nuclear weapons is of any concern to them. That said, Mr. Clawson noted that Pakistani relations with Tehran have not been good since A.Q. Khan, the Pakistani scientist who developed nuclear weapons for Pakistan, sold nuclear secrets to Iran.

What are the implications of a pre-emptive strike on Iran's nuclear facilities? Mr. Clawson argued that, were such an event to occur abruptly, there would most likely be outrage in Iran and internationally. But if done over time, giving every chance for the regime to cooperate on the nuclear issue, the international reaction to a pre-emptive strike would most likely be mixed. In such an event, even some of Iran's opposition would agree that the regime itself is the cause of the pre-emptive strike.

Summary written by Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi.

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