Thursday, March 15, 2007

Security Assurances, Iran and Deterring Nuclear Proliferation

One subject of importance to the field of International Relations is the concept of negative and positive security assurances. The concept of positive assurance has specific relevance to the historical US- Japanese security alliance, which Fukuyama at the American Interest has noted as failing. Both have current relevance to a range of options in dealing with the Iranian government and its nuclear enrichment program.

Positive security assurance is a neat package offered to a given state protecting it in the face of a potential attack. Thus, Japan after WW2 is shielded under the nuclear umbrella of the US from potential attacks by its regional competitors. The purpose and effect of this pact has been to keep Japan from re-militarization. The US nuclear umbrella deters other would be competitors from challenging Japanese power, which not unsurprisingly has had the effect of minimizing Japan’s security concerns. Thus Japan, a major economic power in a potentially volatile region sought not to acquire nuclear weapons.

As for Iran, we must ask ourselves why Iran seeks nuclear weapons. And, are its desires justified? According to simple balance of power logic, Iran seeks nuclear weapons to balance the nuclear capacity of Israel: an entirely justifiable response to the prospect of future war. According to Liberal theory, Iran is outside the globalized network and therefore conflict is a natural consequence. According to civilization conflict theory, Iran is culturally divergent from both Israel and the West and a as result we see potentially dire conflicts emerging. Yet it cannot be ignored that so called “rogue states” recognize the utility of deterring potential regime change by the West through the acquisition of nuclear weapons. For the US will not, or rather has not, in the history of nuclear weapons attacked another nuclear state.

Iran seeks a nuclear capability in order to deter its regional neighbors from leveraging their power against it. It seeks a nuclear deterrent against the power of Israeli nuclear weapons, and against the historical and imminent threat of regime change at the behest of the US government. In short, balance of power logic dictates that Iran seeks nuclear power in order to balance against external nuclear threats. This threat did not emerge ex nihilo, but as a direct response to US intervention in the region.

At the moment, the US appears to be looking towards a resolution to this “crisis.” Yet appearances are commonly discovered to hide more than they reveal. The US has offered blanket assurances to they world through its nuclear posture review that it will not commence a nuclear attack against nations which do not have nuclear capability. Yet, as there are no binding laws within the international system, and bunker busting nukes have obvious utility for destroying underground nuclear sites, that idea is subject to change at any moment. It seems also that our presidential administration is looking for reasons to avoid accommodation through bi-lateral as well as multi-lateral agreements. Thus as the Asia times reported in August 2006:

The history of the international proposal shows that the Bush administration was determined from the beginning that it would fail, so that it could bring to a halt a multilateral diplomacy on Iran's nuclear program that the hardliners in the administration had always found a hindrance to their policy.


Bush's objective was to free his administration of the constraint of multilateral diplomacy. The administration evidently reckoned that once the Iranians had rejected the formal offer, the US would be free to take whatever actions it might choose, including a military strike against Iran. Thus the June 5 proposal, with its implicit contempt for Iran's security interests, reflected the degree to which the US administration has anchored its policy toward Iran in its option to use force.


As Washington now seeks to the clear the way for the next phase of its confrontation with Iran, Bush is framing the issue as one of Iranian defiance of the Security Council, rather than US refusal to deal seriously with a central issue in the negotiations. "There must consequences if people thumb their noses at the United Nations Security Council," Bush said on Monday.


If the EU-3, Russia and China allow Bush to get away with that highly distorted version of what happened, the world will have taken another step closer to general war in the Middle East.

Perhaps if our administration were to realize the parallels between US- Japanese relations and the relative absence of an arms race in east Asia, and compare and contrast precedent to current events in the mid-east it would be able to see the utility of positive security assurances. Our president should direct his administration to confirm the negative security assurances of the nuclear posture review, and affirm positive security assurances to the Iranian government. It should do so in order to realistically address Iran’s security concerns and to prevent Iran from even needing nuclear weapons in the first place. After all, if we are truly interested in mid-east peace, it should be no compromise for the US government to offer Iran assurance that it will be protected in the face of an unprovoked attack by other governments, including our own.


Matt said...


Hopefully you are still checking this blog because I was very interested in this article about Security Assurances to Iran. Out of curiosity, do you have background experience/schooling in international relations?

- Matt

Travis said...

Unfortunately, I lost interest in maintaining my blog several months ago. To answer your question, I have an undergrad in PoliSci. But, most of my knowledge about I.R. Theory comes from reading on my own. Thanks for the interest.