October 16, 2006 (the date of publication in Russian)

Alexander Rudakov


Tehran's best bet might be halting its weapons program in exchange for security guarantees from SCO

Recently, Israeli media published an interview with US military analyst. Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Thomas McInerney, who presented a detailed plan of a war with Iran. As the Israeli website reports, the General has calculated 1500 targets in Iran which could be destroyed in a matter of 24-36 hours. It is crucial to note, however, that General McInerney promised to supplement air raids with "a secret land operation aimed at deposing the Ayatollahs". Therefore, not just an air attack but also a ground-based operation against the Iranian government is suggested.

Unfortunately, Russia's public is not very much concerned with our country's preferable position on the "Iran issue". Even the heightening of tension preceding the American attack on Iraq in late 2002 aroused far more response from politicians, journalists and ordinary citizens. This is all the more surprising, since Iran is closer to Russia geographically, being also much closer in terms of geopolitical approach. The USSR-Iranian border extended from Armenia and Azerbaijan to Turkmenistan. Today, Iran is one of the most important elements of the system of checks and balances in Transcaucasia and Central Asia.

This alone is sufficient to elevate the Iranian problem to a level of a broad public discussion, its ultimate result representing a clear and concise view on several key issues. Obviously, the most important of these is Russia's attitude towards Iran's supposed effort to become a nuclear power and the United States' far more realistic preparations for punitive action (followed by occupation of the country). Obviously, these very issues are of major importance today. Other matters, such as the future of the Bushehr Atomic Power Plant, reprocessing of nuclear waste, or approval of sanctions, introduced against Iran, should be derived from this general view.

True, the advent of a new nuclear power close to the Russian and CIS borders isn't encouraging. However, the Russians haven't been much troubled by Pakistan's nuclear arsenal, though it is in this particular country that Osama bin Laden and terrorist groups, still operating under the name of Taliban, are based.

Meanwhile, Tehran, with its stable political system – not to be confused with a dictatorial regime – and predictable geopolitical strategy, can be a far more reliable member of the “nuclear club” than Islamabad. In other words, it poses far less a threat.

Frankly speaking, the threat posed by a hypothetical Iranian nuclear weapons program is at least overstated. Of course, on expressing this opinion we will immediately be countered by the argument that an Iranian nuclear bomb is in any way an "evil" from the standpoint of geopolitics. But is this "evil" worse for Russian interests than an American occupation of Iran?

To have a clear view of the situation, we should distinguish the real threats from the hypothetical ones. Iran's nuclear potential is a problem of future, while the threat of an American invasion already exists today.

What will follow? The example of Iraq is before our eyes. The consequences of a US attack on Iran will probably be similar like those in Iraq today, but actually they will be far worse. For Russia the whole Caspian basin turned into a region of bloodshed and violence is hardly a pleasant perspective. Add the US scenario of "reuniting" today's Republic of Azerbaijan with Azeri-populated territories in Iran. Once implemented, this effort would eventually cause a burst of civil unrest in Dagestan (with its local groups of Azeri population) and Chechnya. Also consider inevitable radioactive contamination of a part of Russia's territory, in case of a low-yield nuclear missiles strike against Iran (the prospect of using such weaponry has been one of the most talked-about options in US military circles recently).

Approaching the Iranian issue seriously, we have to admit that it has two fair solutions. The first is to establish a nuclear-free zone in South-West Asia, under the condition of a voluntary renunciation of a nuclear power status by India, Israel and Pakistan. This is, unfortunately, an unrealistic option, since there are no volunteers of nuclear disarmament across the globe after US attacks on Yugoslavia and Iraq.

The other option is transformation of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) into a full-scale military alliance, capable of providing guarantees of security from foreign invasion to Iran in exchange for renunciation of its plans to create a nuclear bomb of its own. This idea isn't as odd or unrealistic as it seems at the first glance, but it does require an exercise of political willpower from Russia and China, and, of course, Tehran's willingness to comply. Regarding the high probability of an American invasion, Iran might accept such a proposal. It's even possible that such an outcome would please Israel, which fears a nuclear arms contest with Iran.

The problem lies in the fact that a compromise is just what the US wants least of all, since a war is the only way to sustain its overblown economy. In a situation where the dollar's role as an exceptional reserve currency depends on international instability, the US has become interested in a particular form of war, the purpose of which isn't to win a battle and to achieve certain goals (i.e. to capture strategically important territories, to gain control over oil-rich areas or to overthrow an ideologically hostile regime).

The purpose is "warfare for the sake of warfare", in which the process, not the final result, is of chief importance.

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