"Defense is more important than opulence."
French, German, and British diplomats have come to a dead-end with Iran. The three nations, as representatives of the European Union (sometimes called the EU-3), have been negotiating with Iran for two and a half years in order to get them to stop enriching uranium. Though the the Iranians did agree to a temporary pause in uranium enrichment (and it was temporary, lasting from October 2003 to July 2004), they have always mantained that they have a right to enrich uranium. They perceive Western attempts to halt their nuclear program to be interference into internal Iranian affairs.
Iran claims no aspirations to joining the nuclear club. Its nuclear program is entirely peaceful, they claim. Its sole purpose is for the production of nuclear power. And if you believe that, I have some oceanfront property for sale in Arizona.
Iran's nuclear ambitions are not peaceful. For one, Iran concealed two of its nuclear reactors from the world. These two facilities--Natanz and Arak--were state secrets until Iranian defectors revealed them to the world in August 2002. I'm not sure why a harmless nuclear power plant might be a state secret in Iran, but that sounds a little fishy to me.
Iran keeps shooting its mouth off too. In a 2004 Iranian military parade, the government showcased a range of ballistic missles draped with slogans such as "Crush America" and "Wipe Israel off the map". Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told the The World Without Zionism Conference that "The establishment of the Zionist regime was a move by the world oppressor against the Islamic world." He continued, saying "As the Imam said, Israel must be wiped off the map.
" (Emphasis added). Ahmadinejad's use of "the Imam" is a reference to the Ayatollah Khomeini, Iran's revolutionary leader who seized power in 1979. He also commented that "...the annihilation of the Zionist regime will come." In response to a question about the September 2005 Gaza pull-out, he responded, "We should not settle for a piece of land."
In another context, President Ahmadinejad threatened to wipe Israel off the map only if Israel attempted to strike at Iranian nuclear projects.
I have little faith in promises from Tehran. I doubt that their nuclear ambitions are strictly peaceful, for a number of reasons. But if they are only trying to make a nuclear power plant, then they need to cooperate fully with inspectors. To date, cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA) has been spotty. Though Mohamed ElBaredei, head of the IAEA, claimed in 2003 that there is no evidence that Iran is making a bomb, he later admonished Iran for not being cooperative with inspections. By June 2004, he was calling Iranian efforts "less than satisfactory" and demanding "accelerated and pro-active cooperation" from Tehran. In November 2005, ElBaradei criticized Iran, saying that it was blocking access to key military sites. "Iran's full transparency is indispensable and overdue," he wrote in a report.
The position of the EU and the United States is that Iran should not be enriching uranium for any purpose. This is not because they have a problem with nuclear power, but because they don't believe that Iran has peaceful intentions. I agree.
Just recently, the EU-3 gave up. Two and a half years of diplomatic initiatives, and they never achieved the central goal of permanently halting Iranian uranium enrichment. From here, the plan is to refer the situation to the almighty UN Security Council, an organization that has an amazing track record for solving international disputes. Just kidding.
It isn't likely that the UN Security Council has any magical answers either. One reason why the involvement of the Security Council could be disasterous for the situation, is that Iran has vowed to stop its (less than satisfactory) cooperation with the IAEA if it confronted with the Security Council.
So what options does that leave? The EU-3 already tried the tactic of just asking nicely. It didn't work, and that's why we're in the predicament we're in now. What about sanctions? Don't bet on it. Russia and China have already said no, and French foreign ministry spokesman has said "We, like our partners, like the British and the Germans, consider that this co-request for sanctions is premature for the moment." (actually, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw contradicted the French on this point, saying that the option of sanctions was being considered). Of course the French think that talk of sanctions is "premature". They already lost their lucrative oil contracts with Saddam Hussein's Ba'athist regime. They can't afford to embargo Iranian oil. It only takes one veto to crush a particular proposal and this one already has three (France, China, and Russia) lined up to vote 'no'. So the question of whether sanctions would work or not is moot, because the option is not even being considered. There will be no sanctions.
So what's left--war? Not likely, and the only nation that has explicitally threatened so is Israel. "Israel will not be able to accept an Iranian nuclear capability and it must have the capability to defend itself, with all that that implies, and this we are preparing," said Israeli defense minister Shaul Mofaz. He also stressed that a peaceful solution is best, and that any military approach would have to be part of an international effort. If he's thinking that the UN Security Council is going to authorize such a thing, he has another thing coming. As they already showed us during the pre-Iraq War diplomtic theater, nothing will make the United Nations get off its rear-end and do its job. Meaningless resolutions are about all it can do. Considering the fact that the UN is stacked with nations who sympathize more with Iran than with Israel, the possibility of a UN sanctioned-strike on Iranian reactors is remote at best.
As British Foreign Minister Jack Straw commented, "This can only be resolved by peaceful means. Nobody is talking about invading Iran or taking military action."
Just like the EU-3, the UN Security Council, and the US Department of State, I don't know of any simple solution to this problem. Iran seems intent on refining uranium, and likely making a nuclear weapon, and there isn't a lot we can do about it.
While there are no simple solutions, there is a more complex, long-term, and difficult one--we resurect an old concept called "collective security". Oh sure, we still pay lip-service to the idea, but collective security in the West has been breaking down since who knows when. It's hard to put an exact date on it, and maybe it never did quite work the way it was supposed to.
Collective security is based on the idea that allies should stick together, strengthen their own militaries, and face the enemy with a united front. In Europe during the Cold War, this took the form of NATO. Though NATO was originally formed to counter the Soviet threat, we need NATO now more than ever.
Unfortunately, NATO is not popular in Europe today. In the eyes of the European Left, it represents American hegemony. Many Europeans are calling for an end to Altanticism--the relationship that has bound the US, Canada, and Western Europe since the end of Nazi Germany. According to these people, it's time for Europeans to choose their own path, to do things their way.
Ironically, it was "their way" that failed so miserably in Iran. Negotiations between Iran and the EU-3 commenced at about the same time that America and her allies were invading Iraq-- a move France, Germany, and the EU all opposed. The two neighboring countries--Iran and Iraq--would become a labrotory for testing the different approaches of the United States and the European Union.
While some say that the United States "rushed to war", and eschwed any effort at diplomacy, this is fundamentally not true. Only after seventeen resolutions at the UN, twelve years of noncompliance, pleading our case at the UN for a year, and a UN resolution calling for complete cooperation with weapons inspectors or "dire consequences" did the United States invade Iraq. Nonetheless, the option was on the table, and eventually we had to do what we had to do. Our solution to the Iraqi problem was diplomacy followed by military action if necessary.
But the Europeans, in their infinite wisdom, knew that war was the wrong course. Convinced that a few of Europe's savviest diplomats could get the job done without the spilling of blood, the EU-3 sat down to talks with Iranian leaders. They were going to accomplish their mission the European way, without the disaster of war. According to them, Europe has real leaders who know a little something about statesmanship and diplomacy. The United States only seems to know one solution to its problems--bombing people. So their solution to the Iranian problem was diplomacy, followed by more diplomacy, followed by still more diplomacy.
The Iraq War wasn't as quick and clean as it had been expected to be, and no weapons of mass destruction have been turned up yet. Self-satisfied Europe snickered at the stupid Americans. "Look what happens when you elect a crazy cowboy like George Bush?" they said. It seemed that their way of doing things was a heck of a lot better than ours.
I would snicker now myself--we certainly deserve to--at the recent capitulation of European diplomats. Diplomacy hasn't been working, and now even the EU-3 has had to admit that. But I had hoped I was wrong, and whatever satisfaction I get from watching snotty European nations fail is outweighed by the fact that Iran is increasingly resembling a no-win situation for the whole planet. So no, I don't revel in the failure of European diplomats in Tehran.
From the beginning, it seemed clear to me that the Europeans were approaching the problem from the wrong angle. I saw it as a question of how to disarm Iran. They saw it as a question of how to avoid a war at all costs. If I had been in charge, I would have told the Iranians quite simply: "You can do this the easy way, or you can do this hard way. But you're going to disarm one way or another."
Is that just my American tendency to solve all problems through violence? Not at all. I want a peaceful solution as much as the next guy. But allowing Iran to develop a nuclear weapon is not an option. In fact, I believe that this approach is probably the only peaceful solution. Iran didn't respond to European nicities, as I suspected they wouldn't. Only the threat of force would get the idea through their heads that their current trajectory is unacceptable. So no, I'm not saying that we shouldn't try diplomacy. I'm saying that we should negotiate from a position of power. Unfortunately, when the EU-3 were negotiating with Tehran, the Iranians held all the high cards. As Fredrick the Great once said, "Diplomacy without force is like music without instruments."
This is probably a point of confusion for liberals. I'm saying that we should have gradually come to the "hard line" with Iran. In a society that only seems to understand violence, this would have been the only way to get Tehran to fold. If Iran had given in at the mere threat of force, this would have been the peaceful solution that so eluded European diplomats.
If it hadn't worked, then we would have had to have gone to war, a horrible and not very realistic possibilty. More on that later. But we can't bluff either; if we threathen to do something, we have to do it. So we may never know if my peaceful solution would have worked, or if we would have been forced into war. But we do know that the European solution did not work.
In my view, a nuclear Iran is out of the question. In the European view, war is out of the question. Iran knew this of course, and prescisely because of it, they felt no compulsuion to agree to any European proposals.
Europe would never admit to this. They told us that they were just as adamant as anyone else to reign in Iran. They just believed that threatening--the so-called "hard line"--was the wrong way to do it. And if the diplomatic way fails? "It won't fail," said Europe. Yes, but what if it does? What's plan B? "There is no plan B. Iran will come around to our way of seeing things." And what if they don't? What then?
Europe had no plan B. They put all their eggs in the diplomacy basket, and diplomacy seems to have failed.
I expressed my frustration to a liberal colleague of mine just last month before the EU-3 officially called it quits. "So how are things going with those negotiations in Iran?" I asked. "Are you worried about it? I'm not worried about it," I said sarcastically. "A crack-squad of European diplomats is all over it." It's times like these when you wish Europe had a few more crazy cowboys in power. My liberal collegue just groaned.
The juxtaposition of Iraq and Iran--the American way of doing things and the European way of doing things--was supposed to demonstrate European superiority. Europe was so sure that it had the smarter way, the saner way of solving geopolitical problems. Now I want to ask Europe one question. Now that your diplomats have conceded defeat, do you still think your approach was saner?
Sadly, most Europeans would probably answer yes. As I mentioned before, the EU-3 were never adamant about solving the Iranian problem. They always considered resigning themselves to a nuclear Iran to be an option, even if they would never admit it. Well I disagree. The European approach was not saner or smarter for the simple reason that there is nothing sane or smart about accepting a nuclear Iran. That is the real insanity.
Of course, I have to take reality into consideration as well. The hard truth is that neither side of the Atlantic alliance is as strong as it used to be, or as strong as it should be . If the EU-3 had taken the "hard line" with Iran, who would have provided the troops to back up the threat?
No one is in a position to stage a war on Iran at the present time. The US and Great Britain have their hands full in Afghanistan and Iraq at the moment. Who else does that leave? The mighty Belgian army? Does anyone really believe that the combined forces of the EU could simply walk in and make fools of the Iranians? Not likely, and the European public would never support it.
So while I realize that we are not strong enough right now for a showdown with Iran, I am not willing to accept that as a permanent condition. If we are truly too weak right now to even consider military actions against Iran, then we need to do something to remedy the situation. This is unacceptable.
This brings us back to collective security. Both the US and Europe need to make serious, difficult, and longterm investments in their armed forces. We need to stick together and we need to let the Third World dictators know that we will not allow a wedge to be driven between us.
Beefing up our militaries is not a popular position on either side of the Atlantic. The problem with restoring our militaries to their proper strength faces two obstacles--money and manpower.
Money is less of a problem in the United States. We do spend quite a bit of money on defense (about $330 billion), much to the chagrin of the Left. Yes, some of it is wasted in the form of pork barrel legislation, and I can understand some outrage over that. But anyone who thinks that the military is overfunded should go take a look at our military housing, our military hospitals, and the paycheck of a young E-2. It's hardly lavish.
But serious defense spending, a prerequisite for collective security, is lacking in Europe. Jed Babbin writes in Inside the Asylum:
Ironically, most Europeans wear their small defense budgets as badges of honor. They have other priorites, such as "human needs" (i.e. handouts). For these nations, NATO has failed to achieve its goal of collective security. Rather than an alliance of nations, large and small, that contribute proportionately to their collective defense, we see a number of nations who use NATO as an excuse not to spend anything on the military. After all, why spend money on defense when you've got NATO? And because NATO resources are overwhelmingly US resources, what they're really saying is, "Why invest in our own defense? That's what America is for!" Meanwhile, they take every opportunity they can to denounce the militarist American hyperpower.
Since the fall of the Soviet Empire, almost all of the European nations have failed to devote any significant part of their national budgets to building and maintaining their armed forces. The United States usually devotes about 3 to 3.5 percent of our GDP to defense spending. In Europe, only Britain and France spend a like percentage. The rest--like Germany, which spends about 1 percent of its GDP on defense, and Italy, which spends about 0.9 percent--simply refuse to invest in defense at an adult level.
In short, the [EU has] disarmed to the point that they couldn't defend themselves. Despite everything they do to thwart American policy, they still expect that we will defend them.
The end result is that NATO consists of a single superpower (the United States) with various miltary allies that are all but useless. After all, in order to be a military ally, it usually helps to actually have a military. Meanwhile, the United States is running all over the world, trying to put out fires in Haiti, Iraq, Bosnia, Kosovo, and Korea. We're cleaning up New Orleans and distributing aid to tsunami victims in Indonesia. Everywhere we intervene, we are accused of war-mongering and doing so for selfish motives. Everywhere we don't intervene, we are accused of being isolationists and doing so for selfish motives.
But a small defense budget is not the mark of the superior society. When nations fail to properly fund the militaries, you get what we have in Iran --a cocksure dictator who laughs at soft diplomacy and has absolutely no fear of military consequences; and if the West doesn't like, they can all go take a hike. Having no military assets gives a nation fewer options when dealing with Third World dictatorships, and leaves its diplomats without any real bite to back up their bark. Not surprisingly, they are not taken seriously and fail to persuade other nations to change their courses.
The other obstacle to a formidable collective seurity arrangement is manpower. Here, both the US and Europe are falling down. On both continents, fewer and fewer young people are volunteering for the armed forces. Our American forces are spread thin--holding down the 38th Parallel in Korea, looking for Al-Qaeda members in Afghanistan, and sweeping for roadside bombs in Najaf. We're utilizing our Reserve and National Guard forces like never before, and fresh troops are hard to come by.
It's going to take a real change of attitude to fix this problem. The American and European Nintendo generation needs to change its attitude about the military. It might require college kids in the US and Europe to take their nose rings out and pick up rifles, but that's okay. As Adam Smith said, "[D]efense is more important than opulence."
I'm not suggesting a draft. I'm suggesting a national change of heart. Selfless-service, sacrifice, and the welfare of the mankind need to be restored as Western values. Failing this, I forsee a number of Iranian style "no win" situtions in the near future. Once the dictators know that we're helpless to stop them, that our young people won't put on a uniform for any reason, we will see more of them getting uppity. And when they do, the inmates will be running the asylum.
Europe is doing nothing to build its armed forces. Germany, for example, recently reduced its minimum service requirement from ten months to nine. To put that in perspective, the service requirement during the Cold War was two years, almost three times as long. At the same time, more and more young people are opting for the civil service alternative to serving a measely nine months in the Bundeswehr. What good are military allies who don't have militaries?
In the aftermath of the Cold War, a euphoria swept the western world. We foolishly believed that the planet was entering a new era of peace in which defense spending would be obsolete. We were wrong, and we should remand ourselves for being so silly. There will always be threats to world peace, and our best defense against them is to be prepared. When you aren't prepared, and when you foolishly believe that all problems can be solved simply and easily between diplomats, problems creep up.
The Soviet Union perished fifteen years ago, but plenty of other thugs rose to power just in time to fill the gap the Soviets left behind. Iran and North Korea spring to mind. China looks like a potential threat on the horizon. Either Europe and America will unite together against these threats, or we can learn to live with the biggest bullies running the world.