Iran Takes a Page from Saddam's UN Sanctions Playbook


Tihar Jail
Oct 2, 2009
This Week at War: What Iran Learned from Saddam

What the four-stars are reading -- a weekly column from Small Wars Journal.

BY ROBERT HAD**** | JUNE 18, 2010

Iran applies the Saddam method at the U.N.

On June 9 the U.N. Security Council approved Resolution 1929 which imposes further sanctions on Iran for its lack of cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). U.S. officials hope that the resolution, combined with follow-on sanctions imposed by the European Union and others, will encourage Iran to fully cooperate with the inspections or return to negotiations. Failing that, the White House hopes that the new sanctions -- which target Iran's nuclear program, its ballistic missile effort, and its conventional military forces -- will disrupt and delay the country's nuclear and conventional military potential.

In remarks he made the same day, President Barack Obama agreed with the vast majority of analysts who hold out little hope that Iran's leadership will reverse course any time soon. That leaves the hope that sanctions will materially degrade Iran's nuclear and military programs. They might, but how will the international community know how much? From 1991 to 2003, Saddam Hussein's Iraq tormented U.S. policymakers with inspection-dodging and intelligence uncertainty. It looks like a new generation of U.S. officials is about to experience similar taunting from Iran.

Iranian leaders have no doubt closely studied how Iraq resisted the Security Council's attempts to rein in its military potential after the 1991 war. In the early years of the Clinton administration, Iraq was in technical compliance with the post-war inspection requirements, but this cooperation was grudging, increasingly belligerent, and was eventually terminated. Iran's cooperation with the IAEA is already incomplete and in the wake of Resolution 1929, Tehran has threatened to reduce it further. Through a combination of humanitarian appeals, back-channel deal-making, and bribery, Iraq was able to wear down and divide the international consensus that existed after the 1991 war. Iran has similarly found friends in Turkey and Brazil and is likely to find more in the developing world (some of whom might have their own nuclear ambitions) in the period ahead.

The goal of a sanctions strategy is to avoid either a regional arms race or the necessity of a military response. We will know that sanctions have worked if the Iranian government returns to negotiations, settles the nuclear issue, and opens itself fully to IAEA inspections, but very few observers expect such an outcome. What will remain are the sanctions, which in turn will lead to Iranian resistance, inspections-dodging, an intelligence black hole, and ominous strategic uncertainty. In the case of Iraq, these factors led to war in 2003. Needless to say, this is not an experience U.S. policymakers will be anxious to repeat. Iran's leaders are aware of this understandable hesitancy and thus have little reason to fear suffering Saddam's fate.

What is ironic in retrospect is how effective sanctions against Iraq (combined with the four-day Desert Fox air campaign in December 1998) turned out to be at weakening the country's once-formidable military power. But no Western intelligence agency knew the full extent of this effectiveness until after 2003. When pondering the mystery of Iran's future nuclear capabilities, other countries in the region are unlikely to get much comfort from this precedent. From their perspective, prudence in the face of uncertainty will require additional defensive and retaliatory capabilities. Thus, sanctions are not likely to prevent an arms race in the region, an outcome the Obama administration hopes to avoid.

Now that Resolution 1929 is in place, what subsequent moves do Obama administration officials contemplate? Hopefully they've been studying Iraq's experience as well.A recent report from the Rand Corp. examined what steps the U.S. government should take to deter attacks on militarily critical space assets. U.S. military forces are highly dependent on space-based platforms for communications, navigation, weather forecasts, and reconnaissance imagery. This dependence could create a tempting target for adversaries.

According to the report, adversaries will carefully weigh the costs of attacking certain U.S. space systems against the benefits of doing so. For example, there would be a relatively low cost to an adversary who attempted to merely jam signals from communication or navigation satellites as compared to physically attacking those same systems. There are also relatively low political costs and high military payoffs to attacks on U.S. reconnaissance and ocean surveillance satellite systems that lack redundancy and have purely military applications. By contrast, attacks on navigation, communication, and weather systems -- used by non-combatants around the world -- would be politically costly. And the benefits of attacks on these systems would be limited due to their redundancy.

The Rand report recommends that U.S. policymakers take steps to increase the political costs and reduce the military benefits of extending war into space. The report recommends that the United States consider declaring a "no first attack" policy regarding space assets. Such a policy would not be risk-free since it would force U.S. commanders to accept satellite observation of their own deployed forces and an adversary's use of satellite navigation and communication systems. Although it would be tempting for a commander to shut down these enemy capabilities, the United States could emerge the loser after space warfare escalates. A "no first attack" policy would place the political cost of escalation into space onto U.S. adversaries.

The report also recommends that the United States consider sharing ownership of some of its military satellite programs with other allied countries. In a conflict, an adversary may be dissuaded from attacking such satellites out of fear of creating enemies from partner non-combatants. Finally, Rand recommends that the United States explore ways of creating passive and active defenses for its satellites, making its most vulnerable systems more redundant, and using terrestrially-based systems such as unmanned aerial vehicles to diversify away from reliance on space systems.

Mentioned, but left undeveloped in the report, is the role of retaliation in enforcing space deterrence. If a shooting war in space begins, what targets should the United States plan on hitting in response? Should retaliation be limited to just space or are terrestrial targets fair game also? Should the United States retaliate with cyber attacks, other electronic attacks, or physical destruction? And what risks do these strategies open up? The Rand report punts this analysis to another study.

How much the U.S. government has thought through the issue of space warfare deterrence remains shrouded in secrecy. But a main principle of deterrence is being very open and clear with potential adversaries about your retaliatory intentions. For its own good, the U.S. government should develop and declare its space warfare strategy.


Tihar Jail
Oct 2, 2009
Iran's new revolutionary politics

By Chris Zambelis

Brazil's decision, along with fellow non-permanent United Nations Security Council member Turkey, to vote against the latest United States-led efforts to impose harsher sanctions against Iran on June 9 aimed at stymieing the Islamic Republic's nuclear program, reflects a sea-change in global geopolitics characterized by a decline in US power and the return of multi-polarity.

Brazil's refusal to support UN Security Council Resolution 1929 came on the heels of a successful joint Brazilian-Turkish attempt to win Iranian agreement on May 17 to enter into a uranium exchange pact designed to allay concerns about Tehran's nuclear ambitions and to avert a more serious escalation of regional tensions.

Brazil's bold drive to inject itself into the center of one of the most contentious issues in international affairs, coupled with its move

to join Turkey in overtly challenging the dominant US-led diplomatic paradigm when it comes to dealing with Iran, are emblematic of Brasilia's aspirations of achieving a great-power status commensurate with what it perceives to be its true diplomatic, economic and military strength.

Brazil's venture into Middle East diplomacy should therefore be considered in the context of its steady ascent to international prominence. Brazil's diplomatic defense of Iran, however, also highlights the significance of Tehran's bond with the South American powerhouse.

While many observers continue to marvel at Brazil's emerging stature as a player in Middle East diplomacy, another significant, albeit far less understood, geopolitical trend with major implications occurring in the US's backyard in the Western hemisphere has grabbed headlines in recent years.

Iran has undertaken its own ambitious mission in recent years to expand its influence across Latin America and the Caribbean, a region where it has traditionally maintained little or no meaningful diplomatic, economic or military presence until fairly recently. The expanding Iranian-Brazilian interface, as well as Iran's growing multifaceted contacts with Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Cuba, Guyana, among a host of other nations in the Americas, reflect Iran's commitment to assert itself as a player in its own right in the Americas.

Reports of Tehran's ties to Islamist militants allegedly operating in the region and their sympathizers within the region's Middle East diaspora and local Muslim communities continue to dominate the treatment of Iran's inroads into the Americas in media and foreign policy circles.

Not surprisingly, many followers of Middle East and Latin American and Caribbean affairs continue to view Iran's foray into the Americas through a security prism. Iran's track record of exporting its revolutionary Islamism throughout the greater Middle East in the 1980s and 1990s, argue many observers, including its support for Islamist militants opposed to the US-led status quo in the region, and Iran's support in Lebanon of Hezbollah, which is implicated in attacks against Israeli and Jewish targets in Argentina in the 1990s, should to serve as the template on which to assess Tehran's intentions in the Americas.

The fact that Iran has reached out to vocal opponents of the United States in the region, namely Venezuela, Cuba, among others, along with traditionally close allies of Washington, has also raised alarm bells. Based on this view, Iran's expanding presence in the Americas constitutes a direct threat to US and regional security, a recurring theme in official US policy circles.

United States Defense Secretary Robert Gates voiced concern over what he described as Iran's "subversive activity" in the region during testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on January 27, 2009. Prior to embarking on her February 28 to March 5, 2010, tour of regional capitals, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton opined before the Senate Appropriations Foreign Operations Sub-committee that Iran would be "at the top" of her agenda during her trip.

An April 2010 report by the US Department of Defense also stated that members of the Quds Force (Jerusalem), an elite special operations unit within Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), are also present in the Americas, especially in Venezuela.

The argument that Iran's growing presence in the Americas constitutes a security threat, however, fails to acknowledge the pragmatism guiding Iran's activities in the region, not to mention the open arms in which Tehran is being received.

The flurry of high-level bilateral meetings between Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad and his counterparts in places such as Venezuela, Brazil, Cuba, Nicaragua, Ecuador and Bolivia in recent years, with reciprocal visits by regional leaders to Tehran that culminated in a range of political, economic, energy, cultural, military and scientific agreements, are a case in point.

In addition, diplomatic exchanges and growing business contacts between Iran and partners in Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay, Peru and Mexico, coupled with the opening of new Iranian embassies, also illustrate the rapid development of the Islamic Republic's relations with the region.

Data issued by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in 2009 and analyzed by the Latin Business Chronicle concluded that the volume of trade between Iran and the wider region topped an estimated US$2.9 billion, approximately triple the trade volume between 2007 and 2008; Brazilian trade with Iran came in at $1.3 billion during the same period, a dramatic 88% increase from 2007.

Brazil is Iran's largest source of exports from Latin America. The Iranian Red Crescent Society also dispatched tons of disaster relief aid and a team of doctors following the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti on January 12 this year. Iran has also promised hundreds of millions in economic aid and low-interest loans to Nicaragua, Bolivia and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

Forward defense diplomacy
Myriad factors drive Iran's strategy in the Americas. As a country that continues to be subject to a sustained US-led campaign to isolate it in the international arena, Iran has made it a strategic priority to cultivate a wide network of bilateral relations to undermine attempts to box it in.

Iran has also worked diligently to shore up its diplomatic clout in the face of threats of attack by the United States and, in particular, Israel, over its nuclear program. In this context, Iran's strategy to expand its ties to the Americas serves two main purposes: first, it allows Iran to better insulate itself and critical sectors of its society - especially its economy - from an increasingly rigid sanctions regime, thereby allowing it to weather US pressure to change its behavior; second, by cultivating a diverse network of relationships, including relations predicated on lucrative business dealings and delicate diplomacy with governments that have fallen out of favor with Washington, Iran works to ensure that as many of countries as possible have a vested interest in continued dealings with Iran.

This aspect of Iran's strategy enables it to count on the support of countries that would previously have had no direct stake in whether Iran is placed under sanctions. A policy of diplomatic diversification, in essence, guides Iran's approach to the Americas.

The heavy US military presence in the greater Middle East has also profoundly shaped Tehran's strategic calculus when it comes to its strategy toward the Americas. The existence of a US-led alliance network composed of a nuclear-armed Israel and pro-US Arab regimes has left Iran, for all intents and purposes, hemmed in and potentially vulnerable to attack.

Iran's eastern and western frontiers, for instance, are flanked by tens of thousands of US troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, respectively, as well as a growing US military footprint in neighboring Pakistan.

The regional landscape is also dotted by US military bases and a robust deployment of naval forces in the Gulf. United States security guarantees for Iran's neighbors add another level of anxiety in Tehran. United States strategy toward Iran is designed to contain and ultimately undermine Iranian influence through a policy of strategic encirclement.

With this in mind, Iran's inroads into the Americas represent a form of forward defense diplomacy, essentially a means through which the Islamic Republic can counter the United States by effectively employing soft power in a region considered by Washington to be in its own exclusive sphere of influence.

Return of revolution
Iran's push into the Americas would have never have materialized without the active encouragement of eager partners in the region. Yet how did the Islamic Republic manage to win so much goodwill from the Caribbean to the Southern Cone?

Iran's diplomatic achievements cannot be understood without taking into account the tectonic shift to the left that saw an eclectic mix of leftist populists of various stripes take over the reins of power throughout the hemisphere beginning in the late 1990s. United in their skepticism toward US foreign policy and eagerness to charter independent paths for their countries away from the neo-liberal economic orthodoxies preached by Washington, the rise of a new revolutionary politics determined to defy the US-led status quo in the region has provided Iran with a receptive audience for its overtures and an ample supply of friends.

A new form of revolutionary politics in the Americas imbued with an anti-imperialist discourse directed toward the United States has meshed well with Iranian foreign policy. Despite the Shi'ite Islamist character of the clerical regime, Tehran has adopted a realistic approach in its diplomacy toward the Americas that emphasizes anti-imperialism, popular struggle, social justice and the preservation of national independence and sovereignty through South-South solidarity.

Iran has also effectively used institutions such as the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) to make inroads among NAM members in Latin America. The overlap between the revolutionary discourse out of Tehran and regional capitals such as Brasilia, Caracas, La Paz, Havana, Managua and Quito, for instance, is remarkable, thus providing Iran with valuable diplomatic cover on a range of issues, especially its nuclear program.

Iran has honed its skills as a source of resistance in the Middle East, where it is joined by Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas in Gaza (and occasionally Turkey and Qatar) in a front of resistance against US allies Israel and the bloc of pro-US Arab regimes led by Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Iran is comfortable in this role.

The overextension of US forces and diplomatic resources to the greater Middle East and East Asia and the emphasis on counter-terrorism in recent years has also relegated Latin America to the proverbial sidelines in terms of foreign policy and security priorities in Washington, thus providing Iran, along with other players such as China and Russia, with ample room to maneuver. This confluence of circumstances is sure to encourage greater contacts between Iran and Latin America in the coming years.


Tihar Jail
Oct 2, 2009
Iran: You want targeted sanctions; we'll give you targeted sanctions

Iran responded to the West's targeted sanctions campaign against its military elites Monday with a targeted sanction of its own, barring two nuclear inspectors employed by the International Atomic Energy Agency from traveling to Iran to monitor the country's nuclear program.

The move -- announced today by Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization -- represents a calibrated escalation in Iran's nuclear standoff with the West: not provocative enough to trigger a fifth round of Security Council sanctions, but recalcitrant enough to send a clear signal of its mounting displeasure with the U.N.'s nuclear inspection regime.

"This is highly symbolic; it looks great back home," said an official based in Vienna, where the IAEA headquarters is located. But "Iran has limited leverage; it is already providing only minimal cooperation to the IAEA."

Iran's relationship with the U.N. nuclear agency has become increasingly strained in recent months. The IAEA's director general, Yukiya Amano, has pursued a far more aggressive approach to Iran's nuclear program than his predecessor, Mohamed El-Baradei of Egypt.

Since his appointment as IAEA chief in December, Amano has repeatedly criticized Tehran for its failure to cooperate. In May, at the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty conference, which was attended by Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Amano used his speech to personally accuse Iran of failing to "provide the necessary cooperation" needed to verify its nuclear intentions. For its part, Iran has increasingly accused the IAEA of serving the interests of the West. Iran's parliament has also called for the adoption of a bill that would end entirely Tehran's cooperation with the Vienna-based nuclear agency.

Iran's action appears intended to serve as a reprisal against the United States and Europe for imposing sanctions on Iran, according to observers. The U.S. and its allies have been pressing Iran to increase cooperation with the IAEA inspectors. In practice, the decision to block the two inspectors will have little impact on the IAEA's effort to monitor Iran's program, underscoring Tehran's limited leverage in responding to the West's sanctions push.

"This is a pretty moderate response compared with that Iran said they were prepared to do," said David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security. "They are trying to weaken the inspections without engaging in an open violation of the safeguards agreement. But this is pretty mild stuff."

Salehi accused the two inspectors -- whose identities remain unknown -- of producing "untruthful" reports on Iran's nuclear activities and leaking "false information" to the press. The "two inspectors of the IAEA presented false reports on Iran's nuclear activities," Salehi said. "We called for banning their arrival in Iran for inspections." Salehi said his government "has asked the IAEA to assign to new officials for further inspections."

The Iranian action is perfectly legal under Iran's inspection agreement, although the nuclear agency can raise the issue with its board of governors if it impedes its work. Four years ago, Iran barred the U.N. nuclear agency's top centrifuges experts from traveling to Iran to monitor its program. In 2007, Iran banned three inspectors from working in Iran. The IAEA simply replaced them with new inspectors, and it is likely to do so in this case.

The current dispute involves a pair of inspections at the Jaber Ibn Hayan Multipurpose Research Laboratory in Tehran. On January 9, two IAEA inspectors observed a system that Iranian scientists said was used to study "the electrochemical production of uranium metal." During a follow-up visit in April, the inspectors detected that a component known as an electrochemical cell had been removed. Electrochemical cells potentially have military, as well as civilian, applications.

Earlier this month, Iran wrote to the IAEA to complain that the two inspectors were wrong, and that no device had gone missing. They called for the removal of the two inspectors from the list of approved U.N. nuclear experts allowed into the country. The IAEA's Amano backed the two inspectors' findings in a May report to the IAEA board.

"The IAEA has full confidence in the professionalism and impartiality of the inspectors concerned," he wrote. He also said the May report challenged by Iran "is fully accurate."

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