March 26, 2007

Coming Iranian End Game?

Thomas Barnett calls it just more posturing but I think there's something more to the latest Iranian threats to explicitly embrace "illegal actions" on the NPT front. Since their position is that enrichment to nuclear energy plant grade material is within their NPT rights illegal actions can only mean something else coming out of their mouths. It cannot mean peaceful nuclear development at all.

But we've known that they have some sort of program for some time now so the threat can't be that they'll start researching weapons. Everybody knows that that horse left the barn a long time ago. So what is the threat, really?

I believe that the most likely threat is to make explicit and public what has been known for sure only to those with access to spy networks, that Iran has a nuclear weapons program. This fires the starting gun on all the arab nuclear weapons programs that will inevitably follow such an announcement. It's a painful setback on worldwide proliferation. It requires little effort on Iran's part. It will make the Core's job to bring in the ME much more difficult because the ultimate logic of the NPT's punishment regime is disconnecting. The US will have suffered a major blow in its ability to pace its crises. Worst of all, we'll still have to buy Iranian crude so we can't even disconnect "properly".

But I'm reminded of some conversations I had way back in 1988-1989. Nicolae Ceausescu, feeling the pressure of democratization sweeping E. Europe, started to make cryptic references to a Romanian bomb in a couple of speeches. I had the pleasure of speaking with someone who served in Romania's rocket forces as a draftee who mentioned, rather quietly, that their training covered the full gamut of how to launch their missiles and those missiles had chemical, biological, and nuclear variants as well as conventional warheads that Romania admitted to. It is quite possible that Ceausescu was reaching for the nuclear card in an effort to survive the tide of reform and avoid the hangman.

It didn't work. Instead came the 12/89 "revolution" which was so murky that even today there is a considerable body of opinion inside Romania that it was no revolution but a Soviet engineered coup. I've seen enough odd things in my own exploration of the question that I wouldn't discount it entirely. It wasn't soft kill but it wasn't tanks rolling across the borders. It was a firm kill, KGB style.

Are we getting ready for a replay?

Russia's thirst for warm water ports is legendary. This is an interest that transcends ideology. The commissars had the fever just as badly as the tsars did. Putin and his crew are no different. A firm kill by the Russians right now would be a masterstroke. The US cannot intervene militarily as they are too busy in Iraq. The Europeans are too weak to do it no matter how militarily idle they are. If Putin can keep Russian involvement as hidden as his predecessors have, he has the best chance in a century to get those warm water ports. The mullah regime certainly has enough skeletons in their closet to justify popular revolution. Some groups have been fighting for quite some time. Russia wouldn't even mind too much if the Azeris, Baluchis, even Arabs peeled off of the core of Persia. Achieving a multi-century goal of Russian leadership is worth some secession movements, especially if the pot is kept stirred. They can be an asset if people can be distracted enough to take their eyes away from the ports prize.

So will Putin go for it? It's tough to tell without a security clearance. From a russian foreign policy perspective though, he'd be a fool not to.

In this scenario, Iran's making noise to scare off the agents it's already quietly caught plotting coups, making an argument that any attempt will cause so much chaos that oil prices will skyrocket, harming the global economy. This will certainly give consuming nation spies from NATO countries pause but where's the down side for major producer Russia?

Posted by TMLutas at March 26, 2007 11:53 AM