January 13, 2009
Iran’s continued stridency has placed its nuclear and long-range missile programmers on the brink of either American or Israeli pre-emption without muscular diplomatic intervention by the international community.
In a speech on Wednesday, October 26, 2005 to thousands of Iranian students at a “World without Zionism” conference, Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declared that Israel was a “disgraceful blot” that should be “wiped off the map.” This inflammatory statement follows previous statements by Ahmadinejad that Iran would not give up its nuclear programmed even if it faced referral to the UN Security Council and sanctions.
The brazenness of these declarations, combined with the past year’s developments in Iran’s missile programmers and the fact that its military power is firmly under the control of fundamentalists through the Supreme National Security Council, signal a deepening of the crisis.
Recent Advances in Iranian Capability
A little more than a year ago, in August 2004, Iran tested an improved version of its new Shahab-3 Medium Range Ballistic Missile (MRBM) whose 1300-kilometre range covers, not only every part of Israel, but also substantial areas of Turkey, a full fledged member of NATO. Military sources have added that the missile was fitted with a new Chinese-made guidance system.
In May 2005, it was reported that Iran acquired a number of nuclear capable, Kh-55 air-launched cruise missiles from the Ukraine, the perfect weapon for a decapitation strike on Israel’s government or its nuclear facilities. On June 10 Nezavisimoye Voyennoye Obozreniye, Russia’s independent and authoritative weekly military newspaper, reported that Iran’s Minister of Defense, Ali Shamkhani, had announced a new two-stage solid propellant engine would be installed on the Shahab-3. On August 9, Shamkhani told the Tehran Times that the Shahab-3 missiles “are now accurate to within one meter of their target.” Iranian General Ahmad Vahid added that the missiles’ range has also been boosted from 1,300 kilometers to 2,000 kilometers.
In September, it was reported that Iran was conducting experiments in an attempt to explode a warhead at a height that would maximize the effects of a nuclear explosion, and that ‘hollow’ nuclear warheads had been flight tested in previous years. Now in October, it has been reported that Iran has completed preparations to place its first Sina reconnaissance satellite into orbit.
Diplomats in Geneva have continued to warn that Iran appears to be enriching uranium and both the U.S. and Israel have warned that Iran could be in possession of a nuclear weapon within a year, although others argue that it could be another decade or more before it becomes a reality.
Iran is known to have stockpiled blister, choking, and blood chemical weapons agents and is believed to have been conducting research on nerve, as well as biological agents. The respected International Institute for Strategic Studies report, Military Balance 2004-2005, has claimed that Iran is in possession of 12-18 Scud B and Scud C launchers and some 300 nuclear-capable Short Range Ballistic Missiles (SRBMs).
Iran is also reported to be in possession of 30 Chinese-made, nuclear capable CSS-8 launchers and some 175 SRBMs. It has continued to develop its 1300 kilometer-ranged, nuclear-capable Shahab-3, MRBMs and is believed to have deployed at least six of them while it continues to develop its successor on Shahab 4 and 5 Intermediate Range Ballistic Missiles (IRBMs).
Lastly, there have been a series of unconfirmed reports that Iran purchased, through Russian black market, 4 SS-18 MIRVed warheads from missiles being dismantled in Kazakhstan and returned to Russia under treaty.
Tensions between hardliners and moderates, high youth unemployment and student unrest, make the prospects for the eruption of civil strife in Iran high. Combine this with an aggressive long range-missile programmed, a relentless and inflexible pursuit of nuclear technology, and a poisonous worldview that rivals the worst of Nazi-era propaganda and you are left with a potentially deadly mix. Fears that Iran could lash out at long-standing enemies such as Israel, U.S. and their interests in the region cannot be taken lightly.
The fact that intelligence services have been unable to conclusively determine the level of proliferation activity in Iran, as well as other rogue states, only serve to emphasize the uncertainty of the threat.
Diplomatic negotiations, meanwhile, have gone no where under both Clinton and now Bush. Nor has the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) been particularly effective in preventing proliferation. Canada has had no small part in this debacle having served as chair of the IAEA Board of Governors for the year 2004-2005 without having achieved any tangible diplomatic result.
For the US, Israel and the Gulf states, endless multi-lateral negotiations without result have led to a strategic vulnerability where good policy options no longer are available. Indeed, it is necessary to face up to the fact that by drawing out negotiations, Iran has succeeded in achieving the strategic position it is now trying to consolidate. And the threat does not end there. European states themselves will be within the range of the next generation Iranian missiles, as is India and Russia.
After the experience of Iraq in the 1990’s, few governments will accept that containment and sanctions have any practical chance at success, regardless of what their may say in public. Moreover, it is questionable whether or not a regime with apocalyptic views such as Iran’s can be deterred, making the threat of retaliation meaningless.
This leaves only two viable policy options: continue negotiating in the hope that a regime change will occur before Iran acquires nuclear weapons, a high-risk tactic that requires a priori acceptance of such acquisition, or pre-emptive attack.
Risks of Pre-emption
In the aftermath of the devastating surprise attacks of September 11, 2001, the United States announced that it would not tolerate serious proliferation threats, promulgating a doctrine of pre-emptive action. Israel is also no stranger to the policy of pre-emptive attack having been on both the delivering and receiving end of such enterprises in its short history. It was, after all, the Israeli Air Force that ended Saddam’s dream of a nuclear weapon in a pre-emptive strike on his almost operational nuclear reactor at Osirak in 1981.
The success of any pre-emptive strike against Iran cannot be guaranteed though, and such an attack risks precipitating consequences that are themselves difficult to predict.
The location of Iran’s nuclear and missile facilities are not well known. Some are believed to be hidden, while most visible sites are well defended from air attack. The chances of completely eliminating its nuclear threat are not good, therefore, even with the relative precision of cruise missiles. Iran has also threatened, in the event of a pre-emptive strike by the United States or Israel, to take punitive action on the ground in Israel, Iraq and Afghanistan through militants and its own shadowy Revolutionary Guard.
Sadly, American and Israeli policy-makers have now been forced into a ‘pressure cooker’ environment where they may decide to risk these consequences simply because the alternative risk is greater, and in the case of Israel, existential. These views can only have been reinforced by the outrageous statements of the Iranian President regarding Israel.
Canada’s Policy Options
Canada can no longer afford to indulge the fiction that its vital interests are not fully engaged in this rapidly developing crisis. The recent impact of Hurricane Katrina on international oil prices should serve as a warning of how vulnerable our economies are to distant catastrophic occurrences, whether man-made or natural. It must also be remembered that although Canada chose to sit out the war in Iraq, Canadian troops are fighting in Afghanistan as an ally of the United States. Moreover, with the development of long-range missiles, Iran has emerged as a direct threat to some of our NATO allies.
From a military point of view, Canada has little to offer. In diplomacy, however, there is much that Canada can do.
Canada as a member of IAEA Board of Governors should renew the demand for unfettered, no-warning inspections of Iranian nuclear facilities. This should be non-negotiable. Canada should lobby to have the matter immediately referred to the UN Security Council independent of Iran’s response to these demands, with the intention of obtaining a provisional resolution imposing sanctions if the Iranian government refuses or obstructs such inspections.
Canada should also push Iran to turn over a number of prominent members of Al Qaeda known to travel freely in that country and end its assistance to other terrorist groups in the Middle East and Southwest Asia. This would include the disarming of Hezbollah, as the Security Council has already demanded. Ongoing Iranian support for these terrorists poses a clear and present danger to Canadian troops in the region and the civilian communities they are trying to protect.
If Iran complied with these measures, a climate could emerge that would support further meaningful negotiations, as well as moves to help integrate the Islamic Republic into the international community as a partner and not as the ‘odd man out’ which Canada could encourage.
Finally, Canada should declare that it will not tolerate the ongoing development of long-range missiles by Iran or its acquisition of nuclear weapons, and that it will stand by the United States and Israel should either decide that it is necessary to take pre-emptive military action.
Over the course of the last 35 years Canada has carefully cultivated a reputation for pursuing a foreign policy independent of that of the United States and its traditional allies, notwithstanding its continued participation in NATO, NORAD and a host of other bi-lateral and multi-lateral security arrangements. Rightly or wrongly, Canada is regarded by much of the diplomatic community as being an ‘honest broker’ in international affairs in contrast to the United States. An unequivocal statement supporting the United States and Israel would be especially powerful coming from Canada precisely because of its reputation for independent thinking on foreign policy. It would serve as a wake-up call to the international community regarding the seriousness of the situation and it would signal, not just to Iran, but hopefully to other nations that harbour such nefarious ambitions, that the free world is in deadly earnest to see this war to a successful close.
Canada and its international partners must adopt a muscular diplomacy to end Iran’s drive to be a military nuclear power or watch the Middle East region creep toward the precipice of pre-emption and perhaps the ‘apocalypse.’ To further illustrate this point, Iran’s Foreign Minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, strongly defended President Ahmadinejad’s blistering attack on Israel and the West, saying that the President’s speech “was nothing but the strategy and policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran in the past 27 years.” Thus, a situation has developed with an increasingly strident Iran preparing for a nuclear showdown with the United States and Israel and anyone else that might get in the way.
If Canada and its partners are really committed to avoid American or Israeli pre-emptive action against Iran and the unpredictable consequences that could follow engulfing Southwest Asia, we must take a firm diplomatic stand against the Tehran regime before it is too late. This means that Canada and its partners must give the Iranian government the option of negotiating in good faith and demonstrating that good faith by opening a new front in the war on international terrorism, coupled with the prospect of further international condemnation and sanctions or be faced with the consequences of the inevitable American and Israeli military response.
Joseph B. Varner is a Senior Fellow at the Institute for Canadian Values specializing in national security issues and foreign relations. He is the author of Canada’s Asia-Pacific Security Dilemma and is former Contributing Editor of Maritime Affairs and Associate Editor of Canadian Naval Review. He is a Fellow of the Inter-University Seminar on Armed Forces and Society, Senior Research Fellow of the Canadian Institute of Strategic Studies and an Associate Member of the International Institute for Strategic Studies. He also chairs national security committee of the Federation of Military and United Services Institutes of Canada and teaches courses in homeland security and intelligence studies at American Military University.
© 2005 Joseph B. Varner and Institute for Canadian Values