March 2007

The last year (2006) has been marked by a never-ending dispute between Iran and the rest of the world due to Irans nuclear program. We have been confronted by a new UN resolution against Iran, another step in the struggle lead by US and Europe to convince Iran to give up its nuclear program.

The Iranian nuclear program has a long history, dating back to the mid 1960s. Initially the nuclear program had strong support from the West; it was actually built by Western firms but never finished due to the instability brought by the Iranian revolution (1979). The end of the nuclear program was during the Iran-Iraq war, (1980-1988 ) when Iraq bombarded several times the sites where the nuclear reactors were built.

In beginning of 1990s, the Iranian government decided that it was time to restart its nuclear program. It seemed like a rational decision when prediction show that its energy needs will no longer coupe with supply in a couple of years. To this adds its unwillingness to waste its oil and gas resources for producing electricity. China and Russia helped Iran in its program through expertise, logistic support and nuclear material. However, Iran’s intentions where not clear, it seemed they where interested in developing nuclear power yet not committed to. It is important to mention that from the very beginning Iran did not rule out the possibility of developing nuclear weapons as a sort of by-product of its civilian program.

In 2003, President Mohammad Khatami, announced that Iran has complex nuclear facilities and its mining its own uranium. In the aftermath of 9/11, the war in Afghanistan and with the war in Iraq, an Islamic country with nuclear power was the last thing US wanted. Simply because, if, although unlikely, Iran developed nuclear weapons, than would increase Iran’s influence in the Islamic world. It would give it a powerful voice and more confidence to Middle East Muslims, making Western dreams of democratizing Iraq and Afghanistan far harder, if not impossible. Iran would become an alternative to Western domination and influence, and as already most of the Middle East people do not like US, Iran may just become the way most would decide to fallow.

It is obvious that the pressure exerted on Iran by Westerners, goes far beyond the fear of nuclear weapons. Pakistan, the country that helped the Taliban get into power and which is currently believed to hide Osama bin Laden ( the number one terrorist), has nuclear weapons for some time now and no one seems to make much fuss about it. India, which has developed nuclear weapons outside the NPT (Non-proliferation Treaty), has nuclear weapons, and yet US has signed a military agreement with it last year (2006) for suppling the Indian army with weapons and technology.

So, why is US so selective?

One of the most reasonable and simple answers is that US does not like the Islamic regime of Iran. Iran, although opened to Western companies and ideas (you will see many ads from Samsung and Sony on the streets of Tehran), still wants to develop in its own way and maintain much of its values. It also has a strong anti-American rhetoric and tries to claim the position of leader in the Islamic World. USA’s current political elite naturally does not want trouble in the world, especially when it challenges USA domination and meddles with its interest in the Middle East.

The position of the four main global actors (US, EU, Russia and China) in accordance with Iran differs a lot. US wants a hard line approach and immediate stop of the Iranian program, of not complete dismantling. EU does not want Iran to have nuclear weapons, but it has nothing against its nuclear program, so it just asks for better control. Russia does not have specific interest in Iran’s nuclear weapons, however, Iran my be a crucial ally in challenging US world hegemony, so it just encourages Iran to cooperate with the international community yet at the same time blocks Western attempts to impose further UN sanctions, or dilutes their content as much as possible. China, has a more special approach, it seems it likes more the stand aside and intervene only when it really thinks it is necessary. Until now it has defended Iran to some degree, but one cannot be sure it will always do so.

In the past months US has accused Iran not only of developing nuclear weapons, but at interfering in Iraq’s peace process, encouraging faction violence. It seems that with each passing day, the US approach to Iran gets tougher and tougher. We are now preparing for new sanctions by UN against Iran’s nuclear program and it seems that Russia and China are no longer willing to defend Iran. There are few possible scenarios:

1. Russia and China manage to keep Iran’s nuclear program still working until Iran develops its nuclear technology and reactors. At which time the West cannot really do anything about it.

2. Iran falls into isolation and it is forced to open its entire program to the world and prove it does not develop nuclear weapons.

3. Frustrated with the progress made against Iran, US decides to commence a military strike (could also be an Israeli strike made with the consent of US). Unlikely though, because Iran has a good military force, support from Russia and China against US aggression and it is to some degree integrated in the international goods and financial markets (an invasion will have a negative impact on the world economy, yet probably not a very big one, oil prices would most certainly hit $100+ ).

A good long article on the Iranian program:

View from Tehran:



From the middle of the 1980s, the relations between the US and former USSR started to see considerable improvements. By improvements, I mean getting out of the region of sworn enemies and moving towards of the approach of “cooperation with dislike”.

After the Cold War, in defeated Russia, many so-called reforms and changes in attitudes came about. Although not a superpower, but still a regional power, Russia remained somewhat at the bottom of the barrel of the world, usually left alone to deal with its own problems, at least officially.

Nonetheless, the West tried to implement its ways in Russia more than in any other country. Many NGOs where formed for promoting democracy and civil rights, most of which had financing from the West, especially UK and US. IMF offered impressive loans to Russia, more than 5 billion dollars, while Russia committed itself to promoting a capitalist style financial system and eliminating trade barriers.

Yet, after the first years of transition, of “pushing from the back” by the West, Russia did not quite seem to go the way some expected (or the Western thought it will). Reforms ended in a sort of gridlock, the Russian capitalism lead to a form of oligarchy with strong political influence, the “state capture corruption” as the World Bank calls it. It just seemed that Russia was going on its own way. They developed their own type of economy, corrupt and yet functioning to some degree, fuelled by huge incomes from oil and natural gas (about 23% of Russia’s GDP comes from these two sectors).

Of course, this in the end was reflected in its internal politics and involvement in the international affairs.

Although in the 1990, some wanted to believe that Russia was committed to creating an authentic democracy after the Western style, they could not be more wrong. Russia again developed its own political system, somewhat between its former strong authoritarian type and the new limited democracy with a bit of touch of oligarchy.

So why am I telling you this? Because now we can figure out why we are where we are today.

Struggling to maintain some of its power and remain a very important global player, it did the only logical thing it could, ally with the China, the fast emerging new superpower. Although I will not list all the Russian-Chinese treaties, there have been significant progress and cooperation between the two, not to mention that last year (2006) they signed a treaty in which they commit themselves to supporting each other’s external policies.

With China as a friendly voice, with a strong economic growth combined and with the rejection of the Western “way”, Russia starts to feel much more confident. They are no longer the unsure country still struggling to find its way that we knew in the 1990s. It is no surprise that Russia (through president Putin) last month criticized US for the first time since the end of the Cold War. Its claims that “United States has overstepped its borders in all spheres – economic, political and humanitarian, and has imposed itself on other states,” although not entirely unfounded are a good remainder of the Cold War rhetoric. This is probably just the beginning of further tensioning between Russia and US. The gap between the two will most likely grow and with the uncertainty of Iran, we might as well see a permanent rift between the two.