Arabian Nights

July 02, 2010

Dear Members and Friends,

This week, MDAA was an active participant in an international conference on “Collaboration in Addressing the Iranian Missile Threat” in Manama, Bahrain. The conference was sponsored by Ambassador Saeed Mohamed Al-Faihani, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Kingdom of Bahrain and the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), based in London, England.

Participants included experts on the subject area, government officials and major academia/research institutions from Russia, France, Poland, NATO, MIT, Rand, Stanford, Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology, Moscow Institute of World Economy and International Relations, the Center for Non-proliferation Studies and the London School of Economics and Political Science.

The conference, relayed through Russian and English interpreters, focused on cooperation and the flow of ideas between Russia and the United States in regards to the threat of Iranian ballistic missiles and a nuclear Iran. The influence of both NGO’s and government organizations must be used to advocate and align the influence of both Russian and American governments in adopting collaborative efforts towards Iran that are not in existence today.

There was unanimous consent at the conference that Iran will attain nuclear status. Keeping the status quo pressure on Iran, supporting an Iranian regime change, adding more UN sanctions, enforcing those sanctions, changing approaches or restricting trade and technology transfer will not prevent Iran from becoming nuclear capable. Collaborative preventative actions will buy time, but Iran will eventually become nuclear capable.

Military action is also not an option. The U.S. cannot afford or withstand the international and homegrown opposition that would come with an unwinnable conflict. Furthermore, a conflict between Israel and Iran, which the U.S. would attempt to prevent at all costs but would defend Israel if a conflict is started, will not be able to deny Iran nuclear capabilities.

Thus, working on delaying tactics is not as important as understanding the long term strategy of containing a nuclear Iran and the need for cooperation with Russia and our allies. The mutual desire for Iran to become a quiet nuclear power with underlining capabilities like South Africa but not with numerical force, vying to be a competing nuclear power, is the best we can hope for out of a bad situation.

Missile defense becomes a critical part of the containment strategy.  Russia’s cooperation in that capacity is still of great sensitivity because of their fear of strategic missile defense. Russia wants the U.S. regional missile defense capabilities to be limited. However, the United States current and future missile defenses cannot be limited; Russia will never get a veto vote on protecting our population, troops, allies and homeland from ballistic missiles. To overcome this predicament, Russia and the U.S. must re-engage in small steps of confidence building on global missile defense data sharing and cooperative efforts in testing, targets, sensors and interceptors.

Russia is not willing to match the amount of pressure the United States put on the U.N. for sanctions and other strong diplomatic efforts against Iran. However, in a show of good faith, Russia did freeze the sale of the S-300 surface-to-air missile systems to Iran. Russia’s national security interests in Central Asia and the Caspian Sea, where their relationship with Iran plays a vital role, is not worth the price of alienation. The perceived strength of the economic impact of trade between Russia and Iran is not a primary factor as it is minimal; approximately one tenth of Russia’s trade with the EU. This also holds true in regards to military sales between them.

There were varying opinions and obvious misconceptions of the thought process between the two cultures that are still struggling with cold war remnants. The U.S.-Russian relationship is not adversarial nor is it friendly; it will remain in a state of limbo until trust and humility can be regained.

Neither the United States or Russia wants to see a nuclear capable Iran; both clearly understand the magnitude of the ramifications of this possible scenario.

A full report and analysis of the conference will be published by IISS to be distributed later this year.

My remarks and presentation at the conference are available here for your review.

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