August 23, 2006

A Lengthy And Perhaps Unnecessary Post Of Dubious Mathematical Merit To Illustrate Something You Probably Already Know

Guys like Chuck Hagel and David Gergen seem to think that talking to the Iranians will prevent them from joining the nuclear club. It's a crazy idea, and I don't understand why so many notable people have put their faith in this silly course of action.

Iran is presented with a finite number of choices and outcomes, which can be easily and logically analyzed. At the end of any honest analysis, you can see that it is simply not in the mullahs' interest to negotiate away their nuclear arms program. Therefore it's logical to assume that they won't, not only because they have repeatedly said they won't, but also because the best possible course of action from Iran's point of view (regardless of whether they are rational or irrational actors) is to continue their program until they get the bomb.

It's like simple math.

Assume three possible outcomes available to Iran from the current state of negotiations.

Outcome ON: Iran gets a nuclear weapon.1

Outcome OI: Iran gets a package of incentives from the West.

Outcome OS: International sanctions imposed on Iran, most likely a combination of economic and diplomatic restrictions.

Assume that the Iranians desire outcomes ON and OI, and wish to avoid outcome OS.

Although it's not essential to my analysis, you may also assume that the West2 wishes to prevent outcome ON, but also that the values of outcomes OI and OS are variable and uncertain, due to dissention within the West.

Now at first glance, one can see two alternative courses of action for Iran that are obvious.

Course of action CA1: Iran refuses to abandon its nuclear enrichment program, rejects all efforts at compromise, and continues working until they get the bomb.

Course of action CA2: Iran abandons its nuclear program in exchange for the package of incentives offered by the West.

If Iran takes course of action CA1, they give up outcome OI. On the other hand, if Iran takes course of action CA2, they give up outcome ON. Therefore the Iranians must decide between the following values (remembering that OS is a negative value):
CA1 = ON - (OI + OS)
or alternatively,
CA2 = (OI + OS) - ON
Those equations demonstrate that the West needs to make the value of their carrot+stick package equal to or greater than the value of an Iranian nuclear bomb. Thus, if (OI + OS) > ON, then CA2 > CA1. If true, Iran should then choose CA2. Even if the values were exactly equal, Iran would probably choose CA2, simply for the sake of peace and goodwill.

However, we live in the real world and we all know that the value of a nuclear weapon to the country that possesses it far outweighs the value of any combination of incentives or sanctions the West could possibly offer. Especially if said country has already expressed its desire to wipe a hated enemy off the map, and has recently sent weapons, including rockets, missiles and drones to a proxy army fighting said hated enemy as recently as this month.

Given the above, one would assume that Iran would pursue course of action CA1, but as we have seen, they continue to pay lip service to the negotiation track, CA2. Are they really pursuing course of action CA2? Not if CA1 > CA2! What then, are they doing?

Perhaps there is a CA3, a third course of action that would tempt Iran with the opportunity to gain outcomes ON and OI at the same time without incurring any sanctions.

CA3 = (CA1 + CA2) = (ON + OI) - OS
Remember OS is a negative value, so the above equation simplifies to:
CA3 = (ON + OI + OS)
A hefty sum indeed! Perhaps Iran believes it can have it all by simply agreeing to a compromise, while secretly pursuing the holy grail of enrichment a la North Korea.

But CA3 contains one flaw: verification. Certainly the West, weak as its negotiating position is, will never agree to deliver incentives without a gauranteed inspection regime. Although the inspections might be watered down, we already know about the Esfahan, Natanz, and Arak facilities, so it would be difficult for the Iranians to refuse access to those sites. Some experts estimate the number of centrifuges necessary at Natanz for a decent enrichment program to be 50,000. That kind of operation would be hard to disguise or relocate.

That's why I think Iran is following another course of action, CA4:

CA4 = (ON x TNT) - (OI - OS)
When multiplied by a factor of sufficient time (T), gained by negotiating tactics (NT), Iran can ultimately win the big prize: a nuclear bomb. Although they give up the Western incentive package, that loss is offset by the fact that they don't suffer any real sanctions (thus, OI - OS). That's because once Iran gets the bomb, sanctions become problematic. Everybody is going to have to kiss their ass then, and the probable severity of any sanctions the fickle West might be able to agree upon (which were weak under the best of circumstances) would shrink in proportion to Iran's newfound leverage.

Course of action CA4 translates into what we've been watching unfold during the past several months. Iran negotiates in bad faith, makes empty promises, renegs, delays, obfuscates, then makes more empty promises, all the while maintaining their research and enrichment activity.

It's possible that a compromise settlement might be reached in the near future, but I seriously doubt it. Iran has repeatedly and unambiguously asserted its intention never to give up its enrichment program (a fact that seems to be lost on many negotiation-fixated politicians and pundits). I take the Iranians at their word, because it's not in their interest to give up the bomb. They've already done the math.

1.    Or, more accurately, Iran successfully gains the ability to domestically produce fissile material for manufacturing nuclear weapons. One can assume that creating delivery systems such as missiles and warheads are less of a problem for the Iranians. These can be purchased, or reverse-engineered by Iranian technicians. But weapons grade plutonium and/or uranium from their own factories are what they need to become a nuclear power, and this is the outcome we need to prevent.

2.    i.e. the U.S. and certain allies, to varying degrees.

[cross-posted at annika's journal]

Posted by annika at August 23, 2006 09:17 PM | TrackBack

The options for dealing with Iran:

1. Do nothing.
Iran will get nukes, but not for a few years. But Iran with nukes is Not A Good Thing, so this isn't an option.

2. Invade!
Yeah, perminant solution! Not only does it avert nuclear status, it will also stop them supplying money to Hez and whatever other organisations they support. Except that with Afganistan, Iraq... there is no hope of holding the country without unacceptable losses. Invading could be done - they would put up more of a fight than Iraq did, but not enough to stop a US-EU alliance. But, the occupation would be even worse than Iraq, and look at the political problems thats causing.

3. Blow 'em back to the stone age.
Personally, I like this one. Find the nuclear facilities, and just bomb them. But its diplomatically very impolite, and there is a significent chance Iran would retaliate. That would lead to a full-blown war, and corresponding losses again. While it might yet come to this, its a last-resort solution.

4. Talk to them.
Threaten, plead, nag, bribe, just do anything to talk them out of it. Point out that if they near nuclear, then the US will have no choice but to take military action. And, well, be completly ignored. But its better than doing nothing, and its only fair to give them a chance to back down peacefully. Remember option 3. remains open.

Any other ideas welcome :>

Posted by: Suricou Raven at August 26, 2006 06:37 AM

Yes, the option I've been pushing. Overthrow of the government by internal dissidents. Unfortunately it seems that the administration is unaware of this option, even though they have the great example of Ronald Reagan's and several other presidents to study.

Posted by: annika at August 26, 2006 10:54 AM

Option 3 is the most realistic; it is the only way to be sure. North Korea should have been dealt with the same way ten years ago.

Sanctions will work, provided that "Sanction" is understood to mean being carpet-bombed back to the invention of the brick.
It is bad policy to reserve the brute force option as "only a last resort". In that context, that means the it is then too late to even consider doing anything else.
Iran is manifestly determined to obtain nuclear weapons.

Even if they do accept a "package" of Western largesse, it would be fatuous to suppose their research and development efforts will not continue in secret.
Secondly, paying the twisted dwarf* that is running Iran tribute (for such it is) sets an unattractive precedent; it will be only a matter of time before he demands more.
Lastly, we simply cannot AFFORD to trust the little bastard; and indeed, have no positive incentive to do so.

Inasmuch as it makes little sense to wait around while Iran continues to build its military strength, the logically indicated action, in view of the points I have raised above, is to allow the present month to run down, then, no satisfactory response from Iran being received,locate, identify and target all known and suspected nuclear research facilities in that country and, summarily and without warning, erase them from the face of the planet.

The almost certain alternative is an eventual war that will kill many hundereds of thousands, possibly millions.

*Have you ever noticed how much he looks like a malevolent Gilligan?

Posted by: LUCIUS SEVERUS PERTINAX at August 27, 2006 02:10 AM

That could very well lead to such a war though. The people of Iran do not like the US, and like them less every day. They are also overconfident. A bombing, even one confided to very specific military targets, will certinly have the population calling to take some sort of retaliatory action. And the leaders might not be able to say no.

Posted by: Suricou Raven at August 27, 2006 04:35 AM