Not Amused

The Financial Times reports this morning that:

Jacques Chirac, France’s president, has threatened to use nuclear weapons against any state that supported terrorism against his country or considered using weapons of mass destruction.“.

According to the FT Chirac’s actually words were:

“The leaders of states who use terrorist means against us, as well as those who would consider using, in one way or another, weapons of mass destruction, must understand that they would lay themselves open to a firm and adapted response on our part,” he said. “This response could be a conventional one. It could also be of a different kind.”

Now these words were not just any words, and the speech was not just any speech, since as the New York Times indicates, the Élysée Palace explanation is that M. Chirac’s speech reflected changes that had been adopted as part of a routine review of nuclear doctrine, a review which is carried out every five years. So not only is this a policy statement, it was also

the first time that a French president had publicly spelled out the possibility of nuclear retaliation for state-backed terrorism. In the past, France has said nuclear weapons could be used if its “vital interests” were at risk, while deliberately refraining from identifying those interests.

“In French doctrine, nuclear weapons are meant to deter attacks against ‘vital interests,’ to create uncertainty among potential attackers about what these interests could be,” said François Heisbourg, special adviser at the Foundation for Strategic Research in Paris. “But here, things get defined. That’s a change.”

Not only could this change of policy not have come at a more sensitive time in view of what is currently taking place in Iran, it could not, in my opinion have been more barbaric, since (and surely M Chirac must know this) the victims of nuclear attacks are not states, but people, normally innocent ones, and if he doesn’t know this he should try asking the relatives of the former inhabitants of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Hopefully such threats will never be acted on (which doesn’t do anything to rescue the ethical standing of those who issue them), but the more immediate potential economic consequences that upping-the-anti with Iran in this crude fashion could have are outlined both here and here.

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About Edward Hugh

Edward 'the bonobo is a Catalan economist of British extraction. After being born, brought-up and educated in the United Kingdom, Edward subsequently settled in Barcelona where he has now lived for over 15 years. As a consequence Edward considers himself to be "Catalan by adoption". He has also to some extent been "adopted by Catalonia", since throughout the current economic crisis he has been a constant voice on TV, radio and in the press arguing in favor of the need for some kind of internal devaluation if Spain wants to stay inside the Euro. By inclination he is a macro economist, but his obsession with trying to understand the economic impact of demographic changes has often taken him far from home, off and away from the more tranquil and placid pastures of the dismal science, into the bracken and thicket of demography, anthropology, biology, sociology and systems theory. All of which has lead him to ask himself whether Thomas Wolfe was not in fact right when he asserted that the fact of the matter is "you can never go home again".

53 thoughts on “Not Amused

  1. Statements like this errode the “soft power” the EU gets from being seen as organization that relies of negotiation rather than force. Bad Chirac.

  2. “Statements like this errode the “soft power” the EU gets from being seen as organization that relies of negotiation rather than force. Bad Chirac.”

    Yap, but I think it goes well beyond this David. This wasn’t just a ‘sabre-rattling speech’, it wasn’t just a ‘those who hide terrorists will regret it (George Bush) type speech.

    The threat to use nuclear weapons against those who threaten to use them against France wasn’t new, but the threat to use them against the civilians of a state which harbours – even if that state might be a cruel dictatorship – terrorists was.

    Apart from being unethical, this is straight provocation to Iran to keep moving, and to move quickly, since if you are being threatened the best bet is to be able to respond to, or at least neutralise, the threat.

    “Statements like this errode the “soft power””

    I have never felt that France as a state was characterised by ‘soft power’. Just look what happened to the poor little Rainbow Warrior!

  3. Let’s wear the French strategist hat a moment.

    Our basic premise is that France must be able to guard vital interests on its own. Now we look at the threats: 9/11. We quickly conclude that the scale of the attack required a military retaliation. Now we are faced with an unsurmountable task. We must make a plan for France invading Afghanistan (or Iran, which is even more hilarious). We quickly fail. There is only one option left.

    I am quite sure dozen of French strategic thinkers have spent years considering alternatives. Reporting with a plan that boils down to: “Nuke them and let Allah care about the innocent” is not a good career move.

    As for soft power, I must tell you that it is vastly overrated. Economic sanctions against a major oil producer are currently and probably for decades impossible. There is a great cultural influence. So much is true. But this is a very slow weapon that cannot be aimed. In fact it is causing a lot of the hostility we are facing.

  4. I have never felt that France as a state was characterised by ‘soft power’.

    True. In fact, this coming now probably means that President Chirac thinks that the Iranian question must be solved by war.

  5. “Economic sanctions against a major oil producer are currently and probably for decades impossible.”

    I agree with you in spirit on this. This is why I put the two oil-related links. If we impose economic sanctions on Iran (and remember the Shia in Iraq may also react to these) we risk provoking a global recession, and Ahmadinejad knows it. This is what he is gambling on I imagine.

    This is also possibly why people like OBL are choosing this moment to throw their hat in the ring.

    In off the wires:

    President Bashar Assad of Syria, a longtime Iranian ally facing its own international criticism, said he backed Tehran’s moves toward nuclear power and wanted to strengthen ties.

    “We support Iran regarding its right to peaceful nuclear technology,” Assad said at a news conference with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the start of two days of meetings. “It is the right of Iran and any other state to own nuclear technology for peaceful purposes. Countries that object to that have not provided a convincing or logical reason.”

    I don’t really understand Syria’s position at the moment, since on the one hand they are facilitating US negotiations with Iraqi insurgents, while on the other they seem to be lining-up with Iran which would appear to be on the other side of the fence from the insurgency.

    Normally, I would have expected the US to be trying to get closer to Syria at this stage, but maybe this posturing by Syria is a way of trying to get a better deal.

  6. we risk provoking a global recession, and Ahmadinejad knows it

    Yes. However, this is a further reason Iran must not be allowed nuclear weapons. Not necessarily the best one, but it’s important.

    I don’t really understand Syria’s position at the moment

    If there’s got to be another regime change they’d rather have it in Tehran than in Damascus?

    This raises a lot of questions.
    A) Iran’s oil threat is twofold. It can stop exporting and it can interfere in the straits of Hormuz. War as opposed to sanctions allows the US navy to do something about the latter threat. Is there any doubt it could? Is it significant that most of Iran’s oil is close to the coast and the Iraqi border?

    B) What about Iraq? What amount of shortfall in Iranian exports could it make up for? How likely is the US to chose quiet and oil production in Iraq at the expense of everything else in that country?

    C) At what price are oil exports worth more than Russia’s exports to Iran?

  7. Statements like this errode the “soft power” the EU gets from being seen as organization that relies of negotiation rather than force

    Prestige is not necessarily power. To negotiate you must be trusted, not necessarily a friend. Both sides must have confidence promises will be kept and threats acted upon. Negotiations for negotiation’s sake are meaningless and useful only if time is on your side.

  8. “Negotiations for negotiation’s sake are meaningless and useful only if time is on your side.”

    Which is why, of course, we will see lots of talk about talks from Russia, Iran and China in the near future.

    I’d forgotten, of course, but since Russia is a net beneficiary of the rise in oil prices, Russia’s ploy will probably be to try and keep the dispute going, without letting it go too far. A difficult balance.

    I think they genuinely want Iran to maintain their processing capacity in Russia, to cement Iran’s dependence, which is why, of course, Iran doesn’t want to.

    This piece by Pavel Baev in Eurasia Monitor is pretty interesting:

    http://www.jamestown.org/edm/article.php?article_id=2370669

    Last fall Russia presented a plan for defusing this crisis through a joint venture with Iran that would build a uranium enrichment plant on Russian territory.

    While selling this initiative, Moscow increased its efforts to sell arms to Iran; in December 2005 an agreement on exporting Tor-M1 surface-to-air missiles was finalized, and deliveries scheduled for the first half of this year. Russian experts argued that these missiles, due to their short range, could not provide reliable coverage of nuclear facilities but would be perfect for protecting the more complex C-300 missile system (Gazeta.ru, January 13). According to usually well-informed Kommersant (January 13), a Russian delegation interrupted the negotiations on exporting C-300 missiles and returned to Moscow last week in order to show Russia’s disappointment at Iran’s lack of interest. In a surprisingly fast response to this article, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov asserted that there had never been any plans for selling C-300 to Iran and no negotiations had been held (Newsru.com, January 13).

    Kommersant (January 14), nevertheless, stands by its report and reminded its readers that in 2005 it had revealed plans to export surface-to-surface Iskander missiles to Syria. The defense minister also firmly denied that account, only to have it later confirmed by Putin, who characterized it as a “military initiative” that had been stopped by his intervention. What makes the latest “leak” plausible is the fact that a Russian delegation led by Valentin Sobolev, deputy secretary of the Security Council and former deputy chief of the FSB with the rank of colonel-general, had a series of “closed-door” meetings in Tehran for two days seeking to achieve a last-minute breakthrough.

    However, there is little doubt that the forthcoming UN debates would be centered on the issue of sanctions, which is certainly a tricky one since Iran could always respond by reducing (even slightly) its oil exports — and that could push already astounding oil prices to a stratospheric level. The two most logical avenues for sanctions could be arms exports and nuclear cooperation, and they both affect Russia’s interests quite directly.

  9. Which is why, of course, we will see lots of talk about talks from Russia, Iran and China in the near future

    Why would China stall? China would suffer doubly from higher prices, let alone a recession. It would seem to me that China, once it realised something will be done anyway, would first and foremost care about time. It has to be over comfortably before the strategic stockpiles run out as far as China is concerned.

    Getting gas from Iran is nice, but Iran won’t vanish and the gas will be needed even more in a few years.

  10. “Why would China stall?”

    Quite simply because I think China is strategically focused on the US, and only on the US. Anything – like an oil hike (as long as it isn’t too drastic, and spinning this out is one way to make sure it isn’t too drastic) – which slows down the US more than China, which adversly affects the US trade deficit, which increases US dependence on Chinese funding, has to be interesting for you.

    With China growing at circa 9% pa, and the US at circa 3%, time has to be on their side.

  11. Could Iran’s “provocation” actually be a gambit to set up a sacrifice (ok, we’ll stop uranium enriching) and enable it to queen its pawn (euro-denominated oil bourse)? Could the latter be “shah mat” for the dollar?

  12. Some participants here cannot bear to suppose that the actual objective of the Iranian government is the acquisition of nuclear weapons in the next few months or years. This might or might not include testing, public announcements, and deployment, but would at a minimum place Iran on the threshold, able to mate weapons to delivery systems in a matter of weeks, under the protection of capable anti-air defenses.

    No citations–dozens of articles and backgrounders are readily found via simple Google searches.

    Viewed in this light, the Iranian negotiating strategy to date is more than sensible, it is optimal. The mullahs do not want or need anything that the EU3, el-Baradei, Russia, or the US should be willing to offer. The mullah’s instructions to their diplomats looked like this:

    –Buy more time for the program’s progress
    –Obscure and obfuscate so that the West’s elites continue to ignore us
    –Create an environment where key developments (restart of U enrichment) blend into the chatter of the 24-hour news cycle
    –Sound reasonable enough and allow enough ‘progress’ to satisfy those among the West’s elites who are sympathetic to our stated aims, or inclined to appease us
    –Prevent effective inspections
    –Don’t provoke investigations of our international technology and material acquisitions programs.

    While the “breakdown” of the Iran-EU3 talks has its kabuki elements, it may also be an ominous indicaton that, having served its purposes, these negotiations have now outlived their usefulness.

    For Tehran’s grandees, it must have been both bothersome and offensive to have had to maintain the pretense of negotiating seriously with these useful-idiot infidels.

  13. “Some participants here cannot bear to suppose that the actual objective of the Iranian government is the acquisition of nuclear weapons in the next few months or years.”

    I must admit I hadn’t noticed this tendency. I assumed that we had a consensus, they are serious. But I’m also not sure what your alternative is? Are you with the Chirac ‘toss’em a nuke’ line’?

    Incidentally, Pepe,

    Iran is moving its foreign currency reserves out of European banks as a pre-emptive measure against any possible U.N. sanctions over its nuclear program, the Central Bank Governor said Friday.

    Ebrahim Sheibani told reporters that Iran has started transferring the foreign currency reserves from European banks to an undisclosed location, the semiofficial Iranian Students News Agency reported.”

    I don’t attach any particular significance to the currency oil is quoted in, but I think if there is to be a long-term global adjustment of reserves it will be into Renminbis and Rupees, not Euros. This is why the Chinese need to play for time.

    Curiously, the Iranians have shifted their reserves to an undisclosed destination, ‘somewhere in Asia’.

  14. I have never felt that France as a state was characterised by ’soft power’. Just look what happened to the poor little Rainbow Warrior!

    No. The France-as-euroweeniedhimmihomo thing is both absurd, and new. Nobody thought of France as unwilling to pursue national interest by any necessary means before the winter of 2002-2003, when a major propaganda campaign to that end was uncorked – do you remember the Sun’s headlines of that period?

    In fact, the key political stereotype of France before February, 2003, was of a state that pursued the most untrammelled Realpolitik in the world. You fuck with them, they fuck with you. Ask Laurent Gbagbo how he felt when they parked a tank in front of his office..or Carlos the Jackal when they hoicked him off the operating table into the Dassault Falcon-900..

    Regarding Oliver’s “French strategist hat”. I would query if the French couldn’t have organised an effective intervention in Afghanistan, given the same degree of international support. What made it happen were 200 or spooks and special operations types and well-timed close air support, plus a ton of cash and guns. They did something similar to win the Angolan government’s war back in 1994 and kept it off the books as a private venture, and the early-80s Chad campaign would also be a signal example.

  15. What this reminds me of is that powerful military states relatively speaking – such as America or France – have sad track records in fourth generation or asymmetric wars. It’s worth reading the challenging analysis of William Lind, a mainstream American conservative, instead of the neocon variety, latterly retired from the US Marine Corps.:
    http://antiwar.com/lind/index.php?articleid=1702

    Recall what happened to the French in Indo-china and Algeria, the Americans in Vietnam and the Soviets in Afghanistan? The one virtually indisputable case of a conventional military power finally winning an asymmetric war, in that case against Communist insurgents, seems to be Britain in what came to be Malaysia and that “emergency” took 12 years to quell. The auguries aren’t reassuring.

  16. given the same degree of international support

    Not acceptable a precondition if you are planning for the worst case. Nor can you assume the enemy is in the middle of a civil war and you can buy the opposition.

    If you really need to make a plan for France vs. Iran and the rest of the world doing nothing, you end up with nuclear strikes.
    Accepting foreign entanglement in that area is so unfrench that nuclear war is preferable (as long as the nuclear detonations are not in France). That is the offical position which must be stated so that executing it becomes less likely.

  17. I assumed that we had a consensus, they are serious. But I’m also not sure what your alternative is? Are you with the Chirac ’toss’em a nuke’ line’?

    There’s serious as “negotiating seriously,” or “seriously concerned with national soveriegnty issues” or “serious about bringing the Bushehr reactor online and in developing domestic fuel sources for it.” Etc. As opposed to “the non-negotiable objective of Iran’s diplomatic efforts has been to facilitate the acquisition of nuclear weapons and delivery systems in a timely manner.”

    If the latter sentence is accurate, then the twists and turns of the various negotiations would have to be seen in a quite different light. Namely, “success” from a Western point of view was unachievable from the start.

    What cards did (do) the EU3 hold? What cards did (does) Iran have?

    As far as my favored alternative–I haven’t offered a policy prescription. I don’t have one. But a realistic appreciation of the facts should precede policy development in any case.

    Re: Chirac’s speech: Game theory, for “Chicken.” The mullahs have announced their strategy.

    The scenario of rational mullahs who read Schelling, Kahn, Rapaport, and other Cold War game theorists and are employing a strategy of studied irrationality does not, however, mean that the Iranian leaders are ultimately deterrable…

    Chirac’s response is reasonable from that point of view. France maintains its force de frappe as a deterrent, and Chirac is signalling what it is he wishes to deter. Perhaps he’s bluffing. The mullahs will have to mull that over.

  18. Nor can you assume the enemy is in the middle of a civil war and you can buy the opposition.

    If you really need to make a plan for France vs. Iran and the rest of the world doing nothing, you end up with nuclear strikes.

    No, so why cite Afghanistan at all? US vs. Iran and the rest of the world doing nothing ends in nuclear strikes anyway. Without any international support, no land bases. One division’s worth of amphibious sealift (if that) and perhaps a brigade of airborne troops staging from the continental US equals defeat and hysterical nuclear madness, no?

    If you want reductio ad absurdum, we got’em.

    Future wars are anyway immensely more likely to happen in places where there is a civil war of sorts on anyway.

  19. Maybe somebody told him to Google “french military victories” once too often..

    Have you ever travelled on the Paris metro and wondered about all those funny German and Russian names? Strangely, I don’t think there’s one called Yorktown … but there should be.

    I don’t attach any particular significance to the currency oil is quoted in, but I think if there is to be a long-term global adjustment of reserves it will be into Renminbis and Rupees, not Euros. This is why the Chinese need to play for time.

    Surely, if Middle East oil ever comes to be invoiced in Euros, that will severely dent the dollar’s credibility as an international store of value? I have never seen the Renminbi mentioned as a candidate – but the Euro often has been. I’ve even seen it suggested that Saddam’s intentions in this direction were one trigger for the war.

    As for the French nuclear weapons strategy, isn’t it a simply a recognition that the new target for the missiles are the command centres of potential opponents rather than their cities? And isn’t the moral issue possession of such weapons rather than what is said about their use? France has usually been much less mealy-mouthed about its pursuit of realpolitik, than Britain, but when it comes down to it, both the Quai and the FO serve the national interest as they see it. Brit strategists are realists in this respect just like those of every other power – our politicians are just more hypocritical. And NATO still does not have a no-first-use policy.

  20. Yeah, this was a strategic mistake from a French president who is already close to a joke. The whole point of having a nuclear deterrent, as Kissinger put it in the bad old days and as the Times sort of acknowledges, is to keep the other side guessing about whether or not you are prepared to use it. There are always clear cases – Iran nukes Paris, France nukes them back – but in order to keep your enemies in line, you have to constantly keep them asking themselves, if I do this thing, will they make my ass radioactive?

    Had the US nuked Afghanistan in response to 9/11, as some advocated at the time, it would have been clearly disproportionate. But, it was, at least minimally, strategically viable to leave people wondering if Bush was insane enough to do it anyway. Insanity can be a powerful weapon. I believe the technical term for this is the “Do you feel lucky, punk?” gambit. With its current president and front man, it is certainly something the mullahs of Iran have on their side.

    Alas, it is of little use when what you really want to do is to negotiate. If the other side thinks you’re nuts, they may not think highly of your promises. This has nothing to do with soft power – the west will throw up an embargo at the drop of a hat, and they have been effective enough in many cases. Even Iran is hardly immune, although I suspect oil will always find a market somewhere. It’s just that it doesn’t make sense to say “we might act totally disproportionately and nuke Tehran” if you want Iran to rely on your abiding commitment to international law to protect its borders.

    If this was, maybe, a sort of Franco-German good cop/bad cop act to get Tehran to the negotiating table, it might be understandable. But frankly, the Americans already have a far more credible Dirty Harry than Chirac can ever be. There’s no need for another. If this is going to be a good cop/bad cop play, it makes far more sense with all of Europe as the good cop.

    Actually, thinking it over as I type, the US has already ruled out trying to deal with Iran. That does undermine their bad cop value. Maybe Chirac is trying to fill the “bad cop gap” with Iran.

    Nah, he’s not credible in the role.

  21. As for the French nuclear weapons strategy, isn’t it a simply a recognition that the new target for the missiles are the command centres of potential opponents rather than their cities?

    No. The command centers are right in the middle of cities. In plain English he said: If you tolerate somebody close to you who does something bad to us, we might fry you with him.

    That might have a large deterrence value, but will make matters much more serious if deterrence fails.

  22. The whole point of having a nuclear deterrent, as Kissinger put it in the bad old days and as the Times sort of acknowledges, is to keep the other side guessing about whether or not you are prepared to use it

    If the other side has them, too. If not, other uses are possible. What is or is not disproportionate is not set in stone.

    Alas, it is of little use when what you really want to do is to negotiate

    We don’t. At least we shouldn’t want if we knew what’s good for us. A last effort is made by threatening sanctions, but this is more or less done to soothe our own nerves.

    if you want Iran to rely on your abiding commitment to international law to protect its borders

    You don’t. That stage is past. What we do now would be called blackmail if done in private life. It requires a belief in threats, not promises, to work.

  23. Oliver: “Economic sanctions against a major oil producer are currently and probably for decades impossible.”

    Edward: “I agree with you in spirit on this. This is why I put the two oil-related links. If we impose economic sanctions on Iran (and remember the Shia in Iraq may also react to these) we risk provoking a global recession, and Ahmadinejad knows it. This is what he is gambling on I imagine.”

    I think there is one scenario, impossible today though perhaps merely implausible in a few years, depending on how things turn out in Iraq, but disastrous enough for Iranian nationalism that it may be forcing contribute to a “now or never” attitude among the Iranian right towards asserting the nation’s right to nuclear technologies:

    If there existed a viable Shi’a Arab republic on Iran’s western border, whether coterminous with Iraq or merely with its southern provinces, then following an embargo on Iranian oil, interests in Khuzestan province, which ethnically is mostly Shi’a Arab, and which has most of Iran’s oil, might find it in their interest to no longer be Iranian, and thus become sympathetic to being annexed by this hypothetical republic. Realpolitik at its nastiest, to be sure, but perhaps something that is worried about in Tehran?

  24. Edward draws a distinction between Bush and Chirac, but as in 2003 the similarities seem more striking. Clearly, a range of different people are going to draw unwelcome conclusions from this extra notch of escalation. But here’s one I would welcome. Those who have delighted in poking Kantian weenies in the eye might find themselves reflecting on what happens when life gets nasty and brutish.
    ___

    One other point.
    “Why would China stall?”
    What Edward said, and also: short term, China wants to prevent sanctions without being forced into vetoing a sanctions resolution.

  25. “Statements like this errode the “soft power” the EU gets from being seen as organization that relies of negotiation rather than force. Bad Chirac.”

    “Speak softly, but carry a big stick” (Theodore Roosevelt).

    I recommend to follow closely what Tehran has to say about the decadent, materialist Europeans (for example on regimechangeiran.com). The fact is that they don’t take the Europeans serious. The chief negotiator once said that the negotiations with the Europeans where helpful – Teheran got two more years for working quietly on it’s nuclear program.

    If you want to negotiate, you have to be taken for serious. We take Teheran for serious. After Chiracs statement, the mullahs might wake up and understand that they have to take the EU-3 for serious too. What Chirac did is showing that Europe also has hard power, a big stick.

    Instead of playing cat and mouse with us, Teheran must understand that also Europeans sometimes mean what they say. Chirac’s speach was a timely reminder.

  26. If you tolerate somebody close to you who does something bad to us, we might fry you with him

    Yes, Oliver, but that you is perhaps a bit more up close and personal now. With more precise modern guidance systems the threat is now directed at leaderships rather than whole populations; that makes for a a more credible threat.

    On a different scale, this hasn’t worked particularly well in Palestine, and even with small nukes the ‘collateral damage’ would be horrendous, but it does mark a change in policy, implying greater willingness to launch if sufficiently provoked.

    That said, Mr Chirac did use his speech at France’s main nuclear submarine base at Brest to complete the sensible transformation in French nuclear doctrine that he started back in 2001, just before that year’s terrorist attacks on the US. During the cold war, France’s nuclear stance had been pretty blunt: to threaten to devastate the cities (because it could not be sure of hitting any smaller targets) of any state that attacked it with nuclear weapons. Since then it has switched to a strategy of targeting command and control centres of any attacking state.

    This switch has been made possible because of more accurate weapons, and desirable because the greater the prospect of France being able to limit the scope of a nuclear strike, the greater the chance of a French president daring to order one, and therefore the greater the potential deterrent effect of the force de frappe. In effect, the threat of massive, indiscriminate nuclear retaliation had simply become incredible, a conclusion reached long ago by the US and Britain. But Mr Chirac also yesterday updated his nuclear doctrine to cope with terrorism. He recognised that nuclear weapons would not deter “fanatical terrorists” ready to die for their cause, but it might give any state or government second thoughts about backing them.
    http://news.ft.com/cms/s/43f56d72-8959-11da-94a6-0000779e2340.html

    The relevance of all this to forcibly dissuading Iran from pursuing a nuclear weapons programme is debatable. Ultimately, negotiating with Iran on this issue does depend on a credible threat of conventional air-strikes directed against the facilities involved. The question is who would suffer most from the political fallout of such an escalation. Because of the world economic repercussions, I fear it wouldn’t be Ahmadinejad – and that he knows it.

  27. The first question to be answered in repect to Iran is “Do they at this moment in time have nukes”.
    I believe they have had nukes for some years now. Not many but enough to destroy Israel (a handfull is enough for that)

    The US has a very anti Iran stance so the fact that the EU-3 have a public policy against Iran doesn’t mean they have one in reality as i don’t think that anybody can really do anything against Iran which wouldn’t be much worse than Iran having nukes

  28. John Montague wrote (1-20-2006 10:24 PM):
    Ultimately, negotiating with Iran on this issue does depend on a credible threat of conventional air-strikes directed against the facilities involved.
    This gamely assumes that the mullahs are willing to negotiate away the one thing they most dearly want. Again–why would they do that?

    Conventional air-strikes: the Iranian leadership may be murderous, and fanatical, and devoted to the return of the 12th imam–but they aren’t stupid. The facilities that consitute the nuclear program are: dispersed, hardened underground, secret, protected by SAMs, redundant, located amidst civilian homes.

    Air strikes would kill many innocent bystanders. Propaganda coup. And some attacking planes and missiles would be shot down. Coup. A sullen, anti-mullah populace would be jolted into nationalistic fury. Coup.

    The reactions from the American Left, Europe, Russia, China, majority-Muslim states, the rest of the Third World? The effects on world oil markets?

    All for setting back the weapons program by a few months, or a couple of years at most. Are Iranian project managers so incompetent that they haven’t laid plans for this contingency? Are their engineers so clueless that they won’t rapidly rebuild what they’ve already created once?

    There is no credible threat. Perhaps as events unfold, we’ll again come to be as ruthless as the Democracies that firebombed Hamburg and Tokyo, then did it again. When that awful day arrives, we’ll have our credible threat back.

  29. On a different scale, this hasn’t worked particularly well in Palestine,

    But it did work a little bit as the Israeli’s have retreated out of the Gaza strip

  30. That is not even a credible treat. The day that happens is the same day as Italy, Canada, Brazil, Japan, Taiwan, South Africa etc. decide they need nukes too

  31. “The head of France’s armed forces, Gen. Henri Bentegeat, accused Iran of trying to obtain nuclear weapons. Iran “presents a major worry because it is a country that has shown extremely bellicose intentions,” he told RTL radio.”

    From Yahoo News

  32. For now it’s perfectly clear that the Euro carrot ended. Now we are at time for threats. The moving of Iranian assets maybe to Russia or China will of course reinforce the blocking party in UNSC.
    What France says in practice is this: We accept that you get the bomb but any smell of a terror act in a Paris morning and you’ll be ashes.

  33. @ John M

    “Surely, if Middle East oil ever comes to be invoiced in Euros, that will severely dent the dollar’s credibility as an international store of value?”

    I know this is a widely held belief, but I can’t for the life of me understand why. Let me tell a little anecdote.

    During the last week there has been a lot of fuss in Spain about the so-called Salamanca Papers and their return to Catalonia. These papers are documents which were the property of the pre civil war administration here (minutes of meetings etc) and were forceably taken to be stored in a national archive in Salamanca at the end of the civil war. They are variously described as ‘war booty’ or ‘our national heritage’ depending on who you listen to.

    Now the relevance of his story to your issue runs as follows. One of the agreed conditions for the transfer was the digitalisation of the documents, which is perfectly logical since it means that any researcher (and these are the only people who consult the papers) can now consult them via internet from the comfort of their home, which could be in Catalonia, in Spain, elsewhere in the EU, or in India or China if need be. The point is, a digitalised archive is effectively ‘nowhere’, and it’s exact physical location now seems of minor importance.

    This, however, hasn’t stopped the issue being treated on all sides as if it were a matter of the utmost importance, with the archive being moved under the protection of a heavy police presence, in the pre-daylight hours just before dawn, with the centre of Salamanca to all intent and purpose sealed off, and with prominent PP leaders suggesting that this is just the latest example of the unity of Spain being in danger.

    Why, one might might ask, has there been all the fuss? The answer, John, would be because it touches symbols, and symbols of identity at that.

    And this is what the invoicing of oil debate is all about: symbolology. I think it has very little real economic importance whatsoever.

    There is a copper bourse in Shanghai. Do we even know the invoicing currency in this case? Do we even care?

    Nutcases like Saddam Hussain, or Mahmoud Amadi-Nejad make huge issues out of this topic, simply because of its symbolic and mediatic value.

    Now for the economic core:

    “the dollar’s credibility as an international store of value?”

    The prime determinant of the dollar as a store of value would be twofold, I think. In the first place the relative growth in the US economy vis-a-vis the growth in economies whose currencies could be perceived as being alternative stores of value, and secondly the degree of anticipated volatility in the dollar if you are using it for transactions purposes.

    Now the US is growing less quickly than some important developing economies, so potentially their currencies could be anticipated as rising more steadily in value than the US dollar. The issue here is one of time scales, and composition of reserves. It is not a question of invoicing.

    The invoicing issue really arises for those who wish to trade in oil futures, as you need to make some estimate of the various values of a number of currencies at some future date to estimate the value of what you are trading. This raises the issue of volatility. Is the euro any less volatile than the dollar? I think not. So I don’t see the advantage of the move, apart, that is from the symbolic agro advantage.

    “I have never seen the Renminbi mentioned as a candidate”

    Well now you have. I am making it. The Renminbi is currently pegged to a wide basket of currencies, which makes it inherently less volatile. As it comes off this, and floats more and more freely, it will undoubtedly move steadily upwards. So in general this would be a good solution.

    “but the Euro often has been…..”

    Yes, especially by those who think that the strength of the US economy is due to the high dollar, not the reverse. Many of these people are the same people who argued for the creation of the euro. As I said, the key issue here is central bank reserves, but you ask them in Italy how keen they are for central banks to buy a lot more euros and push the euro up again.

    “I’ve even seen it suggested that Saddam’s intentions in this direction were one trigger for the war.”

    Yes, possibly Saddam himself argued this (he was, as I’ve said, a nut), and possibly those who dream of a Euro reserve currency and understand nothing of economics also hold this view.

  34. @ AMac

    “There’s serious as ‘negotiating seriously,’or …..”the non-negotiable objective of Iran’s diplomatic efforts has been to facilitate the acquisition of nuclear weapons and delivery systems in a timely manner.”

    Well I assume its the latter. Iran has decided it is going to have nuclear weapons. The FT this morning says:

    “The moves (calling on OPEC to cut, and relocating financial resources) were widely interpreted as a signal that Iran is preparing for a long stand-off with the west and sees oil production as a counter weight to international economic pressure.”

    I think this assesment is more or less correct. This isn’t knee-jerk stuff, this is calculated and timed.

    “Chirac’s response is reasonable from that point of view.”

    No, It isn’t. Simply because Iran is going to have nuclear weapons doesn’t mean we are going to have a nuclear war. The nuclear weapons bit are purely a protection for Iran to allow it to get on with other matters as it sees fit. These other matters would include raising its influence across the Middle East (and possibly in Afghanistan) and using the energy card. The real weapon here is energy.

    Russia, which has long had nuclear weapons, but has never actually used them, also sees energy as the key lever. We have just seen this with Ukraine, Moldova, Armenia etc and gas.

    So all of this is going to be about energy.

    What to do about it? Well I, like you, and like just about everyone else don’t actually know. But Chirac sounding-off in the way he did certainly didn’t do any good (they know the threat to use nuclear weapons against Iran once Iran has them is just hot air, there is no bluff involved here, ask them in N Korea) and may have the counter-productive effect of encouraging other states to (more discretely) go about the business of acquiring them.

    “France maintains its force de frappe as a deterrent, and Chirac is signalling what it is he wishes to deter.”

    Well, this is the point. Chirac remember said France would use nuclear weapons against those “who use terrorist means against us”. He didn’t specify what terrorist means, where, or how.

    This could be read as a threat to anyone who wishes to interfere with France’s energy supply. It could be read in the context of an attack on Saudi oil installations, it could be read as a reference to what is happening now in Nigeria. Apart from being immoral I would say that Chirac’s latest ‘clarification’ was both confusing and bloody dangerous.

    “When that awful day arrives, we’ll have our credible threat back.”

    No we won’t we will simply have destroyed ourselves and everything we stand for. “They” will have won.

  35. I put two links to the oil price issue in the post, since I think it is central to understanding the complexity of this situation.

    In the 70s there were two important oil hikes, in 1973/74 and in 1979. The 1979 hike impacted after the global economy had already been worn down by the 1973 one.

    Today something similar is happening. Since the Iraq war the price of oil has more than doubled. Now Iran is again deciding to join the fray.

    Yesterday six-month oil futures were at $68. A couple of years back it was estimated that to reach the 1979 level, oil would have to be in the region of $80. Lets add another 5 dollars for the intevening period and say $85.

    This objective is, it seems to me, a strategically relatively doable one for the Iranians, if they and others play their hand right.

    What would they achieve? A global recession. What would that do? Show they can’t be ignored. Increase their clout on any negotiating table. Isn’t that what all this is about. The nuclear thing is only a guarantee that they won’t get invaded.

    Of course the Russians are stuck in the middle here, they want to use the threat of a recession, but they don’t actually want one. I’m not at all sure that this is true of the Iranians though.

  36. News Sources

    Does anyone have suggestions about fair and balanced in depth analysis about what is actually happening in Iran?

    I suspect that we are all getting way behind the curve here. Ahmadi-Nejad does seem to have a particularly gruesome history that ideally equips him to become a really problematic dictator, even if he himself is not the one who actually wields the real power.

    The populism, anti-semitism, hostility to capitalism etc etc, are all horribly reminiscent of National Socialism.

    I have found this site: Iran Focus. It claims to be fair and balanced (we will see):

    http://www.iranfocus.com/modules/wfchannel/index.php?pagenum=1

    It has this story today about the new interior minister Hojjatoleslam Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi. What the story describes as happening is what I would have anticipated, and indeed had been anticipating in comments on previous posts:

    Interior Minister Hojjatoleslam Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi, who was the Deputy Minister of Intelligence and Security for some 13 years during the late 80s and throughout the 90s, has turned the Interior Ministry into a huge security and intelligence apparatus by bringing in many officers from the country’s secret police. Pour-Mohammadi is systematically replacing all the top officials of provincial administrations.

    Prior to his appointment as Ahmadinejad’s Interior Minister, the radical Shiite cleric had been running the Special Department for Security and Intelligence in the office of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Pour-Mohammadi’s sweeping changes and political appointments have turned the Interior Ministry into one of the country’s most powerful security agencies. The Deputy Commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, Brigadier General Mohammad-Baqer Zolqadr, has been appointed as Pour-Mohammadi’s second-in-command, with overall responsibility for internal security.

    Khamenei’s recent decision to name Pour-Mohammadi as the Acting Commander in Chief of the State Security Forces gave him complete control over the vast police force of the Islamic Republic. The National Security Council, a separate entity from the Supreme National Security Council (SNSC), is entrusted with internal security. It had become largely defunct during the Khatami Administration but has since been revamped as part of the “militarisation” of the atmosphere.

    The appointment of Pour-Mohammadi at the helm of the National Security Council is expected to contribute significantly to further crackdowns in the country. Ahmadinejad said that he expected Pour-Mohammadi to “establish and safeguard the country’s sensitive security”.

    http://www.iranfocus.com/modules/news/article.php?storyid=5405

  37. Edward, thanks for your thoughtful response, and also comments on oil/currency and on internal Iranian developments.

    I have fewer disagreements with your opinions than one might suppose, e.g. on what it would mean to have a ‘credible threat.’ The utility of nukes as a deterrent against U.S. invasion is clear, as is the oil-price strategy you outline. I appreciate that you point out the central importance of the energy price shock that is likely to result from these developments. In the U.S., politicians and citizens both seem oblivious to this threat, and wholly uninterested in long-term mitigation strategies.

    Deliverable nuclear weapons also give the mullahs the freedom to pursue other long-standing objectives, e.g. increased support of Hezbollah and other groups, including al-Qaeda post 9-11. These may or may not include hastening the coming of the 12th imam. The new president may be genuinely nuts or he may be, rationally, acting the part. Probably some combination.

    A US think tank recently posted a lengthy report on the likely implications of Iran’s emergence as a nuclear power on its foreign policy. They saw no reason that the mullahs would limit themselves to the economics of energy. I’ll post a link when I locate it.

  38. Sigh.

    Chirac’s move isn’t one of desperation or weakness, but rather clearly laying out to the Iranians that they are going too far.

    We all know how complicit France has been in the Middle East. After the riots and the realization by the French elite that they’ve made some very fundamental errors in judgement, the French are finally starting to act like the French that the US allied with during the Cold War, and not like the French that weaseled out of its Cold War commitments.

    And that’s the direction the French have to take if they can lay any claim to “Le grand nation”.

    About time.

    And you can read more about that on my blog…

  39. “but rather clearly laying out to the Iranians that they are going too far.”

    Well, the speech obviously made him feel good (as Guy is indicating in his post), and it obviously reasured you John, but beyond that I’m not sure what it has achieved for the good (I’ve already indicated some of the things it might have done for the bad).

    It is very hard to say, but it looks like the Iranians knew what they were doing when they removed the seals. It seems a reasonable bet that they are either already there, or in a very advanced state of preparation. Given that the Iranian leadership are more or less paranoid, they must have anticipated someone would try and stop them before it was too late. There are also these kind of (difficult to verify) reports floating about:

    London, Jan. 20 – Iran is carrying out illegal nuclear weapons activities at a top-secret site west of Tehran, an Iranian opposition movement which has given accurate information about Tehran’s nuclear activities in the past said on Friday.

    Tehran has successfully procured two types of equipment, the Hot Isostatic Press and the Hot Press, to shape enriched uranium as part of nuclear weapons production at the “Materials and Energy Research Centre” (Pazhuheshgah-e Mavad va Enerzhi), Dowlat Nowrouzi, UK representative of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, told reporters at a conference in the House of Commons.

    Both machines are banned items, she said.

    The MERC site, located on the edge of Meshkin-Dasht near Karaj, forty kilometres west of the Iranian capital, is operating under the cover of a scientific and industrial research centre affiliated to the Ministry of Science and is run under the direction of Dr. Fatollah Moztarzadeh, Nowrouzi said.

    Iran Focus
    http://www.iranfocus.com/modules/news/article.php?storyid=5407

    and

    VIENNA, Jan 20, 2006 (AFP) – Iran may have received three shipments of sophisticated P-2 centrifuges capable of enriching uranium, diplomats said Friday, which could support Western claims that Tehran is hiding sensitive nuclear work.

    There were reportedly three shipments of one centrifuge each from the black-market network of disgraced Pakistani nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan in 1997, one diplomat said.

    Now there is no way of knowing whether or not any of this is the case, but if we work back from the *fact* that they took the seals off, and that they have subsequently moved on relocating their resources and raising the oil anti, I’d say that there was a good chance that they are already within striking distance. Of course, when they are there, I’m sure we will be the first to know. Once they have it, they won’t keep a secret of it. Come to think of it, they *might* be encouraging the speculation in the above reports.

    On the other hand, since they probably want to keep the Russians on board since they appear to need the missiles to deliver the thing, they may want to keep them guessing.

    It’s a sort of tight juggling act.

    Anyway I think we’ll have our answer soon enough, and then we’ll have to see what M Chirac says next.

  40. What would they achieve? A global recession. What would that do? Show they can’t be ignored. Increase their clout on any negotiating table. Isn’t that what all this is about.

    This is true, but not useful.
    Let Iran have nuclear weapons, the oil price will go up.
    Impose sanctions, the oil price will do up.
    Go to war, the oil price will go up.

    Unless there are good quantified predictions that only tells us to prepare for a higher oil price. Under these circumstances all you can do is chose what is best disregarding oil.

  41. “This is true, but not useful.”

    I agree. I think there will be two types of proposal on the table when all this calms down.

    1/. Slow-down global economic growth so that the energy margin isn’t so tight. This would probably be aimed principally at India and China, and would mean a rediscovery of the virtues of ‘underdevelopment’, together with a certain unwinding of globalisation.

    2/. Look for new sources of energy.

    I know which I favour.

    In any event the Iran problem wouldn’t go away, but it would be better contained.

  42. Not wanting to echo points made above, I’ll keep this brief. It seems there’s a large element of cum hoc ergo propter hoc in conflating Chirac’s speech entirely with the Iran issue.

    Central to Chirac’s remarks was the deterrence of states wishing to arm terrorists with WMDs. Who believes that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons in order to hand them over to terrorists? Larry Franklin just got 12 years; Michael Ledeen may still have access, but his influence is much reduced. Anyone else?

    What about using nukes to preempt Iranian proliferation? The French army chief of staff, General Bentegeat, says the idea is “completely mad”.

    Iran may have been alluded to in Chirac’s speech, but it wasn’t mentioned. And as a contribution to the Iran debate it seems enormously ill judged.

    Far more likely: this speech is the outcome of an extensive strategic review with a long lead time. Its political rationale draws on the same dreary concerns of prestige and grandeur familiar from previous initiatives by this second-rate Gaullist.
    In some ways it’s reminiscent of the great alliance with Russia, circa 2003 – in which context there’s a depressing irony that Elysee briefers now spinning the nuclear speech are saying that energy security is among the vital French interests to be defended.

  43. “No we won’t we will simply have destroyed ourselves and everything we stand for. “They” will have won.”

    This one of most strange things usually said. Almost border in irrational and shows clearely a narcisistic West always looking to it’s mirror image and scrambles with identity problems when gives up the Italian suit and has to change to Worker uniform…
    Read the 2nd Wold War stories about Allies…

    Now the West doesnt want to win the Wars. We see that with Israel. It isnt it’s priority . Apply that present policy to 2WWar or whole Western History and imagine the results.

  44. “Apply that present policy to 2WWar or whole Western History and imagine the results.”

    Well I don’t agree with you LuckyLucky, but you do, possibly inadvertently, raise an interesting, and deeply problematic question. If we look at the whole of ‘western’ or indeed world history, we will indeed find no end of brutal wars fought brutally. In this case, however,I prefer to look forwards and not backwards.

    However, WWII is a very interesting case.

    Let me say something provocative: perhaps the ‘saving grace’ of nazism is that it was such an explosive cocktail of energy and emotions (hat-tip here for those for whom this means anything to Michel Leiris and George Bataille) that it went onto an ‘uncontrolable path’ (rather like modern China’s export and investment circle) from which there was no way out except invasion and war.

    If you shake the champagne bottle hard enough, and remove your thumb, the effect is inevitable, if you follow me.

    I say ‘saving grace’, not because I wish to belittle in any way what happened to all those killed in the holocaust, but because it was precisely this dynamic which meant it came up against a hard rock, and eventually was ended.

    That this is not a necessary evolution for fascism, let alone for dictatorship, is shown by cases like Mussolini and Franco (to name but some). Mussolini came to an unfortunate end because he stupidly got involved with Herr Hitler, Franco (who had more gut cunning in this sense) didn’t, and died in his bed, may I remind you, in 1975.

    Now why is all this important?

    Well lets fast forward 70 or so years to the latest group of countries which are somewhere near the doorsteps of modernity, places like Iran and Iraq.

    Iran was evolving nicely away from authoritarian dictatorship. Those who laugh at us ‘euroweenies’ and our patience and penchant for resolving problems with our brains rather than our fists miss something important here, IMHO. I think bringing Iran out of the dark ages was doable. But then in April 2003 something happened, something which changed everything.

    Now Iran is on a different course, and this time it is one which may not follow the Franco/Saddam model. This time they may come first* for the Zoroastrians and then for the Kurds, but the cocktail does seem to be explosive, and lead outwards. This, unfortunately, is why it is not simply a ‘mere detail’ that Iran will have nuclear weapons.

    “First they came for the communists…”
    Martin Niemöller

  45. “it was such an explosive cocktail of energy and emotions (hat-tip here for those for whom this means anything to Michel Leiris and George Bataille) that it went onto an ‘uncontrolable path’ (rather like modern China’s export and investment circle) from which there was no way out except invasion and war.”

    Possibly the best explanation ever of the dynamics of revolutions and the behaviour of masses. I remember vaguely something Dostoevsky wrote somewhere: It is the duty of the masses to be conservative and resist change. It is the duty of the elite to move the masses to change and progress.

    Once you get the, normally indifferent/conservative, masses moving… anything can happen. And it is difficult to control a juggernaut once it is rolling at full speed.

    If you are a leader (whatever kind) who succeeds in getting the masses move, you better make sure they are headed in the right direction.

  46. Iran was evolving nicely away from authoritarian dictatorship. Those who laugh at us ‘euroweenies’ and our patience and penchant for resolving problems with our brains rather than our fists miss something important here, IMHO.

    But there you are constructing an association that does not exist. Violence is not necessarily stupid, nor the other way round. A preference for negotiation is good, as war is expensive in blood and treasure. But too often in Europe, you don’t see a preference for negotiation, but an automatic, mindless rejection of war. Which is just, well, mindless. Just remember the first Gulf War.

    I think bringing Iran out of the dark ages was doable. But then in April 2003 something happened, something which changed everything.

    It would be very surprising to me if there were only one form of organistaion of state and society that is competitive in the modern world. There isn’t only dark and light, there are colors. Assuming otherwise smacks of hubris.

    Now as for fascism, an islamist state is a bad candidate. It will always be forced to grant a choice between conversion and dhimmi status, assuming that worst comes to worst. If you want to see infant fascism go north from Tehran, and yes, this time it might survive.

  47. Stanley Baldwin said that “a dynamic force is a very terrible thing-it may crush you and it is not necessarily right,” which is a good quote from an awful prime minister whose chief failing was that his solution to the “dynamic force” was to stand back and let it build up speed..

  48. Worth a read, Rupert.
    By no means onesided, and might clear up some gaps.
    Two quotes from near the end of the piece. On the one hand:The regime has spent twenty-five years trying to make these young Iranians deeply pro-Islamic, anti-American, anti-Western, and anti-Israeli. As a result, most of them are resentful of Islam (at least in its current, state-imposed form), rather pro-American, and have a friendly curiosity about Israel. One scholar, himself an Islamic reformist, suggested that Iran is now—under the hijab, so to speak—the most secular society in the Islamic world.
    But on the other:Their political attitudes toward the West are complex, often deeply confused, and volatile. Unlike in neighboring Turkey, even the most outspoken would-be democratizers don’t envisage their country becoming part of the West. They seek a specifically Iranian version of modern society.

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