Monday, January 18, 2010

Engage Iran? I. Thinking About Security

Rather than continuing the long-standing provocation of tensions between Iran and the West, it may be possible to design an effective policy of quiet engagement, provided that it is thought through carefully. The post introducing this idea posed several questions that the U.S. needs to start considering very carefully, of which the first focuses on security:

What moves could Washington reasonably make to reassure Iran that complete nuclear transparency would leave it more, rather than less secure?


Offer a series of increasingly significant moves to address Iran’s security concerns; request a parallel series of moves to address Western concerns about Iranian nuclear transparency. At each step, the West gives something on security and Iran gives something on transparency. Go to the next step only when each side is satisfied.


  • Establish a regional organization to monitor air force movements designed to provide everyone with early warning of an attack.
  • Support the acquisition of ground-to-air (i.e., defensive) missiles by Iran, Lebanon.
  • Explicitly recognize Iranian right to clear set of technologies.
  • Provide all NPT members with some preferential treatment denied to states that refuse to sign.
  • Set up a regional diplomatic forum for exchanging information on significant military moves, such as the opening of new U.S. military bases or nuclear submarine maneuvers, and for seeking feedback from participating states.

More important than the specific details of the substantive steps would be that this would constitute a new policy based on a new foundation – that of late-Cold War-style confidence-building rather than the current Mideast policy approach of reliance on force and intimidation. Such a policy might not work, of course, but the U.S. has such an enormous superiority of power that it can well afford to try, and success would be a foreign policy coup that would greatly improve the U.S. strategic position.

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