Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Putin & The Mullahs Redux

Matthew Yglesias is correct to argue that we ought to take Russia's relationship with Iran -- and its interest in deterring any strike on Iran's Russian-built nuclear energy program -- very seriously. But I'm not sure about his suggestion that Putin would just hand over the plans for a bomb or two in a fit of post-strike diplomatic pique. In fact, Russia's got plenty of reasons to consider the prospects of a nuclear-armed Iran with something less than enthusiasm.

To begin with, while the Bush administration's claims that Iran might develop a missile capacity to reach the American mainland are preposterous, Russia could one day very conceivably find itself threatened by an Iranian nuclear weapon. More immediately, an Iranian bomb would likely set off a regional nuclear arms race. Given Russia's history with Islamic insurgents in Chechnya, the idea of widespread proliferation in the Muslim world is not a particularly comforting one.

So while Russia, and a good part of the world, will very likely be majorly ticked off should we go ahead and unilaterally bomb Iran's nuclear program, I don't think that will play out as the nuclear weapons equivalent of a food drive for Tehran. On the other hand, it will make cobbling together a longterm containment and deterrent strategy significantly more difficult.

Update: Both Josh Marshall and Andrew Sullivan have now signed on to Yglesias' interpretation of Putin's declaration. Odd. There are plenty of sound arguments against a unilateral strike against Iran. But to suggest that the Russians will hand over a nuclear weapon to Tehran in response to such an attack doesn't seem like one of them. The reason we did not have to disarm a nuclear Poland, Romania, Hungary, East Germany, etc. is because the Russians did not share their nuclear weapons technology with them. And those countries formed a regional strategic military alliance at the heart of Russian national defense doctrine for more than forty years. By contrast, Russia's bonds with Iran are based on short-term tactical considerations and economic interest, hardly the basis for a nuclear kiss. Putin's threat is a combination of posturing and a warning that he can make things difficult for us. That alone is plenty.

Update 2: Ezra Klein has now added some water to the Kool Aid before tossing it back. Guys, nobody just gives away nuclear weapons. Desperately isolated states (ie. North Korea) sell them, as do desperately greedy individuals (ie. AQ Khan). A uni-lateral strike against Iran will certainly make it more difficult to use diplomacy to stave off an eventual Iranian second push for nuclear capacity, thereby locking us into a cycle of military intervention. But no one's going to just hand over the atomic goody bag to Tehran just to get back at us.

Posted by Judah in:  International Relations   Iran   Russia   

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