Sunday, December 21, 2003

* Shifting U.S. Threat Perception after September 11 and the Fear of Iran's Nuclear Ambition

Shifting U.S. Threat Perception After September 11 and the Fear of Iran’s Nuclear Threat

Ali-Asghar Kazemi
December 2003


That the events of September 11, 2001, changed our perception of the world order and international power structure is now uncontestable. To characterize these changes, however, one has to examine the specific context in which the new perception has occurred and the relevant discursive effect it had upon the trend of international relations and the world order.

The United States, which became the sole “superpower” after the demise of its long-time ideological adversary the Soviet Union, found itself without serious challengers. The new strategic environment even brought the existence of important security alliances, such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), into doubt, because the major task of most such huge and costly military institutions was to defend the West against the Soviet threat. The overall feeling of NATO members after the Cold War was that sooner or later this defensive pact, founded to counter a specific threat in a bipolar world system, would have to be dismantled, just like its rival, the Warsaw Pact, which covered the Eastern bloc defense. The September 11 attacks not only changed this feeling, but also shifted the whole fabric of U.S. strategists’ security and threat perceptions.

This paper attempts to analyze the rationale behind this transformation and its impact on both the Middle East region and wider international relations. In the course of my discussion, I shall also examine some specific questions related to the much-debated issue of Iran’s nuclear program and recent developments with respect to the NPT and the IAEA Additional Protocol for the Application of Safeguards.

The main argument is as follows:
1. The recent shift in threat perception has induced a sense of urgency for U.S. policymakers to counter any probable source of threat (including non-conventional and nuclear), throughout the world, for which they do not seem to be prepared;
2. There is no consensus on the nature, origin, viability and the urgency of this threat among various actors and nuclear states in the world;
3. The plague of September 11 has pushed the United States to lower its threshold of threat perception and has created a new “ institutional paranoia,” somewhat like that which persisted during the Cold War;
4. The new strategic environment is likely to isolate the United States in international relations, leading to further cleavage among its former European allies and spreading the seeds of animosity and defiance, especially in the crisis-ridden Middle East;
5. Without passing any judgment on the real intention of Iran’s endeavor to acquire nuclear technology, it does not appear to be a viable threat to any country in the region and much less to the United States;
6. U.S. strategy to contain the proliferation of nuclear weapons should be directed toward preventive diplomacy rather than preemptive defense;
7. In the specific case of Iran, any attempt to use force to deter this country from acquiring nuclear technology and capability may lead to the revival of “Persian nationalism,” the emergence of anti-American sentiments, and the strengthening of hard-liners’ positions;
8. Mounting challenges to the U.S. global strategy against terrorism make it difficult for the incumbent U.S. president to sway domestic public opinion or the world at large. This problem, added to the ongoing daily threats in occupied Iraq and U.S. casualties, might affect President Bush’s chances in the November election.

The impact of September 11 on U.S. threat perception

As world communication and information technology shrink the distances between people around the world at the dawn of twenty-first century, history is being accelerated. The challenges are shaped mainly by the simultaneous convergence of a number of trends and phenomena. Globalization and its corollaries have led to “localization,” and identity crises among less affluent peoples have created a new return to traditional religious values and awareness around the world. Each of these trends is having a impact on socio-political and strategic discourse; when they occur jointly or simultaneously, they are creating new situations and parameters at national and international levels and transforming the whole concept, structure, and perception of the world order.

The interrelation of the two processes, globalization on the one hand, and the emergence of distrust and suspicion about the United States in the traditional third world on the other, has had a negative impact overall. The desire to preserve their identity and the discontinuity between means and ends have led some less tolerant groups to opt for unconventional tactics. This is one way of explaining the unfortunate events of September 11 and subsequent terrorist actions around the world, planned and conducted by a tiny number of fundamentalist radicals. Nonetheless, this has changed the perception of international order and national security in the minds of U.S. strategists and policymakers.

Even before September 11, with the end of the Cold War and the apparent victory of Western liberal democracy over Marxist ideology, international relations thinkers projected two contradictory views about U.S. strategy in the world:
1. The United States has no incentive to get involved in various world crises and international entanglements. Since there is no longer a great enemy contending against the West, there is no reason for the United States to act as a world “gendarme” and sacrifice its own resources. According to this view, a reduction of U.S. commitments to old alliances in Europe and elsewhere in the world would take place.
2. The opposite view is that the United States would be able to influence the emerging world order at the beginning of the new century by acting as a “policeman” to manage various national, ethnic, tribal, and cultural quarrels around the world. Among these conflicts are the long-standing disputes in the Middle East, the most urgent of which remains the Arab–Israeli hostilities.
September 11 paved the way for this second alternative, hence the victory of the neo-conservative hawks over the doves.

There are a number of ways to explain the rationale behind the United States’ decision to intervene militarily around the world. Among the various causes that lead a country to go to war or to use force to counter a potential or actual threat, historians and specialists in the field consider the following factors most important:[1]
1. Reaction to perceived threats;
2. Enthusiasm for ideals;
3. Frustration over unsatisfactory conditions, attributed to foreigners;
4. Belief in the utility of the threat of war or war itself as an instrument of policy, prestige, or power;
5. Conviction that military self-help is necessary to vindicate justice, law, and rights, if peaceful negotiation proves ineffective.
Each of the above factors can be explained and applied to current situations in the new strategic environment. Furthermore, this can be viewed from the vantage point of both the United States and the terrorist groups. In fact, this mutuality is the main factor lowering the threshold of U.S. threat perception.

Threat perception
Perhaps the most critical factor in the evaluation of past situations leading to serious crises and wars is how high-ranking policymakers see a specific case and what the individual or collective threshold to counter and manage a crisis situation is.

During the “bipolar” era, the United States and the Soviet Union were in permanent states of alert. The arms race resulting from the perceived threats tended to raise the fear of each side almost to the point of paranoia. In the United States, threat perception has always varied among the various departments traditionally and legally responsible for crisis management and making foreign policy (such as the White House, the National Security Council (NSC), the Department of Defense (DoD), and the State Department). Of course, the U.S. Congress has its own prerogatives and tools of control in all aspects of U.S. policy decisions. As we saw during the last U.S. intervention in Iraq, some serious arguments against it were raised in various departments on the one hand, and Congress on the other. The media have their own impact on the overall shape of public opinion as well as leaders’ and decision makers’ threat perceptions.
Enthusiasm for ideals
This important second factor has been translated to some kind of obsession formed by ideological conviction. This is especially true for the United States, which has taken on a self-proclaimed responsibility to convert the world to its values and norms, regardless of social and cultural differences. For instance, U.S. authorities speak of the democratization of Iraq and the wider Middle East, without realizing that Western-style democracy may be counterproductive in some deeply traditional countries. They simply may not be ready to accept the norms and values cherished by the West, either because of religion or other inhibiting factors.

Some high-ranking and well-educated officials in the West seem stupefied by the fact that some peoples do not like democracy, freedom, or justice, especially when advocated by outsiders. Actually, they hate for others to tell them what is good or bad for them. Traditional societies as a whole, and countries of the Middle East in particular, prefer to put their feet on the steps of their fathers and ancestors, rather than to imitate strange Western values. Indeed, it takes time to induce changes in these societies; otherwise they are susceptible to disintegration and collapse.
Frustration over unsatisfactory conditions, attributed to foreigners
This factor relates to the continued disorder and poverty around the world, for which the globalization trend, supported by the big powers, is seen as the main culprit. The same scapegoat was used during the Cold War by communists, who put the blame for their difficulties on “imperialist states.”[2] This supposition fits the widespread discontent around the world and especially the Middle East region, which suffers great poverty and injustice despite its huge hydrocarbon reserves and riches.

Belief in the utility of threat of war
This factor is a double-edged sword, used equally by terrorists and by mature states that believe that recourse to coercion and war is sometimes useful for promoting their policies and objectives.

The dynamics of coercion in U.S. foreign policy is a well-known phenomenon.[3] It is no secret now that the new conservative wing in the Washington decision-making apparatus believes that recourse to war and military operations is sometimes necessary for solving problems of terrorism and dictatorial regimes in the Middle East. They rationalize such strategy as reasonable or necessary to oust incumbent totalitarian regimes and put democratic governments in their place. Fundamentalists tend to use the same logic by advocating terror as a legitimate tactic against those who do not understand their cause. This mutual perception tends to reinforce the situation of intolerance and hostility. The next factor is somewhat complementary to this one.

Belief in the necessity of self-help
Recourse to self-help is a classical tactic that seems to please both the weaker side and the stronger. Today, as in the time directly after World War II, states have found it difficult to maintain internal peace and order unless they have an outside enemy that they can blame for political and economic failure. This usually helps them to avoid disintegration of their societies in times of crises. Even the strategy of “preventive defense” advocated by some U.S. war planners as a pretext for military intervention may fit in this category.

On the other hand, the more recent suicide attacks in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East also find their rationale in the necessity of self-help, rooted in the belief that for your survival you must rely on your own means and not expect assistance from other states or organizations.

With this in mind, the U.S. leadership is increasingly under pressure, both from inside and outside, to justify its military interventions around the world. This includes the traditional European allies of the United States, who have turned away from U.S. world policy. It is true that U.S. diplomats can still get the full endorsement of the UN Security Council on the issue of Iraq’s reconstruction or consensus in the IAEA board of Governors to pass a resolution against Iran’s nuclear venture.[4] This should not be construed, however, as the total submission of other states, which are contending many aspects of U.S. policies.

As we witnessed in October 2003, the EU’s leading members did not hesitate to take initiative in the matter of Iran’s nuclear issue by sending the foreign ministries of the big three (France, the United Kingdom, and Germany) to Tehran to make sure that the case would not fall into the hands of U.S. strategists.[5] This may be considered “preventive diplomacy” as opposed to “ preventive self-defense,” and was used by the EU to avoid the case of Iraq being repeated in Iran. If the European initiative had not taken place, it is not hard to imagine that in order to push Iran to go along with the IAEA demands, the hard liners in Tehran would be tempted to refuse any commitment, which would pave the way to bring the case to the UN Security Council. This matter will be further clarified below.

Iran’s nuclear venture and the perceived threat to peace
Is Iran’s desire to acquire nuclear technology potentially harmful to world order and peace? It depends on whose lens we use to view the issue. The IAEA Board of Governor’s decision to pass a resolution on 12 September 2003 for the implementation of the NPT Safeguards has been interpreted differently inside Iran from at the international level.[6] Preoccupation with the danger of Iran’s nuclear capability is now an alarming issue throughout the world. Iran’s decision to start negotiations for the conclusion of the Additional Protocol, and the IAEA request that Iran should promptly and unconditionally sign and implement it while stopping all nuclear enrichment programs, may bring a modicum of relief to all those who feel threatened by Iran’s undertaking. Since we are now in the midst of this process, it is very hard to pass judgment on the outcome of the ongoing negotiations.

Iran claims that it is merely using the basic and inalienable right of all NPT member states to develop atomic energy for peaceful purposes and is ready to assure the international community that it has no intention to produce nuclear weapons. Some critics would also argue that the Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons of 1 July 1968 is not an endeavor designed to protect mankind from the danger of devastation and annihilation, but rather to preserve the monopoly status of a handful of powers in possession of such technology.

Iran claims that its undertaking is legitimate and just. We know well that justice, equity, and fairness have never been highest aim of dealings between states, yet they have served as useful caveats in political discourse for the promotion of national interests. In fact, as we said earlier, one of the causes of war and hostility is the frustration of the less fortunate over unsatisfactory conditions allegedly created by the powerful nations. To them, slogans such as rendering justice to the powerless, saving humanity from the plague of hunger and disease, securing the world from the threat of terrorism, nuclear proliferation, atomic bombs and so on are wonderful words that only tickle ears and minds. Indeed, international norms and principles are always coated with some kind of noble and human overtone that merely serves as ground to promote one’s own policy or interests.

Some contend that the main objectives of owning nuclear weapons have always been their deterrent capabilities and use as leverage in political dealings. The argument against this is that nuclear capability in the hands of undemocratic and irresponsible regimes is too dangerous and should be contained at any cost. There seems to be a consensus on this latter point between the United States and many European powers. Realistically looking at the matter, even if we assume that Iran is trying to acquire a handful of nuclear weapons, it would have little operational or deterrent value. On the contrary, such an endeavor would increase Iran’s vulnerability vis-à-vis its potential adversaries.[7]

U.S. strategy to contain Iran’s nuclear project
The perception of the Bush administration and the neo-conservatives around him is that the new configuration of the world after September 11 does not leave any room to compromise on the risk of nuclear proliferation.[8] Things are fine as they are, as long as conventional treaties and obligations can be used to stop the trend; beyond that, the United States will use its muscle without hesitation. In the new configuration, it is suggested that not only the most powerful nation in the world, but also the world in general, are threatened by “rogue states” which are achieving WMD—nuclear, biological, and chemical—capabilities. The primary goal of the new preemptive strategy is to completely neutralize such threats.[9]

Iranians are quite conscious of the U.S. threat. They have witnessed U.S. military interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, and do not wish to see such events happening in Iran. U.S. strategy for keeping Iran from acquiring nuclear technology should be founded on premises other than use of force. That is to say, a strategy of preemptive strike or preventive defense, whether directed at selective targets (for example, attacks on specific nuclear plants or facilities) or at the overall regime, may only help Iran’s internal consolidation and perhaps the revival of the long-dormant “Persian nationalism,” even among people who have no sympathy for the incumbent regime.

The idea of the “axis of evil” that came into political jargon, including Iran alongside Iraq and North Korea, was something that did not deter Iran’s leadership, but helped instead to inflame anti-American sentiment. If Iran is kept from achieving its proclaimed peaceful nuclear project, such strategies may strengthen the hard liners in Tehran and weaken the position of those who favor gradual rapprochement with the United States.

U.S. policies toward Iran and the broader Middle East should demonstrate that its efforts to contain nuclear proliferation aim to create a secure and stable environment for Iran and all other states in the region. It should also clarify that the duration of its occupation of Iraq and military presence in Afghanistan depend on the assistance of neighboring states, including Iran, in achieving stability and peace in the region.[10] Perhaps a similar initiative to that of the EU foreign ministers, though not conducted officially, could pave the way for a constructive dialogue between the two countries. The initial aim of such dialogue should be mutual confidence building. Furthermore, such an initiative should not exclude one political faction (conservatives) in favor of the other (reformists); otherwise it would be doomed to failure. They must work together. The Iranian national security and defense apparatus are in the hands of hard liners, but the reformists are the ones who have legal authority to conclude agreements and approve them in the parliament; yet again the final promulgation of such agreements is at the mercy of conservative hard liners.

The same situation may emerge if sanctions are imposed upon Iran for any future non-compliance to the NPT, either through some sort of UN Security Council Resolution or otherwise by EU or the United States. A much better strategy would be to demonstrate the benefits of mutual cooperation in various domains, such as economic, technological, and security matters in the region. This may include the easing of U.S. sanctions against Iran, and even gradually lifting them, in order to pave the way for resolving all outstanding issues between the two countries and finally restoring their normal relations.
Conclusions and policy recommendations
The main strategic dilemma facing U.S. leaders is how to benefit from the opportunities which emerged after September 11, in order to shape a new world order attuned to U.S. interests and those of the world at large.[11] The impulse to eradicate terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, despotism, poverty, and disease, and thereby make the world a safer place to live is indeed commendable. But this impulse could run aground against the belief that it can be fulfilled by military means. Since failure on this ground would significantly undermine U.S. policies and overall strategy, it may lead to a never desired world disorder. The means that statesmen and generals in Washington are using to promote U.S. security against terror and intolerance do more on the whole to promote insecurity. Therefore, national security and national interests need to be rigorously redefined and reexamined in current world affairs. One state should not make others insecure for the sake of preserving its security. Military power alone does not enhance national security and national interests. It may even lead to insecurity and provoke fear. It has become clearer and clearer that no single nation, no matter how powerful, can be safely entrusted with the responsibility of bringing about peaceful change or interpreting and remaking international security. Thus, unilateral assumption of shaping world order by a single state is likely to jeopardize international peace and security.

The apparent shift of U.S. threat perception and the belief that war is a legitimate instrument of politics may lead to a dangerous world no prophet ever predicted. U.S. policy in the Middle East after the collapse of Iraq has been a source of anxiety and irritation throughout the region. Iran, for example, sees the Americans as behind the IAEA Resolution against it.[12] Thus far Iran has conceded on the question of NPT and the Safeguard Additional Protocol, but it does not mean that this source of international preoccupation is eliminated for good.[13] This may be the beginning of a long, time-consuming, and serious conflict that, if not managed properly, may lead to another entanglement in the region. To avoid this, the following points about the question of threat perception in general are worth considering:[14]
· The greater the reliance on a military solution to Middle East problems, the greater the resistance to U.S. presence in the region;
· The greater the opposition to U.S. unilateralism, the greater the possibility of U.S. isolation in world affairs;
· The higher the perception of threat to U.S. interests in the Middle East, the greater the probability of recourse to force to counter the situation;
· As the level of crisis increases in the Middle East, public discontent increases in the United States;
· As the targeting of values of high priority in the opponent’s normative hierarchy increases, the sense of threat to values will also increase;
· As many values and targets are threatened simultaneously, the sense of threat to U.S. targets and values tends to increase;
· The greater the perception of terrorist attacks, the greater the tendency of recourse to military action;
· As stress of terrorists acquiring WMD increases, decision makers will perceive the range of alternatives open to them become narrower;
· As misperception of the level of violence in the actions of opponents increases, the probability of escalation of the conflict tends to increase.
With respect to Iran’s nuclear activities and the outcome of the ongoing dialogue and negotiations with IAEA, and the relevant U.S. strategy to contain the perceived threat from this country, the following observations and recommendations are forwarded for the purpose of stimulating debate:
· Iran’s fluid political dynamic has raised high threat perception in the minds of U.S. decision makers; this is further aggravated by recent disclosure of Iran’s secret nuclear activities and breach of legal obligation during past decade;[15]
· Iran’s acquisition of nuclear capability has added further negative elements to the already hostile relations between the two countries and has put Iran’s credibility into serious doubt;
· Iran is in a vulnerable defensive situation after the September 12 IAEA Resolution and will probably give more concessions to the international community on various matters, namely the signature of the Additional Protocol to the NPT,[16] but this may not alleviate the U.S. threat perception;
· Even if Iran succeeds in obtaining or manufacturing a handful of nuclear weapons, it lacks the overall capability to build a viable deterrent force vis-à-vis the United States or other nuclear states;
· Whatever the real intention of Iran’s recent attempts at manufacturing delivery systems and long-range ballistic missiles, this action seems to be a gesture of national prestige in the region, rather than a serious threat to any country since it lacks other important elements of national power for a sustained military operation;
· Any selective targeting or military operations against Iran’s nuclear plants or vital oil terminals and facilities may only consolidate national integration and risks the revival of Persian nationalism, even among those who are not in line with the incumbent regime. This also may put the hard liners in a stronger position;
· Any future sanction or embargo imposed upon Iran for breach of obligation or non-compliance with the NPT provisions, either within the framework of Chapter 7 of the UN Charter or otherwise enacted by the United States or EU, may not prove effective to achieve the expected result, and may even worsen the situation;
· The United States would be better off in pursuing a strategy of preventive diplomacy with respect to the Middle East (especially the current issue of Iran’s nuclear project), rather than preemptive strike, which may stir up antagonism and hostility in the region.


Professor Ali-Asghar Kazemi holds a Ph.D. in International Law and Relations from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, Medford, Mass. He is the author of many books and articles, and a legal advisor on matters concerning the international law of the sea. Currently, he is dean of the Faculty of Law and Political Science, Islamic Azad University (Science and Research Campus).

1. See, for instance, Quincy Wright, A Study of War: An Analysis of the Causes, Nature, and Control of War. Abridged ed. (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1970).
2. Cf. Quincy Wright, “ Commentary on War Since 1942,” in Sanders and Durbin, Contemporary International Politics (New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1971), 210–15.
3. For a very recent and insightful study on this matter see Daniel Byman and Matthew Waxman, The Dynamics of Coercion: American Foreign Policy and the Limits of Military Might (London: Cambridge University Press, 2002).
4. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) serves as the world’s foremost intergovernmental forum for scientific and technical cooperation in the peaceful use of nuclear technology. Established as an autonomous organization under the United Nations in 1957, the IAEA carries out programs to maximize the useful contribution of nuclear technology to society while verifying its peaceful use.
5. With respect to the signature of the Safeguard Protocol, Iranian officials were initially divided, until the visit of foreign ministers of the three great powers of the EU (France, Germany, and the United Kingdom) to Tehran, which took place before the 31 October 2003 deadline.

The Final Statement by the Iranian Government and visiting EU Foreign Ministers of 21 October 2003 in Tehran is as follows:
Upon the invitation of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the foreign ministers of Britain, France, and Germany paid a visit to Tehran on October 21, 2003.
The Iranian authorities and the ministers, following extensive consultations, agreed on measures aimed at the settlement of all outstanding IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] issues with regards to the Iranian nuclear program and at enhancing confidence for peaceful cooperation in the nuclear field.
The Iranian authorities reaffirmed that nuclear weapons have no place in Iran’s defense doctrine and that its nuclear program and activities have been exclusively in the peaceful domain. They reiterated Iran’s commitment to the nuclear non-proliferation regime and informed the ministers that:
a. The Iranian Government has decided to engage in full cooperation with the IAEA to address and resolve through full transparency all requirements and outstanding issues of the agency and clarify and correct any possible failures and deficiencies within the IAEA.
b. To promote confidence with a view to removing existing barriers for cooperation in the nuclear field:
i. having received the necessary clarifications, the Iranian Government has decided to sign the IAEA Additional Protocol and commence ratification procedures. As a confirmation of its good intentions the Iranian Government will continue to cooperate with the agency in accordance with the protocol in advance of its ratification.
ii. while Iran has a right within the nuclear non-proliferation regime to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes it has decided voluntarily to suspend all uranium enrichment and processing activities as defined by the IAEA.
The foreign ministers of Britain welcomed the decisions of the Iranian Government and informed the Iranian authorities that:
a. Their governments recognize the right of Iran to enjoy peaceful use of nuclear energy in accordance with the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
b. In their view the Additional Protocol is in no way intended to undermine the sovereignty, national dignity, or national security of its state parties.
c. In their view full implementation of Iran’s decisions, confirmed by the IAEA’s director general, should enable the immediate situation to be resolved by the IAEA board.
d. The three governments believe that this will open the way to a dialogue on a basis for longer-term cooperation that will provide all parties with satisfactory assurances relating to Iran’s nuclear power generation program. Once international concerns, including those of the three governments, are fully resolved Iran could expect easier access to modern technology and supplies in a range of areas.
e. They will cooperate with Iran to promote security and stability in the region including the establishment of a zone free from weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East in accordance with the objectives of the United Nations.
6. The IAEA’s statement was a compromise that fell short of U.S. Ambassador Kenneth Brill’s assertion that findings on Iran’s nuclear program “will point to only one conclusion: that Iran is aggressively pursuing a nuclear weapons program.”

The IAEA stated that Iran had not lived up to its reporting obligations under the terms of its Safeguard Agreement. Iran’s IAEA Safeguard Agreement requires the country to provide the agency with information “concerning nuclear material subject to safeguards under the Agreement and the features of facilities relevant to safeguarding such material.” Technically, Iran is still in compliance with its Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) obligations, but as the IAEA stated, “it is the number of failures of Iran to report the material facilities and activities in question” that is “a matter of concern.” Going back over a ten-year period, Iran has followed a pattern of obfuscation that raises well-founded international suspicions about Iran’s nuclear program.
7. This fact has been even recognized by two important personalities directly responsible for Iran’s national defense and security. The leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khamenei, once said to his followers that the Islamic Republic’s strength does not lie in obtaining or the domestic manufacture of an atomic bomb, but it is “the power of the faith that can deter our enemy” (Washington Post, 17 November 1992). More recently, Iran’s Defense minister, Vice Admiral Ali Shamkhani, recognized in a February 2002 statement: “ The existence of nuclear weapons will turn us into a threat to others that could be exploited in a dangerous way to harm our relations with the countries of the region.” See the Guardian, 6 Feb. 2002. See also George Perkovich, “Dealing With Iran’s Nuclear Challenge,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 28 April 2003.
8. The seriousness of the information being revealed about Iran came at quite an inopportune time for Washington, on the verge of a presidential election year and already burdened with Iraq, Afghanistan, the war on terrorism, North Korea, and potentially recurrent Middle Eastern crises. The U.S. administration’s policy on the Iranian nuclear program is less than clear, and there does not seem to be a senior administration member who is either particularly active on the issue or has articulated a detailed U.S. policy. The Bush administration has not formulated an overall policy toward Iran, nor has Washington succeeded in producing a policy review on Iran. See: Brenda Shaffer, “Iran at the Nuclear Threshold,” Arms Control Today (Nov. 2003).
9. The view comes mainly from the realist scholars such as Kenneth N. Waltz. See his recent interview “Deterrence and Rogues,” Conversations with History ( UC Berkeley Institute of International Studies), 6.
10. Perkovich 2003, 11.
11. The recent overall U.S. policy toward Iran has been largely driven by its Iraq policy, its Afghanistan policy, and its attempts to have Iran turn over al-Qaeda suspects currently in Tehran’s custody. With U.S. success in Iraq partly contingent on countering Iranian efforts to undermine U.S. policy there, Washington does not seem to have decided if the best way is to deter or to tempt Tehran from further destabilization operations in Iraq. At times, its concerns about Iran’s nuclear policy seem to play second fiddle. See Shaffer, op. cit.
12. At its meeting on 12 September 2003, the IAEA Board of Governors adopted a resolution calling on Iran to sign, ratify, and fully implement the Additional Protocol promptly and unconditionally, and as a confidence building measure to act henceforth in accordance with the Additional Protocol. The Board also called on Iran to suspend all further uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities, pending provision by the director general of the assurances required by member states and pending satisfactory application of the provisions of the Additional Protocol.
13. The International Atomic Energy Agency has found that “there is no evidence that the previous undeclared nuclear material and activities ... were related to a nuclear weapons program.” Not yet, anyway. Director General Mohamed ElBaradei’s report adds that Iran’s past “pattern of concealment” means “it will take some time before the agency is able to conclude that Iran’s nuclear program is exclusively for peaceful purposes.”
14. In adapting the propositions that follow I have benefited from Charles F. Herman, ed., International Crises: Insight from Behavioral Research (New York, The Free Press, 1972).
15. See “Statement by U.S. Ambassador Kenneth C. Brill on IAEA Director General’s Report on the Implementation of the NPT Safeguard Agreement in the Islamic Republic of Iran, September 2003.” Available at
16. Iran’s representative to the IAEA, Ambassador Ali Akbar Salehi, on 10 November 10 2003 delivered a letter to IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei conveying his Government’s acceptance of the Additional Protocol. Mr. Salehi also informed the ElBaradei that Iran had decided, as of that day, to suspend all uranium enrichment-related and reprocessing activities in Iran—specifically, to suspend all activities on the site of Natanz, not to produce feed material for enrichment processes, and not to import enrichment-related items. The IAEA intends to verify, in the context of the Safeguards Agreement and the Additional Protocol, the implementation by Iran of these decisions.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

* Mounting Challenges to U.S. Military Presence in Iraq and the Rising Costs of Occupation

Mounting Challenges to U.S. Military Presence in Iraq and the Rising Costs of Occupation

Ali-Asghar Kazemi[1]
December 2003

1- Introduction
The fact that the number of American casualties in Iraq, after the official termination of war, outnumbers those during the active military operations, should be considered as an alarming sign to U.S. strategy and policy makers in Washington. Those who speak about the Vietnamization of Iraq, describe the American military intervention there a futile war which did not but spread terrorism more than before in the world. They argue that neither “ Weapon of Mass Destruction” WMD, nor the alleged link to terrorism was finally proved. To use the words of the American Under Secretary of State for Arms Control, John Bolton, testifying before the House International Relations Subcommittee, “ No conclusive evidence as yet found in Iraq”.
This whole picture is indeed discouraging both the public opinion inside the U.S. as well as the world at large, especially the former U.S. allies, who initially opposed to American military intervention in Iraq. Furthermore, the situation is inducing more and more the people of Iraq to resist to American presence, and instigates the old warriors to come to the scene and challenge the demoralized U.S. military occupying Iraq. The atmosphere is somehow the same for the British and to some extent to other coalition token forces.
The main questions this paper shall attempt to address and analyze briefly are the followings:
1- What are the main sources of challenge to American occupation inside Iraq?
2- What are the wider implications of the ongoing situation?
3- Who gets what and how?
4- What are the American options?

2- Sources of Insecurity in Iraq

American quick military victory in Iraq at the beginning of the year 2003 had an immediate impact on U.S. potential contenders and rivals. Many of those who had objected such intervention and described it as illegal and immoral and some who had coined it as an imperialist war against a Moslem Nation, were impressed by the quick round up. Almost all of them endorsed the collapse of the cruel Baathist regime, and many softened their attitude towards the American intervention, hoping to get some benefits in the reconstruction phase in Iraq. But, the optimistic feeling did not last long. As soon as the coalition forces eased the situation a bit, in order to embark on material, social and political reconstruction, then we witnessed the gradual emergence of petty and at first isolated resistance.

At the initial phase of resistance, only some pockets of unarmed Iraqi, liberated from the long subjugation, began to exercise their democratic rights and took to the streets of major cities of Iraq to protest against the lack of security, water, electricity, and shortage of food etc. At first, the Americans did not mind and not only tolerated but even appreciated such peaceful protests and took them as natural for the liberated masses from a tyrannical regime. The movement was interpreted as a good sign of democracy and freedom of expression. Even foreign reporters were invited to witness by themselves the miracles of democracy. Hundreds of papers suddenly appeared in the street corners, and people read them with enthusiasm and here and there shook hands with the liberators.

The easing atmosphere, however gave a free hand to those who feared the emergence of a democratic Iraq in the Middle-Eastern political arena, and gradually invisible hands started to obstruct the trend, both from inside and outside Iraq. At the beginning, U.S. forces faced only minor armed attacks. Then, suddenly resistance appeared in forms of well-planned sabotages, car bombings, suicide attacks, and gradually reaching to full-scale military operations.[2] In order to determine the sources of these recent operations, one has only to rely on his imagination and speculate on the matter, based on the facts and data provided by official sources and the independent reporters covering the events in Iraq.

It is safe to say that those challenging the U.S. occupation of Iraq come from various backgrounds, and do not pursue the same objectives and interests. One way of classifying them is as follows:

1- A faction or group of average unemployed and desperate people who feel humiliated by foreign occupation and have no hope for the future and think that the Americans are not able to restore law and order in Iraq. This group is not necessarily pro-Saddam and does not wish to see the old Baath regime to be revitalized, but has a great desire to regain national identity. These peoples are most susceptible to manipulation for political protests. They are not prepared to take arms for any considerable up rise or revolt against Americans. They are easy to handle and would be satisfied and calm by material rewards and attention, if provided to them directly by the Americans or through Iraqis in charge of welfare. These people are not inherently harmful, but other opportunistic groups can use them in mass demonstrations against U.S. presence in Iraq.

2- The remnants of the old Baath regime and the special Republican Guard, who are still devoted to the ousted tyrant, but hated by the average Iraqis, having no future and no other choice than to fight the occupying forces, since, they have nothing to loose. These groups believe that they have failed to perform their sacred duty of resisting the invading forces during the U.S. intervention, and by saving their heads, they lost their honor and prestige. They want just to make up for their betrayal and perfidy to the leader and the people during the harsh invasion. Most observers believe that either Saddam personally or his most devoted general, Ezzat Ibrahim, are involved in organizing these groups in recent major military resistance to American forces.

3-Moslem fundamentalists coming from a wide range of background, who essentially oppose foreign infidels taking over the lands of Islam. These zealous Islamists may range from the remnants of Al-Qaeda to other extremists, mainly of Sunni and orthodox factions of Moslem devout. These are not in favor of democratic elections in Iraq, which may end-up to Shia majority rule in Iraq. Among these Moslem zealous we may find citizens of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria, Sudan and other Vahabi Sunnis in the region.

4-Another group of Moslem devout of Arab (Iraqi) Shia militants, who are claimed to be supported by Syria and Iran (The Badre Army), through sophisticated connections, apparently unchecked even by authorities in power. As some circles claim, these groups are responsible for a number of well-planned and sophisticated sabotages in Baghdad and other major cities such as Najaf and Karbala, causing extensive casualties and damages.[3]

This latter group has long been the subject of American suspicion and apparently some of its members have been disarmed by the American military. Whether the group is capable of conducting such well-planned organized attacks is subject to query.

5-More recently, it has been said that hundreds of Islamic militants who had fled Iraq during the war, have returned home and are planning major resistance and attacks against U.S. forces. They include Ansar-Al-Islam, a militant group allegedly linked to the Al-Qaeda terrorist network, which escaped into Iran, and have since returned. Many car bomb blasts in Baghdad are believed to be the work of this Group.

6-There are some who believe that the young and much less learned cleric, Moqtada Sadre, whose father was killed by the Baath regime, has been active recently among Shia devout against Anglo-American invasion and occupation. This group is arbitrarily put into a separate category of Moslem Shia challenging the U.S. presence and occupation of Iraq, since the objectives they follow differ from those who oppose the principle Velayate-Faqih.[4] Whether this young activist has any future in Iraq’s political arena, it is not quite obvious. Because, the tactics and slogans they are using are very immature and do not lead to credible serious resistance. Furthermore, people who have gathered around the young Sadre seem not to be taking his leadership seriously. Therefore, this group may not cause much preoccupation for Americans in Iraq. Nonetheless they have to be checked and contained, if they want to clear the impediments on the road of the Iraqi transitional power.

7-There is sill another speculation (Though it may sound like fantasy, but is worth mentioning), on the invisible hands behind the organized terrorist attacks in Iraq. The idea is based on a conspiracy theory that sees the hands of Israeli intelligence in these sporadic, yet sophisticated operations. There seems to be no credibility in this scenario, apparently fabricated by anti-Jewish circles that use every possible imagination to prove that Zionism is benefiting from terrorist attacks aimed at destabilizing Iraq. Since, by doing this, Israel can further push the Americans to go along with its longtime strategy of neutralizing the threat of Hezbollah and other Moslem militants in Lebanon and Syria and to instigate American sentiment against the Islamic regime in Tehran.

The speculations further refer to the new Israeli strategic vision that would prepare the ground to get rid the Israeli of their Palestinian problem, and give them a “ breathing space “ and revitalize the Zionist dream of a greater Israel. This view believes that Israel is capable of shaping the strategic environment in the Middle East, in cooperation with Turkey and Jordan, through weakening and containing Syria, and rolling back this country’s influence in Lebanon. This whole scenario, of course with the help of the United States, will draw a new road map for making the Middle East a safe place for Israel. Some anti-war group in the United States go along with this argument, though it may look a bit imaginary.

The above classification is far from being conclusive, and any one with a bit of imagination, can easily add to this list or argue against any one of them.

3- The Wider Implications of Iraq’s Instability: Who gets what and how?

The experience of the United States in Iraq suggests that American coercive measures to counter problems of terrorism and related issues in the world are of the nature that cannot get widespread support. Thus, we see that American intervention in Iraq, which is considered as the product of U.S. desire to consolidate its superpower status, is challenged not only from inside but even by a number of European States. Each of these has its own reason and philosophy to object to the trend.

The continued occupation of Iraq may bring more instability to this region; however, a sudden American withdrawal may be more detrimental to the overall international and regional order. To understand this paradox, one should realize what is happening within the grand strategy of U.S. policy makers, aimed at the overall world order. Some people believe that any serious challenge to American intervention and occupation of Iraq, especially from European powers, would eventually be doomed to failure and perhaps more counterproductive at this stage. Similarly, rearguard effort to prove that American action was legally or morally wrong, is now unconstructive and could only create mutual discontent and irritation. Even those who suggest that the United States should be contained from further interventions elsewhere in the world, through the instrument and by the leverage of the United Nations, believe that this may only weaken more than ever this world body.

What happens if the United States were finally forced to pull out from Iraq by a coalition of all those active and potential challengers of American occupation inside the country on the one hand, and the rising criticism of anti-war movement within and outside the United states, on the other? What about the former U.S. allies in Europe who initially opposed the American intervention and later consented, rather through expediency and for the pursuit of their benefits, in the reconstruction phase?

France, for instance, believes that America will not be effective or legitimate in effort to rebuild Iraq without its help. In fact, France did not contribute financially to Iraq’s reconstruction in recent Madrid session, despite the fact that she endorsed the United Nations’ Security Council Resolution on Iraq along with the unanimous votes of all members.

Eventually, France like many countries in the Middle-East, who first objected U.S. intervention in Iraq, would like to see the United States to sink in a quagmire, because they believe that a weakened and disappointed America will abstain from going after countries like Iran and Syria, who appear to be on the agenda for the next round of reprimand. France and other states within the European Community, think that after U.S. setback in the Middle-east, they would be in a position to assume their rightful place as an American rival and
even contender, in shaping the new world order[5].
Perhaps, no other country like Iran is more affected by the events occurring in Iraq. Changes for the best or worst are equally and vitally important to Iran. Indeed, a democratic Iraq, established through western values and orientation, is an ominous threat to Iranian socio-political fabrics. Because, it may raise people’s expectations for more liberal policies, thus distancing the society from traditional Islam. On the other hand, a democratic free election in Iraq, with no imposition of any limitation from foreign powers, either through constitutional provisions or otherwise, may bring Shia majority into power.

Such change may not necessarily please right wing conservative in Tehran, especially if the new regime in Iraq distances itself from the much critical principle of Velayte Faqih, which is the main pillar of the Islamic Republic in Iran. Furthermore, the emergence of a rival theological center in Najaf may undermine that of the city of Qom, which is considered the core of Shia clerical authority. Given the fact that the Islamic Constitution does not recognize political and legal delimitation within the realm of Islamic Ummat, the clerical power-shift from Qom to Najaf, may bring about a political shift of Shia authority from Tehran to Baghdad. This would be a nightmare to clergy leaders who do not like to happen. This makes the whole paradox, that is, while the emergence of a democratic Iraq could rationally benefit the region, it may lead to the destabilization of some neighboring state such as Iran. Iranian authorities have
been watching very closely the development in Iraq. They seem to be quite conscious of the critical situation, and they believe that the Americans eagerly need their assistance, not only for the reconstruction but also for the maintenance of border security and the overall stability of Iraq.

5-American Options in Iraq and the Wider Problem of Terrorism

This whole dark picture of Iraq, tend s to prove that Americans can not successfully control this liberated nation from the tyranny of Baath regime, without the internal and external assistance of interested parties. Otherwise, sooner or later, we may be witnessing widespread challenges against the American occupation that might trigger an unfortunate civil war. Such situation would be a serious impediment to the establishment of a stable and viable government with the necessary authority to run the country without outside influence.

Meanwhile, in order for the United States to pave the way for Iraqi to regain their sovereignty as a free independent nation, they have to tackle with a number of outstanding issues that are aimed at the very credibility of U.S. as a super- power, endeavoring to reshape the world order after the events of September 11, 2003:

1-Ben Laden has recently spelled out the reasons he encouraged his devouts to attack American interests in Iraq. To him, a tiny portion of strategic planners known as neo-conservative imposed the war in Iraq. Many in the world are of the same opinion and believe that American claim that Iraq is the central front against terrorism, is another way of manipulation of the truth. Since Saddam had nothing to do with the September 11 attacks, nor with Al-Qaeda.

2-There are those who believe that terror and terrorism are before anything a tactic and not an entity or institution, against which one cannot declare war. In this view, terror is an instrument used by the weaker to intimidate the stronger or to discourage him to pursue his objectives.

3-Criminal and terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda, are fundamental fanatics who represent no one within the Islamic community but themselves. Therefore, they should be treated like criminal gang. In other words, to equate the problem of terrorism with Islam, not only irritates Moslem believers but also may further undermine the American cause to cope terrorism.

4-Organizations such as Hezbollah, Hamas or Islamic Jihad, which are using terror tactic (otherwise named freedom fighters), are only product of half a century of humiliation and political mismanagement in the Middle East. They are fighting for specific cause. They may be wrong in their tactics, or we might not like their approach, but this does not change the situation, as long as a satisfactory solution for all parties is not found. Americans are not involved directly in this affair, but their superpower status and their support of Israel, necessitates their involvement.
5-Furthermore, it is argued that people resisting American occupation in Iraq, merely exercise their legal rights provided for in the 1949 Fourth Geneva Conventions[6]. This is to suggest that if the indigenous population revolt successfully U.S. forces and evict them, occupation ceases. The legal aspect of the matter is an interesting case that could be the subject of a separate study.

On the contrary, some believe that war imposed on Iraq and the consequent crisis, aggravated the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by giving green light to Israel to reoccupy and brutalize the Palestinians under the guise of “ fighting terrorism.”-Iran has been accused on various occasions to destabilize the reconstruction efforts in Iraq, and is suspected to be involved in a number of events there. Paul Bremer, the U.S. administrator in Baghdad, recently claimed that neighboring countries of Iraq, Iran and Syria, continue to meddle in various ways in the internal affairs of this country. But so far no clear-cut evidence has been provided for these claims.

Whether American forces in Iraq are considered liberators or occupiers or both, is a paradox. And whether the establishment of a democratic government in Iraq should mean the total expulsion of the occupying forces, is a vital question to which no precise answer exists. But, it is not certain that the U.S. could escape from facing the above-mentioned issues. Whether the United Nations or any other forms of international coalition can replace the Americans during the transitional period, until a stable government is established in Iraq, this remain s to be seen. The U.N. itself is in the midst of serious legal, administrative and financial crisis. We cannot expect much from this world body, since it is only what the world community, as a whole wants to be. Thus, the United States may not want to rely much on this world body, as long as it is not fully responsive to its world strategy.

5-Conclusions and Policy Recommendations

In conclusion, it is advisable that the U.S. determines its course of action in Iraq, as well as the Middle East as a whole, by judgment of long-range consequences rather than immediate objectives. Acting on the basis of a limited perspectives and short run calculations may be detrimental to its status of
“ Superpower.” Failing to look ahead and scrutinize the ends, may only stir up the crisis situation in the Middle East. We have to understand that the nature and structure of the emerging world order will not tolerate a “Pax Americana. ” Peace-keeping, is not analogous to war-making and occupation. It is a task that has to be performed by a collectivity, legitimately entrusted the function for the benefit of the world.

Unilateral and competitive action of peace-keeping is likely to increase the risks of instability and insecurity. A multilateral approach through the United Nations offers a mutually acceptable and more manageable means of limiting those risks. Today the foundations of power have been moving away from the emphasis on military force and conquest.[7] If the United States wants to remain strong and preserve its superpower status, it has to pay attention to its “soft power” based on democratic values and technological leadership, rather than “hard power” based on military forces and coercive capabilities.[8]

The United States in order to cope with the emergence of an unbearable crisis situation in Iraq and the wider Middle East, it shall embark on a three- level policy concurrently pursued at home and abroad. The following recommendations in this respect may be worthwhile of consideration:

1-At the Domestic level:

a- Given the sensitivity to potential casualties abroad, especially now in Iraq, the United States has to acquire the necessary persuasive force to convince the American public for its continued occupation of Iraq, despite the mounting challenges against U.S. forces.
b- In order for President Bush to stop loosing popularity in this coming election year, he has the critical task to persuade the American families of the rationale of U.S. soldiers being killed on a daily basis in Iraq.
c- The gradual spreading of anti-war sentiment in America shall be contained in order to avoid the Vietnamization of Iraq.
d- To contain the rising sentiment of anti-Moslem spreading inside the U.S. by avoiding to associate terrorism with Islam and American Moslem followers or those coming from various parts of the Middle East and North Africa. To allocate more resources for Iraq’s reconstruction through the Congress, and closely supervise their uses.
2-At the International Level:

a- The United States has to further rectify its policy of unilateralism, through a process of widening partnership, taking into account the interests of other contending world and regional powers.
b- Give a more essential role to the United Nations, through widening participation of other States for the reconstruction of Iraq[9].
c- Get the Arab States more involved in the training and formation of security and internal order forces in Iraq. This could also include the formation of political and diplomatic cadres.
d- Open direct talks with countries neighboring Iraq, especially Iran, Syria and Turkey for the purpose of maintenance of extended borders, thus avoiding infiltration of irresponsible groups to enter Iraq with the objective of destabilizing its internal order.
e- Encourage international investors to participate in and contribute to the reconstruction of Iraq.[10]

3-At the local level:

a- To pursue the policy of confidence building through well planned program.
b- Gradually diminish U.S. forces showing inside cities, which is a source of national humiliation and negative reaction.
c- Gradually leave the task of law and order to Iraqi police.
d- Let the people of Iraq prepare the appropriate draft for Constitution, without, just the same, trying to impose or dictate openly to the transitional government.
e- Gradually replace American forces by that of Arab States who are more familiar to Arab language and affinities of Moslem community.


[1] Professor Kazemi holds Ph.D. in International Law and Relations from The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, Medford, Massachusetts U.S.A. He is the author of many books and articles. He is legal advisor on matters of International Law of the Sea. Currently, he is Dean of the Faculty of Law and Political Science, Islamic Azad University (Science and Research Campus). For more detail please consult Academic Site of Dr. Kazemi:

[2] The first serious attack was aimed at Hotel Al-Rashid, the site of U.S. Head-Quarters, and where the so-called architect of American Military intervention in Iraq (Paul Wolfovits, Under Secretary of Department of Defense) was residing during his visit to Baghdad in October 2003. The most recent attack was the shooting of American transport helicopter, carrying some 30 or more soldiers, and killing at least 16 of them on November 1, 2003.

[3]The fatal car bomb in Najaf, killing Ayatollah Bagher Hakim and a great number of Moslem innocents gathered in the Friday religious sermon near the tomb of Imam Ali, and other terrorist attacks aimed at the United Nations organs and some foreign embassies in Baghdad, are supposed to be the work of these groups.

[4] It is interesting to note that in some circles of theological debates in the Seminaries of Najaf, the idea of Velayate Faqih (Theological rule) is never accepted. This is a major source of discontent in Tehran political and ideological milieu.

[5]John Chapman, Director of the London based International Institute for Strategic Studies IISS, once said: “ What European are saying about Iraq is that this is our backyard, we are not going to let you meddle in it, but we are not going to tend it ourselves

5- Fourth Geneva Convention Art.65, also provided in the United States Law of Land Warfare, p.435 (b).

[7] - See e.g., Joseph S. Nye, Jr.,” Limits of American Power,” Political Science Quarterly, Vol.117, No. 4, Winter 2002-2003, pp.545- 559, at 549

[8] - See ibid, p. 552 establish representative local and national governments. The UN's local Iraqi staff members are working on these programmes in parts of the country.

[9] -At the time of revision of the first draft of this paper, a number of developments, both negative and positive have occurred in the Iraq’s crisis. On the negative side, further harsh attacks to American and allied forces have taken place, namely the killing of a number of Italians forces stationed in Iraq. Other terrorist attacks have taken place in Saudi Arabia and Turkey, claiming the life of a great number and injuring hundreds of innocent peoples. On the positive side, the gradual involment of the United Nations and international support for restoration of condition of stability and security in Iraq, in pursuit of the objectives spelled out in UN Resolution 1511, of 16 October 2003. One other development that can be considered as very positive and potentially constructive, is the official visit of the some members of Iraq’s Governing Council, including its temporary head (Mr. Jalal Talebani), to Tehran, as well as Turkey, which is a step forward in the recognition of that body, so far rejected by most Arab States.
[9] Resolution 1511 calls on the UN to strengthen its vital role in Iraq by taking such measures as providing humanitarian relief, promoting economic reconstruction and advancing efforts to