Friday, September 16, 2005

Supply and demand: Iran's new nuclear ambitions

I've generally been quite optimistic about Iran's future, even with the recent election of populist Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president, even with its return to the nuclear game (although nuclear weaponry could still be a decade away).

But this... this isn't good:

Iran is willing to provide nuclear technology to other Muslim states, Iran's hardline president said Thursday, notching up his rhetoric as his government rejects international pressure to cut back its atomic program.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made the comment after talking with Turkey's prime minister during a gathering of world leaders at the United Nations, Iran's state-run Islamic Republic News Agency said.

Ahmadinejad made repeated promises that Iran will not develop nuclear weapons, the report said. Then he added: "Iran is ready to transfer nuclear know-how to the Islamic countries due to their need."

Iran has said it is determined to continue processing uranium so its nuclear program can be self-sufficient in meeting its own reactor fuel needs. It insists the program is intended only to generate electricity and denies having any ambition to build atomic weapons.

Okay, maybe, but what about those other Islamic countries? And, beyond that, what about those terrorist organizations that operate in said Islamic countries? I doubt I'd support any sort of major military operation against Iran, at least not right now, but something drastic would have to be done to prevent Iran from exporting its "nuclear know-how". And, of course, that something (say, special operations and airstrikes to take out Iran's nuclear facilities) would have to be done by the U.S., unless the U.N. were to get its act together (which is unlikely) or the major European powers were to act on their own (also unlikely).

Ahmadinejad may just be posturing. As Franklin Foer notes in his wonderful book How Soccer Explains the World, one of the more underappreciated currents in Iranian culture is nationalism (as opposed to, say, jihadism). It may be good politics to stand up to the U.S., Europe, and the U.N., flaunting Iran's power in front of the world's cameras, but it's a dangerous game to play. If Ahmadinejad isn't careful, if he continues along this path to the proliferation of "nuclear know-how," the U.S. will have no alternative but to take military action.

Iran is a land of great possibility. Indeed, I suspect that most Iranians want their country to move closer to the West (and especially to the U.S. -- hated by the rulers, loved by the people) and towards liberal democracy. But how is that to happen, how is Iran to realize its great possibility, if it continues to threaten, if only for now in its rhetoric, the security of the West?

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