At a Dangerous Crossroads; A Global Approach to Iranian Nuclear Ambitions

By Hagel, Chuck | Harvard International Review, Spring 2008 | Go to article overview

At a Dangerous Crossroads; A Global Approach to Iranian Nuclear Ambitions


Hagel, Chuck, Harvard International Review


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Over the last few years, the United States has lost considerable influence and trust in the Middle East and other regions, undermining the expectations and power of US leadership in the eyes of the world. Today, Iraq remains mired in political discord combined with a tenuous security situation. At the same time, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict festers, Syria is ostracized and insecure, and Lebanon is paralyzed by a devastating political deadlock. US influence is waning outside of the Middle East as well. Our relations with Russia have sunk to a new post-Cold War low. On my trip to Moscow in January 2008, Russian officials openly expressed "rawness" about the course of our bilateral relationship. Such resentment has begun to manifest itself in a number of key disagreements that could quickly escalate.

The problems do not end there. US-Turkey relations are in tatters over an inability to translate Turkey's 21st century government and objectives into the relationship of mutual interests that existed following. World War II. The US-India civil nuclear assistance deal is in a state of uncertainty. Afghanistan continues to lose ground, and Al Qaeda has reemerged stronger than at any time since it was ousted from Afghanistan six years ago. The border between Afghanistan and Pakistan represents the most dangerous zone in the world, and Pakistan itself has entered a pivotal political period with potential geostrategic implications for the United States. All of these events have limited the ability of the United States to focus needed attention on Africa, Central Asia, and Latin America, where China, India, and others now vie for influence and resources. In addition, record-breaking energy prices and surging demand are reshaping the global geopolitical economic power landscape from Russia, China, and India to Angola, Nigeria, Venezuela, Norway, and the United States. The world is witnessing an unprecedented diffusion of power that will increasingly be the norm for the 21st century.

The uncontrollable and combustible developments of the past few months present the reality of a world at a historic crossroads. This reality has resulted in some hopeful and positive recent events that can guide US policymakers to a new consensus in world affairs. Though frustratingly slow, there is progress on North Korea through the Group of Six process. President Bush's trip to the Middle East and the 2007 Annapolis meeting, during which all Arab countries, including Syria, sat at the same table with Israel, has generated some momentum, on the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Finally, in late 2007 the US intelligence community judged, in a National Intelligence Estimate, that Iran's decision-making and behavior may be influenced through engagement. These are signs that the world can move toward a consensus of common interests.

Recognizing that the United States and the world are at a critical point, the nation must not squander this moment and miss an opportunity to address what is perhaps the most critical and visible foreign policy issue of the day: Iranian nuclear armament, In so doing, US policies, actions, and relationships must be grounded in internationally recognized common interests.

The Fundamentals of US Foreign Policy

All too often, we mistakenly try to compartmentalize and isolate events and issues--like a nuclear Iran--and do not stop to consider how a series of events are interconnected and collectively impact the world. A nation cannot shape such events by acting alone. Unless countries work to influence and guide the course of global events, incidents will shape themselves and the world, leading to an even more dangerous planet. Today's world necessitates a modern, complex frame of reference to address global challenges that potentially affect the six and a half billion citizens of the world. Loose talk of World War III, intimidation, threats, and bellicose speeches only heighten the dangers facing the international community. …

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