First Step on the Ladder

Article excerpt

The G8 Summit in Strelna, a cosy St Petersburg suburb, is unlikely to be a straightforward fireside chat like the first such gathering more than three decades ago. It will be hosted by a country increasingly criticised in Europe and the United States over domestic developments and foreign policy. This poses a ticklish situation: the other leaders either close their eyes to authoritarian trends in Russia and anti-western aspects of its international strategy, or threaten the summit's success. Even more difficult is the meeting's main priority. Assuming the G8 presidency in January, Russia focused on three main issues: global energy security, fighting infectious diseases, and education. However, the most urgent problem today is to stop and reverse Iran's nuclear efforts. So, the principal criterion of success and the real test of the G8's relevance is its capacity to develop a joint effective political strategy to deal with this.

A NUCLEAR-ARMED IRAN controlling the flow of oil from the Gulf is one of the worst political and economic nightmares for the west. For many in Israel, this even produces talk of a new Holocaust. Yet a military option to deal with any such potential threats would be extremely risky. Although the political and economic consequences of war in Iran are hardly predictable, it would probably result in another huge oil price rise, a wave of Islamic-led terror in the United States and Europe, and the total destabilisation of Iraq.

By announcing, on April 11, its ability to enrich uranium to generate energy, Iran escalated the crisis. This was further confirmation that the current ruling clique is looking for nuclear capability by all means. It may see nuclear weapons as the instrument to achieve the old Iranian dream - to become the real master of the Middle East and to decide forever the name of the Gulf- Persian or Arabian.

Iran has also learnt the lesson of North Korea: a country may have nuclear weapons, or not, but the world should believe it has.

Tehran's policy confirms that it sees the search for compromise as a sign of its counterparts' weakness. And the more there is talk of political solutions and the total impossibility of attacking Iranian nuclear facilities, together with military and political targets, the stronger is Tehran's conviction that the strategy is correct. Iran's current policy of sophisticated diplomatic manoeuvring combined with rude blackmail should continue.

Tehran needs to prevent international sanctions, not to mention a military option, and to gain time to manufacture nuclear weapons, or to move as close to it as possible.

Iran does not object in principle to enriching uranium in Russia for its nuclear power stations and then spending years in wearisome discussions of economic, technical and procedural details. It also capitalises on controversies among the great powers, especially on disagreements between Russia and the US.

ESCALATION LADDER

If this interpretation is correct, then the only possibility for G8 states to end the crisis by political and economic means is to adopt a coherent joint policy based on the idea of an escalation ladder - a succession of progressively toughening sanctions at the end of which is the military option.

The leaders of Iran have to be convinced that the only way for them to avoid destruction of their regime, of the country, and ensure their personal safety, is to stop nuclear military activities and accept political and economic rewards.

It is impossible to know whether the G8 leaders will agree to this strategy or not. There is no evidence that Moscow will alter its policy of shielding Iran from sanctions. Experts differ in explaining this. Some suppose that, although nobody in Moscow would welcome southern Russian cities coming within the flying ranges of Iranian nuclear-tipped missiles, many in the political elite hope that future nuclear weapons would create greater headaches for the US and Israel than for Russia; and so Moscow should capitalise on this. …