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On Iran, diplomacy is dead

The United Nations’ inability to enforce collective security is most apparent to the states it needs to contain.

It has been three months now. Three months since the expiration of the U.N. Security Council’s deadline for Iran to halt its uranium enrichment, and three months since Mahmoud Ahmadinejad merely waved and smiled as he and his mullahs pressed on for their nuke.

At least Saddam Hussein had the tact to pretend he cared about weapons inspections, U.N. resolutions, and international treaties. The Iranians backhand the International Atomic Energy Agency, drive three Middle East countries toward civil war and then have the gall to send a boat past a U.S. Navy ship with a banner reading, “U.S. cannot do a damn thing.”

Is it wrong to be nostalgic for secular Baathism?

More importantly, is it wrong to admit that diplomacy with Tehran has miserably failed?

After all, the conclusion is hard to ignore and getting harder. European negotiations with Iran have failed. Negotiations at the United Nations have failed. Direct negotiations between Washington and Tehran never even started – probably rightly so. And things will not get any better without new bargaining chips for the West, and those may not come unless Iraq stabilizes or Israel takes matters into its own hands.

For now, the Iranians smell blood. The United Nations’ sad inability to enforce collective security is lost on its wishful-thinking supporters in the West, but most apparent to the rogue states the institution needs to contain. Iran is only following the lead of others. Like Pakistan before it, North Korea has escaped international condemnation sufficient enough to make its leaders second-guess their rush to nuclearization. It was only when Kim Jong Il finally lit the fuse that he was forced to blink.

Iran should not have the same luxury. The failure of the West in facing Iran thus far might be partially blamed on the situation in Iraq and Europeans’ high-minded direct talks with the Iranian government. But neither explains the more pressing question – namely, why has the United Nations failed?

The standard explanation cites the right culprits in Moscow and Beijing, but usually for superficial reasons. China and Russia have done virtually everything to impede the West’s confrontation with Iran, including sacrificing their credibility by passing a resolution against Iran only to backslide on it. Russia’s motivation for such flagrant intervention comes in part from its large-scale arms sales to Iran; China benefits from oil contracts that feed its booming economy.

An oft-understated explanation for Russia’s complicity stems from its unique position in directly benefiting from an Iranian bomb. A Middle East captive to a nuclear Iran is sure to put world oil markets on an unstable footing that will put a premium on crude. Higher oil prices translate into billions of dollars of additional revenues to the Russian government, not to mention myriad other authoritarian regimes across the Middle East.

So this is by no means a short-term bet that Moscow and Beijing are making. Long ago, the Russians and Chinese reconciled themselves to the idea of a nuclear Middle East – a prospect few Europeans and fewer Americans are prepared to accept. Russia and China have been building economic and military ties with Tehran to guarantee their own security regardless of Iran’s true intentions.

It’s a play from the Cold War if there ever was, except the stakes are enormously greater. Some time ago, the Wall Street Journal prophesized that a Shiite bomb in Iran would be quickly matched by a Sunni bomb in Egypt or some other Arab state. Worse, there is no reason to doubt that Ahmadinejad is bluffing when he threatens to “wipe Israel off the map.” Jerusalem may be too holy to Islam to be a target, but Tel Aviv surely isn’t.

Moscow is playing an especially dangerous game. There are plenty of angry Chechens with links to Iran-backed terror groups who would love to hold a major Russian city hostage. With what greater irony than with a nuke from Moscow-supported Iran?

Admittedly, speculating on the exact consequences of a nuclear Iran may be a little premature, but the danger of such a scenario should be too much for the international community to bear. Hard conversations need to be had between European, American and Israeli leaders to determine how they can stop fighting Russia and China at the United Nations. If diplomacy is truly dead, the time may soon come when a new coalition of the willing need to start thinking about fighting Iran instead.

Darren Bernard welcomes comments at [email protected].

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