Tough talk, some about nukes, to the world by the US and Iran has taken many turns over the past three decades, with Iran most recently signing a good faith agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to allow inspectors broad access to its nuclear facilities. Signaling change, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani halted expansion of Iran’s uranium enrichment capacity since his election three months ago, according to U.N. inspection reports. What has always been available are conflict management methods unexamined by our decision-makers.
In developing potential options for adversarial nations, the US government has the Joint Chiefs and Security Studies hawks on speed dial, with very few exceptions. The US stumbles into war after war, informed of the full range of options from A to B. Attack or do nothing. Demonstrate a resolve to kill or show cowardice. It’s a wonder we haven’t nuked Canada.
Sometimes—as we saw in the 1990s with killer sanctions on Iraq—certain sanctions are hardest on the most vulnerable, innocent children and other civilians. To a large measure, this is the case vis-à-vis Iran. Peace scholars have been pushing for alternative options with Iran, backed by hard data and decades of conflict management experience, since the inception of the conflict, remaining largely unnoticed under the cyclical escalation/de-escalation of war drumming from both sides of the aisle.
In the spirit of sharing what we’ve learned in our obscure field of Peace and Conflict Studies, let’s think about some possible measures right now vis-à-vis Iran:
- Guarantee no-first-use of US military force against Iran
As long as Iranian people and their government fear preëmptive military attack by the US there will be strong motivation for continued development of nuclear weapons, and it will be easier for Iranian leaders to justify sacrifices, including resolve to endure crippling sanctions.
- Cease military aid to Israel
Even Israeli moderates remain belligerent toward Iran, reserving and openly referencing preëmptive military attack as an option. This keeps Iranian moderates on the defensive, emboldens hardliners, and continually prompts the average Iranian to hate Israel and its sponsor, the US. Stopping US military aid to Israel brings the region many steps closer to peace, helps take the target off the US, and prompts Israel to honestly negotiate its relationships constructively.
Now that declassified documents and an acknowledgment by President Obama have formally recognized the CIA’s role in the 1953 overthrow of Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh, a formal apology should be made for this outrageous transgression. A simple apology without qualification, equivocation, justification or even explanation is best.
- Put some US nukes on the table
Make the demand that Iran cease its nuclear ambitions linked to an offer to dismantle (for example) 200 US nuclear weapons, with each party subject to IAEA inspections. Treat Iran like a real country, not a minor player of which we can make demands we won’t ourselves honor.
- Open embassies
The two countries should each invite the other to open an embassy with the guarantee of the safety of the personnel that is backed by enormous collateral. The 2011 Obama initiative to maintain an online embassy is a good gesture and not enough; it is time for reciprocity and advancements.
- Reframing U.S.-Iran relations as peaceful scientific collaboration
Iranian domestic legitimacy rests partially on the nuclear option, and Iran’s nuclear policy acts as a rallying point for internal cohesion. Reframe Iran-U.S. relations to one of peaceful scientific and health research collaboration, taking care to emphasize Iranian past and present contributions and collaborations with the U.S. Give President Rouhani a fresh rallying point, highlighting Persian history and collective identity in its peaceful pursuits of science, engineering, technology, medicine and mathematics, and reduce reliance on Iranian nuclear policy for domestic legitimacy. Continuing negotiations would include these peaceful collaborations as additional bargaining points.
- Banking channels and medical supplies
Offer to provide third country banks a waiver against sanctions for facilitating transactions involved in medicines and medical supplies, and/or designate certain US and Iranian financial institutions as open channels for humanitarian transactions. In exchange, Iran must allow consistent international monitoring of its medical enrichment facilities.
Most of these action items would be nonstarters, right? President Obama would never initiate any of them because, after all, the minority of Congress would howl and call him a treasonous coward. Congressional hawks would light up, hair on fire, bullhorns set on sonic warp kill. Peace-loving people would fear the dripping scorn.
If we continue to see the pusillanimity more afraid of kneejerks in Congress than of allowing Iran to either get nukes or get attacked, we will watch as helpless as Junebugs on our backs while we drift into an ever-uglier world with more nuclear weapons in more hands—or into a stupendously reckless war of grand bloodbath proportions with Iran, war that is completely avoidable. You do not need to conduct a multivariate regression analysis to know that successful negotiation requires both carrots and sticks. Hardliners are stuck on sticks, both violent and economic, and even low and no-cost carrots drive them ‘round the bend.’ Fine. Let them go. Constructive conflict management is the new realpolitik.