In the article, Mr. Kroenig discusses “the real reason why Russia and China aren’t interested in stopping Iran’s nuclear program.”
My assumptions about Russia’s position have rested on remarks I remember hearing by Pavel Felgenhauer at an AEI event last May, when he said essentially that Moscow had no worries about Iran targeting Russia or any of its close allies. With little fears about a nuclear-armed Tehran, the Kremlin was happy to play the role of a spoiler, using its interference into American efforts in the Middle East as leverage in its periphery, where it had more serious interests at stake.
To that analysis, we can add the ideas in “Bombs Away,” where Kroenig points out that Russia (and China) might have another agenda in mind: weakening America’s “freedom of action” in the Middle East. Put in more realist terms:
“The United States’ global power-projection capability provides Washington with a significant strategic advantage: It can protect, or threaten, Iran and any other country on the planet. An Iranian nuclear weapon, however, would greatly reduce the latitude of its armed forces in the Middle East. If the United States planned a military operation in the region, for example, and a nuclear-armed Iran objected that the operation threatened its vital interests, any U.S. president would be forced to rethink his decision.”
While China and Russia have certain economic interests in Iran (crudely summarized, China gets natural resources and Russia sells weapons), neither country can effectively project military power into the region. Helping, or permitting, Iran to develop nuclear weapons is the next best alternative to developing that potential. It’s the perfect hamstring — the cheap deterrent:
“Some analysts argue that we shouldn’t worry about proliferation in Iran because nuclear deterrence will work, much like it worked during the Cold War. But from Washington’s point of view, this is precisely the problem; it is more often than not the United States that will be deterred.”
I’ve written on this subject before — the American illusion that certain national campaigns represent the global common good — and this is a perfect example of that problem again. Just today, the White House’s man in Europe, NATO GenSec Rasmussen, was at Georgetown in DC to push missile defense in Europe as an “international project” that should include Russia, too. This is the same approach that provoked Medvedev into threatening to deploy missiles in Kaliningrad. And now, with NATO’s renewed public relations offensive to promote the “internationalness” of ПРО and the announcement that Romania would like to host components, how many Washington bureaucrats and think tankers are scratching their heads when they read headlines about Russia again openly discussing the possibility of Iskander rocket deployments?
American politicians’ obsession with shared values and the permanence of U.S. hegemony continues to blind them to the still very real and often unpleasant realities of geopolitical competition. America’s ability to dominate whole regions on the opposite side of the planet (though in the immediate periphery of Russia and China) is precisely what makes ‘stability’ very unattractive to Moscow and Beijing.
If the U.S. at least seemed to be aware of the game being played, I’d likely have other complaints (can we really sustain hegemony there? do the benefits outweigh the costs?). But, as things stand, I can’t get over the fact that the White House appears to be ignoring geopolitics altogether. (Anywhere realpolitik is too obvious to ignore, observers deride it as ’19th century sphere of influence’ politics.)
The problem, I think, comes down to perception. Having ‘won’ the Cold War and ‘proved’ the veracity of Cold War democracy-rhetoric (“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this war,” etc.), American decision-makers now believe their own hocus-pocus. The country, as a result, is strangled by ideologues.