Joel Fishman on the 21st Century Challenge of Iranian Nukes

Joel Fishman writes in Makor Rishon:

Joel Fishman
Makor Rishon
21 April 2006

Twentieth-Century Turmoil and the Iran Nuclear Crisis

From time to time, people have asked if the study of the past is relevant and if practical lessons can be learned from specific historical precedents. There is a certain consistency in human behavior and in that of societies in the context of tradition, interaction with their neighbors and geographical realities. Therefore, in certain instances, the study of the past may offer information helpful to policy-makers. Similarly, a systems analyst endeavors to identify things that can go wrong in a business and industrial setting, suggests a range of outcomes, and offers the means of dealing with uncertainty and its consequences. An historian does the same, using the historical method. However, it is necessary to bear in mind that “the study of the past provides no answers unless questions are first asked.”

[and the better the questions, the better the answers… RL]

Our question is: what insights can the examination of historical precedents offer in the case of the present Iranian nuclear crisis? There are two types of answers: 1) One with regard to the dynamic of illegal rearmaments following the precedent of Nazi Germany in the early thirties, and, 2) The stakes involved in the event that Iran should succeed. Who would benefit most from an Iranian success and at what cost to others?

Leopold Schwarzschild, a German Jewish journalist who fled Germany in 1933 when Hitler came to power, lived in Paris until the summer of 1940 when he emigrated to England. In 1943, he published a book entitled, World in Trance, which described the interwar period, particularly Germany’s preparations for war during the Weimar and Nazi eras. One of Schwarzschild’s most valuable insights was that during the process of rearming Germany experienced a state of acute vulnerability which offered a brief but unparalleled opportunity to those who wished to stop Germany, if only they only had the will to do so. He described the situation just after Hitler’s rise to power, as follows:

No gift of prophecy was needed to see this [the official policy of going to war], no genius needed to understand its implications. Germany would now begin to arm as fast as possible, because the first stages of rearmament would be the dangerous period. A certain amount of time was required to make her newly emerging mass army capable of putting up a serious fight. This period was also the period of reprieve for Germany’s opponents, their last opportunity to stop her. It could be done only by force, certainly not by words or pieces of paper, but still without any real bloodshed….

The game for both sides was simple. For Germany and the other powers there was only one question: Would Germany be permitted to go through the period of military weakness unmolested? Or would she be forced to abandon her fatal path?

Despite current Western abhorrence of fascism and war, it should be remembered that certain leaders view Nazi Germany as a model for emulation and the use of war as a legitimate tool of state policy. We may observe that the case of Nazi Germany would serve as the classical model for any state intending to rearm illegally. It is more than likely that Iran has been following the model of Nazi Germany, so our appreciation of this historical precedent is all the more valuable. In the light of the above, it is possible that Iran’s loud threats of retaliation in the event of outside intervention are a calculated bluff, whose purpose is to win time and divert attention from its current weakness. Furthermore, in light of Iranian goals and determination to achieve them, any American “diplomatic package” or a “Grand Bargain,” as in the case with North Korea, will not be effective. “Words and pieces of paper” will not solve this problem.

If we look at the broader historical significance of issue, it is not entirely coincidental that both Russia and China, who have been selling Iran nuclear technology and material, are interested parties in the outcome of this dispute. Both are members of the Security Council who possess veto power and have supported Iran’s challenge to the mechanism of non-proliferation. Although major changes have taken place in the former Soviet Union since 1988 and the Soviet empire has ceased to exist in its traditional form, Russia’s policy has shown a remarkable continuity over the decades. The KGB, its ruling political elite has kept its grip on the levers of power in a manner similar to that of the German General Staff during the Weimar era.

A long-standing objective of Russian policy – which coincides with that of Iran – has been to eradicate the American political, military, and economic presence in Iran and to make its weight felt generally in the region. Thus, selling nuclear know-how and conventional weapons to Iran has become an effective and profitable means of pursuing this objective. A secondary, but considerably important objective which dates back to Lenin is the Russian desire to destabilize and undermine the Western and European orientation of the world state system, which, from 1815 to the First World War, generally succeeded in maintaining a condition of order and equilibrium. According to the Princeton Sovietologist, Robert C. Tucker, “The basic fact of contemporary history to which the new ‘Eastern orientation’ in the Russian communist mind and the new post-Marxian working theory corresponded was the collapse of the Europe-centered international order in and after World War I. As this working theory saw from the beginning, the defection of Soviet Russia from the European system [during the First World War] signalized most dramatically and consequentially the collapse of the old order.”

It should be remembered that the Soviet Union, which was relatively weaker than the United States, adopted an indirect strategy of engaging in a “prolonged conflict” against the West which became known as the Cold War. The type of asymmetrical warfare included waging wars and staging confrontations simultaneously in different parts of the world and endeavoring to weaken its adversaries from within.

One of the main Soviet methods was using proxies, which permitted denial of direct responsibility for its actions and their consequences. It is noteworthy that Iran’s Supreme Leader, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, reportedly studied at Patrice Lumumba University in Moscow, the Communist Party’s elite school for revolutionaries. In the present case, Russian support for Iran has been understated and covert, because Iran is a state, as opposed to a revolutionary movement, and the degree of “deniability” is limited. This is one of the risks which Russia must minimize and which exposes it to considerable vulnerability.

In light of the most obvious historical precedent and of a wider international perspective, it is clear that there are several important questions at hand: 1) Will Iran succeed in arming illegally? 2) Will the world allow it to do so at Iran’s moment of maximum vulnerability? 3) What will be the ultimate effects of Iran breaking out of the international system? The consequences of the first two are clear enough, but the effects of the third are less obvious. If the international community cannot enforce the existing nuclear non-proliferation agreements, and two of its strongest members undermine this effort, it is more than likely that the United Nations, which has not distinguished itself, will go the way of the League of Nations. Fear and terror will become the governing principles of the new order, replacing the fabric of the international relations based on law and trust. As Lenin hoped at the beginning of the twentieth century, the center of gravity of international relations in their new form will move from the Occident to the Orient. If enlightened leaders find this prospect unacceptable, they will have to act effectively and soon.

Dr. Joel S. Fishman is a Fellow of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs

Comments (RL)

This analysis recoups the one I’ve been laying out in terms of “waking up.” In the case of Iran, not only do we have the problems of defecting “allies” like USSR and China, but also the warping impact of Bush/American Derangement Syndrome. People are so worked up about Bush lying to us to get us into Iraq, than any argument about intervening in Iran is immediately met with scorn and fury.

As a result of the massive European objection to Western troops in Iraq, there’s no chance of doing anything in Iran, no matter how indicated it might be. Now, those with BDS can say, “that’s all Bush’s fault, blame him.” And those of us who may not like Bush but are not deranged by a self-destructive desire to see him humiliated, say, “it’s at least as much Europe’s fault for wishing failure on this enterprise.”

But that still doesn’t help us to attack the problem. One of the USSR’s great advantages in the Cold War was countries like France who, pursuing their own grandeur, were only too happy to do things that harmed the colossus they so resented, the USA. As I’ve said before at this site, I’m not sure we can afford such politics of resentment this time around.

As for the decline of the UN, I know many people who, filled with indignation at the way the the Anti-Zionist agenda has kidnapped UN deliberations and made it a by-word for moral insanity, and for corruption and hypocrisy, would be only too happy to see the institution fail. That, in my estimation, would be a kind of UN Derangement Syndrome. Those historians who know how long and hard visionaries fought to have an institution where wars could be avoided by serious dialogue before a world community of nations committed to treating each other fairly, understand how dangerous its failure might be.

It would, to take liberties with Joel Fishman’s analysis and jump to an implied conclusion, unleash the dogs of war. Once unleashed, no one can control how wild and long they may rage.

3 Responses to Joel Fishman on the 21st Century Challenge of Iranian Nukes

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  2. igout says:

    But let’s be careful of another precedent, the one in 1914. Iran may be the 2nd Nazi Germany, but this one has powerful backers in China and Russia. It’d be nice if diplomacy could prevent every war. It can’t. Sometimes the most we can ask of it is to arrange things so that when we go to war, we have better allies than the other side.
    As for a reason for war, an Iran with nukes, it’s possible we’re charging the cape instead of the matador. The mullahs may well be as crazy as loons, but for them not to perceive that their true strategic weapons are oil and the womb means they must be as stupid as paint, too. Maybe they are. WHo knows? I don’t.
    My own Rx would be bribing China & India with a condominium arrangment over the Iran Oil and gas reserves, and/or Putin with a blank check to deal with his southern border. And Europe? Even if they were full of fight, they got their own problems.
    I wish I could make all this converge on one proposition, which we could all assess in terms of reasonableness and evidence, but I can’t. I’m groping.

  3. RL says:

    Igout — good train of csns. responses:

    1) agreed. at best we can have good allies… which is what makes the Walt-Mearsheimer paper such an act of colossal stupidity rivaled by few in a long history of self-deception. alas that so many natural and valuable allies are afflicted with American Derangement Syndrome, and that so many of our own intellectuals feed it with their false modesty.

    2) the mullahs are a) as crazy as millennialists and as impatient as apocalypticists — Apocalypse NOW!, and hence b) more interested in WMD than oil and demography.

    3) your “realist” scenarios — let less scrupulous cultures do the dirty work — reflects the Israeli mistake in Oslo, let Arafat suppress Hamas. Ooops.

    But it reflects our dilemma: we don’t know what to do; we’re unwiling to think about what we have to do; we proscratinate on acknowledging our situation. good for the demopaths.

    the “covergence in one proposition”? europeans, canadians, Muslims who are not Jihadis, have to get over their ADS and ZDS and realize who their real allies and who their real enemies are.

    I know it’s a lot to ask, but survival seems like a valid justification for asking so much.

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