Uranium Enrichment: Test of Foreign Policy Independence?

Washington should be careful not to turn domestic uranium enrichment into the test, in the eyes of emerging world powers, of independence. That would be a defeat for the security of the world far more dangerous than Iranian acquisition of the bomb.
The lack of flexibility on Washington’s part regarding its dispute with Iran about nuclear behavior is raising the likelihood that Tehran will succeed in shifting the focus of the international debate over its nuclear program from the question of militarization to the question of rights to uranium enrichment for civilian purposes. Since NPT members already have that legal right, if Iran can make that issue the focus, its position will become far stronger.
Ominously for Washington, Brazilian Foreign Minister Amorim said [America.gov 3/3/10]:

I acted as ambassador to Turkey before critical decisions were made on Iraq. And that’s very much what I heard back in 1998, 1999. I mean, smoke and mirrors – were playing smoke and mirrors.


And what we saw, in fact, was the major charge against Iraq never did materialize. I mean, I’m not saying that in the past, they did not have any programs on weapons of mass destruction; they did have. However, the fact is that the destruction caused and the losses that the war had incurred were huge.

Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoglu has made the same point [Today’s Zaman 5/16/10]:

We know how we suffered because of sanctions against Iraq at the time. After going through such an experience, it is obvious that a sanction package regarding Iran or any of our neighbors will not be in compliance with our foreign policy.
 
Brazil, following closely the Iranian nuclear policy, opened its own uranium enrichment plant 2006. Like Iran, Brazil claims its enrichment is intended for civilian purposes, and like Iran, Brazil’s enrichment program is steadily expanding [World Nuclear News 1/14/10]. According to a study by Belkis Cabrera-Palmer and Geoffrey Rothwell, Brazil’s Resende enrichment plant is unlikely to be economically competitive with international sources of refined uranium, suggesting that ensuring a secure source of fuel is the real reason for domestic enrichment, a reason that Iranian leaders would surely find understandable.

The U.S., weakened not just by its lack of creativity and obvious bias but also by the bitter memory throughout the world of the Iraq escapade that many fear is the model for Washington’s current Iran policy, risks creating a situation in which Iran not only succeeds in constructing a solid enrichment industry but does so in defiance of Washington and as the leader of a new global bloc of middle-ranking powers observing the letter of the NPT law but in practice implementing a highly unstable and therefore dangerous policy of nuclear ambiguity.

One might, following Khamenei in a meeting with Lula, call this a “global anti-totalitarian front,” {создания “единого всемирного антитоталитарного фронта”} [MIGNews 3/16/10] exactly the outcome Washington is presumably trying to avoid.

Khamenei baldly laid out Tehran’s ambitious goal of a foreign policy not just independent of but directly challenging Washington’s global leadership:

Единственный способ изменить существующий ныне репрессивный мировой порядок – это формирование более близких связей между независимыми государствами. Сверхдержавы построили вертикальный миропорядок, и водрузили себя наверх этой пирамиды. Подобного рода отношения могут быть изменены и мы их изменим

Lula’s mere presence was message enough, but he responded with a phrase that is easy to read as clear endorsement of Khomenei’s ambition to establish foreign policy independence:

Бразилия верит в то, что у Ирана есть все права на защиту независимости и технологический прогресс.

It is not hard to understand why “Brasilia believes that Iran is entirely within its rights to defend its independence and technical progress.”

In a wonderful little book on the U.S. relationship with Latin American, En el Patio de Atras [In the Backyard – my trans.], Latin American social scientist Amira Armenta has much to say about the Latin view of the world that is directly relevant to Lula’s decision to put his personal prestige on the line in the Washington-Tehran nuclear dispute:

Despues de la formulacion de la Doctrina Monroe no ha habido una stola decada en la historia del continente que no haya estado marcada por un hecho de intervencion de fuerza de EEUU en alguno do los paises [in Latin America]. A la vez que EEUU fue tomando cada vez mas posicion como poder economico y politico decisor en la region….[p.12]

Lo que hoy dia se explica como un clash of civilizations, no seria otra cosa que una manifestacion de la asimetria del desarrollo de las sociedades, que ahora se nota mas, dada la globalizacion, la velocidad de las comunicaciones, la facilidad con que la poblacion se desplaza por el mundo. [.13]

Washington has not been able to isolate Iran because Iran has a message of defiance for the whole “global South,” a message that links basic legal rights regarding high technology and, unfortunately, specifically to exercising the legal right to uranium enrichment, to independence.

If Washington creates a situation in which nuclear ambiguity is equated throughout the world with foreign policy independence (precisely Iran’s current position and not so far from the positions of Ankara, Brasilia, and Tokyo), this will be a huge step backwards for global good governance.

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