August 7, 2006
In a September 2002 speech to the UN General Assembly, President Bush asked a pointed and crucially important question to the national representatives who had gathered to hear him talk about the looming war with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq: Will the United Nations serve the purpose of its founding, or will it be irrelevant? The current impasse over Iran’s nuclear ambitions may soon provide the answer to the President’s question.
Almost immediately after the passing of a UN Security Council resolution demanding that Iran halt its uranium enrichment activities by the end of August, state radio services began reporting that the Council’s demands would be rejected. On August 1, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad officially denounced the resolution, insisting that Tehran was committed to its pursuit of nuclear technology and would not be bullied by threats from the UN. Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, Ari Larijani, went a step further, calling the UN resolution “illegal” and boasting that Iran would not only defy the Council’s wishes, but would increase its uranium enrichment activities as well.
There are two problems with Iran’s “right” to pursue nuclear technology: the lack of transparency provided by the hard-line government and the threat posed by the Iranian regime itself. Both require the global community to confront Iran over its nuclear program.
Lack of transparency has been a decades-long dilemma. Iran has consistently shrouded its nuclear plans in secrecy, and UN inspectors have repeatedly been blocked from access to sites and personnel involved in nuclear work. While Iran’s ambassador to the UN claims his country’s nuclear advances are no threat to peace and security in the world, the actions of his government make it impossible to determine the intent and scope of nuclear progress. Without access to key atomic facilities and players, there can be no credible assurances that Iran’s nuclear program is for peaceful energy production and not for the development of nuclear weapons.
But none of this is should be a surprise. The very nature of the regime is itself a threat to other nations. The government is headed by a radical former member of the Revolutionary Guard who never misses an opportunity to call for the destruction of Israel, or to spew hateful rhetoric about the United States and the West. Iran is a leading state sponsor of terrorism with ties to Hezbollah, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and the Palestine Liberation Organization. The regime continually exerts its influence among Shiites in Iraq, Lebanon, and the Palestinian Territories, decreasing stability in the Middle East while Iran tries to better its geopolitical position. The Iranian government deals harshly with dissent at home and uses international terror to increase its power relative to other Arab nations and the West.
Iran is a nation that must be dealt with, and soon. There can be no mistake about Ahmadinejad’s quest for nuclear power and regional influence. He does not take the United Nations seriously because he has repeatedly been witness to the futility of the Security Council when confronted with matters of grave importance. He has rejected the UN’s call to halt his country’s enrichment of uranium because he believes the five permanent members of the Council will never come to an agreement on either meaningful sanctions or the use of military force.
By setting a deadline, the Security Council has drawn its line in the sand. If Iran fails to stop uranium enrichment activities by the end of August, the Council will convene once more to discuss options for dealing with Ahmadinejad’s regime. But don’t count on anything significant coming out of the Security Council’s meetings. Two of the permanent five are already wavering, with both the Chinese and Russian envoys downplaying the threat of sanctions immediately after the passing of the resolution. According to the Washington Post, the Russian and Chinese representatives say the main goal of the resolution was to encourage Iran to resume negotiations and to support the efforts by UN nuclear experts to obtain greater cooperation from Tehran.
Sadly, this type of political backtracking is typical of Security Council deliberations and a major reason why the United Nations is largely ineffective on global security issues. Countries initially stand together behind generic statements that foster the perception of cooperation, but coalitions quickly fracture when the strategic and economic interests of individual nations outweigh the importance of consensus for the greater global good. Inevitably, the UN will bog down yet again in the face of Iranian nuclear development.
Ahmadinejad sees what President Bush sees: that the weakness of the United Nations ultimately means UN resolutions can be defied without consequence. If the UN fails to come together now, when global peace and security are threatened by a potentially nuclear-armed terrorist regime dedicated to the destruction of the West, it will once again demonstrate to the world that its member nations cannot fulfill its founding purpose. It will become, as President Bush warned, irrelevant.
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