In The Media

Hugh Segal: How to engage and contain Iran

by Hugh Segal

Ottawa Citizen
July 20, 2015

The Islamic Republic of Iran is a sovereign country and a full, if rhetorically excessive, member of the United Nations. It has fulltime sentinels defending its diplomatic rights on the UN Security Council in both China and Russia. For better or for worse, this is what President Barack Obama and the leaders of the other permanent Permanent 5+1 faced in their negotiations with Iran on a hypothecation of their nuclear power drive for a decade.

However repugnant Iran’s anti-Israel dogma, the terrorist activities of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard through both Hezbollah ‎ and Hamas, its support of the murderous Assad regime, the core diplomatic context was set by the lack of will on the part of all of the P5+1 to contemplate military action against a proximate Iranian weaponized nuclear capacity. That, plus the serious impact of existing sanctions on Iran’s economic and social quality of life, formed the impetus for an agreement.

Apparently un-tutored by the broad public fatigue with Western boots on the ground accompanied by bombers and fighters in Middle-Eastern skies‎, many congressional Republicans are keen to evoke Chamberlain and Munich in opposing this agreement. To do so is to trivialize the horror of who the Nazis were and what Hitler’s horrific plans actually embraced. Extreme parts of the Iranian power structure are indeed quite deplorable and given to denominational and aspirational excess and they are involved in a power struggle with non-Shia Gulf powers. But they are not Hitlerian.

In the same way as this agreement is silent on Iran’s terrorist financing throughout the region, and still depressing human rights practices, so too are the genuine allies among the P5 unimpeded on these two issues by any text in the draft treaty now up for ratification. There are a series of areas which should now be pursued to ensure not only compliance with the treaty beyond the inspection provisions therein but enhanced spring-back sanction capacity should Iran violate its explicit commitments: enhanced human and electronic intelligence targeting the activities in key regions and among key technical actors in the Islamic Republic; detailed and quickly deployable plans for a rapid naval blockade; enhanced search and seizure contingencies on Iranian financial and related offices abroad; explicit cooperation with Sunni Gulf states, both in terms of joint military and intelligence engagement and military assistance; and enhanced monitoring and engagement on Iranian human rights violations. On the last point there are worldwide NGO’s fully engaged who would welcome western diplomatic and material support.

Earlier this year, I heard a foreign minister from a friendly Gulf State ask rhetorically whether the West was prepared to choose between an aggressive Iran that was stirring up the region or a nuclear Iran with genuine deployable nuclear capacity. His fear was that a year or so ago, Western policy looked like it could well produce both. Western policy has not produced both. The proposed treaty is silent on one threat while managing the other.

The challenge now for the West is to stay engaged with all its diplomatic, intelligence and military capabilities on both threats – the nuclear treaty being a management tool on the one threat but no panacea.

Containment, as we discovered during the Cold War years, is a fulltime engagement. Leaders like Thatcher, Reagan, Mulroney‎ and Kohl understood that reality and embraced its implications in a way that ultimately brought Soviet adventurism to an end without a NATO shot being fired.

A similar engagement is now required on Iran. The treaty up for ratification is not a rationale for “standing down.” It is in fact a remarkable platform upon which to fully engage. And, Canada, whose relations among the Gulf States and with Israel have become stronger over the last nine years, has every opportunity to play a constructive role in ensuring that the nuclear and sanctions-abating treaty signed with Iran does not become a pretext for failing to both engage and contain.

Hugh Segal, Master of Massey College, is a senior fellow at the Munk School of Global Affairs and former chair of the Senate Committees on Foreign Affairs‎ and Anti-Terrorism.




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