Turkey’s Policy Toward Iran Is Worth Emulating

nuclear iranThe sad truth is that if Iran wants a nuclear weapon, it will likely eventually get one. So the United States should quit wasting valuable political capital beseeching, threatening, and horse-trading with China, Russia, and other UN Security Council members to incrementally ratchet up likely futile multilateral economic sanctions against Iran.

Economic sanctions rarely work at coercing the target nation when anything but modest goals are desired and can drag the sanctioning nation(s) and the target into an unexpected war. The most universal, comprehensive, and grinding sanctions in world history in the early 1990s failed to compel Saddam Hussein to withdraw his invasion forces from Kuwait. And getting Saddam out of Kuwait was a more modest goal than coercing a country to give up its quest for the “ultimate deterrent.” Furthermore, multilateral sanctions on Iran will never be that strong because Russia and China have substantial commercial relations with Tehran and have repeatedly watered down U.S. attempts for stronger measures. Even with stronger measures, sanctions often erode over time, as the target simply pays people to evade the sanctions.

When the sanctions erode or have no success in coercing the usually unachievable policy outcome from the target, political pressure often exists to escalate to war. In 1991, when the sanctions failed to budge Saddam’s forces from Kuwait, pressure for war increased and it eventually occurred. In the lead up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, one of the George W. Bush administration’s arguments was that the multilateral sanctions on Iraq, still in place, had eroded over time. In 1989, the George H.W. Bush administration imposed stringent financial sanctions on the regime of Panama’s Manuel Noriega. When those didn’t work, the typical pressure for stronger measures led to a U.S. invasion.

Thus, Turkey, which voted against more sanctions on Iran in the Security Council, is prescient when it fears that such measures could eventually lead to greater pressure for war. But would an aerial attack by Israel or the United States foil Iran’s nuclear program. Probably not. Neither Israel nor the United States likely knows where all the targets are located. Iran has already been caught hiding nuclear facilities. So at most, air strikes would only delay the program and make Iran more determined to eventually get a weapon. After all, the greatest deterrent to enemy attack in a dangerous neighborhood is a nuclear weapons capability.

Invading on the ground would be the only way to make sure that Iran never obtained a nuclear device. After the fiasco of invading Iraq (and the continuing bog in Afghanistan), invading the larger, more mountainous, more populous, and more zealous Iran likely would be an even bigger nightmare.

Even though U.S. policymakers seem to be oblivious, or at least ambivalent, to these stark realities, Iran’s neighbor Turkey is not. The Turks are of the opinion that a more cooperative approach from Iran’s neighbors might make Tehran stop short of making a bomb. In other words, Iran might feel secure enough to halt at developing technology that would enable it to construct a weapon on short notice—much as Japan has already done.

Whereas the Obama administration’s idea of trying to build bridges with Iran is “stop your nuclear program and we’ll give you a bunch of stuff or continue at the risk of more sanctions and war,” Turkey, cognizant that previous rounds of sanctions have failed to dissuade Iran’s nuclear program and tired of incurring the costs for U.S. aggressive behavior in its region, is attempting to make Iran feel secure enough that the Iranians will stop short of getting a nuclear weapon. The Turks believe that treating Iran with respect will make them have something to lose by getting a nuke. The United States should end its economic and military saber-rattling and adopt Turkey’s much less belligerent posture.

ivan-eland.jpgIn the end, with Israel’s 200–400 nuclear weapons and Sunni Arab states’ hostility to Shi’ite Iran, the Turkish, and any American, attempt to make Iran feel more secure may fail. But it’s worth a try, because it’s the only good option left.

If all else fails, the good news is that Iran is no erratic North Korea and can be more easily deterred from using or selling any nuclear weapons that it might obtain by America’s globally dominant nuclear arsenal of thousands of weapons.

Ivan Eland

This article first appeared in The Independent Institute and is republished with permis


  1. says

    Eland offers several interesting points, some correct, some dubious.

    (1) Correct: the Obamites have spent far too much political capital to get the semblance of what at best will be ineffective sanctions.

    (2) Correct: For outsiders concerned about Iranian nukes, initial reliance on predictably ineffective sanctions is only going to create pressures for military action instead.

    (3) Contra Eland and many other analysts, most opponents of Iranian nukes do not aim at the impossible: forever preventing Iran from getting any nukes. Rather, their main aim is to delay the day, when she has many readily deployed nukes, until another kind of regime is in power. This more limited purpose could be aided in various ways more militarily direct and effective than sanctions but far short of exhaustive air or ground wars to locate and destroy nuke-making installations.

    Most opponents to Iranian nukes are concerned not by the nukes themselves but by their being in the hands of the current regime, given the regime’s Islam-uber-alles ideology, its totalitarian and repressive character, its aggressive support of militant clients and violence in other lands, and (in the Israel case) its direct genocidal or politicidal threats. Nukes prospectively in the hands of a different kind of regime, even equally nationalist but focused on internal development rather than exported militance and threats, would likely not bother either the Israelis or other Moslem states in the region.

    (4) Contra Eland, Erdogan’s Turkish realignment likely has its own comprehensive agenda, not merely temporarily reassuring Iran. Turkey is laying the groundwork for acceptance of Turkey herself as a player in militant Islam, and maybe also getting nukes in the bargain. Both Erdogan and A-jad perceive that the Obamites are fixated on Afghanistant and otherwise want out of the region. They can collaborate to speed this, and then have at each other for regional dominance.

    (5) Contra Eland, we don’t know that the current Iranian regime and its tightening power struggles will or won’t become the equivalent of an erratic N. Korea.

  2. Paul McDermott says

    Iran might rightly feel that developing nuclear weapons might be the best defense against a hostile attack a belligerent Israel and a very muscular American power bent on using military force. Iran’s own history of foreign intervention in its internal affairs, coupled with Israel’s hostile rhetoric, its possession of 200 to 400 nuclear weapons, and its numerous attacks against its neighbors, as well as the United States’ support for an Iraqi war of aggression in the 1980s and American invasion and occupation of its two neighboring countries might well cause the Iranian government to think about an ironclad defense.

    Would Israel or the United States risk attacking Iran if they knew Iran had an atomic bomb? Israel, which detests Iranian influence in the region and its support for Hamas and Hezbollah, would prefer to have a toothless Iran that it can intimidate with the threat of its nuclear arsenal and its superior airforce.

    The solution to the problem of a proliferation of nuclear weapons and a growing arms race in the Middle East is for Israel to give up its status of being the only nuclear power in the Middle East. The road to a nuclear-free Middle East passes through Jerusalem as well as Tehran.

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