To avoid War, Obama Should Offer Iran Renewable Energy Aid: Buonomo

Thomas Buonomo writes in a guest column for Informed Comment:

As Iran proceeds ahead with its nuclear program, its tensions with the United States continue to heighten over concerns that it is secretly pursuing a nuclear weapons capability.

Israelis view a nuclear‐armed Iran as an existential threat and U.S. officials are rightly concerned that nuclear weapons would give Iran coercive power over Iraq and its Arab Gulf neighbors, which are critical energy suppliers to the U.S. and its allies.

One of Iran’s ostensible reasons for wanting to develop a nuclear program is to transition to an alternative source of electricity for domestic consumption. This would purportedly free up oil and natural gas reserves for export at a higher price on the global market rather than remaining allocated to Iran’s highly subsidized domestic market.

Iran’s apparent motive for pursuing a nuclear weapons capability would be to deter foreign aggression, which it has historically had cause to be concerned with because of its coveted energy resources. The question remains whether Iranian leaders would exploit this capability to pursue their own expansionist foreign policy agenda.

There is a significant possibility that as with Iraq, U.S. political leaders could decide that the risks of inaction are too high to give a hostile and unpredictable Iranian government the benefit of the doubt.

Given the political obstacles U.S. diplomats have faced building support for sanctions that are constricting enough to dissuade Iran from its current course, U.S. or Israeli leaders might eventually feel that they are left with no choice but to attempt a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities or perhaps even pursue regime change by covert or overt means.

An Alternative Course of Action

Considering the doubtful prospect of an effective sanctions regime and the unpredictable consequences of a military strike or covert action, the Obama administration should consider offering the Iranian government an opportunity for rapprochement in the form of renewable energy technology and financial incentives to help it achieve its ostensible goals.

Iran has abundant geothermal, solar, hydroelectric and wind energy resources that could help it meet its domestic electricity demand without presenting an inherent threat to the international community. This would require substantial investment but Iranian leaders might be prepared to consider such an alternative if the U.S. and other UN Security Council states were prepared to offer it attractive financing options.

Such an initiative would demonstrate to Iran that the United States acknowledges its legitimate energy and national security interests and is willing to take meaningful steps to support its peaceful aspirations and integration into the international community in return for its abandonment of its nuclear program.

Carrots and Sticks

Thus far the Obama administration’s policy toward Iran has consisted of either threatening to add or expressing willingness to withdraw sticks rather than offering carrots that Iran might find attractive enough to seriously consider. The current approach does not show signs of weakening Iran’s political resolve and is not likely to without significantly harsher multilateral sanctions, which do not appear forthcoming.

Logically therefore, the United States is left with few options. One is to continue pressing for harsher sanctions in the hope that internal economic pressures will lead to political concessions, a coup or popular overthrow of the Iranian government. In the event that the United States or Israel determines that sanctions have run their course, either country may determine to pursue covert or overt military action against Iranian nuclear targets or the government itself.

Such a course of action would have significant potential to lead to full‐scale military conflict, which would almost certainly be much bloodier and costlier than U.S.military engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan.

An alternative option is to pursue rapprochement with Iran by offering to assist it in meeting its energy needs through renewable projects in exchange for key security concessions.

Detractors will claim that this would constitute appeasement of a hostile regime but if a carrot‐based approach fails the United States will have lost nothing. On the contrary, it will have strengthened its diplomatic position against the Iranian government, enabling it to build support for a more coercive approach.

Given the stakes, it is imperative to exhaust all options while there is still time.

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Thomas J. Buonomo is a former Military Intelligence Officer, U.S. Army. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Political Science and Middle East Studies from the U.S. Air Force Academy and is pursuing a career in conflict analysis and prevention.

21 Responses

  1. I say give it a shot. Yes the Republicans would go ballistic but if the offer is clearly tied to Iran giving up its nuclear program, it would be apparent that we would not be giving them anything “for free.”
    Given Iran’s refusal of offers to do the enrichment for them, to have them do the enrichment elsewhere (e.g., Russia), etc., I can’t see them agreeing to the Alternative Energy offer. But it would then be clear that their aim was at least a nuclear weapons capability, if not actually building one. (I believe that their aim is one of those two; I’m not sure which.)

    • I think that part of this is about pride and part of it is about the fear of dependence on foreign powers who have a history of covert as well as overt military intervention in their internal affairs. Why would Iran trust Russia, for example, given its historical relationship with Iran as well as its past decisions to cut off energy supplies to Europe?

      The same argument could be made against the prospect of renewable energy cooperation but in this case Iran would be asked to weigh similar risks against much larger technological, financial, and diplomatic benefits. It would be a true opportunity for rapprochement and it would cause Iranian officials to question their current threat perception of the U.S. and consequently hostile posture.

  2. I think such an offer would be to the benefit of everyone. It could also be an interesting measure for the U.N. to test Iranian motives and Western perceptions of their nuclear development. If Iran is truly perusing domestic and economic uses of nuclear energy than such offers from the U.N. would help gauge just how serious these claims are. Surely, for example, Iran would recognize that solar and geothermal energy is more efficient and sustainable (and thus cost effective in the economic long term) than nuclear. It would be hard to provide a carrot Iran would take though. I imagine that the Iranian government is quite skittish around the U.N., and this offer would be taken with a very large grain of salt.

  3. If Iran was a nuclear power, that might constrain some of the United States’ activities in the region, such as invasions and drone-warfare. A nuclear-armed Iran that continued to back Hamas and Hezbollah might make Israel less eager to gobble up Palestinian land.
    But, the Iranian regime is not a force for good, anymore than the US or Israel are. Let’s help them with renewable energy. But, if that carrot fails, there’s no reason to bang them with a stick. There is no proof that they are developing nuclear weapons. And if they did develop such weapons, we could deal with them like we do other nuclear powers.

    • “If Iran was a nuclear power, that might constrain some of the United States’ activities in the region, such as invasions…”
      I believe that the origin of Iran’s nuke program was in Bush’s speech calling out Iran, Iraq, and North Korea as the “axis of evil,” followed by an invasion of Iraq. Note that North Korea also restarted its program in that time frame and went so far as to build and test a bomb. Iran surely also feels that having nukes might spare it Iraq’s fate.

    • Absolutely!
      The demse of Libya (regardless of what yoiu thought of the MW regieme) had much to do with ts bandonment of nuclear.

      Moreover, any country in ts right mind wants to stay away from western det financing scheems/scams as mch as possible.

    • Some advocates of regime change in Iran may view the Iranian government as implacably hostile to the U.S. but this is not universally the case. I don’t think Iran’s hostility to Israel and use of proxy forces against it is a strong enough impetus alone to enable an American policy of regime change to move forward. The nuclear variable is the critical one. If that could be solved the primary and decisive motive for regime change would no longer exist.

    • This is probably less likely than dissuading Iran from pursuing its own program. The latter would almost certainly have to come before the former.

  4. Surely the Chinese are already doing this, big time. They are perceived internationally as a leader in this field and I have the impression that the U.S. is, uh, not.

  5. Geopolitically, Iran is gaining increasing power regionally, aside from its nuclear potential. This is ultimately what the US is most concerned with.

    Not to say the influence of Israel doesn’t count mightily, but recent statements from Ehud Barak reflect Mossad reports, showing Israel backing off threats they’ve been leveling for years now. Who knows how real or how long this condition will last? Best thinking is that this is all a quid pro quo to help the US get through its election year.

    Continuing, and where possible escalating sanctions, seems to be the course chosen to support regime change in Iran, the underlying US goal. It needs to be done with a kinder and gentler PR face, to be sure, since we are, after all, civilized people. But the essential pattern is not unlike the Japanese/US confrontation over who’d dominate the Eastern Pacific that led to WW II.

    The analogy doesn’t hold when you try to line up specifics, but the policy initiatives are strikingly similar: the target is either brought to heel or they ultimately have to try to break out, allowing you to be the offended the good guy: back the little guy into a corner until he takes his one good shot, knowing he hasn’t got a chance. For Japan/Iran, its either that or accept strangulation. For the US, the alternative here is to accept a rising Iranian dominance of the region. To be fair, they could build up Arabian penninsula defenses to achieve an acceptable ongoing balance of power, but that could never be seen as the best option to aim for.

    Should spontaneous military combustion occur, which is increasingly likely with all the forces being concentrated in the Gulf, it doesn’t serve the purpose of US or Israeli security. In fact, it positively harms their cause, barring a commitment to conquer Iran on the ground. But pressure to see some sort of positive regime change over time is an arguable course; Building up economic sanctions that can be relaxed as part of secret/future negotiations can also work; Buying time to see Iranian politics inevitably evolve also makes sense as the US tailors an offseting force in the pennisula. The thing here is to see the nuclear issue is not really the core issue.

    This is all a dangerous game, with so, so many moving parts and uncontrollable players. The dynamics are simply unmanageable. Events are not going to play out as the various chess players are planning.

  6. The author states
    ” The question remains whether Iranian leaders would exploit this capability to pursue their own expansionist foreign policy agenda.”
    Is the author saying that iran’s foreign policy is expansionist or just that their enemies are claiming they are?

  7. Thomas Buonomo is flat wrong. Sorry, but this conflict actually has nothing to do with IRan’s nuclear program in the first place.

    The sanctions regime on Iran is not even primarily about the civilian nuclear enrichment program (to which Iran has a right under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty), but about causing the regime to collapse.

  8. You got the people who think they are the chess players, and then you got the people who hold the strings attached to the limbs of the people who think they are the chess players, and then you got the people who own the stuff that the people who think they control the players and move the pieces sit on and eat and breathe and drink, and who prosper only so long as the chess players have enough pawns and rooks to continue the game, since those mostly-oblivious “pieces” create the real wealth that it all depends on, and provide the stuff of soft targets and collateral damage, with all the emotion that flows from those elements, that can be used to perpetuate the whole cycle.

    It is not, as you say, a system that is subject to analysis and prediction. It ain’t the special case, with all its constraints and chaos-driven, quantum-effected and -affected, and friction-induced variability, of even Newton’s fascinating Cradle. link to en.wikipedia.org

    It’s a tribute to the bits of stability and decency that still inhere in human nature that it hasn’t gone to the “Nuclear Winter Will End Global Warming!” stage.

    But there’s lots of opportunity in the playing, for personal “enrichment” and aggrandizement, especially for the worst and most manipulative and least conscience-bound of the damn cynics who keep adding destructive energy to the machinery.

  9. A hostile Iran without nuclear weapons is a manageable Iran. I don’t think any other variable is nearly as decisive in motivating a U.S. policy of regime change.

    • And that’s the point made by many people: that without at least a break-out nuclear capability the momentum of Iran’s presence regionally becomes “manageable” (read: neutered). Not to say that isn’t a worthy policy objective for the US, but it begs the question of how sustainable and enlightened such a policy is.

      And, not to put too fine a point on it, but it is not the nuclear issue that appears to be empowering this “need” for regime change, but Iran’s growing power regionally, when a nuclear capacity is still far off at worst/best. The thing is that a nuclear capacity would go far to assure Iranian sovereignty from the US “management” you allude to.

      The phrasing you use is I’m sure that which is also used in closed-door policy discussions, and if you sit back and think about it in a clear-headed way for a very few solid minutes, you’d probably see this attitude is what is at the root of the problem we have.

  10. Iran’s pursuit of nukes is based on deterrence. Deterrence in the sense of not being the next Iraq.

    And deterrence to give them cover to expand their proxy war investments. Too many folks seem to miss this second driver.

    An Iran with a nuke umbrella can give Lebanon to Syria, give the incipient Kurdistan to both Turkey and Iraq, and make the West Bank and South Israel into a concrete junkyard.

  11. The Iranians can only remember that the present sanctions regime is an exact replay of the 1951-1953 sanctions against Mohammed Mossadegh, leading up to the American-sponsored coup. There are a few differences this time around, such as the place of Iraq, the world petroleum situation, the condition of the imperial economy, and the interest of the Chinese, the Russians, many others in thwarting this design – and not least, the Iranian memory of the precedent. It will be harder to find stooges this time. None of these are favorable to the empire, especially if the Iranians play it patiently.

  12. What if the US just does not have any option that would prevent Iran from developing legal nuclear weapons capabilities like those Japan, Brazil, Canada, Germany and many other countries have?

    Americans are very attached to this idea that there is something they can do to prevent an outcome Israel doesn’t want. What if sanctions would not prevent Iran from attaining legal nuclear weapons capabilities and military strikes also would not prevent Iran from attaining legal nuclear weapons capabilities?

    In that case, the United States is not some all-powerful world dictator, but a country that sometimes has to accept things that there are limits to how much it can shape Israel’s region.

  13. There is no offer that is gonna appeal to the Iranians. They want their nuclear program and almost certainly threshold capability. To my knowledge, this is not denied to those signatories of the non-proliferation protocol. Israel just better learn to live with that.

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