One Man's plan for Iran
All the tough talk coming out of Iran these days about its secret nuclear program has prompted Virginia Sen. John Warner, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, to propose a deterrence plan to deal with the threat. In recent speeches to the Atlantic Council and the Council on Foreign Relations, Warner called for North Atlantic Treaty Organization countries to plan a military "ring of deterrence" to contain Iran if negotiations fail. The five-term Republican, who is also a former secretary of the Navy, shared his views with U.S. News last week. Excerpts:
Why are you calling on NATO to consider a plan to restrain Iran's nuclear ambitions?
Here is a nation [Iran], which is striving to gain pre-eminence in the region and which wants to belong to that club that allegedly has the potential to prepare and build weapons to establish their pre-eminence. I just don't think NATO can sit there without taking notice of that. ... Let me make very clear, I still remain confident that negotiations can resolve this. But I think as a part of the negotiation, just the simple announcement that NATO is now going to sit at the table and make a plan would be wise because they're entrusted with the security of Europe, and clearly the rhetoric and other facts point to Iran posing a military threat.
How and when would this plan be carried out?
Well, the first thing we'd do would be to call the North Atlantic Council together and have it as an agenda item, for all 26 nations. Let them express their views. And I can't help but believe that they would not ... at least instruct the military side to devise the plan. And then just leave it on the table. I wouldn't suggest that [the plan] begin to go to implementation until it was clear that the negotiation track had resulted in failure and [that we had] a more positive framework of facts that Iran is moving toward the production of a military fissionable weapon.
What would such a plan look like if it were actually implemented?
Initially, it could be ... naval [forces] in international waters and air in international airspace. I didn't envision an encirclement of ground installations. You must remember there's Turkey--Turkey's a member of NATO--there's Afghanistan, which shares a common border.
Is it correct that you favor leaving open the option of bilateral talks, but you are opposed to sanctions?
I think the imposition of sanctions would take us off the fork in the road from negotiation to confrontation ... I think it's far too early to take steps that would be construed as confrontational, because I do believe [the Iranians] want to be respected in the region as a strong, emerging power. At this point in time to go into a posture where it's sanctions and confrontation, I think the hard-liners would get a firmer grip on that power.
Some may regard your own proposal as confrontational. What do you say?
I would simply say [to the NATO leadership], "Are you not entrusted with the security of Europe? Is that not your fundamental charter?" Iran has boasted that they have weapons that can hit you, they're making all kinds of antagonistic rhetoric--or at least the president is--toward the free world. If I were the military commanders in NATO, I'd say, "Wait a minute, you'd better at least sit down and devise a plan from our experience with the Cold War and see whether or not those principles are applicable."
You were recently in Afghanistan. How are things going there?
The situation there is very dangerous. Certainly, it has exceeded what we had been led to believe here in the Congress--that things were proceeding. ... Suddenly, here in the last several months, you've seen significant engagements with the security forces of Afghanistan and the security forces being provided by the United States and NATO.
What about Iraq's new government and the security climate there?
You've got to give this new government a reasonable time within which to seize the reins of full responsibility of a sovereign nation. But I do believe that we should be examining quietly, if they do not succeed in coming to grips with the full responsibilities of a sovereign nation--namely, provide the security for its people and also the infrastructure for people to have a daily life--then what do we do? I think you've got to begin to think out of the box a little bit ... as to how you would let the parts begin to function themselves, with still--hopefully--some central form of government. You've got to have that, because without a fair allocation of resources from the oil ... you will certainly find a civil war will break out.
I do not want to see our forces sucked into this trap of sectarian strife and being caught between the bullets flying to and from, in respect to Shia and Sunni. I don't want to see that. That's not what we sent our troops to do.
This story appears in the June 5, 2006 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.