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Juan Cole

Juan Cole

Juan runs the popular geopolitics blog Informed Comment where he provides an independent and informed perspective on Middle Eastern and American politics.

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Iran: The Renewable Energy Carrot .vs. The Stick of War

Iran: The Renewable Energy Carrot .vs. The Stick of War

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 neighbours, 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.

By. Juan Cole

Juan runs the popular geopolitics blog Informed Comment where he provides an independent and informed perspective on Middle Eastern and American politics.

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  • Betty Davis on January 21 2012 said:
    Let Iran build their nuclear power plant. They are trying to get off the oil and we won't let them. Even if they did build a nuke, they can't hit us from this far away. Don't worry about Israel, they got 400 nukes. What's up with that? We got over 5000. What ever happened to leading by example? Poor countries don't police the world, because it costs too much. We are trillions in debt.
  • John on January 21 2012 said:
    The key word here is "ostensible". In fact, no one believes that energy is Iran's motive since their actions don't bear it out. Take a look at the IAEA report at http://www.iaea.org/Publications/Documents/Board/2011/gov2011-65.pdf, especially the last page, to see what uses Iran's activities can be put to. Energy isn't one of them.
  • Fred Banks on January 23 2012 said:
    Please excuse me for saying this, but I see Mr Ahmedinejad as an intelligent man who our political masters should try talking to. What's the point in playing these games that could lead to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people.

    Our moronic politicians started a war in Libya for oil, and thus far the aggregate price of oil is still over 100 dollars, which is too high. I'm going through notes from six or seven years back about the price of oil, and those notes mention some very smart and/or important people singing the blues about the price of oil going over 30 dollars.

    Why not get smart and learn a few things? I will not claim that all wars are pointless, but this is a situation where they should give peace and some constructive conversation (featuring the top drawer of politicians) a chance.
  • glen on January 24 2012 said:
    Juan My Man,

    I do believe that you have the right idea. As you suggest, just what do we have to lose. Are our politicians trying to prove whose is longer, get a tape measure.

    Hell, if we build the things for them (use our labor, we need the jobs)it will still be cheaper than the munitions to fight another war.

    That's right, it will cost the war loards some possible funds for their ill gotton gains
  • Philip Andrews on January 24 2012 said:
    I agree with Fred on this. It seems to me that accusing Iran of having a nuke and demanding she discontinue nuke research, when Israel and Pakistan already have them is the kettle and pot syndrome.

    Iran is already influencing the ME as her 3000 year history there trlls us is her natural birthright so to speak. She doesn't need a nuke; the nuclear is just another way of leveraging, and she is very good at that. She must have some really good intelligence sources in the West.

    It says a lot about the lobbying power of certain groups in the US-Israel camp that we seem to get contradictory reports about Irans proximity to a nuke depending on how paranoid Jerusalem is feeling at any one time.

    It seems there is huge infighting both in Jerusalem and Washington about how to manage Iran. And nuke energy expert reports seem to become part of that infighting when they should be 'objective and neutral'...

    It seems that the West and Iran will continue to sail close to the wind for a considerble time before the West comes to terms with Iran as the permanent power player in the ME and rearranges her priorities re Israel accordingly. That process may already have begun behind the scenes. Once we begin to treat Iran as intelligent, dominant in that area but no more a threat than any other ME state (Israel, Saudi), threats of war and conflict may begin to recede.

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