All signs point to October. This important month will be crucial not only for the future of the Iran nuclear deal, but also for the future of the region of the Middle East. It is at this point that the Trump administration must finally decide the strategic nature of its Iran policy. By sometime in October, US policy must decide how it will deal with the political future of a region fast becoming dominated by Iran and its multiple proxy militias. And also, what will be the relationship of that decision to the Iran nuclear deal, especially concerning its co-sponsors, both allies (Germany, UK and France) and also America’s perceived adversaries (Russia and China)?
Israel’s message to the US and the world has been made clear by its political leadership — as to the Iran nuclear deal, either “fix it or cancel it”. These are the words of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. And with regard to the region as a whole, it is in Israel’s vital interest that Iranian attempts at hegemony be rolled back. Israel and the Sunni Arab states will no longer accept US timidity on Iran’s regional behavior. Either the US behaves like a strategic partner or it must redefine its role within the region. Israel needs a strategic partner, and it is unwilling to accept an Obama-like policy of appeasement in search of altered Iranian behavior.
But the countdown to October involves much more than just Iran. A Trump decision on North Korea will be crucial in the maintenance of nuclear non-proliferation. If the Korean Peninsula does not denuclearize, then these weapons of mass destruction will spread across the region. Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Indonesia are all likely candidates. The sale of this technology (as it spreads) is something that must be stopped.
Twentieth century Cold War deterrence might have worked for the US and Russia, but this is no longer the twentieth century. The more countries that possess nuclear weapons, the greater the danger. In such a scenario, defensive missile technology will spur instability and hair-trigger first-strike responses. Israel simply cannot tolerate an Iran with nukes and hell-bent on dominating the region. But within a decade, Iran’s nuclear program of advanced enrichment will be legal according to the current deal. What has now happened with the North Korean nuclear program cannot be allowed to become a precursor to the future of the Middle East.
Russia, China and the US will determine the geopolitical future of nuclear weapons. However, within their current competition for power, diplomacy alone cannot succeed. Without these three nations being in geopolitical sync, their own security anxieties prevent any peaceful forward motion. This means that this current competition for power must be dramatically changed to accommodate a new global paradigm. No one country can lead, but instead, there must be a firm commitment toward global peace. This will mean a complete reevaluation of the current security architecture throughout Europe and East Asia. Regional powers can be of assistance within this endeavor — in fact, their participation might be almost crucial — but in the end, without the total commitment of Russia, China and the US, geopolitical stability will not be possible.
In order to convince Russia that the US is considering a new paradigm, a Grand Bargain for Europe must be brought into focus. The basis of this Grand Bargain is an essential trade-off between the NATO Alliance system and the concept of a Russian sphere of influence in Europe. This might entail the pullback of Russian and American forces from the European continent and the curtailment or demilitarization of German forces. That would go a long way toward Russian cooperation on Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and other global hot spots. Iran cannot achieve regional superiority when faced with the principled objection of both Russia and the US.
The same is true for North Korea. Without a Sino-American understanding on the future of naval forces in the Western Pacific and a new security architecture for the Korean Peninsula (ending the Korean War), diplomacy with the real leverage to persuade Pyongyang will be impossible. The North Korean regime is currently using nuclear deterrence to assure its political survival. But instead of nuclear deterrence, North Korean survival must be guaranteed within a negotiated settlement of the Korean War. Again, a new security architecture — this time for the Korean Peninsula — must be negotiated.
The reality is that the weapons of war have now superseded the conventional understandings of what victory and defeat must look like. Nations now face total existential crisis if they don’t have nuclear weapons, or if these weapons are ever used in such a manner that they can’t be destroyed either on the ground or in flight. In the twentieth century, Israel faced the totality of a Muslim world determined to destroy its sovereignty through conventional means. Israel was small and the Muslim world was very large. Israel built nuclear weapons to deter its enemies. Now Iran has the frozen capability to build such weapons. Tehran claims that this capability can be thawed within a matter of days. It is no wonder that President Trump has called the Iran nuclear deal the “worst he has ever seen”.
The next decade will determine the nature of the struggle between Israel and Iran. This means essentially the next two US administrations. The region of the Middle East can not tolerate an Iranian hegemony. By this October, the Trump administration must decide on an Iranian policy and strategy. Either it will involve close cooperation with Russia or it won’t. In other words, the US will either decide on a Grand Bargain — eliciting much Russian support to dramatically alter and fix the Iran nuclear deal — or a modus operandi, whereby the Iranian presence in Syria is closely checked. But such a modus operandi will still leave a huge disagreement concerning the Iran nuclear deal. However, these two massive nuclear powers, Russia and the US, might not cooperate at all. Instead, they could continue with the instability of the status quo. Without some kind of cooperation, Russia and the US will continue to be floating on the wings of potential military escalation and anarchy.
For humanity the issue of war and peace has never been graver. We have all reached the crossroads of history. However in the Middle East, October has become the key month. The decisions made in the next six weeks by the Trump administration will be crucial. This is no time for face-saving, small steps. This is no time for an acceptance of the tired, worn out, establishment status quo. And it certainly is no time for empty bluster or half-baked rhetoric.
Donald J.Trump must make it clear to all — but especially to the Russians — that Iran cannot be allowed to continue on its current policy trajectory. The Obama policy of regional disassociation from the Iranian nuclear program has failed miserably on both ends, nuclear and regional. President Trump has promised that he will rectify the situation and enunciate a new policy by October 15th. The countdown to October has begun.