France and a Fool’s Bargain

Back in November of 2013, near the signing of the interim nuclear deal with Iran, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius called the exercise a “fool’s bargain”. Now, two years later, the same minister is making the same claim regarding the verification regime of the proposed final framework. So while the American president is attempting to reassure the Israeli public about his support for a “strong and verifiable agreement”, the French are warning that without access to military sites in Iran, any nuclear deal would be “useless”. What the French are saying is that in the absence of foolproof verification, nuclear proliferation throughout the region is a great likelihood.

Even though the proposed nuclear deal has a sunset clause, and advanced nuclear centrifuge research will be allowed at underground sites, the question of absolute verification has become central. This is especially true now, since it has been determined that somehow Iran has accumulated more nuclear enriched material than it did at the time of the interim deal’s signing. Does this mean that Iran is cheating? And could it also mean that Iran has a stock of clandestine material stored over the years at secret sites? And if the answers to those questions are affirmative, what is to stop the enrichment of fissionable material using advanced centrifuge technology, at sites either off-limits or undetectable given the smallness of their size? Advanced centrifuge development would allow the Iranians the ability to produce bomb-grade enriched fuel within small array cascades. In other words, the smaller the array, the more difficult the detection.

The problem with the nuclear negotiations with Iran is the advanced level of their program that will not be dismantled, only mothballed or frozen in place. But the quality of such a freeze is dependent on the strictness of the verification and the amount of research Iran is allowed. The more the research, the stricter the verification regime must be. Anything less is a fool’s bargain. But already Obama and company have appeared to cave on the concept of anytime-anywhere inspections. This is a huge mistake. Remember, Iran hid its Fordo enrichment site until it was finally exposed by the US. What would prevent Iran from doing exactly the same thing but at smaller, more difficult-to-detect sites hiding advanced centrifuge technology? In a June 1st interview with the Wall St. Journal, the French foreign minister seemed to be challenging the American president when he said: “The best agreement, if you can’t verify it, it’s useless.” He then went on to emphasize that without strict verification, the most likely outcome would be nuclear proliferation: “Several countries in the region would say OK, a paper has been signed, but we think it is not strong enough, and therefore we ourselves have to become nuclear.”

But how tough and how firm will France be with an American administration willing to bet the future of the Middle East on Iranian good intentions? This remains to be seen. But the new French relationship with Saudi Arabia is no fool’s bargain. It involves hard cold cash. Unless the Saudis have already made the decision to go nuclear (a distinct possibility given their alienation from the Obama administration), one would think that France will stay firm on its commitment to a strong nuclear verification regime. But the decision to go forward with a Saudi nuclear program, or at least hint at it, is not outside the realm of possibility. In fact, the Wall St. Journal interview could be the opening gambit in a sophisticated Saudi strategy to embarrass the American president. Perhaps the new Saudi king has decided to use the French in order to send the Americans an ultimatum: Either you toughen up your negotiating position, or we and the French will unravel the entire deal. The French have a veto on the Security Council, and barring that veto, the immediate risk of nuclear proliferation would render the Obama nuclear legacy moot.

But then what? Are we to believe that a nuclear Middle East is in anyone’s interest? The answer is — of course not! But if a fool’s bargain isn’t the answer, and atomic proliferation is a nightmare, has the Middle East become a vast catch-22? The answer is — it has! So how does the region escape from the straight-jacket of nuclear checkmate? Only a nuclear-weapons-free zone can alter the course of a nuclear Middle East history. But in order to accomplish such a zone, Iran must be persuaded to normalize its relations with the entire region, Israel included. This cannot happen without the synchronized strategy of all the world’s powers. Peace must become the priority of the entire world community. Without such a vision between nations, the prospect of nuclear proliferation in a failed region (the Middle East) will intensify the chaos and put the whole world in jeopardy. Prime Minister Netanyahu is not kidding when he says that the peace of the world depends on a non-nuclear Iran. His analysis is the correct one.

In order for the Middle East to become liberated from its current trajectory toward catastrophe, global coordination and cooperation on a zone of non-aggression, leading to a nuclear-weapons-free Middle East, are the only viable answers. In this respect Israel must take the lead and agree to join the NPT, but only within the concept of a non-aggressive zone. Within this zone all states must have diplomatic relations with all other states, and all forms of aggression between nations strictly prohibited through the automatic Chapter Seven provision of the UN Security Council. This will not ensure any state’s total safety, but it could go a long way to address the false need for nuclear weapons security. This so-called nuclear weapons security is the ultimate fool’s bargain because it inevitably leads to an existential terror, as weapon systems expand across regions. In the final analysis, nuclear weapons might (hopefully) still have a chance to be brought under control, but conventional warfare will always remain a possibility. Therefore, in such a zone of non-aggression, secure borders become a necessity. Israel would never agree to a nuclear-weapons-free zone without the certainty of secure borders within the larger framework of a region at peace. Anything less would be a fool’s bargain!

About the Author
Steven Horowitz has been a farmer, journalist and teacher spanning the last 45 years. He resides in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA. During the 1970's, he lived on kibbutz in Israel, where he worked as a shepherd and construction worker. In 1985, he was the winner of the Christian Science Monitor's Peace 2010 international essay contest. He was a contributing author to the book "How Peace came to the World" (MIT Press).