The U.S., Multilateralism, and the Iranian Nuclear Program

The U.S., Multilateralism, and the Iranian Nuclear Program

According to recent reports, the U.S. is considering lowering the level of ire in its rhetoric towards Iran and even providing incentives to Iran (such as not blocking Iran’s bid to enter the WTO) for setting aside its attempts at constructing nuclear weapons. This turnabout of U.S. policy (see, by contrast, here) seems to be in response to calls by its European allies to become more engaged in negotiations with Iran over nuclear proliferation. As a result, there is now a more concerted effort by the Europeans, the U.S. and the U.N. in addressing the threat of Iranian military nuclearization.

One interesting side issue is how and when the issue of the Iranian nuclear program should be referred to the Security Council. The U.S. has been in favor of referring the issue sooner rather than later, likely in an attempt to get a Chapter VII resolution finding any such nuclearization a threat to international peace and security. This could open the door to international sanctions and, as discussed in my posts on S.C. resolutions and Iraq, a Chapter VII resolution with the “all necessary measures” clause (opening the way to armed interventions) .

Some view the U.S. about face as being actually an about face of 360 degrees: ending up the same place as where it started. The theory is that, by giving the Europeans what they want (engagement towards a diplomatic settlement), it will be easier for the U.S. to get European acquiescence to a Security Council referral if (or when) the negotiations fall apart. Perhaps.

Nancy Soderberg, among others, has argued (hear her, for example, on the Brian Lehrer show) that this policy shift is a sign that the Bush Administration is realizing that U.S. unilateralism will not be able to secure the type of long term changes that it is seeking in the Middle East. Returning to our earlier discussions on multilateralism and unilateralism (see here and here), by going it alone the U.S. finds that there is too much to do, at too much of a cost in blood and treasure, if it is not able to bring along more than a token coalition. And, in today’s world, if you want more than a minimal set of allies, then the U.N. is a very useful institution. In such cases multilateralism matters and it is smart politics. Perhaps Bush the Younger is learning what Bush the Elder clearly knows.

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Mike's America
Mike's America

When trying to understand Soderberg’s outrageous comments, we need to consider the source:

She was on the staff of Senator Kennedy before joining the Clinton Gore Administration. As number 3 on the staff of the National Security Council, she was at Clinton’s right hand during much of the malfeasance we witnessed during that time.

When she remarks about something going wrong in North Korea, she ought to know. Sec. Albright and Soderberg were among the cabal of America apologists that thought they could buy good will from Kim Jong Il… Didn’t work DID IT!

Now, Bush is cleaning up the mess these people made and all they can do is hope he does not succeed…

Very sad… Politics used to stop at the water’s edge… But power and personal bitterness seems to be more important to these folks than their own nation’s success in making the world a freer, more peaceful place.

If Kerry had been elected, she would no doubt be back in office. God forbid!



I don’t view this as a “turnabout” at all, but more like a tentative left jab to guage distance, while a knockout right is waiting in the wings. It costs the U.S. nothing to show the EU their high-brow corridor talks and efforts to cajole the Iranians will likely come to naught by supporting their carrot — knowing all the while that when the stick is necessary we’re the ones who’ll have to wield it, not the latte sippers in Brussels. Soderberg is simply a fool. The U.S. position wasn’t simply “unilateralist”, for its own sake, but in attempting to do the right thing and convincing others to join. The fact that others weren’t willing to, for numerous reasons, is a separate issue. As many others have commented the mere size of your coaltion is no indication of its validity or moral authority. Finally, as for allies in the U.N. — I’d rather have a reliable small set of strong allies, than a large group of finger-in-the-wind supporters who’d just as quickly stab me in the back the instance I’ve stumbled. Lastly, I’d wager Bush-the-Younger knows a lot more than Borgen-the-Professor about international machinations and politics at this point. 😉