Such concerns are even more prominent outside the Arab world. India is far away from the Middle East, but radical Islamic terrorism has taken many Indian lives, and the prospect of a nuclear armed Islamic republic and its possible galvanization of Islamic movements in and around India – especially in its longtime rival Pakistan – cannot be a particularly sanguine prospect. To the north, Russia is currently in the midst of an attempt to resurrect its own regional hegemony while simultaneously fighting its own long war against domestic and foreign Islamic radicalism. China, while perhaps hoping to remain aloof from a region it considers outside of its sphere of influence, is having its own problems with a burgeoning Islamic movement. Turkey, as has been amply demonstrated in recent weeks, is currently moving toward some kind of alignment with Iran, but the ruling AKP party has a large and by no means dormant secular opposition, and they likely do not desire to see their rivals strengthened by the emergence of a hegemonic Islamic theocracy.
Europe, ironically, has recently been far more proactive than the United States on this issue, and there are some fairly obvious reasons for this. There is not only the threat of radical Islam both outside and inside European borders, but the realization that, missile technology being what it is, an Iranian nuclear bomb could eventually threaten Europe as easily as the nations of the Middle East. A few years ago, no one could have anticipated that France, for example, would be ahead of America on this issue, but in many ways it makes sense, if only because of the brute facts of physical proximity. While there is and will remain a large and powerful European lobby in favor of appeasement, Europe nonetheless seems to be waking up to the realization that on this matter they may well be left to fend for themselves. ~Benjamin Kerstein
This analysis is impressively wrong. The overall conclusion is wrong, and each example cited in support of the conclusion is also wrong. Kerstein makes a fairly common hawkish error in discussing several of these examples. He assumes a close connection between a government’s internal security policies and its foreign policy. This is a popular error over at The New Ledger, but it is by no means the only error Kerstein makes.
If India faces threats from (Pakistan-based) jihadists, Kerstein concludes it must therefore be threatened by an Iranian nuclear weapon. This doesn’t make sense, but I assume Kerstein concludes this because the jihadists and Iranian leaders are all Muslims. This ignores at least four important things. First, India’s military has wanted to increase cooperation and ties with the Iranian military, and it has had to scale back this cooperation out of deference to U.S. requests, but New Delhi is not very pleased that our obsession with Iran’s nuclear program is limiting its choices in the region. Second, India sees Iran as a natural strategic ally against Pakistan. This is related to the first point. If Iran possessed a nuclear arsenal, India would probably want to strengthen ties with Iran for the same reason it has been trying to build up influence in Afghanistan: to counter and contain Pakistani influence. India also has no great interest in tightening the rules governing nuclear programs, as it does not belong to the NPT and has worked out a nuclear technology exchange with the U.S. outside of the international nonproliferation framework. There is no incentive for India to take a confrontational stance towards Iran on account of its nuclear program, and there are obvious economic incentives for it to pursue closer relations in the future. Finally, there is just no reason to think that the Indian government lumps Pakistan-based jihadists in with the Iranian government, and there is not much reason to think that an Iranian bomb would be all that inspiring to Deobandi militants. From their perspective, a nuclear weapon controlled by Shi’ites might even be considered a threat to them. To the extent that Iran is also a rival of Pakistan for influence in Afghanistan and elsewhere, a relatively stronger Iran would be a welcome development for India all on its own inasmuch as it might draw even more Pakistani attention and resources to the west and away from Kashmir.
The claims that Russia, China, Turkey and Europe have some vested interest in stopping Iran’s nuclear program are equally unfounded. Iran has been careful not to intervene in Russian internal conflicts with Chechens, and Russia and Iran have been cultivating an ongoing relationship of technology and economic exchange. This relationship has come under strain in that Russia has chosen to delay delivery of S-300 air defense missiles, but it continues to flourish to the extent that Russia remains committed to constructing new nuclear reactors in Iran beginning with the project at Bushehr. Like India, Russia has no incentive to try thwarting Iran’s nuclear program and directly benefits from the expansion of that program. Officially, Russia does not want Iran to have a nuclear weapon, but if Iran were to acquire one Russia would be one of the least concerned. Kerstein is indulging in a Biden-like delusion that the Russians ought to be terrified of an Iranian bomb.
The claims about China, Turkey and Europe are even weaker than those about Russia and India. China has been expanding its economic relationship with Iran over the last several years, it perceives no threat from an Iranian nuclear weapon, and it has more of a problem with the Turkish government over Erdogan’s interest in the Uighur population in Xinjiang than it has with Iranian centrifuges. For that matter, the strength of the “Islamic movement” in Xinjiang is overblown, and Washington acquiesced in the fiction that there was an upsurge of jihadist militancy among the Uighurs to obtain Chinese tolerance for a U.S. military presence in Central Asia. As our own released Uighur detainees should remind us, many of the Uighurs labeled as would-be terrorists are simply people who have been opposed to Beijing’s colonization policies that work to the detriment of non-Han minorities or who have been in the wrong place at the wrong time. This has absolutely nothing to do with anything in Iran.
Turkey’s opposition has been and continues to be quite weak, and while the new CHP leader is more effective than his predecessor it is a mistake to assume that the Turkish opposition is interested in pursuing a sharply anti-Iranian policy. If it is mistaken to interpret Turkish foreign policy choices as choices between an “Islamic” and a “secular” orientation, it is most likely also a mistake to assume that the Turkish opposition, which objects most strongly to the AKP on many domestic issues, takes equally strong positions against Turkey’s foreign policy under the AKP. Kerstein seems to assume that the opposition can win additional support by adopting an anti-Iranian line, but this would undermine the energy and economic deals Turkey and Iran have made and the opposition is already going to have a hard enough time winning over the business interests that have flourished under the AKP. Besides, as long as the AKP continues to dominate Turkey politically the views of the opposition on this or any other matter are not all that significant. Most European governments do not see Iran as a threat to them, and most European governments did not and do not support missile defense programs ostensibly aimed at defending against Iranian missiles. Central and eastern European governments that want to curry favor with Washington have offered to host these installations, but it is not particularly because they believe in an Iranian threat.
I don’t know whether it would be better for other major powers to take the lead in opposing Iran’s nuclear program. It seems to me that it would be just as foolish and futile. However, I am quite sure that there is no “confluence of interests” that is going to make this happen. There is not going to be any “tacit alliance of convenience” among Iran’s major patrons and trading partners to stop Iran from developing a nuclear program that most or all of them believe it has every right to develop. It shouldn’t need to be said, but the governments with which Iran enjoys good relations are unlikely to become its foremost enemies.