Q: What nuclear concessions or changes in policy can countries like the US and Russia make (beyond having already reduced their own capacities) that might aid current negotiations over Iran’s disputed right to develop its nuclear capacity?
If by “aid” the negotiations, we mean “to increase the chance of an agreement with Iran to renounce all abilities to make a nuclear bomb,” then I don’t see what can be done. I’m not an expert on Iranian politics, and I hope I’m wrong about that. But the history of the past three decades suggests, at least to me, that the Iranian program has little to do with American policy. It certainly has nothing to do with Russian or American nuclear arsenals, which have been reduced by thousands upon thousands of weapons since the Iranian nuclear program began. If, as I believe, the Iranian drive for nuclear status springs from the theocratic nature of the regime and its ambitions in the region, there’s no concession or policy change that will matter. And the fact of the matter is that Iranian policies (including support for terror) have remained impervious to changes in regime in Russia and changes of administration in the United States.
Americans in particular don’t like to reach this conclusion. We’re optimists, and we believe in negotiations in and of themselves as a show of good faith, when in fact many regimes, including Iran and Russia, regard them far more cynically as a tool of state policy. Worse, we have a tendency toward a kind of strategic solipsism: our self-absorption leads us to think that what goes on in other capitals is merely a reaction to whatever’s going on that day in Washington. (The Russians are far more realistic about this than we are.) The Iranian program has survived for Iran’s reasons, and if it ceases — which I think is unlikely anytime soon — it will likewise be for their own reasons.
—Tom Nichols is a professor of National Security Affairs at the U.S. Naval War College and a Senior Associate of the Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs. His most recent book is No Use: Nuclear Weapons and U.S. National Security. He also happens to be a five-time undefeated Jeopardy! champion. You can find him @TheWarRoom_Tom