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THE INDEX — September 16, 2009

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Frank Spring: Transatlantic Defense for the 21st Century

One week in July, the United States Senate the court of public opinion in the United Kingdom came down against military spending on two fundamental Cold War-era defense policy staples: a sudden and dramatic escalation in air superiority, and nuclear deterrence. Both developments represent a move toward a modern Transatlantic defense posture better suited to the conflicts of the 21st century. The Senate voted 58-40 to cut funding for more F-22 Raptors, signaling an eventual end to the fighter’s role in defense policy. Current budgeting provides for the United States to have 187 active-duty F-22s by the end of 2011, but the Senate vote on July 21 could have provided $1.7 billion for an additional seven F-22s and left the door open for a larger order. Instead, the F-22 will be phased out in favor of the F-35, a cheaper option that provides more flexibility in supporting ground operations, at a cost to its air-to-air capabilities. Several days before and an ocean away, a poll in the United Kingdom showed that more than half of all Britons oppose renewing Britain’s nuclear deterrent--the submarine-based Trident missile system. This is further political bad news for embattled Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who, as chancellor, pledged in 2006 to renew Trident (at the time, 51% of those polled supported the measure), and has occasioned a round of calls for the project’s budget—some 20 billion pounds—to be spent on conventional forces.

Chuck Freilich: Engage Iran with a Big Stick

I am all for engaging with Iran. In principle, negotiations are always preferable and it is certainly worth a try. But, there is a big problem. Actually, a few. Last week, Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, indirectly put his finger on the big problem, when he stated that the timeline to a first Iranian nuclear bomb (a “calamitous” outcome, in his words) is now thought to be just one to three years. If the shorter assessment proves correct, there simply may not be enough time for effective engagement; if the longer, then we may still have time, but the question remains over Iran’s basic willingness to make a deal. President Barack Obama recently said that the end of 2009 is his target date for assessing whether Iran is serious about making progress. (He left himself wiggle room, however, as this is only the target date for assessing the prospects for progress—not for a deal). All of the candidates in Iran’s forthcoming presidential elections have expressed explicit support for continuing the nuclear program, although there has been some talk of possible change in the gratuitously confrontational strategy Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has adopted. As the elections are in June, it is unlikely that engagement with the United States could begin before July or August if Ahmadinejad wins. If one of his rivals wins, it may take a few more months to get a new policy into place. There is no doubt that the Iranians—masters of the “draw-out-the-negotiations-as-long-as-humanly-possible-and-even-longer” school of diplomacy—will seek to use engagement and negotiations as a means of gaining as much time as possible to complete the nuclear development process, even if there is a basic willingness to cut a deal. The stalling will make President Obama’s end-of-year timetable problematic, at best, which is critical if, as Mullen warned, we might only have until next spring before Iran has the bomb. Iran is most likely to respond only to a combined “stick-and-carrot” approach. The Obama administration, however, has opted for a middle-of-the-road approach, with sticks in the form of heavy sanctions as a consequence only in the event that the talks fail. This would be appropriate if we had more time, but we do not. Effective engagement must thus be accompanied, from the beginning, by a clear stick—a comprehensive package of sanctions to which U.S. allies will have signed on to from the start as part of a united Western front intended to leverage Washington’s willingness to engage. The upcoming few months could also be used in a further attempt to reach a deal with the Russians and Chinese for Security Council sanctions, but this is, in all likelihood, a forlorn hope.

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