Thursday, November 02, 2006

Gunboat Diplomacy

Gunboat Diplomacy in the Persian Gulf

Ali Asghar Kazemi
November 1, 2006

With the multi-nations naval exercise currently going on in the Persian Gulf, a new era of “Gunboat Diplomacy” is being experienced in shaping world politics. In the past centuries, during the colonial period, coercive diplomacy was a conventional way of pressuring governments to sign a treaty, to give a concession, to back down an action or to correct an undesired behavior. The result was often satisfactory for great powers since international relations were based on balance of forces and power and weaker states had no choice but to obey what was dictated to them by the dominant powers. To what extent the paradigm is still valid in current international affaire?

Coercive Diplomacy and Game Strategy

With the end of the cold war and collapse of the Soviet Empire, new revolutionary ideologies emerged amidst religious fundamentalism in total discord with the prevailing norms of modern Western societies and status quo. The challenge was not taken seriously up until the September 11th events that changed the whole fabrics of strategic thinking and perception not only in the United States but also throughout the world. In fact, the post 9/11 era is considered as the new age of confrontation which, due to its malicious disguised nature and spread can not be equated with the cold war period.

In conventional terms, diplomacy has nothing to do with war and hostility. But, in strategic games, when players do not conform to rationality for the purpose of optimizing their mutual gains, the solution to a crisis becomes very difficult. Rational behavior in game theory requires that the two sides to a virtual contest or conflict be conscious to each other’s objectives and their relative losses and gains. This is why we usually speak of “optimization” and not necessarily “maximization” of gains and objectives which mean that if you want to avoid confrontation you should be conscious of your adversary’s interests. The value related to each strategy is determined by rational choice in a network of trade-off.

When we are in a stalemate situation, one side my use coercive strategy vis-à-vis its rival in order to change its perception of the pay-off and pressure it to rethink its options in fulfilling its objective. This could lead to a gain-gain strategy that requires mutual understanding and cooperation. Otherwise, the situation may end up to confrontation and catastrophe. Now let’s see what is happening in Iran-US relations at this critical juncture.

US Contingency Plan against Iran

Upon Islamic government refusal of incentive package and UN Security Council resolution to halt its nuclear enrichment activities, a number of coercive measures were planned by the United States in order to pressure Iran in its strategic options. Among those we can refer to deliberate leakage of Pentagon contingency plans to strike Iran’s strategic targets including various nuclear sites scattered around the country. Presumably, the US is updating contingency plans for a non-nuclear strike to cripple Iran's nuclear program if international diplomacy fails. These plans consist of the following military operations:

• A five-day bombing campaign against 400 key targets in Iran, including 24 nuclear-related sites, 14 military airfields and radar installations, and Revolutionary Guard headquarters.

• Pinpoint strikes using B2 bombers flying directly from bases in Missouri, Guam in the Pacific and Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean.
At least 75 targets in underground complexes would be attacked with waves of bunker-buster bombs;

• The alternative to an all-out campaign is a demonstration strike against one or two high-profile targets such as the Natanz uranium enrichment facility or the hexafluoride gas plant at Isfahan;

• Iranian radar networks and air defense bases would be struck by submarine-launched Tomahawk cruise missiles and then kept out of action by carrier aircraft flying from warships in the Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf;

• Contingency plans have also been drawn up to cope with the inevitable backlash against the Basra garrison in neighboring Iraq.

Strategists are understood to have presented two options for pinpoint strikes using B2 bombers flying directly from the above mentioned bases in and outside the US continent. British Royal Air Force (RAF) Fairford in Gloucester also has facilities for B2s but this has been ruled out because of the UK's opposition to military action against Tehran.

This whole frightening scheme seems not to intimidate Islamic regime’s decision makers to back down in their intransigence. Since, just upon the completion of US naval exercise in the Persian Gulf and the Sea of Oman (along with UK, France, Italy, Australia, Bahrain and Qatar), the Revolutionary Guard commander announced that a week-long naval exercise will be carried in the Persian Gulf beginning November 2, 2006. As in their previous exercise in this region, the Revolutionary Guard main strategy to counter American threat is to conduct an exercise of asymmetric war or guerilla war at sea in order to deter US planned offensive.

Thus, apparently neither the UN Security Council Resolution nor the dialogue conducted by 5+1 powers or the coercive gunboat diplomacy seems to soften Iran’s rigid stance with respect to the nuclear activities. While North Korea appears to have relented to the international pressure and has already decided to resume the six-party talks, Iran still seems firm in its position. Whether the Islamic government has received any assurance from Russia and China or it would finally give up in case of real threat to its core values and survival, the matter remains to be seen in the coming weeks./

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