Wednesday, March 24, 2010

General musings on China, Iran, and the Futility of Power.

Interesting article in the NY Times today about pressure from China and Russia on Iran to end its nuclear program. Good to see other countries joining in the pressure but it's just another example of how hard it is to get another country to change policies that it is pursuing largely for domestic reasons. There are just too many domestic incentives to resist outside pressure for this to be very effective. While putting pressure on may be the right thing to do, it is also almost always the futile thing to do. To get change, you need a really attractive carrot and at the same time you need a big enough stick that you don't have to mention it. If this doesn't work, mentioning the stick just makes you look ineffectual. In this particular case, I'm not really sure what carrot we could offer and while we've got plenty of stick I can't think of many ways to apply it that would do anything other than increase the current regime's power. Sanctions will likely just play into the Iran against the world rhetoric and bombing certainly will shore up the regime by giving it back some of the legitimacy it lost during the recent protests. Unless anyone thinks we can bomb them back to square one on research the best we can hope for is delay and a greatly weakened movement for resistance against the current regime if we bomb.

Not that I have anything material to suggest on how to change the situation. Though I do think it might be good to keep this in mind when complaining about some of China's economic policies. If this much pressure from basically the entire world can't budge Iran on a weapon it really only needs for prestige reasons, why would pressure on China work any better to change what they see as mostly domestic politics? Change requires bargaining and we haven't done much to build up our bargaining power in this situation.

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