Living in Parallel Universes: Putin Plays the Nuclear Card in the Midst of the Iranian Nuclear Agreement Flurry

By Robbin Laird

The key to having “progress” apparently in 21st century diplomatic initiatives is to pursue them in parallel universes. It is crucial not to connect any particular diplomatic initiative with the overall global context within which those initiatives operate.

It is an interesting diplomatic physics where actions are pursued without puzzling over reactions, ripple effects or events operate as if chaos theory did not apply to human events.

Each event and day is a fresh one, unconnected from the week, the month, the year or the epoch.

What is striking is that the forging of a “nuclear agreement” by the Obama Administration and the European powers has left aside the concerns of the GCC states and the Israelis who will ultimately determine whether any such agreement is viable or not.

I am sure the Saudis find it reassuring that Obama has offered them the opportunity to chat at Camp David later in the month.

They will determine how and in what ways Iran will live and operate or not. But back in European capitals (I am in one now) or in Washington an agreement forged by the imperial powers apparently is how history progresses.

Let us leave aside the parallel universe of ISIS and its assertion that Christian democracies are as relevant as the 12th century papacy or even more amazing the Russian redrawing of the map of Europe and the security environment.

What makes the Russian case even more striking is its absolute central significance to any question of whether an agreement with Iran is credible or not. If one lives in parallel universes this is not even a question for events in one universe have little relevance to the laws of physics in another universe unless either theoretically or empirically proven to be of relevance.

But we don’t live in parallel universes; and the lessons learned in one domain are applied to others, and even more importantly the perceived lessons learned by competing powers are often the fuel of conflict or aspirations.

The Russians have absolutely demonstrated their unwillingness to play by Western rules and in the course of so doing reintroduce nuclear threats as part of the normal discourse of diplomatic initiatives.

The failure to detect the Crimean seizure of power, one which the US intelligence agencies very publicly have declared they did not detect, suggests that the subtly of “knowing” of Iranian breakout from any agreement would be even more difficult to detect, or more to the point act upon with any decisive speed or meaning.

Just read through the analysis below and then apply it to Iran and ask yourself: why should I believe that the US and its European allies would act with decisiveness when Iran violates the agreement?

According to this article in The Daily Beast published in early 2014:

The last time Russian troops invaded one of its neighbors, the U.S. intelligence community was also caught off guard.

The year was 2008 and the country was Georgia instead of the Ukraine. And just as in 2014, back then there were early signs that Moscow was serious—it was issuing visas to ethnic Russian speakers in Georgia, like it’s doing now in Ukraine. U.S. analysts just didn’t believe Russia would go as far as it did. 

Today, as in 2008, American policy makers have found themselves burned after trying to make Vladimir Putin a partner when Putin himself sees America as a rival.

This has often led Republican and Democratic led administrations to find themselves flat footed in the face of Russian aggression and U.S. intelligence analysts racing to explain how they misread Putin’s motivations.

“This is less a question of how many collection resources we throw at Russia and more broadly about the analytic challenge of understanding Putin’s mind set,” said Michael Hayden, a former CIA director and NSA director under President George W. Bush. “Here our Secretary of State is saying this is not the Cold War, it’s win-win and it’s not zero sum. But for Vladimir Putin it is zero sum. That’s what we need to understand.”

Let me put this another way: if the Western leaders could demonstrate that they are investing in rapid response forces with the will to use the full spectrum of modernized capabilities BEFORE signing any such agreement with Iran perhaps my confidence level would be a bit higher in a rapid response capability in place.

Strikingly, the very week an agreement was announced with Iran, the Times of London led with a major piece on Putin, the Baltics and nuclear threats. This was shortly after the Russian ambassador to Denmark threatened Denmark with nucs if they had the audacity to defend themselves against Russian missiles.

In an article entitled “Putin Threat of Nuclear Showdown over Baltics,” Ben Hoyle and Michael Evans noted:

President Putin is using the threat of a nuclear showdown over the Baltic states to force Nato to back away from Russia’s border, according to notes of a secret meeting between intelligence figures from Moscow and Washington.

Western security chiefs are braced for the Kremlin to begin a series of “destabilizing actions” in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania that would directly challenge Nato’s mutual defense pledge.

And in an analytical piece by Roger Boyes published in the same issue of The Times, the author focused on what he sees as “the Moscow rules Obama must not forget.”

Among these rules are the following:

Crimea is ours, and hands off; the Baltics are fair game and will not be protected by the words of NATO collective security, and threatening nuc strikes is part of the diplomatic game which is about gaining control over what Russia thinks is legitimately theirs and pushing the US and European capitals away from the areas where Russia has its particular interests.

Putin and Obama

Of course, none of this has relevance to the Iranian parallel universe, for Russia is not an ally of Iran, has never armed Iran, nor takes very much interest in that part of the world.

And of course, the agreement – not treaty – but just an agreement signed by President Clinton and the PM of the UK to guarantee the territorial sovereignty of Ukraine if Ukraine gave up nuclear weapons – was shredded by Putin.

The good news is that Iran will sign a binding treaty vetted by the US Senate and not simply an agreement, which can be shredded easily.

Sorry I was living in a parallel universe.









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