US-Iran "Game of Chicken": Iran Stays Firm despite UN Sanctions
By Prof. Akbar E. Torbat, (first published by
The Game of
Chicken, is a model of
conflict between two players in game
has both geopolitical and military applications. In the Game of
Chicken, "the outcome where neither player yields is the worst possible one for
both players." (For a definition see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chicken_(game)
so many years of unilateral sanctions, the United States finally got agreement from major
powers to impose multilateral sanctions on Iran by
taking the case to the UN Security Council. Although this strategy is a change
from the usual US
unilateralism, it hasn’t forced Iran to stop uranium enrichment.
On March 24, the UN Security Council
issued resolution 1747 to extend sanctions on Iran, while demanding Tehran to halt its nuclear
enrichment program within 60 days. This resolution is not much different from
the previous one imposed in December, although it has been broadened to embargo
Iran’s weapons exports and to
freeze assets of a significant number of individuals and organizations involved
in Iran’s nuclear and missile programs.
In response, Iran announced that it will partially
suspend its cooperation with IAEA and will proceed with its uranium enrichment
and the processing of nuclear fuel.
Iran argues that it produces low
level enriched uranium for nuclear fuel use, but the West claims Iran plans
further enrichment suitable for making atomic bombs. Iran contends that it has an “inalienable right”
under Article IV of the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons Treaty to develop,
research, and produce nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, and therefore the
Security Council’s resolutions mainly pushed by the United
States are not justified.
Iran has indicated repeatedly that it
will not suspend its uranium enrichment operation as a precondition for
The 5 permanent members of the
Security Council plus Germany
are trying to impose their will on Iran via a body that is supposed to
represent all member nations of the United Nations. To protect their own
interests, they are demanding that a member nation of the UN give up its rights.
The US' allies are
not much concerned about Iran’s nuclear plan as is the United
States. The US
arguments do not seem to be taken seriously by other major powers. Some see
it as the same pretext which led to invasion of Iraq.
French President Jacques Chirac stated to 3 newspaper reporters in late January
that “it would not be very dangerous for Iran to
have a nuclear bomb.” Few weeks later in an indirect response to Chirac’s
critical comment, Vice President Dick Cheney said the US and its allies must not allow Iran to
become a nuclear power. He made these comments when in Sydney, at a joint news
conference with Australian Prime Minister John Howard, on February 24. The
hawkish Neo-con said: “all options are on the table and the military option is
not ruled out.” What will happen to the balance of power if someday
Iran is able to make nuclear bombs?
What will happen to the prices and financial markets if the US uses force against Iran?
BALANCE OF POWER IN
THE MIDDLE EAST
There are some other countries in
the region that already have nuclear bombs. Iran is now surrounded by nuclear states, from
the West, Israel, from the
East India and Pakistan, and
from the North by Russia and
from the South, the Fifth American fleet centered in Bahrain. As reported by Le Figaro, on
Feb 28, the former French foreign Minister Roland Dumas commented “Balance of
power is a factor in maintaining peace”. Dumas said having a nuclear bomb is “a
factor of balance in the region and having nuclear weapons is not an aggravating
factor.” And that can deter the “over-armed” Israel
that has nuclear bombs not to attack other countries in the region.
Dumas went to Iran to
discuss Iran’s nuclear
dossier with Ali Akbar Velaiati who is one of the advisors in foreign affairs to
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
Therefore, even if one assumes that Iran may be preparing to make nuclear weapons,
which has been firmly denied by Iranian officials, such an outcome in fact may
contribute to a balance of power and maintaining peace in the Middle East according to some political observers.
Another important question is: how
do the United States and
Britain want to convince
Iran that it should not even pursue
the development of nuclear technology for peaceful purposes while both countries
are expanding their own nuclear weapon programs?
On March 2, 2007, it was reported
that the United
States plans to build a new generation of
atomic weapons to renew its aging nuclear arsenals, although the full cost of it
has not been announced yet. Also, on March 14, 2007, the British House of
Commons approved building a new nuclear arsenal system worth $39 billion. At the
same time, they are pressing Iran to stop uranium enrichment.
Tony Blair said Britain must keep nuclear weapons because of
a potential threat from Iran,
Korea, and the terrorists.
Angola-Saxon allies entering into a cold war with a couple of weak Third World countries?
How is it possible to use
nuclear bombs against terrorists?
Iran’s total annual military
spending has been estimated to be about $7 billion as opposed to the United
States defense budget of 499.4 $ billion in 2006. That is almost half of all
military spending in the world. In addition, the United States gives $2.2 billion per year in the
form of military aid to Israel.
A GAME THEORY MODEL OF
The US – IRAN conflict can be modeled as a
form of non-cooperative game named Game of Chicken. In this
game, one side can win by threatening the other. The US has used this strategy before with the former
Soviet Union at the time of Cuban missile
crisis in 1962. Now, in this case, the US' stated goal is to prevent Iran
from having the capability of producing nuclear weapons. The strategies
are sanctions and the use of force for the US, and suspension and continuation of enrichment
for Iran. There are four possible
outcomes in this game as are shown in the following table:
Game of Chicken Model of US -
Iran Uranium Enrichment
1. The US has imposed sanctions and at the same time is
threatening to use force against Iran so that Iran is
obliged to compromise and suspends enrichment.
2. Iran is under sanctions, it can continue
enrichment and the US does not use force. Iran
has overcome US ’ threats, and has preserved its nuclear
3. The US has frightened Iran by using military force, if
Iran suspends uranium
enrichment and the US attacks
Iran any way, in
this case, Iran will not keep its nuclear
program and will suffer a
4. If the U.S. does use force and Iran
responds, in that case it would be disaster for both sides. Iran assumes that the probability of war is very
slim because the US is facing
defeat in Iraq and engaging in another war with
a bigger and much stronger state will be disastrous. Furthermore, the threat of
force will increase oil prices and that is in Iran’s favor while damaging to the US and
its allies. Therefore, as of now Iran’s position to continue with
enrichment is a rational strategy.
IRAN WITH THE USE
One of the US objectives in the Middle
East is domination of the region’s entire oil resources. The only
country that is not under US influence in the Persian Gulf region is Iran. The US wants to make Iran a
client state again as it was under the Shah.
In February, the US accused Sepah-e Ghods, a unit associated with
Sepah-e Pasdaran, of supplying weapons to anti-American militants in
Iraq. Until now, the US has
not directly targeted the clerical leaders of Islamic Republic namely Supreme
Leader Ali Khamenei and former president Hashemi Rafsanjani. Instead, the
US has pointed at President Mahmood
Ahmadinejad who has stayed defiant against US threats. The US is building a case to justify probable use of
military force against Iran. The US is trying to link Ahmadinejad and his
affiliated Sepah-e Pasdaran with supplying weapons to anti-US militants in
Ahmadinejad is especially popular
among Iran’s underprivileged class who were
disappointed with former clerical presidents due to their inability to enhance
economic welfare for the poor. As a result of US pressures, there have been some
criticisms of Ahmadinejad’s foreign policy. These criticisms are mainly form
pro-Rafsanjani camp who are the wealthy merchants (bazaaries) and are mostly
engaged in deal making in the retail sector in Tehran. They are using the nuclear issue to
oppose Ahmadinejad. However, Ahmadinejad’s constituencies are mostly the rural
masses and urban poor Iranians who oppose Rasanjani’s dominance of the regime
power structure. Rafsanjani has been recently under pressure because of his
roles in previous political assassinations of dissidents at home and abroad.
Also, it has been reported that Rafsanjani has been involved in ordering the
1994 terrorist bombing of a Jewish cultural center in Buenos Aires, Argentine.
Furthermore, on March 23, Reuters reported that Rafsanjani’s son Mehdi has
accepted bribes from the French Oil Company Total when the company signed the
South Pars gas field contract with Iran in 1997. These problems have
caused Rafsanjani’s political fortune to be in demise.
The Islamic Republic has gone under
slight transition since Ahmadinejad was elected in 2005 as president. The West
is now encountered with a president who is fully using his power. He has not
yielded to the West as compared to the preceding clerical president Mohammad
Khatami who had smiles on his face but was impotent to use his
power. Khatami bowed out to the West by suspending the enrichment until he
was replaced by Ahmadinejad. President Ahmadinejad has been able to mobilize
Iranians behind him to challenge the West. The US pressures on Iran to
stop its pursuit of nuclear technology has in fact strengthened the regime.
One can surely tell
that Ahmadinejad has grassroots’ support across the country by seeing the
massive crowds gathered around him when he speaks at various provinces in
Iran. He has promised to
reduce the gap between the Iranian rich and poor. According to the Economic and
Finance Minster Davoud Danesh Jafari, currently the ratio of the wealthy top
10th percentile income to the poor lowest 10th percentile
income is about 16 times. By ceding parts of the state-owned enterprises shares
in the form of “justice shares” to about 6 million poor Iranians, Ahmadinejad
plans to improve distribution of income in the country.
The United States
does not have good options to change the Islamic Regime. The use of military
force is not a successful strategy in short term and in the long term the
outcome will be much worst than Iraq. US already has troops in
Iraq and some in Afghanistan. Redeployment of troops
for ground attack won’t be feasible because it will broaden the war throughout
the entire region with no foreseeable outcome. It will also aggravate further
the bloodsheds in the previously occupied territories.
Another strategy is selective
surgical air strikes at Iran’s nuclear sights and major
military installations, and even as has been speculated to involve using nuclear
bombs. Such strategy may cripple some parts of Iran’s
nuclear and military installations but it may have far more dangerous
consequences for the whole world, and will generate serious Iranian
retaliations. Iran will
exercise its own military muscles by disrupting the oil shipments in the
Persian Gulf, and consequently cut the oil
flow. That will cause severe shortage of oil supply for the US and
its allies. Iran has said, in
case of US military attack, it will target
American interests anywhere possible.
On March 22, 2007,
Iran’s Supreme leader Ali
Khamenei, in a speech in city of Mashad, said “If Security Council insists on us
to halt our enrichment, that is illegal and in that case we will also pursue
illegal action.” That meant Iran will no longer be obligated to
comply with NPT regulations. He further warned the United States that Iran
will fight back with “its full capacities” if it were attacked.
Iran has capability to target
the US fleet in Persian Gulf
and the US military bases in
the region in Saudi Arabia,
Kuwait, and Iraq.
In the past few months,
Iran has accused the
US and Britain for
supporting ethnic minority rebels such as Blotches and Kurds against the Islamic
Republic. It has been reported that the US is conducting a large-scale covert
operation to destabilize the Islamic regime by using several guerrilla
organizations. It has been said, CIA is funding the armed anti-government
organization, including the Mujahedin-e Khalgh (MEK), a Kurdish group called
Party for Free Life in Kurdistan (PJAK), and a blotchy/Sunni group called
Jundallah. These groups have tried to destabilize the Islamic Regime by
conducting terrorist operations inside Iran. In late February,
Iran said the explosives and
arsenal used in a car bomb in Zahedan that is close to Pakistan’s border by Jundallah terrorists came
from the US.
As it seems, U.S. is preparing public opinions by its
propaganda to use force against Iran. However, U.S. is
concerned about of international repercussions. The sharp decline of the
financial market in late February gave a red signal to such a
DETERS USE OF FORCE
Experts believe, any use of military
force against Iran could
disrupt the flow of oil in the Persian Gulf and
will cause a significant increase in oil prices. That will have a severe impact
on the economies of oil importing countries and may shake the world financial
markets. In fact, the sharp decline of global stock market, which began on
February 27, 2007, was partly related to the concerns about possible
US military action against
Iran. The disruption of oil shipment
in the Persian Gulf would impose a sudden shock to the China’s
economy. China is the second
oil importer after the United
State and last year imported 7.56
million barrels of oil per day, a large portion of that from Iran. Some speculate that the
sharp decline of the global financial market that was triggered by
China’s 8.8% plunge in the
Shanghai composite index and then spread to other
countries was related to concerns over possible US attack on Iran.
The other factors that have been mentioned by analyst have been a possible
recession in the US, weakness of the dollar, and
finally the problem of sub-prime mortgage market.
After market close on the same day,
Secretary Condoleezza Rice suddenly changed her position on Iran and said US supports Iran’s participation in a conference that is
planned in mid-march for stabilizing Iraq sectarian violence. Washington’s desire to attend the conference alongside
Iran is a turnaround from
previous position of no dialogue with Iran about the situation in Iraq.
Also General Peter Pace, the Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff repeated in a
Senate Hearing that the US is
not going to attack Iran. After those comments, the next
day the financial market partially recovered and oil prices were stabilized
around $60 dollar per barrel. If there was a plan for an attack on Iran
after the UN February 21 deadline, the financial market deterred such attack.
How the two countries’ confrontation will eventually end is not clear at this
author: Akbar E. Torbat
(firstname.lastname@example.org) teaches at the
College of Business Administration and Public
California State University – Dominguez Hills and has published various
articles in academic journals concerning the US – Iran economic
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