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Iran is just asking for sanctions

Following last week's harsh rebuke from the board of the International Atomic Energy Agency, including the U.S., Russia, and China, Iran responded by publicly announcing plans on Sunday to build 10 new uranium enrichment facilities. The Iranian leadership did not attempt to hide the fact that this decision was retaliation for the IAEA's resolution.  Vice President Salehi explained the decision by sayin Iran "had no intention of building many facilities like the Natanz site, but apparently the West doesn't want to understand Iran's peaceful message."

There's only one problem with all this bluster: there doesn't seem to be any practical way for Iran to actually build the new enrichment plants. "There's no way," David Albright, the head of the Institute for Science and International Security, was quoted as telling Haaretz. "They have sanctions to overcome, they have technical problems. They have to buy things overseas...and increasingly it's all illegal."

It's hard to fathom why Iran would make a threat that nonproliferation experts and foreign heads of state know they are unable to follow through on, unless they really are trying to pressure the United States to impose a new round of economic sanctions on their country. Could the leadership of the Islamic Republic, which constructed its legitimacy around opposition to the United States, actually feel more secure if the West abandons its previous attempts at engagement and adopts a more confrontational stance?

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Kosovo: The model?

Craig Whitlock's piece in the Washington Post on Kosovo's progress is interesting, though I think selling it as a "model for nation builders" that is "relevant to the current debate over Afghanistan" oversells it a bit:

Few people in Kosovo are predicting an easy road ahead. In interviews, foreign diplomats, government officials and ordinary Kosovars agreed that it will take years, if not decades, for Kosovo to stand on its own. Even now, a Dutchman holds nearly absolute power to block decisions made by the fledgling Kosovo government. A separate 3,000-member security force sent by the European Union holds sway over police and the courts. In the meantime, many Kosovars believe the U.S. Embassy dictates their country's affairs from behind closed doors.

But construction cranes rise like green shoots from the skyline of Pristina, Kosovo's capital, which is in the midst of a building boom thanks to foreign aid. In another hopeful sign, Kosovo in mid-November held its first municipal elections since declaring independence on Feb. 17, 2008. Although there were a handful of violent incidents during the campaign, voters cast their ballots in peace and there were no major allegations of fraud.

Good for Kosovo, though the fact that there is still one foreign peacekeeper for every 150 Kosovars, a decade after fighting ended, is not exactly encouraging for the prospects in much larger, and much more violent Afghnistan.

Once again the Balkans demonstrates the essential Catch-22 of post-war nation building. In countries with little violence and less international media attention, ("Kosovo benefits in a way from being more or less forgotten," says Western diplomat quoted in the article.) foreign troops and NGOs tend to stick around for a long time, taking over security and social services. Think Kosovo, Bosnia, or Liberia.

When violence is high and the news cameras are rolling, international powers tend to look around for the quickest exit, leaving troubled states to their own devices before they're really functional. Think Iraq, Somalia, or, perhaps soon, Afghanistan.  

Perhaps Bob Dylan had nation-building in mind when he sang, "She knows there's no success like failure. And that failure's no success at all." 

LAURA BOUSHNAK/AFP/Getty Images