Whether Iran does or doesn't actually seek to develop its own nuclear weapons--and I have yet to see any definitive proof or a convincing argument that it does--it has learned a valuable lesson from its Russian and Chinese allies. In the Next World Order, energy will be the form of power that drives international pecking orders. Military power will take a seat toward the rear of the bus.
As I've stated in the Next World Order series and Wars and Empires, empires rise and fall. Some fall gently; some fall into the footnotes of another empire's history books. Thanks to the neoconservative misadventures in Iraq, Afghanistan, and now Lebanon, the day of American global hegemony is already in its twilight. The United States needs to craft a grand strategy that will achieve for it a lasting status as a "first among nations," but to do so successfully it must recognize that it needs to cede the rest of the world a larger piece of the power pie.
The Next World Order is Already the New World Order
The Next World Order model identifies five basic tiers of state, multi-state and non-state political entities: global powers, balance powers, regional powers, wild cards, and "others."
The top tier global powers are the world's three largest economies (as identified in purchasing power parity Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by the CIA World Factbook): the United States ($12.36 trillion), the European Union ($12.18 trillion) and China ($8.86 trillion). These CIA figures are 2005 estimates, but the economic dominance of these three powers is real, and likely to last for some time to come. Number four on the CIA's 2005 GDP list is Japan at $4.02 trillion. Next comes India at $3.6 trillion, then Germany at $2.5 trillion, and the numbers drop off sharply from there.
The balance powers--Britain, Japan, and Russia--are states that by virtue of their histories, cultures and geographic locations are able influence the world-wide balance of power by forming permanent or ad hoc alliances with one or more of the global powers.
Regional powers like India largely owe their status to the size of their economies relative to the GDPs of their regional neighbors. India may be on the verge of becoming a balance power thanks to its military (and particularly its naval force), stable institutions and rate of economic growth. But unlike the three current balance powers, it doesn't have experience as an empire in its own right. It has never shouldered the burden of managing or controlling a significant network of colonies, satellite states, protectorates and so forth.
Wild cards, as the name implies, are up for grabs. They could get completely out of hand or they could settle into one of the more rational political categories. Right now, Iran is one of the wild cards.
The "others?" Well, that's an admittedly over-simplistic way of labeling everybody else. Some "others" are jockeying to be something other than what they are. Other "others"--like Canada and Australia--are more or less content, willing to serve balance and regional power roles as required, but otherwise comfortable with their places in the world, and the security and prosperity that their long standing relationships with global and balance powers provide them.
Iran's Star Rising
Dick Cheney's echo chamberlains continue to insist that Iran is pursuing the capability to produce its own nuclear weapons. Iran continues to insist that it only wants to develop its own technology to produce nuclear energy, guaranteed by the Non-Proliferation Treaty as an "inalienable right." Cheney and his Iranian Directorate intelligence cherry pickers have yet to produce a shred of evidence to prove the Iranians are lying. Conversely, the Iranians have done little to convince the rest of the world that they're telling the truth.
Wherever the truth lies in this question, I'm convinced that Cheney's gong banging about Iranian nuclear weapons is a distraction stratagem. From the neoconservatives' perspective, the "threat" is not a nuclear weapons program that may or may not exist. It's Iran's nuclear energy program.
Whatever political clout nuclear weapons might give Iran, it's nothing compared to the kind of leverage, prestige and economic power a homegrown nuclear energy program would provide. Powering its industrial and expansion with nuclear energy will allow Iran to sell more of its oil to big clients like China (which in turn will help finance the industrial expansion.)
As time goes on, and the rest of the world edges away from dependence on petroleum based energy, an Iran with a mature nuclear energy program will be the entire Muslim world's gateway to the twenty first century, and its allies China and Russia will be the "larger power" beneficiaries. Iran will elevate itself from wild card status to that of both a regional power and, more importantly, a balance power. That, of course, means that the American neoconservative vision of a U.S. controlled Middle East from a compliant, centrally located Iraq will have been a total bust.
Therein lies the Cheney neo-cabal's real concern. Beating the war drum over Iran's real or imagined nuclear weapons ambitions is a smoke screen to justify taking out Iran's nuclear energy program--the program they're entitled to have under the Non-proliferation Treaty to which the U.S. is a signatory.
A saner, Cheney-free America would take a realistic approach to the Iran "problem." It would recognize that nations like Iran have legitimate ambitions, and support those ambitions. It would recognize that doing so would bring nations like Iran into the U.S. sphere of influence. Alas, the Cheney-centric foreign policy chooses instead to push emerging powers like Iran into the arms of America's major competitors.
That's a shame. America and Iran have an ideal opportunity to cozy up right now. After all, both countries presently have a lot in common, especially regarding their governmental structures. In Iran, the president doesn't really wield the power; Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei does. In America, the president doesn't really wield the power either; Dick Cheney does.
Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Read his commentaries at ePluribus Media and Pen and Sword.