Asymmetric Diplomacy

Interesting bit of accounting by Geoffrey Forden at Arms Control Wonk, who does a “back of the napkin” calculation of how much the Natanz enrichment facility has actually cost Iran. Grand total? $270 million. There are broader costs associated with Iran’s nuclear program, but for now, the most troubling component at the heart of the diplomatic standoff remains the uranium enrichment going on at Natanz.

For a facility that now dominates the region’s strategic agenda, that seems like a pretty good return on investment. It also means that whatever actual infrastructure damage, in dollar terms, that any airstrike might cause would pale in comparison to the kind of economic retaliation Iran could very likely respond with.

Asymmetric Diplomacy

This is about the sharpest take I’ve seen on the Union for the Mediterranean (UFM), from Nouri, aka The Moor Next Door:

The Union for the Mediterranean is not in itself the construction of a new pole; it instead is an attempt to fortify the EU pole, and, inside of that, to strengthen France’s position. It seeks to put France in a headman position, so that it occupies a place of primary leadership within its region that is comparable to Brazil’s within Mercosur, South Africa’s within the SADC, and China’s within the SCO. Concerns over immigration agriculture aside, France seeks to balance off Germany, whose rising sphere of influence is in the new EU member states of Eastern Europe, by picking up new partner states in the eastern and south-western Mediterranean. It is very likely that France’s attempt to pick up prestige by approaching the Middle East with more realism than the United States has, engaging all regional actors – radical and conservative, Israeli and Arab – on “equal footing” and without human rights pressures, will not amount to much.

What’s interesting, too, about the emerging landscape of multilateral organizations is the tension between their existential need for impermeable boundaries and their urge towards porous ones. Angela Merkel quashed Nicolas Sarkozy’s initial proposal for a Mediterranean Union because, by including only Mediterranean European countries, it represented an even more frontal challenge to the EU balance of power. And as Nouri points out, Muammar Khaddafi has refused to participate in the UFM, calling it an effort to divide Arab countries from Africa.

And yet everyone besides Khaddafi showed up, because the potential advantages of knitting together into a cooperative and overlapping fabric (or the risks of missing out on them) outweigh those of coalescing into regional poles. The UFM is an effort to create that sort of fabric. It might ultimately accomplish very little, but the hostility it has generated seems misplaced to me. Nouri explains it as America’s disinterest in any body lacking “imperium” (ie. a military component), as well as an expression of nostalgia:

Those who seek to “restore” America’s place of leadership in the world are problematically confronted with a world system that will not accommodate the kind of leadership that they seek to reinstitute.

A glance at some of the more successful foreign policy players lately suggests that a “zero problem policy” (an idea articulated by Turkish diplomatic advisor Ahmet Davutoglu) is better adapted to navigating the emerging global order than one based on confrontation and blocs. And yet the imprimatur of American power will still be necessary for the foreseeable future to legitimate the shifts in that order. Structurally, it’s the diplomatic equivalent of asymmetric war — where our power is rendered less effective on a tactical level by the reduced scale of the playing field, but essential on a strategic level to maintain the broader equilibrium — and argues in favor of what I’ve called Middle Power Mojo.