Washington DC – The former Vice-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff warned on Wednesday that a military strike on Iran would require the U.S. to occupy Iran for “tens of years” and urged instead for a diplomatic solution.
Speaking at a conference hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, General James Cartwright said that the tools of diplomacy regarding Iran, including direct talks and further pressure, had not been exhausted. The threat of military action, he said, can be one component of an effort to press for a negotiated solution, but must be weighed against the danger of provoking an accidental war.
Cartwright explained that, if deterrence is the objective with Iran, then it is very important to first know how to manage the “art of deterrence.” Too strong of a “force posture” could instead have the effect of a self-fulfilling prophecy and actually incite escalation of conflict in the region.
Bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities, according to the general, would only delay the country’s ability to conduct further nuclear enrichment as opposed to putting an end to its nuclear ambitions. Iran has realized the “intellectual capital” to continue its enrichment activities even after a possible military strike, Cartwright said, and to “expect somebody to ‘uninvent’ that knowledge would be a pretty unrealistic goal.”
The general also assessed that, with nuclear technology being so readily available, the decision that countries face today is whether they want to pursue nuclear weapons, and not whether they have the ability to do so. Convincing states to make the choice not to pursue nuclear weapons, he said, requires a change in mindset. Cartwright judged that, typically when states start building nuclear weapons, it is to ensure their sovereignty. While Carwright stated that Iran has not yet made the decision to build a nuclear weapon, he said he does believe that what Iran is looking for is a “guarantor of its sovereignty.” Addressing that concern “should be a part of the calculation in finding a solution space.”
Cartwright went on to say that the use of military force should be considered only in situations for which “diplomacy has run out of tools,” and then by pursuing military activity we can try to “reset the diplomatic option.” In the end, any military action would have to fit a negotiated settlement for after the strike is over. “You do not end in military conflict,” General Cartwright said, “and if you are going to negotiate, then you have to understand the other side’s needs and wants – and in the case of Iran, I think it is a guarantor of its sovereignty – otherwise, the negotiation won’t go anywhere.”