Monday, 21 November 2011

Two ways to the cool kids table

I've been reading a lot it seems over the last few weeks on Myanmar, which has recently been given the opportunity to Chair Asean through to 2014. This comes not long after a series of pro-democracy changes, with political prisoners released and Suu Kyi not only no longer under house arrest but free to stand for political office.

These steps towards a more liberal form of Government have resulted in the rewards of international community, with cautious praise being heaped on Myanmar. I imagine that it will, over time, also result in greater investment into the country, both from the private sector and in the form of inter-Governmental assistance. It's the first small step toward a more globalised state.

On the flip side, Iran continues to dominate the Middle East agenda with its pursuit of nuclear weapons. Everyone is very worried about this, although from the coverage, there's a lot of confusion about exactly why we're worried. The most obvious reason is that they might bomb Israel, or use a proxy to do so. The fact that Tehran would vanish in a flash of light and thunder about 20 minutes after the same happened to an Israeli city apparently wouldn't deter the country.

But reading between the lines, here's my though. The fear is that if Iran has the bomb then no one will be able to threaten them not to build a bomb (or do other stuff) any more. Having a bomb would mean having to talk to Iran as a grown up, rather than as a tinpot dictatorship.

Speaking of tinpot dictatorships with nuclear weapons, Pakistan did rather well out of its nuclear programme. It calmed relations with India (to some extent) and got America more heavily involved in mediating future disputes. The risks of nuclear conflict between the two counties still exist, but its a lot less likely that they'll go to war now they know any war would be utterly devastating for both countries.

So here's my hypothesis, there's two ways to get a leg up into the realms of the new globalising states. One is to pursue a route which involves greater liberalisation and moves towards a democracy, the other is to build a bomb. The first route is the one everyone likes, but the second one also works. It gets you something to trade and it means that its a lot harder for the rest of the world to aggressively influence your internal structures.

Now, there is one thing which is a risk. So far, no country has developed a nuclear weapon with a view to using it to close off their borders and tell the rest of the world to go to hell. China did to some extent, but in the end, globalisation's siren call was too much to resist.

So will Iran become that first state? My feeling is probably not. What they want is to feel like they have control over their internal structures, but those structures are already fraying. The youth of Iran don't want a future dominated by the mullahs, and the Government is increasingly at odds with the religious orders.

What the bomb will do in Iran is create a world in which the outside has to communicate with Iran, not through threats and bluster, but instead as statesmen. There are huge risks, but if history is any guide, the presence of a bomb in Iran will serve only to shift the way in which the state behaves, but not so far as to knock it off a trajectory it is already on.

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