Geopolitics is generally a complex issue to tackle, mainly because it is highly speculative, with a lot of determinations resting on what each country’s intelligence chooses to tell us. Even more tricky is the fact that each country has strategic interests that are, more often than not, the be-all and end-all of their foreign policy – i.e. pragmatism often supersedes principles. So, as independent observers, the lack of factual information lands us in analysis-paralysis mode. We have just a few ways to know what time it is!
Here goes one such analysis-paralysis: Iran is deemed an “existential threat”, whatever that means, by Israel and its allies. If indeed this is true, meaning if indeed Iran is enriching uranium for military purposes, it is a small wonder that the writing is on the wall. Iran would obviously and deliberately be calling the bluff of the international community, with the effect that those threatened by this development would ‘rationally’ become compelled to act. We can only hope that the action taken will fall within the remit of international law.
However, if Iran is enriching uranium for peaceful purposes, then it implies an even more disturbing reality, which is that Iran’s detractors are either paranoid or are just plainly fabricating the issue – perhaps for oil interests. Mind you, it is plausible that Iran could deliberately be acting as though it has clandestine intentions merely to cover up its military weakness.
This is the problem: one could conjure all kinds of permutations so long as hard data is unavailable. Either way, the situation is unfortunate. That said, does Iran have a reasonable basis to build military nuclear capability? If you are Iranian, there is perhaps a case to feel the reverse existential threat that is Israel. And herein lies the core of the problem, the geopolitical stand-off. There is a blame game being played by either side and mutual mistrust is building up to a tipping point which could result in a full-on cold war.
Thomas Hobbes in his work on the Leviathan referred to this stalemate as “diffidence”. In a nutshell, all it would take is the realisation that others might covet what you have, and a strong desire not to be massacred. Even more tragically, your neighbours have every reason to make the same deduction, and if they are, it makes your fears all the more compelling, which makes a pre-emptive strike all the more tempting, which makes a pre-emptive strike by them all the more tempting, and so on. This is the scene in which Israel, the West, and Iran are slaves to.
Where am I getting at? The answer is nowhere. There just isn’t enough information to go by. One thing remains clear though: if the status quo persists, the Leviathan, in this case the US and its allies, will eventually strike at Iran.
I must admit that the rant above is a gargantuan digression from the question we ought to ask, which is about the impact on South Africa and the position we should take on the matter. For a start, if war breaks out, the oil price will shoot through the roof, and the accompanying economic detriments should be expected – this is easily deduced.
What should we do? It is my opinion that it is in the best interests of any country, South Africa included, to align itself with the prevailing superpowers – see “It’s the economy, stupid”. South Africa should approach the situation almost like India is doing: go along with the sanctions that have been imposed, but continue to do trade in areas that aren’t sanctioned; we should say that we ultimately do not want to cripple the country and its people wholesale. Obviously we would have to focus elsewhere to buy crude oil.
I believe our political position should remain one of encouraging roundtable talks until a solution is arrived at. We should hold true to our constitutional provision of presuming the innocence of Iran. If war breaks out, God forbid, we should not get involved. Our position should be consistent with, say, our position on Zimbabwe: “non-interference in the domestic affairs of sovereign states”.