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August 22, 2006

A Lengthy And Perhaps Unnecessary Post Of Dubious Mathematical Merit To Illustrate Something You Probably Already Know

Guys like Chuck Hagel and David Gergen seem to think that talking to the Iranians will prevent them from joining the nuclear club. It's a crazy idea, and I don't understand why so many notable people have put their faith in this silly course of action.

Iran is presented with a finite number of choices and outcomes, which can be easily and logically analyzed. At the end of any honest analysis, you can see that it is simply not in the mullahs' interest to negotiate away their nuclear arms program. Therefore it's logical to assume that they won't, not only because they have repeatedly said they won't, but also because the best possible course of action from Iran's point of view (regardless of whether they are rational or irrational actors) is to continue their program until they get the bomb.

It's like simple math.

Assume three possible outcomes available to Iran from the current state of negotiations.

Outcome ON: Iran gets a nuclear weapon.1

Outcome OI: Iran gets a package of incentives from the West.

Outcome OS: International sanctions imposed on Iran, most likely a combination of economic and diplomatic restrictions.

Assume that the Iranians desire outcomes ON and OI, and wish to avoid outcome OS.

Although it's not essential to my analysis, you may also assume that the West2 wishes to prevent outcome ON, but also that the values of outcomes OI and OS are variable and uncertain, due to dissention within the West.

Now at first glance, one can see two alternative courses of action for Iran that are obvious.

Course of action CA1: Iran refuses to abandon its nuclear enrichment program, rejects all efforts at compromise, and continues working until they get the bomb.

Course of action CA2: Iran abandons its nuclear program in exchange for the package of incentives offered by the West.

If Iran takes course of action CA1, they give up outcome OI. On the other hand, if Iran takes course of action CA2, they give up outcome ON. Therefore the Iranians must decide between the following values (remembering that OS is a negative value):
CA1 = ON - (OI + OS)
or alternatively,
CA2 = (OI + OS) - ON
Those equations demonstrate that the West needs to make the value of their carrot+stick package equal to or greater than the value of an Iranian nuclear bomb. Thus, if (OI + OS) > ON, then CA2 > CA1. If true, Iran should then choose CA2. Even if the values were exactly equal, Iran would probably choose CA2, simply for the sake of peace and goodwill.

However, we live in the real world and we all know that the value of a nuclear weapon to the country that possesses it far outweighs the value of any combination of incentives or sanctions the West could possibly offer. Especially if said country has already expressed its desire to wipe a hated enemy off the map, and has recently sent weapons, including rockets, missiles and drones to a proxy army fighting said hated enemy as recently as this month.

Given the above, one would assume that Iran would pursue course of action CA1, but as we have seen, they continue to pay lip service to the negotiation track, CA2. Are they really pursuing course of action CA2? Not if CA1 > CA2! What then, are they doing?

Perhaps there is a CA3, a third course of action that would tempt Iran with the opportunity to gain outcomes ON and OI at the same time without incurring any sanctions.

CA3 = (CA1 + CA2) = (ON + OI) - OS
Remember OS is a negative value, so the above equation simplifies to:
CA3 = (ON + OI + OS)
A hefty sum indeed! Perhaps Iran believes it can have it all by simply agreeing to a compromise, while secretly pursuing the holy grail of enrichment a la North Korea.

But CA3 contains one flaw: verification. Certainly the West, weak as its negotiating position is, will never agree to deliver incentives without a gauranteed inspection regime. Although the inspections might be watered down, we already know about the Esfahan, Natanz, and Arak facilities, so it would be difficult for the Iranians to refuse access to those sites. Some experts estimate the number of centrifuges necessary at Natanz for a decent enrichment program to be 50,000. That kind of operation would be hard to disguise or relocate.

That's why I think Iran is following another course of action, CA4:

CA4 = (ON x TNT) - (OI - OS)
When multiplied by a factor of sufficient time (T), gained by negotiating tactics (NT), Iran can ultimately win the big prize: a nuclear bomb. Although they give up the Western incentive package, that loss is offset by the fact that they don't suffer any real sanctions (thus, OI - OS). That's because once Iran gets the bomb, sanctions become problematic. Everybody is going to have to kiss their ass then, and the probable severity of any sanctions the fickle West might be able to agree upon (which were weak under the best of circumstances) would shrink in proportion to Iran's newfound leverage.

Course of action CA4 translates into what we've been watching unfold during the past several months. Iran negotiates in bad faith, makes empty promises, renegs, delays, obfuscates, then makes more empty promises, all the while maintaining their research and enrichment activity.

It's possible that a compromise settlement might be reached in the near future, but I seriously doubt it. Iran has repeatedly and unambiguously asserted its intention never to give up its enrichment program (a fact that seems to be lost on many negotiation-fixated politicians and pundits). I take the Iranians at their word, because it's not in their interest to give up the bomb. They've already done the math.

1.    Or, more accurately, Iran successfully gains the ability to domestically produce fissile material for manufacturing nuclear weapons. One can assume that creating delivery systems such as missiles and warheads are less of a problem for the Iranians. These can be purchased, or reverse-engineered by Iranian technicians. But weapons grade plutonium and/or uranium from their own factories are what they need to become a nuclear power, and this is the outcome we need to prevent.

2.    i.e. the U.S. and certain allies, to varying degrees.

Posted by annika, Aug. 22, 2006 | TrackBack (0)
Rubric: annikapunditry


Cogent and insightful, and also a good reminder of why I went to law school instead of economics grad school.

Posted by: Leif on Aug. 22, 2006
But CA3 contains one flaw: verification. Certainly the West, weak as its negotiating position is, will never agree to deliver incentives without a gauranteed inspection regime.


Posted by: Tuning Spork on Aug. 22, 2006

It's simpler than that... Gergen and Hagel are entirely motivated in every fiber of their being to act in self-interest. Like the Clintons, they are continually trying to position themselves to achieve or maintain power.

What a fucking laugh, Hagel for President. No doubt Gergen sees him as an opportunity to get back inside the Republican tent.

Posted by: Casca on Aug. 23, 2006

Tuning Spork has this nailed: Do we go back to the Clinton/Albright/Carter tactic - which is essentially to cave in, give them what they want, and then have them fuck us in the end; or, do we get a set and tell them to fuck themselves. I'll be very surprised if we do the latter because I'm beginning to think that the fight is out of the Bushies - and at exactly the wrong time. I hope that I'm wrong.

And if the Dems win the mid-terms it just gets worse as you will have cowards and/or incompetents running one branch of government. The thought of people as literally dumb and naive as Pelosi, Boxer, and Reid running anything ought to scare us almost as much as the Muslim whack jobs in Iran and elsewhere.

Posted by: Blu on Aug. 23, 2006

As usual, Russia and China are doing their best to ensure that Iran faces no serious threat of tough sanctions.


Posted by: Blu on Aug. 23, 2006

Congratulations, you're on track to implementing Effects-Based Planning and Operations.

Posted by: will on Aug. 23, 2006

Interesting link, Will. Thanks. I have heard a lot of smart people make the argument we have not approached the GWOT as comprehensively as Reagan et al did the Cold War. I'm not certain, however, that we know all that is being done currently - well, that is, when the NY Times isn't blabbing to everybody - whereas we know quite a bit about Cold War tactics.

Posted by: Blu on Aug. 23, 2006

Annika, while your analysis was insightful, I don't believe it was cogent.

An analysis of Iran's negotiating strategy can be boiled down to a simple equation which does not require game theory to solve:

West = Satan

All moves, countermoves, etc. proceed from that premise.

Posted by: Ontario Emperor on Aug. 23, 2006

math humor done well is hot

Posted by: Scof on Aug. 23, 2006

Funny stuff. But its Simple just as Emperor says.

Iranian government = evil muslim dicks.

Evil muslim dicks must go boom.

Posted by: kyle8 on Aug. 23, 2006

Check out my site, I just posted sumptin funny.

Posted by: kyle8 on Aug. 23, 2006

The damaged and diseased minds of liberals believe:

that all the hurricanes last year prove Global Warming conclusively–as does the complete lack of hurricanes this year.

that the Apollo Landings were fakes made up in Hollywood, but that Global Warming is real.

that the “Living Constitution” must grow, change and adapt to the times–unless the ChimplerHalliburtonRoveDiebold Junta wishes to data-mine 1-900-OSAMA calls.

that Guns in the hands of the passengers of American Flight 11 would have been dangerous.

that taking money from you at the point of a gun to invest in a Social Security Account that you DO NOT own, and pays 2 % interest, is better for your retirement than your 401 k that you DO own and pays 14%.

that a 13 year old girl is old enough to make up their own mind about an abortion, but too young to have a glass of wine with her parents at Dinner.

that the Government is somehow entitled to 55% of the money you manage to save throughout your life, even though the money was ALREADY taxed before you put it in the bank, and the Government has not done a DAMN THING to earn a penny of it.

that teaching children to never touch a gun is bad if it is done by the NRA, but good if it done by a drunk bitch like Sarah Brady.

that Sex education causes abstinence, but Gun education causes violence.

that belonging to a Religion that preaches peaceful tolerance causes intolerance, but belonging to a religion that preaches intolerance is actually tolerant. (Somebody remind me the last time the Presbyterians declared jihad on the Methodists down the street.)

that allowing non-sectarian prayer in school somehow corrupts the kids and forces religion down their throats, but that teaching children about ISLAM (with role playing!) expands their awareness of the world around them.

that Saddam, Kim Jong Il, and Castro were fairly elected, but President Bush was not…

that Hitler and Stalin didn’t disarm citizens, only Jews, Gypsies, gays, unionists and other “undesirables.” (Yes, a liberal member of the MSM actually said this in the Washington Post.)

that good intentions count for more than good results.
that the reason the was on poverty hasn’t succeeded is that 7 trillion dollars is not enough.

that a 20 year old unwed mother of 4 (from 4 different sperm donors) is entitled to a free ride for the rest of her life.

that when a small country is attacked for no reason by one of its neighbors - that has spent the last 58 years trying to obliterate the small country from the map, the small country is NOT allowed to fight back to protect it’s own citizens.

that Mumia is a hero, but that the police officer he murdered in cold blood was an oppressive jackboot of The Man who deserved to be offed, just because he was a cop.

that Washington DC’s low murder rate of 80.6 per 100,000 is due to strict gun control, but Arlington, Virginia’s high murder rate of 1.6 per 100,000 is attributable to the lack of gun control.

that the tiniest possibility of library records may be searched is a violation of civil liberties, but that flying planes into buildings is not.

that being a member of some minority automatically makes one noble or a victim.

that someone too fucking stupid to figure out how a ballot works has the right to decide how to run the country. Retroactively.

that a student’s “Self Esteem” is more important that the correct answer to 2 + 2.

that an Independent campaign run by a liberal incumbent in the NUTmeg state is a conservative conspiracy.

that marriage is an oppressive, soul-killing, stultifying form of indentured servitude and slavery–and must be extended to as many people as possible.

Posted by: Radical Redneck on Aug. 24, 2006

Hey, RR, welcome to the (dis)information age!

Posted by: will on Aug. 24, 2006

Will, you don't think the moonbats on the Left believe much or all of this? I've heard every single one of these sentiments embraced on the Left. If you mean to point out that it is unlikely that every member of the Left believes each of these, well then, hey, you are absolutely right...but, heck, that takes all the fun out the post.

Posted by: Blu on Aug. 25, 2006