Russia, China, Iran: Ponies for Everyone
Foreign Policy replies to my skepticism at the idea of Russia and China backing an oil-embargo package on the Iranian regime with this recent piece by Brookings’ Erica Downs on China’s looming oil-sector investments in Iran. Downs gives some reason for thinking that the United States has leverage with the Chinese:
Beijing recognizes that a nuclear-armed Iran would almost certainly be detrimental to its energy security. Iran’s development of a nuclear weapons capability — and the regional nuclear arms race this might trigger — would foster instability in the Persian Gulf, jeopardizing the free flow of oil into the market. It could also strain China’s relationship with Saudi Arabia, which has been China’s top crude oil supplier for most of this decade and opposes Iran’s going nuclear. And despite appearances, China does not want to jeopardize its relationship with the United States. Not only does Beijing value its relations with Washington more than its ties to Tehran, but it relies on the U.S. Navy to protect the sea lanes between the Persian Gulf and China.
These are good reasons to believe that the Chinese would back an international effort to ensure the Iranian nuclear program doesn’t have a military dimension. They already do. But this alone doesn’t get you Chinese endorsement or acquiescence of punitive measures. If I understand FP’s point correctly, the Saudis would have to threaten to cut off Chinese oil imports to ensure China’s complicity in an oil-sanctions regime. But would they? Not only have the Saudis not stated support for such an embargo, the Saudis didn’t even support an oil embargo over the Gaza war. We’re a couple of billiard-shots away from this policy coming together. Maybe it could, but it doesn’t seem likely. We’re far from getting Russian support, on top of all this.
On his FP blog, Dan Drezner had this to say:
In fact, here’s a good time-saver: if you read any story about a gasoline embargo [of] Iran, just scan quickly and get to the part where the reporter explains how and why Russia and China would go along. If it’s not mentioned, the story is inconsequential.
As Dan says, quoting the ever-talented Belle Waring, this is shaping up to be quite the pony-wishing exercise.