Matthew Kroenig observes that if we get real about America’s concern about an Iranian nuclear weapon then it becomes more clear why Russia and China aren’t so worried:
The United States’ global power-projection capability provides Washington with a significant strategic advantage: It can protect, or threaten, Iran and any other country on the planet. An Iranian nuclear weapon, however, would greatly reduce the latitude of its armed forces in the Middle East. If the United States planned a military operation in the region, for example, and a nuclear-armed Iran objected that the operation threatened its vital interests, any U.S. president would be forced to rethink his decision.
Russia and China lack the capacity for that kind of power-projection, so they don’t worry that Iranian nukes could prevent it.
Something interesting about Kroenig’s article is that it appeared in The New Republic which has been at the forefront of trying to tell a very different story about Iran’s nuclear ambitions. In the conventional hawk/TNR telling (this Jeffrey Herf piece is a good example), the Iranian regime is driven by a relentless and aggressive ideological vision. If that‘s right, then it’s hard to make sense of Chinese and Russian behavior. After all, neither Hu Jintao nor Vladimir Putin is motivated by Islamist fanaticism. Kroenig’s account, by contrast, sees the United States as the country likely to engage in aggressive military action in the Middle East and an Iranian nuclear weapons program as a possible countermeasure against American power-projection.
There’s plenty more one could say about this, but I think too little attention has been paid to another aspect of the situation from the Russian point-of-view, namely that Russia would be a major beneficiary of a disruption in production/export of oil from the Persian Gulf. If I were in Moscow, I’d be thinking that some kind of military confrontation between the US and/or Israel and Iran would likely do wonders for Russia’s finances.