Thursday, April 10

Overemphasizing intent

Here is James Acton* talking at the New America Foundation on Iran's nuclear intentions and the IAEA.

It is a long talk but he makes some very interesting, and to some extent obvious points that a lot of debate on Iran has overlooked. Acton begins of by explaining how the purpose and legal obligation of the IAEA is not to analyze the 'intent' of a violating country. However, the IAEA reports on Iran tend to be looked at with a view to finding an answer to the question of Iran's intention behind violating the safeguards.

With the larger non-proliferation regime enforcement view he says that we are sending out a wrong message to future violators by harping upon the motive factor. The violating state should be punished for 'what' it has done and not 'why' it did so. Irrespective of good or bad intent the violator should be punished. By concentrating on the motive the signal being sent out is that if you violate with good intent, you can be excused. The deterrence value is diminished in the process. I think this is an important aspect to be considered given that it is almost impossible to prove 'intent' with 100 percent confidence or even beyond reasonable doubt.

*"James Acton is a lecturer at the Centre for Science and Security Studies in the Department of War Studies at King's College London. He holds a PhD in theoretical physics from Cambridge University's Cavendish Laboratory."


Anil P said...

'motive' and 'intent' are so open to interpretation depending on what side of the fence you are.

Ashutosh said...

the other thing is that 'intent' can always be manipulated to sound honorable or innocent whereas 'actions' are crystal clear and right in front of everyone's eyes. george bush can harp about his intent to invade iraq but it's the actions that demonstrate without a doubt that it was a catastrophe.