Nuclear Iran would not be a threat to international security
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One of the other major concerns about Iran's acquisition of a nuclear weapons capability is the potential response of other states in the region. Iran would likely feel emboldened by its acquisition of a nuclear weapon and could make a play for regional hegemony in the Persian Gulf. That could in turn cause neighboring countries to seek nuclear deterrents of their own and bolster their own militaries generally in an attempt to deter the Iranians from any military mischief. Some observers fear that this arms race could lead to growing fear and insecurity among governments in the region, leaving better-armed regional governments on hair-trigger alert from fear of their neighbors. This concern is probably real but overstated. Those who fear the prospect of an arms race in the Middle East argue that it would increase the likelihood of war. But in fact war becomes more likely if neighboring states do not arm themselves. If neighboring states maintain their current, anemic military efforts and allow Iran to build power based on its nuclear capability, that would increase the likelihood of war by lowering the perceived cost to Iran of provoking conflict. As it happens, key states in the region are quite wary of a nuclear war. An adviser to the government of Saudi Arabia told Reuters in July that 'there is now an understanding that Iran has to be countered. There is going to be a huge strategic spending on defense, based on a new defense doctrine.' According to the adviser, the Saudi government is working to increase its total troop number by 25 percent and to expand its air force. There are thus some indications that neighboring states recognize the potential dangers posed by an emboldened Iran and are preparing themselves for a posture of deterrence.
A wiser alternative may be to stand down, for a while. "Turn away and whistle," an Iranian academic suggested recently. Don't abandon the nuclear-sanctions process, but don't force it, either. Don't pursue negotiations. Let the disgraced Iranian government pursue us, as it might, in order to rebuild credibility at home and in the world — and then make sure the regime's interest isn't just for show. After all, Iran isn't the most frightening nuclear challenge we're facing. That would be the next country over, Pakistan. In the latest National Interest, Bruce Riedel — who led the Obama Administration's Afghanistan and Pakistan policy review — suggests that a coup led by Islamist, Taliban-sympathetic elements of the Pakistani army remains a real possibility. Pakistan has at least 60 nuclear weapons. The chance that al-Qaeda sympathizers might gain access to those weapons is the real issue in Afghanistan and Pakistan. For the moment, it is far more important than anything happening in Iran.
The more sophisticated-sounding argument about the supposed dangers of an Iranian nuclear weapon—one heard less from politicians than from policy-debating intelligentsia—accepts that Iranian leaders are not suicidal but contends that the mere possession of such a weapon would make Tehran more aggressive in its region. A dominant feature of this mode of argument is “worst-casing,” as exemplified by a pro-war articleTime to Attack Iran: Why a Strike Is the Least Bad Option ." Foreign Affairs. Vol. 91, No. 1 (January/February 2012): 76-86. [ More (7 quotes) ] by "Matthew KroenigMatthew Kroenig
Matthew Kroenig is an associate professor and International Relations Field Chair in the department of government at Georgetown University, a senior fellow at the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security at the Atlantic Council, and the author of the forthcoming book A Time to Attack: The Looming Iranian Nuclear Threat.
[ More ] in a recent issue of Foreign Affairs. Kroenig’s case rests on speculation after speculation about what mischief Iran “could” commit in the Middle East, with almost no attention to whether Iran has any reason to do those things, and thus to whether it ever would be likely to do them. Kroenig includes among his “coulds” a scary possibility that also served as a selling point of the Iraq War: the thought of a regime giving nuclear weapons or materials to a terrorist group. Nothing is said about why Iran or any other regime ever would have an incentive to do this. In fact, Tehran would have strong reasons not to do it. Why would it want to lose control over a commodity that is scarce as well as dangerous? And how would it achieve deniability regarding its role in what the group subsequently did with the stuff? No regime in the history of the nuclear age has ever been known to transfer nuclear material to a nonstate group. That history includes the Cold War, when the USSR had both a huge nuclear arsenal and patronage relationships with a long list of radical and revolutionary clients. As for deniability, Iranian leaders have only to listen to rhetoric coming out of the United States to know that their regime would immediately be a suspect in any terrorist incidents involving a nuclear weapon.
Nuclear weapons matter insofar as there is a credible possibility that they will be used. This credibility is hard to achieve, however, in anything short of circumstances that might involve the destruction of one’s nation. In the case of Iran, there would need to be some specific aggressive or subversive act that Tehran is holding back from performing now for fear of retaliation—from the Americans, the Israelis, the Saudis, or someone else. Further, in order for Iran to neutralize the threat of retaliation, the desired act of mischief would have to be so important to Tehran that it could credibly threaten to escalate the matter to the level of nuclear war. Proponents of a war with Iran have been unable to provide an example of a scenario that meets these criteria, however. The impact of Iran possessing a bomb is therefore far less dire than the alarmist conventional wisdom suggests.
The more sophisticated-sounding argument links Iran with sundry forms of objectionable behavior, either real or hypothetical, without explaining what difference the possession of a nuclear weapon would make. Perhaps the most extensive effort to catalog what a nuclear-armed Iran might do outside its borders is a monograph published last year by Ash JainAsh Jain
Ash Jain, a visiting fellow at The Washington Institute, served as a member of the State Department’s Policy Plan- ning Staff from 2004 to 2010 and provided counsel to U.S. officials on the strategic challenges posed by Iran and other actors.
[ More ] of the Washington Institute for Near East PolicyWashington Institute for Near East Policy
"Founded in 1985, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy was established to advance a balanced and realistic understanding of American interests in the Middle East. Under the guidance of a distinguished and bipartisan Board of Advisors, the Institute seeks to bring scholarship to bear on the making of U.S. policy in this vital region of the world. Drawing on the research of its scholars and the experience of policy practitioners, the Institute promotes an American engagement in the Middle East committed to strengthening alliances, nurturing friendships, and promoting security, peace, prosperity, and democracy for the people of the region." [ More ]. Jain’s inventory of possible Iranian nastiness is comprehensive, ranging from strong-arming Persian Gulf states to expanding a strategic relationship with Hugo Chávez’s Venezuela. But nowhere is there an explanation of how Iran’s calculations—or anyone else’s— would change with the introduction of a nuclear weapon. The most that Jain can offer is to assert repeatedly that because Iran would be “shielded by a nuclear weapons capability,” it might do some of these things. We never get an explanation of how, exactly, such a shield would work. Instead there is only a vague sense that a nuclear weapon would lead Iran to feel its oats.