Position: The Military Option: (The Iranian Quagmire: How to Move Forward)
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That said, nuclear restraint did not prevent armed nations from much breast-beating. During the Cold War, both the Soviet Union and the United States postured with repeated explosive testing. They and others engaged in "atomic diplomacy" -- subtle hints, threatening rhetoric, the movement of nuclear-capable units to intimidate and deter -- in crises over Taiwan (1950s), Suez (1956), Berlin (1961), Cuba (1962); wars in Korea, Vietnam, and the Middle East (1973) (Betts, 1987); as well as many crises and wars involving India and Pakistan. And, in defense think tanks, strategists crafted plans to use nuclear weapons both to preempt and to respond to deterrence failure (Kaplan, 1983). Fortunately, these events never required execution.
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Given the success of "don't attack," those promoting strikes against Iran must establish why the Mullahs would act differently. Consider: not even Soviet Russia and Mao's China, two of the most odious and belligerent regimes in history, used nuclear weapons. And after World War II, neither did the defender of the West, the United States, which engaged in more atomic diplomacy than any other nuclear power. Both India and Pakistan, despite their deep animosity and the blood of multiple conventional wars, practiced nuclear abstention. And then Israel, a country that risked defeat in the 1973 war, eschewed nuclear use. History demonstrates that Cold War and regional nuclear deterrence, self-deterrence, conventional military capabilities, and diplomacy kept the world safe from nuclear war. Why wouldn't this pattern apply to Iran?
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To meet the challenge, the United States is beefing up defenses across Iran's neighboring states -- coordinated through the Gulf Security Dialogue, the US government's effort to liaise with the Gulf Cooperation Council on security matters (Congressional Research Service, 2008; US Department of State, 2010). The September 2010 announcement that Saudi Arabia will purchase US military equipment worth $60 billion illustrates the self-defense and deterrence Washington wishes to promote. However, Washington remains largely silent about formally extending its nuclear umbrella over the region, presumably to discourage the Mullahs from believing the US intends to throw in the nonproliferation towel. Were the US to move toward watchful nuclear deterrence, implementation would require nuclear-use declaratory policy, permanent deployment of new nuclear delivery forces in the neighborhood, and regular nuclear exercises in the Persian Gulf, among other approaches collectively dedicated to discourage Iranian atomic saber rattling or use.
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Assuming it cannot overcome the fear or genuine risk of living in Tehran's nuclear crosshairs even were it to fully or partially lift the veil over its nuclear arsenal (Ramberg, 2010), this leaves Israel with a stark option: use its nuclear arsenal not simply to hit IranÕs nuclear plants but to eliminate or, in a remote corner of Iran, ignite a nuclear weapon to demonstrate the capacity to eliminate the regime that sustains them. The past affords examples of plausible use: In the buildup to the 1991 Persian Gulf War, Israel, concerned about chemical attacks, made veiled nuclear threats against Iraq. In the 1980s, apprehensive over the Kremlin's military involvement in the region, Jerusalem reportedly targeted the Soviet Union (Ginor and Remez, 2007). But it would be in the darkest hours of the Yom Kippur War, October 8 and 9, 1973, with Syrian forces threatening breakthrough, that Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir placed the country's nuclear-capable Jericho ballistic missiles on strategic alert. Accounts differ as to whether Israel armed the missiles and nuclear-capable aircraft (Cohen, 2003, 2010; Farr, 1999).
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Furthermore, Israelis have little confidence that Iran will abide by the nuclear taboo or respond to nuclear deterrence even were Jerusalem to unsheathe its arsenal. Lurking is the apprehension that some Iranian leaders and/or those entrusted with nuclear management may have a martyrdom complex and may be inclined to beat Israel to the preemptive punch or convey weapons or material to Israel's adversaries. Like all nuclear weaponizing states, Iran will confront command and control along with monitoring nuclear weapons material challenges. Further complicating matters is the concern that a nuclear Iran will incite Israel's neighboring adversaries to aggression, emboldened by belief in Tehran's nuclear shield.