U.S. offer of security guarantees and deployment of theater-based missile defense would be more credible than extending its "nuclear umbrella"
As a vital component to the mix of strategies necessary to forestall a regional proliferation cascade, the United States must also pursue robust deterrence and reassurance policies in the Middle East. It should be made clear to Iran that the major powers would take whatever action was necessary to stop it from crossing the line to weapons acquisition.
Such action should not include providing an extended nuclear deterrence to Middle Eastern states, as has sometimes been proposed as a measure to contain Iran and to pre-empt any felt need to seek nuclear options themselves. Under current circumstances, the idea is problematic and without credibility. Would the United States really want to tie its nuclear policies to the volatile politics of the Middle East? The potential recipients of the nuclear umbrella are not formal U.S. allies, and after the war in Iraq, the U.S. public is unlikely to want to take on new defense obligations in the Middle East, especially with countries seen as not sharing the same values of democracy and civil rights. Meanwhile, public opinion in most Arab states is strongly opposed to the U.S. nuclear posture, and a nuclear assurance could damage rather than bolster such states' security by sparking domestic upheaval and possibly terrorist attacks.
Instead, reassurance should include the reaffirmation of security commitments to Israel, Turkey, and the Gulf states; the deployment of theater ballistic missile defense systems; and the continuation of Bush administration policies regarding enhancement of other in-theater capabilities and strengthening the defensive capabilities of Iran's neighbors through joint training and other measures. By addressing their security concerns, the United States can reduce the motivations that states in the region might otherwise have to seek a nuclear hedge.