Ample historical evidence to disprove assumption that a nuclear Iran would imitate a proliferation cascade
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Assumption # 1: A nuclear-armed Iran will lead to regional proliferation.
While it is possible that a nuclear-armed Iran could spur other regional countries to acquire nuclear weapons of their own, policymakers should not simply assume this will be the case. Recent analysis by the Center for New American Security challenges “conventional wisdom that Iranian nuclearization will spark region-wide proliferation,” observes that historical cases of reactive proliferation are “exceedingly rare,” and ultimately concludes that “neither Egypt nor Turkey, [nor Saudi Arabia] is likely to respond . . . by pursuing the bomb.”22 A recent study from the War Studies Department of King’s College London draws similar conclusions noting Turkey, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia “have little to gain and much to lose by embarking down such a route.”23 Moreover, there is ample historical evidence both inside and outside the Middle East that one nation’s possession of nuclear weapons does not necessarily lead to further proliferation among presumed competitors. For instance, China conducted its first nuclear weapons tests in 1964 and neither Japan nor South Korea have yet opted to “go-nuclear” although both countries certainly have long possessed the technical capability to do so. Ironically, the most powerful incentive for nuclear proliferation among Arab nations has been Israel’s undeclared nuclear weapons capability since the late 1960s. Nevertheless, despite several Arab-Israeli wars, neither Iran nor any Arab state has developed nuclear weapons in the subsequent 50 years. Finally, there are any number of deliberate actions US policymakers could take to minimize prospects for further regional proliferation including providing friendly militaries with capable defen- sive missile systems and perhaps even extending America’s nuclear umbrella to threatened allies.
Fears that Iranian development of a nuclear weapon would spark a nuclear arms race in the Middle East are not supported by the historical record or a careful examination of the motivations and strategic interests of potential proliferants (ex. Saudia Arabia, Turkey).