Nuclear Iran would use its arsenal for blackmail
With a nuclear weapon, Iran could be emboldened to behave more aggressively against its neighbors and use the threat of a nuclear attack to achieve some of its objectives in the region.
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Nor, as almost everyone also agreed, were the dangers of a nuclear Iran confined to the Middle East. Dedicated as the mullahs clearly were to furthering the transformation of Europe into a continent where Muslim law and practice would more and more prevail, they were bound to use nuclear intimidation and blackmail in pursuit of this goal as well. Beyond that, nuclear weapons would even serve the purposes of a far more ambitious aim: the creation of what Ahmadinejad called “a world without America.” Although, to be sure, no one imagined that Iran would acquire the capability to destroy the United States, it was easy to imagine that the United States would be deterred from standing in Iran’s way by the fear of triggering a nuclear war.
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The first argument posits that besides curtailing military threats against it directly, nuclear weapons will give Iran leverage over how (and where) military force can be used in the Middle East more broadly. Western military adventurism in Iran’s strategic backyard, it is suggested, will be placed in check by Iran’s strategic interests and its ability to guarantee those interests. Writing of NATO, Bruno Tertrais explains that Iranian nukes might be “a strong disincentive for some NATO countries to participate . . . in any new operation in the broader Middle East that might be judged by Tehran as contrary to its own strategic interests.”37 The implication is that nuclear Iran (however weak, conventionally) will compel the United States, its European allies, and Israel to rethink how they use military force in the region. Drawing parallels to the Yalta Conference of 1945, in which the United States, United Kingdom, and USSR mapped out divergent spheres of influence, Emanuele Ottolenghi suggests that a nuclear Iran will force the West to “negotiate a Middle Eastern Yalta with Tehran—one that may entail a retreat of U.S. forces from the region and an unpleasant bargain for the Gulf states and Israel.”38 And speaking of Israel, Michael Oren, before taking up his post as Israeli Ambassador to the United States, wrote that a nuclear Iran will “deny Israel the ability to respond to terrorist attacks.” In reaction to an “Israeli retaliation against Hezbollah,” Oren warns, “Iran would go on nuclear alert, causing widespread panic in Israel and the collapse of its economy.”39 Asserting its hegemonic role in the Gulf, nuclear Iran might also blackmail its weaker Arab neighbors by forcing them to avoid behavior it considers provocative and compelling them to bandwagon with it. Bret Stephen explains that “Iran could easily apply some combination of inducements and pressure to persuade Kuwait, Qatar, and Bahrain to shut down their U.S. military bases.”40 Or, it might coerce oil-rich Arab states into diminishing their production levels, simultaneously strangling the global flow of crude while filling its own coffers. In sum, Iran might use its nuclear clout to generate political, economic, and strategic effects that go well beyond the mere protection of its sovereignty and security.
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A second possible use of Iran's nuclear weapons is bald nuclear coercion especially against nonnuclear neighbors. Nuclear coercion, even against the weak, has certain risks, so it is hard to guess what Iranian interest would be worth such a gambit. In a drive for Gulf hegemony, Iran might demand that those of its neighbors who are close to the United States should weaken these ties -- throw out U.S. forces, deny them ports of call and landing rights, destroy prepositioned equipment sites, and cease importing U.S. weapons. Less plausibly, Iran might demand that other oil producing states agree with its own views at any given time about how much oil to pump, or what to charge for it, though this does not seem worth a nuclear crisis. It is worth noting that, since the end of World War II, no nuclear power has found a way to use nuclear threats to achieve offensive strategic objectives.These gambits are unlikely to work, and the United States and its allies can act to forestall them. During the Cold War, the United States offered the protection of its nuclear deterrent forces to many allies who did not possess nuclear weapons, every NATO member state except Britain and France. The United States promised that if NATO were to be attacked by the Soviet Union with nuclear weapons, it would respond. Indeed, NATO strategy called for the employment of nuclear weapons in the event of a successful Soviet conventional invasion of NATO states. The United States made this commitment in spite of virtual nuclear parity with the Soviet Union. The United States risked annihilation to secure its interests in Europe.
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If, then, under present circumstances Ahmadinejad could bring about the extraordinary degree of kowtowing that resulted from the kidnapping of the British sailors, what might he not accomplish with a nuclear arsenal behind him—nuclear bombs that could be fitted on missiles capable of reaching Europe? As to such a capability, Robert G. Joseph, the U.S. Special Envoy for Nuclear Non-Proliferation, tells us that Iran is “expanding what is already the largest offensive missile force in the region. Moreover, it is reported to be working closely with North Korea, the world’s number-one missile proliferator, to develop even more capable ballistic missiles.” This, Joseph goes on, is why “analysts agree that in the foreseeable future Iran will be armed with medium- and long-range ballistic missiles,” and it is also why “we could wake up one morning to find that Iran is holding Berlin, Paris or London hostage to whatever its demands are then.”