This article, relying on research and meetings with the nation's leading experts on Iran, the Middle East, and nuclear proliferation -- and based upon a working group report on these issues -- is intended to make recommendations designed to reduce the harm Iran might do or encourage if it gained nuclear weapons. There are three threats that are likely to increase following Iran's acquisition of a nuclear option.
Even more nuclear proliferation. Iran's continued insistence that it acquired its nuclear capabilities legally under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) would, if unchallenged, encourage its neighbors (including Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria, Turkey, Algeria) to develop nuclear options of their own and overtly declare possession or import weapons from elsewhere. Such announcements and efforts would likely undermine nuclear nonproliferation restraints internationally and strain American relations with most of its friends in the Middle East.
Dramatically higher oil prices. A nuclear-ready Iran could be emboldened to manipulate oil prices upward, either by threatening the freedom of the seas (by mining oil transit points as it did in the 1980s or by seeking to close the Straits of Hormuz) or by using terrorist proxies to threaten the destruction of Saudi and other Gulf state oil facilities and pipelines.
Increased terrorism geared to diminish U.S. influence. With a nuclear weapons option acting as a deterrent to U.S. and allied action against it, Iran would likely lend greater support to terrorists operating against Israel, Iraq, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Europe, and the U.S. The objective would be to reduce American support for U.S. involvement in the Middle East, for Israel, and for actions against Iran generally, and to elevate Iran as an equal to the U.S. and its allies on all matters connected to the Persian Gulf and related regions. An additional aim of Iran's support for terrorism would be to keep other nations from backing U.S. policies, including a continued U.S. military presence in the Middle East.
All of these threats are serious. If realized, they would undermine U.S. and allied efforts to foster moderate rule in the Middle East, and set into play a series of international competitions that could ultimately result in major wars. Most U.S. and allied policymakers understand this and are now occupied with trying to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. As Iran gets closer to securing this option, though, two possible courses of action -- bombing or bribing Iran -- have become increasingly popular. Neither, however, is likely to succeed, and each could easily make matters worse.