Sunday, April 06, 2014
A Red Line Worth Defending: Why Iran Must Not Acquire Nuclear Weapons
The Iranian government has long pursued full nuclear capabilities, and despite offering some major concessions to the international community, has refused to give up control of the full nuclear fuel cycle. If the current Joint Plan of Action (JPA) does not succeed in producing a conclusive agreement by July 20, the United States and its allies will be faced with the possibility that Iran will become a nuclear power. In fact, some commentators believe that Iran acquiring nuclear weapons is actually an outcome which should be palatable for the United States. However, this viewpoint ignores the implications for nuclear proliferation both in the Middle East and the world. It is important that the United States makes all possible effort to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
In all its rhetoric regarding Iran, Saudi Arabia has made one point very clear - any Iranian nuclear capability will be matched by a Saudi one. The United States has forestalled nuclear weapons programs in South Korea and Japan by extending the American nuclear umbrella - the same cannot be done in the Gulf countries. The governments of Saudi Arabia and other US partners in the region are too unreliable for the United States to commit to their defense with nuclear weapons. The US could alternatively attempt to placate the Saudis via spreading Anti Ballistic Missile (ABM) technology to them and other Gulf states, but rather it would actually do so is open to question. In addition to the deterrent effect one gains from nuclear weapons, a state can derive international prestige and influence. While ABM sites would certainly lessen the threat of Iran's nuclear weapons, it would not put Saudi Arabia on equal footing politically.
A nuclear Iran would also have grave implications for nuclear proliferation worldwide. In addition to the threat of Iranian weapons spreading (advertently or inadvertently), the US and international community face two equally unpalatable choices: gradually welcoming Iran back into the international community, or attempting to maintain Iran's status as a pariah state. An Iran with normalized relations with the rest of the world would represent a massive failure for non-proliferation efforts; it would serve as a clear message of encouragement to any other nuclear aspirant. Simply endure sanctions until one possesses a functional weapon, then return to the international community just as before (but with a nuclear capability in one's pocket). Maintaining Iran as an international pariah would also be problematic; continuing to cut Iran off from the world would certainly not incentivize the government to halt its efforts to spread influence instability in the region.
A nuclear Iran would have grave implications for stability and non-proliferation in both the Middle East and the world. It is imperative that the United States and the international community prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, in order that the Middle East does not descend further into chaos and decades of progress on halting the spread of nuclear weapons is not undone.