Saturday, July 21, 2012

Post #291 - Is More More?

The article which follows was written by Natasha Mozgovaya (published 6/24/12 on Haaretz), to examine the notion that a nuclear bomb in the hands of Iranians could actually produce a better balance of power in the Middle East:

Countless articles have been written on the Iranian nuclear program and the possible ways to deal with it, with most of them focusing on whether to attack or not to attack. With the drums of war beating and Congress committees discussing the military option against Iran's nuclear facilities, the new cover issue of Foreign Affairs certainly stands out with a headline that reads "Why Iran should get the bomb."

Kenneth N. Waltz, senior research scholar at the Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies, argues that once Tehran gets a nuclear bomb, it will actually restore the balance of military power. 

Most of the arguments Waltz presents are familiar: the Iranian regime is not irrational and that the "perfectly sane Ayatollahs," as any other leaders, seek survival and not suicide, history shows that when countries acquire nuclear weapons, they become more responsible (there has never been a full-scale war between two nuclear states), and there is no reason to believe Teheran will share it with terrorist organizations. Waltz admits that we do not really know what the Iranian regime thinks, but reminds the readers of the incident with the Straits of Hormuz, which the Iranians did not end up closing, despite threatening to do so. "It is far more likely that if Iran desires nuclear weapons, it is for the purpose of providing for its own security, not to improve its offensive capabilities (or destroy itself)," Waltz writes.

If Israel's nuclear arsenal did not trigger a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, "there is no reason a nuclear Iran should now." The basic premise of the author is that Israel's nuclear arsenal was the factor contributing to instability in the Middle East.

However, the expected impact of the nuclear bomb in the hands of Iranian regime does not end with crazy-case scenarios, such as Supreme Leader Khamenei rushing to the red button to precipitate the coming of Mahdi (I've heard this version from some American conservatives), or dropping the "dirty bomb" in the middle of some major city, bearing Iran’s hidden trademark. It's not even Egypt, busy with its own troubles, or Saudi Arabia, that are developing their own bomb. For Israel, Iran acquiring the bomb might mean less olim, and more Israelis leaving (according to this logic, the Palestinians should definitely welcome the Iranian bomb instead of insisting on a nuclear-free Middle East). The impact on oil prices will hardly be positive. It will definitely embolden Iran's proxies, Hezbollah and Hamas, the both of which can be utterly unpleasant even with conditional weapons. It can force the Arab states to abandon any thought of reviving the Arab Peace Initiative. As for the current turbulence in the Middle East, another nuclear bomb does not seem like a recipe for peace and stability, and Israel is mostly a bystander in these events.

At the end of the day, the world might have to live with a nuclear Iran – there aren’t many options, and most range from bad to worse. But to develop a happily hopeful approach about the future benefits of the bomb seems like a serious exaggeration. 

Let's see what Waltz actually said.  First, the book he wrote with Scott D. Sagan treated the idea of nuclear proliferation generally; they were not just writing about Israel and Iran.  Second, they cite some history (notably the Cold War between the United State and the USSR) as showing that the principle has worked in the real world.  Though fighting between India and Pakistan demonstrates that it is possible for nuclear states to have a war, the "have" nations (in a nuclear sense) have been not usually done so.  Third, the point that Israel's possession of the Bomb has not led to proliferation in the region is one that Waltz's detractors have not yet rebutted.  Certainly, Israel's Arab neighbors have been as concerned about the Jewish State as they have been about Iran. 

Waltz' premise is not that "Israel's nuclear arsenal was the factor contributing to instability in the Middle East," but that having more than one nuclear power in the region might be stabilizing.

While one may or not agree that the existence of more nuclear weapons, anywhere in the world, is a "good" thing, Waltz at least opens the debate to discussion of what the West has seen as undisputed:  that an Iranian bomb spells disaster.

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