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Iran Should Get the Bomb: a Contrarian’s Delight

iran israel nuclear balance

All of us who are trying to make the world see reason about Iran’s alleged nuclear threat and the likelihood of war, pussyfoot around the idea of Iran actually getting a nuclear weapon.  What I love about this Foreign Affairs article by noted Columbia University international relations theorist, Kenneth Waltz, is that he turns accepted wisdom on its head and comes right out with the contrarian notion in his title: Why Iran Should Get the Bomb, Nuclear Balancing Would Mean Stability:

Most U.S., European, and Israeli commentators and policymakers warn that a nuclear-armed Iran would be the worst possible outcome of the current standoff. In fact, it would probably be the best possible result: the one most likely to restore stability to the Middle East.

…By reducing imbalances in military power, new nuclear states generally produce more regional and international stability, not less.

Israel’s regional nuclear monopoly…has long fueled instability in the Middle East. In no other region of the world does a lone, unchecked nuclear state exist. It is Israel’s nuclear arsenal, not Iran’s desire for one, that has contributed most to the current crisis. Power, after all, begs to be balanced.

I’ve argued here on many occasions that the fact that Israel has the bomb is not a stabilizing force in the Middle East, as Israel argues, but precisely the opposite.  If Israel exercised its military force judiciously and attempted to live at peace with its neighbors, then it might be possible to argue that.  But a country that starts a war every few years with a different front-line neighbor each time isn’t a responsible member of the nuclear club.  Which explains, in part, why Israel has refused to join the NPT.  It knows that it would be expected to follow the norms that the rest of the powers do.  It doesn’t want to be bound by such strictures.  So it refuses.

Waltz raises a major concern regarding one possible outcome of Iran’s nuclear program: it might stop short of a full breakout capacity, but maintain all the technology that would be necessary to assemble a weapon on short notice as Japan has done.  But the author correctly notes that while this would likely satisfy many of the western powers currently aligned against Iran’s nuclear program, it will not satisfy Israel, which opposes even Iran’s right to enrich uranium, let alone approach the nuclear threshold.  So an Israeli attack will always loom even if the west makes peace with Iran’s opaque nuclear status:

Israel would be less intimidated by a virtual nuclear weapon than it would be by an actual one and therefore would likely continue its risky efforts at subverting Iran’s nuclear program through sabotage and assassination—which could lead Iran to conclude that a breakout capability is an insufficient deterrent, after all, and that only weaponization can provide it with the security it seeks.

There would, of course, be another way for Israel and its neighbors to address the nuclear issue that would restore a power balance and end the nuclear arms race in the region: a nuclear free zone.  Avner Cohen has argued for this option.  But of course no Israeli general or politician is about to give up his goodies.  In the macho society that is Israel, such behavior would be considered an unpardonable sign of weakness toward the Arab/Muslim enemies that surround it.

The Foreign Affairs article recites the litany of mistaken claims and notions about Iran’s nukes that have been advanced by everyone from Barack Obama to Bibi Netnayhau and Waltz refutes every one admirably.  One of his more interesting rebuttals concerns the claim that an Iranian bomb would start a regional arms race.  In fact, he points out:

If an atomic Israel did not trigger an arms race then [in the 1960s when Israel first developed its nukes], there is no reason a nuclear Iran should now.

The likely outcome would be that other states in the region would see the enormous price that Iran paid in blood and treasure and proceed very cautiously toward nuclearization.  Right now, the only state that has a realistic opportunity to pursue such weapons might be Turkey and it has shown no interest in doing so.  The notion that Saudi Arabia or Egypt would do so, as pro-Israel war hawks have claimed, is ludicrous.  They have neither the scientific know-how, the financing (Egypt), or political will to do so.  They would have to begin a huge multi pronged scientific program that would take years to reach fruition, and would likely only do so if they felt directly threatened by the other nuclear power in the region, Israel.  So far, that hasn’t happened and if Israel maintains caution in its relationship with them, it shouldn’t.  But will it?

Here is further wisdom from Waltz:

In 1991, the historical rivals India and Pakistan signed a treaty agreeing not to target each other’s nuclear facilities.  They realized that far more worrisome than their adversary’s nuclear deterrent was the instability produced by challenges to it. Since then, even in the face of high tensions and risky provocations, the two countries have kept the peace. Israel and Iran would do well to consider this precedent. If Iran goes nuclear, Israel and Iran will deter each other, as nuclear powers always have. There has never been a full-scale war between two nuclear-armed states. Once Iran crosses the nuclear threshold, deterrence will apply, even if the Iranian arsenal is relatively small.   No other country in the region will have an incentive to acquire its own nuclear capability, and the current crisis will finally dissipate, leading to a Middle East that is more stable than it is today.

…Policymakers and citizens in the Arab world, Europe, Israel, and the United States should take comfort from the fact that history has shown that where nuclear capabilities emerge, so, too, does stability. When it comes to nuclear weapons, now as ever, more may be better.

I would amend his statement to say that in the current political, strategic environment nuclear balance is desirable.  If there were a nuclear free zone or a demilitarization of the region, then less or no nukes would be the most desirable outcome.  In theory, it is more desirable than Waltz’s perspective.  But given this is unlikely to happen any time soon, if ever, I think his perspective is the wisest one available, and one from which Barack Obama could learn considerably.

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Nir June 24, 2012, 2:16 AM

    So what will stop Iran from giving one of its nukes to Hizzbula or the Islamic Jihad (both known to be very pragmatic) ? Nothing. Let there be an Atomic wsr, the idiots will blame Israel anyway

    • lifelong June 24, 2012, 8:58 AM

      Great argument, considering it involves a scenario where muslims would nuke one of Islam’s most holy sites, wipe out somewhere in the neighbourhood of 3 million Palestinians as ‘collateral damage’, and turn their own backyard into a wasteland.

      The logic behind your position is breathtakingly coherent!

      • Nir June 24, 2012, 5:16 PM

        What stopped Hizbola from bombing all the arab (palastinian) villages in the north of Israel during the second Lebanon war? Nothing. Most of the Israeli casualties were infavt arabs.
        What stopped Hamas from executing Patah personnal in Gaza? Nothing.
        What stops Assad from killing thousands of arabs in Syria? Nothing. What stopped Hussain from killing dozens of thousands of Palastinians in black September ? Nothing. What stopws Al-Qaida and Taliban from killing hundred of thousands of muslims and arabs world wide? Nothing

        Arabs / Muslims have no problem killing other arabs / muslims. Nuking Israel and killing palastinians on the way can be easily explained to the arab world. The Palestinians would be named “Shahids” and arab leaders will announce they died for a Holy cause – getting rid of the zionist cancer.

        My logic is is nothing but the harsh truth. After living in the middle east for 30 years i’ve learned how my belived neighbors truely act, and violance and killing their own kind means absolutely NOTHING to them.

        • lifelong June 24, 2012, 7:21 PM

          That’s great, but you still have to reconcile all that with the inconvenient fact that Iranians aren’t Arabs.

          By your own admission, your entire argument is based on your understanding of your ‘Arab’ and ‘Arab Muslim’ neighbours, which has pretty much f-all to do with Iranians. If you still don’t understand this simple difference, one has to question the coherency of your entire ‘logic’.

          As a question for you: if Iran truly wanted to annihilate Israel, why did it not transfer chemical weapons with appropriate delivery systems (of which it has enormous stockpiles) to Hezbollah in 2006, or at any other time in the history of the organisation?

          Why will it only give them nukes?

          • Nir June 25, 2012, 1:41 AM

            Well , i didnt say arab muslims, i said “arabs / muslims” . Like the iraq-iran war, or the turkish- armanian-curdish war, or salah-a-din, or Muhhamad himself. Arabs / muslims have no concerns with killing other arbas / muslims.

            Simple point that cannot be defused. Muslims and arabs and muslim arabs and arab muslim kill there kind quite easily.

          • Richard Silverstein June 25, 2012, 2:38 AM

            “Points” aren’t “defused.” Bombs are. Like Israeli bombs.

        • Deïr Yassin June 25, 2012, 2:01 AM

          @ Nir
          “After living in the middle east for 30 years…”
          Where did you live before ? And why did you come to an area with such bloodthisty neighbours ?
          Maybe you should learn Arabic and the multiple meanings of ‘shâhid’ before writing about it on a blog.

          As far as your statement about Arabs/Muslims killing other Arab/Muslims easily: they have that in common with the Israelis ! And at least they are not selective in their killing, such as the IDF !

        • Richard Silverstein June 25, 2012, 2:36 AM

          Hasbara time, baby! Another hasbarist coming in for a landing. Listen habib, read the comment rules. If you’re here to score propaganda pts in the global Jewish jihad against Islam & Arabs, you’re in the wrong place. You’ll find yrself first moderated & then booted out on your ass unless you read, follow & respect comment rules. Consider yrself warned.

          BTW, your “logic” is nothing but garbage.

          • Nir June 25, 2012, 8:37 PM

            Im an Israeli guy who lived a couple of years in Canada, a year in India and currently living in Japan. Dont belong to any Hasbara project and dont work for the israeli government or any israely / jewish organization.
            Just a guy, with an opinion (one that is much different than yours, i guess that’s why the “liberal” guy threatened to ban me from this site).

            Im here to express the opinion that waltz’s ideas are usually crap. After taking international relation for 3 years i’ve learned to spot ridicules ideas from constructive ones.

            UNDENIABE fact is most of the western-liberal-democratic world sees Iran as a terrorist nation that arms terrorists millatent group with the holy cause of killing civilians. Waltz’s idea of aloowing this kind of nation to have to ultimate mass distruction weapon is nothing other than plain stupidity. This goes also to people who agree with such an idea.

          • Richard Silverstein June 25, 2012, 11:23 PM

            I see. So someone who barely speaks or writes passable English and took “three years” of “international relations” (whatever that means) is capable of judging the ideas of someone who not only has a PhD in the field but appointments at two prestigious academic institutions.

            Undeniable is the fact that you’re little more than a jabbering hasbarist parrot, and now moderated here. Read the comment rules if you want your future comments to be published. If they don’t follow the rules they won’t be.

    • What stopped the IDF giving nukes to the Phalangists? June 24, 2012, 5:54 PM

      “So what will stop Iran from giving one of its nukes to Hizzbula or the Islamic Jihad (both known to be very pragmatic) ? Nothing.”

      What stopped the USSR giving a nuke to North Korea in 1950?
      Answer: Nothing.

      What stopped the Chinese giving a nuke to North Vietnam in 1965?
      Answer: Nothing.

      What stopped the USSR giving a nuke to Egypt or Syria in 1967?
      Answer: Nothing.

      What stopped the USA giving a nuke to Israel in 1973?
      Answer: Nothing.

      What stopped the USA giving a nuke to the Northern Alliance in 1980?
      Answer: Nothing.

      Oh, wait, something must have stayed their hand….. what could it have been?

      Could it be…. Could it be…… that nukes are soooooo powerful that you simply never, ever, ever let them out of your most tight-fisted control? Even to someone that you consider to be your proxy, or even your puppet?

      No? That thought had never occured to you?

      “Let there be an Atomic wsr, the idiots will blame Israel anyway”

      Funny, you know, but “the idiots” aren’t saying that. You are.
      They keep demanding a nuclear-free Middle East. Your guys are the ones who refuse.

      How odd.

      • Nir June 25, 2012, 1:43 AM

        Nd which one of the above wants to have a world wide regime dominated by Islamic rules stated by him , and is willing to arm any milatent group with any means neccasery to achieve that goal ?

        Thats right. None. Only Iran

        • Deïr Yassin June 25, 2012, 2:06 AM

          Your crap about Iran wanting to have a world wide rgime dominated by Islamic rules is no more different than if I stated the Jews want to rule the world. You’re a little sh…. racist. Sorry Richard !

          • Richard Silverstein June 25, 2012, 2:39 AM

            At least if they sent us a hasbarist with any class or wit, I might defend him. But this guy is a total clown.

          • herenot June 25, 2012, 12:56 PM

            “At least if they sent us a hasbarist with any class or wit,”

            who are “they”?

          • Richard Silverstein June 25, 2012, 3:28 PM

            If you need to ask it’s not even worth answering your question.

          • Nir June 25, 2012, 8:40 PM

            Please, ho read the moto of the Revaluation Guard in Iran and then reply. At least i bothered to.

          • Deïr Yassin June 25, 2012, 11:38 PM

            “ho read the moto of the Revaluation Guard…”
            I guess that’s Japanese….

        • Nir is almost on a winning streak June 25, 2012, 2:21 AM

          “Thats right. None. Only Iran”

          Well, you’re half-right….. so that’s better than your usual batting average.

          Congratulations.

          • Nir June 25, 2012, 8:42 PM

            Since Iran wasn’t in the list of countries in the top comment, my comment is corrent – None of the countries in the list above Have this goals. Only Iran.

          • Nir is almost on a winning streak June 26, 2012, 1:35 AM

            Nir: “my comment is corrent ”

            You have correctly demonstrated the first part of your claim. You have made not the slightest attempt to demonstrate the second part of your claim.

            Sooooo: half correct

            Which is actually infinitely better than your usual efforts. Well done.

        • lifelong June 25, 2012, 4:25 PM

          Now you’re just blabbering drivel…

          • lifelong June 25, 2012, 4:26 PM

            Above comment is to NIR.

      • Donald June 25, 2012, 8:22 AM

        Well, to be fair, some think Israel might have helped apartheid South Africa acquire the Bomb, so there might be one example of one government helping a like-minded racist ally obtain nukes. But I can’t think of any others.

        • Nir June 25, 2012, 8:49 PM

          Well, some think the US is responsible for killing millions world wide in the past 60 years for absolutely no good reason (Vietnam, Afganistan, Iraq). so there might be one example of one government with citizens who think they have the right to critize other countries for action much (MUCH) less horrible then what their own tax money finance. Its called Hypocrisy i think …

          • Richard Silverstein June 25, 2012, 11:25 PM

            Blah, blah, blah. This idiot nonsense has been tried here countless times by the hasbara brigade diverting attention from the issues. This comment is OFF-TOPIC. ANother comment rule violation. Now you are moderated. ANy future violations will lead to your banning.

          • Nir is almost on a winning streak June 26, 2012, 1:38 AM

            Nir: “Its called Hypocrisy i think …”

            No, it’s called “a straw man”.

          • Donald June 26, 2012, 11:04 AM

            Funny thing, Nir, is that a great many Americans who criticize Israel agree with your criticism of America here. I’m one of them. That’s because we see our unwavering support for your apartheid state as yet another shameful example of our hypocrisy on human rights.

            I never fail to be amazed at this form of hasbara. I first started noticing it several years ago and the funny thing is it is basically the kind of thing Noam Chomsky would write, except that Noam would of course link America’s atrocious behavior elsewhere with its support for Israel’s atrocious behavior. Noam is logical–you are not.

    • Richard Silverstein June 25, 2012, 2:31 AM

      You didn’t even bother to read Waltz’s article, did you? It shows.

      • Nir June 25, 2012, 8:43 PM

        I did. Sorry to dissapoint you.

        • Richard Silverstein June 25, 2012, 11:24 PM

          You don’t disappoint me. You fulfill every expectation I have for a propagandist like you. Now, the next time you break the rules your comments won’t be published.

  • Matthew Graber June 24, 2012, 5:44 AM

    If you enjoyed this blog post by Richard, you’ll certainly not like the analysis by Islamophobe and Israel-apologist Daniel Pipes. But if you didn’t enjoy this post, perhaps you should head over to Daniel Pipes’ blog and find his analysis on the Waltz article.

    “Kenneth Waltz – The Stupidest Strategist?” by Daniel Pipes. http://www.danielpipes.org/blog/2012/07/kenneth-n-waltz-the-stupidest-strategist

    • lifelong June 24, 2012, 9:05 AM

      I suppose Pipes’ idea of ‘analysis’ is telling Waltz to keep his mouth shut…

      • OperationRedPill.com Staff June 24, 2012, 4:23 PM

        Truth hurts the evil.

      • Richard Silverstein June 25, 2012, 2:32 AM

        That’s actually the advice I had for Pipes, but why even bother? Let him flap his gums and make himself look like the utter fool he is.

    • Gotta love that photo of Pipes June 24, 2012, 5:57 PM

      Gotta admire Pipes for one thing: he revels in striking a pose that makes him look like a villian out of a James Bond movie.

      I guess if you are a meglomaniac then there isn’t much point trying to hide it….

    • Richard Silverstein June 25, 2012, 2:30 AM

      I guess that means Daniel Pipes is an expert in “stupidity.” He knows it when he sees it and when he IS it!

  • rfjk June 24, 2012, 11:09 AM

    >>>Barack Obama could learn considerably<<<

    Obama plays tough across the negotiation table, but pulls the Israelis up by their short hairs every time they threaten attacking Iran. Maybe he already has and is deliberately misleading everyone to his true intentions.

  • OperationRedPill.com Staff June 24, 2012, 4:22 PM

    Great post, Richard. In true, triangular fashion, Waltz shows how the argument against Iran is inept.

    But, we should still not fall into the semantic trap of thinking Iran even wants a nuclear bomb. Iran has vehemently denied this, called several times instead for Israel to at least cooperate to the level Iran has cooperated with the IAEA for nearly a decade now, and to show proof for the accusations, for which Israel has provided zilch.

  • bran June 25, 2012, 3:37 PM

    why are you so keen to protect the islamic regim with the worst human rights record in the world?

    • lysias June 26, 2012, 1:47 PM

      I don’t recall Richard defending the Saudi regime.

      • Richard Silverstein June 26, 2012, 7:26 PM

        One of the more delightful smears of me involved me rolling in petrodollars offered to me by Saudi sheikhs. I guess I better know which side my bread is buttered on & start defending my “friends” in Riyadh! For the irony challenged among you, that was a joke.

  • bran June 25, 2012, 3:43 PM

    the islamic regime of iran has e very lousy track record fomenting war and killing hundreds of thousnd irainians, persecuting woman, raping prisnores, stoning and amputating convicts etc. . real ‘tikun olsm’ whill be bringing democracy to iran.

    • Richard Silverstein June 25, 2012, 7:02 PM

      I don’t mind people presenting opposing views to mine about any issue here. But when you spout nonsense, make up claims, facts or otherwise, you waste everyone’s time. Comments here must contain facts, not claims.

      • bran June 26, 2012, 5:18 AM

        i think you dont realy know to much about recent iranian history? did you read the writings of the holy sayed ayyatolla rullah komeini? the holy man is a great comunicater. he expresses himself very clearly about his plans for iran and for the western world.

        the islamic regim murderd hundreds of thounds of its own citizens. i am surprissed you dont know that.

        • Richard Silverstein June 26, 2012, 2:42 PM

          I think you don’t know much about Iranian history, or anything for that matter.

          Since you’re repeating a lie offered by another commenter yesterday which I pointed out was a lie. And since you, like him, haven’t offered a shred of evidence to support it, which I insisted that he do, you too are moderated. Again, read the comment rules. If you make a claim, you support it. YOu prove it’s a fact. Since your claim is a lie, don’t bother. But if God forbid you do come up with credible evidence, let us know. Till then, you’re moderated.