Introduction: The journal Foreign Affairs, a staple of Government reading, in its latest two issues led off with articles regarding the Iranian bomb that, on the surface, raise questions regarding the credibility of the periodical: highlight authors promoting nuclear proliferation? But the discussion is not so far-fetched as first appears. In fact, the authors are trailing government policy responding to Iran’s relentless and public pursuit of the bomb. In fact the policy originated at least with the Bush Administration following its not quite victory in Iraq beginning 2003. In fact the US seems confused precisely how to respond to the brazen actions of the Islamic Republic since US forces found themselves bogged down in the sands ofIraq fighting insurgents funded, trained and sometimes led by officers of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.
The first of the two Foreign Affairs articles, Botching the Bomb, Why Nuclear Weapons Programs Often Fail on Their Own — and Why Iran’s Might, Too, By Jaques Hymans recommends against interfering with Iran’s weapons program since, the author suggests, various factors mitigate against success anyway. Hymans uses North Korea and Sadam’s Iraq as examples first, that sanctions fail to impact the decision to begin with (n. Korea) and in the case of Iraq, political authoritarianism suppresses the creativity of the scientific base, forces unachievable deadlines which only lead to confusion and delay. And so Hymans arrives at his conclusion that Second and Third World countries are unlikely to succeed anyway, and, “Iran Might, Too.”
“Therefore,” according to Hymans, “taking radical steps to rein in Iranwould be not only risky but also potentially counterproductive, and much less likely to succeed than the simplest policy of all: getting out of the way and allowing the Iranian nuclear program’s worst enemies -Iran’s political leaders — to hinder the country’s nuclear progress all by themselves.”
According to authoritative reports the United States is not exactly ahead of the intelligence curve regarding Iran’s nuclear program, and the 2007/2011 National Intelligence Estimates on Iran amply demonstrate. So how assess the impact of,” the Iranian nuclear program’s worst enemies – Iran’s political leaders,” to muck up the works? From outward appearances, if the mullah’s are half as adept at managing their scientists as they have demonstrated in managing negotiations with the United States then they may actually have, as some reports suggest, already tested a nuclear device in North Korea.
The second, more recent and even more provocative article in the July/August edition of Foreign Policy., Why Iran Should Get the Bomb, by Kenneth Waltz . In it the author would allow Iran to develop the bomb, suggesting that, “Nuclear Balancing Would Mean Stability.” In debating the Waltz article with Dov Zakheim, John Mearsheimer agrees with Waltz that, “a nuclear-armed Iran would bring stability to the Middle East.”
The 89 year old Waltz is described by Mearsheim as, “the most important international relations theorist of the past 50 years.” I am not in a position to judge Waltz’ stature, but since the FP article seems to arrive at such unlikely conclusions looking at the article’s underlying assumptions as revealed in an NPR interview soon after the article appeared might be worth considering.
How is it possible that a nuclear-armed Iran makes the Mideast a safer place?
By being the sole country in the region to possess nuclear weapons, “the situation in the area will be unstable.” Apparently the dean of international relations theorists and his student choose not to comment on the fact that, beyond the strategic imbalance of Israel’s conventional military, that its supposed possession of nuclear weapons for half a century, apparently, in itself, never created Waltz’ “unstable situation.”
But let us allow Waltz to continue his explanation for the benefits of a nuclear-armed Iran.
“Never has there been an instance in almost 70 years now of the nuclear era in which a nuclear capable country has attacked the obvious vital interest of another nuclear state… In other words, they are peacemaking weapons… nuclear weapons bring peace.”
The prevailing wisdom among many here in Washington is that nuclear weapons would embolden Iran…
“We now have nine or 10 nuclear states and in each case the effect of their getting nuclear weapons has been to calm things down… Obtaining nuclear weapons is a sobering event.”
Which, I suspect, few would argue against. On the other hand our “nuclear optimists” are no more likely to face immediate threat from a nuclear Iran than from an Islamist Egypt.
Wouldn’t a nuclear-armed Iran spark a Mideast arms race?
“The fact is that nuclear weapons stop arms races… The Saudis are much better off relying on us (the U.S.) than getting their own nuclear weapons. … It would in fact solidify their reliance on the United States.”
Apparently Waltz/Mearsheim do not follow events in the region very closely so would also be unaware that apparently the Saudis, clearly announcing their awareness of regional instability caused by the anticipated Iranian bomb appear to have contracted nuclear devices from Pakistan and are exploring the same with China, to counter the threat. They have already indicated the intention to develop their own bomb should Iran go nuclear. It is instructive, Professors Waltz/Mearsheim, that although Israel is suspected of having a nuclear arsenal, of having had it for more than a half-century, that never did the Saudis considered the need to protect itself from an Israeli “threat.”
With the United States “dazed and confused” in dealing even with the day to day events of an Arab Spring it helped midwife; two successive US administrations uncertain how even to “negotiate” with Iran over its nuclear weapons program; to say nothing of consistent US hesitation confronting that country’s open military challenges over nearly a decade in Iraq and now in Syria: if Waltz truly believes that the United States today represents a convincing defense shield to its “allies” in the Middle East, and if he is, as Mearsheim characterizes him, the dean of American foreign policy theorists, then it is no wonder the US is in retreat in the region.
The Saudis, of all regional “allies,” openly expressed skepticism regarding the ever-dissolving American defense shield when, in his wisdom, Bush replaced Iraq’s Sunnis regime allied with the Sunni states of the Arabian Peninsula with a Shiite regime by religion allied with its Shiite neighbor to the east, Iran; when Obama forced America’s long-time ally Hosni Mubarak, protector of American regional interests, from office expressing faith in the expressed good intentions of the Muslim Brotherhood.