Opinion

Bernd Debusmann

What if Iran gets the bomb?

By Bernd Debusmann
June 22, 2012

The West worries too much about the prospect of Iran going nuclear. If it did get the bomb, the Middle East would probably become a more stable region. So says Kenneth Waltz, a veteran scholar, in an essay in one of America’s most influential magazines.

“Why Iran Should get the Bomb,” says the headline in Foreign Affairs, the house organ of the Council on Foreign Relations, a New York think tank. “Nuclear Balancing Would Mean Stability.”

The author is a senior research scholar at the Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies. His contrarian essay coincides with yet another unsuccessful round of negotiations between Iran and the so-called P5+1 group of countries who insist the government in Tehran must do more to prove that its nuclear program is peaceful, as it claims, rather than intended to build weapons.

The talks this week in Moscow brought Iranian negotiators together with officials from the United States, China, Russia, France, Britain and Germany. The negotiations produced no breakthrough and no sign of compromise. New U.S. and European sanctions, including a ban on Iranian oil imports, are coming into force next month. Whether they will be more likely to make Iran bow to Western demands than previous turns of the sanctions screw is open to doubt. What next?

“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,” Waltz writes. “In fact, it would probably be the best possible result: the one most likely to restore stability in the Middle East.”

He dismisses U.S. and Israeli warnings that a nuclear Iran would be a uniquely terrifying prospect. “Such language is typical of major powers, which have historically gotten riled up whenever another country has begun to develop a nuclear weapon of its own. Yet so far, every time another country has managed to shoulder its way into the nuclear club, the other members…decided to live with it.”

What’s more, “by reducing imbalances in military power, new nuclear states generally produce more regional and international stability, not less.” Cases in point: China, which became less bellicose after becoming a nuclear power in 1964; Pakistan and India, which signed a treaty agreeing not to target each other’s nuclear facilities and have kept the peace since then.

In the Middle East, according to this view, Israel’s undeclared nuclear arsenal has produced an imbalance in power that is “unsustainable in the long term What is surprising in the Israeli case is that it has taken so long for a potential balancer to emerge.”

If Iran eventually went nuclear, the argument goes, Israel and Iran would deter each other the same way nuclear powers elsewhere have deterred each other – viz the United States and the Soviet Union or India and Pakistan.

Since 1945, when the United States dropped nuclear bombs on Japan, no country with nuclear weapons has used them.

NUCLEAR IRAN INEVITABLE?

It’s not difficult to find officials in Washington who think that a nuclear Iran is inevitable but decline to say so on the record because President Barack Obama has declared, repeatedly, that an Iranian bomb would be unacceptable and that containment of a nuclear Iran was not an option for his administration.

While views such as Waltz’s are not often aired in public in the U.S., experts both inside and outside the government have long pondered what would happen “the day after.” That could mean the day after Iran reached nuclear “breakout” – the ability to make a bomb at short notice – or the day after it tested a bomb.

All this is based on an unproven assumption: that Iran’s theocratic rulers have decided to build nuclear weapons. U.S. intelligence agencies admit they don’t know.

Think tanks both in the United States and Israel have run “day after” simulations that assumed what both countries have pledged to prevent – Iran succeeding in making a bomb despite ever tighter sanctions, sabotage of nuclear installations and assassinations of scientists. One of the questions addressed in such war games is the extent to which nuclear weapons would shield Iran from attack.

A recent simulation run by Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies had the following scenario: Iran conducts an underground nuclear test in January 2013, after expelling inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency and after a series of provocative maneouvres by Iranian Revolutionary Guard naval vessels and aircraft against forces of the U.S. Fifth Fleet.

“In our assessment,” wrote the authors of the report on the exercise, Yoel Guzanski and Yonathan Lerner, ” the actual likelihood of an attack on Iran once Iran is in possession of proven nuclear capability decreases dramatically, although (it is) not entirely eliminated.”

That sounds in synch with Waltz’s thesis that Israel and Iran would deter each other. Whether that would bring stability to the perpetually unstable Middle East is another matter.

Comments
36 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

The unique aspect of Iran’s possession of nuclear weapons is the religious one. The atheist Soviet Union could be trusted not to start a war on mutual assured destruction. But the Iranian leadership may very well believe in what their religon plainly teaches — and which we have seen acted on again and again to Western astonishment — that embracing death in the cause of Islam brings eternal rewards. If we had not already seen the 9/11 terror acted out by actors willing to commit suicide, it would be hard to believe it possible. But it obviously is.

If there is any reason to believe that Iran would not use the bomb against Israel, it is simply that it would be impossible not to destroy the a Palestinian homeland as well, and certainly many, many Arabs living in Israel proper.

Posted by From_California | Report as abusive
 

The unique aspect of Iran’s possession of nuclear weapons is the religious one. The atheist Soviet Union could be trusted not to start a war on mutual assured destruction. But the Iranian leadership may very well believe in what their religon plainly teaches — and which we have seen acted on again and again to Western astonishment — that embracing death in the cause of Islam brings eternal rewards. If we had not already seen the 9/11 terror acted out by actors willing to commit suicide, it would be hard to believe it possible. But it obviously is.

If there is any reason to believe that Iran would not use the bomb against Israel, it is simply that it would be impossible not to destroy the a Palestinian homeland as well, and certainly many, many Arabs living in Israel proper.

Posted by From_California | Report as abusive
 

From_California post doesn’t make sense at all. Its twisted logic is saying that Iran wants nuclear bomb because “embracing death in the cause of Islam brings eternal rewards”.

The example of 911 also doesn’t make sense as those who committed(and still commit) these acts are all Sunni Muslims from countries friendly to and traditionally allies to US/West, not Shi’ia Muslims.

As for the “religious unique aspect of Iran’s ALLEGED possession of nuclear bomb”, Iranian religious leaders have clearly stated that weapons of mass destruction are against their religious principles.

The rejection of WMD by Iranian officials has been glossed over by the Western media. On the other hand, had they stated that they needed a nuclear bomb for some reason, this position would have been repeated ad infinum in every article on this issue.

As an outside observer, not an Arab, not a Muslim, I see that Iranian officials are rational types. I believe them them when they say they don’t need a bomb.

I personally believe that Western countries are using the fake nuclear issue to harrass Iran and keep the ME in a state of constant instability.

Posted by Fromkin | Report as abusive
 

Obviously, Iran is not a country filled with 9/11 terrorists. This is a mistaken view assembled entirely out of imagination and prejudice, not reality.

Still, the article strikes me as shallow, too. If Iran obtains nukes, their relationship with Israel might be perceived as one of mutual deterrence, but it’s Iran’s relationship with Sunni nations that will be unbalanced. Saudi Arabia and others may take a serious interest in obtaining counterbalancing weapons of their own, and that means further proliferation.

It’s also an error to contemplate nuclear proliferation in terms only of intentions. Mistakes happen. The more nations who possess nukes, the more mistakes we are likely to see. Misunderstandings, miscommunications, misjudgments, an officer who suffers a psychotic episode, software control glitches, breakdowns in physical security, aircraft accidents… the world is simply more dangerous with more nuclear-armed states. That really ought to be factored into any analysis which pretends to offer a conclusive recommendation.

Posted by Urgelt | Report as abusive
 

Hypocrisy, double standards and bullying are the new international norms, practiced ad nauseaeum by the United States. THE WHOLE WORLD is looking on, and murmuring about the bullying and blustering, the heavy handedness, the blatant illegality, and arrogance of those wilting “super-powers” clinging to their front row seats on expired tickets….powers administering warped justice, from which they themselves are exempt, fomenting war and revolutions, destroying entire countries, killing at will without accountability, spewing lies and propaganda, trying to convince their cynical and jaded audiences that they are acting “for the better good.” Desperately manouvering to ward off the inevitable……!!!!!

Posted by jbx | Report as abusive
 

Foolish essay ….. written by another garden variety wannabe intellectual philosopher.

Posted by Lemming | Report as abusive
 

What I do believe is that one should take the leadership of Iran deadly serious, and believe that they do what they say. What have they said? That Israel will be erased from the map of the planet. Gaza, Lebanon and Jordan would be affected as well. That is how small Israel is, and that doesn’t seem to deter Iran in their way of speaking and behaviour. Iran has also hinted at destruction in Europe and of US interest in ME.
The only reason Iran has not nuked Israel yet, is that they do not have a bomb to nuke them with. That is what they say they will. Take them serious, please.

Posted by WhatIBelieve | Report as abusive
 

Have some people in this debate simply lost their minds? There is no good outcome to be had from nuclear proliferation across the planet. Only someone who knows nothing of human events and the operational history of nuclear weapons could manufacture such pen and paper fantasy.

Posted by Thucydides | Report as abusive
 

Iran doesn’t yet have the bomb and already the prospect is causing Saudi Arabia and others in the region to race to obtain nukes so as to be prepared for when Iran has them. This is the author’s definition of “stable”, I guess. What the hell passes for brains with so-called analysts who write this garbage?

The possession of WMD by so-called stable powers has massively destabilized our geopolitical world since the end of WWII. Every less-stable, or radical state that obtains them, like Pakistan and North Korea, only profoundly adds to instability. The author needs to change his vocation to something far easier and that requires almost no intellect.

Posted by NukerDoggie | Report as abusive
 

Iran, as a sovereign nation, has the right to develop nuclear technology (including nuclear weapons, if they so choose).

Everyone else needs to adjust to that fact.

Failure to do so will likely bring on what the world supposedly fears most — war in the Middle East.

I find it interesting that there is no mention of the danger posed by North Korea in having nuclear weapons.

Compared to Iran, North Korea is a “nutcase” that should rightly be feared.

Posted by Gordon2352 | Report as abusive
 

Anyone who would describe the leaders of Iran as rational actors – is in complete out of touch with reality.

Israel does not pledge the destruction of all Islamic states on a weekly basis. But bigoted Iranian leaders regularly screech these types of threats against Israel.

Reuters desperately needs to find some opinion columnists who are not leftist extremists, and apologists for Islamist extremism.

Posted by Parker1227 | Report as abusive
 

Anyone who would describe the leaders of Iran as rational actors – is in complete out of touch with reality.

Israel does not pledge the destruction of all Islamic states on a weekly basis. But bigoted Iranian leaders regularly screech these types of threats against Israel.

Reuters desperately needs to find some opinion columnists who are not leftist extremists, and apologists for Islamist extremism.

Posted by Parker1227 | Report as abusive
 

Anyone who would describe the leaders of Iran as rational actors – is in complete out of touch with reality.

Israel does not pledge the destruction of all Islamic states on a weekly basis. But bigoted Iranian leaders regularly screech these types of threats against Israel.

Reuters desperately needs to find some opinion columnists who are not leftist extremists, and apologists for Islamist extremism.

Posted by Parker1227 | Report as abusive
 

Anyone who would describe the leaders of Iran as rational actors – is in complete out of touch with reality.

Israel does not pledge the destruction of all Islamic states on a weekly basis. But bigoted Iranian leaders regularly screech these types of threats against Israel.

Reuters desperately needs to find some opinion columnists who are not leftist extremists, and apologists for Islamist extremism.

Posted by Parker1227 | Report as abusive
 

@Gordon2352: They had the right to develop these capabilities themselves; but then they signed the NPT (presumably to gain access to foreign nuclear technology), and then broke the NPT agreement – showing bad faith. Since then, they have only admitted as much to the international community as they have been forced to admit, or, as much as they have discovered that their “enemies” had already been apprised of. These actions are not consistent with peaceful intentions, and are fully worthy of the international suspicions that are still growing at this time.

Posted by matthewslyman | Report as abusive
 

There is little reason to think that people hostile to your / anyone’s interests will not come to control any of the world’s vast military machines. How many American’s feel like the Washington Government is “on their side”?? You can be sure it is a smallish minority.

There is also no doubt whatsoever that Iran is no more friendly to ordinary Americans than Israel is. Only our rulers see a difference between them, for some reason. Neither are our friends.

Posted by usagadfly | Report as abusive
 

@Gordon2352: Regarding “rights” naturally belonging to “sovereign nations”… These are quite debatable.

Supposing we consider the case of a theoretical microstate called “Megalomania”. Despite being inherently a relatively small dog in terms of their international influence in trade, diplomacy etc.; the leaders of Megalomania feel this does not reflect their rightful place in the world and that this state of affairs dishonors their ancient and once great nation; and want to “big up” their influence.
So they indoctrinate their people and starve them economically whilst throwing boat-loads of money at a nuclear weapons program designed to blackmail the proclaimed “enemies” they have been using for domestic political purposes.

There is more than one nation that has trodden this path. Is it really the natural right of the leaders of all “sovereign nations”, to do this?

~~~

FROM THE ARTICLE:

“Since 1945, when the United States dropped nuclear bombs on Japan, no country with nuclear weapons has used them.”

Let’s not forget that the United States was a pacifist, neutral country w.r.t. the 2nd World War and other “European” conflicts. They were forced into the war against their will by the Japanese – a nation that had been indoctrinated with a vicious, murderous, nihilist, nationalist propaganda; and which had been mobilized into actual, open, unprovoked large-scale warfare against the United States. Strategically, even if you think in terms of long-term survival only (the most basic human need); the United States had little choice but to develop and deploy the nuclear bomb.

Is Iran in the same position as the United States was then? Or is their position closer to that of 1930′s Japan? (I make no presumption here – this is an honest question.)

You cannot justify Iran’s increasingly obvious pursuit of nuclear weapons (or at least, their nuclear brinkmanship), by the United States possession of these weapons since 1945/6 (a track record that has now 65 years worth of comparatively responsible stewardship.)

Posted by matthewslyman | Report as abusive
 

Iran supports and arms terrorists. It would be a big problem if terrorists got a hold of nuclear radioactive materials, or some small nukes for that matter. Iranian government is irresponsible and evil minded. I could only imagine how many threats Iran would be making daily if they had nukes. That should shake up the markets until WW3 starts.

Posted by T.A.C | Report as abusive
 

Anyone who thinks Iran with nukes is not a guarantee of war in the middle east is a fool. The comments here are littered with anti-semitic drivel.

Posted by perfessa | Report as abusive
 

DOES THE AMERICAN PUBLIC REALLY CARE? HELL NO! this is just another wailing wall for the politicans to use to divert us from their incompotentence. did their ranting and raving stop pakistan or india? or north korea? did they condemn Isreal? WHY DONT THEY SHUT UP AND DO THEIR JOBS?

Posted by kehenalife | Report as abusive
 

theyre bad people so they cant have a bomb. theyre bad people because they wont do what we tell them. WHAT RIGHT DO WE HAVE TO TELL ANY OTHER COUNTRY WHAT TO DO?

Posted by kehenalife | Report as abusive
 

theyre bad people so they cant have a bomb. theyre bad people because they wont do what we tell them. WHAT RIGHT DO WE HAVE TO TELL ANY OTHER COUNTRY WHAT TO DO?

Posted by kehenalife | Report as abusive
 

The author has gone stupid like a majority of the world.

Reality Check

If Iran gets nuclear weapons, it will either use them or extort the middle east and the rest of the world.

The United States will either have to give in to evil demands or wipe Iran out, with a possibility of Israel suffering a nuclear strike which would end the nation.

Is this a chance any good, sane person wants to take?

Absolutely not. The only workable solution is to give Iran one chance to totally disarm or be totally wiped out.

Censorship is evil.

Posted by ALLSOLUTIONS | Report as abusive
 

Are you insane? You are writing under the assumption that the Iranian regime is reasonable when time and time again they have proven not to be. If Iran gets the bomb, eventually it will get into the hands of terrorists who they ardently support and you can say goodbye to an Israeli or American city. This is yet another example of the disconnect academia has to the real world.

Posted by TheMrSid | Report as abusive
 

i have question that who give the right to usa that it can made and blast atomic bomb but not others

Posted by younas | Report as abusive
 

Why do they pay complete idiots to spout such ignorance?..Mr Debusman are you really that moronic to believe that the US, Israel, and Arab Nations fear Iran using the bomb?. There are many ways to use a nuclear bomb…Dropping one is the least productive method…Iran will use the bomb as an extortion tool, and a pick to meddle in the affairs of the world..The Saudis know it, The Kuwaitis know it, Russia, china, and every world leader knows it…Somehow you are far to stupid to see it or perhaps you think your readers are..You sir are imbecile who should not have a job.

Posted by Shadowwind71 | Report as abusive
 

What Iran will do with nuclear weapons is anybody’s gues. But Iran must get the benefit of doubt. They are a sovereign state and have every right to have them. The only people who have the right to stop this are Iranians themselves.

Bad luck that Israel, Saudi Arabia and by proxy the USA, do not like it. They have to get used to the fact that they no longer control the world.

Iran, so far, has not done anything wrong apart from verbally upsetting Israel, and supporting Hamas and Hezbollah. That may be a crime in the US and their satellites, but not in the minds of balanced people.Israelis know better than anybody else that freedom comes through violence.

Posted by aussie66 | Report as abusive
 

Iran wants to be a force to be reckoned with.

Just like France (bomb) and UK (bomb). Delusional, but the way of the world.
Worse is Pakistan. Well, India has a bomb so why not Pakistan?
China, Russia, ?N.Korea.

Of course Iran should be allowed the bomb. It won’t use it. It’s a common bit of nationalism.

Posted by seymourfrogs | Report as abusive
 

@ matthewslyman & ALLSOLUTIONS, it seems you guys are apologists for all of America’s actions. There are only two countries in the region that have started most of the wars, Isreal and the USA. Let s be honest, we are the greatest source of instability in the ME.

Iran has every right to have a nuclear bomb. Isreal has nuclear weapons and constantly threatens the Iranian government. It is only logical that they seek a nuclear deterrent.

Posted by KyleDexter | Report as abusive
 

Operation Starfish anyone? It was the americans that created a new radiation belt around the planet that took out 33% of all satellites at the time. Bet you were not taught THAT in school.

It was also the americans that first used nuclear weapons on a civilian population. Twice.

It is the americans today that are researching the miniaturization of nuclear warheads to make them more useable.

It is the americans/french that proliferated nuclear technology to the Zionists (a religious cult no different than the leaders of Iran) and shelters them from inspection or even so much as declaration.

And yet the americans have the unmitigated gall to point their radioactive fingers at another country?!? Puh-lease!

Posted by stambo2001 | Report as abusive
 

I think we can safely dismiss Iran’s insistence that their purposes are entirely peaceful. If this were the case there would be no need to display the equipment that is necessary to build weapons and not necessary for the deployment of reactors for peaceful generation of electricity. Why, then, should Iran seek to possess nuclear weapons? What advantage would the actual use of nuclear bombs afford Iran?

Is seems to me that, as with Pakistan and India, and the US and USSR, the possession of nuclear weapons is a bargaining chip in world diplomacy and may be actually a deterrent to their use. It is the possession of the weapons that is key and not the actual use. The fact is that no one, US or USSR or anyone else who has ever had them has ever used them in 65 years since Japan in 1945. This is not to deny the possibility or that a terrorist could obtain one and use it for some horrific political demonstration. We live with this always now. No one in leadership of any established country, though, could use them without the expectation of total annihilation. We count on this sensibility. In addition, the weapons represent too much political power to be for sale or transfer to anyone other than the possessor.

Let’s examine the practicality of Iran using atomic bombs. If Iran uses a nuclear weapon against Israel the fallout carried by the prevailing winds will surely ruin Jordan, Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Iran, itself. It would be more likely that Iran would export their capability to be used somewhere else, such as the United States or Europe. On the other hand, since the US knows where Iran is, and the US possesses 1000 times the nuclear destructive force that Iran ever will, does it seem prudent to threaten us with a bomb in New York or Washington, DC when retaliation is most assured even without our using atomic weapons in turn? We would surely retaliate even with conventional resources. The Gulf Wars have demonstrated that we cannot be defeated on the open battlefield and we will have no reason to want to ‘democratize’ Iran after the Iraq and Afghanistan debacles. What would be Iran’s benefit from the actual use of a nuclear weapon?

It is common knowledge that Israel possesses nuclear weapons. It has also enjoyed the unconditional support of the US. It is also in the history books that Israel will launch a military attack on any perceived threat in any country in the region. It is also history that Israel will take and annex any land it feels it can take with impunity. Given this history, is it any wonder that one or more countries would want to act to counter this threat to them? How would you recognize the intentions of Israel if you were a country adjacent to them? It would seem to me that Iran wants to tip the balance of power in the Middle East.

The possession of nuclear weapons by Iran would blunt the ability of Israel to strike. We have believed that through sanctions and penalties the US can ‘incentivise’ Iran to drop its nuclear program. Not likely, though. On the contrary, when the Iranians have a nuclear weapon, Iran can incentivize the US to force Israel into earnest negotiations with its Middle East neighbors or, at least, neutralize the one-sided situation that has existed since 1948. I am not naïve, however. I do not believe Iran is acting for the good of its neighbors. We will see how this plays-out in the future.

Posted by Bill_Greenlee | Report as abusive
 

I’m surprised this article ever made it onto the Internet, everyone seems so hell bent on Iran never acquiring nuclear capabilities. I think the world would survive if it did, as much as it survives in the first place. If we don’t get energy consumption, water reserves and food production under control most of us will be dead anyway, just not from nuclear fallout. We really do have more important issues to deal with than the yah-yahing in the Middle East, which surely everyone on the planet is tired of by now.

Posted by lhathaway | Report as abusive
 

Here’s the thing,Iran DOES NOT have a nuclear weapon. America just keeps saying that ” Iran is building a nuclear weapon.” but there is no proof at all. They do have low-grade radioactive supplies but they are not close to the weapon grade stuff that everyone is so worried about and is needed for a weapon. I feel there are much more important issues going on right now in the world then this. Let’s all work together and not apart.

Posted by endworld41 | Report as abusive
 

Iran has NEVER violated the NPT and its nuclear program is ENTIRELY legal: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/ 2011/jun/09/iran-nuclear-power-un-threat -peace

There is ZERO evidence that Iran is even interested in making nukes and Iran has consistently offered to place additional restrictions on its nuclear program that go well beyond what it is legally required to do — but these offers have been consistently ignored by the US which is using the “Iranian nuclear threat” issue as a pretext for regime change, just as “WMDs in Iraq” was just a pretext and a lie.

Posted by Hassani1387 | Report as abusive
 

Iran has NEVER violated the NPT and its nuclear program is ENTIRELY legal: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/ 2011/jun/09/iran-nuclear-power-un-threat -peace

There is ZERO evidence that Iran is even interested in making nukes and Iran has consistently offered to place additional restrictions on its nuclear program that go well beyond what it is legally required to do — but these offers have been consistently ignored by the US which is using the “Iranian nuclear threat” issue as a pretext for regime change, just as “WMDs in Iraq” was just a pretext and a lie.

Posted by Hassani1387 | Report as abusive
 

What if your neighbor starts shooting at your house? What if your wife is having an affair? What if aliens are watching you waiting for an opportune time to abduct you? What if Iraq was planning a sneak attack on the United States with its “secret weapons of mass destruction arsenal”.

Ha, ha, ha. What if the real problem is that the U.S. having hallucinations of weapons of mass destruction again?

Posted by politbureau | Report as abusive
 

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