Why Iran Should Get the Bomb: the argument “For”


“…they are peacemaking weaponsnuclear weapons bring peace.” 


Introduction: The past two issues of Foreign Affairs highlighted articles that advocate nuclear proliferation. The first article recommends a policy of non-interference, anticipating the Iranian program will eventually self-destruct. The second promotes the Iranian Bomb as a “stabilizing” force for peace. I described the contradiction between Obama’s stated policy of non-proliferation and his administration’s failure to apply it to the Iranian weapons program in an article that appeared in my Times of Israel blog, How the US allowed the Iranian bomb. Taken together, the two FP articles throw light on the quality and relevance of American think tanks advising executive, diplomatic and military decision-makers in the United States Government. Taken together the authors provide a unique insight into what, at best, can be described as a decade-long series of policy blunders arriving today at the spectacle of “the world’s only superpower” near paralyzed as Syria devolves into civil war, the country dividing into religious cantons. 


On the surface the inclusion of the two articles might raise concerns regarding the journal’s editorial judgment. But on reflection both author’s positions are not far from, and may even be trailing actual government policy. 


While I limit my criticisms to the present and preceding administrations, it is important to note that it was not the Russians, nor the Italians who first broke ground for the Bushehr nuclear power plant, but the United States: 

“The nuclear program of Iran was launched in the 1950s with the help of the United States as part of the Atoms for Peace program.” 


And while it is unclear whether it was the Clinton or Bush administration that was first to choose to ignore Iran’s nuclear weapons project (or an even earlier president), “ignoring” the problem most obviously became a policy decision with the presidency of George W. Bush. 


Following Bush’s premature declaration of victory in Iraq, American generals were complaining as early as 2003 that Iran was funding, training and even leading insurgents in attacks on American forces. But the president was apparently more concerned with limiting the bad press of casualty reports than responding to the Iranians. And this may also explain his limiting response to the Iranian bomb program to “harsh” words and no action. 


 Guess who started building Bushehr?


Obama’s response to Iranian provocation has intentionally been the Bush opposite, “soft” words; and again, no action. The predictable result has been a continuation of policy disaster upon policy disaster; an emboldened Iran responding to continuing temerity with increading defiance. Even today American policy is seemingly paralyzed facing the Iranian Revolutionary Guard in Syria.


In Botching the Bomb, “Why Nuclear Weapons Programs Often Fail on Their Own — and Why Iran’s Might, Too,” Jaques Hymans recommends against any interference with Iran’s weapons program. According to Hymans internal program factors will result in failure anyway. Hymans refers to North Korea and Sadam’s Iraq to illustrate. In the case of N. Korea the harshest, most strictly enforced sanctions had no impact on the decision, once taken, to pursued the bomb. And Iraq represents the classic case of an authoritarian regime bringing about the programs failure by imposing unachievable political deadlines resulting in quashing scientific creativity and chaos in the program. And so Hymans arrives at his conclusion that Second and Third World countries are unlikely to succeed, and so “Iran Might, Too…


“Therefore, taking radical steps to rein in Iran would 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.” [all italics in the article are author-added]


One argument against inaction, against Hymans forlorn hope is that, by all available evidence, the United States has never been ahead of the intelligence curve regarding Iran’s nuclear program. In the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate on Iran report to the president concluded, “with confidence,” that Iran had abandoned its weapons program in 2003. It reaffirmed that conclusion in its 2011 NIE!


If American intelligence has no clear idea of the program itself, how assess the progress of Hymans’ hoped for assertion that, “the Iranian nuclear program’s worst enemies – Iran’s political leaders. From outward appearances, and judging by their ability to “play” and manipulate American negotiators, if the mullah’s are half as adept at managing their scientists as they are American policy-makers then they may secretly already have that “future” nuclear device. According to some reports, they may already have been tested a device in North Korea.




The mushroom cloud of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, Japan on August 9, 1945 rose some 18 kilometers (11 mi) above the bomb''s hypocenter, (Wikipedia)


In Why Iran Should Get the Bomb Kenneth Waltz argues that, “Nuclear Balancing [between Israel and Iran] Would Mean Stability.” John Mearsheimer, an admirer of the 89 year old Waltz, agrees: “a nuclear-armed Iran would bring stability to the Middle East.”


Mearsheimer describes the elder Waltz as, “the most important international relations theorist of the past 50 years.” But advocating nuclear proliferation as a means to achieve world peace? Shortly after his FP article appeared Waltz sat for an interview on NPR. That interview provides an opportunity to get into the mind of this “most important” theorist, and assess his impact on decades of decision-makers and their advisers.    


[Interviewer] How is it possible that a nuclear-armed Iran makes the Mideast a safer place? Waltz maintains that if Israel remains the sole country with nuclear weapons, “the situation in the area will be unstable.” Apparently both he and Mearsheimer choose not to comment on the obvious: that instability exists it is more likely the result of Israel’s conventional military superiority. Certainly Israel’s assumed nuclear arsenal, although for more than half a century, providing no apparent deterrence to an enemy bent on war. Fifty years and counting: from where the point at which, “the situation in the area will be unstable,” and still no evidence of the expert’s nuclear “instability”?


And while what follows may sound like the reasoning of Dr. Stangelove, keep in mind that Waltz is, “the most important international relations theorist of the past 50 years,” teacher and inspiration to generations of presidential advisers.


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.”


[Interviewer] 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, safely housed seven to ten thousand miles away from the mullahs, to face immediate threat from a nuclear Iran. Certainly no more than they are to suffer the consequences of the Arab Spring and its Islamist democracies.


[Interviewer] 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/Mearsheimer expertise does not extend beyond their own writings; they appear totally uninformed of events in the region available in the open media.


The Saudis whom Waltz sees increasingly “dependent” on America for protection, apparently are unaware of Waltz warning, of the reliability of their American protectors. In fact the Saudis have long since begun acting to counter the imbalance caused by… the Iranian bomb. News reports suggest they may already have purchased one or more nuclear weapons from Pakistan. There are also reports of similar possibilities regarding China. The Saudis long ago indicated their determination to counter an eventual Iranian bomb with a Saudi bomb.


It is instructive, Professors Waltz/Mearsheimer, that although Israel is thought to have a nuclear arsenal, of having had it for more than a half-century, that never did the Saudis considered the need to counter that threat with an Arab bomb. In fact after 50 years, Israel’s assumed nuclear arsenal never provoked Waltz’ anticipated situation of regional instability. But Iran has.



With the United States apparently dazed dealing even with the day to day events of the Arab Spring it helped midwife; with the Obama Administration entering its fourth year in failed negotiations with Iran, preceded by more than a decade of hesitancy to confront Iranian military challenges in Iraq, Afghanistan and now Syria: if Waltz truly believes that the United States today represents a convincing defense shield to its “allies” in the Middle East then it is no wonder that the result of such deductive ability, the advice of those who view Waltz “dean of foreign policy theory,” that the result is successive American policy failures and ignominious retreat.


The Saudis whom Waltz considers still dependent on the United States for protection; the Saudis, of all regional American “allies,” was first to openly express doubt regarding American competence and will and staying power. They were the first to call attention to America’s smoke and mirrors “regional defense shield.” In 2002 they and the Israelis (and the Egyptians and virtually all other regional leaders) tried to discourage Bush from attacking Iraq. But the president chose to follow his own “inner voice.” That Bush’s “instincts” then guided him to replace Iraq’s Sunni regime allied with the Saudis and other Sunni states against Iran, with a Shiite regime related by religion with their Iranian enemy could only serve to deepen and justify those suspicions.


In 2011, nearly a decade later, a new American president would follow his “inner voice” over the warnings of Arabs and Israelis and force Hosni Mubarak from office; Mubarak, who had been America’s principal long-term Arab ally and defender of its regional interests. And, like his predecessor, Obama appeared publicly convinced by the assurances of the regime-in-waiting, the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, of their sane and good intentions.



Other writings related to this issue:


1. How the Us allowed the Iranian bomb

2. Following a long tradition of blaming Israel, the Obama Administration…

3. America''s Deconstruction of the Middle East: from Bush’s Iraq to Obama’s Egypt