Living with a nuclear Iran; a new approach through NATO - opinion

Although there is currently no effective policy to eliminate Iran’s nuclear facilities, there is an alternative: a more determined and united alliance – and one that already exists in NATO.

NATO SECRETARY-GENERAL Jens Stoltenberg holds a news conference to discuss ways to try to save the Iran nuclear deal, in Brussels, Belgium, last month. (photo credit: JOHANNA GERON/REUTERS)
NATO SECRETARY-GENERAL Jens Stoltenberg holds a news conference to discuss ways to try to save the Iran nuclear deal, in Brussels, Belgium, last month.
(photo credit: JOHANNA GERON/REUTERS)
 With all the talk about Israel warning/planning a preemptive unilateral attack against Iran if/when it gets “The Bomb” – as Lt. Gen Aviv Kochavi suggested recently – does it make sense? Apparently Israel is working under the assumption that the Biden administration will re-enter negotiations with Iran. But, are Israeli plans for a unilateral attack wise policy? 
Failure to divert Iran from becoming a nuclear power has prompted calls for military action, but a preemptive attack against Iran led by the United States is unlikely and an Israeli attack without American support would be unpredictable and therefore risky. Economic sanctions and diplomatic pressure to stop Iran have not worked.
Not only is Iran capable of producing a nuclear warhead and launching a nuclear-tipped missile, it uses proxies, like Hezbollah, Hamas, Jihadists, and bombers using cars, planes and ships to attack targets. These Iran-supported terrorist organizations make Iran a far greater danger than any other country in the world.
Any deal to accept Iran’s nuclear ambitions, however, rather than engaging in rhetoric and threats about military action, requires a strategic countermeasure. The deployment of allied anti-missile-equipped ships in the Gulf is a serious commitment and missile defense systems like the Arrow 3 amplify the chances that missiles from Iran will be intercepted.
Although there is currently no effective policy to eliminate Iran’s nuclear facilities, there is an alternative: a more determined and united alliance – and one that already exists in NATO.
The US and other countries can warn Iran that launching a long-range missile, since it can be assumed to have a nuclear warhead, would trigger a devastating response by a combined international force. 
Such a warning must be clear, unequivocal and substantive as part of a control mechanism that is capable of acting decisively. There can be no question about the ramifications of a first-strike launch using WMD.
The advantage of such a mechanism is that it virtually locks in all participants and everyone knows the rules. Iran’s success up to now has been due to the lack of rules, clear red lines and meaningful consequences. The responsibility for prudence and self-preservation as well as the system itself, therefore, is incumbent on every player. And once armed, there is no withdrawal. 
Iran, like Pakistan and North Korea, will no doubt try to distribute and build facilities for WMD and they may be initially successful, but these covert initiatives are limited, detectable and can be readily eliminated.
Countries that threaten others with WMD should be ostracized and severely punished. This intervention, included in Chapter VII of the UN Charter, permits the total economic and political isolation of countries in violation. In this way, Iranian nuclear weapons could be a blessing in disguise if it prompts a new way of thinking about the problem and how to contain it.
The premise of this approach is that having The Bomb includes accountability for its use. Stepping back from confrontation is not appeasement or conciliation if it includes sending a message of resolve: The initial use of WMD, without provocation, will trigger a devastating response by the international community. This can be an effective deterrent, and one which will extend to North Korea and other countries which acquire WMD in the future.
A critical factor, therefore, is the mechanism which the international community, especially the UN Security Council, creates to spell out what the use of such terrible weapons means. There can be no ambiguity and no doubt about a common commitment to retaliate forcefully against the use of WMD.
Nuclear proliferation, therefore, may be inevitable, but it is not necessarily uncontrollable. Although secret deals can undermine efforts to control the spread, as Barack Obama has shown, a mechanism in place for responding might be a deterrent. So far the Iranians, like the North Koreans, have counted on international disunity and lack of determination – with success. 
Failure to respond effectively to a clear and present danger is moral degeneracy and self-destructive. Without presenting a credible threat of severe consequences, the international community will not only encourage further proliferation, but risk our very existence. 
The writer is a PhD historian, author and journalist.