The Folly of a Nuclear Iran

by Victor Davis Hanson

Tribune Media Services

Despite the bleak preventative options, no one wants to permit Iran to go nuclear. Yet if strategists despair over the methods of stopping Iran’s bomb, few have explicitly outlined why we should even try.

First, a nuclear Iran would ignite a new arms race in the Middle East. The nuclear guild started amid the ashes of World War II, when the Soviet camp and the West first squared off. Since then new members like India, China and Pakistan expanded the dangers of Armageddon, but at least created a sort of regional deterrence against one another. India was checked by Pakistan and vice versa. China angulated with the Soviets, India and America. All four at times were not necessarily friendlier to any one of the quartet than another, but they matured and showed restraint in their escalating rivalries.

But if Iran has nuclear weapons—the first Middle Eastern and Islamic dictatorship to obtain them—then a Saudi Arabia, Egypt or Syria might rush in to obtain nuclear capability and thus restore a regional balance of power.

Arab pride will not tolerate an exclusive Persian bomb, despite all Teheran’s rhetoric about a shared anti-Israeli mother of all Islamic weapons. Thus the Middle East will inevitably witness the instability of mutual escalation not unlike the arms race during the early Cold War.

Second, nuclear proliferation is now spiraling out of control and spreading to third-rate states that are far more numerous and often more reckless than traditional world powers. The Soviet Union and China were historic heavy weights, so were France and England. India has over a billion people. But once Pakistan and North Korea obtained nukes, a dangerous new era was ushered in: any scary nation could claim a right to the bomb, despite its own global strategic insignificance, lack of conventional power and failed economy.

Third, autocracy and WMDs are a lethal mix. Many Arab nations point to Israel and allege Western hypocrisy, since it is small and alone in the Middle East with nuclear capability. Well aside from its unique creation from the ashes of the Holocaust and the proven record of its neighbors’ efforts to destroy the Jewish people, Israel—unlike North Korea and Iran—is also singularly democratic in the region.

Because consensual governments, as a rule, are hardly likely to attack like kind, their possession of terrifying weapons tends to prove less of a threat to global peace. The old Soviet Union was more dangerous than is contemporary Russia, despite a mostly intact nuclear arsenal. China’s liberalization raises the hope that its nukes are less prone to be dropped today than during Mao’s Great Leap Forward. A nuclear Iran of any sort is a problem. Yet, a nuclear theocratic Iran is a disaster since its zealous mullahs are unaccountable to either an electorate or censorious press. They are fueled by religious extremism and publicly have praised nuclear martyrdom. One or two such extremists in their dotage could well decide that an entire state should play the role of the lone suicide bomber so frequently canonized in that part of the world.

Fourth, Iran is even more likely than a volatile Pakistan to arm terrorists. A nuclear Iran might prove tantamount to an atomic Hezbollah or al-Qaida—nihilists whose current problem is not their intent, but only their capability, to annihilate.

Fifth, if the West allows roguish nations like North Korea or Iran to become or remain nuclear, then humane, powerful states like Brazil, Germany, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan sooner or later will demand the same latitude, if not out of pride, then at least for their own national security.

Japan will not be perpetually bullied by a North Korea. Nor can Germany be expected to be shaken-down by blackmailing imams because Iranian missiles can in theory incinerate Berlin in 10 minutes. Can a vast Brazil stomach Iran receiving bribes and deference as a regional power in the Middle East while it receives nothing in South America for its relatively sober restraint?

There is something perverse about the Europeans paying bribes to oil-rich Iran in hopes that it does not cobble together a bomb from bought or stolen expertise—when Germany in six months could produce 5,000 nukes and simply warn the Iranians that such weapons would be as reliably built and delivered as a Mercedes or BMW.

Sixth, it is hard enough now to anticipate all the potential conflagrations arising from eight or nine nuclear powers. But each time a new wild card flips over, the odds only increase that an accident, coup or revolution will lead to man-made carnage worse than the natural nightmare of the recent tsunami.

True, there are no good choices in dealing with Iran at this late stage in the game. Yet the very worst alternative is allowing it to go nuclear.

©2005 Victor Davis Hanson

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