Oct 4th, 2018, 04:38 PM

To Be or Not To Be Nuclear

By Courtney Kelley
NEW YORK CITY - JULY 22 2015: thousands rallied in Times Square to oppose the President's proposed nuclear deal with Iran. Conflict over anti-zionist Neturei Karta's Palestinian flags at rally
Iran going nuclear will not start an arms race. But it will stabilize the Middle East.

The past several months have witnessed heated debates about the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action . The United States withdrew from the deal in May, the European Union released a financial strategy to help Iran’s collapsing economy, and President Trump has promised a return of sanctions on Tehran—despite the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirming several times that Iran has been meeting its nuclear commitments fully. Throughout this diplomatic crisis, the US and EU have failed create stability in the region. It is time to consider the controversial option: a nuclear Iran will stabilize the Middle East. 

The dangers of a nuclear Iran are excessively exaggerated, mostly due to a misunderstanding of how states behave in the international system. Kenneth Waltz, one of the prominent scholars of International Relations (IR) and a realist, argues that states are rational. Contrary to what US policymakers portray, Iran is not governed by “mad mullahs, but by perfectly sane ayatollahs who want to survive just like any leaders.” Second, and without exception, “whoever gets nuclear weapons behaves with caution and moderation. Every country—whether they are countries we trust and think of as being highly responsible, like Britain, or countries that we distrust, like China during the Cultural Revolution” behaves  with caution. In fact, Iran’s government is  more stable than nuclear Pakistan- a country that is becoming dysfunctional, but remains a US ally. To portray the Iranian regime as irrational is a mistake, argues Waltz.  

Why would Iran want to have nuclear weapons? For self-preservation and deterrence.  

To the east, Iran borders Pakistan and Afghanistan—an unstable state with nuclear weapons; the other failed state occupied by US troops. To the west, Iran borders Iraq, another country that is occupied by US troops. Also to the west is Israel, who not only possesses nuclear weapons, but is remains hostile to Iran. Iran’s neighbors not only pose a threat to its security, but its region has remained volatile. The US media portrays Iran as a rogue state and the disruptor of peace in the region. However, for countries that see the US as the rogue state, how should they protect themselves?  

In reality, the only way to deter the United States is with nuclear weapons. The possession of a nuclear arsenal could mean the difference between survival of the regime (as is the case for North Korea), or an invasion by the US (as was the case for Iraq).  

Would Iran’s Revolutionary Guard give nuclear weapons to terrorist groups to destroy Israel? No, for reasons that are quite simple. Firstly, no country could transfer nuclear weapons without being discovered by advance US surveillance capabilities. Secondly, creating and managing nuclear weapons is not only expensive, but dangerous. It would be irrational for Tehran to give terrorist groups, groups that they do not completely control, such a dangerous weapon. Tehran would have every reason to protect its arsenal.  

Israel’s nuclear monopoly in the Middle East has long fueled instability. In no other region in the world does one country possess the only nuclear arsenal.  In 2012, Waltz wrote, “Why Iran Should Get the Bomb,” and noted that “nuclear balancing would mean stability.” Why? Because “it is Israel’s nuclear arsenal, not Iran’s desire for one, that has contributed most the current crisis.” 

In 1981, Israeli air strikes destroyed an Iraqi nuclear reactor; and in 2007, Israel destroyed a Syrian reactor, countries that considered getting nuclear weapons. Waltz wrote: 

“Israel's proven ability to strike potential nuclear rivals with impunity has inevitably made its enemies anxious to develop the means to prevent Israel from doing so again. In this way, the current tensions are best viewed not as the early stages of a relatively recent Iranian nuclear crisis but rather as the final stages of a decades-long Middle East nuclear crisis that will end only when a balance of military power is restored."   


As expected, Israeli and US policymakers condemned Waltz’s argument. “Some have even said that Iran with nuclear weapons would stabilize the Middle East,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said after Waltz’s article. “I think people who say this have set a new standard for human stupidity.” 

But was it stupid of the French in 1960, China in 1967, and Israel in 1968 to obtain the bomb? Why should nuclear-armed countries keep their arsenal, but forbid other countries from getting nuclear weapons for their own self-preservation? How can countries like the United States, Israel, or France justify this double-standard?  

Proliferation, by definition, is the rapid spread of nuclear weapons. Since 1945, there are nine countries that have developed and  possess nuclear weapons. This is hardly an escalation. “If Iran goes nuclear, Israel and Iran will deter each other, as nuclear powers always have,” writes Waltz. Nuclear weapons are only useful for deterrence, because they motivate countries to behave with caution. Policymakers and citizens should take comfort that history has shown that where nuclear capabilities emerge, stability follows. And now, more than ever, does the Middle East need stability.