Give Iran the Bomb? A Very, Very Bad Idea
Worried about a nuclear Iran? Do you think such a development would not only threaten Israel’s very existence but would intimidate the Arab countries of the Gulf, put the radical Islamist regime in position to threaten the West, and lead to unmanageable nuclear proliferation?
Have no fear. Along comes Kenneth N. Waltz, the highly respected professor of international relations at Columbia University, who argues in a feature-length article in the July/August issue of Foreign Affairs magazine that not only is there nothing to worry about, but in fact, “Iran Should Get the Bomb.”
While Waltz takes a highly unusual approach to the issue by actually arguing that an Iranian bomb would stabilize the Middle East, he knows (and maybe Foreign Affairs knows) he is planting his ideas on somewhat fertile soil. There are significant players around the world who are unhappy with the international efforts to prevent Iran from going nuclear. Those players use some, if not all the arguments that Waltz brings to bear.
The opposition to action against Iran operates on different levels.
It starts with a kind of panic about the possibility of Israel attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities. Indeed, the single largest reason why after more than a decade of inaction the international community in the last year-and-a-half has mounted serious sanctions is because of the fear of an imminent Israeli attack. You don’t have to do it, says the world, because we are imposing sanctions and pursuing a diplomatic solution.
In other words, even the positive steps taken to pressure Iran come out of a negative.
Other arguments come into play which are not merely intended to prevent Israeli military action, but which question the wisdom of any kind of a campaign to stop Iran. One argument is that Iran is a completely rational player and therefore the policies of containment that worked between the Soviet Union and the United States during the cold war can now work between Iran and Israel.
Of course, Iran is not the Soviet Union. However evil the Soviet Union, they were not crazy. In the case of Iran, as one Israeli expert put it, there is a high degree of rationality in their policy-making. But there is enough of an element of irrationality and apocalyptic thinking that makes it impossible for Israel to live with a nuclear Iran under such uncertainty.
Others argue that as long as Israel has a nuclear arsenal, the world has no right to deprive Iran from doing the same. Under the rubric of a nuclear-free Middle East, a noble goal, efforts to stop Iran from going nuclear are seen as one-sided and unfair.
Waltz has now brought these various arguments together in one piece and extended them further. It is as if he worries that at this point, any international efforts against Iran will end up leading to the military option rather than prevent it. And therefore he feels the need to say that all such efforts are invalid because Iran’s getting a bomb will be a good thing.
Waltz stretches reality to the breaking point to reach his conclusion, so, it is reasonable to assume he falls into the category that says: there is nothing worse than an Israeli military attack, and that includes allowing Iran to have a bomb.
Waltz is particularly out of touch in two of his claims: that Iran’s having a bomb will bring more stability to the region, and it will not lead to nuclear proliferation in the region.
Just ask the Arab states whether they agree with these conclusions. The U.S. diplomatic cables leaked by Wikileaks made clear that the Gulf States are just as concerned about an Iranian bomb as is Israel.
They see an Iran with a bomb as a nation that will try to intimidate its neighbors, make greater claims over disputed territories and try to promote Shia interests over Sunni — in other words, a major force for instability.
And what will they do about it? Inevitably, some will seek their own nuclear capacity to offset Iran.
Waltz argues that proliferation will not happen because it did not happen for decades when the Arabs learned their enemy — Israel — had its own weapons.
In fact, the example of Israel proves the opposite point. In the case of Israel, the Arabs did not see a need to build their own bombs because they knew, despite their rhetoric, that Israel was no threat to them.
In the case of Iran there is true anxiety in the Arab world and the likelihood of proliferation is very high indeed.
In sum, Iran is and should be seen as a threat by Israel, by the Arabs, by the Western world.
Waltz’s piece is a last-ditch and fairly pathetic effort to argue against international moves to stop an Iranian bomb. It is absurd on its face.
But because of where it was published and by whom, and because there are many in the elites who share at least some of his thinking, we probably haven’t heard the last of this.
Abraham H. Foxman is National Director of the Anti-Defamation League.