Iranians Hate Cute Aquatic Mammals

The New York Times headline reads: Seals Are Removed at Nuclear Site in Iran.

After getting over the homophonic hilarity, the article is worthy of serious consideration. Iran’s nuclear capabilities may be the foremost challenge to world peace in the coming decades. This is not merely Farsiphobia, because Iran’s nuclear program is likely to have a domino effect across its region.

If Iran does build weapons - or even comes close to doing so - it will spur Saudi Arabia and other competitors for regional leadership to follow suit, much as Pakistan's nukes have been an added impetus to Iran's nuclear ambitions. And if you think the Middle East can't get any worse than it's been, think again.

Nuclear politics was a focus for many around the world during the Cold War, and rightly so. The efforts of the previous generation are seen in the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons during the Cold War. In the current era, however, more and more leaders of mid-level powers are adopting the 2004 Red Sox motto: "Why Not Us?" And indeed, a few (India, Pakistan, Israel) have already succeeded in gaining nukes, and others (Iraq, North Korea, Iran) are or have been well on their way to nuclear armament.

But is this really such a bad thing? After all, many strategists see nuclear weapons as primarily defensive: no nation would use them offensively, they say, because that would bring the whole world down on its head, but they serve as an amply deterrent defense against rogue neighbors. But in today's world, who needs nukes? The days of competing superpowers are over; the new paradigm is states v. non-states, and nukes are a one-way weapon inasmuch as they can only be used against states. Thus, in the current climate, developing nukes signals that you see yourself on the side of the non-state actors and against the rest of the world's states. The circumstantial evidence strengthens this hypothesis, as the powers currently pursuing nukes are those most at odds with the rest of the world - Iran and North Korea. Robert Mugabe would probably be buying nukes as well, if Zimbabwe could afford them.

So what should the international community do? The Post evaded this question in yesterday's surprisingly aggressive editorial, concluding intelligently (and obviously) that the U.S. and Europe should act in unison on the issue, but not recommending a specific course. Israel might pull another Osirak, but they now have much more to lose in terms of credibility than they did in 1981. A U.S.-led or -sanctioned raid would be a public diplomacy disaster, proving to conspiracy theorists from Kandahar to Casablanca that the U.S. is indeed bent on conquering their entire region. The best raid agent might actually be a post-occupation Iraqi government, which would be the only other Shi'ite government in the world, and a neighbor with a great deal to lose from Iranian nuclear power.

Posted by Chops at August 10, 2005 3:28 PM