Nuclear Mullahs – NYTimes.com

Try this thought experiment: Would a nuclear Iran be so bad?

The prevailing view now is that a nuclear Iran cannot be safely contained. On this point both President Obama and Mitt Romney agree. They can hardly say otherwise; to even hint that a nuclear Iran is acceptable would undermine the efforts aimed at preventing that outcome. But I tend to think they mean it.

However, there are serious, thoughtful people who are willing to contemplate a nuclear Iran, kept in check by the time-tested assurance of retaliatory destruction. If the U.S. arsenal deterred the Soviet Union for decades of cold war and now keeps North Korea’s nukes in their silos, if India and Pakistan have kept each other in a nuclear stalemate, why would Iran not be similarly deterred by the certainty that using nuclear weapons would bring a hellish reprisal?

via Nuclear Mullahs – NYTimes.com.

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18 thoughts on “Nuclear Mullahs – NYTimes.com

  1. Cody Knudsen says:

    As Iran’s nuclear program continues to move forward, discussing reasonable scenarios for a world with a nuclear Iran is important conversation in determining current responses and policies. At best, an unilateral Israeli or multilateral Israeli-U.S. preemptive strike puts Iran back a few years in its goal toward joining the nuclear club. The big question the article poses: would nuclear deterrence policies from Israel, the U.S., and others prevent Iran from launching a warhead at and removing the Zionist knife in its side?

    Ayatollah Khamenei said at the recent NAM conference that “Our motto is nuclear energy for all and nuclear weapons for none.” Israel and the U.S. obviously, and with good reason, distrust Iran’s intentions, but like it or not, both need to prepare for a world in which Iran possesses nuclear arms.

    http://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContent/2/8/51618/World/Region/Iran-leader-rules-out-nuclear-bomb,-will-pursue-en.aspx

  2. It is an interesting thought experiment: would a nuclear Iran really be that bad? I readily admit that the idea of nuclear warheads getting into the hands of terrorists is a serious concern — but is Iran really capable of creating a nuclear arsenal that would be so large that terrorists could get a hold of it? Probability — it would seem — is more in favor of them securely maintaining a dozen or so nuclear warheads than the USA or Russia containing their own stockpiles of 5,916 and 3,897 warheads respectively ( http://www.defencetalk.com/us-russia-nuclear-arsenal-data-released-34627/ ).

  3. Asa Clements says:

    In light of the political times we find ourselves living this article accentuates what has largely been missing from the presidential debate: foreign affairs. People, on a whole in America, seem not just primarily concerned by the sad state of the economy but totally consumed by it. So consumed, in fact, that the talk about a very unstable and very real nuclear Iran , has been nearly silent. Not only is this an issue, its an issue that is way too large, on the world’s scale, to be quietly swept under the rug, for fear of turning off voters. We need answers not just about the economy but about how the Leader of the Free World is going to deal with, nuclear Iran and the cornucopia of possibilities that comes along with nuclear Iran ie, nuclear war, cold war round two, increase in terrorist cells, oil wars, even WW3 becomes an option in likely outcomes. Mitt Romney seems perhaps just a little to trigger happy for my foreign policy tastes (no one wants another Iraq… Except maybe Bush), but then again Obama’s sanctions have been dismally ineffective, at least to the ends of keeping Iran from being a nuclear. Let’s hear some answers.

  4. It is an interesting thought experiment, but instantly three things come to mind:

    1. The proliferation of nuclear weapons in any country increases the possibility that one of the weapons could go off. Wherever this happens, and for whatever reason, the incident will have many significant and negative consequences. Because of that huge risk, other conventional applications of power work more effectively on the world stage. No country in the world, no NATO member state, emerging global power, or any government wishing to make positive contributions in the world community has any need to obtain (another) nuclear weapon, unless they plan to use it first.

    2. More specifically, we’re not talking about the United States, Russia, or even hemmed-in North Korea, we’re talking about Iran. Not all Iranians think alike, but a startling number of their leaders have publicly and shamelessly called for the destruction of Israel and have threatened our own national security and access to the Persian Gulf. In addition, those who promote the use of violence to achieve these ends do not shy away from the use of suicidal terror attacks. It is difficult to imagine how nuclear deterrence would factor into this mindset which has no precedent among nuclear powers.

    3. For those of you who read Tom Clancy, I acknowledge fiction for what it is, but also understand the very real implications from stories such as “The Sum of All Fears”. Even carefully guarded and stable governments cannot always protect all of their nuclear weapons from falling into the wrong hands. It only has to happen once for hundreds of thousands of people to die. For a state like Iran, which supports terrorist groups and, in the wake of the Arab Spring, may not be as stable as we think, the possibilities for Iranian-made nuclear weapons to slip out of Iranian custody. (For those of you who think that Tom Clancy is pure fantasy, his novel from 1994, “Debt of Honor” ends with a rogue airline pilot from a dissatisfied nation landing his 747 in the Capitol Building during a special joint session of Congress, killing just about everyone but the vice president. If you can imagine it, a terrorist probably already has, too.)

    Bottom line: we have no need to permit any nation from developing nuclear weapons. Why risk it? What do we stand to gain from proliferation on any front? I argue that we will only lose more sleep wondering when, where, and why the next one goes off.

  5. svanmaanen says:

    Like the original article mentions, Israel’s reaction is an important element in determining how bad a nuclear Iran would be. It would take a lot to convince Israel that deterrence would be an effective method of keeping a nuclear Iran under control. Right now, it seems that Israel is leaning towards a preemptive strike but is worried about support from the United States especially with the US elections in November. (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/31/world/middleeast/report-on-iran-nuclear-work-puts-israel-in-a-box.html?pagewanted=all).

  6. There are two caveats I see to this thought experiment that I feel should be considered.

    First, it seemed as though each nuclear nation mentioned about had its equivalent counterpart. The United States had the Soviet Union. India has Pakistan. Who would Iran have? Would we attempt to give nuclear weapons to Israel? Would the United States be seen as the nuclear counterweight to Iran?

    Second, is this not an instance where we say, “Better safe than sorry?” For the sake of argument if we assume that Iran was able to create a nuclear warhead tomorrow (highly unlikely) and that it would be reasonable for the United States or some other group of nations to intervene (equally unlikely), would the international community really reject to The United States, Israel and the likely support of a few other nations (or even the United Nations) saying, “This will not stand?” It’s an interesting thought experiment indeed, but a government as unstable as Iran is not a government you want holding that ace in the hole.

  7. jackie3clark says:

    Accountability. I lean towards a nuclear-free Iran. According to the Corruption Perception Index 2010, Iran was indexed at number 146 of 178-number 1 being the least corrupt. That ranks Iran very near the bottom of the transparency totem pole. This alludes to the idea that the relations between the government in Iran and the terrorist groups may indeed be close. Regardless of the size of the nuclear arsenal that Iran is able to create, it could easily fall into the hands of terrorists.

    The initial question is then reiterated. Why does it matter? Someone will keep those terrorists in check, with the idea of complete destruction. But, that Mr. Keller, and Mr. Jellen, is where the theories fallacies manifest. As we saw during the War on Terror, terrorists are the most unpredictable enemy. There is no geographic region surrounding them, they have no capital city, they have no designated attire-they are unpredictable. They could strike from anywhere, hitting anyone, and we would not know who to point our nuclear warhead at.

    Why not? Let them make their nuclear weapons, someone will keep them in check! Or maybe that someone, should have been you.

    • asaclem says:

      Ms. Clark, you have stated you lean towards a nuclear- free Iran. What then do you purpose be the means by which this is accomplished? Full scale invasion… Deeper more hard hitting sanctions… A multilateral prememptive attack lead by Israel and backed by the US… Or perhap we just pray Iran drops the whole nuclear plan?

  8. zoyakrup says:

    A Nuclear Iran is attainable, but in the far future. In this day and age, a nuclear Iran would not be easily contained and would just lead to more unrest and uneasiness in the Middle East. Enriched uranium is a critical component used for both civil nuclear power generation and also nuclear weapons. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has said that “the production of enriched uranium is to generate electricity without using the oil supply and to provide fuel for medical reactors”. But the International Atomic Energy Agency released evidence that Iran has been doing activities that suggest development of a nuclear weapon. Because of the program, Israel, an enemy to Iran, has voiced that they will strike Iran before they strike them first. If a nuclear “war” were to arise between Israel and Iran, the United States would be forced to take sides with Israel because they are allies. Resulting in conflict with the United States and different countries. Any Nuclear threats/weapon in the Middle East would be grounds for greater havoc.

    Israeli-Iranian relations http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2012/04/2012420143457799775.html

  9. A lot of people in the United States and other western countries like to imagine that when some of the leaders vow nuclear destruction, they actually mean it. However, most of these comments are largely rhetoric to appeal to the masses of Iran. The people in power are not willing to risk their personal destruction. Iran is pursuing nuclear energy first and foremost, and only thought to be desiring nuclear weapons. In the end, even if they were to gain nuclear weapons, they would not use them, but instead rely on them to rebalance power. MAD only works if both sides have nuclear weapons, so to ensure their personal protection, Iran would want these weapons.
    See this article for more perspectives: http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/137731/kenneth-n-waltz/why-iran-should-get-the-bomb

  10. mitchmender says:

    As i read this article I was more inclined to agree with the idea of letting Iran develop its nuclear program and keeping it in check with the threat of instant retaliation. If indeed Iran is searching for nuclear energy and not nuclear weapons they will be able to do their research and maybe even contribute to the world but if in fact it is a sneaky way of getting weapons they will have the world watching their every move. Of course this is assuming that we must decide on the lesser of two evils the greater being a preemptive attack that only motivates Iran to build a better nuclear program farther underground for retaliation. The best answer would be coming up with an option C in which Iran does not get nuclear technology and where we do not preemptively act with a military procedure.

  11. Jordan White says:

    Personally, I do not like the idea of America trying to push it’s views on other sovereign states. I guess I am far more libertarian in my views when it comes to foreign relations, but I believe letting them do what they will is the best option. Especially when one considers the other option. First, we are not entirely sure they will try to make the bomb. While it is likely, there is the possibly that they just want nuclear energy. We shouldn’t get in the way of a nation that is taking steps to create a better energy policy. Even if they are trying to make the bomb, chances are they are also using it to better their own nation’s power.

    Now that we have establish that they may not even be going for the Bomb, what if they do? Well as the article brought up, it might be able to stabilize the region more. As the examples of the Cold War and the conflicts between India and Pakistan showed, two nations with nuclear arms are less likely to engage. Israel does not like to cooperate with it’s neighbors, and constantly threatens countries, including Iran. However, they can get away with it. Not only are they backed by us, who is the world’s leading power, but it is strongly believed that Israel does process nuclear weapons of their own. With someone in the region to balance Israel, it is not far-fetched to believe that their abuse to the Palestinians and other neighboring countries would be reduced. Since they will know there is someone near by who can challenge them.

    To those who believe that a nuclear Iran is a breach on our national security, I fail to see how that is possible. To use the words that famous comedian and political satirist Lewis Black once said, “They are going to get The Bomb and have 500 Iranians pick it up and toss it at us.” Seriously, Iran does not have the capability to attack us, even if they have WMDs.

    If we do not let them be, the most certain outcome will be war. As a nation we do not have the strength to go through this again. The economic blow by Iraq and Afghanistan put our nation trillions in debt. We have a duty to pay that down, while still providing for our nation in education, healthcare, social security, and so on. We can not afford what another war would bring.

    Besides problems economically that another war would bring, we would seriously damage our future in that region. As a MESA major I am quite focus on Middle Eastern and strongly Islamic countries. Attacking another country that is mostly Muslim would continue to add to the anti-Americanism in the region. It is not popular to say, but much of the reason people in these countries hate us, is because of our aggressive foreign policy. Iran itself would not be so anti-American, if we hadn’t helped keep the Shah (who was a dictator) in power. This constant interference by us, will hurt us in the long run. We should have learned that 11 years ago to this day, but we continue to make these choices, and and a war with Iran would only compound this very large issue that we have.

    http://topics.nytimes.com/top/news/international/countriesandterritories/iran/nuclear_program/index.html

  12. Sarah Brown says:

    The prevention of nuclear proliferation in the Middle East is a noble cause, however, another interesting thought exercise is to consider what we are willing to do to prevent a nuclear Iran. Romney has campaigned with the promises to increase U.S. military exercises; impose a 5th round of sanctions; and an increased participation in the missile defense system in Eastern Europe.
    This topic brings up pertinent questions for U.S. electorate. Is the possibility of a nuclear Iran worth another Iraq? Or in more general terms, is it the place of the United States to act independently–militarily or economically–in these situations or should we leave it to the international community to decide?

  13. Well Sarah Brown, consider this. The combined deaths from both atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 total around 120,000 instantly, not including the tens of thousands who died later from side effects (http://www.history.com/topics/bombing-of-hiroshima-and-nagasaki). American deaths in Iraq over the period of 6 years 10 months totals around 4,282 (http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/ops/iraq_casualties.htm), not counting the deaths of Iraqis in this time period.

    Every death, no matter who, when, or why, is a great tragedy, so please do not confuse this for a numbers game. For the precise reason that human life is precious, we cannot afford to allow Iran the opportunity to obtain nuclear weapons. If they do, and one of them goes off, there will almost certainly be “another Iraq” anyway.

  14. Micheal Shields, let’s talk about the true cost of the kind of war that you so casually recommend. During the “6 years 10 months” of the Iraq War, the 4,282 Americans that died represent a tiny fraction of the total human cost. In fact, looking just to the Wikipedia page “Casualties of the Iraq War” there are series of estimates, ranging from a Wiki leaks classified document that estimates 109,032 deaths to the Lancet Survey that found 601,027 violent deaths for only the period of March 2003 to June 2006.

    As a Canadian of Japanese-descent, I refuse to allow the atomic-bombing of Japan at the end of a horrifying conflict be used as justification for further war. You are right, every human life is precious. And if the dead of Hiroshima and Nagasaki could speak, I think the only thing they would tell us is that war is not peace.

    Here is information about the Lancet survey and Wiki leaks document respectively:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2006/oct/11/iraq.iraq

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-11612731

  15. Let’s face it, even with the best intel and operatives, there is always a chance that terrorists will get their hands on nuclear technology. Every human life is precious, I think we all agree on that. Not to many haters on this blog right? The point is the same as the entire cold war arms race. If America can have nuclear arms, what gives it the right to declare other nations too unstable to have them as well. The only fair grounds to disarmament are universal. If the soverign nation of Iran wants nuclear weapons, and sanctions are already in place, it will be difficult, but they are feeling more and more threatened. They are going to focus everything they can on achieving their goals. So respect their wishes and give them the support to keep a firm handle on the nukes. Better to be trusted friends than hated enemies.

    http://www.cubanmissilecrisis.org/lessons/

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