Iranian Nukes: So What?

It’s one of the fixed-points of the American national security discourse that it would be A Very Bad Thing if Iran had nuclear weapons. And I won’t argue that it would be preferable for them not to go nuclear. But what, exactly, is supposed to be so bad about it? The question is an important one, because our policy options for preventing the emergence of a nuclear Iran are rather poor. They differ both in cost and in likelihood of success. Some options that are relatively likely to succeed, but also relatively costly, may not be worth pursuing, even if the alternatives are unlikely to succeed. Or perhaps not. Perhaps a case can be made that a nuclear Iran is such a bad thing that’s it’s worth preventing by any means necessary. But it’s not a case I’ve heard.

From the American perspective it’s easy to assume that if a regime wants nuclear weapons that must be because they intend to do something very nasty with them. But must they? The USA, after all, has nuclear weapons, used them only once, did so in pursuit of a rational (distinguish rational from moral; I would defend the morality of Hiroshima but that’s a different fight; the point here is merely that winning the war ASAP was not some kind of craziness on the part of the Truman administration) policy objective, and has never used them since. None of the other nuclear-armed countries have ever used them. The USSR got nukes because we had them and it didn’t want to need to negotiate from a position of weakness. France got them so as to not be totally dependent on American security guarantees, and China got them seeking the same sort of independence from the USSR. India built nukes because China had them, and Pakistan built them because India had them. Israel went nuclear because their country is very small so while Syria can lose a war with Israel and still survive as a nation, Israel fears that it can never afford to lose.

Iran, then, as you can see is next to nuclear-armed Pakistan, very close to nuclear-Armed Russia (which, incidentally, likes to muck about in the buffer zones on both sides of the Caspian), not at all far from nuclear-armed Israel, and right next door to Iraq, which until very recently was pursuing nuclear weapons. Under the circumstances, the most reasonable inference seems to me to be as follows. Iran would like to be able to muck about in the Caucuses, in Iraq, and in Central Asia without regional rivals Israel, Pakistan, and Russia possessing overwhelming military superiority. Increased Iranian influence in those areas is not something to be welcomed, but it’s not the end of the world either. It’s something worth trying to prevent, but it’s not something worth trying anything under the sun to prevent.

Perhaps there’s something more nefarious afoot, and I’m open to suggestions. Is the thought supposed to be that Iran would help Hezbollah smuggle a nuke into Tel Aviv? Why would they do that? Because they “hate freedom?”