Columns / Discourse / November 16, 2011

Voice of Reason: The Iranian nuclear threat?

-The International Atomic Energy Agency, with all of the characteristic speed that we have come to know and love from the United Nations, finally announced last week that Iran was seeking a nuclear weapon, surprising approximately nobody and prompting yet another round of hand-wringing in the West over what is to be done to prevent the Islamic Republic from obtaining a useable nuclear device.

It is easy to see why Iran is willing to sacrifice so much in their quest for The Bomb. Consider what happened to the other two members of George Bush’s famous “Axis of Evil” besides Iran, namely Iraq and North Korea. Iraq, possessing no nuclear capacity, was invaded and its government overthrown.

North Korea, having its own nuclear deterrent, continues merrily on its authoritarian way, unmolested by the West. Sadaam Hussein got the hangman’s rope while Kim Jong-Il got to keep his luxurious lifestyle.

Or to take a more recent example, remember that Muammar Gaddafi had a nuclear program which he renounced to great applause from the West. Yet within a few short years, his newfound allies turned against him and conducted air strikes that helped lead to his overthrow and execution.

What gets interesting is if you replay the Libya war in a world where Gaddafi had useable nuclear weapons. Do you think that NATO would have been so eager to conduct airstrikes?

The mullahs in Tehran aren’t stupid. They can look at these examples just as easily as I can and realize that the only way to ensure they aren’t attacked by the United States or its allies is to develop their own credible nuclear deterrent.

With that in mind, I don’t think it’s likely they will give up their quest for a bomb no matter how many sanctions are put into place. Gaddafi gave up his bomb and ended up with his people rejoicing over his bullet-ridden corpse. No one in the Iranian government is going to want to risk the same thing happening to them.

We should step back and ask ourselves why exactly it’s so worrying that Iran might get a bomb. Since their missile technology cannot reach the United States, the only legitimate concern is whether or not the bomb will be used on Israel. Even taking the Iranians’ bombastic statements about wiping it off the map as policy proposals instead of the political theatre that they are, there is very little reason to worry about an actual Iranian strike.

First of all, any strike on Israel that would actually wipe it off the map would necessitate the greatest murder of Muslim civilians the world had ever seen. Israelis and Palestinians live fairly close to each other and the nature of nuclear weapons is to be indiscriminate in who they kill.

Israel’s population is about a quarter Arab Muslims, plus the populations of the Gaza Strip and West Bank, who would almost certainly receive massive doses of radiation. I can’t envision the Islamic Republic being willing to put so much Muslim blood on its hands.

Then there is the matter of the worst kept secret in world politics: the Israeli nuclear arsenal. Israel unofficially maintains somewhere between one hundred and two hundred nuclear weapons — including some that are based on submarines — ensuring that even if the entire country was destroyed, there would be enough missiles remaining to turn every major city in Iran into smoking rubble, with a good chunk of the leadership buried under that rubble. This threat was enough to keep Stalin and Mao, two of history’s most insane leaders, from using their nuclear weapons. It will prove enough for Ayatollah Khamenei & Co. as well.

The sheer power of nuclear weapons has deterred some of modern history’s most bitter enemies from blowing each other to pieces: the United States and Russia, India and Pakistan, North Korea and most of the outside world. Why should we assume Iran and Israel should be any different? Quite simply we shouldn’t.

Matt Barry
Matt Barry is a senior majoring in international relations and double minoring in economics and German. This is his third year working for TKS, having served previously as discourse editor. He has worked for such organizations as the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Premier Tourism Marketing and the Council on American Islamic Relations-Chicago, where his work appeared in such publications as Leisure Group Travel, Ski & Ride Club Guide and The Chicago Monitor. Matt has written his political opinion column, "The Voice of Reason," weekly for three years, which finished in first place at the 2012 Illinois College Press Association conference and was also recognized at the 2013 conference.

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