From the beginning of the Republican primary taking place south of the border, all but two candidates – Jon Huntsman and Ron Paul – have made a point of saying they would take no option off the table to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. Following suit, President Obama has said the same. Everybody’s favorite Google problem, Rick Santorum, even believes the US was wrong to condemn the killing of an Iranian nuclear scientist on January 11, and went one step further to say that he hoped the US had something to do with it. The problem is that, strategically speaking, it makes perfect sense for Iran to pursue a nuclear weapon, and all the tough talk and war games we’ve seen in the past few months only makes it more sensible.
Let’s review some of the facts.
In June, 2010, news broke about the Stuxnet computer virus. In the days that followed, computer security analysts were all but certain it must have been created by a well-funded, state-sponsored program, and that it was fairly clear the virus’s primary targets were Iranian nuclear facilities – in particular those suspected of being used to enrich uranium.
In October, 2011, there was an alleged Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the US, which the Pentagon, having successfully foiled the plan, was happy to make lots of noise about.
Then, in December, the Iranian military hacked into a US surveillance drone flying in Iranian airspace and landed the aircraft intact.
And just last month we learned that another Iranian nuclear scientist – a civilian – was killed in Tehran. While neither the US nor Israel has acknowledged any responsibility for the assassination, it seems fair to at least speculate that one of the parties may have been involved.
All of this tension exists despite that fact that, so far, there is still no reliable evidence that Iran has made any significant steps towards acquiring a nuclear weapon, or anything other than nuclear power.
So why all the fuss? The world of international relations is all about bargaining; nuclear weapons make great bargaining chips. And as it stands today, Iran has every reason to feel a bit cornered.
For one, the US regards Iran as a ‘rogue state,’ a nice euphemism for ‘authoritarian regime we don’t see eye to eye with.’ With this idea in mind, the US has approached Britain to make sure they would have support if they ever decided to attack Iran; Britain has assured the US they would.
Moreover, within the region there is constant tension between Iran and Israel. There’s no doubt that Israel has cause to feel threatened by Iran, but that doesn’t mean the hostility only flows in one direction. US Defense Secretary, Leon Panetta, told the Washington Post this week that he believes Israel may attack Iran as early as April of this year. And let’s be honest: at the end of the day, the playing field between these two states is far from level – one side has a nuclear arsenal (not to mention being allied with the biggest military power in the world) and the other does not.
I would contend that the core issue here has to do with the nature of nuclear weapons. They aren’t a military technology for use in combat, they are political tools. There is no question that nuclear armed states have a greater degree of leverage in international relations than those without. Chances are that if Iran was able to develop a nuclear bomb, the likelihood is very small that they would use it offensively – particularly not against Israel, who has a stockpile large enough to decimate Iran in retaliation. Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has said some horrifying things about Israel’s place in the world, but it is incorrect to think of him as a crazed leader with his finger on the button. Between the Council of Guardians and supreme leader Ali Khamenei, who has in the past issued fatwa’s on the production and stockpiling of nuclear weaponry, it seems reasonable to expect that the principles of Mutually Assured Destruction would keep Iran from ever launching such an attack.
Increasing the pressure on Iran only backs the state further into a corner, from which the only clear reprieve would come in the form of obtaining a nuclear deterrent themselves. Furthermore, in the aftermath of Iraq, the continued violence in Afghanistan, and with relations between the US and Pakistan rapidly deteriorating, yet another Western-led attack on a largely Muslim Middle Eastern nation could only have devastating effects on the region. It seems a shame that the only Republican hopefuls willing to point that out have been so quickly dropped from the race.
– Lyle Dobbin