The Luxury of Nuclear Weapons

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Andrew Sullivan writes:

The obvious aim, it seems to me, of the Revolutionary Guards is not to nuke al-Aqsa, but to use a nuclear capacity to immunize their terrorism in the region, to balance Israel's nuclear monopoly, to scare the crap out of the Saudis and Egyptians, and to shore up their control at home. I see this as an inevitable coming-of-age of Iran as a regional power, and although there is an obvious and acute danger that nuclearization could entrench some of the worst elements of the regime (and they don't get much worse than Ahmadinejad), the brutal truth is: we do not have the tools to stop it. One day, a nuclear Iran, if led by men and women legitimately elected by the people of Iran, could be our friend, not enemy - and a much more reliable and stable friend than the Sunni Arab autocracies we are currently shoring up. I believe, in short, that in my lifetime we will see a democratic Iran, led by the generation that took to the streets this year. And I believe vigilant containment is the only realistic way at this point to get there.

Why is it that no one talks extensively about human rights in North Korea, or China or Russia? Why does it make sense that Burma's military junta would pursue a nuclear weapons program?

The answer is rather simple: security. As Andrew points out, the likelihood of Iran actually using one of these weapons should they even attain the capability is slim. The problem is that the very possession of these weapons allows Iran into an unspoken club of hush, hush humanitarianism. Sure, we all know bad things go on in the aforementioned countries, but what can we actually do about it?

If Iran acquires a nuclear weapon the regional dynamic, as Sullivan concedes, would immediately change. In order to offset a regional arms race, the United States would essentially need to cover the entire Middle East in its so-called nuclear umbrella. Strategy would shift from engagement to containment. And this is the important point: when you seek to simply contain, you are accepting losses within already compromised boundaries. In this instance, that lost territory is the Islamic Republic of Iran.

I hope--and pray--to see a free and democratic Iran in my lifetime, just as Andrew does. But the chances of that happening should this awful and rotten regime get a nuclear weapon would be rather slim. If the casual observer thinks this government is oppressive now, just wait until it is intoxicated with the impunity of the nuclear womb.

Moreover, any hopes of resurrecting nuclear nonproliferation can get kissed goodbye. As I wrote earlier this month, what Obama is trying to do here is admirable--that being, restore some semblance of international order and process for dealing with rogue states that seek nuclear weapons. If the policy toward nuclear Iran is mere containment, then Iran has already won.

What then will be the strategy for the next nuclear aspirant? Containment? War? Something else? The fact that there's no viable answer to those questions is the problem, and it will only get worse if Tehran gets the bomb.

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