Saturday, December 1, 2012
What if Iran goes nuclear?
Henry Kissinger reinforced with his recent op-ed in the Washington Post calls on the U.S. government to take the Iran’s alleged rapid drive to acquire a nuclear bomb seriously as it will have profound consequences in the region that are detrimental to interests of the U.S. and its allies. He said the result of Iran going nuclear will cause an “essentially uncontrollable military nuclear proliferation” throughout a region.
He added that countries within the reach of Iran’s military but lacking a nuclear option would be driven to reorient their political alignment toward Tehran. Another setback, according to Kissinger, would be that the reformist tendencies in the Arab Spring would be submerged.
Stephen M. Walt is on the other side of the camp, favoring to cool down the rhetoric against Iran, which he thinks could be key in urging the Islamic Republic to abandon its suspected nuclear program.
He says nuclear proliferation in the region as a response to Iran’s possible development of a nuclear bomb is not what history teaches us would happen. He brings the example of Israel, South Africa (which gave up its small nuclear arsenal later) and North Korea, whose neighbors did little, if any, to go nuclear as a response.
He also dismissed Kissinger’s arguments that countries adjacent to Iran would surrender to Iran’s emboldened clout with nuclear weapons and will choose bandwagon. His example was from the Cold War, when Soviet’s nuclear threat only made NATO allies more cohesive.
Walt also believes that possessing nuclear weapons won’t prevent “reformist tendencies” to disappear as the Soviet Union's huge nuclear arsenal did little to crush massive, tandem uprisings in Eastern Europe, which eventually also brought down the Soviet Union itself.
Kissinger is right to suggest that Iran’s nuclear weapon would trigger mushrooming of nuclear weapons in the region. Realists wouldn’t be surprised to see other nations trying to re-establish their deterrence capability by developing weapons similar to what their adversaries have. The reason why Japan and South Korea didn’t attempt to build a nuclear bomb is because they are already under the nuclear umbrella of the U.S. North Korea’s building of the nuclear bomb was not an aggresive but a defensive step to protect itself from the U.S.
The case of India and Pakistan was also misleading. India’s nuclear bomb was perceived by every state in the region to be solely against Pakistan. But Iran’s case is different. Iran is not only trying to equalize its military power with Israel but also sees Turkey and Sunni Arab states as its adversaries. No state is assured of Iran’s incentives. Turks and Arabs won't consider Iran's nuclear bomb to be only aimed at Israel but to their countries as well.
Kissinger made a wrong argument when he said some states, particularly Bahrain, could bandwagon if Iran goes nuclear. Possessing nuclear weapons does not mean that Tehran will make nuclear threats to make its neighbors bow to its pressure. Taiwan is one shining example.
Theoretically Walt is correct that regional states won’t bandwagon Iran. But his example suggesting that NATO’s European allies balanced against the Soviet Union instead of succumbing to the looming Soviet threat is misleading at best. States usually bandwagon to save their country from being occupied and destroyed or to save the regime it is being ruled by. None of them would be possible if European countries chose to stay in the Soviet camp. Few Soviet allies were ruled by non-communist leaders but they still were strictly socialist, militant authorities with anti-Western agenda such as Syria and Iraq.
For the last argument regarding the reforming tendencies of the Arab Spring, my pick would be Walt. International politics is being run by rational actors (although Walt indicated in his previous blog post that uncertainty among states remains a powerful factor defining the international politics) not by masses. Grassroot movements and uprisings would not shun from doing what they think is right just because another state in the block has a devastating weapon.
I believe the primary issue here is not inflating the threat or ignoring it but how Israel, Arab states and Turkey are free riding America. It is not difficult to predict that Arab states and Turkey would be number one adversary of Iran once the U.S. stops efforts to contain Tehran. At a time when the U.S. needs to shut down expensive adventures abroad, sharing costs with allies would be a smart way to go.