Iran Nuclear Standoff: What Israel Has Wrought

Kenneth Waltz, the noted international relations scholar, wrote an article for the July/August issue of Foreign Affairs, titled “Why Iran Should Get the Bomb” (behind a pay wall).* Not “We Can Live With an Iranian Bomb,” but an actual declaration that “it would probably be the best possible result” of the “current standoff” — the “one most likely to restore stability to the Middle East,” in fact.

Before proceeding, this author feels compelled to state that he has no confidence whatsoever in the thesis that Iran is developing nuclear weapons. It seems to have ended its program since 2003 and any design work since has been negligible. Meanwhile, its enrichment of uranium is, in large part, intended to serve as a bargaining chip with the West. Those who see this as signs it’s developing nukes are not only disingenuous but demonstrating willful ignorance for the purpose of inducing regime change in Iran. That said, here’s why Waltz thinks an Iranian bomb would “restore stability to the Middle East.

Iran’s regional nuclear monopoly, which has proved remarkably durable for the past four decades, has long fueled instability in the Middle East. In no other region of the world does a lone, unchecked nuclear state exist. It is Israel’s nuclear arsenal, not Iran’s desire for one, that has contributed most to the current crisis. Power, after all, begs to be balanced. What is surprising about the Israeli case is that it has taken so long for a potential balancer to emerge.

Of course, it is easy to understand why Israel wants to remain the sole nuclear power in the region and why it is willing to use force to secure that status. In 1981, Israel bombed Iraq to prevent a challenge to its nuclear monopoly. It did the same to Syria in 2007 and is now considering similar action against Iran. But the very acts that have allowed Israel to maintain its nuclear edge in the short term have prolonged an imbalance that is unsustainable in the long term. Israel’s proven ability to strike potential nuclear rivals with impunity has inevitably made its enemies anxious to develop the means to prevent Israel from doing so again. In this way, the current tensions are best viewed not as the early stages of a relatively recent Iranian nuclear crisis but rather as the final stages of a decades-long Middle East nuclear crisis that will end only when a balance of military power is restored.

In other words, Israel’s development of nuclear weapons, as well as its failure to sign the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty or even acknowledge the program, has long been an “i” waiting to be dotted. Proliferation, however, is not the answer to proliferation. I’d say that Waltz, despite his exalted status, undermines his credibility when he closes with this statement:

… policymakers and citizens in the Arab world, Europe, Israel, and the united States should take comfort from the fact that history has shown that where nuclear capabilities emerge, so, too, does stability.

But Waltz has long claimed that, as he states in the closing line of the Foreign Affairs article “When it comes to nuclear weapons, now as ever, more may be better.”

If the only sure way to make a state respect another’s sovereignty is to risk blowing both off the face of the earth, that’s a pretty sad commentary on not only international relations, but humanity itself.

*Thanks to Focal Pointer Michael Busch for bringing it to my attention.