Friday, June 29, 2012

Nuclear Iran Does Not Increase Stability: 8 Reasons

In the July issue of Foreign Affairs, international relations scholar and founder of neorealism, Kenneth Waltz, published a column not only defending nuclear deterrence theory, but also supporting the Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon (part of the column can be found on the website of USA Today). Waltz identifies three possible futures that could be had depending on the actions of Iran’s nuclear enrichment program. I find his analysis selective and the publishing of such opinions as legitimate in both the academic and mainstream press, without acknowledging the disastrous consequences that are possible in the case that his presumptions are false, to be reprehensible. I thus write this response.

One of the biggest issues with Waltz’s analysis is his complete dismissal of the incomprehensible dangers of nuclear weapons. He writes, “A palpable sense of crisis still looms,” and then dismisses it by saying, “It should not.”1 In the words of Nuclear Age Peace Foundation president David Krieger, “fear is a healthy mechanism when one is confronted by something fearful.”2 The Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs killed 200,000 initially and many more in the months and years after. The current warheads are much larger than those two, plus new reports discuss how the nuclear famine that would follow a limited nuclear exchange between Pakistan and India could kill over 1 billion human beings.3 Luckily for us, Mr. Waltz is not worried. He thinks, “A nuclear-armed Iran would probably be the best possible result of the standoff and the one most likely to restore stability to the Middle East.” I beg to differ.

The basis of Waltz’s argument is that there are only three possible futures for the Iranian nuclear program. I will be addressing them out of their original order. One outcome that is not often discussed in the international theater “is that Iran stops short of testing a nuclear weapon but develops a breakout capability, the capacity to build and test one quite quickly.” I believe that Waltz correctly identifies that while this position would be acceptable to Iranian leadership, Israel (and most likely the United States) would not find this acceptable. The increased hostility, both in the level of sanctions and potential tangible conflict, would not only spiral the region into more instability, but could also propel Iran to proliferate fully operational nuclear weapons as a response. Either way, if this path was selected it would not remain the status quo for long.

Waltz believes that because Iran could not stop just short of a nuclear weapon, for reasons listed above, it will follow through with a weapons proliferating trajectory, resulting in greater regional and global stability. I disagree that, “New nuclear states generally produce more regional and international stabilitly.” First, this is empirically not true and a prime example of selectivity on the part of Waltz. Following the Pakistani nuclear test in 1998 was the Indo-Pakistani war of 1999, caused by the emboldening Pakistan received from its nuclear weapons program.4 North Korea has become increasingly belligerent since its proliferation. Israeli has acted as though it had impunity evermore so as greater numbers of individuals accept their role as an unofficial nuclear power. When Chechen rebels obtained a dirty bomb with seventy pounds of cesium-137 inside, it did not improve or stabilize their relations with Russia.5 While this last example is not of the relationship between states, it still depicts the way all parties, including states, interact. Waltz is incorrect when he says that nuclear powers are more cautious than they were before their proliferation. Characteristically, there also is less dialogue between nuclear actors in hostile regions as communications become increasingly polarized. This divide in communications creates an “us vs. them” mentality in which bilateralism and partisanship are not possible. Not only does this act as a roadblock for peace and humanitarian efforts, but also creates a state of exile in which the state can easily be pushed to the outside. This creates greater levels of conflict and furthers current patterns of instability.

Waltz asserts power “begs to be balanced.” This is the right direction of thought, but I would go a step further and argue that power seeks not to be balance, but to secure superiority. Nuclear powers utilize their status as a tool to manipulate other actors into actions which benefit the nuclear power. If a nuclear power wishes to assert superiority then there will be, and empirically has been (Cuban Missile Crisis for example) tensions between the forces. The crust of the earth is always in tension with itself, and every once in a while there is an earthquake as the tensions rise to uncontrollable levels. The proliferation of nuclear weapons by Iran is a dangerous new tension to add to a very fragile balance of power. Nuclear detonation is one ‘earthquake’ that we can not afford.

Following along the same lines of thought, the more actors in a situation, the more complicated it becomes. Unfortunately, a force as dangerous as nuclear weapons is not something one wants to complicate. If I sit down at a table with two friends the relationships and connections between us are easy to understand and manage. When one walks into a restaurant and there is 12 people at the table it is not nearly as easy to know who knows who and what various individuals advocacies are, and thus it is quite difficult to predict patterns their actions take. In the same way, as more nuclear powers enter the international discussion these relationships will become more tangled; creating both a nuclear matrix states can not escape and a situation in which false pretences and incorrect predictions could lead to a high level of casualties. Nuclear weapons are devices which inflict an incalculable degree of damage, and as such, further entrenching ourselves in the nuclear weapons system is not an action which guides our world toward peace and stability.

One reason Waltz feels that Iranian proliferation is inevitable is because, “In no other region of the world does a lone, unchecked nuclear state exist.” This is not true. Being an American citizen one would think that Waltz would remember that the United States is not only a nuclear power, but the only one in the western hemisphere. Not only is the US unchecked, but South America has taken numerous strides not only to not to check American proliferation with their own weapons development, but rather to come together as a community to create a 33 party nuclear weapons free zone in Central and South America. Africa, which is right next to nuclear armed Israel, has half the continent in a ratified nuclear weapons free zone. Oceana, who has been subject of a multitude of nuclear weapons tests is also a nuclear weapons free zone. When one includes in the fact that allies and coalitions, such as France and the United Kingdom in Europe, do not act as balancing agents (the power is consolidated rather than checked) then this idea is even more far fetched. The examples he uses of balancing, such as Israel, already involve one state that is more powerful than their enemies. The Six Day War is more than enough evidence of that in the case of Israel. Non-nuclear hard power is still to this day as effective as the presumed effectiveness of nuclear deterrence, especially in the case of modernized militaries. Thus to proliferate nuclear weapons is to increase the risk of nuclear detonation without granting society any benefits.

Now I am not one to make claims Iran is an irrational state. Whether I agree with their actions or not, I feel they are rational. What I feel Waltz misses in his reasoning behind his similar belief is his explanation that Iran would not attack Israel, “Destroying everything the Islamic Republic holds dear.” The problem here is Iran has made numerous statements that they would respond with full force to Israeli military action, including last week when Iranian Major General Mostafa Izadi stated, “The Islamic Revolution enjoys high capability, and if the Zionist regime wants to take an action against us, it will cause its imminent end.”6 Obviously if a state has a nuclear weapon, as Waltz supports Iran should, and that state is threatening to “end” another, as Iran has, then there is a high probability of disastrous conflict. Even if Iran did not use this force first, Israel has a record of preemptive strikes including in Iraq and Syria. The large degree of conflict between the two should be reason enough for all sides to wish to remove nuclear weapons from the table. If you saw two men about to get in a fight and one has a gun, do you give a gun to the other or do you try to take the gun away from the first? One’s natural reaction is to limit the amount of potential force in the conflict. Our response ought to be no different in foreign affairs.

So finally we come to the last of Waltz’s three possible outcomes, “Diplomacy coupled with sanctions could persuade Iran to abandon pursuit of a nuclear weapon.” Waltz quickly dismisses this scenario. Not only is Waltz far too hasty to doubt the effects of soft power and diplomacy, he all together ignores creative and progressive solutions (such as economic partnerships). A large part of diplomacy should be listening, and thus we must listen to the reasons behind why Iran would possibly seek a nuclear weapon. I see three, all of which can be solved for without developing any more illegal weapons.

1)      Iran is threatened and ostracized by a broad base of other states. Between sanctions, clear distrust of its statements that its nuclear program is legal enrichment for the sake of energy (in fact Iran’s nuclear program was started as part of the United State’s Cold War ‘Atoms for Peace’ program)7, threats of retaliation, numerous infrastructure damaging computer viruses from Israel and the United States, constant drone surveillance, and even assassination of its scientists it would seem Iran has good reason to be suspicious about the supposed benevolence of the west. This is not to mention that only 900 miles away is nuclear armed Israel, a state that has been incredibly hostile toward Iran. The only reason Iran would feel the need to have a nuclear weapon to protect itself would be if there are imminent dangers threatening it. Remove the threats and ostracizing factors and suddenly Iran has much less need for weapons of mass destruction.

2)      In the world there is a select group of countries that has decided that though they are members of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, which went into effect in 1970, have continued proliferation rather than disarming. This is a slap in the face to other NPT signatories, including Iran. Iran is clearly tired of being treated like a second class country. If it was developing nuclear weaponsm, it would clearly be a statement of equity with current global leaders - the coming out of a mature Iran. The UN Security Council, all of which is holding nuclear weapons, needs to be a leader in disarming rather than modernizing their nuclear forces. By holding onto their weapons they reinforce the reasons why states viewed as ‘rouge’ have a desire to obtain similar weapons.

3)      By claiming that the United States, United Kingdom, France, Russia, and China have the authority to hold nuclear weapons while other countries do not the Security Council is creating a power dichotomy. Waltz recognized that power is fluid; in this case if a nation is proliferating nuclear weapons then they have reached a superior level of statehood. If there was a significant lessoning of this false nuclear prestige then Iran and other nations would have less incentive to proliferate.

Note there is a distinct difference between the second and third points above, where one is based on relational dynamics between states and the other is based on the general status of a state. The western world holds the key to answering all three of these impetuses behind Iranian proliferation, and thus there are clear effective alternatives to Iran’s proliferation. Even if these alternative solutions were not present Iran has recognized what actions it can legally take as a NPT signatory, and thus could not legally proliferate. If Iran wished to scare off threats and deter intervention why would it continually deny having a nuclear weapons program? Iran has made it clear it plans to follow international law as set out by the NPT.

The theory of nuclear deterrence, specifically in the case of Iran, does not have a strong enough claim to be worth risking the possible consequences of a nuclear armed Iran. The 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis is often toted as a success of nuclear deterrence, but what most people forget (and what most schools do not teach), is that it was the deployment of American nuclear weapons in Turkey that prompted the Soviet deployment in Cuba in the first place.8 Let us learn from our mistakes and realize that adding more nuclear powers to the situation does not make the world more stable, but only further fractures the international system through increased tension; tensions if released spell annihilation for millions, and possibly even billions, of lives.

In summary, here are eight reasons why a nuclear armed Iran does not make a more peaceful world;

  1. Nuclear weapons are a force too dangerous, a risk far too great, to casually use as a system of pacification and power balancing.

  1. Nuclear weapons proliferation increases regional and international instability and emboldens those who have them, leading to a greater degree of conflict and instability.

  1. Nuclear proliferation leads to decreased levels of communication, hampering peace and humanitarian solutions. This would be the opposite of increased stability.

  1. More nuclear actors make the actions of all nuclear powers less clear. This will lead to a greater chance of human error as well as further entrenching the world in the nuclear relation matrix.

  1. It is empirically not true that there must be a balancing nuclear power in each region, and to assert such flagrant absurdities while supporting nuclear proliferation only serves to justify the potential for dangerous consequences.

  1. Non-nuclear hard power remains as effective as it was before the nuclear era, and is possibly even more effective now than it was before due to modernization. For this reason nuclear deterrence is not needed and proliferation only increases the risk of detonation without giving society any added benefits.

  1. The reasons Iran wishes to have a nuclear weapon (exterior threats, equality with other nuclear powers, and nuclear prestige) all can be solved without sanctions, threats, or the development of a nuclear weapon on either side. For this reason there is no reason states need to oppose Iran with opposition as there are far more beneficial peaceful solutions to Iranian nuclear enrichment.

  1. As a signatory of the NPT it would be illegal for Iran to proliferate nuclear weapons. Any argument in favor of Iranian proliferation shows a clear disregard for international law. International law, rather than continued proliferation, is the true path to global stability.

1 Waltz, Kenneth, “Why Iran Should Get the Bomb,” Foreign Affairs. July/August 2012.
2 Krieger, David, “Fear of Nuclear Weapons,” Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. June 19, 2012
3 “Nuclear Famine: A Billion People at Risk,” Physicians for Social Responsibility. April 24, 2012
4 Fortna, Virginia, “Peace Time: Cease-Fire Agreements and the Durability of Peace,” Princeton University Press. 2004.
5 Allison, Graham, “Nuclear Terrorism: How Serious a Threat to Russia?” Belfer Center.
6 “Iranian General: Miltary Strike Would be End of Israel,” Common Dreams. June 23, 2012.
7 Roe, Sam, “An atomic Threat Made in America,” Chicago Tribune. January 28, 2007.
8 Parrington, Alan, “Mutually Assured Destruction Revisited,” Airpower Journal. Winter 1997.

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