On Iran as a Nuclear Power

At work, my coworkers and I tend to discuss virtually any subject under the sun. Just yesterday we had a discussion about the death warrant of Mary, Queen of Scots — and yes, there was a work-related reason for the conversation, albeit one that would take too long to explain. :)

A few weeks ago, the subject of Iran’s nuclear ambitions came up.

One of my coworkers was deeply concerned about the possibility of Iran developing a nuclear bomb. He wanted military action right-freakin-now, either by Israel and the United States jointly or Israel alone, to reduce Iran’s suspected nuclear sites to rubble.

“You’re overreacting,” I said. “Iran doesn’t pose a threat today. Even if Iran developed a bomb, it doesn’t pose a threat.”

“How can you say that?” said my coworker. “If they have the bomb, they’ll use it and nuke Israel.”

“And Iran would do this… why, exactly?”

“They’re anti-Semites and they hate Israel.”

“And how many bombs do you think Iran will have? What kind of yield do you think they’ll have? Israel has a thirty-five year head start as a nuclear power on Iran. The United States has a seventy year head start. For every atomic bomb Iran could detonate as soon as five years from now, Israel will be able to detonate twenty or more. Iran might be able to destroy part of Tel Aviv, but Israel will be able to flatten Tehran to nuclear glass. There’s a reason Mutually Assured Destruction kept the peace between the United States and Russia for forty years. A nuclear weapon is a suicide weapon; you can use it, but your nuclear-armed enemy will be able to retaliate in kind, quite possibly in overwhelming force.”

“You’re not bothered if Iran develops nuclear weapons?”

“Not bothered? Of course I’m bothered. I’d prefer nuclear disarmament to nuclear proliferation, but nuclear disarmament won’t happen until after the next nuclear weapon is detonated in anger because, until that happens, nuclear weapons are an abstract danger at best. We’re blind to the damage they do.”

My coworker thought that I was hopelessly naive, I thought he was a war-monger. This is how these things go.

I bring up this conversation because Iran has been in the news the last few days. Negotiations with Iran appear to have reached a breakthrough that will allow nuclear inspectors to investigate Iran’s nuclear sites.

Obviously, I would prefer a world without a nuclear Iran. Anyone who cares about nuclear disarmament would prefer that. But I think the world can live with a nuclear Iran. Sixty years of nuclear strategy offers lessons, as does the ability of India and Pakistan, both nuclear powers, to coexist and contest over Kashmir without going to the nuclear option. The world’s leaders may not be able to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power, but simply being a nuclear power will contain it.

There’s a reason Mutually Assured Destruction works.

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