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Debate: Is a nuclear Iran intolerable?

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Is a nuclear Iran intolerable, justifying military action to prevent?

Background and context

Iran has worked to establish nuclear energy technology since the 1950s.
Yet, concerns arose regarding these developments after the Islamic Revolution of 1979, and as it ramped up efforts to revive its civilian nuclear programs during the 1990s.
Nuclear power in Iran When it was revealed in 2002 and 2003 that it had developed clandestine research into fuel enrichment and conversion, fears were raised about its nuclear program being used to develop nuclear weapons. As it has moved forward with it nuclear program, defying UN mandates and calls for it to open its program to inspections, and as it appears to come closer to developing the capacity for a nuclear weapon, many have asked whether a nuclear-armed Iran is intolerable. The implications of the answers to this question are critical. If the answer is "no", then military action may be viewed as a just response, obviously after all diplomatic means have been exhausted. Others argue that a nuclear Iran is not such an intolerable thing, or at least it is not so intolerable as to justify launching major strikes against it nuclear program and risking various forms of retaliation from Iran in response.

Contents

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Nuclear threat: Would Iran indiscriminately use nuclear weapons?

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Pro

  • Nuclear weapons in radical Iran are an intolerable risk Iran's leadership holds radical, Islamic views that make it more likely than other countries to take-up the risk of using a nuclear weapon. This radical ideology discounts the faculty of reason, making it difficult to count on Iran making a sound cost-benefit analysis that using a nuclear weapon is not in their interests, and would, likely, lead to their annihilation. In this way, the risks that the Iranian regime will use its nuclear weapons against another country are intolerably high.
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Con

  • Iran has pledged not to use WMD. Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, has already stated that using WMDs is against Islamic beliefs, and has forbidden the government of Iran from developing Nuclear Weapons.
  • Iran can be deterred from using a nuclear weapon Senior Associate and Director for Non-Proliferation at the Carnegie Endowment Joseph Cirincione stated on April 4th, 2006, "The threat from an Iranian nuclear bomb is not that Iran is going to get the bomb and attack the United States, or attack Israel, or that they are going to give it to a terrorist group to wage those attacks. No, deterrence is alive and well. Iran understands that such an attack would be the last attack of its regime. It would be a regime suicide move to actually use the bomb."[2]
  • Fearing a nuclear Iran strengthens the country Sanam Vakil of Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies said in an October, 2008 NPR debate on the nuclearization of Iran that the world is making Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad "stronger everyday by paying attention to him."[3]
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Israel: Is a nuclear Iran an existential threat to Israel?

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Pro

  • A nuclear Iran is an existential threat to Israel Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said in May of 2008: "Yes, Israel will not tolerate a nuclear weapon in the hands of people who say openly, explicitly and publicly that they want to wipe Israel off the map. Why should we?"
  • A nuclear Iran will be more aggressive toward Israel Daniel Brumberg, an Iran and Middle East expert at Georgetown University, said in 2004: "Right at the top I'd put what I'd call the Israel issue. If Iran has an effective nuclear deterrent, its allies, particularly Hizbullah, might feel emboldened and that they have the cover to pursue a more hostile approach to Israel."[5]
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Con

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Terrorist threat: Would Iran supply a nuclear weapon to terrorists?

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Pro

  • A nuclear Iran may supply the weapon to terrorists Joshua Muravchik. "Opposing View: Iranian Bomb 'Intolerable'". USA Today. November 20, 2007 - "The dangers an Iranian bomb would present are intolerable. Iran is the pre-eminent sponsor of terrorism. Iranian weapons are responsible for a large share of U.S. casualties in Iraq. Our forces in Afghanistan have intercepted Iranian arms shipments to the Taliban. Argentina has indicted Iranian officials for blowing up a Buenos Aires Jewish center. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has said Tehran was behind Hamas' armed takeover of Gaza. Iran provides haven to fugitive leaders of al-Qaeda. The list goes on. [...] A nuclear attack by terrorists would be almost impossible to deter. Against whom would we threaten retaliation?"


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Con


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Middle East: Is a nuclear Iran intolerable to Middle East security?

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Pro

  • A nuclear Iran would be more aggressive in the Middle East Even if Iran opts not to use a nuclear weapon, there are major additional risks. It's possession of a nuclear weapon would make it much more likely to act aggressively in the international system through conventional means or through its sponsorship of terrorism. Nuclear weapons will support such aggression because it will make other states think twice about responding aggressively, out of fear that Iran will then respond with nuclear strikes.
Michael Rubin. "Can Iran Be Contained?". American Enterprise Institute. November 5, 2008 - "An Iranian nuclear first strike might be the nightmare scenario for U.S. policymakers, but it is not the most likely one. Should Tehran acquire nuclear arms, the Iranian leadership may feel itself so immune from consequence that it has no obstacles to conventional aggression, whether direct or by proxy. While Western officials may think that the United States can deter Iran, Iranian officials may believe that their nuclear capability will enable them to deter the West. Indeed, in September 2005, the hard-line monthly Ma'refat opined, 'Deterrence does not belong just to a few superpowers,'"
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Con

  • Allies of Middle East will prevent a nuclear Iran from dominating Dr. Barry Posen writes in a February 28, 2006 article in the New York Times: "Because many of Iran's neighbors lack nuclear weapons, it's possible that Iran could use a nuclear capacity to blackmail such states into meeting demands - for example, to raise oil prices, cut oil production or withhold cooperation with the United States. But many of Iran's neighbors are allies of the United States, which holds a strategic stake in their autonomy and is unlikely to sit by idly as Iran blackmails, say, Kuwait or Saudi Arabia. It is unlikely that these states would capitulate to a nuclear Iran rather than rely on an American deterrent threat. To give in to Iran once would leave them open to repeated extortion."[7]
  • Iran's military cannot project force in Middle East Anthony Cordesman of the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies said to the USA Today in 2007: "Iran represents 'a force that has to be taken seriously in the defense of its country, but it has very little capacity to project outside the country. Iran cannot seriously engage the U.S. for any length of time. In an asymmetric capacity perhaps, but not in conventional warfare."[8]
  • Iran is more concerned about self-defense than aggression Iran is more focused on national defense than using military power and nuclear weapons to increase its influence in the region. Anthony Cordesman of the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies expressed this view in an interview with the USA Today.[9]


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Arms race: Would a nuclear Iran spark an international arms race?

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Pro

  • A nuclear Iran will spark an international arms race An October 2005 report by the Army's Strategic Studies Institute argues that, "Iran’s continued insistence that it acquired its nuclear capabilities legally under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) would, if unchallenged, encourage its neighbors (including Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria, Turkey,and Algeria) to develop nuclear options of their own by emulating Iran’s example, by overtly declaring possession (in Israel’s case)or by importing nuclear weapons (in Saudi Arabia’s case). Such announcements and efforts, in turn, would likely undermine nuclear nonproliferation restraints internationally and strain American relations with most of its key friends in the Middle East."
Richard Russell writes in an October 2005 article titled "Arab Security Responses to a Nuclear-Ready Iran": "A deterioration in Turkish-American relations, coupled with failed efforts to gain entry into the EU, over time could lead Ankara to be substantially less confident in NATO’s resolve to come to Turkey’s defense in the event of a military contingency with Iran. The Turks might then calculate that they need to have their own, independent nuclear deterrent as a hedge against Iran’s nuclear forces, as well as future nuclear weapons aspirants to Turkey’s southern borders."[10]


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Con

  • A nuclear-armed Iran will not provoke a Middle East arms race Dr. Barry Posen writes in a February 28th article in the New York Times: "A Middle Eastern arms race is a frightening thought, but it is improbable. If Iran acquires nuclear weapons, among its neighbors, only Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey could conceivably muster the resources to follow suit. Israel is already a nuclear power. Cairo depends on foreign assistance, which would make Egypt vulnerable to the enormous international pressure it would most likely face to refrain from joining an arms race. Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, has the money to acquire nuclear weapons and technology on the black market, but possible suppliers are few and very closely watched. To develop the domestic scientific, engineering and industrial base necessary to build a self-sustaining nuclear program would take Saudi Arabia years. In the interim, the Saudis would need nuclear security guarantees from the United States or Europe, which would in turn apply intense pressure on Riyadh not to develop its own arms. Finally, Turkey may have the resources to build a nuclear weapon, but as a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, it relied on American nuclear guarantees against the mighty Soviet Union throughout the Cold War. There's no obvious reason to presume that American guarantees would seem insufficient relative to Iran."[11]


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Oil: Is a nuclear Iran a threat to oil?

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Pro

  • A nuclear Iran would use oil as a weapon "An 'Intolerable' Threat". Wall Street Journal. February 3, 2006: "A nuclear Iran could also wield a predominating influence in OPEC. It could disrupt maritime traffic in the Persian Gulf and force the U.S. Navy out of its narrow, shallow waters. It could menace Europe, and eventually the U.S. homeland, as its ballistic missile capabilities develop. It could arm Palestinian terrorists with sophisticated weapons, turning Gaza into a risk not just for Israel but the entire Mediterranean basin."
  • Risks of a nuclear Iran will raise oil prices The real risks of a nuclear Iran in the region will cause the oil markets to react, raising oil prices significantly out of concern for a sudden crisis that would cut off supplies and disrupt revenues for months or years. These higher oil prices would significantly disrupt the global economy.


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Con

  • Iran would respond to an attack by disrupting oil prices Joseph Kirschke. "A Strike on Iran’s Nuclear Weapons Facilities: Assessing Potential Retaliation". Global Geopoltics. December 06, 2007 - "Kenneth Katzmann, a senior analyst for Persian Gulf Affairs for the Congressional Research Service at the Library of Congress, quoted a former Air Force planner as saying 400 targets must be struck including 75 that would require 'penetrating munitions' to sufficiently disrupt Iran’s nuclear ambitions (2.) – as evidence emerges of some facilities being placed inside populated areas. (3.) [...] A response by Iran, he noted in an interview, could very easily take on economic dimensions. 'What they’re going to do is drive up petrol prices,' he said, noting that even threatening speeches by Iranian leaders can impact world oil prices. 'We feel they’re going to do something ‘out of the box.’' For example, he said, Iran could disrupt shipping in the Straits of Hormuz – the channel at the mouth of the Persian Gulf through which two-fifths of the world’s oil passes. 'They may even use their influence to get the Basra oil workers to walk off the job,' said Katzmann, 'to not only get Iranian oil off the market, but Iraqi oil off the market, too.'"


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Military action: If a nuclear Iran is not tolerable, can it be thwarted?

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Pro

  • Air strikes can destroy Iran's nuclear program Patrick Clawson argued in a 2008 NPR debate: "This would be the Navy and the Air Force, which are not overly committed in Afghanistan and Iraq. It would be quite a doable thing to destroy the key nodes in Iran's nuclear program.… There are some key nodes without which that program cannot function, and it would take a number of years to rebuild."[12]
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Con

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Diplomacy: Is diplomacy a limited option, making a nuclear Iran intolerable?

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Pro

  • Diplomacy will not work with a nuclear Iran Iran has already shirked all opportunities to engage in diplomacy with the world. Once it acquires a nuclear weapon, it will become nearly impossible to negotiate peacefully with it.
  • Diplomacy with Iran requires force, not "tolerance" Patrick Clawson of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy: "[Proponents of tolerating Iran say,] 'We should press them, press them.' How the heck are you going to press them, if you say at the end of the day that what we're prepared to do is to tolerate it?"[14]
Weekly Standard editor William Kristol said in an NPR debate on the topic: "They're not going to be interested in being friends. You should all vote 'No' [against 'tolerance'] just to help diplomacy along."[15]
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Con

  • "Tolerating" a nuclear Iran means using every tool but war. Tolerating a nuclear Iran does not mean sitting idly by. Rather, it means implementing every diplomatic, strategic, counter-alliance, and funding measure to contain the country and ensure that it does no damage to our allies and to international security. It is important to make this distinction, as it is certainly true that complacency is not an option in the face of a nuclear Iran, which is recognized as a greater security risk to the world. "Tolerating" Iran simply means avoiding the bad choice of going to war with the country, instead pursuing the other means of containment described below.
  • A nuclear Iran can be diplomatically/strategically contained. A containment strategy can be successful at ensuring that Iran cannot aggressively expand its influence within the Middle East.


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Democracy: Will a nuclear Iran undermine democracy in the country and region?

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Pro


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Con

  • Attacking Iran would legitimize regime, undermine democracy Shirin Ebadi, an Iranian human rights advocate and the 2003 Nobel Peace Laureate, said in a 2008 speech at Barnard College: "Foreign attacks and threats on the Iranian government will only harm human rights efforts, since the government would act under the guise of 'national security' to suppress those who are seeking more freedom in the country."[16]


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Pro/con sources

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See also

External links

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