The Nuclear Iran and its consequences.
As prospects of an Israeli attack against Iran’s nuclear program mount, the concerns of many are understandable – an Iranian response, some argue, would be devastating, and the potential for faulty intelligence – as in Iraq – is high.
But the truth is that a nuclear Iran would be destabilising even if Iran acted rationally. It would trigger a cascade of proliferation in one of the most critical and volatile regions of the world. It would usher a new Cold War. It would escalate regional conflicts. And it could ultimately lead to war anyway. Sounding the alarm, therefore, is not warmongering on false evidence. Comparisons with Iraq are actually misleading, for at least three reasons.
First, Iran’s program is conducted in many facilities that can be observed from satellites, while in Iraq there was a presumption – but no evidence – of clandestine installations.
Second, Iran’s program relies significantly on supplies from the now-defunct A.Q. Khan nuclear-proliferation network, which has supplied the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) with a wealth of detail on its nuclear transfers to Iran. More recently, details of Iran’s clandestine program emerged from a rogue Russian scientist who worked on it as a gun for hire.
Third, the most worrying details of Iran’s program have come from the periodic reports of the same IAEA, as French nuclear security expert Bruno Tertrais notes, ”that asserted in early 2003, at the risk of enraging Washington, that Iraq did not appear to have resumed its nuclear program after 1991 and which sceptics therefore should take seriously”.
Iran’s nuclear program for much of its history was clandestine – hardly proof of peaceful intentions. In 2002 and 2009, respectively, opposition sources and western intelligence exposed its three main facilities for fuel production – Arak (heavy water reactor which could be used for plutonium production), Natanz and Fordow (both uranium enrichment). The intelligence accuracy, here, was miles away from the Iraq experience.
There is also much to doubt in Iran’s claim that its program’s purposes are peaceful. It has failed, for 28 years, to produce one single watt of electricity, except for the Bushehr nuclear reactor, which only recently came online.
The history of concealment, the IAEA-corroborated evidence, and the fact Iran decided to launch in 1984 at the height of the Iran-Iraq war, all suggest Iran has military, not civilian aims for its program.
But critics of the ongoing war rhetoric reassure us that Iran is a rational actor. It can thus be persuaded to renounce its quest through diplomatic means and sanctions – despite nearly 10 years of failed efforts – or deterred if it acquires nuclear weapons. They also warn us that Iran’s response to a pre-emptive attack will be devastating.
The fact is, if Iran is rational enough that it can be dissuaded, Iran will be rational enough to understand that an excessive response to a military strike will carry devastating consequences for its regime.
Iran must know that a limited response to an Israeli strike, which focuses on Israeli targets alone, is less likely to draw the US into the fight. Iran knows, for example, that efforts to block the Strait of Hormuz would be met with devastating military response by US forces.
In short, if critics of war offer the case for a rational Iran as a reason not to attack, they surely must agree that Iran’s rational response will be discerning
– it should retaliate against Israel, but not beyond.
And conversely, if Iran’s response can be expected to be irrational, then why should anyone feel reassured that their current policy can be deterred or that a nuclear Iran would act responsibly? Wars are never straightforward affairs. And they should never be preferred over the alternative.
But Iran’s nuclear threat is real, and its consequences would be dramatic for a region on which the global economy critically depends. Talk of war is neither irresponsible then, nor unfounded. Besides, if Iran is so rational, a credible threat of a military attack may in fact persuade Iran its nuclear quest is futile.
Therefore, the threat should be kept on the table. Efforts to discredit the evidence against Iran, dismiss the consequences of a nuclear Iran, or exaggerate the outcomes of an attack are just as irresponsible as trigger-happy talk of war