It’s an important program in an important nation in an important part of the world: Iran’s nuclear program. In fact, it may be one of the most important developments on the international stage right now. Yet, in the election of 2012, with the economy occupying the first and only place in nearly everyone’s minds, the program is under-discussed. Sure, the foreign policy community may be buzzing about it, but it seems as though only a portion of the American people even care. The Iranian people certainly care. Even if a large amount of U.S. resources and interests are invested in the developments in Iran, America’s voters, being inwardly focused, care little about what happens in the Islamic Republic. And why not? At face value, whether or not some nation on the other side of the world acquires weapons of mass destruction should have little effect on how Americans live at home. Except it does. In this article, I would like to discuss not only why the Iranian nuclear program is immensely important, but also what might happen if the Persian nation reaches the ultimate goal: possession of a weapon of mass destruction.
What Might Happen to Iran?
To begin, the only sure thing about what will happen if Iran gets the bomb is that a bunch of experts will be wrong. There isn’t really a strong consensus about the domestic consequences of a nuclear Iran. Some say that regimes with weapons of mass destruction tend to be more stable. One exception: Pakistan, with a government that teeters on the edge of collapse. Of all the nations that have gone nuclear, Pakistan is the most similar to Iran, in terms of demographics and ideology. And guess what? The architect of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program has also helped the Iranians with theirs. Other scholars say that nations with nuclear weapons takes less risks militarily, but Pakistan not only harbors terrorists(a pretty risky practice), but it also utilizes terrorism in its conflict with India. Iran does the same with Israel and Saudi Arabia. And why would anyone want the Iranian regime to become even more stable? Either way, a more solid Iranian government will continue to grossly violate human rights, or a destabilized regime will fall into chaos and terrorism, two unpleasant options. It is difficult to see which is the lesser of two evils here: tyranny? Or anarchy?
What Might Happen to the Middle East?
In the limited conversation about the Iranian nuclear program’s effect on the Middle East, the key second party has often been cited as Israel. The entire geopolitical scenario seems to revolve around the Jewish state, and how it might respond to a nuclear Iran. However, a weapon of mass destruction in the hands of the regime will affect more than just Israeli-Iranian relations in the Middle East. Iran is currently striving to be a dominant force in the region, and Saudi Arabia and Turkey feel threatened. The Islamic Republic’s continued support of the Assad regime in Syria is often countered by the Saudis’ support of the opposition forces. A bomb in the hands of the Iranian government could radically change the equation. Assad might be willing to take more risks with the lives of Syrian soldiers and civilians alike, with the knowledge that his patrons in Tehran could deter any foreign intervention. In response, rivals to Iran, like Saudi Arabia, might seek nuclear weapons of their own. Regardless of whether or not acquisition of a bomb stabilizes the Iranian regime, the surrounding nations are likely to respond negatively. This could translate into an Israeli airstrike, or widespread nuclear proliferation.
What Might Happen to the United States?
America has a plethora of investments in the Middle East: support of Israel, the stability of the Iraqi government, petroleum imports, and a military presence in Afghanistan. A weapon of mass destruction in Iranian hands could fundamentally damage our efforts in these areas. Israel would undoubtedly feel threatened, the already shaky Iraqi government could topple, the resulting tension could send oil prices skyrocketing, and American forces would be in much greater danger. However, an attempted military offensive to disable Iran’s nuclear program would fail at its stated goal, and still might result in the same four problems. How did we get ourselves into this mess? The mixed American response, undertaken by two wildly different Presidents, is partially to blame. Whether or not Iran should be allowed to acquire a nuclear weapon, the course of action by the United States has been infuriating. If we really don’t want the regime to get a bomb, then why aren’t the sanctions tougher? However, if America is willing to allow Iran’s program to continue, then why are we trying to destabilize the regime with those same sanctions? In his article “Why Iran Should Get the Bomb”, Kenneth Waltz said that “a country bent on acquiring nuclear weapons can rarely be dissuaded from doing so.” This idea, combined with a lackluster approach to Iran’s nuclear program, leaves the United States with two choices: risk letting the regime have a WMD, or risk trying to prevent them from doing so, using military action. American policymakers’ “kicking the can down the road” has once again left the people of this nation to choose between another armed conflict, or a nuclear Iran.
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