The Iranian nuclear threat

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Most agree that a nuclear Iran would not be subject to the same degree of deterrence, as even other rogue states like North Korea or Pakistan. The former is a client of nuclear China, the most populous nation in the world; the latter is an existential enemy of nuclear India, with the world’s second largest population. And because the Iranian theocracy, whether sincerely or in a feigned fashion, often talks in apocalyptic terms about the appearance of its 12th missing imam, the end of Israel, and assorted threats to the United States and Sunni Gulf states, it projects an image that the normal protocols of the nuclear club might not apply fully to its own strategic calculus. In other words, it believes appearing crazy is an advantage in nuclear poker.

And is there an alternative to a nuclear Iran? It is equally bleak, given that computer viruses, sabotage, UN inspections, and international sanctions so far have not slowed down the Iran nuclear program enough to suggest that it will not in the near future deploy a nuclear weapon.

The third alternative of preemption is equally discouraging, given that the Iranian facilities are scattered, subterranean, may not be all known, and protected by advanced air defenses. There are also loud promises of all sorts of conventional and non-conventional Iranian retaliation against Israel, the Sunni regimes, and U.S. overseas facilities and bases. Iran is a rhetorical master at weaving scenarios of Armageddon, as it promises to take the region down with it. The only preventative of a future nuclear Iran would be a joint preemptive air assault, led by the United States, along with its NATO allies, begrudgingly and quietly approved by China and Russia, and sustained for several days–an unlikely scenario in the second term of the Obama administration. So most likely we are at an impasse, or rather a race–waiting to see whether Iran gets a few bombs before 2017 when a new administration might adopt a more muscular stance.