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Saturday, August 13, 2005

In the current Speccie Bruce Anderson has a great piece on Iran's nuclear weapons programme. His basic premise is, that Iran cannot be halted in its weapons programme, and we ought to consider accommodating it instead of trying to stop this. He argues that even a changed regime would be so weak internally that it would have to rely on the nukes to strenghten its position. Iran is a potential great power and will want to be recognised as such; nukes also serve this purpose. Anderson agrees, as I pointed out the other day, that military options to halt the programme are realistically non-existent. Therefore only a massive sanctions regime would be on the cards. However, as Anderson points out, such a policy would make Iran a poor, suspicious and internally weak country - that still possessed nuclear weapons. Not a good option as we can see with North Korea.
I have a very open mind about what to do about the Iranian nuclear programme, and I find Anderson's essay very persuasive on the whole. But there are a few points that I can't quite stop nagging about. As Anderson writes:

As an intellectual exercise, try to find a justification which one in 100,000 Iranians might accept for Israel having nuclear weapons, but not Iran.

Well I'm sure there are quite a few more Iranians who would accept that Iran's declared intentions towards Israel would justify an imbalance in military power. Strangely enough though, Bruce Anderson is quite happy with Israel's nukes and thinks the Israelis should definitely hold onto them (was in the Times some while ago, though I can't seem to find the link). So, presumeably Anderson thinks that this is an ok-situation. Well I'll just let that thought rest for a moment. But this does point to a wider problem in the region. How do you halt the regional slide into nuclearisation that would inevitably follow Iran's nukes? I can perhaps see a possibility that you could, generally speaking, defend Israel's Middle Eastern monopoly on nuclear weapons as Anderson himself does. But how, could you then go and say, it is also ok for Iran to have nukes, but not for Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey and who-knows-who-else? I still think in terms of proliferation security stopping Iran's nuclear weapons programme should be a goal in dealing with Teheran.
The other problem is of course that nukes would make Iran perfectly defended. Undoubtedly, an Iranian government will be nervous about attack when is sees the military forces of the Great Satan in all neighbouring countries bar Armenia (a very short piece of border admittedly, and even Armenia has troops in Iraq). While defence is a legitimate concern and Iran's fears of attack should somehow be met diplomatically, perfect defence also means that Iran has more freedom of manouvre abroad. Given its sponsorship of different terrorist and insurgent organisations, this would be a very negative development for security. Like the Eastern bloc during the Cold War, Iran could provide support for terrorism with impunity.
As I said I have an open mind and the approach that Bruce Anderson has sketched may turn out to be the best, but I'm not quite convinced yet.

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