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Commentary: Iran's nuclear static

By ARNAUD DE BORCHGRAVE, UPI Editor at Large   |   June 27, 2012 at 6:38 AM   |   Comments

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WASHINGTON, June 27 (UPI) -- "Why Iran Should Get the Bomb" was the provocative headline on the cover of the summer issue of Foreign Affairs, the flagship magazine of the prestigious Council on Foreign Relations. Kenneth Waltz, the author, is arguably among the Top 10 scholars of international relations since World War II.

The article by Waltz, 87, triggered a cascade of invective, none louder than from Israel's most prominent supporters.

Daniel Pipes called it "the single most preposterous analysis by an allegedly serious strategist of the Iranian quest for a nuclear weapon."

Waltz's principal reasons for advocating an Iranian bomb (as he himself summarizes them):

-- It would produce a more stable balance of military power in the Middle East. "Israel's regional nuclear monopoly, which has proved remarkably durable for the past four decades has long fueled instability in the Middle East (and) it is Israel's nuclear arsenal, not Iran's desire for one, that has contributed most of the current crisis …"

-- "By reducing imbalances in military power, new nuclear states generally produce more regional and international stability, not less."

-- "If Iran goes nuclear, Israel and Iran will deter each other, as nuclear powers always have. There has never been a full-scale war between two nuclear-armed states. Once Iran crosses the nuclear threshold, deterrence will apply, even if the Iranian arsenal is relatively small."

-- Would Iran become more cautious? "History shows that when countries acquire the bomb, they feel increasingly vulnerable and become acutely aware that their nuclear weapons make them a potential target in the eyes of major powers … India and Pakistan have both become more cautious since going nuclear."

A World War II veteran, Waltz got his doctorate in political science from Columbia University and is professor emeritus of political science at the University of California, Berkeley. A past president of the American Political Science Association, he is also a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Waltz's 1959 book "Man, the State and War" posited a three-image view of looking at behavior in international relations. In his "The Spread of Nuclear Weapons: A Debate Renewed," Waltz argued for a world with more nuclear weapons states as this would enhance their power in nuclear deterrence.

While Waltz concedes it's impossible to be certain of Iranian intentions, he argues that its nuclear quest is designed to enhance its own security, not to improve its offensive capabilities, preservation being its modus operandi.

Foreign affairs experts rate Waltz among the world's most influential theorists in international relations but most of his writings have appeared only in academic journals.

It has become an article of faith among Israel's current top leadership (Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak) that once Iran develops its own nuclear bomb, it will be designed to be launched by medium-range missile against Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, thus in effect ending the existence of the Jewish state.

Clearly diplomatic negotiations are at an impasse. The European Union's oil embargo against Iran begins Sunday. The United States has tightened its own robust sanctions. Assuming punitive measures don't produce any change of heart in Iran's theocracy, advocates of an Israeli pre-emptive strike against Iran's key nuclear installations will gain credibility.

Some Iran-watchers are even suggesting that the best time for Israel to launch an attack would be at the height of the U.S. presidential campaign. Neither candidate would think it wise to criticize Israel.

Kenneth Waltz is not easily deterred. "The historical record," he says, "indicates that a country bent on acquiring nuclear weapons can rarely be dissuaded from doing so. Punishing a state through economic sanctions does not inexorably derail its nuclear program. Take North Korea, which succeeded in building its weapons despite countless rounds of sanctions and U.N. Security Council resolutions."

If Iran concludes, as it probably already has, that its security depends on owning nukes, sanctions are unlikely to change its mind, says Waltz.

In fact," he adds, "still more sanctions now could make Iran feel even more vulnerable, giving it still more reason to seek the protection of the ultimate deterrent."

Another possible outcome, says Waltz, "is that Iran stops short of testing a nuclear weapon but develops a breakout capability, the capacity to build and test one quite quickly."

Iran wouldn't be the first to do so. Japan opted for such a nuclear path and today it could produce a nuclear weapon in a few months.

An Iranian bomb would be quickly followed by a Saudi Arabian bomb, which could be obtained rapidly from Pakistan, a country desperately short of hard currency.

Most frightening of all scenarios is an Israeli attempt to go it alone that would trigger geopolitical mayhem up and down the Persian Gulf and beyond.

The U.S. Navy 5th Fleet recently transferred four minesweepers to its home base in Bahrain whose population is Shiite Muslims while the royal family and a small minority are Sunni. The small island harbors thousands of pro-Iranian Bahrainis.

Iranian mines in the Strait of Hormuz would drive oil prices skyward instantly. Minesweepers would clear the mines fairly quickly but they could be dropped time and again at night from thousands of small Iranian outboard craft.

Almost 40 percent of the world's seaborne oil -- 20 percent of the world's oil production -- transits the strait daily. Almost the entire 600-mile northern side of the gulf is Iranian territory. Iran's retaliatory capabilities also extend to Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza.

One can only hope that Kenneth Waltz's geopolitical assumptions and prognostications are the right ones.

© 2012 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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