by Arnaud De Borchgrave
"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.
Ziocon 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 Zioconned 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 Zioconned 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 Zioconned sanctions and Zioconned 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 Zioconned 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 Zioconned U.S. Navy 5th Fleet recently transferred four minesweepers to its home base in Bahrain whose population is Shiite Muslims while the Zioconned 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, Iraq and Syria....
One can only hope that Kenneth Waltz's geopolitical assumptions and prognostications are the right ones.....
By Kaveh L Afrasiabi
Western sanctions on Iran and heated policy debate on Tehran's nuclear program go hand and hand, but the latest foray into the latter by Kenneth Waltz, a prominent international relations theorist, is emerging as one of the most controversial.
Turning conventional wisdom on its head, in a brief but weighty article in the influential Foreign Affairs magazine, Waltz defends Iranian nuclear proliferation as a stabilizing factor in the turbulent Middle East, citing the regional imbalances and insecurities wrought by Israel's nuclear monopoly and the rationality of Iranian regime.
Not only that, Waltz questions the wisdom of Western and Israeli pressure tactics against Iran, pointing out that tactics such as military threats and coercive sanctions only heighten Iran's national security concerns, thus strengthening the country's proliferation resolve.
Featured prominently on the magazine's cover with the eye-catching title "Why Iran should get the bomb", the article is a timely jab at official Western justifications for targeting Iran with an arsenal of sanctions, threats, sabotage, assassinations and, of course, incessant propaganda and psychological warfare.
Waltz, who has written extensively on the nuclear arms race and is credited for the international relations school of thought known as structural (neo) realism, expresses his pessimism that these efforts can stop a country "bent on acquiring nuclear weapons". He predicts that Iran will beat the odds and eventually get its bombs, but that this will contribute to - rather than threaten - regional peace and security.
It isn't clear if Waltz's theoretical contribution, which offers a different diagnosis of the Iran problem and recommends new directions, will have an impact on real policy. Irrespective of whether one subscribes to his assumptions and conclusions, the article offers a penetrating discussion with more insights into the complexities posed by the Iran nuclear standoff than whole books on the subject
In essence, Waltz's theory of Iranian proliferation undermines the legitimacy of the current US-led strategy of preventing Iran's acquisition of nuclear weapons and even the capability to build such weapons.
This is in sharp contrast to the recent past, when the US government publicly toyed with the notion of consenting to Iran's low-grade enrichment program. That diplomatic charade has apparently outlived its usefulness, and the truth about the US's real intentions from recent multilateral talks on Iran's nuclear ambitions is gradually becoming clear.
By expressing academic sympathy for Iran's nuclear program, Waltz appears to have single-handedly reinvigorated debate on Iran while supplying policy-makers with a theoretical framework they can use to make better sense of their options.
Waltz picks and chooses between "three scenarios" on Iran. One is halting Iran's nuclear weapons program through sanctions and other means; a second involves Iran reaching the "breakout" threshold but falling short of assembling actual bombs (nuclear latency). Waltz dismisses the latter scenario as unlikely since "power begets to be balanced" and Iran is highly motivated to counterbalance Israel's nuclear monopoly.
The third scenario is Iran joining the world's nuclear weapons elite, at which point Waltz predicts Tehran would become more cautious and risk-averse.
This article highlights paradoxes in the Western and Israeli counter proliferation tool box. Firstly, that these tactics create a self-fulfilling prophecy, and secondly they will persuade Iran to continue with its proliferation activities rather than dissuading it from doing so.
Theoretically, Waltz forces the Western course of action towards Iran into the awkward position of having to justify itself. Still, this does not mean that Waltz's approach is problem-free.
At the heart of Waltz's argument lies the assumption that Iran is marching towards a nuclear balance with Israel in the region. This is why Waltz expresses surprise that it has taken so long before another Middle East state acted to address this problem, notwithstanding Israel's past attacks on Iraq and Syria to stymie any rising nuclear competition.
This hypothesis that Iran is overly concerned about Israel's proliferation and aims to counterbalance it does not match the reality.
Iran's nuclear program under the Islamic Republic was revived after a temporary halt at the outset of the 1979 Islamic revolution in response to the perceived threat of Iraq's nuclear program during the 1980s and 1990s. However, it acquired a non-military dimension with the demise of Saddam Hussein following the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, as per the conclusion of the US's intelligence finding of December 2007. (This national estimate remains valid and essentially unchanged today despite official Washington rhetoric).
The fact is that most Iran policy experts regarded Israel an "out of area" nuisance with respect to Tehran's national security calculus, but it has been elevated to a primary threat solely due to Israel's constant sabre-rattling against Iran.
Waltz is wrong to assume that Iran has been motivated to go fully nuclear as a result of the perceived threat of Israel's arsenal. Contrary to what Waltz says, Iran's leaders have repeatedly pointed to the "uselessness" and "futility" of Israel's arsenal, reflected in the absence of its utility in the various Israeli wars with its Arab neighbors.
The idea of "nuclear blackmail" by Israel may be highly important to Arab leaders, but there is no evidence that it figures prominently among the Iranian leadership.
Waltz makes the error of lumping post-revolutionary Iran with the other (unit-level) states in the contemporary anarchic world and making undue generalizations about states' behavior that fails to distinguish revolutionary from status quo powers.
A better guide for understanding Iran's uniqueness is provided by the late French philosopher Michel Foucault, who observed the revolution first-hand and wrote about its emancipatory mission, to lift the chain that weighs on the "entire world order".
President Mahmud Ahmadinejad said in a recent speech at the Rio+20 United Nations conference that there is a need for a new world order. This points at a historical understanding of the Islamic Republic as a distinct "quasi-state" that bears a trans-national sense of responsibility as a global revisionist state combating global inequities of power and injustice.
This is why Iran has spearheaded the disarmament movement by holding disarmament conferences, supporting the UN's goal of a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East, and deliberately taking aim at the nuclear weapons states' failure toward their disarmament obligations under the articles of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
By August, when Iran hosts a major summit of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and officially takes over the movement's presidency for the next three years, Tehran's determination to play an even more prominent role with respect to the disarmament and non-proliferation objectives of the NAM will grow considerably and, in turn, further weaken any opposite proliferation tendency.
For the moment, however, Iran is fairly content with its nuclear progress, which has brought it to the latent breakout capability, per the admission of Hossein Mousavian, a former Iranian nuclear negotiator, and yet without any sign that Iran has any intention of turning that latent power into a nuclear-weapons regime.
One of the reasons Iran is uninterested in going fully nuclear, ignored by Waltz, is that this would trigger a reciprocal nuclearization on the part of Saudi Arabia, Iran's main rival in the region, and thus introduce a costly and structural competition in the Persian Gulf, both draining the precious economic resources and institutionalizing the Iran-Saudi rivalry.
Indeed, that is the nub of the problem in Waltz's article, the fact that it is Israel-centric and overlooks the regional dynamic that at present exists in the Persian Gulf region, by simply making abstract generalizations about the broader Middle East.
1. Why Iran should get the bomb?, Foreign Affairs, July/August 2012
2. See Afrasiabi, "Keeping Iran's nuclear potential latent," Harvard International Review
Kaveh L Afrasiabi, PhD, is the author of After Khomeini: New Directions in Iran's Foreign Policy (Westview Press) . For his Wikipedia entry, click here. He is author of Reading In Iran Foreign Policy After September 11 (BookSurge Publishing , October 23, 2008) and Looking for rights at Harvard. His latest book is UN Management Reform: Selected Articles and Interviews on United Nations CreateSpace (November 12, 2011).