Tag Archives: IAEA

Is Iran’s Nuclear Program a Threat to Anyone?

Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is considered irrational by some in the West. But do we have any reason to fear a nuclear-armed Iran?

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) released a striking report today that accuses Iran of working to develop nuclear weapons. A New York Times piece calls the report “the harshest judgment the agency has ever issued in its decade-long struggle to pierce the secrecy surrounding the Iranian program. The findings have already rekindled a debate among the Western allies and Israel about whether increased diplomatic pressure, sanctions, sabotage or military action could stop Iran’s program.”

This new evidence that Iran is perhaps very close to developing a nuclear weapon raises the question: so what?

Neorealists such as Kenneth Waltz and John Mearsheimer, who treat states as if they were rational, unitary actors, believe that a nuclear Iran would not be reckless and would neither launch its nuclear weapons at another state nor give weapons to terrorists.  Their argument, premised on rational deterrence theory, is that even Iran’s leaders–who sometimes appear irrational to Western observers–are sensitive enough to the obvious costs of nuclear retaliation that they would never jeopardize the existence of their country by launching a nuclear attack that has a chance of being traced back to them.  In fact, such thinkers have favored the selective proliferation of nuclear weapons to additional countries so as to stabilize regional rivalries and make war unthinkable.

David Rothkopf, in a blog post entitled “The World is Misreading Obama on Iran,” contends that a supposedly “dovish” President Obama may contemplate using military force to prevent the Islamic Republic from getting a nuclear bomb: “But in the end, as dangerous as an attack might be militarily and politically, if the President believes there is no other alternative to stopping Iran from gaining the ability to produce highly enriched uranium and thus manufacture nuclear weapons, he will seriously consider military action and it is hardly a certainty he won’t take it.”

But why is Obama so afraid of a nuclear Iran?  If the neorealists are right, a nuclear Iran can be deterred and contained, just like the U.S. deterred and contained the ideologically driven, fiercely competitive, and nuclear-armed Soviet Union for 40-plus years during the Cold War.

What do you think?  Do the assumptions of rational deterrence theory apply to Iran’s leaders?  Why or why not?  Are there other reasons to fear a nuclear-armed Iran, other than its actual use of nuclear weapons?

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Five Stories You Might Have Missed

There have been several interesting developments in European politics over the past few days. Final results were released Saturday from the Irish referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. The Irish approved the treaty by a wide margin (with 67.1% of voters in favor) after defeating the treaty in June 2008 by a 53.4 percent majority. Ireland’s approval of the treaty represents an important step forward in approving a restructuring of the European Union; a restructuring that would expand the influence of the European Parliament, establish a full-time presidency for the EU (a position for which former British Prime Minister Tony Blair may be tapped), and limit the ability of national governments to veto EU legislation in certain areas. But despite the approval by Irish voters, Czech President Vaclav Klaus tempered expectations, stating that he may delay signing the treaty until a Czech appeals court can review the treaty and assess its implications for Czech sovereignty.

Two important elections also took place recently. In Germany, Angela Merkel won reelection as Germany’s Chancellor. The victory of her center-right coalition promises to continue her emphasis on greater openness for the German economy. Preliminary results from Greek elections on Sunday suggest that the Socialists will soundly defeat the ruling New Democracy party, possibly securing a legislative majority in the national parliament. The contradictory results suggest an interesting restructuring of European politics.

In news from outside of the European Union last week:

1. Government ministers at the annual meeting of the International Monetary Fund in Turkey this week rejected warnings by the banking sector that new financial regulations could undermine economic growth. Representatives from the United States, Italy, and the United Kingdom all rejected claims by the global bankers association that regulatory overkill could undermine global economic growth and result in the creation of fewer jobs. But despite apparent agreement on the need for new financial regulations, considerable debate over the exact nature and structure of those regulations remains, and an agreement on the details appears to be a ways off.

2. The International Olympic Committee granted Rio de Janeiro the right to host the 2016 Olympic Games on Friday, making Rio the first South American city to host the Olympics. A last minute visit by President Barack Obama to Copenhagen was unable to convince the IOC to grant the games to Chicago, which was also bidding to host. Several observers have raised concerns that Obama’s unsuccessful campaign to win the games may undermine his ability to deliver on health care reform and foreign policy objectives.

3. A massive earthquake in Indonesia resulted in the deaths of an estimated 1,100 people last week. The tragedy follows a tsunami in the South Pacific that killed more than 100 people. Concerns that another, larger quake could strike soon were also raised on Saturday. International aid campaigns have begun delivering supplies to the region, but the widespread devastation of government facilities in the region could hamper aid efforts.

4. The President of Burkina Faso has been dispatched to meet with the military rulers of Guinea to address the emerging crisis in the country. More than 100 people have been killed in Guinea in the past week, as the county’s military government has moved to quash opposition protests. On Thursday, Cellou Dalein Diallo, former prime minister and current opposition leader, was forced to flee the country, as Captain Moussa Dadis Camara, who came to power as the country’s leader in a December coup, has attempted to solidify his hold on power.

5. On Sunday, the government of Iran agreed to permit International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors to visit a secret uranium enrichment facility made public by the United States last week. The discovery of the site led the Russian government to concede the possibility of United Nations sanctions on the Iranian government—a proposal which both Russia and China have long opposed. The Iranian decision comes ahead of scheduled six-party talks, involving the United States, Russia, France, China, Britain, Germany, and Iran, at the end of the month.