Nuclear proliferation in Iran is currently a hot topic among the international community, and it has even been discussed before on this blog. Most United Nations states appear to believe that Iran should not be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons, and actions have been taken to prevent such acquisition. However, it can be argued that these preventive actions have done little if anything in prohibiting Iran, meaning that, assuming the UN member states truly believe that a nuclear Iran is something that needs to be stopped, a serious change in policy is needed, and quickly. I would like to use this blog post to propose three potential policies in managing Iranian nuclear proliferation and briefly explore the consequences of each.
Natanz, a uranium enrichment facility in Iran
The most moderate policy (and the one that the international community seems intent on exercising) is a middle ground approach dictated by diplomacy. In 2006, after three years of suspicion and continuous refusal of Iran to open its nuclear facilities for inspections by the IAEA (mandated in Article III of the NPT, of which Iran is a signatory), the UN Security Council imposed the first sanctions on Iran’s nuclear program. This first round of sanctions blocked import and export of nuclear material to and from Iran. Since 2006, the UN has imposed several more sanctions on Iran, and many attempts have been made at negotiation. This is the middle ground approach; the goal is to peacefully broker a solution with Iran that will please everyone.
However, even as sanctions have increased to the point where Iran’s economy is seriously suffering, Iran is still refusing to accede to the demands made by the UN and is actually still actively increasing its nuclear program. Empty military threats and endless sanctions are not working, nor have they in the past (Anyone taken a look at North Korea lately?), and if this continues then the United States government looks weak and will begin to lose its legitimacy in the Middle East. Iran will not stop its nuclear development, and when Iran has nuclear weapons, it will not be on friendly terms with the U.S.
If the goal is to completely eradicate any possibility of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons, a hardline approach seems most appropriate. This approach would require military action against Iran, including complete destruction of all known Iranian nuclear facilities. For this approach to be successful, action should be taken quickly before Iran acquires nuclear weapons technology. The longer action is delayed, the greater the risk and difficulty of destroying Iran’s facilities and programs.
Although this approach comes with potential risks of Iranian retaliation (Technically, no one really knows exactly how far away from nuclear weapons Iran actually is.) and polarized opinions from the international community, Iraq provides an example of just how successful this approach could be since it has had no further development in its nuclear program since the U.S. invasion in 2003 and seems unlikely to do so in the foreseeable future.
An argument can also be made for a third approach, one that is on the other end of the spectrum from the hardline approach discussed above, in which the international community allows Iran to continue its nuclear development programs, eventually leading to the acquisition of nuclear weapons. In this approach, Iranian nuclear facilities would be legitimized and recognized by the international community, and it creates the possibility for cooperation and negotiation with Iran in the future.
This approach, perhaps most importantly, could stabilize the balance of the power in the Middle East. Currently, Israel is believed to have a monopoly over nuclear power, even though technically no one knows whether or not Israel actually has nuclear weapons. If Iranian nuclear programs were allowed to continue, Iran and Israel’s programs would cancel each other out, bringing stability. Critics of this approach fear proliferation of nuclear weapons in other nations of the Middle East and possible acquisition of nuclear weapons by terrorist groups; however, supporters of this approach argue that Iran is rational, like all states, and would not transfer weapons.
Nuclear proliferation in Iran is definitely a very important topic and one that needs to be addressed. The question comes in exactly how it should be addressed and what actions should be taken. Should the current approach be continued? If so, will the response of Iran ever change? If policy needs to be changed, and I would argue that it does, in what direction should it be changed? Should a hardline approach be taken, or is a more conciliatory approach most appropriate? What would be the pros and cons of such changes?