Nuclear proliferation and Iran

Nuclear proliferation and Iran

On the subject of Iran, Rabbi Benjamin Shull writes that the United States is leading the world “down a dangerous path” (“Speaking Truth to Power,” February 13). I respectfully disagree.

First of all, it is not clear that the United States is leading any coalition or effort in the world these days. The Europeans, led by Angela Merkel, are now at least equal partners, and probably more, in NATO. Iranian nuclear proliferation poses greater risks for Europe than America, so long as Iran does not possess ICBM capability.

Secondly, the present policy, developed with western European consent, may be risky, but it falls short of being truly dangerous. Limits exist. Sanctions are in place. The noose is getting tighter. This is not Chamberlain-ian appeasement redux, except to someone who is living on Mars and has ignored world nuclear policy of the past 70 years.

I was involved in the nuclear industry for about half a century, predominantly on Eisenhower’s “Atoms for Peace” side. The AEC, NRC, and IAEA are all familiar to me. In the 2000 presidential election debates, Al Gore said that nuclear proliferation was the biggest problem facing humanity. Whether it is North Korea or Iran, little has changed in 15 years. The genie is still mostly in the bottle, but the cork always is ready to pop out.

The way to stop nuclear proliferation is to maintain global consensus, reduce stockpiles, empower the IAEA, and isolate the likes of rogue states such as Iran and North Korea. That’s been the course of three or more American administrations. It’s what the Europeans are doing, despite opposition from Russia, which is playing its own dangerous game. If Iran crosses a uranium enrichment threshold or prevents inspections, as dictated by current policy, the Western powers will act.

Why is this certain? Because the West cannot afford another arms race. The Indian/Pakistani nuclear standoff is bad enough, but it is limited to South Asia. North Korea may force the Japanese back into their historic militaristic tradition, and drag China into regional conflict. In the Middle East, a nuclear Iran would set off an arms race with the Gulf states. Oil prices would skyrocket. The global economy would be shattered. The reaction of oil consuming nations might then lead to regional war, one that Iran could not win, but one that could easily slide into world war.

Present global policy is our best chance to avoid a greater conflagration. America, Canada, Europe, and the Gulf states all are aligned. Now is not the time to challenge this agreement, and risk fracturing the coalition that already exists.

What’s the real policy issue lurking in the background? It is how to deal with Russia, a nation with imperialist superpower pretensions and a seriously weakened economy. Those are precisely the conditions that set Germany down its catastrophic path in the 1930s. A new axis, between Russia and Iran, is not inconceivable.