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Mideast Watch: A Nuclear-Armed Iran

And I'd like to thank Allah for Iraq...

Washington (UPI) July 25, 2005
Despite Tehran's vociferous claims to the contrary, evidence is mounting that Iran is seeking to acquire nuclear weapons. It may now even be too late to stop this process. The real question is: What should the United States do about it?

There are basically three options: 1) intervention; 2) pre-emption; and 3) deterrence.

What are the pluses and minuses of each of these options?

A U.S. military intervention in Iran would not only end Tehran's efforts to acquire nuclear weapons, but would bring about the end of the Islamic Republic itself. The U.S. presence in two of Iran's neighbors -- Iraq and Afghanistan -- would greatly facilitate such an intervention.

But in the wake of the U.N. Security Council's refusal to bless the U.S.-led intervention in Iraq, this body simply will not approve a similar intervention against Iran. And while Britain made a major contribution to the intervention in Iraq, it is not likely to join the United States in a similar operation against Iran. Unlike the U.S. public, the British public is outraged over the failure to discover the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq whose existence both Washington and London cited as the principal justification for toppling Saddam Hussein.

Even if a unilateral U.S. intervention could quickly destroy the Islamic Republic, the inability so far of the United States and its allies to pacify both Afghanistan and Iraq suggests that re-establishing order in Iran could also be extremely difficult and expensive.

Finally, a unilateral U.S. intervention in Iran, no matter how successful, would only further the unfortunate trend in many countries to view the United States as a threat. And, of course, there is no guarantee that we will not end up facing an insurgency there like we are in Iraq and Afghanistan. Intervention, then, is not a good option for dealing with a nuclear-armed Iran.

The second option is pre-emption. The United States could launch pre-emptive strikes that would destroy Iranian nuclear facilities. This would certainly be far less costly than invading and occupying Iran.

Even if successful, however, such an attack would leave the Islamic Republic in power and undoubtedly more determined than ever to acquire nuclear weapons. Further, those nations which previously sold nuclear technology to Iran -- Russia, Pakistan, and North Korea -- might continue to do so.

Indeed, a successful U.S. strike against Iran's nuclear facilities would simply provide them with an opportunity to resell to Tehran much of what they previously sold to it. And just as with intervention, pre-emptive strikes by the United States against Iran would increase the perception that the United States is a threat to other countries. Pre-emption, then, is not a good option for dealing with a nuclear Iran either.

The best option is deterrence. At first glance, this might seem highly undesirable since it means acquiescence to Iran possessing nuclear weapons. The Islamic Republic, though, would not be the first hostile regime to acquire them: Stalin's Russia did so in 1949 as did Mao's China in 1964. While these regimes were more powerful as well as more hostile toward the United States than Tehran now is, nuclear war did not break out.

This was a result of deterrence: the knowledge that a nuclear attack by one nation would lead to devastating nuclear retaliation against it. And if this logic worked with Moscow and Beijing, it should also work with Tehran.

This is not to say that nuclear deterrence will always work. North Korea's Kim Jong Il has actually threatened to use nuclear weapons, though he has not yet done so. But the Iranian ayatollahs are neither as reckless nor as isolated from the real world as he is.

Since the death of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Tehran has largely given up its effort to spread Islamic revolution abroad. What the ayatollahs mainly want is just to stay in power. Indeed, their desire to acquire nuclear weapons appears to be based on the assumption that the United States is less likely to attack if Iran possesses them than if it does not. In other words, they want nuclear weapons in order to deter us.

Yet while the ayatollahs may see their acquisition of nuclear weapons as a defensive move, not just the United States but many other nations will see this as offensive. And this is good for Washington.

For while U.S. intervention or pre-emption will lead others to see the United States as a threat, the acquisition of nuclear weapons by Tehran will lead them to see Iran as one instead. And those who see Iran as a threat are likely to see the United States as an indispensable ally.

Finally, as the Soviet Union demonstrated in 1991, the possession of nuclear weapons cannot protect a government from its internal opponents. The future strength or weakness of the democratic opposition in Iran appears unrelated to whether or not Tehran acquires nuclear weapons. Thus, while deterrence will not lead to the quick downfall of the Islamic Republic, neither does it preclude this from occurring eventually.

Mark N. Katz is a professor of government and politics at George Mason University.

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US Holds Rare One-To-One Talks With North Korea
Beijing (AFP) Jul 25, 2005
The United States Monday described a rare initial meeting with a North Korea delegation as "businesslike" on the eve of six-nation talks aimed at ending the Stalinist state's nuclear ambitions.

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