June 3, 2009

On Iran's Nuclear Ambitions

As one might say "Iran, a threat? You bet!"

Or alternately "Iran: Got Nukes?" Heh heh. But seriously:

Iran’s ambitions for nuclear technology are a threat to global stability and security. Where there are nuclear secrets, there are going to be nuclear weapons, and that is the steep, slippery slope Iran is on right now. If Iran acquires a nuclear weapon, the most obvious danger is that they use it. There have been many threats against western countries like the U.S. and Israel. It is not unreasonable that Iran may wish to demonstrate its new-found power. On the other hand, there is also the chance that their weapon may instead fall into the hands of a terrorist organization. It could be taken by the terrorists by force or coup. Perhaps it could even be sold or merely given to them. This is a more likely and more disastrous outcome, as none of the terror groups with support from Tehran would likely have any qualms about using a nuclear weapon and annihilating thousands of people to further their cause. Of course, even the possibility of Tehran having or wanting a nuclear arsenal is disturbing. It would dramatically shift the power structure of the Middle East toward Iran and would encourage them to force western leaders to bend over backwards. It would capsize any hopes of advancing democracy in the region. All this, coupled with the possibility of additional nuclear proliferation to other Middle Eastern countries, makes Iran’s nuclear program a recipe for international chaos.

Iran was not always Iran. Before 1935, it was internationally referred to as “Persia”. In fact, even the current Iranian attitude towards the West is also different from past attitudes. The shahs (kings) of the early 1900s were generally either isolationist or pro-west (or both). Iran was, as a matter of fact, considered to be a bastion of modern western thought in the barbarism of the Middle East. It wasn’t until the Islamic Revolution of 1979 overthrew the moderate shah and established a hard-line “Islamic Republic” and the extremist and anti-western regime we know today came into being. The revolution’s ultra-religious leaders, headed by Ayatollah Ali Khomeini, instituted their distrust and dislike of the West, its materialism, and the United States particularly. In their view, there was plenty of reason to hate the U.S. The U.S. had supported their shah throughout the revolution, competed over influence with the USSR during the Cold War, supported both sides during the Iran-Iraq conflict to keep the balance of power, and been accused of only looking out for their own oil interests. In addition, the U.S. currently occupies Iraq and Afghanistan, both of which are right next-door.

Their dislike of the U.S. also spills over to a hatred of Israel, which they see as an extension of the U.S., as well as an aggressive occupation of Palestine. It is so ingrained in their foreign policy, that their leaders have gone so far as to openly denounce and threaten Israel: the representative of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) has noted,

"Israel is a cancerous tumor that must be destroyed"

and present Supreme Leader Khameini said,

"The foundation of the Islamic regime is opposition to Israel, and Iran's continuous issue is the obliteration of Israel from the region."

Not only have they threatened so, but they have also gone to the lengths of supporting several terrorist organizations to achieve that end. For example, Lebanese-based Hezbollah receives millions of dollars per year, plus training, supplies, and especially weapons, from the IRGC. Sometimes it’s not so much a matter of being on the same side as it is of sharing a hate for the West. The Islamic Republic of Iran has a history of fighting the Taliban because of their firm opposition to the opium trade. Yet evidence links them to selling guns to the Taliban to cause the US and NATO more problems to resolve and to pressure them to withdraw sooner.

The crisis is that Iran has a nuclear enrichment program generally reserved for nuclear weapons construction and strong evidence has shown that they are also tinkering with suspicious nuclear technology, missile delivery systems, supporting terrorist groups, and increasing hostility towards the Western world. Even if it’s a juvenile cry for international attention, the threat cannot be taken lightly. It is a problem for the U.S., the West, and all of the free world. Any nuclear weapon is dangerous in the hands of a country as volatile as Iran. There are many possible crises that could arise. The unstable leaders in government could decide they’ve finally had enough of America and Israel and press the big red button. They could decide to sell the technology to the highest bidder, be it Saudi Arabia or al-Qaeda. Israel could consider decimating Iran with its own nukes out of fear for their own safety and start a whole Middle Eastern War. A man could trip while ferrying it from one place to another and blow up Tehran by mistake.

If President Ahmadinejad continues production on Iran’s nuclear arsenal, which according to his own words won’t be too long- he stresses “the irreversible path of the nuclearization of the Iranian nation”- the buildup of tension in the Middle East will increase tenfold. The nations of the West will have to tiptoe around Iran and some will undoubtedly bend over backwards to suit Iran. Everyone will wait, not all patiently, while Iran figures out what it’ll do now that it has the bomb. There won’t be any security in the world for years, perhaps decades, if and when this happens.

A few solutions have emerged, though none resolve every possible detail. One plan that has been around a while is a plan to preemptively strike and maybe invade Iran if necessary. This would definitively be a disaster and much more difficult to resolve than Iraq ever was. Another scenario would be to allow Iran to pursue its nuclear ambitions and attain a nuclear arsenal. Theoretically, this would create a Cold War-like freeze on aggression with both sides fearful of mutual destruction. That would not likely work either. The Middle East is too full of turmoil to be frozen in place. Eventually something would upset the balance and everything could go down in flames. The U.N. has an agency dedicated to the supervision, creation, and promotion of nuclear energy in member countries, called the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Their duty is supposed to be to blow the whistle whenever someone breaks the rules they have to prevent nuclear abuse. The IAEA, however, has repeatedly relented to Iranian demands and not taken a strong stance on the possibility of manufacturing of weapons of mass destruction in Iran (perhaps due to stigma over Iraq). The West shall have to work somewhere in between the two paths to work out a resolution. They must be ready to both compromise and assert with Iran as needed. As Teddy Roosevelt said, “speak softly, but carry a big stick.”

Any nuclear ambitions by Iran are and should rightly be considered threats to peace and stability in the Middle East and world-wide. There must be a watchdog organization that will stand up and get tough on countries like this. Iran cannot be trusted as of now to be able to handle the power and responsibility that come with being a nuclear power. The chances of misfire, aggression, terrorist application, and the spread of such technology to neighboring countries and the repercussions are too great to gamble on.

The free world must work to roll back and contain this threat. A nuclear-armed Iran is literally a ticking time bomb.

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