Last week, with nearly unanimous support, Congress agreed to a new package of unilateral sanctions against Iran, which, if enforced, will put significant pressure on the regime. The failure of our current policy to stop Iran’s nuclear ambitions presents a strong case for such enforcement.
Iran is already a destabilizing force in the Middle East. It intimidates its neighbors and threatens to wipe its adversaries off the face of the map. It supplies insurgents who kill U.S. soldiers in Iraq and possibly Afghanistan, and it supports terrorist organizations which attack civilians and derail the Middle East peace process. If Iran’s leaders feel safe enough to undertake these activities without nuclear weapons protecting them, what would they be capable of with a nuclear deterrent?
Once protected by a nuclear deterrent, it is likely that the regime will feel even more emboldened and increase its destabilizing behavior. Iranian surrogates, such as Hamas and Hezbollah, would also be strengthened by their patron’s new power and could step up their attacks against Israel.
Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons would likely also lead Iran’s neighbors to doubt our reliability as an ally. This could lead to a cascade of nuclear proliferation or a dramatic shift in regional power as Middle Eastern nations would be faced with a choice: develop your own nuclear deterrent or give into Iran’s regional ambitions. Neither option bodes well for peace in the region, or U.S. interests.
Of course, Iran’s neighbors wouldn’t be the only nations considering whether or not to develop nuclear programs. Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons would shatter the international nonproliferation regime. Rogue and criminal regimes – e.g., Syria and Burma – would surely note the fecklessness of the international community and would likely conclude that the risks of pursuing nuclear weapons are minimal. It is also possible that Iran could share its nuclear know-how with or other nations or terrorists.
Finally, the people of Iran and the fledgling reform movement that sprung up in the wake of last year’s elections could face more violent repression. Empowered by a nuclear capability, the extreme forces within the regime that have brutally repressed the Iranian people will be even less concerned with international pressure to respect basic human rights of the people.
And remember: This is not nearly the worst-case scenario. These consequences follow from Iran’s possession of a nuclear weapon and assume that the instinct for self-preservation and rational thought would dissuade Iran from using it. Given the radical nature of that regime, I am not convinced that is a safe assumption to make.
Clearly, Iran’s possession of a nuclear weapon would dramatically change one of the most volatile regions in the world for the worse. The U.S. must do all in its power to prevent this from happening and pressure our allies to do likewise.
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