Sunday, March 19, 2006

More on Iran's nuclear program

Olivia Ward from the Toronto Star interviewed several experts including yours truly on the topic:
Leon Hadar, author of Sandstorm: Policy Failure in the Middle East and a research fellow at the Washington-based Cato Institute, says the fear of an Iranian bomb is overblown.

And, he adds, looking at the question historically, there may be points in its favour.

"If you go back to when China exploded its first bomb, the reactions in the American press looked like the end of the world had come.

"China was ruled at that time by ideological fanatics who were every day reiterating their plans to destroy the West. But in the end it created a triangle of relationships that contained the Soviet Union, which was already armed with nuclear weapons."

When Pakistan set off five nuclear tests in 1998, it was also greeted with horror.

However, Pakistan's relations with its nuclear rival, India, thawed in the aftermath of the blast, and there was new agreement over the territorial issue of Kashmir. The two countries pulled back from the brink of war.

That, says Hadar, is the stabilizing effect of nuclear parity.

"I don't advocate nuclear weapons. But in the case of Iran one can see that if there were an Iranian bomb, Israel and Iran would be forced to communicate, to avoid what used to be called `mutual assured destruction.'"

And, he adds, "if Iran had a bomb, there would be a new balance of power in the Middle East, and the U.S. would be marginalized. Iran would be suicidal to think of dropping a bomb on Israel, and Israel would rethink its policy of not admitting it has nuclear weapons. It would also mean that Iran would not risk giving Hezbollah the green light to attack Israel (from Lebanon) because it would know there could be a nuclear response."

Non-proliferation advocates argue that the only solution to the escalation dilemma, ultimately, is world disarmament and a nuclear-free Middle East. Disarmament has been rejected by the U.S., which has reduced its deadly weapons but continues to advocate the development of new nuclear arms. A nuclear-free region was rejected by Israel, which like India and Pakistan has not signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty but is widely understood to possess nuclear weapons. Meanwhile, Russia and China are showing no sign of eliminating their nuclear arsenals.

While most observers look at the possibility of an Iranian bomb with dismay, a few are beginning to argue that it could be the "shock therapy" that would jolt the Middle East toward eventual nuclear disarmament, and to peace.

"Can we live with a nuclear Iran?" asks Hadar. "Probably. Whether you are a hawk or a dove, you must prepare for a worst-case scenario. Thinking the unthinkable doesn't mean you want it to happen." More

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