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Why a Nuclear Iran is Not that Scary After All

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By Kyler Ong

The prospect of Iran being armed with the very similar type of WMD which almost brought the world to the brink of a nuclear war in 1962 begets the general propensity towards the prevention of turning such a terrifying prospect into reality. Yet, much to the disappointment of the “West” (notably Israel, US and Europe), dishing out harsher sanctions each time Iran fails to succumb to international pressure has not had the intended effect of dissuading it from its nuclear ambition. In fact, the more Iran feels that it is being stripped off its inherent right as a sovereign nation, and the more it feels vulnerable in the face of the “bullying alliance”; the more aggressive it will be (and has been) in its nuclear energy pursuit.  Even if Ayatollah Khamenei’s re-issue of the fatwa against acquisition of nuclear weapons is only a façade based on the doctrine of Taqiyah (“Islamic dissembling”), weapons or not, it is far more likely that Iran will use it for the purpose of improving its defensive capability, and not the offensive. This is exactly the very same reason why Israel, North Korea, India, Pakistan and even the former Soviet Union felt the need to go nuclear. In fact, as much as the West tries to convince itself not to believe this theory, history has beared witness to the fact that nuclear balance has always acted as deterrence. It will be no different for Iran.

Iran + Nuclear = Deterrence?

Contrary to the general portrayal of Iran as a belligerent, Iran is not an irrational state actor who will start launching its missile at Israel the very first instance it acquires nuke. Such a view is highly distorted, intended to convince the international community that Iran should never be allowed to possess the deadly weapon. Undeniably, the rhetoric of President Ahmadinejad has not helped its own case. Yet, the Iranian regime knows that any strike it makes will only trigger heavy retaliation from the West. Strategically and geographically, Iran is aware that nuclear deterrence is the only logical modus operandi in status quo geopolitics, rather than precipitating a CBM-type crisis which will only destroy everything the regime has. While policymakers of the Arab world and the West worry that conceding to a nuclear Iran will only tilt the balance of power and put the rest of the world at risk of a nuclear fallout, such a threat is unfounded. In the face of high tension coupled with WMD, the likelihood of a full-scale war between Iran and Israel is a flawed theory. While analysts warn of a CBM-type risk, it is instructive to not compare that episode of the Cold War meltdown (between the world’s only two nuclear superpowers) to status quo power politics (a nuclear club of US alliance and US overseas nuclear bases in Europe) and exaggerate the threat. If one side has to worry about the rate of failure of nuclear deterrence, it is the Islamic Republic who has its back to watch. In a time when the West, especially the US, has claimed the tarnished image as self-serving imperialists who continue to subjugate and bully the weak, perhaps abandoning the double standards the West has always sought to impose on others would normalize diplomatic relations with its self-made enemies.

Of course, any sign of concession from the US will be heavily scrutinized by the rest of the Arab world, especially Iraq, where the basis of its 2003 invasion will only be contradicted by giving Iran the green light to go ahead with its nuclear program (even if it didn’t mean nukes). If the US and her allies decide to make concessions by allowing Iran to develop its nuclear capability but under full, transparent inspection of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), it will take more than convincing just the P5+1. Pacifying and persuading regional players will also have to remain one of the top priorities on the US agenda (and pledging collective nuclear defense in the event of a crisis). Because truth to be told, if Iran is bent on carrying out its nuclear program, nothing is going to restrain her. Any efforts will only be futile. While we still can benefit mutually, we could give Iran the benefit of a doubt. And before the situation is irreversible, we need to stop driving our potential foe up the wall and let her breathe. Remember, she has got more to lose than we do. While we can still reach on a face-saving solution, perhaps we could give deterrence the chance to work its magic.

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