Fear the bomb.

As the fear-mongering continued in the debate last night (by everyone except, of course, Ron Paul), Micah Zenko has collected academic answers to the question of what a nuclear Iran would be like. The consensus? Barely different to the current Iran, so little need to worry. Quite a contrast with the claim of almost all Western politicians right now that it would signal a new era of insecurity.

Kyle Beardsley:

Iran will have no incentive to use its nuclear weapons in aggression… [T]he main benefit to Iran of acquiring nuclear weapons is to deter military threats by its primary adversaries, Israel and the United States… Its main incentive for proliferating apparently is to lock in the regime’s security in the long run.

Sarah Kreps:

[T]here’s every reason to believe that deterrence theory should hold. How much influence Iran’s weapons can confer, again drawing on Schelling, “will indeed depend on how much the adversary can hurt in return.”  Iran’s primary rivals are Israel and the United States, each with arsenals that are far more lethal than what Iran could assemble even over the next decade. That each has enough weapons to hurt Iran quite badly should be enough to keep Iran’s bite in check.

Annie Tracy Samuel:

Iran’s leaders, like those in other states, want to remain in power.  They want the regime in which they have invested and which serves their interests to endure… Possession of a nuclear weapon will likely make Iran more impervious to attack and may make Iran bolder in its support for armed groups.  However, possessing a nuclear weapon will is not likely to alter Iran’s paramount foreign policy goals of national and regime security.

Todd S. Sechser:

The reality is that nuclear weapons have never been very useful tools of blackmail. The reason is that nuclear threats lack credibility. If Iran ever used nuclear weapons against one of its neighbors, it would suffer unprecedented international isolation, unify the region against it, and even trigger nuclear retaliation from the United States or Israel. Given these prospects, Iran’s neighbors are likely to doubt whether its nuclear threats are actually sincere.

But try telling that to Santorum and Romney, who guarantee an Iranian nuclear strike will occur as soon as the weapon is acquired.

PM Carpenter cries:

Romney asserts point blank that if Iran acquires a nuclear weapon, “it will be used.” What epistemological foundation does he have for that assertion? None. Absolutely none. Yet he calls Obama irresponsible. It’s really quite breathtaking.

Meanwhile, Gingrich’s specific claim last night was that Iran cannot be treated as a ‘rational actor’. That label is obviously meant to imply that we can assume the Iranian regime will have a keen interest in ensuring its own survival, and will pay maximum attention to what policies best promote that goal accordingly. But Newt doubts this is reasonable because Ahmadinejad has some whacky views on the Holocaust, apparently proving he is irrational.

Sullivan objects, and has some advice for the mainstream media:

When referring to Iran’s attempt to procure enough material for one nuclear warhead, stories should also mention that Israel already possesses somewhere in the region of 200, has not signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and holds a nuclear monopoly in the region. Context matters.

Previous post on nuclear theory here, and evidence about the impact of weapons here.


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