Nuclear Nightmares

Through all the current optimism about negotiations and rapprochement with Iran, we cannot lose sight of one basic fact: Allowing Iran to develop nuclear weapons would destabilize the entire international order.

Most international observers, including the International Atomic Energy Agency have agreed that Iran is operating an illicit uranium-enrichment program to develop material for use in a nuclear weapon. It is the national interest of the United States, Israel, Russia, the European Union, and most Arab nations to prevent this nation from developing nuclear weapons.

First, the development of nuclear weapons is a blatant violation of international law under Iran’s obligations to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Perhaps more importantly, we must recognize that Iran is a nation run by a group of fundamentalist extremists, the public face of which is a dictator who denies the Holocaust and who has insisted over and over that he intends to wipe the “bacteria” or “stinking carcass” (depending on the day) of Israel off the map. The Iranian government actively funds and supports terrorist groups that attack American soldiers in Iraq and Israeli civilians and soldiers.

Iran, like North Korea, has recently been testing ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons. Iran’s nuclear development has been allowed to run practically unchecked for years, and they are now moving closer to developing a working nuclear bomb.

An Iranian nuclear program is perhaps the gravest existential threat possible for Israel—it represents an enemy committed to the destruction of their homeland, with the capability of doing so in a matter of tens of minutes. A situation in which such an enemy has the capability of pushing a button that has a significant chance of wiping out their country 30 minutes later is clearly not a tenable one for the Israelis.

But it’s not just Israel’s problem. When it comes to the threat presented by a nuclear Iran, Israel’s and America’s interests are firmly in sync. The threat to Israel is obvious, and Israel is by far the United States’s strongest ally in the region and the most stable, prosperous, democratic, and advanced nation in that part of the world. But, in addition to that, the existence of an Iranian nuclear weapon would create a strong incentive for other Arab states to develop nuclear weapons. If Iran develops a bomb, other nations that have had nuclear-weapons programs in the past or that have the technical capability to develop one fairly quickly, such as Egypt, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey, might feel compelled to develop their own weapons in order to maintain the balance of power in the region.

In the 64 years of existence of atomic weapons, only 10 nations have actually built them, eight of which were during the Cold War and one of which later gave up its weapons (South Africa). Clearly, the non-proliferation strategies employed to this date are working fairly well. The development of an Iranian nuclear weapon, then, could double the number of nuclear-armed nations in a small fraction of that time, representing a major setback for the prevention of the spread of nuclear weapons. This would mark a return to a Cold War-like era in which a danger of nuclear war is a real, imminent, and most dangerous threat facing policymakers.

We are living in a world with a plethora of problems, and a nuclear Iran would only serve to exacerbate them. There can be no greater foreign policy goal for President Obama than to prevent this frightening distortion, in which not just two but perhaps 20 nations face one another at the opposite ends of nuclear weapons, waiting on a hair-trigger to launch an atomic conflagration. An Iranian nuclear weapon would be the gravest threat to world peace since the fall of the Soviet Union and would raise the specter of a real nuclear conflict for the first time since the 1980s. Allowing a nation that actively funds and supports terrorist groups active in Iraq, Lebanon, and the Palestinian territories to develop nuclear weapons is simply unthinkable and does not coordinate in the slightest way with American foreign policy.

President Obama’s recent overtures to Iran represent a positive step forward. But ,considering Iran’s history of diplomatic deception, he must proceed cautiously. While diplomacy will hopefully convince Iran to abandon its weapons program, no option should be left off the table. It is clear beyond all doubt that allowing, or not actively preventing, Iran from developing nuclear weapons will have profoundly dangerous consequences for the people living under the oppressive regime in that country, for the citizens of every other Middle Eastern country, and indeed for the international community as a whole. The United States—and any nation that favors the balance of world peace—must prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon at all costs. The costs associated with any alternative are simply too disastrous for the world to tolerate.


Daniel A. Handlin ’11, a Crimson news editor, is an astrophysics concentrator in Winthrop House. He is a member of Harvard Students for Israel.